Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Your... 2000(?) Minnesota Vikings!

Every sports fan hates their local newspaper columnists - it's practically written into law. That said, I don't usually hate Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press... when he writes about anything but the Vikings. He turns into Dan Shaughnessy when the Vikings lose and it is annoying as hell.

One of the first lines in Powers' column today for the Pioneer Press is, "To panic or not to panic?" I deeply resent the notion. Panic? Like we're some kind of amateurs?

Vikings fans are trained animals, but we're old dogs, not monkeys. When our owner yells at us, we know whats up - we skulk away and shut the hell up. We don't sit there and whine and bark louder and piss all over the floor.

No panic, just the swift removal of any expectations. We've clearly seen the best and worst of this team this year. Hell, we just saw it all in one game just last night. And I'm not gonna wet my pants like some amateur - spare me, I'm not a Saints fan. This is the Vikings we're talking about.

I don't care about a bye anymore. I still think they beat the Packers at home. If you have any more expectations after that, you get what you deserve. Besides, if you're a football fan and you're NOT rooting for Vikings/Packers Round 3, something is wrong with you. And if they lose, Childress is that closer to being fired. (Sure, whine about the extension he just signed, as if contracts to pro and college coaches' contracts are worth more than the paper they're written on.)

Enough with this panic garbage, we've seen this before. Want an example? This is the same team as the 2000 Vikings. Look at the parallels:

- New quarterback that starts out hot until the rest of the league gets him on film catches up
2000: Daunte Culpepper
2009: Brett Favre

- Fast start when it doesn't matter
2000: 7-0
2009: 6-0

- Shitty coaching bogging down an enormous talent advantage
2000: Denny Green with Moss, Carter, Robert Smith, Randle, Stringer, Birk, etc.
2009: Brad Childress with Peterson, Rice, Harvin, Allen, Williams Wall, etc.

- Worthless on the road
2000: 4-4
2009: 4-4

- Taking a Chipotle-induced diarrhea dump all over the field in December
2000: lost three in a row to end the season, still backed into a 1st round bye and finished 11-5
2009: lost three out of four in December, still may back into a 1st round bye

They have 5 sacks in their last 4 games. Their safeties are not fast and cannot cover anyone. Special teams would give up at least 9 touchdowns to DeSean Jackson. And Reggie Bush for that matter. Most alarmingly, Antoine Winfield is either still not healthy or he is finished as a cornerback. He has zero speed and zero quickness, especially to keep up with the world-renowned wideout Devin Aruon... Aero.... Aromasheedoo? Would it be possible to just keep him in on running plays like they do Pat Williams?

So there it is. Panic? Go Twins!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Andy Reid 2.0

I didn't sleep well last night for a myriad of reasons, so this is going to be a completely unfocused, rambling, incoherent piece. Anything more or less than that wouldn't be fair to describe the team that showed up last night.

Two road games, two gigantic eggs. The Arizona game could be logically explained to an extent - the Cardinals are a Jekyll and Hyde team that's very dangerous when they put it together. Carolina however is 5-8, for a reason. Cut and dried, they suck. Sizing them up wasn't exactly rocket surgery. There were three very obvious common sense things you could expect from the Vikings in this game:

1. Double-team Steve Smith at all times
2. Blitz the everloving shit out of Matt Moore on every obvious passing down
3. Give the ball to your best player at least 20 times

How many of those things happened? Exactly zero. Brad Childress, aka Andy Reid 2.0*, made sure they wouldn't. I'm thinking I was wrong about a couple weeks ago - the writing IS on the wall. Maybe they peaked in Week 8 in Green Bay, only we couldn't really see it at the time because the next four weeks were a bye and 3 easy home games against teams whose records are now a combined 12-30. If you expect the Vikes to beat Arizona, Philly or Dallas ANYwhere, you are delusional or have brain damage, or both.

*By 2.0, I mean to imply "next version" as well as "decidedly worse version", kind of like how Windows somehow gets worse with each version.

The Childress-Reid comparison goes beyond the obvious. As I've written previously, the Vikings are built a lot like Reid's Eagles, particularly when Childress was there as the o-coordinator. The X-factor is Favre - he makes everyone better, especially the wideouts. What happens when Favre is expected to do too much? They look a lot like the 2006 Vikings - painfully predictable and zero creativity on both offense and defense. A whole lot of "we just have to out-execute the other team" stuff, hard to do when 1, you abandon the run after the first half, and 2, you can't get any pressure on the quarterback. The Vikes haven't put themselves in any kind of position to "out-execute" anyone.

Going back to Favre, the difference between Favre and Tarvaris Jackson (or even Gus Frerotte) last night was marginal. In fact, there were several instances where they could have really used Tarvaris's legs to get the hell away from Julius Peppers. The apparent issue with Favre is that he is audibling out of runs far too often. Works great in Weeks 1-11. Then teams get you on film. Honeymoon's over. I wouldn't be shocked if Carolina's plan all along was to goad Favre into making those reads.

Andy Reid 2.0 has his most important decision coming up against the Bears. If Favre is screwing things up by giving up on the run too quickly, does he sit? Will Favre pull a Scottie Pippen and bench himself like a whiny bitch out of protest? Should Tarvaris come in on occasion regardless, like the Eagles use Mike Vick and the Dolphins use Pat White? Will the Vikes lay another egg on the road against an inferior team?

Monday, December 7, 2009

RIP EJ Henderson's Career

Scatterbrained bullshit thoughts to sum up a horseass night...

1. EJ Henderson will be missed more than people realize. He's come a long way; he was horrendous his first two years under Mike Tice. He was overmatched, every single game - my dad in particular constantly bitched about him. "EJ is always, always WAY out of position."

Then something happened that caught everyone completely off guard: he got better. A LOT better. A combination of a competent defensive coaching staff and the acquisition of Pat Williams freed up EJ to live up to his 2nd round pick potential. Still, he was never recognized nationally, never went to a Pro Bowl. He was ours alone, like the underground indie band you discovered that nobody else knew about and never caught on mainstream. I really hope he plays again. Doesn't even have to be with the Vikings. Just get back on the field somehow.

The Williams Wall gets a lot of credit for sustaining such a vaunted run-stopping defense over the years, but EJ deserves just as much.

2. National Football Post's Mike Lombardi had a great article (that I can't find now) where he detailed how and why Dome-field advantage is so critical, and how Dome teams struggle without those advantages on the road. In summary, he said the biggest advantage was the crowd noise that forces the opponent's snap count to be at least slightly telegraphed, giving the pass rush a big advantage. I think we saw proof of that last night. I don't care how many Pro-Bowlers you have on your D-line. Lethargy + road game = 0 sacks

3. Does anyone on the Vikings remember if Adrian Peterson is still on the team? Anyone? ANYONE?

13 carries for the best running back in football is pretty ridiculous. He did have six catches for 19 total touches, but where's the ball control offense? Why is Favre dropping back 87 times every game now? Don't panic when you fall behind, the Vikes have too much talent for that for chrissakes.

4. Me, however? I'm not panicking. Gotta think big picture. If you had told me before the season that the Vikings would be 10-2 with both losses on the road to the two defending conference champs, I would have happily taken that. Does it suck that the Vikings miserably failed their first test in five weeks? Yes, of course. But Arizona would have beaten 31 out of 32 teams last night the way they played. When Warner is that accurate and their D plays that physical, they are really good.

Seriously, last night sucked, and it tells you all you need to know about Vikings fans that we have to remind ourselves not to panic after every loss. But like in every relationship, it's good to drop the gloves sometimes. It can be good to get knocked down a peg once in a while. That invincible feeling is gone, but I'd rather have that happen now than in January.

(Although I'd feel a lot better if Baltimore beats the shit out of the Packers tonight.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Peaks and Valleys

I won't make a needlessly grandiose statement about the importance of something unquantifiable like momentum, but I'll be damned if we haven't seen some seismic changes over the past 10 weeks this NFL season. That M-word certainly comes to mind as a reason. Two teams have peaked (maybe three) and we're seeing two teams that bottomed out quickly on their way back.

-It's looking more and more like Denver's entire season was that New England game. Huge win for sure, but you couldn't help but feel like that was their Super Bowl, and since it's been mostly downhill since, it sure seems that way.

-After Week 3, the New York Giants and Baltimore were considered by many to be the clear-cut front-runners in their respective conferences. Eli looked fantastic, the Giants were pounding the ball and making stars out of their new receivers, Flacco looked to have made The Leap, and the Baltimore D was making huge plays, as witnessed by Ray Lewis' tackle-for-loss on Darren Sproles on a 4th and 2 to end a close one against San Diego in Week 2. Both teams looked to be going at all cylinders.

That's meaningless in today's NFL. They've gone a combined 2-6 since Week 5. The Giants have lost 4 straight, and Baltimore is coming off a 1-4 stretch. Both look old and defeated, and I can't help but see that both have peaked.

