Monday, February 20, 2017

Farewell For Now Readers

By Travis Stahl

Why do we try new things?  The challenge.  For fun.  To express ourselves.  There are any number of reasons why we choose to experience new things in life.  The important thing is we try and with a little luck we succeed and have a new adventure in life.  Five years ago Trent and I took a risk and tried something new so we launched T and T Athletic Supporters.  It was a challenge and it was fun and Trent and I definitely expressed ourselves.  And now we say farewell ... for now.

It's really a funny story how Trent and I got started on this.  I was at work one day writing an NFL mock draft.  I was brainstorming to myself ways in which I could possibly share this mock draft with others and then discuss what I had written.  I had no ideas.  That very day Trent called me and asked me if I wanted to start a sports website so we could write the things, like mock drafts, that run through our heads.  It was brilliant.  So Trent and I spent a few days planning and within a couple of weeks T and T was launched.

It has been a remarkable run driven solely by our readers.  You are why we have been so successful in this.  And I do think we have been very successful.  Since the website (and accompanying Facebook page) were our page has been visited over 90,000 times.  Of the top five most read stories ever four of them appeared last year.  Number one all time is the CC Football's All-Time Greats story with 1,443 readers.  Second is This is a Great Team with 622 followed by JET Soared at 594, CC Football Record Holders with 367 views and in fifth is the NFL Mock Draft 3.0 from 2013 with 328 readers.

Our readers have mostly been from right here in Columbia City.  But our page has been viewed by people from all over the world.  At first I thought it was just random that we were getting views from places like Israel and China.  But then we would occasionally get a comment from a reader that was clearly written by somebody who doesn't speak English very well.  That's a great feeling when you can strike a cord with somebody you know nothing about.

Our initial intention was to focus on local sports with national stuff added in.  But with kids and families neither Trent nor I had a lot of time to cover local sports so we picked up what we could when we could.  Those stories were fun.  Writing them was a blast.  It was those stories that gave us something nobody else could have.  Everybody can write a story about DeMarcus Cousins getting traded to the Pelicans but nobody else is writing a story about Burnworth Pool closing and the memories we all share from there.

Writing stories everyday isn't easy.  It takes a lot of time.  Initially it takes finding something to write about might stir an opinion in a reader.  Then it involves putting those thoughts into a meaningful pattern so they flow and convince the readers of our point.  That was all with the hope that when we put the story up on the website that it invites readers to comment and open a discussion about our topic for the day.  We sincerely hope our stories did that.

Running T and T has been wildly entertaining for us and we hope it has been a special experience for you too.  Trent and I have had some brief discussions about reformatting in the future with a webcast or live chat in which we can discuss important sports topics.  And of course we will keep the Facebook page active so that we can pose questions to everyone from time to time when important things come up.  We would like to thank you all for five years of loyal readership.  We are truly grateful for the the support we received and hope we were able to brighten your days from time to time.  Farewell ... for now.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Conferences Have Lost Value

By Travis Stahl

Let me preface what I am about to write today by saying that I may be wrong.  I admittedly do not watch as much college basketball as I use to.  Back in the day I loved the game.  And, I can't even put a finger on why I stopped watching it or what changed for me. I don't necessarily think there is anything wrong with it that has driven me from viewership.  But I will say this, the game has changed drastically in the last 10 years and I'm not sure if anybody has noticed it.

There was a small discussion yesterday on Facebook before, during and after Indiana lost to Michigan at home.  It mostly centered around the shortcomings of IU head coach Tom Crean and his worthiness to hold on to his job.  My beef with Crean has always been pretty simple.  Gonzaga makes the tournament every year.  So does Wichita State, Villinova, Butler and Creighton.  Why can't the Hoosiers do that?  There has to be a good reason why IU can't manage to make it in to the NCAA tournament every year.  Somebody then threw out that Indiana has to play in the Big Ten every year and those other schools don't.  Which brings me to my point.

I don't think that matters anymore and that is what has changed the most in college basketball.  Defending IU or any other team by saying they play in the Big Ten carries little weight anymore.  We aren't talking about a conference full of basketball powerhouses anymore.  Outside of Michigan State and Wisconsin no other program in the conference has any sustained success.  Neither of those teams is very good this season so we aren't talking about this gauntlet of contenders that the Hoosiers have to battle on a nightly basis.  If you look around the conference you will notice that former greats like Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio State can't hold up against the better teams in the country.

