Draft Day

Apr 21, 2005

The NFL Draft is this Saturday and, besides being one of the most drawn out and boring televised events of the year, it does conclude all the fun speculation and rumors, that I follow this time of year.

I won’t be watching — I’m really only interested in the draft picks that have either the Ravens or Cowboys names attached — but I will check in occasionally. I’ll poke my head around the corner to see if the Ravens grabbed a receiver in the first round. I’ll check the list of scrolling names in the later rounds to see if they went for offense or defense. But these little bits of information hardly require my rapt attention. EA will ensure that my TIVO has some work for the first hour. After that, it’s a crapshoot, much like the draft itself.

In any case, if you need something to get you in the mood, I found that CNNSI’s photo gallery of NFL draft busts and steals does the trick. You can almost feel the dice heating up.

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God and Football

Feb 9, 2005

Greg Easterbrook, in his always entertaining Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, had something interesting to say about God and His reaction to the results of last week’s Super Bowl. (Scroll down until you see the heading “The Nielsen Ratings Service Was Unable to Determine Whether God Watched the Super Bowl.”) Specifically, he takes a minute to refute Terrell Owens’ claims that God took an interest in whether or not good old T.O. appeared in the big game.

In a column that takes on all manner of subjects, from cheer-babes to the calorie content of chocolate mousse, the issue of religion in sports is addressed with a touch of perspective and more than a touch of panache. First up, T.O.

Whether God intervenes in daily life is a complicated question in theology. But supposing there is divine influence in events, God help us, as it were, if it’s used up on touchdown passes.

He then tackles the general practice of praising God after a victory, questioning — and I think rightly so — the intent or purpose of such a remark.

When an athlete says God helped him win a game, he’s saying that in a world of poverty, inequality and war, the Maker believes the athlete’s touchdown or interception was more important, and thus worthy of divine intervention, than the active suffering or quiet unhappiness of billions of human beings.

Thankfully, Mr. Easterbrook allows for the fact — and, again, rightly so — that a lot of altheletes are sincere, perhaps attempting to express humility in the only way they know how. More interesting, maybe only to me, in this discussion of a line that might be crossed is the line itself. I never really considered it.

Easterbrook also offers some suggestions to help clear things up. With apologies to the author, I hope he doesn’t mind if I reprint what I believe to be his best suggestion, a replacement for the typical victory prayer reserved for the locker room before the game. I’d hate to have resort to plumbing the internet archives to scape up this bit of wisdom whenever the time comes to hand my sons a pair of cleats.

God, let me play well but fairly.
Let competition make me strong but never hostile.
Forbid me to rejoice in the adversity of others.
See me not when I am cheered, but when I bend to help my opponent up.
If I know victory, allow me to be happy;
if I am denied, keep me from envy.
Remind me that sports are just games.
Help me to learn something that matters once the game is over.
And if through athletics I set an example, let it be a good one.

When you are done reading about God, keep reading. There’s plenty of other stuff in there. For example, who thought that The Los Angeles Angels made the term “con queso cheese” seem almost legible in comparison?

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The Chase

Sep 17, 2004

The chase for the NASCAR championship gets under way this weekend. The sport that goes around and around enters the playoffs for the first time in a test of skill and consistency.

Before things get started, I thought I’d take a shot at guessing the win, place, and show positions at the end of the year. Much to my delight, this list happens to coincide exactly with my current list of favorite drivers. Now, they just need to deliver.

1. Jeff Gordon

Gordon remains, along with Dale Earnheart Jr., the most exciting driver on the track week in and week out. The fact that he led the regular season point standings — and, by virtue of that fact, also leads the playoff standings — makes him the favorite to win it all. It also helps that he has four other championships under his belt. I’m voting for Gordon, who has been my favorite driver since I took interest in the sport.

2. Dale Earnheart Jr.

Dale, my wife’s favorite driver, has had an interesting year. He led the point standings a majority of the year, displaying a level of consistency that he hadn’t matched to this point in his career. Then a near tragedy happened. He found himself in the middle of a non-NASCAR race trapped in a Corvette enveloped by flames. His Sundays became a struggle that forced him to the sideline for a large portion of each race. The sideline was an uncomfortable place, a place where he could only watch as his position in the standings sank. The good news: he’s all better. He showed as much by winning both the Busch and NEXTEL Bristol races a little while ago. He’ll be in the mix in the end. There’s no doubt in my mind.

