Monday, August 31, 2009

Return of the Mega-post

Favre unretires again, Vick is back on the field, UNC's basketball schedule is out, and football (both college and NFL) makes its triumphant return in the next couple weeks. Holy Hell, I take two weeks off from blogging and look what has happened to the world of sports. While extensive college and NFL season previews should be coming in the next week, I feel a megapost is called for to address the insanity of the past couple weeks. Since I just saw Inglourious Basterds this past week (extremely entertaining and even more violent) I'm going to organize this mega post into chapters.

Chapter 1: "Guess Who's Back, Back Again..."
Since the large majority of this "chapter" will be spent relentlessly bashing Mr. Favre, I wanted to say some good things about Mr Wrangler Jeans to start off. I remember back when I was getting Sports Illustrated for kids and Favre was on the cover more often than Lindsay Lohan is on the cover of Us Weekly (and no I don't read Us Weekly, but you tend to notice those things when you have worked in a grocery store). Favre was one of the best, if not THE best quarterbacks of the 90's and he still deserves recognition for his achievements (The three MVP's just slightly edge out his cameo in There's Something About Mary). But now time has passed and the man who was one of the faces of the NFL in the 90's has become a punchline by turning into the old uncle who overstays his welcome. Bill Simmons even suggested nicknaming Favre VD, since we just can't seem to get rid of him.

Look I really do respect the fact that Brett Favre still wants to play. I personally feel any team who signs him is making a mistake as he can't relate to most people in the locker room at this point and is not even a top 20 QB in the league at this point. Favre will play well enough to maybe give the team playoff or even championship hopes, then quickly destroy those hopes by throwing an interception at the perfectly wrong time. That said, he can't be much worse for the Vikings than Tavaris Jackson would be, so I really have no problem with him playing. Ultimately whether Favre is playing or not isn't what annoys myself and most sports fans. Its the fact that his indecisiveness has turned into a soap opera that no one wants to watch, yet seems to dominate ESPN. Luckily the Vikings play the Steelers this year, so hopefully I can get a vicarious measure of revenge on Favre by watching him get leveled by James Harrison.

Chapter 2: "Redemption Song in Philly"
I know the chapter name is unspectacular, but it was that or a verse from "Who Let the Dogs Out" and I try not to be cliche here at VFSS. Anyways the issue of Vick's dogfighting is in the past and he has received ample punishment for his crime (which was heinous). While much of the focus has been on Vick's remorse and retribution (e.g the 60 minutes episode), to me Vick is very interesting as a football player. When Vick left for jail two years ago, analysts were beginning to lose faith in him as a quarterback and his tremendous athleticism just didn't seem to fit into the typical mode of the NFL pocket passer (also in what I found some of the most interesting moments of the 60 minutes interview, Vick admitted to loafing during practice and not working that hard). Fast forward two years and Vick is returning to the NFL as the wildcat has come into vogue and his skill set makes many NFL coaches more excited than Jason Biggs with Shannon Elizabeth in American Pie. Vick saw limited action in his first appearance Thursday night but showed he still has the tools to be a dangerous player in the league. If the eagles can effectively line up Vick in a pseudo-wildcat for several plays a game, they could give teams a lot of problems. While Vick may never be Tom Brady, his ability to pass and run along with a new found hardworking attitude could make the eagles offense unique. Given how McNabb positively responded to being benched for Kolb in a game last season I think the Eagles could really make this crazy plan work. While Favre will probably be more valuable through the first part of the season, Vick may have a bigger positive impact than #4 (at least for his own team) come playoff time.

Chapter 3: "The Giant Arch Shaped Career-Reviving Machine"
It's been a while since baseball made an appearance on VFSS, but given how St. Louis has managed to turn their Gateway Arch into an MLB Career Revitalization Machine I figured a post is warranted. While I fully admit I am no expert concerning baseball it doesn't take an expert to look at what the Cardinals have done over the past couple months and realize that they may be the hottest team in baseball right now. Before adding Matt Holliday, who was wasting away in Oakland, the team was losing ground to the Cubs and looked like they may once again miss the playoffs due to poor play down the stretch. However Holliday may now have the hottest bat in the Cardinals lineup (no easy feat when one of the players is named Pujols). Then a couple weeks ago St Louis picked up Smoltz and so far joining the Cards appears to have done for his career what Pulp Fiction did for John Travolta's. While a case can certainly be made these statistical rejuvenations can be attributed to moving from the AL to NL (or maybe super steroids), it can't be ignored that the cardinals now have a great bullpen by adding Smoltz to Cy Young candidates Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter as well as a pretty heavy hitting lineup with Pujols, Carpenter and several other solid, if not totally consistent bats. The World Series could very well feature the two teams that have won it the most times (St. Louis and New York) this year.

Chapter 4: "The Showdown at Rupp and Other Marquee Meetings"
While the college basketball season will not tip off for another several months, several recent developments have maintained and even augmented my anticipation for the coming season and UNC's title defense. The first of which was the announcement of the UNC alumni game which members of both title teams of this decade as well as players such as Jamison, Carter, Stackhouse, Haywood and Wallace are expected to attend. While MJ has not been explicitly mentioned, the fact that UNC asked the announcer of the Chicago Bulls to announce the game strongly suggests his airness will make an appearance. Furthermore given Jordan's love of the game and loyalty to Carolina, would anyone actually expect him to miss out on such an event. The game tips off this Friday night and yours truly will be in the house. If I can get some good pictures or video from the game I will do my best to post it. The matchups in the game itself should be almost insane. Watching Felton and Lawson match up pits two cousy award winning point guards with blazing speed. Hansborough, May, and Jamison could get their chance to make a case as the best post scorers at UNC. Even better, Ellington, Carter, McCants, and perhaps even Jordan could be locked in a four-way battle to see who can fill up the basket the best.

