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The Rundown: September 13, 2007

Cardinals-49ers Recap

Although it was a sloppy win, the 49ers can at least take a couple of things away from the game:

Alex Smith can run the Two-minute drill. Although their offense sputtered down the stretch in the second half, the 49ers’ last offensive drive was all they needed to win the game. QB Alex Smith made some key plays in a game-winning 86-yard drive, including key completions to new WR Darrell Jackson, and a critical 25-yard scramble on a broken-up 4th-and-1 play that kept the drive going. When it counted most, Smith executed the big plays to help the Niners win. They now, at least, have the confidence of knowing they can win in the final minutes, should the situation call for it. The offense on the first 57 minutes of the game, however, is a bit of a concern.

Standout Rookie LB Patrick Willis was a key to the 49ers’ defense, shutting down a high-powered Cardinals offense.

The 49ers’ defense looks better than expected. Granted, this was the Cardinals they played, but, come on – a dangerous Matt Leinart with a year of experience under his belt, two of the most talented wideouts at his disposal (Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin), and a perennial Pro Bowler at running back, albeit in a bit of a career slump (Edgerrin James). The defense held Boldin and Fitzgerald to a combined 7 receptions for 44 yards, and James was their most effective offensive weapon, even being held to under 100 yards rushing. Considering the explosiveness the Cardinals offense is capable of, I’d say that wasn’t a bad night for the defense.

Patrick Willis is a beast. To some of you, this is no surprise – he was toted as the country’s best linebacker coming out of Ole Miss last year, and has adapted Baltimore LB Ray Lewis’ jersey number for a reason: he wants to draw comparisons from pundits around the NFL. In his first game as a starter, these comparisons can be warranted: 11 tackles, some of them bone-crunching, and a forced fumble. If he keeps up this production, he will be a mainstay at linebacker, and a centerpiece of the 49ers’ defense for years to come.


Patriot-Gate: Significance?

Patriot-Gate is heating up. Many teams and pundits are offering their opinions to the subject, and I am inclined to reflect on all of them. If some of you don’t already know, Patriots employees have been caught videotaping opponents during games, in order to pick up on offensive and defensive signals, and gain a “competitive edge”. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is still contemplating how to punish Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for an obvious violation of league rules.

Let me say this: I am not a Patriots fan. But, at the same time, I will not pile on the Patriots organization for this. I am not about to say that their dynasty is a fake because of this incident. Could the organization have been doing this since 2001, when they won their first championship? Possibly. Do I think that it made a significant difference in their winning?

Honestly? Probably not.

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick is currently marred in a scandal that could rock the foundation of the Patriots’ Dynasty.

As much as I would like to say that employing this obviously egregious tactic was the foundation of the Patriots dynasty, I honestly can’t. Could it have helped them? Sure – but, we’re only talking about one piece of the puzzle. I go to an analogy I just heard from Sean Salisbury a little while ago – “you may have the answers to the test, but you still have to take the test.” Players still had to execute flawlessly to win their games. To say that these tactics were the reason the Patriots won three Super Bowls takes away from the talent of their rosters – Tom Brady, Tedy Bruschi, Corey Dillon, Deion Branch. We shouldn’t forget that the Patriots teams that won Super Bowls were extremely talented.

Many of the Patriots’ opponents had surprising reactions to the allegations. San Diego RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who, along with the Chargers, lost to the Patriots last season, put it plainly: “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.” The sentiment may sound ludicrous, but it is a dim reality of sports – everyone is looking for an edge. From bending league rules to outright performance enhancement via steroids and HGH, all athletes and organizations will try to find ‘a competitive edge’.

Ultimately, we don’t know how long they have been doing this. Until we do know, there is no need to pile on, trying to discredit the significance of the Patriots dynasty because of one incident. I may not be a Patriots fan, but that is, at least, one thing I can honestly defend them on.


HGH, Professional Sports & Players Unions

Rick Ankiel’s feel-good comeback story has been soured by recent HGH accusations.

