The biggest name in baseball free agency decided not to sign a contract with the New York Yankees this off season. 

I know, right?

Instead, Cy Young award-winner and certified ace Cliff Lee opted to sign a five year, $120 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, who already own one of the the most talent-laden starting rotations in Major League Baseball. That rotation, which already includes Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, has just transcended the formidable and is now bordering on the historic. The Lee-to-Philly deal is intriguing for a lot of reasons, but I think the most important thing we can take away from Clifton's decision to play for the Phillies and not the Yanks (or the Rangers) is that sometimes, money isn't everything.

That's a pretty amazing thing to consider with the way professional sports (and especially baseball) usually works, where the highest bidder offering the most lucrative contract nearly always gets their man. The Yankees have made a living off of this heretofore certainty of the paper chase, reeling in big name free agent after big name free agent year-in and year-out. The Yankees always pull in proven talent through free agency because they are one of the most powerful franchises in all of sports with one of its biggest checkbooks.

The fact that Lee spurned the Yanks and the Rangers to play for the Phillies says a lot about the guy if you ask me, and as a die-hard Yankee-hater, it damn near warms my heart. There's an old saying that only two types of people like the Yankees: those from the Bronx and complete assholes. I've always subscribed to this theory, especially growing up a Detroit Tigers fan, because up until realignment and the advent of the wild card spot in the MLB playoffs, the Yankees shared a division with my Tigers in the old AL East. I don't like the Yankees and I never have. I don't like the way they try (and often succeed) to buy World Series titles and their big money bullying tactics -- tactics they use to consistently rob small and mid-market teams of a shot at big name free agents.

It's why Lee signing with the Phillies is such a wonderful off season baseball headline. Lee went where he wanted to go, leaving around $30 million on the table and taking fewer years on his contract to play where he wanted to. He's bounced around quite a bit over the last few years, including a stop in Philadelphia two years back, where he buoyed the Phils to a World Series appearance against the Yankees and was then traded away to the Mariners in the off season. The Mariners shifted him to the Rangers during last season, where he again found himself in the World Series, this year against the Giants. 

The Rangers also did their damndest to keep one of baseball's best post-season pitchers around, but Lee turned down more money from them as well, doing what was best for him personally and career-wise instead of chasing more money in Texas or New York. Athletes so rarely go this route, and so rarely spurn the Yankees, that Lee's landing in Philadelphia is equal parts surprising and refreshing. 

I have always maintained that I think it unfair to characterize all athletes as money-hungry jerks because I don't think that folks in other professions would turn down more lucrative positions and career paths in favor of their best personal interests either. We tend to criticize athletes for pursuing the opportunity to make the most money, but people in all walks of life and in all professions behave in much the same manner for the most part. Following your bliss can often be derailed by the lure of the almighty dollar, and athletes are not alone in succumbing to it's siren song.

Following what you want to do and not what your bank statements say you should is a tough decision to make and one I can do nothing but commend Cliff Lee for. He has recently stated that he never wanted to leave Philly in the first place and is happy as a clam to be back with the Phillies. If you look at the starting rotation he is a part of now, it isn't hard to see why.

Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels could all occupy (and in the past have occupied) the top spot in just about any rotation in baseball if they wanted to, but now they all find themselves wearing the same uniform. This is a scary thought for any team in the NL East and probably the entire National League, with many a sports pundit already proclaiming the Phils the prohibitive favorite to reach the World Series in 2011. 

Halladay is arguably the best pitcher in baseball (for those with short memories, he's the dood that threw a no-hitter in this year's playoffs), and is now surrounded by three other pitchers (and Joe Blanton in the five spot, I see you big fella...) that are also among the league's most dominant arms. Baseball analysts like Tim Kurkjian (whom I love) and Bob Costas (whom I don't so much, but is one of the sharpest minds baseball has to offer) are already calling the Philadelphia rotation one of the greatest in baseball history, which makes Lee's decision an even more eye-grabbing headline.

I think that Lee's move to Philly is going to pay dividends during baseball's long regular season for all of the obvious reasons, and I'll go one step further to say that it will only make the Phillies a more dominant force in the postseason. I just don't buy the argument that you need four or five solid pitchers during the season, but only three in the post season. 

Having Hamels as the number four option during a playoff run can eliminate many tough decisions that might present themselves should one of the other three starters be looking at pitching on short rest. The Phillies not only have a dominant staff in this sense, but a flexible one to boot. The rotation's depth can alleviate headaches that scheduling and travel can create, and make skipper Charlie Manuel's job all the easier in 2011.

So the Phils are freaking loaded now (sheesh, we haven't even talked about their line-up, which is also laden with All-Star talent like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard...) and the Yankees are in big, big trouble. They lost out on free agency's other big name too, that being Carl Crawford, who signed with the rival Boston Red Sox (who also added All-Star Adrian Gonzalez) and are now a team without the bat they wanted and the front-line pitcher they desperately needed. 

The Yankees' rotation is as shaky as Philly's is solid, with CC Sabathia anchoring a staff that might have to follow him with only Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett if Andy Pettitte decides to hang up his cleats. The Yankees are now forced to turn to the trading block, and will most likely have to part ways with many young prospects (most notably catcher Jesus Montero) in order to do so. They also recently signed Russell Martin, another catcher, which leads this writer to believe that Montero and many other fine young players will get the ol' Austin Jackson treatment and find themselves in another team's farm system post-haste.

Oh yeah, the Yanks just signed Mark Prior (of the glass-armed Priors) too. Panic, thy name is Brian Cashman. It looks like Cliff Lee's decision to skip the Bronx is going to have some very interesting aftershocks in New York and if you can't tell from the previous body of this post, I am smiling a very large smile as a result. 

Clifton gets what he wants, the Yankees don't, and I'm talking baseball in the middle of football and basketball season. Gotta love the hot stove.



So I've been holding back my opinon on Auburn QB phenom Cam Newton all year, but after watching him on the sidelines during the SEC Championship game and seeing the interview he just did with Chris Fowler for ESPN today, I just have to spout off. 

I've said before that it's important not to be too hard on college athletes. They're young and inexperienced when it comes to the spotlight, the media, and their athletic prowess, so they're bound to slip up here and there and we should all treat them with a lower level of scrutiny than the pros that get paid to do what they do. 

All that said, this kid is really starting to wear on my nerves. 

There is no question in my mind that he's the best player in college football right now and that he is deserving of the Heisman Trophy, which he will undoubtedly win in a landslide on Saturday night in New York. The kid is doing things on the field that no one else is capable of right now (and yes, as an OSU fan and Terrelle Pryor apologist, that is hard to say), and the fact that his team is in the National Championship game with an undefeated record is testament to that.

What I don't like about Newton, and what I can't help but criticize the kid for, is his attitude. Everyone has heard the stories (and allegations) by now: he was caught buying a stolen laptop and then throwing it out the window when the cops showed up while playing for Florida, he had to high tail it out of Gainesville because he may or may not have cheated his way through school, his father openly shopped his services to schools like Mississippi State (and probably Auburn too) to the tune of $200,000 after Newton spent a year in Junior College.

