Friday, December 23, 2011

Virgo Kent's NBA Preview (Welcome to the NBA NWO)

I may be excited for the NBA season to start Sunday but I have far less patience for the business of the game. I don’t care for owners who only see losing profits instead of seeing their role in it or trusting their basketball people to do their part. I don’t care for poor GM’s who can’t evaluate talent and chemistry and contribute to players wanting to go elsewhere.

I don’t care for David Stern threatening to ruin the game I love with his power trip. I don’t care about people mad at players realizing the power that we gave them and fulfilling Curt Flood’s dream to be agents of change instead of being happy to play and make money.

I want to get back to discussing basketball but it feels like after seeing what this lockout is about it feels secondary. I’m gonna try to anyway despite every time I think of David Stern or see the LA Clippers, I know we are watching a league that should be enjoying a great 2010-11 campaign but comes back after a drama summer.

Stern used to be the best commissioner in sports but like all great men of power, they get delusional the longer they hold it. When they get threatened by something powerful (in Stern’s case, the Malice at the Palace), they start overreacting to keep that power. Richard III did it, Tony Montana and Michael Corleone too. So did Adolf Hitler and other leaders.

It started with the dress code. Then it led to curbing everyone’s enthusiasm after being fouled with handing out technical fouls for the slightest anger instead of just far worse whiners. Now it came to being a bully in the lockout proceedings ("I know where the bodies are buried?"), something Bryant Gumbel took a justified step further.

With the aid of the owners, he held the league hostage in this lockout without addressing the main concerns. Yes, the players gave $3 billion back but how does that make the league better? When guys are still getting crazy, overpaid deals? When a luxury tax only hints at what could be possible with revenue sharing? So he and the owners bullied the players into a deal knowing that the fans would ultimately hate them if they didn’t.

This was all about restoring power, not fairness or competitive balance*. Nowhere was this more evident than Chris Paul being arranged to go (NOT traded) to the Clippers, instead of to the Lakers in a 3-team deal. Instead of respecting a great GM who made his team better and weakened a Western power despite giving them Paul, the owners whined and Stern acting as co-owner of a team killed the trade for “basketball reasons”. That’s the power move of a desperate man who isn’t thinking clear.

*(By the way, the league hasn't had competitive balance in 31 years. Look how many teams have won NBA titles since 1980. The NBA is the only league where half of the teams makes the playoffs. Factor in 3-5 teams that just finish outside and that's 19-21 teams out of 30 who are in playoff contention. By definition, those teams are competitive.)

The Hornets got a younger package from the Clippers (and guys who looked like they were not happy to be there.) The Rockets, who thought they were getting Pau Gasol, look worse. The Lakers looked lost and flustered for the first time in seven years and gave Lamar Odom away for less than they got Gasol for. The Clippers got way more exciting and got their biggest free agent in years.

If this was a genuine move, it’d be earthshaking in its own right. But the earthquake feels artificial. Instead of nature doing her thing, it’s a man made quake that could have seismic consequences on the rest of the league, its perception and a lot of other shady instances in league history.

The Decision last year was the creation of the NWO in the WWE. The Chris Paul trade being killed was the Montreal Screwjob that made WWE Chairman Vince McMahon go from owner to power player screwing with the system. One was pivotal but ultimately more beneficial for the league despite people mad at LeBron and Chris Bosh. The other was also pivotal but deeper consequences within the league that are dangerous.

Hate these guys if you will, but David Stern did far more damage to the league than they did.
All that matters now is that the powers that be have showed their hand and I’m worried what more foolishness could transpire next. David Stern and the owners have long been the Hidden Hand behind the scenes overseeing this league but now that a new world order is in effect, this could threaten what we see and love if you care about the NBA.

But this isn’t all doom and gloom. Here’s some quick hit storylines I’m watching.

1.  Will the Heat win this year? I don’t see why they aren’t the favorites. The team that lost last year got better with Shane Battier but all eyes will be on Dwyane Wade's health and if LeBron James will play angry with a lil more developed game in the post/midrange.

2.  Can Dallas repeat? I think they’ll get back to the Western Conference Finals. With Lamar Odom and a crazy X-factor in Vince Carter, they might just be another Green Bay in terms of sneaky defending champions.

3. Can Memphis sustain its great run? I've seen Portland rise and fall. Memphis looks like a team that caught fire but I have no clue what will happen the year after. The great mystery of the West.

4. The last hurrah for the Lakers/Celtics/Spurs. Last postseason was the changing of a guard in the league. This will be the last chance for this teams to remain elite and I think the Spurs have the best mix of youth to stay around.

5. Kevin Durant finally wins MVP? Maybe this depends on Russell Westbrook and how he handled his postseason. But Durant showed why he’s the most unstoppable offensive force in the league and I think this year he gets even better.

Oh yeah, can somebody explain to me how Kendrick Perkins got on the Buddy Love diet?

6. Lob City? Chris Paul trade hate aside, the Clippers are exciting for the first time in 10 years. Time will tell if they are as good as they were 5 years ago or if Donald Sterling will interfere with this run of good like he always does.

7. Kobe’s last hurrah. I said this summer that nobody has been an All-NBA selection after their 15th season except for Shaq and Kareem. Prior to 2 weeks ago, Kobe looked as healthy as he’s been in years. But after that wrist injury and his divorce, there’s no telling how he’ll play this year and it’s pivotal because it could be his last as the KB that we know.

8. Rip Hamilton might be the best signing of the summer. Shane Battier to the Heat could compete with this but if Hamilton has anything left, he gives Derrick Rose another weapon with postseason experience. I like this for Chicago, who I think is still the No. 2 team in the East.

9. Will Golden State finally reach the postseason? Mark Jackson is my early pick for Coach of the Year if the Warriors get there. It’s about time Monta Ellis, Steph Curry and that high risk, high reward lineup makes good on their promise and mature into a formidable team.

10. Dwight Howard? This is going to be annoying and this offseason annoyed me on it. My prediction is he plays most of the season in Orlando. He's either going to New Jersey or the Lakers but watching Chairman Stern find a way to meddle in this too.

