Friday, December 6, 2013

The Toilet Bowl

Otherwise billed as the Battle for New York City, the early-season struggles (to put it mildly) of the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks put their season-first matchup in a much different light. Regardless of their relatively-similar records, last night's 30-point win by the Knicks went about as would be objectively expected, taking into account the Nets' slate of injuries, and the way they typically -- on second thought, always -- struggle against any team who plays at a pace that isn't completely slow and plodding.

For one night, the Knicks rekindled the magic of the second half of the 2012-2013 season: drive-kick-and-shoot basketball. What remains to be seen is if they can keep it up. Perhaps the long layoff prior to last night's contest allowed them to prepare for the Nets' particular brand of suckage: susceptibility to the 3-ball, inability to cover quickness. Perhaps the short 24-hour layoff into tonite's matchup (with Orlando) will provide some continuity to solidify their finally-exhibited best formula for success (given the current roster). We shall soon see.

As for Flatbush Avenue's newest residents, most people know the Boston trade mortgaged the Nets future. Steve Kerr last night gave them as little as a one-year window to contend. His outspoken colour analyst Charles Barkley, however, became the 1st person I've heard that thinks the trade mortgaged their present as well. Healthy or not, Barkley says, the Nets don't have a chance to contend. As he put it simply yet poignantly: "this is a young man's league."

I tend to agree. I fail to see how a 36- and 37-year-old can help a team that ALREADY struggled to keep up with the quickness of the league in 2012-2013. I don't want to act prophetic, and yes, they have a lot of talented names modeling business suits at the moment, but let it be said that I don't see it ("it" being the ability for this roster to be a contender). I think -- for the second time in about half a decade -- Celtics GM Danny Ainge has fleeced another unsuspecting rube. In 2007, he traded young players to construct an in-prime veteran-laden championship contender; in 2013, he used past-prime players to accelerate a rebuild and get in on one of the deepest drafts in recent history. His cirriculum vitae is getting more impressive by the offseason.

Incidentally, it was comical to see a Daily News writer describe Barkley's in-game commentary as "stopping just short of eviscerating either team." Hmm. I'd call the rather-unique-in-current-sportscape opinion that the Brooklyn Nets of 2013 have absolutely no hope of contending pretty damning commentary.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Altered Universe: NFL Week 12 Wrapup

Wrapup of Week 12 action in the National Football League:

In the Thursday night matchup, the New Orleans Nappyhairs outlasted the Atlanta Thicklips 17-13. Nappyhair QB Drew Brees threw for a relatively quiet 278 yards and 2 first-half TDs, but the Thicklips couldn't break thru the impenetrable Nappyhairs defense, who smothered two Thicklips fourth-quarter drives deep in their territory to preserve the win.

In Sunday's action, the Pittsburgh Palefaces dominated the Cleveland Coloreds 27-11. Colored QB Jason Campbell was knocked out of the game in the 3rd quarter, continuing the Coloreds woes at that position, while Paleface QB Ben Roethlisberger continued his resurgence from early-season struggles.

The Tampa Bay Peglegs continued a resurgence of their own, defeating the Detroit Darkies 24-21 on the road, the 3rd straight victory for the Pegs after losing their first 8 games. Star wide receiver Darkie Calvin "Megatron" Johnson was kept out of the endzone for the first time in 5 games and only the 3rd time all season.

The Minnesota Flatbottoms and Green Bay Fudgepackers played to a 26-26 tie after the
Fudgers scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to force overtime at 23-all. The Fudgepackers repeatedly drove deep into Flatbottoms territory in the 4th quarter, only to have both teams go limp once the extra period arrived, mustering only a FG apiece.

The San Diego Slanteyes defeated the Kansas City Featherheads 41-38 in a back-and-forth shootout that saw 7 lead changes in the second half. The usually-stout Featherhead defense surrendered its highest point total for the season, kept off-balance by the shifty Slantyeyes offense all day long.

A dominating rushing performance led the way as the St. Louis Pantsaggers ran over, around and thru the Chicago Blackies on their way to a 42-21 victory, their second straight blowout win. While the Blackies chewed up yards on offense, they turned lethargic after turning over to their defense, which was powerless to slow down the Pantsagger running backs, giving up 258 yards on the ground.

Carolina Redneck Cam Newton engineered a game-winning drive to help defeat the Miami Mandingos, 20-16. The Mandingos kept the Rednecks at bay throughout the first half, but Carolina broke thru with a TD in each of the final 2 quarters, including the game-winner with 43 seconds left, while locking up the Mandingos offense for the entire 2nd half.

The Baltimore Badonkadonks shut down rookie Geno Smith and his New York Afros en route to a convincing 19-3 victory. After giving up an early field goal, the Badonkadonks didn't let the Afros anywhere near their red zone for the rest of the afternoon.

The Jacksonville Bigjugs smothered the Houston Hairybacks all afternoon long on their way to a 13-6 victory, their 2nd in 3 games after an 0-8 start. The Bigjugs were supported by a firm defense that held up against 34 attempted passes, yielding only 141 passing yards, and 218 yards of offense overall.

In Oakland, Ryan Fitzpatrick took his Tennessee Tinypeckers down the field to a game-winning TD with 10 seconds left to outlast the Oakland Longdongs, 23-19. The Tinypeckers and Longdongs had trouble scoring all afternoon; though each moved their balls at will, gaining nearly 800 yards combined, they repeatedly settled for FGs before the Tinypeckers pushed thru late for only the 3rd TD of the afternoon.

The Arizona Wetbacks dominated and embarrased the Indianapolis Studstallions on their way to a 40-11 victory. The Studstallions were once again listless in the first half, the 4th straight week they have fallen far behind in the opening 30 minutes.

In a key NFC East matchup, the Dallas Dotheads kicked a tiebreaking field goal as time expired to defeat the New York Giantnoses 24-21. The Big Schnozes had rallied from a 15-point deficit to tie the game before seeing their 4-game win streak come to an end.

The New England Whitemen wiped out 24-0 halftime deficit to prevail over the Denver Snowbunnies in OT on Sunday Night, 34-31. After getting behind on a slew of early turnovers, the Whitemen had their way with the Snowbunnies in the 2nd half, getting on top 31-24 before a late Bunnies TD forced overtime.

In the Monday night matchup, the San Francisco Limpwrists were nearly impenetrable on defense, particularly in the 2nd half, when they yielded a miniscule 30 total yards, by far the lowest amount for any team this year. That was more than enough support for the Limpwrist offense, who scored 3 TDs thru the air on their way to defeating the Washington Redskins 27-6.

Yea, it's sorta <a href="">like that</a>.

The Reasoning Behind NFL Week 12 Wrapup

As the debate over the naming of the Washington, D.C. NFL franchise rages on, many people have criticized the team's mascot on the grounds that racial slurs have no place in current society. Others have defended the mascot on the grounds that other teams with Native American-inspired mascots have not faced and are not facing the same scrutiny as is Washington.

Ironically, both of those camps are off base. How so? Allow me to explain.

While it is certainly true that racial slurs have no place in a decent society, there is much debate about whether the history of "redskin" even includes usage as a racial slur to begin with. Some factions within the Native American community say "yes, people have used the term to denigrate us". Others say "no, it is a term we have used to identify ourselves". How do you begin to reconcile two such diametrically-opposed views?

Answer: you don't. Because, honestly, to any free-thinking person, it doesn't matter whether the name originated as a slur or not. What does matter is something intrinsic in the term "redskin" itself, something that makes it completely unique from other slurs (real or imagined); something I will get to in a brief moment.

