Monday, May 31, 2010

Why the Celtics Have to Win

I would never have thought I would ever write that statement. I hate Boston teams. All Boston teams, especially those that play in Foxboro and Fenway. The Celtics don't bring out the same fury that the Pats and Sawx do, but they still are a Boston team, and for that reason, I hate them. But I want them to win so, so, so badly that I don't care what city the Celtics play in, I just care that they beat the Lakers. It is mainly becuase sooner or later basketball has to become what a team sport is, where "team" trumps "talent." The Lakers are the more talented team, with the best player. But the best player winning gets a little old. For once, let the team with more hunger, more fight and more importantly, more team chemistry win the series. Let Boston win one for "teams" everywhere. Let the ruthlessness of stars dominating the NBA till Kingdom come finally end. Especially since the next three months in the NBA will be dominated with the talk of one individual who has seen his star-status grow while his collection of rings lay stagnant, let the NBA finally be about the team.

I first really noticed it in the Cleveland series. Although the Cavs were the team who routinely showboated in choreographed dance during the regular season, the Celtics were the team that actually loved to play with each other and just loved each other. The Celtics were the team with the tighter bond, and it was those bonds that helped them upend the Cavs. At the tensest of moments, they trusted each other, they fought for each other, they played for each other. The Lakers have some of these traits as well, but there is a nervous tension on that team. You get the feeling that they don't all trust each other. Kobe doesn't trust Odom since he disappeared in the 2008 Finals and 2006&7 series against the Suns. Kobe doesn't trust Gasol since he was surprisingly quiet in the Suns series. No one trusts Artest since he has no internal governor, and puts up shots when he's firing blanks. No one trusts Bynum since he just looks lost. The Lakers are a strange team in that their whole is actually less than the sum of their parts. They should be better. Even then, they are damn good. They can easily win this series, but the Celtics have to.

The Celtics have clear advantages at the power forward position (Garnett vs Bynum, Odom, etc), and a Titanic sized advantage at point guard (Rondo vs Fisher, Farrmar). However, their biggest advantage is inside. It is cliched in sports to say that "heart" and "passion" and "will" will swing a series, but in this case it is true. The Celtics have a special bond, because in 2010, they were most 'un-Boston-like'. They were counted out, understandably so after their 27-27 finish to end the season. They were the fourth best team in the East by record, and many people had the Heat and Bucks (before Bogut's injury) as teams that were more of a threat in the East than the Celtics. Then, after a dominant first round series against the Heat, people still did not think the Celtics were anything more than first round fodder, and another tune-up for the perpetually overrated Cleveland Cavaliers. Than, after blowing an 11-point third quarter lead in Game 1 against the Cavs, everybody, even the staunchest of Boston supporters said "well, they blew their best chance to win a game." How little people, including me, understood what a team that played through each other, more than with each other, could do.

There is a huge difference between a team that plays with each other and a team that plays through each other. The first is a team that has great talent, and plays well as a team, but it is more of individual talents working together to create a beautiful finish. Great examples would be Barcelona in 2010. The talent was still there, but the feeling that they were all tied together, with the ball as the string, was gone. Guys like Sergie Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez were talented enough players, but they weren't guys that would die for the team. A team that plays through each other is like the Celtics, or the New Orleans Saints. Every player is out there, but really it is just one giant body, one mass that contains many moving parts. Every pass, every shot, every dribble, every pick and every roll is a team movement, is a team play. Everything is team. 2010 has been the year for the team, with Alabama's team defense shutting down Tebow mania, with the Saints team of 53+New Orleans riding the wave of emotion to a Super Bowl in the bayou. Then Duke, the iroinic underdog, riding juniors and seniors that knew how to play defense to another banner that will grace the roof of Cameron Indoor. Why not the Celtics joining in?

It pains me to admit that I am whole-heartedly rooting for a Boston team. I have never done this before since the Red Sox in '04. Since then, Boston has become somewhat the more arrogant New York. Like how a born-again Christian becomes an even more fanatical Christian than those who were there before, trying to catch up, Boston, when becoming the city of champions, became more arrogant than the cities that already won titles (see: York, New) to catch up. Boston was on top of the world in sports from 2004-2008, with the Pats, Red Sox and Celtics combining for five titles. Well, those days are over. The Red Sox are the third best team in their own division, the Bruins just blew a three games to none lead, including a three goals to none lead in Game 7 at home, and know Bostonians are questioning whether the Pats have another Super Bowl run in the Brady/Belichick era. Boston has suffered a precipitous drop, and they finally have a chance for a little redemption. And it is because for once, they have the likable team, not the pompous collection of individuals.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Great Divorce

I first heard it on Friday. It was news that I had been expecting for sometime, but even then, it caught me off guard. It killed me, it pained me, it made me more distraught than anything else had in sports in years. Just three months after my team lost a heartbreak of a Super Bowl, my sports year and turned even worse. Roy Oswalt was demanding a trade, divorcing himself from the Astros, which considering they suck is quite understandable, but more than that, divorcing himself from me. Roy Oswalt does not know me, and probably never will, but I know him, I cheered for him and I love him, and I don't know what to do.

First, I should say that I do not blame Roy at all. He was the Astros best pitcher of the last 10 years, and in all honesty, was probably the best pitcher in the NL for the entirety of his run here. He battled and bled for the Stros, and now he deserves a better fate than to tirelessly pitch to a team that struggles to score but one run for him. Roy was amazing for the Astros, and now that he gave his life to help this team to its first World Series ever, they should give be a lifesaver and ship him off to a team where he can win games. But this is not about Roy and his connection to the team, this is about my connection with Roy.

