O’er the Green Hills o’ Ireland

June 12, 2008

I am going to take this opportunity to deviate from my typical routine of writing strictly about college sports and give some attention to something that I think deserves it.  The NBA Finals.

 

As many of you are well aware, the Boston Celtics have assembled a squad of All Stars this season in hopes of returning to NBA prominence.  They finished the season with the best record in the league and have thus far made it all the way to the finals, despite their apparent affinity for going to seven games in a series.  There they have met the Los Angeles Lakers, the team that Boston consistently struggled against back in the glory days of both franchises when Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabar were lighting up scoreboards and highlight reels.  This was probably the match-up that the majority of people wanted to see this season, and is probably also the only match up that I would have really felt like paying attention to.

 

Since the Celtics had the best record in the league, they took homecourt advantage into this series, and clearly it was an advantage.  They won the first two games at home rather comfortably, but then they succumbed to the Lakers in game three in Los Angeles.  Kobe Bryant had a ridiculous game, putting on crazy displays of athleticism and convincing some of my friends that he is either an alien or a robot.  Game four is scheduled for tonight at 6:00, and this is a massively pivotal game.  Here’s why.

 

If the Lakers win this game, they will likely maintain their momentum, win their next game at home, and go back to Boston only needing one more game to win the series.  I have to think that after taking a 3-2 lead that Kobe could fulfill his destiny as the MVP and win the title in the same season.  Phil Jackson is a great coach, boasting nine rings, and Kobe and Derek Fisher are seasoned vets with three rings each.  If they win this game, they may just win the series.

 

If the Celtics win this game, it is over for the Lakers.  They would have a 3-1 lead and then every game from then on out would be a must win for the Lakers, and the final two will be back in Beantown.  There is no way that if they go down 3-1 they will win even two of the next games, because Kevin Garnett’s killer instincts will kick in and he will make Pau Gasol his bitch.  He’s already been working on it, but it’s going to become more readily noticeable.

 

I honestly think that the Lakers will probably win this game, after the display Kobe put on in game three and factoring in the home court advantage.  But as far as the overall series goes, I have a different intuition.

 

My money is on the luck of the Irish.  KG needs a ring, Ray Allen needs a ring, and Paul Pierce probably deserves one for sticking around in Boston so long while they totally sucked.  I’ll be watching, rooting for Boston, but actually hoping for some drama to unfold and make it even more interesting.

 

MOST LIKELY TO:

 

Win tonight – Lakers

Win the series – Celtics

Pahhk thayuh cahhs crooked after the Celtics take the title – Bostonians

Win next year’s MVP – Kevin Garnett

Look like an alien/horse – Sam Cassell

Turn out to be an alien or a robot – Kobe Bryant


College Sports Reign Supreme

June 4, 2008

It occurs to me that I haven’t dedicated a post to my popular rant about why college sports are way better than professional sports.  Many apologies; it’s long overdue.  To avoid getting into a random, fragmented stream of ideas, I’ll go ahead and lay them out in list form.

 

Pageantry vs. Marketing

Professional sports franchises are for-profit entities.  The bottom line is that teams create excitement about themselves in an effort to sell tickets, jerseys, posters and other merchandise in an effort to make money.  Now to be fair, they do this in a number of ways, including bringing talented players to their town and by giving the fans a product that they want.  While earning money for a program by getting into bowl games and other post-season matches is part of the college sports world, the reason that fans love watching their teams play, buy their jerseys, and travel to see their games isn’t due to that school’s marketing efforts (which are certainly also present and visible; just look at my Ducks).  It is because they love the program.  It is their alma mater, their hometown team, or their dream school.  They’ve been with the same institution through thick and thin, they’ve painted their bodies, they’ve performed superstitious rituals, they’ve learned to play the fight song on their instrument of choice, and they’ve shed tears over losses and injuries.  They’ve burned replicas of their rival’s mascot.  Many of them have even been involved in brawls with opposing fans outside the stadium.  It’s that level of passion, that deep commitment and pageantry that gives collegiate sports its soul.

 

Canned Music vs. Marching Bands

The NBA, NFL, MLB and probably all those other leagues I don’t watch play pop songs and cheesy old-school stuff like “dun nuh nuh NUH nuh NUH, CHARGE” as the athletes are performing.  That seems almost degrading, as if we are placing the athletes on a level with today’s pop and rap stars, or are looking at them like circus acts.  In collegiate sports, marching bands and other big band arrangements perform some arrangements of popular songs (which sound MUCH cooler coming from a multi-section ensemble) during timeouts, halftime, and pre-game, and they blast their fight songs with passion when their teams come out to the court, field, what have you, when they are successful in play, and when they are victorious.  They feature stimulating drum-lines, horns blasts, bass lines, and even synchronized movements to add to the flare.  Plus they are performing live, which is always way cooler to experience than something recorded and played over stadium PA’s.

