Friday, November 20, 2009

Smells Like Barbeque

Is Mark Mangino getting fired?

The past week has been rough on Kansas University head football coach Mark Mangino. Allegations of verbal abuse and chest poking, excuse me, "inappropriate physical contact" by Mangino surfaced after he blasted senior linebacker Arist Wright for laughing during a walkthrough prior to the Colorado game, October 17. A game the Jayhawks later lost and one that started a five game losing streak. This incident led KU Athletic Director, Lew Perkins, to launch an investigation of Mangino's alleged mistreatment of players. Fanning these flames is the five game losing streak which will most likely continue this week when KU plays the Texas Longhorns in Austin.

After launching the investigation, several former KU players have come forward and described Mangino as a heartless maniac who insults players with personal attacks. More than one former player has suggested he seek treatment to manage his rage. The issue received more attention than the Jayhawks have for their play, and many speculate that Mangino will be removed as head coach, possibly before the season ends.

What? What's going on in Lawrence?

Last time I checked on the Jayhawks they were coming off of an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech, finishing the 2007 season 12-1, and the Associated Press was naming Mangino Coach of the Year. A lot can happen to a football coach at a basketball school in two years, I guess.

Do you know who Mangino's actions remind me of (assuming they're true)? 99 percent of the football coaches in the country, right down to Pop Warner levels. It doesn't stop at football either. There are coaches in every sport that are demanding and verbally abusive. Is it wrong? Possibly, but it is the status quo in a world where win at any cost is the mantra, and fans wouldn't have it any other way. If you want to hear some serious verbal abuse, listen to the fans during a game. College football is big business and hard nosed coaches get through to kids. I am not saying Mangino is justified in his actions. I'm saying he does not deserve to be fired.

The real culprit of Mangino's problems is the current five game losing streak, and 5-5 record. Somehow Mangino managed to spoil Jayhawks fans during his seven year tenure. That accomplishment by itself is amazing. KU is a basketball school and always will be. KU cuts down the net, they don't win BCS games. Mangino taking KU football to a top five ranking is as unlikely as Navy beating Notre Dame two years in a row. Bad example. As unlikely as wings on a pig. Making KU football relevant is a feat that fans would be wise to recognize before judging Mangino's methods.

I imagine someone would point out that we need to change the culture of coaching and preach sportsmanship and education in college. I can't disagree with that sentiment, but we can't condemn one man for the offenses of many. Money, fans, athletic directors and the physical, emotional nature of the sport breed coaches like Mangino. Players who play at that level must know what they are getting themselves into. He might be insensitive, but he has never physically harmed any players. Players who get their feelings hurt from coaches yelling at them are not likely to succeed in football.

My theory to KU's struggles this season is the lack of talent depth, mostly due to the fact they are traditionally not a football juggernaut. You show me a basketball power house, and I'll show you a weak football program. It's the law of the land. There are some years where the two might parallel, but traditionally there is a dominant program. KU plays in one of the top two conferences in college football and is forced to compete with programs that are among the country's best, year in and year out. It's pretty tough to recruit against those programs. The top players coming out of Texas usually don't make it further north than Norman.

You can argue about the toughness of KU's players when you have seniors complaining about being poked when they are admittedly goofing off. It's not like it was done without reason. Imagine if someone hits that player with a chop block, you could probably expect to hear from his lawyer. How can your senior leaders be upset by that? Most take worse from their junior high baseball coaches. Despite his old school methodology, Mangino is still producing babies. That fact is more of a problem than the act itself. Mangino's methods have not been successful this year.

Mangino's antics are wrong but defensible. Firing a football coach for poking a player, yelling at him or insulting him is a joke. You could dig into any program and find the same type of allegations. Don't forget Mangino comes from a coaching tree that has branches all over the Big XII. He is connected and respected by many around the league and it starts with Bill Snyder at Kansas State. Bill Snyder is someone who nobody would paint with the same brush as Mangino, and yet, Snyder played a major role in Mangino's coaching make up. He coached under Snyder for eight years. Do you think he was much different then?

Unfortunately for Mangino, he has no sense of humor and lacks the ability to properly defend himself. His typical response to questions of the allegations is to blame the upbringing and parenting of the disgruntled players. The same type of generalizing that some claim is abusive. That is also not a smart way to attract future recruits. His responses to the investigation have harmed his position more than if he refused to participate. He also has the misfortune of looking like the human embodiment of Slimer from Ghostbusters. Let's be honest. If he was handsome and well spoken this would be a non issue.

Mangino's Jayhawks were ranked 16th in the nation at one point this season. Voters in each poll respect the Jayhawks enough to give them the benefit of decent rankings early in the year. KU fans should realize that is the pinnacle of their football program, no matter who takes over. Just to be mentioned in the polls is an accomplishment in Lawrence. Results might fluctuate, but generally KU fits in the league as a six to seven win team. If a coach can take that program and give them a BCS win, he should be a keeper.

Mangino is two wins away from becoming the winningest coach in KU history. Seriously. He is hard nosed, old school, whatever cliche you want to use, but he has overachieved in his tenure. He set the expectations that will eventually lead him to be fired, not his verbal abuse of players.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Life of a Superstitious Sooners Fan

I decided to start a running log of the small superstitions that drive my day leading up to a Sooners game. As a brief history of what I go through on game day and throughout the season, I will give you some of my highlights.

I start the the season deciding on my game day outfit down to the underwear. If the team plays great, nothing changes the next week. I wash everything. I do not believe in superstitions that compromise personal hygiene, but the game day outfit does not get changed until a loss, or if I feel like I need to do something drastic to change the team momentum. I would consider outfit the most important superstition. Here is a list of others that I am bound to during a football season.

1. I avoid talking to certain people on game day.

2. I make sure I talk to certain people.

3. I never shave, but sometimes I feel like I need to shave the day before a game.

4. I make sure I am showered and clean to watch the game.

5. I have certain shirts that I avoid wearing to bed the night before (most of them are actually OU shirts), and in really stressful seasons (this being one of them), I am concerned with every article I wear or don't wear to bed the night before.

6. I have a game day beer brand, much like the outfit, when I am watching the game at home. The beer doesn't change unless there is a loss while drinking that beer.

7. I make sure I drive the same way home if I work on a game day.

8. I arrange or build things like beer can pyramids to change momentum during a game. That one worked pretty well 2000 against A&M when OU came from behind to win.

9. I change viewing positions in the house.

10. I change shirts, wear more than one shirt, and when all else fails, I just take off my shirt.

There are several other small ones that I will take note of during the course of the day. Tomorrow's game will have a lot of new things I try because we are coming off of a loss. It should be a relatively easy win for the Sooners in Norman which may limit some of my superstitious antics, but we'll see. I will keep a running log and post the results Sunday.


Friday, Nov. 13

7:00 p.m. I am concerned keeping a log of my superstitions is bad luck.