It isn't just the Big Ten either.  As a whole, major conference power is down.  And it's because players have realized they can win by going anywhere to play.  When a program like Gonzaga or Creighton lands a great coach it attracts elite talent.  Then the success builds on itself year after year which is why the NCAA tournament is full of teams like this.  They haven't won it all yet but you can feel them inching closer.  Butler was darn close to winning two national titles. 

The Big East had a run there were where it seemed like where it seemed like they were winning it every year but since then it has been Kentucky and Duke.  While those two teams are certainly good look at the rest of the ACC and SEC.  There were a couple of years there were Kentucky was the only team coming out of it's conference.  And other than Duke and North Carolina there isn't a whole lot else in the ACC.  Virginia sometimes.  North Carolina State others.

Claiming conference play makes one team better than another just isn't the the way of the college basketball world anymore.  Being the fifth best team in the Big Ten doesn't mean you are better than every team in the WAC or AAC.  Now, the WAC champion (Gonzaga) or the AAC probably champ (Cincinnati) could hold its own and beat every team in every other conference on a fairly consistent basis.  That's just the way it is.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

This NFL Draft is Weak

By Travis Stahl

The NFL draft combine is fast approaching and you know how much I love that.  Not many guys rise or fall based on how they do at the combine.  It's really just a chance for teams to gets players all together at once and make sure they have all the measurables in place.  Then they can plug all that in to their draft equations and determine which direction the team wants to go.  Last year we did a mock draft really early, I think it was right after the Super Bowl.  This year we can't really do that yet as this draft is really weak.

If you need a quarterback this just isn't your year.  The only possible first-rounders this year are DeShaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Mitch Trubisky.  None of those guys make you want to go trading up the board to grab them.  And only Watson has played a significant amount of time in college.  Kaizer and Trubisky are unknown commodities and thus very risky picks.  Of course, if you are a team in need of a quarterback you can always try to trade away picks to acquire Jimmy Garrapalo from New England. He is far and away better than anybody in this draft.

If you need defense out of this draft you are in luck.  The linebacker position is pretty deep as is the defensive line.  In fact the first two picks in this draft might be Myles Garrett and Johnathon Allen as both players are defensive ends.  Linebacker Reuben Foster from Alabama will likely go pretty quickly off the board and there are more than enough talented defensive backs to go around.  This is one of those drafts where you aren't going to grab up a bunch of flashy defensive players but you can find lots of solid players.  That's not a bad thing.

The one bright spot in this draft is at running back.  Even though it is a position that has been devalued the last few years there are three really good guys in this draft who can change the fortunes of a team.  Leonard Fournette, Delvin Cook and Christian McCaffery will all be drafted in the first round.  Fournette will probably be the first one off the board as his combination of size and speed are just unheard of anymore.  McCaffery can do a little of everything and will definitely be a great receiver out of the backfield and Cook is a guy who teams can use on all three downs if they would like.

I don't think there will be a lot of trades in this draft.  There isn't that "one guy" that teams are going to be falling over themselves to trade up and grab.  Instead teams can stay where they are and wait for a guy of equal value to fall to them.  With this draft it just doesn't pay to take risks.  Teams that draft well are the ones who are always in the playoffs and teams that don't are constantly at the top of the draft.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I'm Conflicted About the HOF

By Travis Stahl

The Super Bowl is a media darling that kind of swallows up everything else around it.  Any other newsworthy sports story that breaks doesn't get a lot of attention.  So it would be understandable if you didn't notice that the NFL announced the newest inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Now, I know that as I get older I am transforming into this grouchy old man and I don't want to be the guy who complains.  But the voting of the HOF committee this year seemed a little contradictory and has left me pretty confused.

First of all, let me explain how I feel about the HOF.  I believe that to be inducted a player needs to be transcendent.  They should be the best at their position for an extended period of time.  A true game changer.  The HOF should be reserved for those players who are the greatest of the great, not just very good players.  As I said a couple of weeks ago this is why I don't think guys like Ben Roethlisburger belong in the hall.  Same goes for Drew Brees.  Yes, those guys are very good and have had great success.  But they aren't the best of their generation.  Theoretically based on my definition you should have two or three guys from each position nominated and that's it.