Baseball is a funny sport. It is not about entertainment and fun, it is about love. Purely and simply love. It fosters a deeper more human relationship between a fan and a team. There is a personal attachment to a baseball team because each season is eternal. The baseball offseason offers the cold detachment of a separation. The spring training is like a yearly honeymoon, where the possibilities of this love seem endless. The season is a long, marathon and the vows of marriage are renewed each year. Unlike the Colts and Raiders, who are just my teams, the Astros are my partner. In many ways my relationship with the Astros are much more volatile. I love them to death, but honestly I need marriage counseling. They are a horrible organization right now, with little direction and an aging, moderately talented roster. They are a laughingstock, but I married them, and I am not ready to divorce them, yet. But pushing the one and only redeeming part of the Astros, and the part that made me love them in the first place out of town, might just end it.

I first married the Astros in 2001. I did it because of Roy. It was unexplainable really what made him so appealing. His demeanor, his look, his 'screw-you' attitude, and his talent all mixed together to provide a potent sum. Oswalt was a bull-dog in style but simply a great pitcher in substance. He was the perfect underdog, short and stocky from Weir, Mississippi, a town with a population of 314. Bursting onto the scene with a 14-3, 2.73 ERA season in 2001, he finished second to Albert Pujols in the Rookie of the Year Voting. One 19-9 season later, Oswalt was a top-10 pitcher, something he would be for the rest of his Houston career. Oswalt was the most appealing part of the Astros for me, and I attached myself to him and the team, and went along for quite the tumultous marriage.

Roy Oswalt was the man that gave me my happiest non-football sports memory ever, with his brilliant performance in Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS against St. Louis. Two days after Albert Pujols' infamous home run off Brad Lidge, Oswalt toed the rubber with the Astros still in a state of shock. He, however, was not, and I watched Oswalt pitch one of the greatest games of his life. For seven breathtaking innings, he shut down the NL's best team in their own ballpark. Under a dark, mystifying night in St. Louis, the gateway to the West, Oswalt was the gateway to the World Series. The Astros were finally playing in a world series, and Oswalt, the NLCS MVP, was given a 400,000$ tractor as a MVP gift, and a new 6-year contract. Drayton McLane, the Astros owner, was standing in front of a champion locker room and put his arms around Oswalt, the man he said would be an Astro for life. I had the same feeling. He was the king of baseball for that one night, he was the star, and the marriage could not have been better.

Five years later, the marriage has hit rock bottom. The Astros are floundering, the Astros are a disorganized mess. The Astros have cheated on me by not rebuilding, not restocking the farm system. They have dominated me by having an owner blind to anything but the bottom line. I am ready to divorce them, but I have to deal with Oswalt first.

He was my hero, my guide, my partner. He was the man that kept me interested in the Astros during the last five dark years. He was the man that made me love pitching. He was the man that made me watch baseball tonight in awe of the beauty of the lovable game. Roy Oswalt will probably be dealt to some other team, some contender where he can actually go better than 2-6 with that 2.66 ERA. And that will leave me with a horrible decision. Do I divorce the Astros and follow Roy? Leave my spurned lover that spurned me, or stay faithful to the abusive partner. That is the question, but all I know is that for nine years, the Astros gave me wonderful memories, and moreso did Roy. You cannot explain true love, and really I cannot explain why I feel this nagging connection to a team that does not do anything redeeming at all, but it is still there. For Oswalt, though, there has been no turmoil, no devastation, and no abuse. Oswalt was the perfect partner, and he deserves one as well, a team that can provide for him what he provided the Astros. I however, need him more than ever.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Top 10 Iconic Images of the 2000s

These are the iconic and memorable images that defined the decade in sports. The images that when seen immediately illicit a reaction from millions, and in one case billions.

10.) The Volley

The first iconic moment comes from cold, rainy glasgow, where the best soccer player of his generation warmed up the crowd, and heated up the intensity of the game with the most memorable goal of the decade in soccer. At the top of the 18-yd box, Zidane received a high arching cross, more aptly described as a lob, from Brazilian Roberto Carlos. In one quick whirl of his left foot (his off-foot mind you), Zidane struck a volley right over the Bayer Leverkusen goalie. It was a perfect showcase of just how far and mighty the talent of Zidane could go.

9.) The Swimming Celebration

In race 3 of his 2008 Beijing Escapade, Michael Phelps was not the person who put up the great show in the pool. Phelps ran the second leg of the four-man relay, and didn't swim all that well, so fate rested in the hands of Jason Lezak. Lezak ran the laps of his life, but like life so often does, the star still took center stage. Phelps' totally spontaneous, vibrant celebration was arguably the iconic moment of the Olympics and it was the moment when everyone realized just how long of a torso Michael Phelps has.

8.) The Chip

Tiger Woods has now entered into the gray area between Pariah and Devil, but back in 2005 he was still the squeaky clean, but slumping golfer. Tiger lined up on the edge of the 16th green, clinging to a two shot lead on Chris DiMarco, and just unfurled genius. 'Genius' and 'Golf' usually are not connected, but for this one moment it was. Tiger's shot landed seemingly far, far away from the cup, but started rolling and rolling and rolling. It then paused just long enough to show the nice Nike logo, strike up a nice ad campaign, and drop in the cup for Golf's moment.

