October 18, 2016
So here we are in mid-October, and the discussion about who has been the NFL’s most disappointing team to this point has begun. Many would say the New York Jets belong in the debate, and for good reason. There were high expectations for the Jets, even to the point where they were supposed to contend with the New England Patriots for the AFC East crown. Instead, New York is sitting at 1-5 after an ugly 28-3 loss to the Arizona Cardinals Monday night. When everything is broken down, maybe we shouldn’t be as surprised about the Jets’ struggles as others are. I know they were 10-6 last season, but they still didn’t make the playoffs. Another thing was they spent the whole offseason trying to figure out a contract dispute with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. While those issues were sorted out during training camp, Fitzpatrick missed numerous workouts leading up to camp. Combine those factors with the defense not being as good as projected, and this is the result. Back to Fitzpatrick, I thought it was funny to hear people acting like he was desperately needed if New York was going to take that next step to the playoffs. Yes, Fitzpatrick had a good season last year (31 touchdowns, 15 interceptions), but he has played for six teams during his career. With this in mind, it’s hard to see where good consistency would start to settle in now. Looking at the first six games, we have seen the bad part. Fitzpatrick has thrown 11 interceptions this season, including six during a 24-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Sept. 25. On Monday night, the Jets offense was so anemic, Geno Smith replaced Fitzpatrick as the quarterback. Head coach Todd Bowles said Fitzpatrick would remain the starter, but how long does that last before changes have to be made permanently? Personally, I would be surprised if Fitzpatrick improves as the season goes along. Teams are doing what they can to take away wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and fellow wideout Eric Decker is on injured reserve. Fitzpatrick isn’t the most mobile person to escape pressure. In other words, what we’re seeing is what we get, and will probably continue to have. It’s not like we’re talking about Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, quarterbacks who have to be there for their team’s success. The Jets are a team who is supposed to be built on a strong running game and solid defense. What Fitzpatrick did last season was a welcomed bonus, not a normal. What we’re seeing this season is closer to the normal. Again, let’s keep in mind he missed all of the offseason due to this contract issue, which means there was no opportunity to build off of last season. People may think Fitzpatrick and the Jets’ bad start are a shock, but they really aren’t. Now the question is will he get better as the season goes on. My question is long will it be before Fitzpatrick is permanently pulled.
October 18, 2016
Many of us have heard of a Super Bowl hangover, but what the Carolina Panthers are going through is more of a free fall than anything else. The Panthers sit at 1-5 after losing 41-38 to the New Orleans Saints Sunday afternoon. Yes, it might be true Carolina has not completely recovered from losing Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos back in February, but their problems (at least in my eyes) can be attributed to more of a loss of identity. I know quarterback Cam Newton was the league MVP last season, but the team ran the ball first to set up the pass. As a matter of fact, Newton was one of the main runners of the football. This season, the play-calling has Newton going back to pass more. There could be a good amount of reasons for that. One could be because running back Jonathan Stewart has missed time with a hamstring injury. Another could be the Panthers’ tendency to fall behind early in games, including 21-0 against the Saints. At any rate, the running game hasn’t been nearly as strong as it was last season. While play-calling may be able to fix things on the offensive side of the ball, the solution might not be as easy to find on the defensive side. The loss of cornerback Josh Norman to the Washington Redskins looks to have had a negative impact on the team’s pass coverage (putting it nicely), but if we are to believe the Panthers’ brass, the strength of the defense is the defensive line and linebackers. This season, the front seven has yet to generate a pass rush, and probably most surprisingly, stop the run. The most demoralizing thing to a defense is when a team can say they’re going to line up run the ball right at them, and there’s nothing they could do about it. That’s what has happened to Carolina this season. This reality was amplified Oct. 10, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to run the football against the Panthers with a third-string running back. It’s one thing to have a hangover, but at some point, getting back to the foundation is what will help get over it. Carolina has yet to get back to the things that helped them get to a 15-1 regular season record last season, and until they do that, they’ll continue to see their season go down the drain. If the strength of the team is the running game and the front seven on defense, then let’s start seeing these men play better. Maybe the bye week can help to get things back on track. If that doesn’t help, then nothing else will.