 

Scholarships vs. Salaries

Professional athletes sign mega-contracts before they ever play one minute for their teams.  They play day in and day out, knowing that regardless of whether they win or lose, they are going to make the same amount of money and are going to drive home in their nice cars to their nice houses with nice furniture and whatever other nice stuff I can’t even imagine.  Sure, they want to win, and they know if they play well their next contract could be worth even more.  But there still has to be some element of a “whatever, I still get paid” mentality that is probably pretty prevalent.  College athletes also get some financial support out of the bargain, but theirs is in the form of scholarships (at least usually, I’m not sure what all goes on at USC).  They don’t play for the money.  They play for the chance to take their team to a national championship in a much broader field of teams.  They play for passion.  They play for respect.  True, they also play for the chance to be noticed and one day play in professional leagues, but even that aspect involves deeper passion and a firmer commitment to hard work than playing for a salary.

 

This is hardly a complete list.  Maybe I’ll slap some more up here as they come to me.

 

MOST LIKELY TO:

Disagree with me – Lakers fans, Yankees fans, Packers fans

Agree with me – people from college towns

Beat up another mascot – The Duck

Beat up another person or coach – a professional athlete

Never play professionally – most college athletes

Remember those years as one of the best, most meaningful and exciting times of their lives – those same college athletes


Best in Basketball: pt 2

June 4, 2008

(CONTINUED FROM LAST POST)

It’s a little surprising that the Pac-10 didn’t make it into the first section of this blog, but maybe I was just waiting to cover them so that they would appear chronologically above the other conferences in the discussion on the homepage of this site.  Or maybe I just wanted to save the best for last.  That said, let’s talk about the Big 10, the Big East and the SEC before we get to the Conference of Champions.

 

SEC fans live and die with their college football season.  But they have also been known to make things interesting in 94 feet.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that is the length of an official NCAA basketball court, and if you didn’t know that, you probably don’t give a rat’s ass about much that I have to say.  The Florida Gators won back to back titles the last two seasons before Kansas took the title last year, and teams like Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt are always competitive.  Obviously there is more to the SEC than football.

 

The Big-10, traditionally known for their football programs, also tends to make statements in the basketball world.  Michigan used to be consistently good, Michigan State still is consistently good, and Ohio State is always a contender.  Teams like Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana are all strong, and have established great traditions, helping to make their conference remain nationally relevant.  Illinois won a championship a few years back, as did Michigan State (further back).  However, over the past few seasons their effectiveness has waned.

 

The Big East is currently near the top in my mind with the Pac-10 and the ACC.  Look at this impressive list of schools; Cincinnati, Georgetown, Connecticut, Pitt, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia.  Wow.  That is a long list of strong programs, year in and year out.  While Pitt and West Virginia are more recent phenomena, they still weigh in to this debate.  Rather heavily.

 

Then, of course, you can’t leave out the Pac-10.  Over the last couple decades, UCLA has been a major national competitor and has reached the Final Four on many occasions.  I don’t even have to mention their ridiculous streak of national championships under John Wooden, although I guess I just did, but perhaps that is antiquity now and is probably less important in this debate than their recent successes.  Stanford and USC are consistently relevant within the conference and in the NCAA Tournament, and my beloved Oregon Ducks have been getting better and better as Ernie Kent continues to bring in effective recruiting classes.  This year’s class may prove to be one of the best of his tenure, ranking 15th nationally in a recent ESPN assessment (check out No. 1, 9, and 21 as well, all Pac-10 teams).  Washington State has stepped into the national spotlight recently as a legitimate presence, and Arizona is always in the conversation for Pac-10 and national relevance.  With Oregon winning the first ever NCAA Tournament, UCLA running off 11 championships under John Wooden, and Arizona winning the title back in the Gilbert Arenas and Miles Simon days, I think it is safe to say that the Pac-10 is right up there with the ACC as the most important and exciting conferences in the sport.

