April 11, 2008

Someone Tell the Flyers - Hockey Games Have 3 Periods

I don't watch a whole lot of hockey, but I do know that if you have a 2 goal lead going into the third period, you should probably try to protect it.

The Philadelphia Flyers apparently don't know that, since they sleepwalked (sleepskated?) through the biggest period of hockey they've played all year. Mike Green brought the Caps back from a 4-2 deficit with 2 goals in the first 7 minutes of the third period. Then Alex Ovechkin gave Caps fans a storybook ending with an amazing takeaway and the game-winning goal with under 5 minutes to go.

Verizon Center looked like it was rocking tonight, and the Capitals reminded their fans why the playoffs are the time that casual sports fans start caring about the NHL. The game showcased just about everything you could ask for in an exciting hockey game: a comeback, great hitting, and great drama.

The NBA and Race - Bilas Too Smart for Radio

Thanks to the Baltimore Sun's new blog The Life of Kings for bringing this to my attention.

So recently Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald invited Jay Bilas to come on to his radio show to talk about college basketball. Bilas, the only Dookie we tolerate, was an attorney before he returned to television as a basketball analyst.

LeBatard wanted to talk about Tyler Hansbrough. His line of questioning included whether NBA GMs were leery of taking a white player since it has been so long since the NBA had a dominant white player. Bilas' reply, which I believe whole-heartedly, is that he had never heard an NBA GM mention race with regard to identifying talent. LeBatard prodded further, implying that "athleticism" is a code word used to describe black athletes, but not white athletes. Bilas replied with a few examples of black players who excelled in college but were not deemed athletic enough for the NBA.

Defeated by Bilas refusal to blowhard with him, LeBatard tried to switch the focus to a discussion of why NBA GMs seem to prefer white Europeans over white Americans. It was at that point that Bilas decided he'd had enough. "No offense, but this is stupid." "With all due respect, this is stupid." He said you can't shift the question from race in general and then discount white Europeans. Dan LeBatard replied "You can't say 'No offense' and then 'this is stupid!'". Bilas agreed with him, saying "Ok, take offense. This is stupid." He hung up soon thereafter.

I think there is a place for a discussion about race, and the cultural memes associated with our two most prolific races in sports, whites and blacks, when it comes to the NBA, but I don't think LeBatard was having the correct discussion. On an episode of Boondocks that aired last night, Riley was recruited by his black attorney neighbor to play basketball for his children's rec league after the neighbor saw Riley playing against his grandfather in the driveway. Riley had fantastic dribbling moves, and enough skills for an And 1 competition. When he got on the court with teammates, he could dribble everyone on the other team out of their shoes, but he didn't know how to pass and finish. Once he learned some other skills, he still was more concerned with how much attention he was getting rather than whether his team was winning. In a dream Riley had earlier in the episode, he was playing in the All-Star game against current players. The announcers focused on how Riley could "stack more paper" than the other players, and "f*** more hoes." This culminated in an especially hilarious interview with Shaq, where Shaq admitted that Riley could stack more paper than him, f*** more hoes than him, and generally outplay him.

The point is that the NBA is more conducive to individualized basketball, and the NBA is the level of basketball that pays the most money. For children who grow up in lower-income neighborhoods without an obvious escape route, professional sports have always provided an avenue. On the ranches of Texas or in the coal towns of Pennsylvania, it might be football or baseball. On the streets of Detroit and Baltimore, it's basketball. Obviously, ranches and mining towns are predominantly white, whereas the cores of some industrial cities are predominantly black.

**Note that Riley on the Boondocks is not actually poor at all, which is used in the show as a comedic tool frequently. He and his brother Huey live in a suburban, mostly white, neighborhood. When Riley tries to rename streets with names like "Flowering Blossom Way" to things like "Hustlers Row" for extra cred, the neighbors are a bit confused.

Bilas was right. LeBatard was being stupid if he really thought that the race of the player in the NBA is limiting in any way. NBA GMs simply look for the skill set that achieves results in the NBA. The slashing guard skill set is predominantly learned in our cities. The big man with an outside shot skill set is predominantly learned in Europe. The big rebounder/shot blocker skill set is predominantly learned in college. Race isn't the distinguishing factor. It's all about skill set.