In addition to the alumni game, the announcement of UNC's schedule should make any basketball fan excited for the year to come. In addition to the always exciting yearly battles with Duke and the yearly domination of State, UNC boasts one of the most challenging and exciting out of conference schedules of almost any team in recent memory. Right out of the gate the Tar Heels' first matchup has already generated press with Isaiah Thomas's FIU team "refusing" to play UNC in the first round of the Coaches vs Cancer Classic. The Tar Heels then go to Madison Square Garden to play Ohio State and either California or Syracuse, all three of which look to be Tournament teams this year. After a couple easier matchups the Tar Heels then face two of the top teams in the nation in a 5 day span. First the Michigan State Spartans come to the Dean Dome in a (probably more even) rematch of last year's National Championship game. Then the boys in powder blue travel to Rupp Arena in Lexington to face Kentucky and perhaps the most acclaimed recruiting class since the Fab Five. The two schools are 1 (Kentucky) and 2 (UNC) in total wins and match up probably the two most talented rosters (though I still consider Kansas the best team in the nation going into the season) in college basketball this year. Finally, less than two weeks later the Tar Heels play a promising Texas team in the new Cowboys stadium (lets hope the tip-off doesn't hit the giant scoreboard).

So there it is, over 1500 words of sports goodness. And once again don't worry, as there is much more to come. I have finished going through the picking all the games of the 2009 NFL schedule and now have all the teams projected records (just to whet your appetite, the playoffs could have some absolutely EPIC matchups). I still have to write up my picks and anaylsis of each division, but the full preview should appear a week from today. I plan on having my ACC college football preview (along with my BCS bowl game picks) completed by wednesday so check back for that soon. Until then try to survive through the last week of this NFL purgatory we call the preseason.

Friday, August 14, 2009

How to Bring Back (and even improve) End Zone Celebrations in the NFL

Never did the NFL deserve the nickname "No Fun League" more than when in March of 2006, the league decided to "rein in" touchdown celebrations, effectively making doing anything more than spiking the ball punishable by 15 yards and probably a fine. They haven't been kidding around with this rule either, fining Wes Welker $10,000 for making a snow angel. While I'm sure all the NFL fans over 60 who tune in to the O'Reilly Factor after the games and Joe Buck are happy that the NFL banned celebrations, I think I speak for the majority of NFL fans in feeling that an entertaining part of the game has been missing for the past couple years.

As far as end zone celebrations go, I think most of us can agree that overall they are a little childish and immature, but then again you could say the same thing about getting emotionally involved in the outcome of a sports game you aren't playing in or paying $79 for a replica jersey (funny, I don't hear the NFL complaining there). The point is that as long as the celebration isn't making fun of someone in a malicious manner they are harmless and don't detract from the game or push fans away from the sport. If anything they give the sport and players a more human element that fans can identify with, considering most of us can't identify with being able to do 25 reps of 225lbs on the bench or run a 40 yard dash in under 4.5 seconds. We all get excited when we score a touchdown (whether in backyard, pee-wee, or high school football) and most of us know someone (or perhaps are someone) who will do some type of celebration after scoring a touchdown (and most adding a bit of unintentional comedy to the process).

Touchdown celebrations have a long history in the NFL (there has to be a video of the ickey shuffle on youtube). While most players chose to avoid celebrations even before the rule was enacted, a small set of players continually entertained (or at least attempted to entertain) us with endzone celebrations. From elaborate schemes involving hidden props to mocking other players, we have seen some very entertaining celebrations over the years. In 2005 Steve Smith and Chad Johnson even took it to an awesome new level when each tried to upstage the other after scoring a touchdown (Johnson's were overall the best, but I still love the Steve Smith Vikings Love Boat celebration, #9 on the countdown at the top of the page).

Two years later, the creativeness that was just starting to really blossom was thrown to a screeching halt by Goodell and co., and it hasn't really helped the players. Smith has still been successful, but perhaps a lack of lightheartedness has caused him to relapse to his anger management days, breaking Ken Lucas's nose in training camp last year. Chad Johnson seems less motivated to find the end zone these days and has resorted to changing his last name to a grammatically incorrect Spanish version of his uniform number. Finally, look what you have done to T.O! Despite his team destroying antics, T.O. was generally an entertaining player who most of us enjoyed before 2006. I really don't think its a coincidence that people finally started getting sick of him once end zone celebrations were banned. Owens is a player who needs attention one way or another, and end zone celebrations were much more acceptable forum for that attention than press conferences.

So now that we have established that endzone celebrations ultimately are innocent and fun, how can they be practically reinstated in order to still keep Goody-Goodydell happy? Well here is my proposal. Allow players a period of 30 seconds to celebrate however they wish (as long as it is not malicious or too defaming of others) immediately after the touchdown signal is given. At the end of this 30 seconds the official will blow the whistle and the player will have 5 seconds (trust me its enough) to get off the field and return the ball to an official (if necessary). I feel this plan is fairly foolproof. From the NFL's perspective, the celebration is still regulated to prevent it taking too much time or attention away from the game. From the players' perspective it still allows them to celebrate and get enough attention to possibly merit an appearance on sports center. From the fan's perspective, the time slot will force players like Owens, Ochocinco, and Smith to be creative with the time and possibly lead to more original and entertaining celebrations. As Michael Scott may say, win-win-win.