Washington Redskins Lead The League ... In Dysfunction

  • Monday, December 13, 2010 8:19 PM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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Update: The Redskins have demoted Donovan McNabb to third-string quarterback for Sunday's game against the Cowboys, behind Rex Grossman and John Beck. You just can't make this stuff up.

There are a lot of bad teams in the National Football League. Some really bad. The road back to contention is going to be long for franchises like Carolina and Denver, and a host of others -- Detroit, Cleveland, Arizona and Buffalo, to name a few -- seem held back by history.

But there’s a difference between “bad” and “dysfunctional.” Cleveland might be classified as “bad,” but the Browns aren’t dysfunctional -- at least not anymore.

Even the Raiders have dropped the “dys” to become somewhat functional. They compete in big games and have a nice list of victories this season, but most importantly the silver and black have a plan for the future. For once, management isn’t operating the team like a kid playing franchise mode in Madden.

There is, however, one team that is particularly horrendous in this regard. They have talent. A coach. Even a quarterback for once. Yet the Washington Redskins are the league’s most dysfunctional team.

History lesson: The 'Skins weren’t always this bad. Quite the contrary. The team has won three Super Bowls, been to five. They’ve had great players over the years, too: Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, John Riggins, Art Monk, Darrell Green to name a few.

Today, the team is an absolute abomination to the league and Washington sports (though Washington sports is admittedly an abomination in itself). The Redskins have a proud tradition, but today the franchise is one of the biggest jokes in professional sports.

Everyone knows Dan Snyder is a moron that tries to construct a fantasy team every off-season, with no regard to team chemistry or a team foundation. But this past off-season, Redskins Park finally seemed to become a bit saner. The team brought in well-respected Bruce Allen to be the GM, and hired two-time Super Bowl champion Mike Shanahan to be the coach.

Now the Redskins finally had someone that knew what he was doing. Finally, an era of sanity in the nation’s capital pretty much for the first time in the Dan Snyder Era.

Wait, that’s not what happened. Not at all. I don’t know how many people expected the 'Skins to make the playoffs this year -- probably not too many in that tough division. But I don’t think anyone expected the season to go quite like this.

The Albert Haynesworth saga hanging around for this long? A bit surprising, but understandable considering the plight of the Redskins. But Donovan McNabb’s horrendous play? More interceptions than touchdowns through 13 games? Shanahan benching McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman down late in the game by six against the Lions? A defense loaded with talent giving up huge yards and points?

To quote the man whose name is on the trophy Dan Snyder will never hoist: “What the hell is going on out here?”

Mike Shanahan was supposed to bring sanity to Washington. Instead? Washington has brought insanity to Shanahan. Sure, the Redskins are missing a few key pieces, like receivers and offensive linemen. But I don’t think 'Skins fans consider Shanahan to be the godsend that he originally was.

Washington has a ton of talent. Brian Orakpo, LaRon Landry and London Fletcher are among the best in the league. Donovan McNabb is still a pretty good quarterback too, so that can’t be the excuse anymore.

Typical Redskins loss on Sunday: Washington lost the game by one point. Botched an extra point attempt with seconds remaining on the clock, and missed two chip shot field goals during the game. Anyone surprised?

Fitting that the league’s most dysfunctional franchise resides in the city of the government so many associate with dysfunction.


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

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NFL Mega-Preview Part II: Don't Bet Against Peyton

  • Thursday, September 2, 2010 2:01 AM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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For Part I of Stanley’s NFL Mega-Preview (including teams No. 17-32), click here.


16. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: I think Kevin Kolb is going to have a good season statistically, but I don’t necessarily think that his play will translate to a great record for the Eagles. Remember, Aaron Rodgers played pretty well in 2008, yet the Packers only finished 6-10. I was initially high on the Eagles this off-season, but I think they were too reliant on the big play last year. Eventually it will come to haunt them, and you can bet that Philly fans will be mad. Expect YouTube videos of Eagles fans doing obnoxious things to surface.

15. CINCINNATI BENGALS: Last year, the Bengals established themselves as an offense predicated on unselfish play and running the ball. Looking for the best way to continue that success, the Bengals signed Terrell Owens, a notorious me-first ball hog that has not played on a run-first offense in his career. (You could make the argument that the ’09 Bills were a run-first offense, but admitting that Buffalo had any semblance of an offense would be giving them far too much credit). Last year the Bengals were bad down the stretch, losing three of their last four regular-season games before falling to the Jets in the postseason. But with the return of Antwan Odom, this defense may even be better than it was last year. That may be their ticket to the postseason.

14. ATLANTA FALCONS: Everyone seems to be very high on the Falcons this year, not only as a contender for a wildcard spot but also possibly the replace the Saints as kings of the NFC South. Count me as a hater, because I don’t necessarily see any good reasons why Atlanta should be better than New Orleans this year. Yes, Matt Ryan will likely be better, and so will Michael Turner. But the Falcons defense doesn’t scare me at all, and I don’t see how it will be much better in 2010 than it was last year, when it was ranked 21st overall in the league. Atlanta will not be able to stop the Saints, and I think that the Falcons are a bit overhyped coming into this season.

13. NEW YORK GIANTS: The Giants have somehow managed to stay under the radar in the much-discussed NFC East, yet New York is still in great position to make a playoff run. If I was a Giant, I would feel disrespected, as much of the off-season talk has centered around the flashy Cowboys, the resurgent Redskins and the consistent Eagles. Credit this slight to the Giants’ poor play down the stretch last season after starting 5-0. New York lost four straight at that point, and then lost their last two games by a combined score of 85-16 to the Panthers and Vikings. Yet the G-Men have nearly all the pieces in place -- the linebackers may be the only real area of concern -- to make a run. If the defense can hold up, this team will be playoff bound in 2010.

12. HOUSTON TEXANS: The Houston Texans sleeper bandwagon has been popular the past few seasons, but the team has still been unable to break through to the postseason. This year, the Texans are no longer considered a sleeper, as they are basically expected to make the playoffs. Nobody disputes the merits of the Houston offense, which consists of one of the best passing games in the league. The defense is still shaky, but for the Texans to make a playoff run, they cannot afford another slow start. And they absolutely cannot afford to lose close games, a problem that plagued the Texans particularly last season. But if this defense can finally put it together, or at least remain semi-competent throughout the season, then we know the offense can carry Houston to the franchise’s first ever postseason berth.

11. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: This off-season, the Chargers “lost” LaDainian Tomlinson, a washed-up back that hasn’t been very productive since 2007. In his place comes rookie Ryan Mathews, who is widely expected to make an impact right away. The Chargers also have two holdouts of note: Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson. I think McNeill is a pretty big loss, but I believe he will sign at some point. Conversely, I do not believe Jackson will sign with the team, but I think his significance to the Chargers is a bit overrated. While Jackson is hyped as one of the league’s top receivers, in his best year he only caught 68 passes. Yes, he is one of the game’s better young receivers, but I don’t think the Chargers will really miss him that much. The defense is definitely suspect, but I’m not exactly sure how some are ready to hand this division to the Raiders.

10. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: If every player became magically healthy to start this season, the Vikings might be at the top of this list. But because they are so banged up, I can’t put them much higher. Sidney Rice is out for a good deal of the season, Percy Harvin has migraine issues, and the offensive line is getting worse. Favre has ankle problems too. Do I sense karma finally catching up with the gunslinger? I hope so. I’m rooting for 6-10.

9. MIAMI DOLPHINS: The AFC East is a loaded division, and is second only to the NFC East in my opinion. The Dolphins are one of the “big three” in the AFC East, along with the Jets and Patriots. In a decade dominated by the Pats, the Fins actually won the division in ’08 after a 1-15 season the previous year. This Dolphins team is very tough, and has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they added another dimension this off-season with the acquisition of Brandon Marshall, who should make Chad Henne’s job a lot easier. Add the improved passing offense to the very successful Wildcat and running game, and it’s easy to see why the offense has evolved into a playoff-caliber attack. Defensively, the linebackers still are of some concern, but the secondary is young and talented. One name to watch out for: Pass rusher Cameron Wake. He’s going to be a star.

8. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Even though the Pats won the AFC East last year, a lot of people are down on New England this season and seem ready to give the division to either the Jets or Dolphins. I still consider the Patriots one of the better offenses in football. Consider the following: The knee injury Tom Brady sustained in Week One of the 2008 season really requires two years of recovery. Julian Edelman emerged last season as a solid receiver for Brady, and should make a good No. 3 or 4 target. And this off-season the Pats replaced Ben Watson with Alge Crumpler, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots still can’t run the ball, but do they need to? This passing offense should be pretty unstoppable. It is true that the defense is horrendous, but it still has a few good players, namely Vince Wilfork and Brandon Meriweather. They won’t be able to stop some of the elite offenses in the league, but I don’t see too many defenses that will be able to stop the Pats. Maybe not even the Jets.

7. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Many seem ready to concede the AFC North, as well as the Super Bowl, to the Baltimore Ravens. Why? Because Ben Roethlisberger is suspended for a few games at the beginning of the season? Even if the Steelers start 2-2 or 1-3 without Roethlisberger, they still have ample time to regroup in time for the important part of the season. Plus the likelihood of an ultra-slow start for Pittsburgh is small; besides having a favorable schedule, the Steelers have played well in recent years without Roethlisberger. It also seems like people forget that the Steelers will be getting their best player back on the field this year: Troy Polamalu. Without Polamalu, the Steelers defense is simply not the same. His health is absolutely a concern, but if he can shake off his injuries and remain on the field, there’s no reason why the Steelers’ defense this season can’t revert back to their 2008 form, or at least come close to it. I understand why the Ravens are the favorite in the division, but the Steelers have a great chance to win it as well.