11. Which rookie will impress the most? Another weak draft class at first but I’m interested in the Cali kids I covered who are in the league (Darius Morris, Derrick Williams, Jordan Hamilton, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Tyler Honeycutt). Curious to see what Kemba Walker does in Charlotte? How quick Jimmer Fredette gets humbled. Kyrie Irving’s growth in Cleveland. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Grinds My Gears: "There Are More Important Things to Worry About"

People say this all the time whenever people trip out about what appears to be a superficial issue. I’ve done it too. Typically, the way it should be used is when somebody is complaining about something that really is a minor issue in the grand scheme.

Example: “So-and-so didn’t tweet me back. Isn’t that sad?” ----- “I broke a nail and am having a fit over it” ---- “[Insert celebrity couple] broke up and the world should stop or who can I trust for longterm commitment.”

It’s for those kind of things that we’d expect little kids to say since they don’t know any better. That’s the definition of ignorance by the way. As you get older, you realize certain things aren’t worth crying or getting mad over. But times have changed.

Nowadays it seems like we say this want to belittle you for caring about something that isn’t important in our eyes, instead of what’s universally accepted as insignificant. It’s a phrase that’s become opinionated to fit our tastes and condemn someone as much as it is to remind them of the bigger picture.

To be fair, we live in times where a lot of insignificant things get a lot of attention. Like Lupe Fiasco said in "Words I Never Said", TV is filled with WTF's and it's not just MTV, it's CNN/MSNBC. Pop Culture has become major news thanks to public demand and various outlets and it has made the typical American viewer a lot less informed compared to the international one. I think we are typically more distracted than ever.

What someone cares about may be insignificant to someone else. But I hate how this phrase is used to try and force people to get over things that aren’t as superficial. It’s a cop out that cheapens those important things  by making us care as if we need to 24/7, which only a rare few do.

Mainly people do this when it’s a point of view they don’t want to hear. Sometimes it is really for something that’s important but when we start weighing big stories that are discussed (tragedies and such…), then it borders on shame instead of shared sympathy – something I discussed when Amy Winehouse died the same day as the shooting in Norway.

I’ll show 2 cases of this.

Writer Christopher Hitchens passed away after a long battle with cancer. Hitchens wrote a piece called “God is Not Great” which became a trending topic last night. Naturally this would anger many people of faith but I saw people of faith and others who said focus on bigger things like poverty and other injustices instead of someone’s opinion of God.

This is true but does someone not have the right to be upset when someone speaks wrong about something that may mean much to them? An atheist and a Christian both have strong reasons for what they believe and it’s okay for both to explain why. Both can be emotional but in matters of faith, a lot of it is emotion, not just reason.

Me personally, I might get upset and just share my views on how I feel about God. If someone has a disagreement, so what. I still spoke my mind cause….it’s important to me.

2nd Case: Every year Christian folk get up in arms over the War on Christmas – the idea where people say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. To me this is insignificant and I said as much a few years ago on my Myspace blog.

1st, as much as we feel that Christ is being taken out of Christmas, we can do better by injecting Christ instead of being mad he’s gone. The body of Christ is better served by reminding people what the reason is about instead of being mad you are forgetting.

2nd, I give you an example from my job. One of the kids I tutor walked up to me last week after she initially left. She said, “Feliz Navidad”. It was so cute and heartfelt that it made me smile. We shouldn’t be mad but instead just do our thing. It’s a pointless fight because we all know what this holiday season is called and we could be spent trying to remind people instead of fight them.

So my question for you is this. When you say there are more important things to worry about, is it because 1) you think it’s insignificant cause it’s a point of view you don’t want to hear or 2) you think somebody is missing the big picture that we can all see? If it’s #1, it better match up with #2 or ask why you don’t want to entertain the idea.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Football Wrap Week 14 - Bizarro Sunday

When I got out of church Sunday, I did my usual thing and checked the NFL scores since I always miss the early morning games. My eyes couldn’t believe what happened and it felt like the 14th games of the season were a trip through the Twilight Zone. A recap.

Packers lose to…the Chiefs?? New coach, new QB in Kyle Orton. They didn’t just beat the Packers, they made them look average. The Packers looked completely uptight while losing for the 1st time in a year. No reason to worry though.

Colts…win?? This shocked me more than the Packers losing but to happen on the same day? Donald Brown’s 80-yard run to clinch the win was a thing of beauty. But dang Tennessee, ya’ll had to be the patsies to spoil a winless season.

Chad Ochocinco scored?? How many mothballs were both of them boys under before they finally emerged to score. I tripped out seeing #85 actually catch a ball and actually get tin the end zone.

The Panthers ran a play…inspired by “The Annexation of Puerto Rico???" (Blast Youtube for no embedding).  Little Giants was one of my favorites growing up so props to Ron Rivera and the Panthers' offensive coordinator for pulling this off.

The Pride of Compton Dominguez HS, Richard Sherman had an interception for Seattle Sunday.

Seattle put up 35….on the Bears??? I know Caleb Hanie is their quarterback but this is still the Bears defense right?

San Francisco saw the lights go out TWICE! And then turned out Pittsburgh’s lights.

Reggie Bush had 200+ yards??? I hadn’t seen him run that happy in ages and it looked like the USC Bush. Quiet as kept, dude is close to 1,000 yards on the ground for the first time ever and Miami looks like the fountain of youth for running backs. Ask Ricky Williams.

5 players scored for the Pats and not one of them was Rob Gronkowski, the league leader in TD’s. Outside of a big catch, Gronk was MIA.

The Eagles scored 45 points…on the Jets??  And Brent Celek /(above) had 153 yards after being forgotten this year? Read that again, 45 Points on the JETS!!! You need to convince me that happened.

My Chargers blasted the Ravens….by 20?? I nearly lost my mind walking out of church tonight cause I expected Baltimore to put up a fight and for Joe Flacco not to look shook. Antuan Barnes repped the name right with 4 sacks.

Yet somehow, there was some normalcy in all of this wackiness....