-I have to take a stun gun to my inner Kool-Aid Drinker Vikings Fan when I say this, but the Saints look eminently beatable. The Rams (the fucking RAMS) took it to them - they got to the quarterback, they moved the ball at will propping up Marc Bulger's exhumed corpse, and Steven Jackson (who is not better than All Day) lit them up with 176 total yards and a TD. Their defense is banged up, but damned if they didn't look average yesterday. I think they've... *gulp*... peaked. Maybe.

-Carolina and Tennessee are the opposite. Both could not possibly have looked worse over the first several weeks, and now suddenly Delhomme has gone 3 weeks without a pick, Steve Smith took back his name from the Giants' Steve Smith, Chris Johnson looks like the Madden '11 coverboy, and Vince Young Just Wins Football Games*.

*I wonder if this carries over to his everyday life too. Every time he plays Xbox 360 or checkers or rock paper scissors, he loses. "I just win football games."

As a wannabe sportswriter columnist for a predominantly Vikings based blog (despite the tacky name), this is important to me because the Vikings haven't peaked yet. They haven't reached their tipping point, the defining moment of their season. We saw New England's last night as Belichick made one of the all-time great shocking calls in recent NFL history. (On a 0 to Michaels-Throwing-Jannetty-Through-a-Window scale of shock, I was a 9. I love Bill Belichick.)

What I mean by defining moment is probably better described as a "writing-on-the-wall" moment. Belichick obviously had zero faith in his defense stopping Peyton Manning. Denver used up all its power-ups against New England and have been flat since. The Giants' secondary has been roasted Wasswa Serwanga-style. The Saints can't stop the run and when they're not able to get Pierre Thomas going, their offense can sputter. The writing is on the wall for all those teams.

A great example of this for the Vikings was last year's Week 2 game at home against Indianapolis. They drove up and down the field against them but kept having to settle for field goals, which cost them the game. They couldn't score when it mattered. The writing on the wall said "First round playoff fodder."

The Vikings have had a few potential games like this, where they could have either outright dominated or laid an egg - a bold statement either way. Both Green Bay games come to mind. The closest they've come was Favre's miraculous winning TD to Greg Lewis against the Niners in Week 3.

What I'm trying to say is, the wall is blank. The Vikings have yet to reach their ceiling or their floor. No peaks, no valleys. The best (or worst) is yet to come.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Pack of Baseball Cards

You are 10 years old. It's the summer of 1992, the week in which the latest set of Upper Deck baseball cards arrives at your local baseball card retailer. Upper Deck is by far the most revered and respected baseball card brand of any 10 year old kid, especially your 10 year old friends.

They are the best looking cards, crisp and colorful. They just... look cool, like cards are supposed to look. Not too boring like Topps, not too wacky like Donruss, not downright ugly like Fleer. They are the most valuable (so sayeth Beckett), the most tradeable, the most desired. They made the holy grail of our generation, the 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. #1. The first card of the first set they ever produced is of the best young player in the game. And it's worth about $70.

Shinders sells Upper Deck cards. You would spend every single day of the summer there if you could. You're tempted to ride your bike the dozen or so miles yourself, lest you face the wrath of your parents if they did not know where you were for 15 minutes. Instead, you resort to the usual tactic of begging your dad for a trip there this weekend, and as usual, you succeed.

You walk into the store way ahead of your dad, straight to the table with the newer packs. And there they are: Upper Deck 1992 Baseball Edition.

"Exciting New Card Design for 1992!
15 Baseball Cards Per Pack
Look for Collector Holograms
Random-Sequencing Tamper-Resistant Pack
Counterfeit Deterrent

My dad knows the drill. He gets one pack for $2.75. Upper Deck commands a higher price because of their demand. I don't care - I'm out the door and in the car opening it as my dad is still paying for it.

The pack itself just looks so pristine. I almost don't want to open it. But I'm not dumb. Card number one is...

Darrin Fletcher, a backup catcher for the Phillies. He's tracking a pop-up in his picture which probably means he sucks at the plate. He played in 46 games last year and hit .228. Totally unimpressed, I skip to the next card.

Kirk McCaskill, a starting pitcher for the Angels. Heard of him, but he looks kinda old. He lost 19 games last year. NEXT!

A team checklist card for the Mariners featuring... Edgar Martinez? How could you possibly have a Mariners team card that doesn't have Griffey? Nobody cares about Edgar Martinez. I want Griffey! It even says on the back underneath his name "Team Leader: AVG" and "Team Leader: RBI". But you throw Edger Martinez on the front? Team leader in NOTHING? Where's Griffey? I WANT GRIFFEY.

I'm getting a little impatient. I quickly flip through the next three cards.

Three middle relievers in a row. I just jinxed myself by doing that, I know it. Horrible mistake. You're supposed to savor every moment with a new card with a pack like this, but Edgar Martinez rattled me. Take your time. I just made these cards worthless. Nobody likes middle relievers. I feel the stack of cards in my left hand is still slightly thicker than the stack in my right hand. I'm still hopeful.

A nobody middle infielder hitting .249. Plus he looks really old. And he's fielding.

A nobody middle infielder hitting .247. Plus he plays for Oakland. I hate Oakland. And he's fielding too.

A nobody middle infielder hitting .243. Plus he plays for the National League. I hate the National League. And HE'S fielding.

Time to regroup. This is my first Upper Deck pack of the year and I just had three middle relievers followed by three middle infielders. My right hand outweighs my left hand. I'm starting to feel a bit panicked.

Kelly Gruber. I have a million Kelly Gruber cards. I get him in practically every pack. Every freaking pack. Still, he had one good year, he hits home runs, he was good once. He plays for a good team. This is a good omen.

A rookie!! Roger Salkeld. Never heard of him. He'll be in the price guide though, for sure. Almost everyone's rookie is. I flip to the back, how good is he? He's a pitcher who went 2-1 with a 5.12 ERA with "Jacksonville" whoever that is. He started 4 games. I don't get it. He's in a warm-up jacket, and he looks like kind of a jerk. Why does this guy even have a card? I feel nervous again.

Al Newman, ANOTHER middle infielder. A backup middle infielder. He's hitting in his picture, but he hit .191 last year. His home run total since 1987 reads like this:


I'm starting to feel kinda sick. I don't want my first Upper Deck pack this year to be this bad. I only have three cards left.

Mark Grace! I've heard of him! He had a Topps Golden Cup card once! That was years ago though. He doesn't hit home runs but still, he's kinda good. He might be in the price guide. I doubt it though. Still, good omen.

A Top Prospect!! Some guy named Tom Nevers. Um, he played for a team called the Tourists. What kind of a team name is that? He hit .252 for the Tourists. I don't know, if this guy were any kind of prospect, I would have heard of him, like Phil Plantier or Eric Karros. Those guys are prospects.

My sour feeling increases as I realize I only have one card remaining in my left hand. I'm almost afraid to look. It could still be good, there's still a chance, no pack is ever this bad, I gotta have a good card, it's gotta be Griffey or Thomas or Bagwell or even Kirby or Ripken... it's...


Monday, November 2, 2009

Brett Favre is Brett Favre Being Brett Favre Doing Brett Favre Things



Anyway, here's some random points about the Vikings/Packers game yesterday.

1. Favre really has no idea the effect he has on the media and on football fans. I think. Maybe. Going back to the summer of 2008 when asked about playing in Lambeau with another team ("I don't think it'll be that bad.") to being dumbfounded by the huge media frenzy he created as he signed with the Vikings this summer, he's demonstrated an "aw shucks" persona at each opportunity. Is it calculated? Is he that smart? Or is he that stupid? I don't know, but he's consistent.

The biggest rap on pro athletes in general is their oblivious disconnect with normal every day life. On the surface, it doesn't appear that way with Favre - "I don't think it'll be that bad"?? Either he's a complete moron (not exactly impossible) or maybe that pro athlete disconnect just isn't as deep as fans are used to seeing it. I would not be surprised by either.

2. I hate to sound like Dan Dierdorf, but Favre is professional athlete. (No, really!) Signing with the Vikings was about more than just sticking it to Ted Thompson. Going back to Lambeau as a Viking was a huge, HUGE challenge, an emotional challenge, unlike anyone has ever taken on in recent memory, maybe ever. A challenge unique to this modern era, unique to this media culture - starting a bazillion straight games for an unheard of 16 straight seasons for the Green Bay Packers, not just any team considering their history and their fans that care a bit too much. He leaves all that behind to play for their biggest rival. The pressure was enormous and the emotional strain must have been even greater. And he pulled it off. An enormous achievement.

He said his performance was "pretty high up on the list" as far as his career accomplishments go. This was a once in a lifetime challenge. That's what really drives professional athletes, right?

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that after following Favre week to week like a fan, I understand the non-stop hype the guy creates - he's a fascinating person. I hate when that happens, but it's true.

3. Nice to see Peter King has gone directly back to "slobber over Brett Favre" mode - did not pass Go, did not collect $200. Two passages from today's Monday Morning Quarterback:

"And now, I wondered, how was the groin four hours and a lot of lost adrenalin later?

