Can’t Stump The Schaub

Don’t look now, but former Virginia quarterback Matt Schaub is having an incredible preseason with the Atlanta Falcons. Backing up the paper mache Michael Vick, Schaub has had back-to-back games with 3 touchdown passes and no interceptions. In the first of those two games (his second overall), he completed 16 of 19 passes.
As a point of comparison, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning, the two rookie quarterbacks that everyone is watching, threw for exactly 0 touchdowns, 4 interceptions and one fumble in their last preseason games.
In fairness, that game was Rivers’ first and Schaub wasn’t too hot in his first game either, but then little was expected of Schaub. You may remember that last year, he was the second best quarterback in the ACC behind Rivers. While Schaub had a very good season, Rivers clearly was better, winning all the major conference awards. The year before though was just the opposite. Rivers had a great junior year, but Schaub was even better and Schaub went on to be first-team All-ACC and ACC Player of the Year. His senior year got off to a rough start when he was injured early in Virginia’s first game and missed most of three games. He still went on to have a very good year and finished his college career as the second most accurate passer ever (behind Tim Couch of Kentucky).
So, anyway, back to the NFL. Like I said, Schaub passed for 3 touchdowns and no interceptions in each of his last two games. You want to guess how many times the great Michael Vick has done that in his entire NFL career? Never. In fact, Vick has never thrown three touchdown passes in a game, period.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that this is preseason and it doesn’t really count. Real games are different, but still. It looks to me like Matt Schaub has shown that he belongs. And since he’s playing behind a very fragile player, he might just get to prove that earlier than anyone thought. And for the Falcons, that might not be such a bad thing.

Joe Must Go?

The SportsProf has an excellent article up about why it’s time for Joe Paterno to plan to leave. When he’s on, the SportsProf is as good a sportswriter as you’ll find, and he’s on here.
As for the topic, I agree with him. I wish JoePa would recognize that his time is over and hand over the program to a younger man. No one wants things to get ugly there. The university and alumni have been and will probably continue to be very accepting of whatever he does, but it’s not fair to them to keep this up. His teams just aren’t as good as they used to be, and his age must be killing them in recruiting.

Monday Night Failure?

Once again, I’m jumping on a topic merely weeks after the story breaks! In this case, I’m all over the recent news that ABC is considering junking Monday Night Football, because it’s losing an astonishing $150 million a year. One hundred and fifty million! That’s insane!
The real reason I bring this up now is because the SportsProf has a very good article about this very issue.

Say What, Bill?

I’ve linked to a lot of Bill Simmons articles here. You might call me a fan. He’s a great writer, a rare combination of funny and knowledgeable. In yesterday’s Mini-Cowbell (that’s the name of his column) though, he had an aneurysm.

With that said, I will never, ever, EVER figure out why LeBron wasn’t playing 30-to-35 minutes a game. There is no answer. There will never be an answer. With the way Larry Brown inexplicably buried LeBron and Carmelo — his best athlete/passer and his best shooter — it seems curious why he didn’t want the No. 1 and No. 3 picks in the 2003 Draft to succeed in Athens. Until you remember that he’s coaching the No. 2 pick from that same draft.

I can only assume that he got hold of a bad batch of Sourpatch Kids. I mean, really Bill. Don’t you think that if Larry Brown wanted to prove something about Darko Milicic he would have actually played him some? Do you really think he’d jeapordize the gold medal for something that petty? That’s weak.

100 Best Seasons

ESPN’s 25th anniversary lists have gotten more than a little tired. What’s next, the 25 most outrageous arrests or 25 best postgame showers?
Anyway, some of the lists are actually pretty good and fun to read. This is one of them. It’s their 100 best individual seasons from the past 25 years. It’s some good reading and it will bring back some fond memories.
I can’t think of too many ones they missed. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking about Rocket Ismail’s season at Notre Dame when he returned all of those kicks including one that would have won the national championship if not for a questionable holding call.

Duke Lands Top Prep QB

I know this isn’t new news, but it’s pretty interesting. Duke recruit Greg Paulus enters his senior year of high school as the top-rated quarterback in the country. Could be a huge boon to the woeful Blue Devil football program, right?
Paulus is going to Duke for basketball only. Pretty funny, huh? I wonder if it keeps football coach Ted Roof up at night? Think he’s just a wee bit jealous of the success of Coach K? Krzyzewski is not only completely overshadowing the football program, but he’s landing better football recruits!

