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Brian Cashman called it a “perfect storm.” CC Sabathia said it was “embarrassing.” The New York tabloids weren’t as kind: "Dear Yankees, We don’t date losers! Signed New Yorkers" read the back of the New York Post.
Detroit’s sweep of the Yankees in the 2012 ALCS was a complete domination. The Tigers never trailed during the series, and their combined 19–6 run differential was an indication of New York’s incompetence. The Yankees batted a mere .157 in the series, and they struck out a whopping 36 times, or on one-third of their outs. At times, it appeared as if the New York hitters had never faced big-league pitching before.
“When you get into a short series, you say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’” says Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones. “If you execute it, you win. If you don’t, and you make poor pitches, you won’t win.”
While many love to deliver swift boots to the collective posterior of the Yankees when they are laid low, their fan-tastic performance against the Tigers wasn’t so unusual in the context of the 2012 season. First off, Detroit pitchers ranked fifth among all MLB clubs in strikeouts. But more importantly, the ’12 season was historic throughout baseball for whiffing.
Six major league clubs fanned at least 1,300 times last season. That’s three more clubs than the previous high for aggregate plate futility and one more than the total number from baseball’s beginning through the 2006 season. Another 12 teams struck out at least 1,200 times, four more than the previous record. In other words, a full 60 percent of teams whiffed 1,200 or more times last year, establishing a new high (or, if you prefer, low) for swing-and-miss futility. The Yankees’ fruitless pursuit of Tiger pitching was merely a high-profile example of the culture that has taken over major league baseball.
“There are definitely more ‘guess’ hitters in the game than there used to be,” Jones says. “You have guys looking for a certain pitch. If they don’t get it, they can look bad swinging.”
To give an idea of how profound this increase in useless at bats has become, consider that before 2001, no team had ever struck out 1,300 times in a single season. Before 1996, only one squad ever fanned 1,200 times. That distinction belongs to the 1968 Mets, who struck out 1,203 times. But they played 163 games that year, and after the season, Major League Baseball decided to lower the mound six inches. Back in 1978, the leader in strikeouts, Cincinnati, had only 899. Many of today’s teams have that many well before August is over. Contrast that with 1928, when the Yankees whiffed only 553 times in 154 games.
There are plenty of reasons why K is becoming baseball’s favorite letter. Jones’ theory on hitters’ guessing makes perfect sense. So does the fact that pitchers’ velocities are increasing, as is the menagerie of “out” pitches they are learning at earlier levels of baseball. The growing specialization of staffs allows managers to create matchups that are to their teams’ advantages. And the amount of information available to teams about hitters’ tendencies allows them to create scouting reports and battle plans that are more effective. Just ask the Yankees about that.
There’s one other, more philosophical cause at work, at least according to Padres’ hitting coach Phil Plantier. He cites what he refers to as “the live ball era” as having an impact on hitters as they grow into big-league players. That’s his euphemism for the steroid era, when homers rained down upon bleacher bums all over the game. As youngsters watched their pumped-up heroes cranking out 50 homers — and more — each season, they developed habits that might produce long balls but could also lead to high strikeout totals. For instance, in 1996, just two years after the MLB strike and the first season during which Mark McGwire hit more than 50 home runs (52), eight teams whiffed 1,100 times or more — an all-time high. From there, the strikeout totals have climbed steadily to 2012’s peak.
“The past generation of players just went through an unrealistic baseline expectation of hitters,” Plantier says. “If you look at trends of hitters prior to the ‘live ball’ era, it’s probably more indicative of where the game will go back. But it’s taking some time.”
Back in 1987, when Plantier reported to Elmira, N.Y., for his first minor league stint, he didn’t find an army of coaches ready to mold him on his first step to the majors. The club didn’t even have a weight room.
“We had a manager, and he did everything,” Plantier says.
Today, teams have too much money invested in players to leave it all to one person. There are hitting coaches, strength coaches and pitching coaches at every stop along the developmental chain. Not everyone is going to make it to the big time, but teams aren’t taking any chances on missing a potential major leaguer.
They also aren’t going about accumulating prospects the same way, especially on the mound. The process by which teams scout and ultimately select young pitchers has been altered since the days when Plantier was making his baseball journey.
“It all starts at the beginning,” he says. “Scouts are identifying athletes now as pitchers and have been for the last generation. Before, the majority of pitchers were non-athletes with good arms. Now, they’re getting better quality athletes on the mound.”
According to Plantier, the more athletic a pitcher is, the higher his ceiling might be. Now, no one can be certain whether Walter Johnson or Sandy Koufax would have fared well in the decathlon, but many of today’s pitchers are more accomplished athletically. They are also bigger and stronger. It’s become rare when a team spends a high draft choice — or in some cases any draft choices — on pitchers who aren’t at least 6'0". It’s hard to imagine someone like 5'11" Ron Guidry or 5'6" Bobby Shantz, who was once blown off the mound during a game, getting a second look today. When exposed to the intense training and instruction teams provide from rookie ball on up, they can develop into better pitchers — even if they don’t have the liveliest arms.
“At the lower levels, organizations are developing pitchers better, and they are teaching them how to become strikeout pitchers,” Plantier says.
A lot of those strikeout pitchers are succeeding with fastballs that get into the 90s consistently. Brewers’ hitting coach Jerry Narron was once a special assignment scout for Texas, and he was with Josh Hamilton in 2009 when Hamilton did a rehab stint in the minors after surgery to repair an abdominal tear. He noticed right away the vast differences between the caliber of pitching at the Triple-A level and the majors, a big reason why many younger players struggle to make contact.
“It’s not only the starters but the relievers who throw hard,” Narron says. “Everybody out of the pen seems to throw in the mid-90s, and at the back end of the pen, they’re throwing in the upper 90s. The velocity across the board jumps off the page.”
Jones agrees. “It seems like every guy is throwing 95 now,” he says.
Narron says teams’ obsessions with pitch counts have contributed to rising strikeout totals as well — and not just because those hard-throwing relievers are ready to throw smoke and overpower pitchers in favorable lefty-lefty or righty-righty matchups.
“Starters can afford to be more assertive,” Narron says. “They’re only going to pitch five, six or seven innings.”