 

MOST LIKELY TO:

Follow up last year’s strong showing – Pac-10

Feature some young talent and relieve Tajuan Porter by putting him back at the 2-guard position – Oregon Ducks

Keep kicking ass in general – ACC and Big East

Keep checking ESPN.com daily for news about college basketball – me

Still suck for a few years – Oregon State

Send a record number of teams to the NCAA Tourney – Pac-10

Be ridiculed as a Pac-10 fan with blinders on – me again


The Best in Basketball: pt 1

June 4, 2008

I know I never really went through and gave praise to the SEC teams for their football prowess.  I know it exists, and I know that regardless of whatever I said about the Pac-10, the majority of folks lean toward their side.  If you really want to hear about all that, check out ESPN.com or just Google that mess.

 

But beyond all that, now it’s time for me to boast about the Pac-10 in a different light, one which is very close to my heart as an athlete and a sports fan.  You guessed it; basketball.

 

When it comes to the hardwood and what I believe is one of the purest sports for exhibition of all around athleticism, few people can argue with the success that the ACC has had over the years placing them in the forefront of this discussion, although depending on where you live or where your allegiances lie you would probably like to offer counterarguments.  I usually do, but mine all seem to be Pac-10 oriented, so I welcome fans of other teams and conferences to chime in to this conversation.

 

North Carolina and Duke are perennial powerhouses on a national scale.  I don’t even care to tabulate the national championships that these two teams have combined for throughout my lifetime, but I was certainly watching, and the number is pretty high.  These teams tend to pump out more draft picks than Apple releases new versions of the iPod.  The recruiting edge that these two teams have over most programs in the country is nothing short of phenomenal.  But the ACC doesn’t end with Tobacco Road.  Maryland comes and goes as a contender (remember Juan Dixon and Lonnie Baxter?) and Wake Forest does a little bit of the same (reaching as far back as Tim Duncan).  Miami, Georgia Tech, and Florida State show up once in a while, and even the Wolfpack of NC State has been known to pull off an upset and shake up the conference standings.  And you can never leave out Clemson, a team that knocked off Duke last season to throw a wrench in the the UNC/Duke showdown that usually means more than it did after that game.  While none of these teams have proven to be as consistently potent and competitive as either of the two giants of their conference, they contribute to the overall power of the ACC.

 

The Big-12 also deserves major consideration.  Oklahoma and Oklahoma State bounce around from year to year as major contenders, but teams like Texas and Kansas have certainly been impressive for a long time.  Most recently, Kansas knocked of an incredibly athletic Memphis team in the national title game, and even K-State has made some noise, particularly this year on the shoulders of potential No. 1 draft pick Marcus Beasley.  Hell, even Texas Tech was able to do some rather meaningful things under Bob Knight, and I’m sure they hope to continue that trend with his son, Pat Knight, taking the reins.  So far that hasn’t proven to be true, but maybe next year will be more successful for Pat, as he attempts to fill the giant shoes of his father.  It is important to note that Kansas finished the season as the national champs, and the Texas finished ranked No. 5 in the AP and Coaches Polls.

 

(TO BE CONTINUED)


The Best in Football: pt 2

June 4, 2008

(CONTINUED FROM LAST POST)

California.  After Jeff Tedford left Oregon for the head coaching job with the Golden Bears, their program experienced a major swing from being at the bottom of the conference to being at the top of national consideration.  Despite their tendency to struggle late in the season, they have gained recognition and have produced a number of fantastic NFL prospects like Justin Forsett and Desean Jackson, and beat Tennessee last season, one of the many Pac-10 victories over SEC opponents in the last few years.

 

Arizona State.  With the hiring of Dennis Erickson as head coach, they too experienced a rather immediate turnaround to finish the season ranked No. 13 overall, and look to continue their streak of strong showings and bowl appearances next year.

 

Oregon State.  While I hate the idea of writing about the Beavers in a positive light, you have to give it up to Mike Riley and his ability to take a tiny little program like OSU and make it a national contender.  I seem to remember a Fiesta Bowl early in the 2000’s in which the Beavs stuck it to the very storied program of Notre Dame by a score of 41-9.  Ouch.  Two years ago they knocked off USC, and last season they even beat my beloved Ducks, in Autzen stadium.  Again, ouch.  But these guys have more passion than most teams in America, probably because no matter how good they are, they always seem to have something to prove.

 

UCLA was at one time a major contender, and have suffered in the past few years after the issues they had with one of their star athletes receiving illegitimate gifts (seems to be a southern Cali problem; Reggie Bush, O.J. Mayo, granted from the other side of town).  But with the hiring of Rick Neuheisel, or as many Northwest football fans kindly refer to as Neu-weasal, UCLA looks poised to make some noise in the 2008 season.  Let’s remember this team knocked off USC two years ago in their season finale.