Comeback kid Rick Ankiel and former Angel Troy Glaus are the latest players to be caught in the scope of the ongoing Human Growth Hormone (HGH) crisis in Major League Baseball. The former leaves a bitter taste in MLB’s mouth, considering the feel-good story behind his comeback. Ankiel was a former Cardinals ace pitcher who completely lost his strike zone in 2004, and was sent down to Single-A, in an attempt to reinvent his game as a hitter. Upon his call back to the Cardinals last month, Ankiel proceeded to hit 2 home runs, including the game-winner, in only his third game back. Toted as a miracle comeback by many Major League pundits, the story took an awful turn when it was found out last week that he received shipments of HGH in 2004.

With steroids and HGH scandals running rampant in MLB and the NFL, with cases like Patriots Safety Rodney Harrison and Chargers Linebacker Shawne Merriman in recent steroids and HGH headlines, much of the public is calling for mandatory blood tests, in order to deter players from using HGH, and to get HGH out of their respective sports. Players’ Unions, headed by NFL Union chairman Gene Upshaw and MLB Union chairman Donald Fehr, are stonewalling these tests from becoming mandatory, to the dismay of the general public. Arguing privacy rights, players’ unions and their respective leagues are still fighting on opposite sides of the HGH testing issue.

Here’s my take: something needs to be done. I am empathetic to the players’ unions’ causes in preventing blood tests, the only kind that can detect HGH – other personal health issues could be disclosed to the public as a result of HGH testing, for example. My feeling is that, eventually, the more the players’ unions fight this, the more suspicious the general public will be to their stonewalling. Preventing this kind of testing can be seen as protecting the cheaters, and the public will not stand for it much longer. In the end, sports are about the fans. The more the fans are suspicious of the athletes, the more irreparable damage will be done to professional sports, as we know it – and everyone, dirty and clean, will be under suspicion.

For the sake of sports as we know it, an agreement must be made.


Roger Federer’s Dominance: Good for the Game?

I wish I could love Roger Federer.

I wish I could watch his game with an unbiased eye, and fully appreciate the many facets of his near-flawless game: his reliable serve, his Herculean backhand, and his flawless court placement; the way he finds weaknesses in every one of his opponents’ games, and exploits them to the fullest extent; and, finally, the way he, ultimately, makes every one of his Major victories look so easy.

But, ultimately, for me, he makes it so hard. Not because of anything he has done – but, because of the utter inevitability of it all.

Roger Federer, 4-time US Open Champion, may be the best in history – but can’t be loved by this writer.

I’m sorry – it just isn’t any fun for me to watch Roger Federer’s matches, knowing full well that he is going to win. Unless it is Raphael Nadal in the French Open Final, whenever Federer plays a match, it is a foregone conclusion that he will win. It seems like a mere formality for Federer to play a match – simply because he is going to win.

Also, there’s the way he celebrates every major tournament victory: falling to his knees, fighting back tears. Now, this can be taken one of two ways. A) He is grateful for every victory he earns, and cherishes the moment, in and of itself. In this case, his celebrations can be seen as endearing – even touching. B) It’s a showboat reaction to something he should all but expect from himself, at this point in his career. In my opinion, I take the latter point of view: c’mon, man, act like you’ve been there before!

Everyone was looking forward to the recent US Open Final – the last person to beat Federer, Czech phenom Novak Djokovic, was the only thing standing in the way of Federer’s fourth straight US Open championship. Djokovic, considered a rare spoiler to Federer’s reign, became just a footnote to Federer’s historic run, as the number 1 player in the world dispatched of his opponent in straight sets, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4.

In the end, I can appreciate Federer’s place in history. But, I just can’t get behind him. He is seemingly invincible, and his straight-set victory over Djokovic is just further proof of that. When you know what’s going to happen before it happens, the suspense is gone. That, essentially, is one of the main attractions of sports. With Federer’s dominance well at hand, there is no suspense. He is head-and-shoulders above everyone else in men’s tennis. There are no challengers.

