Sunday, August 31, 2008

Next Step for Patriots?

As the 2008 season is coming into the horizon, I have different feelings about this year than any other since I started watching football. We all know the story of the Patriots '07 season...only recently have I come to grips with it. It was the most gut-wrenching loss of my sports-viewing life. Worse than the Boone home run. Worse than the phantom Knoblauch tag in the '99 ALCS. Worse than the Colts' late drive to win the '06 AFC title game. Awful.

With months of healing and regrouping has come a bit of perspective. As weird as it sounds, I've never looked more forward to a season. Patriots fans have spent an entire off season watching their team get ripped left and right...being referred to as the biggest choke artists of all time or as cheaters. It's easy to root for a team that's winning, likable and beloved by the national media; case and point being the Red Sox. For a fan, the true merit is earned in the face of controversy and obviously lack of success (if you're a Royals fan, God bless you). This team has had the most success in the NFL since 2001 but as I said before, our team's integrity and ability to succeed are being called into question at all levels. I love this us vs. the (NFL) world mentality.

Something else to consider is this team's place in history. Four Super Bowls clinches Brady as a top-three quarterback of all time. Sure, the Super Bowl loss was humbling. I probably should have received more crap from my friends who are Giants fans than I did. To go back to my initial point, I 'd say the main difference about this year and previous years is the sense of purpose Patriots fans should be feeling. There are two paths this team can take:

-The way of the '80s 49ers in that they won a few titles early on in the decade, had a few tough losses to the Giants and Bears to "take them off the throne", but had enough left to win two more titles late in the late '80s. Injuries and bad luck took them off course in the middle but the group was so talented and veteran-laden that it was able to extend its run of dominance.

-The route the '90s version of those 49ers took after winning it all in 1994. They were competitive and won some postseason games (the T.O. catch in '97 obviously comes to mind) but never really were able to get over that proverbial hump.

Both of these scenarios are entirely possible for the Pats. They could easily bounce back and win a fourth Super Bowl or they could fade as the defense continues to age and crumble. Regardless of which way they go, I'm going into this season as proud to be a Pats fan as I've ever been.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thoughts on 8/27

So it's been a few days since I last posted. The Olympics are over and I can honestly say I loved every minute of these games. From the obvious (the Redeem Team) to the obscure (a USA bronze finish in air pistol shooting for Jason Turner), I had these events on TV at every moment I had free.

Some final thoughts:

-How could I not mention Michael Phelps? His seventh gold in the 100-m butterfly may have been the most exciting race I've ever seen. Granted, I only started watching swimming a few years ago because I had to cover it for the Globe but it doesn't get better than winning by .01 seconds. He, Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong have to be the three best individual athletes of recent memory.

-I love beach volleyball. The tandems of Misty May-Treanor/Kerri Walsh and Phil Dalhausser/Todd Rogers were fun to watch and you could sense how much they enjoyed competing for their country.

-Serena and Venus Williams are the best sibling combination in sports, not the Mannings. This has nothing to do with how much I detest both of them, just that they are much better against their competition when they decide to team up and have had great success individually.

-More power to Usain Bolt for blowing kisses to fans at the end of his race and still setting a world record in the 200. If he has the ability to go that fast and still show off, I'm not going to knock him.

-There has been debate as to how the 2008 USA Basketball team compares to the Dream Team in the aftermath of the gold medal win. For years I've considered the Dream Team the greatest team ever assembled, and I stand by that. However, I'm not so sure they'd have an easy time with this current crop of future Hall of Famers. The thing that was so special about the Dream Team in '92 was that it was a link from the past to the present. There was an aged and broken-down Larry Bird, a past-his-prime Magic but you also had Pippen, Stockton, Malone, Barkley and Ewing all in their primes. Oh yeah, and that had that Jordan guy at his best as well. If this team featured Bird and Magic in their primes, it would be no contest. (Side note: Anyone have footage of Christian Laettner scoring for this team? I'd love to see it.)

The thing about the Redeem Team that we need to take into consideration is that we can't compare these two teams yet. Lebron has yet to even scratch the surface of what he can do in this league. The man is unbelievable. Players like him, D-Wade, Carmelo, Chris Paul or Dwight Howard are still on their way up.