7:15 p.m. Bite a fingernail and consider it bad luck. Stop biting fingernails.

9:28 p.m. Lose to wife in a game of Popomatic Trouble. Worry it is a bad sign.

11:50 p.m. Move coffee table to play Wii. Make sure I put it back in the exact same place when I am finished.

Saturday, Nov. 14 Game Day

7:11 a.m. Realize it is going to be sunny, consider this a good sign.

10:09 a.m. Realize I slept in the same underwear I wore last week during the game and consider this bad luck.

3:30 p.m. Decide not to change sponge head while washing dishes, could be bad luck.

4:25 p.m. Push myself very hard at gym for good luck.

4:45 p.m. Worry I worked too hard at the gym and I won't have enough energy for the game.

4:47 p.m. Debate whether or not to use conditioner while in shower, decide to use conditioner.

4:50 p.m. Contacts are stinging my eyes and I worry about having to wear glasses during the game.

4:50 p.m. Wonder if wearing glasses will actually be good luck.

4:51 p.m. Deliberate on which pair of glasses are more lucky to wear.

4:52 p.m. Consider cologne options and decide Polo Sport is bad luck, wear different cologne

4:59 p.m. Choose outfit very carefully, taking note which articles of clothing seem lucky. Decide to go with Peterson jersey over Bradford.

5:08 p.m. A friend invites me to bar to watch game, decline immediately (I don't go out in public during OU games unless I am watching live).

5:24 p.m. Wife goes to grocery store. Concerned about her beer selection.

5:25 p.m. Worry again about recording superstitions.

5:30 p.m. Wonder if I should get beer from fridge or wait for wife. Decide to wait.

5:36 p.m. Consider calling Dad then reconsider and decide it is luckier to call closer to game time.

5:50 p.m. Change channel to station game is on ten minutes early.

6:11 p.m. Turn off computer sitting on coffee table. Consider screen bad luck.

6:14 p.m. Decide to get a beer from fridge since wife is still not home. Next play after opening beer OU scores defensive TD. Realize I will keep drinking these beers because they are good luck.

6:34 p.m. Change seat after OU continues to struggle offensively.

6:39 p.m. Wife gets home. Offense scores TD. Wife is lucky.

6:55 p.m. OU turns ball over while FSN shows a cut away story between plays, consider the story unlucky.

7:05 p.m. Game is tight, worried about underwear selection.

7:06 p.m. Concerned about superstition log.

7:07 p.m. Lay down, offense makes nice play. Worried sitting up will be bad luck.

7:08 p.m. Sit back up.

7:09 p.m. Lay back down.

7:10 p.m. Sit back up.

7:17 p.m. Switch beer brands.

7:19 p.m. Consider jersey change.

7:24 p.m. Looks like beer change is working.

7:35 p.m. Worry about taking last swallow of beer during a play.

7:38 p.m. Stand up.

7:38 p.m. Sit back down.

7:40 p.m. Getting the feeling glasses are lucky.

8:00 p.m. Everything is working. Gonna wear glasses every time I watch OU on TV going forward.

For those that watched the game you know at this point the Sooners took control and it became a blow out. I shut down the superstitions once the game was in control. It was nice to see the 60+ point mark cracked again. I didn't realize last week was Friday the 13th, until today. I don't follow any traditional superstitions. Mine are my own.

Well, there you have it. A sampling of my life on a game day. Good thing the game was only in question for a little over a quarter or this would be a much longer post.

Bus Stop to Bathroom: A College Story

My senior year of college I moved into a house with two friends in East Norman, Oklahoma. For those reading this that know Norman geography, it was on the corner of E Brooks and 12th Avenue. I spent the previous two years living in a fraternity house and I was extremely excited to have a place that felt more like a home. Some place that I didn't have to wear shoes in the shower. A place where I wouldn't be woke up by drunk idiots breaking bottles at 5am. Somewhere there wasn't ketchup (hopefully) sprayed all over the walls. Some place I could bring my parents or girlfriend without them leaving in tears. You get the point.

I was very happy with my new surroundings on Brooks Street. My roommates and I took full advantage of our patio, spending hours outside telling stories, laughing and staying up too late. One very late weekend morning (I'm talking 6am late), we heard some strange sounds coming from outside. We all shrugged it off and went to bed, but moments later I heard it again louder than before. It kind of sounded like a wild animal singing. If there were words being shouted, it was only an accident. What was really amazing was the projection and volume of the noises. They penetrated the walls of the house with ease. When I heard it again, I got up to investigate.

I went into the backyard and peeked through the fence and saw a very large man with Down syndrome standing at the bus stop across the street, smiling and singing a song he seemed to be making up. At that moment I felt a very noticeable swell of pride in my chest for that man. He obviously had a disability, but he was standing at the bus stop on his way somewhere without a chaperone. He was self sufficient, and happy enough to burst out in song at 6am.

Monday came and I realized the man I heard singing Saturday must sleep in weekends, after I awoke to another song from Bus Stop Idol, this time at 5am. There was no swell in my chest, but it didn't bother me understanding the circumstances.

As a side note: For me to wake up from someone singing across the street is impressive in itself. For me to wake up at 5am during my college years is unbelievable. For me to wake up at 5am from someone singing across the street during my college years is nearly impossible. Only one of the loudest noise makers on this planet could have woke me. As a child in San Diego I can remember sleeping through earthquakes. An earthquake couldn't wake me, but a gentleman across the street at a bus stop could. By singing. His voice was stronger than nature.

A few days went by and I had not heard my friend the singer. I was relieved when I awoke to him belting out a few lines from a song I called "Happy Day," as those were the only words I thought I recognized.

The following day I was jolted awake again by the thunderous tenor of my bus stop friend. It started to get irritating.

My car broke down driving home from class that semester. While I planned logistics of getting to and from class, it dawned on me that I would have to take the bus. The first day I was at the university bus stop to go home, I saw my friend also waiting. He had a female friend with him that I assumed was his girlfriend. I surmised they probably worked in the Student Union. There is a large dining area there with several restaurants grouped together. It is one of the major hubs on campus. The Union employed several capable workers with Down syndrome to bus tables and empty the garbage. Pretty inspiring to see in action.

As we rode home together on the bus, I noticed he was fairly aggressive with his girlfriend. Not in a scary way, but one that made me take notice and then try not to look back. There was some definite kissing and groping that I would have rather not seen. I realized why he felt compelled to sing at the bus stop. Apparently my friend had a bit of charm with the ladies.

He left earlier in the morning than I did so I never got to see if he would sing with an audience, but we rode the bus home together several times and he appeared to have many girlfriends. I began to see him at work, interacting with his co workers. He was the most popular guy of the bunch. He had a bit of a bully streak in him probably due to the fact he outweighed his nearest male co worker by 50 pounds,easily. The women loved him and the men feared him. I began to refer to him as the King.

