Friday, May 26, 2006

The One Packer to Cheer for

In the news cycle, notoriety and infamy last too long, while stories of goodwill and positivity get overlooked. It is far easier to write cynical and sarcastic pieces. So occasionally, I'll do my best and try to point out someone that gets it.

He might play for the Packers, but everyone should cheer for Samkon Gado. Playing in the NFL isn't enough for the Nigerian-born Gado. He also is working on his MD to help people in his homeland.

Compared to too many pro athletes that spend their offseasons lifting weights, preparing to hold-out, deciding to play or retire or other worse misdeeds, Gado sees the larger picture. Here's hoping he becomes a superstar. As long as he struggles twice a year.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Barbaro? Who Cares!

Beings I care more about than a dying horse named Barbaro:

5. Minneapolis Drive Time Radio host Dan Barreiro
4. RB Marion Barber III (Not to mention previous Marion iterations I and II)
3. The combined skills and names of Brazilian soccer greats Bebeto and Romario
2. Fictional Elephant Babar
1. Fictional Hood Vinnie Barbarino

What’s the big deal about Barbaro? Google “Barbaro” and you get 10,400 hits. That’s more than Albert Pujols or the Indy 500, and slightly fewer than “Yankees Red Sox”, "American Idol" or "Al-Qaeda". All this attention is for a horse that broke its leg. That’s it. He won the Kentucky Derby and then broke his leg in the next race. Suddenly, his medical status is on red alert, garnering the same media attention when Baby Jessica got stuck in a well. If I watched cable news networks, I'm sure I would find a Barbaro Ticker with the latest breaking stories...Barbaro, the horse that broke his leg in the Preakness and now rests on his deathbed, just whinnied.

Suddenly everyone loves thoroughbreds. It’s not even thoroughbreds as a whole, it’s a love and interest for Barbaro’s leg. Less coverage was reserved for human-athletes that have actually died. Fans have sent flowers and apples to the veterinary hospital. Other people wrote Get Well signs.

"So many apples were sent to the hospital they had to be shared with other horses in the ICU."
Everyone still knows it's a dying, illiterate horse right?
Today is the NBA Lottery. Slightly more exciting than a coin toss, 14 teams find out where they will pick in the June draft. As far as articles about ping-pong balls go, the Star Tribune covered it well. The article mentions sending assistant coach Zarko Durisic as the team’s representative and good luck charm. Here’s what Vice President Kevin McHale had to say, "Jarko told me he was the luckiest person he knows. I said: 'That's all I have to hear. You're going.' "

Yep, he doesn’t even know Zarko’s first name. If this mistake comes from anyone besides McHale it’s overlooked. Since it does come from the man responsible for the team’s current position in the lottery, it’s all the more egregious.

You might think, “Take it easy, he just made a mistake.” This is the genius that traded away the team's 2006 and 2007 draft picks, only to retain this year’s pick by tanking the final month of the season.

The only hope is that the McHale’s North Oaks residence gets a leaky faucet, and floods the basement, leaving McHale impounded for the entire summer. Then, and only then, do the Timberwolves have a chance at forging a long-term game plan.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


If ever someone was destined for cult hero it is Boof Bonser. Legally changing your name from John to Boof is a good start. He’s 6’4 260, easily the largest Twin on the roster, enhancing his icon status. He also steps into the perfect opportunity to endear fans. After watching the temperamental Kyle Lohse continually regress, impatient fans are sure to find any reason to cheer for Bonser.

Whether Bonser can show better control is questionable. Bonser has always been generous with home runs in the minors. Compared to Lohse’s 8.92 era and average start under 5IP, and hissy fits to match, Bonser might enjoy an extended honeymoon with the Twins. All Bonser has to do is hold teams down for 5-6 innings and give the Twins a chance at winning. The quicker he can erase the memory of Loshe, the better. If Bonser manages to win his first two or three starts, the Metrodome is quickly filled with “Boooofs!