“It’s throbbing right now,” he said."


"b. Are you kidding, FOX? The moment the game of the year ends and Brett Favre is hugging his way across the field, we hear Thom Brennaman say: “We send you to bonus coverage.”

You do what? You send us to Carolina 34, Arizona 21? For God’s sake — FOR WHAT?!!!!!! What you should be sending us to is Pam Oliver for a live interview with Favre instead of making people wait."

Six exclamation points!!!!!! Brett had him at hello. Nice to have you back, Peter.

4. The Vikings schedule after next week's bye: 5 home games, 3 road games. Only bad weather game appears to be at Chicago on December 28 (where the Vikings never win anyway). That's as favorable of a schedule as you could expect for a 40 year old QB. Looking even further ahead, the only NFC team with a better record, New Orleans, plays in a dome. Those are some major lucky breaks.

5. Last thing about Percy Harvin - I thought he was a horrible draft pick. Terrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrible as Bill Walton would say. I can't say enough how much I hated it. He was described as Reggie Bush type (that's not an endorsement) from Florida, home of NFL wideout success stories like Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard, Taylor Jacobs, Travis Taylor, Jacquez Green, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson and Reche Caldwell. "Oh, just run some bubble screens for him!" people said, to which I replied, "You expect Brad Childress to come up with creative plays, let alone a play that's not telegraphed enough to shout 'HERE COMES A BUBBLE SCREEN'?" And what's the success rate of WRs picked in the first round, let alone from Florida? 1 in every 25?

Well, I guess he's the one then. He has proven me wrong, bigtime. He is 10 times the athlete of all the previous guys I listed combined. He's the best kick returner we've had since David Palmer. He puts the fear of God in other teams. You have to gameplan around him. What more could you ask for from a rookie?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mauer Will Be a Twin For Life

If anyone has read any of my blitherings for however long I've had this blog (that would be exactly zero of you), you may have noticed that I write a lot more about the Vikings and the NFL than anything else. I hardly write about the Twins? Why is this? Game #163 was a helpful explanation.

What can you SAY about something like that? What else can you say about Orlando Cabrera? What else can you say about Alexi Casilla? What else can you say about Bobby fucking Keppel? What else can you say about the Dome REFUSING to go away, squeezing out one more game nobody around here will ever forget?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the fan relationships people have with the Twins and the Vikings are completely different. People NEVER give up on the Twins. Three out with four to play? Look on the bright side! And it paid off. It really happened. Can you believe it? It seems like the Twins ALWAYS come through. They're the shining beacon of hope. But...

Winter eventually comes. The Vikings emerge as the tempting mistress. Nothing ever goes right, but oh man, if it ever does, it will be worth it, everyone will tell you that. The NFL is the sport of kings right now - it garners the biggest spotlight, harbors the most importance, unleashes the most intense feelings. I can guarantee you the second something goes wrong with Brett Favre, people will be lighting their $240 jerseys on fire. I write more about the Vikings simply because they require more writing.

Ah, but the dark side creeps into the Twins once in a while as well. Since the consensus is that the Yankees will take care of them, the main story in New York is Joe Mauer - namely "When do we get to sign him?"

I say the answer is: Never. Some fun facts for you --

-Mauer's agent is Ron Shapiro, who also represented Cal Ripken and Kirby Puckett, as well as Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer. All legends, all stayed with one team their whole career. As an agent, his track record suggests he's not exactly Scott Boras. I mean that in the best way possible.
-Mauer himself said being the highest paid player is "not really" important. He wants to win.
-The Yankees guaranteed payroll in 2011:
Alex Rodriguez at $31 million,
C.C. Sabathia at $23 million,
Mark Teixeira at $22.5 million,
A.J. Burnett at $16.5 million,
Jorge Posada at $13.1 million,
Robinson Cano at $10 million,
and Nick Swisher at $9 million.
Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are both free agents after 2010, so there's another $35-40 million towards 2011. That's $165 million right there, not to mention Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes can command bigger deals by that time. The Yankees are the Yankees, but its just not realistic to assume they can throw a Teixeira sized contract at Mauer, especially if this recession doesn't turn around.
-It can't be understated how popular Mauer has become in Minnesota. If he ever wins a ring, he could, dare I say, surpass Kirby in popularity. With a new ballpark opening, the Twins would be risking their entire fanbase and any good will and sentiment toward the team if they let him leave. That's not an exaggeration.

Most fans are confident Mauer is staying, and why not? That's just the Twins optimism. They've earned it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Just Because I Want This Documented

For Week 4, I am putting out the least intimidating starting lineup in fantasy football history. I'll even include a screenshot for proof.

I hate fantasy football.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Favre did it!"

The past few weeks have been a great summation of how Minnesota sports fans perceive their teams. One one hand, we have the Twins - a mediocre team that has no business being over .500, struggling to stay within striking distance of the AL Central division title and the right to get annihilated by the Yankees next month. On the other, we have the Vikings - loaded with talent, including the best player in the game and a future Hall of Fame quarterback, inarguably one of the three best teams in the NFC.

Those views are as objective as I can get being as close as I am to each team. Yet the rooting interest for both are completely reversed. Nobody ever gives up on the Twins, and the Vikings can't please anyone.

The Twins have earned everyone's trust, going all the way back to 1987. It's really kind of amazing how there's indisputable evidence that they're just not a good team, but people rush to defend them. "But we have Joe Mauer!" "Baker and Blackburn are gonna get it turned around." "Maybe Liriano's a one inning reliever, you never know." "Hey, we only won 85 games in '87, and look what happened!"

The Vikings, meanwhile, have systematically destroyed their fans over the years. They beat two terrible teams on the road by two TDs each, like a good team is supposed to, and all anyone can talk about is what they're doing wrong. They have an insane amount of talent this year - they could have as many as ten Pro-Bowl players (Peterson, Hutchinson, McKinnie, Harvin, Allen, the Williams Wall, Greenway, Henderson, and Winfield, and that's not including Favre and Berrian) - and people only harp on their flaws.

That's what makes events like yesterday's Vikings game so fascinating for armchair sports fan psychologists like me. After they turned it over on downs with less than 2 minutes left, people seemingly relished the opportunity to roast the Vikes. It was Childress's fault, the Favre signing was an exercise in futility, the defense is a shell of itself, on and on and on. But then something totally unexpected happened.

I'm not sure outsiders really understand what that meant to Vikings fans. We've never had a quarterback who could pull off something so definitive like that. 80 yards in less than two minutes and no timeouts. Cunningham maybe, if he were throwing to Moss or Carter, and it was '97 or '98. Maybe a past-his-prime Warren Moon in 1995 (and that's a big maybe). But not Daunte. Not Tipsy Tommy Kramer. Not Wade Wilson, not Rich Gannon, not Brad Johnson, not Jeff George, not Kelly Holcomb, not Tarsagis Rosenjack.

Impossibly, Favre has injected some Twins-esque optimism into Vikings fans. Now we feel like we're in every game. We've got a guy who's done it before and has proven he can do it again. I mean, did you SEE that throw?

If you had told me 10 years ago that Brett Favre would be the person to help Vikings fans chip away at their hard-earned cynicism over the years, I think my eyeballs would pop out of my head like Arnold in Total Recall.

Believe me when I say that nobody is more tired than I am of the Favre media machine, but it's different when he's on your team. It really is. There's a well-founded bias towards Favre that makes most people react negatively, and it usually goes something like, "We get it, enough already." But in the midst of dealing with the hyperbole, you forget that he's actually pretty damn good. Yesterday was a great reminder.

Bring on the Pack.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Would Have Written This in Chalk if I Could: 2009 NFL Predictions

Last year, I picked a Dallas/Jacksonville Super Bowl. Both teams missed the playoffs. Peter King picked a New England/Dallas Super Bowl. Which NFL preview would you rather read, Peter King's or Some Guy's? I thought so! Good to have you aboard.

Without further ado, my thoughts coming into the 2009 NFL season...

The Chicago Bears suck.
You could argue that no other team got a larger upgrade at a position than the Bears got with Jay Cutler at QB. However, there were certain conditions in place that enabled Cutler's success in Denver, like actually having wide receivers. Here's a list of Bears wideouts this year: Hester, Aromashodu, Bennett, Broussard, Burgess, Davis, Iglesias, Kinder, Knox, Peterman, Rideau. Half those guys sound like names generated from Madden '10. Their best receiver is a guy that was a DB two years ago. Reminds me of when the Vikings' best DB in 2000 was Robert Tate, who was a wide receiver the year previous. In other words, that's not good. I don't care how good RB Matt Forte and TE Greg Olson are. If you're going to win more than 8 games, you need wideouts. You just do.

