Monday, August 13, 2012

Hottie Results

As we said “goodbye” to the 2012 London Games, we also said farewell to our favorite sport of all – watching male athletes. As we began these Games with a list of our favorite athletes, we end by giving a roundup of how each of these fine-looking specimens fared in their respective events.

Ryan Lochte

The most decorated of our hotties, with five medals in London, including two gold. However, Lochte was hoping for these to be “his games” and his results, though exceptional, were below the level he was hoping. In his “signature event,” Lochte was a disappointing 3rd. However he beat Phelps in their first meeting, the 400IM, but later was defeated by the winningest Olympian of all time in the 200IM. But unquestionably, Lochte was the face of Olympic hotties in 2012.
2 gold – 400IM, 4x200 Free relay
2 silver – 200IM, 4x100 Free relay
1 bronze – 200 back

James Magnussen

A disappointing Olympics all-around for Aussies in the pool, but particularly for “The Missle,” who was much-hyped in the leadup to London, but came away with just two medals, none of them gold. But at only 21 years old, this hottie should be gracing us with his presence for years to come.
1 silver – 100 free
1 bronze – 4x100 medley

Andreas Thorkildsen

An injury-plagued 2012 did not bode well for Thorkildsen, the gold medalist in both Athens and Beijing, and I’m sorry to report that the Nordic God of Javelin failed to place in the Olympics, finishing 6th in the finals. But after researching him more this morning, I HAVE to give this hottie my gold medal. 

You won the gold in my book, Andreas.

Giuseppe Lanzone 

Participated in only one event, the men’s 8,  where the U.S. just narrowly missed the bronze medal, by .3 seconds.

Sam Mikulak

No one thought the U.S. men would finish the gymnastics without a team medal; even less thought they would leave London with just one medal overall, which was Danell Leyva’s All Around bronze. 

Troy Dumais

The 31-year-old diver finally medaled in his third Olympics, taking bronze in the men’s synchronized 3m springboard. He finished 5th in the individual 3m springboard.

Clemente Russo 

The second-seeded heavyweight boxer lived up to his ranking - Russo made it to the final against Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk, where he was defeated, relegating him to the silver medal. The more I looked at him, the more I wonder how a boxer can have a face like this… 

I guess the second-best boxer in the world doesn't get punched in the face too often. Thankfully.


Ricky Berens

Only swam one individual event, where he didn’t make the finals. But Berens was on two relay teams, and medaled in both - including one gold.
                1 gold – 4x200m Freestyle Relay
                1 silver – 4x100m Freestyle relay

Luca Marin

8th place in his only event, the 400m IM, 9.71 behind winner and poll-winning favorite hottie, Ryan Lochte.

Han Van Alphen 

A surprising 4th place in the decathlon. He won the final event, the 1500m, to move into 4th, just 10 seconds shy of the  bronze medal.

Pascal Behrenbruch

A disappointing 10th place in the decathlon.

Friday, August 10, 2012

For love of Olympic Track and Field

It's been a long two weeks of Olympics; I am almost glad they are winding down, because I'm exhausted!  I mean, I don't know how many more nights I can lay on the couch until midnight, stressed out, eating milk and cookies, watching these people compete. The first week was filled with swimming, which of course means ogling the male swimmers' amazing physiques, then we were immediately thrown right into track & field, which has always been a favorite of mine. Move over Missy Franklin, because you may have swam in 15 races, but I don't get a single night off in two weeks!

Ever since I can remember, I've been obsessed with track and field. What really sealed the deal for me was when I was 13, watching Michael Johnson's unparalleled double gold in the 200 and 400 meters at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, wearing his famous (and fabulous) gold spikes. His performance in the 200m still gives me chills - the then-world record of 19.32 seconds (which, ironically, was Usain Bolt's winning 200m time in London) was so fast he actually injured his hamstring to the point he was never the same after. And neither was I - it was official, I was obsessed with track.

Michael Johnson's gold-medal winning and world-record breaking performance, Atlanta 1996. Photo credit, AP
Anyway, back to the present. I can't talk about London 2012 without first discussing the most talked-about (track) athlete in these Games, Usain Bolt. Has there ever been a more fitting name for an athlete? He was literally born to be fast. Despite a couple of losses leading up to the Olympics, everyone knew Bolt had something special in store for us. It's hard enough to win back-to-back gold in one event, yet Bolt did it in both the 100 and 200 m, proving that, without a doubt, he is the fastest man who has ever lived.

Videos may not be able to truly capture how fast Bolt is, but still photos sure can.

