Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hammers Going Crazy, Looking Good

This is just crazy.

West Ham has signed two of Argentina's brightest young talents, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. Am I the only one who had no idea this was coming? Both had been linked to Manchester United and Chelsea and just about any other huge club with incredibly deep pockets, but West Ham? Shocking. The Hammers have just climbed a hill and bellowed their intentions to be taken very, very seriously.

It was only a year ago that West Ham earned its way back into the Premiership after an absence of several years and had a surprisingly successful campaign, even reaching the final of the FA Cup. Now they seem intent on shouldering their way in among the big boys permanently. Personally, I had already penciled the Hammers in to be a surprise team this season, but these signings give them a legit shot at earning a spot in the Champions League for next year. I think it's fairly safe to say that Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool will earn three of the four spots, and Arsenal would have to be considered the favorite for the final spot, but West Ham may have just changed all that.

Of course, South Americans have had spotty results playing in England. Traditionally, they tend to find more success in Italy, Spain and elsewhere. But Alan Pardew, for my money, is arguably the best coach in the EPL and I suspect he'll get plenty out of the two youngsters.

Bottom line? Things just got very interesting at the top of the EPL.

One Comically Bad Goal, One Point For Each Team

Fire 2, Dynamo 2

In the end, the Fire's 2-2 tie with Houston on Wednesday night at Toyota Park was enough to keep its unbeaten streak alive at six games (though the five-game winning streak has come to an end.) This is not a bad thing.

That said, the tie was a bit hard to stomach considering Dynamo's second goal was probably the most ridiculous I've seen in MLS. Ever. I'm not kidding. Perhaps I'm forgetting and odd goal here or there, but I can't recall an MLS goal so comical and, sadly for the Fire, undeserved. Honestly, I'm still not over it. I'm still stunned. How did that happen? That should never have happened.

What happened exactly? Well, let me for a moment relive the gory details. Justin Mapp, who otherwise played a solid game, committed a horrible giveaway at midfield. Horrible. He simply lost the ball and then made a feeble effort to win it back. De Rosario, a plucky Canuck if ever there was one, won the ball, took a touch, looked towards the Fire's goal, and unleashed a shot from midfield - yes, he was at midfield - that was taken with an abundance of pure hope and nothing else. It was a total oh-why-the-hell-not moment. De Rosario's thinking was obviously "OK, Zach Thornton's off his goalline. I have no help...Ah, screw it. What can it hurt? I'll give it a try from this ludicrous distance."

I'm guessing De Rosario had little to no expectations whatsoever of the ball actually going into the net. He was asking for a miracle. It was strictly a shot in the dark. Hell, it was barely even a shot. It was like a punt in the NFL, soaring straight up in the air, hanging there, and slowly coming down.

Thornton quickly began backpedalling, but the shot was so high and long that there was little doubt that he'd race back in time to make an easy save. Right? Right? Well, Thornton did get back in time. Technically. Oh, he was there. Unfortunately, instead of simply catching the ball, he made one ill-advised, inexplicable punch at the ball, which skimmed his fist and somehow snuck into the corner of the net. I have no idea why he didn't just catch the ball. There was no player from either team within 30 yards of him. It made no sense. Why punch the ball? And such a horrible punch it was. He looked like a drunkard in a blindfold trying to punch a fly.

The entire scene was just...weird. From Mapp's awful giveaway to Thorton's goofy mishap, the term "comedy of errors" was never more apt. I hope to never see the Fire give up such a cheap goal again, and chances are, I won't...because that was about as cheap as it gets.

Oh, well. It's over now. It's time to move on. And to be honest, perhaps the 2-2 draw was the fairest result. Neither side clearly controlled the flow of play nor had a clear advantage in the chances department. In a match pitting the second place teams from the two respective conferences, both sides were able to walk away with a deserved point. And for the Fire, who trailed after De Rosario's answered request for a miracle, the tie was a bit of a relief.

Mapp had given the Fire the lead in the 36th minute with a well-rifled low shot just inside the post. Having recently been moved into a more central midfield poistion, as opposed to on the wing, Mapp these days is looking like arguably the Fire's most creative and dangerous attacking player when he has the ball on his foot, especially his tricky left foot. However, Mapp also has a tendency to float aimlessly and look borderline, well, lazy when he doesn't have the ball, especially where defense is involved. This Mapp quote from today's Chicago Tribune bothered me:

"I'm feeling more comfortable out there in the attacking midfielder position," Mapp said. "It gives me more space and I don't have to worry about coming back on defense as much."

Um, what? He doesn't like to "worry" about defense? Really? It's a good thing the Fire is on a six-match unbeaten streak, because if Mapp ever muttered such a ludicrous and infuriating statement while the team was in a rough patch, he might run the risk of being tarred and feathered by angry Fire fans. That statement is simply absurd. If Mapp has had a weakness it's always been that he's sort of one-dimensional. He's lively in the attack, and looks good when he has the ball, but he's a liability when tracking back on defense - if he even tracks back at all. Dave Sarachan needs to explain to Mapp that, yes, defense is the responsibilty of everyone. Everyone. Especially someone positioned in the center of the midfield. Does Mapp expect the opposition to be allowed to waltz right down the center of the field simply because he's an "attacking midfielder" and defense should be left to others?

Speaking of defense and liabilities in the midfield, Nate Jaqua is completely out of place on the right side. Despite standing (I'm guesssing) 6-4, he rarely wins balls in the air, loses his man in coverage, and offers little to the attack from a position on the wing. On Dynamo's first goal, Jaqua had a chance to head the ball out of danger directly off of a freek kick, but didn't, despite marking a Dynamo player several inches shorter than him. The result was a scrum in front of the net with the ball ultimately crossing the Fire goalline for a goal that was far from pretty, nor much deserved. If Jaqua has a position most suited for him, it's coming off the bench as a striker in the second half of games. Sort of like Peter Crouch for England. When the opposing defense is tired late, send Jaqua in to cause havoc in the box. Otherwise, he offers little.

In the second half, Sarachan's hands were tied as far as substitutions go. While some may have accused him of playing it too safe and settling for the tie, he really had no choice. With Chad Barrett recently shelved for 6-8 weeks with a foot injury and Chris Rolfe seemingly never healthy, there were simply no strikers to turn to. The result was the insertion of Thiago and Brian Plotkin into the midfield. These moves weren't the sexy choice. They didn't scream of going for the jugular. But they were, really, the only options.

Of course, Sarachan may have played it safe even if did have strikers on the bench to turn to. He's been accused of such boring tactics before. In this case, however, he'll get the benefit of the doubt.

Very late in the game, Gonzalo Segares botched what would have been a beautiful game-winner and that was that. It looked like an easy chance to finish, and Segares should have done so, but as I said, the draw was probably in the cards on this night.

Fire player ratings (On a scale of 1-10; 10 being Maradona circa 1986, 1 being Landon Donovan against the Czechs in 2006.)

Zach Thornton - 6. The absolutely ridiculous goal given up to DeRosario, obviously, affects Thornton's rating here. Had he been a newbie making his first appearance for the Fire and made a mistake that comically horrendous, he would have been sent packing immediately after the game. Of course, Thornton has built up years and years of love here in Chitown, so we can laugh about it now. Thornton did make a crucial save on a De Rosario breakaway late in the game.

Tony Sanneh - 7: Both Dynamo goals were borderline lucky and not really the fault of the Fire defense. One was a free kick following a foul by (I think) Armas in the midfield, the other was De Rosario's joke of a goal. Sanneh anchored a backline that was, for the most part, solid. He was also the most lively Fire player at the end. When others seemed content to settle for the tie, Sanneh pushed forward and almost set up Calen Carr with the winner in the dying seconds with a nifty pass. As a fan sitting behind me said at that point, "Sanneh wants to win." Exactly. He wanted the full three points and you have to love that.

Dasan Robinson - 5: Robinson committed some ugly giveaways in the second half, but his hard tackling and in-your-face style meant Dynamo had few productive offensive attacks on his side of the field. Also, on Segares' ugly miss late in the game, Robinson was right there to head in the winner had Segares not botched it. Robinson could have, should have, would have been the hero for the second game in a row.

C.J. Brown - 6: Opposite Robinson on the other side of the defense, Brown likewise didn't allow much action from Dynamo on his side of the field. Unfortunately, he had to leave the game at halftime with muscle spasms.

Justin Mapp - 6: On the offensive end, Mapp is settling into his role as an attacking, central midfielder nicely. He's comfortable with the ball on his foot and creates as many chances as anyone on the Fire. Also scored the first goal. However, he needs to step it up on defense. Big time. Get in someone's face. Pressure. Make the opponent work. Dynamo's second goal was the result of a horrible Mapp giveaway, and Mapp, instead of hustling to fix his mistake, stood and watched De Rosario unleash a shot that went in and put the Fire behind 2-1. That's pure laziness.

Diego Gutierrez - 5: Gutierrez was largely unseen. He committed no clear mistakes, but also created little. Steady but unspectacular until being subbed out.

Chris Armas - 6: The Captain was his usual self, trying to force his way through Dynamo's defense with pure force if need be. He committed some giveways in midfield, but unlike Mapp, is a whirlwind on defense, never giving an opponent an inch. Mapp should watch and learn from Armas' intensity.