Unfortunately there isn't really a place in the NBA for an undersized guard with a coached-since-kindergarten understanding of fundamental basketball, a lot of hustle, and a decent three-point shot.

April 9, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

Lately, young people around the country have been given a reason to believe in the power of change again. People who had given up on old institutions are re-investing themselves, full of hope in the promise of the future.

That's right, the Orioles are winning the AL East! The cellar-dwelling O's are reborn, transformed into contenders again. This is truly Change We Can Believe In.

The O's have a 2 game lead a little over a week into the season. Some may say this success is short lived, and that the Orioles have no chance of finishing over .500, much less winning the division. To them, we say "Yes We Can!" (or Si Se Puede for you, Ramon Hernandez).

I think that's the new motto for the Orioles' season. Now let's see the "Yes We Can" signs out at the Yard!

BREAKING NEWS: Women Allowed to Compete at Augusta

There was no pomp and circumstance. There were no official ceremonies. Nevertheless, Augusta's long-standing rule prohibiting women from becoming members has been eroded, possibly beyond repair.

In today's Par Three Competition, televised for the world to see on ESPN, Caleigh Lynn Furyk became the first known female to compete at Augusta. Furyk, the daughter of tour pro Jim Furyk, attempted a putt on behalf of her father this afternoon.

bblah Furyk, highlighted here, joins the likes of Jackie Robinson and Manon Rheaume

We could not reach Hootie Johnson for comment. Nor could we reach Martha Burk. One can only assume that both are huddling with their public relations teams to determine how best to handle this shocking news. Hootie must recognize that allowing a kindergarten age child to compete at Augusta opens the floodgates to women with ability, perhaps even women who can tie their own shoes. Burk must be buoyed by the news, but she must calculate her next move lest she overplay the hand she has been dealt.

Be assured ECB will stay with this breaking story and provide any updates as they occur.

Maryland Women Go High in WNBA Draft

Two Terps went in the top 10 of this year's WNBA Draft, showing the quality of the Maryland women's basketball program. Crystal Langhorne was picked 6th by the Mystics, and Laura Harper went 10th to Sacramento. The only schools preceding Maryland's first pick this year were Tennessee, LSU, Stanford, and Rutgers, a who's-who of women's college basketball. Hopefully, Maryland's success will continue, and we can return to the Final Four. (AP Photo)

Betting the Masters

With Tiger a staggering favorite, here's a quick look at some of the good and bad bets that can be made for this year's Masters.

Tiger 1/1 to win
Phil 10/1 to win

That means Tiger is 50/50 to win the tournament. Based on recent history, that seems generous to the field. On the other hand, there are 94 golfers in the field, and Tiger hasn't dominated at the Masters lately. Hold off for better choices.

Phil may not be as hot as Tiger, but he has won more Masters than Tiger lately. If you like Phil and think he can overcome the debacle at the US Open a couple years ago (no majors since), 10/1 is mighty generous for a two-time winner in the last four years.

Odds to Win the Masters (without Tiger Woods)

You know you're good when Vegas has to exclude you from betting in order to get action. Pretty soon, we'll just give Tiger the trophy and then play the tournament to see who gets second. This brings Phil down to 6/1 if you were wondering.

Will Tiger lead after Day 1? 4/1

Probably not. He's even admitted he doesn't go out and try to kill it on Thursday. It's all about conservative positioning. Look back at his win streak and see how many times he's led after Thursday. Bad bet.

How many bogeys or worse for Tiger? Over 11.5 ~3/4

Apparently they're giving money away. This might sound like a bad bet since Tiger would have to bogey at least three holes a round. However, examination of Tiger's last four years at Augusta (including a victory in 2005 at -12) showed that he has been over 11.5 each of the past four years. Any sort of off week or bad conditions would make this a lock.

Tiger to win the Masters and the British Open 4/1

If you thought the bet of Tiger to win the Masters at 1/1 was a great one, this pays a little better. However, be careful with the math. If Tiger's a 50% shot to win at both tournaments, he has a 25% chance to win both. That would mean 3/1. Add in the fact that the British Open is months away, could be played in a howling wind, and that Tiger can really struggle when the British isn't a St. Andrew's, and this bet is really dicey.

