Monday, November 30, 2009

The King of All Athletes using Social Media

AP Photo/Ed Reinke, file

Chad Ochocinco, wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, was being portrayed a certain way in the traditional media.

His touchdown celebrations, name change, and trade requests got him characterized as self-absorbed, an ego-maniac, and, occasionally, a clown.

So Ochocinco took went to social media to really show what he's all about, and it has worked beautifully.

He has accounts on Facebook and UStream, but is most famous for his use of Twitter.

Ochocinco has used these outlets to display his true personality and to really connect with his fans.

"It gives me a voice, the ability to reach people directly and for people to see who I am without the filter of the media, the critics or whomever," he said in an interview with USA Today.

Ochocinco has been able to change much of the public's perception of him from a guy who was only interested in himself to a man who is just enjoying his life and is trying to share the fun he's having with others.

He invites people to the movies or dinner with him ("If you're coming to Davids just tell the hostess you're here for lunch with Chad, its on 17th n meridian, lunch on me the blessing is on GOD" from 11/30/09) and challenges them to play him in video games ("Getting on call of duty people Estaban 85, let's play" from 11/30/09).

"I try to interact with every fan," Ochocinco says. "I try to respond to everybody."

While showing what a fun loving guy he is, the public has responded favorably.

Through his social media endeavors, he has also become an extremely marketable celebrity.

Ochocinco has come out with his own book, he became the first NFL player to get his own iPhone application, has appeared on late night talk shows, and is apparently even coming out with his own brand of condoms.

What's making him even more successful is that he is also back to being a productive player on the field (773 yards receiving and five touchdowns in 11 games) and his team is in first place in the AFC North. He’s an athlete first and foremost and his success on the field makes him a credible figure.

Chad Ochocinco is a fantastic example of how to best utilize social media and the good that it can do someone.

He connects with people across the globe, giving them a vantage point into his life that they wouldn't have had previously, and he gives back to the community. He also has used it to create a brand name for himself. Most importantly, he changed people's perceptions of him, getting everyone to see him how he wants them to, not as how the media depicts him.

Ochocinco gets it and he's letting the rest of us in on the fun he's having.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

NFL Week 12 Picks

AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel

Thanksgiving gives us three games this week on Thursday, and for being fans, the NFL has thanked us with some really fantastic matchup on Monday night between the undefeated Saints and the New England Patriots, as well as some other good matchups between division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and the Giants against the Broncos.

For me, I’m thankful that all you guys take the time out of your day to read my stuff.

Enjoy the holiday!

Green Bay (6-4) at Detroit (2-8)

Detroit and rookie quarterback showed some gut and guile to come back and beat Cleveland as time expired.

Stafford was incredible, coming back after injuring his shoulder to throw for 422 yards and four touchdowns.

Still, I believe he is extremely banged up and will be hurting against the Packers, who will be coming at him hard.

Green Bay’s passing defense is ranked seventh in the NFL and they have the fourth most interceptions.

I like Green Bay to win this game.

Oakland (3-7) at Dallas (7-3)

Oakland QB Bruce Gradkowski didn’t look too bad in place of JaMarcus Russell in Sunday’s win over the Bengals. His 73.5 passer rating was better than all but one of Russell’s games (85.4 week five against the Giants), and he led a game-tying drive that he capped off with his second touchdown pass of the day (compared to his one interception).

The Cowboys scored only one touchdown for the second week in a row.

Still, they were able to win the game. Another bright spot: Marion Barber rushed for 99 yards, the first time he’s rushed for more than 53 yards since week two, when he ran for 124 yards against the Giants.

Oakland has the third worst ranked rushing defense and they have given up the most rushing touchdowns. If Marion Barber is truly back to form, then he should have a field day, especially at home.

I predict the Cowboys to win.

NY Giants (6-4) at Denver (6-4)

The Giants are a team that got back on track last week. Denver is a team that continued its horrific slide.

In their four game losing streak, Denver has only scored more than ten points once. They are currently ranked 25th in the NFL in points per game, while the Giants are tied for sixth (conversely the Giants are tied for 23rd in points allowed, while Denver is seventh).

Denver’s inability to score points lately, or really throughout the whole season, is discouraging.

I’ll take the Giants to win.

Tampa Bay (1-9) at Atlanta (5-5)

Atlanta is on a mini-slide, losing four out of their last five games. Tampa Bay is on a season-long slide.

Tampa is also winless in six tries against conference opponents (0-2 in the division), whereas the Falcons are 4-4.

Atlanta finally gets to settle in at the Georgia Dome, as they start a three game home stretch and play four out of their final six at home.

Falcons win.

Miami (5-5) at Buffalo (3-7)

Buffalo no longer has the worst rush defense. They are now second to Tampa Bay.
Miami’s strength all season has been the running game, and they proved that last Thursday against Carolina. Ricky Williams had a spectacular night, rushing for 119 yards and two touchdowns, as well as catching one.

The last time these two teams squared off in week three, Miami went off for 38 points, 250 rushing yards, and three rushing touchdowns.

Miami’s confidence is building. Buffalo’s, if they had any, is absolutely crumbling.

Dolphins win.

Cleveland (1-9) at Cincinnati (7-3)

Cleveland surprised everyone by scoring 37 points. Still, they lost.

Cincinnati handed Oakland a victory. Still, they are in first place in the AFC North.

The Bengals seem to be a team that plays to their competition. The first time these two teams met, the Bengals needed OT to win.

Still, I only consider last weeks loss a minor setback, as this team has played tough all season, whether it's pretty or not.

The same can't be said for Cleveland.

Bengals win.

Carolina (4-6) at NY Jets (4-6)

The Jets rush defense is average, ranked 16th, and will have their hands full with the NFL’s fourth best rusher DeAngelo Williams.

However, Jets RB Thomas Jones is ranked sixth in the NFL while Carolina’s rush defense is miserable, ranked 26th in the entire league.

If the Jets really utilize Jones against such a weak rush defense, they can limit the pressure on rookie QB Mark Sanchez and the amount of turnovers he causes. They will also dominate time of possession (Jones is strong at pounding the ball up the middle) and neutralize Williams.