The second camp, as I said, is also off base (in comparing the term to other sports teams names) for one simple fact: none of the other team names focus on a physical trait of a race or ethnic group. And this, actually, is the crux of where both camps fail in their analogies.

No, we obviously would not accept "nigger" or "spic" or "honkey" or "kike" as a team mascot. But we also wouldn't accept "darktans" or "yellowskins" or "palefaces" or "longnoses". Those don't necessarily have deep and long histories as racial slurs, but they're still, clearly, unacceptable characterizations for a group of people. This is, as I alluded to earlier, what makes "redskin" unique in every regard; it is an almost patently-immature designation focused on a physical trait. There is nothing equally-moronic on a linguistic level about names like 'Braves' or 'Chiefs'; rather, it is the mascots the teams use, and moreso the overall minstrelry of cultures, that makes them offend. There is simply no way to use "redskins" in a mature way -- unless of course you're ready to go to bat for names like darkies, slantyeyes, longnoses, and shortpeckers.

That is the heart of the debate over the name, and is the reasoning behind the names chosen in the semi-faux satirical NFL wrapup: to highlight what is inherently unique about the disputed name of the Washington franchise. It is a name based on a physical trait, something which no one anywhere would accept in any other example you could possibly dream up.

It's high time we grew up and let go of our immature past already, no matter how long we've allowed ourselves to be blind to it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Altered Universe: NFL announces schedule cancellations for several teams

New York, NY -- As part of its newly-instituted Viewer Safety Campaign, the National Football League has announced the cancellation of all remaining games for a handful of team in the 2013 season. In order to spare football fans further torture after the inept Monday night showing between the previously-winless New York Giants and 1-and-4 Minnesota Vikings, the NFL announced the forfeiture of remaining 2013 season games featuring the Vikings, as well as the winless Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the St. Louis Rams.

"The NFL has decided to take this proactive measure to protect our consumers from the mentally-abusive standard of football these teams would have otherwise produced in the coming weeks, in order to prevent the spike in depression, domestic violence incidents, and attempted suicides that is expected as a direct result of their play", league commissioner Roger Goodell said in a prepared statement.

The Vikings elicited the dubious honour of a season-ending vacation in light of repeated questionable decisions, such as the of calling 53-pass plays for newly-signed QB Josh Freeman in Monday night's game -- allowing last-year's NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson only 13 touches -- and general lackluster play this season. Minnesota's in-season hiring of several coaches from the local Twins baseball team appears to have negatively affected a number of team strategies -- such as the changing of starting quarterbacks after every game, and having one player on offense attempt to score by himself while the remaining players sit and watch -- which stand in stark contrast to all accepted concepts of American football. Prior to today's announcement, the Vikings had announced that Freeman had developed concussion symptoms as a result of trying to cram the entire playbook into his head in mere days using a repeated-blow friction-osmosis method, forcing him to the bench and continuing their quarterback rotation carousel. Freeman holds the distinction of being the only player to have personally ended the 2013 campaigns of two teams, having recently been exiled from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for his disatrous play.

Arguably the league's most dysfunctional team, the Buccaneers will be free to put an immediate end the tumultuous Greg Schiano era, as is widely expected. Sources indicate that the team has hired additional security, mental health professionals, and hostage negotiators in anticipation of a possible psychotic episode from the coach upon announcement of his firing, but team officials would neither confirm nor deny the reports. Although the Buccaneers numerous big-name free agent signings this past offseason have worked to bolster their defense, it proved far from enough to offset the ironclad sinking anchor that their league-worst offense has become.

The similarly offensively-challenged Jacksonville Jaguars and their 0-7 record will now have extra time to figure out their rebuilding plans. "Given their inability over the past 10 years to steer the franchise in a remotely-positive direction, we felt it prudent to give Jacksonville the additional 3 months of offseason to work on improving their team" Goodell said. This also puts to rest the ongoing attempts by a contingent of fans in Jacksonville to force the team to sign Tim Tebow from off of the NFL scrap heap. "I want to thank the Jaguars for being gracious enough in their terrible inepitude to allow me the lengthy hope and opportunity to be signed," said Tebow from his Christian missionary indoctrination space camp in the Phillipines. "I will continue working towards my lifelong dream of completing 40% of awkward wobbly side-winder floating-duckling passes for an NFL team."

In London, the San Francisco 49ers were dismayed by the announcement that they will not get the opportunity to challenge all sorts of long-standing NFL records by pitting their imposing defense against the hilariously-punchless Jags. "We're enjoying our vacation and all the activities here" said 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, "but we were really looking forward to becoming the first [team] in NFL history to hold an opponent to a negative point total. We really felt we had a legitimate shot."

As for the St. Louis Rams, although they have 3 wins on the season, including 2 in a row just prior to this weekend's shelacking at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, the league decided to axe the rest of the Rams' season in anticipation of the steaming pile of cow dung into which Sunday's season-ending injury to QB Sam Bradford will undoubtedly sink the team. "We felt it in the best interest of the city of St. Louis to not be distracted and dismayed by the unholy heaping mess that would be taking place less than a mile away as their beloved Cardinals take the field in an important World Series swing game." First pitch for Game 5 of the World Series is scheduled for 8:07PM EST, just 23 minutes prior to the previously-scheduled start of the Rams home game versus the Seattle Seahawks. Ticket-holders for that game will be treated to a big-screen viewing of the Cardinals contest in the Edward Jones Dome, the NFL also announced. "In addition to protecting fans from the rotting corpse of a product they would undoubtedly endure, we also felt it prudent in the interest of the safety of the players, who would undoubtedly spend more time focusing on the Red Sox-Cardinals score than on the one-sided thrashing in which they were involved."

A number of other teams, such as the New York Giants and Houston Texans, were reportedly also being considered for season-ending forfeiture, but apparently made enough of a showing in recent weeks to convince the league that they were at least remotely watchable.

Fans holding tickets to the cancelled contests will not be left out in the lurch. "We are in the process of finalizing a number of events to replace the forfeited games, including one or two dates for open tryouts for identified inept roster spots, a big-top circus, and replays of Madden 25 contests involving the home team," Goodell said. "We feel these events will give home fans the best opportunity to have an enjoyable experience, and allow them to feel what it would be like to see their team perform in a remotely capable fashion."

Disclaimer: "Altered Universe" is a working name for satirical news articles featured in the "Sports From Mars" blog. Facts and events that mirror real life are included merely to support the satire; other facts and events are, again, satire.

What Will Woodson's Rotation Be?

As the 2013 NBA regular season draws near, a standing conversation is becoming louder by the moment: just who will New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson trot onto the court as his starters? And what will his rotation in general look like?

Early in the preseason, the talk was about whether reigning sixth man of the year J.R.Smith will be thrust into the starting lineup, effectively switching places with Iman Shumpert. That debate seemed rather academic to me, seeing as how 1) there's no overwhelming need for a coach to define starting roles all the way back in training camp, and 2) Smith will be starting the season wearing a suit on the sidelines recovering from knee surgery -- and then be sitting at home for an additional 5-game suspension -- anyway. We may not see the guy on the court until after Thanksgiving. Worry about that bridge when you cross it.

However, the conversation over just who the 5 starters overall will be is starting to surface. Coaches typically throw together all sorts of motley lineups early in the preseason schedule, and then, for the last two or so preseason games, start playing a reasonable facsimile of their intended regular-season rotation.