3. Jimmy Johnson

I became a fan of Jimmy’s for two reasons. One, Gordon owns his car. Two, I needed someone to root for when Gordon was knocked out of a race. I’ve been a fan of his since he was a rookie and he’s surprised me. I didn’t expect him to be so good, contenting for the championship not only this year but in the years past. This year might be the year he finally breaks through, beating his boss at his own game.

?. Mark Martin

I don’t know if Mark really has a chance, but he’s the sentimental favorite for both a majority of fans and myself alike. He’s an old-timer, someone who represents what the sport is really all about. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a nice guy. I’m glad someone with grey hair made it into the mix.

I promise to revisit these predictions, good or bad, at the end of the season. I should note that I’m not going out on a limb here. These guys currently lead the standings, albeit by a very small margin. But with the small margin of error afforded these drivers in the coming weeks, nobody has a real clue how things will turn out. That’s almost exactly what NASCAR had planned.

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Sorry Pete

Jan 10, 2004

I don’t know about everyone else but I’m sick of hearing about Pete Rose and his troubles with baseball. It seems that every year, normally around Hall of Fame time, he grumbles and the media turns their eye on him. It’s playoff time people. Let’s forget about Pete. We’ve got football to talk about.

This year it’s especially bad, given that he’s finally dropped his version of a bomb. He lied about gambling. You don’t say? Next you’ll tell us that Clinton did have sexual relations with that woman. Uh Pete, got anything else to talk about?

He took 14 years to make the admission — 14 years of bold face lies to his peers, the public, and even an author of a previous biography — and the reasons are pretty obvious. He wants to sell his new book and he wants one last shot at the Hall of Fame, not necessarily in that order.

My personal opinion about Pete’s status in baseball has nothing to do with the Hall. If Rosey Pete is going to be in baseball, there is absolutely no question that he should be in the hall. His play was exemplary.

That said, I don’t believe he deserves to be associated with baseball at all. He committed the ultimate sin in sports: he threw questions — deadly questions — onto the field. Wagering adds a question mark to the end of every play. Why did the outfielder drop that ball? How come the pitcher can suddenly get no one out?

People often talk about the Hall of Fame being about accomplishments on the field. Off the field crimes — be they of personality , drug usage, or even criminal acts — do not factor into the decision. I generally agree. The problem with Pete is his acts did happen on the field of play, rather he bet from the dugout or not. His wagering cannot escape the spirit of his crime. His gambling landed him right where he should be, on the outside looking in.

I’m very much hoping that the commisioner leaves his ass on the bench where he belongs. The only person that would really benefit from Rose being in the hall is Rose himself. It would soften the resolve of a lifetime ban and do nothing but harm the sport of baseball.

A lot of sports writers are of the opinion that, eventually, he’ll get in, despite the fact that this admission has changed more than a couple minds in the opposite direction. I’m hoping they’re wrong. Maybe the commisioner will act like one for a change. But, then again, I wouldn’t bet on it.

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Fancy Dance

Sep 23, 2003

ESPN is running a poll about touchdown celebrations today. All-time classics and recent notables alike are included.

My favorite on the list? The Lambeau Leap. There’s something about throwing your body into the stands that just shouts football to me. Maybe I need to book some tickets for a Sunday in Green Bay. Honorable mention goes to the Mile High Salute. It’s short, quick, and to the point.

The worst? Unquestionably, Warren Sapp’s wiggle. Watching that 350 pound man bounce around in the end zone was horrible. It nearly made the eyes bleed. He should apologize personally to Beyonce Knowles.

What’s missing? How about the one where you hand the ball to the referee and walk to your bench? Yeah, I’ve been here before. I’ll be back later. Now that is classy.

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Fantasy Misery

Sep 23, 2003

My fantasy football team is awful. They are worse than awful. They are just sad. I thought I knew something about football. Apparently, I was mistaken.