The Union had a large clean bathroom. It was spacious with five urinals and three stalls. Because of this, I made it a point to use the bathroom whenever I was there. One afternoon, I finished my lunch and headed to the Union bathroom. I walked in to a completely empty room and went to the furthest urinal from the door. I unzipped my pants and started to go when I heard the door swing open. I didn't look over at first, just continued what I was doing.

I started to hear loud, lumbering steps approaching me and noises that sounded like a wild boar eviscerating a squirrel. There were guttural mutterings followed by snorts that seemed to be wet and over exaggerated. I turned my head to see what was making all the noise and discovered it was the King. We locked eyes for a brief moment and I looked away quickly, getting suddenly nervous. There was a look in his eyes that I interpreted as a warning.

As I continued to go, he walked directly behind me passing up the four open urinals and three open stalls. When I say directly, I mean no more than two inches belly to back.

At this point I was nervous with my pants unzipped, not a good combination. I wonder for a brief moment if he suspects me of spying on him and he picked the perfect time to exact revenge. I have no idea what he's going to do, but I can't finish going fast enough. I felt his breath on the back of my neck and his snarling noises got louder, more impatient.

Just as I started to wrap things up, a couple of guys walked into the bathroom. I must have looked scared. I can't imagine what I would do if I walked in on something like that, but I can tell you what they did. They started laughing their asses off. It was clear I had no idea how to handle the situation.

I didn't even get a chance to feel embarrassed before the King suddenly screamed, DAMN IT!!!! at full house penetrating volume, directly in my ear. That scared the rest of the pee out of me and I jumped like a teenage girl at a horror movie. My hand jerked with the rest of my body leaving me spraying wildly and helplessly. It was quite simply the biggest shock of my life. My heart was beating like hummingbird wings and the hair on my arms and neck were standing on end. A funny tingling ran from my spine to my ears, and my eyes were wide open, unable to blink.

When I finished, I swallowed hard and cautiously side stepped to get out of his way. The two other people in the bathroom were close to tears laughing. They didn't try to go to the bathroom. They just stood by the sink near the entrance and watched the scene unfold.

The King wasted no time ripping down his pants and going, groaning in relief. I understood that I must have been using his personal toilet. I hastily fastened my pants and got the hell out of there as fast as I could, not bothering to wash my hands. I only had time to shoot the other guys a dirty look as they were just beginning to compose themselves.

When I got home and recounted the traumatizing event, my friends thought I was making it up. Then it became a running joke and they would yell, "damn it!" when my back was turned.

I'm sure the King continued to sing in the morning, but I never woke up to him blasting out lyrics again. After I heard the full boom of his massive voice directly in my ear, I became immune to his morning serenades.

We continued to ride the bus together, but I made sure our paths didn't cross much after that. I always wondered if he held a grudge or if it was the urgency of the moment he was shouting about. Whatever the case, I didn't use the Union bathroom after the incident. I felt like he marked his territory very clearly.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Math is Idiotic

After coming from behind to win a televised pot worth $550,000, poker professional Barry Greenstein uttered the phrase, "Math is idiotic." By taking the short odds to win a massive pot, Greenstein (who is a mathematical genius) contradicted the sentiment that poker is a game of skill. A sentiment nearly every poker player lives by. The idea that a hand can, and sometimes should be played on feel limits the amount of actual skill that it takes to win at poker. This was painfully evident at this year's final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Since its inception, the WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas has been the tournament that crowns the "world champion" of poker. Before a camera was developed for a TV viewer to see hole cards, Texas hold 'em was limited to guys in green reflective visors and those that were nicknamed after cities or states. The 1999 Main Event had 393 entrants. Ten years later after becoming an annual broadcast on ESPN, the event boasted nearly 6,500 players (which is even lower than the prior two years).

Texas hold 'em and the WSOP have exploded in popularity world wide after Chris Moneymaker, an amateur poker player and seemingly normal guy, won $2.5 million in the 2003 Main Event. It seems like ESPN has replayed the episode of Moneymaker (actual name) winning the Main Event nearly once for every dollar he made. Soon to follow were internet poker sites, more televised events and the dawn of the poker "superstar," some of whom are as popular as professional sports stars.

ESPN has taken what was once a collection of grainy footage airing late night on ESPN2, and turned it into a serious broadcast airing prime time with production value. The latest and greatest marketing innovation is the November Nine. Now, players in the Main Event that make the final table wait four months to finish the tournament. This serves to create excitement for the TV viewer by keeping the winner a secret while they watch the episodes leading up to the final table. It is as close to televising a live poker tournament as you can get. Televised tournaments are heavily edited to include only interesting hands. For every hand that is television worthy, there are 15 that are about as interesting as watching a banana rot (I should throw that out).

This year is the second year of the Novemeber Nine and ESPN received a gift when the games best and most popular player, Phil Ivey, made the final table. The tournaments have gotten so big that major pros are becoming nearly extinct from Main Event final tables. This year ESPN had four months to market the most marketable player (nicknamed the Tiger Woods of poker) and hype the event. Despite the fact Ivey would be starting the final table with just five percent of the chips in play, he was viewed as the favorite because of his tremendous poker skill.

When the broadcast of the final table began, I felt more a part of the action, as if I was watching a sporting event. There are obviously some geniuses at ESPN that could take a parlor game and turn it into a sport.

I was excited because I had someone to root for in Phil Ivey, and a backup in Jeff Shulman (someone poker nerds like myself would recognize). I always root for the pro players because I am a student of poker and I want to believe that skill can beat luck. I want to believe you can get so good at poker that you can beat the game. Nearly every pro player believes that. They have to. What else would justify gambling for a living? You have to prove it is not gambling.

I still believe poker is a game of skill. I have played and studied the game at a fairly serious level for the last five years. I have read dozens of books by top pros explaining strategy and math for both tournament and cash games. I have played in thousands of tournaments (live and online) and I have logged countless hours playing cash games. I have played poker since I was eight years old with my family. My study, preparation and natural skill have helped me win more than I have lost, but my faith in the math of the game has been severely damaged after watching this year's final table.

Like any semi-serious poker player, I dreamed about winning the WSOP Main Event. Payouts fluctuate, but these days the winner is sure to see 7.5 million dollars, near that amount in endorsements, their poster on the wall at the Rio and poker immortality. It sounds pretty great, but there is a problem. No matter how good you are, it seems the luckiest player in the room is the one who wins the tournament.

Let me explain by what I mean when I say lucky. There were 6,494 entrants to this years Main Event. To outlast a field like that you are going to have to come from behind to win big pots. You are also going to have to win nearly every hand in which you are ahead (which is more lucky than coming from behind once or twice). You are going to have to hit flush and straight draws consistently when you chase them. You are going to have to get dealt cards you can play, and hit flops when you play them. You are going to have to stay out of auto bust situations (like getting dealt KK against someones AA). Most importantly, you are going to have to win coin flips, and lots of them (a poker coin flip is when you are all in with around a 50 percent chance to win the hand, the most classic example is QQ against AK). There is no chance for someone without skill to win this tournament, but there is also very little chance for someone with skill to win.

