Entries from April 2012
April 30th, 2012 · Comments
Whenever a sports weekend starts on Thursday night with something as big as the NFL Draft, you know it's going to be a pretty spectacular four days of sports. Add in NHL and NBA playoffs and an exciting debut in MLB and it gets even better. But when that weekend culminates in a huge event on Monday afternoon like Manchester United facing Manchester City for EPL supremacy, we get five days of amazing sports moments, both on and off the field, that puts this weekend into the short list of best weekends of the year.
A weekend without football games being the best weekend of the year? I know, it sounds crazy, but it's not.
Clearly a weekend of watching football is better than not, but really, the NFL Draft weekend has every football fan around the country interested in what will happen to their favorite team. The bad teams excite their fans by replenishing mediocre rosters with top-flight talent. The good teams find late-round steals their fans can use to mock the bad teams for passing over (to pick two quarterbacks in the first four rounds or a punter in the third round instead).
A punter? In the third round. You aren't getting this kind of entertainment in week 15, Jacksonville fans. You just aren't.
The long weekend hasn't just been about the NFL Draft of course. As mentioned, NHL playoffs gave us some great first-round game sevens and already round two has seen multiple overtime games. There are few things better in sports than overtime in the NHL playoffs.
Except maybe a buzzer-beater in the NBA playoffs, scored on a ridiculous shot by the league's leading scorer. We got that this weekend too.
How about a miraculous 27-point comeback on the road? The NBA had that as well.
Sure, the NBA had a few injuries, including the devastating knee injury to Derrick Rose, which not only put a damper on Chicago's title hopes, but also threw a bit of a wet blanket over the Eastern Conference playoffs. But even the injuries were not enough to take away from an exciting first weekend in the NBA's real season.
None of that–not the NFL Draft or NHL playoffs or NBA comeback wins or Bryce Harper making his MLB debut–has the world buzzing like the Manchester Derby on Monday. What a way to end a weekend.
Manchester United are three points clear of bitter rival Manchester City with three English Premier League matches to play. Should United beat City, the EPL race is ostensibly over (United would need one point in its final two matches with Swansea and Sunderland while City would need to beat Newcastle and QPR and hope for a miracle).
Should City beat United, they will be tied on points atop the EPL but ahead on goal differential, meaning wins over Newcastle and QPR would guarantee a title for City for the first time in a generation.
(Listen to the audio file attached to this post to hear a chat with Will Tidey about the Manchester Derby and the sudden resignation of Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola. The conversation starts at the 10-minute mark.)
There is not much better in all of sports than bitter rivals facing off in a late-season tilt to determine who will win the most competitive league in the world. The match is so important ESPN has moved it from the traditional ESPN2 slot on Mondays to the mothership, putting the match on ESPN.
This follows the trend of Fox Soccer recently, putting Champions League matches on FX and putting the upcoming UCL final on Fox. Soccer coverage is certainly growing in America, and with it, the excitement of matches like Monday's contest has begun to boil over across the Atlantic.
It's a great week to be a sports fan, whatever your sport.
NFL DRAFT REACTION
Our podcast this week also focuses on the great weekend (read: week) we are experiencing. As mentioned, we talk about the big stories in soccer and the NBA, but the show also covers the NFL Draft, from what went right and wrong on TV to how much faster Mel Kiper talks than Mike Mayock (it's amazing when they are both talking about the same player at the same time) to which teams "won and lost" the draft.
As always, thanks for reading and listening.
April 25th, 2012 · Comments
The NFL Draft is one of the best events on the football calendar–the rare occasion that combines college fans with professional fans. The draft is a dream scenario for fans of both brands of high-profile pigskin, played out over one night and two days every spring.
The draft is great. It's all the noise around the event that makes the draft a bit hard to endure.
(Click the audio to hear Aaron Nagler, our Lead NFL Blogger here at B/R and some guy who runs a Packers blog, join me to talk about the NFL Draft, the best storylines after the two quarterbacks are picked, his coverage this week and why neither of us are fans of mock drafts.)
There are so many draft experts it has become impossible to know who to trust. This is expressly why the idea of a mock draft is something that should be summarily mocked. Should fans trust the college football analysts who see these players week after week for four years but don't care as much about NFL team needs as which players are the most talented? Should we trust the NFL reporters who probably don't know a lick about any of the college players but are hard-wired into most NFL front offices and have every agent in the league on speed dial?