The Knicks last night played their penultimate preseason game, and for the second or third straight game, the starting frontcourt consisted of Tyson Chandler flanked by Carmelo Anthony and...Andrea Bargnani. That immediately raises the question: does Coach Woodson really intend to start Bargnani?

Though I caught his comments in passing, it seems that Woodson wasn't very happy with the Knicks defense last night. That makes the possible insertion of Bargnani, a known defensive sieve and sub-par rebounder, a scary proposition.

The starting guards last night were Pablo Prigioni and Iman Shumpert, as Raymond Felton sat to rest, I believe, a knee, merely as precaution. It's a foregone conclusion that Felton, along with Anthony and Chandler, will be on the floor at tip-off for regular-season games. So, who question then it: who sits?

Will it be Prigioni? The guy who immediately elevated the Knicks offensive efficiency to league-best numbers upon being inserted into the starting lineup last year? Please say no. Please.

Or will it be Bargnani or Shumpert? Deciding between those two effectively comes down to a decision of offense over defense, the veil of size over the reality of actually playing to your team's strengths.

It stands to reason, given the Knicks success last year, that a Felton-Prigioni-Shumpert-Anthony-Chandler starting five is the best the Knicks have to offer come game time. In light of the way a panicky Woodson over-tinkered with his starting 5 during the series with the Pacers this past playoffs, I'm tending not to hold my breath. We'll see.

* Haven't paid much attention to some of the fringe teams in the NBA, so it was quite a shock to see some of the names on the Milwaukee Bucks roster last night. Caron Butler? O.J. Mayo? Luke Ridnour? Gary Neal? Zaza Pachulia? (To go along with defensive ace Larry Sanders of course) When did all of that happen? Was I writing about A-Rod that day? On paper, that's an interesting-sounding lineup. A far cry from the Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis shoot-till-you-drop team. No, I'm not crazy enough to think this team has championship aspirations, but, apart from that, I have no idea where their ceiling -- or their floor -- is. Intriguing.

Just a few thoughts. Back to the NFL we go...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

NFL Week 6: Ravenous Fanbase Devours Quarterback: 2013 Edition

This is slowly becoming a yearly ritual: A beleagured quarterback, underperforming in the opinions -- sometimes valid, oftentimes invalid, or at least exaggerated -- of fans. A fanbase runs out of patience, and barks wildly for a change -- regardless if the backup QB is by any measure of common sense a worse option. A tenable hate-hate relationship that has been brewing for months finally boils over, and a multitude fans get to show their (lack of cl)ass. Last year it was Matt Cassell in Kansas City, cheered after being felled by an injury in his own home stadium. This year -- at basically the identical point in the season no less -- it is Houston and Matt Schaub.

Now, Sunday's performance by the Texans, at home, against the until-then pushover St. Louis Rams, was certainly a debacle of immense proportions. The Texans gained twice as many yards as the Rams, yet the Rams were able to score 3 times as many points, thanks to multiple penalties and 3 deep-in-opposing-territory turnovers -- none of which were attributed to Schaub. In the midst of a statistically-good, interception-free game, Shaub's leg and ankle get pinned under him while taking a sack. As Schaub limps off the field, many -- enough to be easily heard at least -- in Houston's now ravenous, vulture-like fanbase began to cheer. When backup QB T.J. Yates jogged in to replace him, the cheers doubled in volume and intensity.

Is this where we've devolved to as a society? Easy answer: yes. It was but 2 or so weeks ago that some Texan fan showed up at Schaub's private home, and, by some reports, chewed and/or cursed him out, by others, simply took pictures. You'll forgive us on Mars if we tend to believe the more numerous reports of the former. How long until one of these confrontations turn violent? How long until some fan finally makes good on a Twitter threat? I think that day is coming. These things can't keep happening without eventually spilling over. I hope and pray that I am completely wrong here.

However, the sad took a turn for the comically-fateful when Yates, merely a few plays later, threw a 98-yard pick-6 (something Schaub had finally avoided for the first time in 5 games). And then, a few minutes later, threw another costly interception. Sweet justice, if even you have to shed a tear for Yates' golden opportunity gone sour. Schaub, like many of the other unreasonably-beleagured QBs, is a good, quality signal-caller, one going thru a bad stretch. For him (4 straight games with a pick-6), a horrifically-bad stretch even. But there's no reason to act petulantly and throw out the baby with the bathwater. There is no sensible measure that says the Texans are a better team with T.J. Yates under center than Schaub. The job is only Schaub's to lose -- if he can't right whatever mental blocks he's going thru -- not Yates to win. Give the guy a chance to come thru the other side of the fire.

Of course, we're seeing the ignorant, there-is-a-reason-why-you-don't-make-personnel-decisions fan all over the place. In San Francisco, *some* so-called fans are calling for the end of Kaepernick, judging him for having the audacity to not throw to receivers who can't get open. In New York, some fans are actually calling for the end of 2-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. Take a moment to digest that. Meanwhile, others are saying to dump high-draft rookie Geno Smith in favour of undrafted rookie Matt Simms, because the former has the gall to make rookie mistakes now and again.

Earth would be a much, much better sportsworld if the only occasion that saw fans uttering the names of professional ballplayers would be when discussing potential trades on their pointless fantasy teams.

- Hater Alert #1:
New Orleans Saints inability to move the ball in the 4th quarter, giving an inconsistent Tom Brady and his New Englanders multiple chances to win. *rolls eyes*

- Hater Alert #2:
Detroit Tigers inability to protect a 4-run 8th inning lead against a team being no-hit in 15 of the 16 innings so far, letting the Boston Red Sox jog around the bases and right back into the ALCS. *rolls eyes*

Would you teams please kill the monster when you have the chance? (It's a New York/Boston rivalry thing. If you don't know, under which rock should we mail you your personalized sports almanac?)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sportswriting Moro, uh, Jerk Of The Year

Where do I begin? Sigh. In this blog, I have made it a frequent point to lambaste examples of poor sportswriting; the misguided subjective diatribes masquerading as informed opinions, the lazy and non-existent fact-checking, the histrionics and short-sighted analysis of teams and players. I have pointed to well-known analysts and obscure just-for-fun bloggers like myself.

At no time, however, can I recall any of those nominations going to ESPN's Rick Reilly, a journalist with a pretty lengthy career and respectable resume. Even when he recently penned a long article in defense of the (in the minds of many, offensive) team name of the Washington NFL franchise, I didn't feel remotely compelled to take him to task. I did however send him an email, specifically pointing out the silliness of his equating a slur based on a physical characteristic (skin colour) with that of more grammatically (though certainly not historically) benign nicknames like "Chiefs" and "Braves".

Beyond that though, his article, while certainly one-sided and agenda-driven, did include enough objective evidence (in terms of opinions and quotes of people involved; ironic though: can subjective opinions really be considered objective evidence? In this case it seems so.) to make it a supportable article. So much so I began my email to him by commending his usual penchant to construct well-thought out articles.

Sadly, a startling new revelation has brought that measure of respect to an end. In a nutshell, Reilly apparently completely twisted words of his own father-in-law before including them to support his article's viewpoint. Then, to make matters worse, he refused to retract his out-of-context, opinion-negating quoting, forcing said wife's father to pen an article to clarify his words and clear his name.

Seriously. How low does one have to sink to completely use their own father in law like this? This is utterly despicable. He had dozens of quotes from people within the Native American community from which to draw. However, pull at our heartstrings to make it personal, he dragged his wife's father into his web, sullied the man's name, and then refused to apologize for it.

