Monday, April 28, 2008

We need more people like Caleb Campbell

After I read that ESPN post a few weeks ago, I decided that I really wanted to put my two cents in, as someone who is close to the Army, and to football. So here goes...

Former United States Military Academy (Army) defensive back Caleb Campbell was selected by the Detroit Lions as selection #218 in the NFL Draft. For Campbell, basically, this means that he heads to Detroit instead of Iraq.

I was lucky enough to interview Caleb twice at the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia in 2005 and 2006, and I remember being very impressed by him - not primarily because his stature, which is very big for a Cadet (6-foot-2, 229-pounds), but by his maturity in the face of adversity and defeat (Army had lost on both occasions to Navy - and by lost, I mean BIG). To see how he reacted in the face of defeat - humbled, but strong. And though he took the loss hard, you could tell he knew it wasn't the end of the world. In other words, the perfect Army officer.

Campbell "embodies what the academy is all about, and that's what everyone in
this country should be trying to be," Millen said. "He's got skills, he's got
desire and he's going to get a great opportunity."

But Caleb is taking a different course that his fellow Cadets, for now at least. It is rare that a (former) cadet or plebe (from the Naval Academy) play in the NFL - it is even more rare for one to be selected in the draft, prven in the fact that Campbell was the first (and only) non-kicker in Military Academy history to be invited to the NFL Combine.

But Campbell going to the NFL isn't so cut and dry. The Army has regulations, and graduates of the Military Academy owe the Army five years of active service after their graduation in return for the free education they received.

So then, many of you may be asking how Campbell can even do this, go right to the NFL, since graduates of the Military Academy owe the military active service in return for their free education. Well, there is a very new Army regulation that offers its top athletes a side door to professional sports - West Point has implemented an alternative service option program that allows cadets to turn pro – and play – right away.

Cadets accepted into the program "will owe two years of active service in the Army, during which time they will be allowed to play their sport in the player-development systems of their respective organizations and be assigned to recruiting stations. If they remain in professional sports following those two years, they will be provided the option of buying out the remaining three years of their active-duty commitment in exchange for six years of reserve time." The Air Force Academy and Naval Academy do not offer such a program. Both academies require two years of active service upon graduation before presenting the option of swapping the final three years of active time for six years in the reserves.

So, if Campbell can get into the program, it's a simple choice, right? WRONG.

It seems like an obvious choice, that he would be thrilled that he doesn't have to go overseas... but for a man who chose to attend the Military Academy in a time of war, it certainly isn't so black-and-white.
Meanwhile, his former teammates and classmates all face the prospect of going to
war in Iraq, where more than 4,000 servicemen and women have been killed in the
war that's been going on for more than five years with no end in sight. Campbell
wouldn't hesitate to join them. "I didn't come to the academy to play football,"
he said. "I came to the academy to become an officer." He initially had
misgivings about passing up on the chance to lead a platoon."
Campbell CHOSE to attend Army, over many other schools, he knew that he would likely be going to war after he graduated. He didn't go to Army just to play football - he went to be a Soldier who played football on the side. Well, God gave Caleb athletic talent, and it is beyond that of almost anyone else who has ever donned a Army football jersey, and that in-and-of itself is a burden on Campbell's shoulders.

There are those who don't think he should get out of his active service, and there are those who don't think his recruiting mission equals that of what the other Cadets will have to do. While I agree that it isn't equal, I think the mission - recruiting - is just as important. In being a public figure, Campbell will help the Army in a very important, though different, way that he would have leading a platoon.

E:60 on ESPN did a package on Campbell before the draft... it's a good story, but I personally don't like the spin they took. it's almost like they're saying that is Campbell isn't drafted, he's heading to his death sentence in Iraq. Yes, he would likely, as a young lieutenant right out of West Point he would be heading overseas to Operation Iraqi Freedom or the Global War On Terror, but that is far from definite.

With the new Army regulations, Campbell, if he makes the Lions squad, will not be (literally) fighting for his country, but he WILL be actively serving the Army, through recruiting - and what young man thinking about going into the Army wouldn't listen to a professional football player, who also happens to be a Soldier?

