Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I still believe...

XXL NATIONAL pays homage to "the comeback." For all of you who need one in 2007, this one's for you. We still believe!

Gator Done

XXL NATIONAL Sports Daily salutes the 2006 BCS National Champion Florida Gators. Let it roll baby roll!

Monday, September 25, 2006

I'm a Free Agent NFL fan

I’m a Free Agent fan. In 1994 the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Raiders packed up their moving vans and left for St. Louis and Oakland respectively. With no home team to cheer for, I have claimed “free agency” for my allegiance ever since. Those of you who live in the L.A. area (and other parts without an NFL franchise) are also Free Agent fans. If your hometown team is an NFC team, you can be an AFC Free Agent fan. Vice-versa if you live in an AFC town.

As a Free Agent Fan, there are teams that I love, teams that I like, teams that I would like to like, teams that I’m indifferent to, teams that I dislike and a few teams that I HATE. All 32 fit into one of these categories. While most teams can and do move around from one category to another from year to year with me, the teams that I hate, I will hate forever.

Teams I Love
Arizona Cardinals
OK I admit it, I still have a soft spot for Kurt Warner. The guy has two bona fide Pro Bowl receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Throw in Edgerrin James, new Unis and the most amazing stadium ever built in the world? What’s not to love?

New Orleans Saints
IF the Saints aren’t everybody’s second favorite team…they should be (ok those of you in Atlanta, Charlotte and Tampa are excused). After all that the area has been through in the past 13 months, they deserved a break. Then on Draft Day, the Texans pass on the most amazing running talent to emerge from the college ranks in 40 years? I don’t care if the guy DID go to USC, you can’t pass up Reggie Bush. Saint Reggie indeed.

Carolina Panthers
I used to call them the UCLA Panthers. DeShaun Foster at RB, Ricky Manning at CB, Mike Seidman at TE. Manning may be gone but the Panthers are the still the deal. The electric blue jerseys that they wear are among the sharpest in all of the NFL.

San Diego Chargers
I started cheering for them in deference to my Dad. Figured if seeing the Bolts win made Pop happy, then cheering for them was the right thing to do. Then they trade the rights to Michael Vick and get LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees in his place. Brees is gone but nobody is crying them a river, Phillip Rivers takes over nicely after carrying a clipboard for two years. Shawne Merriman? One of two defensive players in the game worth the price of admission (sorry Texans…Mario Williams aint the other one).

Jacksonville Jaguars
Ahhh the UCLA Jaguars. The Jags were already an up and coming team, but then they spent their first two draft picks on former Bruins, Marcedes Lewis (TE) and Maurice Jones-Drew (RB). Drew exploded for the first time yesterday against the Colts and Lewis won’t be far behind. The Jags have now become my favorite to win the AFC this year and play in the Super Bowl.

Baltimore Ravens
The other defensive player worth the price of admission? Ray Lewis of course. He’s healthy and mean again. Now he has Steve McNair on the other side of the ball directing the offense. This is the team that the Jags will have to hold off if they want to get to the Super Bowl this year.

Teams I Like
Atlanta Falcons
Speaking of players worth the price of admission, look no further than Mike Vick. I’ve never been much of a Falcons fan, but man is Vick fun to watch. You never know what you’re going to see next every time you watch him play.

Indianapolis Colts
I like Peyton. Heck whats NOT to like about Peyton? He’s a heckuva nice guy who also is one of the best QB’s of all time. I have rooted for the Colts for the last few years. Last year WAS their year. I still like ‘em, but the Jags, Chargers and Ravens have supplanted them as my favorite AFC team.

Cincinnati Bengals
Another team that had it all going for them last year. There is something great about a team that has a tradition rich in losing turning it around and becoming winners. Happened with the Rams in 1999 and Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer nearly pulled the same feat last year. If Carson stays healthy in that playoff game against the Steelers, the Bengals or the Colts would be Super Bowl Champs today.

Teams I would like to like
Detroit Lions
I love underdogs. There aren’t many teams as “doggie-dog” as the Lions the past few years. This year Detroit brings in the best offensive coordinator of the last 20 years in Mike Martz. They have a serviceable QB in Jon Kitna…and still they are winless. Maybe the problem really IS ex-49er and Raider Matt Miller.

Houston Texans
Cool logo, In fact, best helmet (by far) in the NFL. But as long as the team is run by the geniuses who passed on Reggie Bush with the Number One pick in the NFL draft, this team will never be a winner.

Green Bay Packers
Lambeau Field. The FROZEN TUNDRA. There is nothing like football in Green Bay. But Brett Favre needs to step aside and let the Aaron Rogers ear begin. Ya think maybe Tampa Bay might be in the market for a QB like Brett Favre now that Chris Sims has been de-spleened?

