Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lots of updates, so it's probably better if I just do this...

http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/author/griffin-gotta/

There. That's where you can find everything I've written so far at Midwest Sports Fans, and it's where you will continue to find things I write over there, including the NBA Morning After, which I will be doing throughout the season.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Monday Night Football posts and other things

Hey out there.
So it's been awhile since I've updated this, but here are all my Monday Night Football previews so far this season. They are obviously outdated now, but you can at least go back and see how bad I am at predicting football games!

BAL/NJY: http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2010/09/monday-night-football-new-york-jets-baltimore-ravens-preview-prediction-point-spread-pick/

SD/KC: http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2010/09/monday-night-football-chargers-chiefs-preview-prediction-spread-pick-san-diego-kansas-city/

GB/CHI: http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2010/09/bears-packers-preview-prediction-spread-pick-chicago-green-bay-monday-night-football/

NO/SF: http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2010/09/mnf-preview-prediction-pick-new-orleans-saints-at-san-francisco-49ers/

NE/MIA: http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2010/10/miami-dolphins-new-england-patriots-monday-night-football-preview-prediction-point-spread-pick/

There. And lastly, I wrote something about Denard Robinson, just in case it all comes crashing down at some point. http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2010/10/heres-hoping-denard-robinson-gets-to-finish-what-he-started/

Alrighty. Keep checking www.midwestsportsfans.com for my Monday Night Football previews as well as other stuff along the way.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

MSF Packers season preview

And with this one, my NFC North previews are completed: http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2010/09/nfc-north-preview-green-bay-packers/

Quick note: I will be writing at Midwest Sports Fans around 2-3 times a week during the NFL season, so I'll be updating you when I have more details other than that, stay tuned!

Monday, August 30, 2010

My Vikings preview, the backlash and my response. Controversy!

I wrote a preview on the Minnesota Vikings and why - for my sake - they shouldn't win a championship:
http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2010/08/nfc-north-preview-minnesota-vikings-well-its-kind-of-a-preview/

This spawned a response from a fellow writer on Midwest Sports Fans who took the attack on that shoddy organization a little personally and "challenged" me to write a "real" preview. Here was his take on my post:

http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2010/08/response-to-mr-gottas-vikings-preview/#more-17923


While I felt he had some valid points, I think in general he missed the boat on his response in terms of what I was actually saying, so I responded here. http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2010/08/where-griffin-gotta-attempts-to-man-up-or-something/

I added the mini-preview at the end in the hopes of not having to write about the Vikings again until absolutely necessary. A fun little argument overall, though.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On Mad Men's Pete/Peggy situation

I started freelancing at Suite 101, where I can write about whatever, basically. My first article is about Peggy and Pete's baby drama. If you have any ideas as to what I should write about, feel free to let me know, I can use the creative help, believe me.

Sundays suck.

http://prime-time-dramas.suite101.com/article.cfm/mad-men-pete-peggy-and-the-baby-in-the-background-part-i

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hey, I'm writing at Midwest Sports Fans

Hello,
I started writing for the site www.midwestsportsfans.com. Here are my posts so far in case you missed them!

On the start of Packer training camp: http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2010/07/green-bay-packers-training-camp-preview-5-things-to-watch/

Observations from a night at Packer training camp: http://bit.ly/9kKt5C

Here's a breakdown of the NBA's national TV lineup: http://bit.ly/dwVVQQ

And here is the first of my NFC North previews, this one, the Detroit Lions: http://bit.ly/aj1GSL

That's it for now, but check back at www.midwestsportsfan.com for more life-changing stuff!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

First "Summer Sip" thing

http://greenbayhub.greenbaypressgazette.com/article/20100617/GPG0504/100617040

Here's my first of a weekly thing where I go around Green Bay and try summer-like drinks and appetizers; this one was done at Bangkok Garden. It's called the Summer Sip, though I wish it was called "Summer Drink, Until It's Finished" instead.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The first few Press Gazette stories.

http://greenbayhub.greenbaypressgazette.com/article/20100609/GPG05/100609124

^^^ My story for the Green Bay Press Gazette on Bayfest's 30th Anniversary.


http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/article/20100612/GPG04/6120340/1250/World-domination--The-long-wait-ends-today-for-soccer-fans

^^^ And there's my World Cup preview-ish story.

The world and the World Cup are on the way, plan accordingly

As we speed towards the end of the school year, the NBA playoffs are down to only one second round series left to be decided, which has given me time to look towards the sporting future, in particular, next month’s World Cup.

The World Cup is something I have done little to no research for – and I don’t plan on changing that – yet when it arrives I know I should be paying attention. I was fortunate enough to be in Europe during the 2002 World Cup, traveling with a group of students, and after the trip I felt like I had to watch the next time it came around. This event completely envelops everyone’s life, nobody talks about anything else while it’s going on and if you can’t join in a conversation, then you sir, are an idiot.

The United States would make a surprising run into the quarterfinals that year (yes, I had to look that up) and I do remember anyone we met on the British Isles would say how surprised they were and how happy we must be. I think all we could muster in return was a half-hearted “yeah, go America!” or something like that. It wasn’t a big deal at the time, and the U.S. didn’t fare so well in the 2006 World Cup, finishing last in their group. Maybe that’s why now that it’s almost here again, I still can’t get that excited, even though I know I should’ve opened my eyes by now.

The other reason for this World Cup story is that it coincides with what else has been happening these past four years: the near-completion of my time here at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In between the last World Cup and next month’s, I have scores of memories of this place, some fuzzier than others, most invaluable, and made and maintained friendships that will make me smile and laugh to myself in public areas at random points in the future for a long time. In short, these last four years have been pretty close to perfect.

During that time I’ve only had to concern myself with the things I wanted to. Sure, I could stop in and say ‘hi’ to different things, like the Olympics for a fortnight or that one time I wanted to be a Web and Digital Media Development major, but I could always regress back to my mean and go back to what I knew, or wanted to know, like the NBA playoffs, or what should I do this weekend?

That’s why this year and this World Cup are different: as a sophisticated sports fan (or just someone who follows sports, actually), I know I should be excited about it, that it’s probably the biggest sporting event in the world and that I should be treating it like the big deal that it is. I shouldn’t have to act as if I’m interested, but I’m still not ready to embrace it.

Much like this graduating business, and leaving a place I have come to enjoy so much and feel so comfortable in. I just can’t get excited about it. I liked reliability of knowing I wouldn’t be able to get into the psychology classes I wanted and going on the dreaded waiting list. I like it here. I don’t want to leave right now, life is going pretty swell just the way it is, thank you very much.

But these events, graduation and the World Cup, are coming if I’m ready to leave Stevens Point or not, if I’m ready to see the same ESPN World Cup commercial a million times or not and if I’m ready to move on in my mind or not.

I really tried, as you can probably tell, for as long as I could to avoid thinking about any of this, keeping everything an arm’s length away from my brain. But with that said, it’s time to stop brushing the World Cup and, more importantly, the post-grad life to the side; it has to happen sometime after all, and it is a pretty big deal, something worth getting excited about. Moving on is the next step, though it’s not a bad one, I don’t think. We will have to see what happens.

A guide to the NHL playoffs for you and me both

Here’s the one thing I know: the Stanley Cup playoffs are currently going on. Other than that one could say I’m not very well informed. So instead of me babbling on about things I know next to nothing about, like I do with most psychology papers, I thought I would go to the only NHL expert I know, or the only expert that lives with me at least, my roommate Dylan, who graciously agreed to sit down, crack a few Molson Lights and talk some hockey.

Actually, I just emailed him questions about the Stanley Cup playoffs and he answered them, but that was only because I was afraid my inability to hold a conversation would’ve caused him to leave the room after the second question. Anyway, here’s the interview.

Joe Pavelski is a center on the San Jose Sharks. He is also from Plover, which is pretty cool. What can you say about his play so far in these playoffs?
“Pavelski has been electrifying for the Sharks in this year’s playoffs, leading all active players in goals, including three straight multi-goal games. As a player Pavelski has grown into himself this season, carrying his fantastic Olympic form into the second half of the season and playoffs. Although a relatively unsung prospect coming out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (drafted in the 7th round in 2003), Pavelski is proving in these playoffs his pension for winning big – 2002 Wisconsin State Hockey Championship, 2006 NCAA Hockey Championship, 2010 Olympic silver. Pavelski has become an emotional catalyst for the Sharks.”

Speaking of the Sharks, they are currently up on your Detroit Red Wings (sorry). What’s the deal with that series?
“Starting to see a changing of the guard in the Western Conference; the Red Wings have played inconsistent all year long, starting out slow and surging late. Rookie goaltender Jimmy Howard has started to show his inexperience in the playoffs for the Wings. The Wings have struggled to get production outside of Henrick Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom. The Sharks are playing with enthusiasm and grit, beating the Wings to pucks and breaking down a traditionally staunch Red Wings defense. I expect the Wings to win the remaining game at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit with the Sharks clinching the series at home in five games.”

Are there any other players we should be watching out for through the rest of the playoffs?
“The remaining players I would look out for in the playoffs are Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Joe Pavelski of the Sharks, Mikael Samuelsson of the Vancouver Canucks, Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks. Also look for Zdeno Chara to be a physical and emotional force for the Boston Bruins defense.”

How big of an upset was that Canadiens-Capitals first round series?
“The Canadians upset was huge. The Capitals entered the playoffs as a clear-cut favorite to make the Stanley Cup finals. The Canadians were able to contain Ovechkin with stellar goaltending and tough defense.”