The amount of information available gives pitchers advantages, too. Most MLB clubs, including the Tigers, look at what hitters’ tendencies are in every possible count. They feed pitchers information that allows them to know who is looking for fastballs early, who is less likely to be more careful with two strikes, and of course, who struggles with breaking balls.
“When guys are aggressive early in the count, they are people you can exploit by going out of the strike zone,” Jones says. “We know how aggressive guys are late in the count and how aggressive they are with men on base.”
It’s not guaranteed that a pitcher armed with that information is going to be successful, but if he makes pitches according to the plan, it’s more likely he will have an advantage. Detroit pitcher Doug Fister is known for throwing strikes early and often — he walked only 37 batters in 161.2 innings last year. So, hitters will often go up in the first few innings of a game hoping to get something to hit right away. If they are aggressive and making outs, Fister stays with his original program. But if they are hitting him, he has to change.
“They’ve made their adjustments, so we have to adjust,” Jones says.
It’s just not fair, really. Those mean pitchers are bigger and throw faster than ever. They have all sorts of fancy information and knowledge about tendencies and hitters’ weaknesses. Lower the mound! Make it four strikes per out.
The pitchers are better, but the hitters have a huge responsibility for the rising numbers. One All-Star starter who requested anonymity explains why it’s sometimes easy to pile up the strikeouts. “A lot of guys go up there looking for a certain pitch, and if they don’t get it, they pretty much give up the at-bat,” he says.
According to Narron, some hitters consider a strikeout “just another out.” Of course, nobody scores from third with fewer than two outs on a K — barring a wild pitch, of course. You can’t move the runner from first to second when you fan. And hitting the ball, even if it’s right at a defender, forces him to make a play and could lead to an error. Narron sure doesn’t think that all outs are the same.
“I don’t believe that,” he says. “There’s a lot you can accomplish with two strikes on you. You want to get something out of an at-bat that’s more than just a zero. The only thing you might get out of a strikeout is pushing the pitcher to eight pitches. That’s okay.”
Hitting coaches speak constantly of having a “plan” or “approach” at the plate. That can apply to a team’s macro philosophy of being aggressive against certain pitchers and careful versus others, and it has micro applications based on various hitters’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s okay to swing at strikes early in the count, provided that’s the way to get after a pitcher. Hitters who just rip away at anything may get on base, but their ultimate success depends on being more opportunistic, especially when the count isn’t in their favor.
“The one thing I stress to hitters is that every at-bat is important,” Narron says. “You just can’t give anything away.”
That philosophy doesn’t appeal to all hitters, especially power hitters. They believe the home run is the preferred outcome, even if dinger numbers are dropping all over baseball. Slapping a ball to the opposite field with two strikes isn’t as appealing as jacking one into the fourth deck, even if the risk associated with that approach is high.
Plantier’s Padres were members of the 1,200-strikeout club last year, but he was much happier with his players’ performance at the plate during the season’s second half, once they approached at-bats differently and tried to be more productive each time up.
“We were as big a culprit as there was in the league,” he says of the Padres’ propensity to strike out. “But we started to have better at-bats and improved our contact rate. We made mechanical adjustments and also had better plans at the plate, according to what we needed at that moment in time.”
As 2013 dawns, pitchers have the advantage. They are throwing high-octane fuel at hitters who don’t necessarily care whether they strike out or not, so long as the possibility exists of the magic long ball that made their baseball ancestors stars.
“You’ve got a lot of power guys who aren’t going to change their swings with two strikes,” Jones says. “They’re still trying to drive the ball to the gaps and over the fence.”
If they strike out, they strike out. For many, it’s not a problem.
Until the League Championship Series. Then, it’s a problem.
—By Michael Bradley
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We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the ACC.
(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)
Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the ACC for 2013
1. Florida State
Pros: You can make the argument that Florida State offers all of the positives of Florida without the brutal competition of the SEC East. Would you rather battle Clemson, NC State and Boston College or Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina every year?
Cons: Florida State has a nice following, but its fans can be on the fickle side. Last season, when the Seminoles had legitimate national title ambitions, Doak Campbell was “only” filled to 92 percent capacity. Not bad, but not quite up to standards of most programs of similar stature. Also, the ACC has been relatively weak in recent seasons; an undefeated ACC champ might not automatically play for a national title.
Final Verdict: Florida State enjoyed an unbelievable run of success from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. But the Noles lost five games or more three times from 2006-10. Winning is no longer automatic.
Pros: Clemson is an SEC-like school that has the luxury of playing an ACC schedule. The fans are rabid, the stadium is huge (capacity 81,500), and unlike many its ACC brethren, Clemson is a football school.
Cons: Clemson seemingly has so much going for it, yet the program has only won two ACC titles in the past 24 seasons. If you are a coach interested in the job, you’d have ask yourself the following question: Why is this program a chronic underachiever?
Final Analysis: Clemson presents a great opportunity. The program is a major player in the recruiting game, and it has so many built-in advantages compared to almost every school in the league. The Tigers have the ability to compete for the ACC title on an annual basis.
3. Virginia Tech
Pros: Virginia Tech has a very strong (and underrated) recruiting base, most notably the Hampton Roads-Tidewater area — better known as the ‘757’ by recruiting gurus. The Hokies also have a passionate fan base that creates a tremendous environment at Lane Stadium.
Cons: The school has only been relevant on the national scene under Frank Beamer’s watch. Can another coach recreate the magic?
Final Verdict: Virginia Tech isn’t quite college football royalty, but it’s not far off. Before last season’s 7–6 hiccup, the Hokies had won at least 10 games in at least eight straight seasons. You can win a national title in Blacksburg.
Pros: With the possible exception of USC and UCLA, no school in the country has a better local recruiting base. And while the Canes have struggled in recent years, the program won a national championship as recently as 2001 and played for a title in ’02.
Cons: Miami has the smallest fan base of the top 25 teams on this list. Last season, the Canes ranked 44th in the nation in attendance, averaging 47,719 per game at Sun Life Stadium. The facility is 20 miles from campus and lacks the big-time college football atmosphere.