Bolt has three major factors that make him the Fastest Man on Earth. His two major "losses" in the past two years have come to countryman Yohan Blake, at the 2011 World Championships after Bolt was disqualified for a false start, and the 2012 Jamaican Olympics Trials, where Bolt wasn't 100% healthy. I believe that Bolt is unbeatable when healthy.

First, he is extremely tall, especially for a sprinter, at 6'5", so though he has to use more energy to move that amount of mass, his strides are extremely efficient - in his 100m win in London, Bolt took just 41 steps, five fewer than silver medalist Blake, and two fewer than bronze medalist Justin Gatlin. His energy-output-to-stride ratio, according to many people smarter than me who have studied his races, is the most efficient there has ever been.

Second, he possesses superior strength and flexibility. According to Dr. Ross Tucker of The Science of Sport website, this allows him to accelerate quickly and maintain a very high top speed. He explains: "I've not seen such an elastic runner before. Bolt's advantages stem from a superior stretch-shortening cycle function, which allows energy to be stored and used more effectively. We know from research that power output is proportional to the amount of energy that can be stored and released from the muscle-tendon junction during the muscle contraction." That is way above my head, but it sounds like it makes sense.

Third, Bolt also has exceptional reaction time. Out of the blocks in London's 100m finals, despite saying he sat back a bit for fear of a false start and being disqualified a la the 2011 World Championships, Bolt's reaction after the gun was clocked at 0.165 second, vs. Blake (0.179 sec) and Gatlin (0.178 sec). Imagine if the ridiculous "one false start and you're out" rule wasn't in place, and Bolt was able to react without fear of a false start and disqualification.

Though Bolt blew everyone's socks off yet again, my favorite track and field athletes in these Olympics are, bar-none, Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards Ross. Felix finished 5th in the 100m, but finally captured the elusive gold in the 200m; and Richards Ross avenged her 2008 4th place finish in the 400m with a win in London. Both heavy favorites in their premier events, I think what I love about them both is how strong, yet feminine they both are. There is no question looking at their physiques that they are world-class athletes, but they both manage to also be drop-dead gorgeous in a sport where woman aren't usually seen that way. They had the determination to train for four years after bitter disappointment for the chance to redeem themselves. They are definitely women that little girls - and 29 year old mothers - want to be, and women who deserve our admiration.

Sanya Richards Ross after winning the 400m gold medal. Photo credit: Getty images.

Allyson Felix as she finishes her gold-medal-winning 200m race. Photo credit: AP
Speaking of admiration, I can't talk about 2012 Olympic track and field without discussing South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, who is a double amputee. After a long battle for inclusion in able-bodied competition in the individual events, Pistorius qualified for the Olympics and reached the semifinals in the 400 meters. The argument against allowing him in the able-bodied competition was that his  artificial lower legs, while enabling him to compete, give him an unfair advantage over able-bodied runners. Pistorius' argument is, if that were true, then all Paralympians would be running able-bodied times - but they aren't. In fact, Pistorius is by far the best Paralympian runner, and the first amputee to ever compete in Olympics track and field. I happen to agree with him, and I'm so glad he was finally able to compete in the Olympics, further proving that anything is possible. Pistorius is unquestionably the most inspiring athlete of these games, and despite not even making the finals in his individual event, he is one of the most respected athletes to compete in London.

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee, competes in the 400m. Photo credit: Reuters

From Bolt, Felix, Richards Ross and Pistorius, to Britain's Jessica Ennis surviving the weight of a country on her shoulders to win the women's heptathlon, David Rushida's world-record 800 meter win, and Manteo Mitchell finishing the first leg of the US 4x400 relay on a broken leg, track and field in London has surpassed my expectations and served to further my love for the sport.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The ultimate female conundrum

Good Ryan Lochte

Bad Ryan Lochte

I'm in the middle of a personal conundrum, and one I know many other women are simultaneously suffering through: we are obsessed with the way Ryan Lochte looks, but can we ignore his antics, which reek of douchebaggery?

First, the good: Lochte is incredibly good looking, from top to bottom. He is the kind of good looking that even guys can't ignore - I challenge you to find a man who doesn't agree that he is ridiculously good looking. The face! The body! The dolphin kick! He is one of very few men in the world that all other men know they stand no chance against when it comes to getting ANY girl.
But then comes the bad: We've all seen his diamond-encrusted American flag grill (ugh), heard his interviews (double ugh), and seen his sparkly high-top sneakers with wings and/or his name on the soles (puke). His persona is vomit-inducing, including how he describes his personal style:

"All the stuff that I do, like, the crazy shoes I wear—like the grills I wear on the podium, the crazy shoes, all that crazy stuff—like, rock star."