6. NEW YORK JETS: With Darrelle Revis, the Jets are at least a couple spots higher on this list. I know he is just a cornerback, but he absolutely makes a huge difference. Antonio Cromartie is a serviceable No. 1 cornerback, but he is a great No. 2 when Revis is in at the top spot. I know that rookie Kyle Wilson is expected to be good, but no one on this planet can replace Revis. The loss of Calvin Pace for the beginning of the season is also a setback, and I’m not yet convinced Mark Sanchez is capable of leading this team to 12 or more wins. All of that said, this Jets team is absolutely loaded. Both lines are physical and top-notch, which is the foundation for every great football team. Their running game should be one of the best in the league, and the passing attack should be better with the addition of Santonio Holmes. Defensively, the Jets will miss Revis, but I don’t see how any team will be able to run successfully on New York. The Jets had trouble with Miami last year, and the same may be true this season. But New York is a very good team even without Revis; with him, they are a Super Bowl frontrunner.

5. DALLAS COWBOYS: Even though this roster has been full of stars for years, Dallas was surprisingly strong last year. For once they didn’t fold under pressure, and they were able to win big games in December and January (against the Saints, and then twice vs. the Eagles). The Cowboys are even better this year. The defense is one of the quickest in the league, and DeMarcus Ware is probably the best playmaker on defense in the NFL. Dallas is very good at every positional unit except the offensive line, which is one of two main concerns for the team. The other is the schedule: besides a tough slate against the ultra-competitive NFC East, the ‘Boys play the NFC North and AFC South. But this Cowboys team is probably too talented to miss out on the postseason again.

4. BALTIMORE RAVENS: The Ravens are talented on both sides of the ball, and their offense is finally two-dimensional. No one questions their talent, but I have two big questions about this team. First of all, is Joe Flacco ready to take Baltimore to the next level? I’m not sure if I would have confidence in him to lead a late game-winning drive, which is an essential ingredient to any great quarterback. And secondly, and probably more importantly, the defensive backs are horrific. This team prides itself on maintaining a great defense, yet the unit has a glaring weakness. Peyton Manning will pick them apart again in the postseason.

3. GREEN BAY PACKERS: I love the Packers this year, and specifically I love Green Bay’s offense. I picked the Pack to reach the Super Bowl last season, and I am picking them again. I think Aaron Rodgers is ready to become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL; even though he probably doesn’t have the best feelings for Brett Favre, I definitely think waiting behind Favre helped Rodgers become the quarterback he is today. The defense is still solid, and we know the team is well-coached. There would be no better way to stick it to Favre than a Green Bay Super Bowl victory, and it’s a strong possibility.

2. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: I’m not ready to hop off the Saints’ bandwagon quite yet, unlike so many others dumb enough to spend time making NFL predictions. I don’t see how the Falcons are at all better than the defending champions. This offense probably isn’t getting much worse this year; the defense might experience a drop-off, especially in turnover numbers, but the Saints’ offensive production still should be able to sustain a great season. Everyone loves Atlanta, but New Orleans will still win the NFC South, and will still be considered one of the best teams in the league at the end of the year. They have received way too much hate for a Super Bowl winning team.

1. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: How can the No. 1 team be anyone else than Peyton Manning and the Colts? Indy has made the playoffs every year since 2002, and has won at least 12 games every year since 2003. That’s an unbelievable stretch. It’s boring to pick the Colts as the best team in the league, but it is simply the truth: no team has been as consistent as Peyton’s Colts in the last decade. If I’ve learned one thing in the course of my 17-plus years on earth, it is that you should never pick against Peyton Manning. I’ve learned more than one thing in my life, but I’m sticking with the cardinal rule: never pick against Peyton Manning.

NFC CHAMPION: PACKERS

AFC CHAMPION: COLTS

SUPER BOWL CHAMPION: COLTS



You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

'The Game' In October? Wolverines And Buckeyes Can Agree: Hail, No!

  • Thursday, August 26, 2010 1:06 AM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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The biggest rivalry meant for October? Red Sox-Yankees, not Bo's Wolverines and Woody's Buckeyes.

“The Game,” contested between sworn enemies Michigan and Ohio State, is played each season on the third Saturday of November, a date as entrenched as Thanksgiving falling on the fourth Thursday of the same month.

But this year, the Big Ten scheduling gods have already drawn the ire of your humble narrator, as they have decided to place the contest a week later. Proponents argue that the pushback will minimize the effects of the long layoff between the Big Ten season and the bowl games, an excuse used by the conference for poor January performances the past few years.

While the one-week pushback is troubling enough, it appears the Big Ten is willing to reduce the tradition of college football’s greatest rivalry even more. According to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, “The Game” will be moved to October when the conference adds Nebraska and a Big Ten Championship Game for the 2011 football season. Bo and Woody each just rolled over in their respective graves.

For fans all over the world of both schools, “The Game” is like Christmas. The league apparently wants to place Michigan and Ohio State in separate divisions, meaning they could meet in the Big Ten title game. For obvious reasons, the league doesn’t want the schools facing off in back-to-back weeks, so apparently it has simply decided to move Christmas to October.

To continue with the ridiculous yet accurate holiday analogy, for Wolverine and Buckeye fans alike, it would be like moving Christmas a month earlier just because New Year's is a week later. Michigan vs. Ohio State is synonymous with the last game of the season, and moving it to the middle of the schedule would greatly diminish the rivalry.

“As a former player and fan of the game, there’s something missing from the sport when you don’t have the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry in late November,” Wolverine legend Desmond Howard said of the potential scheduling change.

Take a look at college football’s greatest rivalries. Michigan-Ohio State, Auburn-Alabama and Army-Navy are all the final games of the season for the teams involved. And trust me, if Texas-Oklahoma had been played on the final Saturday of the season all these years, that rivalry would have taken on a whole new significance in that part of the country.

Here’s the answer to the issue, Big Ten: Don’t put Michigan and Ohio State in the same division!

For years, “The Game” basically served as the Big Ten championship, with the winner advancing to the Rose Bowl. With the new Big Ten title game in place, this obviously will not be the case, but surely the winner of the contest would often represent its division in the title game. Michigan vs. Ohio State, in many years, would likely serve as a playoff game, with the winner advancing to the Big Ten Championship. This way it would still be the last game of the regular Big Ten season for each team. Tradition would be preserved, and the game would still have huge meaning.

I hope Jim Delany understands this. But with athletic directors, coaches and columnists beginning to publicly comment on the possibility of Michigan and Ohio State playing twice in one season, I’m beginning to fear that the Big Ten has forgotten its greatest tradition.


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

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NFL Mega-Preview Part I: The Mediocre, The Bad And The St. Louis Rams

  • Tuesday, August 24, 2010 2:38 AM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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Since Paul The Octopus only predicts football ("futbol") matches, I'm here as his replacement to forecast the 2010 NFL season.

Every year around August, NFL pundits all over the country begin to make official predictions for the upcoming season. Sometimes forecasting the outcome of a season seems easy, and shapes up that way, like when the Patriots were the consensus pre-season favorite in 2007. But on other occasions, the field can be wide open; last season played out in that fashion.

This year looks like one of those seasons in which every team has a chance to win the Super Bowl, except the Lions. And the Rams. And the Chiefs, Browns, Bills, Bucs, Raiders and ... OK, so there’s around 10-15 teams that actually have a chance to win the Super Bowl. But still, at least there’s more parity than the NBA.

Making predictions is always difficult. Typically I am wrong. For example, I would have felt comfortable betting my life on Ohio State to beat Florida in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game. Thankfully, I never went through with this bet, so I am still here to make bad predictions today.

I’m not going to make my official predictions in this piece (that will be Part III of my NFL preview), but here’s how I see the bottom half of the NFL stacking up in 2010 (Part II will cover the top half). And I actually believe this season has the chance to be one of the most wide open in recent years. Once again, this order DOES NOT reflect how I believe the teams will finish this season, as I’m not taking schedules into account.

32. ST. LOUIS RAMS: How could the Rams not be last? They are doing their best to overtake the Lions as the most inept NFL franchise of the new millennium, and they are doing a helluva job. St. Louis has won a whopping six games over the past three years, causing many to wonder how the Rams hired Matt Millen without anyone knowing. They won three games in 2007, two games in 2008, one game in 2009 -- you see where this is going. Besides James Laurinaitis, Jason Smith and maybe Sam Bradford, you could scrap the whole team and they would probably still finish with the same record. Can these guys be relegated to the UFL or NCAA, English Premier League style? I think Alabama would have a decent shot to win the NFC West if it replaced the Rams.

31. BUFFALO BILLS: The Bills haven’t quite bottomed out in the last few years, like the Rams or the Lions. But that’s been their problem. Since they have been hovering around the 6-10 range for the past few seasons, the Bills have been unable to draft a quarterback. So basically they have been trying to beat the Patriots for the past five years with Kelley Holcomb, J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards. Good luck! In an effort to drive the team into the ground (at least that seems like the only possible motive), the Bills’ front office hired a terrible coach this off-season (Chan Gailey) that was average in college and successful yet unproven in the NFL (he had moderate success with fairly loaded Cowboys teams). In the draft, Buffalo drafted a running back (C.J. Spiller), the only real position for which the team didn’t need much immediate upgrade. Does Toronto even want this team?

30. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Despite how terrible the Oakland Raiders have been since 2003, they do have one major accomplishment not named Asomugha: They exacted a measure of revenge on the Bucs for stealing Jon Gruden back in 2002. In Week 17 of the 2008 NFL season, Tampa just needed a win at home against the lowly Silver & Black to advance to the postseason. Instead, led by Michael Bush, the Raiders stormed into Tampa and dismantled the Bucs. Gruden was fired, and the Bucs have since fallen to the bottom of the league led by the esteemed Raheem Morris. Gruden was the definition of experience; Morris is practically still a teenager. Josh Freeman has shown some promise at quarterback, but it’s a long road back to the top for this franchise.

29. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Though the Lions have roared the loudest at the bottom of the league for the past ten or so years, the Browns have been nearly as equally horrific. Minus a random offensive explosion in 2007 (so much for that inseparable Anderson-to-Braylon connection), Cleveland has been absolutely terrible offensively for most of the past ten seasons. Josh Cribbs is the entire team, and he primarily plays special teams. He’s an awesome player, and Mike Holmgren knows what he is doing in the front office, but this Browns mess won’t be cleaned up for a while. At least the city has other professional sports teams that are better than the Browns. Wait, does it?