Final Verdict: Miami is an intriguing job. The recruiting base is outstanding — which gives you a great opportunity to win — but the position lacks many of the other qualities that make coaching at a big-time school so attractive.
5. North Carolina
Pros: The school is an easy sell for a recruiter: It’s is one of the premier public institutions in the nation, and its location, in picturesque Chapel Hill, is ideal. UNC has also made a huge financial commitment to football in the past decade.
Cons: North Carolina is — and always will be — a basketball school. That is something that every football coach must accept. And while the school has enjoyed pockets of success, it’s been difficult to win consistently at UNC. Since Mack Brown bolted for Texas after the 1997 season, the Tar Heels have averaged 3.5 ACC wins.
Final Verdict: North Carolina’s lack of success over the years might surprise even a knowledgeable college football fan. The Tar Heels have not won an ACC Championship since 1980 and have not strung together back-to-back winning ACC seasons since the mid-1990s. Still, this is a desirable position for a coach. It’s a great school that has made a strong commitment to the football program.
Pros: Pittsburgh is located in the heart of Western Pennsylvania, which gives the Panthers a solid recruiting base. The school also shares its football facility with the Pittsburgh Steelers — which can be a positive (NFL influence) or negative (no on-campus stadium).
Cons: It’s been tough to win consistently at Pitt over the past three decades. The Panthers have only had a winning record in 14 of the 29 seasons since Jackie Sherrill bolted.
Final Verdict: Former coach Dave Wannstedt proved that you can attract talent to play at Pittsburgh. But it’s a school with a ceiling. The Panthers should consistently win seven or eight games per season, but can you win a national title? Not likely.
7. North Carolina State
Pros: The facilities at NC State are among the finest in the ACC. The spectacular Murphy Center, a football-only building, houses coaches’ offices, the weight room and dining area for the players, among other things. The school’s recruiting base, the Carolinas and Virginia, is strong.
Cons: The school doesn’t have a strong record of success. NC State hasn’t won an ACC title since 1979 and has had only seven winning league seasons since 1990.
Final Verdict: This program has underachieved over the past decade. Everything is in place — facilities, fan support, recruiting base — to be a consistent winner in the ACC.
Pros: Virginia is great school in a great college town, and the state consistently produces a high number of BCS level recruits.
Cons: The school has a surprisingly bad track record in football. George Welsh had a nice run in the 1980s and 90s, but other than that, the Cavaliers have had a tough time fielding a consistently competitive program. UVa has won a total of two championships (both shared) in its 56 years in the ACC. Recruiting can also be tough at Virginia, based on the school’s relatively tough academic standards.
Final Verdict: This school should be able to be consistently competitive in the ACC. Other than its lack of tradition, everything is seemingly in place to elevate the profile of this program.
9. Georgia Tech
Pros: Georgia is annually one of the top talent-producing states in the nation, giving the Yellow Jackets’ staff an opportunity to land quality recruiting classes despite the fact that the University of Georgia is the top Dawg in the state. Tech has also proven over time that it can win consistently in the ACC; the Jackets have been .500 or better in league play in 19 straight seasons.
Cons: Georgia Tech will always be the second most popular program in its own city, which is probably more of a problem for the school’s fans than its players and coaches. The male-to-female ratio (about 2-to-1) at the school can’t help recruiting, either.
Final Verdict: Georgia Tech might not come to mind when you think about some of the top programs in the nation, but this is a solid football school with underrated tradition. It’s been proven that you can win titles — both ACC (2009, 1998, 1990) and national (1990).
Pros: Maryland has enjoyed pockets of success over the last three decades. Bobby Ross won three straight ACC titles from 1983-85 and Ralph Friedgen went a combined 31–8 from 2001-03, and won eight-plus games in 2008 and 2010. And while it isn’t to the Oregon/Nike level, the school’s close ties with UnderArmour is a positive.
Cons: The impending move to the Big Ten will help the school in many ways, but it might have a negative impact on the football program’s recruiting. Maryland isn’t going to beat out many Big Ten schools for prospects from the Midwest, and the school won’t have the same appeal for many players in the Mid-Atlantic Region and Southeast now that the Terps won’t be playing an ACC schedule.
Final Verdict: Maryland is a lower-tier job in the ACC. And it will be a lower-tier job in the Big Ten. You can win games, but it will be very difficult for any coach to compete for championships in the current landscape.
Pros: As recently as the early 2000s, Syracuse was a top-25 program. The Orangemen, as they were called then, won nine games or more eight times in a 15-year span from 1987-2001. Doug Marrone had the program headed in the right direction before bolting to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Cons: The program has been an afterthought in the past decade, with only two winning seasons since 2001. Support has not been good, either. Last year, when the Orange shared the Big East title, the school ranked 61st nationally in attendance (37,853 per game).
Final Verdict: Syracuse is a tough job. It’s tough to lure recruits from the South, specifically Florida, to upstate New York, and there simply aren’t a lot of top-flight prospects in the Northeast.
12. Boston College
Pros: Boston College was one of the most consistent programs in the nation from the late 1990s through the late 2000s. The Eagles averaged 8.7 wins from ’99-09 and won one Big East title (2004) and two ACC Atlantic Division titles (2007, ’08). The school’s strong academic reputation will allow it to recruit top students from the Northeast who want to remain close to home.
Cons: As the Northernmost outpost in the ACC, Boston College will always have a difficult time recruiting players from outside its region.
Final Verdict: Once the model of consistency, Boston College has slipped to the bottom of the food chain in the ACC. The Eagles went 15–11 in Frank Spaziani’s first two seasons but won four games in 2011 and two in ’12. First-year coach Steve Addazio will have a tough time returning this program to the top half of the league.
13. Wake Forest
Pros: Jim Grobe proved it can be done at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons won 11 games and captured the school’s second-ever ACC title in 2006.
Cons: No one has been able to sustain success at Wake Forest. The program has enjoyed three-straight winning seasons only once (from 2006-08) since the early 1950s.
Final Verdict: The overall strength of the ACC academically doesn’t allow Wake Forest, a small private school, to differentiate itself like programs such as Vanderbilt in the SEC, Northwestern in the Big Ten and Stanford in the Pac-12. If a strong student wants to play football in the ACC, there are several attractive options — North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech — that have better overall football programs.
