Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Archive for June, 2008

Big Year for Shanahan?

Posted by mizzou1028 on June 27, 2008

I know, football season is still way off in the distance.  We’re only halfway through the baseball season and the NBA draft just concluded.  The way I see it though, we have only one month to go before the start of training camp, and it is impossible not to get excited about a new NFL season.  No matter how the previous season went, I always find myself drooling with anticipation over the start of the next season.  I am optimistic about the Broncos prospects in 2008, even if the realistic side me worries there are more holes on the roster than there are in Swiss cheese.  I can see anything from 12-4 and competing for a division title to heaven forbid a team that will struggle to win even a handful of games.  Mike Shanahan has run out of excuses this year, for he has gotten rid of virtually everyone around him.  I think this season is extremely important for the future of the franchise because Shanahan has to prove that the decisions he made are correct.  If the Broncos miss the playoffs again this year, it will definitely be time to take a look at Shanahan’s future.

There are certainly plenty of positives.  Jay Cutler posted very good numbers last year for being in his first full year as a starter, and now that we know he was battling diabetes and didn’t know it, it makes his season seem impressive.  I expect Cutler to have a big year, if nothing else because it will be his third season in Shanahan’s offense and he should be even more comfortable running it.  I really think Cutler started to develop a chemistry with Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler last year, and if they are both healthy (and in Marshall’s case not suspended, more on that in the negatives), then the offense should put up big numbers.  I like the additions of Keary Colbert and Darrell Jackson, both solid veterans who can get open.  The team should also be in better shape on the offensive line.  Tom Nalen and Ben Hamilton will be healthy, and I think Ryan Clady is a brilliant draft pick at left tackle.  Plus, the running game is always solid under Shanahan, especially with Daniel Graham, arguably the best blocking tight end in football, returning. 

Defensively, there is really nowhere to go but up.  With a third defensive coordinator in three years, there are bound to be some growing pains, but the team can’t possibly be any worse against the run than it was last year.  D.J. Williams will move back to outside linebacker after manning the middle last year, and that will give him a much better chance to make plays.  The defensive line will be in better shape with Jarvis Moss and Ebenezer Ekuban returning from injury, plus Elvis Dumervil remains a solid pass rusher.  The addition of Dewayne Robertson from the Jets could help if his knee holds up, and of course Champ Bailey remains the top cornerback in the NFL.  If the defense can return to the form it showed in 2005 and the first half of 2006, things could definitely be looking up again for the Broncos.

Unfortunately there are concerns heading into the season, highlighted by the offseason behavior of Marshall.  There is talk the NFL could suspend Marshall based on his three arrests in a one year calendar period, stemming from recent reports of a domestic dispute involving Marshall in March.  If Marshall is suspended for the start of the regular season, it would disrupt his chemistry with Cutler and have a trickle down effect on the rest of the receiving corps.  Marshall has all kind of potential, catching 102 passes in his first full season last year.  He has the potential to be a real team leader with his skills, but if his off the field behavior keeps getting the way, it will hamper his progress.  Marshall expects to be ready for camp after suffering serious arm injuries while roughhousing with his family last spring, but it remains to seen if that will impact him at any point this season.  The running game is pretty much banking on the fact that Shanahan has always had success, but can Selvin Young be an every down back?  Or will rookie Ryan Torian be the answer?  Those are definitely questions to be answered in camp.  There is also some slight concern about the secondary despite the presence of Bailey.  John Lynch is definitely not getting any younger and Dre’ Bly has a tendency to be gambler.  These concerns don’t even take into account what may be the biggest hole on the roster, the absence of a proven kicker.  I have a hard time figuring out why they Broncos didn’t retain Jason Elam, and I’ve never heard of the kicker that is currently on the roster.  Elam has been one of the best clutch kickers in the NFL for 15 years, and whoever tried to replace him will be filling some very big shoes.  It almost seems inevitable that Elam’s replacement will miss a key field goal at some point this season, potentially costing the Broncos a game. 

It’s funny really.  Last year’s team could have easily been 10-6 if not for one blown coverage against Green Bay, a blown fourth quarter lead in Chicago, and red zone execution against Jacksonville.  They also could easily have been 4-12 if not for last second field goals by Elam against Buffalo, Oakland and Pittsburgh.  There frankly isn’t much difference between the top of the league and the bottom, and there are so many things that go into determining a team’s fate.  I certainly hope the Broncos will be successful this year, and the fact that there is a grey area about how good they’re going to be only makes the season even more intriguing. 