That may not be his fault … but it’s why I am incapable of loving Roger Federer.

Cardinals-49ers RecapAlthough it was a sloppy win, the 49ers can at least take a couple of things away from the game:Alex Smith can run the Two-minute drill. Although their offense sputtered down the stretch in the second half, the 49ers’ last offensive drive was all they needed to win the game. QB Alex Smith made some key plays in a game-winning 86-yard drive, including key completions to new WR Darrell Jackson, and a critical 25-yard scramble on a broken-up 4th-and-1 play that kept the drive going. When it counted most, Smith executed the big plays to help the Niners win. They now, at least, have the confidence of knowing they can win in the final minutes, should the situation call for it. The offense on the first 57 minutes of the game, however, is a bit of a concern.The 49ers’ defense looks better than expected. Granted, this was the Cardinals they played, but, come on – a dangerous Matt Leinart with a year of experience under his belt, two of the most talented wideouts at his disposal (Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin), and a perennial Pro Bowler at running back, albeit in a bit of a career slump (Edgerrin James). The defense held Boldin and Fitzgerald to a combined 7 receptions for 44 yards, and James was their most effective offensive weapon, even being held to under 100 yards rushing. Considering the explosiveness the Cardinals offense is capable of, I’d say that wasn’t a bad night for the defense.Patrick Willis is a beast. To some of you, this is no surprise – he was toted as the country’s best linebacker coming out of Ole Miss last year, and has adapted Baltimore LB Ray Lewis’ jersey number for a reason: he wants to draw comparisons from pundits around the NFL. In his first game as a starter, these comparisons can be warranted: 11 tackles, some of them bone-crunching, and a forced fumble. If he keeps up this production, he will be a mainstay at linebacker, and a centerpiece of the 49ers’ defense for years to come.

Patriot-Gate: Significance?

Patriot-Gate is heating up. Many teams and pundits are offering their opinions to the subject, and I am inclined to reflect on all of them. If some of you don’t already know, Patriots employees have been caught videotaping opponents during games, in order to pick up on offensive and defensive signals, and gain a “competitive edge”. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is still contemplating how to punish Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for an obvious violation of league rules.

Let me say this: I am not a Patriots fan. But, at the same time, I will not pile on the Patriots organization for this. I am not about to say that their dynasty is a fake because of this incident. Could the organization have been doing this since 2001, when they won their first championship? Possibly. Do I think that it made a significant difference in their winning?

Honestly? Probably not.

As much as I would like to say that employing this obviously egregious tactic was the foundation of the Patriots dynasty, I honestly can’t. Could it have helped them? Sure – but, we’re only talking about one piece of the puzzle. I go to an analogy I just heard from Sean Salisbury a little while ago – “you may have the answers to the test, but you still have to take the test.” Players still had to execute flawlessly to win their games. To say that these tactics were the reason the Patriots won three Super Bowls takes away from the talent of their rosters – Tom Brady, Tedy Bruschi, Corey Dillon, Deion Branch. We shouldn’t forget that the Patriots teams that won Super Bowls were extremely talented.

Many of the Patriots’ opponents had surprising reactions to the allegations. San Diego RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who, along with the Chargers, lost to the Patriots last season, put it plainly: “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.” The sentiment may sound ludicrous, but it is a dim reality of sports – everyone is looking for an edge. From bending league rules to outright performance enhancement via steroids and HGH, all athletes and organizations will try to find ‘a competitive edge’.

Ultimately, we don’t know how long they have been doing this. Until we do know, there is no need to pile on, trying to discredit the significance of the Patriots dynasty because of one incident. I may not be a Patriots fan, but that is, at least, one thing I can honestly defend them on.