Jeremy Bloom, My Favorite Ex-Buffalo

You remember Jeremy Bloom; he’s the exceptional athlete who is not only a world-class skier, but a member of the University of Colorado football team? Well, ex-member. He was recently told by the NCAA that he could no longer accept skiing endorsements and maintain his football eligibility. His endorsements are the only way he can afford to pursue his skiing, so to give them up would be to give up skiing. Mind you, a college football player can legally play professional baseball, but evidently taking your money from a sponsor is different than taking it from a professional team (who in turn makes money from sponsors). The sad thing is that Bloom obviously played football just for the love of the game, although he was very good at it.
Well, don’t be bitter. Jeremy isn’t. In fact, he wrote a nice little article thanking the NCAA for all they taught him.
And yes, my last paragraph and Bloom’s article are dripping with sarcasm.

Marathon Man

For each of the past two Sundays, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a little time in the house with the Olympics on. Each day, they showed a marathon, live and in full. Last Sunday it was the women and yesterday it was the men. In each case, the race was much more interesting than you would think 2+ hours of running would be.
You’ve of course heard by now about the controversy in yesterday’s race. Brazilian Vanderlei De Lima (no, he was not being played by Jason Alexander) led for most of the race, running out to as much as a 45 second lead over a large pack. With about 3 or so miles left and his lead down to about 30 seconds, De Lima was jumped by a crazy Irishman. The nutjob pushed De Lima to the side of the road before spectators and security freed him. De Lima lost some time, probably 5-10 seconds, and also his composure, at least for a bit. Shortly thereafter, Stefano Baldini of Italy and then Meb Keflezighi passed De Lima. De Lima settled for the bronze.
That’s where the controversy comes in. Brazil is asking for the IOC to award De Lima a gold medal as well, saying that he likely would have won without the attack.
I disagree.
First, some background on De Lima. He’s 35 years old and this is his third Olympics. In Atlanta eight years ago, he finished around 45th in the marathon. Four years ago in Sydney, he finished around 72nd. Clearly, he was not a favorite in this race. What he tried was a common distance race strategy for less-talented runners – go out early, build a big lead and try to hang on. The idea is that the more talented runners will let you go and try to run you down at the end, but they may not be able to make up enough ground. If you wait and try run with them the whole way, they’ll outkick you, so you try to win the race early. A good friend of mine used this strategy successfully in high school, narrowly beating his arch-rival in the indoor mile by holding him off after building a big lead.
The problem for De Lima is that he was running out of gas. Baldini and the others were gaining on him at the time he was jumped. When Baldini did finally pass him a short time later, he blew by him. Baldini ended up beating De Lima by a minute and 16 seconds. You can’t claim that all that time (plus the 29 seconds that he was behind at the time) is attributable to De Lima being pushed to the side for a few seconds. Additionally, American Keflezighi beat De Lima by 42 seconds.
To his credit, De Lima didn’t seem bitter at all. When he entered the stadium for his last two laps, he looked positively ecstatic. He made airplane arms and beamed, incredibly excited to be winning a medal after two Olympics of finishing way back in the pack.
So, let’s not tarnish a great race by muddying it up with post-event politics. Baldini won fair and square and De Lima ran a great race and finished third. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that. Plus, De Lima gets to be a hero in Brazil, and that can’t be bad.