28. DENVER BRONCOS: Last year, I thought the Broncos were going to be horrific. For the first half of the season, they were not horrific by any standard, starting the year 6-0 before finally falling to the Baltimore Ravens. But the second half of the year represented everything we expected of Denver: A below average defense, semi-hapless offense, and rampant speculation about the off-season fate of Brandon Marshall. Now the Broncos are without their best player on both offense (Marshall) and defense (Elvis Dumervil) for possibly the entire season (Marshall is in Miami, and Dumervil underwent surgery earlier this month which could potentially end his season). Not even Tim Tebow can be the savior for this team.

27. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Former Chiefs coach Herm Edwards famously proclaimed, “You play to win the game!” Although the message was pretty clear, his ex-team has blatantly failed to heed his words on the field the past three seasons. Since a wild-card round defeat to the Colts during the 2006 season, Kansas City has won only ten games in the past three years. In Todd Haley’s inaugural season, quarterback acquisition Matt Cassel failed to play to his New England standard, throwing 16 touchdowns and an equal amount of interceptions. The Chiefs have some young talent, and the team added to its Patriot roots this off-season with the hiring of Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel as coordinators. But postseason aspirations are probably still a bit unrealistic for this team, even though the running game should be reestablished with Jamaal Charles this season.

26. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: While I don’t think the Seahawks are a very good team whatsoever, it would not surprise me too much to see them on top of the NFC West, the worst division in football. The Cardinals without Kurt Warner could easily finish third, and the 49ers haven’t yet proven that they are ready to contend for the postseason. However, Seattle has absolutely no star power; its running game is weak, the passing attack is barely an attack, and the defense has been in steady decline for the past few seasons. If Seattle was in a tougher division, then it could be one of the worst teams in the league. But expect Pete Carroll’s first year in the Pacific Northwest to fringe on mediocrity, and no more.

25. CHICAGO BEARS: Lovie Smith is clearly fighting for his job, and he has a tough road in 2010. The main issue with the Bears the past decade has been their lack of a wide receiver, and here we are in 2010 and Chicago still does not have a go-to pass catcher. For a Mike Martz offense to thrive, a good receiving corps is an absolute must. This season could be another debacle for Jay Cutler, and Smith will likely lose his job because of it. Defensively, the Bears added Julius Peppers this off-season and still maintain a good front seven. But the defensive backs are weak, and pass-happy teams in the NFC North will likely take advantage.

24. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: The Jags desperately need a winning season, perhaps more than any other franchise. Why? The team’s status in Jacksonville depends on it. The Jaguars averaged only 73.9 percent capacity for home games last season, even with one of the league’s best players in Maurice Jones-Drew. The team failed to add any more truly compelling pieces this off-season, passing on local hero Tim Tebow (which would have at least drawn interest and possibly salvation for Jaguars fans, if not victories) for relative unknown Tyson Alualu with the tenth pick in the NFL Draft. The pick could have been spent on one of a number of far more exciting players, instead of a lineman that has bust written all over him. The Jags play in a difficult division, but playoff contention is almost a necessity with lagging attendance. Failing to put a good product on the field, and thus failing to draw supporters, could force the ownership to transform the team into the “Los Angeles Leopards” sooner rather than later.

23. ARIZONA CARDINALS: After years as an NFL laughingstock, the Cardinals emerged in 2008 as an exciting, successful team, led by an efficient passing offense and solid defense. However, this off-season saw the retirement of Kurt Warner and the departure of Anquan Boldin to the Ravens. A multitude of questions surround Matt Leinart, once heralded as the Cardinals’ future before the resurgence of Warner. His arm strength was a question coming out of college, and it remains a question. Whether three Cardinals will fly to Kurt Warner's version of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a la Favre to abduct Warner and force him possibly at gunpoint to come out of retirement is still a possibility. The offense will likely revolve more around the running game and Beanie Wells this year. Wells was good last season, but it would take exceptional play to keep this offense playing on a high level. The defense also lost Karlos Dansby to the Dolphins. The Cards have unquestionably been the strongest team in the NFC West over the past two years. Warner’s retirement leaves the division wide open, and may in fact relegate the Cardinals back toward the bottom of the league.

22. OAKLAND RAIDERS: Oakland finally rid itself of JaMarcus Russell, possibly the worst top draft choice in history. In comes Jason Campbell, who will now be able to add to his résumé that he quarterbacked the two most dysfunctional franchises of his era. But in Campbell the Raiders will get an experienced, solid quarterback that dramatically upgrades the offense. The only problem (and it’s a big problem) is that Oakland probably has the worst group of receivers in the league; coupled with a very porous offensive line, Campbell could be running for his life on every play just like last season. The Raiders, however, have a pretty solid defense, a decent running game and most importantly a weak division. Eight or nine wins wouldn’t surprise me too much, even though it would be more a product of an easy schedule than a talented roster.

21. DETROIT LIONS: The Lions? At No. 21? How the hell is that possible? That’s probably what you are thinking/yelling right now, but I actually have Motown’s finest placed exactly where I want them. I think the Lions have a chance to surprise some people this year. Detroit’s brass has done an excellent job of rebuilding since 2008’s 0-16 debacle, specifically this offseason by adding at least five new starters. I think the first four weeks will set the tone for these Lions, as they face a brutal opening stretch (@Chicago, vs. Eagles, @Vikings, @Packers; that’s all three road divisional games within the first four weeks). If somehow they can head into Week 5 at 2-2, then Matthew Stafford’s progress and enhanced arsenal could allow this team to contend for the postseason, at least for a little while. The only issue for Detroit this season (well, not the only issue, as the Lions have an absolutely horrific secondary) is their ridiculously difficult schedule (tough division, plus games against the two toughest divisions in football, the AFC East and NFC East). I think the Lions are a lot better, but I’m not sure their record will show it this season.

20. CAROLINA PANTHERS: Are the Panthers good? Are they terrible? No one really knows, and I don’t think it would surprise too many people if they were very good or very bad this season. For Carolina, 2010 hinges primarily on the arm of Matt Moore, who presumably is the team’s quarterback until the golden boy Jimmy Clausen is ready to take over. (Hey, what ever happened to those four national championships that Notre Dame was supposed to win?). The Panthers have a semi-revamped defense, which probably is bad news considering the NFC’s premier offensive powerhouse (New Orleans) resides in Carolina’s division. But this team played well toward the end of last season, so we’ll see how far momentum can take them. And on the bright side, no more Jake Delhomme interception-fests.

19. TENNESSEE TITANS: Is it possible to compete in the NFL without a passing game? The Titans are doing their best to prove the point one way or another. Chris Johnson quite simply is the league’s most dynamic player, but even his Herculean efforts only carried Tennessee to an 8-8 record last season. Tennessee’s passing game ranked 23rd in the league last year, but here’s a stat that tops them all: In a 59-0 loss to the Patriots last season, the Titans passed for -7 yards. Yes, that is possible. Tom Brady had six touchdowns that game for the Pats, meaning that he technically passed for 13 more touchdowns than the Titans passed for yards in that game. Of course Vince Young took over as starter and revitalized the Titans after that point, and he did a great job leading this team. But they still don’t really have a prolific passing offense by any means, especially with a pretty bad receiving corps.

18. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: The 49ers as a semi-sleeper team expected to finally break out this season.I think I’ve heard that story more than a few times. Most so-called experts are picking San Francisco to win a weak NFC West this season, and I think I agree. But I came to this conclusion through process of elimination, not because of San Francisco’s merits. I’m still not sold on the 49ers, as they have a major question at quarterback. How can you possibly be the consensus favorite to win a division when there are serious questions about the indisputable most important position on the field? (Answer: The division is the NFC West). The Niners have a good defense, and I really like Mike Singletary as coach. They have weapons on offense (Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree to name the biggest three), and if Alex Smith can put it together, this could be a dangerous team. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the 49ers garnered double-digit wins in 2009, partly because of this team’s talent but mostly because of the NFC West.

17. WASHINGTON REDSKINS: I actually think the Redskins have a chance to be a very good team this season, but I have a few concerns with Washington. Can Clinton Portis stay healthy? He hasn’t proven that he can, and I’m not comfortable with Larry Johnson. Will the offensive line hold up? Last year it was ravaged by injuries, and the inexperience of Trent Williams will surely be costly at some point, even though he should be a good player eventually. Does Donovan McNabb have enough weapons? We really won’t know until we see Devin Thomas play this year; his production could be key to the Redskins’ season offensively. Although Washington’s 2009 season was a debacle, the defense was a very bright spot, ranking as one of the NFL’s best. It should be even better in 2010, but the biggest question (literally and figuratively) that Washington faces this season could put a stop to that: Albert Haynesworth. The big $100 million man is a ticking time bomb, and unfortunately I’m not sure that even Mike Shanahan has the Jack Bauer capabilities required to stop it from exploding. The Redskins are talented, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they made a playoff run. But for now I have a few too many concerns to place them any higher on this list.

Stay tuned for Part II of Stanley’s NFL Preview, where he will count down the top half of the league. Following that will be his official predictions for the 2010 season. Post your take on his rankings below!


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

He's The All-Time Leader, But Emmitt Will Never Be The Greatest

  • Monday, August 9, 2010 12:15 AM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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Is it just me, or is Emmitt Smith planting his cleat into his teammate's eye on this play?

On Saturday, Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has rushed for more yards than any other back, and is second only to Jerry Rice on the all-time touchdown list. He won three Super Bowls during an illustrious 15-year career in the NFL. But although he may rule the world of statistics, Smith will never go down as the greatest running back in league history.

In other sports, greatness is easier to quantify. For example, the consensus greatest player in NHL history, Wayne Gretzky, tops the list of all-time goal scorers and point scorers. But in the NFL, a player’s individual accomplishments are often directly linked to other players on his team. In this regard, the fact that Smith played for one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history hurts his place in history.