Jets win.

Washington (3-7) at Philadelphia (6-4)

Washington almost came away with its first win streak of the season last week against the Cowboys. They were winning for the majority of the game (actually until 2:41 left in the fourth quarter) and only allowed one touchdown. However their offense could only muster up two field goals. That won’t cut it against the Eagles.

The Eagles have been held to less than 10 points only once this season; the Redskins have been held to under 10 points three times. The Eagles are tied for sixth in the NFL in points per game; the Redskins are 29th.

Eagles win.

Indianapolis (10-0) at Houston (5-5)

Houston is 1-14 all-time against the Colts. They have a losing record at home (2-3) this season and against the division (1-3). Last time they met a Kris Brown missed field goal as time expired prevented the teams from needing OT. Houston also played Monday night in week 11, so the Colts will have one extra day of rest and preparation for this matchup. It’s all enough for me to not see an upset here.

Colts win.

Seattle (3-7) at St. Louis (1-9)

A winnable game for St. Louis, but this team is just so bad.

These teams met in week one and the Seahawks pounded the Rams 28-0. Not much has changed. St. Louis has failed to score more than a touchdown three more times throughout the season.

The Rams offense is ranked 26th in the league, and if it wasn’t for Steven Jackson, the NFL’s second leading rusher, it may possibly be the worst offense.

Seattle will win.

Kansas City (3-7) at San Diego (7-3)

When you’re hot you’re hot.

San Diego has won five games in a row. In three of those five wins, they have scored 31 points or more. All season they have yet to score less than 21.

Also LaDanian Tomlinson has become a relevant player again, leading the team in rushing in eight of the Chargers’ 10 games this season. He’s scored a touchdown in three of his last four games, twice scoring two touchdowns. He’s also only lost one fumble this year.

Kansas City is tied for 25th in the league in points allowed.

This does not look good for the Chiefs. Chargers win.

Jacksonville (6-4) at San Francisco (4-6)

For a 6-4 team, Jacksonville is perplexing. They have scored only 199 points this season, while giving up 235. They’ve benefitted from strong play at home and are surprisingly 5-2 against the AFC.

However San Francisco is 0-3 against the AFC, and only 1-4 against teams with winning records this year (and that win was in week one against Arizona, who has gotten significantly better since the opening week).

I’m not crazy about them, but I like the Jaguars to win.

Arizona (7-3) at Tennessee (4-6)

Arizona had a rough start to the season, but the defending NFC champions are 6-1 since their week four bye.

Tennessee, however, is 4-0 since inserting Vince Young as the starting QB. In those four games they have scored at least 20 points each time and in three of those games they scored at least 30.

Still, Tennessee is also 30th in the league in points per game allowed while Arizona is tenth in the league is points scored per game.

The Cardinals are also 5-0 on the road and surprisingly have a winning record against the AFC (2-1).

Arizona wins.

Chicago (4-6) at Minnesota (9-1)

Minnesota is +6 in the turnover battle over the season, while the Bears are -3 thanks to Jay Cutler leading the NFL in interceptions thrown (18).

Minnesota is also 5-0 at home, 4-0 against the division, and 7-0 in the conference. In comparison, Chicago is 1-4 on the road, 1-1 in the division, and 2-5 against the conference.

Vikings win.

Pittsburgh (6-4) at Baltimore (5-5)

Both teams suffered rough losses last week, but are still fighting for spots in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh has the top ranked defense (Baltimore is ninth) and the sixth ranked offense (Baltimore is 13th).

The Steelers haven’t lost three games in a row since the 2006 season. They’ve had their struggles this season, but overall, the Steelers have been the stronger team out of the two.

I predict the Steelers to win.

New England (7-3) at New Orleans (10-0)

What a good matchup we have for Monday Night Football this week.

This is the toughest opponent New Orleans will face on their way to possibly finishing the regular season 16-0, and one would think the team that would most want to knock them off would be the only team to finish a season 16-0—the Patriots.

One huge difference between these two teams, though, is their attitude in the fourth quarter and their ability to close games.

The Patriots have outscored their opponent in the fourth quarter 55-45 and in two of their three losses they were winning going into the fourth quarter (to be fair Denver did need overtime to finish New England off). However, the Saints have outscored their opponents 105-24 in the final period.

To continue with the teams’ fourth quarter, New England has shut out their opponent in the fourth quarter five times while New Orleans has accomplished that six times. Even more impressive though is that while the Patriots have been held scoreless in the fourth three times, New Orleans has made sure they put points on the board in the final quarter in every game this season.

Also alarming for the Patriots is that they are 1-3 on the road, while New Orleans is 5-0 at home.

I will pick the Saints to win this one.

Last week: 14-2

Season: 88-40

Sunday, November 22, 2009

NFL Week 11 Picks

AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File

Week 11 has already started out well for me as I picked the Dolphins to beat the Panthers on Thursday night.

Colts-Ravens should be a good one as should Giants-Falcons and Patriots-Jets. Redskins-Cowboys is also a heated rivalry that gets another chapter added to the books this weekend.

Here are my picks. Tell me who you like in the comments section.

Miami (24)-Carolina (17). Picked Miami. See bottom of “Wild No More”.

Washington (3-6) at Dallas (6-3)

Washington actually looked like they knew how to play football last week. With an impressive win against the Denver Broncos. Don’t get too excited though Redskins fans, this team is not out of the woods yet. Yes, the Cowboys looked pretty bad last week, especially—again—Tony Romo, but they are still 6-3 and in first place in the division. The game is also in Dallas. So let’s not overreact to both teams’ results in week 10.

Dallas wins.

Cleveland (1-8) at Detroit (1-8)

The NFL could not have paired together two teams worse than Detroit and Cleveland.

The city of Detroit, possibly the city hit the hardest by the economic recession, not only has to suffer with a 1-8 football team, but now, because nobody in their right mind is going to the games because they cannot afford the tickets for such a sorry team, the game will be blacked out locally. For shame, that it had to come against an equally embarrassing team like the Browns, where they have a chance of winning, instead of against a better team like Green Bay, who they host next week.