Calvin Johnson had 200 yards and 2 TD’s. And he was facing his usual double/triple teams vs. Oakland. And he faces my Chargers next week. YIKES!!!

Men At Work (c) Kool G Rap - Brady and Belichick did what they do best. Make inferior talent look silly.

Tom Brady beats Tebow. Big ups to the Patriots D forcing turnovers and Brady showing why making mistakes against him will cost you. All is right in the NFL universe thanks to New England and Tebow looking lost on a few scrambles showed why he’s not all the way there.

My teams shined in big wins. Dallas beating Tampa Bay with ease to move closer to clinching the NFC East. Phillip Rivers extended his December record to 23-2 and keep the Chargers in the hunt. But Calvin Johnson boy.....

The Bills guaranteed another losing season. Remember how cool it was that they were 5-2? They haven’t won since. I'm gonna keep paraphrasing Chris Berman: “Nobody….circles the drain… the Buffalo Bills”

Drew Brees destroyed the Vikings (304 yards away from Dan Marino’s 5,000 yard record) – Every time I look up, it seems like the Saints always beat the Vikings. And a record that I always thought Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady will pass will be done by a guy the Chargers gave up on too soon.

The Giants continuing their downward spiral after the Cowboys helped get them out of it. The flip side of Eli Manning’s comebacks is that the Giants have been inconsistent all year. Can’t Truss Em Like Public Enemy said.

To add to all the madness, I started Doug Baldwin (Seattle) and Percy Harvin (Minnesota) on my fantasy team in the playoffs. They combined for a grand total of 5 points. Meanwhile I sat Brandon Marshall and Donald Brown, who combined for 47 points. I ended up losing my matchup by TWO points.

Bizarro Sunday, ladies and gents. I had no words for it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Breaking Down Tim Tebow's Hype Machine

Since I had a rare Sunday afternoon at home, I got to listen to media feedback right after most of the afternoon games. That included having to watch the Denver-Chicago game and going from cheering the Bears re-enacting the Roman Coliseum to being stunned at another Denver comeback.

I salute Denver’s defense and kicker Matt Prater (he of the 50-yarders to force overtime and win the game). Tim Tebow played solid once again in the fourth quarter to compensate for playing like dog crap in the 3rd quarter. But give Marion Barber full credit as well for two costly mistakes for Chicago.

I watched the Denver game stunned at the Fox announcers slurping up the Kool-Aid of Tebow. I listened to the media try to describe this in glowing terms instead of recognize another great team effort besides it. I heard Tebow do his best to deflect and praise the team’s effort.

It made me boil not because Denver won another game they shouldn’t. For the first time I actually saw and heard the hyperbole on Tebow in real time. And I wondered out loud why two months in we haven’t evolved to logical explanation.

It set me over the edge. I wrote something two weeks ago but it didn't go far enough. Let’s discuss this Tebow phenomenon for what it really is. Another example of the White Christian Narrative the media latches on to and blows out of proportion. It’s offensive to me as a sports fan, journalist, writer and a Christian.

(And let’s be clear, this is not an attack on Tebow as a person. I have never hated the man since I first saw him play at Florida in 2006. This is not about taking down a brother in Christ, it’s looking at the big picture – word to Big L)

First let me start by asking how many White Christian athletes do you know? Compare that to how many Black Christian athletes you know. I’m glad that I got to know AC Green and David Robinson growing up as much as I did Kurt Warner but right now, you’d be led to believe that the only Christians in sports are all White. Why is that?

(Taking it a step further, why was George Bush considered to be more a Christian than Barack Obama when by all accounts, both credit their faith very openly albeit Bush did so in a negative way catering towards conservative evangelicals.)

Tebow fits that narrative of White piety and while it’s simple, it also does Christians of all races a disservice. Not everyone wears their faith on their sleeve and those who do should be discussed, whether they look like Tebow or me. Not every Christian is the same and that’s what makes the Body of Christ so wonderful.

Why don’t they get more attention? It doesn’t fit the narrative? They assume the typical image of a Black athlete is flashy and more demonstrative which doesn’t fit the humble, Christian narrative? I’ve interviewed several HS kids of strong faith and you can tell it shines in their leadership.

To this day, AC Green remains one of my inspirations

I wish more Black Christian athletes got publicized for their faith. Maybe it’s me wishing they publicized it more but they should also get credit nonetheless. In general though, people who let their faith lead by example instead of being public rarely get the credit.

There are always great Black leaders in sports. Derek Fisher showed why handling the lockout. Donovan McNabb was a great leader in his prime. But no, we always have to praise the White leader as something extraordinary. Tebow’s speeches are inspiring but how is that any different than Ray Lewis, whose transformation into one of football’s great linebackers/leaders is one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen.

That’s also why the media discussing Christianity bothers me. Reaching for clich├ęs to discuss Tebow’s success as miraculous and divine is weak and childish. There is logical explanation for his success but instead they want to act like star struck fans who say things like “Oh I’ve never seen this before” or  reach for spiritual metaphors trying to be cute.

It didn’t bother me at first but 2 months in, it’s annoying. It insults my intelligence as a writer. If I can’t be more creative after giving up sound logic, take away my pen and paper. It’s my job as a sportswriter to describe what I see, be awestruck at times and once you see something over and over – either give up and enjoy it or look for different ways to say it.

Is it a miracle? Miracles come great and small but if the same thing keeps repeating, sometimes it's not just chance.

Also, I’m sick of the media always asking if God gave folks the victory in sports. It’s a trap question that leads to ridicule and as a Christian that hurts me  - even if I should expect as much. Let me school you on something: God is all about the intent we put into our effort. Whatever the result, God will work it out for his glory. Win or lose, God was glorified by how those who served him played, just like how we live our lives.

God cares not if we win or lose, he cares about our effort and especially our intent behind it. If we do things for His glory, that’s all He cares about. I know it’s hard for the media and most to understand this so I tried to break this down.

To Tebow’s credit, he also deflects the idea that God gave Him the victory. He has the right attitude and I salute him for that. He can’t be blamed for everyone around him being irrational. He isn't God's quarterback anymore than I am God's writer. That label is dangerous cause it implies God is with Tebow only. Not true.