Let's grant for a moment that he misheard his 2nd dad, and really did believe the alleged misquote. The insult to injury comes with not believing AN ELDER at their word when they clarify their position. When the child refuses to respect the elder...well, is there any greater microcosm into what is wrong with this country?

Tragically, can there possibly a better illustration of the crux of the debate over the franchises name than this episode, than Reilly's cretinous behaviour? The use of Native American imagery as a minstrel show, the insensitivity, the twisting of accounts to fit an agenda, the total unapologetic lack of respect?

This episode is so egregious, you almost begin to wonder if it's a completely-intentional allegory to the name-debate. Perfection doesn't come along this clearly very often.

There's so much more I could say about this, but I'll leave Reilly's actions to speak for themselves. In fact, I end by linking to the father-in-law's statement of self-defense, as I respectful yield to an elder's any warm-blooded human ought to do.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

September Champions

In a recent blog post, I mentioned that an acquaintance of mine has all but written a blood oath declaration that the Denver Broncos will win the Super Bowl and take home the Lombardi Trophy this coming February. That he made said declaration after the first Thursday night game (between the Broncos and Ravens) -- before the other 30 teams had even played a down -- made it all the more histrionic; but, to his credit -- I suppose -- and to my chagrin, he has kept up the missive in full force thru the 4 weeks of NFL action since.

I've yet to see him since this past weekend's arena football match between the Broncos and Dallas Cowboys, but something tells me he'll continue the verbal charge, even in the light of the damning evidence the game may have uncovered on the Bronco defense (500+ passing yards, 48 points surrendered).

In light of 5-0 Denver's upcoming scrimmage with the NFL's practice squad -- otherwise known as the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars -- the ESPN "Did You Know?" fairy saw fit to grant me a little nugget of NFL statistical history when I visited their homepage this morning:
*quote*Did you know? During the Super Bowl era, 53 teams have started 6-0; 49 made playoffs, 24 made Super Bowl and 13 have won the Super Bowl.*quote*

Oh my. For those of you that need to see the percentages (and my recent saddening discovery that someone actually saw the need to write a webpage where one can enter two numbers and have percentages calculated <i>for them</i> -- as opposed to, say, using the division button included on the calculator of every phone made in the past decade -- says some of you will), that's an iron-clad 92% success rate of making the playoffs, dropping of to a less-than-every-other 45% success rate of making it to the big game, and a 24% rate of actually winning the whole thing. In short, less than 1 out of every 4 teams that have started 6-0 have gone on to win the Super Bowl.

Granted, past failures are no guarantee of future ones, and I am certainly not one to focus solely on historical trends while ignoring individual cases. However, the trends do point to some salient points. The NFL season, while short on the calendar, is rather long in every other sports measure, and teams are all but certain to run into difficulties as the season progresses. The past two NFL champs (Giants of 2012 and Ravens of 2013) illustrate that point to a tee. So, if your team doesn't encounter those stumbling blocks early, rest assured, they are in all likelihood laying in wait for you. It's very, very hard, and very, very rare, to go thru an entire season unscathed. Those 18-1 New England Patriots can tell you a thing or two about that.

For the moment, however, do let us look at the specific case of the 2013 Denver Broncos. Specifically, let's look at their opening schedule to date: vs. Ravens, at Giants, vs. Raiders, vs. Eagles, at Cowboys. Hmm. After the now 3-2 defending champs, with their wholly-remanufactured defense featuring a bevy of rookies (that were only ranked 17th in yards against last year to begin with), come a gaggle of 2-3 teams and a winless doormat. The Ravens defense is currently ranked 15th in yards against; the Raiders are 20th, the Giants are 28th, the Cowboys 30th, and the Eagles dead-last at 32nd. We're supposed to be floored, shocked and awed that Manning has feasted on these defenses? Awed at the numbers, certainly, but surprised? Come on.

It certainly doesn't bode any better for the Broncos that they slot right in between those no-hope-for-help defenses at a shoddy 31st.

As far as pass defense specifically, just ahead of Denver's bottom-of-the-barrell secondary rank the Cowboys and Raiders, with the Giants and Eagles clocking in at 25th and 24th, and Baltimore at a more-palatable 18th. So, Manning and the flying horses have chewed up yards like a field of hay against teams that coincidentally give up passing yards to everyone. Let's take another pause to feign surprise. What's really damning, again, on the flip side of that is that the Broncos pass defense has earned their league-worst 32nd ranking by out-yielding the rest of the league by a full 100 yards. Ouch.

Ironically, the Jaguars defense has given up roughly the 10th-fewest passing yards in the league; it's their 32nd-rated run defense that is giving them problems. Something in the air tells us that they'll find a way to hemorrhage points to Denver, even at home, regardless. After that, Denver hosts the Indianapolis Colts, ranked somewhere around 6th in passing yards. Could we see a slowing of the Pony Pass Express over the next couple of weekends? I wouldn't necessarily hold my breath or bet the house, but it wouldn't be all that surprising either, given the level of competition -- if you can call it that -- that their pass offense has faced so far.

Either way, the annals of NFL history are littered with the carcasses of teams that looked like world-beaters in September. If you don't mind, can we hold off on etching names into trophies until the calendar turns over at least? Thanks. We're all well aware of Peyton Manning's less than stellar record when gametime temperatures dip below 40 degrees. (Why did he choose Denver over, say, the Dolphins anyways? There is something to be said for ignoring past history, sure. There's also something to be said for needlessly fighting against it.) Need we mention that the high-flying pass-happy Broncos play in a state best known as a snow-skiing paradise? That this year's Super Bowl is being held in New Jersey? Outdoors? In February?

I'm just saying.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Week 6: Smashmouth Returns, While Wacky Pass-Happiness Still All The Rage

Ahh, theeeere's the San Francisco 49ers team we all (well, ok, some of us) know and love. Running the football, hardnosed defense, protecting the football, ball-control, field-position...all that equals a total domination effort, in primetime no less. More on them in another blogpost.

- Wacky pass-happiness still rules the airwaves
Another weekend, another bout of excitement over the exploits of the Manning Flying Horses. After the first Thursday-night game, a friend of mine ridiculously penned them in for the Lombardi trophy. That's: penned, not penciled. And: first game, not even the first weekend of games. And has touted them as invincible every weekend since. I've yet to talk to him after Sunday's 7-on-7 drill game, up 500 yards to anyone is mayyybe just a bit of a reason for concern. Having fun throwing the ball all over the field? Your soon-to-be increasing-in-quality opponents might be getting in on the fun if your defense doesn't shape up, and fast. Should we remind everyone how and why Denver's 2013 playoff run ended?

Now, while everyone gets excited by yet another early-regular-season high-flying offense (haven't we gone thru this each and EVERY year for like the past 5-6 years? Patriots? Packers? Saints? Broncos?), I've just been going around reminding people where this season's Super Bowl is being held. In New Jersey. Outdoors. In February. Having fun throwing the ball all over the field? Yea, good luck with that come Christmas-time.

Right now, to me, the real team to be fearful of just might be the New Orleans Saints. Why? Simple: 18. That's the most points a team has scored against them thru the first 5 games. It's still early, and their opponents haven't all offensive juggernauts, but the possibility that that continues to hold up, coupled with an offense with the ability to be wacky-pass-happy, is nevertheless Halloween-scary.