The Lions do have more offensive weapons than the Browns, so I predict a Detroit victory.

San Francisco (4-5) at Green Bay (5-4)

Both teams are fighting for their playoff lives. Both teams came away with victories last week. Still, the 49’ers were only able to put up 10 points, and really were lucky to benefit from five Jay Cutler interceptions, including one in the end zone as time expired. Green Bay’s win wasn’t that much more glamorous of a game, but they soundly beat a better opponent in the Dallas Cowboys.

At Lambeau Field, I predict the Packers to win.

Pittsburgh (6-3) at Kansas City (2-7)

The loss at home last week against Cincinnati was a tough blow for Pittsburgh to swallow. Good thing for them they get a poor team like Kansas City to rebound off of this week.

Steelers win big.

Atlanta (5-4) at NY Giants (5-4)

Eli Manning in the Giants first five wins (against Washington, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Oakland; a combined record of 14-31): 1,212 yards passing, 10 touchdowns, and two interceptions. Eli Manning during the Giants four game losing streak (against New Orleans, Arizona, Philadelphia, and San Diego; a combined 26-10): 858 yards passing, five touchdowns, and six interceptions. See any correlation there? As Eli goes and the competition gets better, the giants struggle.

Atlanta is an average team right now after losing to Carolina last week. Their passing defense is one of the worst in the league. Michael Turner, one of the top rushers in the NFL, is listed as doubtful.

The Giants are at home and have had an extra week off to straighten themselves out. As little faith I have in them right now, too much of this adds up to this being the week they get back on track. If they lose this week though, I really don’t know if I’ll ever pick them again.

Giants win.

New Orleans (9-0) at Tampa Bay (1-8)

Possibly the saddest story of the week is the passing of Drew Brees’ mother, ruled a suicide. Even sadder is to learn that Brees had a strained relationship with her, even saying in ’06 that the relationship was “nonexistent”. It will be interesting to see how Brees reacts to the news on the field: Will he muster up an incredible performance to honor the life of his mother, much like Brett Favre did when his father died in ’03, or will he, understandably so, be distracted?

The Saints will also be without Reggie Bush and Sedrick Ellis because of knee injuries.

Still, while it hasn’t always been pretty, the Saints are undefeated and, although they’ve been playing better with the insertion of Josh Freeman at QB, the Buccaneers aren’t good enough to stop New Orleans’ roll.

Saints win.

Buffalo (3-6) at Jacksonville (5-4)

It’s the same story for the Bills. Buffalo still has the worst rush defense in the league. DT Marcus Stroud and LB Keith Ellison will both miss the game. Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew has the fifth most rushing yards in the NFL. The coaching and quarterback changes will mean nothing.

Jaguars win.

Indianapolis (9-0) at Baltimore (5-4)

A lot of people, myself included, have chastised Bill Belichick for his decision to go for it on fourth down last week against the Colts, and rightfully so I believe. However, Peyton Manning threw for 327 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions. There is no saying that had the Patriots punted that Peyton wouldn’t have taken the Colts on an even more spectacular drive and still led the Colts to victory. He’s just that good.

Baltimore went into halftime with the lowly Browns tied at zero. They got their act together in the second half, but ever since this team lost to the same Patriots in week four, they have gone 2-4 in their last six games and have unable to get in a groove.

Indy has done a good job in the fourth quarter this year, either coming from behind or closing games out. I like them to beat Baltimore and stay undefeated.

Seattle (3-6) at Minnesota (8-1)

Minnesota is 4-0 at home and 2-0 against the NFC West. I see no reason as to why Seattle will blemish either of these records.

Vikings win.

Arizona (6-3) at St. Louis (1-8)

The only thing going for the Rams is Steven Jackson, the NFL’s fourth leading rusher. Arizona’s seventh ranked rushing defense will neutralize him.

Cardinals win.

NY Jets (4-5) at New England (6-3)

The Jets are 1-5 in their last six games, and that won victory was against Oakland. They did beat New England in week two, but that was at home and before Tom Brady had his legs (literally) underneath him. Bill Belichick seriously goofed last week with his botched fourth down call against the Colts, but you know he is salivating at showing the world that he still is the best coach in the NFL at the expense of the Jets, the team he hates the most.

Patriots win.

Cincinnati (7-2) at Oakland (2-7)

This matchup is a bit of a mismatch. Another huge win for the Bengals last week who continue to prove themselves as a legitimate contender. Meanwhile Oakland lost to Kansas City in a truly ugly contest. Not much to say here.

Bengals win.

San Diego (6-3) at Denver (6-3)

Things aren’t looking so hot in Denver. They have lost three games in a row, they are now tied with San Diego for the division lead (although coming into today’s game they do hold the tiebreaker), and starting quarterback Kyle Orton is a game-time decision because of an ankle injury. Backup QB Chris Simms hasn’t started a game since 2006 when he suffered a life threatening spleen injury.

Denver also has to be thinking about last season when they stormed out to take the division lead only to see it evaporate and San Diego take over in the last week and make the playoffs while Denver watched from home.

San Diego’s last away game was also impressive, in which they came from behind and beat the Giants in a gutsy performance.

I will take San Diego to win today.

Philadelphia (5-4) at Chicago (4-5)

Neither team looked good last week. Chicago looked worse. All they could muster up was six points and five Jay Cutler interceptions. Jay Cutler, I’d like you to meet Asante Samuel, tied for third in the NFL in interceptions with five, and Sheldon Brown, tied for sixth in the NFL in interceptions with four. The Eagles also have a top ten passing defense (ranked number nine) and are tied for second in the league with 29 sacks. Cutler will be pressured, and when he decides to try and make a throw he really can’t, the Eagles secondary will make him pay.

Philadelphia wins.