Tennessee Titans
OK in Nashville they have a hockey team called the Predators. Everyone calls them the Preds for short. The University of Tennessee Volunteers are called the Vols. Anyone want to take a guess at what they call the Titans for short? OK so their uniforms, logo and helmet are really ugly. Vince Young and Lendale White are the future of this club. Give them two years and there will be a lot of people on the Titans bandwagon.

Cleveland Browns
Its not easy being Brown. It’s not easy living in a town known as “the mistake on the lake.” But I want to like the Browns. Again, they have been down for so long that you anyone who likes an underdog (and Cleveland is home to the famous “dawgpound”) has to be cheering for Romeo Crennel to turn things around.

Miami Dolphins
The first team that I ever became a Free Agent fan for (back in 1972) was the Miami Dolphins. I fondly remember coaxing my mom into buying me a Dolphins jacket for Christmas in 1972. Once they had their perfect season? I was over them and onto cheering for the Steelers (even then I loved underdogs). I like Nick Saban (I’m an LSU Dad) and it sounded as if they got a steal in Daunte Culpepper. So far that hasn’t amounted to much.

Teams I'm Indifferent About
St. Louis Rams
I grew up a Rams fan. I lived and died with the Rams in the 1970’s I cried when the Rams got trampled by the Cowboys in Merlin Olsen’s last game. I had season tickets when they played in Anaheim. I named my oldest son AJ because it sounded like a great name for a Rams middle linebacker. When the Rams moved, I still pined for the team. When Verneil and Warner led the Rams to their only Super Bowl Championship, I just KNEW that a dynasty was coming. Then Vermeil resigned and Mike Martz took over. Martz is a genius as an Offensive Coordinator, and is a disaster as a Head Coach. Mike Martz did something that not even Georgia Frontierre could do…make me indifferent about the Rams.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I have a ton of great friends in the Tampa area. I love Ybor City and Barnacles in Brandon. I cheered like crazy for the Bucs when they beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl. But that was four years ago. Gruden hasn’t done much since his first year at the helm there. But going to a game at Raymond James Stadium is more like going to a rock concert. There isn’t another place quite like it. Maybe they need a likeable QB. Brett Favre anybody?

New York Giants
I’ve never been a fan of the G-Men. I’ve never hated them, I’ve just never been crazy about them. I rooted for Phil Sims when they beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI and likewise for Jeff Hostetler in SB XXV. But I cheered against them when they lost to Ray Lewis and the Ravens. I like Eli Manning, but hate Tiki Barber (what kinda name is Tiki anyway?). Dunno. I just can’t help but feeling “ehhhhh” all over when I think of the Giants.

Kansas City Chiefs
When I was young, my friend Ruben told me that his favorite team was the Cheese. I looked at him puzzled and asked him if he meant the Packers (thinking he was referencing the Cheese-heads). He responded and said “no the Cheese….the Kansas City Cheese.” My favorite Chiefs teams were the Joe Montana-led ones. I could finally cheer for and appreciate Montana once he was free from the 49ers. Now, I kinda hope they can turn things around cause I have friends and family in the KC area, but if they don’t? I won’t lose any sleep over it.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Man I used to love the Steelers. I jumped on the bandwagon in 1974 and loved every minute of watching Bradshaw and Harris, Lambert and Greene roll over the Viking and Cowboys in their first three Super Bowls. Then they played my Rams in Super Bowl XIV in 1980. That is probably the most underrated Super Bowl to date. Great game, terrible loss for the Rams. Now, I don’t hate the Steelers, but as defending Champs, I won’t cheer for them either. The Bengals and Ravens are my two favorite AFC teams and they play in the same AFC North that the Steelers do.

New York Jets
Another team that I just can’t seem to get excited about. I admire the fireman fan and his brother. I like the J-E-T-S JETS, JETS, JETS cheer, but other than that? Pennington started to win me over a few years ago, but then he started getting hurt….and just seemed to get used to being hurt.

Chicago Bears
I like their coach. I like their classic uniforms. I was a huge fan in 1985 when they won it all (even though they beat Dieter Brock, Eric Dickerson and the Rams on the way). Once they won, it was over. Haven’t had much love for them since.

Teams I Dislike
Seattle Seahawks
Love their uniforms and their stadium. That’s pretty much it. Don’t like Hasselbeck. Don’t like Alexander. Don’t like Holmgren. Don’t hate any of them either mind you, just don’t like them. I feel like I should like them, but I don’t. Can’t really put my finger on it, but they just don’t do it for me.

Minnesota Vikings
OH you can probably chalk this one up to playoff losses in the 1970s to the Purple People Eaters. Phantom false start calls on Tom Mack in the snow. Tarkenton dazzling in the L.A. Coliseum in the rain. Ugh. Bad memories. Hard to forget, hard to forgive.

Washington Redskins
I like that they have a band and a fight song “Hail to the Redskins…” I cheered for the hogs against the Dolphins in 1983 and the Broncos in ’88. They let me down (big time) against the Raiders in ’84. The ‘Skins against the Rams in the 80’s? Yech, let’s not even go down that memory lane. Nuff said.