Because I’m somewhat self-absorbed, let’s try to sneak the NBA into this discussion. Why are the NHL playoffs better than pro basketball’s?
“For the casual fan, the NHL playoffs promise the tough physical play, occasional fight, and high speed action lacking in many NBA games. Personally I enjoy the fact that every goal counts. In a basketball game teams generally score on every possession, this is not the case in a hockey game. While high scores entertain fans, the staunch goaltending and physical defending present in hockey extends the excitement of the game. One goal changes the dynamic of a hockey game in a way that a single basket cannot, teams are forced to alter their entire game plans.”

Are you more of a Barry Melrose or Matthew Barnaby guy?
“I am a Barry Melrose fan, Barnaby was a bum when he played and continues that trend in his commentating.”

Who are the two players left in the playoffs you think would make for the best fight, and who would win this hypothetical battle?
“Georges Laraque of the Montreal Canadians and Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers. I would give the edge to Laraque.”

Okay, back to a mildly serious question, who do you see as the favorites to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals?
“In the finals I believe it will be the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins.”

And who, in your mind, will be hoisting the Cup in the end? You’re really on the spot now.
“I am going to give the Penguins the Cup, repeating their championship from last year.”

Lastly and most importantly, what would you do if you had the Stanley Cup for a day?
“If I had one day with the Cup I would gather my friends and family for a day of grilling and drinking somewhere in the outdoors.”

Your 2010 NCAA tournament preview spectacular

Every year on Selection Sunday, I look over the gift from above that is the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament bracket and I realize I do not know nearly as much about college basketball as I thought I did. I cram my brain full of information until Jay Bilas is yelling at me in my dreams until I waste enough hours to finally feel somewhat familiar with this year’s tournament. Preview time!

Midwest Region
Player to watch: Unsurprisingly, I’m going with Ohio State’s Evan Turner; even if you’ve only seen his name on ESPN’s BottomLine, it’s enough to see how much of a beast he has been this season. He is also a dream-killer after what he did to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament, but this is probably a good quality to have this time of year.

Intriguing first round game: (7) Oklahoma State versus (10) Georgia Tech. Two relatively equal teams with more talent than their seeds would suggest. Something about this game makes me think of a chicken running around with its head cut off.

Future round game I would like to see: Ohio State versus Kansas. Because everyone seems to be picking Kansas, I will find a different national champion for my bracket. Although it pains me to say this, Turner and the Buckeyes look like the team with the best chance of defeating the Jayhawks before the Final Four.

Lower seed to watch out for: Northern Iowa. They would have to face Kansas in the second round but play the smart, staunch type of basketball that can make an NCAA tournament game closer than you think it should be. I will call them a “tough out,” as I’m obviously feeling pretty creative right now.

West Region
Player to watch: Wesley Johnson, Syracuse. The Orange will need their guards even more in the first two rounds, or probably just the second round, with Arinze Onuaku out for the weekend. Johnson could be the difference between Good Syracuse and Great Syracuse.

Intriguing first round game: (5) Butler versus (12) University of Texas El Paso. I know Butler is good and I know they could be a threat in later rounds of the tournament. As for UTEP? Well, I know they’re located in Texas. All I keep hearing about is how they are the 12 seed most likely to advance in the first round. Hence, this intrigues me.

Future round game I would like to see: Butler versus Syracuse. Anytime you hear about Syracuse, you will most likely hear the phrase “2-3 zone” following close behind. Butler is the kind of team that could put some stress on that zone.

Lower seed to watch out for: Murray State. I looked at them immediately because for some reason I never trust Vanderbilt. Turns out the Racers had a pretty successful year, finishing at 30-4. I don’t have many concrete reasons other than those, but I’m going with it.

East Region
Players to watch: Everyone will be waiting to see how freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins handle all of the tournament firsts that will be thrown their way. This is pretty much the only bad thing I could think to write about these two.

Intriguing first round game: (6) Marquette versus (11) Washington. The Golden Eagles always seem to be involved in close games and although the Pac-10 was largely—and rightfully---ignored this season, Washington has Quincy Pondexter. His name might sound like pocket protectors and suspenders, but that’s just to lure you into a false sense of security.

Future round game I would like to see: Wisconsin versus Kentucky. It may be a bit of a stereotype at this point, but it’s true; Wisconsin can make a pretty team like Kentucky ugly. Smart, senior guards who limit turnovers and keep transition opportunities scarce could hang around longer than the Wildcats might like.

Lower seed to watch out for: Cornell. The Big Red will be put to the test in the first round against Temple, but I will support any school that the ‘Nard-Dog, Andy Bernard, calls his alma mater. Here Comes Treble!

South Region
Player to watch: Ekpe Udoh, Baylor. I have boarded the Baylor bandwagon in large part because of Udoh. His game is exciting on both ends of the court, plus, his name is fun to say.

Intriguing first round game: (7) Richmond versus (10) St. Mary’s. Again, most of these first round games are intriguing for me because I haven’t really seen the teams play this season. And Richmond’s nickname is the Spiders; I think that’s a weird choice.

Future round game I would like to see: Baylor versus Villanova. There are plenty of good guards could be on display in one game with Scottie Reynolds, Tweety Carter, Corey Fisher and LaceDarius Dunn.

Lower seed to watch out for: Siena. This pick is popular because of Purdue’s bad luck with Robbie Hummel, but Siena has been here and done this before. They advanced past the first round in the last two NCAA tournaments.

The Bucks are making this playoff thing pretty interesting

By now it is an obvious and exhausted line: Andrew Bogut’s presence would be and has been missed during the Milwaukee Bucks’ first round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks. It was especially relevant in games one and two, as the Bucks were eaten alive in the paint and on the boards en route to a 0-2 series hole.

It is also relevant that, as they have done all season long, the Bucks have not stopped plugging away. The two losses in Atlanta saw Milwaukee get caught up in the flurries of fast break points, alley-oops and open threes the Hawks throw at you on their home floor, with the Bucks contributing to these onslaughts by shooting a few too many jump-shots and committing unforced turnovers, the kind that make head coach Scott Skiles look like an ax murderer on the sidelines. But the Bucks never ran into a corner and hid. They kept battling until their inability to stop Hawks’ runs ultimately became too much. The end result was a pair of ten-point losses.

So yeah, they were playing hard, they weren’t folding, but in the end they were still down 0-2. The Bucks had the look of a team that simply didn’t have enough punch to overcome their unlucky limitations; everything is harder than it should be without Bogut in the middle.

Now of course, after the two spirited series-tying wins in a loud, constantly-chanting Bradley Center, we are seeing that effort we’ve seen all year, along with the power of a significant home-court advantage, produce real results. More importantly, at least for the time being, one can stop thinking about what could have been accomplished with Bogut healthy and start looking at what is actually happening, ‘cause it’s pretty impressive.

One of the more significant reasons for this turnaround has been the play of the Andrew Bogut Stand-Ins, Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric. In the first two games of the series, the duo combined to average a less-than-modest 5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. In Milwaukee their combined averages rose to 13 points and 18.5 rebounds per game, a much better compliment to Bogut’s missing regular season averages of 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

There was even a sequence in game four when Gadzuric swatted a layup attempt into the first row and on the following possession ended the third quarter with a layup, sending the crowd into a state of What the Hell is Happening?-type excitement. The outside shooting from the supporting cast will come and go, especially on the road, but Danny G and Thomas will need to consistently chip-in for the Bucks to stick around.

On the other side, the Hawks’ well-documented road struggles have been an issue for a few years now, so it may be safe to assume it’s not going away, even though no one really understands why. Josh Smith and Al Horford are so active at home that when you watch them on the road it looks like the Mon-Stars from “Space Jam” came and stole their basketball powers. At least that would be a good excuse, I guess.

A player that doesn’t seem too affected by this home or away thing is Brandon Jennings. He lit up Atlanta for 34 points in game one and although he came back with only nine in game two, it seemed to be largely because he was trying to regain his hot hand from game one (he shot 3-for-15 from the field in game two) more than a lack of effort.

But in a way, Jennings’ 23 point performance in game four was more impressive to me than his 34. His three point hot streaks are ridiculous to watch, yes, but his game on Monday was so controlled within a team framework and so advantageous against the Hawks’ switch-on-every-screen defensive strategy; you could see he decided to attack Atlanta’s defense, and did so all night.

Plus he added this postgame quote, referring to his in-the-lane floater he has been using more and more: “That's just one of the best shots I have right now.”

This is excellent news. No Hawk can guard Jennings if he decides to turn the corner and attack the basket on those screens, and that will stay true in Atlanta or Milwaukee or wherever he played in Europe last year. So, since I’m sure you’re reading this Brandon, use the floater and keep getting into the lane; good things happen for everyone.

All the metaphors that typically describe an underdog team – gritty, scrappy, resilient – are overused, to be sure. But sorry, they pretty much describe Milwaukee right now. The shoe fits, if I can add one more cliché.

The Bucks have been playing with a decided ignorance in terms of the way this series was expected to play out. Matchup-wise and front-level talent-wise, Milwaukee should not be in a lengthy series with the Hawks, not this year.

But the Hawks’ energy does not always match their talents; they are not always concerned with every possession. And in these playoffs, the Bucks, with their shortcomings and short-handedness, always do, they have to. I’m not sure if that’s enough to win a series, but it’d be nice.

A team-by-team MLB rundown, way too early edition 2010

We’re only two and a half weeks into the baseball season, meaning nothing can be set in stone just yet. Regardless, it’s never too early to look at how everyone’s doing so far, and then attach a silly ranking to them. Records are as of Tuesday’s games.

30. Baltimore Orioles (2-13). There’s not a lot of good to say right now. Instead, I’ll recommend watching the television series The Wire, its set in Baltimore and one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Moving on.