Tennessee (3-6) at Houston (5-4)

Think Jeff Fisher waited too long to make a quarterback switch? Kerry Collins: 0-6. Vince Young: 3-0. It seemed to make sense when the Titans were 0-3 as well. Young is the younger of the two and it was apparent that Collins would not be getting the Titans back to the playoffs, so why not throw Young in and see if he still is the quarterback of the future.

Tennessee’s offense is rolling scoring over 30 points in each of their last three wins.

Houston is tied for fifth in most rushing touchdowns allowed (12). Titans running back Chris Johnson is tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns scored (8), and six of those touchdowns (along with 495 yards rushing) have come in Tennessee’s last three victories.

Houston’s D isn’t strong enough to really handle Johnson and the Titans are streaking.

I’ll ride the Vince Young train another game and predict a Tennessee win.

This Week: 1-0

Last Week: 8-7

Season: 74-38

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wild No More

The Wildcat just got tamed.

The Miami Dolphins placed running back Ronnie Brown on injured reserve yesterday with a right ankle and foot injury, shelving him for the rest of the season.

Brown’s injury is a huge blow to the remainder of Miami’s season.

Part of a fourth ranked rushing attack, Brown had 648 yard rushing and eight touchdowns, leading the Dolphins in both categories. What makes him more irreplaceable to Miami though is how well he ran the Wildcat offense.

Miami’s offense, minus the ‘cat, is pretty bland. Ranked 30th in passing offense, Davone Bess is the team’s leading receiver with only 334 yards through nine games and only one tight end or receiver, Joey Haynos, has caught two touchdown passes.
The Dolphins rely heavily on the rush, but what gives them flexibility and makes them unpredictable in order to keep defenses honest is their ability to run the Wildcat.

Brown was the triggerman for the unorthodox formation. First things first, he is able to cleanly catch the direct snap. Although basic, running backs aren’t familiar with taking snaps from the center, and dropping the snap easily botches the entire play. Also, he was able to make clean handoffs to Ricky Williams. Again, while they get the handoff, actually passing the ball on to someone is not something they do very often and would ruin the play.

Everyone is aware of the ability Brown has as a runner but what made him so effective in the Wildcat was his ability as a passer.

During his career, Brown has completed four of 10 passes for 63 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions, and has a 101.2 passer rating. His ability to roll out and throw a left handed pass to a receiver in the end zone keeps defenses off-balance.

While Ricky Williams, the 2002 NFL rushing champion, is having a fine season himself—compiling 558 yards on the ground with six touchdowns, with an additional 193 receiving yards (fourth-best on the team) and one receiving touchdown—and is a more than capable backup running back, replacing Brown in the Wildcat will not be something easily done.

How well will Williams throw the ball? The possibility of a pass, even without a quarterback, keeps teams guessing. If Williams is a lousy passer, then the formation will not be effective.

And who will take Williams’ role in the formation? With Brown taking snaps, Williams has been the key motion man, and without him, the play becomes even less effective.

Without Brown, Miami fans could see more of the Pistol formation, where backup quarterback Pat White enters the game. White has completed zero passes on three attempts, but the threat is there. He does have 48 rushing yards on 11 carries and is a dangerous ball carrier.

Another question that begs to be answered is with Brown accumulating another injury is his career as a Dolphin in jeopardy?

In five NFL seasons, only once has Brown played in all 16 games and this will be the second time in three years that he plays in less than 10 games due to an injury on his right leg.

While he is a very talented player and plays a critical role on the team, durability is a big issue, especially with Bill Parcells and his crew running the team. If Brown is not healthy and cannot perform on the field, what sense is there in keeping him around?

Brown is in the last year of his rookie contract and will turn 28 years old next month. With questions of his durability coupled with his advanced age, will Miami be willing to bring him back or will they start to look in a new direction?

This latest injury to Brown creates a new question the Dolphins will have to answer: how much longer will both the Wildcat and Brown be around in Miami?

NFL Week 11 picks:

Another Thursday night game this week. Miami (4-5) faces off against Carolina (4-5).
The Panthers had a big win last week against Atlanta, while Miami just squeezed by Tampa Bay.

The biggest factor here, as stated above, is how Miami’s offense responds without Ronnie Brown in the lineup.

Will they still run the Wildcat?

Can Ricky Williams shoulder a larger load?

Can the Dolphins be successful in a more conventional style of offense?

On the other side of the ball it will be Miami’s pass rush against Jake Delhomme.
While Miami’s pass defense is not very good, their pass rush has generated 25 sacks, good for fourth best in the NFL. They also get the return of Joey Porter, who has not been as effective as he was last season, but still has enough talent and bravado to provide some extra punch.

Delhomme is second in the NFL in interceptions thrown with 13 (Jay Cutler, 17, is first). However, he hasn’t thrown an interception in his last three games, two of which were Carolina wins.

On Tuesday, Carolina placed left tackle Jordan Gross on injured reserve with a broken ankle. Gross has been one of the league’s best left tackles and Delhomme, in his rockiest moments, has depended on the 6’4”, 305 pound man to protect his blindside.

The Gross injury will have a greater effect in the game than the Brown injury because Miami will take its aggressive pass rush and attack Delhomme, coming after him and forcing him to make plays and causing turnovers.

Miami wins.

Photo Credits.
Top: AP Photo/Hans Deryk
Right: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Ronnie Brown and Wildcat highlights. Video from Youtube.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Making a Monster

Photo Credit. Smith/AP

Basic rule of thumb for all athletes: Be careful what you do because someone will see it.

In this day of 24 hour sports news coverage, flip cams, cell phones that take video, and the Internet and YouTube nothing will go unseen.

University of New Mexico women’s soccer team player Elizabeth Lambert didn’t get the memo.

During a November 5, 2009 Mountain West Conference semi-final game against Brigham Young University Lambert, a junior, was involved in incredibly unsportsmanlike plays including elbowing a girl in the back and pulling another player down by her ponytail. Although she was involved in a number of heinous incidents on the field only got her a yellow card, but the video footage has resulted in further disciplinary action and made her one of the most infamous athletes in the country as well as one of the biggest sports villains.

