Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Bottom Five: American Samoa

All the glamour goes to Spain, Holland, Brazil, etc., and rightfully so. But what about life at the bottom of the world rankings? In a five-part series, Staff Writer Chris Lillstrung looks at the five international soccer teams at the bottom of the FIFA rankings.


Manager: David Brand
Notable players abroad: None
What’s so bad?: In an American territory in which football, basketball and baseball are king, soccer has suffered for many years here in the South Pacific. American Samoa has never won a match in its time as a FIFA member and holds the dubious honor of being on the business end of the most lopsided international match in history. On April 11, 2001, American Samoa played Australia and lost, 31-0, in a 2002 World Cup qualifier (video of which can be found here. Aussie striker Archie Thompson set the world record for most goals in a single match with 13. Also, the country’s few resources devoted to the sport were decimated by a tsunami a year ago, and training facilities are only now beginning to return to their former shape.
What’s good: A strong push is being made by the governing body for soccer in this nation at the youth ranks, and thus far it appears to be a success. Brand played in England for Wigan Athletic and appears to be in it for the long haul, trying to get the team as far away from the 31-0 loss as possible.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

March Madness primer: HBO's 'Runnin' Rebels of UNLV'

Mark Podolski

The last time HBO Sports took a shot at a college basketball documentary to hype March Madness, the cable network threw up an air ball.

It's spotlight on the Duke-North Carolina rivalry a few years back was one of HBO's weakest sports documentaries. Its latest attempt, a look at the history of the UNLV men's basketball team and its coach, Jerry Tarkanian, doesn't rank with HBO's best-ever sports docs, but it's very good.

The film, titled, "Runnin' Rebels of UNLV" effectively recaptures the times from the early 1970s to the glory years of the 80s, and especially the early 90s, when Tarkanian's '89-90 and '90-91 teams were thought to be two of the greatest of all time.

UNLV's rise to college basketball powerhouse under "Tark the Shark" was interesting, to say the least. The program had little to no money or support from the institution, before rising from obscurity to become a national power. Along the way, there was plenty of controversy and scandal, which eventually led to Tarkanian losing his job.

There's also a fascinating look at UNLV's record win over Duke in the '90 NCAA final and monumental upset to that same Duke team in the Final Four the next season. For those not old enough to remember, that '91 UNLV team, led by Larry Johnson, has to be up there as the greatest college basketball team not to win a national championship.

Not so sure? Check it out. "Runnin' Rebels of UNLV" debuts on HBO March 12 and runs throughout the month.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Boxing alive on FX

By Mark Podolski

Who says boxing is a dying sport?

Apparently, not FX. The cable network known for its critically acclaimed TV dramas "Justified," "Rescue Me" and "Damages" (now on DirecTV) debuted its latest in January, this one about a retired former heavyweight champion.

"Lights Out" (10 p.m., Tuesdays) takes the viewers into the fascinating and - at the same time - scummy world of boxing, as well as what it might be like after an athlete hangs it up.

Patrick "Lights" Leary, played by the excellent Holt McCallany, was once the heavyweight champ before losing a controversial bout to relinquish the belt. The show starts five years after that fight, as Leary is enjoying his retirement (or so we think) in his mansion with his wife and three daughters.

Then, everything quickly unravels. Leary's seedy brother loses the ex-champ's fortune, the mob gets involved, bills don't get paid, medical conditions are kept secrets and of course a Don King-type enters the picture. And of course, Leary makes a comeback into ring.

In many respects, "Lights Out" has all the typical boxing movie characters and story lines. There was even an underground mixed martial arts fight that you know occurs somewhere in this country. It was one of the most riveting scenes of the show's early run.

While "Lights Out" has been a critical hit, without the ratings (which haven't been there), it's a question mark how long the show will last. Until then, climb into the ring with "Lights" Leary and see how long you last.

Bet you go the distance, however long that might be.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mentor-St. Edward: The Aftermath

The classic shootout Saturday night between St. Edward and Mentor, won by the Eagles, 108-105, was one of those games that was hard to properly explain in a 700-word game story written on deadline.

