Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Perception Has Become Reality

Over the last week or so, some things in the sports world have become apparent to me.  In the past I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell if these things were a figment of my imagination or if my thoughts actually made sense outside of my own head.  Now, after viewing these recent incidents, I am convinced that they are in fact 100 percent true.
            No. 1 – NFL Officials are terrible. I could probably include NBA officials as well, but fortunately for them they haven’t been able to prove me right in the last six months.
            Two weeks ago I saw Lance Moore of the Saints grab a defenders’ arm, fall down while flailing his arms, and get a pass interference call. It was utterly ridiculous and turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.
            Earlier in the day, Dallas’ Orlando Scandrick was called for a block in the back on a punt return. It was clear in real-time and on the replay that he had his hands extended over his head so that he wouldn’t get called for a penalty. Didn’t matter. He barley touched the would-be tackler as the guy fell and got called. The call negated a big return that may have saved head coach Jason Garrett from calling his now infamous timeout.
            Perhaps the worst call I have ever seen was the personal foul in the Bengals/Browns game three weeks ago. Bengals receiver Jerome Simpson was nudged by a Browns’ defenseman and went flying in an attempt to get a call. He seriously looked like he was straight out of the WWE. I can’t blame the guy for trying, but I can blame the referee for throwing the flag when he wasn’t even watching. The ref was breaking up a tackle, looked up to see Simpson on the ground, and threw the flag.  Search it on YouTube and watch for yourself.
            This all goes to show that the refs don’t really process what they are seeing. If anything resembles a penalty to them, they call it when it should be the other way around.
Here is a rule the NFL should adopt since it is all about putting in new guidelines. How about the referee must actually see the penalty being committed before he can throw a flag. And they wonder why fans call them blind.
            No. 2 – Jason Garrett did the second dumbest thing I have ever seen when it comes to icing your own kicker. As if icing your own kicker wasn’t dumb enough in the first place, it has been taken to a whole new level this year.
            By now everyone has seen Garrett’s indescribable move. If the play clock was in fact running out, then okay. I can understand calling a timeout. What I don’t understand is not calling a timeout – when he had two left – with 20-plus seconds left and perhaps gaining a few more yards for an easier field goal attempt. I actually applauded when LaRod Stevens-Howling (PITT alum) scored the game-winner. That meant Garrett would be eaten alive by the media and rightfully so. If ever there was a time where I could pick anyone I wanted, and they had to sit down and listen to everything I had to say for five minutes without being interrupted – that was it.
            Still, believe it or not, someone has done worse. Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel actually managed to ice his kicker earlier this year by calling two consecutive timeouts.
            With the score tied at 30 against Arizona State, Pinkel called not one, but two timeouts with his kicker lining up for a 48-yard game-wining attempt. Why? I haven’t the slightest clue. As it turned out, the kicker missed the kick and Mizzou eventually lost in overtime. I was lying in bed watching the game and was completely stunned by what I had just witnessed. I figured there was no way anyone could every do that again. Silly me.
            Personally, I blame Bill Parcells for all of this. Jerry Jones brought him in in 2003 with hopes of resurrecting the franchise. To me, he didn’t do anything but make things worse. The only good thing he did was draft DeMarcus Ware.
            Parcells gets praise for finding Tony Romo, however it was Sean Payton that told Parcells about Romo and had him bring him in. All Parcells did was finally put Romo in when Drew Bledsoe couldn’t do any worse. Parcells’ other QBs before finally deciding on Romo: Quincy Carter and Vinny Testaverde. Good choices huh?
Then, if Parcells would have left when he should have (after his third of four seasons in 2005), Payton would have been our head coach. Not Wade Phillips or Garrett. Today Dallas would have an offensive mastermind in Payton as head coach. I’d say he has done pretty well with Drew Brees in New Orleans. Furthermore, Parcells decided to pass on Steven Jackson in the ’04 draft to move back, get more picks and select Julius Jones. Instead of taking a big, strong, fast running back and not having to search for one for the next six years, we take a small back who went over 1,000 yards once in his seven-year career. Jones is now out of the league.
Parcells has won only three playoffs game since 1990. Not to mention the Dolphins look much better too since he became a ‘consultant.’ Thanks for everything ol’ wise one.
            No. 3 – Ten-year MLB contracts never work out. Whether it is because it financially straps the ballclub, the player gets traded, or the player never produces at that level for that long, ten-year contracts rarely make sense in the end.
            I understand that the club may be trying to space out the money over a longer period of time and offer more guaranteed money, but zero of the previous six ten-year contracts have worked out.
