Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Fun With Luck

By Travis Stahl

Sports is supposed to be fun.  It's entertainment.  I think sometimes we get to caught up in who won or lost or which team deserved something they didn't get.  When that happens sports stops being fun and takes on entitlement.  But we are so passionate as fans it's difficult to separate the game from it's intended entertainment value.  Thank goodness for Captain Andrew Luck on Twitter.

I don't follow Twitter.  I don't know how to Twit.  Twat?  Whatever, I don't know how it works is the bottom line.  But there is a guy on Twitter who is capitalizing on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's resemblance to a Civil War officer.  We've all seen Luck with his beard right?  He legitimately looks like a guy who just stepped off the battle field in 1864.  It's great.

So prior to each Colts game and then immediately after #CaptainAndrewLuck writes short messages.  The messages are penned as if they are from Civil War era Luck writing a letter to inform his family of his actions.  Each Tweet starts out "Dearest Mother" and then details what the Colts are doing each week.  The Tweet last night stated that the unit was heading east to New York to do battle with the Jets Men.  The Tweet after the game to "Mother" stated that the line held under constant barrage.

I think that is just hilarious.  Obviously it isn't Luck writing this stuff but you can just picture the Indianapolis quarterback dressed in a blue Union uniform sitting at a desk with quill and ink writing out these letters to home.  I'm not a Colts fan so I generally don't care how the team does.  But I do look up every week now to see what Captain Andrew Luck has to say about the teams match-up and performance in battle.  It's almost enough to make me want to open my own Twitter account just to make it easier to read.

Stuff like this makes sports fun.  It puts a twist on things that nobody would have ever thought of before.  Teams win and lose all the time, that's the nature of the game.  We need some moments of entertainment like this sprinkled into our sports world to lighten the mood from time to time.  That's what makes sports fun.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Committee Got it Right

By Travis Stahl

Well, we all thought this new college football playoff was going to eliminate some of the drama that was heaped on the old BCS system every season.  I guess not.  The final four teams that will play for the college football national championship are Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington.  Seems legit right?  Well, not if you are Big 10 champion Penn State or Big 12 champion Oklahoma.  And we didn't even mention yet undefeated MAC champ Western Michigan.  Will all the complaining, it still feels like the committee got it right.

Two things to keep in mind if you are up in arms about Ohio State getting in having not won their conference championship.  First of all, this is not an NCAA event.  This is a group of schools that have banded together as a coalition and put together a committee to determine the four teams that will play in the four-team playoffs.  Second, said committee has never one time laid out hard and fast rules as to what teams must accomplish to make it to the playoff.  They have never said a team must win it's conference title to reach the playoff.  Common sense would tell us it sure doesn't hurt.

I understand the Buckeyes got beat by Penn State.  But, in return, the Nittany Lions lost to Pitt and to Michigan so they are a two-loss conference champion.  Same goes for Oklahoma.  Apparently, the committee feels that a two-loss conference champion is not as good as a one-loss team that failed to win it's conference.  If Alabama had lost in the SEC title game (hahahaha) you know darn well the Tide would still be in.  The committee has kind of followed the old rule of thumb, it's not who you lost to it's when you lost.  I'm not a fan of that theory either but that is how college football has operated since the beginning of time.

The playoff committee had one job.  They have said since day one their job is to put the four best teams in the playoff.  Period.  Penn State is not better than any of those other four teams.  They just aren't.  To make matters worse the committee really didn't have much of a choice after they had Ohio State and Washington in last week.  Once they did that there was no way they could justify taking them out if they didn't lose and Ohio State wasn't even playing again.  And they couldn't drop the Huskies for winning a conference title.

So, how do we fix this situation?  Well, logic would say you expand to eight teams and take the five conference title winners and three at-large teams.  That isn't going to happen any time soon because the current contract runs for another ten years.  So maybe the committee needs to lay out some more concrete ground rules.  State without question that to make the playoff a team must win it's conference championship.  Say there can't be any FCS teams on the schedule.  Whatever the committee wants to lay out is find they just need to do away with the ambiguity.

I like the four team playoff model.  I wouldn't be heart broken if it went to eight teams but for now I can live with it.  I think we are in store for three great games.  In one semifinal we will have Alabama against Washington and the other is Ohio State against Clemson.  Should be some great football.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tecmo is Back

By Travis Stahl

You know how at Christmas there is always that one item that everybody wants and nobody can find?  This  year it's the Nintendo NES Classic.  The NES connects right to an TV with one cable (I think it is an HDMI line) and features 30 classic Nintendo games.  You can't find the NES system anywhere right now and you certainly can't find any extra controllers since the unit only comes with one.  Luckily, my sister and her family found one early and I was able to check it out last weekend.  On the NES is the first great football video game, Tecmo Bowl.

Remember how great Tecmo Bowl is?  Heck, it's such a classic game Bo Jackson is still starring in commercials based on the game.  It was so basic.  You choose your team out of the 12 or so that are on the game and then the computer randomly picks who it will be.  You then have four plays to choose from.  Most teams had two running plays and two passing plays and that was it.  I think a couple of teams like Miami and San Francisco may have had three passing plays and that was considered fancy.