When quarterback Tom Brady finally decided to give up his fight and serve his four-game suspension for his “role” in the Deflategate scandal, people wondered where the New England Patriots would be when Brady would be eligible to return. Most said a 2-2 record would be deemed successful, and that was assuming Jimmy Garoppolo could stay healthy in Brady’s absence. As we know, Garoppolo was injured in a 31-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins, and in came Jacoby Brissett to get some reps. Brissett managed the game well as the Patriots drilled the Houston Texans 27-0 Sept. 22, but didn’t do the same as New England lost to the Buffalo Bills 16-0 Sunday afternoon. Brady is eligible to return in New England’s next game against the Cleveland Browns, and the team can’t help but smile as the second quarter of the season is about to begin. The Patriots are 3-1, and (as usual) are sitting on top of the AFC East. Remember all of the talk about which team in the division could benefit the most from Brady missing four games? Me either, but apparently, this was a conversation. As it turned out, no team capitalized. The Bills are 2-2, and the New York Jets and Dolphins sit at 1-3. As for New England, they are poised to run away with the division for the eighth season in a row, and take aim at another Super Bowl run afterwards. We have seen this movie before, when Brady is angry and motivated, and the ending is not pretty for the rest of the league. Historic numbers get put up when this team has a chip on their shoulders, and I haven’t seen any reason to believe why anyone should think otherwise. What makes this scarier is the fact tight end Rob Gronkowski also missed a big chunk of this four-game stretch with a hamstring injury. So we have arguably the best players at their respective positions coming back at full strength. The defense for the Patriots is also one of the better ones in the league. Add this all up, and it would be hard to find a team that could knock them off in the future. While the 3-1 record would be surprising to some, maybe it shouldn’t be, considering Bill Belichick is still New England’s head coach. Belichick has as close to a plug-and-play system as it gets in sports. One thing we know about the Patriots is they will be in the best possible position to win games, and it’s been that way for over a decade and a half. Now Belichick will have a few ultimate pieces to plug-and play with. This means that window the rest of the AFC East, and the NFL, had to take advantage is officially closed. To show where the Patriots are on the totem pole, just look at how Bills head coach Rex Ryan (and a few of his players) reacted after their victory Sunday. They acted like they won the Super Bowl after they beat a team playing with their third-string QB. The Bills throw parties for victories in early October, while the Patriots try to throw parties in February. With Brady back in the camp, that goal is as clear as ever.
October 4, 2016
Wide receiver Dez Bryant missed the Dallas Cowboys’ 24-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers Sunday afternoon in the Bay Area. Bryant is dealing with a hairline fracture in his right knee, and the timetable is week-to-week, according to reports. Considering we are talking about Bryant and the Cowboys, it’s amazing we have an accurate injury report to discuss. The team, especially owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett (Jones can qualify for both positions), aren’t the most believable when it comes to discussing a player’s injury. So when Bryant’s original diagnosis wasn’t discovered until a few days after the win over the Chicago Bears, it wasn’t surprising Cowboys brass didn’t seem so forthcoming. One thing that did come out was why the MRI results on Bryant’s knee were a little bit later than usual. The talented wideout was apparently scared to get examined, fearing it could be a season-ending injury. Before people continue to pile on Bryant and throw shade for being a little afraid, let’s look at this situation logically. Yes, Bryant should have went in to get the knee looked at, like just about every other player who has an injury. The sooner a person finds out what’s wrong, the better chance they have of getting the treatment necessary to get better. Also, if there is something wrong, the chances of playing on it and making it worse go up. Simply put, there is no excuse for Bryant not to get the MRI when he’s supposed to. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be a crime to understand if Bryant was afraid to get an MRI on his knee, fearing the worse news would be a reality. After all, he did miss a huge chunk of last season due to a foot injury. Suffering a potential season-ending knee injury would be an emotional blow to Bryant and the team. The main thing to take from this is Bryant showed a little bit of human nature. How many of us in this world have been afraid to go to the doctor, or a dentist, during our lifetime? I’m sure there would be a great number of us who would raise our hands on that question. My point is we tend to forget these athletes are human also, and they have emotions just like the common people. Yes, some acts are worse than others, and being a professional athlete shouldn’t excuse those actions. Having said that, let’s remember they are people with families as well. So whenever we want to make a Facebook post, or go on a Twitter rant blasting the same players we root for on game days, let’s not forget about that fact. Occasionally, it’s okay for these players to be human. It’s also okay to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are really that much different from them (besides the income).