It's not the typical Cadet route, but then again, Caleb Campbell isn't the typical Cadet.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why I hate the Bruins

It seems to be a recurring theme, but it's something I've been dealing with for a few years - I hate the Boston Bruins.

Let me start from the beginning...

Thanks to a couple of friends, I feel in love with the Bruins when I was 14 (for those of you who don't know, that was in 1997). I grew up in a non-hockey house in Massachusetts, mainly because my dad grew up in Florida, then went to high school in New Jersey. But I met Lauren and Alexa, and suddenly I was watching games, learning player's names, reading the Boston Globe every morning for Bruins stories, and basically becoming a hockey-knowledge sponge.

When I fall for something, I fall hard. I would bring my Walkman with me whenever I left home if there was a game on so I wouldn't miss a minute of the action; when I was at home and the games weren't on TV (this was, sadly, before my parents had NESN, which broadcasts the Bruins games - they righted this travesty quite soon), I would listen in the dark in my bedroom on AM radio; I had posters of Sergei Samsonov and Joe Thornton, I loved Byron Dafoe, PJ Axelsson, and even "the great" Hal Gill. To put it bluntly - I was obsessed.

But over the years, as my wide-eyed optimism and 100% faith in the team began to pale, I began to see a trend - the Bruins not signing free agents unless they came at a bargain; letting go of talented free agents at their peak. It took awhile for me to see the truth, because I didn't want to believe what was staring me in the face. But in 2004, after the Bruins, and the #1 seed, lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs , I finally accepted it; I realized what many other already knew but I was too naive to see - the organization cared more about making money than winning the Cup.

The straw that broke the camel's back for me as a Bruins fan was the unthinkable trade of Joe Thornton. The Bruins traded away their captain, their best player, and the face of their franchise, to San Jose (don't even get me started on HOCKEY teams playing in California, Florida, or anywhere else in the South). Then, to make matters 9832481 times worse, at the end of the SAME SEASON he won the MVP Award. WHAT?! Has any (other) team EVER traded away a player who went on to win the MVP in the same season (I'll help you out- the answer isn't yes). It was a travesty - in order to keep from signing Jumbo Joe to a contract he deserved after playing with the team since he was the #1 overall pick at 18 years old, the spineless Harry Sinden traded him so he wouldn't have to pony up the dough, and could get something (even though it was maybe 20 cents on the dollar) in return.

It was like a slap in the face. I'd fallen in love, and after almost 10 years of hard-core dedication, it was like I'd been cheated on and thrown to the curb. How can you care about someone who doesn't care about you back? How can you invest time, money, and you heart into something that won't give you anything in return. Sure, the regular season may show you some good times, but, inevitably in the playoffs, the Bruins will lose in the first round (if they even make it), and the small amount of casual fans who jumped on the Bruins bandwagon as they post-season approached will be back on the sidelines until the following April.

This year was much of the same... the Bruins skated into the playoffs to play their former arch-nemesis, the Montreal Canadiens. They went down 3 games to 1, just as I expected. But then, somehow, they came roaring back to tie the series at 3-3 and head back up to the Great White North to play game 7. Suddenly there was some buzz about the B's, could they really pull this off? Momentum was surely on their side!
But, of course, the Canadiens won the game, and in a 5-0 shutout no less, to shove the nails into the coffin that is the Bruins franchise.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

great links, quotes

Whenever we get confused about athletes being heroes, people like Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor remind us what a true hero is.

DJ Gallo's AL preview... hysterical

Anaheim -- "Fun Fact: Third baseman Chone Figgins' first name is actually pronounced "Shawn." And his last name is actually pronounced "Weinberg" (it's a silent "Figgins")."

Seattle -- "Fun Fact: With just 130 more hits, Ichiro will have 3,000 hits between Japan and MLB at just 34 years of age. Whoop-dee-do. Between playing Little League and "RBI Baseball" on Nintendo, I had, like, four times that many hits by the time I was 13."