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Is the NBA’s Image in Jeopardy?

Posted by mizzou1028 on June 13, 2008

For a variety of reasons my interest in the NBA has gradually waned over the last few years.  There have been several recent NBA Finals where I watched little to none of the action, including last year’s Spurs-Cavaliers series.  This year I have to admit I have watched at least 90 percent of the series so far between the Lakers and Celtics.  I even have to admit that last night’s game four was an absolute thriller, with the Celtics erasing a 24 point deficit to win at the Staples Center.  During this series, and even during the regular season this year, I have started to see something that the league had been missing: real, genuine defense.  Make no mistake about it, it was the Celtics intensity on defense that allowed them to make that comeback.  As excited as I am to see at least some semblance of defense return to the NBA, my increased interest may be short lived if it turns out that ex-referee Tim Donaghy is even remotely accurate in his allegations against the league. 

For those of you who don’t know about Tim Donaghy, here is the background.  In a nutshell, he has basically admitted that he wagered on games that he officiated.  As if that’s not bad enough that a referee would actually wager on a game he’s working (no conflict of interest there!), check this out.  If his suggestion that the league was going to any lengths to make sure a series got extended to seven games, or (gasp!) make sure No. 2 TV market Los Angeles would be in the finals instead of Sacramento, well there would be zero difference between the NBA and the WWE.  If, and I emphasis IF, for there is no proof yet, the NBA has truly made any attempt to fix even one game, ever, than there is absolutely nothing legit about the league.  While Donaghy’s official letter doesn’t specifically mention any games, it’s not difficult at all to deduce that he’s referring to the Lakers-Kings series in 2002, and specifically game six of the series, won by the Lakers 106-102.  Sacramento fans are still fired up over mention of that game, which had the Kings won would have earned them their first ever trip to the NBA Finals.  This video courtesy of KOVR TV in Sacramento shows why: Check out Mike Bibby getting elbowed in the face by Kobe Bryant without a call.  Just the fact that the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone is enough to make you go hmmm…..was something out of whack here?  For years there has been a belief that stars get preferential treatment from the league, but even with that consideration it seems ridiculous that Shaquille O’Neal would get called for just four fouls (especially after seeing some highlights of his action in the paint that night) while those guarding him (Vlade Divac, Scot Pollard, Chris Webber and Lawrence Funderburke) got called for a combined 20. 

There is another game that I recall vividly that looking back may have been the beginning of my gradually waning NBA interest: game six of the 1998 Finals between the Bulls and Jazz, won by Chicago 98-97 for their sixth title in eight seasons.  This game is famous for Michael Jordan’s winning shot which turned out to be his last as a Bull.  Thing is, Jordan clearly pushed off on the play.  The video is a little grainy, but you can see for yourself his push off on Bryon Russell here.  Now, I am generally for refs swallowing their whistles at the end of a game and allowing players to decide things, but this was a very blatant push off and gave Jordan a tremendous advantage.  That aside, there were two other plays in that game that at the very least can be described as referee incompetence, and at worst a blatant attempt to slant the game in favor of Chicago.  The first was a 3 pointer by Utah’s Howard Eisley in the second quarter that clearly beat the shot clock but was waved off by referee Dick Bavetta.  (Is it a coincidence that Bavetta is named by Donaghy in his written statement in regards to the Lakers-Kings game? Maybe, maybe not).  Had the three counted, Utah would have taken a seven point lead.  Instead the Jazz were up four.  Fast forward to the fourth quarter, Jazz up 79-77, and this time it’s Chicago’s Ron Harper that beats the shot clock with a jumper.  Or did he?  The replay clearly shows the ball still Harper’s hand with the shot clock at :00, and yet this time the refs count the basket.  So, the game at this point is tied at 79 with roughly four minutes to go, where the Jazz should have been up by five (assuming they count Eisley’s three and disallow Harper’s jumper).  Had these calls been correct the game would never have come down to Jordan’s shot at the end.  Full disclosure: I was rooting for the Jazz, mainly because I wanted to see Karl Malone and John Stockton win a title together, but I also generally root for the underdog if my favorite team is out.  That being said, I clearly felt the referees stole that game from the Jazz, and maybe the series.  Utah would have had home court advantage for game seven.  In this case, we’re not talking about subjective foul calls, we’re talking about whether or not a shot beat the shot clock and should have counted or not.  There shouldn’t be anything subjective whatsoever about that. 