Upon further review, here are some extra thoughts:

- The teams are getting bashed for playing no defense, but as St. Edward coach Eric Flannery said after the game, "It's not like there was no defense being played, it's just that you had two explosive offenses that were making plays." Anyone who blasts either team for being horrible defensively doesn't quite get "it" in my opinion.

- On Saturday, I watched a game in which 213 points were scored. On Friday, I watched Perry beat Harvey, 43-42. In no way is this a knock on the Pirates or Red Raiders, but it is amazing how two games in less than 48 hours could be so different.

- There are teams - solid teams - in the area that would give anything to get to double digits in 3-pointers made in a game. The Cardinals hit 18 3-pointers on Saturday and STILL lost. That is a scenario that probably will not happen again anytime soon.

- I think Brush is a talented team, and the other 12 teams at the Division I Euclid District certainly deserve a fair amount of respect. However, truth be told, none of those teams could have scored basket for basket with Mentor on Saturday, and if the Cardinals have that kind of offensive showing or intensity, the district title is all but determined right now.

- Something tells me, and I don't know what is going to happen between now and March 19, but if Mentor and St. Edward play in the Division I regional final at Cleveland State, it won't be that high scoring again. It won't be in the 50s, but I wonder how many adjustments will be made.

So much more to discuss, you as fans will just have to find a game film and draw your own conclusions.

What a shame that wasn't a game on local TV.

- Bill Tilton

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Bottom Five: Montserrat

All the glamour goes to Spain, Holland, Brazil, etc., and rightfully so. But what about life at the bottom of the world rankings? In a five-part series, Staff Writer Chris Lillstrung looks at the five international soccer teams at the bottom of the FIFA rankings.


Manager: Kenny Dyer
Notable players abroad: Wayne Dyer (Chasetown, England)
What’s so bad: Montserrat has played just one competitive match since 2004, a 7-1 loss to Suriname in the first round of 2010 World Cup qualifying two years ago. Montserrat beat Anguilla twice in 1995, marking its lone wins to date. The nation has good reason to not be overly concerned about their FIFA standing, though. Since 1995, the Caribbean island has been ravaged by an active volcano, making half of the British territory uninhabitable. The former capital Plymouth and the nation’s airport were destroyed. So you can’t really blame them for not thinking about kicking a ball around.
What’s good: Dyer is a decent midfielder who has bounced around the lower leagues of England. But beyond that, those involved with the sport on the island appear by all accounts to have good spirits about their unfortunate situation. Most island natives displaced by the volcano now live and work in England. In 2002, Montserrat played Bhutan in the infamous “Other Final” on the same day of the World Cup final, with the loser being considered the world’s worst team. Montserrat lost, 4-0. A documentary was made about the match, the trailer for which can be found here. Their goalkeeper in that match, Claude Hogan, is now an official for the soccer governing body in his country. He told FIFA before the loss to Suriname in 2008, "It's a victory just to be able to mobilize a team to play in a World Cup qualifier. It means we are still here... Montserrat is still alive."

Cleveland State facing most important weekend of the season

If Cleveland State makes it to the NCAA tournament, perhaps the Vikings can petition to not have their games shown on national television.

It's been a rough year in front of the ESPN cameras for CSU, most recently a 74-63 loss Sunday at Old Dominion. The Vikings rely on senior guard Norris Cole and pressure defense to force turnovers because they're thin on the front line and the bench. They had one half of the equation working on Sunday.

Cole, the leading candidate for Horizon League player of the year, scored 35 points and kept CSU in the game in the first half. The rest of the team only had 28 points, and Old Dominion held a 51-22 rebounding advantage.

The Vikings now face their most important weekend of the season. They could win the HL regular season title and clinch a bye to the semifinals in the league tournament, which the No. 1 seed hosts (plus the championship game at the highest remaining seed). They could also finish out of the top two seeds and have to win two games just to get to the semis.

