Thursday, February 17, 2005

NHL stream of consciousness: The Blame Game

The high school hockey playoffs have started. Since Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow were unable to figure out the importance of a settlement and the need to save the season, get out and support the local high schools. Fill the rinks and enjoy the games. Don't let the NHL's stupidity keep you away from the game.

Speaking of Bettman and Goodenow, are there two more arrogant people on the planet? Based on the lines of BS they were both trying to feed the world on Wednesday, they think we're all stupid. It's like watching two heels feud in pro wrestling. Fans don't know who to cheer for, so they usually just sit on their hands and wait for the next match.

The finger-pointing needs to stop. A lot of it draws back to the two arrogant leaders involved (Bettman/Goodenow), but the rest of the parties are not innocent. Flames part-owner Harley Hotchkiss had the audacity yesterday to release a statement saying the "Union left us no choice" but to cancel the season. you think the world is that stupid? Most people who care enough to follow this story know that the players are just as much at fault as the owners. Both sides have made grave mistakes in this process, and both deserve much criticism and blame for what went down.

It'll be September before we hear from the NHL again. I feel badly for kids who were to be draft-eligible this June. There will almost certainly not be a draft now, meaning they have to wait another year before they can begin their pro career. The Sidney Crosby Watch will run for one more QMJHL season, I guess.

Baseball could afford to do this. The NFL could afford to do this. Both have huge and diverse fanbases to draw from, and while they would face serious public outcry over the cancellation of an entire season (look what happened to baseball in 1995), neither would be arrogant enough to think that their diehard fans would automatically come back, and neither would lose enough fans to lose any sense of relevance on the American sports scene.

All you have to do to understand what lies ahead for the NHL is look at what happened to Major League Baseball when they cancelled the 1994 World Series because of a player strike. Player-fan relations are only now getting back to near pre-1994 levels, and the game has only recently surged in popularity after years of bad TV ratings and average-at-best attendance. If the NHL thinks that a league containing 30 teams that were barely viable before a season-cancelling lockout is going to return with 30 viable teams, they're sadly mistaken.

Unfortunately, Bettman has probably fooled himself and his minions to think that this will actually happen. The combined arrogance and ignorance of this man is stunning.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Super Bowl XXXIX

Food is in house. Hunter is ready. My wife is bored. It’s Super Sunday, as the New England Patriots try to become a dynasty, and the Philadelphia Eagles try to satisfy the most miserable sports fans on the planet. Let’s recap the festivities.

4:40pm: Welcome to Super Bowl XXXIX. Yeah, I know the pregame show’s been on for almost four hours now (actually, seven hours if you count ESPN’s coverage). But I made a decision for my own personal good: Avoid the pregame show at all costs. I don’t want to hear about dynasties, Terrell Owens, Terrell Owens’ ankle, Terrell Owens’ bodysuit, Donovan McNabb’s mom, Chunky Soup, or Tom Brady and how he compares historically to Joe Montana. So, really, skipping the pregame shows was the only option available to me. Luckily, my computer was happy to oblige and allow me to play NHL 2004 for about three hours.

4:41pm: Why did I turn it on now? The pregame concert is next, featuring lip-synching performers and bad music. By the way, the official prediction: Patriots 27-16, with Corey Dillon emerging as MVP. I like something by Anheuser-Busch as the best commercial.

4:46pm: Country star Gretchen Wilson (??) sings some song called, I think, “Here For The Party”. It might have been annoying, even by country music standards, but at least she was singing. If that’s what you call it.

4:48pm: Charlie Daniels runs on stage and bashes Wilson in the back of the head with his fiddle, then goes into a rockin’ rendition of “Devil Went Down To Georgia”. Okay, I only wish part of that had happened.

4:54pm: Something called the Black Eyed Peas performs a song I’m not at all familiar with. The NFL censors probably cringed when the hot chick in the group (do these people have names?) started shaking her, well, posterior while the camera was in on her a little bit too tight. At this point, certain that the group is “singing” live and not lip-synching, I find a rerun of the World Series of Poker on ESPN2 and stay there to wait out the performance.