Toronto Blue Jays -- "The Blue Jays made some solid additions this offseason, including Scott Rolen, Marco Scutaro, Shannon Stewart and David Eckstein. This should allow them to finish in a much more solid third place than they normally do."

One quote I did NOT enjoy, the so-called "Fun Fact" attached to the NY Yankees - NOT fun.

Garnett for MVP!

"Argument? There's no argument, it's Garnett. I went to almost every home
game. He's standing on the bench screaming for his teammates when we're up 30
points. He's a maniac! A few weeks ago, I couldn't go to a Wednesday night game
so I put my tickets online and they sold in four minutes. Four minutes! Last
year, I would have been walking around my office asking if anyone wanted to go,
and I would have probably ended up eating the tickets. This year? Four minutes.
Who did more for a team in one year? We lost 18 straight games last season. We
were nothing. Didn't you watch the games? How could anyone be more valuable than
KG was this season?"

NCAA Aftermath - NHL playoffs, baby

Well, it's all over. March (and into early April) Madness has come to a close, Kansas was crowned as National Champions, stars rose (welcome to the first round of the draft, Stephen Curry), and some fell (stay at USC for another year, OJ Mayo).

So what now? Well, let's see... baseball is a week into the season, the NBA and NHL playoffs are about to begin, and the NFL draft is only a few weeks away - No lull here!

Ahhh baseball. My beloved Red Sox are off to a mediocre start (4-4), but I am confident they will bounce back, after all, the Tigers are 0-7 after everyone and their mother picked them for a monster year. As much as I love baseball, it's hard for me to get really into it until at least summer, when the games feel like they start to matter more.

The NHL playoffs are ready to begin, and since most of my friends are hockey-fanatics, I figure I'll write a bit about it, so here goes!

First Round match-ups:


Montreal Canadiens-Boston Bruins
I'm from Boston, but I have little faith in the Bruins. I hate Jeremy Jacobs (WHO trades a league MVP in the middle of the season?), and until he is gone I will NEVER bet on the Bruins.
Go Habs, 4 games to 2.
ACTUAL: Habs in 7

Pittsburgh Penguins-Ottawa Senators
I won't bet against Sydney Crosby, and with a supporting cast of points-leader Evgeni Malkin (second in the league behind Ovechkin), Marc-Andre Fleury, Sergei Gonchar, Marian Hossa et all, I think they will cruise past the Sens. Ottawa who started off hot, but are ice-cold as of late, with shaky goaltending, lack of scoring and playing without Daniel Alfredsson and and Mike Fisher.
There is one major reason I will root against Pitt, but we really don't need to get into that.
Pens 4 games to 1
ACTUAL: Pens in a sweep

Washington Capitals-Philadelphia Flyers
If I picked anyone but the Caps, my friends would kill me. Led by likely Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin, who plays with as much HART (heh heh) as anyone in the league, the Caps enter the playoffs having won 11 of their last 12 games, which always puts a team in a great mindset going into the playoffs (refer to: Colorado Rockies, circa 2007). Plus, having Mike Green's breakout season, possible ROY Nicklas Backstom's talent, and recently acquired Sergei Federov's playoff experience doesn't hurt either. Caps possible downfall? Lack of experience in net, with Huet taking the place of Olie Kolzig (Whose only injury, I was informed, is his pride).
It will be a close, ugly, physical battle, but Ovie will lift his boys to the second round in game 7.
Caps 4 games to 3.
ACTUAL: Flyers in 7, much to the dismay of my Caps season ticket-holding friends.