As of Sunday, CSU is 12-4 in the HL, followed by Valparaiso (11-4) and Butler (12-5). Here are their remaining schedules:

- CSU: vs. Milwaukee on Thursday, vs. Green Bay on Saturday
- Valpo: at Green Bay on Monday, vs. Loyola on Thursday, vs. UIC on Saturday
- Butler: vs. Loyola on Saturday

The best case for the Vikings is to keep winning and have Valpo lose at least once. If CSU and Valpo finish tied and Butler finishes third, Valpo would win the tiebreaker. Butler also has the tiebreaker edge on CSU because the Bulldogs won both matchups against the Vikings this season.

Getting every advantage it can in the league tournament is important for CSU because its profile for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament isn't strong. The bracket projection sites have CSU in the field at the moment because they're in first place in the league and therefore the presumed tournament champion. As an at-large, it would be tough to pick the Vikings over Butler - if the HL received a second bid. It's looking more and more as if CSU's loss to Butler at home on Feb. 5 was the hinge to their season.

If CSU doesn't win the league tournament, it will make for a nervous Selection Sunday in the Wolstein Center. Losing a résumé-bolstering game at Old Dominion will make for even sweatier palms.

- Howard Primer

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ten in the Morning: Favorite sports venues

By Mark Podolski

Ten in the Morning brings you another list of rankings. The public demands it, I know.

So here we go with one man's top 10 list of his favorite sports venues. (Hey, it's February, the worst sports month of the year):

10. Yost Arena: Tiny facility hosts University of Michigan hockey games. It's a barn, but it's nostalgic.

9. Coors Field: Similar to Progressive (aka Jacobs) Field when it first opened in the 1990s. A great place to watch a ballgame.

8. The old Yankee Stadium: It was a dump, but a sports fan could not deny the history there.

7. Lake Placid Olympic Center ice rink: Where miracles happen. Plus, it's in a beautiful part of the country.

6. Camp Randall Stadium: As rowdy and rocking as any college football stadium.

5. Wrigley Field: The surroundings are almost as good as the old ballpark.

4. Notre Dame Stadium: Touchdown Jesus is awesome.

3. Ohio Stadium: Love the Horseshoe. Love it.

2. The Rose Bowl: If you're a college football fan, you haven't seen it all until you've been to Pasadena, Calif., for the granddaddy.

1. Augusta National Golf Club: I'm convinced there's magic inside.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tough spot for NFL draft prospects

It must be a difficult time for NFL draft prospects. They want to earn as much money as they can in their first contract. But they don't know what's going to happen with the collective bargaining agreement, other than a rookie salary scale is on the table.

Then there's the issue of the union. The prospects aren't in the union, but if they want to be when they join the league, will they want to participate in a league event like the draft while the players are being locked out? The agents aren't the best people for advice in the matter.

It makes for a weird time to be a future NFL draft pick.

- Howard Primer

Thursday, February 17, 2011

BCS trouble brewing

Mark Podolski

An interesting story is developing in the desert and it could land the BCS in big-time trouble.

On Monday, Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker, one of the most powerful bowl executives, was put on leave while an investigation into alleged illegal political contributions among the Fiesta Bowl staff is looked into.

The charges against Junker stem from allegations of Fiesta employees being "encouraged" to make political contributions, then be reimbursed with bonus checks through the bowl. That's a huge no-no. The actions, if true, would violate state and federal laws. Non-profit organizations can't make political contributions.

If the charges are found true, this could be a major blow to the BCS, which is comprised of the Fiesta, Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls. The BCS bowl games, it is well-known, are not competitors with each other, rather partners. Critics say the BCS bowls act like a cartel.

Let's hope the three other BCS bowls don't operate the way the Fiesta is accused, just for the simple fact it's not right. If Junker and the Fiesta are found guilty, hopefully that's the end of it and the BCS can move on.

If it's not, it could lead to the eventual end of the BCS and a college football playoff.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The News-Herald's Jim Ingraham is one of a kind

Congratulations to News-Herald Indians beat writer and columnist Jim Ingraham who was named one of the nation's top sports columnists by the 2010 Associated Press Sports Editors.
He is one of ten columnists to be honored in the 30,000 to 75,000 daily circulation category.
Jim is one of a kind.
He's an unassuming, humble man who has a wit about him that you can't forget.
He comes up with gems article after article no matter if he's writing a game story, column or weekly notebook.
When I am working on the desk, I look forward to reading Jim's articles. All of us do.
He makes the most boring stories sound exciting and he makes the exciting stories sound even more exciting.
I think he could make a Little League game sound exciting.
We are lucky to have him on the staff at The News-Herald. He makes everyone around him a better writer whether he realizes it or not.