Should we trust the maniacs (I say that lovingly) who figure out a way to do both?
Our own Matt Miller works as hard as anyone I've ever seen to prepare for the draft. He is a self-made, bona fide draft expert and I trust his mock draft as much as anyone. That said, his picks are totally off from the four mock drafts at NFL.com from other names I've grown to trust. Those mock drafts are different from the folks at ESPN or Yahoo or any other site that spends countless hours preparing mock drafts for fans to devour.
(And devour they do. Mock drafts are big business these days (including here) so I'd be remiss to make an off-hand comment about how random and arbitrary they are, going so far as to, perhaps, flippantly compare those who make mock drafts to guys on the corner who work tirelessly for years to perfect the game of three card monte. No, I probably shouldn't make that joke.)
The issue isn't that fans can't trust any of the people making the mock drafts, it's that we trust too many of them. When mock drafts end up being so different, it's impossible to predict who will go where and what any team will do in reaction to earlier selections.
Justin Blackmon could go anywhere from pick six to pick 13 in just the five mocks linked to above. The four NFL.com mock drafts have Michael Brockers going anywhere from 14 to 31 (Miller has him at 18 in his final mock draft). Who do we trust when the college scouts, former GMs and NFL insiders are 16 picks apart on the same first-round guy?
Do we just throw darts at a big board and hope for the best, or do we just ignore the noise and wait for the draft to actually play out?
(Oh, and those of you who include hypothetical trades into your mock drafts–"we think the Vikings will trade out of the third spot and move down to 10 in a swap with Buffalo"–are insane. You need help. That said, you are still better than the NFL fans who call sports talk radio to debate which defensive tackle their team should take after watching ZERO college football games this year and watching the NFL Combine and reading every mock draft on the planet to become a radio expert. You are better than them.)
As a TV show, the NFL Draft is about so much more than just what player will get picked by what team.
The draft is often a first look behind the scenes at the next crop of talent filling out rosters around the league. How much pressure must these kids be under, especially the first round picks who are in New York this week? If a top ten team is still deciding who to pick, everything the players do is part of the job interview process, including how they handle the media, how they act when the cameras are turned off, how they respond to the bright lights of New York City and all the newfound NFL attention they are getting.
Anything and everything goes into the NFL Draft process, as well it should. Players are about to become not just millionaires, but representatives of multi-million dollar organizations that make up a multi-billion dollar industry. Drafting the right player can't be just based on how he handles the pressure on the field. How players handle the pressure off the field, in some cases, will be just as important.
That, of course, leads to the top storyline that will be played and replayed throughout the entire draft: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will be tied at the hip for their entire careers. Even if one of them flames out like Ryan Leaf, the two will still be connected forever.
But how much do draft fans want to hear about that? There is so much more drama and uncertainty after the first two picks, it will be interesting to see how much TV focuses on the quarterbacks at the top. Will we be sick of the Luck-RGIII talk by day three? By the end of day one? Before the third pick?
Speaking of TV, the NFL met with brass at both ESPN and the NFL Network this week to discuss tipping picks before the commissioner announces them. How many times can Chris Berman "guess" which player will come off the board in a single draft? How many times were picks announced by reporters just seconds before the official announcement?
There is a balance between journalistic integrity–reporting the news when you have it– and putting on a good show. Fans want the show, which may hurt the integrity, especially when beat writers and other draftniks aren't beholden to those rules and can break news on Twitter before either TV network has the chance.
It will be very interesting to see how Twitter reacts to TV's attempt to not spoil picks. Agents are leaking stories to the media just as much as teams, so will Goodell have the chance to surprise anyone watching this year? As a fan of the drama, I really hope so.
In the end, the NFL Draft is a perfect combination of feel-good football storylines and hardcore nuts-and-bolts team building that all fans can take something away from. There's not much time before it finally starts.
Try not to sweat all the hype leading up and please don't fret with all the rumors throughout the week. Mocking the mockers can be so much more fun.
April 23rd, 2012 · Comments
(Editors note: Our Monday Wide Left podcast focuses on five different topics, one of which will be pulled out as our lead topic. Listen to the show to hear Dan Levy, Nick Tarnowski and Josh Zerkle talk about this, Phil Humber's perfect game, Joe Paterno and the Beaver Stadium naming rights, the NHL playoffs and the upcoming NFL Draft.)