August 25, 2016
As we were approaching the start of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, all we heard about was the negative. Security for the games, Zika virus concerns and pollution in the waters where competitions were to be held dominated the airwaves. The doping scandal against numerous Russian athletes also had it’s share of press run leading up to the opening ceremony. Just like the other Olympic games before Rio, the host cities had to hear doubt about their preparedness as the world makes it their temporary home for two weeks. Through it all, we forget there are actual sporting events that are about to take place. The games, where the focus should be, gets lost in the shuffle of all of the negative and political BS. Once the games started, all of those same concerns that were so dominant before, suddenly wasn’t talked about as much. What did dominate was the dominance in the swimming pool by Americans Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky. We also saw a new star being born on the gymnastics floor in the form of American Simone Biles. Last, but definitely not least, we saw maybe the most dominant sprinter we may ever see, in Jamaican Usain Bolt, conclude his Olympic career having won gold in every single competition he was in. These are among many stories that showed joy, perseverance and determination. We also saw compassion, and most of all, unity. The latter is what the games are supposed to be all about. People from all backgrounds and religions meet to one city not just to compete, but to also celebrate humanity. Those aspects were evident in Rio for the past two weeks. The main thing to take from these games are people, particularly in the host city, are not perfect. They have issues, but can any of us say we don’t have our own? Even though Rio 2016 was being looked at as a complete disaster waiting to happen, I think it’s safe to say it was anything but. These Olympics showed what proves to be true time and time again, which is opinions seem to change once games start. I guess we can say this about sports in general. Yes, these are just games and the real life issues are still there for all of us to deal with, but sports routinely bring us closer together, at least temporarily. It’s our chance to get away from the grind we call life. The Rio Olympics, if nothing else, did accomplish that.
August 25, 2016
Tim Tebow, who is a former NFL quarterback and current anaylst on ESPN’s SEC Network, is scheduled to workout for numerous MLB teams Aug. 30. Most people who have read the articles on this site, or have listened to a webcast or two, know I have been a supporter of Tebow’s. Having said that, I’m not too sure how I feel about this venture. I believe if a person thinks he or she can do something, they should be able to pursue it by all means. Even though I still feel that way, I can’t help but feel think is a last ditch effort for Tebow to stay relevant in the public eye. Yes, I know he was an all-state high school baseball player, but he hasn’t played the sport since 2005. Although I wouldn’t want to be the man to bet against Tebow, it would be hard to imagine a person who has been out of a sport for over a decade could all of a sudden pick it back up at the highest level. Call me selfish and crazy, but I would like to see Tebow make one more run at playing quarterback in the NFL. With me saying this, I know all of the haters on social media are calling me all kinds of names (and idiot is probably one of the nicer ones), but hear me out. I understand Tebow hasn’t been on a football field since 2015, when he was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles before the start of the regular season. When he did play, consistency wasn’t the strongest part of the game, but everyone knew he would compete and find a way to get the job done. As bad as it seemed at times when Tebow played for the Denver Broncos in the 2011 season, how quickly we forget the Broncos were champs of the AFC West and won a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers that year. Does Tebow need to go back and work on his craft more? Yes he does, but it would help if someone could fully invest in him. When I look at the quarterback play in the NFL, there’s no way someone could tell me all of those men, especially the ones who hold backup positions, are better than Tebow. Personally, I would like to see the two-time national champion at the University of Florida play in the Arena Football League or the Canadian Football League for a year, then attempt to make it back in the NFL. That way, he could get some reps and work on the mechanics that lacked at the NFL level. To this day, I still believe Tebow could be a good quarterback if he gets the chance. Professional baseball player? I’m not so sure. It will be interesting to see how this will turn out. As many as 20 MLB teams are slated to attend Tebow’s workout, so there is a decent chance at least a minor-league contract could be reached. Ultimately, it may come down to whether or not a baseball team, much like football, would be willing to deal with the celebrity aspect of it. To crush those questions, Tebow has to find a way to make it about his performance of the field. That, above all, is what it comes down to at the end of the day.