ESPN aired the game footage as part of a highlight segment on SportsCenter and the video was then posted on its YouTube page.

To date, the video has been viewed 1,275,126 times and generated 1,889 user comments. No video from that same day has been watched even 8,000 times, the closest being the Play of the Day video featuring a LeBron James slam dunk, viewed 7,160 times (with five comments attached to it).

The footage forced the hand of the school to suspend the defender indefinitely for her actions during the game. The suspension was supported by the conference citing that Lambert violated its sportsmanship policy.

The video has made Lambert into a YouTube sensation and she will forever be notoriously known as the “ponytail girl”.

Lambert has finally spoken out on the incident and the video may have caused her to take a step back, review her actions, and force regret and sorrow.

“I look at it and I’m like, ‘That is not me,’” Lambert told The New York Times in an article published on November 17. “I have so much regret. I can’t believe I did that.”

Lambert does say some parts of the video are taken out of context, either because they were inadvertent mishaps or they were part of the physical give-and-take of the match. However, the video doesn’t lie: the ponytail haul was not incited and is despicable enough to stand on its own.

The Times piece does say that Lambert is seeing a clinical psychologist to better understand her actions and will speak to youth teams about sportsmanship and to learn from her mistake.

Still, her reputation has been tarnished and the video going viral has had an extraordinary amount to do with it.

The majority of the coverage has been focused on making Lambert the villain in this case, but some coverage should be given to spotlighting other “accomplices” of Lambert’s crime.

The referees should most certainly face some blame. The refs can’t see everything, but in a soccer game there are at least three of them, one in the middle and one on each sideline. How none of them noticed any of the fouls except for one trip is abhorrent, especially not catching the ponytail yank. Some of the fouls were also committed while Lambert was on the ball, so at least the center referee should have been watching. When you let this type of play slide, it only manifests itself into something bigger.

What were Lambert’s teammates thinking during all of this? While Lambert says it was a physical match, she went above and beyond to inflict pain. Her teammates have a responsibility to recognize what Lambert did was wrong, and at least get her to calm herself. Someone from BYU could have retaliated, on either Lambert or another New Mexico player, and the game could have been even uglier.

Also, responsibility and some blame should fall on the head coach Kit Vela’s shoulders. Lambert’s actions were reprehensible. How does Vela allow for her to stay in the game and continue to make infraction after infraction? The coach is the figurehead of the team, especially in college athletics, and should hold true to the school’s, conference’s, and entire NCAA’s sportsmanship policies. No player and no result should be above fair play. It is Vela’s job to recognize Lambert’s actions and pull her from the game.

Alas, Lambert is still responsible for her own actions. The moral of this story is to always be on your best behavior, even when you think someone isn’t watching, because they are and then they’re going to share it with the world.

Video from Youtube.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

One More Round For "The Kid"

Every 1990’s little leaguers’ favorite player will be back for another year in 2010.

On Wednesday, Ken Griffey, Jr. signed a one-year deal worth $2 million plus performance incentives to stay with the Seattle Mariners for at least one more season.

Griffey turns 40 on November 21, but many still remember him as “The Kid”.

Escaping his father’s, Ken Griffey, Sr., shadow seemed to come natural to him. Junior possessed one of the sweetest swings any one had witnessed. The smoothness of his swing also generated quite a bit of power, sending majestic fly balls into the upper decks. He was also a fantastic fielder with a flair for some of the most exciting catches one could see. Griffey could run, dive, and jump the wall, and the ball would almost always magically drop into his mitt.

What Michael Jordan was to basketball, Griffey was to baseball. He owned the sport on the field, and was a marketing icon off it.

He has belted 630 career home runs, the most for any active player and fifth all-time. He’s been selected to 13 All-Star games. He has 10 Gold Gloves and seven Silver Slugger Awards. He won the Home Run Derby three times. He was named the AL MVP in 1997 and was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century team.

When not watching Griffey playing in a game, you were sure to see him on television in commercials for Nike, Pepsi, or Nintendo, or on television shows like The Simpsons, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the David Letterman Show.

Through all the years and all the success, Griffey did everything the right way. He was gracious to his fans and kind to the media. You never heard him speak poorly toward his teammates. And a biggie, although we can never be one hundred percent sure with players from this era, many are confident in saying Griffey was successful without the use of performing enhancing drugs. It was just a joy to watch his pure ability on display with a smile always gracing his face.

Still, one can’t help but think that the baseball world and the sporting world in general, were just a little bit cheated.

After a decent first season with the Reds in 2000 Griffey went through an assortment of injuries. He was injured in 2001 and missed 51 games. He suffered season ending injuries from ’02-’04, where he played in no more than 83 games in any of those seasons.

The injury in ’04 was the worst. While chasing down a ball hit to the outfield he tore his hamstring and required a special experimental operation dubbed “The Junior Operation”.

In September of ’05 he strained a tendon in his foot and was shut down for the season. In ’06 he broke his wrist.

He came back with a vengeance in 2007, hitting 30 home runs, driving in 93 runs, and making the All-Star team for the first time since 2004.

However, the injuries have taken their toll. Junior’s production has significantly dropped and he is not the player he once was. In that renascence year of ’07, Griffey hit .277. In ’08, it dropped to .249, and in his latest season he hit a measly .219.

Still, even at his worst single season batting average, pitchers walked Junior 63 times, the most for any Mariner that season, signifying that there was still a lot of respect remaining for Griffey.

Griffey missed significant time due to injury while in Cincinnati. It leaves one to wonder: he has 650 home runs now, how many would he have hit if he actually played close to full seasons during that hellacious six-year stretch? How many more Gold Gloves could he have won? Would we be mentioning Griffey as the greatest baseball player to ever live?

Alas, all we can do now is wonder what could have been. Instead, we see steroid-scandal poster child and media villain Barry Bonds atop the home run record and chasing him is admitted performance enhancing drug user Alex Rodriguez.

Injuries are part of the game though, and you won’t hear Griffey complain about them. He is just happy to still be playing the game of baseball.

