Monday, December 31, 2012

West Virginia: A Season for the Bi-Polar

It all started in October 2011. That was when the West Virginia Mountaineer bolted from the rotting Big East Conference to the more appealing Big 12 Conference. Gone would be the talks by fans and pollsters that the Mountaineers had inflated records due to easy schedules. Replacing them would be discussions of West Virginia as a new national power, and not some gimmick styled offense. That was what everyone in the West Virginia camp hoped, and truly believed could happen. Then something else happened: critics of the team were....right.

Before this announcement, Morgantown had already experienced a a few years of shuffling on the fly. Former alum Rich Rodriguez, who coached from 2001-2007, left for the greener pastures of the University of Michigan (or so he thought). Bill Stewart stepped in to coach the team on an interim basis, leading the Mountaineers to a 48-28 blowout of the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, largely in part to running back Noel Divine. From the sudden high of BCS victory came  the permanent head coaching job for Stewart. It was largely criticized due to the fact that he had no track record as a head coach, and would only end poorly. The critics were right. Stewart ended up going 28-10, but never again coached in a BCS bowl game.

Former  offensive coordinator of the high powered Oklahoma State  Dana Holgorsen was hired as West Virginia's offensive coordinator in 2010.  He was initially brought in to coach under Stewart, in hopes that he would be head coach in 2012.  It was obviously a situation that was never going to work. It would be like telling your wife you are going to have a girlfriend, and bring her along as a third wheel and telling her you would be doing this for two years. Your wife would obviously feel less appealing and become more jealous, and would feel like nothing she did actually mattered. Stewart became to feel just this way, resenting Holgorsen's mere presence. Colin Dunlap, a former reporter from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette claimed  that Stewart had asked him and another reporter from the Charleston Gazette to  find out  any dirt on Holgorsen that they could. This led to an eventual resignation and contract buy out for Stewart, as Holgorsen became the official head coach of West Virginia in 2011. Besides, its not like finding out dirt on him was very hard to do. Holgorsen has had several run-ins in the past with being inebriated in public, most recently in 2011 at a Charleston casino.

The next season, the team was now Holgorsen's. In his first season he led the team to a 10-3 record. They were the 13th highest scoring offense n the nation at 37.6 points scored per game.  Their defense allowed 26.8 points per game which ranked 62nd out of 120 teams. Not great, but then again not terrible. After  a convincing Orange Bowl win against Clemson last January which saw the Mountaineers put up seventy points on a solid Tigers squad, it put every team in the Big 12 on notice. West Virginia was coming; try and stop them. They had the returns of senior quarterback Geno Smith, senior receiver Tavon Austin and junior Stedman Bailey to look forward to. Or so they thought.

The 2012 season started out with so much hype and hope. Critics still wondered if the Mountaineers could handle a new conference with a tougher schedule. They started off the season 3-0, averaging 47.3 points per game behind the arm of Smith and the legs of Austin and Bailey. But none of those wins were against any team from the Big 12. On September 29th, they faced the Baylor Golden Bears who were led by quarterback Nick Florence. While not  on the level of Oklahoma or Texas, they were still a higher quality opponent with an equally high powered offense. The scoring started early and often for both teams, but West Virginia prevailed in their first test, 70-63. It was like watching an NCAA Football video game. Smith went 45-51 for 656 yards and 8 touchdowns without an interception. Bailey had 303 yards receiving and 5 scores. But he wasn't even the leading receiver of the game. That honor belonged to Baylor's Terrance Williams who had 314 yards and two scores. Welcome to the Heisman Race, Geno.  

So they beat Baylor? Big deal. Surely they couldn't beat Austin. In a back and forth game which was never decided until the final minute, Holgorsen's team prevailed again, 48-45. Smith once again put up big numbers, throwing four touchdowns and no picks, while leading the Mountaineers to their highest ranking of the season at fifth in the polls.

On October 13th, they finally hit their first speed bump in a game against Texas Tech, which was actually the edge to a cliff where their season dropped off. They lost 49-14. While a significant loss, they could surely make up for it the following week against #4 Kansas State. But they didn't, losing even worse, 55-14. Smith's perfect season of 25 touchdowns and no interceptions thrown came to a halt as he threw two. The national title aspirations came to a halt. The next three weeks were against  TCU (rinse), Oklahoma State (wash) and Oklahoma (repeat). All three games were losses, where the defense gave up an average of 48 points allowed per game. That's not just a red flag- it's a white flag of surrender drenched in the unstoppable bleeding of points by a defense  that couldn't stop a quadriplegic from getting in the endzone. This officially signified the end of any Heisman hopes Smith once had.

The losses ended when they strung together two wins in a row against lesser opponents in Iowa State and Kansas. This put them at 7-5 on the season, after starting out 5-0. They finished the regular season with a defense that surrendered 457 points (most in school history) with the 38.1 points per game "earning" them a 117 ranking out of 124 teams in the FBS. Holgorsen sent a message by dismissing cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts on December 9th.  Their 7-5 record gave them their latest "honor" on Saturday- the  New Era Pinstripe Bowl played at Yankee Stadium versus Syracuse.

In a game that saw plenty of snow, they were dismantled 38-14 in large part because of 'Cuse junior running back Prince Tyson-Gulley's 215 yards and two touchdowns. Their offense never was in sync. Their 14 points came off two scores from the always consistent Stedman Bailey who finished with 25 touchdowns on the season. One was a single coverage he beat down the field, while the other was him simply not giving up on a 33 yard scamper through the Orange defense.

Austin was held in check, and the rest of the team's performance was sluggish at best. You could see it from the first quarter that they didn't want to be there. Their expectations along with fans of the team were much higher. At worst they'd finish in  one of five BCS bowls, right? Not. The players looked like they felt they were better than Syracuse. All of them except one - Geno Smith. He still felt the sting of last year's loss to Syracuse, 49-23. This was his last game and  his final chance to prove he could handle the game like a true field general before April's draft. There he was on the sidelines, with the team down 21 points, hollering "We are only down three scores! LET'S GO!" As Bane said, "Admirable, but mistaken." Geno, as much heart and talent as you have- none of it would make a scratch on the surface of such an unmotivated team.

Now that their "once-promising-turned-downright-depressing" season is finally in the books, Holgorsen can now focus on re-tooling. Gone are Smith and Austin, with Bailey possibly leaving for the draft as well. Left are a bunch of unknowns, such as quarterbacks Paul Millard and Ford Childress, as well as running back Andrew Buie. Holgorsen's biggest concern should be his porous defense, the problem with being such an offensive-minded coach. Not so much their running defense as much as their coverage which was beat quite frequently.

Defenses win championships while a lack of one loses not just games, but once promising seasons. As the age old saying of optimism goes, "There's always next year."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

X Factor Jumped the Shark, Turned Around and Ate It

I am taking a little departure from the usual sports talk to touch on another subject. That subject would be my "not-so-guilty pleasure" X-Factor, on Fox.

