June 14, 2008

The Perfect Event for Insomniacs - Le Mans 24 Hours

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This weekend features one of the most unique sporting events in the world. Actually, it started about 30 minutes ago. Don't worry, though, it won't be over until tomorrow morning. That's right, it's the 24 Hours of Le Mans!

For most, the idea of watching a 2 hour car race, particularly a non-NASCAR one, sounds like torture. But for the true motor-sports fan (or the insomniac) the Le Mans 24 Hours is an exciting event.

Photo credit: Stormshadow
In the US, SPEED is showing 16 hours of coverage, 3.5 hours of the start (8:30-Noon) and then the final 12.5 hours of the race overnight (9:00PM-9:30AM on Sunday). If you're up all night because of a screaming baby, irresponsible drug use, or simple insomnia, definitely check out the race. If you're up early Sunday morning, check out the finish.

Not convinced? Here are a few more reasons to watch:
  • David Hobbs. He's the best color commentator in any sport.
  • The Circuit de la Sarthe. It's one of the coolest tracks in racing. Mostly country roads that are converted to a track for this race, it features a 3-mile straight punctuated only by two small chicanes.
  • Former F1 drivers. If you're a Formula1 fan, you'll see a lot of names you recognize: Christian Klien, Alex Wurtz, Jos ver Stappen, and others are all racing
  • It's the only event of its kind. There are imitators like the 12 hours of Daytona and Sebring, but Le Mans is truly one of a kind.
  • It's a great chance to tell your wife "Sure, honey, just after the race is over" and buy yourself a whole day.

Baltimore Orioles, City Reinvent Self

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Don't get me wrong, the Orioles are still mediocre. They're inarguably playing above themselves in compiling a .500 record for the first half of the season. I attended the game tonight, and noted that no Oriole hitter was batting over .290. None of the pitchers has impressive stats either. My group of friends tried to determine who the lone All-Star should be, and we really had no idea beyond possibly closer George Sherrill.

But, still, there is a remarkable shift in atmosphere this year. Perhaps tonight was a better-than-normal example, what with college night ($6 upper left field tickets) and post-game fireworks. Plus, this was the first Pittsburgh-Baltimore series since the 1979 World Series. The Orioles embraced this by wearing 1979 uniforms and having Earl Weaver, Scott MacGregor and others on the field in uniform before the game.
(Photo Credit - Baltimore Sun)
East Coast Bias
There's more than that though. The organization has decided to reflect the team and its fanbase, embracing the quirky Baltimore sense of humor. Home runs are now celebrated by Frank the Tank from Old School. Of course, the new Orioles Magic video was on display after the Orioles 9-6 comeback win over the pitching-deficient Pirates (the O's trailed 6-1 after 3 innings). After the game, but before the fireworks, the scoreboard displayed an informal survey, where multiple Orioles were asked to choose between Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey. Not surprisingly, the hispanic players all preferred Carrey (have you seen Univision?) while the American players all preferred Ferrell. After each player's vote they showed a clip from each actor. The fans cheered whenever a player voted for Ferrell, and booed whenever Carrey was the choice. Ferrell won in a landslide.
Cowboy Up
(Come to think of it, I'm suspect noted goof-off Kevin Millar also works in the front office now.)

Really, attending the game tonight got me thinking about a series of experiences I've had in the city recently. I don't know exactly when it began, but there has been a major shift in Baltimore culture the past decade, and the Orioles' new approach to fan entertainment merely reflects it. The city has embraced its weirdness. Racial boundaries, which were once very firmly entrenched, have rapidly eroded. Recently The (Baltimore) Sun ran a front page article about a statue of Baltimore's own Frank Zappa in Lithuania. The sculptor expressed a desire to have one in Baltimore, too. Within a week the city's arts council had unanimously voted to commission a Frank Zappa statue.

I really suspect The Wire has a lot to do with it. The debut of The Wire represented Baltimore's "fuck it" moment. I'm not a native Baltimorean, having been raised on the rural Eastern Shore, but there was definitely a perception (based pretty firmly in reality) that the city had struggled badly through the 1970's, 80's and 90's. Things improved, but the basic reality is the same - crack was replaced by heroin (by far the drug of choice), poverty and homelessness plague the city's poorer neighborhoods, blue collar jobs are permanently gone, crime is a daily reality and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV are rampant. The Wire smacked us in the face with all those realities, but for whatever reason the people of Baltimore took pride in the show.

Basically, The Wire smacked everyone else in the face. It smacked Bill Simmons in the face. We already knew about it. I think most Baltimoreans saw The Wire and thought, yeah, things are this bad, and yet things are really good right now. The city successfully transitioned from a rust-belt, blue-collar city to a white collar mix of government support and knowledge-based industry. The city built a tourism industry out of literally nothing, transforming a filthy harbor into a legitimate destination with fine hotels, a great convention center, world-class museums and the National Aquarium, two of the best stadiums in their respective sports and two great bar districts within walking or short cabbing distance. The Wire reminded the city of how much work is left to do, but it also made us think, "How the hell did we pull that off?" Sure, there are still two Baltimores, but the nice one is expanding and lifting many people with it.

That there was a resurgence in Baltimore Pride is inarguable, and The Wire and perhaps the Ravens 2001 Super Bowl win are the only events that can really be pinpointed. Suddenly Natty Boh's (National Bohemian) mascot was the official arbiter of all things Baltimore cool. Boh knows the Ravens. Boh knows Preakness. Boh knows Ms. Utz, and is seen proposing to her on a billboard over the Jones Falls Expressway. Mr. Boh is the embodiment of the new Baltimore. He's kitsch, yet blue collar.

Hampden, HonFest and Christmas Street all were suddenly cool again. Hairspray didn't bring back the Hon and the beehive. The Hon and the beehive brought back Hairspray. Fells Point never changed from a nice, historic strip of bars. It became a nice, historic string of bars that felt the need to host an annual pirate festival. John Waters never went anywhere. He just suddenly became fiercely protected by our city. After John Waters received criticism for a speech before the Association of College and Research Libraries that included commentary on homosexuality, teabagging, masturbation and Jackie O, the Baltimore City Public Libraries invited Waters to give another talk. Have librarians ever given such a clear "fuck you" to other librarians? Only in Baltimore. (The protection of city icons is not limited to Zappa and Waters. Disparaging Johnny Unitas, Cal Ripken, Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Ed Norton or Cab Calloway is definitely grounds for an ass-kicking.)