But you had to choose your play wisely.  If your opponent picked the same play remember the defense would drop you for a loss or intercept the pass.  No questions asked.  You weren't beating the guessed play.  The defensive line would immediately swarm any ball carrier and every receiver was locked up by a defender.  Even with just four plays though games seemed to always end with a score of like 63-56.  Who knew at the time that Tecmo was an early version of Big 12 football?

Tecmo didn't have the names of players.  Instead it had the players numbers and you just had to know enough about each team to be able to figure out who they were.  Everybody knew who Bo was though?  Jackson was far and away the best player on the game and you could routinely break off 80 yard touchdown runs with him.  He was the fastest player on the game and could very rarely be tackled by the first defender.  It was borderline unfair to use the Raiders because Bo was so much better than any other player.

If you are lucky enough to find an NES Classic you will enjoy the nostalgia that comes along with it.  You will want to play with every team just to remember what it was like with every team.  There wasn't a lot of differences between the teams but there is enough variety to make playing each team fun.  For most kids, playing Tecmo Bowl was their first experience playing a sports video game.  It's  hard to put into words just how popular that game was when we were kids.  And now we get another opportunity to relive some childhood memories.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

ND Needs to Stick With Kelly

By Travis Stahl

As college football seasons go this has to be one of my favorites.  Alabama and Oklahoma are both enjoying great seasons.  We just got to see one of the greatest games ever between Michigan and Ohio State.  And, next week the playoff committee is going to present us with the four playoff teams who will play for a national championship.  But no season would be complete without the cherry on top, watching Notre Dame completely implode.

After the Irish took a beat down from red-hot USC on Saturday Brian Kelly began looking at options to get out of South Bend.  That's how bad it is right now.  Of course Kelly denied that he was trying to leave and nobody from Notre Dame would ever come forward and say they are looking to replace the head coach at this point in the year.  In a couple of weeks maybe but not right now.  So what went so horribly wrong in South Bend this year?  Well, lots of things.

Let's start with the most obvious.  Kelly put his chips all in on Brian Van Gorder as defensive coordinator.  Oh, by the way, Van Gorder was fired mid-season.  Now, we can't put all the blame for the defense on Van Gorder.  Injuries and suspensions limited his ability to field a full squad.  But what Van Gorder failed to do was adjust the schemes, coverages, stunts and blitzes the team usually runs to the talent he was given.  Instead he was putting young, inexperienced players in a position they weren't able to succeed in.  That's coaching 101.  And the, after the players showed they weren't capable of doing what was asked of them still nothing changed.

Still, that wasn't the only thing wrong this year in South Bend.  We thought DeShaun Kaiser was the second coming of Brady Quinn.  Wait, is that a good thing?  Anyway, he's not.  At least not yet.  Turns out Kaiser is very good when he has no pressure on him and can hit his first read.  Once he has to start going through progressions things break down and he isn't able to go through his options fast enough.  Then he forces throws late after the defense has adjusted and bad things happen.  Kaiser could still be a very good quarterback in the future he just isn't right now.

Perhaps the biggest thing dogging the team though is expectations.  Don't kid yourself, if everything fell into place this season at best this team gets seven wins.  Maybe eight if miracles happen.  That's OK for a team that was never going to be great to begin with.  It's the people who think ND was going to win a national title this year who are most unhappy with Kelly and that seems to be without reason.

Let's just say Notre Dame and Kelly did part ways, who else do you really want?  Lane Kiffin?  You don't want that guy anywhere near South Bend.  Les Miles?  Not if you like offense.  Stick with Kelly at least for one more year and see what you've got.  Kelly is a bit pompous, we all know that.  But right now there aren't a lot of other options.

Monday, November 28, 2016

NFL Roundup

By Travis Stahl

Every season there is at least one week in the NFL that appears to be a real clunker.  Yesterday looked like it was going to be one of those days.  Then the games started to play out.  All of a sudden games like Tennessee against Chicago were exciting.  The games were thought were snoozers turned out to have some real playoff implications.  I guess every game in the NFL does matter.

On the Rise - Two years ago Jameis Winston to Tampa Bay and Marcus Mariota to the Titans were the top two picks in the draft.  Mariota has been the hottest quarterback in the league the last five weeks and all Winston did yesterday was lead the Bucs to a victory over the mighty Seattle Seahawks.  Both Tampa and Tennessee still hold outside shots at making it in to the playoffs and the wins they picked up yesterday might go a long way to determining their postseason possibilities.  Especially the Titans who are only one game back of the free-falling Houston Texans in the AFC South.  It is becoming very clear these two franchises made the right choices with those draft picks.

Just Win Baby - Did you see Oakland quarterback Derek Carr dislocate his finger?  My gosh.  All Carr did was move the pinkie finger on his throwing hand about sixty degrees in the wrong direction.  The injury happened right in the middle of a furious Carolina rally to take the lead from the Raiders.  No problem.  Carr came right back on the field and led Oakland to a thrilling touchdown drive and two-point conversion to give the Raiders the win.  Carr's return was one of those special moments people look back on and go "there it is" when they realize this guy is probably the MVP of the league this season.