7.) The Steroid Hill

It was the moment that really defined baseball in the 2000s, where steroids trumped everything that really happened on the field. The old heroes of the 90's took their place on Capitol Hill, and answered and in all reality lied through their teeth. It was the moment that put Rafael Palmeiro's finger wag into the infamy. It allowed Mark McGwire's "I'm not here to talk about the past" into the verbal lexicon. It was the moment that truly un-caped the legends of 1998.

6.) The Miracle by Mario

It is strange that the most iconic moment in basketball happened in the college stage, but it really fits. In the best Title Game of the decade, Memphis and Kansas went back and forth in a see-saw game, but Memphis was able to put up a nine-point lead. The big elephant in the room was Memphis' free-throw shooting, and thank God the elephant reared its ugly head. Because of the Tigers' inability to hit free-throws, Mario Chalmers had a chance to launch a last-second three. Like a perfect arc, the shot split the net easily and prettily, sending the "Rock-Chalk Jayhawk" crowd into a frenzy and killing the hopes of one arrogant Mr. Calipari.

5.) The Tackle

This Game, Super Bowl XXXIV, has already been detailed in long prose already, but the most lasting moment of the game is the above image, arguably the most famous defensive play in NFL History. Kevin Dyson saw the yellow-painted End Zone open in front of him, but Mike Jones, the no-name defender from the Rams was paid money to defend that painted area. Jones perfect tackle was a fitting cap to one of the all-time Super Bowls, and started the decade off in style.

4.) The Tuck Rule

It was the biggest refereeing decision in football history. It was the play that started a dynasty, and the play that indirectly led to Tampa Bay getting Jon Gruden and winning a Super Bowl of their own. The moment is most memorable for entering the Tuck Rule into the encyclopedia of football. The Tuck Rule still lives on today, and is one of the few plays of the decade that is recognizable just by the utterance of its name.

3.) The Bloop by Lugo

Just two outs away from a 4th straight World Series win, and with the greatest closer in MLB History on the mound, Bank One Ballpark stood in waited hope that their Diamondbacks could do to the Yankees what the boys from Gotham did to their martyr of a closer in Byung-Hyun Kim. The Arizona prayers were answered when Luis Gonzalez lofted the first pitch from Mariano Rivera over the head of Derek Jeter into the Bermuda Triangle of the baseball diamond. It nestled into the grass, and Arizona had finally ended the Yankee Dynasty, kickstarting a new era of, dare we say, parity in baseball.

2.) The Helmet Catch

It is very strange that one of the most famous football plays and images does not have an official name. Pretty much every other great football play has a name, but the connection between Eli Manning, fresh off escaping a sack, to David Tyree's helmet, is probably the most memorable domestic sports moment of the decade. The 'Helmet Catch' is all the more great for its timing, as the first punch that would ultimately knock off a juggernaut.

1.) The Headbutt

It only fits that in the decades most watched sporting event, the decades most memorable moments is born. Just 10 minutes, plus penalty kicks, from the end of his glorious career, French Magician Zinedine Zidane, always a holder of a hot, quick temper, had heard enough from the libelous mouth of Marco Matterazzi. Matterazzi acted as if he was shot by an AK-47, but either way Zidane's career and World Cup hopes were red-carded in dramatic fashion. It is the one moment that is truly known by billions just by its name. "The Headbutt." There is something greatly humorous that in a sport known for its artistry, it was its greatest artist that added a bit of physicality that led to the decade's most iconic, memorable moment.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Raining on the Reign of King James

While watching Sportscenter after Game 6 of the Cleveland/Boston series, I expected to see a nice breakdown of the game, and then a nicer preview of what should be a great Orlando/Boston Eastern Conference Finals. I quickly realized I could not have been more wrong. No, ESPN took the next two hours to talk exclusively about LeBron and where LeBron will decide to go six weeks from now. I really was not surprised. I mean, what is surprising about ESPN endlessly musing about the intentions of a confusing man that will not take place for another 50 days. The LeBron free agent watch just started, and it already was nauseating. But really, the more important question is, what has LeBron done to deserve this type of coverage and fallating. LeBron, or "King James" which is an nickname that bleeds arrogance and one that he has never tried to distance himself for, is overrated, is not a winner, and really does not deserve half the coverage he is about to receive.

First off, yes, LeBron is a great, great player. He has a combination of skills that probably has never been seen in NBA history. He's a man-beast, who can get a layup at any time. He is a great passer, and a great help defender. He's great. He's not a winner though, and there is a difference. I like stats, but really, I am not a member of the statistical revolution in sports for the simple reason that in the statistical revolution, the thought of someone being a "winner" is ignored and laughed at. Statisticians would tell me that LeBron is easily the best player in the NBA. He is the most talented, but best and talented is not the same thing. LeBron might put up stats like no one else, he might be the most dominant NBA player since MJ, but really, at the end of the day, I wouldn't want him.

LeBron has now twice won 60 games in the regular season and failed to make the finals. LeBron has also been on the team that had the best record in the NBA for two straight seasons, and he has failed to reach the finals. The former has only happened one other time, the latter: never. That's right. LeBron's Cavaliers are the first team EVER to have the best record in the NBA for two consecutive seasons and fail to make the NBA Finals either year. One year ago, they fell six wins short of an NBA title, and were one miracle LeBron shot from being swept by Orlando. This year, they couldn't even make the Eastern Conference Finals. That is a total underachievement for the team that was hailed b nearly everyone as the best in the league either of the last two seasons.