Honestly, Baltimore becomes more like New Orleans, where I spent three years, every day. The music and food aren't there, but there is the unofficial competition to out-weird whatever came before. And yet, somehow, none of it is forced. It's just the product of a bohemian, educated-but-underpaid, socially liberal white population meeting a black population that has always been fun-loving and proud of the city despite its obvious flaws. Unlike gentrification conflicts in other (neighboring) cities, Baltimore's experience has been respectful and, I think, welcomed.

I don't mean to gloss over the bad. The murder total last year was the highest in years, and crime is still an every day reality. Mayor Sheila Dixon has done an excellent job overhauling city government, including the police and schools, and replacing now-Governor Martin O'Malley's cronies, but there is still much in need of repair. For families who have been closely affected by crime, no festivals will make them feel any better. Still, though, the city has reinvented itself and set itself apart. The Orioles have taken note and embraced the new atmosphere. If they continue to improve and exceed expectations, we can expect a return to the glory days of Camden Yards.
Earl Weaver
P.S. - I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention just how awful the National Anthem was tonight. A lady from the Postal Workers Union had the honor, but she obviously failed to learn the song beforehand. She had a card in her hand that clearly contained the lyrics. To compensate for not knowing the words, some of which she still butchered, she sang the song veeeeeeerrrrrrryyyyyy sssssslllllllooooooowwwwwwwllllllllyyyyyyy. She had a nice voice, but the anthem was interminable. My girlfriend thought she was drunk.
War of 1812
Remember that thing I said about Baltimore Pride? Francis Scott Key wrote The Star-Spangled Banner across the harbor from the stadium at Fort McHenry. Please bother to learn it. It's not that long.

June 13, 2008

Dutch Rout Italy and France, Win Group of Death

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Scoring on France was just too easy. (Getty Images)

The biggest story from the first week of Euro 2008 has to be the sensational play of the Netherlands. Group C was billed as the "Group of Death," with all four teams in the top 12 of the FIFA rankings. Italy and France were the highest ranked, and met in the finals of the last World Cup. The Dutch were acknowledged to have some offensive skill, but few expected them to advance. No one thought they could defend well, and a lot of 4-3 type matches were expected. The Dutch side has impressed everyone. A 3-0 decimation of World Cup champions Italy was followed by a 4-1 blowout of France. Neither fixture was in doubt for more than a couple minutes as the Dutch dominated throughout. The play of the Dutch side has been just as bright as their brilliant orange jerseys. Even better, the Dutch have kept the games interesting and exciting, even when they've had a big lead, continuing to attack and make plays instead of packing it in. This is as exciting as soccer gets!

Celebration time! (Photo: Johannes Simon)

Incredibly, Romania (ranked lowest of the 4 teams) currently sits in 2nd place after 2 ties, and could advance with a good result against the Dutch. The Orange Crush will be resting some of their stars since they have already clinched the top spot in the Group and will face the 2nd team from Group D in the quarters.

June 12, 2008

Win $50 MLB.com Gift Card - Caption Contest

Would you and three of your friends like to attend Major League Baseball's All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium next month? Would you like $1000? Would you like a free dinner and show on Broadway, on the off chance you're dumb enough to bring your wife? How about a chance to tell one of the finalists in the Home Run Derby where to hit a homer, and getting a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and 2009 season tickets to the team of your choice if he comes through?

Click the picture above and enter the State Farm Call Your Shot contest. You might win all that and more.

But you guys know we don't just disguise advertisements as posts. We feel guilty. To make up for it, State Farm has provided us with a $50 MLB.com gift card to give to one of our readers.

All you have to do is provide the best (read: funniest) caption for the picture below. E-mail entries to [email protected] with the subject CAPTION CONTEST. You are limited to one vote per e-mail address. We'll close the entries at midnight on Wednesday, June 18 and post the winner and runners up (funny losers) on Thursday.

blblahbalahahblahblahblah [YOUR CAPTION HERE]

Don't think we're going to show any favortism either to our "real life" friends, whatever that means. I'll be sanitizing the entries and submitting them without names to the other three. They'll select the winner and runners up.

Here's the entire legal section: our decision is final with regard to any and every single aspect of this contest.

Bruce Boudreau - A Very Deserving Coach of the Year

While I would like to give mad props to Ovie for winning the Hart Trophy, becoming the first-ever Washington Capital to win the trophy, I think the real story goes to Bruce Boudreau, head coach of the Caps, who became the first Capitals head coach since Bryan Murray in 1984 to win the Jack Adams Trophy as NHL Coach of the Year.
For those who may have forgetten since the NHL season lasts about as long as it takes Vince Young to complete an untimed Wonderlic test, the Caps were positively woeful when Boudreau took over on November 22, 2007 from Glen Hanlon. I was at the game on November 21, 2007, when the Caps fell to the Atlanta Thrashers 5-1, the chants of "Fire Hanlon" echoed continuously and mercilessly throughout the rafters, and the team fell to a brutal 6-14-1. Boudreau started righting the ship slowly, but at the all-star break, the team was still in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, next to last.
The Caps upswing continued throughout Boudreau's tenure, and his aggressive style allowed Ovechkin and Semin to flourish. When the team made it back to the .500 mark, Boudreau was famously quoted as saying, "We have officially reached mediocrity." The Capitals amazingly over the second half of the season went from 14th place in the Eastern Conference to a final finish in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. The Caps clinched the Southeast Division crown on the final night of the regular season. The team made the playoffs for the first time since 1993. All in all, Boudreau led the team to an unbelievable 37-17-7 record.

Bruce Boudreau proves looks matter not for a hockey coach. Ehh, Barry Melrose?

Most importantly, Boudreau may have resurrected hockey back in the Nation's Capital. When I went to the game in November against the Thrashers, there were maybe a few thousand fans in the cavernous Verizon Center. By mid-March, when I went to a game while the Caps were at least making things interesting, the place was nearing being full. And for those who had the fortune of going to a game over the last two weeks of the season during the playoff push, you saw that DC really can be a hockey town.

Things are looking good for the Capitals with such a strong backbone for the future. And it appears as if they have a coach who knows how to use the tools that he has been given.