Pros: Duke has struggled to compete in football for the majority of the past 40 years, but the schools, consistently ranked among the top-10 in the country academically, still has a strong national brand.
Cons: The interest in the football program at Duke is not high — and that is being kind. This past season, the Blue Devils went to a bowl game for the first time since 1994 yet only averaged 28,170 fans per game, ranking 79th in the nation. Temple was the only AQ conference school lower on the list.
Final Verdict: David Cutcliffe has made Duke respectable, but it’s hard to envision this program making much of move in the ACC. The lack of tradition and lack of support make Duke football a tough sell to top recruits.
Related College Football Content
ACC Team Consensus Recruiting Rankings for 2013
College Football's Top 15 Impact JUCO Transfers for 2013
10 True Freshmen Likely to Make an Impact in 2013
Grading College Football's Coaching Hires for 2013
Every fan knows that the annual MLB Draft can be an absolute crapshoot. It can be surprising when a first round produces a surfeit of big-league talent. Of the top 30 picks in the 2003 MLB Draft, 21 reached the majors, and 17 are still active big leaguers. Add four supplemental first-round picks still receiving checks for playing ball, along with late-round gems like Ian Kinsler and Jonny Venters, and you have one pretty productive draft.
Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now!
The NASCAR Sprint Cup season is getting closer by the day, which means it’s time to plan your spring and summer road trips and to name your 2014 Fantasy NASCAR team. While it may be tough to win your league each season, it’s not as difficult to have the best team name. Here’s our list for 2014, in no particular order of awesomeness:
Cloyd Rivers would be proud. Might not want to use the “Team America” distress signal during the race if something goes awry, though, I think Danica does when the car gets out of shape.
FREE JEREMY MAYFIELD
Clearly he was being railroaded and was innocent of all charges, right? After all, most people usually have a tenth of a million dollars in stolen guns, gear and tools at their crib, and have been seen sneaking around semi-truck garages in the wee hours of the morning. Kind of sad when you think about it. If he had just went AJ and said, “I dunno what it was … I thought it was a vitamin,” he’d probably have been back in the sport and sponsored by Octane 93. Oh yeah.
Sounds like somebody was having a $hitty day. Pretty sure that’s what they could have called most of the drivers’ shorts at Michigan last summer when they were barreling into Turn 1 at 220 mph.
LOSING MAKES MY DICK TRICKLE
And there it is. The requisite homage to the late legend of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisc. What’s cooler than a 48-year-old Rookie of the Year who burned heaters under caution and is recognized as the all-time leader in short track wins in North America? Keep in mind that while it may have been Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt who helped bring NASCAR into the national consciousness, it was Dan Patrick on Sportscenter updating the casual fan as to where Dick Trickle finished each week. RIP, DT.
BALLS TO THE WALL ALL THE TIME
I’m going to be honest here: I don’t think this one is funny. I think it’s awesome. Reminds me of the classic, “I’m droppin’ the hammer, Harry!” line from everyone’s favorite racing movie.
THE SUM OF ALL MEARS
That would be a pretty easy one. One. As in, the number of races he’s won (Charlotte, 2007). Kyle Petty finished third in that race. No, it was not 1987. 2007.
THE BIG KESELOWSKI
The Brad Abides – that Sprint Cup really ties the room together. It would be funny if he starts addressing Joey Logano as “Donny.”
Not sure how Trevor would take being tied to a Mormon, which in itself probably conjures up unwholesome imagery. Mitt Romney and Trevor both have something in common: genuinely decent guys who have achieved, yet still haven’t quite got that dream day job.
GREEN EGGS AND HAMLIN
I will not win one with Mike Ford, I will not drive a Honda Accord;
A black Camry will bring me luck, a bottle of Dasani you’ll see me chuck;
Sometimes my back hurts me bad, if only I had a crew chief named Chad!
Okay, some of the content is dated and the rhymn is annoying. The name, however, is clever.
WISE JOHNSONS FEAR BURNING BUSCH
Unless they have a topical ointment. Or penicillin. And by the way, I don’t think this head game is going to work, either.
I may have to join the “Gas Holes” league on principle, as it is both irrelevant and ironic. Or coincidental. Either way, these guys most certainly know their heads from their gas … and know well enough to never trust a road course ringer at Watkins Glen or Sonoma. And no, Marcos is not a road course ringer just because he excels there. He’s a full-time driver in the series and Richard Petty Motorsports’ most prolific wheelman since Kasey Kahne bailed after his brakes failed in Charlotte. Speaking of which …
AMBROSE BEFORE HO
If only all guys followed this advice. Though we’d understand if Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rejected this notion, as he has done quite nicely for himself of late. Not that DP is of questionable morals. Ugh, we’re already getting sidetracked here and in a topsy-turvy world — which would make sense since Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere. Or is it Tasmania that Marcos is from? Hold on, can hemispheres go north and south, too, or just east and west? Because road courses go left and right … right? I smell waffles.
A COUNTRY GAL KAHNE SURVIVE
The shear number of Fantasy NASCAR team names devoted to the boyish good looks of one Kasey Kenneth Kahne only reaffirms the volume of anonymous cougars lurking on the ‘net.
UPS = UGLY PAINT SCHEME
This had to have been created in the Dale Jarrett days. Why on earth did UPS wait until the very end of its run to paint the cars totally brown — particularly during its “Big Brown Truck” marketing campaign? UPS may run the tightest ship in the shipping business, but its car’s paint job was so uninspired that they should have just colored it beige. When it finally did go brown, UPS saw fit to throw yellow on it, too … and that didn’t help matters. So sad that the once-iconic No. 6 car — which had some of the best paint schemes ever during the Valvoline/Mark Martin era — went into mothballs clad in doo doo brown.
A LITTLE ON THE HIGH SIDE
Another classic double entendre that, at its core, was created by a couple guys sitting on the couch saying, “Dude, don’t bogart those Dale Jr. Carolina Barbeque chips.”