I detest music shows for two reasons. One, I'm not musical. I don't sing, and I cannot play any instruments. The most "musical" I get would be listening to the radio, or my i-Pod. Secondly, they typically bore  me to death. This second season of X-Factor seemed to click, though. Whether it was the back stories of the singers competing,  the collective talent of this year's batch, or the mystery of Demi Lovato's involvement as a judge and her atrocious style- something compelled me to tune in each week.

Now at first I looked forward to this show being on two nights in a row every week. But somewhere along the way after auditions ended, they went to the judges' houses  and then the weekly competition began, Thursday felt like a chore. They performed their hearts out every Wednesday, and by Thursday they filled the two hours with recaps, rankings, and Mario Lopez getting creeped out by "Mr. Entertainment" Jason Brock's not-so-subtle sexual harassing. Thursdays dragged on so badly, I wouldn't have doubted had they tried to fill an hour with secret cameras filming Khloe Kardashian's latest on-phone fight with husband/Los Angeles Clipper Lamar Odom. I think an hour of Mario Lopez giving me manscaping tips might have been more productive than  "Filler Thursday".

Now  I am no American Idol pro-  I only caught the horrendous auditions to laugh at. But it does seem like the whole competition's purpose from what I learned was a to be a process to help develop the winner and prepare them to adjust to a whole new life. They sang for weeks, they won, and then the real production started: make-up, wardrobe, big stage antics, back up singers and dancers, etc. There was a clear separation between the competition and the eventual winner's career. They "earned" the big time treatment to a certain degree.

The X-factor's main separation from Cowell's Idol was its overproduction. Few times, it really added to performances. Other times the big production engulfed most performances. If a performer transcended the highly distracting theatrics then I felt they were truly ready to advance and have a shot to win. If the gimmicks ended up more as an obstacle for the singer than a buttress, then they had no business going any further.  I'm looking at you, Paige Thomas. Coming down from the rafters in a dress that blew in her face while wearing what looked to be a metal version of Jesus' crown of thorns caused me to laugh at someone I had previously pulled for. The difference between Paige and Jesus (other than the fact that she didn't die for our sins or perform any actual miracles) is that she wasn't persecuted- the audience was. Other singers such as Arin Ray seemed to shrink as well. It didn't help that the kid couldn't sing  and relied on some fictitious "swag" the judges talked about during his regretfully long run.

A lot of these gaffes can also be blamed on the judges. They picked the songs, the outfits, the sets and more. I mean was it really a good idea for Britney to have Arin Ray sing "I Can Be Your Hero" by Enrique his brother? I'd love to tell you why it seemed so out of place, but instead I'll just show you some of the lyrics, which once again- were sung by a sixteen year old male to his older brother on national TV:

"Hold me in your arms, tonight . I can be your hero, baby I can kiss away the pain I will stand by you forever. You can take my breath away."

Hashtag AWKWARD. Singing  the Foo Fighter's "Hero" would have been exponentially more appropriate.

This all brings me to Wednesday's second-to-last-episode. Three finalists remained: Tate Stevens, 5th Harmony, and Carly Rose Sonnenclair. Stevens is the thirty-seven year old country singer with a wife, kids and road paving job whose got "one last chance" to make it in the business. 5th Harmony is a group of five super emotional teenage girls who cry at the drop of the hat and likely cry more than five Lindsay Lohans at the bar after a day in court. Carly Rose is a thirteen year old powerhouse of a singer with a voice beyond her years. At this point, I'd pick her to be the frontrunner.

Each finalist had two solo songs, then teamed up with an actual singer for another (in Tate's case, a band).  After each of the trio of remaining finalists had  their opening performance, judges offered pleasantries and repeated things they had said all season long. I can easily see Spears, L.A. Reid and Lovato looking down at a piece of paper:

Demi: (for females) "OMG, you were SO amazing. I am in love with you. You have so much confidence and are so adorable/sexy when you sing."

Demi: (for males) "You ROCKED it, tonight. You are so hawt! That's all I have to say." (bats eyelashes 8,000 times)

Reid: "I really want to say something bad about your performance, but I don't want to damage you unrepairably: good job."

Spears: "How much am I getting paid, Simon?" (random bewildered face/sympathetic sad face- pick one)

Tonight's change included showing all the hometowns of the finalists, as a way to further motivate them to NOT EVER GO BACK THERE AGAIN. Also current data reveals the three locations (San Antonio, TX, Belton, MO and Westchester County, NY) have lost any hope of increased tourism due to the creepy nature of the supporters. "TateNation" as it was dubbed in Belton included my favorite supporter of the night. I forget  what she said her name was, but the middle aged Stevens supporter  had the look in her eyes of one possessed by a demon mixed with that of a starving lion eying a large, healthy elephant. She proclaimed her love and support of Stevens, then also informed the whole country of the fact that she named her pet "Tate-R-Tot". Based off her appearance, I'm sure its former name was "What's-A-Salad?".

Then for  a reason unbeknownst to me, San Antonio was chosen to be the support city for 5th Harmony. It was the city for one of the five girls, none of which I can name. How was this decided? Did they draw straws? Arm wrestle? Battle rap? Closest to the pin on a golf course? I need to know this. (It also must be said that the image of the San Antonio crowd looked like they panned from above the in-studio crowd and lied to the television audience, calling the alternate view San Antonio.) These girls throughout the season have perfected the "holy sh*t"  moment every time the judges or hosts tell them they have stayed in the competition. Wait, scratch that. 5th Harmony reacts that way when anyone tells them ANYTHING.

Mario Lopez: "5th Harmony, you are NOT the father."

(5th Harmony proceeds to cry, embrace each other, cry some more, projectile vomit out of pure happiness, and shoot lasers out of their eyes while they hug Lopez so hard he explodes. The judges look on aghast, and at some point Spears dials 911.)

Lastly they showed Westchester County, NY- home of Carly Rose, America's new itty bitty sweetheart. The mayor grabs the mic and screams into it (was I the only one weirded out by his awkward enthusiasm?)  as some random woman stands next to him with a tray of 5 million mini cupcakes which no one ever explained the meaning of. He proclaims 12/19 as Carly Rose Sonnenclair day. Because any time a barely teenage girl sings phenomenally well in a singing competition, you have to name a day of the year after them. It's in the bible. Look it up.  Then as he continues what is his life's shining moment, they cut him off and go back to the studio. Loved that part.

In the end, they wrapped up the show by showing all three cities again, which I could have done without. They hyped up Thursday's finale which will include the winner being announced. Throughout the season, Fox milked X-Factor for ratings with its four hours a week trying to make up for any shortcomings by "doing it big" with its theatrics. In the end, though, most acts were over-X-posed and proved that the production seemed out of place.