That's a lot of heat on a guy who is barely old enough to drink a beer and is only in his Junior year of college. It's especially eyebrow-raising considering the size of his star on the football field and the profile that comes with being on one of the best teams in college football. Now, if it were me, and I was facing all of this media attention and was the subject of allegation after allegation about things that happened off the field, I think I would have a little bit of perspective. Even at that young age, I think I would realize that I needed to keep my head down and be as humble and as unassuming as possible for the duration of my career as a college quarterback. 

Cam doesn't seem to feel the same way. He's been playing to the crowd all year after Auburn victories, strutting around the field and hamming it up for the student section (and cameras) with the whole world watching. That's all well and good I suppose, but "Cammy Cam Juice"? Come on dood. If you aren't familiar, that's a little concoction that Cam made on the sidelines during Auburn's rout of South Carolina in the SEC championship game. I guess it was some blend of Gatorade flavors. You know, the kind ten year old kids make when Mom leaves them alone at home with their buddies. Not only will Tracy Wolfson never live that one down, but it's also extremely lame, and nothing short of arrogant and attention grabbing. 

Then there's the aforementioned interview with Fowler on ESPN, in which Newton repeatedly refers to himself in the third person and seems completely out of tune with the way folks are looking at him right now. Psst...Cam! Uh, it turns out you're in deep shit bro, so you might want to look up "contrite" in the old dictionary and see if you can act more like a man facing a laundry list of allegations and less an egomaniac who walks between the raindrops.

I'm sure he's being coached on what to say and more importantly, what not to, but he comes off like a guy who doesn't think he's done anything wrong and will never face any repercussions for the money his father was trying to squeeze out of Mississippi State (and who knows what other schools) during his second recruitment. Newton might be innocent, but I just can't believe that he had no knowledge of what was going on as far as the pay-for-play stuff. He had to have known something, if not everything, and if that's the case I would once again encourage a low profile. That means not talking about yourself in the third person and making "Cammy Cam Juice" on the sidelines. Ugh. 

All of this amid the backdrop of what just happened to USC and Reggie Bush, who were stripped of a National Championship and a Heisman Trophy respectively for the gifts that Bush and his family received while he was playing at Southern Cal. Newton, the alleged $200,000 man, seems either to not have seen what happened to Bush, or not to care, and that just irks me to no end. It's possible he knows that he isn't coming back to play out his Senior season at Auburn next year and therefore doesn't give a rat's ass what happens once he's playing in the NFL, but that again points to a dizzying level of arrogance and an unabashed ambivalence towards the fate of the Auburn football program that are both equally galling.

As Bush could (and perhaps should) tell young Cam, it's not what happens to you, but the lasting damage you can do to your school when the dust finally settles and all of the wrongdoing comes to light. There are kids playing for USC right now that don't get to compete for a National Championship or go to a bowl, and they were playing high school football when Bush was taking money from agents and getting his parents set up in a cushy new house in southern California. At the end of the day, it is exactly this kind of disregard for the fate and feelings of others that I see in Cam Newton's actions that really grinds my gears. 

Newton is a fantastic college quarterback and one helluva a fine athlete, but he seems to fall very short of what I would call an upstanding young man. He's cocky, brash, and bold, and while that might be all well and good for the country's best player under normal circumstances, in the wake of all the smoke that continues to build around his tenure in college, I think it's a bad M.O. to carry. The fires of controversy only seem to get warmer with each passing day for Cam, and he only seems to grow more defiant. I don't care if the NCAA has given him a bogus bill of good health as far as his eligibility is concerned, I flat out don't like the way he carries himself and I had to let the world (or at least the handful of folks who read this blog) know about it.



While I try to keep Bo Jackson's Hip a place where variety is the norm, I can't help but write a second straight post on the NFL, considering what went down on Sunday afternoon in Houston, Texas. The Texans played AFC South rival Tennessee and while the headlines should have been about the battle for a divisional win and the wide-open race for the AFC South championship, all anyone can talk about is the on-field brawl that happened between Texans' wide receiver Andre Johnson and Titans' cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

Personally, I've never seen anything quite like the fight in my years watching football. Sure, corners and wide receivers like to go at it, but when helmets are ripped off and punches are thrown, we've definitely got something new on our hands.

Here's what it looked like, in case you missed it:

There's that old saying that familiarity breeds contempt, which is an apt description for the way a lot of teams in the same division begin to loathe one and other as the years and seasons go on in the NFL. Playing the other squads in your division twice each year leads to rivalries between teams and individual players, and the fight between Johnson and Finnegan could have happened a lot of places in the NFL. The fact that it happened between these two players is kind of expected, but also very surprising.

If you aren't familiar with Finnegan's ways, he is consistently bratty, physical, and cocksure. He's one of those athletes that lives to get under the other guy's skin, an attitude that is not rare for anybody that plays the cornerback position. Finnegan however, seems to revel in his bad boy persona. A year ago, when Sports Illustrated polled NFL players on who were the dirtiest guys in the league, Finnegan finished sixth. This wasn't surprising to most, and the kicker here is that ol' Cort made it known that he'd do his damndest to finish atop the poll the following year. 

Not only is he a dirty dood, but he likes being that way and tries to use it as a psychological advantage against the receivers he covers week-in and week-out. Those sort of prodding tactics work against a lot of guys, but I never in my life thought I would see Andre Johnson be goaded into ripping Finnegan's helmet off and pounding him in the back of the head. Johnson is among the top three wide receivers in the league (you can shuffle among AJ, Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss as far as I'm concerned), and over eight seasons with the Texans has proven himself the epitome of class and high moral character.

At a position that is filled with outspoken divas throughout the league (T.O., Ochocinco, Randy Moss, Brandon Marshall, Braylon Edwards, et al), Johnson is a rare combination of freakish talent as a pass-catcher and unshaking modesty as a person. His teammates often comment on his lack of spotlight lust and his demure personality, so ruffling this big bird's feathers seems a particularly daunting task. But I guess when you're Cortland Finnegan (who is looking more and more like a redbone Pauly D these days), the power of your own brackish personality can try the patience of even the coolest of customers.

Okay, so the fight happened. The hockey-like, OMG, text your friends, "we're going to be watching video of this all week on ESPN", did-you-see-that fight, happened. Now, though it had a definite hockey feel to it, that sport condones fighting, if not outwardly encouraging it. The modern NFL is a horse of a different color though, if you look at recent fines and suspensions under commissioner Roger Goodell. We've seen this season that suspensions and big fines await anyone who cracks a defenseless receiver or leads with their helmet. Goodell and the NFL brass have made it very clear not only this season, but over the past few, that the Shield stands for something and that there's certain shit you just don't do on the gridiron these days.

So these two are definitely sitting out at least a game for all of this nonsense, right? Wrong. 

Amazingly, each player was fined just $25,000 and neither will miss any game time (other than the quarter or so they already missed when ejected from Sunday's game) as a result of the fight. This has to be one of the most hypocritical decisions I've seen come out of the NFL front office in a very long time, and if you'll recall, I just made a very similar statement about a month ago when their new "policy" on big hits was "reinforced." If the aim of the league is to protect players and downplay the violent nature of the game, in what way does a light punishment for an all out slugfest help to do either?

The NFL has absolutely no excuse for not benching both of these guys for a game (at least) and doubling the amount of the fines levied. If you're going to take $25K from James Harrison almost every other week for the way he tackles people, you have to shut both of these players down for at least a game for ripping each others' helmets off and throwing down in the middle of the field of play--end of story.