He still lives in Gainesville, Fla., his college town, five years after graduating, and just last year admitted, at age 26, to be over dating college girls. Despite having numerous endorsements, he lives with two other guys in a condo, one of whom is still in college. He has his own expression that he shouts out, tweets out, and puts on his self-designed sneakers: "JEAH!" What does it even mean?! It's so lame you have to laugh.

In the past week, I've come to realize that Lochte represents everything women love and hate about men - he is literally the perfect physical male specimen, but he is every douche-y stereotype rolled into one (the clothes, the grill, the rap music, the one night stands, the catch phrases, living in his college town five years post graduation... I could go on and on). He is the ultimate frat boy who happens to be one of the best swimmers in the world.

That being said, all I can think of is that Lochte is a big, dumb animal. He reminds me of the "How I Met Your Mother" episode with Katy Perry. They call her "Honey" because she is so pretty but so ditzy and naive, that everything she says is followed by, "Oh, honey." Every time I hear Lochte talk, I just think "Oh, honey..." or, in the Southern way of saying it, "Bless his heart." He is so dumb it's almost endearing.

Everything in life evens out: Lochte is so ridiculously good looking and talented that there has to be a catch, and there is - he is a living, breathing Derek Zoolander. There aren't a lot of people who can have it all - looks, brains and talent - but two out of three ain't bad, Ryan.

The difference between Lochte and true d-bags is that he doesn't seem to be a jerk. Lame, yes, but not a jerk. On his Twitter feed, along with shout outs to Lil' Wayne, he constantly posts pics of him with his adorable nephew (and we can't blame Ryan for his name - Zaydin), and all women know that men who love babies can't be all bad. So ladies, I will leave you with this:

Uncle Ryan
Even one who seems to be a DB has a soft side, and this bodes well for his future. Will we see a different, more mature (and grill-less) Lochte in Rio? Here's hoping.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Gymnastics "controversy"

Image credit: Gregory Bull/AP
On Sunday night, Jordyn Wieber of the U.S. failed to qualify for the All Around finals, despite finishing fourth overall. How is this possible, you ask? Because two of Wieber's teammates - Gabby Douglas and Ali Raisman - finished ahead of her, and the idiotic rule is that only two athletes from each country can go on to compete in the All Around Final. 

Here's what I have to say about that - only two athletes advancing from each country is a joke. The rule is intended to keep a single nation (or a few select nations) from single-handedly dominating the medal podium, but what it's really doing is keeping deserving gymnasts who legitimately earn high scores from taking part in competitions they've earned the right to dominate. The "top 24" advance to the All Around, but the best 24 aren't competing - the 3rd-place athletes from the U.S., Russia and Romania, though having top -24 scores, won't be there.

I know this has been a rule for awhile, but it still infuriates me;  it's like the Olympic Committee is saying, "I know you've worked out 7 hours a day every day of your life, but let's give someone from (insert gymnastics non-powerhouse country here) a chance - even though they will never medal and you may have had a chance." 

Case in point: in 1992, Tatiana Gutsu (of the then "Unified Team") had a rough qualification and finished fourth on her team (then, each country could send three to the All Around). But her coaches knew she had a chance to win, so the 3rd place finisher on that team, poor Roza Galieva, was forced (in her words) to say she had an injury and couldn't compete so Gutsu could - and Gutsu won the gold medal. If not for being on a powerhouse team, Gutsu would have made it to the All Around without a teammate having to fall on the proverbial sword.
Top 24 should mean TOP 24, no matter what country they are from.

Friday, July 27, 2012

This one of for the ladies: Olympic hotties

It's finally that time I wait every 4 years for - The Olympics! It's been 1,433 days since the Beijing closing ceremonies, and I can hardly contain my excitement!

Every four years my friends and I discuss what all women who love sports discuss - who are the hottest male Olympic athletes? I have seen many lists going around the internet and I just had to compile my own. So ladies, without further adieu, here is MY list of the Hottest 2012 Olympic Athletes (in no particular order)...

Ryan Lochte, Swimming, USA  


James Magnussen, Swimming, Australia

 I hate to say this, but he’s giving my love Ryan (Lochte, of course) a run for his money. Known as “The Missle,” he is the current 100-meter freestyle world champion, and Ian “The Thorpedo” Thorpe (I guess those Aussies love their nicknames) says this hottie has the chance to be one of the best Aussie swimmers in history (and he’s only 21).

Andreas Thorkildsen, Javelin, Norway

First of all, he is BAD ASS; Thorkildsen (try saying that three times fast) is the first male javelin thrower in history to be European Champion, World Champion and Olympic Champion (gold in 2004 AND 2008). Secondly, he is SUPER hot and his nickname is - no joke - “The Nordic God of Javelin.” Also, he is known as “more California than a Californian” and lives in San Diego. Maybe I should go visit my brother there soon….