Thursday, X-Factor names a new winner.  After all of the over-the-top glitz and glamor from the show, I'm ready for the finale. Similar to the former Arizona Cardinals' coach Dennis Green press conference after a loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football, X-Factor was what we thought it was. Go ahead, America. Crown Carly Rose and be done with it. Let me off the hook.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Look at Sports Through the Words of Bane

Hope and despair. The two prevalent emotions when it comes to being a sports fan. You either have one or the other. There is no in between if you are truly a fan,  which is short for fanatic. A fanatic is defined as a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal. The combination of hope and despair is also the central theme from the latest Batman rendition featuring Christian Bale, and Tom Hardy as his foil, Bane.

Coming off the heels of the recent release of The Dark Knight Rises on blu-ray and dvd, it brought to mind some of my favorite lines said by Bane from the movie, and how they can fit into the current sports world.

Without further ado, I present the sports world from the mind of Bane.

"Washington, take control... take control of your city. Behold, the instrument of your liberation!" 

Speaking of liberation and freedom, why not start with the "most powerful city in the nation", Washington, D.C.? The Wizards are a league worst 3-18, and in the last four seasons the highest they have finished is third worst in the Eastern conference. They have not made the playoffs since the 2007-2008 season, which was a completely different regime of players at the time. Due to the knee injury to star point guard/franchise player John Wall,  a team that could potentially hover around .500 is left  dwindling at the bottom with wins coming few and far between. Even if he returns in January or February, it won't change this year. Next year with  Wall at hopefully on one hundred percent health and a few pieces by way of the draft, free agency and through trade, the Wizards will look to make a big improvement from the last half decade.

"It doesn't matter who we are... what matters is our plan."

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is a huge stats nerd, which is not a bad thing. Most decisions he makes are with his head, and  not his heart. Although risking it all for Dwight Howard would have others thinking otherwise. Throughout the off season, Morey had more turnover with his players than a retail store. The top six scorers  (including the whole starting line up) were shuffled through various means (amnesty, trade, free agency) in hopes of striking gold. Morey finally had his franchise player when he traded for the Thunder's James Harden. While the common NBA fan was left perplexed as well as oblivious to the incoming players, Morey's moves helped free up a lot of money, even after signing former Knick Jeremy Lin to a hefty contract as well as Harden to a huge extension. Morey has his eyes on the 2013 free agent market, and was not afraid to unload, bottom out, start fresh and begin his rebuilding plan.

"No one cared who I was until I put on the mask."

This goes to the return of previously injured Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irvin. In a 103-102 loss to the Knicks on December 15th, Irving scored a career high 41 points on 15-25 shooting from the field as well as going 5-8 from three point land. It was a remarkable return to form for the former Blue Devil. People did care before about him obviously, but to have that kind of game  while getting used to a new mask he was fitted for only hours earlier is truly impressive. To carry his team to within a point of the best team in the Eastern Conference is equally as impressive.

"Calm down, New York! Now's not the time for fear. That comes later." 

 This pertains to the New York Football Giants. Their abysmal showing on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons this late in the season surely has to worry even the most devout of Eli followers. He has helped characterize his teams  the last few years on a poor start, followed by a late season surge which propels them to deep post season runs. Getting shut out by a top NFC contender in the Falcons (which also has its naysayers) 34-0 with only two weeks left in the regular season is not  a good sign. Oh, and Giants fans, the Cowboys won, and the Redskins have won five in a row. Just saying. At least you aren't Eagles fans.

CIA Agent: "Well, congratulations! You got yourself caught! Now what's the next step in your master plan?"
Bane: "Crashing this plane... with no survivors!"

Speaking of Eagles fans, Philadelphia has surely seen their season crash and burn. The crash started when Michael Vick began to underwhelm with his play, as well as him being extremely prone to injury. Then they lost receiver DeSean Jackson to the I.R. with a chest/collarbone injury. The burn was slightly mitigated by rookie running back Bryce Brown's success, but undermined by his  last two games, the latest being a 34-13 stomping from the Cincinnati Bengals. Rest in piece, Philadelphia coaching career of Andy Reid. I will end this quote analysis with an apt epitaph: "Here lies the Philadelphia coaching career of Andy Reid, went through a lot in the city of Brotherly Love, but is now finally freed."

"It would be extremely painful."  (Bane in response to the hypothetical removal of his mask.)

We can't leave out Pac Man. His most recent fight was a devastating sixth round knock out loss to Juan Manuel Marquez. He went down like a sack of potatoes, and with him went the luster of a future showdown with WBC welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather, Jr. The physical pain is only equaled by the pain of losing in such decisive fashion. The only thing that would add insult to injury is if it was found out Manny was using PED's and not Marquez.

"Let the games begin!"

This might be a bit premature, but if the Washington Redskins can continue their winning ways, they would see the postseason for the first time since 2007. Through sheer will and determination, as well as athletic ability, possible rookie of the year Robert Griffin III has turned an NFC East basement dwelling franchise into one on the verge of winning the NFC East. Let's not leave out fellow rookies Alfred Morris and Kirk Cousins. Fans all around the DMV area are seething for a chance in the playoffs, and this team wants to deliver on it.

"What a lovely, lovely season."

If there's one truly inhuman thing about this year's NFL season, it's the post- ACL injured Adrian Peterson. Most would consider rushing for 1,000 yards and a handful of touchdowns a successful comeback for a sixth year running back, but Adrian Peterson is not just a running back. He is a cyborg sent from the future to show all the human players what the future of running backs looks like. If the mold could be broken, Peterson has now obliterated it. He has compiled 1,812 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. The closest to him is Seattle's Marshawn Lynch with 1,379 yards, 433 behind. What about last year's leading rusher, Arian Foster? He only trails by a yard under 500, with 1,313. If "Purple Jesus" can lock up the all time rushing record held by Eric Dickerson (2,105 yards), as well as push the Vikings into a wild card spot in the playoffs, the MVP is all but his.

"Speak of the devil and he shall appear."

To all those who talk about Kobe Bryant's play as selfish, and the treatment of his teammates as bullish: Kobe Bryant is still here, and he doesn't intend to leave anytime soon. The man most people compare to Michael  Jordan has five titles, over 30,000 points, two Olympic gold medals, one MVP, and has been to 14 all star games. Oh and in his sixteenth  year, he's leading the league in scoring at 29.5 points per game.

Roland Daggett: "I paid you a small fortune.."
Bane: "And you think this gives you power over me?" 