Nate Jaqua - 3: Jaqua is horribly out of position on the right side of midfield. At times he seems to drift completely out of the game. With his size, he needs to be up top and in the opponent's box attempting to cause damage with his head.

Ivan Guerrero - 5: For a guy who hangs out so far on the left wing and who possesses a deadly left foot, Guerrero's ability to cross is lacking. To be useful, he needs to get some crosses from the left side into the opponent's box that may lead to something. Not enough creativity coming from his side of the field. Overall, though, he wasn't bad and much better than Jaqua on the opposite side of the field.

Calen Carr - 6: As has been the case lately, Carr was involved and active. This is a good thing. However, he spends a lot of time on the ground. It's hard to tell if that's the result of him being so skinny, or if he's intentionally trying to earn free kicks after drawing penalty kicks in each of the previous two games. Midway through the second half, Carr made a splendid run right down the center of the Dynamo defense and set up Andy Herron for what should have been a goal before Herron botched it. The kid in the headband is improving.

Andy Herron - 5: Herron needs to be more involved. Plain and simple. He can look dangerous with the ball, and has found the net recently, but he didn't have nearly enough touches in this game. He also has a tendency to take an opponent one-on-one and lose the ball. It happens too often for my liking. He also needs to be more active in tracking back on defense and pressuring the opponent. Much too often the Dynamo's defenders were allowed to start their attack without Herron getting in their face. Herron did score the late equalizer via a penalty kick, but needs to find more chances in the flow of play.

Gonzalo Segares - 6: Came on for the injured Brown at halftime and looked very steady on the left side of defense, both in making his side of the field airtight and coming forward in support of the attack. A real bright spot, actually. His left foot is dangerous and I wouldn't mind seeing him move up to the left side of midfield and pushing Guerrero for his spot.

Thiago - 5: Wasn't on nearly long enough to settle into the game and make an impact. If healthy, he should probably replace Jaqua in the midfield as a starter.

Brian Plotkin - 5: Like Thiago, didn't receive a long enough run to make an impact.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fire vs. Dynamo - Tonight

The Fire will look to extend its current winning streak to six games tonight against Houston in a battle between two second place teams. Should be fun.

The Unknown Column plans to be there early to do a little tailgating. Look for me...especially if you happen to be a hot chick.

I'll Take It, But...

It was nice to see the White Sox take care of business against Tampa Bay last night, 12-9. Jermaine Dye further cemented his MVP claim with his 39th home run and Joe Crede collected four hits to inch his average over .300. This is all good.


And this is a big however...

Giving up nine runs, especially to a team like the Devil Rays, is unacceptable. Un-fuckin-acceptable. Total garbage. Once again Freddy Garcia offered up a performance that can be described at best as mediocre. Meanwhile, the rapid demise of Neal Cotts continues. The dude must be hurt or having some serious psychological issues. Last year he was one of the most dominant middle relievers in the game. This year he has stumbled, and continues to get worse. Earlier in the year, I figured his dominance of last year was simply hard to live up to. His numbers were down, but overall, they were still dcent. But lately Cotts has been downright bad. Just awful.

Nine runs? Can't happen. Cannot happen.

Here's hoping the Tigers drop both games in the Bronx in their doubleheader with the Yankees. (Oh, how it hurts to root for the Yankees.) If this happens and the Sox win, then the AL Central deficit could be down to 3 1/2 games by the end of the night. We're getting there. Slowly but surely, we're getting there.

Here we go now.

Fantasy Draft Nightmare

OK, I realize that every stat geek out there with an empty hole in his heart where a competitive streak used to be who plays fantasy sports has a nightmare or two to tell when it comes to all their fantasy sports adventures that, surely, top the lame, boring nightmare of anyone else out there.

Or not.

The point is, anyone who plays fantasy sports has stories to tell, some good, some bad. And for the most part, I don't want to hear them. Nobody likes the guy who feels it's necessary to share every minute detail of every last one of his fantasy teams. And for this reason, I try, for the most part, to keep my sordid fantasy tales to myself.

But I'm going to share this one. Why? Because there is little doubt in my mind that the football gods took time out of their busy day yesterday to fuck with yours truly.

Now, I've heard numerous horrible stories from others about how Yahoo (or whatever fantasy source they were using) totally jacked them over. Usually, it involves them not being able to log in during a draft. Which is about any fantasy player's worst fear, I suppose. I mean, the draft is the best part, right? However, this had never happened to me. I was lucky, I guess. Until last night.

My draft was scheduled for 7:30 so I went to the league page at 7:15 like a good, little soldier. I'm ready. I'm pumped up. I'm anxious to get started. So the league page is all good, but when I click on "Enter live draft now" I get nothing. Just a blank, empty popup staring at me in the face. Instantly, I panic. I have fifteen minutes to figure out what the problem is and fix it, but the dilemma is, I don't know shit about computers. I'm a neanderthal when it comes to any technology that was outdated at some point in this centruy. So time is racing away quickly. The first pick is rapidly approaching. I'm doing whatever I think might help. I shut the computer off and turn it back on. I refresh my browsers. I kick the modem. I kick it again. I kiss it and say I'm sorry. But nothing is working.

Now the draft has started. It's a good ten minutes in. Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. I know I've missed the first few rounds. At this point, I'm screwing around with Java. Trying to upgrade. Of course, I don't know what the hell I'm doing, but finally there is light at the end of the tunnel. I successfully upgrade Java (or something to that efect; I'm not even sure) and, suddenly, the blank, empty popup where my draft SHOULD BE says something to the effect of (and I'm paraphrasing here), "This operation requires that you upgrade to blah, blah, blah. If you trust this site and wish to do so then click here."

So I click there. I upgrade. And - voila! - I'm in. It would have been nice if Yahoo had asked me that, oh, you know, THIRTY FUCKIN' MINUTES EARLIER!

So now I'm frantically trying to gather what's been going on with my draft. I'm fifth in the draft order (out of 14 teams), which is higher than I usually pick. Oh, well. It would have been nice. The computer has already selected my first five players and this is where it gets good...

1) Tiki Barber
2) Terrell Owens
3) Domanick Davis
4) Darrell Jackson
5) Tony Gonzales

At this point, I'm just laughing. Heartily. The football gods are having such a good time at my expense that there really is no reason to be upset, which would only make things worse and egg them on. I don't want to encourage them. So I laugh with them. ("Yeah, you guys got me. God job, fellas.")

Barber? OK, he's not the worst pick. I highly doubt he can duplicate his phenomenal year of 2005, but barring an injury, his numbers should still be good. You have to figure Eli Manning will be improved. The third year is when many quarterbacks make the jump to the next level, and if that happens for Manning, then Barber should be freed up to do his thing. I'm not a fan of the Barbers and their smiling, pretty boy mugs, but I can live with this pick.

T.O.? Need I say more? Of course I don't. But I will. I hate TO. I hate TO with a burning passion, just like most of the rest of the world. Not only is he a total douchebag begging people to dislike him, but he already screwed me over once last year. I have a firm policy about not drafting players I despise. I don't like being put in the position of rooting for players who I wouldn't mind seeing being carted off the field with their leg in a brace and a towel over their head. However, last year TO was there. He dropped and I needed a WR. know how it goes. He ends up doing alright for me early in the year. I was actually all alone in second place several weeks into the season...when TO went permanently AWOL from the Eagles. With TO no longer playing, my team slowly but surely began to tumble. I ended the regular season tied for the last playoff spot but out of the playoffs because of the overall points tiebreaker. So, yeah, TO would have helped. I vowed to never, ever, ever, EVER again draft a player I don't like. And especially Terrell Owens.

But, of course, I have him.

Domanick Davis? OK, now the football gods were absolutely beside themselves with joy as they fooled with me. I don't know what I did to piss them off, but it must have been bad. Only hours before my draft time, I had been reading about how Davis might not even make the Texans roster and that his knee is so freakin' messed up that he may never play again. Apparently, there is no cartilege left whatsoever. None. It's bone on bone. You or I would make a better running back. They may have to euthanize him.

But, of course, I have him.

Darrell Jackson? Normally, Jackson would be a decent pick...except for the fact that his 2005 season was shortened by an awful knee injury, which not only required immediate surgery, but also a second, unexpected surgery during the offseason because, apparently, the first one didn't stick. Great! That sounds like just what you want form a wide receiver.

But, of course, I have him.

Tony Gonzalez? Not a bad pick, I guess, for the fifth round. I can't complain. I needed a tight end eventuually anyway and Gonzalez is about as good as it gets. Not spectacular, but steady. Whatever.

Anyay, it's at this point that I'm actually present at the draft. Oh, and I see my pick is coming up...NEXT! In one minute, to be exact. So I'm frantically trying to decide who I want. I decide I need a quarterback. I don't want to wait any longer for a QB, right? Two names pop out at me first. One is Drew Bledsoe. But I can't fathom having to root for two Cowboys. I hate the Cowboys. When will Jerry Jones' face job slip off of his skull? That would be hilarious. I'm already needing TO to do well. That'll turn my stomach enough. So I can't root for Bledsoe, too. No freakin' way. Jake Plummer is the other option. And, yeah, he'd be the safe pick. Denver is always good and Plummer should put up decent number. But my draft is already so screwed up at this point that I decide I'm just going to have fun with it and think outside the box a bit. You know, shake it up. Be crazy.