-Theresa Neuhoff Audia


Monday, February 14, 2011

Deepwood hoops events a sure-lock winner

Tuesday's scrimmage between South and Kirtland is the first of several events coming up to benefit the Deepwood Foundation and Broadmoor School.

Now, I'm biased, as has been well documented, but I suggest to all fans of basketball and non-fans to attend and participate when your schedule allows. It is not a lot of money, but the effort and support goes a long way.

The scrimmage between Kirtland and host South starts at 6 p.m. There is no set cost at the door, it is a donation that will get you in the door. Sounds like a little will do alot for those in need that Deepwood helps every day.

On March 21, a team of area coaches will take on the undefeatedBroadmoor Bobcats at Mentor High School. The charge is $3 at the door with all proceeds going to Friends of Deepwood.

If you haven't been to one of these events, you are missing out. It's not about the money or the attendance figures, it is about what it does for folks in Lake County that could use the help.

Get out and do some good Tuesday or on March 21. If you are a fan of basketball, or if you are just a fan of giving when possible and doing something for others that should be good for you as an individual and for the human spirit.

But again, maybe I am just too biased. Or maybe I just see the good these benefit games do every day in my own life and in others.

Something like that.

- Bill Tilton

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Bottom Five: Anguilla

All the glamour goes to Spain, Holland, Brazil, etc., and rightfully so. But what about life at the bottom of the world rankings? In a five-part series, Staff Writer Chris Lillstrung looks at the five international soccer teams at the bottom of the FIFA rankings.


Manager: Colin Johnson
Notable players abroad: None
What’s so bad: Unlike San Marino, which was profiled last week, Anguilla hasn’t won only one match all-time. That seems good, but not by much. All-time, the Caribbean nation is 3-16-1 with wins over the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and Saint Kitts and Nevis. They haven’t won a match since 2003, and their all-time goal differential is minus-81. It doesn’t help that their away jerseys, which albeit aren’t often used, are hideous. Red socks, sky-blue shorts and jerseys with a gold ring on each sleeve. Look out Croatia in the race for ugliest jersey in international soccer.
What’s good: The good news is, when duty has called, players have answered. Professionals on Anguilla are sparse, but the country has a sizeable population of ex-pats in England, many of whom play in the lower divisions of English soccer. Johnson appears to have a good network to put together a squad between Anguillan players from the United States and England the next time they’re needed. The other good news is the oceanfront views are absolutely stunning (See?).

Live Baron Cup blog

For future entries, click here

4:28 p.m.: Amherst finishes the second period up, 2-0. Each team took five shots in the second, but most of them were great scoring chances. Amherst ripped one off the post with under a minute to go.


4:09 p.m.: Caleb Gannelli fired a wrister high past the glove of Nicholson just 10 seconds into the second period to give Amherst a 2-0 lead.


3:53 p.m.: Amherst Steele goes into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead. Drew Ashton's goal from Dakota Dill at the 7:03 mark is the difference. Rocky River goalie Jake Nicholson made a great sprawling save with 6 minutes to go in the period to keep it a one-goal game. Amherst's Paul Miller took a 2 and 10 for checking from behind. Amherst goalie Eli Branscum made a trio of fantastic saves with 2 minutes remaining in the period. The Comets have a 9-6 shots advantage.


Baron Cup III final postgame: Thoughts from Mayfield after its repeat.
"You definitely want the guy who has the hot hand with the puck there in a pressure situation to end it." Mayfield coach Steve Bogas, on Verde's game-winning goal.
"Matt, in my eyes, is the best goaltender in our division. I have no doubt in my mind. I am so proud of him." Verde, on Mramer's performance
"Me, Verde and Tropf call ourselves the 'Blue Line Special'. We made it happen in overtime." Wolfe, on his line producing the game-winner


3:30 p.m.: We are about to drop the puck in the Baron Cup II final between Amherst Steele and Rocky River. River has won the last two Baron Cup II titles.