I would love to see some of these one-on-one match ups:

-Jordan in his prime (not the '02 version or even the '98 version) vs. Kobe at the top of his game. Michael might find someone who could score on him even when he's playing hard defense.
-Barkley vs. Dwight Howard. At this point, I can envision Sir Charles handing Howard his lunch down low.
-Deron Williams vs. his predecessor, John Stockton. Very similar game styles, that'd be great to watch.
-Scotty Pippen on D-Wade or Lebron. Pippen had the unique ability to shut down both 2-guards and power forwards in his career. Each of these players would give him the type of test he never encountered in his prime.

Well that's all for now, I got the internet banned from my work because I was watching the USA-Argentina was worth it. USA! USA! USA!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Golden Baby

It's 4:30 a.m. and I have work in 2 hours but I couldn't be happier right now. Team USA brought the gold back to where it should be. The defense wasn't as good as it has been but in the end this team was simply not going to lose.

D-Wade once again sparked this team and Kobe closed this one out. Yes, it was weird rooting for the guy I was screaming at and ridiculing in the Finals only a few months ago. I have a lot more to say about this but time for sleep.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What does gold taste like, anyway?

Here we are, a mere two hours from the game America has waited four years for. The word redemption has been tossed around often but the word in my mind right now is humility. This truly has been a journey for me. I was like the rest of the American public who thought it was our birthright to win every game by 35-40 points and bring home gold every four years. I was too ignorant too realize this game had become a world-wide sport and even in 2000 the gap was being closed. Watching this me-first, leaderless team (note: Tim Duncan was misused by Larry Brown that summer) flounder gave me the second biggest dose of humility in my sporting life. I'll give you one guess as to which game was number one on the list. That subject will be brought up later.

My main point here about humility is that since that wall of invincibility has fallen, winning a gold medal would taste that much sweeter because we know the hard work that has been put in. I'll be blogging during the game and have a recap of the USA Men's Basketball '08 summer tomorrow.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Random thoughts 8/18

Well friends, my summer in cape cod has a few weeks left. Interestingly enough, this has been the best summer I've had in years. I went to the beach at least three or four times a week and had a great time with friends down here. Being within walking distance of the Orleans Cardinals field was convenient as well. I didn't end up working with the Cape League as much as I had anticipated but I enjoy watching baseball at this level so just watching Cardinals games was fun. This was my last chance for a summer on the cape and I made the most of it.

As for my plans come September, my employment status has been put on hold because I'm extending my vacation by a few weeks. A few friends and myself are flying out to Los Angeles to join our friend Seth on his trek back east. We're driving back and visiting five MLB Ballparks on the way. This is obviously going to be expensive but the more I think about it, the more I realize this is most likely my last opportunity to visit a few ballparks. I've been to three parks in my life: Fenway, Cellular One (formerly known as Comiskey) and Wrigley. Sitting down and watching a game with the stench of stale beer and mold not hitting my nose as I am crammed into a seat will be a welcome change (You'll notice in my writing that I am not a fan of Fenway. Tear the place down!). I plan on bringing my laptop for the trip and blogging along the way.

Here are some of my random thoughts from the sports world:

-It's been said on many occasions but what Michael Phelps accomplished the past two weeks are among the greatest I've ever seen. Greatest singular performance from an athlete. Period.
-I'll get into this in my US-Australia preview but I look forward to Dwight Howard making Andrew Bogut look like a high schooler. Bogut is widely known as an American basher and I look forward to seeing the US big men eat him alive.

-If this really is it for Curt Schilling, as he said this morning that there was a good chance of, thanks for everything. You came here to deliver a title and ended up with two and is one of the most genuine athletes to grace the Boston sports scene.

-The U.S. women's soccer team will be playing in their fourth gold medal game, an impressive accomplishment. It's a shame fans, including myself, haven't paid more attention to them.

-David Ortiz's health is starting to concern me. The only pitching I've seen him hit with any sort of consistency was Texas pitching...which I'm sure I could even make some contact with. While healthy, he could hit any pitch on any count but I haven't seen that since the injury. Obviously he is getting less pitches to hit with Manny out but it's not as though Youk is a slouch so Ortiz's lack of production against teams north of Texas worries me.

I'll be checking back in tomorrow with thoughts on the Redeem Team's performance against Spain and a preview of the second go-round with those kangaroo-loving Aussies.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Redeem Team's Revenge

Up until yesterday's rematch against Greece, the USA Men's Basketball had yet to prove to the themselves against prime competition nor were any of the games all that exciting. These contests were a mere formality from both our perspective as viewers and undoubtedly in the minds of the players. Greece isn't necessarily the best team in the tournament; Spain is widely considered the States' top competitor. This was the first real test for this team and I think we have a better idea where they stand against the top European players after the 92-69 win over Greece.