THE NEED FOR SCOTT SPEED
Combining “Top Gun” and NASCAR?! Why didn’t anyone think of this before? Oh wait …
BLANEY’S GOT A GUN
So long as Steven Tyler isn’t asked to perform the National Anthem prior to a race, we're OK with the Aerosmith/NASCAR cross-reference — although it couldn’t get any worse than Scott Stapp or Brett Michaels. That said, Joe ’Effin’ Perry going Hendrix on the Anthem? There’s potential there.
2 LBS IN THE REAR GOT HER LOOSE
Hey ohh!!! Now it’s a party! What, “Slipping In a Rubber” didn’t want any of that? We should probably just quit while we’re ahead on this one.
“Mikey, you may have been the worst driver in NASCAR, but you were the best brake pad salesman in Sandusky!”
“Are they built for speed or comfort? What'd you do with them? Motorboat? You play the motorboat? Blrlrlrlbbb … You motorboatin' son of a bitch. You old sailor, you!” I’d bet $20 this guy isn’t really into Unlimited Hydroplane, and would be disappointed to find out who Miss Budweiser really is.
DOG THE LABONTE HUNTER
This might be my favorite name on the list from the Big Island … or anywhere else, Brah. The name is appropriate on many levels. I think Dog, Leland and Bobby Brown stopped being relevant about the same time Bobby Labonte exited the No. 18 car. At least we don’t have to worry about Texas Terry or BLab sprouting an Aqua-Net saturated pompadour of feathered magnificence. Or exposing taco meat from his firesuit following a race. Labonte’s coming stint in the No. 52 car will be about as dangerous to Victory Lane as Dog and Beth are to armed felons with their array of paintball guns, pepper spray and Beth’s fingerless Lady Classics. That said, they are some of the last ties to NASCAR’s past. Best of luck this season, guys. Go with Christ, Brah.
This one is definitely an old school NASCAR fan well-versed in the Gospel according to Gant and his Skoal Bandit. Harry Gant’s No. 33 was as iconic of a machine during the mid- ’80s as the Coors Thunderbird or that yellow and blue Wrangler Monte. Mr. September rewrote the record books when he reeled off a record-tying four in a row at the tender age of 51. It’s doubtful that Handsome Harry would ever suffer such a condition, though. After all, what other driver do you know that keeps in shape by running bundles up a ladder all day in the Carolina summer heat?
2 GIRLS 1 SPRINT CUP
Wow. Way to keep it classy, although expertly executed at staying timely and relevant. I’m 99 percent sure that isn’t a girls’ team, despite the obvious attempt at subterfuge. Hopefully they’ll be going up against “Stew(art) Let The Dogs Out” during the Chase later this year.
Oh hi, Ingrid.
ME SO HORNISH
This one is fantastic. It was created nearly five years ago, but stands the test of time — a true testament to its subtle genius and nod to Kubrick’s Vietnam War classic. Or 2 Live Crew. Either way, by the time you have finished reading this, “Oh me so Hoooornish, Oh-oh me so Hornish …” will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.
RELATED: 50 Funny Fantasy Football Team Names
The 2013 college baseball season will soon be underway. To prep readers, Athlon Sports looks at college baseball's preseason Top 25.
Fax machines aren’t the only thing dusted off and put to use on national signing day.
After the letters had been signed and the faxes sent, 125 FBS coaches headed to their press conferences and all were in agreement: This year’s class is great, it fills needs, and it will be best judged later, and not by star rankings.
"Every coach around the country says they like their class, but I really do like our class,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeil said.
Or was it Nick Saban? Or Lane Kiffin? Or Charlie Weis? Or Chris Petersen?
“This is always like Christmas to me,” new Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said.
Yep, a Christmas with no coal, neckties or socks. We’re all getting that video game system or drum kit or bicycle we wanted.
Here, we've compiled a sampling of the signing day coaching cliches from yesterday’s press conferences. A few caveats, though: We didn’t count coaches thanking assistants and support staff (really, you’d have to kinda be a jerk not to). We also didn’t count coaches who talked about “filling needs.”
Also, many coaches used multiple signing day cliches, sometime within the same sentence. We applaud their efficiency, but we’re only taking one cliche per coach.
BEST CLASS EVER
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: “I think today has the possibility of being a program changer.”
James Franklin, Vanderbilt: “This is our best class.”
Doc Holliday, Marshall: “There’s no doubt we’re better personnel-wise than we’ve been since I’ve been here.”
June Jones, SMU: "We think as coaches this is our best-looking class physically, along with our best athletically at all positions, since coming to SMU.”
Curtis Johnson, Tulane: "This is a special class, a dream class for us."
Bob Davie, New Mexico: “I think the word is out. You go around and it's kind of amazing ... that New Mexico and Albuquerque are kind of hidden gems.”
Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette: “It will grade out as the most-talented class in school history, but the true test of their quality will be determined on the field in two or three years.”
Dennis Franchionie, Texas State: “This is the best class that we have been able to sign here.”
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Lane Kiffin, USC: “This is certainly a class of quality over quantity.”
Larry Fedora, North Carolina: “Quality over quantity is the way I like to talk about it.”
JUDGE THIS CLASS LATER
Nick Saban, Alabama: “We had a good recruiting year, but again I think it's hard to make predictions about the guys you recruited today, and where they are going to be two or three years from now.”
Will Muschamp, Florida: You can pull out your tape recorders from the previous two years and we will know about this class in two or three years.”
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: “It's not really where you come in at, it's where you finish.”
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech: “I think this will go down as an outstanding recruiting class. Time will tell, but I really like the athletic ability in this class and the size in our linemen.”
Tony Levine, Houston: “We redshirted about 20 freshmen last season and when you speculate a recruiting class, you can't fairly answer who I going to stand out until a few years down the road. You need to let the class play out.”
Bill Snyder, Kansas State: “As we've always maintained, it takes several years to accurately assess the quality of a recruiting class and the young men who represent it.”
Mack Brown, Texas: “We need to evaluate this class four or five years from now and see who is playing. A lot of times perception is not reality with these guys.”
Norm Chow, Hawaii: “We need to temper our enthusiasm and reserve judgment on this class until 2-3 years from now.”
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: “You definitely need to wait a few years before you can evaluate a recruiting class.”