Even such, there's a lot of ifs pertaining to the Bears' qualities. Will Matt Forte repeat '08 or will he pull a Cadillac Williams? Is Greg Olson even that good in the first place? Do people realize Cutler is 17-20 as a starter? Yes, Denver's defense helped contribute to that, but the Bears gave up 22 points and 334 yards a game last year, a far cry from their Super Bowl year in 2006. They only had 28 sacks, tied for 22nd in the league. As much as people want to believe it, plugging Cutler in at QB isn't automatically going to lead to 3 or 4 extra wins. These aren't the 2006 or the 2003 Bears. They aren't even close. Cutler puts up great fantasy stats, but hasn't proven he can carry a team, especially after last year's disaster down the stretch in Denver. I think the Bears go 8-8 and miss the playoffs.

Green Bay is the dangerous team in the NFC North, not Chicago.
No, this isn't an elaborate reverse jinx. The Packers offense scares the crap out of me. Rodgers quietly passed for over 4000 yards last year using two reliable, proven targets in Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Ryan Grant had a "down" year and still ran for 1200 yards. They're bringing back the same offensive line. That looks pretty damn good on paper, not to mention their schedule - Detroit twice, Cincinnati, St Louis, Cleveland and San Francisco. They have 10 wins in them.

They're also the proud owners of this offseason's done-to-death stat: they scored 39 more points than they allowed, and only went 6-10 somehow. Bad luck like that is only temporary.

Indy isn't done yet.
I see Bill Walsh/George Seifert parallels between Tony Dungy/Jim Caldwell. Many people seem eager to write them off after years of consistent success due to age and Dungy being gone, but they've done such a great job of adding young talent over the years that I can't bet against them. Phase out Marvin Harrison, plug in Anthony Gonzalez. Phase out Joseph Addai, plug in first round pick Donald Brown. Some of the names are gone but the talent is still there. I don't think the AFC title game is unreasonable for them. I don't think it happens, but I wouldn't be at all surprised.

Derrick Ward will kick ass.
Lots of parallels to Michael Turner last year - going to the NFC South, going from 2nd option to starter, rookie QB, not much of an offense other than one wideout (Roddy White/Antonio Bryant). The concern is that Ward will be sharing carries with Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams. Turner was supposed to share with Jerious Norwood last year and he rendered him almost useless, partly because he was given every chance to succeed, just as Ward will. Even if Ward does split carries, the worst case scenario is that he assumes the Brandon Jacobs role in a three-back committee. He did outstanding as the 2nd option in such a scheme, and he will perform even better as the starter.

Joe Flacco makes the leap.
I have no resource or reliable information to back this up. Just a feeling. For a rookie QB, he really impressed the hell out of me in the playoffs last year. He's the real deal, and he can only get better.

This year's 2009 inexplicable turnaround team? Nobody.
I don't see it this year. I think there are enough teams that are good enough to establish a glass ceiling of sorts. Sure, there might be teams with enough talent to take advantage of an easy schedule (Seattle or some other team in the West divisions), but they're far from contenders. This year's turnaround teams are in plain sight: Green Bay and New Orleans. Too much talent there to be denied.

The AFC meanwhile is like the NFC in the mid-80s. You have six excellent teams (New England, Indy, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego) that could all arguably be Super Bowl contenders. I don't care how good Houston or KC think they are. Those six are impenetrable.

This is already the weirdest Vikings season I can remember.
I'm terrified to pick them to do anything. They remind me so much of the 1998 team, but with the good and bad extremes cranked way up - the good might actually be better, the bad is worse. You can't help but love their offense, especially if Visante "Third Leg" Shiancoe keeps catching everything. The defense will be top 5 again. And it's all led by a guy that makes Denny Green look like George Halas.

Like the Cutler/Chicago deal, it's a little silly to assume that plugging Brett Favre in at QB is going to automatically lead to a 13-3 record or something of that sort. It's a little like the Cavs adding Shaq - what does he REALLY add to their team that an otherwise lesser-known replacement player wouldn't? Is Sage Rosenfels REALLY that bad? Is Brett Favre REALLY that good? I think it's a difference between a C and a C-, and a small one at that. After slagging Favre for being terrible three out of his last four years in Green Bay and the latter half of last year, I can't just suddenly suspend disbelief to the point that he's going to lead a team to a title, no matter how good of a supporting cast he has.

Vikings fans just have to keep telling themselves that this year is a no-lose situation. They could win the NFC, even a Super Bowl. They could crash and burn, which would spell the end of Childress. I'll obviously take the former, but I can live with the latter.

The Giants will miss Plax, but not that much.
Obviously they'd be that much better with him, but they still have the best offensive line and the best front seven in football. Those two aspects cannot be undervalued - their depth on defense means they can present a variety of looks, enough to give Bill Belichick nightmares, not to mention withstand a rash of injuries.

They have a coach and a quarterback who have both been there before. They still have Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw ready to assume the Derrick Ward role, and another great looking RB out of their seemingly endless assembly line in Danny Ware. Their only concerns are their wideouts and secondary, but unlike the Bears' woeful crew, the Giants are loaded with potential - Hakeem Nicks has had an outstanding preseason, and Steve Smith looks ready to be upgraded from "the OTHER Steve Smith" status. I don't think there's a better team in the NFC.

So, with that said...

Green Bay at Minnesota - Minnesota (If you're not rooting for a Vikings/Packers playoff game, you're not a football fan.)
Philadelphia at Arizona - Philadelphia

Minnesota at New Orleans - New Orleans (Can totally see the Vikes secondary folding like an accordion while their offense struggles to keep up with Brees and Co.)
Philadelphia at NY Giants - NY Giants

New Orleans at NY Giants - NY Giants

Tennessee at San Diego - San Diego
Pittsburgh at Indianapolis - Indy

San Diego at New England - New England
Indy at Baltimore - Baltimore

Baltimore at New England - New England

The Rematch: NY Giants vs. New England - NY Giants

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wrestling As We Knew It

Wrestling fans have long predicted that Vince McMahon would rue the day he bought out his competition. As the summer progresses, the cracks are beginning to show. Since there are no challengers to their American wrestling throne, WWE is getting further and further away from what made their product worth watching in the first place.

It's never been a secret that Vince has longed to get away from the "rasslin" label in order to get more acceptance from the mainstream media, to the point that fans have been subjected to many labored, contrived attempts to seem relevant - from the Donald Trump/Rosie O'Donnell fiasco from 2007, to Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton making inexplicable appearances, to the current celebrity guest host gimmick. No matter how Busch League and out-of-touch it makes Vince seem, he will not give up. But this time, he has help.

The huge driving force behind how the product is presented now is Donna Hammer, CEO of USA Network. A Newsweek profile of her revealed an unprecedented level of control she has been allowed over Raw, to the point that she influenced Vince McMahon to start bringing in comedy and soap-opera writers. She's also a huge proponent of the current celebrity guest host shtick (featuring such luminaries as Freddy Prinze Jr, Jeremy Piven, Shaq and Seth Green), which has proven WWE's desperate need to redefine its niche within the entertainment industry. Long term planning and building towards a blow-off pay-per-view has become a thing of the past. In other words, wrestling doesn't want to be wrestling anymore.

And you know what? It's worked! Ratings are up from last year. But if USA and WWE expect any of that to sustain, they're sorely mistaken. They're going to run out of celebs (look who they've trotted out already for chrissakes), and the novelty of "Wow, Celebrity X is on a wrestling show??" will fade.

Compare this to what guest celebrity appearance (a rarity back then) helped set off the last wrestling boom period - Mike Tyson's appearance at Wrestlemania 14. He still generated interest just by virtue of being Mike Tyson, but that's not what hooked people. Tyson helped bring aboard a curious audience that got hooked on fresh, relatable characters like Steve Austin. The casual fan, used to the cartoonish superhero types like Hulk Hogan, had never seen anything like him. As a result, WWE took the time to craft the perfect adversary for him: Vince McMahon. Wrestling was once again a lot of fun, and business was great up through 2001.

What WWE is doing now is like waving shiny objects in a child's face. "Oooh, look at this! Now look at this! And this!" They don't seem to understand that a bigger opportunity lies in developing characters people care about, and spinning off natural rivalries. You know, basic wrestling stuff. History has bore this out. Tyson brought an opportunity, Austin and McMahon were the hook.

Now, it's absurd that WWE can create another Steve Austin out of thin air, but the discouraging thing is that they've barely tried, because they haven't felt the need. Wrestling fans have been stuck with Randy Orton, HHH, and John Cena for several long years now. Pwinsider.com found about a month ago that after Summerslam on Sunday, some combination of Orton, HHH and Cena will have wrestled 25 times on pay-per-view since August 2004. 25!! That's patently insane. That's even more than any combination of Rock, Austin, and Undertaker during the last boom period. (21 by my count, from January 1998 to December 2001.) Those guys were drawing tons of fan interest, not to mention bazillions of dollars. The guys dominating now are drawing substantially less interest. How can they continue to trot out these same matchups month after month? And they wonder why PPV buys are sinking from year to year?