HGH, Professional Sports & Players Unions

Comeback kid Rick Ankiel and former Angel Troy Glaus are the latest players to be caught in the scope of the ongoing Human Growth Hormone (HGH) crisis in Major League Baseball. The former leaves a bitter taste in MLB’s mouth, considering the feel-good story behind his comeback. Ankiel was a former Cardinals ace pitcher who completely lost his strike zone in 2004, and was sent down to Single-A, in an attempt to reinvent his game as a hitter. Upon his call back to the Cardinals last month, Ankiel proceeded to hit 2 home runs, including the game-winner, in only his third game back. Toted as a miracle comeback by many Major League pundits, the story took an awful turn when it was found out last week that he received shipments of HGH in 2004.

With steroids and HGH scandals running rampant in MLB and the NFL, with cases like Patriots Safety Rodney Harrison and Chargers Linebacker Shawne Merriman in recent steroids and HGH headlines, much of the public is calling for mandatory blood tests, in order to deter players from using HGH, and to get HGH out of their respective sports. Players’ Unions, headed by NFL Union chairman Gene Upshaw and MLB Union chairman Donald Fehr, are stonewalling these tests from becoming mandatory, to the dismay of the general public. Arguing privacy rights, players’ unions and their respective leagues are still fighting on opposite sides of the HGH testing issue.

Here’s my take: something needs to be done. I am empathetic to the players’ unions’ causes in preventing blood tests, the only kind that can detect HGH – other personal health issues could be disclosed to the public as a result of HGH testing, for example. My feeling is that, eventually, the more the players’ unions fight this, the more suspicious the general public will be to their stonewalling. Preventing this kind of testing can be seen as protecting the cheaters, and the public will not stand for it much longer. In the end, sports are about the fans. The more the fans are suspicious of the athletes, the more irreparable damage will be done to professional sports, as we know it – and everyone, dirty and clean, will be under suspicion.

For the sake of sports as we know it, an agreement must be made.

Roger Federer’s Dominance: Good for the Game?

I wish I could love Roger Federer.

I wish I could watch his game with an unbiased eye, and fully appreciate the many facets of his near-flawless game: his reliable serve, his Herculean backhand, and his flawless court placement; the way he finds weaknesses in every one of his opponents’ games, and exploits them to the fullest extent; and, finally, the way he, ultimately, makes every one of his Major victories look so easy.

But, ultimately, for me, he makes it so hard. Not because of anything he has done – but, because of the utter inevitability of it all.

I’m sorry – it just isn’t any fun for me to watch Roger Federer’s matches, knowing full well that he is going to win. Unless it is Raphael Nadal in the French Open Final, whenever Federer plays a match, it is a foregone conclusion that he will win. It seems like a mere formality for Federer to play a match – simply because he is going to win.

Also, there’s the way he celebrates every major tournament victory: falling to his knees, fighting back tears. Now, this can be taken one of two ways. A) He is grateful for every victory he earns, and cherishes the moment, in and of itself. In this case, his celebrations can be seen as endearing – even touching. B) It’s a showboat reaction to something he should all but expect from himself, at this point in his career. In my opinion, I take the latter point of view: c’mon, man, act like you’ve been there before!

Everyone was looking forward to the recent US Open Final – the last person to beat Federer, Czech phenom Novak Djokovic, was the only thing standing in the way of Federer’s fourth straight US Open championship. Djokovic, considered a rare spoiler to Federer’s reign, became just a footnote to Federer’s historic run, as the number 1 player in the world dispatched of his opponent in straight sets, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4.

In the end, I can appreciate Federer’s place in history. But, I just can’t get behind him. He is seemingly invincible, and his straight-set victory over Djokovic is just further proof of that. When you know what’s going to happen before it happens, the suspense is gone. That, essentially, is one of the main attractions of sports. With Federer’s dominance well at hand, there is no suspense. He is head-and-shoulders above everyone else in men’s tennis. There are no challengers.

That may not be his fault … but it’s why I am incapable of loving Roger Federer.

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