29. Houston Astros (4-9). The Astros are last in every major offensive category in the National League. But hey! Lance Berkman just came off the disabled list, so there’s that.

28. Kansas City Royals (5-9). Zack Greinke got horrible run support last season and won the Cy Young Award. Naturally, he’s been struggling this year while the offense ranks in the top five of every major offensive category in the American League.

27. New York Mets (6-8). They have called up minor league prospect Ike Davis to generate excitement around this team. Again, we’re only two and a half weeks into the season.

26. Chicago White Sox (5-9). The best thing about their slow start? Manager Ozzie Guillen has to answer for it, meaning gems like this: "If the fans are mad at me ... just one thing, figure it out, how many people we hold here? 50,000 people? 50,000 people please come here and boo me because at least we're going to have people in the stands."

25. Cincinnati Reds (6-8). The most exciting news from the Reds this year: pitcher Edinson Volquez was served a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance on Tuesday. Whoops.

24. Arizona Diamondbacks (6-8). I can’t say much about this team, but did you know the diamondback rattlesnake is the largest rattlesnake in North America? I hope your mind is blown.

23. Milwaukee Brewers (6-7). Things I would rather watch on TV instead of a Doug Davis start: Applebee’s commercials, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Lopez Tonight simultaneously in picture and picture, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and those weird teenage pregnancy shows; I don’t enjoy Doug Davis’s pitching.

22. Chicago Cubs (5-9). Unrest and inconsistency; everything seems to be going pretty much according to schedule here.

21. Washington Nationals (7-7). I know they copied the Brewers’ sausage races, but seeing the mammoth-sized heads of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln running around is still pretty entertaining to me.

20. Cleveland Indians (6-7). Honestly, why would anyone in Cleveland be paying attention to the Indians right now with Lebron and the Cavaliers in the playoffs? There are bigger things at hand here. Although, if Shin-Soo Choo continues to hit like this…no, nevermind, it’s all about Lebron.

19. Pittsburgh Pirates (7-6). This was highlighted in ESPN’s Power Rankings but it bears repeating: The Pirates are 7-6 with a run differential of minus-29! What the hell?

18. Texas Rangers (5-8). Wouldn’t it be cool if someone’s last name on this team was Walker? They could walk around saying, “Hi, I’m ____ Walker, Texas Ranger.” It’d be better than Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Texas Ranger, that’s for sure.

17. Boston Red Sox (5-9). During the offseason, Boston focused on upgrading defensively. This Monday, with newly-acquired Mike Cameron out of the lineup, ex-Brewer Bill Hall, while running full speed, forgot about and consequently smashed into the centerfield wall going after a home run. I thought this was a good metaphor for the Sox’s season at this point.

16. San Diego Padres (8-6). Earlier this week, David Eckstein hit a walk-off home run. This could be a sign for a surprisingly decent year for the Padres, or it could be remembered as the single best moment of their entire season. I think I know what I’ll guess.

15. Seattle Mariners (8-7). I like the team they’re putting together, plus they have Ken Griffey, Jr. Seattle is where he should’ve been all along.

14. Los Angeles Dodgers (6-7). So, word is that Matt Kemp is dating Rihanna. That’s all well and good, but it wouldn’t it be much more entertaining if she were dating Manny Ramirez instead? Really, anything is more entertaining with Manny Ramirez.

13. Los Angeles Angels (8-7). World Series MVP Hideki Matsui has picked up where he left off last November, meaning he is raking. I have to say, I miss Godzilla a lot more than I thought I would.

12. Toronto Blue Jays (9-6). The Jays aren’t going to play well this season and force me to pay attention, are they? Without Roy Halladay, I was planning on ignoring them.

11. Colorado Rockies (7-7). I’m no Buster Olney, but after I heard Ubaldo Jimenez threw a no-hitter, I thought, “Oh yeah, that guy was supposed to be pretty good, wasn’t he?” It’s kind of weird to wonder how this knowledge got into my head without me knowing it. I blame ESPN.

10. Detroit Tigers (7-7). Boy, does this team have a potentially dominant lineup. It was nice of them to try and counteract this by putting Dontrelle Willis in the rotation.

9. Florida Marlins (8-6). Since I’m bringing up a lot of former Brewers, how about Wes Helms: professional hitter? Well, professional pinch hitter, more likely, but check it: in 13 at-bats, he’s hitting .462 with an on-base percentage of .533. Maybe he’s the next Matt Stairs.

8. Atlanta Braves (8-5). We were hearing about Jason Heyward’s brilliance before spring training, more during spring training, and now that he’s taking off in the majors, we’re going to be hearing about this guy a lot. A lot. One more time, we are only two and a half weeks into the season.

7. Oakland Athletics (9-6). For a guy nobody wanted last season, Ben Sheets has pitched serviceably early this year. I can see the rest of his campaign ending in one of two ways: returning to his old form and pissing every Brewer fan off since he couldn’t keep it together in Milwaukee, or more likely, a return to his rightful spot on the disabled list. Admittedly, that was an easy one.

6. San Francisco Giants (8-6). One of the craziest Tim Lincecum stats that I’ve seen: When he gets at least four runs of support, his career record is 30-0.

5. St. Louis Cardinals (9-5). A scary team, yet boring to write about because simply put, they’re good. Pujols, Holliday, Wainwright, Carpenter; all first-rate, you don’t need me to tell you that.

4. Minnesota Twins (10-4). You know the commercial with Joe Mauer for MLB 10 The Show? During his banter with the Sony guy, the subject of the two fishing in Mexico comes up, which the Sony guy denies happening by saying, “I’m not even allowed in Mexico.” I always wonder why that is.

3. Philadelphia Phillies (8-5). Watching Roy Halladay pitch in the National League is looking like it will be similar to the episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia when Charlie flips out at a youth basketball game and starts throwing elbows and blocking shots into the bleachers. Halladay is probably not deranged like Charlie, but his dominance could be just as comical.

2. Tampa Bay Rays (10-4). Pitching is rolling, hitting is rolling, but it would be a shame if things go south and a guy like Carl Crawford gets traded later this season, to I don’t know, a team like the Yankees. Such a shame that would be.

1. New York Yankees (10-3). Really, I tried to avoid it, but even Javier Vazquez got a win Tuesday and I have to be somewhat objective, I guess. This means the impending five-game losing streak is my fault. But that’s okay with you, I’d imagine.

A look at the upcoming 2010 NBA playoff picture

The NBA playoffs start this weekend; here are some musings on both conferences, somewhat-respectively.

Eastern Conference
-I have to start with what could have been for the Milwaukee Bucks. I still think they will make a series out of whoever they play, if they can stay close in the rebounding battle, but replacing Andrew Bogut’s all around impact will be impossible. What’s worse is that Dan Gadzuric probably had a pretty dapper lineup of suits to wear on the bench for the playoffs that will now go wasted. Sigh.

-The most detestable team in the playoffs? For me it’s the Celtics, who have taken over the spot held in previous years by the likes of the Spurs and Lakers as the team I cheer against with most zeal. The difference is, though, those San Antonio and Los Angeles teams were usually title contenders. Other than that, unless you don’t like Kobe Bryant, there weren’t many logical reasons to dislike them. This aging Celtic team is different. After floating through a season of bad losses and closed-door team meetings, Boston is clearly a second-tier team in the East, but you wouldn’t know it watching someone like Kevin Garnett. Garnett, for no longer being able to hit open 15 footers on a consistent basis, looks convinced he can make up for this loss of a step by continuing his tired act as most intense mock-enforcer on the court. Problem is, I don’t think anyone is too worried about him anymore. All of that yelling, at this point, may be more of an attempt at convincing himself that he is still relevant more than anything else. I look forward to them losing and blaming Rajon Rondo.

-Somewhat under the radar, or as much as a defending conference champion can be, are the Orlando Magic. Watching Dwight Howard work offensively in the Finals last summer was an exercise in frustration, but this year he looks comfortable in the post, making the outside shooters surrounding him that much more of a threat. It will be most interesting to watch Vince Carter, a member of this talented supporting cast, back on a contending team in the playoffs. Can he stay within the boundaries of the offense, or become the shot-chucking wrench to the system that he at times insists on being? This could decide the fate of the current Eastern conference champions.

-Lastly, inevitably, you have to look at LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Obviously this postseason is a special version of LeBron’s Quest for the Title because of the upcoming summer, but it’s also important because this is the best version of the Cavaliers put together since James was drafted. Rest assured, whether they win it all or not, the where-is-LeBron-going? can of worms will be ripped open, it’s unavoidable. But for now, I think it’s best to focus on the present.

Western Conference
-Many in the NBA community have not been too amused with the Lakers’ aversion to effort towards the end of the regular season. No doubt, they are the favorites out West, assuming they flip that switch you always seem to hear about concerning Los Angeles this time of year, but there’s a feeling to the Lakers right now that they know something the rest of us don’t about these playoffs. Because it seems the talent level of the eight teams in the West bracket is strong enough to not only challenge but beat the Lakers at some point in the postseason, which I don’t think many people believed last year. They don’t appear too concerned about this. I still have my doubts as well, but it’s hard to argue that at the least, other teams look more interested than Los Angeles does at the moment.

-A team many believe has equipped itself to contend for the Western conference crown are my Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks. Honestly, I don’t know what to make of them yet. This “new” team, with Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood in the mix, has been together for about half a season, which I guess will have to be enough in the on-court chemistry department. And although I believe they are one of the most complete teams that Dallas has gone with into the playoffs, I’m trying not to put too much thought into it. The playoffs are a stressful enough affair with low expectations; so I’ll probably wait until at least the middle of the first quarter in game one to start freaking out.