So my first quarterback taken is...Phillip Rivers.

That's right, baby. Phillip. Rivers. Otherwise known to you soon as The Man. It's a gamble, but sometimes you have to gamble. And I like Rivers. I always have. I loved him coming out of college and I have a good feeling about him taking over the Chargers offense. I think the kid is hungry after waiting his turn patiently. Will he be an instant success a la Carson Palmer, who also marinated on the bench for a while? Maybe not. But I think Rivers' play will be better than most expect, and I'll have fun rooting for him. I kind of like the Chargers. I think it's the bolt on their helmet or those powder blue uniforms they occasionally wear. The bottom line is that, as long as my team is going down the drain anyway, I may as well get a little crazy and pick an up-and-comer who I like - and that guy wasn't Bledsoe.

With my next pick I knew I needed another running back - absolutely had to have one - especially with Davis possibly spending the rest of his life walking with a limp, if they don't have to amputate. Naturally, the board was already down to crumbs. So I ended up with Tatum Bell, even though I don't know what the situation is in Denver. It seems that Bell was quite productive last year while being forced to split time with Mike Anderson. So with Anderson gone to Baltimore, Bell should be the man, right? No, allegedly Mike Bell is the starter. And who the fuck is Mike Bell? And undrafted rookie, that's who. I think I'll take my chances on Tatum and hope he's ultimately the main man in the Denver backfield. But still, my confidence isn't soaring with this pick.

My next two picks were, as with the Rivers pick, made purely to add to my enjoyment: Muhsin Muhammad and Rex Grossman. Hey, I'm a Bears diehard, so as long as my fantasy draft was going about as well as the government's resonse to Hurricane Katrina a year ago at this time, well, fuck it. I took these guys simply to make rooting for them that much more fun. And to be fair, I think both have a chance to be very productive. Grossman has always showed flashes of brilliance when he can stay healthy. Did you see the playoff loss to Carolina? He had the Bears marching up and down the field. So if he doesn't go down again with a limp wrist or a yeast infection, I think his numbers may actually be decent. And if Grossman's numbers are decent, then his number one WR, Muhammad, will reap the benefits. Of course, if Muhammad drops as many passes as he did last year - and he dropped a lot - I'll be that much more infuriated. All I can says is this: Let's go Bears!

The rest of my draft (in a nutshell):

Miami defense - I'm a huge believer in Nick Saban. He has the Dolphins headed in the right direction and the defense will be a part of that. Besides, it doesn't hurt that they'll face the offenses of the Jets and Bills twice each.

Shayne Graham - If Carson Palmer's knees holds up, then Graham will be a very busy kicker.

Mewelde Moore - Only runnng back available who seemed even remotely draftable, and in his favor, he's a Viking who has actually avoided trouble with the law, so he has that going for him. If Chester Taylor doesn't work out, maybe he'll get touches. Or not. More than likely, I'll drop him before the season even starts.

Matt Leinart - I actually love this pick so late in the draft. I was having my doubts about Leinart when he was holding out and dating Paris Hilton, but he looked like the second coming of Joe Montana against the Bears last week. Good lord, he was shredding the Bears first team defense like it was USC against San Jose State. There is a very good chance Kurt Warner gets hurt, and if that happens then Leinart will have plenty of toys to play with. (Edgerrin James, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin). I think Leinart may end up being the biggest steal in fantasy drafts everywhere. Or at least I can hope.

Chris Henry - You know I have got to have a dude who managed to get arrested four times in one offseason on my roster. That's just how the Unknown Column rolls, baby. Besides, Henry's six touchdowns last year weren't bad for a rookie playing behind Chad Johnson and T.J. Whoseyourmama. If he stays clean, the dude has talent.

Minnesota defense - In case you didn't notice, the Vikings' defense was sick in the second half of 2005. And they're young. So I took a shot. I mean, it was them or Koren Robinson with my last pick. It was a tough choice.

So there you have it. That's how I was fucked over and drafted the most laughable fantasy team I've ever had. Ever. Any sport. If there were two guys I was absolutely dead set against drafting heading in, it was Terrell Owens and Domanick Davis. And I have both.

And now I promise never to bore you with any more of my fantasy woes.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Is Anyone Watching?

So, at some point in time somewhat soon, though I don't know exactly when because Japan's clocks are on the other side of the globe or in another universe or whichever is more inconvenient for us lazy Americans, the U.S. basketball team will face Dirk Nowitzki and Germany. Does anyone know a German player other than Dirk? Anyone?

Didn't think so.

This FIBA business may get interesting now that the group stage is over. I mean, it doesn't get good until there's a chance we might actually be beaten, right? Argentina and Spain look strong. Turkey was rolling through the tourney until the Argentines spanked them today. Andres Nocioni scored 31. (The Bulls are going to be so freakin' good this upcoming season.) Spain vs Argentina in the semis actually sounds very watchable. Perhaps the Spanish basketball team can avoid the reputation of choking in the big games a la Spain's soccer team. Or not. The pick? Argentina

Random Image Department

Sox Fans Will Look Like Angels

Apparently, Delmon Young, the top pick in the 2003 draft, has been called up by the Devil Rays in time for tonight's game against the White Sox here in Chicago. We all remember Young as the dude who tossed his bat at an ump in a minor league game earlier this season, which earned him a 50-game suspension.

In other words, it might be refreshing to see someone other than a Pale Hose fan attack someone on the field.

How Bad Is The NFC North?

Let me start this post by saying that if the Bears are counting on the expected ineptitude of the NFC North to be their calling card for success in 2006, they better think again. They've got plenty of their own issues to worry about. Plenty.

Dusty Dvoracek, a promising rookie who was looking a bit like a long-haired crazy dude in the middle of the defensive line in the mold of Steve McMichael, has been ruled out for the entire season. (Bummer.) So has starting fullback Bryan Johnson. (Bummer.) Mike Brown and Alex Brown are currently questionable for the start of the season. Rex Grossman has yet to lead a touchdown drive. Thomas Jones is still far from 100% if his performance on Friday is any indication. Cedric Benson is still clueless. Tight end remains a mysterious concept the Bears have yet to grasp.

Yeah, I'd say Lovie Smith has plenty to worry about.

That said, the Packers may be on the verge of being a special kind of bad. Last night they trailed the Bengals 17-0 before Joe Theisman even had a chance to mutter his first moronic statement of the night, and we all know that doesn't take long. The score at halftime was 34-7 before the starters were replaced. Brett Favre had a fumble - or was it a backwards pass? - returned for a touchdown on the Packers' first possession. The play was comical and prompted one to wonder if Favre's horrendous 2005 season may have only been the first act in one of the ugliest ends to a fabulous career ever. I know little of new coach Mike McCarthy, but when he was shown on screen my first thought was, "Um, this guy doesn't even look like an NFL head coach." Not that a successful NFL head coach has to look a certain way, but McCarthy looks like he should be firing up the special teams for some Green Bay high school on a Friday night. He just does. He just looks out of his element.

In other words, if the Packers match their four wins of last year, I'll be surprised.

Meanwhile, new Lions coach Rod Marinelli continues taking his tough guy routine to ridiculous lengths. On Saturday, he made the Lions fly on the day of a game in Oakland just to, you know, be tough and shit. Just to show who's boss. I have a feeling that the Marinelli era is a ticking bomb that will blow sooner than later. (Though Matt Millen will probably be given a contract extension.)

Up in Minnesota, Vikings players still can't stay out of the police blotter.

The point is, the NFC North looks about as winnable as it's ever going to be. Of course, this is on paper, and on paper means nothing. But the Bears have every reason to believe that, with a little smarts and a little luck, the division is right there for the taking. When you add in the fact that the Bears' 2006 schedule is the second easiest in the league despite their status as a division winner, they should consider themselves incredibly lucky. All signs seem to be pointing in the right direction.

If the Bears fail to take advantage, they'll have nobody to blame but themselves. And it'll be a damn shame.

Mocking Saddam

I guess not all Marines are hyper-violent meatheads prone to administering torture. Some actually have a sense of humor....

Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is being made to watch his appearance in cult cartoon South Park while he is behind bars.

The deposed leader on trial in Iraq was featured in the movie spin-off as the lover of the devil. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut featured Hussein and Satan attempting to take over the world together.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone said US Marines guarding the former dictator during his trial for genocide were making him watch the movie "repeatedly".

"I have it on pretty good information from the Marines on detail in Iraq that they showed him the movie last year. That's really adding insult to injury. I bet that made him really happy," Stone said.

I love it.

Always a classic...

Poison Still Sucks

Poison sucked when they were popular, and they still suck now. (But follow the link and the video of them fighting on stage is pretty funny.)

In Atlanta the other night, Bret Michaels and Bobby Dall got into a bit of a scuffle at the end of their show. Bret threw his mic at Bobby, Bobby threw his bass at Bret (hit him in the leg), and then the fists came up. The road crew came out to break it up.

Bret came out after and apologized to the crowd saying that “it could be the last show for the original lineup”.

Well, we can always hope.