Dallas Cowboys
I became a Cowboy fan for the first time in April of 1989 after they drafted Troy Aikman out of UCLA with the Number One draft pick. Four years later when they completed their turnabout and whipped up on the Buffalo Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII, my love affair was over. Time to move on and find a new team to root for. Low point? Watching that numbskull Barry Switzer capitalize on Jerry Johnson’s work by winning Super Bowl XXX.

Philadelphia Eagles
UGH. The Eagles. “Fly Eagles Fly…” ok I like their fight song. Donovan McNabb seems nice enough. So does his Mom (if you can trust those Campbell Soup commercials). I’ve been to the City of Brotherly Love and quite frankly…it scares me. Pat’s Steaks aside, there’s not much I like about Philly (save for serving as the backdrop to the first Rocky movie). My good friend Evan hails from those parts and so I cheered for them against the Pats in SB XXXIX. To quote Forrest Gump, “that’s about all I have to say about that.”

Denver Broncos
Love their uniforms and their new stadium. Cheer for them against the Raiders, but other than that, don’t have much use for the Broncos.

Buffalo Bills
1991-1994 The Buffalo Bills win four straight AFC Championships. That’s good right?
1991-1994 The Buffalor Bills lose four straight Super Bowls. That’s not so good. I have a lot of friends from the Buffalo area. Visited the region for the first time last year and feel in love with the countryside. I can see why people put up with the hellish Winters there. The Bills QB JP Losman screwed over UCLA when he transferred to Tulane just before his Freshman season was to begin. Need I say more?

Teams I Hate
San Francisco 49ers
My Freshman year at UC Santa Barbara was the first time that I discovered how much people from San Francisco hate everything about the L.A. area. I was told that they hated the Dodgers, the Rams, the Lakers. They hated that we stole their water and even Mickey Mouse and Disneyland. I used to respond, “why do you guys hate us so much? We never even think about San Francisco.” The guy who lived across the hall from me Joe Kmak (who ended up being a journeyman catcher in the Major Leagues was the worst offender. Of COURSE as fate would have it, the Niners won their first Super Bowl that year and I grew to absolutely DISDAIN the Forty-Niners (and Joe Montana, and the SF Giants etc…)

Oakland Raiders
In 1982 the Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles. A year later the Raiders won the Super Bowl. All of a sudden, everyone is LA was a lifelong Raider fan. Although the Rams had moved just 35 miles down the road to Anaheim, it was as if the previous 36 years in L.A. didn’t matter. While Los Angeles was suddenly draped in silver and black everywhere you went, I became a dyed in the wool member of the Raider Haters.

New England Patriots
OK you’ve read about my longtime love affair with the Rams. In 2002, the Rams were heavy favorites to beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. Kurt Warner led the Rams to another comeback that was sure to force overtime for the first time in Super Bowl history. With just 90 seconds left and no timeouts, Tom Brady leads the Pats into field goal range and Adam Vinatieri rips out my heart with a 48-yard kick on the games final play. No dynasty for the Rams. Warner has never been the same.

Flash forward two years and the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl again, this time against my Carolina Panthers. Late in the fourth quarter, Jake Delhomme hits Ricky Proehl for a 12-yard touchdown strike tying the game with just 68 seconds remaining. Joe Montana…errrr Tom Brady leads the Pats into field goal territory again and again Adam Vinatieri hits the game winning field goal. @$#(*&@(#*%&(@#*% I HATE THESE GUYS!!!!

OK there you have it. Comment on which teams you 1) Love, 2) Like, 3) Would like to like, 4) Are indifferent to, 5) Dislike and 6) Hate. You don’t have to list all 32 teams, just list one in each category.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sizing Up the Super Bowl XLI Champion

The NFL Season kicks off tonight (and not a moment too soon). A little of the shine has worn off tonights matchup with the news of Ben Roethlisbergers appendectomy earlier this week, but NBC will no doubt be the big winner in the ratings game.

It seems that there are prognostications everywhere, so it seems appropriate to offer up my picks to win Super Bowl XLI next February in Miami.

For years the Ravens have been all about the defense baby. Ray Lewis is completely healed from last years injuries and will once again be worth the price of admission all by himself. Terrell Suggs has now established himself as a force to be reckoned with as well. Add this years First Round pick out of Oregon, Haloti Ngata and the Ravens defense is ready to rumble.

The problem has always been the QB position for the Ravens. Even in their Super Bowl Championship season a few years ago, they relied on Trent Dilfer to merely not lose the game for them. That problem has been solved this year. Enter Steve McNair who is also recovered from the back and ankle problems that plagued him in 2005. McNair and Lewis were fierce competitors when McNair was with the Titans. Now, they make are beacon leaders that are sure to make Baltimore a contender in 2006. Look for the Ravens to finish ahead of the Steelers for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.