-Going back to the rest of the Western field, almost every one of the eight qualifiers have been the Team No One Wants To Face at some point this season, starting with the aforementioned Lakers and Mavericks and also including Phoenix, Utah, San Antonio and Denver. Throw in the offensive freak that is Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City and boy, someone will supposedly survive and make it out of this mess, but that’s about all I know for certain. It’s the playoffs; I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Welcoming back Tiger Woods, professional golfer

When I was younger, I tried taking up golf. I went to my first lessons with an incomplete set of golf clubs and a dingy pair of Adidas sneakers, both held together by duct tape. I had to carry those clubs around like a bundle of sticks you pick up in the backyard; it wasn’t pretty, but I wanted to golf. Eventually I would do my best to at least look the part, I got black Nike spikes and a golf bag filled with a brand new sleeve of Nike balls - which I was too afraid to use, I knew that would be the ball I’d send into a marsh - some other scuffed driving range balls, unbroken tees and granola bars. I was the real deal.

It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize the only real part of the game I enjoyed was putting, and even that can be a drag when it takes about nine shots to get on the green. I wasn’t good, and I didn’t have the patience to get better, so over time I played less and was predictably awful on the rare occasions I did play, which served to remind me why I wasn’t playing in the first place. It was a vicious cycle.

I’m sure there are a vast number of people out there who can say this, but the one reason I ever tried this unwaveringly fickle sport is Tiger Woods. Nearly every golf memory I have revolves around him. I still remember waking up from a nap a few Easter Sundays ago just as he hit the chip at the Masters that twisted, turned and stopped at the edge of the hole, before softly dropping in. I thought I was hallucinating, a pretty normal feeling when watching Woods at his best.

There is no way I would have given golf a chance, either through playing or watching, had he not shown up. He made me like golf, rather his type of golf; the cold-bloodedness and ferocity that he brought to a sport of whispers and soft claps. I watched to see him destroy the psyches of his fellow golfers, and to see those golfers like Rocco Mediate and Y.E. Yang who apparently didn’t get the memo and challenged him, and to see what happened next. He made golf more than the solitary battle against oneself that it is sometimes thought of. He made it a sport, a competition. And frankly, since he took his leave of absence, I could not tell you the name, place or result of any tournament. If there’s no Tiger, who cares? It’s like watching 24 without Jack Bauer, which is just foolish to think about.

Although it seemed like a requirement to write the “Tiger Woods needs to do this and that and this and in this order” column, I tried to avoid writing about the situation altogether for as long as I could. This wasn’t Tiger Woods, Juggernaut, the one that I knew. This was Tiger Woods, Broken. None of it was too much fun to think about; especially for someone who just wanted to see him play golf again.

That’s why, aside from pseudo-advice columnists, today is a good day. Tiger Woods, professional golfer, is playing golf. I don’t have to watch him in press conferences answering Oprah-style questions and I no longer have to write in the past-tense when talking about his career. He’s out there and he’s playing as he reintroduces himself to the sports world, while hopefully taking a step away from the Nancy Grace world. That is not a good world to be apart of.

No one yet knows what this reintroduction process entails for Tiger’s golfing persona. He has talked about wanting to be more respectful of the game by toning his demonstrative actions down a little bit, which is fine I suppose, I’m sure he feels he has to try something.

But after that first long putt drops, or if he is in the hunt on Sunday (please let this happen), I think it will be there, that killer instinct. It is who he was, and why he became Tiger Freaking Woods in the first place; there was never anything about his golf life that needed a change. I can’t imagine him without it. And I can’t imagine The Masters, or golf, without him.

How Ben Grieve explains the outlook of the 2009-2010 Milwaukee Brewers

One of my favorite quotes from an athlete came after Ben Grieve, when he still played baseball, struck out looking to end a game in 2003. His manager at the time, Lou Piniella, was upset that Grieve took the third strike looking, and when he asked Grieve in the dugout why he didn’t argue the call with the umpire, Grieve responded with something along the lines of “it doesn’t really matter.”

I don’t know why but this line always stuck with me. With most athletes in today’s age of overkill understanding that the watered-down, safe statements are the best statements, you never expect to hear someone say “it doesn’t matter.” It was honest, and because he played for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the time, it was funny because it was true.

Well, I think he meant that arguing the call wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but Piniella got on one of his run-out-every-groundball-like-they-did-in-the-old-days baseball manager’s rant and bashed Grieve after the game. He was now a guy who “didn’t think it mattered” if his team won or lost, the malcontent of baseball. It only made sense at the time that when he became a free agent after the 2003 season, he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.

My feelings for the Brewers are on a platonic level; I want them to do well and succeed in life, I just don’t have very strong emotions towards them. I hope they understand. The one thing I love about the Brewers however is my yearly tradition of trying to find the most random, seldom-used utility man or relief pitcher and dub him my “favorite” player. I look for the underdog, or someone that fills out the end of the roster, and then annoy everyone around me with made-up stories about him.

Ben Grieve was a perfect match for me. He didn’t play regularly, didn’t produce much when he did and had the general look of “yawn” at any given moment. It looked like he was embodying his quote from a year ago. And this was okay at the time; the Brewers didn’t seem to be going anywhere anyway.

Before they finally sold the team, it appeared the Selig family couldn’t be bothered with any on-field happenings, like wins and losses. After the sale, coincidentally, the youth movement of Prince, Hardy, Hart and Weeks happened. Then Braun happened. Then C.C. Sabathia and the Wild Card happened. Thanks in large part to the new ownership that took over in 2005, the Brewers, as an organization, actually gave a damn.

Now, after a few seasons of competitive baseball in Milwaukee, it looks like it might stick around. This means a guy like Ben Grieve doesn’t fit into the picture anymore. Not because he said “it doesn’t matter,” but because he simply wasn’t that good. The Brewers look done trotting out guys solely to fill a position on the field; everyone matters now. Everyone has a place, a role, a reason for being on the team. There is no more room for the Ben Grieves, the Ruben Quevedos, or the Wes Helmses of the world on the Brewer depth chart. They now belong to the memories of true fans who sat through those tumultuous seasons, not because they wanted to, but because as fans, they probably felt they had to.

For these fans, this is all good news. The only negative effect is on me in that there are less bad players to choose from. Brian Shouse was my most recent favorite and he wasn’t really bad, more like unique. It felt like he pitched about once every two weeks and when he did, it was to one left-handed batter at a top speed of about 81 miles per hour. He was awesome.

Anyway, I may or may not find that ill-fated player who fits into the ridiculous profile in my mind, and that really doesn’t matter (Grieve-ism!). I didn’t struggle with the real Brewer fans through those lean, painful years that occurred not too long ago. They now have an organization with the makings of a foundation; consistently looking forward with a plan of attack, no longer asleep at the wheel for seasons upon seasons. There’s a reason for sustainable Brewer pride. That’s what matters.

Tough questions: Why am I watching curling? And do I like it?

Before the Winter Olympics started, I knew next to nothing about this thing called curling. Last Thursday, when I saw it being watched on our downstairs television by my roommates, I scoffed, as I often do with sports played on ice, and vowed to ignore this new and different thing altogether. I guess I can be a little close-minded sometimes.

Now, after a weekend of watching what I assume is even a bit more than your average Canadian’s portion of curling, I can safely say this: I still know next to nothing about curling. But for reasons I don’t understand I could (and did) watch it for hours. This troubles me.

Curling seems to put me in a weird, semi-conscious state of television viewing. I know for sure I’m watching something, I’m not completely aware of what is going on, yet I want to watch more. It’s like watching a show at night after drinking Nyquil; I’m there, but there’s no way I’m going to remember any details about any of this.

That’s why this is so maddening to me. I don’t care about any of the matches I’ve been watching, and even if I did, I’m not totally sure how they score yet, so I couldn’t really cheer or anything. Still, if curling is on, I will sit there for hours and watch. Eventually, someone in the room will say something like, “Okay, that’s probably enough curling for about a decade, let’s change the channel.” My eyes will have to adjust to a color other than pure white ice, and I’m brought back into reality. After a while, I think all of the stones and brooms and targets just bleed into one another; you really can only watch so much of this stuff. But after every curling marathon, I’m left with is this odd fascination, wondering how in the world this held my attention.

Side-note: One of the reasons may be the fact that, since sometime around homecoming, our house has not been able to find the remote control for our living room TV. This means either what’s currently on the tube better be good or hopefully somebody is getting up for something, otherwise that channel is staying put. For the purposes of this column, I hope this isn’t the entire reason.

I mean, of all the events in the Winter Olympics: hockey, skiing, snowboarding, even the bobsled or something like that; the only one I have watched for more than three minutes is curling. There has to be a subliminal element that is drawing me in to this. Okay, it might not be that deep, but there’s strategy in curling, something to wrap your mind around, more than sweeping brooms in front of a rock. I think what it comes down to is that with any sport, the more you watch, the more nuances you pick up, and the more interested you become.

Most of all though, curling is temporary, it was only here on our NBC affiliates for two weeks, and it won’t be back in that capacity for another four years. Between now and then, well, I will probably go back to forgetting about it. No offense to curling, I just have other things to worry about, like finding a job, or something like that.

But after this brief visit, I would like to thank curling for being here, it was something new and different and mysteriously engaging; a welcome distraction from the ordinary, kind of what I think the Olympics are all about. Maybe for next time, I will even try to remember the few basic aspects of the game that I picked up. And I won’t change the channel, even if I do have a remote.

The Bucks: Still hanging around the playoff picture

There was a time, somewhere over winter break, when I thought the Milwaukee Bucks might have fallen into the abyss that is the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Not that there is much difference between that and the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, but still. After going 1-5 on a mid-January road trip out west where they experienced everything from being blown out, to getting blown out early only to come back and eventually lose to seemingly having a game sealed away only to, yes, blow it, the Bucks had fallen to 16-23 and away from the playoffs.