Now, all this being said it does go with the territory that referee error is a part of sports and especially in the NBA, where definition of what is and isn’t a foul is subjective at best.  Then again, that’s probably what bothers me most about the NBA: it is obvious that games are not officiated the same in the fourth quarter as they are in the first quarter, and it is blatantly obvious that superstars do receive special treatment.  If, and again I emphasis IF, in fact it is true that there has even been the slightest attempt by the league or its officials to manipulate games, than the NBA will have been exposed as a complete joke in every way.  If, again keyword IF, the allegations by Tim Donaghy are somehow proven true, which will be certainly be difficult, you can mark it down that I will never watch an NBA game again, ever.  If it is true, and again the key word is IF, I would expect ESPN to dump the NBA like a hot potato, for if the NBA has indeed manipulated, or dare I say fixed games at any point, than there is no point in watching a game that is not legit.  Frankly, I have been skeptical about the league’s refereeing over the years but have yet to go as far as to say there was blatant game fixing.  It is still difficult to say definitely what indeed happened in these or any other games, but it is enough to be skeptical at the very least.  If Donaghy turns out to be right, well maybe there is still hope people will pay attention to another winter league that frankly is more exciting in just about every way: the NHL. 

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The Best Place in Sports

Posted by mizzou1028 on June 3, 2008

Over the years I have had the opportunity to witness games in a variety of stadiums around the country.  Granted, there are many that I have not been to, but I have been to quite a few.  Of all the places I have watched a game, not one of them comes even close to matching the experience at Wrigley Field.  Last weekend I had the privilege of attending my sixth game in what is known as the friendly confines, and it was every bit as special as the first one 10 years ago.  This despite the fact that my Rockies managed to lose their sixth straight and looked nothing like the NL champions from a year ago. 

Wrigley Field has been around since 1914, so that alone makes it unique on the sports landscape amidst all the luxury boxes and club level seating and suites that adorn the sports landscape today.  Among the features of this venerable park are the manual operated scoreboard above the center field bleachers.  Just the sight of this scoreboard makes me realize I am in baseball heaven.  The linescore of every game is on the board, so fans won’t miss a thing going on around baseball.  Above the scoreboard one will find a flag representing every team in the National League, arranged in order of the current standings.  After the game, these are replaced with a “W” or “L” depending on the fate of the Cubs of that day.  The outfield walls are lined with ivy, another feature unique to the park and one that makes it the most beautiful outfield in the Major Leagues.  Then there is the fact that every seat, even in the nosebleed sections, is close to the action, giving the ballpark an intimate feel, hence the name friendly confines. 

During the game fans aren’t subjected to annoying jukebox promotions, scoreboard races featuring trash trucks or who knows what, or any of the extra fluff that takes away from the fact you’re at a baseball game.  The only music comes from the organist, and particularly during a day game adds to the charm of the experience.  The place is a shrine to baseball, and there is nothing extra curricular going on to take you away from the game you’re there to see.  The seventh inning stretch rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame is without a doubt the best in baseball, for it is still the only place I’ve been to where 40,000 people actually join in and sing.  The fans are also always into the game, with one of the more notable behaviors being the throwing back of opposing team home run balls onto the field. 

It’s not just the inside of the ballpark that makes Wrigley special.  The old neighborhood around Wrigley adds to the ballpark’s charm.  Take a pregame walk outside and you’ll find more sports bars than you’ve ever seen in your life, many with creative signage to lend support to the Cubs or promote fan spirit.  A walk around the outside of Wrigley Field also allows fans to really take in the unique charm of the ballpark.  Fans driving by or walking on Waveland or Sheffield Avenues can easily see the manual scoreboard and peak into the ballpark.  The home plate entrance features the signature red sign “Wrigley Field Home of Chicago Cubs.”  Everything from the vendors selling t-shirts to the statues of Ernie Banks and Harry Caray screams baseball.  Throw in the fact that the Cubs are one of the most loveable teams in baseball, a team virtually everyone wants to see do well since they haven’t won a World Series since 1908, and you have a truly unique baseball gameday atmosphere. 

To be frank, my descriptions here really can’t do it justice.  If you’ve been to Wrigley, you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t, you need to go.  Immediately.  No sooner had i sat down in my seat on Saturday and looked around, taking in the atmosphere, did I think about when I could get back, and that was BEFORE they had even announced the starting lineups.  Wrigley Field is baseball as it should be, and that’s reason enough to rank it the top stadium in sports.  Frankly it’s not even close. 

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