The winner of this year's Main Event was Joe Cada, a 21 year old online poker pro who looks like he should still be getting wedgies in the school yard. He broke the record (set last year by Peter Eastgate) for youngest player ever to win the Main Event. What once was a test for the elite players in the game, has now become a free for all crap shoot.

Dan Harrington, long time poker pro, former WSOP Main Event champ and math genius, explains the phenomena best. Unlike what you might see on an ad for an internet poker site, he likens the Main Event to a lottery. Every entrant gets a ticket. Some players are given more tickets (based on their skill) but the odds are still against them. When you have that many people competing in a tournament, luck has to be on your side.

I was sick to my stomach after watching the two and a half hour broadcast of the Main Event final table. The two worst players were the two left to battle it out heads up for $8.5 million. Each player took part in putting disgusting beats (winning with the short odds) on superior opponents multiple occasions. You can expect to see a couple of bad beats at a final table that shape the landscape of the tournament, but it was over and over. The best hand never seemed to win. Poker skill went out the window. The player who foolishly shoved all his chips in with the worst hand seemed to get rewarded every time.

My dream of playing in the Main Event has been shattered. I am not that lucky. The old saying, "lucky in love, unlucky in cards" applies to me. In the biggest moments of my poker playing "career," I have been the guy taking the beats. Luck trumps skill every time.

I would still enjoy playing a WSOP event, but not the Main Event. If I am going to gamble away $10,000 I will take my chances playing black jack since I can get free shots of Patron and $50 cigars while I play. It's not enough to read your opponent well and get your money in ahead, you have to stay ahead and avoid someone else's luck.

While the broadcast quality of the WSOP Main Event gets better, the quality of poker played gets worse. We have seen amateurs and unknowns win the championship for the last eight years. This event should not have the label "world championship." The Main Event should raise the buy in to $100,000, or consider calling the $50,000 HORSE event the championship.

HORSE would be a better game to determine a true poker champion because players have to play five different games including: hold 'em, Omaha, razz, stud and stud hi/low. The variances go in favor of the skillful players in this type of game, and you have to have serious gambling money to get involved.

Phil Ivey finished seventh and Jeff Shulman finished fifth. Both were huge favorites in the hands that knocked them out. Skill could only take them so far before they were overtaken by luck. This year's Luckiest Man Alive Award goes to Joe Cada, winner of the November Nine, thus proving Greenstein correct in his assertion, "math is idiotic."

So the next time you get lucky in your home game and someone gets upset with you, just remind them that you are playing like a poker champion. I guess that's what it takes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bad Beat: Giants Get Rivered

It's not easy being a San Diego Chargers fan. In recent memory they have endured Ryan Leaf, a blowout loss in their only Super Bowl appearance (XXIX against the San Francisco 49ers), heart breaking playoff losses and injuries, a number one overall pick refusing to play for them and a city whose lack of support has led ownership to explore moving the franchise. Over the past five seasons the Chargers have made a habit of raising pre season expectations only to see them falter as the team gets out to their annual slow start. This year is no different.

After being expected to be the only team with a winning record in the AFC West, and one of three teams given a chance by the "experts" to compete for an AFC championship (Pittsburgh and New England being the others), the Chargers found themselves 2-3 and three games behind division leading Denver, five weeks into the season. Additionally, future hall of fame running back Ladainian Tomlinson has been ineffective, silencing many who predicted the thirty year old would bounce back after the worst season of his career, last year.

Tomlinson's ineffectiveness highlighted problems with the offensive line. The Chargers became accustomed to excellent offensive line play after winning the division in 2004, a year that saw the Chargers eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Jets.

2006-2007 saw Tomlinson take home the MVP award behind his offensive line after setting several records and leading his team to a 14-2 mark, best in team history. Once again, the Chargers made an early exit from the playoffs being upset at home by the New England Patriots (it was a big upset with the Patriots bringing their weakest team in years to San Diego). The days of a consistent running attack seem far away with the line unable to open running lanes for either Tomlinson, or back up running back Darren Sproles.

Matching the offensive line struggles, the defensive line has also had issues. Injuries to key players, especially Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams, have softened the once stalwart San Diego D line. The constant pressure and frequent sacks the defense became noted for all but disappeared the first five games of the season.

The Chargers have often been referred to as the "most talented" team in the league by sports broadcasters. There is no doubt they boast a lineup of exciting play makers. Unfortunately, injuries, slow starts and playoff upsets have become synonymous with the team, overshadowing their tremendous talent.

Life long Chargers fans should be accustomed to tempering expectations, but a slow start once again leaves San Diego fans wondering if the end of this year will be the end of an era. An era where, at least, Chargers fans had hope of a Super Bowl appearance. No longer is Tomlinson the core of the offense. That distinction has transferred to Phillip Rivers and the passing game. A passing game that is asked to make up for the inconsistencies of both lines this year.

With an uncertain future, a divisional race slipping away and fans that desperately needed something to cheer about, the Chargers headed to the Meadowlands to play the New York Giants. The Giants organization called the showdown a "one game season," a sentiment the Chargers (and their fans) shared.

In addition to the game's importance, this was the first time Phillip Rivers and Eli Manning squared off after being swapped on draft day, 2004. By trading Manning to the Giants, the Chargers received Rivers and two draft picks that they used to take future Pro Bowl selections, Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding.

The Giants had plenty of motivation going in to the game. They lost three consecutive games after winning their first five of the season. This coming after they made Eli Manning their franchise quarterback with a contract worth over 100 million dollars. To add a little more pressure, the Yankees just won the World Series and seized back New York's loyalty less than two years after the Giants Super Bowl victory stole it away.

The Chargers had their own motivation. They were two games behind the Denver Broncos in the division standings and were widely criticized for not winning games on the east coast. More importantly, Manning is still public enemy number one in San Diego where Chargers fans took his refusal to play with the team personally. Rivers, no doubt, was feeling a little extra motivation playing against the team that discarded him in favor of Manning.

The Chargers barely saw the ball in the first half with the Giants eating up over twenty minutes on offense. The game was tied at seven at halftime.

The second half saw the Chargers defense step up holding the Giants to zero third down conversions in six attempts. The most important stand came with a little over three minutes left in the game after a Rivers interception gave the ball to the Giants on the Chargers four yard line. A touchdown would have sealed the game giving the Giants a ten point lead with less than three minutes left.

Instead, the Chargers defense held the Giants to a field goal after a penalty and conservative play calling by Giants head coach, Tom Coughlin kept the G Men out of the end zone. Coughlin has been widely criticized for not attempting to pass with his 100 million dollar quarterback, opting instead to play it safe, run time off the clock and put the game in his defense's hands. A defense which had performed well holding the Chargers to two scores and 14 points.