Heading into the All-Star break this weekend, we’re only a few weeks away from that time of the year where if, as an NBA team, you still find yourself in the eleven-twelve-thirteen area of the standings, you’re probably staying there and hoping for more ping-pong balls in the NBA Draft Lottery. This was the point that may have seemed all too familiar in Milwaukee in mid-January.

But the Bucks, continuing to prove they are not the Bucks of recent years, not only avoided basketball purgatory for the time being, are actually playing pretty well in these past few weeks, to the point where they are now on the cusp of a playoff spot at the season’s halfway marker. I mean, it’s not quite earth-shattering yet, but hopefully it’s an indication of meaningful basketball being played in Milwaukee for a whole season, maybe more. That would work for me.

Entering Wednesday, the Bucks have won six of their last ten games, bringing their record closer to the .500 mark at 23–27. The climb, as I assume the rest of the season will be, was not an easy one; sometimes it seems as though the Bucks have to fight their own bad habits more so than their opponent’s strengths. This has had the annoying tendency of showing up in close games; Milwaukee is 4-10 in games decided by three points or less.

It seems like they are still searching for that consistent late-game playmaker to replace volume-shooter Michael Redd. I am ready to see Brandon Jennings in pick-and-roll situations in every possession in the last four minutes of every game and as long as every shot attempt isn’t a step-back three pointer, I will live with the consequences. Just please no more Carlos Delfino running hook shots in game-deciding situations. Or any situations, really.

Even with their blemishes, the Bucks remain a fun watch and I believe they will hang around in the playoff picture because when they’re right, when Jennings is getting into the lane, when Andrew Bogut is making his chip-ins, when Delfino just shoots and doesn’t try anything else, at all, they can be pretty right. Plus, you don’t even have to be that good to make the playoffs in the East!

Which is good because, as shocking as this may sound, this isn’t a team that’s ready to truly contend yet anyway -- they have some pressing needs at the shooting guard and power forward positions, to start -- but the experience they could gain by being in a playoff race or actual playoff series together is something the franchise could actually build upon instead of trade away in the offseason.

So here’s hoping this is the first season of many in which the Bucks are playoff contenders. Sure, they may not be a championship-caliber team just yet, but I don’t see why they can’t be postseason-caliber. Why can’t they remain in the thick of it, playing with ambitions higher than the easy excuses of “next year” and “rebuilding?” That, for now, would mean something.

A very scientific and serious Super Bowl preview

Ah yes, Super Bowl week is here. This, by itself, is not a great thing. The ends do justify the means because, obviously, Super Bowl Sunday is awesome. But the week leading up to Sunday’s game moves along as quickly as a small town Christmas parade, and by the time you read this, every possible angle will have been beaten to death.

This year’s example is, of course, Dwight Freeney’s ankle. On a Freeney’s ankle-related side note, ankle sprains are one of the most annoying injuries one can experience. They take forever to heal completely and it seems like if you have injured one, you are guaranteed to do it again at some point when you least expect it. I have rolled both of my ankles more times than I care to remember, and for every step I take, my chances of re-injuring one of them is around one in six.

Anyway, there’s always the chance that someone will pull a Eugene Robinson later in the week or wake up around noon and miss a team practice and reignite the media circus all over again. But in either case, it will be too late for me to write about it. So just to be safe, in case something like that does happen, I’m going to bet on NFC Championship game-winning kicker Garrett Hartley being the culprit. I don’t know, Jeremy Shockey was too easy.

With that thought-provoking wager thankfully put to rest, here are some other people I will be paying attention to during the actual Super Bowl, assuming we make it there eventually.

Pierre Thomas/Pierre Garçon.
This could possibly be the biggest battle for bragging rights between two NFL players named Pierre that the world has ever seen. That and they’re both important parts to their respective teams’ offensive attacks, whichever you find more relevant. Also, I just learned today that the little line attached to Pierre Garçon’s last name is called a cedilla. The Super Bowl: where I learn about French pronunciation.

Reggie Bush. If he can get the touches, he has the capacity to change the game in a hurry. The question on everyone’s mind though is if the Saints win, will he propose to girlfriend Kim Kardashian? A move like that could bring Jim Nantz to tears. And if they lose, will Kardashian leave him for Ron Artest or some other Laker? You better believe that only something as big as the Super Bowl can answer these questions.

The Who. The halftime performers. After Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played last year, I guess the NFL decided they were going to set the bar a bit lower this time. I’m not excited. But speaking of bars, I will be in one; maybe they can turn the jukebox on. In case you’re wondering, Prince playing “Purple Rain” in the rain a few years ago was my favorite halftime show moment.

Rex Grossman. Well, not really Rex himself, but unlike in his previous Super Bowl victory, Peyton Manning will be facing Drew Brees, who is not Rex Grossman. I don’t think I’m going overboard when I say this should be a pretty well quarterbacked Super Bowl.

A couple random thoughts: I didn’t know Brees was that short - he’s what they call a ‘generous’ six feet - I’m surprised I haven’t heard about this a million times already. And earlier this week, Sportscenter ran a story about Peyton Manning having hypermnesia, which according to www.dictionary.com is “the condition of having an unusually vivid or precise memory.” Wow, he really is a robot; still doesn’t explain the Oreo commercials though.

All that matters in the end is that it’s the Super Bowl, one of the best days of the year in our fine country, and it should be enjoyed. Plus, I think it will be a pretty entertaining game. If I had to choose, I would go with the Colts, simply because of Manning. I really do think he’s a robot. Enjoy your last NFL game in a very long time.

The ol’ gunslinger fires another shot into own foot

I really did my best to avoid it all year. And for the most part, why wouldn’t I? Brett Favre was playing on the Minnesota Vikings; playing well, actually. He beat the Packers twice; the second I witnessed in person, the first caused me a memorable emotional breakdown, at least from what my roommates tell me. The rest of the season he spent playing basically about as well as he can, which I was constantly reminded about from Chris Berman and every other ESPN analyst, sitting snugly in their Wrangler jeans. The only way I found to cope with this increasingly unbearable situation was to tell myself that everything is going too well. Eventually, something had to balance this out, right? Maybe? Yeah, probably not.

So I grasped at any straw imaginable. “Tony Romo on the road in the playoffs? Yeah, I think that could work!” “Ooh, Favre is on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the jinx will show up again!” These were not beliefs; they were merely wafer-thin hopes.

And then the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game came. After all the knockdowns and missed fumble opportunities and incomplete Drew Brees passes, Brett Favre had again survived. (How? Because he’s like a kid out there!) Possession, two minutes left. He zip-lines a pass to Sidney Rice and it occurs to me that this is going to happen. There will be no Saints last stand and no time left for a comeback. Damn. Following a season of Favre punches to the face of the collective Packer fan-base, I guess it only made sense that it went down like this.

Obviously I didn’t know it at the time, but I once again got caught up in Brett Favre, the version ESPN adores. And when this happens, you forget about Brett Favre. You forget that the way this works is not when things look the worst for him. Like when he limps off the field with the most intense ankle sprain in the world, or when the Saints finally take the lead and you think there’s no way they’re going to lose now, not at home.

Nope, the way Favre-Fail works is under seemingly wonderful conditions, when everything is going right. This, if I remember right, is how you let the agony reach its boiling point. When Viking fans can taste the Super Bowl; the last possible moment. Not first down or second down, third down. They were one play away from Ryan Longwell walking onto the field and drilling a game-winning kick. This is the time when Favre decides to roll out and throw the kind of pass that when I do it in Madden I think “Oh shit” immediately after pressing the button. An absolutely ridiculous pass, both stunning and logical at the same time.

The shock-value is there because when this guy fails, he usually does it spectacularly; if regular failures are birthday parties, his are the “My Super Sweet Sixteen” version. But in hindsight, it makes sense every time; he is a gunslinger, remember? He can do these things because he’s made bad decisions throughout his career. As a Packer fan, it was a joy to watch him destroy the hopes and dreams of another fan-base. And the Vikings no less!

Favre did have some help in the failure department. Head coach Brad Childress, who continues to prove the contract extension Minnesota gave him was a superb decision and Adrian Peterson, who is under the category of best running back in the league with a crippling fumbling problem that does not look like it’s going to go away. It’s the Vikings, so any loss, whoever gets the brunt of the blame, would make me smile. But it is only fitting that in the end, Brett Favre put the finishing touches on his own team, again. For now, balance is restored.

Five easy rules from a Monday night at Lambeau

Every game at Lambeau Field essentially starts the same way. After getting the first glimpse of the crowd waving whatever free foam or towel handout that was provided, there’s always the rush of nervous energy when you step inside the stadium. This is because there is no way to really know what you are about to watch for the next three hours; once the ball is kicked, each game takes on its own life.

With that said, I think there are some constants that every fan can control to get the most out of their Packer game-day experience. Being at Lambeau for Monday night’s crucial 27-14 victory gave me the chance to hastily make a mental list of relatively obvious guidelines for this very reason. In other words, prepare to be amazed. Here they are.

Tailgate. Players have to stretch and run drills before the game, fans should have to tailgate as their pregame warm-up. No matter what happens in the game, the pre-game can still be considered a success with right amount of ignorance. I don’t like talking about the game beforehand, unless I’m approximating how many running backs B.J. Raji is going to eat before halftime (and I really think he could do this). The stresses of the game should be saved for inside the stadium with the outside for everything else.