Interestingly enough, the standard measure for quarterbacking success in the NFL is simply winning. Though Dan Marino’s statistics outshine those of Joe Montana, the 49ers quarterback is probably held in higher regard historically than Marino, just because of Super Bowl success (Montana won four while Marino won none). To a degree, statistics matter with quarterbacks. For example, Peyton Manning is largely considered to be the best quarterback of this era because of his statistics and single Super Bowl victory, even though Tom Brady has very good stats and three Super Bowl wins.

But with running backs, statistics are diminished when it comes to sorting through the best of all-time. Not only must a runner rush for thousands of yards, but he also has to look good in the process. Smith’s detractors argue that he had one of the best offensive lines in history (a fairly true statement), along with a great team all around the field. A prolific passing offense ensured that opposing defenses couldn’t stack the box to stop Smith. So running lanes were aplenty during the glory years of the 90’s.

Emmitt Smith’s highlight tape is quite impressive, but doesn’t quite top some of his colleagues in the Hall of Fame. But in the long run, he is punished for having too easy of a road to the end zone. On the other hand, the only other runners arguably better than Smith didn’t necessarily play on the best teams. Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers and Walter Payton won a combined two championships in their careers.

Many believe that Smith was simply a product of a great offensive line. To an extent, this is probably true. If Barry Sanders had played with the Cowboys in the 90’s instead of the Lions, he would have demolished the all-time NFL rushing record, even if he had still retired early. But the reason we appreciate Barry, and even consider him greater than Emmitt (at least I do), is because of his magnificent, graceful runs, often set up by an offensive line inferior to that of the Cowboys.

The little man could find his way through any wall of defenders, darting through linemen and linebackers twice his size as if he was dodging bullets in The Matrix. And then his blazing speed and flawless footwork would take him to the end zone, a dream player for the likes of NFL Films. Walter Payton similarly busted through tackles, making the impossible seem easy, and became the primary offensive threat on a team known for its stellar defensive play. Jim Brown is considered by many to be the best player in NFL history, mainly because of his tackle-proof, rugged running style. And Gale Sayers, who retired early like Brown and Sanders, was Barry before Barry was a toddler.

Meanwhile Emmitt almost seemed to have too many clear paths to the end zone. Sure, he broke countless amounts of tackles during his career. And of course he made a few guys miss. But Smith was on a team with more than a few Pro Bowlers, not to mention Hall of Famers.

Emmitt should be remembered as a great running back. He is obviously one of the best in NFL history. But while Sweetness had to move over for Emmitt at the top of the record books, Emmitt will never pass Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers or Walter Payton in the eyes of football history.

Punished for being on a great team? Absolutely. But had we put Emmitt on Barry’s Lions, we honestly have no idea how his career would have shaped up. So even though Smith has rushed for the most yards in NFL history, he just didn’t look pretty enough doing it.


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

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Mailbag: Is Jake Delhomme Now Cleveland's Most Famous Athlete?

  • Sunday, July 25, 2010 1:30 AM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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This summer has been strangely compelling from a sports perspective, much more so than most years. Excuse me for not jumping up and down over mundane July baseball games, but most summers I find myself longing for the football days of autumn.

Well this year the World Cup and the NBA free agency changed that. So here we are in late July and we’ve barely even talked about Brett Favre. No live helicopter shots of his house in Mississippi? No uncomfortable Brad Childress press conferences? Where’s Ed Werder and Rachel Nichols when you need them? Somehow I find myself looking forward to the upcoming Brett Favre “decision.” It’s officially time for football season.

To the mailbag (comment-bag):

youtha:

Dan Gilbert is an ungrateful ass. He had LeBron for seven years and gave him no good support. Perhaps if he had opened his purse instead of his mouth, LeBron, The Real King, would still be there. He needed to acquire players of LeBron's caliber to get the title and only an outlay of money will do that. Apparently, Gilbert, the ass, was too stingy to do what the Boston Celtics did. When Boston finally gave Paul Pierce Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Boston went all the way and almost did it this time. I'm glad LeBron didn't bow to pressure. He deserves a ring and being a free agent, he can go anywhere he wants. Back off haters.


Trust me, I feel terrible for the fans of Cleveland. A few weeks ago the city housed one of the best athletes in the country. Now the title of Cleveland’s most famous athlete is a close duel between Jake Delhomme and Antawn Jamison.

(For the record, my vote goes to Delhomme. He is notorious for quarterbacking an NFC champion team, as well as surpassing Brett Favre as the most reliable NFL quarterback in terms of throwing interceptions. Here's Chris Collinsworth to break it down for you: "Jake Delhomme, this is a guy that just loves what he does and just works so hard every day of an NFL season. Don't you tell him that he isn't the best at throwing interceptions in the league. (Laughs) You know you can count on this guy any time you need that key turnover in the worst of moments. And you know, he might just be the most famous athlete in Cleveland. (Laughs) He's just an amazing guy, and the big man right now in Cleveland." Meanwhile, Jamison will now have played for the Arenas handgun era Wizards and the post-LeBron Cavaliers, two of the most depressing NBA teams possibly in history.)

Cleveland sports fans have a right to be angry. The city has had terrible luck in the sporting world over the past 50 or so years, and now its savior goes on national television and tears the heart out of every Cleveland fan, Last of the Mohicans style.

The Cavs have become an embarrassing collection of horrible talent, mostly a product of bad transactions. I’m not sure how any team can sell tickets with Antawn Jamison as its signature player. And even Anderson Varejao can’t flop his way to victories every night. Cleveland isn’t even close to being a playoff team; the Cavs could be one of the worst teams in the league next season.

Bob:

What a joke! When a professional athlete can take over a broadcast it just shows you how unprofessional he is and how the media built it up so much. I go along with Cleveland-GOOD RIDDANCE!


Unfortunately when Cavs fans said “good riddance” to LeBron they may have said goodbye to professional basketball in Cleveland. I’m not saying I expect the Cavs to move anytime soon; I just don’t think they will recover for a very long time.

It really was a terrible moment in TV history for Cleveland. Worse than the last moment of The Sopranos. Maybe the only way it could have been worse is if LeBron gave his decision wearing a John Elway jersey.

player23:

dan gilbert always talks about loyalty but how about the players that they took from different teams.. its the same.. Lebron is not a slave it his decision and he has the freedom to do so.. its a free country.. did the people of phoenix did that to amare when he went to knicks.. lebron has done enough for the city of cleveland.. it aint that easy


Is this Jesse Jackson?

John:

I suspect that the same people who are sniveling about America not accepting soccer like the rest of the world are the same ones that love to caterwaul about "diversity." Well, behold the marvelous diversity of sports! It is my sincere hope that America continues to love baseball, real football, and basketball and therefore carries high and proud the banner of sports diversity.


America will undoubtedly continue to fervently support a wide range of sports. Obviously, American football is the king in the United States, and I don’t see anything surpassing it.

We always refer to the “four major sports” of football, baseball, basketball and hockey, although hockey doesn’t get as much love because games aren’t shown on ESPN. But with possible NFL and NBA lockouts in 2011 and the slow nature of baseball, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be talking about the “five major sports” fairly soon, with soccer joining the group.

Signs point to soccer’s rapidly increasing popularity in this country. The World Cup scored very high ratings for ESPN/ABC, most definitely assisted by ESPN’s nonstop excellent coverage of the tournament. Thierry Henry’s arrival in New York gives the MLS another big name star, along with Landon Donovan and David Beckham. And ESPN has begun to promote foreign leagues as well, televising a number of English Premier League games on weekends, as well as contests from the UEFA Champions League.

There’s no denying that soccer is on the rise in the USA. That America is beginning to embrace soccer is a testament to what a truly rich and diverse sporting nation it has become. In the typically boring summers, fans desperately searching for an escape from baseball are forced to turn to Arena Football, WNBA and possibly even suicide. MLS contests and European club exhibitions definitely have a chance to gain more than a few viewers.


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

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The Night LeBron James Became The NBA's Villain

  • Friday, July 9, 2010 3:34 AM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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Le-Gone

The LeBronathon has been unlike anything else in the history of professional sports. Nonstop coverage of LeBron James’ future job site since the Cavaliers’ mid-May exit from the NBA playoffs has finally culminated in a ridiculous television event put on by ESPN called “The Decision.” And the decision for LeBron, as reported by many, turned out to be joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

This so-called decision was the biggest sporting event that wasn’t actually a sporting event that I can recall. It bordered upon the absurd, yet made for very compelling television. That one athlete could make ESPN, the apex of American sports media, completely bow down to him speaks volumes about the global icon that LeBron has become. Dwyane Wade is just as good as James, yet when Wade decided to return to the Heat, the instant analysis immediately shifted to speculation on whether his choice to return would affect LeBron’s decision.

For nearly two months, LeBron has commandeered ESPN. The buildup to his personal press conference was a three-hour SportsCenter, something reserved usually for events like the Super Bowl. Rachel Nichols, live from New York with the Knicks. David Amber, live in New Jersey. T.J. Quinn, ESPN investigative reporter, live in Greenwich, the epicenter of LeBronapalooza. Bob Holtzman in Miami. George Smith at the Chicago Bulls’ practice facility. Shelley Smith, live from a Cleveland bar with patrons already looking depressed. ESPN made this event far bigger than the NBA Finals; it felt like some milestone upon which the future of Western Civilization hinged (for ESPN’s NBA reporter and designated free agent guy Chris Broussard, this was absolutely the case).

So then we finally reached “The Decision,” the actual name of the one-hour special that LeBron’s camp pitched to ESPN. LeBron would say during the program that the free agent period had been a humbling experience. Humbling? How is having a one-hour special on yourself called simply "The Decision" humble at all? And the name “The Decision” in itself is ridiculous. It sounds like a terrible Tom Cruise movie, built up a lot with previews and a corny Tom Cruise line every 15 seconds (oh wait, that’s Knight and Day, and it’s currently in theaters).