Receivers Wanted - Do you think there is a help wanted ad in the Chicago newspapers today as the team tries to find anybody who can play wide receiver?  Yesterday the Brown Bears started Matt Barkley at quarterback.  Surprisingly, Barkley played great and almost led Chicago to a win.  And the team would have won had it not been for the team's receiving corp.  The Brown Bear receivers were credited with 10 dropped passes yesterday.  Ten!  That set a new NFL record for a team with the most drops in a single game.  I felt badly for Barkley who is auditioning for a job for next season.

On the Hot Seat - As we progress into the second half of the season we can clearly see the coaches who are likely on their way out of a job.  I have to think this will be Marvin Lewis' last year in Cincinnati as it just hasn't come together this year.  And if Jeff Fisher is still coaching in Los Angeles next year after the way he has botched the handling of No. 1 pick Jared Goff I will be shocked.  Clearly there is also no way that Chuck Pagano returns to Indianapolis after the team nearly axed him last year.  One change that could develop also is that it would not surprise me to see Chip Kelly leave San Francisco and return to college to take the Oregon job that is about to open.

There are no wasted Sunday's in the NFL.  And, the league back loads its schedule so that the last two weeks of the season are spent playing games within the division.  We probably aren't going to know all of the playoff teams until that last Sunday of the season.  That is a good thing for us fans, it gives us a chance to keep watching meaningful football.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Kuechly Injury is Scary

By Travis Stahl

Every athlete has to face the impending end of their career at some point.  It's inevitable.  You can beat an opponent on the field or court but father time is undefeated.  Very few athletes get to leave the game on their own terms.  Watching last Thursday's game between the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints we were reminded of that again as Luke Kuechly was being carted off the field.

Kuechly is the best defensive player in the NFL.  I don't even want to hear any arguments about other guys.  The Panthers linebacker is the best defensive player in the league.  Better than JJ Watt.  Better than Von Miller.  Kuechly was making a tackle against a Saints running back when his teammate Thomas Davis made contact with his head and neck.  And it wasn't even a slamming hit.  But Kuechly was out.

If you saw it live or the video of it following you saw the reaction.  Kuechly was helped on to a cart and driven off the field.  He was shaking and crying.  Now, here is where the story takes a bit of a turn.  There are two possibilities in play here based on Kuechly's reaction to the play.  Each of them is significant in it's own unique way and carry ramifications that could ripple through the league.

The first possibility is that Kuechly was crying because he knew what had just happened.  He understood he had just sustained a significant concussion.  Now, when a player suffers a brain injury like that it goes into the concussion protocol.  Outside doctors exam the player and make the decision when he can play again.  Maybe Kuechly knew that his concussion was a bad one and it was going to mean the end of his season.  Carolina isn't a great team right now so it's possibly that if Kuechly is going to miss extended time the team could just shut him down for the year.  This is the good scenario.

The other possibility of Kuechly's reaction is the horrifying one.  What if Kuechly was shaking and crying because his brain was just scrambled.  What if he was scared for his life because he had no idea where he was or what he was doing?  That would certainly send somebody into a panic.  In which case not only could his season be over but his career as well.  That is even more scary.

I'm guessing we won't know for some time the extent of the injury.  At the very least I don't think we will see Kuechly in uniform for some time.  If you were watching that game it was purely amazing to watch.  The guy was in on every play.  As a fan of the game I sure hope he is back on the field.

Monday, November 21, 2016

JJ's Title Comes With Questions

By Travis Stahl

Every year around this time we have to write the same story with the headline "Jimmy Johnson wins title."  And, like most writers who say something about winning a title we gush about Johnson and his NASCAR dominance.  With good reason I might add.  This year is a little different.  Instead, it was NASCAR's governing body making more poor decisions that have fans frustrated.

Before the race at Homestead yesterday Johnson failed the pre-race inspection.  After practice and qualifying each race car is inspected and must meet a certain set of specifications.  So, that Johnson passed those inspections and failed the pre-race inspection means it was altered between those two events.  Another no-no.  Especially when you step outside the rules.

Johnson was forced to start in the back of the pack but still raced his way to his seventh NASCAR title.  An impressive accomplishment.  And, I know that JJ is just the driver and any changes made to the car are strictly the work of a crew chief.  But at some point isn't enough of this cracker jack sport enough?  The lines between NASCAR and professional wrestling continue to become more and more unclear all the time.

Having Johnson, a constant in the "failed inspection" line doesn't exactly raise up a champion in the bets of light.  And crew chief Chad Knause has been suspended and fined for JJ's car alterations multiple times.  Yet here we are.  Seven times.  People condemn the New England Patriots constantly for being dirty.  Not a word is said about Johnson.

The guy is clearly the most impressive driver we have seen in some time.  You don't accidentally win seven titles.  But NASCAR didn't gain any credibility yesterday when Johnson won another title.  Instead it just made the sport look even more foolish than it already did with its hair brained playoff system.