Johnson in particular, though provoked by Finnegan, was raining haymakers with no concern for anyone watching in the stadium or at home, and for a league that has proven that it wants to polish it's violent image as much as possible as the years push on, there's just no way to justify this slap on the wrist. Slap on the wrist actually gives the action taken by the league too much credit. This was a kiss on the forehead, gift wrapped in cotton candy, and floated in on a cloud. 

Johnson has a sterling reputation and apologized immediately for losing his cool, but the fact remains that he ripped a man's helmet off and started beating him senseless on the football field. You can't just let that go Roger Goodell, I don't care how you want to justify it. Some pundits are already pushing forth conspiracy theories that since the Texans play in the Thursday night game on the NFL Network, the two players were let off the hook so Johnson could let his star shine on the league's big money maker (obviously, letting Johnson out of a suspension left the league no choice but to do the same for Finnegan).

I'm personally not buying that, but I am buying the fact that the NFL just doesn't know what to do with itself these days. The league seems to be stuck between nostalgia for a bygone era where men were men and players were true gladiators, and a more tempered, safety-first, cuddly form of football that to this writer seems nothing short of nausea inducing. The NFL wants to protect the quarterback, rob defenses of their ability to be aggressive, and prevent the cloud of concussion related brain damage from tarnishing the league's image forever, but two guys fist fighting and trying to rip each others' heads off in front of a national audience is pretty much condoned? I don't get it, and I don't think a lot of other fans do either. 

Make up your mind Mr. Goodell, because the fans already know why they love football, and it's got nothing to do with suspensions and fines. It's got everything to do with the ability of increasingly talented athletes and the violent contests they choose to take part in. We all know what we're getting into here--whether it be fan, player, owner, whatever--and we all keep coming back for more. The NFL needs to quickly decide what brand of violence it would like to market and to what degree it can continue to do so successfully.

The audience and their attitudes toward the game aren't going anywhere, and aren't changing anytime soon, so the league needs to stop leading us down disparate paths and hoping that we'll meet them somewhere in the middle. Football is king in American sports for a reason, even if the NFL doesn't want to admit what that reason is.



Quarterback has been called the most difficult position in all of sports to succeed at. It is a position that requires athleticism, intelligence, resilience, and a bevy of leadership skills. If it isn't the most difficult position to master in sports, it is certainly the most important position on a football team, a fact that this season in the NFL has proven in spades. 

When your QB is good, it covers up a lot of sins at other positions on the field and if he happens to be a world-beater, your QB can make your team a contender year-in and year-out, no matter how shaky your defense or the offensive weapons that surround him. Likewise, instability and inconsistent play from your quarterback is the surest road to failure and team-wide ineptitude you're likely to find. 

All that said, let's take a quick trip around the league's most intriguing quarterback story lines and see why the guy behind center means so much to the fate of a franchise.


If you're going to talk quarterbacks, these two are where you start. Statistically they're the best the league has to offer over the last decade or so, and the success of their respective teams is a direct result of their brilliance at the position. Lucky for sports fans, they have battled each other in a heated rivalry over the past ten-plus seasons and they also happened to meet on the field this past weekend, when the Indianapolis Colts fell to the New England Patriots 31 -28 in Foxboro Sunday afternoon.

Brady was his typical self - efficient, poised, and accurate - leading the Pats to victory over the Colts and keeping his team in a tie atop the AFC East division with the New York Jets. Brady has been incredible this season, which is typical (maybe he's channeling his inner Samson with that Beiber-like hairdo for even a little extra mojo in 2010...) and Manning has been equally stellar for the Colts, so it's no surprise that the game came down to the final minute as Indy came up just shy of yet another Manning come-back thriller. 

Peyton threw an interception with the Colts in range for a game-tying field goal, but the fact that he pulled his team all the way back from a large deficit on the road with a shot to do so in the game's closing moments tells you all you need to know about the man as a quarterback. He was literally sickened as he spoke to reporters after the game and the match-up between New England and Indianapolis was a reminder to everyone around the league about how far your team can go with a great QB. The Pats and Colts have battled inexperience and injury respectively, yet both are among the few real contenders to have a shot at making the Superbowl this year.


The most controversial of any quarterback we will discuss here, Vick is a comeback story worthy of a Hollywood script. After his fall from grace following a conviction on funding an illegal dog-fighting ring, Vick took two years off to vacation at Leavenworth and spent a year as a back-up in Philly, but is now setting the league on fire and finds himself in the midst of MVP discussion. We've all got an opinion on Vick the person, which I've already been over myself, but you can't knock the man's hustle on the field of play.

His performance against the Redskins last Monday night was one of the greatest an NFL quarterback has ever produced, leading Hall of Fame QB and now ESPN analyst Steve Young to call it "the full fruition of the position", which is both a bit of unexpected poetry from an ESPN talking head and a telling assessment of Vick's abilities. Young is the hero quarterback hero of my youth as a 49ers fan and the absolute best when it comes to being a fantastic passer and a threat with your legs, so his praise carries a great deal of weight and goes to show just how far Vick has come from the guy who used to run first, pass second when he exploded out of Virginia Tech.

Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York football Giants in Philly this weekend, taking over sole possession of first place in the NFC East and showing that Vick isn't all big plays and dazzling scrambles. He took a lot of tough hits and was limited to few of his signature big runs by the Giant defense, but was still able to use a new-found poise and control in the pocket to grind out a tough win.  The victory over the Giants on Sunday says just as much about his ability as that fantasy football wet dream he dropped on the Redskins last week and has started even more murmuring about his MVP chances. Is he the league MVP? Not yet in my opinion, but if he keeps playing like this, he will be, and the Eagles will continue to fight with the Giants and the Atlanta Falcons in the discussion as to who is the class of the NFC.


Yep, I'm forced to give the ol' Gunslinger his time on this little piece of the internet, but while it should be in the same vein as Manning, Brady, and Vick, instead Favre is among the QB's who is helping to sink the hopes of his franchise in the 2010 campaign. It was supposed to be all good for Favre and the Minnesota Vikings this year. They were coming off a trip to the NFC championship game in 2009, with weapons on offense and a stout defense. But somewhere between Favre's aging bones and muscles giving out on him and a scandal having to do with pictures of Little Brett, things have completely derailed.

Today, the Vikings fired coach Brad Childress, who Favre has had a pretty much public feud with throughout this season. This comes on the heels of the Randy Moss Experiment going terribly wrong and Vikings players whispering to the media (anonymously and in my opinion completely cowardly) about how much they hated their coach. I'm guessing if Favre was playing like he was last year and the Vikings were 7-3 instead of an embarrassing 3-7, Chili would still have his job and Brett would be all smiles instead of completely devastated.

It proves that with great quarterback play, your team wins and your coach gets a contract extension and with bad quarterback play, your team shits the bed and your coach finds himself polishing up his resume. Favre may not deserve all of the blame in Minnesota, but the combination of his lackluster performance and his off the field drama has just about put the nail in the coffin for the Vikings' season and his career. I can't see Brett coming back for another year of this kind of BS and I can't say I feel bad for the arrogant old prick. I used to hold Favre in high regard, but all of that's gone now and trust me when I say I'm not the only one. Farewell 4, all over again.