The buildup literally felt like we were waiting for a major presidential address, especially with the way LeBron hijacked the network like President Obama would do for an address on the BP oil spill. It sort of felt like 2002, as we waited for President Bush to announce whether we would go to war in Iraq. Or it seemed like we were waiting for the results of a close presidential election. Actually, as the deadline drew closer and closer, and I began to suspect that LeBron leaked false information about wanting to go to Miami just to play mind games with the public, it felt a lot like Bush and Gore all over again, in that nobody knew what the hell was going on.

I was literally dreading LeBron in Miami for a few reasons.

1) The bandwagon Heat fans would come out in full force (there are some very loyal Heat fans in South Florida, but overall the area houses some of the worst bandwagon fans in the country).
2) With LeBron in Miami, the NBA would essentially be two exciting teams (Lakers and Heat), three possible Eastern Conference foils to Miami (Magic, Celtics, and Bulls), 24 other teams, and the Los Angeles Clippers.
3) Bandwagon Heat fans (it warrants being mentioned twice).
4) Stephen A. Smith nodding arrogantly and ferociously while declaring on every media outlet in America that he was the first to call the trifecta in Miami.

Finally the big moment had arrived after a countdown that felt like New Year’s Eve, except we were waiting for 9:15ish instead of midnight. LeBron, looking nervous in crunch time as always, was sitting directly across from interviewer Jim Gray. Literally as soon as he comes on screen, I got a text from my cousin and diehard Cleveland fan Ryan: “I hate him.” And he hadn’t even made his announcement yet! We may have to deploy the military to the Cleveland area. (By the way, Jake Delhomme might now the most famous athlete in Cleveland ... just let that sink in for a few minutes before you start complaining about your own city’s sports teams).

I have always hated the Cavs, but I was already feeling bad for the good people of Cleveland at this point, so I began considering the only ways I wouldn’t totally despise LeBron after this announcement.

1) He could announce he was staying, in which case I would have continued to hate the Cavs and LeBron. But it felt like the righteous choice.
2) He could sign with the Pistons and revive the city of Detroit (and my own interest in the NBA), and both Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon would agree to give back their terrible contracts (still holding out hope on the second part).
3) He could announce he was coming to the NFL to play wide receiver, and that he would sign with the Redskins and win ten Super Bowls.
4) He could say that he was switching to soccer to help the USA win a World Cup.
5) He could go to the Middle East to promote World Peace.
6) He could pull a Gale Sayers and retire.

Obviously, I was not expecting any of the aforementioned scenarios, though it would have been one of the great moments in American sports history if any of it actually happened. Nevertheless I was envisioning a burgundy and yellow clad LeBron James hauling in a touchdown from Donovan McNabb in Super Bowl XLV. But then, along with everyone else, I was sucked back into the drama. At that moment, it was LeBron’s world, we were all just living in it. Would he join the Wade/Bosh duo in Miami? Maybe he would go to Chicago and start a great rivalry with the Heat in the East? Would it be New York for the ultimate challenge of bringing the Knicks back to prominence? The Nets in a major surprise? The Cavs in the ultimate display of loyalty?

It literally felt like an American Idol finale, except with four or five contenders instead of just two. As I was anxiously waiting for Ryan Seacrest to make his way on stage with a flipcard containing the name of the winning city, the camera began to slowly zoom in on LeBron’s face.

Jim Gray (clearly has been rehearsing this for the last 48 hours): The answer to the question everybody wants to know. LeBron, what’s your decision?

(As Jim Gray asks this question, LeBron does not look confident at all. He nods nervously as he realizes this is his moment).

LeBron (unlike Gray, clearly has not rehearsed): Um, in this fall, man this is very tough. Um, in this fall, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach (ed. note: LeBron, we know you are talented….you don’t have to remind us), and um, join the Miami Heat.

Even though I heard Chris Broussard tell me that LeBron was 99% headed to Miami way too much over the past 48 hours (other fallout from LeBronapalooza besides the city of Cleveland declaring war against LeBron James: Chris Broussard's voice playing on loop in everyone’s head), it still shocked me. In a way, I respected LeBron for taking less money to win a championship. In an era of athletes caring so much about the money and not enough about winning, it is definitely admirable. But in every other way, I despised his decision.

(I got the following text from the aforementioned Cavs fan Ryan just before LeBron broke the news: “To be honest? I’m f****** mad. If he thinks he can go on national TV to slam our city for 55 minutes, he will take all the Clevelanders who would have understood and turn them on a dime. He will literally be number two on Cleveland’s most hated behind Art Modell.” When you have a die-hard Cleveland fan put LeBron James ahead of John Elway, you know that it’s going to be an ugly divorce.)

Even though the prospect of having two superstars and one all-star on one team is enticing, I know that I’ll watch the NBA less because of it. I’ll watch the first game the team plays together, purely out of curiosity. Maybe I’ll watch the first quarter when they play the Cavs, just to see if World War III breaks out. I’ll be interested in Lakers-Heat, mainly because it could be a Finals preview (though I don’t think Miami will necessarily make the Finals in year one of the trifecta). If LeBron goes to the Knicks or Bulls, then the league would have an awesome rivalry with the Heat for the next five to seven years. Instead? The NBA literally has two great teams, and that’s it. And they have a lockout to worry about in 2011 (when Brendan Haywood gets a 6 year deal worth $55 million, there SHOULD be a lockout).

For the Heat, anything short of a championship will be a disappointment. There is more pressure on this team to win than possibly any other in NBA history. During the regular season, players can’t possibly give 100 percent effort in every game—the season is simply too long of a grind to do so. But you bet that every team will give its all when they play the Heat come next season. The Miami Heat have become the villains of the NBA.

The consensus seems to be that next year’s Finals will be the Heat and Lakers. Even though I don’t think it’s a given, I wouldn’t be surprised by any means if it happens. A possible Heat-Lakers rivalry over the next three years (when Kobe will likely begin to decline) would mean a few things for the league.

1) The NBA would be a sports equivalent of the Cold War, except there would actually be a city annihilated ... Cleveland.
2) We would see some of the worst regular seasons in league history, followed by a bad playoffs but potentially very memorable Finals.
3) If Kobe was successful against the Miami trifecta, we would have to seriously consider the Kobe/MJ conversation for best player ever (you know Kobe is salivating over the possibility of defeating LeBron/Wade/Bosh in the Finals for his sixth ring, which would tie Jordan).

But as I write this a few hours after the LeBronathon came to an end, it is far too early to begin speculating about Heat-Lakers next June. We do know a few things, however. LeBron just went on national television and tore out the heart of his hometown in the cruelest way possible. Instead of becoming possibly the most beloved athlete in Cleveland history, he becomes its second most hated sports figure. We also know that he took to heart the phrase “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” In the end, his legacy will pay for that attitude. There’s no way that MJ or Kobe takes the easier-looking road to the Finals like LeBron did.

The most significant result of “The Decision?” With a few words, LeBron became the NBA’s primary villain. Of course he will sell jerseys and remain popular; all great players do. But besides being reviled in Cleveland, he won’t have the same support in other places, especially New York or Chicago, because of the way he went about this process. The casual NBA fan will too recognize the debauchery of his free agent process, and how the trifecta isn’t necessarily all that great for the league.

The Miami Heat have clearly become an unprecedented collection of stars not just in the NBA, but in all of sports. Ocean’s Eleven and The Departed made it work on screen, and the Miami Heat will probably make it work too.

Every great story has its villain. In the NBA, it looks like LeBron James has assumed that role.


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

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Is Germany The Decade's Best International Soccer Team? "Vielleicht" (Perhaps)

  • Tuesday, July 6, 2010 2:23 AM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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A lot of potential German World Cup championship parades have been rained on since 2002.

On Wednesday, Germany will have a chance to advance to the World Cup final with a win over tournament-favorite Spain. A victory in this rematch of the UEFA Euro 2008 Final would obviously put the Germans in great position to win the world’s biggest sporting event. It would also solidify Miroslav Klose & Co. as the most consistent international football squad of the most recent decade, and a win in the subsequent final would make the Germans the unquestioned best team of the past ten years.

Germany has now reached the World Cup semifinal in three straight tournaments, including a final-game berth in 2002. The team had a poor showing at UEFA Euro 2004, but it was the runner-up at Euro 2008.

Most pundits did not expect an amazing showing in South Africa for the Germans, who were forced to play the tournament without injured veteran star Michael Ballack. But with an aggressive style, Germany has taken the tournament by force, winning its group before toppling England and Argentina in very impressive fashions.

No other squad matches Germany’s consistency in the world’s top tournament since 2002. Brazil won the World Cup in 2002, but exited in the quarterfinals in both 2006 and 2010. The Italians were the winners in 2006, but they were knocked out in the Round of 16 in 2002, and failed to reach the knockout round this year. Spain has been good as of late, but didn’t make a substantial run in a major tournament until winning Euro 2008.

Of course the Germans hardly want to be remembered as soccer’s version of the early 90s Buffalo Bills when it comes to winning the big game. While the Mannschaft has performed at an excellent level for the past ten years, the team has not won a major tournament. They have come close, but have not left with a trophy.

Many often overlook Germany when it comes to the big tournaments, even though the squad is traditionally one of the most successful. Brazil, Argentina and Spain all have the star power, and England has its overzealous media coupled with a cast of players more suited for reality television than a World Cup. Somewhere, Germany gets lost in the shuffle.

Yet with two victories, the Germans will be recognized as the decade’s best international team. But just like they have been on so many occasions, Germany is so close, yet so far, to claiming that title. A loss in the semifinal or final will leave the Germans with a familiar empty feeling of falling just short, at least until another run begins at Euro 2012.


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

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Blame It On The Black Stars: Hope Or Hate For Soccer Until 2014?

  • Sunday, June 27, 2010 12:33 AM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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We’re done. Just like that, fans that come out in droves during the World Cup will retreat to hibernation until the summer of 2014. Back to following the real football after a 2-1 futbol loss for the USA in the first knockout round of the 2010 World Cup. To the Black Stars of Ghana again.