Ah, but there's an explanation for this: Brock Lesnar. Quitting the way he did, after all the time and effort WWE had put into him, Brock messed up main event opportunities for every future star to come by planting a huge seed of doubt in the mind of management. WWE had given him the world - he won the WWE Title within 5 months of his debut and headlined the next year's Wrestlemania - but he said his heart wasn't into it. Bobby Lashley also spurred similar opportunities despite being featured in the much-publicized Trump/McMahon Hair vs. Hair match at Wrestlemania 23. I'd go as far as to say that Jeff Hardy's wishy-washy-ness of the past few years regarding being a full-time wrestler has furthered the doubt.

Last year, MVP, a likable and capable wrestler with a boatload of charisma, was made to lose 19 matches in a row on TV. The reasoning behind this, according to an Observer Newsletter in December 2008, was because the WWE was "mad about giving guys such as Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley huge pushes only to see them leave" and using it "as a way to make sure he's willing to stick out for the long haul."

Wait... what?

This is the equivalent of the Twins benching Denard Span, regardless of how he's performing, just to "see if he can handle being benched." It's like saying to Amy Adams, "You may be a beautiful and talented actress, but we're going to put you in some really terrible movies just to see how you do." The WWE is saying, "You might be good, the fans might like you, but we don't trust you. Screw the fans."

It hasn't stopped with MVP. Dolph Ziggler, a hugely talented guy who reminds me, both in physical resemblance and performance, of Mr. Perfect, was given one of the worst gimmicks in recent memory - he would enthusiastically introduce himself to everyone. That was it. Even before that, he was part of the embarrassingly stupid Spirit Squad in 2006. Again, WWE is saying "We're not going to give the fans an opportunity to get to know you or even like you."

Several new younger stars can be used as examples. The Miz was building on something interesting by calling out and making fun of John Cena week after week, only to be jobbed out to him about 79 straight times in just as many seconds. Kofi Kingston moves a bit of merchandise and is a natural babyface, both as a personality and as a worker, but is treated like an afterthought. In fact, I don't ever remember him getting the opportunity to talk. Jack Swagger is a heel custom built to oppose longtime babyfaces like HHH - he has the size, the look, the talent to keep up, and a decidedly different personality. Hell will freeze over before we see that program.

(To be fair, they've done a good job thus far with John Morrison and CM Punk, but they're on the B-show, Smackdown.)

Puzzling as it may seem, that's WWE's perogative, since there's no one to challenge their empire. (TNA is as much on the radar as the Kansas City Royals are in the pennant race.) Competition from WCW was a direct cause of WWE's boom period in the late 90s. Headliners like Austin, Rock and Mankind were given a chance out of pure necessity. WWE was desperate to compete, so they gave out lots of opportunities to anybody willing. I don't just mean "letting them be themselves", I mean really dedicating the time to see how good they can be - long matches, lots of mic time, letting the fans get familiar with them while creating memorable feuds. The Rock/HHH feud from 1998 is a perfect example of this. If Rock, Austin or Mankind came along 10 years later, it's hard to imagine them getting any kind of opportunity.

One of WWE's latest projects is the development of Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr, two blander than bland guys the company expects fans to care about because they're the sons of bigger and better stars. Their "push" to superstar status has included lackey duty to Randy Orton and losing about 9 out of every 10 televised matches. They're a total joke, but WWE (particularly announcers Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler) are begging fans to believe otherwise. It's amazing how something as simple as WINNING MATCHES to elevate talent has gone by the wayside.

What's funny to me is that after DX squashes those two guys at Summerslam this Sunday, I can already hear HHH defending the decision to do so. "That's how wrestling works, the good guys go over the bad guys." Hey Hunter, you know what's more important than the good guys going over? Having bad guys that are worth a crap in the first place! Imagine that!

Look, I just want wrestling to be fun again. I don't want to be patronized, I don't want shiny objects waved in my face, I don't want to feel like an idiot for watching. The reason I became a fan in the first place was thanks to the very basics that make the wrestling industry what it is: fresh characters, budding rivalries and great matches. Is that so much to ask?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To Favre or Not to Favre

If you're on Brett Favre's side, he's a victim of the eager to exaggerate, blood-thirsty sports media. Hey, he's just a down-home, folksy guy from Kiln, Mississippi who loves his lawn mower and pick-up football games in dirt patches with a bunch of manly men like those Wrangler commercials. (He throws off his back foot because he's so damn comfortable.) He can't control this media frenzy! It's not his fault! He just can't make up his mind! As Jon Lovitz would say, is that so wroooong?

Suffice it to say, Brett Favre's side is a lonely one. He's now Roger-Clemens-ized himself - he's turned himself into a mercenary. He has no fans - Packers fans feel betrayed by him, Jets fans have had their fill of him, Vikings fans are already tired of him. Some people roll their eyes when his name is mentioned, some people scream and run in the other direction, some people cover their ears and shout "I'm not listeninnnnggg!!" over and over. That last one is what I've been doing all day.

The guy has become impossible to root for, regardless if he plays for my team or not. But we kinda need him. Or maybe we don't. I've talked myself into so many different directions that I've gotten two dozen prescriptions of Xanax and Percocet. Wait, I can't make painkiller jokes, he's our quarterback now. Or is he? I think my mind is bleeding.

My goal throughout my sports fan life is to grow more and more cultured. I want to experience everything: the good, the bad, the amazing, the annoying, the insane, the mundane. In a way, this Favre thing over the past few months has been a little of all those things. It's as unique as it gets. Vikings fans were so desperate for a quarterback, a better option than Tarsagis Rosenjack, that we had no choice but to follow along this annoying, insane, mundane path. The payoff would be worth it. Right?

I have no idea anymore. I'm just so exhausted of this whole thing. The season feels like it's never going to actually start. In fact, I have a confession: this is the least I've ever looked forward to an upcoming Vikings season that I can remember.

There's a lot of reasons for that, but the primary one is Favre. Is it silly to let one guy ruin the football season for me before it starts? Yeah probably. But can you blame me? Packers fans understand. Jets fans probably understand too.

Even if the Favre signing thing is a reality, the expectations for the season would suddenly be so outrageous that anything less than a Super Bowl would be considered a disaster. He's MARGINALLY better than Rosenfels or Jackson. Marginally. 84 interceptions in 4 years. He's 40 years old. He sucked last year when the weather got cold. Oh, and Brad Childress is still the head coach.

After the 1998 NFC title game, I remember my dad saying, "Part of me is glad they lost. I couldn't stand the hype anymore." I thought that was preposterous at the time, but now I know how he felt. Maybe it's more of a statement towards the 24/7 media culture, towards the fact that there's no such thing as an offseason anymore, but this hasn't been any fun. When is it going to be fun again?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nicki Puntolbersilla

(I'll write about the Favre thing some other time. I'm sick of it, everyone's sick of it, and the silver lining is that it's one step closer to Brad Childress being fired. Let's move on to more aggravating issues.)

I know I've already written about this, but we're past the point where it can be overstated: DEAR GOD CAN WE PLEASE GET A MIDDLE INFIELDER?!?

It's been well documented how atrocious Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla have been through 101 games this year, but... what if we combined their powers to build a SUPER Twins infielder, a conglomerate of suck. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the Sultan of Scrappiness, General Get-After-It... Nicki Puntolbersilla!

491 spell-binding at-bats produced...

92 hits!

15 extra-base hits!

2 home runs!

41 RBI!

69 walks!

92 strikeouts!

A .187 batting average with a .281 on-base percentage!

(By the way, it is astounding to me that Casilla was the guy that broke up Buehrle's bid for a 2nd perfect game in a row last night. That's why baseball's awesome.)

Throw in an average OPS+ of 40 between all three, and you have by far the worst middle infielder this side of Tony Pena Jr. The Twins would be better off if they dragged Steve Lombardozzi out of retirement. Speaking of which...

Looking up those guys' stats made me realize something. The Twins haven't developed an even passable middle infielder that stuck around longer than one season since Chuck Knoblauch and Pat Meares were the everyday starters in 1997. And just to clear things up a bit, these guys were not products of the Twins farm system: Christian Guzman, Luis Castillo, Brent Gates, Brendan Harris, Juan Castro, Jay Canizaro, Augie Ojeda, and Adam Everett. All of those guys were clearly way too good (read: Major League average) to be from the Twins organization. Except Jay Canizaro. He could've fooled me.

(I know Punto also isn't a product of the Twins system, but he might as well be, since he fits exactly what they're apparently looking for.)

Todd Walker - It seems really weird that the Twins would use a 1st round draft pick on a 2nd baseman, but they did in 1994. Walker produced in his first chance to be the everyday starter in 1998, but petered out a bit the next season as every single statistical category dropped off somewhat. I remember there being grumblings at the time that Walker was hard to work with because he didn't fit the "Twins way". He was traded in 2000 to make room for... well, no one. He had a decent journeyman career and put up some okay numbers for the Cubs.