There were things I was looking for in comparison to the 2006 World Championships semi-finals. We all know what happened two years ago when the Greeks made an art of the pick-and-roll on its way to the 101-95 upset. Two of the most prominent terms used when analyzing the team's disappointing performance were "cohesion" and "half-court set". While I do think this team does play as more of a unit than the previous edition, having a matured Chris Paul and, in my opinion, the second best point guard in the NBA in Deron Williams is far more important. Kirch Hinrich was not going to cut it against the European elite and I'm glad Coach K realized that. Having two point guards in their prime distributing the ball to the top scorers in the world is more important than the team playing together a lot. I'm not dismissing the need for cohesion but the difference in point guard play is something that shouldn't be taken for granted.

I liked what I saw yesterday from the offense when it wasn't on a fast-break. I've been wondering all summer how it would perform when it wasn't in a run-and-gun atmosphere. They had their breakaway dunks for sure, but there was definitely energy in the half-court set. Chris Bosh was spectacular on both the offensive and defensive end. He and a healthy Jermaine O'Neal could be a devastating combo in the East. Earlier in these games, he was settling for 10-15 foot jumpers but he undressed the Greek big men under the boards with sheer strength and agility. He has been a much bigger factor than Dwight Howard in these Olympics. I've already talked about how much I love watching D-Wade play and how happy I am that he's healthy again. It needs to be repeated; he has been busting through all types of defenses and has proven he cannot be guarded with a single player.

Of course, none of this could be accomplished without a stout, aggressive defense. With Wade and Kobe taking advantage of the undersized Greek guards, the U.S. perimeter defense was overbearing. The first few minutes of the game concerned me a bit in that Greece seemed to be controlling the tempo of the game and the U.S. was frustrated with some of the tacky fouls being called. By the time the second quarter rolled around, the U.S. had built a slim lead with a few fast-break dunks but Greece could get to the basket almost at will. Once they buckled down and played great man-to-man defense, you could see despair setting in on the faces of the Greeks.

Tomorrow morning's game against Spain could very well be a preview to the gold medal game and, to this point, the most anticipated game in the history of USA basketball. I fully expect the U.S. to win this game handily, especially after seeing the Celtics reduce Pau Gasol to a jump shooter in the finals. I'm not falling into the "USA Will Dominate Every Game" category. I just think this team turned that proverbial corner in the second quarter against Greece defensively and will not be intimidated by the Gasol brothers or any of Spain's quick guards. This game stays close in the first half but the U.S. pulls away after the intermission.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Decisions...Decisions...And the Olympics!

Well friends, the time has come for me to start taking life seriously and find a real job. I've gone for an interview at a promotional events firm right outside of Providence in which I'd be doing public relations-type stuff. Aside from getting lost in Riverside and throwing my mapquest directions out the window, it went pretty well. I'm going to one of their events next week, so that would be sweet if I was able to stay in RI. I also have been offered a job doing sports writing for a start-up paper in northern Illinois. The editor wants a decision within the next few days. It really doesn't pay that much but I'd be doing what I love to do so I have no clue what to do at this point....Hopefully I'll have an idea what I'm doing with my life by next week.

There's a lot going on in the sports world and at the top of the list is the Olympics. I can honestly say I've never been more excited for the games than this summer. I can't wait to see the likes of Michael Phelps or Tyson Gay (injury permitting) bring home gold after gold. Another great thing about the Olympics are the sports that we don't normally watch on a regular basis. I'm telling you, badminton (not just Papi and Brian Urlacher can play) and sailing are competitive and enjoyable to watch. I know how difficult it is to sail a boat because I took a class this spring and I struggled to put it mildly. Those struggles give me even more appreciation for the athletes that compete on a world-wide level.

But in the end, this year's Olympics will resonate in my mind with success or failure of the USA Basketball's "Redeem Team". The team features the three top players in the world (sorry, Paul Pierce) in my favorite non-Celtic in Dwayne Wade, Lebron and Kobe. I'm aware that this doesn't ensure success overseas (see: Athens, 2004). I also think this team is obviously a far different team from '04 and even from the world championships in 2006. This is not the Dream Team, which was the greatest collection of talent ever assembled. This current edition of Team USA will not steamroll the competition like we all expect; it's going to be a battle. The team is flawed; there is a lack of size and I worry about its shooting percentage declining as its number of fast-break opportunities dwindle. At the same time, the thought of going toe-to-toe with such European powers as Spain or Argentina entices me because this team plays a solid team defense when it concentrates. The offense is spectacular, not only because of its talent but due to the fact that it has adapted the Coach K ball-movement philosophy.