What is more amazing is that LeBron is really a victim to an entirely hypocritical media. The media loves LeBron for his regular season greatness, but always fails to point out the fact that he has been a disappointment for each of the last two postseasons. They claim that he has no help on the team. Firstly, that is patently untrue. He may have no one that is as good as Scottie Pippen, but Antawn Jamison is a regular all-star. Anderson Varejao is a defensive force. Mo Williams is an all-star. J.J. Hickson was one of the most efficient players in the NBA per minute played in 2009-10. He has enough talent around him to win 65 and then 61 games in the regular season. Seeing that, he should have enough talent to at least get to the conference finals, let alone the NBA finals. If LeBron didn't have talent around him, how did his team attain the best record in the league two straight years? Are all of his players programmed robots that only play well in the regular season? If the media thinks that Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao are stiffs and aren't a good enough supporting cast, why does that same media vote Mo to an all-star game and vote Varejao to the 2nd team All-NBA Defensive Team? I'm sorry, but if he can play on the team that has the best record in the league each of the last two seasons, then he has enough players around him to win three rounds of the playoffs.

The next excuse is that LeBron cannot win games by himself. Well, if he can do it, by the media's perspective, in the regular season, why the hell not can he do it in the playoffs? I'm sorry, but if he can routinely "win games by himself" for the first 82, he should be able to do it in the final, most important, stages of the season. LeBron was terrible in Game 5. Just abhorrently bad. That was an embarrassing performance, and it led to the most titillatingly hilarious excuses, that LeBron was injured. If LeBron was injured in Game 5, what allowed him to, admittedly, play brilliantly in Game 3? Was there some new injury? Was he someone healed by Jay-Z's presence through osmosis that allowed him to drop bombs in Game 3? The only explanation is the admit what no one in the media is willing to: LeBron does not rise to the moment anymore.

Now, LeBron did have a great run in the 2007 playoffs to the NBA Finals, with a breathtaking performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but that was before LeBron was "King James", in fact, that was when LeBron became "King James." He took advantage of a weak year for the East (by East standards), and surprisingly little true expectations in that series, and delivered. Well, it seemingly went to his head. His team, which was in 2007 really full of players that were simply not as talented as San Antonio, was lifelessly whipped like a fish in a sweep. Either way, LeBron's magical performance in Game 5 changed him, changed the way everyone viewed him. He became the media's newly-anointed "Greatest Player In the League" after that game, and it really went straight to his head. He became arrogant, he became more interested in upholding his stature as the media darling than he was with winning games. He became a brand, a corporation, fueled by endless media propaganda that hailed and coronated him way too soon.

I first realized this when he claimed that his goal in life was to become the "world's richest man." Michael Jordan, the guy LeBron's aspires to match in greatness, would rather be caught playing baseball than to say that his goal in life was to become the "world's richest man." No, Michael's was to win, and win at all costs. So is Kobe's. So is Tim Duncan's. They want to win, LeBron wants to be hailed as a great player. There is a huge difference in motivation at hand here. Even Tiger Woods, the man who will very soon become the world's first billionaire athlete, is not fueled by the ridiculous money he makes, he is fueled by winning golf tournaments (as well as banging broads). LeBron is not fueled by the chance at winning a ring, he is fueled by world supremacy. If LeBron wins a ring one day, he probably will not cry out in sheer unfettered joy like Kevin Garnett did with his "Anything is POSIBBBBBBBLLLLLEEEEE" chant after the Celtics won his 2008 Title. No, LeBron is the man who left the court Thursday night not the least bit sad, or angry that his season ended in futility again. No, he looked like the man who is one day closer to getting a large paycheck from some team.

Dwayne Wade is man who seemingly killed his own body to win a title, and he did it with an aging Shaquille O'Neal, Gary Payton and Udonis Haslem as major players. Dwayne Wade won a title with less talent around him than LeBron had each of the past two years. Dwayne Wade is similarly a free-agent on June 1st, yet he will get about one hundredth media attention that LeBron will get. And Why? Because LeBron can put together better regular season numbers because he is his teams primary ballhandler? In actuality, no one knows why. I would rather have Dwayne Wade. Here is one thing I do know. LeBron has now twice led a team to the best record in the NBA in the regular season. LeBron has not a single finals appearance to show for himself. Tim Duncan, a player that garnered about one millionth the media hype that LeBron has, has never had the talent around him to have the best record in the NBA. He has won four titles. Those are numbers I care about.

Story of the Year: 2005

The Definition of Madness

It was over, and Sean May stood watching the confetti fall on him like a White and Baby Blue blizzard. He was the man of the evening, with a game for the ages. His team, talented and tenacious, had finished off the perfect but equally pesky Illinois Fighting Illini. North Carolina had won it all, but May was not completely celebrating, he was remembering. Remembering what had just transpired, what had just taken place. It was a great final, to be sure, one that saw the talent of North Carolina and the resolve of Illinois, but moreso, it was a great tournament, a perfect tournament. It was, the definition of madness.

