Archive for June, 2006

Cup Crazy
June 27, 2006

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Every four years, like many Americans, I do my best to take part in the planet’s World Cup party. And every four years I remember that at this level, I love it. Maxi Rodriguez’ extra time goal for Argentina against Mexico sent chills. The beauty and athleticism of that one shot, like a masterpiece painting is hard to describe, but when you see it, you know.

Now, by level I mean not only the skill but the pageantry and the complete obsessive behavior of the fans. Anywhere other than the U.S., if you become a World Cup hero, you are set for life. Even Diego Maradona remains forever forgiven.

At the other end we have the horrifying tale of Andre Escobar. The Columbian defender who after scoring an own goal in the 1994 World Cup against the United States, was murdered ten days later in his own country, for that offense. Fan comes from the word fanatic.

That said it’s also clear why the sport fails to take hold in our national landscape. Many of these issues you’ve no doubt heard before. The lack of scoring, the lack of action, being completely okay with just passing the ball backwards, and of course cheering for a game the ends in a 0-0 tie (at least once they hit the round of 16 they eventually go to penalty kicks to ensure a victor).

But what gets our American dander up the most. THE FAKING AND FLOPPING TO GET A CALL. Granted, you’ll see that in the NBA all the time. But you won’t see Tim Duncan writhing on the court as though someone just shot him with a hollow point tipped bullet from the rafters. He tries to take the charge, falls down, gets back up, and on the game goes. These guys, and it’s every nation, these guys roll around on the ground for minutes feigning agony then get up and rub the wrong leg forgetting which appendage isn’t actually hurt.

It flies in the face of everything we hold dear. Can you see Brett Favre rolling over four times because Brian Urlacher clipped his jersey with his pinky as he went by? I have a vision of John Wayne sauntering over to one of the wiggling wounded, putting his knee in his back, and offering to create a real injury.

Can’t see us ever getting past that, and I can’t see how the rest of the world goes for it. Guess that makes me a jingoistic isolationist, either that or a jerk, but once this party’s over soccer for me heads back to the depths of sport alongside cricket and curling.

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Chow down on McNair
June 20, 2006

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Steve McNair’s arrival in Baltimore still has the city simmering in a pleasant glaze of happiness. Everyone believes McNair a better option than Kyle Boller (although Brian Billick continues to publicly exclaim no disappointment in Kyle Boller from the last three years. He says it with such passion and conviction that you can almost believe it. It’s scary what kind of politician he would make. He could make you believe we need to reinstate smoking in public buildings, like hospitals and nursing homes).

Anyway, back to McNair where along with Ravens fans dreams of him shedding off two would be assassins to then go up top to Derrick Mason for a 50 yard score, the question they all have; what do you think he has left? That’s the million dollar debate, or rather the 11 million dollar debate.

He looks healthy now and nobody doubts his toughness. He treats pain like a long lost friend that shows up on his doorstep. “Come on in, the guest room’s up the stairs to the left. Mi casa su casa.”

All we can really do though is guess. But I spent some time this week with a league source who shared a recent conversation with Tennessee offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Chow also has a guess, but it’s pretty darn informed. He told the source that McNair has nothing left. Nothing. That if they thought McNair could give Tennessee just one more season, they’d have bent over backward to restructure his contract in a manner to make McNair happy. But he said sadly McNair was done being a productive quarterback.

Again, that’s the opinion of just one man, but one shared not at a press conference or to a member of the media. For the sake of the fans holding McNair on a pedestal, for those considering number nine the savior of a struggling team, we’ll hope Chow is wrong.

Also of interest in that conversation, the intense dissatisfaction of Chow, head coach Jeff Fisher, and G.M. Floyd Reese at selecting Vince Young with the number three overall pick. Those three apparently all agreed Matt Leinart was the right guy, and none wanted Young. But the guy paying the bills, Titans owner Bud Adams fell in love with Vince Young and overrode his three football experts. Imagine if then Ravens owner Art Modell had refused to give in to Ozzie Newsome, and forced him to take Lawrence Phillips instead of Jonathan Ogden. Again, for Ravens fans, we’ll hope Adams’ refusal to go with those in the know backfires badly.