No Drew? No Problem. LT and Antonio Gates still anchor a potent Charger offense. Phillip Rivers carried the clipboard for two years under Drew Brees. Rivers is no slouch. The Chargers used a First Round draft pick in 2004 on him. He was four-year starter at NC State.

Shawne Merriman was a menace last year wreaking havoc everywhere he went. Dude was a ROOKIE! He only figures to get better. The Charger defense is a good one, but even more importantly, the coach is hungry. Marty Schottenheimer saw his good buddy Bill Cowher win his first Super Bowl this past it Marty's turn. The only real obstacle in the Chargers way in the AFC West is Denver. Without a proven running game in the Mile High City, the Broncos won't be able to hold off the Chargers.

Perhaps Ralph Cramden said it best when he said, "One of these days Alice...One of these days!" Last year sure looked like the year until the Colts were short-circuited by the Chargers. Then in the playoff loss to the Steelers, the "if only" questions abounded. "If only the Colts hadn't had to deal with Coach Dungy's family tragedy." "If only Nick Harpers wife hadn't stabbed him in the leg before the game, maybe he could have returned that fumble for a TD." "If only Ben Roethlisberger had appendicitis prior to that game."

I like the Colts. I love watching Peyton Manning operate. What's not to love about Peyton Manning? He's a heckuva great guy. But can Rhodes and Addai make up for the loss of Edgerrin? Is Dungy focused enough this year to lead the team? Time will tell. The Colts have enough to win the AFC South this year, but will ultimately fall in the AFC Championship game to the....

I love the underdog. I love teams that overcome years of losing to turn the tables on the NFL. Marvin Lewis has done exactly that in the Queen City. Carson Palmer is a MAN. Chad Johnson is proof that Keyshawn Johnson isn't even the best WR in his own extended family (they are cousins). OCHO CINCO! If you are asking Chad Johnson "Where ya at?" then you probably just need to look in the end zone to see what he has in store for this years TD celebrations. Rudi Johnson has become such a prominent runner in the NFL that the Bengals traded away Corey Dillon last year. TJ "whose yur mama" has been complementing Chad Johnson on the other side of the field since they were catching passes at Oregon State.


This team is fun to watch and probably would have beaten the Steelers in the playoffs last year if not for the season-ending injury to Carson Palmer. Look for the Bengals to outlast the Ravens and Steelers to win the AFC North and make it all the way to the Super Bowl. The "Champeenship" that they will have to settle for will be the AFC Chamionship however, because the winning team in Super Bowl XLI will be the...

Too many weapons. Offensively you have Jake DelHomme connecting with Steve Smith and the lesser Johnson (Keyshawn). DeShaun Foster is about to become a STAR in the NFL this year now that he is healthy and no longer has to share carries with Stephen Davis. In college, DeShaun's nickname was "Smoke" as in that's all you saw when he ran past you. Should Foster need a breather (or get hurt) the Panthers drafted DeAngelo Williams in the First Round out of Memphis. Williams set the Division I-A all-time mark with 7,573 all-purpose yards (breaking Ricky Williams record while he was at Texas). He rushed for more 100-yard games than any other Div I-A rusher in history (34, breaking Archie Griffin and Tony Dorsett's record).

Defensively, Julius Peppers is without rival. Because he gets double-teamed so often, Mike Rucker and Kris Jenkins have become studs as well. Shaun Williams leads a deadly defensive backfield.

John Fox is another coach who has done an absolutely amazing job turning the Panther's franchise around. Remember that George Siefert led Carolina to a 1-15 record just five years ago. They won their first game that year and then lost the remaining 15 games on the schedule. OUCH!

In 2006 nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina on Sundays. Make no mistake about it, the cats will return to the Super Bowl this year with unfinished business on their mind. Of course the worst thing about a Bengals-Panthers Super Bowl XLI matchup? I'm gonna have to find two new underdogs to root for in 2007. Lions and Jaguars anybody?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sizing Up College Football, Week 1

Ahhhh, I love the smell of football in the fall. Hell, it smells good even in late Summer. I have long averred that I am a bigger fan of the College Football game than I am of the NFL. The color, the pageantry, the marching bands, the enthusiasm of men playing for love of the game as opposed to a paycheck.

Last year’s BCS Championship was one for the ages as Vince Young rolled right to give Texas their first National Championship in thirty-six years. College Football News considers that game to be the third-best college football game ever played. Four players from that game were drafted in the top 10 in this year’s NFL Draft.

Hmmmm, what to do for an encore? If this week was any indication, we’re in for a treat this year as well. I sized up the five most interesting stories from this past weekend and have them ranked below from Small to XXL.

OK talk about embarrassing ways to begin your season. I’m sure this isn’t what new coach Dan Hawkins had in mind when he took the job. It's bad enough to schedule a Division 1-AA school on your schedule (Montana State) but dagnabit, ya better beat them when you face them. Unfortunately, Colorado Buffaloes did not. To make matters worse, the Montana State Bobcats came into Boulder, CO and beat the Buffs on their own turf: Folsom Field.