The last two winners in a playoff
Will there be a playoff? 9/4

The playoffs in 2003 and 2005 were the first since 1989. There have been 13 playoffs in the Masters. Not such a good bet at 9/4 given how many years the Masters has been played, much better to take it the other way. If you're really think a playoff will happen, go ahead and take Tiger to win a playoff at 12/1.

All odds from bodoglife.com

Idol Recap - April 8, 2008

This is an unusual week for American Idol, with the second annual Idol Gives Back event falling on Wednesday, which is usually elimination night. Idol chose to link the performances to Idol Gives Back with "Inspiration" as the theme for Tuesday's performances. This is rather amorphous, as reflected by eight performances ranging from classic Aerosmith to Carole King.

(In alphabetical order, since I don't remember the exact order of performances...)

1) David Archuleta - Angels - Robbie Williams

I was afraid Mr. Archuleta, a Mormon, would choose something by Jars of Clay or early Creed or DC Talk, but he chose to go a little more mainstream. Archuleta remains boring in that he never falls flat on his face and always delivers quality performances. On consistency alone, he's the clear favorite. On talent alone, he's probably the clear favorite. The only risk he faces is complacency, not from himself but from the voting audience. The worst thing that can happen to an excellent contestant is that people assume he's safe and forget to actually vote for him. With eight contestants left, this is the most dangerous time for him. He almost might be best served by tanking one just to rally people to continue voting.

2) Jason Castro - Over the Rainbow - Judy Garland/Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

We all know this song, and many of us have heard the ukelele version made popular by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. Castro chose the latter, which appears to continue to be a good strategy in Idol. David Cook and Chris Daughtry have shown that the judges will think you are original and fresh if you play someone's modern remix of an extremely well known song. For that reason, and because Israel Kamakawiwo'ole is not a household name, I assume Jason will be safe again. He is still mastering the Justin Guarini approach to Idol success: look pretty, have nice hair, don't do anything dangerous. The performance itself was so-so, but the song is pretty easy to sing. How does it inspire Jason? Does anyone know or care?

3) David Cook - Innocent - Our Lady Peace

Time to put my rant hat on. I may be the biggest Our Lady Peace fan in the United States, having turned on to Starseed and Naveed back in 1995 when said songs were in the rotation at X107 - WRXS Bishopville. At the time I thought the station was just modern rock, since on the Eastern Shore of Maryland music genres fall into Country, Classic Country, Christian, Hip-Hop, Classic Rock and 80's Rock. It turns out it was one of the few non-college indie stations in existence. Needless to say, I can't name a Motley Crue, Poison, Def Leppard or Queensryche song but I'm well-versed in Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, Liz Phair, Morrissey, Matthew Sweet, etc. Back to the performance: it's sucked horribly. The lead singer of Our Lady Peace, Raine Maida, has a very distinctive voice and a very strong, frequently used, falsetto. David Cook does not have a strong falsetto or upper range. To accomodate this he had to drop the song by an octave. The song doesn't work down a octave. The melody was buried in the background singers and the abrupt shift from regular to falsetto disappears when David Cook is going from an octave low to his normal range. He totally butchered it and Thursday will be a measure of the goodwill he's built with his emo hair and excellent song choices prior to Tuesday.

Also, he wore some kind of Sgt. Pepper's white double breasted waistcoast which looked about as appropriate on him as a tie-dye shirt would look on Dick Cheney.

4) Kristy Lee Cook - Anyway - Martina McBride

She's cornered the country market, and I can no longer anticipate her departure in the near future. Good planning on her part. My anger is subsiding. If she is going to cling to Idol life, at least she's doing it through good strategy. Plus I noticed she might have a really nice ass. Apparently she also sang a song. I don't know because a small tumor formed in my auditory cortex making my brain unable to process any country music written after 1995.

bahlahblah Brooke White cruises on while some others enter choppy waters

5) Michael Johns - Dream On - Aerosmith

For the second time (actually he went first) Tuesday we have a man making the mistake usually made by the ladies. Michael really wanted to sing Dream On badly and he attempted it despite the fact he is clearly not a 20-something Stephen Tyler. Much like the ladies who feel the need to always attempt to match Whitney, Mariah and Celine, Michael well WAAAAAAY short of his goal. It was the equivalent of our Jeremy trying to remake Deep Throat. He might be a great actor and performer, and he may even have the tools to get the job done, but no matter what it's just not going to have that je ne sais qua needed to duplicate the original. Michael might be in a bit of trouble, or, as they say in Australia, his wobblerwicky might be caught in the knushklopper.