Rivers and the Chargers offense got the ball back on their 20 yard line with 2:07 left in the game. It took Rivers eight plays and 1:46 to go 80 yards for the game tying touchdown pass to wide receiver Vincent Jackson, his second score of the game. The Chargers did not use a timeout during the game winning drive and executed the two minute offense to perfection. Kaeding hit the game winning extra point after the touchdown.

The emotion of the team was evident after the score. Not surprisingly, Rivers led the way by running the length of the field in celebration. Tomlinson, who once again was a non factor in the game, embraced head coach Norv Turner after the win.

The Chargers are now accepting hop ons to their bandwagon after Denver lost to Pittsburgh, Monday night. They now trail the division leading Broncos by one game.

The encouraging win saw the Chargers answer the critics speculation they could not win a big road game. The team also saw Merriman and Shaun Phillips have great games for a defense that compiled five sacks for the second straight week.

Rivers, once again, proved he is a pressure player with the 11th fourth quarter comeback of his career. He did not have his best day as a Charger, but in the end, he got the best of Eli and the Giants. A victory he would categorize as, "a little special" after downplaying its significance a week prior.

Maligned head coach, Norv Turner, also received praise from fans for his play calling on the final drive. By not calling a timeout Turner was able to create quick strike offense keeping the Giants from being able to substitute.

In true east coast biased reporting, most of the coverage focused more on Coughlin's decisions than the comeback by San Diego.

Wide receiver, Vincent Jackson, continued to establish his reputation as one of the best receivers in the league, catching two TDs including the game tying catch. For Jackson, it was his fourth straight game with a TD catch and the third game tying or winning TD in his career. He also became only the third player in the past five years to catch two TDs against the Giants defense. Terrell Owens and Randy Moss are the others.

Chargers fans desperately needed that win to maintain any faith in their frequently underachieving team. Despite the star studded lineup, the city has narrowly escaped TV blackouts this year, barely able to fill the stadium. The 44 straight televised home game streak hangs like a workplace safety poster at a construction site. A blackout seems inevitable unless the team can keep up their winning ways. With Los Angeles soon to be on the prowl for an NFL franchise, keeping the stadium full is imperative.

Super Bowl chances are slim for the Chargers this year, but one way to maintain a happy fan base and sell out games is to beat Eli Manning. After the win the Chargers sold out their following contest with the Philadelphia Eagles faster than any game this season. Once again, San Diego will be matched up with a team desperate for a victory and should prove to be a big challenge for the inconsistent Chargers.

On the bright side, the Chargers have now won three straight contests and have improved each week in the wins. Starting center, Nick Hardwick, will be back next week after a leg injury against the Oakland Raiders sidelined him in week one. And the Broncos are coming back down to earth, losing two straight after their unbelievable 6-0 start.

Chargers fans would be wise to stay cautiously optimistic. The Chargers have traditionally improved in the second half of the season only to see their efforts squandered with disappointing playoff losses. Sure, the Chargers have some nice playoff wins against the Indianapolis Colts and the other Manning brother, but fans are ready for the next step. Even if they come back and win the division, there is no reason to believe the Chargers can compete with elite AFC teams like Pittsburgh or New England. For that reason, Chargers fans should relish Sunday's win and take comfort in Rivers' 1-0 record against Manning. It may be the best highlight of the year.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Resident Evil: South Congress/Perla's Restaurant Review

Saturday had a strange feel, and I spent the majority of it in one of the most bazaar places an Oklahoma Sooners fan could be during the football season. As a warning to any Sooners fans who might happen to find themselves in Austin during the football season: Stay away from South Congress after the Longhorns play a home game.

The day started with checking my email to find out 18 random addresses from my outbox received a link to success hand bags, mysteriously generated from my account. I did not send the email. I still have no idea how something like that would happen, but it did. I would not have been too bothered by this if it weren't for a couple of embarassing details.

For starters, among the recipients of this email were co workers from my former employer (none of whom I communicate with, and if given the choice between having bamboo shoots pushed under my finger nails, or maintaining a relationship with any of these people, I would choose the shoots every time), a variety of HR addresses from companies I have applied to recently, and one of my mom's friends that seemed quite concerned I was spamming her.

Second, as you may have guessed already, success hand bags, very logically, is a link to an online store that peddles Viagra and Cialis. On the bright side, potential employers now know I am the type of guy who can help with any erectile dysfunction issues that might arise in the workplace. Everyone knows the key to business is to maximize profits and maintain a strong erection. Check in the block.

I was slightly frantic after reading the rest of my email and there were seven hours before Oklahoma kicked off against Nebraska. There was no way I could sit around the apartment all day, waiting for the game, so my wife (Firecracker) and I thought to grab some lunch. The only thing we agreed on before getting in the car was to eat outside because it was an absolutely gorgeous day. We decided to head over to one of Austin's more eclectic areas: South Congress. I have been accused of not taking advantage of all Austin has to offer, so I went along with this plan happily. Due to my eagerness to get out the door, I failed to recognize the Longhorns were finishing up their home game a few miles away.

Before we parked the car, I realized the area was covered in burnt orange. Strange people wearing strange clothes doing strange things. Before I knew it, I was surrounded. There were orange men twirling lassos, orange women chewing tobacco, and orange children firing pistolas in the air while their orange parents cheered them on. It was quite frightening. The sheer volume of orange made me feel like I was in a zombie movie where they just keep coming from everywhere, no end in sight. I felt concerned that I would be swept up in a sea of orange and find myself being carried down the street by ten thousand Longhorns fans.

It was nearing 2pm, and it took some effort to get a parking spot, so I gathered my courage and we decided to endure the colorful atmosphere. I had to veto the first couple restaurants because of the crowd, but we eventually stumble on a nice looking outdoor restaurant with only half the crowd wearing orange, and relief swept over me, calming my frazzled nerves. A sign out front displayed happy hour specials including dollar beers and discounted oysters. I love seafood, and raw oysters is one of my favorite snacks in the world. The place is called Perla's and although Firecracker and I looked a little foolish when we couldn't find the entrance, we were very happy with our surroundings once we solved the puzzle.

After an overview of the menu I was shocked that I had never heard of this place. My wife and I are avid foodies, and we do a lot of restaurant research in pursuit of fun culinary experiences. Perla's seemed to be a restaurant/bar designed just for me. They have a list of unique signature cocktails with some really great ingredients, and the food options include a lobster roll (the sandwich not the sushi), a fried oyster po boy, and a soft shelled crab BLT. I had a slightly embarrassing moment responding, "raw" when the waitress asked me what kind of oysters I wanted. I had not noticed they actually offered around six varieties. I ordered a cocktail made with gin, aranciata, and mint to go along with the oysters, and I started to feel like the day was going to get better fast.