And what if he exceeds expectations? The Twins rally from 9 ½ games back to challenged the Detroit and Chicago in September. Suddenly Minneapolis is filled with “Bonkers for Bonser” T-shirts, The official Boof’s Goofs (or Boof Troop) section in left field, TV Specials, and Bob Dylan’s Ballad of Boof Bonser.

It is much more likely that any turnaround will be a result of Franciso Liriano and someone, anyone that can consistently produce runs. Realistically in a season quickly slipping away, a character named Boof could potentially provide some fun during a long summer.

-Rondell White had his 11 game hitting streak end. This improves his batting average to .187. In May he’s hitting (.286, .302, .381) with no home runs, although he does have four doubles, proving he can still hit for power.

-Scott Baker has pitched reasonably well for a number 5 starter. He is a rookie and struggles should be expected. He is giving up a lot of hits, but otherwise his K/BB ratio is 5.6, which differentiates him from Silva and Lohse. Quotes by Rick Anderson and Ron Gardenhire make it sound like Baker is Rick Ankiel and cant’ find the plate. The fact is he’s their second most consistent starter right now.

-With Torii Hunter playing well after a miserable start, his market value is at its peak. If the Twins fail to move him before the end of the year it will be a mistake.

-With Bonser and Liriano entering the rotation, the A.J. Pierzynski trade couldn’t have worked out better.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Fred Smoot is Humbler, says Fred Smoot

It is always entertaining when athletes draw from the 3rd person well. Hey, they're rich, talented and usually can back up the bravado. Rickey Henderson used to drop it, he probably still does. It's great. Not everyone has the stones or the game to make it work. So when Fred Smoot describes his nightmare 2005, he gives new legs to the 3rd person, "That was the first time I had to sit and watch my team go play without me. So I think that really humbled Fred Smoot."

Can you be humbled in the third person? If it is the same defensive back that once said, "The Earth is 65% covered with water, Fred Smoot covers the rest," then the answer is absolutely. While some athletes like Terrell Owens go overboard with self infatuation, Smoot falls closer to Chad Johnson. Extreme confidence is the baseline for their success.

For the Vikings new defense to work this year, Smoot must play a large part. The fact Smoot remains confident after last year is a good sign. While no one is expecting Smoot to cover the entire Earth with water's success, blanketing one half of the field should suffice.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Quick, name the craziest placekicker in Raiders history...If you said Sebastien Janikowski, you'd be wrong. It's Cole Ford! The man that makes Barrett Robbins seem docile. Apparently he is on trial for a drive-by shooting. And not just any drive-by, but a drive-by of Siegfried and Roy's house. Obviously Ford does not appreciate great magic, or white tigers for that matter.

Congratulations to Cole Ford for also passing Donald Igwebuike as the NFL's most notorious kicker.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Vikings Draft thoughts

I like: Finding two players that they believe will fit the Cover 2. Ernie Sims might have more potential than Chad Greenway, but Sims tends to freelance and miss assignments. It’s doubtful Greenway will be Brian Urlacher, but the Vikings don’t hold that expectation either. Greenway should start on the outside immediately. Michael Huff got a lot of praise, but Cedric Griffin is pretty good too…Trading a sixth rounder for Guard Artis Hicks is nice. It is unlikely anyone in the sixth round will start this year, while Hicks probably will…The Vikings had a plan to draft certain players, and it appears they did.

I’m not sure:The initial reaction is, “I hope they know what they’re doing.” I have no problem with taking players considered “stretches”. Many underrated prospects become excellent players. Drafting too many projects however, is a potential problem. Every coaching staff believes they can turn coal into diamonds. When ego gets in the way, it can blind objectivity. We’ll see in two to three years…The draft really hinges on QB Tavaris Jackson. The Vikings could have reasonably traded for Jay Cutler or drafted Brodie Croyle, Charlie Whitehurst or Kellen Clemens. Drafting Jackson basically says this was their first choice among quarterbacks. Does Brad Childress believe he has the next Donovan McNabb or did the team outsmart themselves? Instead of trading their two #3’s, Jackson probably would have been around in the third round.