Comparing Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz

Greatest starting rotation ever? The 3 greats with Avery and Smith (Getty Images)

For over a decade, the Atlanta Braves featured a trio of starting pitchers unequaled at that time, and possibly the greatest trio ever to pitch together for such a period. Now, Smoltz has had another operation, on his shoulder this time, and may never pitch again. Glavine, never on the DL before this year, has already had two stints on the DL. ESPN reporters and everyone in Atlanta are talking about the possibility that all three could retire at the same time, creating an unparalleled Atlanta celebration at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony 5 years later. In honor of the three great pitchers, here's a rundown of their greatest stats, and which one I think is the best.

Tom Glavine (1987-pres.) - The definition of a crafty left-hander, Tom Glavine has been a model of consistency for two decades. Winner of 2 Cy Young Awards and the World Series MVP in 1995, Glavine joined the 300 win club last year as a Met. His career record is 305-202, with a 3.53 ERA. Glavine has the 4th most wins by any lefty, and started over 30 games in all but 3 years since becoming a full time major leaguer in 1988. He even started 25 games in the strike-shortened 1994. Glavine left the Braves for the Mets in 2003, but returned to the Braves this year.

Greg Maddux (1986-pres.) - A man you would think more likely to be a professor than a professional athlete, Maddux has been tricking hitters for as long as I can remember. Maddux is 9th on the all-time wins list with a record of 350-218, in front of greats such as Nolan Ryan, Phil Niekro, and Don Sutton. Maddux has been a model of consistency almost as much as Glavine, starting about the same number of games in every season for a total of 721 starts! Maddux is also a member of the 3,000 K club, in spite of never being known for overpowering stuff. Maddux is 11th on the all-time strikeout list, and could easily sneak into the top 10 before the end of the year, only needing 26 more to pass Phil Niekro. Maddux's career ERA of 3.12, and from 1992-1998 he was almost unhittable with his ERA exceeding 2.50 only once in those 7 seasons. His dominance yielded 4 straight Cy Young's from 1992-1995 (a record which has since been tied by the Big Unit). In addition, Maddux has always fielded his position well, winning a staggering 17 Gold Glove Awards between 1990 and 2007 (that's 17 in 18 years, incredible). Maddux has not pitched less than 198 innings in any season since 1987, and set a record by winning 15 or more games in 16 consecutive seasons.

John Smoltz (1988-pres.) - Widely considered to be in a two-man club with Dennis Eckersley, Smoltz is the only pitcher to win 200 games, save 150, and strikeout over 3,000 hitters. Plagued by arm problems later in his career, Smoltz's ERA has not exceeded 3.50 since 1994. Smoltz's career record is 210-147 with a career 3.26 ERA. In addition, much has been made of his postseason success, a 2.70 ERA in 203 IP. John won his Cy Young in 1996, as a starter. However, as dominant as he was as a starter, his best year was in 2003, notching 45 saves in 49 opportunities with a stellar 1.12 ERA. Smoltz always had the hardest stuff of the 3 All-Stars, and achieved his 3,000 strikeouts in significantly fewer innings.

In summary, the three won 7 Cy Young's in the 8 years from 1991 to 1998, and the highest career ERA for any of the 3 is 3.53. Remembering that all of them pitched through the entire steroids era, that's an absolutely incredible feat.

I believe Maddux to be the best of the three, and a no-brainer first ballot Hall member. Smoltz belongs in that club as well, one of the few pitchers to achieve success as a starter and a reliever, and absolutely dominating for short stretches. Glavine should also be in the Hall of Fame; his stats aren't quite as gaudy as Maddux and Smoltz, but winning 300 games during the steroids era should be sufficient for immediate entry. Let's hope these three friends can go into Cooperstown together. All three were consummate professionals and represented themselves and baseball well at all times.

The What If Game...

One of the most fun things about the NFL (or any sport for that matter) and think about how things might have been different if a team had selected one player over another. For example, if Portland had taken Jordan with the #2 pick in the 1984 NBA Draft instead of Sam Bowie, just how different would the NBA have been?

Well today, Jonathan Ogden announced his retirement from the NFL. And the Baltimore Sun republished their 1996 Draft Day article which discussed the Ravens' dilemma over whether to go with J.O. or whether to go with Lawrence Phillips. Said article gave us this little gem:

Ravens owner Art Modell denied speculation that he chose Ogden over Phillips because of Phillips' off-the-field problems. Phillips was charged last fall with assaulting his ex-girlfriend.He pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor and has gone to counseling, paid for his victim's counseling and publicly apologized.

"I had no qualms about taking him, because I felt, based on our investigation, that he was subject to quick and complete rehabilitation and that he would have been a class-A citizen and a man the city of Baltimore would have been proud of," Modell said.


Only class-A citizens repeatedly pose for mugshots.

Art Modell... not exactly the best judge of character. I mean, can you imagine if Lawrence Phillips had been allowed to run amok in West Baltimore?

As you all know, I'm not a huge Ravens fan. They're not my team. But J.O. is one of the truly good guys in sports. Not to mention a horrible dancer and the star of one of the greatest series of commercials ever.

June 11, 2008

Another Sad Day for Cycling

Boonen in the green top sprinter's jersey. (Photo: www.ftd.de)

Today, ESPN is reporting that Tom Boonen will be barred from the Tour de France this year after testing positive for cocaine. The green jersey winner last year as the best sprinter and the 2005 world champion, Boonen was expected to be a central figure of this year's Tour. He joins the entire Astana team, including last year's winner Alberto Contador, top American Levi Leipheimer, and German Andreas Kloden, on the list of top riders who will not be allowed to compete in this year's Tour. Michael Rasmussen, clearly the best climber in the sport last year, was kicked out mid-competition while wearing the yellow jersey and has not found a team since.

Rasmussen in the polka-dot jersey of the best climber at the Tour.

What will the Tour de France mean when almost every well-known name in cycling will be absent due to a variety of drug scandals? How can the fans have confidence that the riders who are participating are actually clean instead of just not having been caught yet? Only team Slipstream and their constant testing inspires any confidence, but even that isn't enough when reliable tests don't exist for HGH or for riders injecting their own blood before an important stage. Cycling just hasn't had any good news lately, and it leaves the sport in a precarious position.

The saddest part about Boonen's case is that cocaine isn't even a performance-enhancing drug unless taken during the competition. Unfortunately for him, it is illegal and enough to get him kicked out of competitions for this summer.