2:46 p.m.: Verde finishes top-shelf on a 3-on-1 (his 49th goal of the season) 1:20 into overtime and the Wildcats repeat a Baron Cup III champions. Tropf passed to Jake Wolfe, who then found Verde for the game-winner. Mayfield sophomore Dom Horvath takes home the sportsmanship award.
Amherst Steele and Rocky River on-deck in the Baron Cup II final.


2:41 p.m.: We head to overtime tied at 1 in the Baron Cup III final. Orange peppered Mramer in the late stages of the third, but the senior goalie was up to the task. The Lions have a clear edge in momentum, and a 31-22 edge in shots, headed into the extra period.


2:33 p.m.: Orange's Brian Joseph goes high glove on Mramer at 5:01 to tie the game at 1. Mramer made a fantastic paddle save 3 minutes prior.


2:06 p.m.: Ryan Tropf's goal at 10:13 of the second period puts Mayfield ahead, 1-0, after two. Tropf finished an initial shot by Christian Verde, the Blue Division's leading scorer, during a scrum in front of the net. The Lions have an 18-16 shots advantage. Mayfield goaltender Matt Mramer has been fantastic so far.


1:30 p.m.: Mayfield and Orange finish the first period scoreless. The Wildcats out-shot the Lions, 9-6 in the opening 15 minutes. Mayfield has definitely had the better scoring opportunites, but Orange is controlling the puck in the offensive for a longer time on attack.


1:10 p.m.: We are just underway at Brooklyn for the Baron Cup III final between Mayfield and Orange. The teams split their season series, 1-1, in the Blue North. This is going to be a good one. A full day of high school hockey ahead of us. Amherst Steele will battle Rocky River in the Baron Cup II final and we'll finish with a Lake Catholic-University showdown for the Baron Cup I title.

Dom Anselmo | | @DomAnselmo


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spare us your rants, Dicky V

Please Dick Vitale, tell me you are better than this:

(Excuse me, I am paraphrasing from ESPN's telecast of the Ohio State at Wisconsin men's basketball game on Saturday).

"The Buckeyes are legitimate contenders to win the national championship this season," said Vitale, as OSU was racing to a 15-point second-half lead, only to lose its first game of the season.

This just in, Dicky V: The Buckeyes were No. 1 entering the game and 24-0. This isn't college football, where one loss can eliminate a team from the national championship chase.

The Buckeyes have been in the discussion for some time as one of the favorites to win it all in Houston in early April.

Yet, Vitale's rant about the legitimacy of Ohio State made it sound as if the Buckeyes' March Madness chances weren't cemented until Dicky V told us.

Sorry Dicky V, even with the loss Saturday, the Buckeyes have been a legit national championship contender for some time. In this case, he's a day late and a dollar short.

- Mark Podolski

Friday, February 11, 2011

Put Gus Johnson on the Final Four

Hello, friends.

It's time for an intervention with the executives at CBS Sports. We need to back them into Amen Corner and put it to them straight: Replace Jim Nantz with Gus Johnson on the Final Four broadcast.

It would be a tough sell to big wigs. Nantz is the face of sports on the Tiffany Network. He is the lead play-by-play broadcaster for the NFL and golf, and he's previously hosted the Olympics.

Nantz is also the lead man on college basketball for what amounts to a two-month cameo between the end of football season and the Masters.

Nantz, however, does not get buckets. Gus Johnson gets buckets.

Johnson is exciting, passionate and knowledgeable. His calls on big games are so good that he's entered the rare broadcasting territory of having viewers tune in because he's calling the game. Need proof? The Big Ten Network has a commercial called "More Gus Johnson than ever before" with his best calls. It doesn't promote upcoming games, just Johnson.

Sadly, Johnson is like a double-digit mid-major in the NCAA tournament - his run always ends before the Final Four. At least we get to hear him call games on the first weekend and one the regionals.

If Nantz was born to call the Masters, Johnson was born to call March Madness - all the way through until the last note of "One Shining Moment."

The public demands it. Gus Johnson equals ratings.

- Howard Primer

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Staking out Richmond Heights

Wednesday night was one of those cases in which timing is everything.