Surely You Jest

If there was any doubt that the Raiders aren't going to make a hard push for the title of worst team in the NFL in 2006, those doubts are gone. When you go out and sign Jeff George, which the Raiders inexplicably just did, you're in big, big trouble. Plain and simple. And if you're a fan of the Raiders, you may as well start thinking about the 2007 draft right now. Yeah, start watching a lot of college football. Know your potential number one overall picks. If you're not a fan of the Raiders, well, go ahead and laugh your ass off because the Raiders are hysterical.

Apparently, Ryan Leaf, Todd Marinovich, Akili Smith and Shane Falco were unavailable.

Look, George was on the Bears roster during the 2004 season, and when the quarterback situation went to hell as it so often does for the Bears, George was left on the bench in favor of Chad Hutchinson. Yeah, Chad freakin' Hutchinson, who had been on a surfboard only a few weeks before.

You really have to feel sorry for Art Shell in this ordeal. Has anyone been more routinely shafted than Shell? The poor guy was fired as coach of the Raiders following the 1994 season despite posting a 56-41 overall record - including 9-7 in his last season - and received hardly a sniff at a head job for the next 12 years. Now he finally gets his chance back at the helm of an NFL team and he gets...a Jeff George signing? Ouch.

Good luck with that, Art. And good luck dealing with the petulance of Randy Moss and the wildly erratic play at quarterback of Aaron Brooks. Oh, and for good measure, your supposed quarterback of the future, Andrew Walter, is now being linked to a bad shoulder. At this point, I just want to see Marques Tuiasosopo ascend to the starting role behind center if only because, if you squint hard enough, he looks a bit like Jim Plunkett in that Raiders uniform.

The Stretch Run Has Only Just Begun

Once again we have reached that time. You know the time. That time. It's time to take a hard look at the White Sox and reexamine their existence in the universe. After yesterday's day off - their first after 24 straight days of action - the Sox open a series with Tampa Bay tonight. The bare essentials:

- They remain 5 1/2 games behind Detroit in the AL central.
- They are a 1/2 game behind the Twins in the wildcard chase.
- They have 32 games total remaining.

There really isn't much to say, is there? We have heard every holy truth uttered again and again. The starting pitching needs to be much, much better. The bullpen, too. No more always swinging for the fences; manufacture some runs - small ball. Win the close games. No costly errors. No mental mistakes. Jermaine Dye should be MVP. Starting pitching. Starting pitching. Starting pitching.

We've heard it all. But in the end, only one thing, really, needs to be said:

Just win, baby.

There are positive signs of late. Mark Buehrle looked like his former self over the weekend. Finally. That needs to continue. Javier Vazquez, a cauldron of horrors, had a decent outing on Friday, even if he had to be pulled early to avoid the meltdown that was just waiting to happen. Scott Podsednik, who has been more disappointing this season than Scarlett Johanssen in the arms of anyone who isn't me, bunted his way on a couple of times and stole some bases against the Twins. Why he hasn't been doing this all season we can only wonder. I mean, if he isn't doing these things, then what good is he? It certainly isn't for his batting average, his power, or his defensive prowess. So unless Podsednik's hottie wife, Lisa Dergan, is servicing Ozzie in the clubhouse, there really is no reason for Scotty Pods to be a regular unless he does the things that Scotty Pods is known for. So just do it, Scotty Pods. Jime Thome's hamstring, hopefully, has rested up sufficiently.

But again, in the end, there is only one thing to be said:

Just win, baby.

Here we go now.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Five Straight Wins For The Fire

It wasn't long ago that Dave Sarachan's seat was hotter than Scarlett Johanssen in anything at all that could be described as skimpy. The howls of disgruntled Fire fans (yours truly included) were growing louder as Sarachan's questionable decisions regarding starting lineups and substitutions grew increasingly aggravating. Personally, I was having a hard time not making mean-spirited jokes about his tiny stature. (Sarachan must stand about 5'6" - tops.) Yeah, I try not to make personal attacks on coaches/players, but when a team is losing ground despite being on an incredibly long homestand, well, at some point all bets are off.

And I can't help it if Sarachan is dwarf-like. (I kid, I kid.)

Of course, nobody is making fun of Sarachan's slight stature at the moment, nor is anyone calling for his head. After a workmanlike win over Colorado on Saturday night, the Fire has now won five straight games, moved into second place in the Eastern Conference, and looks as dangerous as any team in the league. Sure, the Eastern Conference is borderline pathetic, but second place is second place. Hey, it looks nice in the sports section standings, right?

It seems Sarachan may have settled on the forward tandem that works best - Andy Herron and Chad Barrett. Both are similar players - quick, hustling livewires - and perhaps that's why they tend to link up well. Though neither scored against the Rapids, chances weren't the problem. The chances were there, no doubt. The finishing could be better, but as long as the chances are being created, I'll tend to believe that the goals will come - eventually.

Hopefully, Sarachan gives Herron and Barrett time to further strenghthen their partnership rather than conduct any more experiments with the frontline. It wasn't long ago that Chris Rolfe was deeemd the young stud up top with superstar potential and national team callups in his future, but he's become the Rex Grossman of the Fire, meaning his health, and subsequently his appaearances, are fleeting. Meanwhile, Nate Jaqua may have earned a mercy invitation to the MLS All-Star Game - let's be honest, if the game wasn't in Chicago, Jaqua wouldn't have been present - but perhaps he is best suited for second half runs off the bench. If a late goal is needed, send Jaqua and his sheer size in to wreck havoc on tired defenses. Sort of like Peter Crouch and England. Otherwise, Jaqua is best suited as a sub.

Dasan Robinson continues to be the feel-good story of the Fire's season. The rookie defender scored the lone goal on Saturday to beat the Rapids while teaming up with Tony Sanneh and C.J. Brown on the defensive line, which has allowed just one goal in its last five games. That'll earn you some success, eh? And could the young Robinson be in a better position than learning day by day alongside vets like Sanneh and Brown? Talk about Jedi Knights teaching a young Padawan. If Robinson becomes nearly the longtime MLS stalwart that Sanneh and Brown are, then the Fire's backline could have a rock for years to come.

When Robinson scored on a header from a Chris Armas corner kick, I wanted to believe that, symbolically, it was the passing of something - knowledge? leadership? wisdom? - from the team's unquestioned veteran sage to its promising kid. Maybe I was looking to deep into it. Maybe not.

There was no sign of the newly-signed Frenchman, Pascal Bedrossian, although I'm pretty sure I smelled him somewhere in the stadium. (Yeah, that was a horrible French joke.)

Speaking of jokes, I can't resist. I have to make just one smartass remark about Sarachan's height, or lack thereof. Have you noticed that the Fire is an unusually short team? The roster is loaded with plenty of short dudes, no? Herron, Rolfe, Armas, Thiago, Ivan Guerrero, Diego Gutierrez, Brian Plotkin. It's a bit uncanny, isn't it? It's almost like a team of jockeys. Each is barely eligible to ride a roller coaster. Perhaps Sarachan takes a liking to guys who face the same troubles he faced in his playing days as a height-challenged individual. Or perhaps he's just uncomfortable giving orders to guys he's staring directly up at. Maybe he has some sort of Napolean complex.

OK, no more height jokes. And that wasn't really a joke, was it? Just an observation.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Random Soccer Video

Now that the Fire is on a five-game winning streak following last night's 1-0 win over Colorado, an homage to the fans who are loving every minute of it. Here we go now.

I stumbled across this video on YouTube and enjoyed it. The things the crowd in Marseille can do with corresponding signs is quite impressive. Crazy French. Oh, to dream of when an American crowd can be so awe-inspiring.

The gay soccer ref is a classic.

Run that by me again. Barbados vs. Grenada. Apparently, this actually happened...and it makes sense. Or made sense at the time. Or did it? I'm so confused.

EURO 1996 highlights. (I said random, didn't I?)

Hey, Why Not? The VBBF

Proving people will go to any length to begin fledgling sports leagues, say hello to the VBBF. It just rolls off the toungue, eh?

The Vintage Base Ball Federation...

Former major league pitcher Jim Bouton announced Thursday the launch of a baseball organization that will use 19th century rules: the Vintage Base Ball Federation.

Yep, back then, "baseball" was two words.

There will be six balls for a walk, and a foul ball won't count as a strike — unless it's caught, in which case the batter will be out. A foul ball caught on a bounce counts for an out, and a hit batter is only a ball, with no base awarded.

Gloves will be tiny, bat handles will be thick, and the ball — that's right, one ball will be used per game unless it falls apart or is lost — will be "dead." There won't be any pitcher's mounds, and there'll be no such thing as a balk on a pickoff attempt.

In a mixture of sport and theater, umpires must be addressed as "sir." Fans — called "cranks" — will be encouraged to wear period costumes. So, ladies, get out those flowered hats. And gentlemen, doff your straw boaters.

Where can I tryout?

The VBBF should look a little bit like this...

White Sox Playing Plain Stupid

If you get a chance, look at the photo on page 8 in the Sunday Tribune sports section. It's a photo of AJ Pierzynski swinging with the following caption:

"AJ Pierzynski goes down swinging for the final out with White Sox runners on first and third Saturday night."