NJ Devils-NY Rangers
I swear this is a matchup every single year. NJ-NY, the media tries to make it out to be a battle, but no one outside of the tri-state area cares. The Devils are good, but boring as usual, and the Rangers are good, and the aura of the Rangers stands firm. Both teams depend on their goalie to stand on his head each night, and Martin Brodeur (NJ) and Henrik Lundqvist(NY) Mmmm Henrik Lundqvist mmmm, oh sorry, I got distracted... um, what was I saying? Oh yeah, they are both exceptional in net, but you can't bet against Marty in the playoffs.
The Rangers are led by Chris Drury, who you can never bet against on a big stage (GO BU!), Jaromir Jagr, who though past his prime, is playing his best hockey of the season, and Scott Gomez, though he's been slowed by injuries as of late. On the other side of the puck, NJ is led by... um... Zach Parise? Are you serious? The little squirt from the University of North Dakota is the leading scoring on the New Jersey Devils, with only 65 points? OUCH Brodeur will definitely need to step it up, seeing as how his team was shut out a franchise-high 11 times this season.
A team depending solely on a goaltender, against a team of hard-nosed grinders who also have a good goal tender, but also scoring to back it up?
Rangers 4 games to 2 (By the way, the Rangers were 7-1, with 3 OT wins and 1 OT loss, against the Devs this year. I'm just saying...)
ACTUAL: Rangers in 5

(wait, there's a Western Conference in the NHL? You're telling me there are HOCKEY teams in Texas, Arizona and California?)

Detroit Red Wings-Nashville Predators
Detroit is probably the only West team anyone outside of the West (ie 85% of hockey fans) cares about. They are also the top seed in the West, thus Nashville is the lowest. Yes, Nashville finished 3-3-2 against the Wings this season, but that wasn't the playoffs.
Nicklas Lindstrom, Dan Cleary, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Brian Rafalski and co. were the top scoring team and the top power play unit in the leagues, will have an easy go against the the inexperienced and much less talented Preds.
Wings in 5.
ACTUAL: Wings in a suprising 6

San Jose Sharks-Calgary Flames
The Sharks have Joe Thornton, and this is their year to take it all. Evgeni Nabokov is arguably the strongest goaltender in the league, Patrick Marleau had 19 points in his final 20 games after truggling through most of the season, and Billy Guerin, an all-time fav of mine, add a certain je nes-se-qua to the Sharks.
Jerome Iginla had another stellar 50-goal season, but he doesn't have too much surrounding him, and he bears most of the Flames' scoring burden himself (Kristian Huselius, the second highest scorer on the team, has a whopping 32 points less than Iggy).
I like Thornton and company, and I know they are probably the best team in the league top-to-bottom, but if another California team is in the Stanley Cup Finals, the league will be doomed to 10 more years on Versus... I'm just being honest, and everyone knows it. For the good of the league, Joe, get the hell out of Cali and back up to Canada! PLEASE!
That said, San Jose in an easy 5
ACTUAL: Sharks in a shocking 7

Minnesota Wild-Colorado Avalanche
HEY! Two states in the Western Conference that actually SHOULD have hockey teams!
The Avs barely made the playoffs, having to go 5-0-1 in their last 6 just to qualify. Minnesota plays strong, confident, steady, if un-exciting, hockey - but in the playoffs, that tends to be what wins games.
Colorado depends on stars like goalie Jose Theodore (who has really stepped up in the final 20 or so games of the season, and is the main reason Colorado is even IN the playoffs), Paul Statsny (71 points) Joe Sakic (who is years past his prime, but is still the "emotional leader" of the team), Peter Forsberg (seriously? I thought he was still in Sweden), Adam Foote (I think I'm looking at the roster from 1999)... while Minnesota has no real stand outs, but steady scoring from Marian Gaborik, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brian Rolston (another all-time fav of mine) but steady play all around. But I don' t think they can withstand the
Boring series, Minnesota 4 games to 2
ACTUAL: Avs in 6, and CORRECTION! I put Minnesota as my pick, which was not what I meant. I knew the Avs would win -- oops!

Anaheim (No more Mighty) Ducks-Dallas Stars
Conversation with my friend M, a HUGE hockey fan:
J: Wait! They play hockey in California?
M: Yeah, damn good hockey too
J: But... If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
That is how I think of the Western Conference... these are supposedly the superior teams, but NO ONE CARES, and because of that, NO ONE watches the Stanley Cup Finals besides the fans of the teams playing, and a few die-hard hockey fans. Wait, the Ducks won the title last year? Really?! NO ONE CARES
That said, Dallas is on a roll entering the playoffs, and Anaheim is a dismal 4-8-2.
DALLAS in 7, 4 games to 3.
ACTUAL: Stars in 6