6) Syesha Mercado - I Believe - Fantasia Barrino

[Review unavailable - otherwise occupied]

7) Carly Smithson - The Show Must Go On - Queen

How is this inspirational? She hasn't faced any especially taxing adversity to our knowledge. Her make-up looked better this week. Otherwise I was bored and really can't remember this song at all.

8) Brooke White - You've Got a Friend - Carole King/James Taylor

This was a great song choice. On a night with so few recognizable songs Brooke closed the show with a song everyone knows. I prefer the James Taylor version, but frankly the Carole King/Carly Simon genre is right up Brooke's alley. She sang the song well, looked pretty, and did everything she needed to do to get by. How is it inspirational? I guess it refers to the strong abstinence-based courtship she had with her husband or the support she feels from Jesus or the Mormon church. Either way, she's done well to keep her religion out of her performances and I presume she'll move on easily this week.


For the bottom three I'm going to predict Michael Johns, Syesha Mercado and Carly. The only thing worse than singing a song no one knows is singing a song everyone knows poorly. That should cost Michael dearly. Syesha has the R&B market cornered but she continually refuses to take advantage of it. Why sing a Fantasia song, which only the youngest R&B fans will know, when you have the whole world of Motown, post-Motown, Toni Braxton, Babyface, etc. etc. to draw upon? Carly just isn't impressive enough. In just about every important category for an Idol contestant she seems to be just a bit short.

My official prediction is that Syesha goes home tonight.

Matt Stover Leading Push to Oust Gene Upshaw

Of all the tough guys in the NFL, who would have thought the Ravens' mild-mannered veteran kicker Matt Stover would lead the push to oust NFLPA boss Gene Upshaw? According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, 17-year vet Stover, the Ravens' player representative, circulated an e-mail among the other 31 player representatives containing a plan to remove Upshaw prior to the 2009 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expiration. The NFL CBA is the contract that controls the labor relationship between the owners and players, including the salary cap, revenue sharing, drug testing, the Commissioner's powers, and virtually every other aspect of the game from a business standpoint.

According to Upshaw, there were indications that some players felt he needed to go at the player meetings in Maui this past March. When Upshaw supporter Titans C Kevin Mawae won the NFLPA presidency over Eagles S Brian Dawkins, it was thought that the movement was quashed. This move by Stover indicates that perhaps a majority of player representatives feel differently than the players as a whole, but the story doesn't end there. Troy Vincent, the previous NFLPA president but now ineligible since, well, he isn't a player is a close friend of Dawkins. Vincent apparently wants Upshaw's job, and that may have led a block of players, who dislike Upshaw but don't like Vincent as the replacement, to settle on Mawae.

Denver CB Dominique Foxworth, a 2005 graduate of the University of Maryland, is a vocal supporter of Stover's plan, noting that it only provides the players with options. Foxworth was named Denver's player representative this year. It should also be noted that Foxworth has a very nice mother, and he was a fine customer of D.P. Dough in College Park.

Read a copy of Stover's letter here.

April 8, 2008

Mets Hate Chase Utley

Perez got him twice

Willie Randolph's pregame speech: "Take out Chase!" or something to that effect. With the game still in progress in the 9th, Utley has already been hit by a pitch 3 times in the game, tying a major-league record. Maybe it will be Ryan Howard's turn tomorrow...

New York Mets... RickRoll'd

For as concerned as I am about the Nationals attendance last night in the second game ever in their ballpark, reading the following story from the New York Daily News made me laugh just a little...

Runoff to Determine Mets New 8th Inning Song
The organization received 5 million votes on its Web site after inviting fans to choose from among 10 selections to potentially replace Sweet Caroline. An issue arose, however, when FARK.com readers bombarded the Mets with gag votes for a write-in candidate: Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up.

The Astley tune actually won.