Stand up. We had a few discussions with the guys behind us about standing up before and after big plays and the conclusion was reached early on that they did not support standing up for any reason other than the national anthem. These people should be in their living rooms. When it’s third-and-ten for the Ravens, I’m going to be standing up. For a place to go where standing is probably not necessary, contact the Cleveland Browns ticket office. Yeah, easy joke I know, but I’m tired.

Let’s try to pay attention. One of the worst parts about going to a Wisconsin football game is the fact that about 60 percent of the student fan base isn’t quite sure they are at a football game until “Jump Around” comes on after the third quarter. Packer fans in general are much more attentive than this, but there’s always someone more concerned with getting “The Wave” started. I hate “The Wave.” According to famed reliable-source Wikipedia, the origin of the audience wave, as it’s called on the Web site, is disputed, but I saw at least two claims that it was started in Canada. Wouldn’t surprise me.

If making a sign, make it creative. I’ve never made a sign, but I’ve seen a fair share of bad ones, especially when people try to include the letters FOX or ESPN for a better chance at getting on TV. But on Monday night, my buddy Mueller spotted one of the most creative attempts at squeezing a network acronym into a phrase. The sign read, “Ray Lewis Stabs People Intentionally,” with ESPN highlighted in the saying. Not sure if that one made the broadcast, but I would’ve loved to have heard Ron Jaworski’s analysis of it.

Don’t leave early. When the couple in front of us left, I looked up at the clock and there was about five minutes left in the game. This was obviously made more perplexing because the Packers were closing out the game at that time; these were the celebratory minutes where you didn’t have to worry so much and simply bask in the upcoming victory. I can’t come up with a good reason as to why someone would leave at this moment, and I’m getting confused just thinking about. So, this is probably a good time to end this column. Happy holidays, everyone.

The Bucks, Dirk Nowitzki and me: The past and future

It has been a few years since I made the fateful decision to obsessively follow the NBA in all its wonderful glory; I don’t follow any sport closer and can usually find an excuse to watch any game that happens to be playing on my League Pass Broadband account. To me, there is always a player or team worth watching (Memphis at Utah? Wes Matthews plays for Utah, I’m in!). The problem is I still feel like a lost soul in the NBA world, a man without a home, here’s why.

My favorite player is Dirk Nowitzki; therefore the Dallas Mavericks are the team I have hitched my wagon to. Anyone with a short-term NBA memory knows this means I should have probably stopped following this league a long time ago. It’s not that I don’t root for them anymore, I still want Nowitzki to win a championship more than anything; it’s just that I know if he ever left Dallas (and he is a free agent after this season) or when he eventually retires, I will have no attachment towards the Mavericks whatsoever. It never feels right to cheer for a team from Dallas anyway. Hence, I feel as though I do not have a solid foundation of fandom to lean against, and seeing that this is my favorite sport in the universe, it’s not an ideal situation.

Which leads me to the Milwaukee Bucks. I have always considered them my “second favorite team,” for what that’s worth (nothing), but I never really took them too seriously. I followed them last year, but mainly because basketball was on and as I said, I will basically watch any game that’s put in front of me. They seemed different last year though; different in the sense that the Bucks might actually have been slowly, quietly, improving. Based on recent seasons before last year, this was weird.

So then the offseason happened; general manager John Hammond made sound roster moves, sliced team salary, and drafted Brandon Jennings, who looks like he should have been a top three pick in the NBA Draft instead of tenth. I was ready for the season to start with the hope that maybe the Bucks would be, at the least, an interesting watch.

Well, I’m not sure of the exact moment -they’ve already been playing for about a month- but at some point I started to genuinely root for the Milwaukee Bucks. I think I just woke up one day with a message from my brain saying, “Hey, the Bucks play tonight,” and realized that I have never had that stream of thought run through my head before. I love planning my nights around shows or sporting events, and the Bucks have reached that relatively lame stratosphere in my life. So I guess I’m hooked.

Obviously the early success has crowded the Bucks bandwagon (or at least as crowded as I’ve ever seen it) with more people than me, but I’ll be around for the long haul. I needed another Wisconsin team to cheer for other than the Packers, and this just feels right. Plus, I don’t think the Bucks are going to be too choosy when it comes to fan support, good start or not.
It does feel strange to be starting a new sports relationship at this point in my life. I feel as though all of my allegiances should have been determined by now. But I’m ready to accept the Bucks into my sports life; I’m ready for the work-in-progress that they are and I’m ready for the disappointments that will come along the way. The good thing is that with an 82-game schedule, there will always be another game to look forward to. That’s what makes being a pro basketball fan, or just a fan in general, fun. So, it’s the Bucks and whoever Dirk Nowitzki plays for. I feel better already.

Of course, if the Bucks wouldn’t have traded Dirk right after they drafted him back in 1998, I would’ve never had this problem in the first place. Oh, what could have been.

An early primer for 2009 Thanksgiving day sports

Thanksgiving is almost here. Just reading that sentence to myself makes me long for the point on Thursday night when I literally cannot move because I have eaten too much. If this sounds like a bad thing, it’s not; paralysis by food is one of my favorite ailments out there, and Thanksgiving is the day to test my stomach’s limits. The other contributing factor to a full day on the couch is the multitude of sporting events that will occupy my time, until I pass out, of course. Here they are, ranked from most watchable to I’m only watching because it’s Thanksgiving.

1. Packers at Lions - I wish the Packers played every Thanksgiving; it just makes the day feel a tad more important. It gives me something I can really pay attention to, and maybe more importantly, a distraction before the food is done. Then again, the Lions usually play like an actual NFL team when they face the Pack on Thanksgiving, so there’s always that chance for a holiday letdown, but lets not think like that.

2. NBA Doubleheader; Magic at Hawks, Bulls at Jazz – It loses points because they’re playing later at night, but it features four entertaining teams and a chance to watch the best pregame show in sports, Inside the NBA, with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and the great Charles Barkley. I love those guys. There are times during the NBA season when I don’t watch the games on TNT Thursday nights, but I tune in for the postgame show just to hear them make fun of each other. Even if you don’t follow the NBA, watch this show, you will laugh.

3. College basketball – Basically, there are games from various tournaments across the country on TV from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., which makes it a good channel-flipping option should any of the football games get boring (Ahem, Raiders/Cowboys). Big Ten and regional-wise; up-and-coming Michigan plays early with Marquette following them in the afternoon and later on, Minnesota plays Butler, which despite what it looks like, will probably be an intriguing game. I really don’t think it’s ever too early for college basketball tournaments to start.

4. Giants at Broncos – This could be a pretty entertaining game because both teams need the win, but it is ranked lower because I won’t have the option of watching it from a comatose state on my couch. Thanks, NFL Network and Time Warner. How dare they force me to go to a bar if I want to watch this game!

5. Raiders at Cowboys - I wonder if the NFL realizes that the Cowboys still play on Thanksgiving. The last three years, they have played the Seahawks, Jets and Buccaneers. Now they get the Oakland Raiders in the late afternoon game. Maybe they’re trying to see the highest possible TV ratings they can get with the worst possible matchups. Making things worse is that I will still probably attempt to watch the game anyway, so obviously, I am a part of the problem. But hey, it’s Thanksgiving; I don’t think I’ll have too much to complain about in the end.

A few thoughts at the midpoint of the 2009 NFL season

Apparently, the NFL season is already eight weeks old. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure when all of these games were played. I guess time flies when you’re having fun, or maybe it’s because I’ve been paying attention to the MLB playoffs and start of the NBA as well. Either way, we’re half way through this NFL season, and it’s time to look back and try to remember what happened in the first part.

Best Team: Indianapolis Colts – They’ve had a few close calls and their schedule gets a bit tougher in the coming weeks, but this team just wins, no matter who the wide receivers are, or who the coach is, or what weird-looking half-open half-closed stadium they play in. The Colts are a major threat every year and until someone beats them, they’re the league’s best.

Worst Team: Tie, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns – The Buccaneers are 0-7, so they were a lock for this distinguished title, but I really had to make sure the Browns (1-7) got credit for the absolute train-wreck of a season they have put together. A fired general manager, a quarterback battle that is like deciding between Nicolas Cage and Brendan Fraser for a starring movie role, and the trade of one of the only offensive weapons on the team in receiver Braylon Edwards. Good stuff going on in Cleveland. Unfortunately, the two teams don’t meet this season, so we may never know who is truly the worst, unless of course, the Buccaneers go defeated. It would be hard to argue with that.

Best Game: Week 4, Denver Broncos defeat the Dallas Cowboys, 17-10 – This was a tough one as there were many good games so far this season, but the Broncos’ first statement game of the season stuck out to me the most. The game was intense throughout, with big defensive plays and a crowd that got better and better as the game drew to the end. It all culminated with Brandon Marshall’s 51-yard touchdown catch and run and the Denver defense turning the Cowboys away twice from inside the five-yard line. I was excited about this game and I don’t like either of these teams, so that has to count for something.

Worst Game: Week 5, Cleveland Browns defeat (?) the Buffalo Bills, 6-3 – The Browns won this game, and their starting quarterback, Derek Anderson, completed only two passes for 23 yards in the entire game. Thanks for stopping by, Buffalo. In terms of small-market cities that have NFL teams, I would like to thank my parents for choosing Green Bay.

Most Valuable Player: Peyton Manning, Colts – Coinciding with my best team, Manning almost single-handedly makes the Colts contenders. It doesn’t matter who he throws to, the numbers stay at the top of league and he is basically automatic in game-winning drives. He is the surest thing in the NFL.

Most interesting division race: AFC North – Right now, the Bengals and Steelers are tied for first at 5-2, with the Ravens a game behind at 4-3. Assuming Baltimore and Pittsburgh will be around until the end, can the Bengals, who have already beaten both of them once, stick around for the second half of the season?