Denny Hocking - Taken in the 52nd round of the 1989 draft. I know every joke has been made about how many rounds the MLB draft has, but dear god, 52 rounds?!? Who else was drafted, the kid from "Rookie of the Year"? Anyway, he was a career utility player who hit .257/.316/.359 (batting average/on-base/slugging) when he had at least 200 plate appearances. I would kill for that now. But still, I doubt he would've started for any team except the total dregs of the league (which the Twins were at that time).

Alex Prieto - Yeah, not much to see here.

Cleatus Davidson - Who?

Luis Rivas - Between 2001 and 2005, Tom Powers wrote about 174 columns about "when it's going to click for Rivas." Suffice to say, it never really did. Again, he was better than what the Twins have now, but I don't see him starting for very many other teams even in his better years.

Luis Rodriguez - The Latino Denny Hocking.

Jason Bartlett - Traded to the Twins as a AA prospect so its a stretch to include him here, but I just wanted to be the 979,000 person to point out how utterly foolish it was of the Twins to give up on him so quickly. "Whoa whoa whoa, wait a sec, we can't have a shortstop hitting .265, that's CRAZY!"

Tommy Watkins - Here's a sampling of what middle infielders the Twins have in Rochester!

Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla - See beginning of column.

The usually reliable Aaron Gleeman makes a "Top 40 Twins prospects" list every offseason. Shockingly, his 2009 list features two second baseman: Reggie Williams and Steve Singleton. Okay, they're #33 and #36 on the list, but still. It's too early to tell with Williams, but Singleton has struggled to get out of Single A and appears to be on par with the above guys I've listed. That's a relief.

Evidently, it's not the "Twins way" to bother developing middle infielders. Nicki Puntolbersilla is proof of when this method goes terribly wrong.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Random crap while it's on my mind...

- The rarest of the rare is happening this week: a sports story that I don't think has been talked up enough. Now that Wings/Pens is going to a Game 7, it's especially unique for one guy in particular - Marian Hossa. After spurning the Pens to sign with the Wings last offseason for a "better chance to win a cup", we'll find out if he made the right decision Friday night. I'm not sure this situation has EVER happened before, in any sport. Drama that great can't be manufactured.

- Speaking of no coverage, it's been a weird past couple months following the Stanley Cup and NBA playoffs - well, in the case of NBA, there's a lot less in terms of "watching" and more "reading about it and watching highlights online". As everyone knows, the NBA is inescapable thanks to its relationship with ESPN. The quality of the on-air product however is as brutal as ever, thanks to the atrocious officiating. I know it's en vogue to bitch about the refs these days, but games are turning into unwatchable dreck. Thirty seconds can't even go by without a stoppage, seemingly. The players come off, somewhat understandably, as clueless as to what to expect. It makes for awful TV.

Meanwhile, the NHL is letting anything and everything go. Although it gets a bit absurd at times, I'd much rather see the refs swallow the whistle and let the players decide who wins, rather than pull the "Everyone in here paid to see ME call penalties!" routine.

For further comparison, the NHL is like one of those underappreciated cult bands - undeniably talented and entertaining but never caught on with the mainstream, puts on a great live show, but are stuck with a total douchebag lead singer (Gary Bettman).

The NBA is closer to Guns N Roses. You can't deny the classics they produced. I loved the Use Your Illusion albums as much as I loved watching Jordan. But man... when the shit hit the fan, it got ugly fast. Neither has recovered and both are struggling for a new identity.

- I'm convinced the Twins would have one of the best lineups in baseball if they even had average players in the 7-8-9 spots. Instead, here's who they've trotted out:

Nick Punto
Delmon Young
Matt Tolbert
Brendan Harris
Carlos Gomez
Alexi Casilla
Brian Buscher

The average OPS+ among those seven guys in 2008 is 95, slightly below average (100). That's really not that bad. Add those numbers to the years Mauer, Morneau and Kubel are having, along with newcomer Joe Crede, and you can build a contender with that lineup.

This year's OPS+ for that group? 57. 57!!! That could be historically bad. Yes we're only one third into the season, blah blah blah, but dear god, even the mighty Rey Ordonez didn't have an OPS+ that low when he played a full season. Jason Tyner's career OPS+ is 70. Yes, the 7-8-9 spots in the lineup would be slightly better if the Twins had three Jason Tyners. Hell, remove Brendan Harris and the average slips to seven points to 50. Ye gods.

Even more distressing: in 2008, that group of seven players combined for 188 extra-base hits. So far in 2009, they have 38. That's on pace for 104 in a full season, or 16 for each player. Ten players have already hit at least 16 home runs this year. 34 players have already hit at least 16 doubles. Even Ozzie Smith throughout his career hit at least 23 extra-base hits every season.

Bill Smith, the bottom of the Twins lineup is P-A-T-H-E-T-I-C. Something needs to be done if this team wants to be taken seriously. Send Delmon and two other prospects to Houston for LaTroy Hawkins (I can't believe I'm saying that) and a middle infielder who can help NOW.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Will Miss John Madden

The news of John Madden retiring bums me out for two reasons: no more Madden (duh) and not many people to "confide" in how enjoyable a broadcaster he was. Confide is in quotes because that's really the best word I can think of -- to most people, you had to admit you liked Madden, like he was some sort of guilty pleasure. No conscious and sentient being would ever choose to like listening to Madden incoherently blather on, right?

That was part of the fun though. I loved the telestrator gags. One of my favorites: during a game in Arizona where coming back from commercial they showed a shot of the horizon. You could see the desert and what looked to be one car driving someplace -- "You got the desert here [circles desert] and you got this guy here [circles the car] and I don't know where he's going because you got nothing but desert out here [draws arrow from car out to desert]."

I loved the statements that sounded like a baritone version of Conan O'Brien's Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. "Zebuh yehyeh... bngffs yeh this guy over here... bhanf hefn lgg uh mesgrr's a great player." I loved how he always predictably talked about special teams in his opening monologues. I loved how he loathed the replay system. I loved how linemen were never just linemen, but "big ole linemen". I loved how he loves fat guys.

I guess some people didn't know where to find the humor in Madden. Or maybe some people didn't like his kind of irreverent humor, whether it be inadvertent or on purpose. Regardless, I think those people are completely missing the point. As I've written about in the past, if you're looking for an analyst for actual analysis, good luck. That's not what they're there for anymore. They speak to the lowest common denominator to try and bring in the casual fan. Madden transcended that and spoke to everyone: the casual fan, the hardcore fan, the housewife, the drunks... everyone. The great ones do that.

People will fixate on his unabashed manlove for Brett Favre, but even as a Vikings fan that never bothered me a bit. That came with the territory. You weren't getting unbiased analysis, you were getting John Madden. That was more than okay with me.

What I'll miss most about Madden though is the "big game" feel he brings to every game he calls. He leaves a huge void in the football world that won't be coming close to being filled for a long time. Going as far back as to when he was with Pat Summerall on CBS, I was giddy when I would find out that the "A" commentary team was going to do a Vikings game, because I knew then the Vikings were a big deal, at least for that week. That feeling sustained past Summerall's retirement, towards his partnership with Al Michaels at ABC and then NBC. It's fitting that the last game he covered was a Super Bowl.

I think the best compliment is this: there are many, many broadcasters across all sports that earn the dreaded "mute" button one time or another. Some even have "permanent mute" status. Madden never ever earned a mute. C'mon, he's John Madden.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Maximizing Wrestlemania

Wrestling was huge in my elementary school, especially the WWF. I remember really getting into it after being subject to non-stop previews for Wrestlemania VI shortly after we got cable in our house. I remember the morning after the event, sitting and listening on the school bus as practically half the kids recanted every match. I wanted to know every detail -- the Hart Foundation won in how many seconds? Did Jake the Snake steal back the Million Dollar Belt? Hogan missed the legdrop?!? I was hooked.

My friend Nick however was a NWA/WCW fanatic. It was from him I learned about Ric Flair, Nikita Koloff, the Road Warriors, Sting, Lex Luger -- it was an entirely different universe, or at least it seemed like it to a 9 year old. Nick and I would often waste time in class coming up with a Dream Wrestlemania card (Nick always insisted on calling it Starrcade, but c'mon) that would feature matchups that would more than likely never have a chance of ever happening -- Hogan vs. Flair, Sting vs. Macho Man, the Midnight Express vs. the Hart Foundation -- I'm sure we probably came up with about 27 different variations.

Then in March of 2001, the unthinkable happened. Vince McMahon actually bought WCW. He now owned the tape library, the wrestlers, the intellectual property, and if Nick and I were still 9 years old, he would have owned our bladders since we would have pissed our pants from excitement. The possibility was now suddenly a reality: we would actually be able to see a WCW vs. WWF dream card.

Of course, in archetypical Vince fashion, he used a golden opportunity by which all over golden opportunties should be measured to inflate his ego. He buried everything related to WCW, made them look like schmucks, and eventually made a hackneyed attempt at an "invasion" similar to the nWo storyline. There was one glaring problem with that approach -- half the invading force with now filled with WWF guys who had "defected". The only real WCW wrestlers involved were Diamond Dallas Page, Booker T, and a slew of lesser names that nobody gave a crap about -- Chavo Guerrero, Hugh Morrus, Lance Storm, et al. Every wrestling fan rolled their eyes. "This isn't WCW!"