I started the season losing my depth at running back. James Stewart is out for the season. The quarterback for one of my top receivers then took a trip to the emergency room. I suppose that is what Vick gets for running against the Ravens.

I’m now lost in a sea of mediocrity. Marvin Harrison, the top wideout from a year ago, is being shut down. He has 16 catches this season. Last year, that would have been a good game. Peerless Price made the move from a #2 receiver to a #1 by going on vacation. No one has heard from him since. Marty Booker, another stud wideout, is suffering from quarterback loss in an indirect sort of way. Can you believe Chicago actually wanted Kordell Stewart as their QB? Ugh.

Now injuries are beginning to settle in. Travis Henry, my star running back, hurt his ribs this week. He gained seven yards on the ground and threw an interception. Yes, my running back threw an interception! Dante Culpepper, the only real bright spot in my lineup just broke some bones in his back. Wonderful. Neither guy made it to halftime.

I keep thinking that they can’t be that bad. Marvin has to eventually catch a pass or two. William Green will again show the flash he had last year. But then I look at my sad 1-2 record and lose hope.

Sniff, sniff. If this keeps up, I’ll actually have to start watching football for the football. People still do that. Don’t they?

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Bugging Me

Sep 9, 2003

This morning the wife found a bug in her bowl of cereal. The creepy little thing was squirming for breath in a sea of milk. I had just finished a bowl of that same cereal when she made the discovery. It was bug free, I think.

She called the company responsible to explain her little crawling problem and they promised to send us some free coupons. You could almost hear the wife’s stomach turn as the company representative queried her about the bug’s shape and color. I tried to console her. At least she didn’t find half a bug.

My fantasy football team notched their first win last night. As I find out every year, fantasy football does wierd things to your football watching experience. You may vote for a team or player you hate. You might be timid about the success of a team you love. A meaningless game suddenly becomes a fascinating matchup.

Last night, both my opponent and I had a stake in the Philly Tampa game. Donovan McNabb would throw for his team. I started Philadephia’s defense and Tampa Bay’s kicker. My opponent wanted to see Donovan McNabb flash some skills. I wanted to see a battle of field goals. Philly 0, Tampa 3 would make me very happy. The final score – Philly 0, Tampa 17 – was good enough. Mr. McNabb, a very good quarterback, had a very bad day. That’s too bad. I like him as a player. I just don’t like it when he plays against my team, fantasy or otherwise.

The wife and I went shopping for a car seat yesterday night. It only took us three stores to find one we liked. She was focused on features and safety. I was determined that it would match the truck. Cambell didn’t seem to care. He fell asleep as the sun set. One of us has our priorities mixed up. Don’t worry. I’ll straighten her out.

The new seat feels like a graduation of sorts for the little guy. Daddy, I can stand up on my own. I’m this close to crawling and I’m ready to amaze you next week with a host of new activities. I think it’s time for a big boy seat.

I hear ya boy. Just don’t be in too much of a rush to grow up. It won’t be long before Dad is asking you to mow the lawn and make your own breakfast. Bug free, of course.

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Smacked Around

Aug 22, 2003

Those who don’t follow NASCAR — and, if I know my small reading audience well, that’s nearly all of you — probably missed all the fun that Jimmy Spencer and Kurt Busch had over the weekend. See Kurt Busch gave Jimmy Spencer a nice little bump during the race. Jimmy Spencer returned the favor with his fists shortly after the last lap was run.

This isn’t the first time the two of them have tussled. This is, however, the first time it came to blows. After running out of gas following the race, Kurt found an angry Spencer swinging at him through the driver’s side window. He’ll race next week with a broken nose and a missing tooth. Spencer won’t be racing next week at all.

The trouble is, I can’t feel sorry for either of them, even poor little slanted-nose Kurt. I can’t defend Spencer’s wild sting-like-a-bee move but Mr. Busch isn’t Mr. Innocent. As they say, he had it coming.

The event before the impromptu boxing match, also known as the race, took place at Michigan, a track that sports some of the fastest speeds of any track on the NASCAR circuit. Kurt’s bump of Spencer’s car wasn’t an accident. How do we know? Let’s listen in on his pit radio:

Busch: ”See, I’m not very good at being bad. I was trying to flatten the [No.] 7 car [Spencer] fender and I got mine. I needed to be further forward on his car.”

