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Jonesing for some football…

6 Aug

So it seems that all has come to a stalemate in the “retired-just-kidding-what-do-you-mean-I-can’t-start?” drama between Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Mike McCarthy announced last night that Aaron Rodgers will remain the starting quarterback and that Favre’s future will not be with the Packers. Rumors of trade negotiations between Green Bay and Tampa Bay have already surfaced. If that’s true, I actually feel really bad for Tampa Bay’s current starter, Jeff Garcia. He’s actually started to produce a decent offense down there, and to get shoved out by Favre’s ego would be a slap in the face (in my opinion).

And yet, I can’t get too mad because, like it or not, the NFL is a business. If the Bucs, Jets, or any other team showing interest in Favre thinks that he’s the best chance their franchise has for success, of course they’re going to take it! They’d be stupid not to. With a guy like Favre, ticket sales, merchandise sales, and publicity would skyrocket. Whoever has Favre this season is going to be in the spotlight whether the team has a horrific season or a great one. Everyone is going to be watching to see what happens. This soap opera is going to reach Mike Vick proportions.

Elsewhere around the NFL, training camps continue with the usual random injuries, hold-outs, and competitions for depth chart positions. Mostly, I’ve just been keeping an eye on the black and gold. I was VERY excited to see James Walker’s recent report from the Steelers training camp. This season has potential to be the best of Roethlisberger’s career thanks to the weapons and defense being built up around him. That’s not to say the upcoming season will be a piece of cake. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Their opponents this season have a .598 winning percentage giving the Steelers the hardest strength of schedule in the NFL. On tap they have games against the entire NFC East (and I live with a Redskins fan!), a Jaguars team that was very strong last season, the ever in sync Colts, Patriots, and two potentially tough games against their division rivals, the Cleveland Browns. As much as it pains me to say it, Cleveland has the players to be a very competitive team this season. Their question mark lies in the players’ ability to create a team chemistry.

What gives me confidence are the reports of good mentoring to the rookies on the parts of the veteran Steelers players. Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall could prove to be a dangerous two-back tandem.

Oh, and did I mention that 12 year vetern Hines Ward was voted the NFL’s smartest offensive (non-quarterback) player by the NFL coaches?

That’s right, behind that never-ending grin is a player who can study a defense quickly on the field and adjust his route/timing as necessary. That’s a big advantage for the passing game.

On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh returns this season with most of it’s top-ranked defense intact. The injury bug has been around already to aggravate Troy Polamalu’s hamstring and James Harrison’s groin, but the way I see it I’d rather it happen now than mid-season.

The only lasting training camp injury that hampers the Steelers is Daniel Sepulveda’s ACL tear, in his kicking leg no less. Sepulveda is set for surgery and currently out for the season. His ability to bury offenses on the other side of the field was a huge boon to Pittsburgh’s defense, and now someone will have to come in and fill those shoes.

The Steelers’ preseason begins this Friday evening versus the Philadelphia Eagles. I doubt we’ll see much of the starters, but I admit I’m very curious to see if Donovan McNabb is as healthy as the Eagles are claiming him to be.

Also starting this Friday are the Beijing Olympics! From last week’s post, I’m sure you all can tell how excited I am for that. Not too much else is going on in Neen’s world this week. According to UPS, my package from Vitalady should be delivered today, so I’m really hoping I can try some new protein bars/ice creams and share some more recipes with my wonderful readers.

I hope that everyone is having a wonderful week. If you’re feeling discouraged (I was last night after an experiment gone wrong in the kitchen), remember that you can always seek advice and try again. Things don’t always work out the first (or even the second) time, but if you resolve to keep trying and remain determined to reach your goals, you’ll surely make it. Keep thinking positive! Ciao for now.

Like a Beautiful Flower…

16 Jul

…Pre-season NFL drama is beginning to unfold. Here are some stories from the week.

Brett Favre

No one doubts that he is one of the greatest QBs to ever lead a team. He stuck with a team for 17 years, which is certainly rare in football anymore. After last season, he decided to retire. In March he said you had second thoughts, and now he wants to come back. But he doesn’t want to just come back, he wants to be the starter. However, the team moved forward with a new gameplan following Brett’s retirement and Aaron Rodgers took the helm. Now here comes Favre, telling the Packers organization to throw Rodgers back on the bench. They refuse and he asks to be released from his contract or traded so that he can play as a starter elsewhere. Messes like this are no good for team morale, especially a team with such drastic offseason changes to begin with. I can understand Favre wanting to be released, and personally I think the Packer’s excuse of “we’re just trying to protect his legacy” is a load of bull. It’s obvious that it’s in their best interest to keep Favre if he’s reinstated because then they have a solid seasoned veteran behind Rodgers. It’s Favre’s decision what his legacy will be. While the Packers front office has said that they will definitely not release Favre from his contract, the possibility of a trade has been left open. Where to then? The Bears and Vikings could certainly use a solid QB, but what a slap in the face to the fans who supported him for so long.