You really have to see the photo to get my point. I mean AJ looks like he was hoping to smack the ball so it hard it would sail over left field and onto the Dan Ryan expressway. Talk about swinging for the fences. He's completely stretched out, all over the place. Looking foolish, actually. His left knee is practically scraping the ground. His bat is in his hand directly behind him by about three feet and on the ground. His back is arched backwards at a 45 degree angle.

He was obviously trying to kill the ball. It was an absolutely ridiculous swing. Ridiculous.

But why?

You got a runner on third. Two runners on. Just score the run. Move the runners. Keep the chain moving.

Why is this concept so hard for the Sox to understand? Why? Why? Why does everyone want to be a hero?

Don't be a hero - just be a winner. Be smart.

Be smart.


I hate to say, "Look at the Twins" but...look at the Twins. Get on with a single...or a walk...a bunt...whatever. And then move guys around the bases. Steal. Bunt. Single after single if need be. Whatever works.

But the Sox just club for the fences like a bunch of neanderthals.

Look at Konerko after Dye homered in the ninth. Pop up on the first pitch. Totally stupid. Dumb. And why? Konerko was obviously so pumped up that he couldn't control himself and went for the homer right after Dye that would have sent the place into a frenzy. Yeah, that would have been nice, but I would have been happy with a single or a walk. Just get on base. There was only out. ONE! So make something happen. Don't be stupid.


Same thing in the tenth. Gload, Uribe and Anderson all fly/pop out. Fuck. Just get on base. This isn't complicated. And Gload popped up on a 3-1 pitch, to boot. Fuck. Uribe's eyes were probably closed.

Why is this concept so hard for the Sox to understand. Don't be a hero. There is no need to be a hero. Just get on base and make something happen.

Be smart.



For the record, Jermaine Dye aided his AL MVP campaign on Saturday night by tying the game in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run homer. His 38th. Talk about hereos. That was heroic. Dye often is. Just as clutch as David Ortiz...and Dye plays the outfield as well while Ortiz does not. Just sayin'. Dude deserves a hard look.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Weird - Very Weird - French Drama

This is just weird. The Unknown Column is honestly baffled and this never happens. (Stop laughing.)

Claude Makele announced his retirement from the French national team following this summer's World Cup, which made sense. After all, he's 33-years-old. He helped France to the final in Germany. He has appeared a total of 50 times for his country.

Call it a solid career, right?

Well, French national team coach Raymond Domenech has said that if Makelele doesn't return to the national team, he will face being banned from his club side, Chelsea, for two games. Apparently, this is a right national team coach's have. Which is bullshit. Who knew? This is like Mike Krrkjhihrugagfrski threatening LeBron James with a ban from the Cavaliers should LeBron choose not to don the USA jersey.

Listen to Domenech...

"We had a discussion with Makelele but I didn't ask for his opinion.

"For me it would be unthinkable to see a great player playing for a great club not playing for his national team.

"A player who refuses to accept a selection is liable to a two-match suspension.

"I had a discussion with (Chelsea coach) Jose Mourinho, as I often do with the coaches of our international players, but it was not a matter of reaching an agreement over Makelele.

"I told him where I stood, he told me where he stood. We still have the law for us.

"I spoke a lot with Claude and told him that he was not obliged to come and play with us, but also that it would be better if he did feel obliged to."

Wow. Double wow. Are you kidding me? Domenech can't be for real, can he? I think he just laid his claim down for biggest asshole of 2006 - if there were such an award, and there should be. (The winner would be presented with a small bronze statue of Terrell Owens.) Of course, is it really surprising? I mean, just look at him...

He looks just a little too French, no? A little too much like the bumbling dolt in some bad French comedy, no? Didn't you get the feeling he was just along for the ride this past summer in Germany? How much coaching do you do when you have vets like Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry? I'm pretty sure that when Zidane had anything to say, Domenech responded with, "Yes, sir."

Well, here's hoping this blows up in Domenech's face in the upcoming EURO 2008 qualifying. Normally, I sort of like France's team and always sort of have, but this is ridiculous and repulsing. This is such a prick move on the part Domenech that it's just...weird.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Champions League Groups Set

Do you know what my favorite part of the Champions League is?

I'll tell you. I love the fact that it's going to be SO FREAKIN' HUGE in the good ole US of A in the near future. Oh, it will be. Call me Nostradamus. I find it hilarious that while all those Americans who boo hoo soccer because MLS is weak and our national team continues to struggle, slowly but surely the EPL/Champions League is becoming the fifth major sport on these shores. It won't be long. And all the negative creeps won't even see it coming.

Crazy talk? Maybe. I'm sticking to my guns on this, though. I'm not putting an exact number out there, but in fewer years than you might think, the EPL will become a household name right here in America. And so will the Champions League. The process is already underway.

Just remember that the Unknown Column told you so way back when.

Anyway, the groups were drawn for the first stage of the 2006-07 Champions League so let's take a quick peek, shall we?

Group A - Barcelona, Bremen, Chelsea, Levski Sofia
Firt, this looks on paper to be the toughest group. Defending champ Barcelona and Chelsea are arguably the two favorites to win it all, so for them to be in the same group is a mouth-watering prospect. Furthermore, tell me you didn't laugh when it happened. Only days before the draw, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho, as dead serious as always, was lamenting the fact that his team could be grouped with Barcelona. And then it actually happened. Hysterical. Granted, on a more serious note, Mourinho had a point. It's ridiculous that Chelsea has won the last two English titles and yet were a second seed while Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool were all top seeds. That makes no sense and exposes a flaw in the system. That said, it was still hysterical. Of course, Mourinho can ease his pain by going out and buying the most expensive player he can find with Roman Amranovich's cash. Poor guy. This is like Joe Torre whining because the Yankees play in the same division as the Red Sox and the Red Sox are pretty good. Spare me.

Group B - Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Sporting Lison, Spartak Moscow
Is it just me, or does Inter Milan suddenly seem all warm and fuzzy simply because they didn't get caught up in the Italian match-fixing scandal? Of course, I'm sure they were cheating, too. After all, they are Italian. But at least they had enough sense not to get caught. Bayern recently lost 4-0 to Barcelona in a friendly. The loss of Michael Ballack must be hurting. Still, if anyone other than Inter and Bayern advance, I'll apologize for every anti-Italian soccer comment I've ever made. I should be safe.

Group C - Liverpool, PSV Eindhoven, Bordeaux, Galatasaray
Very interesting group if only because I can see any combo of two teams advancing. Obviously, Liverpool is the favorite, but this group should be tight. Will Demarcus Beasley still be a member of PSV by the time the games begin? Will he see playing time?

Group D - Valencia, Roma, Olympiakos, Shakhtar Donetsk
Quick! I'm starting up the Shakhtar Donetsk bandwagon. Who's with me? Valencia plays in what is arguably my favorite soccer stadium on the globe. I just thought I'd throw that out there. This group, overall, is weak.

Group E - Real Madrid, Lyon, Steaua Bucharest, Dynamo Kiev
Lyon caused a stir last year by thrashing Real Madrid 3-0. Don't expect a repeat, but Lyon remains the most underrated team in Europe. It's a shame their players keep getting plucked away from bigger, richer clubs. I'd like to see what they might accomplish with all their weapons. As it stands, yours truly has become a massive fan of Lyon and my Champions League support is strongly with the Frenchmen. (Oh, why do I hate America?)

Group F - Manchester United, Celtic, Benfica, FC Copenhagen
Interestingly, despite being two of the biggest clubs in the UK for decades, ManU and Celtic have never met in a real competition. Benfica knocked ManU out of the Champions League last year. Now they meet again. Wayne Rooney may be seeking blood. Literally. He's already soured on the Portuguese people as a whole, for sure, following his row with Christiano Ronaldo. Don't you think? Copenhagen pulled off a huge shocker a few days ago by ousting Dutch power Ajax Amsterdam in a Champions League qualifier. You know I'll be rooting for the small Danish club to pull off similar upsets in this group, though I wouldn't bet on it.

Group G - Arsenal, Porto, CSKA Moscow, Hamburg
I'll be rooting for CSKA Moscow if only because their star player has one of the coolest names ever - Wagner Love. Dude's a Brazilian playing Russia. With colored dreads. I'm a big fan. If I ever have a son, I'm pretty sure I'm naming him Wagner Love. Nah, I'm positive.

Group H - AC Milan, Lille, AEK Athens, Anderlecht
This should be a stroll through the park for AC Milan, which is a damn shame. Hell, it's a damn shame the cheating Italians were even allowed into the Champions League in the first place. May they fail horribly. May the wrath of the soccer gods come down upon them. Freakin' Italians. By the way, how is it that so many Greek teams are in the Champions League? This is absurd. We all know Greeks can't play soccer.

Dusty Baker and Racist Cubs Fans - Ugliness Everywhere

I hate to open an ugly can of worms, so I'll try to keep this short, but I can't help but comment on this week's controversy involving Dusty Baker. Apparently, Baker recently shared some racist letters he's received from angry Cubs fans with a USA Today reporter, who in turn spread the word. Naturally, the story has now blown up, including this article from today's Tribune. (I hope the link works; a password may be required.) Of course it did. God knows there are few things to get people chirping like some good ole fashion racism. People are so predictable.