Why would he do such a thing? There are two reasons that come to mind. One, he could ruin the Spencer’s areodynamics. Bang him up and he slows down. Two, he could make Spencer cut a tire. A blown tire normally means the driver gets a very rough reception from a nearby concrete wall. The move was classless and, unlike this weekend’s trip to Bristol, where such tactics are almost encouraged due to the small track and slow speeds, dangerous.

Incidents on the track are often referred to as “racing deals”. Incidents at any other time are personal. That, in my opinion, is bullshit. A “racing deal” is every bit as personal at 200 mph. It involves much more than a pretty little face. It involves a life. Note to drivers: don’t be surprised when you get a spanking for a dumb-headed move on the track.

By the way, those who have even a little interest in NASCAR would be served well by watching this weekend’s tussle at Bristol Motor Speedway (here’s an entry about the last Bristol race). Yeah, yeah, it’s all about cars that go in a circle. But this circle is really, really small. And there are lots of cars. Tempers flare and helmets fly. That’s where I’ll be on Saturday night, at least in spirit. I’ll actually be looking for a beer to accompany me and the wife on the couch.

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Coaching Carousel

Jan 19, 2003

Ex-Raven coaches are certainly making their rounds this week.
Marvin Lewis scampered off to
Jack Del Rio landed a job in
Congratulations to them both.

Marvin Lewis finally fulfilled a lifetime dream: he became the head
coach of an NFL football team. This has been his quest for several
long seasons. Success on the field as a defensive coordinator, both
in Pittsburg and Baltimore, led to many interviews but no job offers;
always in the final running, always left
out in the cold
in the end.
Last year, he seemed
for a job in Tampa Bay, only to have
that change in an instant. This year, he finally got his shot.
Too bad that shot is with the Cincinnati Bungles.

I don’t know if he really deserves my congratulations or my condolences.
Cincinnati is a
place for a head football coach.
there. It feels like destiny.
Paul Brown, their penny pinching owner, doesn’t what hell he’s doing.
He fields the smallest and, more importantly, least accomplished
scouting staff in the league. Put simply, they suck.
He’s content to replace his coach
every few years, while ignoring the sad support staff behind them.
Players continually
for the hills. Who can blame them? The chances of winning
in that cold Ohio town are slim. In the wacky world of the NFL’s
salary cap, it’s been said that the every team has a chance,
except for the Bengals. Lewis has a tough road
ahead of him despite the fact that the Bengals actually have some
talent on their squad. He needs to correct that reputation and hope
that Mr. Brown will write a couple
of big checks along the way. I wish him luck (but not
too much luck; the Ravens are a division rival).

The fortune of Jack Del Rio was a bit more surprising; his
ascent through the coaching ranks was
That said, it was not undeserved. Two years ago, Mr. Del Rio
was a linebackers coach in Baltimore. One year ago, as the
Panthers defensive coordinator, he led their 31st ranked squad
to second place in total defense, impressive work for which he was
quickly awarded. He has some good things going for him.
As the second youngest head coach in the league, he doesn’t
lack intensity. He’s also had the opportunity to work alongside
Jimmy Johnson, Tony Dungy, and Brian Billick, some of the most
successful coaches of the last decade. I too wish him luck
(I’m sure he thanks God that the Bengals job didn’t fall to him).

So why do I bring these subtle changes in the job market up? There
are two reasons. The first is a bit sentimental: it clears
up a mess that resulted in a nasty game of musical chairs
last season for the Ravens. In Marvin’s quest to be king,
he was on the brink of becoming the head coach of the Tampa
Bay Buccaneers. This quest was fully supported, even encouraged,
by the Ravens, who waited anxiously by the phone to see if
Mr. Lewis got his wish or returned to the team to be their
defensive coordinator for another season. Mr. Lewis was lucky.
His current job was waiting while he attempted
to get an upgrade. Then some problems occurred.