Unfortunately, fast is not an adjective I would use to describe the service at Perla's. Our waitress disappeared for ten minutes after taking the first order, then came back and had to retake the order. Another seven or eight minutes and we had our first drink.

My drink was fantastic and my wife's champagne cocktail was delicious. We began to dream about lives where we could drink champagne cocktails for breakfast. The oysters followed close behind and were the freshest I have tasted in Austin. They were served with fresh cocktail sauce and mignonette.

At that point, I forgot about the slow service and the throngs of burnt orange, and I was comfortable. Happy. We really enjoyed the ambience of Perla's outdoor deck. The contrast of rustic, simple picnic decor and the elegance of our specialty cocktails made for a pleasant moment. We drank slow, enjoyed the day, but eventually were in need of service, and I was ready to order lunch.

My empty drink sat on the edge of the table for another ten minutes or so before our waitress graced us with service. I would have considered complaining, but the table next to ours, and the one behind us, already had. At one point while groaning incredulously to Firecracker, she said, "quit digging your heels in, and enjoy the ride." I decided this was good advice and regained my composure, finding joy in our current circumstance.

I ordered the soft shelled crab BLT and a cocktail with grilled Meyer lemon and thyme infused vodka, honey liqueur, and iced tea. Kind of an artisan Arnold Palmer with alcohol. Maybe they should call it a John Daly, ha (I'll be here all week, folks). After several minutes our waitress sheepishly came back to our table and retook our order.


To say something positive, at least she was consistent.

The drinks eventually came, and even though there was no sign of the food, I remained surprisingly patient. I sipped my drink and made fun of the people walking around. South Congress is definitely good for people watching. After spotting a group of four people decked out in retro 80s clothing and hairstyles, Firecracker tried to convince me that look is currently "in style." One guy actually was wearing a Frankie Goes to Hollywood shirt adorned with the words, "RELAX" on the front and "DON'T DO IT" on the back. I argued that cliche is never in style, and the group looked like they were going to an 80s party.

My drink was almost finished when our waitress came to assure me the food was on its way. When the food came, Firecracker and I took advantage of the attention, and ordered dollar beers.

The sandwich was out of this world! It was served on thick cut Texas toast that was perfectly crusty and buttery. The soft shelled crab was huge, and legs were jutting out of the toast which was lightly covered in lemon mayo. A thin layer of greens was topped with ripe tomato slices and thick cut bacon. It was served alongside herbed french fries. I actually wanted the daikon slaw, but I forgot to mention this while I ordered. Once again, the quality of the food eclipsed the awful service and I wondered how often I could come back for that sandwich without it being considered excessive.

We enjoyed dollar beers while the sun went down and swallowed us in red and orange. Firecracker decided she wanted to get a piece of pizza from Homeslice that was across the street, so it was time for the check. Predictably, our waitress was no where to be found, and had been missing for at least 30 minutes. We discussed the ethical conundrum of walking out on a check if the server is not around to bring it to you. We both agreed we are not the type of people who could do this, so Firecracker went in search of the waitress.

Perla's has upscale prices to match its upscale menu, but you really get what you pay for. The atmosphere was very relaxing and comfortable. The food and drinks were thoughtful with wonderful attention to detail.

The service was deplorable.

I believe I will be back and hope for better service because everything else about Perla's was enjoyable. It is tough to believe our experience was normal considering the attention given to cuisine and atmosphere.

After dinner we walked over to Homeslice where Firecracker ordered a piece of pizza at the walk up window. I was again obsessed with the volume of burnt orange and referred to the area as "spooky." Taking a cue from this, Firecracker shouted "BOO!" to a passing group of Longhorns as we walked to our car. There is something so funny about a 22 year old man in a burnt orange shirt jumping out of his skin, in fear of my wife. I realized at that point I had someone with me more spooky than the locals and I calmed down.

Unfortunately, the strange day had a strange end when OU lost to Nebraska that night. Most of my friends find my superstitious behavior with OU football humorous, but I felt like I knew the game was headed for disaster based on the way the day worked out. I don't think, as a Sooner, spending your game day in the middle of happy Longhorns fans is a good thing, even if the food and drink is fabulous. Perhaps our waitress was really encouraging me to leave with her poor service because she was actually looking out for my best interests. I am going to choose to believe this because I am already looking forward to my next soft shelled crab BLT. It just won't be on a game day.

Father Time Has a Cannon

Like any other sports fan with a daily sports show addiction, I was sick to death of the Brett Favre saga that has become an annual sports tradtion. After watching his melt down at the end of last season with the New York Jets, I felt like there was no way he could come back and contribute to a professional team. It looked as if his football mid life crisis was going to leave a greasy, black stain on his hall of fame masterpiece career.

He looked old. He couldn't throw the ball down the field, and had teammates calling him out for dividing the locker room (I believe ESPN threw the term "schism" around quite a bit leading up to his debut with the Minnesota Vikings). Why would he come back and subject himself to the pain of the NFL as a 40 year old? What could he possibly have left to offer? Is his desire to get under center just to stuff it in the face of Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers, or does he really believe he can still play? Favre has come back this year and made anyone who questioned his ability to play football feel very foolish, me included.

I am not a Favre hater. How can you be? Regardless of how he ever performed on the field, his consecutive games played streak (276 and counting) as a quarterback has to be one of sports most impressive feats. He is also a three time MVP, a clutch performer, and a Super Bowl champion. He has done everything you could ask for in a quarterback over his career. He plays the game with more grit and passion than anyone around him, and he is exciting to watch whether you admit it, or not. He has always embodied the spirit of NFLs ironman, and this year is no different.

After having his arm surgically repaired in the off season, Favre is back throwing the ball harder, and with a tighter spiral than 90 percent of the league. He still plays the game with youthful exuberance, and he still has a flair for clutch heroics (We all saw his game winning throw against San Francisco. That ball was an absolute laser). Unless you are a Green Bay Packer fan, player, or member of their operations, you have to appreciate what he has been able to do this year. I know there are bitter football fans who have had their team torched by Favre. But really, how could you not like this guy?

Speaking of the Green Bay Packers, Favre got the pay back he was undoubtedly looking for coming in to this season. Not only did he beat his former team playing for their divisional rival, he played a major role in the beatings. In two games against his former team he threw seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. Interceptions have plagued him when he was younger, and when he was not surrounded with the ground support and defense that he is currently playing with. That is always the point Favre haters make. "Look at how many interceptions he has thrown over his career. He's a gunslinger, he can't change that mentality."

This year, Favre has done what the haters thought he couldn't. He has become the most talented game manager in the NFL. Most agree the best player in the league is Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson. It seemed all the Vikings were missing from seriously contending for a Super Bowl was a quarterback. So naturally, bringing in Favre doesn't change defensive game plans. Opponents of the Vikings look to shut down the run and make the Vikings beat you through the air. The only problem is Favre has had no problem beating teams through the air. He has thrown 16 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions, good for a 106 passer rating.