I admit it, I'll be crushed if we don't bring home the gold. I've been waiting for this since I watched the Marbury/Iverson-led team implode four years ago.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dog Days of Summer

For the past few years of my life, I have been able to write on a fairly consistent basis- whether it be for classes, the URI newspaper or the Globe. Now that I've graduated and am jobless, I have realized how much I miss putting my thoughts into word form. The purpose of this blog will be threefold: 1. to get me writing again, I've worked as a concierge at a hotel all summer and haven't written anything since June; 2. spark some debate in terms of sports news, if you know me I'm pretty opinionated and I hope those who read this will leave comments or interact with me in some manner; 3. every once in a while I'll delve into the transition from a college student to being in the "real world"

A Bitter End to the Manny Era

Seeing as this is mainly a sports blog and I'm a die-hard Sox fan, the subject of one Manuel Aristides Ramirez needs to be brought up. I'll start this off with the memory of the day Manny signed with the Sox. I was a freshman in high school and I was ecstatic with the deal; no one my age had ever seen a hitter the likes of Manny in Boston. The Nomar's and Mo Vaughn's of the world were very good hitters but neither could change a game the way Manny could. He offered a ray of hope to a Boston lineup that featured such stalwarts as Darren Lewis or Bernard Gilkey. We have to remember that, while he was well-compensated, Manny's presence in the lineup really started to change the culture around here.

Throughout his time here he had some great moments- his game-winning homerun off of Barry Zito in game 5 of the '03 ALDS, monster series against the Angels in '04, World Series MVP the same year and his torrid '07 postseason. Combine those with a string of .300, 30+ hr, 100 RBI seasons and one would be under the impression fans would be clearing space on Yawkey Way for a bronze Manny statue featuring his afterswing after a breathtaking homerun. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the tape measure homeruns and prodigious amount of runs driven in came with a price that became steeper every season: clubhouse unity. Manny's selfish attitude was never headline material four or five years ago for a few reasons. The first was the Sox already had a Latino star causing drama in the great Pedro Martinez (albeit a different type of drama; he would've never quit on his teammates, just complained about his contract to the media). Secondly, there was the brotherhood known as "The Idiots" residing in the Boston locker room. Manny could laugh from the distance and take games off while Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar were creating a cohesive atmosphere. By 2006, "The Idiots" were gone and "Manny being Manny" suddenly wasn't as cute or funny.

When Peter Gammons reported that David Ortiz pled with Manny to return in August of '06 to return from his "injury" and Manny refused, I can honestly say I was shocked and embarassed on Manny's behalf. Here's David Ortiz, in the midst of a record-setting season in which he could have broken Roger Maris's record of 61 homeruns in the Junior Circuit, asking for his overpaid teammate just to play. Stunning. Papi ended up with 54 dingers that year, the Sox an embarrassing 3rd place and Manny watching from his TV set. Actually, just kidding. Manny was probably watching I Love the 80's instead of seeing his team crumble down the stretch.

You already know the type of things that have transpired this year so I won't talk about them. The only thing I'll mention about the '08 version of Manny is the fact that his bat speed has declined markedly. The lineup will obviously miss him protecting David Ortiz but in the end Jason Bay and his 30 homerun power will be a suitable replacement because he tries every game and every play. Weird notion for the Red Sox starting left fielder huh?

Manny could have taken two routes in exiting Boston, which was inevitable. Pedro left after pitching his heart out in the '04 playoffs and for the most part had an amiable breakup with the Sox. He didn't create a huge distraction in the club even though in was obvious the two sides would be parting ways that off season. I'll remember him for being the greatest pitcher ever to put on a Boston uniform, not for the way he left. Then there's Nomar, who sulked his way out of Boston and will be remembered more for his selfishness and overall unhappiness than capturing a pair of batting titles and destroying Cleveland pitching in the 1998/1999 postseasons. Sadly enough, Manny went down teammate-once-more Nomar's road and left Boston in a cowardly manner.

Have fun in L.A. Manny. You could have been an absolute legend in Boston but have fun in La La Land, where the Men in Blue and White have won a grand total of one postseason game since 1988.