5:00pm: I think that was the guy from American Pie. What I do know is that FOX aired a reasonably amusing bit about science and football.

5:06pm: Dreams are shattered as Joe Buck introduces the Super Bowl broadcast on FOX. Buck doing football sounds like I think Jim Nantz would sound if he tried to call an NCAA Frozen Four hockey game. Buck usually seems completely detached from the game, not at all knowledgeable, unable to make enough entertaining comments to save himself. He also says the word “dynasty”, which is enough to cause me to go into convulsions on my couch. It’s not a pretty sight.

5:09pm: Whoever had Alicia Keys in the “First Person To Lip-Synch At Super Bowl XXXIX” pool wins. Brutal.

5:25pm: I skipped the part where they introduced the teams so I could make some food. I thought being ready for the game was more important than hearing Michael Chiklis introduce the Patriots. They then went to a very cool tribute to the military, narrated by Michael Douglas. It was capped by a stirring rendition of the national anthem.

5:32pm: Hey, kid. It’s nice that you’re a youth football player in Jacksonville and all, but you do realize that the coin is supposed to turn in the air, right? Lesson #1 to the NFL: Leave the coin-flipping to the professionals. By the way, Philadelphia wins the “flip” and elects to receive. Why is it that college coaches always defer and receive the second-half kickoff, but pro coaches always take the first-half kickoff if they win the coin “flip”? Are those levels of football really that different?

5:38pm: Cool. They’re actually going to play the football game. Neat. Something called Rod Hood runs the kickoff back near the 40, but Philly starts the game with a quick three-and-out. The Patriots blitz twice on the series, which makes Tuesday Morning Quarterback go into the fetal position on his couch. The second blitz, a perfectly timed rush by LB Tedy Bruschi, leads to a sack of Donovan McNabb. He fumbled, but a challenge led to the correct ruling, which was that he was down before the fumble.

5:41pm: The challenge also leads to our first commercial break. The Super Bowl commercials have become almost as big as the game itself. The first break is completely nondescript, however, with the first ad being one from Anheuser-Busch where some dude throws the beer out of an airplane. I guess you had to be there. Then again, I didn’t think it was any good when I saw it.

5:45pm: Corey Dillon shows Brian Westbrook how to pick up a blitz. Jeremiah Trotter tried to trot (sorry) through the line, but Dillon lit him up, allowing Tom Brady to find a wide-open Deion Branch (theme alert) for a first down. The Patriots ended up punting, but it was a good start for the Patriots against Jim Johnson’s defense.

5:48pm: The Eagles tried to throw one deep. Randall Gay covered it almost perfectly. Who would have thought I’d write that last sentence during a Super Bowl?

5:52pm: Joe Buck almost climaxes after Terrell Owens’ second catch, a scintillating nine-yard reception. Unfortunately, the Eagles needed 12, and ended up punting after a failed third down. Seriously, you should have heard Buck. If I didn’t know any better, I would have assumed Tim McCarver was discussing Derek Jeter’s latest bunt single.

5:54pm: I couldn’t get the name of the movie right if I had multiple guesses, but I can tell you with relative certainty that Vin Diesel’s career is now over. This break also includes a funny FedEx ad featuring Burt Reynolds and a dancing bear. Quality.

6:01pm: The football heads in the general direction of Todd Pinkston. In a stunning development, she doesn’t make the catch.

6:02pm: The Eagles run a screen pass. Reasonable success. I said it all week, though. Reid better not try too many of these, or he’s liable to get Westbrook killed.

6:05pm: McNabb keeps missing high. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was 2000.

6:07pm: Not a good sequence for McNabb. A pretty catch and run by Owens, with a penalty tacked on, got the Eagles inside the 10. McNabb is immediately sacked for a 16-yard loss. Watching McNabb run backwards that far on first-and-goal sent TMQ back into the fetal position. On second down, McNabb threw a wounded duck towards the right sideline, where it was intercepted by Asante Samuel. That play was nullified by an illegal contact flag. Then, on first and ten, McNabb went back to the air, and a poorly thrown ball into double coverage was picked off by Rodney Harrison.