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
What about an elbow to the head for an elbow to the head, a concussion for a concussion?
The more professional sports leagues try to crack down on cheap shots and curtail the occurrence of unnecessary injuries, the more the conversation of proper punishment seems to grow.
On Sunday, Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) supposedly celebrated a fast-break dunk by pounding his chest and elbowing Oklahoma City Thunder star James Harden in the head. Harden fell to the ground in a heap and did not return to the game. The Thunder reaction was rightly strong, causing World Peace to put up his dukes in case anyone else wanted to fight him.
He was promptly ejected from the game.
The NBA has to decide punishment for such a blatant act–it's worth nothing World Peace took to Twitter following the game to apologize to Harden and claim it was an inadvertent elbow–which leads to the question of how the league should handle this (or any) suspension.
There are a few factors that come into play with any suspendable act. First, was the play merely dangerous but accidental or was there a distinct intent to injure?
In other words, was it a good hard foul or a bad cheap shot?
Second, the past history of the player must be taken into account. First-time offenders are usually given the benefit of the doubt. Conversely, players who have a history of suspension or rough play will likely have the proverbial book thrown at them. (Note: throwing an actual book at another player would probably lead to suspension.)
With the growing intensity of cheap shot injuries–or at least more attention being paid to them in the safety-first culture of professional sports–the question in recent weeks has begun to shift from intent to result.
Should players who injure opponents be suspended more than if the other player walks away unscathed?
Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks was carted off the ice on a stretcher after a dirty hit from Phoenix's Raffi Torres. Torres received 25 games for the hit, the third-longest suspension in NHL history. Torres, as noted by the NHL, is a repeat offender.
The NHL routinely factors injuries into their suspensions. Other leagues seem to take a more unilateral approach to suspensions, keeping the injury to the player as context but not necessarily a deciding factor on the severity of punishment.
MLS recently suspended New York Red Bulls defender Rafa Marquez for three games after tackling and kicking Shea Salinas of the San Jose Earthquakes. The play was incredibly dirty and three games were certainly warranted for the tackle which, inexplicably, did not even get a whistle during the match.
If you watch the play, it really looks like three games is a fair ban for Marquez. However, when you take into account his history of rough play in MLS, many felt more of a message should have been sent. When you factor in Salinas had to leave the game with a broken clavicle that needed surgery, putting him out for 6-8 weeks, the three-game ban is somewhat laughable.
Should MLS have taken Salinas's injury into account when suspending Marquez?
It's not a cut-and-dried answer, really. Had Salinas not gotten hurt and stayed in the game, the suspension might seem harsh but fair. Had Salinas suffered a sprained shoulder and missed two games, the duration of the suspension would fit the duration of the injury. But 6-8 weeks is an eternity in MLS. Should the league take the eye-for-an-eye stance on broken bones?
James Neal and Arron Asham of the Pittsburgh Penguins were suspended during their NHL playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers after illegal hits. Asham was booted for four games after cross checking Brayden Schenn and punching him after he fell to the ice. Had Asham's stick hit Schenn in the face, or had Schenn missed time, the suspension would have been worse.
Neal was suspended in part for taking a run at Flyers center Claude Giroux, hitting him in the head and forcing him to the bench. Giroux continued to play in the game and didn't miss any time. But Giroux had missed time this season with a concussion, so any blow to the head will be far more magnified over the rest of his NHL career.
What if Neal's charge caused long-term damage to Giroux and took him out of the playoffs. What if it ended his career?
Should Neal have known which player he was going after when he launched at his head?
If a player did that to Sidney Crosby, who has missed significant time in his career with concussion issues, would the penalty be steeper than if it was a player who didn't have previous head injuries?
There is intent, and there is intent. If the length of a suspension is partly based on past disciplinary history, should injury history be a factor too.
That's not an easy one either. What could be an innocuous check to one player could knock another player with past concussion issues out of a game. Is it fair to ask the offending players to know the injury history of who they are hitting? Or is it buyer beware? (Maybe checker beware in this case.)
If you've come looking for a unilateral answer, there isn't one. Some leagues seem to take injuries into account and some don't. The NFL has fined players for hits that weren't even illegal two or three years ago and consistently looks to discipline players for being unnecessarily rough in a game that is built on straddling the line of what roughness is or is not necessary.