Having said that, I don't understand how Jason Taylor got elected to the HOF.  Taylor, the former Dolphins defensive end had a good career.  He retired from the NFL seventh on the all-time sack list.  That's pretty good.  But Taylor was never a game-changer.  Teams didn't have to game plan for Taylor just to try to win games.  Sure, there may have been a handful of games in which the guy was very good and had multiple sacks.  But it's not like offensive linemen woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night filled with nightmares of the guy.  That wasn't Jason Taylor.  I was very surprised he was voted in.

I was not surprised that Terrell Owens wasn't elected to the HOF.  Although maybe he should be.  Owens wasn't elected to the HOF for one reason and one reason only.  People don't like him.  The guys is second all-time in receiving yardage and third all-time in touchdown receptions.  Those are great numbers.  Are they great because Owens was a transcendent player who was unstoppable on the field or are they the result of him playing for multiple teams over years and years at a sub-par level?  Owens was always a top-three receiver in his prime.  He was nearly impossible to cover one-on-one because he was so big and so fast.  The fact that people don't like him probably shouldn't keep him out of the HOF.

Again, maybe my standards for what constitutes a player making it into the HOF are way off.  I didn't have a problem with Kurt Warner getting in, the guy played in three Super Bowls and was a league MVP.  Same goes for Terrell Davis.  I would have questioned their longevity in the league as neither guy was at the top of the league for very long.  But both of those guys play a pretty significant role in the history of the league.  That has to be a part of getting in also and I don't see that in the election of Taylor.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Best Super Bowl Ever

By Travis Stahl

That was the greatest Super Bowl I have ever seen.  The first Super Bowl I watched was in 1983 with the Oakland Raiders beat the Washington Redskins.  If I remember correctly two years ago when the New England Patriots beat Seattle I thought that was the best one I had ever seen.  But last night takes the cake.  My gosh.  New England 32, Atlanta 28.  The greatest comeback in Super Bowl history followed by watching Roger Goodell present the Lombardi Trophy to the Patriots.  Loved it.

First let's talk some X's and O's.  For two and a half quarters I watched that game wondering what do the New England Patriots look like next year.  They lacked so much speed on defense, they had no outside play makers on offense and Tom Brady was playing horrible.  I was even sitting there thinking about if this is the moment where the wisest team in football starts to realize it's time to hand the keys to the offense to Jimmy Garapalo for next season.  Sure, I was overthinking that a little.  But in every facet of the game the Atlanta Falcons were making New England look terrible.

And then the Patriots flipped the switch and started doing what New England does best, not panicking.  Brady got hot and was able to use James White to just shred a Falcons defense that was growing more tired by the minute.  New England ended up running more than 90 offensive plays in the game.  Atlanta had around 40.  It's hard to score when you don't have the ball.  But when the Falcons did have the ball the Patriots defense looked pretty darn good.  Even that catch by Julio Jones on the sideline was played perfectly by the New England defense.  The Patriots only gave up 21 offensive points to the highest scoring team in the league.  That was impressive.

Some people will try to call Atlanta "chokers."  You can't do that.  First of all it's insulting to an Atlanta team that played it's heart out and has a young roster that hasn't learned how to play on a stage like this.  But also, it's terribly insulting to a Patriots team that played a completely perfect second half and is wise enough to take advantage of every small situation that comes up in a football game.  Give the team the credit it deserves, nobody wins Super Bowls by accident, they are earned.

By the way, Brady and the Patriots have now earned five of them.  That ends the discussion right?  We don't have to hear about Joe Montana or Terry Bradshaw and their four Super Bowl rings anymore do we?  Brady now has five and last night set the record for most passing yards in a Super Bowl.  No other quarterback has five Super Bowl rings.  Brady is now without question the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.  Head coach Bill Belichick is right there with him as the best the game has ever seen.  It doesn't matter if you like them or not, you have to acknowledge just how great they are.  If you can't appreciate that I feel sorry for you.