Rather than commit to that as the new eighth-inning tune since it probably doesn’t reflect the fan base’s wishes, the Mets will play the top six selections once apiece during the first six games of their home stand. The one that draws the largest crowd response will stick.

The other songs that made the cut, in descending order: Livin’ on a Prayer, Bon Jovi; I’m a Believer, The Monkees; Movin’ Out, Billy Joel; Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond; and Build Me Up Buttercup, The Foundations.

The Mets suggested the Fark tune winning didn’t necessarily result in the runoff, saying the contest rules stipulated Internet voters would “help decide” the outcome.

REACT: Hey hey hey! At least we see one thing the Nationals did right recently! When they invited fans to choose songs, they pre-selected the candidates in each category and didn't leave any option for a write-in vote thus inviting the general public to sabotage their selection. The moral of this story... democracy just does not work.

While You Were Sleeping

I missed this just so I could get an extra 15 minutes of sleep.

The only people more upset this morning than Memphis fans or people who had Memphis winning in their bracket pool are basketball fans on the East Coast who went to bed thinking the game was over.

It's not as bad as Jeremy's premature evacuation at Nationals Opening Day, but I gave up on the game last night at the worst possible time. I had stayed up far later than usual to watch the game, and with Memphis up 7 and only 2:00 to go, I called it a night. Kansas had just started fouling, and I figured that the rest of the game was going to be 20 minutes of fouls, timeouts, and commercials.

Needless to say, I was very upset this morning when I heard what I had missed. This is not the first time I've made a mistake like this. I also fell asleep right before the 4th quarter of the Texas-USC Rose Bowl (but that time I was really trying to stay awake). I'm sure this game will spark some East Coast-West Coast debates, but the bottom line is that I should just stay up later and not be such a bitch about it.

Nationals Park Half Full for New Stadium's SECOND GAME

I never imagined it would be THIS bad. The Lerners must be thankful they only paid a tiny percentage of the bill for the new stadium. According to the official box score, Nationals Park was 49.7% sold for the second game in its history. What should have been one of the biggest tickets in the history of the District instead barely caused a blip. Assuming not everyone showed up for the game, the Capitals' first round playoff game Friday will draw more people, and the Verizon Center only holds 18,277 for hockey.

ESPN has more: "[A Nats error drew] resounding boos from an announced paid attendance of 20,487 for Game 2 at the team's 41,888-capacity stadium. There were more than 39,000 at the opener March 30. Also, the stadium's scoreboards malfunctioned through most of the first inning."

blahblahhblah Amazingly prescient photo, or Nationals Park circa 2015?

What is the excuse? It was 50 degrees tonight, which isn't ideal but certainly isn't stay home from the game weather. I know April is the lowest month for MLB attendance, but that usually doesn't apply when a team opens a brand new stadium. Worse, does this mean the Nats have sold fewer than 20,000 season ticket packages? (It does. According to the Washington Post, the new stadium has a base of just over 18,000, down from the 21,000 for the first season at RFK.) Even though the Marlins lack star power, they're a team the Nats should beat. That should encourage some people to come and see a win.

As I've said before, the Nats are in a very difficult position. Washington is not a good baseball city to begin with, and it will take a winner in any sport other than football to draw the crowds out. What's more, Orioles' owner Peter Angelos basically owns and controls the income stream that should have come from television, as Nats' TV revenue was his compensation for MLB forcing a competitor into his backyard. Without TV, the Nats' revenue must come from revenue sharing, merchandising and ticket sales/concessions. If you take away ticket sales and concessions, you don't have enough revenue to build a champion. If you don't build a contender, a new stadium won't be enough to keep people coming. Just ask the Pirates, and Pittsburgh is a great sports city.

It won't get much better this week. According to Nats' Team President Stan Kasten (routinely and incorrectly referred to as the owner by Washington's--and possibly the nation's--premiere news radio station WTOP), crowds in the 20,000s are expected for the remainder of the homestand against Florida and Atlanta. According to Kasten, "It's also good for us. It's the right size crowd for us to keep learning things." I hope that includes learning how to market to a transplant city that just doesn't care much about the home team.

Everyone thinks I'm exaggerating when I give the Nationals a ten year run in Washington, but so far they haven't proven me wrong.