6:14pm: Funny Ameriquest ad. The theme is not to judge something too quickly. A guy on a cell phone is telling the person on the other end of the line that they are “being robbed”. A convenience store clerk with his back to the guy thinks the guy is talking to him, so he starts beating on the guy with a baseball bat. Good stuff.

6:15pm: Pylon cam? Pylon cam? How long until we have “Cheerleader Nipple Cam”?

6:16pm: Maybe I’m just goofy, but I think both teams are being too conservative, especially on third down. If you play like you’re afraid to lose, that’s exactly what you’ll do.

6:19pm: L.J. Smith fumbles after a strip by Randall Gay. Yes, that’s what happened. Get your mind out of the gutter. The Patriots recover, but don’t do anything and end up punting the ball back to the Eagles.

6:22pm: The commercials have been a real letdown so far. In fact, they’ve been even more of a letdown than Alicia Keys lip-synching “America the Beautiful”.

6:27pm: Somehow, Todd Pinkston makes two huge catches on the same possession, the second a great leaping grab for a huge gain down the middle of the field. Yes, Todd Pinkston went down the middle of the field. And, no, he didn’t pull out the alligator arms. It was an amazing sight. But don’t fret, because Pinkston will make up for it later. Keep reading.

6:35pm: Touchdown, Philly. Great route running by Smith on third and goal, and McNabb finds him in the middle of the end zone. The Eagles become the first team to hold a lead over New England during the postseason.

6:39pm: After more bad commercials, the Patriots try to answer. Kevin Faulk has been a real nice change-of-pace back so far. It doesn’t really look like the Eagles were ready for him to get the ball this much. Imagine that: Charlie Weis thinking of a wrinkle that the opposing defense wouldn’t be prepared for or be able to come up with an answer to.

6:42pm: This fumble call will be reversed. I commend this officiating crew. Even if it looked obvious in live action, they’re better off letting the play end without a quick whistle. Call it a fumble and let the offense challenge it if they don’t like the call. That’s what happened here, and the call was correctly reversed.

6:45pm: Corey Dillon is good. That is all.

6:47pm: Tom Brady makes a huge mistake. Stop the presses. Botched fake handoff turns into a fumble that Darwin Walker recovers for the Eagles. The Patriots come up empty in the red zone. Somewhere, Joe Montana is thinking “I never would have done that”.

6:56pm: The Patriots get the ball back and put together another solid drive. Brady hits David Givens for a touchdown, and Givens does the foot-on-the-football eagle-flapping thing Owens has been known to do. It’s a 7-7 game, but one has to think the Patriots have the advantage, especially with McNabb still looking somewhat shaky at times.

7:06pm: After getting the ball back, the Eagles engage in a display of clock management that made Mike Martz question Andy Reid’s strategy. Instead of trying to push for a go-ahead field goal attempt, the Eagles masterfully bleed the clock so Paul McCartney can take the stage and put the crowd to sleep.

Halftime: Eagles 7, Patriots 7

7:45pm: Deion Branch is now making a push for Super Bowl MVP. Outstanding game for him so far, even though they’d rather throw a touchdown pass to Mike Vrabel. For Vrabel, it’s his second Super Bowl TD. Meanwhile, Terrell Owens is still in search of his first.

7:48pm: I’m giving up on writing about commercials. This is as bad as it’s been in a long time. The best ads in this game wouldn’t rate in the top five of most Super Bowls.

7:54pm: I know they’re behind, but Philadelphia can’t panic. They’re throwing the ball too much. While the Patriots are weak in the secondary, they’re going to find ways to stop you if all you do is pass against them. You can’t be predictable against Crennellichick.