REFERENCES TO THE STAR RANKINGS
Brian Polian, Nevada: “These guys are what we are looking for here. The star system and the rankings mean nothing to us.”
Todd Graham, Arizona State: “A team is not just about talent. It's not just about how many stars a person has and what you see out there.”
Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky: “We don’t go out placing an emphasis on rankings or stars, but we go out trying to find the right guys that will fit our system, and I believe that we were able to do that.”
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan: “I think all of these kids are football players, period. You take all of the rankings and the ‘stars’ out of it and you look at the tape and we needed to find football players. That is what we found.”
PLAYERS WHO FIT OUR PROGRAM
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: “I think for the most part we fit most of the needs that we felt were important. And most importantly I think we found players that we feel are going to fit our program.”
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: "We as a staff are confident we've signed a group of young men who are tremendous fits for our program athletically, academically and socially.”
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest: “Lots of guys who love to play football and are really good football players who fit at Wake Forest.”
Justin Fuente, Memphis: “I think it's another step in the right direction to building our football program.”
Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut: “What we're trying to do in building the program, and it's hard to do it overnight, we're trying to recruit pro-type size guys.”
Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky: “These coaches wanted to be here and these players wanted to be here. That's what it's going to take to build this program - a bunch of guys that want to chase greatness."
Paul Haynes, Kent State: “We wanted to get our kind of guys. And that's what we got."
Sonny Dykes, Cal: "We made a concerted and successful effort to sign both the best players we could and also the student-athletes that we thought would be the best fits at Cal.”
KIDS WITH CHARACTER
Les Miles, LSU: "I think it has quality and players with good character and integrity.”
Tim Beckman, Illinois: “We were able to add quality depth at several positions and upgraded the total athleticism of the team across the board.”
Bo Pelini, Nebraska: “I’m excited about this class, I think it adds a lot to our football team, not only with talented football players but tremendous young men, a lot of character type of kids that I want to coach, and kids we want to represent our university, the state and our fans.”
Bill O’Brien, Penn State: “This is a group of high character kids who are tough, go to class and do things the right way.”
Sean Kugler, UTEP: “We feel like we not only added some outstanding football players, but some outstanding student-athletes with strong character.”
Charlie Strong, Louisville: “It is key that we recruit character – young men that want to be a part of something special – height, speed, football awareness, toughness – that’s what’s critical when we go out to recruit.”
Scott Shafer, Syracuse: "I'm really excited about this class because it represents high character men who really love that game of football and treat it with respect.”
Pete Lembo, Ball State: ”We have added a lot of talent to our roster with this class, but perhaps more importantly, we are surrounding ourselves with some terrific leaders and charismatic personalities.”
Jeff Quinn, Buffalo: “What stood out most to me with the entire signing class of 2013, was the fact that these are tremendous leaders and winners.”
Dan Enos, Central Michigan: “It is a group of gifted, high character, and hard-working individuals that will contribute to our program on the football field.”
Matt Campbell, Toledo: “From top to bottom, this is a class of high-caliber players who have high-caliber character.”
GETTING MORE ATHLETIC, FASTER, BIGGER, STRONGER
David Shaw, Stanford: “When you look at our 2013 class, you will see size. You will see athleticism. You will see toughness.”
Kyle Whittingham, Utah: “We definitely feel we became a bigger, faster football team with this recruiting class.”
Bill Blankenship, Tulsa: “With this class, we are excited about getting more athletic and just recruiting really good football players. Overall, we felt like we needed to continue to get bigger and faster, and when I say bigger, I really mean taller and longer. Those athletes with length have an opportunity to grow into being much bigger players."
George O’Leary, UCF: “The three key elements that we looked for was obviously range, speed and versatility”
Rod Carey, Northern Illinois: "Overall, when you look at this class, it's dominated by skill, which it should be. The skill has power and speed and that's what I love about it. Every guy that's fast is powerful and every guy that's powerful has good speed."
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State: “Without everyone pulling together and without the use of airplanes it would be difficult to put a class like this together.”
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: “We really addressed some of the major needs that we needed.”
Garrick McGee, UAB: “They were recruiting guys that were very highly recruited. There were teams in our area that were after these players and our coaching staff had to stay firm on the things that we believe in. There was a lot of negative recruiting going on, and I want to give our coaching staff credit for sticking to our principles.”
MOMENTS OF CANDOR
Urban Meyer, Ohio State: “Our first year together as a coaching staff last year did not count because that was not a coaching staff. That was a bunch of guys coming together like a bunch of gypsies trying to find players anywhere we could find them. We did pretty good.”
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: “The only thing I know, back in 2008, I think Florida had the No. 1 class, and two years later that No. 1 class drove Urban Meyer to retirement. Of course, he came back a year later and he's an excellent coach, but I know later there were comments that that No. 1 class just didn't pan out. Of course, it usually pans out at Alabama every year. But, again, recruiting is extremely important, but after they get there is really what's most important.
Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati: “I’m going to start teaching a class on how to sign a recruiting class in 30 days. I think I’ve done it three or four times now, but it doesn’t get any easier.”
Players who make it to the Super Bowl in 2013 can expect a super-sized bonus. The winning players—from either the San Francisco 49ers or Baltimore Ravens—in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Feb. 3, 2013, will each receive a massive paycheck to the tune of $88,000, while each member of the losing team will earn $44,000. How does that compare to Super Bowls of the past? Here's a look at the winners' and losers' share from every Super Bowl in the past 46 years.