- Advice for the Cowboys
Get a closer. You know, like in baseball? Where you only expect to get 80-90% of the game from even your best pitcher? Yea, like that. Look, we've seen plenty of people bash Tony Romo over the years. And plenty of people using silly things like facts and reality to point out that he's been really, really good over the course of his career. But c'mon. 10 game-changing turnovers can't be all wrong. I'm not saying dump the guy. I'm not saying he sucks. Run him out there for your games. Run him out there even in the 4th quarter. Let him get you that late-game lead. But when that lead needs protecting? Go to your bullpen. It's crazy, it's radical, I know. But so is the penchant of a QB to be so impressively good, yet manage to make throwing a game-deciding INT about as surprising as this morning's sunrise.

- New York Jets, the Sitcom, Season 2 continues
My enjoyment following the Jets has taken a surprising turn. Who would've thought they could be just as comically-enthralling by actually being goo...okay, well, competent? They're like the plucky little engine that could at this point. First there was the Geno-Sanchez duel, ended not-so-ironically by another Rex Ryan misstep. Then there was the can-he can't-he Geno growing pain weeks. And now? A game-winning drive against a defending conference-game participant? (So what if the Falcons a complete shell of themselves)

Given the way Atlanta was yielding to the Geno-led offense, I am proud to say that, after Atlanta's good-ahead TD, I proclaimed declaratively: "they left too much time on the clock for Geno!" (100 seconds or so were left in the game). I have the facebook post to prove it. And sure enough: pass, pass, pass, run, and the Jets were lining up for a game-winning FG with 3 seconds left. I cheered with the Jets fanbase when it sailed thru. How can you not enjoy the glass-is-getting-fuller growing optimism? Actually, for the sake of accuracy, every bit of the optimistic feeling surrounding the Jets early-season success is made possible by how completely horrid the Giants have been to this point. In being bad -- historically bad to date, the Giants have somehow made the Jets' decent-ness just as comical to me as their former struggles. I can't explain it really. It

- Meanwhile, down in the city of Atlanta...
Wow, what a weekend for the Peach State. First, on Saturday, Georgia Tech lost 45-30, and Georgia State was mauled 45-3. Then, Sunday, the Atlanta Dream were down by as many as 30 points on the way to losing game 1 of the WNBA Finals by 25. Fast forward another 24 hours, and the beloved Braves took a 1-run lead into the 8th inning before being eliminated from the playoffs with 2-out, 2-run HR. Minutes later, the Falcons were dropped to 1-4 by the Jets' come-from-behind FG as time expired. And just for good measure, the new-look Hawks whittled a 22-point lead down to 2 before losing their preseason opener earlier in the evening.

With so many sports in so many cities around the country, I'm sure the stars mis-align now and again for a city here and there, but...ouch. That is what you call thorough; did I miss any sports? Is the MLS still playing? I can't think of a single place an Atlanta sports fan could've gone to sooth their wounds last weekend. Is it piling on if I mention that the Winnipeg Jets -- who until 2 years ago called Atlanta their home -- also lost? Ok ok, I'll stop.

Incidentally, speaking of shattered Dreams, Atlanta's WNBA franchise has made it to the Finals 3 times in the last 4 years (2010, 2011). To date, they've yet to win even 0-7 after Sunday night's thrashing. If they get swept again? Time to add them to Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, Pau-Gasol-Memphis-Grizzlies playoff lore (yes, I know, "no one" cares about WNBA...except the thousands and thousands of people that *do* care. It's still sports. No need to be a chauvinistic asshole about it.)

- Ravens 16th and 17th last year. Who knew?
As I began looking up the numbers to "prove" that only teams with good defenses make it to the big game, I immediately ran smack into last year's Ravens squad, who for the regular season was ranked 17th in total yards allowed (and 16th in yards gained offense incidentally). Coupled with the Giants of a couple years ago ranking near the bottom of the league (though mostly because of injury) before going on to win the big one, there went the iron-cladness of that theory. However, it should be noted, as implied, that the Giants played much, much better defense once health was on their side in the playoffs and in the Super Bowl. The Ravens, they were able to do, well, just enough to eek out wins in a stereotypical Cinderella, preordained-win season. Other than that? I suppose those are the exceptions to prove the rule.

We'll see if a middling-defense, pass-happy team can finally turn 50 years of Super Bowl history on its ear. Because surely that day is coming, right? Right?


The Long View on the Bay

After the San Francisco 49ers' convincing Sunday night win over the Texans, I saw quite a few 49er fans taking the overly-pessimistic view of the game and season so far, particularly with respect to the struggles of the passing game. It was rather annoying to see, what with so much positive to take and build from this game. Yes, Kaepernick is not putting up big stats at the moment. Yes, as one ridiculous writer quipped in his Week 6 rankings, 6-15 looks like Tim Tebow numbers. But let's try for a second to not be all doom and gloom here.

The Texans coming into the game had the number one rated defense in terms of yards against. They've made everyone look pedestrian this year. Kaep did have a couple of miscues, including a missed rather-open hookup with Vernon Davis. But is it a shock to see a QB-receiver tandem take a little time to get their timing back after the latter being out for basically 3 weeks? Not really, especially considering their perfectly-in-stride TD hookup later in the game. And, even though it ended up as a completion, one couldn't be thrilled with the pass completed to Bouldin that went right thru a well-covering DB's hands -- credit Anquan though with great concentration there. But I was buoyed by Kaep's sideline-incomplete connection with Jon Baldwin, and another pass to Boldin that he couldn't quite come up with. Both passes were to well-covered receivers that Kaep however put precisely where only the 49er could make a play on the ball. There was another sideline pass to Davis that fits that description now that I recall. Overall, Kaep made some good throws. It's not all doom and gloom. The complete shutdown of the passing game for the two losses was certainly a result of Davis' injury reducing the receiving core to Boldin, Boldin, Boldin, Boldin and Boldin.

Beyond that, the running game is slowly coming to life, with the O-line playing better to create those opportunities. There's room for more improvement, but they're starting to create those holes for the backs.

As for the defense, what can you say? They're working their way through the early season injuries, with the guys filling in getting more comfortable, and better, with every rep. That a defense missing Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith can pitch a near shutout against a quality (not great, but quality) offense is saying something. Navarro Bowman is making noise...lots of noise. And, while it's early and I don't wanna jump to conclusions, the DBs are looking formidable right now. My resident 49er-hater loves to question our secondary based on the Asomugha signing...but now, he may not have that analytic luxury any more. Tramaine Brock has certainly staked his claim to the starting lineup while Asomugha's been out, and Harbaugh has indicated every bit as much in his remarks since Sunday's game. Eric Reid is quickly closing 49er-fan exit wounds left by Dashan Goldson. Personally, Reid is looking like a bonafide, team's-first-pick-of-a-draft-worthy stud. Overall, the defensive backfield, which oftentimes last year looked like the one weak link on an otherwise great defense, is looking formidable.

The next positive is one I've seen discussed by absolutely no one, which, given its importance, is a crime: the penalties. We had 3 all game long against Houston. Three? Three?!? Incredible! -- for us that is. (And really, I didn't agree with the one pass-interference call that was made at all, so in my mind, that was only two legitimate penalties the team earned.) That is by far the cleanest game, penalty-wise, this team has played in I-don't-know-how long. Penalties have long been the unmentioned elephant(s) in the room with this team, constantly breathing life into opponents' killed drives, repeatedly driving stakes into offensive momentum, and I was relieved to the point of yelling "finally!" when Harbaugh spoke about it publicly for the first time a couple weeks ago. For the issue to resolve itself, if only for a week, so resoundingly, is promising to say the least.