So now what?  Well, can you really look at the AFC and tell me there is a team out there that can prevent New England from playing in the Super Bowl next year?  As far as we know Belichick and Brady will both be back.  The rest of the team will be built around that as usual.  Plus, both Josh McDaniel and Matt Patricia are coming back as coordinators.  That makes New England the odds on favorite to win the Super Bowl again next season.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

I'll Take New England

By Travis Stahl

We are now only three days away from the football game we wait for all year long.  The Super Bowl.  Of course to most of us the event is about more than the game.  It's about family and eating some good food and maybe ... just maybe ... seeing Janet Jackson's boob.  It's easy to just pick a winner and say what team is going to win.  We'll get to that.  I have some actually thoughts on what I think will transpire as the game plays out.

1. Atlanta will score first.  Matt Ryan will throw a touchdown pass to TE Austin Hooper.
2. New England will score right before the half to take a two-point lead.
3. The Patriots will get the second half kick-off and score again to push the lead to nine.
4. New England running back James White will have 100 yards receiving.
5. Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones will have under 100 yards receiving.
6. Ryan will play very well.  He will throw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns.
7. Atlanta will score late to pull to within two points.
8. Tom Brady will also throw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns.
9. Falcons kicker Matt Bryant will miss a field goal with under four minutes to play.
10. New England will fail to run out the clock giving Atlanta one more chance.
11. The Falcons will turn the ball over with under 30 seconds to play.
12. The Patriots will win the game 32-30.
13. White will be the MVP with 125 yards receiving, 35  yards rushing and a touchdown.
14. Roger Goodell will not be happy.
15. Bill Belichick will look more happy than he ever has to be accepting the Lombardi Trophy from Goodell.

How can you pick against the Patriots?  Oddly, nearly every NFL talking head on ESPN is picking the Falcons to win this game.  That should tell you something.  I know New England doesn't win every game.  But they sure win a lot more than they lose.  They just always find a way.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Who Will the Hero Be?

By Travis Stahl

I don't know if you have noticed or not but Super Bowls are rarely won on the shoulder of a superstar player.  Sure, those guys play great in the game itself.  But typically there is another guy on the roster who comes up big when the team needs him most.  Remember Malcolm Butler?  Larry Brown?  Timmy Smith?  Everybody knew those guys were good players.  But nobody thought they would be the defining player on a title team.  Once you get to this point every team has some guys like that.

New England
Defense - Keep an eye on cornerback Eric Rowe. Rowe is one of those players head coach Bill Belichick targeted from another team and picked up for nothing.  Last week in the AFC title game Rowe came up big with an interception and played some lock down coverage.  We all know the Patriots are going to double-cover Julio Jones.  That will leave Rowe singled up against either Tyler Gabiel or Mohammed Sanu.  If Rowe can shut down whoever he is on it will make it very difficult for Atlanta to move the ball.
Offense - Everyone is talking about the two-headed running back monster for the Falcons.  Don't forget New England has two very capable backs as well in Deon Lewis and James White.  In two season the Patriots have never lost a game that Lewis played in.  These two are nightmare match-ups out of the backfield as they are too fast for linebackers to cover.  If Lewis and White combine for more than 10 catches in this game it will bode well for the Patriots.

Defense - Vic Beasely is the easy answer here.  Does anybody even know that Beasely led the league in sacks this season?  It's true.  Tom Brady likes to catch the ball, stand exactly where he is and deliver it quickly.  Beasely has to stop him from doing that the way Von Miller did last year.  Beasely is fast enough to get up field and make Brady move before he throws the ball.  When Brady moves his accuracy drops significantly.
Offense - You don't often consider how important the center position is unless you really need that guy to play well.  Falcons center Alex Mack came over last summer from Cleveland and changed the whole complexion of the Atlanta offensive line.  Mack injured his lower leg in the NFC title game and it is unclear how healthy he is.  If Mack isn't able to go or is significantly slowed it will be difficult for the Falcons line to move the massive Patriots defensive front.  No movement up front and then all of a sudden the Falcons become one dimensional and that isn't good against New England.

I'm sure Matt Ryan and Brady will both play well and put up big numbers.  Brady had a huge day the last time New England one a Super Bowl but that title came courtesy of Butler's play on the goal line.  Somebody we don't know much about or have overlooked is going to play a huge role in determining the outcome of this game.  It could come down to whichever coach is best able to prepare his players for specific situations.