The whole thing was finally put out of its misery at Survivor Series 2001 where the WWF guys beat the "WCW" guys, thus making them disband as per the match stipulation. The show ended with Vince triumphantly walking out to the entrance area and celebrating like a madman. He had successfully whizzed the the most antipated wrestling storyline in history down his leg.

Almost 8 years have passed since then, and some of those aforementioned dream matches have trickled in as Vince finally ponied up the cash to sign some big names. We've seen Hogan vs. the Rock, Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg, Booker T vs. Triple H, Ric Flair vs. the Undertaker, Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho, Al Snow vs. Justin Credible, the list goes on. Around 2007 or so, Vince ran out of "dream matches" and had to go back to the tried and true method of "throw a lot of money at a celebrity and put him with some lesser known guy in the hopes that he gets famous from this". It was Donald Trump in '07, Floyd Mayweather in '08, and this year it looks like it might be Mickey Rourke. It would appear that almost all the conceivable dream matches people wanted to see have come and gone. Almost.

With Wrestlemania coming up in a few weeks, I couldn't help but fire up the wayback machine and start thinking up a Dream Wrestlemania card. Surprisingly, I was able to conjure up something that would live up to the hype.

First, before I start listing off a card, I'm just throwing this out there: if they really want to maximize the importance and impact of Wrestlemania, they need to get a few scheduling things right first. One of the worst things that's happened to wrestling is the monthly pay-per-view. It's blatantly oversaturated the market and totally rips off the audience since we see just as good quality matches on free TV these days anyway.

So I propose: One, get rid of the December pay-per-view and move the Royal Rumble to the last Sunday in December, which usually coincides with the last week of the NFL regular season, which has proven to be less than meaningless the past few years. Two, keep the January and February PPVs off the schedule entirely. Three, move Wrestlemania to the third Sunday in March. The Super Bowl through March Madness is the most dead area on the sports calendar, and sticking Wrestlemania right after the Selection Show would be the better spot for it than any else since there's nothing else going on. The gap between the Rumble and Wrestlemania would allow for a huge buildup towards the big event that would do a much better job getting fans excited.

Now, on with the show...

Sting vs. The Undertaker
The case of Sting baffles me. Sting/Undertaker is a huge, HUUUUUGE money match, and it's been sitting right there for the taking, only Vince doesn't seem to want it. All he would have to do is sign Sting for a year for X amount of millions, which he would earn right back in spades just from the Wrestlemania buys, the merchandise and the "Best of Sting" DVD sales. As for the match, the buildup writes itself. Lights go out in the middle of some random Undertaker promo, Sting appears in the ring and slowly points his black whiffle ball bat at the Dead Man ("Wait.. WAIT A MINUTE!! That's... THAT'S STING!! MAH GAWD! STING IS HERE!!"), the lights go out again, and he's gone. You're telling me the crowd wouldn't shit itself in excitement over this? Neither guy would even have to cut a promo, outside of Undertaker muttering "You... me... Wrestlemaaaannniiaaaaa-uhhhhhhhhhh."

Goldberg vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin
This is the match everyone wanted to see back in the day. The argument du jour circa 1998 -- "Goldberg's just an Austin ripoff!" vs. "No way! He's way more jacked up than Austin! He'd kill him!" It's inexplicable that this hasn't happened yet. Granted, the WWE had no idea what to do with Goldberg during his run in 2003, but if they brought him back to have him destroy random guys in less than a minute for a few months, his mystique would be back in no time. Unlike most "legends", these guys can still at least move and put on a competant match that won't insult the viewer's intelligence.

John Cena vs. Hulk Hogan
Now, Hulk Hogan on the other hand, his "ringwork" post-2002 can very much insult any viewer's intelligence, but the match itself isn't the point here. If the Rock/Hogan match at Wrestlemania 18 is any indication, the heat on Cena vs. Hogan would make the Rock's experience seem like a July weekday at the Metrodome. Hogan not being able to take a simple clothesline bump anymore is irrelevant. Everyone seems to love to hate Cena, and this would be the best opportunity to see that manifest itself into one huge cacophony of boos the likes of which nobody has ever heard. A-Rod would look like Santa Claus compared to Cena. (Analogy not valid in Philadelphia)

Batista vs. Brock Lesnar
If one Vince McMahon were to throw a boatload of money at Brock Lesnar to come back for one match, who would his opponent be? Resident musclehead Batista would make the most sense, since he did the best job filling the Huge Indestructable Ripped Guy void since Brock's departure in 2004. (No, we're not counting the useless Bobby Lashley experiment.) Both these guys work very well as big men, so this has some Tremendous Upside Potential (TM Bill Simmons) to be a great power match. (And no, I don't care if Brock is UFC Heavyweight Champ. This guy would come back for one match if the price was right.)

Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle
Replace Chris Benoit with Angle in the Wrestlemania XX main event, considered by many to be the best WM main event ever, and I think it's a better match. Also worth noting: The WWE would love nothing more than to completely eliminate Chris Benoit from its archives, and this would do its part in topping the WM20 main event as the greatest three-way match ever. I toyed with the idea of including Randy Orton, but four-way matches aren't as fun.

The Hardys vs. Edge and Christian
A Dream Wrestlemania would need a badass old school tag team match. Formulaic but effective and damned fun to watch: Babyface A falls into the wrong corner via nefarious means and gets the holy shit beat out of him for a solid 15 minutes, coming oh-so-close to making the tag several times, before finally making to Babyface B, who cleans house and eventually leads the team to victory. These teams did it better than anyone the past decade, and they're all still in their primes. Tons of backstory to be had here too, since all four have gone on to singles success.

Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Chris Jericho vs. Randy Orton vs. Big Show vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. John Morrison vs. Vince McMahon
Every Wrestlemania needs to have a crazy ladder match, and that's right up Jericho's alley, since he's been in about 87 ladder matches. Benjamin and Morrison are in there to take what are known as the "HOLY SHIT" bumps. Big Show is in there to do some "big guy obliterates everyone with a ladder" spots, plus it would be goofy to see such a huge guy trying to climb a normal sized ladder. Orton's in there to win the thing. Vince is in there strictly for comedy. Who doesn't love seeing a 50something year old man do ridiculous things for his company? Plus, there would have to be a spot late in the match where it really looks like Vince could win. The crowd freaking out as the possibility becomes more real would be worth the price of admission.

Rey Mysterio vs. Rob Van Dam
Here's your opening match. I love it when pay-per-views start with two smaller, lightning-quick guys that are determined to stick it to their boss for being put first on the card. The Rockers used to be experts at this.

You've got almost every kind of match on that card: the high flying match, the technical/workrate match, the spotfest, the hot tag match, the power match, the "boo John Cena as if your life depends on it match", and three "dream" matches fans never thought they would see. Vince knows he's got a can't-lose commodity in Wrestlemania -- I just wish he'd strike while the iron was still hot. Time's a-wasting.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hooray For Making A Marginally Less Risky Signing!

When the New York Yankees sign a 28 year old switch hitter with a career line of .290/.378/.541, more than 200 home runs and an OPS+ of 134, that's cause for celebration. When the Twins sign a 30 year old injury prone third baseman with .257/.306/.447, 125 HRs and a 93 OPS+, apparently a disproportionate amount of joy is warranted.

You gotta love Minnesota fans. Are there any other team's fans that would be saying things like "Finally a huge free agent signing!" and "We got him! We got him!" if they obtained an average third baseman? Then again, I suppose other fanbases haven't been conditioned like Twins fans. Consider this murderer's row of disasters: Livan Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz, Tony Batista, Mike Lamb, Rondell White, Adam Everett. Going over that list would make anyone hide under their bed until it's safe to come out, or until Crede proves he doesn't suck. In fact, I think you'd have to go all the way back to Butch Huskey to find an everyday player the Twins signed that was effective for half a season. Keep in mind that Crede hasn't been able to last even that long the past two years.

Granted, while Crede's career batting average may be around Luis Rivas range, his slugging percentage is good which indicates that when he does get a hit, it's usually for extra bases. It's nice to have a guy that doesn't hit for measly singles all the time. But practically speaking, we have another Michael Cuddyer at third base.

I'm not saying this is a bad signing. Bill Smith made a smart and fair deal with a Scott Boras client (!) that protects the team, which ensures that Smith is not Kevin McHale. Crede fills a need (sort of) that the Twins lineup desperately needed -- some semblance of power from the right side. I just don't understand the amount of fanfare this is getting. It makes me wonder what would've happened if they signed David Eckstein.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why Win When It Can't Be On My Own Terms?

That's presumably why Kobe wanted Shaq gone, right? "I won rings with Shaq, big deal, anyone could've done that. If I want to stake my claim to greatness, I want to do it as The Man, on my own terms." Kobe's made his bed and he's laid in it, ringless since. Brad Childress would do well to learn from Kobe's example.