Worst looking coach: Brad Childress – This may strictly be from the I’m Bitter department, but it is still hard to argue against. With that beard, Childress looks like he is preparing to show up on the next installment of “To Catch a Predator.”

Fan base that wouldn’t mind a relocation of the team: Washington Redskins – Owner Dan Snyder is becoming the dictator who turns on his own people. He relieved head coach Jim Zorn of play-calling responsibilities; because why would the head coach need to bothered with that? He has banned all fan signs from the stadium, possibly because some of them may have hurt his feelings, and oh yeah, the team is 2-5, with two of those losses coming to the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions. Hey, maybe Los Angeles still wants a team!

Observations from the 2009 NBA season opener

Tuesday night was one of my annual Happiest Events of the Year, which include Thanksgiving, the opening round of college basketball’s postseason tournament, and any time I go to my friend Des’s cabin. This time, the occasion was the beginning of another National Basketball Association season.

The first game of the season was between two teams that revamped their rosters in the offseason and who will be jostling for position in the Eastern Conference all year; the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since I would have been watching anyway, I decided to log some of my thoughts on the game, and then share them with you. Exciting!

One of the more interesting questions this year in Cleveland will be how head coach Mike Brown splits minutes between his two centers, Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Ilgauskas, for the most part, looked pretty lost for most of his 24 minutes of play. Usually he operates well within the Cavalier offense, posting when he can and waiting for open jumpers off penetration the rest of the time. Tuesday his touches were limited, and his shots seemed forced.

LeBron James, predictably, was a force on both ends of the court. Finishing with 38 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists, he also tallied three blocks in the first quarter and had four overall. The last one came on a Ray Allen breakaway where Allen looked back, saw James lurking behind him, altered his jump to use the basket for protection, and James still swatted the ball out of bounds. If anyone will ever get me to the point where I take a play like this for granted, it’s LeBron James.

Offensively, James came out with a refined jump shot. When his feet were set, his shooting elbow was tucked in tighter to his body and the shot was much more consistent, even on misses.

Through most of the second quarter and into the third, Cleveland’s offense did next to nothing. Granted, they used four new players in their rotation that were not apart of the team last year, and this is only one game, after all. But the offensive stagnation that has plagued Cleveland has been present for years now: Players standing around, without any indication they are running, or even have, plays. With LeBron in, they can get away with this sometimes, which may be the reason the problem never seems to get solved.

The Celtics on the other hand, took advantage of Cleveland’s near-two quarter sleepwalk. Boston hit nine threes, five of those coming from their bench players. More specifically, Rasheed Wallace went 3-for-6 in three point attempts, because apparently, Cavalier big men were not aware that Wallace prefers shooting threes as opposed to, well, anything.

When it comes down to the last seven or so minutes of an NBA game, the plays usually become simplified and the outcome relies on exploiting matchups and execution. At the time, Cleveland had a frontcourt of O’Neal and Ilgauskas while Boston countered with Kevin Garnett and center Kendrick Perkins. LeBron was starting to assert himself offensively (although in Cleveland’s lets-hope-LeBron-can-bail-us-out-again offense, he didn’t have much choice), and after Perkins missed a couple of open jumpers, Celtics’ head coach Doc Rivers brought Wallace back in for an offensive upgrade.

Here is where the game was decided: Because of this move, Cleveland had to account for Wallace and his perimeter shooting, which created more space on the floor for the Celtics.

From there, the Celtics ran pick-and-rolls with either Paul Pierce or Rajon Rondo and Garnett, forcing Shaq out to the perimeter, where he stood no chance at stopping drives into the Cavalier defense. My guess: This will be replaying itself throughout the season in Cleveland. Shaq kills a team’s pick-and-roll defense (Ask Phoenix). Pierce did what he seemingly always does in close games, knocking down jumper after jumper from the elbow of the free-throw line, and the Celtics won, 95-89.

So, the Celtics appear to be improved with their new additions, while the Cavaliers have the same problems with a much larger man in the middle. In the end, do these things even matter yet, one game into the season? Maybe, maybe not, I’m just glad to be talking about them again.

Player Profile: Rodrigue Beaubois

I remember watching the 2009 NBA Draft in my friend’s living room. The one player I did not want the Mavericks to draft was B.J. Mullens from Ohio State. I watch a lot of Big Ten games, and I don’t recall ever seeing Mullens do much of anything; plus, I don’t like his mustache. Naturally, as the way things seem to work out, the Mavs took him. A few minutes later, I was still deciding on the best way to trick my brain into supporting this draft pick when I heard the Mavs had been involved in a trade with the team directly behind them in the draft order, the Thunder, for a guy that was not B.J. Mullens. Obviously, this meant pretty much any name I heard would have been an upgrade, but this particular name struck absolutely zero chords in my head. The name was Rodrigue Beaubois, and it is safe to say that the name means a bit more to me now than it did back in June.

By now, we’ve all heard the physical specs: 6’2”, athletic, lanky, and quick, quick and more quick. During the summer and preseason, he has shown signs of being a terrific on-ball defender, and someone who could possibly have the Devin Harris-esque ability of getting into the lane whenever he so pleases. I miss that.

This brings me to Jason Kidd. After watching a full season with Kidd leading this team, he has grown on me. He is easily the smartest player on the court in any given game, and always seems to be in the middle of game-deciding plays late in the fourth quarter. But for all of his craftiness, there is little denying that Kidd simply doesn’t have the athletic ability that the new generation of point guards possess nowadays. Not that I blame him, it’s just that these guys have less years and mileage in the league; they should be able to beat Kidd off the dribble, and most of the time, they do.

Now, finally, I arrive at my point: If Rodrigue Beaubois can learn the nuances of the league and emerge as the clear back-up point guard to Kidd, he could end up being the most important Maverick of the season.

On the surface this may seem to be a little bit of reach. Beaubois has never played against the talent he will face in the NBA, and there will certainly be an adjustment period. What is just as certain, however, is that he has the raw ability to compete at this level. He also has Jason Kidd, one the smartest point guards in the history of the NBA, to guide him through the mental aspects of running a team. This doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything, Beaubois still needs to have his ears open, but it sure can’t hurt, can it?

So, is it possible that Beaubois can gather the smarts, and let his talent do the rest? I don’t see why not. The Mavericks could almost wipe out the Devin Harris trade if this worked out the way I see it in my optimistic mind. They would still have the leader, Kidd, but they would gain the young, athletic guard who can get by anybody and has the makings of a premier perimeter defender. A couple of the Mavericks’ biggest problems of recent years; sieve-like backcourt defense (which, after watching Gilbert Arenas torch us, I think can still be considered a “weak spot”) and a lack of penetration from the point guard position could be turned into strengths if Beaubois can find minutes and take advantage of them.

This, however, could be the problem. The backcourt is pretty crowded as it is, but in my opinion, even with the addition of Ross and the possibility of Howard at the 2, no one represents more potential for the Mavs to truly ascend in the West than Beaubois. Let’s be honest here: If they’re using Barea, Terry and Kidd as the on-ball defenders, Dallas simply will not get the stops that the best teams can get. They will be good, sure, because we’ve seen this formula before. It works, but not against the NBA’s upper echelon, not when it counts; we have seen that too.

Roddy Beaubois, to me, represents the Mavericks with a new, higher glass ceiling, an extra gear we may not even know about yet. This could all render itself moot, of course, if he doesn’t earn minutes, doesn’t respond to coaching, and mentally checks himself out on the end of the bench. But here’s hoping the Mavs throw him in the mix, and like the rest of us, see what happens next.

I wrote this for a contest for the blog Mavs Moneyball. I think I came in third or something. Out of around six.

Five players who might not take this replacement ref thing very well

Since September 1, the referees of the National Basketball Association have been without a contract. It seems that the climate of the negotiations got, to say the least, a little catty, because NBA commissioner David Stern is not willing to return to the negotiation table at this point. So, with the beginning of the NBA’s preseason, replacement referees have been brought in from lower-level basketball leagues everywhere, and they will probably still be used when the regular season begins later this month.

This means that the possibility for general chaos and confusion in a given NBA game will, in all probability, be greatly increased. That and free throw attempts. Great. Maybe they should just adopt the “offense calls their own fouls” rule and see how long it takes until half the league is on the disabled list.

The main question mark in this experiment also doubles as one of the best parts about the NBA: the wide range of personalities you can find throughout the league. That is to say, there are some pretty strange guys who are really good at basketball in this world. And now, they will be thrown into highly-emotional situations with replacement referees, who I’m guessing may not receive the same level of respect as the NBA’s referees, which wasn’t very high in the first place. As Dr. Alan Grant said in Jurassic Park, “How can we possibly have the slightest idea of what to expect?”

So, here are a few players that may have the toughest time adjusting to the replacement referees this season.

Kenyon Martin- Martin was quoted recently about the new referees, and he had this to say: "I'm going to have 15 technicals in the first month just for the simple fact that [replacement refs] don't know how I run my mouth," Martin told The Washington Post. "The game is going to be terrible with those replacements." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Kobe Bryant- Kobe does not seem to enjoy being bothered by what he probably considers inferior beings, like Smush Parker or Raja Bell, for example. I’m guessing back-up referees will make that list as well.

Ron Artest- Speaking of people who have annoyed Kobe Bryant in the past, how about his newest Laker teammate. This one is based on Artest’s reputation as a raving loon more than anything else. I have a feeling that if he does anything even mildly controversial in a game (which he will); he could be hit with about three technicals at once from every referee on the court.

Tony Parker- Because with the amount he whines and cries to regular NBA officials, I don’t think all the croissants in France will be enough to soak up his tears after a call doesn’t go his way this season. Boom, French joke!

