Category Archives: Sports

How a Punter Became the MVP of The Biggest Regular Season Game In Years

The above statement is not a mis-print. It is not meant to be some out of the box proclamation that infuriates college football purists or bottom of the page commenters (not that I have any of those). It is not my attempt to be different or to disregard some of the other performances on the field last night. Rather it is simply a statement of the facts. LSU punter Brad Wing, in a game that featured an absolute lack of offensive play making, seemed to be the only player intent on doing just that; making plays. Indeed, his 73 yard punt may have been the play of the game.

"'The Aussie Annihilator'? 'The Punter From Down Under'? 'Wing, Australian for Roll This'? I'm really bad at nicknames...

With 11:07 left in the fourth quarter LSU was forced to punt from its own end zone after what seemed like the 50th three and out of the evening. With Alabama wide receiver Marquis Maze back to receive, Wing launched an arcing punt right at the receiver that went over 50 yards from the line of scrimmage in the air. As the ball neared the Alabama 40 yard line Maze decided not to bother with a fair catch, instead allowing the ball to roll all the way to the Alabama 18 yard line. In a game where offensive yards were at a premium the decision to not even fair catch around the 40 was a somewhat inexplicable move.

"Should I catch this? Nah, I shouldn't catch this."

Two things led to that play. The first was a huge (if not slightly lucky) interception off of a throw by the receiver Maze out of a wildcat formation. It looked as if another Alabama receiver had made a beautiful leaping grab before the LSU defender stripped the ball out coming down. The second was Alabama’s return formation all night against LSU’s punt game. Alabama left its defense in the game on punts, protecting against potential fakes that Les Miles has been known for throughout his career. Indeed Brad Wing had scored on a long fake punt run earlier in the season (the Australia native is actually pretty athletic) that was called back on a taunting penalty. By leaving the defense on the field there was relatively little protection for the returner Maze. I should also add that Maze spent most of the second half hurt, affecting his lateral quickness visibly on subsequent offensive drives for the Tide. It also seemed to affect his mentality on the return. Still, not fair catching a ball he could’ve easily run up to is a pretty big lack of awareness.

"Maybe Brad Wing can some day star in an otherwise great guilty pleasure movie ruined by Keanu Reeves."

That was kind of the name of the day for Alabama though. Throughout the game the Tide ran a number of formations with three receivers bunched close in (a “trips” formation) on one side and a receiver (usually Maze) isolated on the other. With about four minutes left in the second quarter and the Tide on the LSU 17 Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron had trips left and an isolated receiver (this time Darius Hanks) on the right. With a wide open receiver in the left flat McCarron rushed the throw on a fade right into the end zone and an incompletion. One look at a furious Nick Saban on the sideline and you knew where the freshman McCarron’s eyes should have been. Bama finally got its first points of the game on a field goal, but after missing three kicks prior to that it was clear that three points was more of a win for the Tigers than the Tide.

The special teams in general were a huge disadvantage for Alabama all day. They went two for six on field goals (something I’d personally never seen before), including one block in the first quarter and a huge miss on their overtime possession. Meanwhile LSU’s kickers seemed completely loose and collected the whole time. On all three field goals their place kickers were completely in control, while Wing made people actually pay attention to a punter. I said last week that having a loose coach, loose team and loose mentality might come into play in one of the most pressure filled and hyped up regular season games in history. I said that LSU would have an advantage in that case playing for Les “The Mad Hatter” Miles. It was no more apparent than in the team’s respective kicking games, where Alabama looked incredibly nervous playing for one of the most methodical coaches in football. While Les looked natural being fired up on the sideline, Saban looked completely out of character. It translated to the players and subsequently to the outcome of the game.

"Strange. He was so nice in that Sandra Bullock movie."

All in all Armageddon was a weird contest, and somewhat of a letdown. While it was exhilarating to watch a ton of future professionals on both defenses it was thought that the offenses would flash at least some of their characteristic athleticism. Aside from a couple of phenomenal Trent Richardson plays (yards after contact should count double statistically) the offenses on both sides looked completely out of sorts throughout the evening. On a day and night where there was a number of exciting college football contests (including a Kansas State – Oklahoma State shoot out that was running parallel to The Duo of the Deep South) Armageddon had less excitement than a bad Bruce Willis movie. Oh well.

"In Bruce's defense, if the poster had Ben Affleck on it from 1998 to 2008 chances were it was just awful."

Still, after seeing the AP and coaches polls today, where Bama is ranked fourth in both, there’s a very real possibility for a re-match in the national championship game. If that happens then maybe, just maybe, we’ll see a touchdown…on defense. That would be truly apocalyptic.

"This ^ is what happens when you search 'armageddon football' on Google images. Seriously, what the shit internet?"

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “No, I did not forget that there were over 50 other games played on Saturday, I promise. On a day and night when Texas won by 32, A&M became completely mediocre, Cincinnati cleared up the Big East picture, Oklahoma State nearly broke their fans hearts again and Stanford and Oregon set up a poor man’s Armageddon game, there was a whole mess of things to talk about. Week 10 break down is on its way.”


NCAAF Week 8: Sparty’s (non) Hail Mary, Red Raider’s Revenge and How Bout That Big XII?