8:03pm: Oh, joy. A Cialis ad. How is this okay, but I can’t see the Budweiser “wardrobe malfunction” spoof?

8:10pm: When the Eagles need him most, Brian Westbrook takes over. He basically carries the Eagles into the end zone for the tying touchdown, which comes on a stirring needle-threader pass by McNabb as Westbrook snuck through two defenders near the goal line. Buck almost screams in delight, leaving no doubt about who he wants to win the game.

8:12pm: Clever ad for Verizon’s new V-Pass, which is broadband-quality video on a cell phone. The ad features mini-celebrities like Kid Rock, Christina Aguilera, and Shaq. It wouldn’t be top 15 in a normal year, but it’s top five this year!

8:14pm: Even though they’re driving, it should be noted that the Patriots are very sloppy. Uncharacteristic misreads and bad throws by Brady, and the line has already committed more penalties than they had in their two previous postseason games combined.

8:20pm: For the first time ever, the Super Bowl is tied at the end of three quarters. Yet, am I alone in thinking this game is far from a classic? Just not a crisply-played game from either team to this point.

8:23pm: At this rate, it won’t be tied long. The Eagles can be heard calling out to watch for a screen pass before the snap. The Patriots run—you guessed it—a screen pass. Kevin Faulk has a convoy, and he gets a first down before the Eagles figure out what is going on. Wait…didn’t you diagnose the play before the snap? Then how did you let it work so well??

8:24pm: Dillon scores. He’s one long drive away from serious MVP consideration, and at this rate, the Patriots are probably one defensive stop from winning the game.

8:30pm: I think I forgot to mention the shocking revelation from FOX. Todd Pinkston left the game with cramps. How fitting.

8:39pm: After another stop, the Patriots drive down the field. Branch looks like a shoo-in for the MVP award, and Brady has shaken the early cobwebs and is throwing quite well. Facing a third and goal on the four, the Patriots run a simple running play for Dillon. Hated that play call. Don’t sit on the field goal. Go for the throat. Your quarterback has never thrown an interception in the playoffs. Why would you fear him doing so now? Now, instead of a comfortable two-touchdown lead, the Patriots lead by 10, so the door is still open for Philadelphia, especially if they can march down the field and get some points.

8:44pm: HUGE play to Owens. He caught a short pass, broke Gay’s tackle, and sprinted down the sideline. He’s done exactly what I said he would do, and now he’s trying to take the team on his back. You have to give Owens credit, no matter what you think of him. The Eagles are in position to get right back in the game…

8:45pm: …until McNabb misses Dorsey Levens high, and throws one right to Bruschi. The game isn’t over, but it’s close.

8:56pm: Philly gets the ball back, but what are they doing? Do they realize that it’s the fourth quarter of THE SUPER BOWL? They’re down ten, but they’re lollygagging around like they’re trying to bleed the clock for a last-second field goal try by David Akers. Absolutely brutal work by Reid. Even Dennis Green is ready to put his foot through the TV.

9:02 pm: Touchdown, Philly. Finally. Under two minutes left, and McNabb finds Greg Lewis for a TD. Lewis then does a crotch chop, making everyone observing wonder if they’ve traveled back to 1998.

9:04 pm: Kick it deep. Don’t listen to that idiot Collinsworth. Kick it deep. You have two timeouts and plenty of time. Kick it deep. The onside kick is less than a 10 percent proposition when the opposition knows it’s coming. Just kick it deep, make your defensive stop, and save yourself 20-30 yards of field position (or more).

9:05 pm: The Eagles onside. It’s a horrible kick, and Christian Fauria recovers it uncontested.

9:09 pm: The Eagles get the ball back…at their own four. Josh Miller’s punt hit at the 20 and bounced down inside the five. The Eagles have 46 seconds and no timeouts, and they need to get at least 55 yards to have a reasonable shot at tying the game. In other words, the game’s over. I’m left wondering: 1) why onside and risk that much field position; 2) why not send someone back to return the punt unless you’re planning on rushing eleven on the punt, which Philadelphia didn’t. If you have someone back to return that kick, you save yourself 20 yards and give yourself a puncher’s chance to complete the comeback.