I can understand why a team rebuilding might be tempted to schedule a Division 1-AA team. Recent changes in NCAA rules allow Division 1-A teams to count wins against 1-AA teams towards the minimum 6 game win requirement for bowl eligibility. But come on...fer cryin' out loud, if you going to schedule a game against the "School of the Blind" or "Our Sisters of Mercy" please, please, please spare yourself further embarrassment by at LEAST beating them.

Next up for the Buffs? In-state rivals Colorado State on the road in Fort Collins. Watch out Colorado, the Rams BEAT their first week Division 1-AA opponent (Weber State 30-6).

The Rodney Dangefield award has to go to the UCLA Bruins. Karl Dorrell has turned that program around in three years and UCLA still gets no respect. All they did last year was win 10 games (for only the third time in school history) and yet they were not ranked among the top 25 teams in the country by either the AP or the USA Today!

In fact, UCLA was picked to finish in the middle of the pack within their own Conference! Sure they lost their top three offensive weapons last year (Drew Olson, Marcedes Lewis and Maurice Drew), but the new QB is a mature 23-year old red-shirt Sophomore named Ben Olson (for the last time...NO RELATION to Drew). When Ben was a HS Senior, he was the most highly recruited QB in the land. A year on the bench at BYU followed by two as a Mormon Missionary led him to UCLA last year (where he red-shirted due to a broken left hand).

This guy has been called the "left-handed John Elway" folks. He's a stud that is about to make the college football world sit up and take notice. All he did on Saturday night in his 2006 debut was complete his first eight passes to eight different receivers. He went on to throw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns (he had another TD dropped) with NO interceptions. All week I kept hearing Lee "Hacksaw" (emphasis on the HACK) Hamilton talk about how unproven the UCLA receiving corp was. Hey Lee, did you happen to notice that every single wide receiver from last year RETURNED this year? Granted Tight End Marcedes Lewis was lost to the NFL, but the receiving corp from last years 10-2 season remains in tact.

After their 21 point trouncing of Utah (who was only a 3 point underdog), the Bruins still have not cracked the top 25. Although UCLA is ranked 17th according to the Harris Poll (which is included in the BCS formula). This week the Bruins should steam Rice (sorry I couldn't help it) and if there is any justice in the world, the Bruins should crack the Top 25 next week. No respect, no respect indeed.

OK I'm going to say it, because it needs to be said. The eyes of TEXAS are upon you! Man that felt good. Is is just me, or has anyone else realized that with the Rose Bowl loss to the Longhorns, the 'SC dynasty just doesn't seem that overwhelming? Since when does one BCS Championship make a dynasty? LSU won the BCS Championship (which is the ONLY real National Championship) in 2003, USC won it in 2004, and Texas won it last year. Dynasty? Not so much.

OK that having been said, there were a lot of questions about USC going into last week's opener against Arkansas. How do you replace Reggie Bush AND Matt Leinart AND Lendale White? That's just not possible is it? Well I guess Kirk Herbstreit said it best when he said that they still have one guy left with plenty of eligibility: Pete Carroll.

There was a local buzz in L.A. last week that USC was going to have a game on their hands with Arkansas. WHAT? HUH? This is the same Arkansas team that lost to 70-17 last year to 'SC right? Yeah I wasn't buying it. Imagine my surprise when Arkansas scored in the second quarter Saturday night to cut the Trojan lead to 13-7 with just 2:13 left before halftime. Lo and behold, the Trojans march down field to get a Field Goal before the halftime whistle blows. USC went on to score 24 unanswered points before the Hogs scored a meaningless touchdown midway thru the fourth quarter.

Apparently John David Booty will do just fine thank you. I can already hear the Bubba Sparxx song "Booty, Booty, Booty, Booty rockin everywhere" ringing in my ears as his highlights are shown throughout this year. USC's three-headed running monster this year of Emmanuel Moody, Chauncey Washington and CJ Gable seems to be on track as well. These may not be last year's Trojans, but with the kind of defense that USC has, they may not need to be. Next up for the Trojans? September 16th (Happy Mexican Independence Day) at home against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

OK I admit it, I had a problem with Tennessee being ranked in the Preseason Top 25. They were 5-6 last year for Pete's sake! I saw them in Knoxville last year at Neyland Stadium. They lost to the Cocks of South Carolina? OK there are all sorts of off-color jokes that come to mind, but alas I digress.

This years Vols kicked off their season against the 9th rated Cal Bears last Saturday. The Bears were picked by some TV analysts to WIN the BCS Championship this year. That's some pretty heady stuff. The Vols must be regretting scheduling this game to erase the bad memories of 2005 season right?


Erik Ainge (yes Danny's son) suddenly looks like a big-time College QB as he completes 11 of 18 for 295 yards and FOUR touchdowns! Robert Meacham caught 5 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. The Vols shut down the vaunted Cal running game holding them to JUST 67 rushing yards. Apparently the Bears were taught a lesson at the school of Hard Knox.