As I said, there were a lot of positives to carry forward from Sunday night's game. I don't get why there was so much glass-half-empty, short-sighted commentary among the fan base in its wake.

Ironically, a day later, when Coach Harbaugh gave his optimistic opinion that recovering WR Michael Crabtree might be ready to return by the end of November, 49er fans en masse surprised me by posting comments to the tune of "take your time", "no need to rush back, we got this", "just get healthy". A conservative, longterm view from fans? Unheard of. The Derrick Rose fanbase would be mystified.

Go figure.

The season's got a long way to go, but the view is slowly starting to take a turn for the positive on the 49er side of the Bay.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pee Wee Chronicles II

Over the past few days, we've had a rainout weekend, gotten the team jerseys (the teams are each given an NBA moniker, which is cool mostly for the teams that kids know, or perhaps you can coax them into liking), and gotten a couple more players.

* Free Agents
Melo - a 7 y.o. that can flat-out play. Already has a fairly decent layup for the age, knows how to dribble around kids (when he remembers to dribble), and gets after the ball on defense. Problem is, he's quite the ball hog. His dad recognized it, so he'll be working on him. It's frustrating for both him and the other kids that he's so much better, and sadly, John -- on vacation and due back in a week -- wasn't there to balance that disadvantage.

- Decent skills for his age. Rather on the quiet/shy side, but he plays.

* Practice
Now that we're getting good attendance regularly, not having an assistant is starting to hurt. To the dude that promised he'd do it, only to renege on me: damn you. The other day, he jokingly said how it's cool that I'm volunteering, seeing as how "Black people don't do nothing for free." My mind replied: "correction: those of us who've retained at least some of our Blackness, we've given back all the time, all throughout our history. It's you Americanized ni**ers who don't volunteer"... but I decided to keep that to myself. You've got to bring people along slowly.

In any case, to do one drill with all the kids doesn't keep enough of them engaged at the same time; and to split them up means I can't be in two places at once. Isiah's dad usually helps in that regard, but he wasn't there today, and as a parent I can't ask him to be an assistant anyways. His older son helped today, but...I'll do what I can.

Did layup lines for a while, then broke up the 8 kids into two 2-on-2 games. Naturally I could've played one 4-on-4, but we need to work our way up to that. And though days away, the prospect of them getting them to play a decent 5-on-5 is beyond daunting. But, of course, if it wasn't a challenge, there wouldn't be a point to it. Last week, I caught a bit of another coach's practice; they had small yellow cones to help run the kids thru drills. Knowing our loveable little ADD-ers can use any visual tools possible, I made a point to get some myself, and picked some up after practice today. Next time, we are definitely doing passing drills.

And I'll keep thinking and researching other way to work with the team. And wrack my brain to think of anyone else that can assist me.

Someone who still knows what it means to be Black, that is.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Pee Wee Team, Episode 1

Well, our favourite Martian has decided to get a bit more involved and coach little league basketball. Actually, it was something I thought of doing for years, but a chance conversation finally present me with the opportunity. I fathom I'll be writing quite a bit about this over the next few weeks, so a disclaimer: names, places and league will either be changed or left unspecified, to protect the little innocents. First, a short recap up to this point:

* The Draft:
Though I intended to just wet my feet as an assistant, the lack of volunteers left me with my own team, in the youngest league (ages 5-7). I should've seen it coming. After the informal 8-round draft, coaches were promised the additional 4 players to round out the roster. After weeks of waiting, it appears my team is the only that *didn't* get that. Are the Earthlings being discriminatory? Is it more basic friendship-nepotism? Probably the latter, but who knows. I could've raised a stink when I found out, but I don't have the energy for the b.s.

* The Team:
As I said above, I'll use fictitious names to keep everything anonymous.
Mason - one of two to make each of the 5 practices so far. A 2-hand thrower we've been trying to teach proper shooting mechanics. Normal (in)attentiveness for the age. Good disposition but pretty lax on D.

Isiah - you can't help but like him. He's gonna be troublems. Just turned 5, but he has the best shooting form out of anyone. Picture-perfect actually. He's small, barely bigger than the ball, which is a frustrating disadvantage for him when going against the other kids, but once he hits a growth spurt, look out. He has a smack-talking, inconquerable spirit, is willing to pass and play D. He is the dictionary definition of the prove-myself younger sibling. Did I mention he just turned 5?

Swoopes - still learning the basics of shooting with your body. Don't bribe her with Toys-R-Us talk; she'll focus on that more than what she should be doing to win the prize.

Ariza - will tuck the ball and run like a halfback at the slighest bit of pressure. A fair bit of ADD.

Lati - another push shooter. Working on that form. Not afraid to mix it up and play D.

JR - just made his first practice. Some halfback tendencies. Steps all the way to the rim even when told to shoot a FT. Humourous.

John - my PG, after his one practice. Actually, he was a free agent I ripped from another team, once his guardian (didn't quite catch the relation) asked if he could play on my team with a friend, something we're not supposed to sucuumb to. However, seeing as how the organizer totally shut me out of the free agency period, I'm breaking this rule and daring someone to tell me why I shouldn't. He's 7, but he knows basketball. Completely willing passer. Directs teammates where to go. Has a side-of-the-head set-shot motion, but it goes in. Consistently. I said, hell, he'll learn to shoot a proper jumper in due time.

Shawn - at this juncture, I'm not sure if this is indeed a child whose parent left no reachable number, or if he has actually been standing in at practices all this time without me or the parents realizing he's supposed to be there. Assuming he is for the moment; had a nasty, behind-the-head chucking motion we had to break immediately. You can tell he's been shooting -- throwing, rather -- at 10-foot rims. Hate to see adults letting/making kids do that.

Timecia - named for her timidness. You had to coax her to do anything more than stand there with the ball...and only if it was given to her. I envision 9 kids swarming at the ball and she looking at her shoes on the far end of the court.

Finally, two dropouts: one who was supposed to be my ringer, a soon-to-be 8-year-old who showed very late at the first practice, took a few shots, then left (after his dad told me he was tired coming directly from another league). Haven't heard a whisper of either since.
The second -- of a lighter persuasion -- came to the first practice, sat and observed the other kids with his dad at the far end of the court, and left after 2 minutes without speaking to anyone. We can speculate -- on the phone afterwards his mom said he liked tennis more -- but what's the point. Hey, it's their money. Or, is *was* their money.

Too bad I couldn't have both ringers. I could've had at least one on the floor directing traffic over the full 24 minutes. The organizers would have surely taken one away after a game, two tops.

After 3 terribly-attended practices, we had enough last time to play a little 2-on-2 with Mason, Isiah, JR and John. One thing became clear: we will be hearing the word "pass!" in 10-shrill voices for all 1,440 seconds of game time. The highlight was when John was chasing a loose ball, and JR reflexively cried the directive. John immediately halted chase, stomped his foot and yelled frustratingly, "I don't even HAVE the ball!"
Mason, predicably, is a black hole. Isiah was as good a teammate as he could try to be, but his size will hold him back against the other kids for a bit. We'll have to make sure to keep him encouraged.

First game is this Saturday. This should be interesting...and by interesting, I mean a riot.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Requiem For Westbrook Haters

Now that the #1 seeded Oklahoma City Thunder -- sans the injured Russell Westbrook -- have been unceremoniously bounced from the 2013 playoffs, much earlier and much easier than anyone would've predicted back in April, Skippy Clueless and his minions of Russell Westbrook haters can now collect their dunce caps and go fold up in a corner under the weight of their own stupidity.

