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Posted on: August 20, 2012 2:08 am
 

2012 NFC North Preview


NFC NORTH

The Green Bay Packers, led by last year's regular seaon MVP, QB Aaron Rodgers, finished their 2011 season with a disappointing playoff loss to the Giants.  To avoid the same type of result, the Packers will have to find some more balance in their overall offense.   Rodgers has a bountiful harvest of receiving targets, (WR Jordy Nelson led the way, last year, with 15 touchdowns and over 1,000 receiving yards) but the running game needs to be more of a viable threat for the Packers to bring home another Lombardi trophy. Seeing the need for improvement, the Packers signed free agent RB Cedric Benson, hoping he put up the numbers he did while resurrecting his career with Cincinnati. Benson will vie for playing time in the backfield with RB James Starks and Brandon Saine, among others.  On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers looked to improve their interior defense by drafting end Nick Perry and tackle Jerel Worthy with their first two picks.  If Benson can spark the Packers running attack, the sky is the limit. If not, the Packers should still win the division and be a threat in the playoffs.

The Chicago Bears improved their offense by acquiring WR Brandon Marshall, which gives QB Jay Cutler a legitimate #1 receiver to throw to. Cutler is also very familiar with Marshall, having him as a receiver while they played in Denver. RB Matt Forte will probably be called on to carry the load, again,  after his strong season in 2011. Knowing that he's been unable to stay healthy throughout his career, the Bears also signed free agent RB Michael Bush who last played in Oakland. The defense remains solid, led by LB stalwart Brian Urlacher and DE Israel Idonije. The Bears return game remains a threat with Devin Hester returning kicks and punts again this season. If the offensive line can improve and allow Cutler to play the entire 16-game schedule, the Bears should be in solid position to make the playoffs as the season winds down. 

The Detroit Lions had a successful 2011, making the playoffs for the 1st time since 1999 (cue Prince). QB Matthew Stafford had a breakout year, last year, throwing for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. The best receiver in the game, WR Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, helped bring excitement back to the Motor City and should put up huge numbers, again, in the 2012 season. The Lions must find a running game to hit on all offensive cylinders and to keep their average at best secondary off the field as much as possible. On the defensive front, Ndamukong Suh is a force of nature, but he must find a way to keep his aggressive play without being penalized so often in his effort to improve. The Lions should be chasing for a wild card berth as the regular season comes to a close in this very competitive division.

The Minnesota Vikings spent much of last year's draft looking to upgrade at offensive line in an attempt to keep Christian Ponder off the disabled list. Matt Kalil, a standout lineman from USC, was taken by the Vikings with the 4th pick, to protect Ponder's blindside and will probably be an immediate starter. Of course this is a moot point in terms of team success if RB Adrian Peterson can't come back from ACL and MCL reconstructive surgery from a knee injury, last season. Peterson is hoping to be ready for week 1 of the regular season, but it's not a guarantee. Peterson's backup, RB Toby Gerhart, may be counted on for more of the ground game load. The Vikings still have multidimensional WR, Percy Harvin, who is a threat to score from anywhere on the field, but they don't seem to have much in terms of overall skill position talent. DE Jared Allen was the one bright spot of the defense and the porous secondary should have a lot of trouble keeping teams out of the end zone, all year. It's highly unlikely for the Vikings  to avoid cellar dwelling, again, in the 2012 season.

Category: NFL
Posted on: August 19, 2012 7:50 pm
 

My Favorite World Series

The New York Yankees were the underdogs. These days, the words "Yankees" and "underdogs" go together like ice cream and horseradish, but in the 1996 World Series  New York was playing the Atlanta Braves, winners of the Championship the year before, beating the Cleveland Indians in six games and coming into this year's Fall Classic with plenty of confidence.

And why not. The Braves could line up aces better than a card player in a crooked game of poker, and as it was playing out, the Braves won the first two games of the series in New York, showing complete dominance over the Yankees along the way. Most baseball pundits were ready to give the Yankees last rites and to hand the Braves another title.

This particular Yankees team didn't have a successful post-season pedigree to rely on, either, having lost in the division series to the Seattle Mariners in a gut wrenching five games. Before that, New York hadn't won a Title since 1978 and hadn't even been in the playoffs in over a decade. During that span of time, the most memorable NY baseball moments didn't even belong to the Yankees.

"Behind the bag. It gets through Buckner. Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!", exclaimed revered announcer Vin Scully as New York inexplicably won game six of the 1986 World Series (and would go on to win game 7 to win the Title).

Game 3 was in Atlanta and the Yankees took advantage of an early lead, solid pitching from starter David Cone, and a home run from CF  Bernie Williams to win the game 5-2. The next night, this victory seemed like it would be a mere footnote as the Braves took a 6-0 lead in the early innings of game 4. The Yankees, however, chipped away at the lead and with the score 6-3, pinch hitter Jim Leyritz hit what appeared from the view of the TV camera a routine fly ball that just kept going. With 2 runners on base, the ball finally hit the back of the left field wall tying the score at 6. New York would go on to score 2 runs in the 10th inning and won the game 8-6, knotting the series at two.

Game 5 marked the last game to be played at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium and featured a picther's duel between the Yankees Andy Pettitte and the Braves John Smoltz. The Yankees scored a run in the 4th inning on a misplayed fly ball by CF Marquis Grissom and Petttitte's mound work assisted by some dazzling defense, particularly Yankee LF Darryl Strawberry allowed the Yankees to maintain a slim 1-0 lead. Strawberry extended high in the air like a condor to rob SS Jeff Blauser of an extra-base hit and end a threat of a Braves late-inning rally. With the score still 1-0 in the 9th inning, Atlanta rallied to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. Pinch hitter Luis Polonia hit a line drive to right center field which was caught by RF Paul O'Neill to end the game. The key to the play was bench coach Jose Cardenal signaling O'Neill to move a couple steps to his right which allowed the gimpy-legged RF just enough reach to make the final play and give the Yankees a 3-2 series lead.