 

I haven’t even said anything about the SEC, and I know there is a great deal to be said.  But what I would like to do is find the record between the Pac-10 and the SEC in the last five years and see what is up then.  But for now, I’m outtie like a belly button.

 

PS – this is funny, check out what the Pac-10 coaches would look like if they were characters on South Park

 

MOST LIKELY TO:

 

Bitch and moan about their tough schedule – SEC teams

Man up and deal with their tough schedule – Pac-10 teams

Have proven to be successful in their interconference record vs. SEC – Pac-10

Move a little closer to being the best conference in football – Pac-10

Debate this all year long – ESPN analysts

Show Boise State and the WAC that they are WACK – Oregon Ducks

 


Best in Football: pt 1

June 4, 2008

Ok.  I think it’s time to start a heated debate.

 

Through this whole blogging experience, I’ve voiced some of my opinions, but so far none of them have been too controversial.  Save for PERHAPS the Ryan Perrilloux discussion.  Thus said, it’s high time for me to earn some comments, regardless of their nature.  If after this post, you want to leave me the most flaming disagreement ever written, I would be pleased as punch.  Or, perhaps you would like to agree fervently and tell me I’m the smartest online writer you’ve ever encountered, however unlikely or untrue that may be.  That said, let’s begin.

 

Every college football season, commentators, on-air personalities and analysts argue over the same things.  One of the most prevalent all season long is the debate as to which college football conference is the best.  Due to their storied tradition and their home region’s life and death dependence on college football, most people tend to agree that the SEC is the most dominant, most important, and most intensely competitive conference by a long shot.  However, with the perennial success and national respect that USC has enjoyed for the past couple decades, the Pac-10 seems to enter the conversation every year.  At least in the past five or six seasons.  But it’s not completely due to USC.  A number of other programs have emerged as perennial contenders.

 

Take the University of Oregon for example.  Led by “The Dean of the Pac-10,” coach Mike Bellotti, the Ducks have been a consistent force to be reckoned with for the past 15 years.  With appearances in the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl (2001 38-16 stomping of Colorado) and multiple Holiday and Sun Bowl appearances (including last season’s 56-21 embarrassment of South Florida), the Ducks have established themselves as a nationally important team.  Recently, QB Dennis Dixon and RB Jonathan Stewart contributed to the Ducks’ prestige by putting up monster numbers throughout the season, and securing such big-time wins as the 39-7 shellacking they put on Michigan in the Big House immediately following the upset that Appalachian State was able to pull out against the Wolverines, and the big time win at home verses USC, a game which was nationally televised and spoke volumes about USC’s supposed stranglehold on the conference.  I could go into much greater detail, but you already know I’m a Ducks fan, so I’ll cite some others.  (TO BE CONTINUED)


Hoop Dreams

May 29, 2008

Remember when you were a kid and you thought you were totally going to play college ball?

 

Me too.  Did you?

 

Yeah, me neither.

 

Well, not really anyway.  I played basketball in high school, and was probably good enough to make teams at either of the colleges that I spent any significant time at, but I never played.  I guess I’ve played intramurals and a lot of pick-up games, but no actual college basketball to speak of.  So far, that is.

 

You see, I am faced with an interesting decision as I head into next school year, and it is one that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.  I will be graduating next year.  That means this is my last chance to be able to say for the rest of my life, “Yeah, I played a little college ball.”  I could even throw the acronym NCAA up in there, but I think I would leave out the Division III part, unless someone asked specifically.  Since next year will be my fifth year in college, I will have a slightly lighter schedule which could allow for me to try out for and potentially play on my school’s team.  Sounds like a no-brainer to all the hardcore college sports fans.

 

The problems begin in those gray areas of “slightly lighter” and “could allow. . .” and continue all the way through me keeping two jobs.  I’m still not entirely sure if the time commitment required to be on the team is going to be something that I can afford monetarily or scholastically, and I’m also somewhat worried about the potential effect on my social life, sucking time out of relationships that I would like to maintain and putting it on the hardwood.  When I was in high school, it was way easier to play ball and get by, mainly because the classes were easier and I didn’t have to work so much.  Now, I find it tough even to get to the gym a couple of nights a week, between work and school and homework and whatever else.  Plus in high school, all the girls seemed to hang out in the gym anyway, so it just made perfect sense.

 

I’m still not sure what I’m going to do about the whole thing but I would relish some feedback.

 

MOST LIKELY TO:

 

Make the team – me

Not end up wanting to play halfway through – half the players

Not really know what to do until it’s too late – me again

Be the super-est senior ever – still me

Do the “Eagle Cry” – Swirv