August 9, 2016
On Sunday, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez announced he would retire from the game of baseball after playing his final game Friday in Yankee Stadium against the Tampa Bay Rays. Afterwords, he will be in the team’s organization as a special adviser. This marks the end of a 22-year career, of a man who has seen the good and bad during his playing days. Having said that, we now have the question of how to remember Rodriguez. Do we remember A-Rod for his hall-of-fame worthy numbers? He has (assuming no changes between now and Friday) 3,114 hits, 696 home runs and had 2084 runs batted in (RBIs). He was also a three-time American League MVP and 14-time All-Star. With those stats compiled as a member of the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and Yankees, there is no reason why anyone would argue against Rodriguez being a first-ballot hall-of-famer, right? Or do we remember him for the bad? Rodriguez was repeatedly linked to performance-enhancing drugs, reportedly failing a drug test in 2003. A-Rod would later say he used steroids during a period (where they were not banned by MLB) after signing a 10-year, $250 million contract with the Rangers before the 2001 season. These results were unveiled in 2009, two years after Rodriguez denied using PEDs during an interview with 60 Minutes. In 2013, A-Rod found himself being linked the Biogenesis scandal, which saw players such as the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun and the Mariners’ Nelson Cruz catch suspensions. Rodriguez himself was suspended for the 2014 season after a nasty legal battle with MLB and the players’ union. Regardless of where you stand of how to remember the man, there is one thing we can all agree on. This career path is one of the closest thing to a soap opera we can remember, filled with drama, glory and intrigue. Through it all, we may have seen a player, and more importantly, a person, who has matured and gained an appreciation for why he played baseball in the first place, the love of the game. I believe in my heart anyone who wants to be involved in something has a love for it to some degree, and I don’t think it’s any different with A-Rod and baseball. What begins to show during a person’s path is how things can change a person from the roots, and that varies depending on who it is. In A-Rod’s case, I think the love of the game was still a big factor during his days with the Mariners, but money celebrity became the big factor as soon as he signed the huge deal with the Rangers and made even more money with the Yankees. The lifestyle and bright lights of the big city was something Rodriguez loved and would do anything to keep it that way. So when anything that could derail his career bubbled up, the impulse was to deny, deny deny. At the end, things end up worse when caught in a lie, and the career gets knocked off track anyway. Sometimes, people need to have things taken away from them to see what ultimately matters, which is family, values and why a person does what they do in the first place. In A-Rod’s press conference, I saw a man who has learned from those experiences, and maybe, rediscovered his love for the game. This also could be because he realizes he can’t play at the level he once did, but if he does see it this way, it’s better late than never. How we remember Rodriguez may differ from person to person, but if anyone learns from mistakes, that’s priceless. I would like to believe A-Rod has learned, and if so, maybe that’s more valuable than any amount of money.
July 22, 2016
As a huge fan of sports, I have never been able to understand why people who have the opportunity to play sports at the highest level would put themselves in a position to throw it all away. The latest player in question makes his living in the NFL, namely Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell, according to multiple reports, is in danger of missing the first four games of the upcoming season due to missing a drug test session. This case is weird because usually, a player fails a drug test, not miss one. At any rate, the chances are good for Bell to miss the first quarter of a season in which he is playing to show he is worth a max deal. If everything goes through, this would be the second time Bell has been suspended by the league. He was suspended for the first three games of the 2015 season (reduced to two games) due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Mix the questionable decision-making off the field with the injury history on the field, and it leaves the Steelers wondering if giving a max-deal to Bell would be worth it. These are things we do know. Bell’s production when he is healthy has been second to none. He leads all players since he entered the league (2013) in total yards from scrimmage (119 per game). We also know durability has been an issue, as he missed Pittsburgh’s final 10 games (including playoffs) last season with a knee injury. Injuries are part of the game, and nobody knows if and when they could happen. The thing a player, especially one of Bell’s stature, has control over is how he conducts himself away from football. Getting in trouble is one thing that will derail a promising career quick, fast and in a hurry. As it stands right now, Bell has two strikes against him. They always say “Three strikes, you’re out.” He better take advantage of the chance to straighten up when it comes, or he could be the latest on a line of players where we wonder what could have been. Without a doubt, members of the Steelers’ roster, coaching staff and front office will reach out to Bell and try to get him some help, if it’s even needed. We don’t know what is going on in Bell’s life, but missing a drug test sounds bad. The hope, as there is an appeal that was filed, is this was just a case where Bell either forgot about the test or just couldn’t make it for some reason. Let’s hope he didn’t miss the test because he know he would fail it. At any rate, we know Bell is one of the great talents in the NFL. If things don’t change, all of that talent, just like too many before Bell, will go to waste.