Dear, Wisconsin. Ohhhhh Wisconsin. I had you all pegged as this balance of power running, phenomenally accurate arm strength, un-Big 10 like athleticism (read: good thing) and a down right nasty defense only to see you go out and do…this. Saturday night started out well enough for you. Two 1st quarter offensive touchdowns, dominant defense, a deafening East Landing crowd turned relatively mute in a matter of minutes. And then, in as weird a momentum shift as I’ve ever seen, Heisman trophy candidate Russel Wilson threw the ball away from his own end-zone only to have the refs call it intentional grounding. That meant Sparty’s first 2 points and the ball back, after which they scored on a 34 yard reverse to suddenly be down by only five. After blocking a field goal attempt on your next drive, Michigan State proceeded to go 80 yards, scoring on a 4th and 2 from your 35 to take a 16-14 lead. Huh? How did a team with such phenomenal ball control ability and defense allow that 16 point swing in less than a quarter of play. From there the momentum was all MSU. That they scored on a hail mary at the end of regulation to win the game after blowing a 31-17 (i.e. same 2 touchdown lead you started off with) only cemented how strange this game became…and how indicative it was of your bad luck/brain farts over the past decade. Your inability to stop big plays on defense combined with just enough good Mark Dantonio defense to become a perfect remedy against the steamroller you guys had been riding for over seven weeks. Woof.

"Sincerely, A guy whose nickname is based on that ^."

Wisconsin has had a number of good teams that took national title hopes into late October, or finished with one or two loss records and just enough regrets. Outside of Ohio State, they’ve quietly been the Big 10’s most consistent program since 2000. All that’s been missing is a truly great quarterback, with next level Heisman-esque potential to bring the Badgers a national title, which of course they got this year. While it looked good for six games, we now know that the football gods just won’t allow the state of Wisconsin to dominate football at both of its highest levels. Oh well. In 2012 it’ll be back to quarterbacks named Nate Tice and Joe Brennan and questions like whether you can, in fact, win the Big 10 just by running the ball. But for now, let’s see if Wisconsin can’t make a run at the Big 10 Title with a bit of help.

"You know why Wisconsin didn't win on Saturday? Because they didn't have Aaron Rodgers...Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers..."

The icing on the cake was Michigan State’s unlikely yet all too familiar way of winning football games under Mike Dantonio. Remember the fake field goal game winner at Notre Dame last year or when they scored 23 unanswered points to beat Illinois weeks later? How about the interception return for touchdown that ended Michigan’s undefeated run this year? The hail mary, especially when you consider how the game played out, should have actually been expected. Even if there’s a distinct possibility that the hail mary didn’t actually go for a touchdown (I’m still not sure if he broke the plain) is there any doubt that MSU would’ve pulled it out anyway? Honestly, they just saved everyone a few nutty overtime periods that would’ve essentially produced the same result. So congrats Spartans, you are officially the New York Jets of college football (you know, minus all the slap-your-forehead trash talking, insane coaching stunts and sub-par quarterback play). Bravo.

"Future SAT question: 'Ron Zook is to Rasputin as Mark Dantonio is to ______' (hint: he's pictured above)."

In other parts of the country, LSU and Alabama set up a regular season game that will decide, among other things, “which undefeated SEC coach has more southern moxie,” “how many times can LSU coach Les Miles outfox himself…and have it somehow pay off,” “the SEC West division, SEC Championship and possibly national championship,” and “can a player actually be arrested on the field in the middle of a play.” Heady stuff. We also found out that the geniuses at Stanford managed to do something no one else has been able to do; make Andrew Luck relatively meaningless in a big Stanford win (or really any Stanford win). Of course, everyone probably thought he went for those 400+ rushing yards all by himself anyway.

Wait, you mean Andrew Luck wasn't snapping himself the ball? Or solving quadratic equations in between plays on his wrist band? Andrew Luck? Andrew Luck Andrew Luck Andrew Luck...."

Lastly, Oklahoma was stricken with an ailment it has become quite familiar with in recent years; Red Raider’s Revenge. Texas Tech has managed to play spoiler for both Big XII heavyweights in recent years (how the Halloween catch keeps getting brought up in my own posts I will never know), but they’ve particularly had it out for the Sooners. Tech beat Oklahoma in ’99, ’05, ’07 and ’09. In ’07 the Sooners we’re 9-1 and ranked #3. Add in this year’s win and that’s two top 3 rankings ruined by the Raiders in five seasons. Only Texas has beaten Oklahoma that many times in the span, and they certainly haven’t gotten two wins against top 3 ranked Oklahoma teams in that time. Shit, this is making me depressed.

"It's like Montezuma's revenge...except with more puking."

Here are some take aways from this year’s installment: Tommy Tuberville’s now super-underrated head coaching record against top 5 teams (he’s 5-5…), how good Texas Tech QB Seth Doege is (24-4 TD:Int ratio), the rescinding of the “Big Game Bob” moniker that Stoops had somewhat gotten back in September (you don’t get to be Big Game when you can’t win an over-matched opponent game) and Oklahoma’s mediocre passing offense. That last one is huge by the way, because even if Oklahoma gets past the increasingly difficult remainder of the schedule (they still have K-State, A&M and Baylor who have a combined 16-4 record) they still have to go to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys, in case you forgot, rank second in passing yards in the country. So…have fun with that Sooners.

"This ^ is not an embellishment...Yippee."

On to the week 8 games: I know there was a lot of Big XII talk above but guess what? That conference has two 4-2 teams, two 5-2 teams, one 6-1 team and two 7-0 teams. With five or six games left to go for each and the meat of the new round robin Big XII in-conference format to boot, most of these teams haven’t even played each other yet (and they all have to). That’s all about to change as we near November, and with no conference championship game there could be all kinds of intrigue going into the first weekend of December! Yes please. To kick it off we have two huge mid afternoon games on Saturday; Baylor at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma at Kansas State. To clarify; that’s all 3 of the Big XII’s top 10 teams plus a Heisman Trophy contender for the bears. If they add West Virginia this week then this conference might be nearly back from the dead.

"And Boise. For god sakes Chuck Neinas add Boise!"