The quarterback situation in San Francisco and Carolina is a lesson in what can go wrong when you don't really know who your starting quarterback is. In SF, they thought they had their guy in Alex Smith, but he underperformed and the 'Niners were winless through five games. Then he got hurt and Mike Singletary skipped right past his back-up David Carr (who is perhaps most famous as the Mickey Mouse of the NFL) and gave the keys to the car to former Heisman Trophy winner and Ohio State Buckeye Troy Smith.

Smith has had both ups and downs in his three starts, with a 2-1 record as the main man to show for it. He looked alright, then great, then confused - in that order - leaving head coach Mike Singletary steering what appears to be a steadily sinking ship in the 2010 season. He can't seem to decide who his man is and in the NFL that spells disaster. Just ask the fans in Carolina.

The Panthers haven't had any more luck than the 49ers when it comes to solidifying the QB position, dumping starter Matt Moore early in the season to give rookie Jimmy Clausen a shot at the job. Clausen has looked, how should I say, underwhelming at best and prompted head coach John Fox to bring in Brian St. Pierre to start Sunday's game against the Ravens. What's that? You haven't heard of Brian St. Pierre? That's because dood's been a stay at home dad for the last few years and has thrown about as many passes as I have in his short and unmemorable career as an NFL quarterback. St. Pierre got thrown to the wolves this past Sunday, and the results pretty much speak for themselves. The Ravens returned two St. Pierre interceptions for touchdowns, dominating the Panthers and proving once again that QB is king in the NFL.


Now here's a real doozy. Tennessee Titans' quarterback Vince Young has been through a lot in his short NFL career, going from Rookie of the Year to potential suicide victim to spoiled little brat in very short order. He looked like an NFL superstar in his first year in the league coming out of Texas, (something this skeptical writer didn't think was possible from jump street) but quickly lost his job to veteran Kerry Collins over the ensuing seasons. It's been an up and down road since then, with the two QB's trading the starting and back-up roles because of injury and performance issues.

Young seemed to have pulled himself together on and off the field this season, but the Titans have still underperformed. This all culminated in Young pretty much throwing his head coach under the bus after this week's loss to the Jaguars, a hissy fit that included (allegedly) throwing his jersey into the stands and skipping out on any post-game locker room or press activity and making for the door. He reportedly told his head coach Jeff Fisher that he was walking out on him because he refused to let Young back in the game after he injured his thumb during the Jaguars game.

Today the Titans announced Young has a torn ligament in his thumb, and this is what was told to Fisher on the sidelines. Young is now out for the season and likely wouldn't have been a very good option to go back into the game. The coach wasn't being a jerk and not letting his QB back in the game after an injury because of a poor performance, he was simply listening to what the training staff told him about Young's injury. But, big old baby that he is, VY decided Fisher was being a meanie and acted like a stubborn child. I'm guessing this spells the end for Young in Tennessee, and the end of the Titans' hope of a winning season. Did I mention that this is the team that just signed Randy Moss, too? Ugh.

So that finishes up a very cursory glance at the some of the NFL's quarterbacks, the good, the bad and the fugly. What it proves is that QB really is the most important position on the field in the NFL. Of the teams I talked about, guess which ones are looking at playoff berths and which ones are looking at a high draft pick in the 2011 draft? In ain't hard to tell who brings home the bacon for an NFL franchise, but to finish things up, let's look at the best teams in the NFL this season and check out who's throwing the ball around for them:

Baltimore Ravens - Joe Flacco
New York Jets - Mark Sanchez
New England Patriots - Tom Brady
New Orleans Saints - Drew Brees
Atlanta Falcons - Matt Ryan (Matty Ice if you're nasty)
Philadelphia Eagles - Michael Vick
New York Giants - Eli Manning
Pittsburgh Steelers - Ben Roethlisberger
Green Bay Packers - Aaron Rodgers
Chicago Bears - Jay Cutler
Indianapolis Colts - Peyton Manning

I think it's fair to say that from either their records, their pedigree, or both, these are the teams to beat right now in the NFL. If you run down the list, you're looking at 5 guys who already have at least one Superbowl ring (Brady has 3 and Big Ben has a pair) and a handful of young guys who were first round draft picks and are on the rise. Rodgers is perhaps the cream of the non-ring-having crop and it's no shock that the Packers just dismantled the Favre-led Vikings 31 - 3 on Sunday. 

In summary, you need a guy at QB that can pick apart a secondary, make the big play when it must be made, and most importantly, be a leader. Football is a man's game and it requires an alpha-male at quarterback for the right things to happen for a football team.

There's just no way around it: if you want to win, you need a great QB.



Now that baseball season is over and the NFL just finished up a few days that show it simply refuses to get less entertaining as the season rolls on, I thought I'd split this post between the Giants' World Series victory and a discussion of some truly bizarre football headlines. Here we go...


The San Fransisco Giants are World Series Champions. Just let that sink in for a moment baseball fans. After fifty-plus years since their move from one coast to the other, the Giants won the World Series in short order on Monday night, making quick work of the Texas Rangers and their previously indomitable line-up of hard hitting American League bats. The Giant pitching was absolutely dominant this post-season and their ace hurler Tim "The Freak" Lincecum once again stared down the Ranger's Cliff Lee to wrap up the series in five games Monday in Arlington. Lincecum was absolutely brilliant Monday night, pitching a breathtaking 8 innings before allowing the Giants' real freak, Brian Wilson, to slam the door shut in the ninth and bring home a championship for this unlikely squad of Bay Area misfits.

Manager Bruce Bochy calls his club The Dirty Dozen and while his math is a bit off, his summation of their make-up and attitude is spot on. The Giants' barely snuck into the post-season on the last day of the regular season and then proceeded to laugh at any critic who questioned whether or not they should be there by beating the Braves, Phillies, and now the Rangers without breaking a sweat. The Giants' line-up didn't have nearly the pop that Texas boasted coming into the World Series, but they proved the old adage that pitching wins championships is as true as ever over the last week.

Not only Lincecum, but fellow young arms Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner (a truly spectacular athlete name, by the way) proved that the way to the title always goes through the pitcher's mound and are the backbone of a rotation that is going to wreak havoc on hitters for years to come if things shake out right. The Giants' hitters are a lot of no-namers (ahem, Cody Ross) and old pros that most thought washed up (ahem, series-winning home run hitter Edgar Renteria) that proved good enough to compliment their stellar pitching staff all the way to a championship in 2010. 

And their hitting wasn't timely, sports media knuckleheads. I swear, if I hear one more talking head use the phrase "timely hitting" to describe when a team with less-than-heralded hitting prowess proves it can score runs I'm going to go straight Michael Douglas in Falling Down and get seriously destructive on my television and radio. What other kind of hitting is there that wins ball games? Hits with runners on base score runs and lead to victories, hits with them empty or swings and misses don't. That seems to me to be what the boys back home call "run-scoring," not "timely hitting". Ugh, the sports' media's reliance on tired cliches used to be charming and folksy, now it just seems unoriginal. 

Before I get too bitter, congrats to the Giants on an incredible post-season and many cheers for the city of San Francisco for finally grabbing that World Series ring that has been so elusive all these long years. 

On to the gridiron.