Everyone always wants to know when America will embrace soccer like the rest of the world. I have no idea if this will ever happen, and neither does anyone else. Even if the USA were to somehow win a World Cup, I don’t think we would definitely see a mass exodus of future Pelés and Maradonas flocking for the pitch instead of a court, gridiron or diamond.

I consider myself a soccer fan on the rise. I’ve followed every World Cup since pretty much 2002, and I vaguely remember watching France defeat Brazil in the 1998 final. I’m making a legitimate effort to learn the world’s footballers, starting with national teams and then studying club teams. I’ve made a vow to adopt an English Premier League team to follow come August (I’ve chosen Everton because of U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard). So I try to defend the sport from its American haters.

But as the USA’s match with Ghana wound down and a loss seemed inevitable, I became frustrated. I wasn’t necessarily exasperated with any player in particular. Rather, I began to become frustrated with the sport that they call “football,” which at the time seemed inferior on so many levels to our definition of the same name (it still does seem that way).

It’s easy to recognize why most Americans don’t like soccer. The players flop more than John Kerry. Take today’s match, for instance. I’ve never seen anything more absurd in a contact sport than the Ghanaian players flopping all over the field. They aren’t even touched and they writhe on the ground in pain, feigning injuries so that the stretcher and the magic spray (the strange medical treatment given to players no matter what injury they sustain) must be summoned to waste even more time. Some of those players even make notorious flopaholic Cristiano Ronaldo seem like he could play in the NHL.

Need more reasons why nobody in the U.S. cares about soccer? The game has such an inexact nature. The ball goes out of bounds, play continues. The clock runs without stop, allowing the leading team to stall as if it is being sent to Room 101 after 90 minutes is over. There’s no instant replay. Our home league has almost no well-known players. Any sport in which the French can actually win a world championship must be stupid. The list goes on.

So we’ll be left with an empty feeling for a few days, all of us believing that a run to the semifinals was so close, yet so far. And we’ll all lament soccer’s backseat place in America, and analysts will declare that there’s still no place for soccer in the United States. Maybe this is true, maybe not. After this roller-coaster World Cup, I still don’t know where I stand.

I watched the game with friends, and after the final whistle, we sat on the couch dumbfounded at the way U.S. Soccer’s run had come to an end. Then we went to play soccer, as if we could somehow change the result with our own play. Or maybe we had already begun to crave the next World Cup run for the USA.

When we got there, there was a little kid and his dad on the field, kicking the ball around the goal. The kid must have been no older than 4. But there he was kicking around a soccer ball, donning a shirt with the traditional striker No. 10 on the back. The number of Landon Donovan, Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi and Kaká at this World Cup.

Maybe there’s hope for the future of U.S. Soccer after all.


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

A "Haynesworthless" Mailbag

  • Tuesday, June 22, 2010 11:11 PM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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Best news since France was eliminated from the World Cup this morning: It’s time for my inaugural quasi mailbag! Notice the “quasi.” The reason for this is that I’m not actually going over any mail -- all reader comments (“takes”) today. Why? No e-mails of note. And by “no e-mails of note,” I mean that the only e-mails I received about articles were from my mom and grandma. Let’s move on.

But before we get to the quasi mailbag (comment bag), a quick word about U.S. Soccer’s match Wednesday against Algeria. If the USA fails to advance to the knockout round, Americans will be up in arms because of Koman Coulibaly’s blown call last match.

Besides being the only guy I know from Mali, Coulibaly is also the only soccer referee that I know. Even in soccer, the only recognized referees are the ones that make a terrible call. It’s similar to Jim Joyce and baseball, except that the USA-Slovenia game was like 90 minutes of Joyce calls. And after the Galarraga near-perfecto, the whole ordeal turned into a great feel-good story. This pretty much has no upside, except that a few more people have heard of Mali.

However, if the USA can’t beat Algeria, then they don’t even deserve to make it through. Beat Algeria, and the Americans move on to the knockout stage. Lose and everyone freaks out at Koman Coulibaly. But if we can’t even beat Algeria, then our frustration should be directed mostly at our players, not officiating.

To the quasi mailbag (the best comments of the last few posts). It’s an all-football edition:

lee the lion:

“bring [back] bobby lane”

Last year I would have agreed with this statement. Even though Layne has been dead for nearly 25 years, I still would have started him at quarterback for Detroit as late as 2008.

I like Matthew Stafford a lot. Even though he was a bit erratic at times last season, he showed good leadership qualities and some flashes of brilliance when both he and Calvin Johnson were healthy. I’m looking forward to a year of having Stafford and Johnson healthy together.

One of the weirdest coincidences ever has to be Stafford’s connection with Bobby Layne. Stafford went to the same high school as Layne, and he even grew up on the same street as the Lions’ star of the 50’s. If Stafford brings back a winning tradition to Detroit, then I’m going to raise my kid on that street in Dallas.

eben:

“Haynesworthless”

Not sure who came up with this, but I approve. The only problem? He’s not quite worthless ... try $100 million. It would be like having an expensive yet ugly chandelier in your house. You want to get rid of it, but it’s just too expensive so you leave it up. Yet the only person who would buy such an overpriced chandelier? Dan Snyder. That’s the only funny part about this whole ordeal for Redskins fans: Albert Haynesworth is stealing Snyder’s money. Awesome.

burgundy/gold:

“His fat #$$ would surely enjoy commuting to a real job every morning. But he already got the money, so he's surely content.”

If Albert was an Average Joe with a 9-to-5 desk job, there’s no chance he would show up for more than one day per week. And he’d probably just come in to pick up his timecard. Speaking of overrated players that refuse to play: France soccer. The team refused to practice for coach Raymond Domenech. They played horribly in the tournament. The sports minister said that the players had disgraced the country. It’s like every player on the roster was Albert Haynesworth.

bob:

“I would be mad if I were Haynesworth. He signed with the Redskins because Dan Snyder promised him that they were going to stay in the 4-3. Thats where he dominates. So for Snyder to flip-flop on that decision shows the weakness in the front office of DC”

Interesting point. But at the end of the day, Dan Snyder doesn’t have control over the day-to-day football operations of the Washington Redskins. Not anymore at least.

Sure, the front office used to be weak. But Haynesworth must have known that the defensive scheme would change at some point in his Redskins’ tenure. Mike Shanahan is in control, and Haynesworth should be in camp. He took his $21 million bonus, so there’s no excuse.

Haynesworthless.


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

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Talking Lions And Detroit Sports With Sportswriter Eric Adelson

  • Friday, June 18, 2010 1:32 AM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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I recently had the opportunity to chat with Yahoo! Sports expert and Detroit sports fan Eric Adelson about the Lions. He previously wrote for ESPN The Magazine, and he recently authored the book The Sure Thing: The Making and Unmaking of Golf Phenom Michelle Wie. Adelson graduated from Harvard University and Columbia University’s School of Journalism, but still bleeds maize and blue. Knowing his passion for Detroit sports, I asked him a few questions about his favorite NFL team:

Most football fans dread the off-season. But for the Lions, every NFL season is typically full of misery and despair. So is your football self-esteem higher in the midst of this off-season, or are you longing for autumn?

Adelson: There have been plenty of false starts on rebuilding in the last 50 years, but now it seems the Lions have put together three good drafts in a row. Calvin Johnson is a star, Delmas is a revelation, Sammie Lee Hill is a pleasant surprise, and Suh looks like the top player in this class. And that doesn't include Stafford, who showed me a lot in that Cleveland game. It could all fall apart again, but this looks like two steps forward instead of one step forward and two steps back.

Just curious: Do you have a favorite Lion?

Adelson: I like Delmas and Stafford. They both seem to be confident without being arrogant. And they are tough.

What is your assessment of Detroit's 2010 off-season changes? How much better (or worse) is the team right now than it was at the end of the 2009 season?

Adelson: It's better, especially on defense, but the Lions won't be a playoff team until they get a stronger offensive line. The team might win five games, but never 10 with what they have up front.

How would you grade the Lions' 2010 draft class? How big of an impact can Ndamukong Suh and Jahvid Best have both in the short term and the long run?

Adelson: Too soon to tell. They both had great college careers, but so did Mike Williams and Aaron Gibson.

What do you expect out of Matthew Stafford in his second year? How good of a pro do you think he can be?

Adelson: Reading Nick Cotsonika's profile of Stafford opened my eyes to his intellect. My belief in him has ramped up. He's a leader and he's got a big arm. But again, he's not going to be an All-Pro with that offensive line.

I know you are a big fan of all Detroit-area teams, so I'll mix it up a bit for these next few. More wins this year: the Lions or University of Michigan football?

Adelson: I’ll say both win 6.

I know you’re a baseball fan as well. At the end of their respective seasons, which number will be lower: Lions wins or Justin Verlander’s ERA?

Adelson: Haha. Gotta be Verlander's ERA. Otherwise it's going to be a long summer.

Most likely scenario: the Lions win the Super Bowl or LeBron James joins the Pistons this summer? Speaking of the Pistons, are they worse than the Lions now?

Adelson: These are good questions! I think both are non-playoff teams. But the Lions' immediate future looks better. Can't believe I said that. And neither of those scenarios are at all likely.

Most likely to occur first: The Lions make the playoffs or the Red Wings miss the playoffs?

Adelson: Another good one! I think the Wings are just fine. So the Lions should have three years to make the postseason. They can do it.

I know it's still a bit early to be making predictions (although I just asked you to make several ridiculous projections), but what do you see from the Detroit Lions in 2010?

Adelson: There will be improvement for sure. I think Suh will be great. The Lions will be in games. The defense will create turnovers (for once.) No more blowouts. But they have too many holes to win more than six.

Who is currently the best athlete in Detroit?

Adelson: Gotta be Miggy. Even though I could probably beat him in a race.

The next Detroit team to win a championship will be ...

Adelson: Could be the Tigers!