Clemson at Georgia Tech; this was supposed to be the poor man’s LSU-Bama. Now it’s just another Clemson game that ACC commissioner John Swofford has to sweat out while he hopes to keep his conference football relevant. Stanford at USC; remember when Stanford put itself on the national map back in 2009 by crushing USC at the Coliseum by 34 points? Since that game Stanford is 20-3 and has spent most of the time in the top 10. USC is 16-7, and while that’s certainly respectable for most teams it’s also exactly how many losses USC had from 2003 to 2008…total. I think Stanford will make it 3 straight and 4 out of 5 versus the Trojans, but they might actually have to work for this one. Illinois at Penn State; who would have thought two weeks ago that the Nittany Lions would be the ranked team in this match up (and 7-1)? Oh that’s right, every Florida and Illinois fan whose ever been burned by the Zooker…so like millions of people. Georgia at Florida; this has to be mentioned because it used to semi-officially be called the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (and I’m trying to do everything I can to keep that going). It also has to be mentioned because, while the Gators have seemingly given up, the Bulldogs have won five straight and are on the verge of giving Boise State a legitimate SEC win on its schedule. Go Ugga! Navy at Notre Dame; Brian Kelly, I dare you to lose to Navy for the third year in a row and fourth time in five years. Seriously, the Irish are not above firing you after two seasons. BYU at TCU; did you know BYU is 6-2? Yeah, me neither.

"Great, now I've been Zookered..."

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “The next time someone tries to sprint across midfield, belly dance, chest pump a 300 pound man, and then try to touch ME? I’m kicking them in the shins. Just saying Jim Schwartz…pussy.”

NCAAF Week 7: Oregon’s Inability to go Away, ACC Basketball Season and The First BCS Rankings Have Been Released, Let the Kvetching Begin…

It took exactly one week for the ACC to stop taking football seriously. The conference entered the weekend with one semi-unstoppable rushing team in Georgia Tech and a 5-1 Wake Forest team looking to make national noise. What they got was another disappointing close Georgia Tech loss at Virginia (where they were on a 1-8 streak coming in…), and Frank Beamer waking his team up just in time to ruin a promising start by the Demon Deacons. Clemson pulled it out against Maryland (an admirable comeback), but also managed to impregnate a seed of doubt in people’s minds. When you consider how bad the Terp’s defense is, you realize that putting up 56 points (and allowing 45) isn’t that impressive at all. Through 7 weeks, the ACC is now officially hanging this resurgent season on a team in territory it’s never even heard of. Still, Clemson has also found its way out of games it would have blown in past seasons. They won’t get any breaks with UNC this week before having to prepare for Tech’s triple option in Atlanta, and I have a hard time believing they’ll be able to stop the Yellow Jacket’s attack (Clemson is allowing 4.66 yards/rush through seven games). With that, the conference will have completely turned its attention to basketball by November.

"That's a Lamborghini on a basketball court. You're telling me that's any less gaudy than a fashion show? Seriously."

Let’s stop and appreciate what Chip Kelly’s done at Oregon…again. In his first season he had to replace Pac-10 1st team QB Jeremiah Masoli on a few months notice, and LaGarette Blount one week after the infamous punching incident (albeit the replacement was LaMichael James). They wound up winning 10 games and the conference. In year 2 he inserted a sophomore with no experience (Darron Thomas) to run his precise Blur offense and went to Oregon’s first national championship game where the Ducks lost on a last second field goal. This season? Not only is he in solid position for a 3rd consecutive BCS bowl in his first 3 seasons as head coach, but he just won his second toughest in-conference game without his most dynamic offensive player (James) and without Thomas for the second half.  All the while he’s battled off field incidents and handled them in relatively admirable fashion with suspensions or outright dismissals (see: Masoli, Jeremiah). The Ducks’ only loss was to LSU in week 1, and they played them closer than anyone. With the season headed towards probably 3 or 4 undefeated teams they won’t make it back to the national championship game, but 12-1 and a BCS bowl or 11-2 with losses to LSU and Andrew Luck Stanford, certainly isn’t shabby either. That an 11-2 record would be a semi disappointment is a testament to how far this program has come.

"Their 'Civil War' rivalry game was once reclassified as 'The Toilet Bowl.' Now? They're doing things like this^."

The end of week 7 brought the first release of the BCS rankings. The end of week 7 also began the kind of whining rarely seen outside of kindergarten classrooms and congressional oversight committees. While everyone bitches about where they should or should not be in the rankings I’ll go ahead and find a flaw (ok, and a strength) for each of our (legitimate) whiners:

1. Alabama/LSU: These two are really 1a and 1b, because whoever wins their match up is guaranteed a spot in the national title. What’s interesting is that both have identical flaws; their passing games. Alabama is a mediocre 72nd in passing yards per game in the FBS, while LSU is an abysmal 97th. While LSU’s 13:1 TD to interception ratio (and 157.9 rating) is solid, they have a budding quarterback controversy at exactly the wrong time and haven’t had to throw the ball. ‘Bama comes in at 9:4 with a 142.2 rating, and a sophomore at the helm of the offense. This is all well in good when both are winning by 20 points, but if either falls behind late in a game they’ll struggle to come back. Strenths:  Really everything else. LSU is 35th in rushing yards, 20th in points for and 7th in points against. Alabama is 12th in rushing yards, 14th in points for and 1st in points against. So…yeah.

"The Tigers are also 1st in the country in mug shots..."

3. Oklahoma:  Flaw: 5th, 6th, and 11th. Those are Oklahoma’s rankings in passing yards per game, points per game, and points against. 48th. That’s Oklahoma’s ranking in rushing yards per game. This is fine against shoot out prone Big XII opponents, but it’ll be a problem against LSU or Alabama. Strengths: Compared with Bama and LSU one thing stands out for the Sooners; quarterback Landry Jones. He’s a three year starter and in the thick of the Heisman race. Jarrett Lee, Jordan Jefferson and AJ McCarron? Not so much.