This point has been driven into the ground since last offseason: the Vikings are in a position to win now, and all they need is a quarterback. You know it, I know it, and the American people know it, as Dan Akroyd's Bob Dole would say. Entering Year Four of the Brad Childress Experiment, we've had five different starting quarterbacks, none of which have proven to be anything close to be a long-term solution, let alone a guy you can depend on to win just one game. Childress's job is riding on what happens with the quarterback position this offseason and the upcoming 2009 regular season. So what are the options?

A) Look to the draft - the Vikings have the 22nd overall pick. The best quarterbacks this year are Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, who will both be long gone by 22. They'd have to try and find something in the later rounds. I'll give this option a C+ long term, D+ for this year.

B) Trade for Matt Cassel. This would probably involve giving up Chester Taylor, a first rounder and a third rounder. Considering the amount of personnel and coaching talent Cassel was surrounded by in New England, this option is risky. (Moss, Welker and Belichick vs. Berrian, Wade and Childress is more lopsided than Tyson/Spinks) But he's still better than anyone that's currently on the roster. I'll give it a C.

C) Stick with Tar-Jack. I give this option an F-------.

D) Pick up a free agent. JP Losman, Kerry Collins, Rex Grossman, Kyle Boller and Jeff Garcia are available.

The only palatable option listed there is Garcia. His numbers the past three seasons are very good. He has a consistently high completion percentage, his TD/Int ratio is 35/12, he's been there and done that. One big knock against him is his age and health, but the Vikings have been dealing with that anyway for the past 3 years with Brad Johnson and Gus Frerotte. So that's clearly no big deal. Garcia is markedly better than those guys. I give Garcia a B-, which would make him in my view the best option available. So why was Childress so quick to mention that there is no interest in him back when he was available in 2006, or in 2009?

I think he's terrified of him.

The way Garcia plays is a coach's nightmare. If you remember, he was benched by former coach Jon Gruden after a Week 1 loss to New Orleans, and was inexplicably replaced with Brian Griese of all people for the next few weeks. (Even going as far as to let him throw 67 [67!!] times in an overtime loss to Chicago.) The rumored reason was because Garcia's nature was at odds with Gruden's hyper-detailed gameplan.

Anyone who's watched Garcia play knows he's quick to give up on a play, look way beyond his first target, or scramble around and turn it into backyard football, like a poor man's poor man's Fran Tarkenton. Gruden is commonly known as the most overprepared, hardest working head coaches in the league (or was, anyway). If Garcia threw to the wrong receiver, ran the ball himself or turned the play into a free-for-all, that would give the defense a different impression than what Gruden's gameplan had been building towards. Players are supposed to be automatons for these coaches, and Garcia is very far from one.

This aspect, rather than age or injury, is what scares Childress away from Garcia so quickly. Why do you think Tar-Jack was drafted in the first place? So he could become Childress's own customized automaton to strictly adhere to his "kick-ass" gameplan. The reason Tar-Jack is still in contention for a starting spot is the same reason Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars refused to trade first round flop Darko Milicic for so long - to move him would be to admit a mistake.

I keep going back to Childress's first interview I remember seeing since he became head coach. He said, "This could be my only chance. If I'm going to be successful, I have to make sure it would be on MY terms." So even at the expense of their best option available this offseason, Childress is doing it on his terms, even if the ship has been sinking for a while.

To start a guy like Jeff Garcia would mean Childress isn't doing it on his own terms anymore, and we simply can't have that, apparently. In comparison, even Kobe seems somewhat selfless.

Friday, January 9, 2009

There's Still Hope After All

There are several different kinds of Vikings fans. There's the Raving Idiot, who goes to every game, gets hammered, never shuts up and makes Wisconsin jokes for 3 hours regardless of who the opponent is. There's the Kool Aid Drinker, most of whom you'll find at fan forums, who support absolutely anything the team does at the expense of logic and insight, because they wouldn't be "real fans" if they didn't. There's the Why Bother fans, like my dad, who follow the team but understand that there's very little reward in getting their hopes up about anything remotely positive. There's the Masochists, who have a similar disposition to the Why Bother fans, but can't help themselves but let their hopes irrationally skyrocket when something goes right, only to be disappointed time after time (or tyyyme and tyyyme ah-GEEEEEHN as Phil Simms would say). And there's the Sanity Seekers, who are a balanced combination of all of the above.

I'm a Sanity Seeker, although I've run the gamut the past couple seasons, especially this year. After the Jared Allen trade, I was a Kool Aid Drinker. After the opening week loss to Green Bay, I was a Masochist. After the Week 2 groin kick from Indy, I was a Why Bother. After the Week 10 win over Green Bay, I was a Raving Idiot (albeit with the caveat that I knew it was only going to be for a week). After beating the Bears in a must win game, I was back to the Masochist. And after the Wild Card loss to Philly, I'm a Sanity Seeker again. That kind of a bi-polar run isn't unusual.

Now, being a Sanity Seeker means that you understand the writing's been on the wall for a while now - this team has exactly zero long term potential with Brad Childress as head coach. That being the case, many fans of my ilk wanted the Vikings to tank this year so that Childress would be shown the door ASAP. Instead, they won the division, drawing in the Masochists and even sparking a hint of interest from some Why Bothers, appeasing the Raving Idiots and Kool Aid Drinkers. After the loss to Philly, it seems nearly every group is right where they're supposed to be - the Masochists got what was coming to them, the Why Bothers had been right to say "Why bother?", the Kool Aid Drinkers can harp on the "year to year improvement", and the Raving Idiots are still Raving Idiots (that'll rarely change). Unfortunately, that leaves Sanity Seekers like myself out in the cold. Childress is gonna stick around. But then I got to thinking...

Reports came out shortly after the end of the regular season stating that Bill Cowher is going to sit out another year and wait until 2010 to come back. Then Mike Shannahan got fired, stating shortly afterwards that he's leaning towards sitting out a year before returning. Strong rumors indicate Mike Holmgren is also leaning in that direction. And who knows, if Tony Dungy retires, he may want back in for 2010 after a year off.

Here's the thing - Childress is heading into Year 4 of a five year contract. Considering that Zygi Wilf had to immediately come forward and say "He's coming back" after the Wild Card loss, he's not going to be offered an extension this offseason. Considering how rare it is for a coach to play out his entire contract, lest he be left with a lame duck season for that final year, that would mean this coming season would prove whether or not Childress is worth an extension. And considering the Vikings just won the NFC North and expectations will be raised even higher for next season, that would make 2009 the Official Make-or-Break Year for the Childress Era.

That's a good thing. There's still hope for us Sanity Seekers. If the Vikings finish below .500 and still don't have a QB (both of which are not far-fetched to say the least), not only would Childress be outta here, that would open the door for the likes of Cowher, Shannahan, Holmgren or even Dungy. Isn't that situation 100 times better than if Childress were to get canned now? Wouldn't you rather have a chance at those guys rather than pick the Coordinator Flavor of the Month who's had zero head coaching experience?

Maybe a better question - is this entire column proof that I've miscategorized myself? Am I really a Masochist? I think I'm gonna go watch "Blue Velvet".

Monday, January 5, 2009

That Wasn't So Bad

My stomach feels fine. I don't feel like throwing up. My testicles are unharmed. I didn't even think about the game until well after my morning routine. And even then, I thought about it for about 10 seconds before thinking about what psycho was going to sit next to me on the train this morning.

I suppose if Vikings fans weren't so conditioned for bad losses, this would be much more upsetting. Contrary to popular opinion, I'm of the belief that the reason it took until the 11th hour to finally sell out a playoff game at the Dome was because everybody was expecting a repeat of the Week 2 game against Indy or worse, like the ticket offices had banners over their windows advertising "Punch in the Stomach - $59" and "Kick in the Nuts - $174." There were logical and legitimate reasons to believe the Vikings had no shot against Philly, two of which rhyme with Shmarvaris Crackson and Chad Billdress. If I were to make a list of NFC teams that could come into the Metrodome in January and walk out with a win, Philly would be on there.

That said, I really gotta hand it to the fans that eventually showed up - that was the drunkest crowd I've ever heard. The irrational and incessant booing towards even the most obvious calls really made Vikings fans look like geniuses. Running the clock with 1:10 left in the first half with one timeout on your own 13 yard line? BOOOOO!! A Viking receiver that didn't catch a pass that had a defender within 5 yards of him? WHERE'S THE CALL?! BOOOOOOO!! And so it goes.

While Childress is about 99% assured of coming back, lets hope he actually swallows his pride and admits his mistake with Tarvaris. He might be a good backup here or somewhere else. But as Mike Florio said today, the front office might not want the pressure of picking the wrong guy out of the possible 10 or so that should be available. Even if it's obvious to somebody with brain damage that they should throw millions at Kurt Warner.

See? I'm already optimistic about next year. Like a good and proper Vikings fan.