Oh yeah. He's doing all this as a 40 year old.

He's 40, and if they voted today he is deserving of the league MVP (no disrespect to Peyton Manning or Drew Brees or Adrian Peterson). He's 40 in a league where running backs are left for dead at 30. He's 40, and he has 22 year old beasts chasing him around the field trying to crush him. He's 40, and he still throws the ball with velocity receivers can hear coming. He's 40, but his arm is 24.

The greatest part of Favre's game is that he can still be great with more pressure on him than anyone else in the NFL. He has endured public scrutiny over his off season floundering, and his age for over two years. He survived the crash and burn of a failed attempt with the New York Jets. He was showered with a chorus of boos when he stepped onto Lambeau Field for the first time as a visitor. He sustained several concussions throughout his career, and had shoulder surgery just a few months ago. He battled all of these pressures, and done so visibly nervous, yet still had the fortitude to play above everyone's expectations.

Can you really imagine being Brett Favre and getting booed by Green Bay Packers fans? Packers fans should use the collective energy it took for those boos, and build him a statue next to Vince Lombardi's to honor what he did for that organization. The camera was zoomed right on Farve's face to start the Packers game and you could see the emotion dancing in his eyes, but when he snapped on his chin strap, he blocked it out and went to work. Once the Vikings got a lead (mostly on short swing passes and runs by Peterson), the Vikings turned Favre loose and allowed him to give his old team a close up view of what he could still do on a football field. After dismantling the Packers defense for the second time this season, the camera man caught a shot of Packers QB, Aaron Rodgers with a look of disbelief plastered all over his face. Many argued before the game that a win might mean more to Rodgers than to Favre.

Currently, Favre and the Vikings are 7-1 and look to be headed for a clash with the New Orleans Saints as the top team in the NFC. If the Vikings play for a Super Bowl led by Favre, it will be the greatest achievement (consecutive games streak aside) of his hall of fame career. Of course, Father Time might have something to say about how Favre finishes another long NFL season. It was toward the end of the season that his play really declined last year. Eventually it has to catch up with him like it does everyone else. Although, most of his problems last year can be attributed to his arm injury which is clearly no longer an issue. From where I'm sitting, Brett Favre is Father Time, and Father Time still has a cannon.

Even if the dramatics were self imposed by his inability to stick with a decision, you have to appreciate the way he is defying the odds with his comeback. Brett Favre may no longer be a popular figure in Wisconsin, but he should have made some new fans around the country. You can count me as one of them, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jayson Werth: Can't Take Off Because of Landing Strip?

Most people have never heard of Jayson Werth. To fill most of you in, he is a starting outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, and in 4 seasons with teams that have made the playoffs (including the past two World Series), he has put together a very nice post season resume. He is hitting near .300 with 35 hits, 11 of those being homers, and 17 RBIs. The reason why you have never heard of him might have something to do with the landing strip facial hair he sports.

A landing strip (on men) is a thin strip of facial hair that grows from chin to lip. It's not a part of a beard. It's just out there on its own, much bigger than a soul patch, distracting the eye of those who would dare look upon it. Men wearing this style cannot be taken seriously. I mean, hasn’t Werth seen Brandon Inge from the Tigers? Have you?

Well, maybe not. Inge suffers from the same affliction that Werth does. He doesn't get nearly the recognition he should because he wears that ridiculous man patch (and his is thin too. It looks suggestive, and that is not the message a professional hitter should be sending).

Werth or Inge would be better off with a facial tattoo or piercing the bridge of their nose. At least that would be original (for baseball, the NBA went there years ago). I'm sure there were others before, but I didn't notice them as most of you haven't noticed Jayson Werth. I guess on the positive side he can have a promising career as a strip club DJ when his baseball career ends.

If Werth were to shave the squirrel tail, I predict he will double in popularity next year when he plays in the World Series, again; against the Yankees, again.

I wasn't excited about Ryan Howard's goatee this year, either. It didn't seem to suit him. A goatee on a baby face is almost as bad as the landing strip. Well, not really. But still, not good. Next year both guys should come back clean shaven, and they might make it to game 7 against the Yankees. I'd get rid of Cole Hamels either way.

Shane Victorino Tries to Save Major League Baseball

I want to praise Shane Victorino for hustling out his at bats every time he hits (on display this World Series). I’m sure no one notices other than die hard and sober Phillies fans, but I believe his hard play to be exactly what Major League Baseball needs. In game two of this years World Series, Victorino had a runner on first, one out, and hit a tapper to the infield. He tore up the line like his hair was on fire. The play was made routinely, and Victorino headed back to the bench, but watching him run made a huge impression on me, and also highlighted what is wrong with the MLB.

You never see that anymore. You just don’t see players playing 100 percent all of the time, even in the World Series. I think for the most part players run out their fly balls and ground balls, but no one really runs all out. You see the 65 percent jog. Fast enough to avoid looking like a dog, but easy enough to show you know it’s going to be an out. Running hard on a ground ball puts a little extra pressure on the defense that can mean the difference between an error, and a routine put out. Running out your fly balls full speed can mean an extra base if the ball is lost in the lights and dropped. It might only make the difference one percent of the time, but that should be enough, especially in the World Series. The fact that one player running out a ground ball caught my attention means there are some that just aren’t giving enough.

Playing hard is also good sportsmanship. You should do your opponent the honor of trying your best. You hear little league coaches telling their players to hustle all the time. At what point do big leaguers stop doing this? High school? I am willing to give pitchers and injury cases a pass on this obligation, but otherwise there should be no reason for one player to stand out just for running out a ground ball.

Good job to Victorino. Hopefully there were some little leaguers watching him. An honorable mention goes to Jerry Hairston Jr. of the Yankees. I know it's not as cool as a home run for most, but I think players playing hard is what makes baseball great and exciting.

Players not playing hard, not enjoying themself, not getting excited, not playing for team, is why the country was ready for the National Football League to take over. Football has far surpassed any other sport as America's past time. There is no denying that football is a great sport, and it happens to be my personal favorite (as I'm sure it is all of yours), but at the time the NFL's popularity was increasing, the MLB was losing steam. To me this issue is directly related to the energy the players are putting into the game. In football, you have guys playing all out every play. When you stop doing that in the NFL you lose your job.

Baseball doesn't have that. Everybody credits a baseball player for hustling when he slides hard into second base. Whooopeeee! Is that really all that we should ask of a base runner to consider them hustling? Why did Pete Rose earn the nickname "Charlie Hustle?" He played the game the way every other player should have played it, and it earned him a nickname. There should be no such thing. Every baseball player, playing like Charlie Hustle, that's what I want to see. For my money, the most interesting guys to watch are guys like Shane Victorino. Guys who aren't quite as naturally gifted as some of the players they are playing with, but maximize their abilities by going 100 percent all of the time.