Unfortunately for Larry Fitzgerald, yes it does. Fitzgerald signed an eight year, one hundred and twenty million dollar contract in August 2011. I'm sure he had no idea how bad things  would get in term of the quarterback situation, but I can only imagine what thoughts run through his head. To his credit, he hasn't retaliated verbally in the media, or even on the field like his former idol Randy Moss. I suppose he can't actually give up on his team, for the simple fact that they CAN'T GET THE BALL TO HIM. Kevin Kolb has had his share of injuries ever since signing with the team two off seasons ago, and backups John Skelton and late round rookie Ryan Lindley have made Mark Sanchez look like Tom Brady. The trio combine to average a paltry 141 yards passing per game, throwing for 10 touchdowns total and adding 18 interceptions, too. Rumor has it they are looking to sign the "Play 60 Kid" to a long term deal. Fitzgerald has only one game over one hundred yards (114 on September 23rd). His longest catch all year is 37 yards, and he only has 4 touchdowns this season. In his last five games, Fitzgerald  has 10 catches on 42 targets, for only 89 TOTAL yards. His game high during that stretch is 31 yards. If the Cardinals quarterbacking triumvirate of incompetence continues, Larry will be on pace to finish with his third season under 1,000 yards receiving. His previous low was 780, which came in his rookie season. His last touchdown came November 4th. That was so long ago, Romney still had Presidential aspirations.

"Let us not stand on ceremony, Mr. D'Antoni."
 "Do you feel in charge?" 

If there is one organization aside from the New York Yankees that has built its reputation on winning, it's the Los Angeles Lakers. With the signings of former MVP Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, as well as the returns of Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and cornerstone Kobe Bryant- lofty expectations surely followed. After an atrocious 1-4 start, coach Mike Brown was fired. Nash suffered a lower leg fracture. In stepped former Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. Since then, he has led the team to a pedestrian 10-10 record. In Laker land, that's failure. The franchise has not been under .500 this late in the season in years, and has not finished a season under .500 since 2004. They are on pace to go 36-46, which is unfathomable to anyone who follows the NBA, or knows of the Lakers. Fans, as well as management expect their team to turn it around and contend. Let's not forget about that Bryant guy. I cannot imagine he is too happy right about now. Then again, "super teams" rarely gel right away, if ever. The 2003 Lakers with Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Karl Malone never truly played up to their expectations. The 2010 Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh worked on sheer talent and didn't click until last season....a full season after joining up. But for D'Antoni, the pressure is on and the time is now in Los Angeles. As for being in charge, the position of head coach is in title only. We all know who runs the team.

 "The shadows betray you, because they belong to us!"

To any team that plays in Seattle. The Seahawks are a perfect 6-0 at home this season, partially due to the now infamous "replacement referee debacle" against the Green Bay Packers on September 24th. But don't discount their home crowd, one of the loudest in the NFL. They came back against the Patriots on October 14th, 24-23. They simply decimated the Cardinals 58-0 in week 14 while rookie quarterback Russell Wilson only completed 7 passes for 148 yards with 1 touchdown. Things got so bad, pricey back-up Matt Flynn showed up in the third quarter. Their final two games are at home against the 10-3-1 San Francisco 49ers (2 losses came on the road) and the 6-7-1 St. Louis Rams. They would look to lock up the NFC West and home field advantage heading into the playoffs. I would not want to have to go into Seattle to pull out win this time of year.

"Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum are players that are unmotivated.. but we are motivated, aren't we Timothy?"

Lamar Odom all but took off last season, "feeling bad" about his lackluster effort while laughing his away to the bank with  over eight million dollars. Andrew Bynum's injury history has caught up with him, but he has also had his doubters who point out he could have conditioned himself better. But in his  15th season, Spurs center Tim Duncan is averaging 17.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on the way to a 19-6 record for the Spurs. They are second only to the favored Oklahoma City Thunder, who are 19-4 without James Harden. Every season, NBA observers wonder when the Spurs will drop off. When will Duncan look his age? When will Greg Popovich's coaching fail to cover any  gaping issues for this perennial Western Conference title contender? When will they have a bad draft? Two seasons ago, it was thought that after an average season, Duncan had finally reached it. But after a deep playoff run last year and a hot start this year, the end is not yet in sight for the Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs.

"You fight like a younger man, with nothing held back. Admirable but mistaken."

After missing a whole season due to neck injuries, former Colt quarterback Peyton Manning questioned if returning was even an option. He already had his Super Bowl, and multiple MVP's. What was left to prove? But he's led his Broncos to an 11-3 record, (including nine straight wins) and a good chance to go to another Super Bowl. He has over 4,000 yards, 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. Three of which came in one quarter to the Falcons, which I would give him a mulligan for.  He has had seven games with at least 300 yards, and has seemed to adapt to the ever evolving nature of aging in sports, like Kobe Bryant. The truth of his 11-3 record as some pundits argue, is that the three losses are to New England, Atlanta and Houston. Only time will tell if Denver's record season is due to its talent and not its scheduling.

"Ah, yes... I was wondering what would break first..your spirit, or your body?" 

Back in June during the NBA playoffs, the foundation of the Chicago Bulls was dealt a swift blow when Derek Rose went down with an ACL injury, reminiscent of Adrian Peterson's. He, like John Wall, has been out all season and is eying a February comeback. In this case, though it is his body that broke first and never his spirit. In a press conference for his new shoe this past summer,  he took the podium and did what athletic males in their prime aren't supposed to: he cried. He  knew how fortunate he was to be able to play basketball on the biggest stage in the world, and to get away from Englewood's tough streets. He also never imagined having his own shoe. Now Chicago awaits his triumphant return, if only  to see how he has changed since the injury.

"Your precious treasury, gratefully accepted! We will need it."

 Within the last 365 days, both the Los Angeles baseball franchises have signed or re-signed players for close to a billion dollars. The list includes:

Josh Hamilton (LAA, 125 million)
Zach Greinke (LAD, 147 million)
Matt Kemp (LAD161 million)
Albert Pujols (LAA, 240 million)
C.J. Wilson (LAA,77.5 million) 
Adrian Gonzalez (LAD, 154 million)
Andre Ethier (LAD, 85 million)
Carl Crawford (LAD, 101.5 million)
Hanley Ramirez (LAD, 52 million)
Josh Beckett (LAD, 34 million)
Jered Weaver (LAA, 85 million)
 Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD, 61.7 million)

Both franchises have a lot on the line. With this many players at such a steep price tag, and with the way players get hurt during the course of a 162 game season, I cannot see all of this money being spent as a good thing. 


"This great city, it will endure. New York will survive." 
"Perhaps he's wondering why one would sign a former starting quarterback before benching him behind the league's worst starting quarterback?"