4. Oklahoma State:  Flaw:  That defense is pretty glaring. They’ve allowed 27.3 points per game, and 34, 33 and 26 points to Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulsa and Texas respectively. While those scores are average for each team, you don’t see Alabama, LSU or Oklahoma simply holding teams to their averages. Strength:  So that offense is pretty ridiculous. They’re second in the nation in passing yards per game at 395.7 (395.7!). The only reason they aren’t putting up more rushing yards (they average 155.5 per game) is because it would take away from the air attack. Indeed, their top two rushers are averaging 5.2 and 6.9 yards per carry and have gone for 16 touchdowns on the ground. That, my friends, is an offense.

"There could be 1500 yards of offense in this game...You think I'm kidding."

5. Boise State:  Flaw:  Uh, schedule…I guess? They only beat Georgia by 14 in Atlanta? Kellen Moore only has 21 touchdowns passing? In all seriousness, their opponents so far are a combined 21-18, which isn’t terrible but also isn’t at the level of the four mentioned above. Strengths:  They’re outscoring their opponents by 30 per game. They are 7th in points scored, 8th in points allowed. They average over 300 yards passing and nearly 200 yards rushing. So…there’s a lot to work with here.

"10 seasons with 10+ wins since the start of 1999, 21 total losses in that time, 2 BCS Bowl wi - You know what? I'm just gonna stop."

6. Wisconsin:  Flaw:  Honestly? There’s really nothing to work with here. They have the best, most balanced offense in the country averaging 265.7 yards passing (with a leading Heisman contender at quarterback) and 257.5 yards on the ground (good for 7th nationally). They’re ranked 3rd in points allowed and 1st in points scored. Did you like Boise’s point differential of 30? Wisconsin’s point differential is 40.5 per game. You could nit pick at the schedule, but they beat a 5-1 Nebraska team by 31 and will play most of the solid Big Ten teams this year. Strengths: (above, see).

"In North Carolina 'Russel Wilson' is synonymous with depression...and 'Tom O'Brien's an idiot.'"

7. Clemson:  Flaw:  Finally, someone we can work with! Actually, this is really more of the OK State thing. They have a meh defense (23 points allowed per game) and a lot of tight wins that includes giving up 45 points to Maryland last weekend. Strengths: Part of the reason they’re giving up so many points is because of the competition. Out of all the teams on here, their opponents stack up against pretty much anyone’s so far, save for LSU. Oh, and they’re still averaging nearly 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing.

8. Stanford:  Flaw:  This team has started off a few games slowly, which in the world of ridiculous expectations translates to:  “They’re on the west coast. It’s tough to see them regularly. We looked at the box scores and we’re surprised Andrew Luck wasn’t 20-21 with 400 passing yards and 5 touchdowns in the first half…Really, they’re not making our job easy enough.” Truth be told, they haven’t played much of anyone, but it is Stanford. Until 3 years ago, making a bowl game there was a big deal, and the mind set scheduling wise was to diminish the damage. Strengths:  304 yards passing per game, 182 yards rushing per game, 5th in points for, 5th in points against. Blahdy f***ing blah.

"In Miami 'Andrew Luck' is synonymous with 'Chad Henne blows'...and tanking."

While the weekend slate is somewhat thin, there are two big night games and a few nice under the radar contests. Cincinnati at South Florida, West Virginia at Syracuse: I know I know, they’re Big East games. They also involve two of the leagues 3 (3!) 5-1 teams, and both of its 4-2 teams. That’s four Big East teams with winning records playing each other…and possibly the pinnacle of in-conference Big East play this season…in mid-October. Western Michigan at Eastern Michigan: This is the first time both teams have entered this game with winning records in ages…mainly because this is the first time Eastern Michigan has had a winning record in October since 1995. Trust me, this is big news. Auburn at LSU:  The tigers lost to Cam Newton by a touchdown a year ago. Auburn may be ranked 20th, but I’d bet that same thing won’t happen this year (and not just because they don’t have Cam Newton). Still, it might be a closer game that LSU’s others. Louisiana-Lafayette at Western Kentucky:  ULL is 6-1. Seriously, that’s the first time a team in the Sun Belt Conference, let alone the Ragin’ Cajuns, has been 6-1 ever. Ever! Let’s see if they can keep it up. Wisconsin at Michigan State: Here’s the heavy hitter. The Spartans thrust themselves upon America after knocking Michigan from the unbeaten ranks last week. They’re allowing 10.8 points per game. They’re at home, where they haven’t lost since 2009. Aaaaand, I’m still going with the Badgers. Washington at Stanford: For all you Bill Simmons fans out there, we’re getting into Ewing theory territory here. UW is 5-1 and ranked after the 4th game of the year for the first time since 2003, and it’s all come without Jake Locker at quarterback. The supposed savior helped get them back to relevancy and a bowl game last year but he never came close to 5-1. What a shame that top 25 run has to end at Stanford Stadium this weekend.

"11 years and not a single 6-1 team until now. The other teams should tank the rest of the season purely for the publicity..."

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “The World Series just started with two one run games, both pitcher’s duels with one that was decided in the ninth inning, yet game 1 was the lowest rated in history. If that’s not a reason to change baseball (like shortening games somehow) then I don’t know what is.”

My Time In Beantown: A Yankees Fan’s First Experience in Fenway

In mid-June, 2011 my girlfriend Sarah and I began a very temporary year of commuting back and forth between Annapolis, Maryland and Boston to see each other. The first 3 months of this have left me with at least 2 big sports-related moments, the first of which is presented below. I’ll keep it going as long as there are interesting, sports-related stories to tell from the experience…or until my girlfriend breaks up with me for being too smelly/hairy/generally disgusting. Hope you enjoy.