It cannot be easy for any of the league disciplinarians. It really is a case-by-case basis. The prudent step for most leagues may be to immediately suspended players "indefinitely" to give them enough time to gather evidence and see how the injured player reacts. That said, in the case of Marquez, MLS knew Salinas was already destined for surgery when they announced a three-game ban.
In the case of World Peace, it might be prudent to suspend him for the rest of the regular season or maybe even the regular season and the playoffs. But if Harden comes back next game, is that too severe? If Harden is out for a long time or is never the same player again, is it too lenient?
One thing is certain: suspensions and fines need to serve as punishment as much as deterrent. Whether or not leagues factor injuries into suspensions, sending a message to the offending players–and the rest of the league–should always be part of the decision.
April 19th, 2012 · Comments
Presented for your enjoyment, the first ever installment of the Go Route podcast, featuring Josh Zerkle and myself.
For our maiden voyage, we are thrilled to welcome NFL Network's Rich Eisen as our special guest. Obviously, Rich is known to nearly every NFL fan alive. The man is the face of his network and is one of the best in the business not only in the television studio, but in the world of podcasting, We talk to Rich about that, his work on the network, as well as topics from around the NFL and college football.
Prior to speaking with Rich, Josh and I covered a bunch of topics from around the NFL including, but not limited to:
- The NFL's schedule release
- The looming concussion lawsuits hanging over the NFL
- The Vikings stadium situation
- The Matt Forte and Drew Brees situations
...and a whole bunch more.
We hope to have a new one for you either sometime next week or just after the draft.
April 18th, 2012 · Comments
Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated is one of the most respected names in sports media, especially those in sports media who make it their job to cover…sports media.
Deitsch is not one to keep his thoughts to himself, be it on Twitter or his popular column for SI, and this show is no different. In fact, in this 57-minute conversation (double episode!) I think I get in about six questions.
For most of the show, I yield the floor to Deitsch.
The first half of the conversation is centered around ESPN, weaving the conversation from my relationship with the PR staff, including Deitsch's "fruit basket cracks" and his theory on having a friendly relationship with PR people without creating a potential conflict of interest by becoming "friends". We talk about how that theory works for someone like Deitsch who is charged with covering the talent within his own industry, making it potentially difficult to be friends with anyone in the field.
We discuss the popularity (read: infamy) of Skip Bayless and why it's so hard for Deitsch to ignore ESPN's resident mid-morning carnival barker. Deitsch says that Bayless, the First Take producers and ESPN are essentially perpetuating a con, which gives him the reason to write about Bayless in an effort to expose the shameless ratings grabs (goading athletes with sexist nicknames in an effort to get them to respond) and properly inform the audience to the game.
How does Bayless differ from someone like Colin Cowherd? At what point does our coverage perpetuate the con instead of exposing it? If all publicity is good publicity, would no publicity for Bayless and First Take be better or worse?
Can it be both?
We discuss the upcoming contract negotiations between ESPN and top talent like Scott Van Pelt, Erin Andrews and Michelle Beadle. Who would be the smartest to leave the Worldwide Leader and who would be best served to stay?
The real question, and large focus of the conversation, is if NBC or CBS would be smart to poach any of that talent away from ESPN to use as an anchor either network's 24-hour sports station. Erin Andrews is hugely popular and a rare crossover star in sports media, but would she draw on a sports-only startup? What happens if the audience doesn't come with her?
The same can be said for Beadle, albeit to a lesser extent. What happens if NBC or CBS backs a truck up to Andrews or Beadle, builds a show around one and, after the initial buzz, no natural audience settles in?
Does it make sense for either (or both) to look for jobs with more cross-over, non-sports appeal? Is that the logical next step for either of them, or if they want to stay in sports, does it make more sense to stay as one of the stars at ESPN instead of becoming the big draw at a new network?
Deitsch astutely points out that most people are focused on the big three free agents at ESPN, but a host of talent will be looking for new contracts in the next few months. Look for some of the solid-but-not-spectacularly-famous folks at ESPN to seek new options.
Deitsch and I switch off the network talk to discuss Sean Pamphilon, the documentarian who released the audio tape of Gregg Williams that stopped the sports world in its tracks.