Each weekend provided close game after close game and upset after upset. It all started on March 18, 2005, when Bucknell took on powerhouse Kansas in the first round, in OK City. Kansas was a 3-seed, was the team that many pegged to give UNC their toughest task in the East Regional. Instead, the upstarts from Bucknell scratched and clawed their way to trailing 63-62 with 15 seconds to go. It was a close game throughout. At that point there were perilously few upsets in the tournaments first 1.5 days, and Craig Bolerjack said the infamous words, "Buckle up, it's finally March." Little did he know how true his words would end up being. Bucknell took the inbounds pass, dribbled the length of the court and with just over 10 seconds to go remaining in the neck-and-neck game, Bucknell forward Chris McNoughton banked a fall-away shot off the backboard. It cut through the twine perfectly, cut the hearts of Kansas followers and Coach Bill Self (a man who knows heartbreak in the tournament one too many time's), and started the 2005 March Madness Roller Coaster.

The NCAA Tournament needed a spark. 2003 and 2004 were boring years highlighted by very few close games or great moments. Sure, Carmelo Anthony's run in 2003, and the Duke-UCONN Classic Fina 4 game in 2004 were lasting, but overall the tournament was running dry of the one thing that fueled its rise to the incredible heights: drama. That would all change in three short weeks in late March 2005, and the tournament finally proved to be the 'definition of madness.' There were upsets, and comebacks, and shots that were reviewed for 10 minutes. There were heroes and villians, rises of programs and major losses, and to end it all, the tournament was whittled down to the two undisputed best teams who capped it off with a memorable final. The tournament was, in many ways perfect.

Later that night, with the shock of Kansas' loss to the Bucknell Bison still radiating across the country, in snowy Worchester, MA., the Vermont Catamounts took the court against the Syracuse Orangemen. After a lost season the year before, Syracuse had retooled and reloaded their team and as a 4-seed in the nation's most volatile region, were trendy Final-4 favorites. Vermont was, like its state that it represented, boring and white. The game played out just like Bucknell against Kansas, where Vermont was all the time in the game, but there was an eternal sense of "When will Syracuse finish them off?" It was a fair question, as Syracuse had to be able to stop Tyler Coppenrath eventually. Well, they did, but they looked off T.J. Sorrentine. In overtime, with the game in the balance, Sorrentine stood 28 feet away from the basket, dribbling, dribbling. He posed no threat at that location, Syracuse imagined, but Sorrentine knew the limits of his ability, he know the haunted spirits that rise every March, he knew that no distance was too far, no shot was too outrageous. Hell, March was for the outrageous. Sorrentine picked up his dribble and launched. The ball cleanly struck the net. Syracuse was gone. Just like that, the boring tournament had turned into the spectacular in one hour, and the best was yet to come.

It was over and Deron Williams lowered his head, and quietly sobbed. His college career, his college life, his amatuerism, taken away in one quick put-back. Illinois, as they had done so many times in that magnificent 36-1 season, had not accepted defeat lost, but it was useless against North Carolina whose reign was to be crowned. Down by 13 at halftime, he knew the game was far from over. Not totally because he knew his team had enough ability and energy to make the comeback, but seeing what had just happened in the past month, he knew anything was possible. Just the fact that they were playing in this game, although very feasible coming into the tournament, was amazing. He knew that there was a chance to fight back, and he was right. They started hitting threes again and again. They were playing like the champion team they were, and in the championship game, coach Bruce Weber thought, hey there have been crazier comebacks just last week, why not us? And it was a crazy comeback, fought off the craziest way, with a 6'5" sixth-man putting back a rebound that lifted hearts in North Carolina, and crushed them in Champagne, Illinois. The fact that a sixth-man made the biggest play would usually be considered strange, but in 2005, it was just another ride on the definition of madness.

The college basketball landscape was still getting over Kansas and Syracuse, the teams that met in the Title game just two years earlier, being knocked out each within an hour. They finally overcame that shot when the second round tipped off that night. There was no time to rest, as there was more magic to be seen. In Tucson, Arizona, Bob Knight stood on one side of the hardwood, gazing across the floor at Adam Morrison leading his Gonzaga team out of the tunnel. If Knight could construct a person who was his exact opposite, Morrison was it. Morrison was shaggy haired, Knight was straitlaced and clean-shaven. Knight had a legendary, fiery temper. Morrison had a calm, cool demeanor that seemed to fit a man riding the waves in Maui, not throwing up 15-footers against close pressure. Knight watched as his top protoge, Ronald Ross fought Morrison head-on, shot for shot. It was a sight to behold, two players essentially making the rest of the people, including Knight, in the stadium meaningless. One of those players would decide the game. Ross hit his final shot, Morrison missed his. Crashing to the floor in despair, Morrison and Gonzaga fell victim to Bobby Knight's final ride to the second week. Knight stared at the scoreboard, reading "71-69". Knowing he escaped, he quickly left the court and put on the TV to scout 2-seed Wake Forest and 7-seed West Virginia, his two possible opponents. Little did he know his night was just beginning.

Ian Eagle entered the Wolstein Center in Cleveland for the game between the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Wake Forest Deamon Deacons expecting the worst. On paper, this was not a very competitive matchup. Wake Forest was superior, and had arguably the best player in the country, in Chris Paul, on their side. The tournament is usually the playground for the stars, and Paul's star overshadowed the West Virginia team. It was playing out like Eagle had expected with Wake taking a 13 point halftime lead. However, the night was, as Eagle and Bob Knight found out, far from over. Mike Gansey, Kevin Pittsnogle, D'or Fisher, Patrick Beilein and John Herbert were far from the household names that Paul was, but they combined, with Paul's theatrics included, to stage one of the greatest college basketball games ever, and certainly the most forgotten one.