Jon Ogden Retires

The (Baltimore) Sun is reporting that Jonathan Ogden has opted to retire after 12 seasons at left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. Ogden was a perennial Pro Bowler enjoying a Hall of Fame career protecting the MANY blind sides of Baltimore quarterbacks. Unfortunately he has been hampered by toe injuries recently that make it very difficult for him to anchor and push off - two critical motions for a tackle.

blablalahblah The only face the 6 ft. 9 in. gentle giant ever makes

I do not speak for all Ravens fans, but I would like to thank J.O. for being a classy foundation of our young franchise. As the first player ever drafted by the Ravens, in 1996, Jon Ogden has been a great role model for young lineman and a quiet leader on and off the field. Please keep dancing in the Gebco commercials and do not be a stranger on television and radio.

D-Train Derailed

After his most dismal outing of an atrocious season, Dontrelle Willis has been sent to Class A Lakeland by the Tigers. That's right, A Ball! Of pitchers with 4 or more starts, the D-Train has the worst ERA in MLB at 10.32. He has only managed to get through 11.1 innings so far, and has allowed 21 walks in that time. He has only appeared once without giving up any ER, and only went 5 IP once. Good thing the Tigers gave him $29 million over 3 years.

Bad mechanics lead to poor control.

The Tigers should have seen this coming. Last year, Dontrelle had the worst ERA of his career at 5.17, and failed to throw a single complete game for the first time. His walks were up in the last two years from his consistent rate between 2003 and 2005, and the 10-15 record didn't inspire confidence, even from a struggling Marlins team. The D-Train just hasn't been the same since 2005, when he set career bests in ERA, IP, wins, K's, CG, shutouts, HRs allowed, and BBs allowed.

Lesson to be learned:
Trade with the Marlins at your own risk. If it's not yet obvious to everyone, the Marlins' GM and scouts are by far the best in the majors. How else do you scrape together a competitive team on a shoestring, sell all the good players, and then be competitive again in two years or less? The Marlins' talent evaluation and player development is unmatched, so if you're trading with them, you have to know you're not getting the better end of the deal. The Tigers gave up 6 good young players for Willis and Cabrera, who's hitting .278 with 8 HRs and 38 RBIs (not All-Star caliber at all). Even the Josh Beckett trade, which you could argue worked out well for the Red Sox, netted the Marlins an All-Star caliber shortstop and a couple pitching prospects who might still work out. Beckett has been great in the playoffs, but his first year's ERA after joining Boston was 5.01.

Gotta love the Marlins and their ability to win with nobodies.

Usually trading has the advantage of giving you a player already under contract, avoiding the exorbitant prices of free agents. However, stripping your farm system for fading talent isn't the best solution either.

June 10, 2008

Why We're Sports Fans (Bloggers)

Now that you've heard why Brien, Jeremy, J-Red, and Russell are sports fans, we turned the floor over to some of our favorite bloggers. Thanks to those who responded.

Will Leitch - Deadspin, author of God Save the Fan
I'm a sports fan because there are so few absolutes on the planet that sports does a public service -- no, a public DUTY -- by providing anywhere between one and 60 every single day. I'd be lost without them

Big Daddy Drew - Kissing Suzy Kolber, author of Men With Balls
I'm a sports fan because, like everything else I do, it makes for a great excuse for drinking.
I love NFL specifically for reasons I can't really explain, which is what makes it all the more lovable. I enjoy loving things irrationally.

Dan Steinberg - DC Sports Bog
I'm a sports fan largely because of Brent Mayne.
I was watching some stupid meaningless baseball game in the summer of 2000, when I was working as a cheese clerk at Whole Foods. I had sort of dropped out of sports fandom during college, gradated in 1998, and didn't have cable for the first year or so of my post-college life. I started watching sports again when I moved houses, and then somehow I was half-asleep on a couch watching the game described like this in Wikipedia

On August 22, 2000, the Colorado Rockies sent Mayne in as a relief pitcher in the 12th inning against the Atlanta Braves. Mayne, the Rockies' regular catcher, was unable to swing a bat due to a sprained left wrist and had missed the previous four games. Out of pitchers, manager Buddy Bell asked Mayne if he could pitch. Mayne, who later said he had never pitched at any level, responded, "Yeah, I can pitch." He pitched one inning, surrendering no runs with a fastball that topped out at 83 miles per hour. Colorado won the game the next inning when rookie Adam Melhuse, pinch-hitting for Mayne, singled with the bases loaded and two outs. Mayne thus became the first position player to be credited with a win since 1968.

I have no allegiance to either team, and don't remember if this game mattered in the standings at all, but the Rockies seemed to be having so
much bleeping fun watching Mayne pitch, and then get the win. It was impossible not to smile. I find most sit-coms to be stupid, lost my energy
for reality TV, don't have the attention span to read novels any more and don't really dig music. But I was laying there and thinking: this makes me

Of course, then sports became my job, and now it's tougher to see sports as a vehicle for escapism, but there are still moments.

Dewey Hammond - Yardbarker

I used to actually play sports, way back in the 1980s. Remember the '80s? The Yankees were terrible, as opposed to today's mediocre, $200 million team. Short-shorts were as ubiquitous as today's tattoos, and Rodman didn't have any of the latter. A million dollars was a huge salary for any athlete. But in the past 15 years, I've traded playing sports for watching sports, arguing about sports, being sore when I occasionally try to play sports, and the various other headaches that come with being an adult. Even though sports haven't made me cry actual tears since Syracuse lost the 1987 men's basketball championship to Indiana, neither my appreciation nor passion have wavered.

Sports give the average man, woman and child the opportunity to live vicariously, take pride in their hometowns, and endure endless suffering with the hope that one day the summit may be reached, that your team may finally take home that elusive title. My t-shirts, hats and sweatshirts commemorating Baltimore's Super Bowl XXXV victory are all stained, ripped or are MIA, but the memories haven't faded, except perhaps the second half of the game, during which time I was blind drunk and already celebrating the fact that no team comes back from a 10-point deficit on Ray Ray in his prime. But over the years, I've learned to appreciate the defeats as much as the victories. In some cases, maybe more so. The 2005-2006 Villanova Wildcats basketball team. The 1997 wire-to-wire AL East Champion Orioles. Last year's Golden State Warriors.