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Lessons...

"Durant has been as good as ever in these playoffs, taking the ball in his hands more than ever. But the rest of the Thunder can't crack the Grizzlies' defense enough to get OKC wins. The next time you question the value of Westbrook taking so many shots, remember this series. Remember that Durant needs help (like every other NBA star in history), and remember that this team is not built to provide that absent Westbrook. Maybe that's a retroactive argument against trading James Harden , who can handle more than Martin. But this is the team OKC has now, and it needs Russ desperately."

Lessons of a Russ-less Thunder:

And there's something else the Thunder have been missing without their leader: his passion, his heart, his desire, his unquestionably indomitable will to win. His hunger and drive is something that can't replaced by anyone in the league. As is typical of their ilk, detractorshaters love to concentrate on the 10% bad and ignore the 90% good, as if there is or has ever been a perfect player in NBA history.

The Thunder need Russell Westbrook to be a top-flight NBA team. Always have. And that has never been on greater display than over the past month.

Get used to it. I can only hope that your blind hatred dies a silent death in that corner along with your ignorance of every basic and advanced measure of Westbrook's positive contributions and importance to OKC's young greatness.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bizarro Coaching

I was all set to detail all of the coaching atrocities committed by a certain coach in Game 4 of the Knicks/Pacers Eastern Conference Semifinals series.  But alas, a couple of writers -- among the many that rightfully ripped Knick coach Mike Woodson's moves to shreds -- have done a superb job pointing out everything wrong that happened last night.  So, I shall defer to their articles in lieu of reinventing the wheel:

Honestly, couldn't have said it any better than said in the above.  To boot:

* The Problem: The Knicks have had trouble scoring.  The Facts: The Knicks have posted their best offensive AND defensive efficiency numbers this season in lineups that include Pablo Prigioni.  He has the best plus/minus ratio of any Knick in the playoffs.  He was so good during game 2's tremendous 36-4 run that Madison Square Garden was chanting "Pablo...Pablo" in deafening unison.  The Move?  Bench Pablo, play him 3 minutes, 26 seconds.  The Result: The Knicks have trouble scoring.

* The Problem: The Knicks have been outbounded.  The Facts: The Pacers are the best rebounding team in the league, based on rebounding rate.  The Knicks, an average rebounding team all year long, actually rebound the ball at a worse rate when Kenyon Martin is on the court.  The Move?  Insert Martin into the lineup in hopes of improving rebounding.  The Result: The Knicks get outrebounded.  Duh.

This is merely just a sampling.  Again, ingest all the spot-on analysis given in the two articles above, particularly the Bleacher Report article.

Those of us in the non-Bizarro realm are left scratching our heads at the moves that rank anywhere from puzzling to destined-for-failure to downright asinine.  I personally want to add one theory however:  Mike Woodson is originally from Indiana.  The Knicks are playing a team based in Indiana.  Could this be a case of a double-agent saboteur?

Ridiculous you say?  Actually, I agree.  However, I would just like to point out one thing: that completely hair-brained theory is no less ridiculous than the set of puzzling moves we saw all throughout game 4.  Not to mention, it would provide a much sounder explanation for making them than anything I can think of.

Actually, I kid.  The obvious analysis is that Woodson panicked, and reverted back to trying any and everything listed in his dog-eared copy of Basketball 101 For Dummies.  "We're being outrebounded! Shriek! Get me a big guy!"  "They've got big guys in the paint! Egads! Let's go big!"

It's rather alarming that Woodson, a coach with so many years under his belt, could perform so terribly under the bright lights and stress of an insurmountable 2-1 deficit.  Yes, that was sarcasm.  It's completely alarming that he would panic under such conditions.

Let's just hope this was a temporary state of unconsciousness, and that Coach Woody will actually remember everything that got us to this point in the season.  Fingers crossed...but someone tap his phone and check for Swiss bank account deposits, just in case.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Making The 49ers Choice

I've been asked a couple times recently how I became a 49er fan. Typically these questions come from 30-somethings too young to have lived -- and others that simply don't know -- the 49ers' 15-year run of NFL dominance. Poor miguided souls. But the question did get me to thinking back to those early days of my sports fan life, so on the eve of the franchise's 6th Super Bowl trip, I thought it might be fun to take a trip back down memory lane.

To start, when I was a freshed-eye 8-year-old football fan, an early-season rising Niners came into New York and <a href="">beat the Jets</a>, my dad's favourite team. Two months later, the 49ers played and <a href="">beat the NY Football Giants</a>, who just so happened to be my godfather's favourite team. That those two NY wins bookended a long 8-game losing streak is, of course, of no relevance; I was, again, 8 years old and likely too busy acting out scenes from "The Empire Strikes Back" to follow the league's weekly happenings. And though it's equally-unlikely that these two games made me notice the team on my own, what *was* extremely likely was that it made my two most prominent male figures notice them, laying the foundation for what would come soon thereafter. A team that was 2-14 beating the Jets? Losing to a team that had been on an 8-game losing streak? I can only imagine the conversations in NY and between those two.

The following season, those same 49ers <a href="">beat my godfather's team again</a> in a regular season matchup. Then, for good measure, barely one month later they <a href="">beat the Giants yet again</a> in the playoffs, this time a 38-24 smoking unlike the earlier defensive struggles. At this point, any Giants fan was disgusted with this team from the Bay Area, and impressionable 9-year-olds were irrevocably turned off by the local team's repeated failures against them. Especially in light of what came next.

With the single most celebrated play of the 1980s, those 49ers <a href="">took down America's team</a>, Joe Montana-to-Dwight Clark's "The Catch" halting the Dallas Cowboys' run at dominance (and beginning their decline to irrelevance, but that's another story). And, of course, when the 49ers proved they were more than mere Cinderellas by <a href="">winning the big game</a> two weeks later, a wide-eyed soon-to-be 10-year-old couldn't help but be swept in fully. That it turned out to be the best sporting "choice" one could have made at the time, well, just blame fate, or clairvoyance.

Two years later, the Jets did actually manage to beat the Niners in the regular season -- not that it much mattered, seeing as how (1) the Jets were going nowhere fast (7-9 that year) and (2) the Niners did end up making it all the way to the conference title game, losing to the eventual-champion John Riggins, Joe Theisman Washington Indigenous Persons team.

The following year, 1984, saw the 49ers win the (otherwise meaningless) revenge game vs. the Washingtonians, as well as beat the NY Giants twice yet again (regular season and playoffs) on their way along a *tremendous* 15-1 march to their 2nd Super Bowl. The last 12 weeks featured 8 blowouts and only 2 game decided by less than 7 points. That team is in the discussion for best team ever. 2nd ranked offense. First ranked defense. Just think about that for a second. The top offense *and* defense in the league? Crazy. 15-1? Insane. And then to top it off by destroying the league's darlings, the blinding flash that was the Dan Marino Miami Dolphins, in the Super Bowl?