Giuseppe Lanzone, Rowing, USA

Lanzone could be a legit Ralph Lauren model. Lucky for him, since I don’t think rowing pays too many bills. This is his second Olympics, he went to the University of Washington (class of 2006), and is a native of McLean, Va... do we care about any of this? Look at his picture and enjoy.

Sam Mikulak, Gymnastics, USA

 I will make an exception on the “shorty” rule (he’s 5’6”) for this wee hottie.

Troy Dumais, Diving, USA

Even though he participates in perhaps the most homo erotic of all sports (synchronized diving), I will give him a hottie pass because he is primarily a singles-diver.

Clemente Russo, Boxing, Italy  

A true Italian Stallion is every sense of the word. A policeman during the day, Russo won the silver as a heavyweight in Beijing in 2008, and is competing in his third Olympics.

Ricky Berens, Swimming, USA
What is with swimmers being so hot? And the four on this list are even super hot with their shirts on, which is WHY they are on the list. At the 2008 Summer Olympics, Berens swam the third leg of the gold-medal winning and world-record-setting men's 4×200-meter freestyle relay, with Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, and Peter Vanderkaay. These swimmers really stick together - his girlfriend is Olympic gold medalist and world record holder Rebecca Soni.

Luca Marin, Swimming, Italy

The final swimmer on our list, this hottie is probably best known in Italy for his out-of-the-pool activities. He's had soap-opera-like relationships, once with a French swimmer, then a fellow Italian swimmer; he made tabloid headlines when Olympic gold medalist Federica Pellegrini, the best Italian swimmer of all time, left him and got engaged to another Italian swimmer;  he was on the Italian version of Dancing with the Stars, and has been on an Italian “telenovela.” This Olympics, he said he hopes to put the gossip aside and reach the medal stand - I concur! The better he does, the more heats he swims and the more we get to see of him!

Hans Van Alphen, Decathlon, Belgium

Probably won’t medal, but as long as he takes his shirt off during the competition, I’ll be happy.

Pascal Behrenbruch, Decathlon, Germany 

The prototypical German-looking hottie, Behrenbruh won the 2012 European Championships. Though I’ll be rooting for Ashton Eaton, Behrenbruch and van Alphen will make this 10-event marathon F-U-N to watch.

Do you agree/disagree? Who do you think I left out?

Monday, May 14, 2012

So long y’all: My farewell to Coastal Georgia

Spanish moss-draped live oaks in one of Savannah's famous squares
 (my last column for The Frontline)

When I moved to Savannah nearly five years ago, I was expecting to find a black hole of sports. I moved to Georgia from the Washington, DC, area, where Redskins football, Capitals hockey and Nationals baseball ruled the airways and going to the stadium or arena was a common occurrence. Before that, I’d spent my life in and around Boston, growing up at Fenway Park and living and breathing the Patriots, Bruins and Celtics. So Savannah, while a lovely town, was an anomaly to a major sports fan – who did the people in Savannah even follow, the Braves and the Falcons? Really, Savannah is much closer to Jacksonville, so I wondered if it was a town of Jaguars fans – if a town of Jaguars fans even exists?

When I first arrived and made my way down River Street, around Forsyth Park and to Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, I quickly realized that I was deep in Southeastern Conference country. In fact, early on I learned that THE Georgia Bulldog, Uga himself, was a fellow Savannahian. My goal soon became to meet the pride of the University of Georgia in person, as I heard his caretakers took him on daily jaunts around Forsyth. Alas, four-plus years later, the closest I’ve ever come to the revered pooch is watching him on TV. But every time I go to Forsyth, my eyes are peeled for the gorgeous four-legged creature.
At Grayson Stadium watching a Sand Gnats game with my then-two month old (never too young for sports!)

While there aren’t any major professional sports in town, I quickly came to appreciate the “small townness” of Savannah Sand Gnats games – I mean, what major sports team has “Thirsty Thursdays” where you get two drinks for the price of one? I reveled in sitting in Historic Grayson Stadium with locals and fellow transplants, watching the “maybe” stars of tomorrow on a warm summer night under the "Big Ass Fans" (the actual name), all for a $5 ticket. And where else can you watch a game live, have a drink (or two on Thursdays) and dinner for less than $15?

Once I looked below the surface, I found so many other sports around Savannah to love, from the annual St. Patrick’s Day Rugby tournament at Forsyth Park, to the annual run over the Tallmadge Bridge, to the Rock and Roll Marathon that made its debut last November, and even the annual “Weiner Dog Races” on River Street during Oktoberfest. All of these events are uniquely Savannah, along with Spanish moss draped live oaks, Paula Deen and Southern hospitality.