When I was a kid, I daydreamed about playing professional sports, and that dream was my reality. I watched games and imagined that one day it would be me. But now I'm pushing 30, reality cemented itself long ago, and sports are my escape. Trite but true. When it's a tie game in the fourth quarter, I'm not thinking about my long list of responsibilities. I'm thinking about whether or not Kobe will hit the shot. Or if Phil Jackson will inexplicably put the ball in someone else's hands. But win or lose, it's a whole lot better than worrying about paying the rent.

Big Brown Trainer Dutrow Shows True Colors, Blames Jockey

Rick Dutrow, Jr., the trainer of Triple Crown contender Big Brown, knows just where to place the blame for Big Brown's failure to win the Belmont - Jockey Kent Desormeaux.

I was willing to give Dutrow a little benefit of the doubt. Sure, he had been in trouble for doping horses. He associated with people caught up in penny stock schemes. He ran his mouth like T.O. high on Michael Irvin's coke. He disparaged other horses. Now, let me be the 10 millionth to say it: Rick Dutrow, Jr., is a total asshole.

blahblahblah Asshole Rankings: Rick Dutrow > Dick Cheney > Kobe Bryant

What about the Goddamned horse, Rick? Desormeaux got perfect trips in the 20-freaking-horse Derby and the Preakness. He had Big Brown in excellent position in the Belmont, just off a meandering pace. Sure, he was a little more outside than was optimal, but against this competition that shouldn't have mattered. He did everything right, up to and including the moment he pulled Big Brown up when it was obvious he could not win, preserving him to spawn his expensive progeny.

Big Brown did not want to run Saturday. From the start he was jerking his head to the outside on every stride. We need to remember that this was the horse's 6th race. We don't know if he: a) sucks in the heat, b) gets disinterested off a slow pace, c) chooses not to run every 6th race or so, d) doesn't like starting on the rail, e) can't re-fire after he gets slowed down to preserve him for a 1.5 mile race, f) is injured or ill in a way that doesn't show up clinically, but also doesn't make him want to run, or g) any other reason under the Sun.

We do know Kent Desormeaux is a good jockey who routinely obtains results. We do know Rick Dutrow, Jr., is a weaselly asshole who is nearly universally disliked by the other trainers and nearly everyone else in the industry. If I were Michael Iavarone of Big Brown's ownership firm, IEAH, I think I'm dumping Dutrow and sticking with Desormeaux.
Let's compare and contrast mistakes made by Desormeaux and Dutrow:


--Ran a little further off the rail than optimal


--Incentivized spoiling Big Brown's run with his mouth
--Changed Big Brown's training regiment between the Preakness and Belmont
--Skipped Big Brown's injection of Winstrol
--Caught cheating
--Associated with known criminals

Yeah, Rick, I'd be deflecting too. Asshole. Maybe you can drop about 175 pounds and ride him yourself next time.

12 Steps to Football Season

Alright, sports addicts, the NBA Finals are almost over. You know what that means: a long, hot summer of nothing but baseball until the NFL starts. You'll get your fix watching training camp coverage and even Arena Football. You may even find yourself wishing NFL Europe was still around.

Is this how you really want to spend your summer?

I'm here to tell you that it's time to expand your horizons. There is more to sports than Football and Basketball. Summertime offers you, in the immortal words of the Fresh Prince, "time to sit back and unwind." For sports addicts, that means trying out new sports and getting in to sports that you may have casually followed in the past.

In chronological order, here are 12 sporting events that will help you bridge the gap between the end of the NBA finals and the kickoff of the NFL season:

1. Euro 2008 Final June 29
The European soccer championships are already off to a great start, and the final should be an exciting matchup. Germany-Italy would be a great clash of the titans. Spain-Portugal would be a battle between underachieving neighbors. No matter who plays, it will be worth watching.

2. Wimbledon June 23 - July 6
The fortnight is always special. This year there should be some added drama, with Rafa Nadal trying to finally upend Roger Federer on grass, and Federer trying to prove that he's still the best in the world (even though he sucks on clay). On the women's side, Maria Sharapova will try to reclaim her #1 ranking from Ana Ivanovic. Even if you don't like tennis, that should be worth watching just for the eye candy.

3. UFC 86 July 5
Rampage Jackson and Forrest Griffin. If you haven't been watching UFC before now, this would be a good time to shell out the $40 (or find a good sports bar) and start. Rampage and Forrest have been the two coaches on this season of The Ultimate Fighter, so the tension for this fight has been building up for a while. The under card looks pretty good as well, with lots of fighters you know from watching past seasons of The Ultimate Fighter. I'm excited to see Corey Hill and his freakishly long arms fight again.

4. MLB All Star Game July 15
Baseball always seems to do the All Star Game right (except when it ends in a tie), and they will certainly pull out all the stops for this one. The All Star celebration will be part of the Yankee Stadium farewell tour this year, so you can expect lots of tributes to the history of that old building. Even if you hate the Yankees, that should be pretty special.

5. British Open July 17 - 20
Golf may be a bit slow at times, but nothing compares to the drama of the final day of a Major, especially with the passionate British fans looking on.

6. Tour de France: L’Alpe-d’Huez July 23
Yes, the Tour de France is still exciting even without Lance Armstrong. And even with the constant doping allegations. Maybe this year the winner will beyond suspicion. Regardless, the Alp d'Huez is the most famous mountain on the Tour, and this year it comes as the final mountain stage. Whoever gets to the top with the lead will likely ride into Paris with the Yellow Jersey.

7. Brickyard 400 July 27
After Daytona, this is the race that all NASCAR drivers want to win the most. There's so much history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it's great to see the winner get emotional as he kisses the yard of bricks.

8. X Games 14 July 31 - August 3
Like the Olympics, but with more tattoos. And skateboards. And uses of the word "gnarly" by the announcers. It's hard to believe that the X Games have been around for 14 years, but even at that ripe old age they still feel fresh compared to most sporting events. If nothing else, they always exude a feeling of fun. It's obvious that everyone at X Games is enjoying themselves, which is more than you can say for Tiger Woods.

9. Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies August 8
The sporting world has been watching the preparations for the Beijing Olympics carefully for 7 years now. Even still, no one is quite sure what to expect when the games finally begin. If nothing else, you can be sure that the Chinese will make the opening ceremonies something to remember (and not in a bad way like the Euro 2008 ceremonies).

10. Olympic Basketball Final August 23
Will the US make it back to the top level of the Olympic podium in basketball, or has the rest of the world passed us by for good? Will Coach K end up in a dank Chinese prison camp for cursing at the referees (fingers crossed)?