Everyone on West Virginia just started draining three pointer after three pointer. Gansey could not miss. Herbert's three sent the game into overtime, which then featured three more threes from Gansey and one from 6'11" center Kevin Pittsnogle. Of course, Paul did everything possible to get Wake Forest to tie the game at 97 to enter double overtime. Double Overtime games are the rarest species at the college level. College athletes are not used to playing those lengths of games, so the quality of play dips drastically as the games go longer and longer. No one told Gansey, who continued to hit three after three. Finally, after 1 AM, it was over. It was the latest finish for a March Madness game in 10 years, finishing West Virginia 111, Wake Forest 105 (2OT). Wake Forest has never recovered from losing that game, while that marked the ascendancy of the WVU program, which Bob Huggins has continued since taking over for Coach John Beilein. The first weekend was finally over, with 12 of 16 games decided by single-digits in round two. Everyone got a breather, because more madness was still left to unfold.

It was over, and Bruce Weber fell to his knees. Taking over the reigns from Bill Self was not easy for Bruce. Bill Self was able to ressurect the Illinois basketball program from perilous depths, and did it quickly and efficiently. But on this day, that connection became even stranger, as it was Roy Williams' move to North Carolina that allowed Bill Self to go to Kansas and eventually pave the way for Bruce Weber to take over a talented, bright Illinois team. Bruce Weber knew he was a lucky man, but also a man with great expectations thrust upon his shoulders, and in 2004-2005, he handled those expectations perfectly. Guiding his talented team through a near-perfect regular season, and then through a tumultuous, but finally terrific tournament run had led Bruce to the ultimate stage. After seeing his team replicate his own life, one where he was an assistant coach for a staggering 18 seasons at Purdue, fighting and clawing their way back into a 71-71 deadlock against the mighty Tar Heels, he saw the ulikeliest of players crush his spirits and seemingly his knees. However, it was more the strange situation he was in that made his drop down, as Bruce Weber would have to go congratulate the man that was indirectly responsible for hsi being at Illinois, but that was nothing in a tournament that was the definition of madness.

West Virginia would win another tense close game against Knight's Texas Tech team, again with Kevin Pittsnogle and Mike Gansey draining multiple three's each, but this time no headlines were written about the exploits of the Mountaineers. No, this time there were other classics to digest. Salim Stoudamire was known as the man with the amazing shot, but the man that could do nothing but miss at crunch time. It was a tough label to attain, but one that was deserved. Stoudamire entered his Seet 16 game against 2-seed Oklahoma St. knowing that he was the key to Arizona's chances. Down 76-72 with barely two minutes to play, Stoudamire knew that he had to rise to the challenge. Among great pressure, Stoudamire launched a three. He knew that it was going in from the second it left his hands. Stoudamire was finally confident of himself in the clutch. Joey Graham was confident too, as his back-to-back baskets put Oklahoma St. up 78-77 with twelve seconds left. Joey Graham thought it was all over, because Stoudamire would come up short as he always did. Stoudamire was left to wonder if his three pointer two minutes earlier was just a one-time deal, or if he could do it again. Stoudamire released a shot with three seconds left and turned away. He could not look. His teammates did, and saw it perfectly swish through the net. Stoudamire did close his eyes, but his ears were open and hearing the sound of the crowd, knew that he finally had done it.

He would need that confidence one round later, as Arizona would face pre-tournament favorite Illinois. The Illini had finished an incredible regular season with a 30-1 record. They had a three-headed hydra at guard, with three fleet, sharp-shooters in Luther Head, Dee Brown and Deron Williams. They were a perfect college team, with three juniors, experienced and savvy. Arizona was different. They had the talent, but not the chemistry. But in March, talent is often the great divider. In a packed, intimate setting in cozy Rosemont, Illinois, in a relative home game for the orange-clad Illini, the teams traded punches back and forth for 30 minutes. Arizona's talent and size against the genial guile of Illinois. Tied at 46, the teams entered the under 16 timeout with the feeling that the game would go down to the wire, that something special was in the air in Rosemont. They weren't wrong, but when the game entered the under 6 TV timeout, with the game at 75-60 Arizona, the Wildcats lost all thought that this ending would be anything but routine.

Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, Lousville and West Virginia, playing far, far away from home, the game was the complete opposite. West Virginia, like they did in each of their last two games, were just not able to miss. Gansey was hot, Pittsnogle better, as West Virginia raced to a 32-13 lead. Rick Pitino, Louisville's dynamic head coach, was completely puzzled. He was a man who was once the best coach in the land, leading mightily talented Kentucky teams to back-to-back title games. Now, eighty miles away from Lexington, Pitino felt helpless, something he hadn't felt since he knew that "Larry Bird was not walking through that door" in his time in Boston. Pitino called a timeout, switched Francisco Garcia to point, and Louisville was able to cut the lead to 13 by halftime. At that point, thirteen seemed like a huge deficit to overcome. Pitino did not know that in a couple of hours, he would be able to have a celebratory beer watching another team overcome a greater deficit in one quarter the amount of time.