Super Bowl Date Winner (Share) Loser (Share)
XLVI 2-5-12 New York Giants ($88,000) New England ($44,000)
XLV 2-6-11 Green Bay ($83,000) Pittsburgh ($42,000)
XLIV 2-7-10 New Orleans ($83,000) Indianapolis ($42,000)
XLIII 2-1-09 Pittsburgh ($78,000) Arizona ($40,000)
XLII 2-3-08 N.Y. Giants ($78,000) New England ($40,000)
XLI 2-4-07 Indianapolis ($73,000) Chicago ($38,000)
XL 2-5-06 Pittsburgh ($73,000) Seattle ($38,000)
XXXIX 2-6-05 New England ($68,000) Philadelphia ($36,500)
XXXVIII 2-1-04 New England ($68,000) Carolina (36,500)
XXXVII 1-26-03 Tampa Bay ($63,000) Oakland ($35,000)
XXXVI 2-3-02 New England ($63,000) St. Louis ($34,500)
XXXV 1-28-01 Baltimore ($58,000) N.Y. Giants ($34,500)
XXXIV 1-30-00 St. Louis ($58,000) Tennessee ($33,000)
XXXIII 1-31-99 Denver ($53,000) Atlanta ($32,500)
XXXII 1-25-98 Denver ($48,000) Green Bay ($29,000)
XXXI 1-26-97 Green Bay ($48,000) New England ($29,000)
XXX 1-28-96 Dallas ($42,000) Pittsburgh ($27,000)
XXIX 1-29-95 San Francisco ($42,000) San Diego ($26,000)
XXVIII 1-30-94 Dallas ($38,000) Buffalo ($23,500)
XXVII 1-31-93 Dallas ($36,000) Buffalo ($18,000)
XXVI 1-26-92 Washington ($36,000) Buffalo ($18,000)
XXV 1-27-91 N.Y. Giants ($36,000) Buffalo ($18,000)
XXIV 1-28-90 San Francisco ($36,000) Denver ($18,000)
XXIII 1-22-89 San Francisco ($36,000) Cincinnati ($18,000)
XXII 1-31-88 Washington ($36,000) Denver ($18,000)
XXI 1-25-87 N.Y. Giants ($36,000) Denver ($18,000)
XX 1-26-86 Chicago ($36,000) New England ($18,000)
XIX 1-20-85 San Francisco ($36,000) Miami ($18,000)
XVIII 1-22-84 L.A. Raiders ($36,000) Washington ($18,000)
XVII 1-30-83 Washington ($36,000) Miami ($18,000)
XVI 1-24-82 San Francisco ($18,000) Cincinnati ($9,000)
XV 1-25-81 Oakland ($18,000) Philadelphia ($9,000)
XIV 1-20-80 Pittsburgh ($18,000) Los Angeles ($9,000)
XIII 1-21-79 Pittsburgh ($18,000) Dallas ($9,000)
XII 1-15-78 Dallas ($18,000) Denver ($9,000)
XI 1-9-77 Oakland ($15,000) Minnesota ($7,500)
X 1-18-76 Pittsburgh ($15,000) Dallas ($7,500)
IX 1-12-75 Pittsburgh ($15,000) Minnesota ($7,500)
VIII 1-13-74 Miami ($15,000) Minnesota ($7,500)
VII 1-14-73 Miami ($15,000) Washington ($7,500)
VI 1-16-72 Dallas ($15,000) Miami ($7,500)
V 1-17-71 Baltimore ($15,000) Dallas ($7,500)
IV 1-11-70 Kansas City ($15,000) Minnesota ($7,500)
III 1-12-69 N.Y. Jets ($15,000) Baltimore ($7,500)
II 1-14-68 Green Bay ($15,000) Oakland ($7,500)
I 1-15-67 Green Bay ($15,000) Kansas City ($7,500)
Beyonce will take the stage at halftime for a reunion with Destiny's Child and possibly even a duet with her husband, Jay-Z. This isn't Beyonce's first Super Bowl, however; she sang the national anthem prior to kickoff of Super Bowl XXXVIII in her hometown of Houston.
Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.
It's nearly time for Super Bowl XLVII—aka Super Bowl 2013, Super Bowl 47, and the big game—between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. So what time does the Super Bowl start? Well, we have that and more for you:
NEW ORLEANS—I am at the Super Bowl — No. XV for me — and I’m pretty sure I have seen it all. Well, maybe not “all” but over the years I’ve seen Gilbert Gottfried shouting at Bill Belichick, a Brazilian woman in a wedding dress proposing to Tom Brady, Michael Strahan singing, and this guy (pictured right) who defies description.
Unless a nagging ankle injury sidelines him, Baltimore linebacker Dannell Ellerbe should line up next to Ray Lewis when the Ravens’ defense takes the field in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday. An undrafted free agent out of Georgia who signed with the Ravens following the 2009 NFL Draft, Ellerbe has asserted and established himself in his fourth pro season.
Besides working his way into the starting lineup, Ellerbe posted a career-high 92 tackles during the regular season, finishing second on the team in that category, to go along with 4.5 sacks (tied for third). Even though Ellerbe’s been dealing with an ankle injury and a back issue, he hasn’t let either malady take him off of the field during the playoffs. He collected nine tackles in Baltimore’s wins over Indianapolis and Denver, and picked up his first interception of the season against New England quarterback Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game.
With the biggest game of his NFL career set to kick off on Sunday, Ellerbe sat down with Athlon Sports earlier this week to talk about the Ravens’ remarkable postseason run, playing alongside a Hall of Fame linebacker, his impressions of his own quarterback, the Super Bowl matchup with San Francisco and more.
What has the past week been like for you and your teammates?
“It’s crazy man, at the beginning of the week you have to put in for rooms and get tickets in line for everyone. It’s a headache getting all of that in line, but this is my first Super Bowl so I want my family to come, and I want them to come and want to get them down there. As far as practice goes, I haven’t been practicing this week because of injuries, but you want to get most of your work done here, before you get down there and give away what you are practicing, and getting most of our work in now so when we get down there we can polish up what we have don. Going forward, this week I’m gonna be in my playbook studying up, but now I’ve just been getting my family straight and all the tickets and rooms in line and rehabbing a lot. It’s busy.”
Is the preparation for this game any different?
“It hasn’t been really different, I wanna treat this like a regular game, I don’t want to be like ‘Oh man, it’s the Super Bowl’ and freak out. I’m just staying lighthearted about it and going about it like a regular season game, and don’t wanna get caught up in the superstitions, and just go out there and have fun like I have been doing all year.”
What has the atmosphere been like in Baltimore this past month on the path to the Super Bowl?
“Oh man, I saw a picture after we beat Denver and there were so many people downtown, it was crazy. At the radio show the fans come out and fans are calling in and the fans are outstanding. It’s just a great time to be in Baltimore right now.”
How much of a challenge will it be facing a guy like Colin Kaepernick, and his unique skill set on Sunday?