 

Today, Favre said it would be tempting to show up at Green Bay’s training camp and “call their bluff” just to see what would happen. To me, that seems rather juvenile for a 38 year old man. I understand Favre’s side of it and I understand the Packers organization (with the exception of the “legacy” remark). Where it goes from here depends on who is willing to budge first.


Peyton Manning
All I can say is, “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” For the past three years, Manning has been my go-to guy in fantasy football drafts. You bet your bottom dollar that if he’s on the board, I’ll snag him the first chance I get. Why? Consistency. I could rely on Peyton to get me those few extra passing yard/passing touchdown points during weeks when my other players were lagging. But now, I face a conundrum. My iron man had surgery on Monday to remove an infected bursa sac in his left knee. The verdict? He’s out 4-6 weeks, sure to miss the rest of training camp and possibly the pre-season. The hovering question in my mind is “Will he be sharp and ready for the regular season?” Here’s the problem as I see it. Missing camp, scrimmages, and preseason games utterly executes the chances of developing new plays and rhythm with receivers and running backs. Manning, the king of the audible, calls most of his plays at the line, which makes that rhythm even more important. As they say, “practice makes perfect” and without enough practice to make it subconscious, Manning and the Colts could be in some serious trouble.

Now my own offseason becomes a little more dramatic in terms of draft-planning. Do I take the risk that Manning could come back full-strength and draft him early? Or do I get a different QB and perhaps Manning in a later round as a back-up (should he still be available) and then evaluate performance as it happens? It’s all up in the air at this point. We never draft until mid-preseason. I personally think a July draft is foolish because you never know who might tweak something during training camp. Having time to see how players are meshing and producing during training camp affords me time to evaluate my own thoughts and biases. I’d love to post who I’m already keeping an eye on, but that would give my opponents insight that I don’t think they need. I’ve got a new method in mind this year, and will report throughout the season on whether or not it is succeeding.

My last item of drama comes from the “Really? They’re spending money on that?” department. The NFL has hired experts to study game footage to determine if players are flashing gang signs at the crowd as part of their on-field celebrations. Problem number one: What is a gang sign in one city is simply a sign for “ok” in another. Problem number two: players throw up hand signs that have meaning to them in several ways (i.e. college fraternaties, sign for their kids to see on TV) How on earth do you differentiate who is throwing up a gang sign and who simply used a hand sign to say hi to their kid? If the signs have different meaning in different places, it pretty much becomes a guessing game. Really, NFL? I’d be more focused on the ridiculous number of players who have committed serious crimes during the offseason and studying why this behavior is becoming more prevalent. It tarnishes your organization when someone representing it goes out and buys a bunch of drugs and then decides to use them while driving a car. I’m certainly not saying that the NFL is responsible for that behavior, but I think it would be of benefit to them to enforce a stricter code of conduct.

Of course there’s the usual slew of players refusing to report to camp until contract disputes are resolved, but in my opinion that’s less drama and more greed.

With the Olympics and pre-season football coming up next month, I’m sure there will be a lot more stories to report on, and this of course means more pictures of Michael Phelps. But just in case you can’t wait that long, here’s one for good measure:

Fun Fact: It takes 8,000-10,000 calories a day to fuel this man. Amazing.

Shut the Spygate on Your Way Out

13 May

Migrated from ESPN.com blog February 2, 2011

Originally published May 13, 2008
I’ll be the first to admit that I think Roger Goodell’s handling of the Patriot’s videotaping scandal showed extremely poor judgment. He spoke before he had all of the evidence, he gave punishment for what he said was one thing (taping defensive signals) and then later admitted that the punishment was for taping defensive AND offensive signals as far back as 2000, and last but not least, he destroyed the evidence (Big no-no there, Roger).

But today was the day it was all to finally come to a conclusion. At 7:30 a.m, Mr. Goodell would be meeting with the infamous Matt Walsh to discuss the tapes Walsh handed over to the NFL (after, of course brokering a deal to protect him from his previous employer, the NE Patriots).

For the past week, I’ve read every single argument possible for and against the Patriots. It was obvious from the start that no conclusion would ever satisfy both sides, and it was even more obvious that no one was backing down on their position. So I decided to wait. I said “I still feel like a lot of teams were cheated out of a fair chance, however if Goodell says that these tapes show nothing new and there will be no further sanctions, I will let this go and move on.”

And that is exactly what he did. Whether there really was nothing new, or what was on the destroyed tapes was never fully revealed, or any of the other theories out there, it no longer mattered. The Commissioner had spoken.

He left a lot of people feeling cheated, and a lot feeling vindicated. He simply left me feeling confused. I had so many questions I wanted him to answer. Tell me why you destroyed the tapes in the first place, tell me why you didn’t reveal all the information you had at one time, or just tell me why so little of what you did in handling this makes sense!

But my questions won’t be answered. Goodell is done, and the gate is locked up tight. There are only two choices: Break down the gate, or accept that the gate is locked and move on to something new. I’ve never been one for the destruction of property.

Cable Monopoly vs. The NFL Devotee

7 May

Migrated from ESPN.com blog February 2, 2011

Originally published May 7, 2008

To say that I am displeased with the current state of cable television is an understatement.