            Alex Rodriguez signed two ten-year deals, one for $252M and another for $275M. Looking back, he wasn’t worth either deal. Derek Jeter got $189M. For a leadoff man? Not worth it. It was more about keeping him in the pinstripes. Troy Tulowitzki is in the midst of a $158M deal that he signed last year. For as injury prone as he has become, I have doubts that will work out. Todd Helton (11-years, $151M) hit for average, while Dave Winfield’s ten-year, $23M deal in 1981 seems almost laughable.
            Albert Pujols is the most recent person to join this list. He just signed with the Angels for $254M. He will be 41 by the time his contract ends. That’s a lot of money for a guy who has already played for 11 years and has had some nagging injuries pop up.
            The $150M deals aren’t that bad. They don’t handcuff the team as much, as they would only be about $15 a year. The $250-plus deals are the sticklers. Pujols may be the best hitter in the game, but is he worth strapping your club financially for the next decade? I guess only time will tell, but I wouldn’t put my money on it.
            No. 4 – The Miami Marlins will be serious contenders in the National League. The Phillies will have their hands full defending their NL East crown. The recent acquisitions of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell have greatly improved the Marlins’ roster.
            Reyes will almost assuredly leadoff next year. He is arguably one of the best leadoff men in the game, not to mention one of the best defensive shortstops. Reyes hit .337, stole 39 bases and scored 101 runs in the Mets’ below average lineup last year.  He is the definition of a game changer.
Hanley Ramirez, the team’s previous shortstop and perhaps new third baseman, can’t possibly be any worst than he was last year. Ramirez posted career-lows in every offensive category last year. Having Ramirez, and up-and-comer Mike Stanton (34 HRs), behind Reyes in the lineup will only make the speedster more dangerous. Emilio Bonifazio (.296 avg, 40 SBs), Omar Infante (.276 avg.), Gabby Sanchez (78 RBIs) and Logan Morrison (23 HRs) aren’t exactly slouches either.
As baseball coaches everywhere will tell you, good pitching beats good hitting. The Marlins already have one of the best young arms in Josh Johnson. Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez have also shown signs of being good for stretches. Throw in Buehrle, who had a 3.59 ERA in the AL last year, and the Fish have a rotation that can keep them in ballgames.
While Heath Bell’s strikeout numbers have declined, he has proven to be a solid, consistent closer. He has blown just 14 saves over the last three years. Juan Oviedo, aka Leo Nunez, has blown 21 over the same period.
The Marlins finished 30 games back of the Phillies last year. Are these new guys enough to make up 30 games? Probably not, but it will definitely make things harder on the whole division.
            No. 5 – The New Orleans Saints are practically unbeatable at home. You want to talk about a home field advantage, look no further than the Superdome.
            The Saints are 6-0 at home this year and are a collective 19-5 in Nawlins since 2009. It is a place like no other. Trust me, I have been there.
            I don’t know if I have ever been in a place more louder than the Superdome. Plus, the seats in the upper deck are at such a steep incline that it feels like you are going to fall right down onto to the field. I am sure that doesn’t hurt when it comes to projecting the noise more directly onto the opposing offense.
            Unfortunately for the Saints, it looks like they will be playing the NFC Championship game in Wisconsin – which just so happens to be another place where a team has yet to be beaten this year.
            No. 6 – The BCS is still a joke. I am not going to spend much time on this because it isn’t even worth talking about any more. Look up the word ‘travesty’ in the dictionary and it will tell you to ‘see Bowl Championship Series.’
            I want a BCS official to tell me why Oklahoma State doesn’t deserve a shot at the national title? Or Stanford. Or Boise State. I know OK-State’s loss to Iowa was bad on paper, but it was by six points on the road. Sure, Stanford got routed by Oregon at home, but the Ducks are the sixth ranked team in the country. It’s not like they lost to Northwest Central Montana State.
            Boise State is the team that I feel the most sorry for. The Broncos always seem to get screwed over by the BCS one way or another. This year they lost to TCU, a program that has become very formidable over the years, by one point. The Broncos’ freshman kicker missed a 39-yarder as time expired to win the game. So, had Dan Goodale made the kick, would Boise State be in the championship game? Somehow I still doubt it. I really wish he would have made it because then the BCS would be under even more fire than it is right now.
            BCS supporters like to use the BS excuse that in this system every week is a playoff. Every week is a must-win if you want to have a shot at the end. Then please tell me how Alabama, a one-loss team that lost to LSU, gets another shot in the title game. Because its one loss was to LSU? Too bad. According to the theory, it already lost its ‘playoff’ game earlier in the year. On top of that, why should LSU be asked to beat the same team twice? It won its ‘playoff’ game. Now what if LSU loses to Bama? How can you justifiably call Alabama the ‘best team in college football?’ You can’t.