Meanwhile, in Rosemont, Illinois, Deron Williams looked to the ceiling, seeing his and his teammates amazing season go to ruin. They were the perfect team, and now they were being outplayed, they were inferior. Deron Williams went over to coach Bill Weber and put his arm around him, an obligatory thank you for an amazing season. Deron Williams walked back onto the court, sullen but prepared to fight out the last 4:55 of his season and his college career. Fight was everything the Fighting Illini were about, and the Arizona Wildcats were about to find out just how right their thoughts were about this game being down to the wire.

It was steal after steal, lay-up after lay-up and three after three. It was the greatest barrage in college basketball history. The Illini in a matter of mere minutes unleashed the most vicious fury in tournament history. Even as it was happening, as Luther Head was hitting threes, and Dee Brown stealing balls from point guards, the Wildcats were sure that there was just too little time left. As they did all throughout their 31-0 start, the Illini did what they did, refuse to lose. When Deron Williams nailed the fourth three in the comeback, blazing to a 20-5 run, the game was tied at 80. It was the perfect game at the perfect pace of one basket per minute, and it left the Wildcats declawed. The Illini had completed the most desperately insane comeback in March Madness history, and there was no better way to describe it but that, just pure madness. Overtime awaited.

The furious finish in Rosemont made the happenings in desolate New Mexico seem just normal. Pitino, in that great whirling mind of his, conjured up the simplest of switches, going to a zone defense, and it killed off the last vestiges of West Virginia's epic run. The Mountaineers were finally shooting bricks, finally just missing. Louisville, spurred by the motivation from their beloved coach, starting hitting shots. It was the exact opposite of the first half. With 11 minutes left, Louisville made it a three point game. West Virginia was stunned, puzzled, how a team missing their best player, Taquan Dean, was able to make a comeback. Whatever the reason, it happened. It was now West Virginia's time to throw the next punch. Their lanky, ebullient center did just that, as Kevin Pittsnogle hit two threes to extend the lead back to 10. Pitino was utterly dismayed. Basketball is a cruel game built almost entirely on momentum, and dispite Pitino's best effort, and the great run that made the game a one possession affair, after 14 minutes, Louisville was just three points closer than what they were at halftime. However, there was one last punch to be made, and like the one made by Deron, Dee, Luther and crew, it was a haymaker that reverberated from New Mexico all the way back to Kentucky. Louisville went an a run that was all too Illini-like. It was more defensive, as they held West Virginia to just two points in the final six minutes, forcing a off-balanced West Virginia attempt at the win to miss the basket completely. Somehow, someway, Good 'ol Rick had done it again. Lousville and West Virginia were deadlocked at 77, and overtime awaited.

In Austin, TX, another outpost of basketball not totally conducive to the media maw that generall followed the tournament, Pitino's old team would try to knock off Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans, trying to make their fourth Final Four appearance in 7 years. It was the polar opposite of both the other Elite Eight games, as it was close throughout. The biggest lead was Michigan State by 6 with six minutes to go, but even then, there was not the feeling that the game was too far gone like in both the previous cases. This was just a rugged match between College Basketball's preeminent grinders. However, the finish would have the flair for the dramatic.

Shannon Brown stepped to the line, readying his body as he nervous dribbled echoed his ever loudening pulse. These were the moments that college kids lived for, in all reality. The game clock literally frozen in time, waiting on him to finish off the game. However, like so many other games have taught us, there is nothing more imprisoning and haunting than a "free" throw. Brown needed to make two free throws to assure that Michigan St. would not lose. Up by one, with twelve seconds to go, Brown cocked his left arm and arched the right, and released. Softly and gently in flowed in an arc right through the net. The second was the copy of the first. Brown exhaled, knowing that on the most pressurized of stages, he was able to be the hero. Patrick Sparks, Kentucky's senior lunch-pail player, looked on in dismay, as he, just moments ago, was not able to deliver with the same preciseness, as his missed free throw cost Kentucky the chance to tie the game. Sparks just wanted one last chance. Luckily for him, the weekend had one more miracle left. With barely a tenth of a second on the clock, Patrick Sparks launched a desperation heave up to the basket. It was an ugly shot, rotating curiously and floundering on its way to the cylinder, but got the prettiest of bounces. It hit nearly every part of the rim, seemingly playing hot potato with the iron, but it refused to bounce off. After what seemed like five seconds to itself, it calmly rolled into the middle of the net. Kentucky was safe, Sparks was the hero again. Overtime awaited.

Nothing more can describe the unbelievable nature of the 2005 March Madness like these three overtime games on Elite Eight Weekend. They were just, to a word, perfect. They each had their respective flaws and differing beauties. None of the overtimes were totally able to live up to the highest of standards their regulation times set, but in each their own, they were fitting codas. In Rosemont and Albuqueraue, Arizona's Hassan Adams' last gasp three missed, sending Illinois into the Final Four, and the game into the halls of history. In New Mexico, Louisville, after finally breaking the most resilient of hearts in that of the West Virginia Mountaineers, finished their comeback by cruising over a broken team to a comfortable overtime win. Finally, bucking the trend that the team that gives up the lead heading into overtime is done, Michigan St. led by Tom Izzo who has made a hall of fame career and numerous millions by bucking trends, was able to muster enough energy to dispatch the peskiest of Wildcats. The Final Four was set, but really, the drama had climaxed in a two day buffet of basketball. Desert was all that was left, and it was delightful.