"I don't know if I'll ever have the opportunity to have a player who enjoys playing the game as much as he does," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu told the press. "He's fun. He's infectious to his teammates. He's such a breath of fresh air."

The television show appearances and sponsorship deals are gone and what kind of playing time Griffey will receive remains uncertain, but the future Hall of Famer is ready to accept any role, whether it be an everyday player or he comes off the bench. It speaks measures of his class and how much he enjoys just being part of the game.

"I look forward to contributing in any role that [manager] Don [Wakamatsu] sees fit on the field, and any manner I possibly can off the field," Griffey said in a statement.

Although it can be tough to watch him struggle to hit .220, seeing him come back another year can only bring child-like smiles and wonderment to baseball fans’ eyes.

Here’s to hoping there is still a little bit of “The Kid” left in Ken Griffey Junior, for old time’s sake.

Photo Credits. All photos: AP Photo/John Froschauer

Thursday, November 12, 2009

NFL Week 10 Picks

AP Photo/LM Otero

Week 10 features some very exciting matchups. There is a battle between the Steelers and Bengals for first place in the AFC North. Green Bay and Philadelphia will try to bounce back from tough losses against two teams, Dallas and San Diego respectively, who came away with big wins the previous week. The biggest matchup is the ever-classic Patriots-Colts game, Peyton vs. Brady in primetime.

Week 10 also features a Thursday night game between Chicago and San Francisco, so the picks are in a little early this week. After a 7-6 week last week, my worst yet, I’ll also look to bounce back.

Tell me who you like in the comments section.

Chicago (4-4) at San Francisco (3-5)

Two teams heading in the wrong direction fast. San Francisco has lost five of their last six games, and haven’t won since they finally signed first round draft pick Michael Crabtree (see: the Crabtree Curse). Chicago got pummeled last week by Arizona, and two weeks before that were annihilated by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bears have not fared well against teams with explosive offenses this season, and although they haven’t been stellar this season, San Francisco’s offense has enough weapons to erupt at any moment. Vernon Davis has been having a monster past few weeks and Frank Gore has rushed very well in his return. Chicago also has only one victory on the road, and that was against a bad Seattle Seahawks team. I’ll take San Francisco to win.

Tampa Bay (1-7) at Miami (3-5)

Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman led Tampa Bay to their first victory in the ’09 campaign. Miami has played decent the past three weeks, holding their own against division leaders New England and New Orleans, but the only win they managed to get was against the Jets. The offense, both the passing game and running game, has sputtered as of late, and the Wildcat has not been effective enough to sustain Miami for the entire length of a game. Tampa Bay’s third worst rushing defense in the NFL could be exactly what the stagnant Dolphin offense needs. Miami wins at home.

Atlanta (5-3) at Carolina (3-5)

Two of the league’s best running backs will be on display in this matchup. Last week, Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns while Atlanta’s Michael Turner rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns (on three less carries as well). Neither team is particularly good against the run, Atlanta allowing 988 total yards on the ground and Carolina giving up 977. However the Falcons will have the advantage because their defense will know that the only chance Carolina has at winning is running the ball. All they have to do is stack the box with eight or nine guys and force Jake Delhomme to throw the ball and create turnovers. Matt Ryan is a much more effective quarterback and will keep the Panthers defense honest. Atlanta wins.

Denver (6-2) at Washington (2-6)

A game against Washington is exactly what Denver needed. After starting the season 6-0, Denver has lost two in a row to good competition (Baltimore and Pittsburgh). The Broncos own the second ranked overall defense and the eighth ranked rush defense. Washington, already 24th in the league in rushing, will be without Clinton Portis (concussion), and his backup, Ladell Betts is dealing with an ankle injury. The outlook seems bleak for the Redskins. Denver gets back on track with a win.

Buffalo (3-5) at Tennessee (2-6)

Chris Johnson is the leading rusher in the NFL. The Bills have the worst rushing defense. Add in the mobility and energy of new Titans starting quarterback Vince Young (who is 2-0 on the season) and this game should be a disaster for Buffalo. At home Tennessee will literally run wild and come away with the victory.

New Orleans (8-0) at St. Louis (1-7)

New Orleans didn’t play particularly well last week. The Saints were 1-5 in the red zone last week against Carolina and turned the ball over twice. Still, they managed to fight back, again, and come out on top. Drew Brees, the highest rated passer in the NFL, will take on a Rams defense that is 27th in the league in yards per passing attempt and 22nd in passing yards allowed per game. What makes New Orleans really scary is their ability to finish off games. Interesting fact about the undefeated Saints: they have outscored their opponents in the fourth quarter 91-18. Saints win big.

Cincinnati (6-2) at Pittsburgh (6-2)

This game will go a long way into determining the champion of the AFC North. Cincinnati has played extremely well and they compete every time they are on the field—their two losses have come at a combined 16 point differential. Again, they’ve already beaten Pittsburgh once this season, but that was at Cincinnati. Heinz Field has become one of the toughest places to play. The Steelers have not lost at home (although the Bengals are undefeated on the road). In the Bengal’s win in the first meeting between these two teams (a game decided by a single field goal) the Steelers were also without safety Troy Polamalu. In the three games since Polamalu has returned, the defense has not given up more than 17 points (they’ve allowed only 41 points total) and caused nine turnovers (in their previous four games without the long-haired safety Pittsburgh had only caused two turnovers). I predict Polamalu will help Pittsburgh avenge its earlier loss to the Bengals.

Jacksonville (4-4) at NY Jets (4-4)

Jacksonville is a paltry 1-3 on the road. Their record is also a little padded because of victories against weaker teams like St. Louis (who they needed overtime to win) and Kansas City; and in both of those wins, the Jaguars won by only a field goal. Maurice Jones-Drew has had a very good year, but the Jets defense is the best he will have faced to date. The Jets also believe they are a playoff team and need every win to keep those hopes alive. Coming off a loss to the Dolphins followed by a bye week, expect the Jets to be hungry (and no, that doesn’t mean I expect to see Mark Sanchez on the sidelines with more hot dogs). I’ll take the Jets at home to win.