His hand picked
successor, the current linebackers coach of the Ravens, got a
better job offer in Carolina. Come be our defensive coordinator.
The Ravens couldn’t offer Jack Del Rio the same position;
that spot was waiting for Marvin Lewis, if he needed to settle
for it. Jack Del Rio was gone. In the meantime, Lewis lost
out on the race for the job in Tampa Bay. Well, at least
the Ravens got to keep their defensive coordinator, right?
Wrong. Lewis spurned the Ravens’ offer and accepted the
same position for the Redskins. Ravens 0, ex-coaches 2.

This left me with some mixed feelings. I was a bit upset
that Marvin Lewis took advantage of the good will of my
favorite team. On the other hand, the Redskins offered him
a boatload of money. How could he turn it down? In the
process, we lost a promising young coach in Jack Del Rio
just because of some unfortunate timing.

A year later, all is well. Marvin Lewis can work out his
punishment in NFL’s equivalent of hell. I can now forgive
him. Jack Del Rio early departure was actually fortunate.
If he had stayed around, his stay would have been very
short – a single season as coordinator would have caused
more turnover than good.

The second reason I mention the changes is that I think they
validate Brian Billick’s knack for discovering coaching talent.
Mr. Billick had a heck of a year himself, quietly leading a
a team decimated by the salary cap to a solid 7-9 year.
Many predicted that the Ravens would have one, maybe two wins.
Billick proved there was life in those young players’ legs. In many
ways this season was even sweeter than that of two years ago,
which ended with the Vince Lombardi trophy above his head.
He didn’t have a good base of talent to work with. The
team was the youngest in the league, filled with players
drafted in the 6th round or below and a sprinkle of good
players. Ray Lewis, the unquestioned star and leader of the
defense, and Michael McCrary, the speedy defensive end,
went down early in the season. As a result, a large portion
of the budget watched from the sidelines.
Still, the Ravens fought and scrapped their way to a respectable record,
ending with a couple of tough losses to playoff bound opponents.
Billick deserves a lot of credit; too bad he didn’t receive
the award he really deserved: coach of the year.

All in all, as the page is flipped on another season, football again promises
to be exciting. There will be some familiar faces on the other sidelines.
The Ravens, still a very young team, get the league’s most exciting player
back with another year of experience under their belt. Brian Billick and Ozzie
Newsome, who was recently knighted the Ravens’ GM, get a little
money to spend on the free agent market. It should be fun to
watch. I can’t wait.

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Bumps in the Night

Aug 30, 2002

Last Saturday, the wife and I stayed in and watched the
NASCAR race,
which took place in Bristol, Tennessee.
Bristol, for the NASCAR
impaired, is a tiny track – about 1/2 mile in length – where they
crowd a field of 43 cars into a bowl and tell them to go.

If you don’t get the sport of NASCAR racing, Bristol is the place
to start. No room to run and lots of guys looking to do so.
Paint is traded in every turn, where bumping and grinding is not the
exception, but the norm. Cars spin, tempers flare, and more than one
driver gives another the one finger salute. The highlight of this
race was the fact that my favorite driver,
Jeff Gordon,
gave the leader a tap in the back with two laps to go, pushed him out of
the way, and finished up front for the

first time in a while

But that was nothing compared to the bump that awaited me. See, the
has begun. It started just a couple of weeks ago, with the wife uttering
oohs and ahhs occasionally, spreading her eyes wide at the activity inside.
There was a time where she wasn’t quite sure if the movement she felt was
gas or child, but, as the weeks passed, the thumps and wallops inside her have
become more pronounced and more frequent.

The sad side of this, from the father’s perspective, is that I don’t get
to share in it. Whenever she feels any movement, the wife is quick
to grab my hand, place it upon her tummy, and anxiously await a signal from
me that I do, in fact, feel it.

“Did you feel that?” she asks.


Saturday that all changed. Laying down on the bed after the race, my wife
revealed her belly to me and placed my hand on it. We’ve been doing this
for a while and she had reported a recent spat of activity.

Lo and behold the child gave quite a bump to the center of her baby carrier.
I got to experience a kind of quickening of my own. Contact was made and
won’t soon be forgotten.

Jenn made the cute observation that the child was giving me a high five after
the race (if so, babe, we now know who his or her favorite driver is). Whatever
it was, I was just glad to be there. This baby thing becomes more real
every day.

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