We touch on Pamphilon's potential motivations, but also discuss Mike Silver of Yahoo (who broke the original story of Pamphilon's video) staunchly defending the public's right to hear the tapes, going so far as to say any "real journalist" would agree with his assertion that Pamphilon did the right thing in defying the wishes of Steve Gleason to release it.
Silver dropped the "real journalist" line to me and Steph Stradley, a widely-respected NFL blogger. So I asked Deitsch, who is clearly a real journalist but one who actually respects the work of independent media more than one particular NFL writer (who works for an online media outlet by the way), what he thinks about Pamphilon, Silver's comments and whether releasing the tape was good journalism or sensationalistic spotlight grabbing by a film maker trying to get himself known.
(One side note about Pamphilon's motives: I agree with PFT's Mike Florio in thinking Pamphilon could have released the tape as soon as he recorded it–which would have stopped the NFL playoffs in its tracks–but he waited until after the Saints were sanctioned by the league, putting the idea of serving the public by disseminating the truth into question.
In addition, even if someone did believe Pamphilon was working in the best interest of "the truth" and not his own personal gain, the sanctimonious video asking Roger Goodell to tell his 13-year old son why he should play football comes off so wrong-footed and smarmy that Pamphilon has actually managed to inexplicably turn Goodell into a sympathetic figure in this. But that's just my opinion of the situation. I wonder if real journalists would agree.)
I digress. Deitsch and I discuss the news that Esquire writer and prolific tweeter Chris Jones has decided to give up his personal blog for what a friend says is basically cyber bullying.
Deitsch had strong thoughts about this on Twitter and we talk about the situation and the new media age where everyone has access to everyone else (especially on Twitter).
We end with a discussion about the Pulitzer Prize as I ask Deitsch for his thoughts on newspapers making front-page news out of their own awards. Deitsch loves the move by the Patriot-News and Philly Inquirer pointing out that newspapers don't do enough self-promotion in the new age of media. Per Deitsch, letting the readers know the quality work your publication produces is as much about self preservation as it is self promotion.
And what about the Pulitzer for Best Editorial Writing? Nobody won?!?! There were three finalists and nobody won? How is that possible? Isn't that like the Emmys just declining to give out the award for Best Comedy? It's a top award in the field! If you are going to go through the aggrandizing motions of giving out awards, give out the damn awards!
This is a long show, yes. I am sure I forgot some things we talk about, but it's well worth the listen. Deitsch delivers and I just try to get out of the way.
April 16th, 2012 · Comments
After just nine games, Terry Collins may have already locked up Major League Baseball's manager of the year. Not one baseball mind in the world thought the Mets could be contenders in the NL East this season, but after the first nine games, the Mets have already won six games–in the division.
Despite getting Johan Santana back into the rotation, most baseball pundits thought the Mets would likely take a step back from the 77-win team last year. After losing Jose Reyes to a division rival in the off-season, many suggested the Mets should trade David Wright and any other valuable piece they might have left and totally rebuild.
It's still early, yes, but this Mets team has surprised a lot of people in baseball. (Note: just last week on New York radio I called them 'essentially a Triple-A team.' Well, they're playing like the best damn Triple-A team I've ever seen after sweeping the Braves and taking two of three from the Phillies in the first three series.)
The only team that looks better than the Mets in the NL East after the first two weeks is the Nationals, who took two of three from New York this season and stand atop the standings of the deepest division in baseball. Maybe Davy Johnson is the manager of the year. After all, the guy who said he should be fired if his team doesn't make the playoffs this year has his team playing the best baseball in the division.
Still, the Nationals may be in first place, but they aren't as much of a surprise as the Mets. Frankly, the Mets may not even be the biggest surprise in the National League.
The Dodgers are 9-1 after 10 games and look rejuvenated following the announcement of new ownership. While the Mets owners had to deal with the cloud of Bernie Madoff looming over the franchise, the Dodgers had to deal with an ownership situation that somehow more devastating to the franchise: a divorce.
Now that the McCourt saga is over–at least as far as the Dodgers are concerned–the Dodgers can be a baseball team with far less drama. Is Don Mattingly the early front-runner for manager of the year? It sure doesn't hurt to have the reigning Cy Young Award winner leading your rotation and players like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier destroying opposing pitching in the first ten games.