July 22, 2016
Whenever something big happens in the 24/7 news cycle, we can bet it will get analyzed each and every way possible. The same applies to small forward Kevin Durant, and his decision to join the Golden State Warriors via free agency. Durant’s old team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, is now left to pick up the pieces after losing one of the best players in the NBA. Theories from analysts and experts alike have been all over the airwaves as to why Durant would leave a seemingly good situation to join a team he and the Thunder could not beat in the last season’s Western Conference Finals. Some of those theories pointed to OKC point guard Russell Westbrook, the man who helped form one of the league’s most-feared duos with Durant. Over the years, criticism of Westbrook’s style of play has been more than just a blip on the radar, and some of it rightfully so. It is true his shot selection and decision making can be pretty bad at times. It may even be fair to say Westbrook has caused the Thunder to lose some games due to some unnecessary gambles on the defensive end. The part where I draw the line is when people want to say he was holding Durant back from becoming the player that can be mentioned with the all-time greats that have played this game. First of all, Durant has been nothing but supportive of Westbrook, at least up to the point where he decided to leave Oklahoma City for the Bay Area. Beyond all of that, to say Westbrook had a hand in holding Durant back during his time with the Thunder is, quite frankly, an opinion that’s misinformed. Last time I checked, KD was the 2013-’14 NBA’s Most Valuable Player, with Westbrook in the lineup. Durant also led the league in scoring four different seasons, again, with Westbrook playing by his side. I haven’t even brought up the seven times Durant has been an all-star, or the five times he has been a member of the All-NBA First Team. If anything, the argument can be made more about Westbrook helping Durant become a better player because of what the point guard brings to the table with his own dynamic style. How many times did we hear the Thunder could compete with any team in the league last season because they have two of the five best players in basketball (keyword is two)? I don’t want to sound like I’m piling on Durant, but if he is not quite as good as he may feel he should be, it’s his own fault. I felt OKC, from the front office to the community, gave Durant every opportunity to excel and grow. Injuries, suffered by both this once-in-a-lifetime talent and others (including Westbrook), may have slowed things down a little in terms of competing for titles, but the chance to grow was more than just there. Only Durant knows for sure why he decided to go to the Warriors, but I would surprised if one of those reasons was he felt Westbrook was holding him back. I would love to meet the person who could explain how a man who can do anything on the court and be a league-MVP was being held back. Criticize Wesbrook for many things, but holding Durant back is not one of them.
June 24, 2016
When LeBron James entered the NBA before the 2003-’04 season, he came in with expectations most people wouldn’t dare try to meet. James’ career has been one of the most pressure-filled and analyzed perhaps in the history of sports, but the pressure he faces probably isn’t more intense then it is from his home region of northeast Ohio. James carries the hopes and dreams of his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and the city of Cleveland, whose fans have been starving for a professional sports title since football’s Browns won in 1964. Let’s be honest about this. Some of the pressure placed upon James was self-induced. When anyone calls himself a king and gets a tattoo saying the “chosen one,” people may want to see if a person can live up to the hype. With a 93-89 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif, James was able to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to the team’s first title in franchise history, and the city’s first in over half-a-century. All of those hopes and dreams pinned on LeBron’s back have turned into a welcomed reality. The fact James was able to led the Cavs to a title and break this long drought may be surprising in and of itself, but the way it happened is probably what is most shocking. “The Land” came back from a 3-1 series deficit against a team that won a record-breaking 73 games during the regular season, and won two of the final games in Oracle Arena, where Golden State had lost only three games in the regular season and playoffs combined before this final stretch. For James, it was about fulfilling a promise he made to northeast Ohio to deliver a title. While that is probably the biggest part of his motivation, it’s probably fair to say that wasn’t the only source. For every person who loves LeBron, there’s a person who hates him also. Those haters said there is no way he could lead the Cavaliers to a championship. They also said (myself included) he lacked the leadership qualities necessary to lead his team. When he took his talents to South Beach and won two titles with the Miami Heat, the haters said it was because he had a great support system. In other words, he didn’t have to lead because the Heat organization was already full of people who have won championships in the past. When James returned to Cleveland, things appeared rocky, to say the least. The team was in transition from a team growing for the future to a team built around LeBron to win right now. A head coach got fired in the ordeal, and James’ relationship with fellow all-stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love appeared icy. Somewhere between Games 4 and 5 of the NBA Finals, something must have kicked in to where James told the teams to get on his back and ride him to the title. At the moment of truth, with all of the above weighing on him, he showed up to the point he was the unanimous MVP of the Finals when everything was done. Now James is known as a three-time world champion, and his place in history is cemented. In Cleveland, statues of LeBron will be built and streets will be renamed in his honor. These days, whether you’re a lover or a hater, all we can say is we are all witnesses to a once-in-a-generation player who has exceeded every expectation of him. That is what a king does, and after bringing northeast Ohio a title, respect is all I have for LeBron James.