As far as bizarre weekends/beginnings of the week, I can't recall one more obviously head-scratching than what we've witnessed in the NFL over the past few days. There were a few surprises as far as outcomes on Sunday, the most glaring being the Jets goose egg against the Packers, but the fall-out from two losses by the Vikings and Redskins are what's really tilting the balance on the insanity scales right now. 

The Minnesota Vikings fell to the New England Patriots on Sunday, a game that left Brett Favre in the fetal position on a cart on his way to the locker room and Randy Moss without a job. Favre got his clock-cleaned by the Patriots Myron Pryor, who caught him right under the chin and left the ol' Silver Fox dazed, confused, and damn near dead. As I watched Favre try to walk and then eventually be carted off the field, Onion-esque headlines danced through my head such as "New England Patriots Win, Kill Brett Favre".

Personally, I thought the injury was more serious, perhaps being a busted collar bone or some other more serious break, but it turns out Favre just needed stitches on his chin and some time to clear his head. I guess some cockroaches just won't die. Oh well, he isn't even the real story coming out of the Vikings loss, because his newly acquired and much needed game-breaking wide receiver Randy Moss was waived by the Vikings on Monday. For those of you who don't follow sports that closely, dood got fired.

And after this rant, it isn't exactly surprising.

Wow. For a guy that just got traded to the Vikings from New England three games ago for shooting his mouth off and an eerily similar rant during a presser after the Pats won in week one, this was a ballsy move. But this is Moss. This is what you get to go along with his hall-of-fame talents, a hall-of-shame mouth. Moss has been mired in controversy since the infancy of his career and he has never been one to shy away from telling the press how he feels, but this is some next-level shit, even for 84. He throws his current team under the bus, glows about his former team that just handed the Vikes a loss, and tells the room that he will be interviewing himself for the remainder of the season, something I hope and pray with all my heart he stays true to. Randy on Randy would be some fascinating stuff.

My take is that Coach Brad Childress and Vikes owner Zygi Wilf (another doozy of a sports name) knew what they were getting when they shipped a 3rd round draft pick to the Patriots to acquire Moss, and they really shouldn't have been too surprised by the things he said, considering. The Pats dealt Moss because of his mouth (though they artfully danced around that fact, as only The Hoody and company can do) and it absolutely blows my mind that Childress waived Moss on Monday, despite his words after the loss. 

Not only that, but he didn't even consult Wilf on the move. Not telling the owner of the team that you're firing one of your best players is career suicide if I've ever seen it, and I highly doubt that you'll see Chili on the Vikings' sideline next year following what I'm sure will end up being a disappointing season and this latest head-scratching move. Hey Chili, turns out that Mr. Wilf is the name on the paychecks, not yours. Watch who you give the axe to without fair warning, homie.

Randy's a handful, but the Vikings brass knew that going into the trade. Caveat emptor and I'm out.

Now on to yet another dumbfounding-ly dumb move by a head coach, this time in our nation's capital. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan pulled his starting QB, Donovan McNabb during the last two minutes of Washington's loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, inserting perennially underwhelming back-up Rex Grossman to try and lead the team down the field for the W. That's right, he pulled a potential hall-of-famer for Rex Grossman.

Yep, that Rex Grossman:

Now if you want to pull your starting QB at the most critical juncture of the game, there has to be a good reason, right? Wrong. Shanahan first cited Grossman's superior knowledge of the two-minute offense they run in Washington, because he was the back-up under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan when the two were both in Houston together. You know, when Grossman was the, uh, back-up. Now if that doesn't seem at all plausible, just wait, because Shanahan followed that apocryphal explanation with an even more unlikely story, that he questioned McNabb's cardiovascular endurance when running a two-minute drill.

So the guy who led your team in rushing during the game is too out of shape to make it another two minutes at the game's biggest moment? Yeah, I can buy that. Next you'll tell me that JaMarcus Russell is going to get a phone call to come workout with the team. What? They what? They didn't. I give up.

That's right, not only did Shanahan yank McNabb and feed the press two bullshit excuses as to why, but now he wants to give what many consider to be the biggest draft bust in NFL history a shot at the job he doesn't seem to think Donovan is in shape enough to perform. Russell is the guy that damn near broke the scales every training camp he was lucky enough to attend and is more famous for falling on his face professionally and getting his lean on then any kind of accomplishment on a football field. This stuff is absoultely mind blowing. In an NFL season that seems to go from weird to strange to enigmatic with every coming Sunday, week 8 gave us some truly perplexing stuff to digest. 

Good thing the 'Skins are on a bye this week so Shanny can get his story straight and I get a little more time to try and make sense of all this nonsense. Did I mention how much I love the NFL?



There have been a lot of negative things said about the time in which we live. The rapid expansion and influence of the internet has led us full steam ahead into the Information Age, where data, news, and opinion are created, consumed and disseminated at increasingly faster rates. We want to know what's happening now, why it's happening, and what is going to happen next before a lot of the information that reaches us can be absorbed and digested properly.

Critics of the Information Age will tell you that this is breeding a populace that cannot wait for anything anymore. We want results and we want them fast. We click the mouse, we want the link to work, we enter the Google search, we want the desired information at our fingertips immediately, we go to school, we want the cushy job waiting for us on the other side of the graduation ceremony. 

The immediacy of culture is not slowing down, and it can often put us in an uncomfortable set of circumstances when things don't shake out the way we want post haste.

Two things I witnessed this week point to the sort of thing I'm getting at here, and they happened on two opposite sides of the importance spectrum. The first is the debut of the new-look Miami Heat, led by a three-headed monster of basketball talent that features LeBron James (arguably the best player on the planet), Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. The three teamed-up over the summer to form what is already considered one of the most talented line-ups in NBA history, and this week we finally got to see them play regular season basketball together.

The Heat transformed their roster in what can only be called the most auspicious manner possible, with James announcing he was going to "take his talents to South Beach" in an hour long spectacle on ESPN, which was quickly followed by a WWE-style entrance for the three in Miami, replete with smoke, fireworks and the trio dancing on stage in front of a packed auditorium of their supporters and fans. This unmitigated attention grabbing and the talent of the three players involved has left the sporting world foaming at the mouth with anticipation and critics already setting their sights on the Heat Index, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.

That first sign came Tuesday night, when the Heat fell to the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics 88-80 in the opening game of the NBA season. Already, the critics are putting forth their opinions. While the more level-headed are pointing to the fact that the season is 82 games long, and one game does not a season make, many are already discovering the cracks in the Miami facade and registering their disappointment.

I am not one to judge a team on one performance (and the Heat did rebound to beat the 76ers one night later in Philly by the way) against the best team in their conference, but it goes to show that when you intentionally fan the flames of hype, folks will try and extinguish that fire in nanoseconds if the result isn't as-promised, even if it is only the first game of the season. The Heat are at the focus of a media electron microscope, and their every move will be shadowed, analyzed and picked apart until the forest is made near invisible by the study of the trees. 

I think the Heat will be dominant this season and in many to come, which I mentioned in my post about James' move to Miami, and it frustrates me to no end that sports fans will now have to endure a game-by-game breakdown of their progression throughout the NBA season. The sports media lives to make snap judgments, and the Heat only focused their attention in the off-season, but this is some of the most nausea-inducing "what have you done for me lately" BS that I can remember in my years of watching sports. The Information Age is rearing it's ugly head early this NBA season and shows no signs of tucking it away any time soon.