Timing as in it had to be one of the coldest nights in recent memory in Northeast Ohio.

Timing as in it was not ideal to be waiting for almost three hours in a car for a meeting to complete in a building some 100 feet away.

That's what the throng of media was forced to do while parents of the Richmond Heights boys basketball team, its coach, Jason Popp, and Superintendant Linda T. Hardwick met at the Board of Education building.

No one besides school officials, parents and players were allowed in the building. On a night such as Wednesday, I say the decision to keep the media at bay was a bit unfair, but rules are rules. I would have had no problem sitting on the floor if that meant staying warm.

Back to the issue. On the line is the future of Popp, who has been accused of racial slurs against the varsity players. It's a touchy situation, and getting information has been a challenge this week.

As members of the media, our job is to obtain that news and deliver it to you. Unfortunately, getting that information can sometimes mean waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting.

With a wind chill that made it feel the temperature was way below zero late Wednesday night, waiting out the meeting was not pleasant. Upon reaching home, I felt as if I was thawing out for about 15 minutes.

Sometimes, that's what it takes to deliver the news. Speaking of delivering, I have a new respect for mail men and women, especially during the winter.

- Mark Podolski

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What will happen to Jason Popp?

By the time you read this, the Richmond Heights boys basketball situation will hopefully be resolved.
I am not sure what the result will be. I'm also not sure who is telling the truth and who isn't.
Allegedly, Richmond Heights coach Jason Popp made inappropriate comments including racial slurs to his team.
If this is true, Popp should immediately be fired.
If it is not true, it's sad Richmond Heights parents got together and wrote a letter to the Superintendent accusing Popp of various infractions.
Either way, Popp will forever have this situation associated with his name.
No matter what way this turns out, people will remember that Popp's team was against him.
How can you continue to coach a team if that happens and secondly, why would you want to?
Why would you give 100 percent to kids who don't appreciate your help?
Again, I'm not sure if Popp is innocent or guilty. But what I'm sure of is this is an unfortunate situation all around.It hurts the coaches, the parents, the kids and the entire school.
Here's hoping the issues will be resolved so everyone can get back to playing the game of basketball instead of being swamped in a pool of negativity.

-Theresa Neuhoff Audia

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Slam the dunk footage

ESPN on Tuesday morning ran a short promotional ad during its broadcast asking for people to send video footage of their best dunks.

Oh, lucky us. More dunk footage.

After all, it's only been about 5 seconds since ESPN ran tape on one of those.

Part of the promo included a kid jumping on a pogo stick, holding onto the stick with one hand and the ball with the other. On the last hop, the kid dismounts and dunks the ball.

Then goes wild.

When this promo is finished and the top 10 nationwide dunks are tabulated, the only thing that will be missing is cheeseball Bob Sagat narrating the countdown.

Dunks are not only overplayed. They're also overrated.

ESPN, show us something we haven't seen.

Show us a high school team playing defense so tight that for a minute, the offense calls a time out out of frustration.

Show us a high school team that moves without the ball.

Show us a kid who dribbles off a high screen and buries a 3-pointer, a la Mark Price.

Show us a kid who can, for crying out loud, make 7 out of 10 free throws.

I haven't seen a ton of prep basketball this year, but I've seen enough to know tha many teams lack basics. They play open-gym, matador-defense, fundamental-less basketball - which makes me appreciate being a wrestling writer even more and more.

There's a lot of teams out there that would be better served attending fundamental basketball camps over the summer rather than simply going to team camp and further honing their already-shoddy fundamentals.

ESPN is partially - but not totally - to blame for that. The Worldwide Leader in Sports shows endless clips of dunks on a daily basis. It glorifies a minute portion of the game, as its most recent promotion shows.

I'd much rather see a kid hit 8 out of 10 free throws.

But I'm not holding my breath for that ESPN countdown.

- John Kampf

Monday, February 7, 2011

We watch the game we WANT to see

Being a sports junkie, my television is constantly tuned to ESPN or one of its 20 offshoot channels, and my radio is locked on AM sports talk.