Last question. If Rich Rodriguez leads Michigan to another terrible season and gets canned, then who will have a worse Detroit-area sports legacy: Matt Millen or Rich Rodriguez?

Adelson: Millen. RichRod only cost the program three years. (But don't give up on RR yet!)


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

Moron Of The Week: Albert Haynesworth

  • Wednesday, June 16, 2010 5:01 PM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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Haynesworth has made $32 million so far as a Redskin. In other words, he made $55,562 per snap. What recession you ask?

I thought Big Baby played for the Boston Celtics. But I think I’m mistaken -- the real Big Baby plays for the Washington Redskins, and his name is Albert Haynesworth.

For the most part, the 2010 offseason has been full of positives for the Washington Redskins: A new experienced head coach in Mike Shanahan, a good quarterback in Donovan McNabb and a new GM in Bruce Allen who actually knows what he is doing. Times have changed in the nation’s capital, and it appears to be for the better.

Haynesworth remains one very large exception. A 350-pound exception to be exact. The $100 million man has expressed discontent since the Shanahan era began; he doesn’t like the installation of a 3-4 defense. The new scheme would require Haynesworth, who signed with the Redskins in 2009, to switch to a nose tackle position.

The former Tennessee Titan claims that he will not be able to dominate in the 3-4 scheme like he did in the 4-3. And he is probably correct. The nose tackle in the 3-4 system is not a glamour position; sacks are very difficult to obtain. The Patriots’ Vince Wilfork, possibly the best-known nose tackle in the league, only has 7.5 career sacks. Yet he is still regarded as one of the top defensive linemen in the game.

Football is a team sport. It’s an obvious statement, but apparently Albert Haynesworth never got the memo.

When Haynesworth signed his huge deal in the 2009 offseason, he surely must have expected the Redskins’ defensive scheme to change at some point in his career. After all, by signing the contract, he had committed to Washington for seven years.

Unfortunately for Haynesworth, Shanahan isn’t ready to structure a defense around one loud-mouthed player. Realizing that he was unhappy with the new system, the Redskins were willing to send the defensive tackle off in February. They allowed Haynesworth to look for a possible suitor, but he took a $21 million bonus instead. At that point, it should have been no turning back for the defensive tackle.

Today, ‘Skins linebacker London Fletcher called his move “selfish.” Shanahan also expressed his disappointment with Haynesworth. And a number of other Redskins spoke out against their teammate.

The bottom line: Haynesworth signed a contract to be part of the Redskins for seven years. Sure, the defensive system changed after one season, but he shouldn’t have signed with Washington if he didn’t like coaching upheaval and change. You didn’t see Jason Campbell complain when his offensive system changed basically every offseason. And you didn’t see any other Redskins’ defensive players complaining about the new 3-4 system either.

If Haynesworth was really concerned with helping the Redskins win Super Bowls, he would be in camp now. He is obviously an immensely talented player, and he would make one of the best (if not the very best) nose tackles in the league. With Haynesworth clogging the middle, the Redskins would have a very intimidating front seven. But apparently Haynesworth is more concerned with his own sack totals (and dollar totals) than with helping the team win.

The Big Baby should take one of two options: Either shut up and get to camp, or shut up, pay back his $21 million bonus, and get out of Washington. Either way, he should stop running his mouth and quit being just another expensive problem facing the nation's capital.


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

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The USA's Ultimate Starting XI

  • Friday, June 11, 2010 2:45 PM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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USA’s squad for the 2010 World Cup: Solid, but fairly unspectacular. The reason for this good but not great roster is the same reason as to why soccer (or “football,” as they say ... everywhere else in the world) has not been able to succeed compared to other sports in America. Simply put, our best athletes primarily play basketball and football (our version).

Although youth soccer programs are still fairly large in the U.S., you don’t have to look past high school athletics to see why the Americans have never performed particularly well at the World Cup, or even at the international club level. Out of the top ten best athletes in a typical high school, how many of them do you think play soccer as their first sport? Maybe one?

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. At my own high school, for example, one of the best athletes (if not the best athlete) in the school was a women’s soccer player. But in general, America’s best athletes are currently starring in the NFL, NBA and even MLB, not on the soccer pitch.

But what if some of these professional athletes had decided to make soccer their priority from day one? US Soccer, I hope you’re reading: If the Americans show poorly against England, you may want to consider this roster for the next match against Slovenia.

THE STARTING XI

Forward: LeBron James

LeBron starred at wide receiver in high school, and he obviously has unbelievable leaping ability. Plus, he has the single name possibility (a la Kaká of Brazil or Spain’s Xavi) that automatically would make him ten times better. Using his basketball-style footwork and sheer athleticism, “LeBron” would make for an awesome striker for the USA. And then he could go play for New York (the Red Bulls).

Forward: Chris Johnson

The third forward on this dream team wouldn’t quite fit the mold of LeBron, but he would fit the mold of a typical soccer star. The best player in the world right now is Lionel Messi, and he stands at a mere 5-7. But every squad needs its lightning bolt up front, and the Tennessee Titans star running back could very well be the NFL’s fastest player. His agility would translate very nicely from the gridiron to the soccer pitch, and would give the United States some needed explosiveness up front. And every team needs some dreadlocks.



Midfield: Kobe Bryant

Hands down, Kobe Bryant has the best footwork in the NBA. No, he doesn’t quite have the raw athleticism of LeBron or Calvin Johnson, but Kobe’s footwork, leaping ability and poise would fit nicely in the midfield area. The only issue is that a guy like Wayne Rooney might actually assault Kobe, if he sees Bryant's signature left-handed fistpump/jaw clench combo. I'm not sure if I would complain.

Midfield: Rajon Rondo

Another hoopster with excellent footwork? Rajon Rondo. This guy is quick and nimble on his feet, and has the vision to see the entire field. He would be instrumental in getting the ball up front to the athletic forwards. And "Rondo" is close enough to "Ronaldo," which means that he is automatically good.



Midfield: Dwyane Wade

Quick, athletic, and has a nicely shaped noggin for heading the ball. And every squad needs a great flopper.

Midfield: Chad Ochocinco

The Bengals receiver is obviously very gifted athletically. But last preseason, we saw him boot an extra point perfectly. He has a passion for soccer as well, and he would come up with some of the best celebrations in World Cup history. And if you tell him that Americans can’t compete in soccer? Child please.



Defense: Joakim Noah

Because every team needs another flopper. (And he has the same hair as Ronaldhino!)

Defense: Calvin Johnson

The Detroit Lions superstar wide receiver would make a great forward for all the same reasons that LeBron would, but he would make a great defender as well. He stands at a menacing 6-5, and his long legs and huge strides would make him difficult for any defender to handle. And his height would make him perfect for heading the ball downfield. Plus, he’d probably have a better chance to win the FIFA World Cup with the USA than the Super Bowl with the Lions.

Defense: Ray Lewis

Just to scare the crap out of everyone.

Defense: Larry Fitzgerald

Great leaping ability, great athleticism, great hair. Basically all you need in soccer.

Goalkeeper: Troy Polamalu

You don’t think the Pittsburgh Steelers star safety would be one of the best goalkeepers in the tournament? As a safety in the NFL, his lateral motion is unmatched by any other athlete. His leaping ability is obviously amazing, and his instints are sharp. Of course I have no idea whether he can actually kick a ball, but with a little practice, he would make a great keeper. Great soccer hair too. I can't emphasize that enough.




And some other key personnel:

Reserve: Brian Moorman

Yes, he is a punter for the Buffalo Bills. But he is fast (90 speed a couple years ago in Madden!) and he obviously can boot the ball a mile. I’ll take him.

Reserve: Allen Iverson

Yeah, he’s a bit old and washed up (and by "a bit" I mean "very"), especially since soccer players hit their prime in their early 20’s. And yeah, he would be a horrible locker room cancer. And yeah, he played on the Memphis Grizzlies recently. OK maybe he shouldn’t be on the team.



Reserve: Adam Vinatieri

If you need that clutch penalty kick, this is the guy. Nate Kaeding probably wouldn't be the ideal fit.

Reserve: Darrelle Revis

Why not bring Revis Island onto the US Soccer team? The best cornerback in the NFL would be our best chance to lock down the likes of Lionel Messi or Didier Drogba. Maybe Rex Ryan can be an American soccer hooligan.

Coach: Bill Belichick

Just when you thought much of the world wouldn’t be able to hate America anymore: Meet our new coach, Bill Belichick! With assistant coaches Lane Kiffin and Dick Cheney!

Team Trainer: Jose Canseco

Even with this roster, we may need a little help against Brazil. Bud Selig won’t ask any questions, and neither should you.


Note: An anonymous commenter noted that Bill Simmons had discussed this in a column of his. I actually wrote this prior to the publication of that particular column, but I didn't post it because of other stories/timeliness. I would never simply copy the idea of another writer; this concept of the "Ultimate Starting XI" has intrigued me for years. Thank you for the concern, anonymous commenter. Believe me if you wish.


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

Future Hall Of Famers Strasburg And Harper? Not So Fast

  • Tuesday, June 8, 2010 3:17 PM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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On Monday night, the Washington Nationals chose 17-year-old wunderkind Bryce Harper with the first overall pick in the MLB draft. This comes just a year after the team selected pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg with its first overall pick in the ’09 draft.

Long suffering DC area baseball fans may be salivating over the duo like Kobayashi over a hot dog. The hype is all there, and so are the expectations: Rarely does a team have the opportunity to select the top player in two consecutive years. And rarely is there a once-in-a-generation prospect available each draft.