What he is doing is incredible. What his defense and head coach have done is equally incredible. We can describe their playmaking with sound logic without catering to illogical fans who worship everything Timmy does. I’m not going to lead the ludicrous chorus of Tebow’s sainthood when he’s clearly taking advantage of some terrible defensive strategies and making the most of his situation.

It’s okay to be in disbelief – even if Vince Young did this as a rookie, even as Eli Manning is doing it now. I’m shocked that Tebow with his weaknesses is doing it but when you consider he’s in a system built around his strengths – a system that thumbs its nose at every previous option QB who deserved a break (mostly Black) – you need to credit his coach too.

Enough stories about Tebow inspiring his defense. Von Miller is a freaky good rookie with an incredible motor and Elvis Dumervil is one of the league’s best defensive ends. Maybe they want to play better in the 4th quarter knowing Tebow is coming but it’s a lot easier when they’ve faced some bad quarterbacking.

That leads me to the Church of Tebow. That church that started the minute he threw that jump pass in 2006. That church that got even stronger after he won the Heisman and delivered that speech after losing. That church that has turned him into a saint and won’t bother listening to reason.

Call me beyond upset at them. Bomani Jones said it best, it’s like watching rooting for a Little Leaguer to win because he fights so hard. People want Tebow to win so much that they overlook other logical factors such as his QB deficiencies.

The fact he’s being discussed an MVP candidate is hilarious. Not when Aaron Rodgers is ascending from great young QB to the best QB in the league. Not when Eli Manning is doing what Tebow’s doing but as a mature passer. It’s great but let’s not get out of hand here. He’s no different than any backup who comes and inspires his mates with an improbable run. The man he faces next week, Tom Brady, is a clear example and he took his team to a Super Bowl win.

(Edit: Heck, Cam Newton has had a similar impact on Carolina than Tim Tebow. Only difference is that Cam can't play defense. But tell me he hasn't lit up that franchise and inspired players similar to Tebow. Go ahead)

Everything he does becomes a phenomenon. Kneeling down to pray is now Tebowing. People actually buy #15 Jerseys with Jesus on them. I jokingly call this sacrilege but it's half true. It makes no sense to me. Kurt Warner didn't have this level of hype and he actually 1.) won 2 MVPs, 2) went to 3 Super Bowls, 3) had the best team in football for 3 years in a row, 4) earned his success paying dues in the Arena Football League and struggling. 

They make excuses for him that didn’t work for Charlie Ward, Doug Flutie, Eric Crouch, Troy Smith and Michael Vick pre-prison. Check Vince Young’s winning percentage. In all those cases, their flaws were discussed way more despite their ability to win. With Tebow, it’s the other way around. Why??

Heck, Denver fans act like they never saw this before. How soon they forget that their exec of VP operations was an incredible athlete and maybe the greatest dual-threat quarterback and comeback artist in football history

It’s a combination of everything I said. Race, his personality, his fanbase since college, the media love fest, his faith, our quickness to praise a White Christian athlete over a Black one and our love of the gritty White athlete overcoming obstacles (i.e. Hoosiers). To deny any of this would be to call yourself a liar.

Denver has a right to be excited. Tebow should feel happy. I don’t hate their excitement.I'm happy we discuss faith in the media and God's name is discussed. I just hate when illogical fans and the media fall into traps and stereotypes that defy logic because it keeps repeating.  

The more Tebow wins, the more the train keeps churning and the more I feel I need to grow bolder explaining the lunacy behind him.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Robert Griffin III: A Sign of Progress

Robert Griffin won the Heisman Trophy. A first for Baylor and the 5th Black QB to win the award. 

It's a big sign of progress for Black quarterbacks that Griffin not only won the Heisman but that he and Cam Newton before him are the modern QB these days. Big, strong, dual-threats with great arms, personality and character. Entering the NFL in the post-Vick/McNabb generation facing less stereotypes.

You can trace the modern evolution of how the Black QB is perceived looking at the 5 guys who won the award. Andre Ware and Charlie Ward were phenomenal quarterbacks who never got a shot to succeed in the NFL due to the times and not fitting the mold. 

In between them and Troy Smith, Tommie Frazier and Michael Vick took college by storm. Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb proved they could be dual-threat quarterbacks who could pass first and think. They followed the footsteps of James Harris, Marlon Briscoe and Doug Williams, who made bold statements in Tampa Bay and Washington.

Smith was still a victim of perception even though he won the Heisman with an overwhelming vote. He was undersized despite the fact that he proved himself and no chances were made for him. He had a few flashes in the NFL but never had much of a shot. That's more than the guy who beat him for the national title, Chris Leak, can say as Leak didn't even get drafted.

Cam Newton is standing on the shoulders of giants. The fact that his NFL career is treated like a normal hyped rookie QB and limited worries about racially coded coaching moves/language in describing him (although it still exists), is a sign of progress.

After the Bowl game he could have 40 passing TDs, 4,000 yards and 10 rush TDs. Insane. 

Robert Griffin is even more progress as the well-spoken, poised, team-oriented leader usurped a lot of the buzz from preseason favorite Andrew Luck. If you know me, you know I'm a diehard Luck supporter and believe in his gifts. I didn't think most people would be behind Griffin but here I was hearing folks all over root for him over Luck for not just the Heisman, but the No. 1 overall pick.

RG3 had a phenomenal year from Day 1 when he beat TCU and then went on to beat Oklahoma and Texas. The only Texas team they didn't beat was Texas A&M and he still had 430 yards, 3 TDs and an INT. It was more important than record, he had a better season than A. Luck. 

(I'm hoping that Tim Tebow's success paves the way for option QB's to have coaches willing to change for them but I doubt it since 1) Tebow's success is a misnomer and 2) Black QBs have typically little wiggle room anyway so why suspect one anomaly will lead to more when they never did it before.