Game 6 was back in the Bronx and C Joe Girardi sent the home crowd into Pinstriped pandemonium with an RBI triple which sailed over CF Marquis Grissom's head and gave the Yankees an early lead. Facing stater Greg Maddux, SS Derek Jeter sent the crowd into a further frenzy with an RBI single which made the score 2-0. After yielding another run that inning, Maddux settled into a groove and helped keep the Yankees off the scoreboard the rest of the game. With the score 3-1 in the 9th, the Braves rallied to score a run and bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After a long two-out AB, 2B Mark Lemke finally hit a foul ball along the 3B line which was caught by Charlie Hayes to end the game and as Fox announcer Joe Buck aptly put it, make the Yankees "the champions of baseball".

The post-series celebration included several memorable moments, including Yankee closer John Wetteland accepting the World Series MVP award and Wade Boggs, long time member of the Boston Red Sox, riding a horse along with a policeman along the warning track in the outfield.  Boggs was excruciatingly one pitch away from winning the World Series in 1986 with the Red Sox a decade prior.

I have the 1996 World Series on DVD, but the indelible memories from those games are ingrained in memory and will be for many years to come.


Category: MLB
Posted on: August 19, 2012 4:58 pm
 

Thanks, Chris (edited)

 


 

Chris Webber announced his retirement from the NBA, today. I would just like to say "thank you" for the amazing plays I was fortunate enough to watch during your respective college and NBA careers.

 

As a Freshman at Michigan, Webber and his Fab Five teammates did the impossible; reaching the NCAA Championship game with an improbable run in the Tournament. Back then, Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwon Howard, Ray Jackson, and Jimmy King (the Freshman along with Chris) basically had equal billing as far as their contribution to this remarkable team. The next year, Chris took the reigns as the bonafide leader, leading the team to a #1 seed in the Tournament in sparking a comeback against UCLA in the round of 16. Thanks to his overall efforts, the Wolverines once again made it to the Championship game.

Along the way, the Fab Five and their teammates were revolutionizing the "fashion" of the game, introducing the baggy shorts  look which is still common, today. Back then, traditionalists scoffed at their appearance and overall swagger. Bill Walton, former college great,  was among the most vocal, creating a rallying cry to denounce the Fab Five and their style of basketball.

Webber and his teammates didn't win either Championship, comely very close to a title in their 2nd attempt against North Carolina in which is unfortunately remembered by Chris signaling for an ill-fated time out late in the game (a timeout the team didn't have and allowed the Tar Heels to shoot a couple technical foul shots to ice the game). To use proper hindsight, though, without Webber and his efforts in that game Michigan would not have even had a chance to win in those last fateful minutes.

The Orlando Magic drafted Webber as the 1st pick in the draft the next year and he was eventually traded to the Golden State Warriors that same draft night. His NBA career included playoff runs with the Warriors, Washington Bullets (now the Wizards), Philadelphia 76'ers and the Detroit Pistons. His most notable chance for an NBA championship occured with the Sacremento Kings, making it to the 7th game of the Western Conference Finals before bowing out to the Los Angeles Lakers. The next year after that titlerun,Webber suffered a severe injury to his leg, needing micro-fracture surgery to repair it and was never the same player.

Chris Webber is widely considered one of the best passing big men to ever play the game, Personally, I will miss watching is basketball flair on the court. Luckily, I have some tapes of his days with the Fab Five to remind me of how great he was.

Once again, thank you Chris and good luck in your future endeavors.

 

 




Category: NBA
Posted on: March 25, 2008 10:48 pm
 

Thanks, Chris...

Chris Webber announced he was retiring from the NBA, today. I would just like to say "thank you" for the amazing plays I was fortunate to watch during your NBA and college careers.

As a Freshman at Michigan, Webber and his Fab Five teammates did the impossible, reaching the NCAA Championship game with an improbable run in the Tournament. Back then, Webber, Rose, Howard, Ray Jackson, and Jimmy King (all Freshman at the time) basically had equal billing as far as their contribution to this remarkable team. The next year, Chris took the reigns as the leader, leading them to an amazing comeback against UCLA in the Tournament, and once again, reaching the final game.

Not only were they doing the unthinkable with their basketball skills, Webber and his teammates at Michigan revolutionized the "fashion" of the game, creating a fad of wearing long, baggy shorts, which is still used by NCAA and NBA players, today. Traditionalists may scoff at this, but this group of players really changed the way the game of basketball is played. This had to be a good thing if it riled up a guy like Bill Walton, who railed against the Fab Five during their run. Yeah, I know there are no records of this team ever playing in the NCAA's do to rules violations, but we all remember.

Webber's NBA career included playoff runs with the Warriors, Bullets (Wizards), 76ers, and Pistons. But his best chance at an NBA title was with the Kings, making it to the 7th game of the Western Conference Finals. The next year,
Webber's NBA career was derailed by leg micro fracture surgery, an injury which shortened the careers of Jamal Mashburn, Allan Houston, Penny Hardaway, and others. Chris was injured during Kings run through the playoffs against the Mavericks, and neither he or Sacramento were ever the same. He was one of the best passing big men in NBA history, and I will missing watching him on the court. Luckily, I have some tapes of his days with the Fab Five to remind me of how great he was.

Thank you, Chris, and good luck in your future endeavors... :)
Category: NBA
 
 
 
 
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