It's good to see Tennessee back on track again this year. Phil Fulmer deserves better than the squad out out last year. It really chaps my hyde to hear that Fulmer was on the hot seat after just one 5-6 season. The guy has the highest winning percentage (.799) among active coaches. He won the first BCS National Championship in 1998. That was the year AFTER he lost Peyton Manning to the NFL! Cut the guy some slack.

The Volunteers have something to shout about from atop Rocky Top. They enter their week 2 contest against Air Force as the 11th rated team (up from 23rd). Break out the orange, it's not just for hunting or picking up roadside trash anymore!

Texas-Ohio State
Both teams answered last weeks opening bell in impressive fashion. Number One Ohio State disposed of Northern Illinois 35-12. Troy Smith is firmly entrenched as the Buckeye signal caller and connected with fellow Heisman hopeful Ted Ginn Jr for TDs on each of their first two possessions. YAWN.

Texas had major shoes to fill when Vince Young declared for the NFL draft. If VY had come back for his Senior season, they would be the unanimous #1 team in America and would probably win back-to-back BCS Championships (did I hear someone with a drawl say "dynasty?"). No team has done so since the inception of the BCS in 1998. But Vince is holding a clipboard in Nashville now and the Horns are relying on a young Colt to lead them. Didn't take Colt McCoy long to hook up with Limas Sweed on a 60-yard touchdown. McCoy ended up passing for 178 yards and 3 passing touchdowns, while rushing for a fourth.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame struggled against Georgia Tech and now we have a One versus Two match-up this week when Ohio State travels to Austin to take on Texas. The last three times that the top two teams in the country met in the regular season, number Two won (advantage Texas). Ohio State however is 2-0 all-time in #1 vs. #2 games (advantage Ohio State).

Is College Football great or WHAT?

Sorry Buckeyes, the eyes of Texas are now firmly fixed upon YOU! Texas wins this week, 42-32.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Thoughts on Independence Day

Independence Day. It seems to me that most people equate Independence Day with freedom. Funny thing is, that declaring one’s freedom usually only signifies the initiation of the struggle which usually accompanies the pursuit of such freedom.

When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia two-hundred and thirty years ago today, that action did not signify the end of the Revolutionary War. That war would rage on for seven more years until 1783. The price of freedom, or independence is not cheap, and it must be paid for in advance.

Independence is not confined to military conflict however. Curt Flood was the central figure in the Free Agency movement in Major League Baseball. Flood had been traded by the St Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1969 season. Not wanting to play in Philadelphia, Flood refused to report to them. On Christmas Eve, in a letter to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Flood wrote:

"After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.

It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season."

King George, errrr Commissioner Kuhn flat out snuffed Flood’s request, citing the MLB “reserve clause” (which had been included in Flood's then-current contract). Flood responded with a $4.1 million lawsuit claiming that Major League Baseball had breached Federal antitrust laws. Talk about your tough battles. Not one single active Major Leaguer would testify on Flood’s behalf during his trial.

The case would go all the way to the Supreme Court, where the nation’s highest court sided with MLB. Flood would sit out the entire 1970 season and was eventually traded by the Phillies (for whom he never played) to the Washington Senators. Flood played 13 games for the Senators in 1971 before he eventually retired.

Curt Flood never realized free agency for himself, but he did pave the way. On December 23, 1975 (nearly six years to the day after Flood wrote his historic letter), Major League Baseball’s “reserve clause” was nullified in a decision by arbitrator Peter Seitz. That decision declared that pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally were eligible for free agency because they played an entire year without a contract.

Some would argue that free agency has ruined the game. Jerry Seinfeld would go on to say that we have been reduced to cheering for clothing (uniforms). Regardless of your own personal feelings on the matter, free agency is here to stay.

Last year, some friends of mine and I declared our own independence from working for “corporate America.” We had our own desire to "contract alliances and establish commerce" in the world of sports.

This was an easy decision for me to make. At the time I worked for a man who reminds me of Steve Carell’s character (boss Michael) on the NBC show “The Office.” Anyone who has ever seen the show should be able to feel my pain.

I did not get the pleasure of handing my immediate supervisor my letter of resignation in person; he decided to take a last-minute “business trip” back East. Conveniently, his trip took him to the same area where his family is from (AND is in the same neck of the woods where the fictional company, “Dunder Mifflin” from the aforementioned show “The Office” is located…COINCIDENCE??? I THINK NOT!).

They say that war is hell. Launching XXL NATIONAL has been a battle that has at times felt like hell. While we all declared our “independence” as we set out on our venture here, history should have told us that the battle was nowhere near won. Wars consist of many battles…some you win, some you lose.

One of my mentors used to tell me that “life has a way of giving you what you are willing to fight for.” Many of you have watched as we have worked our way towards our official launch. We have had some setbacks and have had our victories. Any avid football fan will tell you, “play till the whistle blows.”