Savannah's Tallmadge Bridge
As I venture to leave this town I’ve fallen in love with, I look back on my time in Coastal Georgia to see how much I’ve learned and grown here. Savannah is the first place my family called home – it’s where I met and married my husband and where my daughter was born; it’s where I met some of the most wonderful people I have had the privilege to know, from neighbors and coworkers to those I met around Fort Stewart, Hunter Army Airfield and Savannah; it’s a town and a community that has truly captured my heart.

I will miss Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield and I will deeply miss working for the Army; I will miss the historic district, the true Southern hospitality and the frequent references to “the book”; I will miss the Savannah Sand Gnats, but not the pesky sand gnats; but most of all, I will miss the people that make this charming town so exquisite.

Savannah's (in)famous River Street
So in a couple of weeks, when I hop in my Jeep and head down the road to Atlanta, I will leave a small piece of my  heart in this lovely, sleepy town that I will always call “home.”

But at least I’ll have the Braves, Falcons and Hawks.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Seau’s death brings concussion talk to forefront of sports discussion

Tiaina Baul "Junior" Seau Jr.
January 19, 1969 – May 2, 2012

Last week’s untimely passing of legendary linebacker Junior Seau brings up a sad reality of the National Football League – the short lifespan of its athletes.

Seau is the latest in a long list of professional football players dead before their time. The story this seems to weave is that, whether we like to admit it or not, all of the hits take their toll. Football players as a whole suffer more concussions than other athletes, which have been found to lead to brain damage.  The popular belief is the brain damage can lead to depression, which results in former players not taking care of themselves. In extreme cases like Seau’s, suicide can occur; but even outcomes such as former athletes just not watching their weight anymore (many die of heart attacks) or taking unnecessary risks (many die in accidents, as well) fall into the same category. I believe the correlation is undeniable.

Seau’s family is thinking about allowing scientists to study his brain to see if he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a progressive degenerative disease, diagnosed post-mortemin individuals with a history of multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. Individuals with CTE may show symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and/or depression, which may appear within months of the trauma or many decades later. The way he killed himself – a shot to the chest – seems to indicate he wanted his head intact. Many have drawn the conclusion that he wanted his brain studied, like Dave Duerson, the former Bears player who shot himself in the chest to save his brain. Duerson’s intent was undeniable – he left notes and sent text messages indicating he wanted his brain to be donated to Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Seau didn’t leave a note, but the manner of his suicide is eerily like Duerson’s and one would be na├»ve to think Seau didn’t know the message he was sending.

Duerson and Seau are not the only retired NFL players to kill themselves and the results are startling. The list of former players whose brains tested positive for dementia in examinations following suicides or reckless deaths include Terry Long, Tom McHale, Justin Strzelczyk and former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling who shot himself in April shortly after joining a lawsuit against the NFL.

In recent years, more than 1,500 players have sued the NFL, believing that the league hid the link between repeated concussions associated with football and brain damage. In the most recent lawsuit filed in Atlanta, more than 100 players, including former Falcons running back Jamal Anderson and Easterling, alleged the NFL "repeatedly refuted the connection between concussions and brain injury."

And that is where Roger Goodell comes in; while his suspensions for bounties and illegal hits may seem harsh, he is doing it to protect the game. As more and more studies prove the correlation between concussions and brain injury, the game must change because the players won’t. The innate nature of those few men who become professional football players will never change; they won’t idly sit back and let doctors tell them they can’t play after a concussion, it is in their nature – which got them to the NFL level – to push their bodies to the limit and not think about consequences. So therefore, the commissioner has no choice but to change the way the game is monitored for the safety of players and the good of the game.

There may be a link between Seau’s death and repeated concussions leading to lasting brain injury, or he might have killed himself because of many other personal reasons. Unfortunately we’ll never know his personal reason for this tragic ending, so we have conversations about what we think triggered his demise.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The relief of winning

There are two emotions that can come with winning a championship – joy or relief. Teams that are expected to win celebrate their victory with a sense of relief to have lived up to expectation; teams that are the underdog show unbridled joy in their win, free of the expectation.

In the 2011-2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, Kentucky was the unquestionable favorite; for the Wildcats, anything but a win would have been failure. In fact, their coach John Calipari said, “At Kentucky, we don’t hang up banners for conference championships.” The writing between the lines is clear – at Kentucky, anything less than a national championship is a failure.

In this game, Kansas was the clear underdog, with no one expecting them to make the championship. If not for the injury to Kendall Marshall, everyone expected North Carolina to be in the championship against Kentucky. So despite it being a game between the two winningest programs in NCAA basketball history, everyone expected the outcome to be as it was.