It was over, and Roy Williams raised his hands in well-deserved celebration. After losing a memorable title game with a pre-tournament favorite two years earlier, his life's work as a college coach was finally complete. For years, Williams was the coach who 'Could Not Win the Big One', and finally that was all over. All the demons he contained in his closet, the dark memories of Syracuse's Hakeen Warrick blocking Lee Miles tie-attempt, and his crushing loss at the hands of Mike Krzyzewski in 1991, were all forgotten. Roy had finally reached the mountaintop, and for a guy that was crucified for failing to do so for so many agonzing years, that was the prefect way to cap off a tournamet that was a definition of madness.

One Shining Moment, 2005

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Real Peyton Manning

Y'all act like you've never seen me do work before
Jaws on the floor, like Belichick's was after 4th and two entered lore.
Now, I started whooping his ass worse than before
The league knew I could throw it galore and throw it some more.

It's the return of the Manning, "Oh wait he's kidding"
Belichick said before I turned his D to kindling

And Tom Brady says....
Nothing you idiots, Tom Brady's dead locked in Moynahan's basement

Delusional Pats fans love Tommy Brady.
"Tommy Brady, I just love him"
Look at Tom, walking around grabbing his you know what,
flipping the you know who
"Yeah but the goats so cute though".

Yeah I probably got a couple of screws up in my head lose
but no worse than what's going on in Belichick's filmroom.
Sometimes I just wanna go up to him and let loose, but I can't
but its cool for his cameramen to break all the rules?

I'm driving for the win, I'm driving for the win
and if you're lucky I might make Brady throw down a shot of gin
That's the message I'm trying to give to little kids
that it's not as important to marry a model as he thinks it is
Of course they're gonna know who Gisele is when they hit fourth grade
They got the Victoria's Secret catalogue, don't they?

"Manning, you ain't nothing but stats"
Yeah, but some of us are cats
who cut up defenses like cats do with welcome mats
But if we can cut up cats and mats and blow up Rex's blitz packs
Then there's no reason why we can't go up to Gillette and dice the Pats

But if you feel like I feel, I got the antidote
Don't worry, I'm on the same page as Gonzo's
Sing the chorus, how's it GO!!

Cause I'm Peyton Manning, yes the better Manning
And that other Damn Manning is just imitating
So won't the real Manning please stand up,
please take the chance to blow the Pats up.

Cause I'm Peyton Manning, yes the better Manning
And that other Damn Manning is just imitating
So won't the real Manning please stand up,
please take the chance to blow the Pats up.

Phil Rivers don't gotta run and audible under pressure.
Well I do, so screw him cause I can do more than he can do.
You think I gave a damn about the rest of the AFC?
Half the teams can't score on Freeney, let alone stop me.

"But Pey, what if you lose, wouldn't it be weird?"
Why? I've done reached that high gear
I've done it all before and no one can reach levels near
After that Title Game, Rex Ryan better buy me a beer
So I can drink and tell him and Darrelle Revis
how I beat their ass, and that they'll never beat us.

That big fat slob, tried to blitz and confuse me on national TV
"Yeah, but I think he got a lap band, hee hee!"
I should download that game for the world to see
and they can see how I showed the Jets the power of me.

I'm sick of you little young teams, all you do is annoy me
So I have been sent here to destroy you.

There's a dozen of us just like me
Who audible like me, who just burn blitzes like me
Who impress like me, who walk, talk and throw like me
and it might be the next generation, but not quite me.

Cause I'm Peyton Manning, yes the better Manning
And that other Damn Manning is just imitating
So won't the real Manning please stand up,
please take the chance to blow the Pats up.

Cause I'm Peyton Manning, yes the better Manning
And that other Damn Manning is just imitating
So won't the real Manning please stand up,
please take the chance to blow the Pats up.

I'm great to watch to, because I'm only giving you
things you can do while I audible before I lower the boom.
The only difference is I've got the balls to do it in front of ya'll
and I don't feel the need to hurry up the snap at all.
I just get to the line and hit it
and whether you would like to admit it, I just throw it
better than every other quarterback out there.

You wonder how I can keep putting up wins by the dozens
It's funny, cause at the rate I'm going, I'm gonna be the only one throwing
Shaving Aaron Rodgers' beard, while I'm at the Super Bowl rollin'
While the Pack are folding, people will see my legend again growing

And there will one day be another me lurking
He could be at Alabama working, sucking on Nick Saban's Title Rings

In the Lucas Oil lot Brady, Bill and Rivers will be crying
Screaming out "I just give up"
with their heads down and hands cupped.

So will the real Manning please stand up?
And put one of those fingers on each hand up
And be proud in February to start rocking two rings
Cause one more time the Colts will win that thing.

Cause I'm Peyton Manning, yes the better Manning
And that other Damn Manning is just imitating
So won't the real Manning please stand up,
please take the chance to blow the Pats up.

Cause I'm Peyton Manning, yes the better Manning
And that other Damn Manning is just imitating
So won't the real Manning please stand up,
please take the chance to blow the Pats up.

Cause I'm Peyton Manning, yes the better Manning
And that other Damn Manning is just imitating
So won't the real Manning please stand up,
please take the chance to blow the Pats up.

Cause I'm Peyton Manning, yes the better Manning
And that other Damn Manning is just imitating
So won't the real Manning please stand up,
please take the chance to blow the Pats up.


Sneak Preview of what my next post will be about:

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.