Independence Day is about remembering the boldness that our forefathers had in seeking a better life for future generations. Perhaps professional athletes should look to Curt Floods “Christmas Eve letter” as an Independence Day of their own. Me? September 26, 2005 was mine. Just as our forefathers and Curt Flood did not look back, neither will this CEO.

Independence is one of those things in life that is worth fighting for. As they say at the Alma Mater of one of my partners (our CFO)…“FIGHT ON.”

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Losing sucks, but its a part of the game

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
-Vince Lombardi

Losing sucks.

Websters says that to lose is to “fail to win.” That’s poetic isn’t it? Losing is failure.

Adam Morrison, was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats with the third pick in the first round in yesterday’s NBA draft. He has this great commercial out right now for EA Sports talking about how he cried when Gonzaga was eliminated by (my) UCLA Bruins in this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. In that commercial he takes full ownership of his emotional outburst at the end of that game. “yeah I cried! I cried on National television. So what? Failure hurts,” Morrison extols. He goes on to say that he hopes he never loses that intensity (click here to see that commercial).

Failure hurts.

The reality is however, that of the 65 teams involved in March Madness every year, 64 of them will end their season with a loss. The Florida Gators were the only Tourney team that ended their season with a winning streak.

As much as losing sucks, as much as failure hurts, the truth of the matter is that losing and failure are at least as common as winning (if not more so).

The Pittsburgh Pirates had lost 13 games in a row going into today’s match against the World Series Champion Chicago White Sox. Not surprisingly, the Pirates have the worst record in the National League. When they played the team with worst record in ALL of baseball, the Kansas City Royals, they were swept in a three-game series by those Royals.

So a funny thing happens today. The Pirates take a 6-4 lead into the eight inning against the Chisox. Jim Thome hits a two-run home run (his 25th) for the Sox in the eighth to tie the game. This was a MONSTROUS blast. The ball bounced into the Allegheny River for crying out loud! That sinking feeling must have set into the pit of the stomach of every one of the 21,380 Pittsburgh fans at PNC Park at that point.

Let the downward spiral begin.

The Sox then get two men on in the top of the ninth inning. We all know how this is going to end right? WRONG. Mike Gonzalez pitches his way out of the jam by striking out former Pirate Rob Mackowiak to end the inning for the Sox.

Freddy Sanchez plays third base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s having a break-out year for the Bucs this year, hitting .354 with four home runs and 23 doubles. Sanchez may be the best young third basement that most people (outside of Pittsburgh) have never heard of. So Freddy comes up for his fifth at bat of the day. Already had three hits in his first four plate appearances. What to do for an encore? Sanchez sends an 0-1 pitch into the first row of the left-field seats to end the Pirates 13-game losing streak.

Nobody loses all the time.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did their best to dispel this truism in 1976 when they were an expansion franchise…lost all 14 games in their initial campaign. 1977? Didn’t start out much better. Those Bucs lost the first 12 games of that season before the skies parted and heaven shone down on Tampa Bay. In week 13 of the 1977 season, the Buccaneers won their first game in team history by trashing the New Orleans Saints 33-14. Bye, bye 26-game losing streak. The next week, the Bucs won their home finale by beating the St Louis Cardinals. Two years later, the Bucs were in the NFC Championship Game.

So what is to be learned here? I have five kids who have all participated in sports. My youngest son’s flag football team just finished a perfect season (they lost all of their games). This was not my son’s fault. When a team loses, it is not the fault of any one individual. That’s the thing about team competition. You win as a team and you lose a team.

It’s been said that you learn more from failure than you do from success. Out of adversity comes perseverance.

Today, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a proud organization with penchant for winning. They are just four years removed from winning their first Super Bowl.

The Pittsburgh Pirates live in the shadow of this years’ Super Bowl Champions, the Steelers. The Pirates however have won 5 World Series titles themselves. True, it has been 27 years since the last one, and their chances don’t look too good this year.

But losing, while it may seem never-ending and cuts like a knife, doesn’t last forever. Ask last years White Sox who won their first World Series title in 88 years. The year before that? The Boston Red Sox won their first World Series title in 86 years.

Losing is a part of the game. Failure is a part of life. I hope that my children have learned to win with grace and lose with dignity. If you have Adam Morrison’s intensity, losing is going to hurt…BAD! But if you want to win as much as Adam Morrison, you’re going to probably win more than you lose in life. He came up short in March, but won big yesterday. Last years number three pick in the NBA draft (Utah’s Deron Williams) signed a contract worth over $16 million. Morrison will no doubt command more. He already has a healthy endorsement deal with EA sports.

So if you are the Pittsburgh Pirates and you lose 13 in a row, you still go out to play that 14th game in hopes that on that day…on that 14th day, you can beat the World Champs. If you are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and you lose 26 games in a row at your franchise’s inception…you STILL go out to play that 27th game.