We’ve all heard everything about Strasburg already. He’s set to make his debut tonight against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and seemingly anything short of a perfect game would be a disappointment. He was superb in the minor leagues this season, garnering a 7-2 record collectively in AA and AAA, with a 1.30 ERA. This includes a 4-1 run at Triple-A Syracuse, with a 1.08 ERA and 38 strikeouts. Overall, he struck out nearly a third of the total batters he faced in the minors. ESPN has unsurprisingly spurred on the Strasburg hype, promoting coverage for his opening game that began at 9 a.m. today. That would be ridiculous for the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, the Nationals landed the No. 1 pick again in 2010, and selected Harper. The baseball world has known the teenager since his high school days, including his 2009 appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He graduated high school early to play against tougher competition in junior college; Harper continued to dominate there, batting .443 with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs last season. With a wooden bat. He has ridiculous power for a teenager too, smashing homers routinely in the mid-400's and beyond. 500 feet and beyond. Just imagine what this kid could have done in the 90’s with help from Jose Canseco.

But while Nationals fans and baseball fans may be expecting Strasburg and Harper to be as good as the hype, such a scenario is quite unlikely. In the four major sports, rarely has a team drafted two elite players with top-of-the-draft picks (at least top five) in two consecutive drafts. Time for a sports history lesson:

MLB: Since the MLB draft began in 1965, only one other team has had the No. 1 pick in consecutive years: Tampa Bay, in 2007 and 2008. With those picks, the Rays selected David Price and Tim Beckham, respectively. It’s too early to tell how good either player will become. But the year before, the Rays drafted star Evan Longoria with the third pick in the draft. The combination of Longoria and Price as top draft picks in consecutive years could potentially be one of the best in baseball history, but it’s still too early to tell.

But success has been rare with consecutive top five picks as well. The Giants had a solid run in the mid-1980’s, picking 1B Will Clark second overall in ’85, and selecting 3B Matt Williams third overall in ’86. Both players were All-Stars on several occasions, but neither reached the Strasburg/Harper plateau of expectations.

NFL: In baseball, no other consecutive top five picks have even come close to matching the expectations equivalent to those of Strasburg and Harper. The same thing can for the most part be said for the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the main exception, as they set up a dynasty partly due to selecting “Mean” Joe Greene fourth in 1969, and Terry Bradshaw first overall the following year. Other than that Steel-City duo, no other consecutive top five back-to-back combination has had each player achieve remarkable success in the league.

There have been a number of decent year-to-year combinations, but nothing has come close to Mean Joe and Terry Bradshaw. The Colts took Peyton Manning with the top overall pick in ’98, and drafted Edgerrin James the following year with the fourth selection. The Bears picked both NFL greats Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers in the 1965 draft’s top five, which may be the greatest feat of all. But such an accomplishment doesn’t match the criteria for the Strasburg/Harper combination.

The Broncos selected HOF defensive tackle Merlin Olsen with the second pick in the 1962 draft, and took defensive back Kermit Alexander (43 career interceptions) with their fifth overall pick the following year. Nothing extraordinary, however, especially because Olsen was also drafted by the Rams that year, and ended up playing for Los Angeles. The Packers drafted HOF running back Paul Hornung in ’57, and picked respectable linebacker Dan Currie the next year.

Perhaps more impressively, the Chiefs picked six-time Pro Bowl defensive end Neil Smith second overall in ’88, and selected HOF defensive end Derrick Thomas the next year with the fourth pick. And the Cowboys picked three-time Pro Bowler Ed “Too Tall” Jones No. 1 overall in ’74, and selected HOF defensive tackle Randy White the next year with the second pick. Besides Joe Greene and Terry Bradshaw, however, nothing comes close to the expectations laid out for the two new Washington Nationals.

NBA: In the NBA, there have been a number of solid back-to-back top five combinations, but nothing too unbelievable. In 1966, the New York Knicks drafted Cazzie Russell out of the University of Michigan with the top overall pick. Russell was a one-time NBA all-star who averaged 15.1 points per game in his NBA career, posting nice numbers for the Knicks, Warriors, Lakers and Bulls. New York picked Knick great Walt Frazier the next year with the fifth selection, and both he and Russell were key parts to the Knicks’ 1970 NBA championship squad. But neither player had the illustrious careers that are expected by most of Strasburg and Harper.

The Magic drafted Shaq and Chris Webber in consecutive years, both as No. 1 picks, but Orlando immediately dealt C-Webb to the Warriors for Anfernee Hardaway and three first round draft picks (1996, 1998 and 2000). In the 90’s, Timberwolves ironically drafted perennial all-stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen with back-to-back top five picks, but Allen was traded right away to the Bucks.

The Rockets impressively drafted Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1983 and 1984, respectively, using No. 1 picks on both. The Hornets picked Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning in back-to-back years. But again, nothing spectacular.

NHL: The Penguins impressively drafted Evgeni Malkin with the second pick in 2004 and Sidney Crosby top overall in 2005, two of the top players in the game today. In fact, had the Penguins landed the No. 1 pick in ’04, they would have been able to draft Alex Ovechkin. Hockey fans can only dream of having Ovechkin and Crosby on the same team; in fact, Ovechkin and Crosby starring on the same roster most closely matches the expectations for Strasburg and Harper.

The Canadiens notably drafted Hall of Famers Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt in ’71 and ’72, respectively. The Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche) drafted Mats Sundin in ’89 and Owen Nolan in ’90, both with the top overall pick. The next year, they drafted Eric Lindros with the No. 1 pick, capping off a very good three-year stretch of top picks.

SO WHAT CAN WE EXPECT OF STRASBURG/HARPER?
The truth is that no back-to-back combination of top picks have ever fostered so much hype. Expectations are huge right now for Strasburg, and fans will surely have similar hope for Harper. But based on historical evidence, it is ultra-rare for back-to-back top five picks to both live up to the expectations.

Fans shouldn’t expect Hall of Fame results from either player, based purely on historical evidence. Of course the Nationals will hope for Mean Joe/Terry Bradshaw results from Strasburg and Harper. And maybe these two top draft picks will help the Nationals kick off a dynasty similar to the Steelers of the 70’s. Remember, Pittsburgh was the laughingstock of the NFL before Joe Greene and Terry Bradshaw helped to build a dynasty.

You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

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Galarraga's Still-Perfect Outing A Perfect Lesson In Sportsmanship And Class

  • Thursday, June 3, 2010 2:15 AM
  • Written By: Stanley Kay

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In sports, the easiest person to blame for a loss is the referee. Though I always try to avoid heaping the burden of defeat on the umpire, I know I have been guilty of such behavior. Even after Michigan was defeated 32-28 by Nebraska in a fairly meaningless 2005 Alamo Bowl, I angrily voiced my frustration with the officiating in a letter to the University of Michigan athletic magazine, The Wolverine.

Blaming the refs for a loss is usually a ridiculous concept -- rarely do officials have such an impact on the game for either side. It may be tough to grasp, but the refs really don’t want one team or player to win (except in the NBA of course, in which the referee uniform is a LeBron jersey). I’ve tried to convince myself that the refs have been rooting for Ohio State over Michigan for the past six years, but even then I have a hard time buying into the notion of solely officiating costing a game.

But when an official blows a call on a single significant play, it is impossible to keep blame away from the referee. Take Jim Joyce’s blown first base call Wednesday night with two outs in the ninth inning, which directly cost Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game. From the many replays shown throughout the night, it was clear that Indians hitter Jason Donald was out at first base. Should have been perfect.

Yet baseball is an imperfect sport. Referees are only human, as many Tigers players would comment later. Fans are clearly up in arms against Joyce, based on the angry Facebook statuses on my homepage (in fact, that’s how I found out about the incident). The Tigers and the umps even had a confrontation after the game concluded. But while Galarraga, Tigers fans and baseball fans were robbed of a perfect game on Wednesday night, they witnessed something integral to the true intention of sport: class and sportsmanship.

Although many of the other Tigers players surrounded Joyce after the game, Galarraga never actually said anything. After the blown call, he simply smiled in disbelief and eventually walked back to the mound as boos rained down from the Comerica Park crowd. “He feel so bad,” the near-perfect pitcher told Fox Sports Detroit in broken English. “He probably feel more bad than me.”

Pretty classy for a guy robbed of history. The same can be said for Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who calmly answered questions from reporters after the game. He called the blown play a “crying shame” on more than one occasion, but he had nothing but praise for Joyce. “Jim’s a real good umpire, has been for a long time,” he said. “But he probably got it wrong.”

Can you imagine White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen after a similar call? His postgame interviews would have been appropriate only for HBO. Were Leyland and Galarraga disappointed? Sure. But they recognized that Joyce does not deserve the oncoming media-inspired firestorm just for making a bad call at the worst possible time.

After the game, Joyce was regretful, upset and classy. He personally sought out Galarraga after the game and apologized, and the pitcher was noticeably moved by the official’s actions. “I give a lot of credit to that guy, to tell me ‘Hey I need to talk to you, because I really say I’m sorry,’” Galarraga said. “He feel really bad.”

Joyce was also emotional after the contest ended. “I just cost that kid a perfect game,” he said. “I thought he beat that throw. I was convinced he beat that throw, until I saw the replay.” According to Sports Illustrated, Galarraga told a Venezuelan reporter that Joyce was crying as he apologized to the pitcher.

The umpire could have avoided Galarraga, but instead he owned up to his mistake and said sorry. “I’m so sorry in my heart,” Joyce said to the pitcher, according to the Detroit Free Press. “I don’t know what to tell you.”

Unfortunately, most fans don’t know a referee’s name until a mistake is made. Tim Donaghy. Ed Hochuli. Joe West (as of recently, who Ozzie Guillen berated). And now Jim Joyce.

Even if Joyce had made every call correctly in his long career, he will forever be remembered for this one call. It’s an unfortunate perk of being part of an officiating crew.

But tonight, three absolute class acts reminded us that sport is not all about records and statistics. No, Armando Galarraga’s name will not go down in history as having pitched the 21st perfect game all-time on June 2, 2010. But as a Tigers fan, I will remember this game for the classiness shown by manager Jim Leyland and pitcher Armando Galarraga in a serious moral defeat for the club.

I’ll always remember this game as being perfect for Galarraga -- both on and off the field. Even if the record books don’t say it, I know I’ll remember this perfect game more than any other in MLB history.


You can e-mail Stanley at lordstantheman@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.

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