Well, that was it for me. The final door had been hung on the foundation that was laid in 1981. My gold 49ers starter jacket was as prominent in my days as was suede Pumas and shell-top Adidas. I had a football game for my Commodore-64 ("4th and Inches" I believe is the name), where you essentially played offensive and defensive play-caller, that only solidified my connection with the team, and helped me know it better than any 12-year old fan back then normally would. Just thinking about the names instantly transports me back to junior high school. Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler running hard. Freddie Solomon and Renaldo Nehemiah catching passes. Dana McLemore returning punts. Ronnie Lott smashing into people everywhere. Dwight Hicks, Eric Wright and Carlton Williamson locking people down (the entire secondary went to the Pro Bowl. Just chew on that). Keena Turner, Riki Ellison...I could go on for days. What a team. I used to play that game endlessly...almost always as my Niners of course.

There was something else about rooting for the Niners that was appealing: the uniqueness of it. There wasn't anyone else I grew up with that claimed a team 3000 miles away; it allowed me to be an individual, to stand out, be different. As the 80s rolled on, the 49ers were always in the thick of things, and I could always put on that starter jacket and be like no one else around me. After losing to the Giants twice and watching a couple of once-and-dones get the crown, 1988 came around. Time for the Niners to claim team of the decade once and for all. An unlikely 10-6 run to the Super Bowl closed my senior year in high school in style; a dominant repeat season allowed me to start my college career with the same unique, dominant team identity.

So there, in a nutshell, is how I became a 49er fan and why it stuck. A team that constantly stuck it to the teams of my mentors. A team that went from fashionable Cinderella to the indomitable beast. A team that, for all it's offensive accolades, was typically *even better* on defense -- which is why I never got swept up in the Saints, Packers and Patriots of the past 2 years. Defense wins championships. Always. A dominant defense backing a merely half-decent offense has a great shot to win a title. A flashy offense carrying an average-or-worse defense on its back? Not so much.

A couple more years that I might as well cover on the 49er glory years. After putting Super Bowl parties to sleep by <a href="">dancing all over John Elway's Ponies</a>, we lost an incredibly tight NFC title game to the Giants, a team that rode that blueprint all the way to a ring.

The following year, 1991, will however always remain a what-if. After sleep-and-injury walking thru the first 10 games, the Niners became a beast. They won the next 6 games in increasingly-dominant fashion by the week, culminating in a 52-14 mauling of the Bears on the final weekend. They were rolling. They were ready, the proverbial hot team no one wants to play. Alas, their early swoon doomed them and they didn't qualify for the playoffs. You can't tell me other teams didn't breathe at least a small sigh upon seeing them miss the postseason.

Anyways, here's to those great 1980s 49er teams that are an indelible part of my youth. And here's hoping that the 2012-2013 San Francisco 49ers are also that proverbial team getting hot at the right time. And here's hoping that they can add to their other unique mark: an undefeated multiple-Super Bowl record. Quest for Six! Who's got it better than us!!

My Final Word On The NFL's Washington Franchise

We here in the Martian sports landscape believe in respect for all peoples of Earth, so I'd like to note a quick thought on the mascot of the NFL franchise that occupies the Washington, DC area. The nickname is dumb. It's offensive. Period. This is not up for debate. No one would ever accept the Detroit Darkies or the Houston Honkies or the New York Kikes. That we have allowed our sensibilities to become dead to the offensiveness of the Washington mascot does nothing to relieve or lessen its...offensiveness. On that note, I will make it my personal rule to never use the name when referring to the franchise, or anything else for that matter -- unless my intent is to be offensive, of course. Greg Easterbrook, an ESPN writer known as "The Sports Guy", has taken such a stance in his writings, referring to them (in longform) as the Potomac River Basin Area Indigenous Persons. Naturally he abbreviates most of the time. (The Potomac Persons, while not descriptive, does have a ring to it doesn't it?) I'll follow his lead and do the same, referring to them in word only by the city they represent, and in type in various ways, none of which will include that childishly-derogatory name. Group-think hasn't infected us all.

Random Numbers Game (unfinished entry)

As I'm reading article on the upcoming NFL divisional weekend matchups, which looks as trends while trying the handicap the games.

* John Clayton notes that the Packers "only run the ball 40% of the time." Well, that's only true because they ran it 20-30% of the time early in the season, but have been running it at damn-near 50% for the majority of the year. Why quote an overall number when for 9, 10 games it doesn't hold? Right, because you're just randomly looking a stats.

* A number of people have noted that Aaron Rodgers is a "master" at winning road games, offering his 3-1 record as evidence. However, as someone on an ESPN board noted, those 3 wins all happened in one postseason run. While taking absolutely nothing away from the impressive nature of that run, let's not quote this as some career-long type of trend. We have had a number of wildcard-weekend Super Bowl runs over the past decade, meaning each one of those QBs have a minimum of at least 2 road wins under their belt.

...there were a few other silly stats thrown about throughout the playoffs, but I got distracted and never quite finished this blog entry...but, for the two that were included, I'll just post an incomplete entry for once...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Welcome The Nemisis

* Well, well, we meet again. This Saturday, the 49ers will welcome into Candlestick Arena the one team that truly harrassed the franchise around the turn of the millenium. 4 of 5 playoff trips ended in or by Green Bay, mitigated only by the last-second Catch-II, Terrell Owens' best 49er moment. Let's get it on!

* I read that the 49ers have been game-planning and practicing on the assumption they will be hosting the Packers since last Monday. Intriguing at first, the more I thought of it, the better the idea sounded. Had the Vikes won, the 9ers would have to wait for the winner of the last game of wildcard weekend (Seahawks @ Washington). Were that to happen, you're none the worse for prepare. Now, they have a truly bye-week-like 2 weeks of preparation for the Pack. Common sense and brilliant all at once.

* Read an article by Kevin Seifert that said, in part, the Packers have evolved from "the pass-happy scheme" of the week 1 game. I was a bit skeptical, seeing as how he used *touches* by Packer running backs (passes + rushes) as evidence that they leaned heavily on their running backs in the Vikings wildcard-game win (27 of the team's 54 touches). But in fact, if you compare pass attempts to rushes as the year wore on, they did demonstrate an evolving attempt to balance the offense. Now, the effectiveness of the running game is debatable; I saw quite a few games off less than 3 yards/carry throughout, including the wildcard win (2.5 y/c, 76 total yards). It did look a bit weird to see talk of a running game with absolutely no mention of number of carries or yards gained.

It's worth noting that they reverted back to old habits in week 17 -- 40 passes against 16 rushes, and that've yet to have a single 100-yard rusher all year (though they've had a handful of 100-yard ground games as a team).

* I saw a stat that the 49ers are 1-3-1 in games where they allow 100 or more yards rushing. The flip side of that of course is their 10-1 record in games where they hold the opponent to under 100 on the ground. My curiosity drove me to seek out those specific high-yield ground games. The 100-yard gainers were:
Both Seattle games, Lynch (103 and 111 yards): 1-1 record.
The Rams tie (obviously), Jackson.
Giants loss, Bradshaw 116 yards.
Minnesota loss, AP with 86, 146 team yards.

I thought it curious that the Rams accounted for the lone loss in the 11 non-100 yard rusher games. I was surprised to see that the 49ers held Jackson to 48 yards in a losing effort -- until I remember how they completely squandered that game with repeated missed FGs and an awful deep-in-your-own-territory turnover. The Rams were truly stifled for the entire game, not scoring a single offensive TD, gifted an arguable safety and multiple missed FGs, and needing a 53-yarder at the final gun just to force OT.

I say all that to say this: when the 49ers hold down an opponent's rushing game, they put themselves in a very good position to win.

No doubt the coaching staff in Candlestick has long known this, and continuing their preparations accordingly.

* Sending out Keep-Getting-Better vibes to Justin Smith and his healing tricep. He's a big part of that defense.