 New York City is a mecca of sports to some. It has seen stars come and go, as well as  championships and dynasties. Mark Sanchez, Rex Ryan and Tim Tebow are only cogs in the machine. Expensive cogs. Sanchez draws the ire of most Jets fans due to his "prima donna" ways, which typically fit in perfectly to the bright lights of the city except for one glaring problem- he isn't winning. Ryan initially came from the Baltimore Ravens, promising Super Bowls every season. While getting to the AFC championship in his first two seasons as coach, he failed to bring the big one home. Now he has since changed his tune, becoming more humble in the wake of a seemingly lost season. Tebow is the the shiniest cog brought in this off season to backup Sanchez for reasons not fully known. Ticket sales? Motivation for Sanchez? To attract uber-religious people? Regardless of why, the simple fact is that he has yet to get a chance to prove himself as the Jets' starting quarterback. Even Greg McElroy got a better shot, leading them to a win over the lowly Cardinals. Who knows what will happen this season or next- but New York will always prove to be an attraction for any athlete to prove themselves.

"When it is done and the Lakers' season is ashes, then you have my permission to sign elsewhere."  

"Dwightmare" was a term coined this past summer in reference to the saga Dwight Howard put the Magic organization and fans through. It only continues into the fall and winter as Dwight Howard fails to make the most of his chances at the free throw line, shooting a shade under 50 percent. All the bricks he has had in L.A. could be used to make one hundred houses in the Philippines. The Lakers knew they only had him for a guaranteed year, before the ever flippant big man changes his mind and wants to go for greener grass. He's Kobe's new toy, but without a serviceable point guard, or even an MVP caliber one like Nash, his effectiveness is limited. It remains to be seen whether or not their season's ship will be righted. If they fail to win a playoff match-up, Howard will almost undoubtedly look for another suitor.

"We both know that I now have to end your season. You'll just have to imagine the playoffs."

The Detroit Lions have been, for lack of a better word, underwhelming. They've lost six games in a row by a combined 54 points. Calvin "Megatron" Johnson has over sixteen hundred yards,  but only five trips to the end zone. Matthew Stafford has been radically inconsistent, throwing 17 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions (The Cardinals would love to have him, though.) Their defense has been spotty at best. Better luck next year, Lions fans.

 "Behind you stands a symbol of oppression."

On the top of  lost seasons, the New Orleans Saints seem to come first to mind. Enemy number one is NFL commish Roger Goodell. They are not the only ones, though as other players have come to question  his methods. Such methods include adding  a Thursday Night game every week, and proposing an extended schedule to two more games before the post season, while trying to champion player safety. He answers to the owners, but at some point Goodell has to stop his quest for the almighty dollar and start actually caring about player safety,  as well as their future well being. Stop protecting the shield, and protect the players. 

"I'm Miami's reckoning, here to end the borrowed time you've all been living on." 

Back in 2010, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh all joined forces in Miami in hopes of "not winning one, not two, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven,but eight championships." A highly unrealistic, almost unattainable goal based off the potential longevity of the trio's collective careers, as well as the ever-evolving up and coming players. They struggled to play together the first half of that season, but turned it on all the way up to the NBA Finals when they lost to the Dallas Mavericks. The encore that followed was a Finals win over the Thunder.  Next year, the point has been brought up that  they may not be able to afford all three, and if for some reason they underachieve this season, one of the three may want out. If this rings true, the culture in Miami next season may be very different and not necessarily for the better.

A fan with hope always thinks that "there's always next year." A fan with despair wonders if their team will ever win. Loyalty is tested by going through tough times. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Isn't that right, Bruce?


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bowl Season is Upon Us

College football purists argue all the time that the Bowl Champion Series is a bunch of crock. Computers should not decide where teams are ranked. Players and coaches should. The SEC has too much pull with voters and computers. Why aren't there playoffs?

Then last June, a four team playoff system was formally approved by the NCAA presidents. It would begin in 2014, and run through at least 2025. The four teams would be chosen by a selection committee, not a computer. Then those four teams would battle it out to determine a national champion. The semi-finals would be at current bowl sites on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, and the championship game would be played at a site awarded to the highest bidder on "Championship Monday", the first Monday in January at least six days after the semi-final.

But what about until 2014? College fans must suffer the punishment of all of the mediocre bowls with teams like Georgia Tech, Iowa State,  and Rice until the big boys play "meaningful" games, right? Wrong. I want a playoff as well, but that does not mean I boycott the bowl games. To me, part of the fun of bowl season is turning on your television on  any given day and getting to watch college football, and seeing which games turn out to be truly  fun and memorable. They might not have all the glitz and glamor of games such as  Notre Dame versus Alabama, or Oregon versus Kansas State, but they are still athletes playing for pride and love of the game.

This brings me to today. I did my usual perusing of the internet, and saw a site that had a GIF ( a short clip on a loop) of two Arizona players on the sidelines getting into it, even trading blows. My first thought was, how bad could things be? Either they are getting their butts kicked by Nevada, or that guy said something about the other's sister.  I switched over to, and saw the Wildcats were down 48-35 with a little over a minute and a half left in the fourth. Well, ok. Frustrations must have boiled over  on the way to a sure loss and that's that. Or so I thought.

I figured I'd check out this bowl game on the outside chance of a miracle happening. I turned it on, and Arizona was on their side of the field driving towards the end zone. Two pass interference calls later, they were at the two yard line. Then senior quarterback Matt Scott connected with sophomore wideout Austin Hill to get the Cats within six points with over a minute left.They still needed an onside kick to stay alive, or else Nevada would kneel it and that's the game.

Enter senior John Bonano. He kicked the ball perfectly to allow for plenty of bounces, ricocheting off a Nevada player, and eventually recovered by Arizona. At this point I believe Nevada gave up, playing loose defense. They had a look of "yeah, we are definitely going to lose. The football gods are against us."

Scott hit two passes in a row that totaled for 49 yards, and the eventual go ahead touchdown pass to senior receiver Terrence Miller with 19 seconds left in the game. They converted the extra point, and took the lead, 49-48.

Nevada got the ball back, but all hopes were dashed when sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo through an interception to Marquis Flowers.

The playoff system will be here in 2014, but we still have games to be played until then. These games may not matter to every college football fan, but  they matter to the players, coaches, friends and family members of the teams.

If this is how bowl season is going to start, then I say let the games begin. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Tale of Two Teams: A Redskins/Eagles RetProspective

The return of the Washington Redskins to the Monday Night Football stage this past Monday brings me back to November 15th, 2010. That was the last time they played on a Monday night, and it left a bad taste in the mouths of Redskins fans everywhere.

Sometimes in sports a team gets punched in the mouth, and it either wakes them up or keeps them down on that mat. That fateful night it was the latter - and it was more of a decimating "Mortal Kombat" uppercut. It did not take long. On the very first play of the Eagles' very first drive, Michael Vick hit wide receiver DeSean Jackson in stride for an eighty-eight yard bomb. This being foreboding of the way the night would go for Washington would be an understatement. Jackson had burned LaRon Landry and had almost stumbled to the ground but remained upright and blazed his way to the end zone. Landry during his time in the nation's capitol blew many a coverage, always looking for the big hit instead of the smart know, covering his man. The stadium breathed a huge sigh just as  they were getting comfortable in their seats. They were most likely stuck anyway, seeing as owner Daniel Snyder charged both legs for them- rendering leaving not an option.