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Say What?
June 9, 2006

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Perspective means everything. To start the last two seasons the Ravens openly talked about going to the Super Bowl. How anything less meant failure.

In 2004 Ray Lewis spent 15 minutes with the media during mini-camp discussing how his team was absolutely prepared for a championship. Deion Sanders then joined the fray claiming he wanted another Super Bowl ring and Baltimore was the place to get it done.

In 2005 Brian Billick said this may be the most talented team he’d ever had to coach. Others talked how the Detroit game in week four would be nice so they could get used to Ford Field for Super Bowl XL.

Both of those seasons of course ended with the Ravens playing as many post season games as I did. So naturally, come 2006 the players are a little shy about boldly predicting success. Even as they welcomed their new quarterback, the 2003 co-league MVP many believe can return them to glory, they shied away from smack. Derek Mason insisting today all the noise will come from actions alone.

Everyone except Steve McNair. During his opening remarks this afternoon, McNair mentioned the Super Bowl about five times. And not like, “wouldn’t it be great if somehow we could make it to Miami”. Instead, McNair said he planned on winning “a couple of Super Bowls” during his tenure in Baltimore.

The comments almost seemed silly given the recent history just discussed. There are so many reasons to refute the possibility of a championship for the Ravens. A suspect offensive line, recent chemistry problems, and the advanced age at several positions just to name a few. Planning on a couple of titles, in these eyes, immediately curtailed McNair’s credibility.

After absorbing the day though, his perspective makes sense. In Tennessee he was the only star remaining from their trip to the Super Bowl six years earlier, yet he continued to put up good numbers. In Baltimore he now has veteran Pro Bowler’s across the board, on both sides of the ball. He also claims his best health in years so why not expect it all.

The comments though may ring hollow to fans who have heard the talk without the walk two years in a row. For McNair’s sake, and by all accounts he’s a very decent guy, we’ll hope his perspective proves closer to reality than the cynical nature of a room full of media.

e-mail Pete

Renewed Rivalry
June 5, 2006

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For the first time this season, there really is something about which to cheer for the Orioles. Sure they’ve had good wins this year, even one against the Yankees in the Bronx. But Sunday’s 11-4 drubbing of the Yanks made Oriole fans proud like no other win this season. That statement comes with the knowledge that New York was missing many key players. Doesn’t matter. Here’s why.

Rodrigo Lopez went more than six innings of shut out ball before leaving in the 7th with a comfortable lead, and clearly has found his form with battery mate Javy Lopez. A Lopez divided cannot stand. A Lopez united cannot fail.

Bats you hoped might do some damage all season long showed lots of life. Javy of course leading the way with a pair of homeruns, and Kevin Millar’s 3 run bomb actually made interviewing him post game relevant. And he delivered in the locker room too. In regards to Yankee fans at Camden Yards:

“I guess we shut them up.”

Feel good?

The best part though comes from the skipper Sam Perlozzo. He got under the Yankees skin and that’s how you rekindle a rivalry. Corey Patterson stole 3rd in the 7th inning while the Orioles led by six runs. A no-no from baseball’s past as it’s a perceived attempt at running up the score. Now the argument can easily be made, even without Sheffield and Matsui in the lineup, six runs with six outs left is hardly insurmountable for New York. And look at the Orioles mindset, six games under.500 and you want every run you can find.

The move from Patterson, no doubt okayed by Perlozzo, set Yankees 3rd base coach Larry Bowa into a tizzy. He exchanged heated words with Patterson, a conversation continued next inning by 3rd baseman Melvin Mora. And in the clubhouse following the game Yankee manager Joe Torre, in his classic subtle way, let the Perlozzo know he didn’t like it.

“I guess it’s up to the manager to figure out how many runs are enough.”

Again, regardless of who’s right in this situation, what’s beautiful is the Orioles stood tall to the Yankees and never backed down. When Lee Mazzilli ran the club he seemed as concerned with impressing his former team as with beating them. Perlozzo meanwhile, he grew up in Maryland. He hasn’t like the Yankees his whole life. He wants to beat them as a manager, and as a fan.

That’s a huge step in the right direction for this club, and also one in reclaiming Camden Yards from our northern invaders.

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