Detroit (1-7) at Minnesota (7-1)

Minnesota has had two weeks to sit on their loss to Pittsburgh, their first of the season. It cannot be sitting well with them. Detroit lost a winnable game last week to Seattle and now take on the division leader on the road. This one has lopsided victory all over it. Minnesota wins big.

Kansas City (1-7) at Oakland (2-6)

Oakland won the first meeting between these two teams, they are at home, and they had an extra week with the bye in week nine to prepare for this game. It’s enough reason to beat a bad Chiefs team. Oakland wins.

Seattle (3-5) at Arizona (5-3)

The Cardinals have won four out of their last five games. Kurt Warner has put together some brilliant performances this season, like in week two when he completed 92.3% of his passes and just last week when he threw for five touchdowns and zero interceptions. This week he also gets Anquan Boldin back from injury, which gives him another weapon to exploit the Seattle secondary with. Arizona has the third best rushing defense and Seattle has the third worst rushing offense. I’ll take Arizona to continue its hot streak.

Dallas (6-2) at Green Bay (4-4)

Green Bay has lost two in a row, including last week’s stinker against the then-winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Cowboys have won four in a row and five out of their last six. In the past four games, Monmouth University product Miles Austin has caught 22 passes for 531 yards and six touchdowns. While it hasn’t been pretty, Dallas has been on a roll lately, while Green Bay is looking less and less like the legitimate contender they seemed to be in the beginning of the season. Dallas on the road: 3-1. Green Bay at home: 2-2. Dallas in conference: 5-1. Green Bay in conference: 3-3. I’ll take the streaking Cowboys in this one.

Philadelphia (5-3) at San Diego (5-3)

Philadelphia lost a big home game last week. San Diego won a big road game. These two teams have been inconsistent throughout the season. It’s still hard to get a good read on either of these teams. San Diego is only 2-2 at home this year. The Eagles are 3-1 on the road. In all of the Chargers losses, they have allowed over 30 points each time (31, 38,3 4). The Eagles have scored 30 points in four out of their five wins (38, 34, 33, 40)—the other win they scored 27 points. Who will show up: the Chargers defense or the Eagles offense? This game looks to have all the components to be an offensive shootout and in that type of game I like the Eagles to win.

New England (6-2) at Indianapolis (8-0)

Always a classic matchup. The Patriots have won three in a row (of course the Colts have won eight in a row). Both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have thrown 16 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. The Patriots have the third best passing defense, Indianapolis the ninth. However, the Patriots have more key players banged up. Missing from practice Thursday were DE Jarvis Green, LT Matt Light, C Dan Koppen, DL Ty Warren, RB Sammy Morris and S Brandon Merriweather. LB Tully Banta-Cain, New England’s leading pass rusher, was also added to the injury report and was limited in practice. Indianapolis was only missing WR Anthony Gonzalez and K Adam Vinatieri.

The big loss for the Patriots here is Light. Sebastian Vollmer has done a very good job in his place, but he is only a rookie, and this week he goes up against one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL Dwight Freeney, who returned to the practice field Thursday. If Vollmer cannot contain Freeney, then he will terrorize Brady’s blindside. This is a huge problem, as it looks like Brady has finally started to get comfortable in the pocket after missing all of last year with a leg injury. Expect the Colts to rush often. At home, I predict the Colts will stay undefeated.

Baltimore (4-4) at Cleveland (1-7)

Baltimore continues to have its ups and downs throughout the season. A week after knocking off the then-unbeaten Denver Broncos, they lose and get swept in the season series against Cincinnati (not that the Bengals are bad, but you think after a big win and wanting to avenge their loss earlier in the season that they would have been ready to play and manage to muster up more than a measly seven points). Ray Rice has had a huge season, and by scoring a touchdown from the two-yard line has rendered Willis McGahee completely irrelevant. Cleveland has the second worst rushing defense in the league and will be victimized by the former Rutgers star. Baltimore wins.

Byes: Houston, NY Giants

Last week: 7-6

Season: 66-31

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hit With a Sound Wave

Over the summer I was at a friend’s house and turned on an MLS game. Usually this would be cause for ridicule, but that night was different. It was different because it was a game being played in Seattle.

My friends noticed the packed stadium and the excitement displayed on the supporters’ faces. They heard the band playing. They saw the entertaining and proficient play on the pitch. One noted that this is the type of soccer that would get him watching MLS, and it did. Whenever the Sounders were on TV he put on the game. He learned the names of a number of the players on the squad. Now he wants to go to the game when Seattle travels to my home state of New Jersey to play the Red Bulls in their new stadium.

Another friend of mine, this one an avid futbol and MLS follower, said “(Seattle is) what all teams in the country should be.”

The Sounders have captured the attention of not only the city of Seattle, but the whole nation, footie fans and soccer simpletons alike.

Although they fell short of becoming the first expansion team to win the MLS Cup since the Chicago Fire did so back in 1998, the club was successful in so many ways.

Seattle finished its inaugural season with a 12-7-11 record and made the playoffs. Since 2005, no MLS expansion team has made the playoffs in its first season, excluding the Houston Dynamo (while considered an expansion team, Houston was really a relocation of the San Jose Earthquake that was rebranded, history and all). In fact, Toronto F.C. and the San Jose Earthquakes, the two previous expansion franchises, have yet to qualify for postseason play.

The Sounders may also be the single most popular club in MLS, even more so than David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The city has enjoyed a rich history in soccer, dating back to the NASL and even more recently in the USL. That support has carried over in large numbers to the MLS team.

According to, the Sounders finished first in both total attendance and average of fans per game, 499,262 and 31,203 respectively. They were just under 11,000 fans per game ahead of the second place Galaxy.

The team sold out every home game in the regular season, their one playoff game against Houston, and even their four U.S. Open Cup matches.

While the team was unable to play for the MLS Cup, they did win the U.S. Open Cup, a tournament played amongst all the professional soccer clubs based in the United States of America. They were the first first-year franchise to win it since the Chicago Fire did so in 1998.