I might need to find something else to get addicted to.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but what viewers and listeners get these days isn't a talking head giving an opinion and then interested in an intelligent, mature discussion on the matter.

All we get now is sermons and screaming and bravado and lectures - mostly by people who have never played sports past the high school level. And my favorite part of sports debates is the uncanny ability for folks to spin anything in their favor, even when they are backed into a corner and dead wrong.

When 999,999 people saw that Rashard Mendenhall got hit by two Packers and fumbled in the Super Bowl, but one lone voice in the forest says he didn't get hit, he just dropped the ball because it helps his stance, that's when I have had enough.

Case in point, the world's best dressed chattering donkey - Skip Bayless.

The "First Take" bit player always seems to find a way to turn anything into support of his usually ridiculous commentary. When it is his quarterback, the Pro Bowl is quite an accomplishment. When he wants to rip another QB, the Pro Bowl means nothing, it is all about the Super Bowl. He sometimes can argue against an argument he made the day before and then argue with the other arguer about arguing with him over it.


Bayless is a caricature. A clown wearing Armani who got a cherry gig on national TV and now thinks he comes down off the cross every morning to discuss the NBA. He is not alone, but he is the leader of the yahoo pack. Colin Cowherd isn't much better, so my dilemma is I am caught between a rockhead and a crummy place for sports talk for most of the morning and early afternoon when it comes to ESPN programming.

There are plenty of examples everywhere, not just ESPN. Fox Sports, Sporting News, etc. I assume many people don't agree with my takes all the time, but I try not to be so stubborn and blind and ridiculous that the words "I was wrong" cease to exist in my vocabulary.

Did Green Bay win or did Pittsburgh lose? Is LeBron James a spoiled freak of nature or a misunderstood all-time great? Are the Indians an awful baseball team or ... well, no good debate on the other side of that one.

We watch the games we WANT to see.

But it is getting tougher to listen to others talk about those games after the fact.

- Bill Tilton

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Bottom Five: San Marino

All the glamour goes to Spain, Holland, Brazil, etc., and rightfully so. But what about life at the bottom of the world rankings? In a five-part series, Staff Writer Chris Lillstrung looks at the five international soccer teams at the bottom of the FIFA rankings.


Manager: Giampaolo Mazza
Notable players abroad: GK Aldo Simoncini (Bellaria Igea, Italy); F Andy Selva (Hellas Verona, Italy)
What’s so bad?: On April 18, 2004, San Marino won a friendly, 1-0, over another really small country in Liechentenstein. It’s San Marino’s only win. EVER. Probably the country’s biggest result came in 1993, when it tied Turkey in a World Cup qualifier. Selva is the only player in the nation’s history to score more than one goal. He has eight in his international career. In 2010 World Cup qualifying in Europe, San Marino lost all 10 of its matches by a goal differential of 47-1. None of that is good for business.
What’s good: Not a whole lot obviously, but the one bright spot is the emergence of the 24-year-old Simoncini in goal. It’s a rough spot to put any goalkeeper in, but he has drawn praise for keeping scorelines from getting in the 20s, which is a plus for this nation. In a recent Euro 2012 qualifier against Sweden, San Marino played a man up for an hour and STILL lost, 6-0, with just 29 percent possession (video of which can be found here). But Simoncini kept it from being much worse. Beyond that, there appears to be a new generation of young players coming along who all ply their trade in Italy. That’s a plus for this tiny landlocked nation of just 30,000. That and a lovely view of the Apennines.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wide receivers in Canton: Tough nut to crack

Unless your name is Jerry Rice, it seems as though great-but-not-as-great-as-Rice wide receivers must wait their turn for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There is no other explanation as to why Cris Carter and Tim Brown aren't heading to Canton this summer. It's even more head scratching neither made the cut from 15 to 10 before the final seven inductees were announced on Saturday.

Even more baffling is the fact Andre Reed, the longtime standout receiver for the Bills, made the final 10 over Carter and Brown. Sorry, but Reed isn't in the latter two's class.

So what will it take for Carter and Brown? Apparently, the answer is time. Both will get in, but the fact it's taken several years now for both doesn't add up.