Vick set the tone for the night in a game that saw him put up Madden-like numbers and one of the highest quarterback scoring outputs in fantasy football in quite some time. He was 20-28, with 333 yards, four touchdown passes and  no interceptions. He also ran for eighty yards and two scores. This was another nail in the coffin for the 2010-2011 Redskins season, putting them under the .500 mark. The marketing team might as well have handed out shovels to the fans to help bury a lost season. Since the two years have passed, both teams are in two divergent directions - directions that no one would have been able to forecast at the time.

Just  a few years ago, the Eagles had a surplus at QB. Longtime wishy-washy star McNabb had left to go to the Redskins in the off-season. This gave the reigns for Vick to be the undisputed star quarterback in an effort to rehabilitate his rough public image, as well as help the Eagles win games. Backup Kevin Kolb, a Houston Cougar product, was in his fourth year and seemed poised for success of his own down the road. The jury is still out on that case, but the verdict seems to be close.

Kolb eventually saw the dollar signs in Arizona and became the starter there. Vick signed a massive  six year, one-hundred million dollar contract extension in August 2011. Forty million were guaranteed. He became the first player in the NFL to sign two one-hundred million dollar contracts in his career. Along with stud running back LeSean McCoy, wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin the Eagles seemed loaded for a potential NFC East dynasty-like run and finished 10-6, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual champion Green Bay Packers.

On the other side of the field, the Redskins' defense could not stop a cold. Landry ended up not lasting much longer with the Redskins, a victim of his penchant for big hits. Carlos Rogers' hands had officially turned into stone. DeAngelo Hall only showed some flashes of brilliance. The offense was not much better, filled with aging veterans and lacking any true franchise players. McNabb fled town to sign with the Minnesota Vikings, (where he was a poor man's Brett Favre) making way for an era of "Sexy Rexy" mediocrity. Clinton Portis played in only five games due to injury, which also happened to be his final NFL games as well. Once a shining star for the team, Portis scored on his first ever run for Washington in 2005 when he went sixty-five yards up the middle. Cameos were made by former Chiefs star Larry Johnson and former Steeler Willie Parker. Roy Helu and Evan Royster looked to be the two top backs until unknown Alfred Morris got his chance and hasn't slowed down yet, running  for 1,106 yards and six touchdowns with 4.8 yards per carry.

None of these players took as much blame as second-year defensive end Albert Haynesworth - a shining example of Dan Snyder's love of signing big name free agents without evaluating how they actually fit with the team's system. The very next day on "The LaVar Show", co-host Chad Dukes unleashed an impassioned ten minute rant  tearing apart management, and the team as a whole. If Dan Snyder was enemy number one, then Albert Haynesworth was enemy number one and a half. "He was doing the worm on the field," Dukes said. Arrington's response? "He looked like he was just dead."

The next seasons, the Eagles acquired Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Justin Babin to shore up the defense. Vince Young and Ronnie Brown were added to the offensive side to support Vick and McCoy. Young dubbed them "The Dream Team." Talk about lofty expectations. Needless to say, they didn't live up to them, with every Eagles fan hoping  that this season would be different.

If last year was bad, this year is most definitely worse. Nick Foles out of Arizona has been named the starter for the rest of the year, putting an injury-prone Michael Vick out to the pasture in terms of his future with the Eagles. DeSean Jackson was recently placed on the I.R., ending his season. This comes  after his admission that he mailed in last season for the sake of signing a hefty off-season extension. McCoy has been dealing with a concussion of his own, which gave way to un-drafted running back Bryce Brown to get a significant amount of touches. He has been their lone bright spot, racking up 347 rushing yards and four touchdowns in two games, but fumbling three times, losing them all. The last one essentially cost them a chance to win the game Sunday versus Dallas.

Back in D.C., they parted ways with Haynesworth to the delight of many Washingtonians. All that was missing was fans helping him pack his suitcases and  load up his car. They ended the 2011 season 5-11, securing the sixth spot in the 2012 NFL draft. By trading up to obtain the St. Louis Rams' second pick, it guaranteed they would have their  future quarterback and franchise cornerstone for years to come.

Baylor Heisman winner Robert Griffin III (a.k.a. RG3) was the first quarterback drafted by the Redskins in the last few decades that just felt right. He is a proven commodity in college, and has been compared to Carolina's Cam Newton in relation to adjusting well as a rookie to big boy football in the NFL. Don't let him hear you say that, though.“I'd rather be compared to Aaron Rodgers or a guy like that,” Griffin said, via Rich Campbell of the Washington Times, “someone who has won Super Bowls.”

By all accounts Griffin is modest, humble, hard working and  at a very young age he is the leader a team with a fan base like Washington craved. It also helps that he is freakishly athletic and makes good decisions on the field, only throwing four interceptions on the year. (But please, Robert: learn how to avoid some of those sickening hits for the sake of one more yard. Washington needs you.)

Despite losing defensive stars Brian Orakpo  and Adam Carriker as well as tight end Fred Davis for the season, RG3 makes football in D.C. fun again. He's a threat to run as well as throw the deep ball. He has helped keep the Redskins competitive in the NFC East, leading them in a win over the hated Cowboys on Thanksgiving and the defending champ New York Football Giants this past Monday. Monday's box score was not particularly staggering, but he won. He helped keep their postseason hopes alive with the help of first year Redskin receiver Pierre Garcon who had over one-hundred yards and a touchdown a second game in a row following a return from injury. He gives you a reason to watch and a reason to care. He has revitalized veteran receiver Santana Moss, and freed up late round gem running back Alfred Morris to make his long runs. I would even argue Washington has THE best play action in the NFL, with the Patriots a close second.

A franchise with a once bright future ahead of them, the Eagles have now lost eight straight, and are sitting at 3-9 on the season, last in  the NFC East. Head coach Andy Reid's future in the city of brotherly love is likely on life support. Starting recent first rounder Nick Foles is his small chance at retaining his position as head coach, to show he still has that drafting touch. With nothing to play for but pride, I would highly doubt they rush their franchise star McCoy back to the field anytime soon, seeing as Brown is filling in just fine despite his turnover troubles. Oh, and the future of that Vick guy? The magic eight ball reads "Cannot foretell now." Hazy would best describe it. Some team out there is always in need of a quarterback, (Jacksonville, Kansas City, Arizona) but with  the price tag along with the injury history, his career as a star quarterback is no sure thing and could likely be over.