My feelings on this issue are mixed. On the one hand, I'm obviously repulsed by the fans who sent the letters. Total garbage. Unacceptable. Such people are stains on the human race as a whole. They should be sought out and their reproduction capabilities squashed. As a White Sox diehard, I'm tempted to make a joke about Cubs fans, but I realize that a) it's only a handful of assholes tainting the rest, and b) these assholes are everywhere. Every team has them. This isn't just a Cubs thing. If only it were, right?

On the other hand, I'm turned off by how Baker has handled this mess. His eagerness to pick at the scabs of racism until they bleed again just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe I'm insensitive. Maybe I'm an asshole. I don't know. It just does. Why did Baker so willingly share the letters with a reporter? Does he not yet know that this sad story is nothing new? Does he not understand that every race or group of people will have its bad apples and always will? What was he expecting his sharing of the letters to accomplish? Are a few frustrated, drunken dickheads in Cubs caps really worth plastering all over the front page?

Of course, race issues and Baker and firestorms are nothing new. Race, it seems, is always on the tip of the brain with Baker.

This sentence from the article jumped out at me:

Type the words "hate mail" and "baseball managers" into an Internet search engine for national newspapers, and Baker is the only manager referenced in the last 13 years.

Furthermore, Fergie Jenkins and Bill Madlock were both quoted in the article as saying they never received racist mail while playing for the Cubs. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that they were both high-quality players and beloved, while Baker's Cubs teams have been disappointing always and often awful. I don't know. To be fair, other Cubs players have spoken of racist fans in Wrigleville. And unlike Jenkins and Madlock, they've often been those who have struggled spectacularly on the field. (ie, LaTroy Hawkins.)

Look, I'm not trying to dismiss the serious nature of Baker's claims, nor am I trying to be anything but sensitive. That said, Baker's routine as the angry black man so eager to trumpet racial flames has worn thin. Hasn't it? Or am I the only one to feel this way? Yes, the assholes are out there. We know. Everyone knows. But my question is this: Is it really worth the trouble of starting this firestorm? What has Baker accomplished other than exposing what we already know and creating more tension?

See scab. Pick at scab.

Sure, some would say this is a converstaion that needs to happen, that these things, however awful, need to be out in the open.

But I don't know. I just don't know what Baker is accomplishing by waving his racist letters in the air and demanding that people look. Is any of this shocking? No. Is Baker changing anything? Not really. There is a small segment of Cubs fans who are lower than dirt. Anyone could have told you that.

Baker played with Hank Aaron in a far more troubled time when Aaron truly felt the crushing sting of racism. Yet Aaron struggled on with quiet pride. He chose not to make a spectacle of the assholes, but rather to stick it in their face by marching on and becoming a legend.

It's a shame Baker, apparently, didn't learn many lessons. He's a black man that has been a MLB manager every year since 1993. He's one of the highest-paid managers in the game. If/when he leaves the Cubs, he'll surely get another managing position, possibly immediately. Things have worked out alright for him. Yeah, it's a shame that he's been exposed to a few assholes among Cubs fans. Yeah, that sucks. But it doesn't seem he's handled the situation with much class. It seems he's more than willing to fan the flames, something he had already earned a reputation for a long time ago. Race seems to be at the forefront of Baker's mind as much as the assholes who send him hateful letters. I'd dare say he's slightly preoccupied with it all, which is too bad for him.

Or maybe I'm just an insensitive white dude who doesn't understand. I wouldn't discount the possibilty. All I know is that when I hear of Baker running around with his racist letters and asking the world to do only God know what about it, I can only shake my head at everything.

Everything. The racist asshole fans. Baker's scab picking.


That's What I'm Talking About

Nice recovery by the White Sox up in Motown. After embarrassing themselves in the opening two games of the series, winning the next two was a relief, if nothing else. In the end, it means the Sox remain exactly where they were when the series began - 5 1/2 games out of first. Sure, it was a golden opportunity missed to make up ground, but all things considered, we'll take it.

Perhaps, if we're lucky, one moment from yesterday's game will serve as a precursor of things to come, a microcosm perhaps of where the chase in the AL Central will head in the coming weeks. It happened in the fifth inning when the Tigers Sean Casey ripped a line drive that Joe Crede leapt to grab at third base, coming close, but ultimately unable to catch it. Instead, the ball continued on into left field towards Pablo Ozuna. Casey, however, was under the impression that Crede caught the ball and thus he put his head down in frustration and looked set to head back to the dugout before realizing his mistake and making a mad dash for first base. Ozuna, however, was on top of things, made a running grab of the ball off the grass, and fired to first base. Casey was out by inches. Yeah, the old 5-7-3 putout. You don't see that very often, eh? Casey had to be embarrassed and the boos of the Detroit crowd surely didn't help.

Anyway, my point is that I'd like to think that that play could serve as a sign of what the future holds. Casey represents the Tigers and their sprint to clinch the division, which would seem imminent considering their lead once stood at ten games. Meanwhile, Ozuna's weird and unexpected ability to throw Casey out at first base from left field represents the Sox's unlikely comeback in the standings. And, of course, Casey being called out by mere inches represents the Sox ultimately nipping the Tigers in the end.

Am I looking too deep into one unusual play? Maybe. We shall see.

Jermaine Dye produced two home runs, three RBI, four runs and a double. If his name doesn't start being mentioned more often in the MVP race, something is wrong, or the East Coast media is as biased as many say it is.

Jon Garland pitched a complete game shutout. His record improved to 15-4. He has now allowed one earned run or fewer in seven of his last ten starts. Think about that. That is an absolutely filthy stat. His ERA remains a tad high following his shaky start to the season, but if he continues to pitch the way he is right now (as good as anyone) and gets that ERA below four, then Garland's name needs to be tossed into the Cy Young conversation. Yeah, I realize there are several candidates well ahead of him at the moment (Santana, Halladay, etc.), but Garland has earned the right to at least be mentioned. After all, no American Leaague pitcher has more wins than Garland over the past two years (33). That should count for something, right?

The Sox can help Garland out by roughing up Santana this weekend. I mean, rough...him...up! I want the ball flying all over the Cell. I want line drives screaming back at Santana right past his head. I want Santana rocked. Rocked!

Oh, and I want a three-game sweep of the Twinkerbells.

Here we go now.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tempting Fate?

Carson Palmer says he will play this Monday night against the Green Bay Packers. The Unknown Column would highly recommend against this.

I just don't see what good can come of it. I think it's awesome that Palmer's rehab has, by all accounts, been a success and that he has returned to the practice field faster than expected. But why not simply allow Palmer to miss any game action for as long as possible? How much is he going to gain in a meaningless preseason affair anyway? Regardless of how "ready" he feels or how anxious he is to return to game action, why not wait until the regular season before allowing Palmer to take any real hits?

Look, if it was any other team I might not feel so strongly about this. But it's the Bengals. Few teams are as luckless, and possibly cursed, as the Bengals. Only the Bengals would lose their All-Everything quarterback on the first drive of their first playoff game in more than a decade. When you toss in the fact that Marvin Lewis is quickly becoming infamous for collecting known criminals and thugs, it seems karma may be ready to come down even harder than usual on the franchise. I wouldn't mess with destiny.

And rushing Palmer back just seems to be tempting fate unecessarily.

I can see it now. It's a Monday night game. Wouldn't it be just like the Bengals to lose Palmer again as a curious national television audience watches?

I wouldn't risk it.

Bang Tayman Still Funny

It's been a while (ie, too long) since I posted a Bang Tayman cartoon. This one about the Cincinnati Bengals' arrest-filled offseason cracked me up.

The archives can be found here. If you've never checked this stuff out, take a few moments to do so. Some can be hit or miss, but you're sure to laugh.

Just A Reminder has been on fire of late, as usual. Go. Read. Enjoy. Dance among the truth.

Fuck Jay Mariotti.


I'm not saying it's time for Chelsea to panic. Obviously, with only two games in the books, that would be absurd. But after Chelsea's 2-1 loss at Middlesborough yesterday, my suspicions about Jose Mourinho's collection of multi-millionaires are even more perked. Remember, only a few days ago in here I said that Liverpool will win the EPL and Chelsea will disappoint, and if that happens, you'll hear about it endlessly, of course. Don't worry.

I just don't buy the theory that spending a bottonless pit of money on talent is the best way to build a team. Sure, it helps, but ultimately, it's not the answer. (When is money ever the answer? In any situation? Ever?) Real Madrid has shown this to be true the last few years as their massive payroll has only added to the disappointment of coming up short in both Spain and the Champions League. The New York Yankees have also been an example of this in recent years. Yeah, it's an obvious advantage to be able to open your wallet and add the biggest of big names to your stable of talent, but in the end, there has to be chemistry. Is chemistry just a cheesy sentiment? I don't think so. It really exists and it can prove to be everything. Just ask the Detroit Tigers.

Of course, Michael Ballack has been out for Chelsea. His return will be a boost. I just can't help the feeling that there is too much talent and too many egos on the Chelsea roster. And not enough spots. These are ths usual causes of Realmadriditis, a disease which once contracted, can be fatal.

Meanwhile, Manchester United has outscored its opponents 8-1 in its opening two games. That should open a few eyes around the EPL. Oh, and Wayne Rooney and Christiano Ronaldo haven't murdered each other yet. Which helps.