On the day the 2010-2011 Boston Bruins held their Stanley Cup victory parade I woke up groggy in a studio apartment in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston. Usually that grogginess (and waking up in a strange city) would mean I had had a particularly “good” time the night before with some friends and a veritable slew of libations. While I wouldn’t label the experience from this Friday as bad in any way, splitting a bottle of champagne after driving a U-Haul 10.5 hours and then unloading it at 8:30 P.M. on a Friday night with my girlfriend also couldn’t be labeled as a particularly epic night either. Nonetheless we’d done most of the unpacking and apartment organizing by early Saturday and needed to get the U-Haul truck back across town to a relatively dreary looking neighborhood 4 miles away. You can imagine my joy at the thought of sitting in traffic while watching Boston celebrate yet another fucking championship (regardless of how little I even watch or have a rooting interest in hockey). Still, it had to be done so I sighed heavily and we resigned ourselves to the thankless task at hand. In the luckiest of situations we not only got the truck across town in under 15 minutes but were left with a beautiful day to walk through the city back to the apartment. What transpired next can only be explained by one of two things. Either it was an incredibly rare occurrence where I wanted to walk into the holy grail of a team I’d rooted against above all other hated rivals for years, or it was a brunch-booze infused desire to go see one of America’s great sports landmarks. From this day forward I will deny anything but the booze story (and say I was nothing short of rip roaring drunk) but secretly I will tell my obscure current readership of my girlfriend, 10 good buddies and my dog that I actually wanted to enter the belly of the beast. That’s right, I went into my girlfriend’s first weekend living in Boston wanting to see the green monstrosity known as Fenway Park. The really crazy part? It wasn’t until I actually sat in the cramped right field grand-stand seats that we had bought on Stubhub that I realized just how good of a decision I had actually made…

"Bruins' Stanley Cup blah blah blah. Decade of Boston blah blah blah. 7 Championships blah bl - Go fuck yourselves."

I have always known Fenway Park, first and foremost, as the weird stadium that houses the “Green Monstah.” In my youngest days following the Yankees I was able to identify the near-mythical home of their hated enemies only by the strange 30 foot wall sitting behind left field. That it took me a while to understand just what this hated rivalry was and what it meant to both teams can simply be explained by the fact that, for most of my youth, the Yankees were winning championships, and the Boston Red Sox, well, sucked. This all began to change in the early part of the 2000s. A group of Yankees that had been more accomplished than anything seen in the franchise since Yogi Berra’s playing days (they won four championships in five years) was beginning to splinter either by retirement (Paul O’Neill) or trade (Tino Martinez). A young core remained (yes, once upon a time Jeter, Jorge, Andy Pettite and Rivera were considered youthful), but the team and chemistry fans had grown accustomed to seeing were beginning to fade.

"I can be forgiven for my ignorance as a 10 year old. I mean, that thing is just unnatural."

Meanwhile, Boston was beginning something of a small dynasty in its own right, acquiring guys like Manny, Papi and Damon while watching the growth and emergence of Pedro Martinez. When the 2003 ALCS rolled around it featured a pair of rivals that had firmly re-awakened the vitriol of old. When the series ended in a game 7 Aaron Boone walk off home run for the victorious Yanks it only exacerbated the point, working the fan bases into an all out frenzy of hatred that probably hadn’t been seen since the days of Munson and Yaz in the 70’s. Consequently, that was the last time the two teams had been truly great at the same time as both clubs combined for 4 World Series appearances between 1975 and 1978. This would prove prophetic when, in the 2004 ALCS, Boston famously vanquished all demons after being down 3 games to none to the Yankees and stormed into their first World Series since 1986…and first championship since 1918. From there it was another championship in ’07 for the Sawx, the low point of the Derek Jeter era with a missed playoff run in 2008 and the Yankee’s subsequent resurgence with a new crop of players in 2009 that ended in a World Series victory.

"Oh how I long for the days when the Red Sox having the few best years of Pedro Martinez still didn't matter..."

Now, in 2011, both teams consistently stand near the top of the league (along with Philadelphia in the NL) and one of the greatest current (and past) rivalries going in sports. So, you can imagine my trepidation as a Yankees fan marching into the home of that big green wall as I walked towards Yawkey Way and the various (relatively speaking of course) banners celebrating their AL pennants and World Series victories. Indeed, the nervousness was only slightly helped by the fact that they were playing the Brewers, a team I knew little (and cared even less) about.

"I must admit this is pretty awesome...I'm still shitting all over the Green Monster though."

On the day the Boston Bruins celebrated a Stanley Cup victory with hundreds of thousands of Bostonians I walked down Yawkey Way, past the ticket scalpers, the beer vendors and the gigantic team store and through gates of baseball history…and I honestly couldn’t have scripted the experience any better. For one thing the Red Sox lost. John Lester gave up solo home runs to the first two batters he faced and, while he managed to keep the score close the rest of the way, Milwaukee did enough to pull out a 4-2 victory. On top of that it was a beautiful Boston summer night during which my girlfriend didn’t complain once about the temperature and we got to watch an un-impeded view (Fenway does have some obstructive pillars in front of the grandstand level seats) of the whole game. We also sampled plenty of good Fenway park cuisine including a Fenway sausage with peppers and onions, fries, peanuts, Coors Light (gross) and Smithwicks (awesome). Lastly, the park was simply breathtaking. You can’t be a fan of baseball and all it represents about nostalgic americana and athletic history and not appreciate Fenway for exactly what it is; a grand old ballpark without a bad seat in the house (unless of course you count the seats behind those damn pillars). From the old fashioned press box, to the Green Monster, to the classic Budweiser sign lighting up the Boston skyline it truly is one of the only magical sports stadiums left. Indeed, I was envious just sitting there thinking about the fact that the old Yankees Stadium had been replaced in 2009 by the nearly identical, yet somehow exceedingly more gaudy, monstrosity that became the new Yankees Stadium. It pains me to admit it, but Fenway Park is just awesome.