For Washington, they sit at 6-6, second in the NFC East. A few losses in the coming weeks by the Giants could really propel them to first place if they can keep up their winning ways. If they make the playoffs, one could not predict how they would fare with a rookie quarterback even with one as talented as Griffin. Playoffs or not, the Redskins would still be in the rebuilding process. Although this time it feels like it's in the right direction. In a few years, maybe continued prime time success will begin to feel like a normal thing, not a novel one.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Purple Reign: Rating Adrian Peterson Properly

The two most prominent terms in sports used to evaluate athletes are underrated and overrated. Aside from pouring through all kinds of statistics  new and old, there is no one, undisputed mathematical formula that can figure out exactly how an athlete should be rated. Even I  had a hard time thinking this at first: Adrian Peterson is underrated.

Your first thought: Are you serious? It's AP. All Day. Purple Jesus. He had over 4,000 yards and 41 touchdowns in three years at Oklahoma. The man who holds the record for most rushing yards in one game (296) his rookie year. He got to the five thousand yard club faster than any running back in NFL history after three seasons.

What people tend to take for granted is Peterson's durability and that it was once in question. He came into the 2007 NFL Draft with many naysayers saying he was too injury prone. His junior season ended after seven games when he broke his collarbone landing in the end zone awkwardly after a huge run. Just to prove he's not human, he came back for the Fiesta Bowl that season and scored a touchdown against Boise State. He went seventh to the Minnesota Vikings - or otherwise known as six spots after JaMarcus Russell, who ended up eating himself out of the league.

The average length of a career for an NFL running back is four to six years. They take the most hits with impacts similar to those of car crashes  every time they go towards the line of scrimmage.  Production begins to dip in the fourth year (if they are still around), and certainly by the sixth year they'd need new legs. Sometimes its not whether they are healthy enough, but whether they can keep  production where it needs to be.

In his rookie season, Peterson sprained his LCL against the Packers in week ten. He went back to the laboratory, changed his battery, and was back just one month later on the way to over thirteen hundred yards and twelve touchdowns.

Peterson remained free of any major injuries until last January against the Redskins when he went down with the ultimate nemesis of athletes: a torn anterior crucial ligament. Many doubted he could return on time, or at all or the upcoming season. After all, a torn ACL used to end careers permanently years ago. With the help of modern medicine and the will of a thousand men, AP was back ahead of schedule for the 2012-2013 season.

In a 2012 world, society thrives on hype, and when a player fails to live up to it, we dump them unceremoniously and move on to the next flavor of the month. Chris Johnson had 2,000 yards in 2009, 1,364 in 2010 and 1,072 in 2011. In 2009, people wanted to dub him the next Barry Sanders based off one good year. Sanders  put together remarkable numbers season after season and retired in his prime. There is never going to be another Sanders, just like there will be no other Adrian Peterson. We are very quick to rush to judgment. His remarkable 2009 campaign set an unattainable standard to meet again in 2010, yet even after 1,364 yards we were dying to turn on him and call him a bust. We give no credit to the defenses; that they possibly did their job- you know, watching game film- and adjusting to stop Johnson.

In a  time when consistency is rare, Peterson is almost automatic. He keeps defenses guessing, and breaks off long runs, and never shying away from contact even post injury. The simple fact is that even after six highly productive seasons, "All Day" is on pace to have outdo any of the previous seasons, even after a torn ACL less than a year ago. His carries are down, which means less wear, allowing him to go deeper into the season feeling more fresh. His yards are up  (1,446) and his yards per carry are a career-high 5.8. Marshawn Lynch is second to Peterson- and trails by three hundred yards. Anyone who is saying that they expected this would be a flat out liar. If he ran for at least 1,000 yards and a handful of scores, most would deem that a successful comeback.

The argument can be backed up by statistics, but eventually it boils down to the respective opinions of the people holding the debate, as well as the eye test. How does he look overall when one watches him? Does he have the same quickness and agility as he did before his injury? He struggled his first five games of the season, only getting to the hundred yard mark once. He finally eclipsed it against the Cardinals on October 21st when he ran for 153 yards, and has hit the hundred yard mark  in six straight games. His most recent gem was a 210 yard effort in a loss to the hated Packers, including an eighty-two yard touchdown run. It was his first 200 plus yard game since his record setting game in 2007.

Underrating can be defined as "to underestimate the extent, value, or importance of someone or something." It's hard to think one could underrate the leading rusher in the NFL. Maybe it is because he isn't on a team headed for the post season. But without Purple Jesus, the Vikings would be scratching and clawing for wins instead of overachieving in the first half of the season on the way to a 5 and 3 record. Christian Ponder has had some truly unwatchable games, yet with Peterson behind him and  wide receiver Percy Harvin flanking him it makes you forget what the team lacks.

We tend to expect great things from great people, but what Peterson is doing is beyond fathom. If six years is the maximum average for an NFL running back, than we shouldn't take the years Peterson has left in him for granted.

AP's value to his team and rating amongst football fans cannot be measured approximately using a magic formula written on a window by Russell Crowe. But it is possible to see through eleven games that he has shattered any and all expectations thought of him with sheer desire, determination and dedication.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Los Angeles Lakers: The NBA's Great Gatsby

         It was brought to my attention recently that one of the greatest point guards ever to play the game had no nick name. His name is Steve Nash. Who better to dub him than one of the greatest shooting guards of all time, Kobe Bryant? He recently spoke to the Los Angeles Times about his time with Nash.

        "I'm not working too hard, to be honest with you. The shots that I made were all jumpers. It doesn't take much energy to knock those jumpers down," he said. "Bringing the ball up and having me kind of initiate the offense and score and stuff like that, it's making me work a little more than I will when Gatsby gets back. When Gatsby gets back, I don't have to do that. The game's going to become even more easy for me."

        Nash is a two time NBA MVP, winning them back to back in 2005 and 2006. He led a resurgence for the Phoenix Suns, putting them on the map after years of futility. He was the conductor of the "Seven Seconds or Less" offense designed by the coach he was recently reunited with, Mike D'Antoni. In the two seasons he won the MVP award, Nash averaged 10.5 assists per game. The team averaged a record of 59.5 wins and 24.5 losses, while also averaging 109.3 points and 26.2 assists per game. Both ranked first in the league. They eliminated the Lakers from the playoffs in both years.

        The franchise had not been relevant since the the days of Charles Barkley. But Barkley did one thing that Nash could not which was get the Suns out of the Western Conference Finals and to the big stage in June: the NBA Finals. They gave the Bulls all they could handle in six games of the 1992-1993 NBA Finals, but alas it was not to be with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in their own primes. It was interesting to note only once during the series did a home team win, when in Game 4 the Bulls won 111-105.