All of this nonsense is, as I said, at one end of the importance spectrum. The other end of that spectrum is just about upon on us here in the United States, where election day looms on the horizon. The midterm elections are a referendum for any president's policies, especially one whose party controls both houses of Congress. As such, President Obama is surely feeling the heat right now. The country remains economically stagnant to a large degree, with unemployment teetering around the 10% mark nationally and anger growing among the opposition by leaps and bounds (and stomps too, if you happen to live in Kentucky).

The democrats and Obama in particular are feeling the pressure of being the party in power at the midterm, but it seems to me that the Information Age is giving his policies and the administration as a whole a bit of a raw deal. Like the aforementioned Miami Heat, Obama cannot claim that he didn't help create the hype that surrounds him, running on a platform of hope and change and lofty ideals that would have been difficult for any one man to live up to, let alone one that entered the office of president amidst an economic maelstrom not seen since the Great Depression. It's been two years and folks aren't satisfied. Their driveways aren't filled with gold-plated Rolls Royces, their fat rolls haven't magically turned into washboard stomachs and there are still blind folks everywhere whose sight has not yet been restored.

Obviously, our exalted leader hasn't delivered, right? Come on. The man's been given two years to rebuild an economy, create enough jobs to keep the entire country working, and bridge the partisan gap between Republicans and Democrats that has been widening steadily for over a century. I voted for Obama not as the lesser of two evils, but because he was the guy I thought could turn things around. I'm going to give him more than two years to do so, and you can count me among the more pragmatic of his supporters in saying that I didn't expect things to be covered in milk and honey at this point in time. We all knew we were in for a long haul if things were going to start heading in the right direction in this country, both culturally and politically.

It's why President Obama's interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show Wednesday night was a very satisfying half-hour of television for this viewer, and brought to mind some parallels to the sports media's treatment of the Heat. I'm a big Stewart fan and I consider him among the greatest satirists of his age, armed with intellect, sagacity and an indelible wit that acts as a hot knife through much of both political parties' rancid butter. 

An appearance on The Daily Show goes a long way towards swaying the opinion of twenty-something America, and Jon Stewart has established himself as an influential voice in American politics, especially on the left. The President appeared before an audience that voted for him in droves in 2010, and it was a big deal that he stepped onto The Daily Show set mere days before the midterm election and before Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Stewart sank his teeth into Obama, grilling him with tough questions and even mocking some of the President's more pat responses. The host's plucky interrogation is exactly what fans of show should have expected, the President included. 

And I think you could tell that ol' Barry knew what he was up against, because his responses proved once again that he is a thoughtful, involved, and perspicacious Commander in Chief.  It was clear that he understood Stewart's larger point, that the type of youthful, interested, and enthusiastic folks that watch his show and voted for Obama are among those who feel more than a bit let down after these first two years. The President, while perhaps leaning a bit too far towards pedantry at times, confronted the problems that Stewart presented and preached a mantra of patience and hard work, something that will rub anybody who lives in the Information Age the wrong way. 

Tough shit, says this writer. A lot of media-types criticized the Miami Heat players for putting out the tired cliche that "Rome wasn't built in a day" after their loss to the Celtics, and I think if you had to sum up the President's response to Stewart's criticisms, that old adage would be an apt tag line for his administration as well. Sure it's cliche, but by god if it isn't true. Teams need more than one game to prove their mettle in the sporting world and presidents deserve more than two years in the White House during the middle of a financial and economic crisis to show that they meant what they said on the campaign trail. 

The phrase that keeps coming to mind for me in both cases is "deferred gratification". It's a pair of words that first hit home when I read Cornell West's Democracy Matters, and it's something that he believes our society lacks more and more with each coming day. Our unwillingness to embrace this idea of delayed fulfillment is a result of a culture that focuses on fame, sex, and wealth more than knowledge, love, and understanding. West tells his readers that if we as a society aren't willing to work hard and wait the necessary time for the best things in life, we might never see them come. Even worse, we might be unable to enjoy those good things when they do finally get here.

Whether it be the fate of a sports franchise or the fate of our country, I hope we can all take a deep breath in the coming year and know that great things are possible through hard work and optimism. A knowledge of our ability to triumph in the face of adversity is one of the most enduring lessons of our humanity and one that we must not forget in the present and near future.

Let's give LeBron and Barack a chance to get things right. I'm willing to bet that neither will disappoint.



There's a few things on my mind right now as far as sports goes, so I thought I'd offer up a little olio this post. With the four major American sports all at some level of activity, maybe we can try and touch 'em all...


Gotta start where the last post left off, talking about America's Pastime. I mentioned in my ode to baseball that the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers both faced uphill climbs in their respective Championship Series', but both teams have found a way to take the advantage thus far. The Rangers are up 3-2 on the Yanks as the series heads back to Arlington, and as I strike the keys I've just finished watching the Giants go up 3-1 on the Phillies on a Juan Uribe sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth that gave SF a 6-5 win in game four.

I have to say I'm excited by the idea of a Giants/Rangers World Series, not only to get a couple of fresh teams in the Fall Classic but because both squads teem with exuberance and personality. Brian Wilson (no, not that Brian Wilson) alone has enough charisma to carry a playoff series, but with great stories like Josh Hamilton (who continues what will be a life-long battle with substance abuse) and a couple of pitching phenoms like Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum to boot, it would be an entertaining and hopefully widely watched series. Sure the MLB would have to get over losing out on two huge markets like Philly and NYC, but the rest of the country might not mind. Although considering how many people skipped watching Cliff Lee's dominant performance Monday night in the Bronx to check out an NFL blowout, who knows?


Speaking of the NFL, this weekend was a particularly brutal one as far as big hits went, and the league has taken notice. I watched most of Sunday's games with a group of friends around a big old TV, and we were privy to a handful of hits that had more than a few of us turning our heads to wince. Some fools got jacked this weekend, that's for sure, and now the NFL brass is coming forward to try and limit the violence that is so prevalent in the game. 

The blows leveled on 5'10", 175 lb. DeSean Jackson and the completely defenseless Todd Heap certainly make the NFL's case if you'd like to go ahead and take a gander...

Then again, you might just be thinking what I'm thinking, that the new policy the Shield is putting forward of fines and suspensions for helmet-to-helmet hits and "devastating" tackles on defenseless receivers runs more than a little counter to the product they've been pushing for decades on end. Most news sources have already pointed out that the NFL was selling pictures on its website of some of the hits called into question this weekend, which takes the cake as far as a two-faced gesture is concerned, but it really is laughable for the Shield to blatantly try and piss on the fans and tell them its raining.

Football thrives because of its violence and brutality. Unlike most sports, where knocking the other guy to the ground is deemed to be an avoidable situation that results in penalty or discipline, football and hockey make it part of the action. Neither sport can claim that they want to limit the amount of big hits or violence, because the defensive side of their games rely on physical play and knocking the other dood on his ass. 

I can understand the NFL going to great lengths to avoid any more concussion backlash, considering what science is discovering about athletic concussions and permanent damage, but there's absolutely no way to have the game stay the same and tone down the violence. Football and hockey exist in a violent world and owe much if not all of their allure to the physical nature of the contests. 