"Touche Boston...Touche."

The best part of the night though? Walking home hand in hand with Sar completely full on beer and bar food after visiting a local Fenway haunt after the game, and only taking three blocks to make it back to her apartment. I’ve never been able to walk home to any major league ballpark, let alone take three blocks to do so. That I was able to make the trek in perfect New England summer weather with my girlfriend under my arm only made the night that much sweeter. Indeed, in the end I may never fall in love with the city of Boston, and I most definitely will never become a Red Sox fan, but I will have no problem going back to Fenway from here on out (you know, unless they’re playing the Yanks…that’s something I’m going to have to work up to).

With The #3 Pick, MBP Selects Bonnaroo X’s…

Here’s my second post talking about Bonnaroo X, my favorite performances and their best songs. Without further ado; the third best performance I saw (hailing from the “This” Tent…no seriously):

Home of mushroom fountains, insane heat, naked people, phenomenal music and the worst physically manifested Abbot and Costello inspired mind-f*** ever

3. Florence and The Machine (Come on, it has to be “Dog Days”) as the Oklahoma City Thunder circa 2010-2011

I know I know, “didn’t OKC lose in the Western Conference finals 4 games to 1 in largely unimpressive fashion? Did Bonnaroo suck or something?” Hardly, in fact Bonnaroo exceeded my expectations in unexpected ways. I went in dreading the heat, dreading the lack of showers and dreading the porta potties. I thought if things were going to go well these things would have to at least be somewhat ok. I also dreaded that Oklahoma City would be too young this year, Durant too exhausted and people to cocky about what this team could do after 2010’s breakout season. They would have to mature and Durant would have to be Durant in spite of playing a year straight of basketball coming in. In fact, all of the things above somewhat materialized (Durant began the season exhausted, I didn’t shower for 120 hours, OKC looked young at times, and the porta potties absolutely did suck). The beauty is that both the Thunder and Bonnaroo managed to overcome those issues to be big successes. It just took me a little reflection to fully grasp it.

You think I'm the first to compare her^...

to him^?...

Florence and the Machine embodied this. Going in I cautiously expected great things after seeing them perform live online. Florence, like Durant, seemed like a great front-woman, energizing the crowd with her performances while managing the live vocals well (a difficult thing to do consistently when you sing like she does). I believed out of all the groups F & M had the most potential to be both great and disappointing. They started out well enough. We were reasonably close (about 2/3rds of the crowd was outside the tent, behind us in the open air) so we could hear the music and catch glimpses of the stage and Florence’s performance. The problem was, on a couple of occasions, she had to drop her voice an entire octave, altering the choruses of popular songs like Dog Days. This was like Durant altering his game early in the season (when he was missing shots like crazy) because he was worn out from leading Team USA to FIBA Gold during the summer. Florence has been touring pretty hard lately (while opening up for U2) so I’m guessing her voice has been worn down by the insane schedule. By dropping it an octave in parts she could conserve her voice while keeping the song from being too drastically changed. It wound up working out. While I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get the full brunt of a high pitched “Dog Days” chorus, the song was still fantastic, the musicians were great and the overall performance had the crowd going bonkers. Meanwhile OKC adjusted their lineup, added Sam Perkins late in the season and won the first two playoffs series of their young careers while Durant largely got his mojo back. They got to where we expected and hoped they would be, they just did it in a somewhat different way.

John Calipari's opinion of the NCAA's so-called "rules" and "bi-laws"...

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for:  “Hope Solo said the US Women’s 2-0 victory in the first round of the Women’s World Cup was the first time she’s had fun in an international tournament. I guess two Olympic gold medals just weren’t very “fun” for Hope?,” “Kentucky just signed John Calipari through 2019. So, if we’re keeping score kids, if you want to earn millions as a coach, leave two teams (three?) shamed with vacated Final 4 seasons and do it with relatively few repercussions; coach college basketball…,” and “The Halfwits are keeping a long run of July 4th beer ball games going this year on Sunday…it may prove to be the least athletic display of ‘sport’ in, well, ever.”

Bonnaroo X: Ho…ly…S***

The Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tennessee is a blend of emotional extremes. You have your highs: bands bringing their “A-game” to every performance, constant high quality music from noon until 5 AM every day, phenomenal food and beer if you choose to partake (and can afford it) and a level of organization that Woodstock couldn’t have remotely dreamt of. You also have your lows: having to make a choice that (I imagine…) is like picking between children when favorite artists play simultaneously, the incredible ability of people to make porta-potties 20 times more disgusting than they already were, consistent 95 degree temperatures and a serious lack of hygiene. Honestly, it’s a lot like being a fan of a sports team. You have your Championship years (Band of Skulls coming out of nowhere on the first day to bring down the house) and your 2-14 seasons (literally being blinded by the rotting stench of the plastic sweat dome of terror your just bared your goods in). It is a give and take kind of thing, but by the end those highs out weigh the lows substantially.

The Good...

The Bad...(this is fake, but really not that far off)

For the next few days I’ll post my top 4 Bonnaroo X performances (plus a couple of honorable mentions) roughly 1 at a time. In addition I’ll list my favorite song of theirs and a corresponding (think: “major stretch”…) analogy from the sports world. I also apologize for the delay. I was moving my girlfriend up to Boston this past weekend and between that and Bonnaroo it’s been a little insane (we caught a game at Fenway too, a first for both of us…a post on it is in the works).