Through ten games, Kemp is batting .487 with 16 RBI and 19 hits, with an OPS of 1.548. Ethier is only batting .289, but has an OPS of 1.030 with 11 hits, seven of which have been extra-base hits. Ethier also has 15 RBI.
The question we'll follow all season is how long any of this can last.
Does anyone really think the Nationals and Mets will fight for the NL East crown? Even with the loss of Brian Wilson, does anyone think the Giants won't bounce back and fight for the NL West with Los Angeles and Arizona? Can the Dodgers compete all year, or is this just a hot start for a team that people in southern California are suddenly excited about again?
Of course, the one division leader in the National League that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone is the Cardinals who, despite losing Albert Pujols this off-season, are hitting the cover off the ball to start the year.
The Cardinals have the best batting average and OPS in the entire league and are averaging well over five runs and more than ten hits per game. So far, they haven't missed a beat since their World Series run last October.
Can Mike Matheny be manager of the year? It's too early to tell for anyone, even the Cardinals. But it's been one heck of a start.
None of this National League talk is meant to slight the teams in the American League, there are just so many teams are mired right around .500 it's hard to know much about any of them.
It's fair to say the two best teams in the American League are teams we expected to be good this year. Detroit will not go away all year, and after taking two of three from Detroit it looks like the White Sox won't either. The other teams in the AL Central should be wise to stay close in the standings before they look up in June and see themselves double-digit games behind and already looking at next season.
The Rangers are the hottest team in the American League and, much like the Mets, Dodgers and to a lesser extent the Cardinals, had an extremely up-and-down off-season.
The Rangers had the Yu Darvish circus to deal with throughout spring training. They had to absorb the loss of C.J. Wilson and the signing of Pujols to the rival Angels. And the Rangers had to handle the public relations mess of Josh Hamilton's latest relapse.
None of that has seemed to slow down the Rangers on the field, already 4.5 games ahead of the struggling Angels. In a league where teams play 162 games and somehow every game finds a way to matter, the Rangers are the best story in the American League.
Still, no story is better than the early tales being written in Los Angeles and New York.
JACKIE ROBINSON DAY
If you click the link to listen to our show (at the top of this post) we spend the last few minutes talking about MLB's annual Jackie Robinson appreciation day. This year is the 65th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball, possibly the single-most significant event in the history of the game.
Baseball is right to remember Robinson and honor his memory.
But is Baseball doing too much? Every team wears 42 (and if this year is like past seasons, teams that were on the road on Sunday will wear 42 later this week when they return home). The Phillies put a life-size statue of Robinson on the concourse for fans to pose for pictures. It feels like Jackie Robinson has become more a marketing opportunity for MLB, not the gateway to the history of the sport his legacy should be.
We love the testimonials from players about what Robinson means to them. There is a lot of good coming from MLB's promotion of the day. There's just a small part that feels like Baseball is making Robinson's legacy into an annual PR stunt, in an effort to show us how much they appreciate Robinson, instead of just appreciating him.
Still, the day (and the man) is important to remember and discuss, so if the only complaint is that Baseball is doing "too much," that's probably a good thing.
April 9th, 2012 · Comments
Lefty won the Masters! Well, a lefty.
Bubba Watson shot 68 on Sunday to capture his first major and all seems right with the golf world. On a leaderboard full of past major champions and huge golf stars, Watson winning his first green jacket in a two-hole playoff over Louis Oosthuizen could be the best possible outcome for the sport. In fact, Watson winning the Masters could be the feel good story of the year.
Sure, it's only April and Watson's win at Augusta doesn't come with the cache of, say, Linsanity, but there couldn't have been a more deserving champion to win the biggest tournament of the year. Following his two-putt victory at the 10th hole on Sunday, Watson broke down and cried, first in the arms of his caddy then in the arms of his mother. Watson's wife wasn't in attendance this week, staying home to care for the couples adopted newborn son.
The devoutly religious Watson–who once trashed talked me on Twitter that he could beat me–won his first major on Easter, wearing all white for the second year in a row at Augusta. His dynamic pink driver, used each week on the PGA Tour to help raise money for the fight cancer, seemed flawless until he got to the second playoff hole, when he smashed a ball so far down the right side he only needed a wedge to get to the green. The problem, of course, was pine straw floor and host of trees in his way.
