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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.

The Wimbledon Champ and the Olympian

7 Jul

In honor of Rafael Nadal, who defeated Roger Federer after the longest Wimbledon men’s final in history yesterday (nearly 5 hours!), and Michael Phelps, who has competed in seven events and broken two world records at the U.S. Olympic Swimming trials (so far), I present a protein bar fit for a champion!

Cast of characters:
1 cup soy protein powder (I used vanilla flavored)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup puffed brown rice
1/2 cup oat bran
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups plain fat free yogurt
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. salt

Hardware:
2 mixing bowls
1 greased 9×13 pan
1 greased cookie sheet

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you’re using a glass 9×13 pan, make it 325.

First, mix all of your dry ingredients together. If you use your hands, it’s easier to get the brown sugar broken up.

When you finish, it will look something like this:

Next, whisk together the yogurt, peanut butter and vanilla until smooth.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. You’ll need to use your hands near the end as it has the texture of very stiff cookie dough.

Press the dough evenly into the greased 9×13 pan and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan and cut into 16 bars. A pizza cutter is useful here.

Arrange the cut bars on a cookie sheet.

Return the bars to the oven for another 15 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. If you like crispier bars (I do), simply turn the oven off after 15 minutes and leave them in the warm oven for up to 45 minutes.

The facts (per bar): 205 calories, 6 grams of fat, 26 grams of carbohydrates, and 16 grams of protein.

One of the great things about this recipe is it’s versatility. If you want it to be dairy free, replace the yogurt with silken tofu, mashed banana, or applesauce. Trade out the chocolate chips for dried fruit and/or nuts if you want to go even healthier.

I Remember Petr Nedved (and Keith Primeau, too.)

3 Jun

Migrated from ESPN.com blog on Feb. 2, 2011

Originally published June 3, 2008
Last night started out innocently enough. I donned the Mario Lemieux jersey that’s been in my possession since I was nine years old, poured myself a glass of wine, and sat down to watch game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

I figured this one was going to be a doozy, considering the Pens were backed into a “do or die” situation. I expected an evening of heavy hits, scuffles, rocket shots, and goalies doing moves most gymnasts would envy.

With the Pens up 2-1 at the end of the second period, I was just praying they could hang on to the lead and force a game 6 back in Pittsburgh. I barely blinked and suddenly it was 3-2 Detroit.

But it wasn’t those goals that made this game such a jaw-dropping affair. It was what happened with barely 30 seconds left in the game. By then, I was preparing to accept the celebration that would be happening soon. I flinched when I thought about Detroit raising the cup, but I couldn’t argue that they hadn’t fought hard for it. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw Max Talbot. There he was, on the left side of Chris Osgood, shuffling his feet almost nervously and watching for any sign of the puck. It finally arrived. “Shoot it! Shoot it!” I screamed, while my dog looked at me with a confused expression. The first attempt bounced back at him and my heart sank. In the very same second, Talbot batted it past the line and into the left corner of Chris Osgood’s goal. I think I almost blacked out.

Overtime.

Would it be the happy 1996 game vs. the Capitals where Petr Nedved put it to bed in quadruple overtime? Would it be the demoralizing 2000 game vs. the Flyers where Keith Primeau made a shot in quintuple overtime? I didn’t even consider the thought of it being short. Neither team was ready to give up a goal. It took 49 minutes and 57 seconds. By that time, the red on the Red Wings’ jerseys was bleeding into the white, Fleury and Osgood looked as though they were in trances, the bruise Ryan Malone sustained from a shot to the face during the third period was rainbow colored, and the legs of most of the players were jiggling with exhaustion. I can only imagine that they were running on pure adrenaline.

It was a different Petr who was the hero this time. This was the Petr Sykora that said jokingly to the NBC broadcasters in between overtime periods, “Guys, I’m just going to get one, so just don’t worry about the game. I’m going to get a goal.” With that final shot, Sykora sent the Cup back to it’s case and the series back home to the Mellon Arena. Intense. Incredible. And I absolutely cannot wait for Wednesday night. Go Pens!!!

A Moment of Nostalgia

19 May

Migrated from ESPN.com blog February 2, 2011

Originally published May 19, 2008

I usually try to keep this blog tied to current events in sports, but this may stray from that a bit. Yesterday the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 6-0 (ouch) to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals. I’m reading the local free paper on the Washington D.C. Metro this morning and see a picture of an elated Pascal Dupuis celebrating after his second goal of the evening. I can barely sit still. It’s the same maddening feeling I had two years ago when I realized that the Steelers were going to Super Bowl XL.