Here’s to losing and to failure. Its sucks. It hurts, But losing and failure, make winning all the more special..

Here’s to you Freddy Sanchez.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Thirty four years ago today...

Thirty-four years ago today, I fell in love for the first time.

I was only nine years old, but I knew it was a love that would last a lifetime. It took a lot of coaxing and cajoling, but on June 26th, 1972, my Dad took me to my first Dodger game.

I’m not quite sure how I came to be a Dodger fan. My Dad and older brother were both die-hard Angel fans. Somehow, I discovered my love for the Dodgers on my own. Vin Scully had a lot to do with that. I would spend countless hours in my parents bedroom (where they had the only radio in the house) listening to Scully call games.

My infatuation with the game of baseball began with the 1971 Fall Classic. I remember Roberto Clemente winning the Series MVP for the Pittsburgh Pirates and getting a hit in all seven games of that Series. For the better part of that winter, I begged my Dad to take me to Dodger Stadium the following year.

My Dad is a good man. He worked hard for our family of six in East Los Angeles. Resources were limited, and spending money to attend sporting events was not something that we had ever done. My skills of persuasion must have been evident even at that early age though. On my 9th birthday, May 7th 1972, Mom and Dad gave me the one thing that I wanted in the world…tickets to a Dodger game.

At long last, I was headed to the show! Due to limited resources, Mom and Dad could only afford two tickets, so Dad and I went to the game by ourselves. We had tickets on the 3rd base side (where the Dodger dugout is) on the Loge level. I’ll never forget it.

It was an unusually cool June Monday evening. The Big Red Machine was in town. Claude Osteen started for the Dodgers. The very first Major League player that I ever saw bat live? Pete Rose. He singled of course (went 2-5 that night). In an instant I learned to boo and hate Pete Rose and his cereal bowl haircut. Fortunately, Joe Morgan grounded into 3-6 double play right after that (thanks

It was all downhill from there.

The Reds went on to score a run in the second, another in the third and then erupted for three in the fourth. By that point, my Dad had seen about all he needed to see. But I refused to leave. These were now MY Dodgers. Willie Davis patrolled Center Field that night with Manny Mota in Left and Willie Crawford in Right. Steve Garvey played the hot corner with Bill Russell at Short. Bobby Valentine manned Second and Bill Buckner gave Wes Parker a breather at First.

The Big Red Machine? They were on their way to their second National League pennant in three years. In addition to Rose and Morgan, I saw Johnny Bench don the tools of ignorance and Tony Perez cover First. George Foster played in Right Field and Davey Concepcion took the collar (0-5) at Short.

All Dad cared about was that he had spent all this money on tickets to see the Dodgers and they didn’t even have the decency to win. On that cool June evening, the words to “Take me out to the ballgame” became reality for me (“I don’t care if I NEVER get back”). I was in love. Our Lady of Chavez Ravine had her grip on my heart and I willingly surrendered.

Over the years my love was refined. Originally I was all about offense. When the Dodgers played on TV (which wasn’t very often in those days) I would watch the Dodgers bat and then go outside and play for 10 minutes. I would then come back inside to watch the boys in blue take their hacks again.

In 1981, Fernando Valenzuela changed all that.

Fernandomania took Los Angeles by storm and captured my hearts imagination as well. Until that point, I had never had any sense of appreciation for pitching. When Fernando lit the National League on fire in 1981, my senses were awakened to a whole other side of the game. It was as if my love had multiplied. I felt like Timothy Busfield in “Field of Dreams” when he finally saw the players on the field…“hey when did pitching start to be a part of the game?”

My love for the game grew further when I was introduced to Rotisserie (fantasy) Baseball in 1988. While my heart will always primarily belong to the Dodgers, I now was a National League snob and grew to appreciate other teams and players as well.

This past Father’s Day, my own kids surprised me with tickets to a Dodger game (damn I love them kids). Our Executive Editor Nick Athan was in town that week and so he went with us to that game. At the game, my oldest daughter Rebekah turned to Nick and said “hey Nick…SMILE, you’re at the happiest place on earth!” Nick quickly replied, “I thought that was Disneyland?” to which Rebekah answered “nah, that’s so second grade (Rebekah just graduated from High School a week earlier), THIS is the happiest place on Earth.”

As those words rolled off her tongue my eyes welled up. I got a lump in my throat just now as I recalled the moment. The circle of life was complete. My Dad had enabled my love for the game of baseball to grow thirty-four years ago today. Now, my own kids had developed their own flame for the game.

Over the years, I have developed an affinity for everything from the NFL to March Madness. Just last year I fell in love with NASCAR upon going to my first race in Phoenix. Boy did I ever fall HARD for NASCAR, it is has now supplanted my love for all other sports.

But baseball is my first love. My love of a lifetime.

Thirty-four years ago today, I fell in love for the first time.

Thanks Dad.