The audience wants to see guys get decleated, snot-bubbled, and jacked up, and the NFL has never done anything but promote and sell the product the public is looking for. For them to try and change course midstream after a particularly cringe-worthy weekend of hits is the definition of hypocritical. Ray-Ray agrees with me and so do the majority of NFL defenders. Hell, James Harrison says he's willing to retire if he can't play the game the way he's been taught to play it. He's bluffing, but it shows how much these guys think of themselves as one-man wrecking crews when they strap that helmet on. After all, these lads are out to hurt each other, Tommy.


The closer we get to the season, the more the Carmelo Anthony rumor mill heats up. He's turned down yet another huge offer from the Nuggets to stay in Denver, and he's all but bought his plane ticket out of town, whether that flight happens before, during, or after the season is all that's left to settle. The Knicks now appear to be close to putting together a package that would send Melo to NYC, and after the Nuggets watched LeBron send the Cavs the world's most mean spirited Dear John letter via his "Decision" on ESPN, I'm guessing they want more in return than a bad taste in their mouth for their franchise player.

They'll likely get a bag of garbage from the Knicks, which will include some expiring contracts and Eddie Curry (you make the call as to which is worse) but the more important thing to note here is that this is going to completely destroy the Nuggets chances of remaining a contender. Not only will their best player (and one of the top 10 in the league) be leaving town, but their veteran point guard Chauncey Billups is very close to Melo and Kenyon Martin is already pitching a fit about his new contract. Both players might decide to follow suit and join Carmelo in leaving. So whenever Mr. La La's exodus happens, it will likely set in motion a chain of events that will put the Nuggets back at square one for years to come. Sorry Denver, just remember you do have Timothy Richard to help you through it all.

Well, I suppose that'll do for now. I hit three of the four major sports and at least mentioned hockey, so my work here is done for now. Keep close (Bo Jackson's) Hipsters, I ain't done yet.



As October rolls right along and the fall begins in earnest, the sporting world in America hits what I like to call its sweet spot. The college football season is at its midway point, the NFL season is beginning to take shape, regular season hockey is starting up and the first whiffs of the NBA season can be found in the air as the Association's preseason gets underway. More important than any of that of course, is that the baseball playoffs have begun and with them a rejuvenation of the little boy in this writer, the one that still clings to the National Pastime as the absolute paradigm of grace and elegance in sport. 

Say what you want about the Steroid Era and how boring the game is to watch, for myself and many others, baseball is the ultimate game in many ways. Granted I might be a bit biased as I come off the high of a week in which I watched Ken Burns' Baseball: The Tenth Inning and fell asleep twice with Field of Dreams on the Netflix as I drifted off into dreamland. Nevertheless, I cannot wait for the League Championship Series and the World Series to start playing themselves out. This baseball season in particular has been a fantastic return to form for the game, which is beginning to shake off the last vestiges of the steroid era and complete "The Year of the Pitcher", which will hopefully lead to "The Era of the Pitcher" if we're really lucky.

Yes, baseball saw it's greatest days when freakishly big, performance-enhanced meat heads were killing the ball and sending home runs into the upper atmosphere at record pace, but for a purist like me, there's nothing better than a good pitching duel. This year's playoffs have given us gem after gem when it comes to pitching performances already and this should come as absolutely no surprise to fans of the game. The juice is gone and now the guys on the mound are back on an even playing field. The divisional match-ups (the wild-card round if you're nasty) that just finished up were replete with nearly every elite arm the sport has to offer.

Tim Lincecum, CC Sabbathia, David Price, Cliff Lee and the indomitable Roy Halladay have all given us much to awe at, especially ol' Doc Halladay, who pitched the game's first playoff no-hitter since Don Larsen of the New York Yankees threw a perfect game against the rival Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. With so many of the league's best hurlers on display, this year's playoffs feel like baseball's topsy-turvy ride through the steroid-tainted nineties and aughts has finally leveled out and balance has been restored. Pitching is now just as important as hitting, which always used to be the case anyways.

I've written before about why I love baseball so much. The psychological warfare between hitter and pitcher, the chess match strategy between the managers, the incredible anticipation and graceful athleticism of the defense, the hitter connecting with a 90 mile per hour round ball with a round bat and sending it out and above the lush green grass of the outfield. Yeah, there a lot of reasons to love this game, but as Ken Burns points out in the latest addendum to his Baseball series for PBS, the game owes much of its enduring appeal to the fact that it has changed so little over the century or so since its inception.

The game we watch now is nearly identical to the one folks used to watch on makeshift fields built on empty farmland in the late 19th century. Baseball has a historical allure that few other sports can claim and a connection to the American way of life that is impossible to ignore. If you don't believe me, check out this clip from Field of Dreams. James Earl Jones lays it all out for us as the writer Terrence Mann, a central character in the film that has been brought to Iowa to remember the golden sheen of his childhood as a baseball fan and to try and convince his new pal Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) that people will indeed come to the field he has built in the middle of his cornfield, bank foreclosure be damned.

I nearly cry every time I watch that, no bullshit. For a baseball fan, it's just absolutely true in every way. The game has a purity that cannot be marred, not by the Black Sox scandal (which is at the heart of the plot of Field of Dreams) or the Steroid Era or the greed of players and team owners or the nerdy minutiae that has come with the influence of sabermetrics. It's a game that lacks the violence of football or hockey and doesn't quite have the flash and superstar appeal of the NBA, but one that endures in popularity, with the whir of turnstiles at ballparks and outlandish TV revenues to prove it. 

It has a particular culture, a language, a mystique, and if I might go so far: a soul. When I called this time of year the sporting world's sweet spot, I was borrowing from baseball's large lexicon of original vocabulary, in this case that beautiful part of the bat just past where the Louisville Slugger logo rests, the part that gives a heavenly ride to the baseball as it crosses the plate and connects with a perfectly timed swing. Baseball has a song that everybody knows, a culinary history of cracker jacks and hot dogs and cups of beer, and it doesn't have a clock. Baseball unfurls itself at its own pace and if the point and click world we now call home won't allow you to sit back and watch it spread out on a fall evening in October, I don't know what more I can do to convince you why you should love it.

Now that we're down to four teams in this year's playoffs, the post season has really begun. The Giants play the Phillies in the National League Championship Series, with the Texas Rangers playing the New York Yankees in the AL. The Rangers just won their first playoff series in team history by besting the Tampa Bay Rays and find themselves the underdog against the boys in pinstripes, while the Giants, who made a late season run in the NL West to make it to the post season, find themselves with an equally daunting task against Philly's elite pitching staff. Two seven-game series in their respective leagues are about to be decided over the next week or so, leading to the World Series and all that is right with American sports.

If you've never given baseball the time of day as a viewer, I implore you to do so this October. If this country has the ability to embrace soccer the way it did during this year's World Cup, then the boredom argument just doesn't hold any water. Like the Beautiful Game, baseball is slow moving but captivating. It chugs along at its own pace and takes patience and attention to be enjoyed fully. Take a few hours and let a game spread out in front of you, listen to the poetry of the play-by-play and learn about the subtle nuances of the infield shift. Heck, maybe you'll even learn one of baseball's innumerable unwritten rules, like never making the first or third out trying for third base.