            The truth is you can’t call any team the best without a playoff system. It is the only fair way to do it. No computers. No polls. It would eliminate the arguments. Every other sport in the world uses a playoff system. Even NASCAR. You know it’s gotten bad when NASCAR has a better system than college football.
            It’s so bad that I still wrote more than I wanted to about it. I hate you college football.
            No. 7 – We are getting to watch some of the best Quarterbacks of all time. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, New England’s Tom Brady and New Orleans’ Drew Brees are all on pace to break Dan Marino’s single-season passing record of 5,084 yards set in 1984. It hasn’t been broken in nearly 30 years and now three men may do it in the same season.
            I understand the NFL has adjusted its rules, both offensively and defensively, and has made it more of an offensive game. Because of that, teams are passing more now than ever before. Still, it takes special people to do it this consistently at this level for this long of time. Throw in Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and we may be staring at four of the greatest QBs of all-time when it is all said and done.
            All of these quarterbacks possess the arm strength and accuracy to be some of the best ever. All have taken on offensive tasks (i.e. play-calling and game tempo) never before seen for the position. They have the stats that prove that they are enjoying one of the best seasons ever as a signal caller. To top it all off, I don’t think it is a coincidence that they all have one other thing in common: a Super Bowl ring.
             No. 8 – Cam Newton and AJ Green will be drafted within the first two rounds next year in fantasy football. These two rookies have burst onto the scene in a major way.
            In my current fantasy league, one in which scoring is a little harder than standard leagues (50 yards passing = 1 point, 25 yards rushing = 1 point), Newton is third amongst all scorers behind Rodgers and Brees. His 13 rushing touchdowns obviously help him out a lot, but that’s what makes him who he is.
            After Rodgers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Newton as the second QB off the board next year. He is definitely first round material. He is essentially Michael Vick from this year, but better, younger and healthier.
            I see Green more as a second or third round pick. He ranks 13th amongst receivers in my league, but he also missed a game and a half. If he would have averaged his weekly total in the week he missed, he would be pumped up to tenth. Regardless, I would take him over Victor Cruz, Jordy Nelson and Percy Harvin. Perhaps Greg Jennings and Hakeem Nicks as well considering all of the other targets their QBs have.
            While it is not a lock that Green will go in the first two rounds, he should be off the board by the end of the third. Be thankful if you get either of these guys next year because the arrow is pointing up for both of them.
            No. 9 – There is no loyalty in professional sports. This comes off the heels of rumors that Peyton Manning and the Colts may part ways after this season is over.
            Free agency has undoubtedly had the biggest hand in loyalty being thrown out the window. The National Football League adopted a form of free agency in 1989, but it was tweaked to how it is today in 1993. That, and the fact that clubs don’t want to pay declining stars a lot of money, have players changing teams all the time.
            This fact actually slapped me across the face in 2003, when Dallas released Emmitt Smith and he signed with the Arizona Cardinals. He was and still is my favorite athlete of all time and my heart was torn out of my chest when I got back from class and heard the news. By the way, it was Parcells that thought Troy-freaking-Hambrick was going to offer more offense than Smith and talked Jerry Jones into releasing him. In the words of Happy Gilmore, “I hate that Bob Barker.”
            For as long as I can remember, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League have always had free agency, so seeing a super star get cut or traded has never been that uncommon.
            Other football greats who have been cut by the teams that they will always be remembered for include Tony Dorsett, OJ Simpson, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, Ladanian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson and Marcus Allen.
            Of the top 100 rushers of all-time, 26 have played for only one team. Of the top 100 passers, that number is 27. For wide receivers it is 29. Yes, only 27 percent of the top 300 skill-position players have been with one team for their whole careers.
            No. 10 – Super teams are becoming the new wave in the NBA. People want to immediately blame Lebron James for this, but it technically started with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2003-04.
            Along with having Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers signed greats Gary Payton and Karl Malone – albeit they were slightly over the hill at the time. They went on to lose in the Finals to Detroit.
            Then there are the Boston Celtics with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. They actually won a title, but mortgaged the future to do it. Chris Paul wanted to join Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire in New York before ending up with the Clippers. Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are all in Miami. Even today’s Lakers have Pau Gasol with Kobe.
            If you really wanted to, you could even go back to the 80’s with the ‘Showtime’ Lakers and the Celtics with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish. However, I don’t think any of them finagled their way onto the same team.
            Who knows where Dwight Howard will end up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he end up along side of another superstar or two. It seems to be the way of the world right now.