I don’t like: The other downside to drafting too many projects is a lack of immediate depth. DE Ray Edwards and S/LB Greg Blue might become the thefts of 2006. In the meantime, the Vikings only drafted one linebacker, and besides Jackson, zero skill position players. Further, only Greenway, and Griffin are ready to play immediately. Include Hicks and that’s three players out of seven. The Vikings may think they are deep enough to afford so few impact players, but I don’t…Prior to the draft, the Vikings front office claimed character was key. Then they drafted Griffin and Edwards, both with character questions. I have no problem with the picks. However, if you publicly say you won’t tolerate poor characters, and then add two to your roster, you better be accountable if they mess up...Drafting Ryan Cook in round 2. The second round is a place to find players (excluding QB's) that can play immediately or within a year. Cook is a project without a position, two strikes right away. If they wanted an oversized, intriguing project, they should have resigned Tonui Fonoti. All he cost was this year's 7th rounder.

At least wait until September to Judge

The majority says the Texans made a ghastly error. “How can you pass on Barry Sanders?” questions the sports media mob. Reggie Bush is exciting, the Sanders comparison might not be a stretch and he should be a star. For all of that, he’s still just a running back. That is apparently what the Texans saw, and many football writers and talking heads fail to notice.

While selling tickets and boasting an exciting roster is great for revenue and fan interest. On the field it is another story. Winning in the NFL is about substance over style. Name the last Hall of Fame (or future HOF) running back to win a Super Bowl. Aside from Marshall Faulk and Emmitt Smith with the Cowboys, a star running back is not needed to win. What are the ’85 Bears known for? One of the greatest defenses ever first, Walter Payton second. Payton played for some terrible Bears teams for years before Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan built the defense.

A dynamic running game is a nice luxury, but a strong defense is a requirement for a playoff team. Mario Williams fills the larger need for the Texans. Domanick Davis is a 1,000 yard rusher, and the Texans defense needs a playmaker on defense. Williams has the chance to get 10-15 sacks a year for the next 8-10 years. Bush may be the better pure football player, but Williams is a better pick, and has a pretty good chance of being a Pro Bowler himself. It's not like the Texans passed on Bush in favor of Mathias Kiwanuka or Deuce Latui.

Every team that fancies itself a Super Bowl contender has an elite pass rusher. Great teams usually have two defensive playmakers. Since 1995, every Super Bowl Champion, except the 2001 Patriots, has had at least two defensive Pro Bowlers.

Houston is also taking heat for apparently taking the cheaper alternative. This seems wise to me. Sean Alexander, the reigning MVP couldn’t get $9million, so why would Houston be smart to pay a rookie with 15-carry potential that much? The Texans deserve credit for not blindly overpaying Bush, seeing the larger picture and ignoring popular opinion.

Other Thoughts:
-A plea to all the draft “experts”: Enough with draft day report cards. The cards are based on what teams agreed with the mock drafts, usually ignoring teams that traditionally draft well or not. Further, a draft can’t fully be evaluated for two to three years anyway. Example: Many people gave the Jaguars high marks last year for drafting TE/WR Matt Jones. This year they draft another TE Marcedes Lewis. The Jags get high marks again for finally filling the tight end spot. Huh? Remember 2003 when the Vikings missed their pick and fell to 9? They got poor marks for missing their pick. Of course, they still got it right by taking Kevin Williams

-If Reggie Bush is the greatest running back since Barry Sanders, why didn’t any teams want to trade up to number 2? The same reason last year no teams traded for Shaun Alexander or Edgerrin James. Running backs take a pounding, are replaceable, and are rarely worth high dollars or draft picks.

-The Cardinals got instant praise for picking Matt Leinart. Basically they are getting credit for picking a player the media thinks is a good pick. Dennis Green’s offense is a vertical passing game. Not a very good fit for a weak-armed quarterback.

-One more thing about Leinart. It is not fair to compare him to Tom Brady. Brady is an anomaly; no one predicted anything from him. Leinart won in college because he was a very good quarterback surrounded by ridiculous talent. That doesn’t always translate to the pros. Otherwise Jay Barker, Casey Weldon and Tommy Frazier would be starters in the NFL.