11. Little League World Series Final August 24
The Little League World Series is always a chance for sportswriters to get all sappy and teary-eyed about the way sports are supposed to be played. I don't buy in to all of that, but it's really fun to watch how excited the kids get during the games. Even if the quality of play isn't all that great, at least the players really care about the game.

12. European Grand Prix August 27
Formula 1 can be an acquired taste, but the European Grand Prix this year should be exciting for any sports fan. The race will be run on a temporary street circuit around the America's Cup port in Valencia, Spain. By that point in the season, there could still be a close battle for the drivers' championship between Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica. The narrow street course will provide plenty of action and excitement.

There you have it, enough sports to fill the void between the NBA and the NFL. Now go out and plan a barbecue around one of these events. And don't forget to invite me.

June 9, 2008

Why We're Sports Fans (Russell)

I'm going to take a slightly different tack than my fellow bloggers and talk about 4 characteristics of sports that make them great, and then why I love sports.

I might not be a fan of gymnastics, but this was certainly inspiring.

1. Immediate, objective scoring - It is extremely hard for me to like or follow consistently any sport where the scoring system is subjective. Gymnastics, figure skating, ballroom dancing (on ESPN recently), etc. are examples of the failure of subjective scoring. Objectivity is critical because there's nothing objective about everyday life. Once you're out of school, you never get papers back with a grade at the top. When you go to an interview, you're not judged just on your tangible qualifications, but the interviewer's impression of you is paramount. Then you have to stew afterward until you get an offer (or not). In sports, when you finish, you know whether you won or lost by looking at the scoreboard. The immediacy and finality of it is beautiful in a way that our professional life can't provide. This quick resolution is a beautiful counterpoint to the stresses of modern life, including mortgages, careers, dating/marriage, etc. This is also different from sitcoms or dramas on TV that have an ongoing storyline. When the sporting event ends, it's over and you never have to revisit it if you don't want to. Further, the team that won did so legitimately (barring cheating or bad officiating). No back-room, good-old-boy network decides a game as long as it's scored objectively.

2. Commonality/Availability - The truth of the matter is that the TV stations have a lot to do with the sports you are really a fan of. For example, it's hard to be an F1 fan in this country. Very few parents watch it, and you have to get up at all hours on Sunday mornings to watch the race, assuming you even get Speed. On the other hand, NASCAR is on in primetime on a major network. Similar arguments go for cricket, soccer, CFL, lacrosse, and others. It's not that I don't like the sport or that I won't watch when it's available, but it's not on enough for me to know the rules well or have any familiarity with the players or teams. Further, one of the best advantages of being a sports fan is being able to discuss it with your buddies (or post blog articles about it). It's frustrating if no one else knows what you're talking about or if no one else cares. This argument also applies to sports like college baseball. The level of play is quite high, but prior to ESPN's coverage of the Super Regionals, almost no casual fan had any idea who the best teams in the country were. Consistent availability is key to building a fan base. You know your local NFL team will be on every Sunday from September through December (or Monday night).

I will never forget this play and neither will anyone else who saw it, and I'm not even from NOLA.

3. Energizing a city - Others have talked about this as well, so I'll make this short. Sports have the ability to remove an entire populace from the toil and problems of their lives, and unite them in joy, even though the victory has no effect on them materially. It can give them the strength to keep going and an example to follow. J-Red's comments about Detroit and hockey this year were very much along the same lines. I would add the Saints' incredible season the year after Katrina. Their victory in the Superdome against the Falcons in the first game back will never be forgotten in New Orleans because it meant so much to the city.

The Intimidator was the ultimate "Evil" sports figure and he was loved for it. How many fans get to push people around like that?

4. Good vs. Evil - Sports figures are always cast as good and evil because it polarizes the support or opposition. This makes for a great story in the same way that cops vs. robbers, cowboys vs. indians, etc. have entertained countless generations of children. A David vs. Goliath story is compelling regardless of which side you're on. Goliath represents the making of history, "the best there ever was", and is your window onto greatness, a greatness that doesn't frequently appear at the average workplace nor is it acknowledged even if it is there. David represents the common man, the hope that you can one day be great at something also. Stories like "Cinderella Man" or "Rocky" or "Invincible" say to every member of the audience: "You too can be great, you just have to work hard and be ready for your opportunity when it comes." For most of us, it won't be in sports, but this attitude toward life is a good one. The truth of the matter is that sports dynasties like the Cowboys or the Patriots or Dale Earnhardt or USC aren't evil in the real sense of the word, but casting them as such makes the game that much more intense and exciting. And what better way to have good arguments than a polarizing figure?

This womanizer will always be remembered as one of the greatest underdogs ever. (Why don't SI covers look like this any more?)

I'm a sports fan because sports are what you make of them. When I'm exhausted and just need to zone out, I can watch a game and know what's going on without paying careful attention. When I want inspiration, I can watch an underdog like Namath's Jets (or the Netherlands yesterday in Euro 2008 vs. Italy) create a victory where it seemed unlikely or impossible. When I want to think about being the best that I can be, there's Tiger Woods or Roger Federer (except at the French Open), winning at will with a focus and determination that would be successful anywhere. Belichick's Patriots and TO with the Eagles provide valuable instruction on teamwork, or the lack thereof. Cal Ripken, Jr. provides an education in character, reliability and class. These lessons are all there for the taking, but can just as easily be ignored. And at times most importantly, it allows an engineer to communicate with other people he doesn't know well and has little in common with, preventing embarassment or awkwardness.

Benson's Biggest Crime? Being Expendable

After Cedric Benson's second arrest for drinking while operating a motor vehicle, the Bears have reportedly released him, according to ESPN.

blahbblahbhblalahblah One of these guys is still employed

This is a strong move by the Bears. They are making it clear that drunkenly wrecking a ridiculously expensive Lambourghini, leaving the scene of the crime, briefly reporting it stolen and then clearing the whole misunderstanding up once sobriety is achieved, as Lance Briggs did, is acceptable. Getting nicked twice for driving while drunk is not. Two totally different things. And, yeah, I said nicked like I'm on the set of GoodFellas.

I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that Cedric Benson plays RB and the Bears have another RB, Forte, in the wings. Or that RBs are consistently proving themselves to be the most replaceable position in football. One really shouldn't look too closely at trying to determine why Pacman Jones, Chris McAllister, Tank Johnson, Frostee Rucker, Koren Robinson, Dominique Byrd, Leonard Little (killed someone driving drunk in 1998, charged again in 1999), Jared Allen (two DUIs in 4 months) and B.J. Sams (two DUIs in 14 months) are all still gainfully employed.