9:14pm: A second pick by Rodney Harrison ices it, and the dynasty talk begins. Of course, the Patriots aren’t a dynasty after four years, but that doesn’t stop every media person in attendance from talking about it.

It wasn’t the best Super Bowl of all time, but at least it was a competitive game, and there was enough questionable coaching in this one to keep everyone talking for quite a while.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

At least he didn't show any private parts

I'd like to thank Paul McCartney for not flashing the crowd at the Super Bowl, and for not dropping his pants.

Otherwise, it's probably the most boring halftime show I've ever seen. About as exciting as watching ice melt on top of drying paint. Granted, there's no Ashlee Simpson screaming incoherently and gyrating like an amateur stripper, and there's no Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction". And that's a good thing, by the way.

But the object of a Super Bowl halftime show shouldn't be to put the audience to sleep.

Then again, nothing else is really working tonight, either. The commercials are absolutely terrible, and the teams are playing like the loser is going to face a firing squad.

We'll have more later this week, as we bring you my Super Bowl XXXIX Diary. It'll be filled with pithy comments about the night's festivities, along with game, commercial, and commentator analysis. Look for that right here in The Official Weblog of The Bruce Ciskie Show.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

They're THAT good

When they were 15-0, it was easy to say "They aren't that good". In fact, when you looked at the strength of schedule (I believe it was in the 90s), you were practically drawn to that conclusion.

They aren't that good.

The Big Ten will get to them. After all, no one wins at Wisconsin, and no one (except Wisconsin when the home team gets too cocky) wins at Michigan State.



So wrong.

Illinois played at Wisconsin last week. They played at Michigan State last night. Instead of the home teams showing how tough it is for visitors to win in their respective gyms, it was the visiting team that did the showing off. Suddenly, Illinois sits at 22-0 overall and 8-0 in the Big Ten. The toughest remaining conference games are at Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State, and at home against Wisconsin. While the odds of Illinois entering the NCAA Tournament with a perfect record are still not great, the odds of going into the Big Ten Tournament with said unbeaten record are much higher than they were last Monday, before they won in Madison.

With Deron Williams, Luther Head, and Dee Brown comprising the best three-guard lineup you can find in Division I, Illinois already has enough weapons to be dangerous. But they're not done on the perimeter. The biggest reason this team is perfect isn't any of the three guards. It's the inside play of Roger Powell and Brian Augustine. With Powell and Augustine both averaging in double figures inside, and the entire team doing a great job of staying out of foul trouble, the Illini have a complete starting five, and it's been nearly impossible to this point for anyone to exploit their overall lack of depth. If Bruce Weber's team gets tripped up at some point along the way, it will probably be because of turnovers and/or foul trouble.

The discipline of their starters and the ballhandling ability of their guards makes it hard to fathom, but anything is possible.

After the Wisconsin game, I said I thought Illinois was the best team I've seen all season. Fans of teams like North Carolina, Duke, Boston College, Wake Forest, and others might make arguments, but no one is as balanced on both ends of the floor as the Illini. And they just won road games at Wisconsin and Michigan State, venues that have been nearly impossible for visiting teams to win at over recent years. For now, that'll work for me.

Meanwhile, the college basketball world is trying to figure out exactly how Boston College has started 19-0 and become the last remaining unbeaten besides Illinois. When there were still four unbeatens standing, the "conventional wisdom" was that BC was the weak sister of the four, and that they'd be the first to lose. The Eagles still have to travel to Seton Hall, Notre Dame, Villanova, and Rutgers, and they still have Syracuse and Pittsburgh scheduled to visit Conte Forum. They'll probably get beat before the Big East Tournament. But they shouldn't be 19-0, and they are. If the one-two punch of Craig Smith and Jared Dudley keeps producing, the Eagles might end up being the best team in the country that no one knows a damn thing about.