Plus it's an insult to Griffin to say that. He's a better passer and at 6-2 (ironically the same size as Charlie Ward), he has better size to stand in the pocket. He's no option quarterback if you peep his stats above. Watch the connotations of that)

The Black quarterback has made a lot of progress. There is still plenty of work to do with the perception of them as thinkers and quarterbacks, not just athletes with super arms. There is still a belief that QB's have to fit a certain mold or type and if they look a certain way, they have to do (X, Y, and Z).

But Robert Griffin is another sign of Black quarterbacks succeeding and it being less and less of a surprise how they do it. A friend of mine said it best last year: Future Black QBs are going to want to be Cam Newton and Robert Griffin type field generals who have intelligence and skill.

It's also progess for the Baylor sports program. 10 years ago, Baylor men's basketball had a terrible scandal involving a teammate killing another teammate and his coach slandering the dead player as a drug dealer after reports indicated. Now they have the best football player AND the best female basketball player in the country AND a successful men's basketball program that can recruit elite talent.

Cheers to RG3 and here's hoping some team in the Top 10 takes him to a similar impact to Andrew Luck. Finally something good to cheer about after this strange college season.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

State of the Bruin: How to Fix UCLA Football

I was all set to write about how happy I was that Rick Neuheisel was fired as UCLA football coach. As great a guy as he is, he struggled to live up to his promising debut win and couldn't recruit or develop prime talent away from USC. He ran off his top two assistants and installed a pistol offense that lacked the personnel to pull it off.

But I realized something. This isn't about Neuheisel. It's about a program that hasn't recovered since they gave Edgerrin James his breakout performance in that famous shootout with Miami in 1998 that cost them a shot at the BCS title.

Since 1998, the Bruins have gone 80-78 and have only finished in the Top 3 of the Pac-10/12 once. If you take away the year they were nationally ranked and went 10-2 in 2005, that record looks a lot worse. I can count the top NFL products on two hands and none of them are quarterbacks. Besides Drew Olson in 2005, no QB has even been decent since Cade McNown went to the Heisman ceremony in 1998.

1998 was also the last year they beat USC. Since then, it's been as one-sided as it's ever been, save for a fluky win in 2006. The 50-0 beatdown this year summed up that USC has an iron fist on the LA football scene. Even when USC had guys like Chris Claiborne and Keyshawn Johnson, UCLA still had comparable talent and found ways to win the only game that mattered.

Basically since I was a freshman in high school, UCLA has been either irrelevant or average. I remember that 20-game winning streak in 1997 and 1998 fondly but that's a distant memory to folks now. I'm not saying UCLA needs to be elite but can decently competitive be a standard worth holding? Here's my advice to the athletic department.

1. Hire somebody outside of the UCLA family. Open the pocketbooks and find a coach who'll utilize the players he has and coach them up to be better. I don't know who that is but now isn't the time to be safe. It's time to re-establish the pedigree with a new breed instead of in-house options.

2. Find a Quarterback. Brett Hundley was the QB of the future for the pistol. But with Neuheisel gone and a new offense in place, I don't know if the new administration will trust him (why I don't know). Hundley appears to be an answer and considering UCLA hasn't started a Black QB since 2007, it's worth a shot. Yet it's a shot that should inspire them to find other top notch QBs because the last few years has been embarrassing.

3. Recruit the inner cities. This is a problem because of UCLA's strict academic standards. They usually end up with good nice students who don't always play well on the field. But it's no surprise that UCLA's best players include Johnathan Franklin (Dorsey), Datone Jones (Compton) as well as kids from Orange County or the San Fernando Valley.

Having covered that area for 5 years, UCLA is letting prime talent slip away instead of reach out to them. It's similar to what UCLA basketball has done - poorly evaluate local talent and watch them leave out of state to thrive elsewhere.

In 2008-09, UCLA had one of the top recruiting classes in the country. It hasn't panned out well three years in. Meanwhile USC's class from that year has already seen guys thrive. They, Oregon and Washington are scouting the inner cities for prime talent and luring them away to watch them thrive. It's time UCLA recruits harder - something that was a hallmark of the Karl Dorrell era.

4. Open up the offense. USC and Stanford are thriving in a basic, pro-style offense. Oregon is thriving in a spread. UCLA has wasted 4-5 years of great WR talent not utilizing them. We're in an era of QB's throwing the ball like never before and it's time UCLA joins the 21st century with some offensive balance. Where have you gone Danny Farmar, J.J. Stokes and Brian Poli-Dixon?

Ultimately, we need to give recruits a reason to come to UCLA. Right now, they have none. They see UCLA as an inferior little brother who has a Napoleon complex due to past glory. It's time to stop being entitled and realize that you need to fight to maintain tradition instead of living off it with false expectations.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Football Wrap Week 13: BCS Chatter, Heisman Pickin and that Torero Pride!

I shall begin this week’s blog by admitting I have no clue where I stand on the BCS Title Game issue. I’m okay with Alabama being in there yet I can argue Oklahoma State has a case. I present the Virgo Breakdown of both schools

Pros for OK State
- They won the Big 12 title.
- They only lost on the road was in double OT to Iowa State, who also threatened Kansas State in an upset.
- The Big 12 was perhaps the strongest conference all year and deserves an entry.
- They beat OK, Kansas State, Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor

Cons for OK State
-They did lose to unranked Iowa State
-Less we think that game was a fluke, A&M was up huge and Kansas State put the fear of God in them

Pros for Alabama
-They played LSU tight for 60 Minutes
-It’ll be must see TV esp. in the South
- Rematch games are not out of the ordinary (1993 and 1996 title games)
- I believe they are probably the 2nd best team by default and from my eyelids.

-Did not win the SEC Title
- Already faced LSU and had their chance
- Played a weaker schedule than OK State
- No team has played for the BCS title without winning a conference title in 8 years (2003 – Oklahoma lost the Big 12 title game and still played and lost to LSU. 2001 – Nebraska didn’t make the conf title game and got stomped out by Miami.

See how tricky it is? I can make legit arguments for both and I have no clue which makes sense. I have sympathy for OSU because I believe the Big 12 >>>>> SEC this year. Yet Alabama was clearly right there with LSU.