Kentucky was the best team in the nation, by far. With as many as six players who could go in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft, it would have been hard for any team to compete with the Kentucky thoroughbreds. Led by Anthony Davis, just the second freshman to be named player of the year (the other being Kevin Durant) and the consensus number one pick in the draft, Kentucky was a team that, on paper, might look like the Miami Heat – lots of talent, with some difficulty working together. But the Wildcats won this national championship not because of diva offense, but incredible defense and uncommon selfishness. And as much as many hate to admit it, it is the work of the much-maligned Calipari – he took a team of six great players and got them to put aside their egos for the better of the team.

The best team in the nation with the best players; of course Kentucky was going to win, right? It seems simple, but we know from years of watching March Madness that this isn’t always the case in college basketball. For instance, last year UConn and Butler played for the championship – were they the two best teams in the country? No. It takes winning six do-or-die games in a row, under extreme pressure, to win a national championship. A lot of things can muck that up, from bad shooting to key injuries. So it takes talent, and a little luck, to win the NCAA basketball title.

Kentucky had a dominant interior defense; a balanced and efficient offense and the most talented collection of players on the same the team that we’ve seen in years – maybe ever. So on Monday night, the Wildcats expected to win; they knew they were the better team, and they performed like it. They were so good that they won despite Davis only scoring six points. And you could see the relief on the players’ and coach’s faces when they celebrated – the relief of living up to expectations.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Linsanity: an unlikely superstar

Until two weeks ago, I dare anyone to say they knew who Jeremy Lin was. Today, you have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t. For the past two weeks, the topic of conversations on ESPN and all sports TV and radio centered on Lin, the 2010 Harvard grad who came out of obscurity to become the talk of the NBA – and the entire sports world.
Talk about an underdog story, Lin is the ultimate NBA overachiever: He received no athletic scholarship offers out of high school, was undrafted out of college, cut by two NBA teams, then picked up by the Knicks and subsequently sent to the NBA D-League. After a triple double with the Erie Bayhawks, Jan. 20, Lin was recalled by the Knicks. If not for the Knicks playing so abysmally, this feel-good story likely wouldn’t have happened and we all wouldn’t be treated to the joy that is “Linsanity.” After the Knicks squandered a fourth quarter lead to the Celtics, Feb. 3, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni decided to give Lin a chance – and he made the best of the opportunity. Off the bench, Lin had 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists in a 99–92 win. In the Knicks next game, Lin got his first NBA start, scoring 28 points and eights assists.
His first four NBA starts read like a Hollywood script – including scoring 38 against the Lakers to lead all scorers. He is the first NBA player to score at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first four starts and was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 27.3 points, 8.3 assists and 2.0 steals in those four games. Just when we think the Lin story can’t get more exciting, he scores a game-winning three-pointer with five-tenths of a second remaining against the Toronto Raptors.
What Lin is doing is something we’ve never seen at this level of sports – a player rise from absolute obscurity to global superstardom in just a week. The clearest proof of this lies in fantasy – two weeks ago, Lin was owned in 0 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues; today, he is owned in 100 percent of the leagues. Want more proof? Sales and traffic for the Knicks online store increased more than 3,000 percent since they introduced the No. 17 jersey and t-shirts. Linsanity has even stretched beyond the sports world – since Lin’s Feb. 4 debut, stock in Madison Square Garden Inc., the company that owns the Knicks, the Garden and the namesake sports network, has surged increased 9 percent to an all-time high.
A large part of the hysteria has to do with his race – let’s be honest, Lin being of Taiwanese descent makes his meteoric NBA stardom that much more unexpected and exciting. He is the first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to play in the NBA and in the past week, has graced the covers of Sports Illustrated and newspapers across the U.S. and in Taipei. He has a built-in fan base in basketball-mad Asia that has been waiting for a superstar of their own since Yao Ming retired last year.
In three weeks, Lin has gone from NBA D-League and sleeping friends’ couches to stardom. He needs to work on his shooting (38 percent on his jump shots) and his dreadful defense; but what Lin has going for him is his efficiency in the pick-and-roll, his lateral quickness that effectively shakes defenders and, most importantly, his unwavering composure.
It’s important to note that all of Lin’s games have come with Carmelo Anthony on the bench, and the superstar scorer will likely take away many of Lin’s scoring chances. With that, Linsanity is sure to die down; but for now, I’m sure enjoying the show.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spring training brings optimism to MLB

The Major League Baseball season starts this week, with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training. Spring Training is a wonderful time, when fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates think their team has a chance to compete with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Orioles have hopes of topping the Yankees; it’s a time of hope and optimism – a time when anything is possible for your beloved team.