But enough about that (just kiddin Sar, kisses), here are a couple of honorable mentions and my number 4 pick from Bonnaroo:

Honorable Mentions: Bassnectar as the Arizona Diamondbacks circa 2001 and STS9 as the VMI Keydets men’s basketball team since roughly 2006

While I admittedly didn’t stick around for the entire set of either group I felt I had to mention both. Bassnectar does some truly incredible things with a relatively limited set of musical accoutrements on stage, literally making your heart feel like it will beat right out of your chest the second the music starts. Even as I walked away exhausted through the massive throng of dancing bonnaroo revelers and out into the relatively open air of Centeroo I could feel the sub woofer vibrations knocking around my…insides. Bassnectar’s a one man version of the 2001 Diamondbacks because he does so much with so little. Arizona won the World Series with a two man rotation that year and made the Yankee’s vaunted and financially blessed juggernaut look relatively meek in the path of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. It was more with less, much like Bassnectar, and like Bassnectar those guys literally thundered through the Yank’s lineup relatively un-encumbered (the Yanks didn’t score more than 2 runs in any of their starts). Plus there was that whole blown save by Mariano which, while it was only a bloop single, shook me right to the core. Now excuse me while I go throw up in a porta potty.

The difference? This doesn't trigger my gag reflex...

I actually caught more of STS9 (they wound up being my last show of the whole epic weekend) and got to get a full live taste of what I had sometimes listened to while studying for 3 years in college (my roommate turned me onto them late in my freshman year). I always knew they were unique because of a couple of distinct things. The first distinction is their electronically infused dreamy yet energetic sound, which is described by the band as “post-rock dance music,” whatever that means. The second distinction is that they use a lot of real instruments (i.e. guitars, drum kits, bongos, bass guitar in addition to multiple key boards) to produce their sound. This is why STS9 so embodies the mindset and style of play of the Keydets over the past several years. VMI runs a high powered ridiculously fast paced up and down brand of basketball that essentially operates under a “five seconds and shoot” mantra. This results in some wildly entertaining and high scoring games, with both teams usually breaking the 100 point threshold easily (the Keydets have led the nation in three pointers and scoring the last five years). In a 40 minute (college) basketball game those kinds of averages are pretty remarkable. It’s also completely unique. No team in division I plays quite the same brand of ball, and while some times they lose it seems like it’s always a hell of a ride no matter what. I get the same impression about the unique style of STS9.

The difference? These guys don't do a whole lot of "losing"...

4. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (My girlfriend’s choice: “Ooh La La”) as the University of Vermont Catamounts from 2001 to Now

This is a somewhat more literal analogy. Both the band and basketball team (obviously) are from Vermont but they also can trace the success of their career arcs to a pretty parallel time frame. Potter was discovered at St. Lawrence University singing on campus in 2002 by a fellow band member and left school relatively soon thereafter to form the band. Their major successes came in 2006 and 2007 with songs like “apologies” and “falling or flying” before gaining notoriety recently for “Paris (Ooh la la),” which they closed with at Bonnaroo. Likewise, the Catamounts basketball team first burst onto the NCAA tournament scene in 2003 as winners of the America East conference before beating #3 seeded Syracuse in the first round of the NCAAs in 2005 (Vermont’s third straight appearance). Vermont also made the NCAAs last year as conference champs and won the regular season handily this year before being upset in the conference tourney. Needless to say the parallels are uncanny.

What isn’t is the dynamic end to their major 2011 performances. The Catamounts faltered, but Potter and the Nocturnals most certainly did not. In front of a great (and massive) day crowd on the main stage Potter pulled off her best Janis Joplin impersonation with a cleaner (read: not as raspy) musical sound and truly came off like a rock star. I’d never even heard of herbefore my girlfriend circled her as a must see prior to the festival, but I’m certainly glad I didn’t miss out. In a gorgeous white dress that accented her long straight blond hair Grace embodied all that is in her name, sweeping across the stage with thunderous vocals while alternating between a guitar and a piano easily. Like the Catamounts in ’05, this little group from Vermont made some thunderous noise on the biggest stage. Bravo.

Like I said; Janis Joplin…except wayyyyyyyyyyyy hotter
That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “I’ll give you a hint on number 3: female lead singer, crazy lyrics and lots of awesomeness,” “Mark Cuban has said that he wants to do super cheap/free beer days if he gets to own a baseball team by allowing beer ads that stretch across entire sections of seats. So basically, we should boycott the MLB until this happens,” “The Nats are above .500 this late in a season for the first time since the end of the ’05 season and Washington couldn’t be…any less interested” and “Kyrie Irving just became the first 1/2 and done number 1 overall pick in NBA history. Remind me again why this rule exists?”

Hungover Synopsis: JHU – Hofstra, The Blue Jay’s Helmets and a Brief NCAA Quarterfinals Preview

I only got to watch one of the eight NCAA Division I Lacrosse Tournament First Round games live this weekend. I was in New York with my sister (think of the female opposite of my hairy, often sweaty mess of ManBearPig self) and after a light jog to sweat out maybe 1/50th of all we drank the night before we were seated at Hop Devil Grill for the now infamous beerunch (you know, because we needed more excuses to drink cheap booz). Luckily the Hop Devil not only believes in great beers (and mimosas…and bloody mary’s) but they believe in ESPN2’s glorious propensity to show NCAA Championship tournaments not named basketball or football (wait…). My sister and I hunkered down for some much needed food and the first round game between Hofstra and Hopkins, a game I had circled as a surprisingly tough 3 seed versus 14 seed match-up coming in.