My only counter is wondering about something like 2006 when Ohio State and Michigan were ranked 1-2 entering their game. Yes it was the last game of the season so all was at stake but both played so evenly that a rematch would’ve been appropriate. I wonder if they played earlier in the year would folks have been crazy for it. It could be SEC bias at play here but also since all the top teams lost, Bama also did move up by default. Also, Bama was #2 in the AP poll as opposed to Nebraska and Oklahoma making crazy jumps.

Either way, the field will determine where everybody should be. Ball never lies and ultimately, the best teams do it on the field, not in the polls. And now a Virgo Rant.

Yeah I see the BCS and I see BS!! Let’s celebrate the biggest racket in college football – All that money and the schools get nothing but prestige. The bowl committees get most of the bank and of course the players get nothing but trinkets and a final audition for the NFL scouts, fans and their legacies. The bowl games are a crockpot of money and greed and backslapping goodness that masquerades as tradition. 

So yes, we’ll watch and celebrate despite the fact half these games are only around because some company puts up the cash and we want to reward every team that finishes .500 or better (except my beloved UCLA Bruins who make a Bowl Game at a sterling 6-7). Expansion rears its ugly head and I’d be happier if we killed off some of these games. Or at least give the players some money. And let's not even discuss how we select certain teams while some teams get screwed *steps off soapbox*

- Boise State vs. Arizona State will be a good early game
- Baylor vs. Washington will be nice. RG3 vs. the future in Keith Price
- Florida and Ohio State seem to always meet up in either college football/bball. This one could be heated
- Georgia vs. Michigan State will be great
- South Carolina’s Jadeveon THE FREAK Clowdey and Melvin Ingram vs.Nebraska's Taylor Martinez? Yes!
- Somebody please tell me why the Compass/GoDaddy Bowl Games are late in January??? Put them ugly games in the back! See this is what I'm talking about right here. This RIGHT HERE is some.....(grabs the mic from this crazy fool and shoves him offstage before he pisses off the wrong fan)

Virgo’s Heisman Ballot
1. Robert Griffin The Great
2. Case Keenum
3. Honey Badger (need I remind you what this dude did in the last two games – best defensive playmaker since N. Suh)
4. Montee Ball (38 TD’s is 38 TD’s. In a power running conference, that’s even greater. The most underrated star of this college season.)
5. T-Rich from Bama
6. LaMichael James – I feel T-Rich and James are better runners who did better work than Ball. Better NFL prospects too I’ll add. LMJ suffered when he missed a game due to injury but he remains the best Pac-12 RB I’ve seen since Reggie Bush/Lendale White
7. Andrew Luck – before you ask where Matt Barkley is, I’ll remind you that Luck had a clutch drive to tie USC and he beat Barkley’s USC team in triple OT. Pac-12 Player of the Year trumps Barkley’s numbers. But being the No. 1 overall pick doesn’t mean you were the best QB this year.

NFL Tidbits

The Return of Josh Johnson!! The legend of the University of San Diego got his 1st start in 2 years and played pretty well (16-27, 229 yards, TD, INT, 45 rush yards). And yes, I was happy as ever blowing this up before and after church. Torero Pride baby!

Aaron Rodgers’ 1 minute drill was pure money. Great way to respond to Eli Manning’s drive and further proof that he and the Packers are on another level (Get well soon, Charles Woodson)

Give Tim Tebow his credit playing well and looking like a quarterback Sunday. The church can get a head nod from me as I keep driving past it. 

Somebody please me why 1) Jason Garrett iced his own kicker, 2) nobody on Dallas called timeout on the previous play instead of burning clock only to spike the ball. My Boys better not be starting our annual December choke job.

The Chargers took it back to 2009 dropping hell fire on the Jaguars. Philip Rivers looked sharp. Vince Jax and Malcom Floyd made big plays. Ryan Matthews ran the ball well. Slumps die in Florida I guess.

Quiet as kept, Chris Johnson is playing back to normal. It’s a surprise if only you have no idea how a body works. Took him a while to get going, longer due to his holdout and now that he has 130+ yards in 3 of his last 4 games, he’ll finish with 1,000 yards. A success when you consider things.

New England is lucky they didn’t give back a 28-point lead to the Dan Orlovsky-led Colts. Read that again, Dan “Run Out Of the End Zone” Orlovsky nearly engineered a 4th Q comeback.  Baltimore runs the AFC, far as I’m concerned.

On that point, Rob Gronkowski is that dude. 13 TD’s for a season record by TE’s and he’s gonna shatter that. Unbelievable matchup problems. Speaking of beast mode, shout out to Marshawn Lynch (148 yards, 2 TDs) and Ray Rice (204 yards, 2 TDs) going off.

Anybody see the Buffalo Bills? They were high on the mountaintop a month ago but seem to have fallen back to irrelevancy. Maybe we can ask the Lions since they’re headed down that way it seems. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Grammy Noms 2011: Low Bars = Weak Results

Anyone who listened to music in 2011 can tell you that the mainstream was utter crap. 2011 was one of the worst years in terms of popular music and while rock music had a great comeback in my opinion, this was a bad year for pop and rap.

Adele's success is mostly a byproduct of her overwhelming talent, great songwriting and the fact she had little competition. Adele is a talented singer well beyond her years and her success shows that people were yearning for something real. That's why she sold 4 million here and that's why she'll be cleaning house at the Grammys - in a year of mostly crap, she rose to the top like her rich voice soars over those tracks. 

I'm disappointed she only had six nominations. I expected 10. But she'll be winning nearly all of them. Album and Song of the Year are practically giftwrapped for her

AOTY Field is: Foo Fighters, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Just stop with that noise. Stop!! This is proof 2011 was terrible. Bruno Mars' joint is over a year old. Rihanna??? Almost a travesty as putting Katy Perry here last year.

I am SHOCKED Kanye West didn't get nominated for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Yes I said that album barely got a listen from me but with all of its accolades, I'm shocked he didn't get a nod. Almost like they said "Hey Kanye, we'll give you the most nominations, just don't hate us for not giving you a 4th time to be screwed for AOTY"

Speaking of Katy, who voted her weak singing behind for Record of the Year? Really??? C'mon son.