Fire Marches On

The Fire beat New England last night for the second time in four days to move on to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup. Two goals from Andy Herron did the trick. For all the abuse GM John Guppy and coach Dave Sarachan have taken in recent times, the Fire has now won four straight in all competitions. Let the good times roll, eh?

Maybe this hot streak is just what the new stadium needs to improve its disappointing crowds. Or not. We shall see. It can't hurt, right?

Herron, who also scored in Sunday's win in Foxboro, has been a beast of late, not only scoring both goals last night but seemingly involved in almost every big moment. One such moment was a confrontation with the Revs Jay Heaps, which resulted in both being given yellow cards. Heaps was also involved in shenanigans with the Fire's Chad Barrett on Sunday, meaning Heaps should be atop the list of guys the Fire and its fans just don't like.

Obviously, the Fire-Revs rivalry is becoming heated. It started in last year's playoffs with the infamous melee following the Revs ousting of the Fire. I don't think this is a bad thing. Rivalries are good, the more heated the better. Fans like it. It perks their interest. There is a very good chance the Fire and Revs could meet in the first round of the playoffs. That would be fun.

Calen Carr is finally playing like the the first round pick he is, which is a positive development.

The Fire added Frenchman Pascal Bedrossian to the roster yesterday. I don't know much about the 31-year-old, but, hopefully, he helps. One thing worries me, though. The Fire's website says Bedrossian hasn't played since the 2004-05 season. Really? What has he been doing since? (Insert French joke here.)

Costly Win?

It was nice to see (ie, a massive relief) the White Sox stop the bleeding with a 7-5 win in Detroit last night. Of course, more shaky starting pitching was a concern. Hey, Freddy Garcia, when your team gives you a 3-0 lead in the top half of the first inning, it's usually a good idea not to give it right back in the bottom half of the frame. Just a thought.

But the Sox pulled through and a win today earns them a four-game split and leaves them exactly where they were entering the series.

The bigger (ie, bad) news, however, is the hamstring of Jim Thome, who limped out of the game and allegedly had big problems just putting his socks and shoes on afterwards in the locker room. This is not good. This is so not good. The Sox have been so lucky with injuries this season that I guess we should have seen this coming. And if anyone was going to go down, it was probably going to be Thome and his collection of eternally aching parts.

So now it's time to reacquaint ourselves with the baseball gods. It's time to get down on our knees and humble ourselves. It's time to ask for forgiveness. Please don't do this to Big Jim. Please don't do this to us.

And while we're talking to the baseball gods, maybe we should inform them of the Detroit Tigers ridiculous playoff ticket prices. The news today is that Tigers playoff tickets are going on sale and the team has decided to bend their fans over and lube up. Hardcore. Prices are a bitch. The team is headed to the playoffs for the first time since 1987 and management has decided it's a golden opportunity to get their hands in the pockets of their loyal and long-suffering fans. Apparently, prices are five times the normal rate. Yikes. Maybe the baseball gods need to know about this. That oughta bring some bad karma the Tigers' way. As if Kenny Rogers wasn't enough.

You know, I hate to be the sort to rat anyone out, but ain't that some bullshit?

And we got a division to win.

No love love lost...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

FIFA Grows A Spine?

OK, so Juventus cheated its way to the Italian title last season (and, surely, many other years before), was caught, and dealt a severe punishment. As they should have been. Juventus then appealed that decision and had the punishment reduced. But that wasn't good enough. Juventus is appealing further, apparently not happy until any and all punishment is completely wiped away.

FIFA is saying fuck all that.

FIFA could ban World Cup champion Italy and all Italian clubs from international competition if Juventus challenges in state court the sanctions it received in the country's match-fixing scandal.

FIFA spokesman Andreas Herren said Wednesday that forcing a decision before a state court would interfere with the autonomy of the soccer world and undermine the sport's arbitration system.

In a letter sent by president Sepp Blatter to the Italian federation on Tuesday, FIFA said it was prepared to ban all Italian clubs - as well as the national team - from international soccer if Juventus goes ahead with its legal action.

"The president referred the Italian federation to Article 61, which states that the decisions of sports courts may not be brought before an administrative court. It also stipulates that national federations must have such an article within their statute books," FIFA said.

Good. Hopefully, FIFA stands firm on this issue and doesn't buckle. If people act like children, then they will be treated like children. The thing is, Juventus' punishment shouldn't have been lessened in the first place, and the fact that the cheating club actually believes it should be lessened further is absurd and telling of their twisted logic. It's as if there is no recognition whatsoever that they spit in the face of all that is pure and sacred and beautiful about the game of soccer. They pissed on it all. They're an embarrassment. And now in typical fashion the slimy bastards are trying to weasel their way out of the mess they put themselves in. Look, they cheated and got caught. Why is this so hard for them to understand? Deal with it.

I need to find some photos of fine Italian women and simmer down. There. This will help.

Fire Heating Up

The Fire hosts New England tonight in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup. The Fire just beat the Revs 1-0 on Sunday in Foxboro to extend their winning streak to three games. There is no reason they can't duplicate that feat at home, right?

Meanwhile, the Fire has moved into second place. Granted, this has plenty to do with the fact that the Eastern Conference is awful. Even DC United has been going through its roughest stretch of the season. But, hey, who's complaining? We'll take it.

Here we go now.

The rest of the U.S. Open Cup quartefinals also take place tonight...

Rapids at Galaxy - Landon Donovan sucks. That is all.

Red Bulls at DC United - Bruce Arena returns to RFK. Appreciative United fans give his man tits a warm reception.

FC Dallas at Dynamo - Fourth meeting already this season for these two. MLS needs this to blossom into a heated rivalry. A little bad blood never hurt fan interest.

Sadly, there are no non-MLS teams left in the field, which is disappointing. It's always fun when a Rochester, Seattle, Vancouver or some other USL team pulls off a few upsets and hangs with the big boys.

Shout Out To Lemont

As much as ESPN tries to shove the Little League World Series down our collective throat, I'm not buying it. Sure, I used to think it was cute when the championship game - and only the championship game - was aired. It was fun to see the little dudes out there doing their thing on national TV for a day.

Now? Now I'm sick of it. Not that I'm watching it. I'm just sick of knowing it's out there on some ESPN channel at all times. I may watch way too much sports, but I draw the line at 12-years olds and their all too often dickhead coaches and parents.

That said, I've been rooting for the Lemont, Illinois team. Lemont is a small town that borders the Cal Sag Canal only ten minutes from where I grew up. Literally. Ten minutes. A mere bike ride away. My brother also lived there for a couple of years not long ago. One week he was away and I stayed at his house to dog sit. I got drunk every night at a local bar called the Carousel (and a couple of others whose names I don't recall). Yeah, I've stumbled all over Lemont. So the place is close to my heart. Literally.

Anyway, I caught the end of their game last night against Colombus, Georgia. They won and advanced from pool play to the quarterfinals, which are now win or go home. So good for them. I wish the little dudes the best of luck. Represent the 'hood.

However, I can't decide if I like the coach, Mike Hall, or find him to be an overbearring asshole. I'm leaning towards overbearring asshole. Last night, upon the final out, Hall started pumping his fist right in front of the other team's coaches and players in a blatant manner than can only be described as sickening. I mean, Hall was living it up in a "Fuck, yeah, I'm the shit" sort of way. He's not the most gracious of winners. According to the ESPN announcers, the Georgia coaches were none too pleased, and I don't blame them. It was a dick move. Hall just comes off like the loumouthed guy at the bar who's convinced he's the best thing walking the earth. And you want to smack him. Someone tell Hall it's a kid's game. Calm down, Woody Hayes.

Thing is, several of the Georgia players had the annoying habit of wearing their caps tilted to the side. You know, like the Indians C.C. Sabathia. God, that annoys me. I actually noticed it a few days before when passing channels and decided that, even though I knew nothing about the Georgia team, I was rooting against them (though I didn't even watch.) Last night, as the Lemont team was celebrating in a team huddle, the overbearring Hall said something to his kids about being happy his team showed up the Georgia kids because they "wore their hats sideways" and "didn't respect the game." I had to smile. Because it was true. It was caught right there on mic'd TV as loud as can be. And I totally agreed.

I'm sure the comment was relayed to the Georgia coaches as well. It should make things very interesting should these teams meet again. (Georgia also advanced.)

Not that I'll be watching.

Hey, White Sox

Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together. Get your shit together.

You're playing like a bunch of gutless, heartless losers.

That is all.

One Dumb Dude

"I had a couple good runs last year. Shit, maybe even three. What do people expect?"

Yesterday morning I wrote a semi-rant bemoaning the fact that neither Thomas Jones nor Cedric Benson have been in camp much yet both love to talk about how they should be the starting running back. Only a few hours later news broke about Benson's latest brain fart. Apparently, he left the sideline early during Friday's win over the Chargers and watched the remainder of the game from somewhere in the bowels of Soldier Field.

To make matters worse, certain unnamed teammates were the ones to bring Benson's indiscretion to light. Oh, but not by going to the coaching staff. No, that would have made sense. They went to the press and tattled.

Benson in turn responded by claiming his feelings were hurt. How could someone tattle on him? How, oh, how? He can't trust people. He's a victim. Blah, blah, blah. This is not the first time Benson has spoke of feeling unloved by his teammates. Poor guy.