June 8, 2008

Buzz Bissinger Revisited

A few weeks back, the Internet was abuzz over a panel discussion on Costas Now between Will Leitch of Deadspin and Buzz Bissinger, a mainstream media journalist and author of Friday Night Lights. Braylon Edwards also participated.

You can watch the segment on Deadspin.

I was at Daedalus Books in Columbia, Maryland, this afternoon. Daedalus resells "remainders", or books that publishers print, but do not sell in their initial offering. My girlfriend brought me a book entitled The Best American Sports Writing - 2003, thinking I might be interested in it. I noticed that it was edited by Buzz Bissinger.

The book is part of an annual series. Other year's versions have been edited by Mike Lupica, Bud Collins, Richard Ben Cramer, Dick Schaap and Michael Lewis.

I flipped through the book and realized it was a collection of columns. I did not spend enough time with it to verify that none of the entries were "sports writing" as we thought of it in the days before ESPN and Sports Illustrated - a recap of a sporting event to describe it to those who weren't present to see it - but it appeared to be comprised mostly of commentary. Interestingly, I did not recognize many of the names of the authors of the selected pieces. A review on Amazon.com notes that many of the writers are not widely known, which is a testament to Bissinger's devotion to his craft and knowledge of his industry. You can see the table of contents here.

It struck me that Bissinger himself was once one of the 15-year-olds embracing a new form of journalism, like those Will Leitch referenced as part of his argument. Sports Illustrated debuted (in its current form, the only successful form) in 1954, the year Bissinger was born. Surely, Bissinger still got most of his news from the newspaper, but he also grew up in the era in which sports became increasingly televised. The new exposure in the growing medium required a different style of coverage, one in which the writer was required to provide more information about what was not on the screen, as the reader might have seen the same game. The writing itself had to be a big part of the draw, because the facts no longer were.
East Coast Bias

I feel we're one level of abstraction farther removed from the popular sportswriters like Michael Lewis, Mike Lupica, Michael Wilbon and Buzz Bissinger. Now everyone has seen the game, or TiVoed it, or followed the GameCast, or at the very least read about the outcome on the internet. People still turn to sports writers to provide perspective on those events, only now we read print journalists like Michael Wilbon online, and we also read Bill Simmons, Pat Forde, Peter King, and others who are now primarily online writers.

The bloggers fit in to not just analyze the sports world, but to also analyze the sports media that presents it. The mainstream media dislikes us for the same reasons the players of the 1960's disliked the mainstream media. We are shining a light on the mainstream media as much as we are shining light on the world of sports, if not more. Just look at the titles of some blogs: East Coast Bias, Kissing Suzy Kolber, Tirico Suave, Scott Van Pelt Style, etc.

Returning to Buzz: if the sports blogging world launched in earnest around 1998, who is to say what a ten-year-old now will be in a decade or two? Will they perhaps be winning a Pulitzer Prize using the styles and themes popular in the blogging world today? It's impossible to say, but Mr. Bissinger needs to realize that we're not so different from him, really.

We write out of a need to comment on the sports world, as it is presented to us through the eyes of ESPN, CNNSI, Fox and various other outlets for the mainstream media. We want to be noticed and appreciated for what we do, just like the little-known writers upon whom Buzz Bissinger bestowed the honor of inclusion in his collection. In fact, I asked Mr. Bissinger if he'd like to respond to this post, and he said that he liked to recognize unknown talent because so many people never get a chance. I would argue that Deadspin also does an excellent job directing readers to good content on little-read blogs, like, well, this one. Mostly, we want to feel as though we have added something to the games we love.

There are bad apples in the blogosphere just like there are bad apples in sports writing. (Woody Paige's attack on Baltimore just prior to the Ravens destroying the Broncos in the 2001 Wild Card Round comes to mind. Okay, Woody Paige just comes to mind.) There are bad apples everywhere, and no industry deserves to be measured by them. I don't speak for all of us, but I only ask that Buzz look at the blogosphere for what it is, and keep faith that the cream will rise. Just like salary doesn't denote the best sports writer, traffic doesn't measure the best blogs. Still, in terms of impact there are great contributions being made, and those contributions should be embraced by the mainstream media instead of ridiculed as sensationalistic pornography.

Rename Laurel Park

I know you thought you were all through with having to read horse racing posts here, but I've got one more left.

Bromoblog has an excellent suggestion to rename Laurel Park after the late Jim McKay. McKay was born in Philadelphia but went to Loyola High School and Loyola College. He also retired to a farm in Monkton (northern Baltimore County, for those that care).

Always a big supporter of horse racing, McKay created the Maryland Million, which is the second biggest day of horse racing in the state.

I've been to Laurel more than any other track, and it could definitely use an identity. McKay seems like someone who clearly deserves some recognition by the Maryland horse racing industry. Sounds like a win-win situation. Too bad Magna Entertainment is far too incompetent to make it happen.

Here are some naming options:

  • Jim McKay Park
  • McKay Racetrack
  • McKay Racetrack at Laurel Park
  • That Guy Who Called the Munich Olympics Racetrack at That Shithole North of College Park
OK, let's stick with Jim McKay Park.

Why We're Sports Fans (J-Red)

I can't boil it down to one thing, so I've prepared a short list.

1) Equalization of Towns/Schools/Countries

One reason I love sports is that they tend to normalize the differences between cities, countries or schools. This past week was a perfect example. Detroit is going through horrible economic times, with the already struggling auto industry hit even harder by the rising gas prices that the U.S. automakers never seem prepared to accomodate. The other economic factors that are impacting this country are felt there as well, on top of their local concerns. But Detroit won the Stanley Cup. At least in the world of hockey, Detroit is the greatest city on the continent. This great equalizing effect can work for cities, countries, and universities. As a Maryland alumni, I'm never going to try to argue that we're a better school, overall, than Georgetown or Duke. However, on the basketball court (in years past) or playing fields, we can best them. For that period of time, we can claim superiority in a meaningful way.

Plus, Jeremy can knock Baltimore all he wants, but we're still going to destroy the lowly Redskins this season. Also, he's right that Camden Yards is 3,000 fans a game behind the brand spanking new Nationals Park, but at least those fans have gotten to see a decent team.