Watson managed to come up with the shot of his life, a spinning snap hook wedge that landed within 15 feet of the cup, enabling him to two putt to bring home the green jacket.
Four hours earlier, it felt like Watson wasn't even a factor. He started the day three back and quickly found himself four back of his playing partner Oosthuizen after the South African hit one of the greatest shots in the history of golf with his double-eagle on the second hole.
Watson stayed close on the first nine, but bogeyed 12 to fall two back, before rebounding with birdies on 13 and 14 before finally getting a share of the lead with a birdie on the par-three 16th. Both Watson and Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open Champion, had putts to win on 18 and again on the first playoff hole but neither could get the ball to fall.
When Watson's drive on the second playoff hole landed deep in the pine needles, it looked like his Masters chances were lost.
To call his second shot a miracle wouldn't be giving the self-taught superstar enough credit. That shot was vintage Watson. The entire week, really, was vintage Watson. It could not come at a better time for him, or golf.
Sunday at Augusta is always full of drama, and there was a lot of it throughout the day. Phil Mickelson was right there again, finishing in the top three for the eighth time in his career. Mickelson could have taken home a fourth green jacket if not for a few missed putts and an unbelievably unfortunate bounce off the railing of the grandstand on the fourth hole that led him to card triple bogey, his only blemish on the day. Phil just couldn't hit the shots we've known him to hit down the stretch, making way for a new lefty to take the spotlight at Augusta.
This marks the fifth time in the last ten years a lefty has won the Masters (something we here at Wide Left are quite pleased about) and it signifies the culmination of years for Watson to finally reach the pinnacle of golf.
We have a tendency to overstate the importance of winning a major for a player's career, but there is no overstating the fact that Watson is already one of the best, most dynamic, most well-respected players on tour. Winning the Masters for is a validation for him.
This victory not only changes his career, but as Nick Tarnowski pointed out on the show (which you can listen to above), it gives the rest of us hope that one day maybe we can mash the ball far enough on natural talent and no formal training that we can win a green jacket. As Jim Nantz said during the telecast, Watson is The Natural. He is the everyman. He is…just one of us.
Yeah, right. Like any of us could mash the or spin a wedge ball like him.
Going into the Masters, there was talk this year was set up to be the best tournament in recent history. History will tell us how the 2012 Masters stacks up against the previous 75 incarnations. For this year, for this week, there is no better story than Watson winning the Masters.
April 4th, 2012 · Comments
Jay Busbee of Yahoo's Devil Ball Golf joins the show to talk about The Masters. Busbee wrote this week he thinks this year's tournament is set up to be the best in the history of Augusta. No, it's not hyperbole.
Golf spins on the axis of Tiger Woods and the better the world's greatest player is playing, the more people seem to care about the sport. Even when he hasn't been at his best, Woods has always played well at Augusta, finishing in the top six every year since 2005 (and every year but three since 1997).
So, too, has Phil Mickelson. Including a lackluster performance last season, Mickelson has only missed the top ten at Augusta twice since 1999 and has eight top five finishes since 2001. Phil's worst three finishes since the turn of the century came in years after he won (10th, 24th, 27th.) The next year, Mickelson finished first and fifth. What can he do this year?
For the first time in a while, both Woods and Mickelson are playing well heading into Augusta. Busbee thinks that Woods playing so well right now is great for Mickelson, because much of the pressure of coming to Augusta is off him.
Can Phil somehow sneak up on the field? Can Tiger dominate Augusta again? Could we be in store for a Tiger-Phil run down the back nine on Sunday? Would that make it the best Masters ever? (Answer: yes.)
But that wouldn't be the only thing to make this year's Masters great. Bubsee points out an incredible depth at the top of the game right now, including a host of major champions and lot of players who are still looking for their first major title. As much as golf will always be about Tiger and Phil, our conversation isn't as much about them as the other players who can challenge for this year's green jacket.
We talk about Rory McIlroy bouncing back from a disaster on the 10th hole on Sunday last year and what the young superstar has done since. McIlroy could have been shaken by his collapse, but he went the other way, winning the very next major he played and reaching number one in the World Golf Rankings.
History, though, isn't on McIlroy's–or any young player's–side at the Masters. In the previous 75 Masters, the green jacket has only been given to 18 players under the age of 30 (though 25 times, with some winning multiple tournaments before turning 30). Just seven players in Masters history have won a green jacket before the age of 25.