Rasheed Wallace- During the 2000-2001 season, Wallace had 40 technical fouls, which as you may have guessed, led the league that season (it also set the NBA record for technicals). Since then, he has led the NBA in technicals six of the past nine seasons. Oh boy. Is his magical record of 40 in jeopardy? I sure hope so.

A 2009 MLB Divisional Series Preview

By the time you read this, Major League Baseball’s playoffs will have already begun. I am going to ignore this fact and preview them by looking at three important aspects in each series.

American League: Angels versus Red Sox
1. Baserunning: Red Sox catchers have thrown out less than ten percent of base-stealers this season, thanks in large part to their sticking with the cardboard cutout of Jason Varitek they have been using these past few seasons, and the Angels have long been known to run whenever possible. On the other side, Jacoby Ellsbury stole 70 bases this year, and I can’t even think of an Angels’ catcher off-hand. There could be a few stolen bases in this series. In my opinion, this is the only advantage the Angels have.

2. Starting pitching: Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz are scheduled for Boston against John Lackey, Jered Weaver and Scott Kazmir for the Angels. The playoffs are not going to be the time I start to trust a Weaver brother, especially against Josh Beckett. Buchholz is likely to make his first playoff start against the consistently inconsistent Kazmir. This is a toss-up in what will be a crucial game three. Expect more strikeouts from the Boston staff, which is usually a good playoff indicator of success.

3. Recent history: If this means anything at all, the Angels will not enjoy the 2009 playoffs; the Red Sox have bounced them in the first round the last two seasons in relative ho-hum fashion, winning the past two series by a combined six games to one.

American League: Twins versus Yankees
1. Expectations: The Yankees, as always, will have lots of them. The Twins just made the playoffs right now. Literally. That may have exceeded expectations right there.

2. The Dome: That damn dome, I just don’t trust it. The roof, the turf, the general crappiness of the stadium, it’s no place for baseball. The Twins, always described as a “scrappy” team, see their overall “scrappiness” go up about two hundred percent when they’re playing at home.

3. A-Rod: Yes, he is usually the focal point of any Yankee playoff discussion. Succeed, and he’s one of the best Yankees in their history. Fail, and he goes back to Worst Yankee Ever. Is this fair, or even logical? Probably not, but those are the rules.


National League: Cardinals versus Dodgers
1. The first two games: Obviously in a five game series they are rather important, but even more so in this series. The Cardinals will send out Cy Young Award frontrunners Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in games one and two in Los Angeles. Meaning, the series could effectively be over heading back to St. Louis. The Dodgers will have to beat one of them to keep this thing interesting.

2. Man-Ram: Of course, if the Dodgers do win this series, I’m guessing Manny Ramirez will have a large part in it. Even after a relatively quiet second half, I will not be surprised if Manny single-handedly carries this team to the second round.

3. The Machine: The Cardinals counter with Albert Pujols, who really needs no introduction. This could be the MLB playoffs-equivalent of LeBron vs. Kobe. Naturally, this means the series will be decided by everyone else.

National League: Rockies versus Phillies
1. Big names: Philadelphia has a lot of them, the Rockies, not so much. Not that this really matters for anything, except that, if the Rockies lose, people can go back to not paying attention to them. For the Phillies, a first round exit will not go unnoticed.

2. Brad Lidge: For whatever reason, Lidge was untouchable all last season, and a major factor in the Phillies’ championship run. This year, he has an ERA of 7.21 with 11 blown saves. Considering his rocky (no pun intended) past, I’m guessing the good season was the fluke season. Philadelphia fans will probably be very supportive during his rough times, though.

3. Oh yeah, um, about the Rockies: To be honest, I don’t know much. They do however, always seem to be hanging around. They hung around the NL Wild Card race as the Giants received a lot of the attention. They hung around the NL West race, and almost won it in the last weekend of the season. It seems likely that they will be a bother for the defending champs.

A nervous Yankee fan; feel free to direct sympathy elsewhere

This past Sunday, the best team in Major League Baseball completed a sweep of their arch-rivals, won their 100th game of the season, and clinched a division championship along with home field advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs. You could say it was a relatively decent day for the New York Yankees in what was just the first step in a process that, if everything goes right, could end in the 27th World Series championship for the franchise.

The way this season has come together, it should seemingly be difficult to find many reasons not to be excited for the playoffs. But this is sports, and strange things happen. The Divisional Series is a best-of-five, not seven, meaning fewer margins for error in every game, which is one reason why I don’t trust the MLB playoffs. They have been synonymous with “weird, fluky things happening” over recent years (I mean, Geoff Jenkins won a ring last year, what could be stranger than that?). If you’re a fan of a 100-win, heavily favored team, this is not good news. No, I’m not concerned at all.

Granted, this year’s version of the Yankees is almost certainly their best when compared to recent years’ playoff flops. Mark Teixeira has basically fulfilled even the loftiest of Yankee fans’ expectations, and that is saying something. They accidentally found an eighth inning bridge to closer Mariano Rivera in Phil Hughes, which may have been the most important personnel move of the season. And then there’s Alex Rodriguez, who has somehow found a way to play baseball while maintaining some semblance of a personal life. I had always thought the two were mutually exclusive. To me, that was probably the surest sign that things were going pretty well in the Bronx this season.

Even still, I have no idea what to expect in the playoffs. Will a swarm of bugs attack A.J. Burnett, causing him to throw wild pitch after wild pitch, similar to what happened to Joba Chamberlain two years ago in Cleveland? Will somebody from the Twins or Tigers, presumably someone I have never heard of, step up and make a name for himself? And what the heck are they going to do with Chamberlain? I get the feeling this guy shows up at the ballpark on some days wondering if the coaching staff is going to ask him, “How about you pitch underhanded today? We really want to save that arm of yours.” The fairly comfortable lead the team enjoyed the past few months may have led to the decision to basically bubble wrap Chamberlain’s arm, but at some point it would be nice to see the restrictions lifted just a tad. Maybe it’s just me, but the playoffs seem like as good a time as any.

Regardless of the questions I ask and concerns I may have (both real and imagined), I know this team is good. I have seen them prove this in just about every way a baseball team can during the season: pitchers’ duels, high scorers, walk-offs, late-inning comebacks, run-of-the-mill 7-2 or 9-4 games, and games they had no business winning, but somehow, usually did. What's more, this Yankee team seems to actually like each other, like a legitimate lets-spend-the-off day-together type bond, which was not always apparent with previous, more uptight, Yankee teams.

Something is certainly different this year. That is probably what worries me most: what if everything that seems so lined up for a deep playoff run suddenly disintegrates, and this team ends up being remembered as nothing more than the other recent playoff busts? They deserve a kinder fate than that in Yankee history. I hope.

(Note: As I wrote this, the Yankees completed their 15th walk-off victory of the season, this time against the Kansas City Royals, 4-3. Let’s try to save a few of those for the playoffs, alright guys?)

The stages of an NFL Sunday

Normally, Sunday afternoons consist of me doing as close to nothing as possible. I probably get out of bed only once or twice during the day, with the rest of my time devoted to hours of Arrested Development on DVD. During the NFL season however, Sundays become vastly more important. My mind must be sharp, or at least coherent, so I can follow multiple games and fantasy teams. I have broken down this past NFL Sunday, which ended with the memorable Packers-Bears game, with the series of stages that I went through.

Stage 1: Wake Up.
This can be the hardest stage at times. I woke up about an hour before the noon games started, which is probably a little too early. The perfect time to wake up is about fifteen minutes before the noon games kick off, it gives me just enough time to shake the cobwebs out, without having to sit through hours of pregame shows that feature anywhere from six to 65 guys yelling at each other in ridiculous looking suits. For a Sunday morning, it was just too much Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter.

Stage 2: Food and Location.
One of the best parts about NFL Sundays is that it is a weekly event. It gives you the excuse to do things you wouldn’t normally do, like go to a bar at noon, or buy huge buckets of chicken or stacks of pizza. Would I order a large stuffed crust pizza just for me on any other day of the week? Probably not, but if the NFL is on, well, that’s all the logical reasoning I need. Because of the late Packer start time yesterday, my food choice was canned soup and the location was my bed. No need to get too excited for the thrilling Browns-Vikings game. A few hours later however, I made my way to Partner’s to watch the game with other Packer fans, and hey, there were free nachos!

Stage 3: Kickoff.
Finally, after what seemed like 45 minutes of pregame commercials, the game started. The few seconds before the opening kickoff will be the last time I act like a regular person for about three hours.

Stage 4: The Game.
Sometimes watching football is not fun. For the most part, this game was a great example of this. It was tense, sloppy, drawn-out (thanks to Lovie Smith challenging about every other play), and full of missed opportunities. In the end of course, after Aaron Rodgers threw that game-winning strike to Greg Jennings, it was rewarding. After all, it is my blood pressure that’s being victimized for these games, so I feel as though I’ve earned it. Now I can say things like “it was a great game,” but I can actually mean it.

Stage 5: Postgame.
After a game like that, it is hard to settle down. I went through about fifteen minutes of texting with my parents and friends, sharing in the excitement and breathing a collective sigh of relief and exhaustion. I stared at my planner for a few minutes, and decided that no homework could be accomplished. Instead I watched a few episodes of Arrested Development, stared at my ceiling because I could still not fall asleep, and eventually dozed off, a few hours short of the recommended eight. When I think about it, this first NFL Sunday of the season wasn’t really that different for me than any other Sunday. I did next to nothing, watched the same TV show over and over again, and had about twenty emotional swings from joy to misery and back. Oh yeah, I guess that last part separates the regular season from the offseason. Welcome back, NFL. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a nap.