Kanye got love for Song of the Year for "All of the Lights" but again, outside of Adele, who really deserves this? "Grenade" has more sap in it than a maple tree and I like Bruno Mars and his talent, but that song was pure cheese.

Who listens to Bon Iver away from MBDTF??? Not this guy.

As for Mumford & Sons, I listened to "The Cave" and liked its simplicity. Decent song but if a year old song is worthy to be on the list, that doesn't say much for competition. They are another British act who is getting mucho praise for doing American music. 

But I know what y'all are waiting for. Me to bury the Rap Categories with that typical Virgo anger. Let's go and dive into this garbage.

Is it a sad year for hip hop that Chris Brown had a song in the category? Yes Busta Rhymes destroyed that verse but cmon. Chris Brown is not a rapper. NOT a rapper. Guess he really is amping like Bobby Brown. 

It's no surprise that the most hyped artists got recognized. Watch The Throne was gonna get love. "Otis" got way too much love for a poorly chopped sample and Jay-Z's boring cadence. Nicki Minaj got her love but I'm so disappointed she couldn't rap the words to the most famous hook in rap history when LL passed her the mic.

No love for "Ghetto Dreams" - a brilliant song with Common and Nas traded back lines like it's 1994 but still fresh. Same with Nasir's "Nasty" or The Roots "Make My" from what's shaping to be an instant classic album.

And yes, I'm not surprised Lupe Fiasco got love for Lasers. It's an inconsistent album as I've said but you know they won't going to give "Words I Never Said" a Grammy nomination. Even though that's one of the hardest singles in recent memory.

Rap was so weak that the best albums included mixtapes. Grammy wasn't going to reward Kendrick Lamar, Phonte or any of the other guys who crafted great albums. It's a terrible nomination year and it shows why the mainstream was disappointing. J. Cole should be getting props for getting nominated for Best New Artist but his album was such a bore.

Congrats to Foster the People (who somehow didn't get a Best New Artist nod). Congrats to the amazing duet between Cee-Lo and Melanie Fiona, Marsha Ambrosius and "All of the Lights" dominating most of the rap categories. But you gotta admit it, wouldn't it have been funny to see Tyler, the Creator get nominated just to see how wild Odd Future would've acted up there?

(Speaking of which: I'm surprised Frank Ocean didn't nominated in the R&B category for "Novocaine" - as good as any R&B song I heard in the mainstream.)

Once again, though. The Grammy nominations will continue to be warped with this eligibility period (October of the previous year to September of the current year). This hurts albums released in the last quarter of the year - typically when most good albums are released to roll into Christmas sales. If they aren't honored the year of their release, they'll most likely either be forgotten in the next year or get honored ahead of something more deserving.

This is why I've said the Grammy eligibility period should be from January 1 to early December. Start sending out ballots in November and host the Grammy concert in late January. It'd push the ceremony back to February but so what. If they care about being legitimate, let's speed the voting process up since it'd force people to start thinking in advance. 

Also, let more music critics vote instead of just award winners. The committee consistently is out of touch with them, let alone catering too hard to the public. That's just simple changes besides Grammy cutting down a bunch of categories. 

But the star of the show will be Adele. In a year where I haven't seen anyone dominate like her since Usher in 2004, she deserves everything she gets. I hope she finds good things to write about for her next album so it's not all depressing but the way she sings her pain is endearing. She soared above the mediocrity this year and she should be honored as such even with mediocre company in the nominees.

Get that voice right, Ms. Adkins. You got a Grammy performance and award speeches to get ready for. You blew me away a few years ago on the stage and now I'm happy to see you do it again.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Football Wrap Week 12: The Return of a Urban Legend

So Urban Meyer returneth eh? The man who wanted to spend time with his family, leave college FB for health issues and enjoy his ESPN gig has come back to do it all again for his first love. That’s college for ya.

First things first, I always respected Meyer. He and Pete Carroll are the best coaches of the last decade and Meyer was great at 2 schools in the BCS era. But the lionization of him came with people overshadowing his faults and the fact that if any other coach had that many arrests at one program as he did at Florida, they’d be looked at sideways.

(Case in point, Jimmy Johnson is arguably one of the greatest and smartest football coaches of the last 25 years. Yet people think of The U as a program full of Black thugs and arrogance and remember the Cowboys running wild. Meyer has somehow escaped that. )

That said, he’s going to make Ohio State dominant again, which won’t be that hard. That’s still a top-5 job in college football and he’ll bring some athletes out there.  The Big 10 won’t be as hard as the SEC so he’ll be all good.

But here's the big if - when Ohio State gets NCAA sanctions courtesy of Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor and Co., will Meyer will be the perfect coach to boost morale and keep folks happy? And considering he left Florida after his worst season there, he can be considered a front-runner if there ever is one. And what if his health is another factor - if Florida stressed him out, what about being home? Ask Ken Griffey Jr. how returning home to Ohio worked out. 

I hope he stays healthy. The pressure of winning at OSU will be worse than Florida or maybe Florida prepared him well. Either way, it's going to be interesting to see what happens.

NCAA Tidbits

Shoelace vs. Braxton Miller – can’t wait for Round 2 next year. Glad the Big 10 got to see some modern quarterbacking at work. Shoelace is showing that he’s a better passer and I’m excited to see what he’ll do in a bowl game. Congrats to Michigan finally beating Ohio State. 

Only Georgia stands in the way of LSU v. Alabama Round 2. But after seeing Arkansas and Auburn push up daisies this past weekend, it’s clear the SEC is super overrated this year. Just as I predicted.

Your Heisman Finalists in Virgo's Opinion: Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, Case Keenum. Hate to say it but Matt Barkley can finish above Andrew Luck too. It doesn’t matter because it’s no bearing on A. Luck’s NFL projections.

Speaking of which, shut up to the folks who saw Luck is overrated. I watched Stanford play several times this year and he still showed why he has great poise, size, IQ, decent speed and an incredible arm. Just because other QB’s have risen up doesn’t mean he’s overrated, it means he’s not head and shoulders above everyone by that much.