Defending champion Charl Schwartzel won the tournament at 26 years old and has as good a chance as anyone to compete this week. So does defending PGA Champion Keegan Bradley, who is high on the list of golf writers but could be one of those names most casual golf fans still don't know.
That's what happens at the Masters, and we discuss if that could make the tournament less exciting for viewers and patrons. Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman have green jackets and really haven't done that much since. Do we project too much success on players after they win the Masters? Will that happen to a relatively unknown player again this year or are we set up to have one of the games elite stars win at Augusta again?
Will it be time for someone like Luke Donald–the world's number one player who still doesn't have a major? What about Lee Westwood, who always seems to end up a major championship bridesmaid?
Can Steve Stricker grind out a win? What about Adam Scott or Bubba Watson or Nick Watney? The depth is incredible, even without Dustin Johnson. Even with Tiger Woods looming over everyone in the tournament, the field is as open as it could be.
So maybe Busbee is right. Maybe this is shaping up to be the best Masters ever. Or maybe our excitement about all the pieces being in place means we're ripe for someone like Steve Marino to pull off an out-of-nowhere wire-to-wire victory.
Either way, it's golf at Augusta. There isn't much wrong with that.
April 2nd, 2012 · Comments
It's preview Monday on the show! Nick Tarnowski and I first preview the NCAA National Championship game between Kentucky and Kansas, a match-up of two of the great programs in college basketball history.
Does Kansas stand a chance against this vaunted Kentucky lineup? Has Kentucky proven that having 'depth without depth' is enough to win a national title? In other words, if you only play six players but they are all great, do you need actual depth on your roster? Do the guys who never play still get to cut down the nets? (I'm kidding, they obviously work just as hard in practice even if they never get on the court. Ever.)
We also discuss what the title game means for the coaches. First, we talk about John Calipari and how many national media members seem to be lashing back against the Calipari backlash. Is he now a sympathetic figure in college basketball? Is there a difference between Kentucky's pipeline to the NBA and, say, Duke's?
In a word, yes. Calipari has two vacated Final Four appearances in his career. At almost every stop he has been accused of and charged with running unclean programs. The Calipari backlash isn't about kids going to Kentucky for a year or two and jumping to the NBA. That happens at Duke and North Carolina and anywhere coaches focus on recruiting top-flight talent.
The issue with Calipari is how he does it. Will this recent run of Kentucky success result in eventual sanctions? We hope not, as fans of college basketball. We don't want to of the great teams in recent history to be tarnished by another scandal under Calipari's watch. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be skeptical about his methods. This is not the same as Coach K losing a players after one year. It will never be the same, no matter how many Final Fours Calipari gets to with a fresh crop of youngsters.
As for Bill Self, we talk about his legacy should Kansas win the title. People have been writing that a second title puts Self into the "legend" category. Do you agree?
Sure, Self is already a great coach and a second title will put him above a potential Hall of Fame threshold, but is that the same as "legend?" Aren't some writers throwing that word around a little loosely?
There are very few legends in sports. Should Kansas win, let's have cooler heads before we start handing out legend monikers.
BASEBALL SEASON BEGINS HELL YEAH:
We briefly talk about the start of baseball season and discuss the top stories coming out of spring training. Is 49-year old Jamie Moyer making the Rockies' rotation–as the number two starter–the best story in baseball or does it just make the Rockies look totally desperate?
And speaking of the Rockies pitching staff, how about former Colorado ace Ubaldo Jimenez plunking Troy Tulowitzki on the wrist, clearing the benches and sending Tulo to the hospital. This is, injury aside, the most hilarious story of the spring. Get these guys up north already!
We close with a chat about TV deals and how networks and carriers hold us hostage and use sports as leverage. In the end, the consumer always loses.
And on a more fun note, as we taped on Sunday night just before the season premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones, we talk about how HBO has been marketing the show heavily to sports fans. First, Thrones ads appeared during the NCAA Tournament, both online and on TV. Next, Thrones clips were included in mash-ups with baseball highlights in advertising deals with Major League Baseball.
Is Game of Thrones too niche to capture the average sports fan? HBO clearly doesn't think so, and obviously wants the average sports fan to tune in. So…will they?
Thanks for listening. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.