If at first you might groan when someone changes the channel over to the ballgame this October, and you're forced to tell them that you just can't watch baseball, know that for us folks who love it, there isn't any other athletic scratch that will get at our nine-inning-long itch.



When the Washington Redskins played the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday, the storyline was supposed to be all about Donovan McNabb returning to the city to play against the team that traded him away in the off season. McNabb was dealt to the Redskins because the Eagles were confident in his back up, Kevin Kolb, and because they obviously thought his skills were diminishing in the latter part of his career. While it's a long season and we won't know for a while how good McNabb still is (especially on a team that isn't exactly setting the league on fire), a lot of the headlines that would have been focused on his return were shared with the fact that Michael Vick, and not the aforementioned Kolb, is actually the starting QB for the Eagles now. Not only that, but he's been really, really good at his job the last three weeks.

Kolb was concussed in the opening game of the season, and Vick stepped into the role of starter. The two large ironies about this new role are that Philadelphia gave Vick his second chance in the NFL because of the urging of McNabb while he was still in Philly and that Vick himself was subsequently injured early in Sunday's game and replaced by Kolb. All the featured players in the Vick comeback saga were on the field Sunday, and it made for a truly interesting storyline by the end of the day. The Skins beat the Eagles and McNabb found some revenge, but the shuffling at the QB position for Philadelphia is just getting to be too much to follow.

To (try and) sum it up:

A year ago McNabb urges Philly to sign Vick as a third string QB, Philly then trades McNabb to allow Kevin Kolb, the second stringer, to become the starting QB in the off season. Next, Kolb gets hurt allowing Vick to be the starting QB, and then Vick gets hurt to give the job back to Kolb three games later--that last step in a game played between McNabb's old team and his new one. If you're a little lost, you're not the only one, Vick's return to the field has been anything but typical.

Up until week two this season, Vick hadn't started at QB since returning to the NFL after his prison sentence (you may remember something involving an illegal dog-fighting operation?) and the way he's played in the first three games has blown just about everybody away. He looks like himself again, only better. He's more comfortable in the pocket and knows how to use his game-changing quickness and running ability only when he has to. Up until his injury on Sunday, he was once again a starting quarterback for an NFL franchise and off to what can only be called an impressive start through the first three weeks of play.

Vick is a lightning rod, there's no two ways about it. Everybody's got an opinion on the former Hokie now that he's done his time in the pokey and is back playing like (if not better than) he used to when he was under center for the Atlanta Falcons. I've brought the topic of Vick up when surrounded by sports fans and non-sports fans alike, and it only lends more credence to my thought that the guy is the most fascinating topic of discussion in the sporting world since Mike Tyson.

Like Tyson, who served a jail sentence for raping a beauty queen, Vick's crime is heinous and without justification. He bank rolled a dog-fighting ring and did the time for his truly gut-wrenching crime. The reason Vick is so debated and hated and stuck up for all at the same time is due to a lot of intersecting factors, which I'd like to explore even though the story has lost some luster now that Vick's ribs appear to be in pieces after a literally bone-crunching hit early in Sunday's game.

I get in trouble with a lot of my pals for sticking up for Vick, something I don't do with unequivocal pride, but with the belief that second chances are as American as apple pie. I wrote in a previous post about the demise of Roger Clemens' public image, and about how the Rocket was going through a familiar cycle that many celebrities have taken a trip around. He was built up to hero status, only to be torn down as a cheater and a liar. The third step in this celebrity scandal process for a lot of transgressors is to be built back up again by the public that has both loved and scorned them. It's that last step that I want nothing to do with when it comes to Clemens, but something I am willing to do for Michael Vick.

Vick's crimes are absolutely beyond the pale. Torturing animals for personal entertainment is one of the worst things I can possibly imagine a person can do, and it's why so many people will never, ever give Vick the time of day again. In a lot of people's eyes, the man is evil incarnate and shouldn't be on the street today, let alone on a football field throwing touchdown passes in front of sold out crowds and millions of viewers at home. It sickens a lot of people that the guy is making around $4 million this year when he did what he did (though with all of the folks that he owes money, and the ins and outs of contract negotiation, he ain't gonna see nearly that much, but that's beside the point).

I get all that. I do. But I just think that Vick deserves that second chance that I won't give Roger Clemens. For one, he did his time. He went to a federal penitentiary for almost two years, where not only the glory of the football field was taken from him, but his freedom. I've never seen the inside of a jail cell, but I can imagine that going from NFL superstar to federal inmate for a year or so has an affect on the way you look at the world. I think that Vick came out of prison apologetic, repentant, and focused.

I think he looks at life through a lens that few of us who criticize him can understand, and I don't think that being convicted and then punished for his crimes means that he doesn't get to do his job anymore now that his freedom has been restored. I have absolutely no beef with the guy being allowed to play quarterback in the NFL again, because while that profession is indeed a privilege and not a right, he happens to play the sport that is one of the world's only true meritocracies. If you're good, you play. If you're the best at your position on the team, you start. If you're head and shoulders above the rest of the guys that play your position, you're a superstar. It's that simple.

It's the reason that Vick would never have been black-listed by the NFL, and I think it will end up helping him become a much better person at the end of the day. The guy is a creep, okay, I get that, but I certainly don't wish a wasted life upon anyone, considering how lucky everybody on this planet is to be able to live one out. Moments are precious, and I bet if you ask Vick if he now knows that, he wouldn't be able to get the "yes sir" out of his mouth fast enough.

Let's be honest, no matter how much or little jail time he did, it wasn't going to erase the fact that he murdered animals and funded a dog-fighting ring. Nothing is ever going to get that stain off of Vick and there is absolutely no way around that. So what are we to do, as a society? We've jailed him, scorned him in the public eye and belittled him in every way. Guess what? He's still here. He's still a person and one that happens to be blessed with freakish athletic talents that have never been seen at the position he plays on the field.

The real reason I like Vick as a redemption story so much is that he seems to be genuinely appreciative of his second chance at life and more importantly, because he has learned so much from his mistakes (something this writer struggles with doing on a daily basis). It's hard to recognize your faults and have the will to make changes that will correct them. If you watched the interview Vick sat down for on Fox NFL Sunday or this one, where he talks to his former coach Jim Mora, you cannot deny his authenticity or his commitment to change. His outlook has completely shifted and he is using his second act in the NFL to redirect the public gaze away from his talents as a quarterback and towards positive avenues off the field.

With the support of the Humane Society, Vick now uses his celebrity status and his tenure as dog-fighting ringmaster and federal inmate to try and show kids what not to do and the public in general why dog-fighting must be eradicated. Sure, the second part seems like common sense, but it is obviously a fight that must be had, because Michael Vick isn't the only guy in the country that has pit animal against animal for their own entertainment. The problem continues in many parts of the country, especially the southern United States, and he is now doing everything he can to help animal rights groups make it a thing of the past.

So if you want to hate Vick, go ahead and hate him, I'm just not coming along for the ride. I for one admire a man that can sink so low and pull himself back up a changed person and a positive influence. I've always enjoyed watching him on the football field, but now I can also enjoy his story as a tale of a man redeemed by his own failures. I'm not going to forgive him for what he did, but I'm not going to make him suffer for trying to make it right either.