2) Seeing History by Appointment

Brien cited this reason in his post, but I think I have a slightly different take on it. It's rare in life to have history make an appointment. The wait for Barack Obama to clinch the nomination seemed interminable, and when it finally happened it was more a relief than a celebration. In sports, though, major moments in history often do schedule themselves. On Saturday, June 7, the Belmont Stakes were held. I knew that I could tune in at precisely 6:25 p.m. and possibly see history made. Super Bowl XLII kicked off right on time at 6:17 p.m. on Sunday, February 2 earlier this year with the New England Patriots ready to go 19-0. Sure, both of those things failed to happen, but that brings me to my next point.

blahblablahblah There are multiple meanings to "any given Sunday"

3) Seeing History on a Random Tuesday

Seeing history by appointment is wonderful because the drama and excitement and conversation and analysis build and build before the appointment arrives. However, the exact opposite can be even more fulfilling for me. There are 2430 regular season baseball games played throughout the season, and in any one of those games you might see a perfect game, the cycle, or any number of literally hundreds of records broken. Even when a game between two teams you care nothing about seems out of hand, there's always that ember burning in the back of your mind. "If they force a fumble and run it back, get the two, get the onsides kick and connect on the Hail Mary, that would be the most amazing comeback I've ever seen." 99.9% of the time it doesn't happen, but that just makes the one time in a thousand seem so sweet and memorable....or painful, disgusting and raw.

And, it doesn't have to be history. It just has to be unexpected or rare or great or just plain weird. No matter how many games you attend, you're always going to remember the walk-off homers, the touchdowns as time expires, the goals in overtime or the buzzer-beating shots. You're also going to remember the bird Randy Johnson exploded, the wrong-way touchdown and the field goal that doinked off the goalpost support and came back through. You can never know what is going to happen when any game tips off, but it just might be a lasting memory.

4) Embracing Failure

I love that in this country especially we hold our athletes to standards to which we would never hold anyone else. The second Big Brown pulled up on the homestretch of the Belmont, he went from one of the greatest horses ever to a failure. A complete, utter failure. That $50M stud contract for Big Brown went from a bargain to the biggest swindle in the history of mankind in the matter of minutes. The New England Patriots went from greatest team ever to 5th on some lists shortly after David Tyree caught a desperation pass off his helmet. Hit safely in 48 straight games? Failure. Bat .396? Failure. Win Wimbledon, the Australian and the U.S. Opens, but lose the French? Failure. I love that we embrace this hypocrisy on the weekends, immediately before going back to work and doing a good job about half the time.

Need proof we embrace failure in sports, but not in real life? Next time you see a hot chick in a Chicago Cubs baby tee, try to pick her up by telling her you're a lovable loser. Let me know how that goes.

blahblahblahblahblahblahblah Excuse found.

blahblablahblahblahhblah Next stop: glue factory

5) The Rules, Trivia and Minutiae
I'm a lawyer, and part of why I went to law school instead of medical school is that I have a love for rules. I'm not embarrassed to say that football is my favorite sport because I find the rules the most intellectually challenging. There are abstract principles like infinite planes, forward momentum, impetus and intent. In other sports, especially baseball, the rules can be more quirky than complex. A ball hit inches to the left of a yellow line can be the difference between World Series MVP and goat thrown out at second. Trivia is of course wonderful as well, as it provides an alpha-male competition off the field. You can prove you are the greater fan by having a better recollection of the battle at third base in 1988 between Orioles Leo Gomez and Craig Worthington, or of Charlie Hayes catching a pop-up in foul territory to secure the 1996 World Series comeback for the Yankees.

6) Lose Yourself

With apologies to my family and past and present girlfriends, sports catch me off guard often with how deep they can affect me emotionally. I think the best example is probably an unexpected one. It doesn't come from the Ravens' Super Bowl win or the Terps' National Championship run.

In Week 2 of the 2000 NFL season, the Ravens hosted Mark Brunell and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Tony Banks was behind center for the Ravens, having beaten out Trent Dilfer for the starting job. The fans were still luke-warmly behind Tony, as we knew exactly what Dilfer was.

Jimmy Smith always owned us, along with Mark Brunell and Keenan McCardell. They always snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. This day seemed no different, as the Jags built a 23-7 halftime lead on two long TDs to Jimmy Smith. The Ravens battled back, finally taking a touchdown lead with under 7:00 to play in the fourth quarter. The Jags did what they always seemed to do, scoring ten points by just after the two-minute warning, forcing the Ravens to ask Tony freaking Banks for a 5th TD pass. He threaded a beautiful floater above the linebacker and in front of the safety to Shannon Sharpe, giving the Ravens the lead for good with 41 seemingly-interminable seconds left. They won by the final score of 39-36.

Why was this game memorable? It was the day the Ravens were finally truly part of Baltimore. They were our team as soon as they arrived, but they were not emotionally our team. That stadium, which was brand new and structurally advanced, literally bounced the entire second half. The crowd was unanimously on its feet for more than an hour, something unheard of in almost all professional sports venues. Really, I wasn't even ashamed of wearing purple in public any more.

Most surprisingly, even to me, I cried in the car on the way home. Something connected after that game that linked me to the team and the team to the new stadium and the city. I was convinced that the team was special and that we were going to do something important that year. By February, I was right and Baltimore had its first world champion since the 1983 Orioles.

blahblahblah Rot in hell, Richie Garcia. (I can't blame Jeffrey Maier)

7) The What-If Game

And to tie this whole thing together, recall that the 2000 Ravens allowed an NFL-record low 165 points that season, an average of 10.3 a game. Take out that Week 2 game, and they allowed an average of only 8.6 points a game. Then again, take out that Week 2 game and they probably don't win the Super Bowl.
East Coast Bias
The What-If Game is one of my favorite aspects of sports, because it doesn't matter. Any topic is infinitely debatable because it can never happen. Likewise, talking about a game before it happens is meaningless because no one is going to hold you to it afterwards. You can exaggerate, lie, bullshit, boast and do anything you want that would normally make you an insufferable asshole, and all you have to do to erase it is congratulate the other person after the game if you lose, and not rub it in too much if you win. It's another great parallel universe that we get to inhabit solely through sports. East Coast Bias

8) Cal Ripken, Jr.
Fuck the Nats
Because that's what the number eight will always mean to me.