This season is sure to be an interesting one, with teams that usually sit atop the standings having unresolved issues (Boston Red Sox, still not filling many of the holes they needed to) and some perennial cellar-dwellers showing promise (Washington Nationals).

Many teams got makeovers, starting with the Tigers. Prince Fielder joins Miguel Cabrera in Detroit, giving them the scariest back-to-back batters since Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz circa 2004-2007 over the next four or five seasons. The addition of Fielder improves any team, but I question how much he really helps Detroit in the long run. Statistically and physically, he and Cabrera are the same player – and because of their weight problems, both will become (defensive) liabilities in coming years.

Another makeover took place in the Sunshine state, where we have a “new” team – the Miami Marlins. Formerly the Florida Marlins, this re-vamped club added shortstop Jose Reyes, pitcher Mark Buehrle, pitcher smasher Carlos Zambrano, closer Heath Bell, manager Ozzie Guillen and a brand-new ballpark to mark the beginning of a new era of baseball in Miami with a pretty good team.

The 2011 season was an exciting one, with epic collapses to by the Braves and Red Sox to end their playoff chances, and standout rookie seasons by players in both leagues. There are a lot of players I’ll be keeping my eye on 2012, but here are my standouts:

Yu Darvish, Texas – the Rangers took a risk paying the Japanese sensation (of half Iranian decent) $60 million over six years, plus a whopping $51.7 million posting fee. Here’s hoping it turns out better for Texas than the Dice-K deal of 2006 has for the Red Sox.

Carl Crawford, Boston – after a disastrous 2011 season in which he was paid more than $20 million but batted just .255 with 11 homers and 56 RBI, Crawford has a lot to prove. Unfortunately, he had arthroscopic surgery on his wrist in January and will miss most of spring training and potentially opening day. Red Sox fans hope it’s not a foreshadowing of the 2012 season.

Bryce Harper, Washington organization – Harper is the most-hyped prospect in baseball history, but so far he’s lived up to the hype in the minor leagues. But at just 19, he’ll likely spend the first months of the season in Triple-A Syracuse. That said, he will undoubtedly be in the majors before his 20th birthday (Oct. 16).

Matt Moore, Tampa Bay – Moore is the only player who comes close to Harper for the title as “most exciting young player.” In his first season in the majors, Moore started 18 games, going 8-3 with 131 strikeouts and a 2.20 ERA. Those numbers in themselves are gaudy, but add in the fact that he was just 21, and the future looks bright. I have my fingers crossed he won’t go the way of the last “can’t-miss” pitching prospect, Stephen Strasburg, who was rushed to the majors too quickly by the Nationals and his 2011 season ended with Tommy John surgery after just five games. Strausburg will be back in 2012, and is another player to watch.

With so many changes in the offseason, I, like more baseball fans, can’t wait for the beginning of the 2012 season. Let’s play ball!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI: Breaking down Patriots-Giants

 In what borders on a holiday in the U.S., just about everyone will be with friends and family on Sunday, watching the Super Bowl and consuming copious amounts of food and beverages.

About half of those around the TV are there to watch the game and the other half are there for the halftime show and the commercials, which undoubtedly will feature cute animals, attractive women, funny old people and foolish, emasculated men. For those of us who are Patriots or Giants fans, the commercials will be a chance to regain our composure and teeter back from the edge of our seats; Madonna at halftime will be an opportunity to take a deep breath and maybe bring our blood pressure back to normal after a suspenseful first half. But most importantly, it’s our chance to analyze the first half and try to convince ourselves why our team is going to come back or hold on in the second half.

Why the Pats will win:
1. Tom Brady. Already considered one of the best of all time, Brady is determined to win his 17th playoff game, which would be an NFL record, and his fourth Super Bowl, which would be tied for the most all time. If there’s one thing Tom Brady is, it’s proud – and he wants to redeem himself after his sub-par AFC Championship game, where he didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 36 games.

2. Revenge. Bill Belichick will do anything and everything not to lose to the Giants again. He, Brady and the rest of the Patriots want to redeem themselves not only for their Week 9 loss to the Giants and, more importantly, their loss in Super Bowl XLII. If there’s one thing I would always bet on, it’s Belichick and Brady when they have a chip on their shoulder.

3. Patriots Tight Ends. Never before have we seen a team with two dominant tight ends. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 2,237 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns this season. Gronkowski set an NGL record with 17 touchdowns in the regular season, and added three more in the playoffs. In their last meeting, they torched the Giants for 12 receptions, 136 yards and a touchdown each. If the Giants want to have a chance at this game, safeties Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle need to step-up big-time for the G-men. That being said – the entire game changes if Gronkowski’s ankle injury limits him on the field Sunday.