Olympic-Sized Thoughts

I haven’t really written much about the Olympics yet, but it not because I’m not watching or don’t care. It’s quite the opposite. Watching the games at night has taken away some of my time and I’ve built up so much to say that it’s a bit intimidating. To help me out a bit, I’m not going to write anything here about how the US Men’s Basketball team should have been better and I’m not writing about the Paul Hamm situation with gymnastics. I’d like to avoid writing about gymnastics at all, but it is the Olympics, so I do have a little something.
I should say up front that I love the Olympics. I know that some say it’s just a big commercial event filled with hypocrisy and cheating. I won’t argue that those issues aren’t real, but for me they don’t really take away from the games. For the vast majority of athletes there, these games are the pinnacle of their sporting lives. Actually, if you consider how much time these people have spent training and competing, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the Olympics are the pinnacle of their entire lives. The games only come every four years, so for many athletes they get only one shot. If they fall down in their preliminary heat or come down with an ill-timed cold, four years or more of training could be washed down the drain. These people wake up at dawn and run 10 miles while their friends sleep. They go to their jobs with regular people, and then go out and train while their coworkers are at happy hour. Most don’t earn any extra money for competing; they do it for the love. They long ago learned that they had a special talent and they want to see how much they can refine and improve their ability. The Olympics aren’t just their chance to show people what they can do, but they’re a chance to compete against the best in world and see how they stack up. While they may have trained in relative anonymity in Akron for four years, they get to see how they compare to others who have been doing the same thing in Oslo or Beijing.
One thing that gets me every time is a medal ceremony. I love seeing someone up on that stand watching their flag and listening to their anthem. On top of the tremendous personal pride they must feel for realizing their dreams, they get a jolt of nationalistic pride as well. I get choked up just watching on TV. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to actually be standing there.
One sport that doesn’t quite fit into that picture of anonymity I drew above is men’s basketball. For the most part, those players are pros making a lot of money, especially those who play in the NBA. Like I said, I’m not going to beat up on the US team; that’s been done enough. Instead, I’m going to focus on the good part of the US losing three times and taking the bronze. Back in 1988, we sent a team of college players for the last time. That team was led by David Robinson, but lost in the semifinals to the Soviet Union before taking the bronze. That loss shocked Americans, so we decided never to send a team of college players again (by the way, that team finished the Olympics with a record of 7-1, while the 2004 pro team finished 5-3). The international teams had gotten too good. In ’92, of course, we sent the Dream Team (and will people stop calling other teams that name? No one dreamed of a team with Lamar Odom and Richard Jefferson and no one dreamed of the US Softball or women’s soccer teams either. Enough already.) and they steamrolled the competition. In ’96 and 2000, we won gold again, but with narrower and narrower margins. This year, the dam burst. We can make all the excuses we want, but the bottom line is that the world has caught up. It caught up to our college kids 16 years ago and our pros now. And that’s a good thing. It makes the games that much more interesting. If we’re no longer a shoo-in to win, then the games will be more fun. Players can go knowing that they can impress us. The prevailing attitude a few months ago was that a win was expected (and boring) and a loss unacceptable. I don’t think anyone thinks that any more. The other countries can play and that’s not gonna change. Maybe basketball will become like soccer, where dozens of countries have a chance to be the best. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
The other great aspect of what we saw from men’s hoops is that the international game is pretty damn fun. They mix up defenses, they cut, they pass and they can shoot. It’s basketball the way it should be played. Actually, it’s basketball as it’s still played in college, but with better players. I think the NBA could learn a thing or two. Zone defense don’t mean the end of offense. Hell, these Olympic teams were routinely scoring over 90 points in a 40 minute game! One key difference from the NBA is the amount of hand-checking the refs would allow. The NBA has become a defensive league in large part because of the ever increasing amount of hand-checking. The Pistons started that trend and Pat Riley’s Knicks and Heat took it the next level. As teams started grabbing and holding more, refs started allowing more of it. Otherwise, they’d be blowing whistles left and right. It’s time for that to stop. Cut back on the hand-checking to give the offense some room to maneuver. At the same time, allow real zone defenses to force teams to acquire pure shooters. Believe me, no one is going to play a zone D for too long against a team that can shoot, but it’s great to have that option to mix things up and penalize teams that can’t shoot.