I was living in Boston and had to have had the most beaming smile on my face for the whole week before (and then after!) the Super Bowl. What’s so maddening about this feeling? Well, there’s no one to share it with when you live in a different city. In Pittsburgh, I know they must be bubbling over with nervous excitement. That is when I suddenly feel nostalgic and long for home.

In the Spring of 1992, I was almost seven years old. Every day my dad would get the paper and after he read it, I would take the sports section and clip out the latest article about the dominating Penguins. I had a binder full of those, along with trading cards for all of my favorite players. Like most Pittsburghers, I was a die-hard Lemieux fan. At such a young age, I didn’t completely understand all of the terminology, but I knew enough to understand that Lemieux was the best player I’d ever seen on skates and that the Pens had a chance to be back to back champions. I understood that the games the Pens were playing at that time were really important. I knew that they had to win them or get eliminated from having a chance to be the champions.

Looking back on it now, I can barely remember specifics about those final games sweeping the Blackhawks. The only thing that remains crystal clear is the image of Super Mario hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head to the sounds of deafening cheers.

…Then suddenly, I’m back on the D.C. Metro, wishing I could wear the Lemieux jersey I’ve loved since I was nine to work. (I’m ever grateful to my parents who bought it in an adult size that I can still wear at age 22!) I’m wishing I could be in Pittsburgh, hearing the Strip District buzzing with excitement, eating over-filled sandwiches at Primanti’s over game highlights, and home in that town full of black and gold.

Two stops later, a gentleman gets on the train wearing a Penguins ball cap. Shortly before I get off at my stop, I tell him that I like his hat and ask if he is excited for the upcoming finals. He answers with an elated “yes!” Not surprisingly, we are both transplants to the area from fairly close parts of Pittsburgh. As I exit the train and begin walking toward the escalator, I catch a glance of him through the train window. His smile is beaming, and I wonder if he’s back home for a moment too…

Go Pens!

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.

The Failure of Sexism

9 May

Migrated from ESPN.com blog February 2, 2011

Originally published May 9, 2008

In three separate conversations on ESPN today, I saw the following comments:

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, lady. Why don’t you go do some laundry or something?”

“lol you know what the (team) and women have in common? The only thing they’re good for is laying on their backs and taking it.”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you a girl or something?”

While none of these comments were aimed in my direction, I found myself suddenly very cautious of making any statements in conversations that might give a clue as to my gender(People rarely click on my profile). After awhile, I felt drained, almost like I was walking on eggshells and took a break to have some lunch. I got to thinking and this is what transpired…

It’s hard not to respond to those comments. I tried doing that on another message board I used to frequent and it just brought the ridicule onto me. Suddenly from all sides I was being quizzed on statistics, players, how long I had been a fan, if I actually owned a jersey that was my team’s colors (rather than the powder pink teams so often make now), if I played fantasy football or just had my boyfriend draft my team, etc…

I called it “The Curse of the Female Fan.” We’re seemingly always forced to double and triple prove our allegiances and sports knowledge before we’re taken seriously. As an experiment one year, I joined two random fantasy football leagues. In one, the participants knew I was female, and in the other, I remained anonymous. To be honest with you, I didn’t really think it would make a difference. I thought maybe I was just being a little paranoid. Then the draft came…

“Is your boyfriend helping you make your picks?”

“Hey, sweetie, 30 seconds, make a pick!”

“Ha ha, girls can’t make hard decisions. It’s cute.”

Now, my male friends in the real world have never treated me like this. I think internet anonymity had a lot to do with how crass this group of people was, but at the same time, they almost always used my gender as an insult. In the other league, I was most certainly taunted during the draft, but it was things like:

“LOL Brian Westbrook?? Accident-prone!”

“Make your pick. We haven’t got all day.”

I did fairly well in both leagues, but only in the one where I named my gender did people try to get me to do unbelievably stupid trades. We’re talking, “Hey, I’ll give you Chris Chambers for Peyton Manning.” Yeah. That bad.

As discouraging as the experience was, it made me see that to be taken seriously, I would have to really know my stuff.

And you know what? I’m not bitter about that. It’s made me a better fan. It’s forced me to do my reading and my research before I make any statements. Feeling like I had something to prove made me learn more about sports than I ever thought I’d be able to. So, thank you to the sexist fantasy football team members, wherever you may be. Your insults backfired.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy about the sexism I see in ESPN conversations from time to time. But what those people don’t realize is that they’re simply making themselves look unintelligent and unable to form a coherent argument. If someone can’t argue sports without mocking gender, then they probably don’t know enough about the topic to make an argument in the first place.

So what if I have to know a little extra? Maybe it’s not such a curse after all…