It just keeps getting better with Benson. More and more it's beginning to look like he's well on his way to joining Rashaan Salaam and Curtis Enis in the annals of colossal first round running back busts in Bears history, not to mention becoming the latest in a growing line of first round mistakes by GM Jerry Angelo. Four words instantly come to mind when I think of Benson:

Just. Doesn't. Get. It.

How does Benson not recognize that you just don't leave the sideline early? As he was walking toward the tunnel, how does his inner voice not say something like, "Uh, maybe I should wait until the game is over"? How does he not recognize that when you do things like hold out, skip training camp, yap on and on about being the starter even though you've done absolutely nothing in the NFL, and leave the sideline while a game is still underway, then, yeah, your teammates might not have the highest opinion of you? Hell, someone should tell Cedric that it's not only his teammates that don't think highly of him. They're just the first in line...and that line is growing by the day.

I fear we may just be hitting the tip of the iceberg with this clueless wonder. Perhaps I'm overreacting or bracing for the worst, but this may be only the beginning of one of the sadder stories to come through the Chicago sports scene. This Benson gem is from just yesterday:

"I think the preseason is pretty cool stuff because it's like you've got games that don't even really count and it gives you a chance to crispin' out your skills, just smoothin' out the rough edge. But I didn't play in preseason games last year, and I had a couple good (regular-season) runs."

Yeah, because that's why you were the fourth overall pick in the draft - for a "couple good runs."

Furthermore, incidents such as this continue to make one wonder what sort of ship Lovie Smith is running. Four arrests during the offseason. Dudes leaving the sideline early. Dudes running to the press to tattle on one another. It all seems a bit chaotic and unprofessional, no? Granted, Lovie gets a whole lot of benefit of the doubt after last year's NFC North title, but somebody had to win the worst division in the NFL. At times it's difficult to tell if Lovie's laid-back, quiet manner is the sign of a guy above the fray or a guy who is too mellow to maintain complete control.

Moments after Benson was drafted he cried on national television during his interview. It was difficult to tell if it was a beautiful moment with a guy who had finally realized his dream, or the first sign of a dude with some mental and emotional problems and possible prone to cracking. More and more, it's looking like the latter. Something just seems a bit off with the guy. It's like he's not all there, or a bit dense. He just doesn't get it. He seems to have an inability to get along with others or keep himself out of these ugly situations. It's like he has some innate tendency to hurt himself. Maybe I'm looking too much into this, but it's becoming more and more worrisome.

Of course, if Benson runs for 1,500 yards I'll take it all back.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Usual Drama

There are currently two central issues dominating all Bears talk in newspapers, on the internet, on radio, on barstools, anywhere, everywhere.

The first is the competition between Rex Grossman and Brian Griese for the starting quarterback position. Or rather, the big question is whether or not Griese's much superior preseason effort should land him ahead of the struggling Grossman on the depth chart.

Hey, I don't care who starts. I don't give two shits. I don't even give one shit. I'm just (sort of) comfortable with the belief that the Bears actually have two quarterbacks who are pseudo-competent. Normally, the Bears trot out dudes who would be lucky to have a backup job in Canada. So all I want is for either Grossman or Griese to start and play well. That's all. I'm not greedy. I don't care which it is, nor am I going to pretend to know which one is better suited for the job in Week One. As far as I can tell, Grossman has always played decent when he's managed to avoid injury and stay on the field. His ability has never been the problem. He's looked almost productive and competent in his brief appearances. All signs have been encouraging. Meanwhile, Griese, while never spectacular, has always been a steady quarterback. He has never been a guy who will light it up, but he knows how to manage a team without killing it. This is more than most Bears quarterbacks can manage, and as Kyle Orton showed last year, enough to win with such a dominating Bears defense doing its thing. (Knock on wood.)

So one starts and one sits. I don't care who is who. Personally, I'd start Grossman. After all, he was a first round pick, right? All the Bears have been waiting for is for him to stay healthy, right? And so far this preseason Grossman has stayed healthy. (Knock on wood.) So give the dude a chance and let's see what he's got once and for all.

If Griese needs to play at some point, so be it.

The other central source of drama is the competition between Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson for the starting running back position. I use the term 'competition' loosely because, you know, NEITHER CAN STAY HEALTHY ENOUGH TO REMAIN IN CAMP!

I'll be honest. The daily stories of these two are driving me bonkers. It's all grown so very pathetic and maddening. Both players are going back and forth with sorry comments about how they should be the starter and he said this and he said that and Lovie said this and injury that and blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, both watch from the sidelines. Let's review:

- Jones bitched all of this summer about his contract and skipped early workouts. He then injured himself during his physical. Yes, his freakin' physical. (It should also be noted that while Jones had a productive season in 2005, he was largely considered a bust before that. With two teams. Just sayin'.)

- Benson bitched about his contract for the entire summer of 2005. He missed all of his rookie training camp in a contract dispute. When finally given opportunities in midseason, he promptly sprained a knee and wasn't heard from again. This summer, he was named the starter and promptly injured his shoulder, once again missing much of training camp.

So in other words, both Jones and Benson stalk the sidelines while yap, yap, yapping about how they should be the starter. How aggravating is this? How annoying have these two become? Until both are 100%, I don't want to hear about it. Sure, I realize Jones and Benson are continually being asked questions on the subject by reporters looking for a story, so it's not entirely their fault. That said, both seem a little too willing to keep the fire burning with thinly-veiled comments in the other's direction. And both have proven more than willing to bitch and moan about a contract only to limp off to the sideline when it was time to get down to business.

It's getting old.

A Quick Thought On Guaranteed Contracts

Bryant Gumbel, a putz among putzes, has caused a bit of a stir recently with comments regarding guaranteed contracts in the NFL. Comments such as:

“Before he cleans out his office, have Paul Tagliabue show you where he keeps Gene Upshaw’s leash. By making the docile head of the players union his personal pet, your predecessor has kept the peace without giving players the kind of guarantees other pros take for granted. Try to make sure no one competent ever replaces Upshaw on your watch.”

Is the lack of guaranteed contracts in the NFL a travesty? Well, when you consider that athletes in the other major sports leagues have guaranteed contracts, then, yeah, probably. I think you'd be a fool to say that the job Upshaw has done representing the players of the NFL shouldn't be subject to some serious examination. He has some explaining to do.

That said, I'm all for the the NFL's current situation. Maybe that's just the fan in me coming out. Or maybe it's the Average Joe of the working class coming out. Or maybe it's simply me disagreeing with Gumbel because he pees sitting down. I don't know.

The thing is, I love how these NFL guys get to play a game they love for a few years of their lives and make millions of dollars doing it - which is a privilege - and then expect to get paid even when a team no longer wants/needs them. Granted, there should obviously be some sort of leeway with regards to injury, but other than that, if you can play and perform, and some team wants you to play and perform for them, then you get paid. If your services aren't needed, you don't. If you can earn a roster spot, then you have a job and you get paid to do that job. It's a business. Employers. Employees. Yeah, it might suck, but "it" also sucks for the rest of the world's schmucks who get paid when they work and don't get paid when they don't. If a vet is replaced by a younger, cheaper player, well, yeah, it sucks for the vet. But why should he have the right to complain and expect to still get paid? His contract stipulated how much he gets paid in a given year provided his services are utilized. He had a spot in the work force, now he doesn't. Somebody else does. At one point, possibly, he was the young guy taking the spot of a vet. This is the way of the world, right? Or are athletes different?

Granted, it's hard for NFL players not to have a gripe when they see athletes in far less grueling sports get guaranteed contracts.

And granted, it makes me feel slimy to side with the owners in any way.

But I like the you-play-you-get-paid ethos of the NFL. It keeps the entire process on edge. NFL players are lucky to have a job playing a sport, but in the end, it's a job. You either have a job, or you don't. That's the way it works for teachers and doctors and plumbers and electricians and truck drivers and...

...the whole damn world.

Athletes aren't special, despite what they might think. They don't desere to get paid when they no longer have a job any more than a random sixth-grade teacher whose contract isn't renewed for the upcoming school year.

Nothing is as infuriating as seeing an NBA guy like Tim Thomas sit out nearly an entire season because he has "differences with Scott Skiles about practice habits" and yet he still gets his $14 million for the year because it's "guaranteed." Ridiculous.

NFL players do get guaranteed money with their signing bonus, and for many, it's enough to last a lifetime. So if a player and his agent have to fight for guaranteed signing bonus money, well, hey, whatever. After that, it's dog eat dog...just as it is with the rest of the world. Deal with it.

Anyway, Gumbel sucks. What was the NFL thinking when hiring him in the first place? They couldn't think of one - just one - person better for the job? Sheesh.

Lastly, I suppose Gumbel's comment about a "leash" was a hidden or not-so-hidden allusion to racism. Which would be typical of a pompous clown like Gumbel. When in doubt, play the race card. So, so typical. Because, you know, it's ridiculous that the contracts of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Brett Favre are guaranteed because they're white, while only black players are playing with contracts that aren't.

Hitler Burgers?

And you thought McDonalds was bad. Get a load of this. I'll never understand what is wrong with people.