As expected, NBC showed a lot of coverage of men’s basketball. I didn’t mind so much, because I like basketball, but at the same time, in the Olympics I often want to see the other sports. I want to see the sports that you don’t get to see too much elsewhere. Overall though, I thought NBC did a really good job this year, certainly better than in years past. Their use of the cable channels really helped, as they could leave the corny melodrama on the main channel and focus on actual competition on CNBC, USA and MSNBC. Also, it seemed like they showed a little less gymnastics this year. It used to be that you got the impression that gymnastics was the only sport in the Olympics, but they were more selective in what they showed this time. Maybe it’s just because Tim Daggett annoys them too.
Speaking of gymnastics, man what a screwed up sport. How can it be a true competition when the results are in the hands of judges? I think the fact that they feel the need to show the nationality of each judge pretty much tells you what you need to know. If the judges’ nationalities are relevant, the implication is that they are playing favorites. Politics comes in to play. Don’t think that wasn’t at least part of what South Korea was trying to pull. They knew they might not get the All-Around gold for their guy, but they might get some sympathy points in the individual competitions. It’s a joke. One of the eternal themes of the Olympics is supposed to be no politics. How is that possible in sports where the outcome is entirely controlled by judges? While I respect the hell out of the gymnasts themselves, I think the sport needs to go (and take diving and boxing with it). For a sport to be fair, the winner needs to be obvious – who gets there faster, goes farther or scores the most points. Your music selection and reputation should have nothing to do with it.
One thing about the Olympics is that you get to see so many different sports at the same time. You see sports predicated on endurance, strength, speed, swimming, jumping, team play, aim, etc. Each different sport requires different talents and skills and therefore different body types. Sprinters are small-to-average height and muscular. Distance runners are short and lean. Swimmers are tall and wirey. Gymnasts are tiny and strong. Sometimes those body types line up nicely with the gene pool of some ethnic group or region. In track, the sprints are dominated by west Africans while the distance events are dominated by east Africans. There are hardly any world-class Asian sprinters. Diving however, is dominated by the Chinese. Romanians seem to make great gymnasts and weightlifters. Almost every sport shows some of this pattern, and I find it fascinating.
I think this partly explains why the US does so well at so many sports. We are a nation of immigrants. We have people from every nationality and ethnic group here. Need gymnasts? We have former Romanians. Need sprinters? Plenty of west Africans here. Obviously, America’s wealth and love of sport are just as significant to our success, but you can’t discount our diversity. That’s just one more reason to feel pride when our anthem is played. It’s like a celebration of the melting pot.
This has gotten long, so I’ll wrap it up with a mention of one of my favorite moments. Rulon Gardner had just won his bronze medal match. Obviously, he wanted to win the gold, but I’m sure he was proud with the bronze. When he won though, he showed no emotion at all. He was exhausted, but I think it was partly the big, tough guy attitude. Real wrestlers don’t preen and they don’t show emotion. Just after the match though, as he had said he would, Gardner walked to the center circle and sat down to take off his shoes. He intended to leave his shoes in the center of the ring to indicate that he was retiring. (Seeing the rituals and cultures that are part of so many non-mainsteam sports is yet another intriguing part of the Olympics.) So anyway, Gardner is sitting there unlacing his shoes (wrestling shoes have a long laces) and he starts breaking down. This big, strong guy who maintained his stoic demeanor while winning his medal was crying. The thought that his career was over was too much. It summed up what competition is all about – putting everything into your sport. You don’t do it for the money or fame (that Gardner became famous as a Greco-Roman wrestler is about as long a shot as there is), you do it for the love of the game. He was giving up his love. It got a little dusty in my house about then.
So yes, the Olympics maybe do have too much commercialism, too much politics and too much cheating, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. I can’t wait for the Winter Olympics in 2006.

Email Of The Week

A friend of mine (you know him as pope ttb xxx from the Sports Shack) sent me a great story today. I thought I’d share.

I know baseball is not very high on your list, but here’s a hardball story even you’ll like.
Most of us revere Dock Ellis as the man to pitch a no-hitter on acid, but my favorite baseball story is this:
May, 1974 — Ellis single-handedly decided to break the Pirates out of their emotional slump, announcing that “We gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I’m going to hit these motherfuckers.”
True to his word, in the first inning of the first regular season game he pitched against the Reds, Ellis hit leadoff batter Pete Rose in the ribs, then plunked Joe Morgan in the kidney, and loaded the bases by hitting Dan Driessen in the back. Tony Perez, batting cleanup, dodged a succession of Ellis’ pitches to walk and force in a run.
The next hitter was Johnny Bench. “I tried to deck him twice,” Ellis recalled. “I threw at his jaw, and he moved. I threw at the back of his head, and he moved.” At this point, Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh removed Ellis from the game.