He did, however, prove, that coming back one more year means folks will dissect you more and karma will be a witch. See Sam Bradford, Matt Leinart, Jake Locker and the list goes on….

NFL Tidbits

San Diego has lost six in a row. Dallas is playing better in November. The roles have reversed since my teams faced off in 2009 when I said the Chargers are what the Cowboys should aspire to be.

Now it looks like Romo is finishing games better after he led a last minute drive to beat Miami while Phillip Rivers looks handcuffed to protect him from himself. My teams are going in reverse and while I still swear Rivers is hurt, that whole team is mentally stunted. Dallas, on the other hand, looks motivated and hungry and ready to seize the division.

It's strange. But hopefully this will lead to Norv Turner finally getting clipped. 

Houston Texans may be the best snakebit team in the league. Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Mario Williams and now Matt Schaub have missed several games due to injury. Now Matt Leinart is on the shelf. Go figure.

Don't be upset Jason Avant, I do this to everybody. It's what I do.

Eagles are unraveling worse than the Magic Carpet when Jafar turns it into a ball of yarn in Aladdin. Tom Brady did his surgery and picked them apart like it was bird hunting season.

Props to Stevie Johnson for maturely handling the aftermath of his celebration by owning it. It was a little low but after I saw it, it was pretty funny. However, he didn’t cause his team the game with it compared to him dropping a few passes in the 4th. But when will folks learn one play in the first half doesn’t affect a game?

Low twos also to Bob Costas and his reaction on Sunday Night Football. Reminds me of Joe Buck going crazy over Randy Moss and his fake mooning. When people defining what’s acceptable celebration, typically they overreact and 1) go off on guys who do it with style, 2) elevate certain players who keep it simple. There’s a place for both.  I’m all for hating guys who go way too overboard but at some point, we need reasonable folks to have enough influence to say lighten up.

You think they're scared of us yet? Nope? Guess we gotta keep winning and scoring with no mercy.
How is Green Bay 11-0 and still under the radar? I don’t think Denver in 1998 has this less pressure when started off 13-0 after winning the Super Bowl. They just keep winning and winning with no weaknesses and if that defense keeps playing well. Look out.

Let me give the kicker some. Shane Lechler of the Raiders had an 80-yard punt that was a thing of beauty. He just boomed it over Devin Hester’s head and Hester looked lost trying to handle it. Great stuff. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

50-0: A Downtown Beatdown for UCLA

Last month, I said UCLA hit rockbottom when they lost to Arizona after trailing 42-6 at halftime. Well now, it's officially reached lower than that after Saturday.

It all starts with the game I pretend didn’t happen because I was at a wedding. Instead of worrying about the score, I enjoyed meeting my girlfriend’s family and hearing a few jokes about when’s our wedding (Slow Down! © Brand Nubian or Chris Rock).

Of course, that didn’t happen. The last part did but of course, I had to watch the game because I had hope UCLA would at least make it respectable considering this was a difficult season. This is the only game that matters on the schedule because the city turns out in force for it.

Needless to say, the game got worse as it got longer. 1st shutout since 2001 – Pete Carroll’s first year. Worst blowout to USC in 71 years. A 50-point beat down where UCLA looked overmatched from the jump.

It was poetic justice that UCLA wore all-White uniforms. It waved a white flag on their season and Rick Neuheisel’s coaching tenure. They didn’t bother showing up and proceeded to get embarrassed like a little brother. Since 1998, UCLA has only won once (not counting USC vacating wins in 2004 and 2005). The eight-game winning streak I enjoyed in my youth is a distant memory.

Worst of all, UCLA has only scored more than once in a game since 2007, the first year I covered the game. It’s not even a rivalry anymore – USC is recruiting better players while UCLA has barely had a decent quarterback since 1998. Sure we had Maurice Jones Drew during my college years, but it's been up and down since then.

Since I’ve been in the media, the best player UCLA recruited was current NFL rookie Rahim Moore or 2nd year man Brian Price. They recruited some great players but outside of their 2007 class, it’s been disappointing. I don't believe the players have been used well and that's all on the coaching staff.

Oh yeah, Rick Neuheisel might as well get his walking papers. He’s done and that football monopoly he said was over 4 years ago? It’s over alright. It’s now a dynasty that isn’t showing any signs of letting up. And it’ll be fitting when UCLA gets their pants waxed by Oregon next week in the Pac-12 title game. That’ll be a nice way to send off this season and Slick Rick’s tenure at Westwood (which I’ll write off for good when his firing is official)

Meanwhile, USC is back to where they were in 2002. A two-loss team playing like the best team in the conference and on an incredible roll. They have the best 1-2 WR combo in maybe the nation high school teammates George Farmer and Marqise Lee and next year will possibly add their 3rd mate in George Farmer to go along with Curtis McNeal at tailback.

Two years on probation and they’ve been able to muster a squad that will be a national title contender or at least on par with the Pete Carroll teams post Bush-Leinart. Those penalties didn’t hurt anything. Matt Barkley is hailed as one of the best QBs in the country. Woods is one of the 5 best WRs in the country and that defense is as good as any in the Pac-12.

I’m not ready to say they’re about to go on another Pete Carroll type run but after beating Oregon, they have all the confidence in the world. I see a USC football program that’s worthy of swagger and for a UCLA fan, it’s disheartening.

This feels like 2002 all over. I remember watching the brief highlights out in San Diego and feeling sick. That team had Carson Palmer and that proved to be the team that paved the way for USC’s dominance. The only difference is that the 2011 squad won’t be going to a BCS bowl game but they are set up to return to excellence assuming Matt Barkley returns next year.

UCLA is in sad shape though. And it could possibly get sadder when Oregon in all likelihood takes us to the cleaners to get ready for their Rose Bowl tuneup. It still boggles my mind that they've backdoored their way into the title game but this is how screwy the whole conference has been.

The Battle for Los Angeles has been one-sided since I was 15. I'm 27 now. Just a reminder that my days of watching Cade McNown, Freddie Mitchell, Danny Farmer, DeShaun Foster and Robert Thomas are long in the rearview and not coming back for a long while.