April 7, 2008

Worst Publicity Photo Ever

This has to be the worst publicity photo ever.

It's Orioles CF Adam Jones.

Ovechkin Brings Hope for Washington Sports

Let's repeat this scene with an MVP trophy!

For the first time since the '80's, the Washington, DC area has a legitimate superstar to be proud of. After leading the Caps into the playoffs, Alexander Ovechkin is expected to win his first Hart Trophy as MVP of the NHL. The mere fact that he is in the discussion is a triumph for Washington professional sports. If you can't remember the last time Washington was the best at something, it's because it's been a while. Rubbing the salt into that wound, Baltimore has been much more successful.

While the nation's capital languished without a team, the O's won a championship in '83 and had the face of baseball for the '80's and '90's in Cal Ripken, Jr. Everyone's favorite player and in some ways the savior of baseball after the strike, you'll find no hard feelings toward Cal here. His greatness puts in perspective the current struggles of the Expos/Nats and the O's.

The Wizards/Bullets have been bad for a long time. The last (and only) MVP from this franchise was Wes Unseld for the 1968-69 season, when (you guessed it!) they were still the BALTIMORE Bullets. The Washington Bullets last won a championship or even made the finals in the '70's. I can't remember that, because I hadn't been born. Michael Jordan did grace the Bullets with his presence, but he was only a shadow of himself by then.

While Baltimore hasn't had a hockey franchise (lately if ever), they might be better off. The Capitals haven't won a playoff series in 10 years, and have never won a Stanley Cup. No Washington player has ever won the Hart Trophy as MVP (hopefully prior to this year). While Carey and Kolzig did win the Vezina Trophy as best goaltenders, they weren't the face of the sport at any time.

Since the retirement of the Hogs, the Redskins have pretty much sucked. No MVPs since Theismann, no Super Bowl appearances since 1992. Since then, Baltimore has won a Grey Cup and then lost the team, stolen a team from Cleveland, and won a Super Bowl. In addition, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed won back-to-back defensive players of the year, and that defense was the best in the NFL for a few years. Meanwhile, the Skins' best finish was a victory in the wild card round of the playoffs a couple times, with at most 10 wins. The only individual award was Darrell Green's Walter Payton Man of the Year.

So maybe, just maybe, Ovechkin's great season and the Nats' new stadium can mark a turning point from the past 15 years of pain. Has Baltimore's reign come to an end with the firing of Billick and the dismal O's? Let's hope so.

Sports Trophy Quiz

Many sporting events have really cool trophies. Can you recognize some of the more interesting ones?

Warning: The quiz is very difficult, but I stayed away from using generic-looking trophies that could be from any event.

Let us know how well you did in the comments!

April 6, 2008

Maryland Football - Where Are They Now?

I was enjoying a tight back-and-forth Arena football game between Orlando and Chicago. The game went into OT tied at 49, and both teams scored touchdowns on their first possession in OT. Under Arena rules, once both teams have had a possession (with a kickoff and everything) the next team to score wins. Understandably, Orlando coach Gruden did not like the idea of kicking the ball back to Chicago, so he decided to go for two. After the first two-point conversion attempt resulted in defensive holding, Coach Gruden decided to bring in his new special package.

At quarterback, #9 in the Jungle but #1 in your heart, out of Oxon Hill, Maryland, and Potomac High School and a proud Terp alum....MARLON MOYE-MOORE! That's right, the stand-out Maryland linebacker and Arena League Jack LB/Fullback was inserted at QB on a do-or-die two-point attempt. The play was designed to roll right, but the snap was a bit errant, causing Moye-Moore to reverse field. He was hit between the two and the one and broke the plane with a lunge for the goal line. Predators win!
And Marlon, we know you're Googling yourself once you get done partying with the boys tonight. Holla at us in the comments.

If you haven't followed Arena football in a while, it's a good time to get back into it. It seems like EVERYONE is miked now. It's really entertaining to see how coaches interact with their QBs and receivers.

Also, check out the New Orleans VooDoo, who boast the coolest helmets in professional football. If you're looking for an AFL team to adopt, the VooDoo are 5-1 this year behind Ohio State alum Bellisari.