      Eventually though "The Hip Check Heard Around the World and Felt by Steve Nash" seemed to doom that era of Phoenix basketball. It occurred in Game 4 when Nash brought the ball up and former Spur Robert Horry stepped into his path in a semi-aggressive fashion, causing Nash to fly out of bounds. How much of it was due to Nash's leaping ability will never truly be known. The Phoenix bench was in an uproar as Stoudemire and forward Boris Diaw stood to observe, breaking an NBA rule of leaving the bench. Even though they had not been involved in the skirmish, the two players were suspended amidst plenty of controversy. They eventually returned after a one game suspension, but all momentum was lost and the Spurs defeated them four games to two.

      Nash went on to play six more seasons with the Suns making the playoffs only twice, one of which was a 2010 appearance in the Western conference Finals when they lost to the Lakers. That season also marked the last time they finished a season above the .500 mark.

      Stoudemire suffered through multiple injuries and eventually signed as a free agent with the New York Knicks in 2010. Fans, pundits and writers all cried for Nash to get traded, as the Suns organization seemed to be content in wasting a once in a lifetime talent. Ever the company man, Nash never disparaged the franchise. He showed up everyday to play even while the Shaquille O'Neal tour bus came through town. Shaq came, he saw, and he sat. He was rarely healthy and when he was productive it was shocking. He suffered through cameos by Vince Carter and Jason Richardson. They were guys who put up stats and made a fan's eyebrow raise as they saw the acquisition along the bottom line of ESPN, then quickly remembered their best days of dunking and scoring were behind them.

        “And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”  - The Great Gatsby

      Fast forward to the summer of 2012 which will forever be remembered as  the "Summer of the Dwightmare." Nash made the first splash when he was part of a sign and trade to the Lakers on July 7th. This was his invite to the lavish Gatsby-like party that is Los Angeles Lakers Basketball. Playing for the Mavericks and Suns for sixteen years, he looked over the fence like Nick Carraway while the Lakers moved and shook their way to multiple titles in that span.

      The party only got bigger as Dwight Howard gets traded to the Lakers on August 10th. People cried foul that somehow the Lakers did it again, scoring another all star like they did in 2008 with Pau Gasol. The early edge on the Western Conference representative in the Finals goes to the Lakers, as the Thunder traded away third wheel James Harden who is flourishing in Houston.By adding Nash and Howard, the Laker's life as perennial playoff contenders seemed to start again. It opened a new window for a franchise that resents stagnancy and regression as well as anything close to the dreaded term "rebuilding".

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

       The season began and Nash was hurt in his third game, fracturing a small bone in his left leg. Building team chemistry is tough enough. Players not being able to play and gel with their new team makes it even harder. The Lakers struggled and former coach Mike Brown was fired after a 1-4 start. Bernie Bickerstaff held down the fort until D'Antoni arrived, hobbled knee and all. Kobe has played like he always does, to the tune of averaging 27 points. While on the bench, Nash dressed in a dapper manner,  sporting a vest and sports jacket. His 200 dollar haircut with a part to the side was reminiscent of Jay Gatsby and  caused Bryant to dub him simply "Gatsby".

         Maybe it's because we all know the talent of Steve Nash  and it is assumed he is still great. No need for Kobe to add the adjective. Less is more. Yet at the moment we have only seen a small sample during his three games with the Lakers. We have no idea how great Nash still is, and how greatly he can improve. All that is certain is that with Nash at the helm, the Lakers are bound to improve, barring any other major injury of course.

         What the Lakers lack is consistency and stability and that's what  a healthy Nash can provide. His return would signal a new phase for the Lakers, even in such  an early part of an 82 game season. He can direct an offense like the back of his hand, finding the open man at any given time. He knows when to take his man off the dribble and drive to the basket, beating him by one step using his quick finger roll to slip pass the outstretched hand of the defender. His other trademark includes circling the basket and bringing it inside, sensing trouble and resetting until he finds a shot he wants to take or a pass he wants to make. This creates openings for Kobe and frees up Dwight, not to mention Gasol on the elbow.

         The timetable for his return is not definite, as he is ruled out for tomorrow's game versus the Pacers. He is improving, performing agility drills and jogging and progressing in the right direction. The Lakers can only hope it is sooner than later. Nash wants back in to the party, and if he can get close to one hundred percent, he'll be the life of it.

Who Is Chandler Parsons?

        Chandler Parsons is a second year small forward for the Houston Rockets out of the University of Florida. Resigned to the bench last season, he's getting  his share of minutes as a starter this season with the departure  of Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Samuel Dalambert and Goran Dragic. He has had a few flashes of brilliance so far such as setting  a new career high in points...twice. This has certainly given notice to the league that he is a very talented player who is looking to make the most of his opportunity in Houston.

       Parsons is from Casselberry, Florida. He went to high school with fellow former Gator Nick  Calathes, who now plays in Greece for the Lokomotiv Kuban of the PBL. While at Lake Howell High in Winter Park, the two of them carried the team to four straight final fours in the state playoffs, winning the 5A Championship in 2007. Parsons snagged MVP honors after scoring thirty points with ten rebounds, and was a first team all state selection for the season.

      Committing to Florida following his high school career, Parsons started all thirty six games in his freshman season, averaging 8.1 points but  the Gators did not make it into the NCAA tournament. By the time he was a junior he was averaging 12.4 points per game, almost 7 rebounds and made it into the tournament, but were dispatched by the BYU Cougars promptly. His scoring dipped by a point the next year, but the team managed to have the best regular season record in the SEC. By his senior season, the Gators made it to the tournament for a second straight year, and Chandler received SEC Player of the Year honors, while going deep into the tournament but losing in an upset to the eighth seeded Butler in the Elite Eight.

       Since last season, Parsons has seen his statistics jump in every major category. He's started all of the thirteen games so far, while his points per game, minutes, field goal percentage, three point percentage, rebounds and assists have all improved. He recorded a new career high with 25 points on November 12th in a loss to the defending champion, the Miami Heat. Then against the Lakers he scored 24 in another loss.

       The team finally managed to break through on their way to a win against the Knicks last night, 131-103.Parsons shot 13-17 from the field, while going 4-7 from downtown. This is where he is added or traded for in numerous fantasy leagues, as his minutes are not threatened by anyone off the bench. He is the flavor of the week,   a little known secret that is now well known after his game against an 8-3 Knicks squad.

      He's part of the youth movement in Houston, an afterthought of a team that is rebuilding. Playing with Jeremy Lin and James Harden can only help Parsons get better as well as with the young Asik at center. The bench is anchored by the long, sharp shooting Marcus Morris, the fundamental worker Patrick Patterson, speedster Toney Douglas and veteran shooter Carlos Delfino (injured at the moment.) Maybe Rockets GM Daryl Morey knew what he was doing all along.

      If you didn't know, now you know. Chandler Parsons is looking to make his mark in the league, one game at a time, as well as help his team squeak into the playoffs.