It is a common theory that fans want to see more offense in baseball. "Fans like the American League because you don't have to waste an at bat watching the pitcher hit." I don't think we give sports fans enough credit with these theories. Sure, the casual fan will be more likely not to change Sportscenter when they show baseball highlights, but more true fans of the game will be developed if the players would adopt the football mentality of "all out every play." I believe more fans would be created if every major league player did this than if you implemented a designated hitter in the National League. Once you really learn and invest in the sport of baseball, having a pitcher hit becomes an interesting and strategic part of the game. Speed and base running become critical. How and when to use your bullpen is more of a challenge. It also forces you to go deeper on your bench during games because of the double switch.

Baseball has latched on to the theory that home runs = fans. Aside from the steroids they welcomed players to use, they also juiced up the ball, built most new ball parks shorter than their predecessors, found new types of wood to make more powerful bats, and added teams which thinned the talent pool. All of these methods were successful in creating more offense and homeruns. Where has this gotten them? Fourth place on the hierarchy of american sports behind the NFL, NBA, and NASCAR.

Perhaps it's time for a new strategy. One that won't have an instant payoff like the homerun spike, but one that will cultivate more loyal and interested fans over the long term. Here's my idea. Just hustle. Just play all out, every play, like there is someone waiting to take your position. Play like Shane Victorino and maybe it's possible you can sell the game of baseball and not just the homerun to the American public.

The Punishment Fits the Crime: Big Mac's Return to Baseball

Big Mac, Mark McGwire makes his return to baseball next year and already the uproar around the game is deafening. McGwire returns with Tony La Russa and the St. Louis Cardinals after last being seen in front of a Grand Jury flopping around like one of those wind sock men you see in front of the car wash. McGwire will be the hitting coach of a Cardinal team that won their division and boasts slackers like Albert Pujols and Matt Holiday in the middle of their lineup.

Regardless of his merits as a coach of hitters, all I have heard in the media or from baseball fans is that he will have to make some sort of statement about his alleged use of performance enhancers, namely steroids. For some reason all the babbling sports show hosts or so called baseball experts have decided they must hear a full confession and an apology or Mac’s future in baseball will forever be protested. All seem to agree that they want to hear the words come out of his mouth. My question is why?

A typical response to this seems to be, “Take a look at Petite or A Rod. They took ownership, came clean, now no one cares.” This issue will resurface once both players are subjects of hall of fame discussions, but the point is a good one. We have a forgiving public. The general sports fan will root for a player/person who is down and needs a second chance (Michael Vick), and tear down someone who has too much success (Tom Brady). I agree 100 percent, the best course of action for Big Mac would have been to come clean right away, admit to steroid use, ask for forgiveness from the fans, and get on with his life. But the ego is a fickle thing. It competes against the part of the brain that is rational and renders some incapable of swallowing pride (Barry Bonds).

This is all well and good, but really, so what? Why are we so obsessed with hearing the words come out of his mouth?

Question. What do the following players all have in common with their alleged or admitted steroid use? Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Ken Caminiti, Miguel Tejada, Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Andy Petite, Gary Sheffield.

Answer. They are all guilty, every single one. We really don’t need a confession to tell us that, and apologies under the gun are overrated. Did we even need the Mitchell Report to confirm who we suspected of steroid use during the baseball equivalent of Woodstock? Nobody was looking. What did you expect? The only real surprise is that Albert Pujols has never been implicated in any steroid talk. Just look at the numbers hitters were putting up before the Mitchell Report and what they are after two years of testing. And what happened to all of baseballs ageless wonders? They all got old and retired once steroid testing began. Is anyone waiting on pins and needles to find out if Bonds and Clemens can clear their name? Nope. No one cares, unless Bonds gets hired as the hitting coach of the Giants, I guess. Those guys are off the baseball map and probably will be until one of them gets convicted of perjury.

When I think about Roger Clemens now, I have this image of him in some dark, dingy basement. The only source of light is a TV in the corner of the room playing analog snow on mute. He is sitting in a rocking chair wearing white boxers and a dirty wife beater under shirt, staring at a full length mirror unable to blink, and repeating I did not do steroids, over and over in some sort of brain washed trance.

We don’t need a confession to know McGwire did steroids, and we don’t need an apology to form an opinion of the player. He looks worse, and is suffering more because of the way he handled the situation. He pled the fifth in front of congress. Does that not insinuate guilt? He wasn’t an idiot like Rafael Palmeiro, pointing his finger and shouting his innocence from the rooftops only to be tested positive a few months later, effectively ending his career and sending him into total obscurity and seclusion, but he still admitted enough by not saying anything. What does a confession now do to change the way we look at him as a person or player? If he wants to avoid the subject forever, let him. The best punishment for his case is to keep him out of the Hall of Fame which is going to happen whether a confession is made, or not. It is not like confessing will pave his passage. The only part of his game that could get him in the Hall was his power, and we know he cheated to get it.

McGwire could learn a lesson from Pete Rose. Holding on to the truth is futile. Eventually the media will get you to crack. It’s just good business. It’s too late to save face anyway. Those that would forgive him already have. The rest aren’t going to be swayed by a confession. Unfortunately for McGwire, he cannot come back and perform on the field like several others have, and since recovered some good will from fans. As soon as A Rod came clean and started hitting homers again, the fans seemed to embrace him. The same goes for Petite. On the field heroics go a long way in swaying public opinion. McGwire doesn’t have that option.

Regardless of his disposition, and whether or not he chooses to come clean, McGwire has a place in baseball if someone is willing to hire him. He is still a great person, and every baseball fan loved watching Mac and Sosa chase the homerun record. Steroid homers resurrected the sports popularity after the 1994-1995 strike. Unfortunately, the little good it did for the sports popularity was overshadowed by the epidemic that followed with nearly every player of significance realizing that they must also level the playing field by taking steroids. Baseball’s non-testing policy was equivalent to the “Please Take One” bowl on Halloween . Major League Baseball’s stance seemed to be please use steroids cautiously so you help the game, but don’t make it obvious so the media and fans catch on. The bowl emptied before anyone knew it. When hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, personal health and ethics take a back seat. I would guess that 75 percent of the population would do as McGwire did if they were in his shoes.

It has been proven that steroids damage your body. Players of the so called steroid era set terrible examples for youth baseball players that idolized these stars. I feel, as a purist of baseball, that the game is tremendously better without goliaths hitting 70 homers a year. Speed and strategy come in to play much more, and the game should get more exciting as it gets cleaner. We will once again be able to distinguish the power hitters from others and a homerun will once again become a cherished moment rather than an expected feat three to four times a game. Nonetheless, I do not condemn Mark McGwire. The blame does not fall squarely on his shoulders. If he does not wish to make a confession then we should all just move on. Let him coach and forever be known as a guy who took steroids, hit a lot of homeruns, and is not in the hall of fame. The punishment already fits the crime.


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