Carter's stats are awesome: 1,101 catches, 13,899 yards, 130 touchdowns, two seasons of 122 catches, nine straight 1,000 seasons, 10 seasons of 70-plus catches.

Brown's stats are awesome too: 1,094 catches, 14,934 yards, 100 touchdowns, plus nearly 5,000 return yards.

There are only 17 wide receivers in the Hall of Fame, led by the greatest of all, Rice. Others inducted include James Lofton, Art Monk and Lynn Swann.

No doubt, Brown and Carter deserve to be among that trio. Their time will come, but it should have happened by now.

- Mark Podolski

Friday, February 4, 2011

National signing day: Overhyped at players' expense

The difference between "The Decision" and the football players who announce their college choices on national television is that the high school kids don't know any better.

Perhaps they see others doing it and want to get under the spotlight, too. Maybe it's because if you're 17 and ESPN offers, you're afraid to say no.

Even though several ESPN commentators ripped their own network for televising these announcements on Wednesday, there is no indication it's going to stop. In the last five to 10 years, cable networks have started covering national signing day as if it were the NFL draft.

Only it's not. About the only good it does is give the teenagers some early exposure to the exploitative business of college football.

- Howard Primer

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ten in the Morning: My favorite sports cards

The arrival of the late Hal Lebovitz's awesome sports book collection started my mind racing.

Where is my sports card collection? It took me a while, but I found it. Some of my favorite cards are valuable, but that's not the point. I don't plan to sell my favorites.

It's the memories I savor every time I finger through the collection. Presenting to you my favorite Ten in the Morning list: My favorite sports cards after 30 years of collecting, the last 20 which have been pretty quiet.

1. 1980-81 Topps Larry Bird, Magic Johnson rookie card: I used to have three of these bad boys. These cards were rare for one reason: Kids, like me, couldn't resist tearing them apart. That's what I did with one. I kept the other two, then traded another for the card No. 2 on my list.

2. 1975 Topps George Brett rookie card: It took a while, but I finally got my hands on a Brett rookie at a card show in 1990 in Columbus. The asking price was one of my Bird-Magic rookie cards. For that reason, I will never separate these two cards. My son, Samson, will inherit them. Hopefully, he will cherish them as I do.

3. 1987 Topps Bo Jackson Future Stars card: I'm not sure if this was the true Bo rookie card, but I love the design, and vividly remember unfolding the wrapper to this treasure. It's not worth much, but if you watched Bo dominate in the late 1980s, you understand why his cards are cherished.

4. 1991 Upper Deck Michael Jordan baseball card: Everyone was in search of the rare Fleer Jordan rookie basketball card, but I was always hunting for this unique baseball card showing Jordan taking batting practice with the White Sox. In its early years, Upper Deck definitely had the sharpest looking cards and this one was one of rhe sharpest.

5. 1986 Topps Jerry Rice rookie card: Another card I was in hot pursuit of during the 80s. A decent looking card, and one that has cooled off in value over the years, like so many other rookie cards.

6. 1984 Topps Steve Yzerman rookie card: The Canadian version (O-Pee-Chee) of this card is worth a lot more than the U.S. version, but it doesn't matter to me. Yzerman is my all-time favorite hockey player and getting my hands on this card for a manageable amount back in the day was worth it.

7. 1980 Topps Reggie Jackson card: Just had to get one of Mr. October's cards on this list. The 1980s Topps baseball set is great looking. Plus, who doesn't love that trademark Reggie pose?

8. 1979 Topps Bernard King card: Who is Bernard King? Arguably the greatest pure scorer in NBA history fans don't know about. This is my only King card, when he was with the New Jersey Nets. I remember him as a New York Knick in the 1980s as an unstoppable offensive force. His first two years in the league was with the Nets, he averaged 22.8 points and only got better.

9. 1976 Topps Fred Biletnikoff card: Simply love this card. Old Freddie looks a little ragged in this photo. Maybe a little bit too much partying the Saturday before a game day?

10. 1991 Upper Deck Joe Montana card: The coolest looking football card I've ever seen.

There you have it. I have countless others scattered throughout my house, but these 10 are my favorites. Sometimes, I really miss collecting sports cards.

- Mark Podolski