Archive for September, 2006

Rough Ryding
September 24, 2006

Wow I hate Spain. And England, Ireland, I even hate Sweden. My jingoistic frustrations coming from embarassment at our American Ryder Cup team. Okay, hate is way too strong, but watching the Europeans so easily dispatch our boys, our more talented boys, just plain hurts.

I’m not sure which is greener, the Irish countryside or my envy. The Euros play with passion and joy like I hoped we would. Instead we watch Sergio Garcia morph into Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods transform into (insert no-name, non-birdie making millionaire here. I’m going with Rich Beem). Seriously, it took Tiger Woods about seven hours of golf today to make one birdie. How can the best golfer in the world, riding a wave of spectacular play (5 straight PGA Tour wins) get so swallowed by the moment. It’s not choking. You can’t win 12 majors by the age of 30 and succemb to a choke job. Amazingly though, Woods 2-2 record is better than his recent past in the Ryder Cup (although Jim Furky thoroughly carried him Friday morning).

Meanwhile, Garcia, his countrymate Jose Maria-Olazabel, Darren Clarke, Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington, and even Colin Montgomery just revel in the enormity of the event. It’s not that the Americans are bad teammates, rather the Europeans are great teammates. They cheer each other on like brothers, and aren’t afraid to offer a swift kick in the keister when necessary (think anyone’s gonna jump Tiger for not making any birdies?).

Ultimately, the Ryder Cup shows what motivates better fear or joy. Team USA is afraid of letting down the country (at least I hope so) while the Euros simply want the joy of winning. They’re not playing for a specific country, they’re playing to beat the Americans. And around the world in this political climate, what could bring more joy than that.

I write this Saturday night with the Europeans leading 10-6, just four points shy of retaining the cup for the 5th time in six events, hoping I’ll have to eat crow. But even if the Americans rally to win (they came back from this same score in 1999) it will be as individuals, not as a team. And for me that takes away from a win. Americans should be great teammates, don’t we all learn that in kindergarten?

What’s that horrible taste in my mouth?
September 10, 2006

I really need to work on my hygiene. Apparently I haven’t vigorously washed my feet for quite some time. Deep between the toes is the worst. I know this because for the last two and a half hours I’ve had my foot in my mouth.

The Ravens have done nearly everything against the Buccaneers I didn’t think they could. Above average pass protection, nice balance between the run and the pass, McNair has mixed things up beautifully, letting the clock churn like Amish butter.

Meanwhile, we had forgotten how good a rested Ravens defense performs. Ray Lewis and Bart Scott immediately become the best linebacker tandem in football (Chris Simms has no idea what hat him). Chris McAlister shows the form that earned him top cornerback money. And Rex Ryan’s schemes seem brilliant.

What makes me feel at least a little better, I wasn’t alone in failing to expect this. After the Ravens manhood stealing opening drive of 14 plays, 80 yards, in about nine minutes Brian Billick could be seen on the sidelines (you’ll have to trust my lip reading skills) saying

“Can you *&$%^#& believe it? Wow!”

One word of caution though. In 2003 the Bills blanked the Patriots 31-0 in the season opener. New England went on to win the Super Bowl while the Bills missed the playoffs at 6-10. Just be careful reading too much into one game.

That said, I plan my own caution in doubting the Ravens anymore in 2006.

Are you ready for some slightly better than mediocre football?
September 7, 2006

e-mail Pete

I find it tough getting all that excited about the Ravens this season. The AFC North owns too much talent. The schedule makers apparently misread the standings from 2005 and thought they were 10-6 instead of 6-10 (at Tampa, at Denver again, at Kansas City is just brutal when combined with AFC North road trips). And getting excited in 2004 and 2005 led to heady disappointment.

That said, they have to be better than last year. No way the injury bug assaults like that again. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Todd Heap, Kyle Boller, Anthony Weaver, all missed large chunks of the season. And the addition of Steve McNair, even a dilapidated version, greatly improves the quarterback position. Having watched all his preseason action I only found three bad throws in 76 tries. Oddly enough all were to Derrick Mason. The first from game one where he drastically underthrew MAson on a fly pattern. Mason, in spectacular fashion broke up an interception erasing any harm. The 2nd and 3rd came in Minnesota. A little five yard out that came up three yards short and the pick six for Fred Smoot. Three for 76 means the offense stays on the field longer, leaves the opposition with lousy field position, and the Ravens defense rested.

The other additions though seem more like subtractions. Trevor Pryce for Anthony Weaver is not an even exchange. Weaver (a great chemistry guy in the locker room) is on the rise in his career while Pryce slides the other way. We kept waiting to here Trevor Pryce’s name for something other than a penalty during the preseason. It didn’t happen. Pryce and I had the same number of tackles during the four game exhibition schedule.

Mike Anderson for Chester Taylor on paper seems decent, but again they add a player on the wrong side of career curve. Anderson turns 33 two weeks from today, and even though he rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, like Roger Maris he needs an asterisk. Everyone rushes for 1,000 yards in Denver. Mike Shanahan is so confident of that, that he jettisoned Anderson for a trio of ‘who are theys?’. Two of his top three backs this year (Mike Bell and Cedric Cobbs) have a combined total of zero NFL starts. Any bets the Broncos fail to produce in the running game this year? Your action is welcome. Taylor meanwhile, six years and one day younger, figures on a monster year behind a talented offensive line with the Vikings.

We also have the Brian Billick factor. A season without the playoffs and he’s most likely done. The fans know it, the players know it, even Paris Hilton knows it. That kind of transition hovering over the season can’t help anyone.

Predicting the NFL though, year after year, proves a largely futile effort. Too much parity and too many injuries make leave too much up in the air. Remember last year at this time. Any of you have Chicago hosting a divisional playoff game? Anyone have Philly going 6-10? Me neither.

The good news for the Ravens is if they catch some breaks the talent exists to succeed. They also seem in much greater harmony than the past two years. In a league with so much mediocrity, something like chemistry can make the difference between 6-10 and 10-6.