One of the toughest and unique aspects of MLS is talent evaluation. In other leagues across the globe, there is no salary cap. A team can just go buy the best talent it can put together. However, with MLS’ small spending limit for each team, clubs must be shrewd in how they collect talent. They cannot just go and buy the best player available, and the best players will not just come over to play for what they feel are demeaning wages.

The Sounders had four players named to the MLS All-Star team—Kasey Keller, Freddie Ljungberg, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, and Fredy Montero. Keller was nominated for Goalkeeper of the Year and the Fair Play Award; Hurtado was nominated for Defender of the Year; and all three of the Newcomer of the Year Award nominees were Sounders—Keller, Montero, and Ljungberg, with Montero taking home the trophy.

Arguably the biggest accomplishment the team had this season was restoring a sense of pride in Seattle sports fans.

The city of Seattle had every reason to be fed up with professional sports.
The Mariners have finished above third place in the American League only one time since 2002 and the last time they were in the playoffs was 2001.

The Seahawks missed the postseason for the first team in the past six seasons in 2008 with a measly 4-12 record, and things don’t look more optimistic this year with a less than stellar record of 3-5.

The biggest crime was having their NBA franchise, the Seattle SuperSonics, relocated to Oklahoma City. The team had been a part of Seattle since it was founded in 1967, but due to an arena dispute, new ownership moved the team, depriving the city of their beloved basketball franchise.

The Sounders gave the city a team to be excited about. They came, they got the city of Seattle involved; for example, the Seattle FC Alliance allows members (season-ticket holders and paying non-season ticket holders) to vote on a number of club decisions, including whether or not to remove the General Manager. The Sounders also won. It’s a great combination that has rejuvenated the city’s fan base and made them proud again.

Fans were rewarded for their passion by getting to watch the Sounders take on world powers Chelsea and F.C. Barcelona in exhibition matches and Qwest Field, the Sounders home, will host this season's MLS Cup championship match.

Things are only going to get more exciting as well.

Washington native Keller has said he plans on returning to the team next season and in 2011 the league will expand to Vancouver and Portland, creating natural geographic rivalries (or reestablishing old rivalries from the NASL and USL) in the Pacific Northwest.

Even though it was only its inaugural season, Seattle proved they are the best run franchise in MLS (for worst see: Red Bull New York—a member since the league’s inaugural year and they still can’t get it right).

With an invested ownership group, good decision makers and talent evaluators, talented players, and the strongest fan base in American soccer, Seattle is clearly the class of MLS and what every other team in the league should strive to be like.

U.S. Open Cup championship highlights. Video from YouTube.

Photo Credits.
Top: AP Photo/Will Powers
Right: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Left: AP Photo/Kevin P. Casey

Sunday, November 8, 2009

NFL Week 9 Picks

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

A brief rundown of the Week 9 matchups and who I like to win.

Washington (2-5) at Atlanta (4-3): A Redskins fan asked me if Washington won it, would they have a chance at the playoffs? Yes, they would, but they won two games out of six against teams with zero wins. And now they enter the tough portion of their schedule. So while it's mathematically possible, a miracle would have to happen for this team to win out. Atlanta wins.

Arizona (4-3) at Chicago (4-3): Both teams have stalled this season. Arizona will be missing Anquan Boldin. I like the Bears at home in this one. Chicago wins.

Baltimore (4-3) at Cincinnati (5-2): It's tough to beat a very good team twice in one season. I see Baltimore avenging their loss from Week 5. Baltimore wins.

Houston (5-3) at Indianapolis (7-0): Even with a revamped, young and inexperienced supporting cast, Peyton Manning and the Colts are rolling. Houston isn't good enough, especially with Owen Daniels-- who was having a career year-- injured and not playing, to stop them. Indianapolis wins.

Miami (3-4) at New England (5-2): Miami is without defensive starters Channing Crowder and Jason Ferguson. New England had an extra week to prepare for any wrinkles Miami's wildcat could throw at them. New England wins.

Green Bay (4-3) at Tampa Bay (0-7): The second loss to the Vikings last week hurts them, but not enough to think that Tampa Bay is good enough to beat them. Green Bay wins.

Kansas City (1-6) at Jacksonville (3-4): More turmoil in Kansas City with the Larry Johnson saga. It isn't good for a football team, especially such a bad one. Jacksonville wins.

Carolina (3-4) at New Orleans (7-0): Carolina got a nice upset against the defending NFC champions but Jake Delhomme will not be able to match Drew Brees. Expect Brees to air it out and have a huge game, while, in an attempt to keep pace, Delhomme throws for at least two interceptions. New Orleans wins.

Detroit (1-6) at Seattle (2-5): Neither team is very good. Seahwaks' Matt Hasselbeck is the best and most experienced quarterback in this game. Seattle wins.

Tennessee (1-6) at San Francisco (3-4): San Francisco has been on a slide. This is the perfect game for them to get back to their earlier winning ways. Frank Gore is back in the fold, Michael Crabtree has had some time to get used to the system, Alex Smith wants to prove that he still has first-rounder talent, and Vernon Davis has been huge their past few games. Expect an offensive outburst from the 49'ers. San Francisco wins.

San Diego (4-3) at NY Giants (5-3): A friend of mine asked me to stop picking the Giants to win after their third consecutive loss last week. Sorry, can't do it against the San Diego Chargers, especially at Giants Stadium. Giants win.

Dallas (5-2) at Philadelphia (5-2): Ok, Dallas. Miles Austin has picked up the slack for you guys. Somehow you are tied for first place. You are tied with Philadelphia. Philly, the more complete team, will come at you and beat you, taking sole possession of the division lead. Philadelphia wins.

Pittsburgh (5-2) at Denver (6-1): Denver suffered its first setback of the season last week. The Steelers have found their groove. Pittsburgh will teach the Broncos a little something about being a great team this week. Pittsburgh wins.

Byes: Buffalo, Cleveland, Oakland, St. Louis, Minnesota, NY Jets

Last week: 9-4

Season: 59-25