Why the Giants will win:
1. The Patriots defense. The Pats defense, decimated by injuries and draft picks who haven’t lived up to their supposed potential, allowed 4,703 passing yards in the regular season, ranking 31st in the league – lower than any team that has ever won the Super Bowl. Of the 45 Super Bowl champions, 11 ranked first in yards allowed, five ranked second and six ranked third. Thirty-eight defenses were ranked in the top 10. Of teams that lost the Super Bowl, the worst-ranked defenses were the Buffalo Bills teams of 1991 and 1993 that ranked 27th (in a 28-team league); no other runner-up even ranked as low as 20th; the average defensive ranking of the past six Super Bowl teams was 18th … and  the Patriots were significantly below that this season. Eli and his trio of receivers have ability to pick apart this mish-mash defense.

2. Giants receivers. It infuriates New England fans that a product of the University of Massachusetts, Victor Cruz, is an out-of-nowhere receiving star for a New York (yes, we know he is from New Jersey). For the 2011 season, he set a franchise record with 1,536 receiving yards and led the team with 82 receptions and nine receiving touchdowns. In the NFC championship against the 49ers, a great defense, he had 10 catches for 142 yards… which doesn’t bode well for the Pats defense. Cruz is young, hungry, and a big-play receiver. Put him alongside Hakeem Nicks (1,192 receiving yards) and Mario Manningham and you have the best trio of receivers in the game – a near impossible match up for the Pats.

After all of the analysis, it comes down to who wants it more – the Patriots, who’s thirst for redemption will overcome their sub-par defense; or Eli Manning and the Giants, who want to erase the memories of a 6-6 mid-season record and come out of the shadow of a certain big brother. Belichick and Brady won’t lose this game, so if they Giants want to take it from the Pats again, they’re going to have to play the game of their lives.

As I said before, I don’t bet against Belichick and Brady with a chip on their shoulder – Patriots 27-24.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Heading to a Super rematch

As I watched Billy Cundiff’s seemingly “sure thing,” 32-yard field goal attempt sail wide left, I felt the earth shift – all Patriots fans jumped up to rejoice, while Ravens fans fell to the ground in despair.

Throughout the game my blood pressure was on a rollercoaster ride: sure the Pats were going to pull it off; hopefully of a New England victory, but not wanting to feel too confident only to be brutally disappointed; and fearing that the evil Ravens were going to pound my Super Bowl dreams into oblivion.

In the end, it was Vince Wilfork on defense and Cundiff’s missed kick that sent the Pats to Indianapolis (although, if Cundiff had made the field goal, who knows what would have happened in overtime – Tom Brady the assassin very well could have returned.)

Brady, in his own words, “sucked pretty bad,” in the game; though, to be fair, his numbers were far from awful - 239 yards, with two interceptions however, for the first time in 36 games, no TD passes… but he did run in the game-winner. But for Brady, that’s a bad game. Usually he doesn't need much assistance when it comes to big games, but Sunday the Patriots' highly-criticized defense came through and was the deciding factor in the game (Cundiff’s foot aside).

After the game finished, I had only a few minutes to regain my composure and let my blood pressure settle before I was thrown into another game. I wasn’t ready for another championship game; I wanted to savor the Patriots good luck for a few hours. But Roger Goodell wouldn’t have it and I was thrust into the 49ers-Giants rumble.

During this game I was torn – who do I cheer for? I hate the Giants and I like the 49ers, but I also want to Pats to have a chance to avenge their last Super Bowl loss. That being said, I’m just a tad superstitious – because of that, I try to be realistic and not overly confident because my confidence may madden the football gods and cause the Patriots to lose, and I would rather lose to San Francisco than the Giants. So as you can see, I was torn. Seeing as how cheering for a New York team just about makes me physically ill, I couldn’t bring myself to cheer for the Giants (watching them celebrate brings the taste of bile to my mouth).

In the end, it was the football gods (and poor Kyle Williams) who decided the outcome, and now my Patriots have the opportunity to avenge their Super Bowl XLII loss.

With this matchup, I am forced to remember back to that game in 2008. Try as I might to forget it ever happened, over and over I am forced to watch David Tyree and the helmet catch thrown in my face by ESPN, Fox and the like.

I went into that game as confident as a fan can be – after all, my team was 18-0 and the Giants finished the regular season 10-6 (just like this season… I’m feeling sick). As the game wore on I remember asking myself: “Why are the Patriots playing like they’re trying not to lose? My Patriots always play to win! Who is this team? Where are my Patriots?!”

Then the unthinkable happened, and after “the touchdown” I got up, and locked myself in my room. A tear or two may have been shed and I refused to talk about the game or turn on ESPN for a week.

Now the Patriots have a chance to avenge that fateful night… they better not blow it, or I may actually have a heart attack.