According to a report by the Consumer Federation of America, “Approximately 40% of the top channels (measured by subscription or prime time ratings), which command the highest prices, are owned in whole or in part by cable operators or companies that have large ownership stakes in cable companies.”

**Actually, for my sanity’s sake, and the fact that this is a blog, and not in any way a scholarly paper, please take note that any statistics/facts I reference have come from the above mentioned report.**

Cable companies have continually argued that the reason for price increases is two-fold. One, that the cost of programming has gone up, and two, that they need increased profit margins to put system upgrades in place. With little research, these arguments are quickly shot down. In answer to the first argument, the expensive channels are largely those owned by the cable companies (thus they’re profiting from them anyway). If cost were truly the reason for price increases, their profit margins would not be rising so rapidly. Operating revenue increased 30% per subscriber between 1997 and 2001. I somehow don’t believe that the cost of programming has “forced” cable companies to raise prices by an average margin of close to $10 per subscriber per month (and that was as of 2001–it has continued to rise).

Returning to the fact that 40% of these expensive channels are owned by the cable companies, we realize that the money is going directly back into their pockets. As long as they continue to monopolize and force out other providers, (like satellite–which has had the FCC refuse any mergers that might give them any hope of competing with cable), there will be no such thing as competitive pricing.

The truth is that it would cost those cable companies 2 cents per subscriber per day to offer the NFL Network on a basic cable package. They refuse to do this because NFLN is an independent channel (not owned by them) and so the money doesn’t immediately come back to them. It’s much better to line their pockets with profits from offering less popular (yet more expensive) channels like Golf and Versus in the basic package. You may never watch them (or maybe you do, I have nothing against golf), but you’ll certainly pay through the nose for them.

The FCC must be compeled to allow new competition into the market via satellite and wireless providers. They have to stop allowing cable companies to monopolize multi-unit dwellings in order to facilitate fair competition. Finally, they need to put in place better nondiscrimination rules to keep cable companies from stifling independent networks or relegating them to “special packages” only.

In the past several years, my cable bill increased from approximately $50/month to somewhere in the neighborhood of $90/month. It was at that point that I could no longer justify paying for it. Do I miss ESPN and NFL Network? Of course I do.

But until there are some regulations in place to benefit consumers and independent networks, the bar or an internet game tracker will have to do.

Thoughts on Pittsburgh, PA as the True Titletown

2 May

Migrated from ESPN.com blog February 2, 2011.

Originally published on my ESPN.com blog on May 2, 2008

Also¬† published by ESPN.com as part of their “Titletown” series on June 18, 2008 at: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/titletown/news/story?id=3448538

 

I grew up in a city more devoted to it’s sports teams than perhaps anything else. Until I was 18 years old, I never lived anywhere else and just assumed that everywhere was like Pittsburgh. I just assumed that people, no matter who they were, loved their local sports team. Ask anyone in Pittsburgh if they love the black and gold, and I can nearly guarantee that you will hear a resounding “yes!”

When I moved away to college, I met people from all over the United States. Every time I met someone, I would consider the sports teams in the vicinity of their hometown and ask, “So, you’re from (city), I guess you’re a (insert local team) fan, right?”

And for the first time, I heard “No, not really.”

Really?

Back home, I remembered the jubilance of an entire city after back to back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992, the entire section in the paper devoted to Mario Lemieux following his first retirement, the stories of the legendary men that were the Steelers of the 1970s, the tears following Super Bowl XXX, and the sense of nostalgia the day they tore down Three Rivers Stadium. The whole city had this one thing in common, this complete solidarity no matter what. Two years ago, when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, I was watching from my apartment in Boston, MA. After the game, tears were streaming down my face. I was overwhelmed with happiness to see the team I loved so much win the big game, but there was a distinct sadness too. There was nothing I wished more than that I could be in Pittsburgh, because I knew it had to be an incredible sight.

I have heard the argument that “no town without the big four should even be considered for Titletown,” but I challenge you to find fans more dispersed throughout the world who maintain their loyalty. It doesn’t disappear when they transplant to a different city, it doesn’t so much as shake. I’ve found fans in Boston, MA and even so far as the Netherlands. To those who would still argue that fandom doesn’t make a Titletown, I say that Pittsburgh has grown athletes like Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, and Ken Griffey, Jr. who have brought admiration to their respective franchises. It’s been the hometown of respected coaches like Marvin Lewis, Marty Schottenheimer, Terry Francona, and Dick Nolan. What’s more, that’s just a fraction of the talent to come out of Pittsburgh. Consider then, what Pittsburgh athletes have contributed to teams across the nation.

I live in Washington, DC now, and for the first time in a long time, I’m close enough to make the drive home every so often. Each time, I love to walk through Pittsburgh’s Strip District and watch the endless sea of black and gold caps, with a blue and gold thrown in here and there to salute the Pitt Panthers. They’re all there, remembering the 5 World Series, 5 Super Bowls, 2 Stanley Cups, and countless number of titles from the University of Pittsburgh’s sports programs. It’s the “City of Champions,” the “Cradle of Quarterbacks,” and it is most assuredly Titletown, USA.