Why was the ManBearPig so hungover this weekend? Let's just say it something to do with seeing the rockstar on the left ^.

You see, in a 16 team tournament you usually have good team records across the board, but a 13-2 Hofstra squad at the 14 spot was still surprising. Hofstra’s record was a bit deceiving coming in, as they didn’t play anyone in the top 10 (before Hopkins) and went 3-2 against top 20 teams (going 0-2 against the one NCAA tournament team they played in Delaware). When you consider that ACC champion Maryland had to go on the road in the first round (to play another ACC team no less!) it may not be so crazy that the 13 win Pride got such a low seed and subsequently tough draw. Still, I was expecting a nice little blood feud between the pre-eminent powers in their respective lacrosse hot beds (Hopkins from Maryland, Hofstra from Long Island).

After 30 minutes this game was knotted in a pretty low scoring 4-4 draw and had the potential to be one of the better first round games (there would be two close games on the weekend with the rest being 3+ goal routs). Hofstra was doing just enough to reasonably keep up with a Hopkins offense that has been resurgent this year (they’ve scored in double digits in 12 of 15 games and are undefeated in all of them; 1-2 in the others) all the while against the 8th toughest schedule in the country (according to The difference in the second half became a JHU defense that embarrassed the Pride’s offense and created all kinds of transition opportunities down the stretch. The Hopkins defense by the way, not to be outdone by their slick counterparts, have allowed double digit goals only 3 times this season yet are actually unbeaten in the games where they’ve allowed more than 9 goals (go figure).

The guy in the gold? You don't want to be the guy in the gold.

Still, while great defense (particularly under coach Dave Pietremala as both a coach and player) has been a staple of Hopkins teams for decades they haven’t always had this many prolific scorers at one time. Don’t get me wrong, the Hop has produced some great offensive players at the midfield position with guys like Kyle Harrison, Paul Rabil, Stephen Peyser and Mike Kimmel in recent years. They’ve even had a couple of great attackmen in guys like Conor Ford and Kevin Huntley. But I doubt they’ve ever had a group this unbelievable at the attack position all at the same time. It starts with Chris Boland (2 goals, 3 assists against Hofstra), who after an injury last year is living up to the billing he came into JHU with back in 2007 (he also led the team in scoring in 2009).  He leads the team in scoring with 48 points but is closely followed by another attackman in Zach Palmer, a Canadian product with 46 points (24 of which are, surprisingly, assists). Finally, Kyle Wharton (their captain) rounds out the stellar attack crew with 39 points, giving the group 135 points on the year through 15 games. That’s nine points a game combined in a balanced offense that complements the traditionally stingy defense.

I'm guessing scoring 135 points is the least of their worries when being yelled at by that guy.

Well, the boys did it again on Saturday against Hofstra. After being stymied a bit in the first half by a physical Pride defense (more on that later…) JHU came out firing in the third quarter, quickly mounting a nice lead. Meanwhile the Pride could only generate one more goal on offense…for the entire game.

The third quarter heavily featured a nice display of the third and final key to the Jay’s resurgent season. The Hop took 14 of 21 faceoffs on the day, but the 5 of 6 mark at the faceoff X in the decisive third quarter was quite possibly the biggest part of the day. It helped Hopkins keep pace with a gaudy 65% team faceoff percentage on the year, a stat mostly attributed to the success of Matt Dolente. Those possessions led to a lot of opportunities for the three stellar attackmen mentioned before, who combined for 6 goals and 5 assists on the game.

"Oh am I winning? Yeah, I'm winning."

Lastly, I have to talk about the awesome uniform work done by whoever works on that kind of thing for Johns Hopkins. The schools colors (black, white and, I’m not kidding, blue jay blue) already lend themselves to some great color combos to work with but my focus this time around was on the helmets.

Many of us may look like complete jackasses off the field, but we'll be damned if we look bad on it.

Is that not the baddest set of helmet decals you’ve ever seen? The powder blue helmets are already a hit in my opinion (although the black is always nice as well…) but the wing design is the best I’ve ever seen by far. When I saw those on the high def TV screen Saturday the vain lacrosse player in me (we pretty much all have insane obsession with on-field fashion) went bonkers. Tell me the Philadelphia Eagles won’t be trying to rip off that design (done by Zima Gear) when and if this lockout ever ends? If my alma mater (the Seahawks) doesn’t make a move on it in the next couple of years I will be sorely disappointed.

Perfunctory lacrosse hit photo (and my personal championship game match up prediction) right about here ^.

With the win JHU moves on to face the University of Denver (who got their first NCAA tourney win ever) in Hempstead, New York this weekend. While the Pioneers have been awesome under Bill Tierney (who has revived his career after massive success at Princeton) I think their run ends here. All those pieces of the Hopkins puzzle just fit too well together. Plus I have allegiances, sorry Denver. The other three games are Syracuse – Maryland (historical heavyweights), Notre Dame – Duke (2010 national championship game rematch) and Cornell – Virginia (look up Rob Pannel). I’m going to go with Syracuse (senior laden team and Joel White wants his third Final Four), Duke (ND already got their 2010 revenge, doesn’t have the offense and hasn’t been nearly as tested) and Cornell (Rob Pannell just wouldn’t let it end this soon…). Regardless of what happens, its shaping up to be yet another great Memorial Day weekend.

Prove to me this wasn't made by Volkswagen...seriously, prove it.

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for; “Skid in the Bronx? Sounds like something you’d find on the bottom of your shoe,” “You think German engineering had anything to do with this stat line: ‘48 points on 12-15 FG, 24-24 FT, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks and a whole lotta moxie!’ (I added that last part),” and “The NFL…there’s still nothing to really report here.”