“It’s always difficult when you face a dual-threat quarterback. Not only do you have to worry about him throwing the ball, you have to worry about him taking off and running it, or vice versa. I would rather face a pocket passer, because that’s a headache in itself. When you have everyone covered a pocket passer will throw it out of bounds, but a guy that is fast and can take off and run makes it hard. You can’t run too much man defense and you have to spy. It’s tough, but we faced some guys this year like RGIII and Andrew Luck, and Mike Vick, so we know about them.”
Your quarterback isn't mentioned with the Peyton Mannings and Tom Bradys of the world, but Joe Flacco has an impressive resume in his time in the league. What makes him so good under pressure?
“The more experience he has been getting the better he has been doing, and the offensive line is doing a hell of a job blocking for him. You can tell he is comfortable in the pocket right now and he’s not looking to scramble. You can tell when the timer goes off in his head. I mean its just ‘Joe Cool.’ That’s his nickname around here, because you can never tell if he is flustered or not, he just has that nonchalant attitude, but is cool under pressure.”
You've played with Ray Lewis now for four years. Has his approach changed since coming back from injury and announcing his retirement?
“His approach has been a little more intense, if that’s possible, but I mean he has pretty much stayed the same. I feel like he is upping it a little bit more, because this is his last ride, so you know this is it for him. But he is staying true to his self and bringing the same work ethic. He always puts his all into it, but he is definitely putting everything he has into it now.”
What has he taught you about being an NFL linebacker? And how is it playing alongside a Hall of Famer like Ray?
“I just want to start off saying that it’s a blessing to play beside a guy like Ray Lewis, arguably the best inside linebacker to ever play the game. A guy that’s gonna be a Hall of Famer no doubt about it, great character, Christian guy. As far as what I have learned from him, I have just learned how to watch film a certain way and look for certain things when watching film. The first thing he told me when I got here was treat football like a business, come to work do your job, go home and just do your job, because it is a business, and keep my body fresh and how to take care of my body. There’s just so much I have learned from him, always take notes and learn all the little tools, so you can be a step ahead of everyone else.”
Has it sunk in that you are a part of the defense that beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the road to get to the Super Bowl?
“I’m not sure, because of everything I’m going through with these tickets and rehab. I am definitely aware that these two quarterbacks are going to be Hall of Famers, and with how our defense played earlier in the year and with all the scrutiny our defense we went through a lot. So for us to come back at the end when it really mattered and play great, and to hold them [Patriots] to 13 points is just crazy. It’s awesome.”
Is there one specific play or moment that you will forever remember from this run through the playoffs?
“Definitely my interception against the Broncos, it basically sealed the game. You know what I’m saying, they were driving to get some points, and I will always remember because I had the cast on my hand and the ball got tipped at the line and it looked like a punt and I felt like I was in a movie. The ball was coming down so slow man, it was crazy, it was a play I will never forget, plus I will never forget any of my picks. I remember all of them like it was yesterday. I’m gonna try and get me one in this Super Bowl hopefully.”
—by Blake Southerland
Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the greatest hitter and pitcher of the “Steroid Era,” headlined a group of 37 players eligible for the Class of 2013 in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But for the first time since 1996, zero players were immortalized by baseball writers in the museum at Cooperstown, N.Y.
Beyonce will take the stage at halftime for a reunion with Destiny's Child and possibly even a duet with her husband, Jay-Z. This isn't Beyonce's first Super Bowl, however; she sang the national anthem prior to kickoff of Super Bowl XXXVIII in her hometown of Houston.
Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.
The stars of Super Bowl XLVII are easy to pick out. Joe Flacco, the Ravens quarterback, has been playing out of his mind. Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers quarterback, has played like he’s been around for a decade. Ray Lewis is the emotional center of the Ravens, just like Patrick Willis is for the 49ers. Frank Gore and Ray Rice, the running backs are the engines that make their offenses go.
It’s a good bet that one of those six will be the star of the Super Bowl when the Baltimore Ravens play the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday night. And it’s a good bet that all of them will make a big play somewhere in the game. But the harder bet is to find the unsung hero. Who will be the guy, like Mario Manningham a year ago, to step out of the shadows and make the play of the game?
The beauty of it is it could be anybody. But here are six guys – three for each team — that may be flying under your radar, but that should have the opportunity to make a big difference at some point in the game:
Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin
Torrey Smith is the No. 1 receiver on this team, but Boldin hasn’t exactly faded into aging, possession receiver territory. He may be 32, but he’s taken advantage of some open space and single coverage in the playoffs by catching 16 passes in three games for 276 yards and three touchdowns. By far the team’s leading receiver, he had two touchdowns in the AFC championship game and he’s not likely to get any extra attention as long as Smith is on the other side.
Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta
He doesn’t fit into the Ravens’ offense the way Todd Heap used to fit, and his numbers are decent, but not great in an era of explosive tight ends. But he’s a sneaky weapon, way down the list behind Smith, Boldin, Rice and probably one or two others. Witness his 7 catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 15 game against Denver for proof of what he can do. He also has two touchdowns in the playoffs. Lose track of him, and he can make a defense pay.
49ers running back LaMichael James
The emergence of Colin Kaepernick and his ability to run has really diminished the need for a second running back and LaMichael James is an extreme situational player. But he had five runs for 34 yards in the NFC championship game and his 15-yard touchdown run was an incredible combination of burst and speed. When he gets going, he’s like a cannonball, which makes him always one broken tackle away from a game-changing play.
49ers receiver Randy Moss
There was a time not that long ago that Moss was still the most dangerous player on most fields he was on. Now, he’s a bit player in the 49ers offense. The bigger threats are Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Gore. But the Ravens will overlook Moss at their own peril. He has five catches for 71 yards in two playoff games, but he’s still got the size, skill and hands to make big plays. Maybe the consistent speed isn’t there, but all it takes is one big catch to change a game.
Ravens running back Bernard Pierce
This running game belongs to Rice, but the speed and shiftiness of the Ravens’ starter puts the defense on its heels and allows the 6-foot, 218-pound Pierce to come in and knock them over. A very effective 2 in the 1-2 punch, the rookie has only had 27 carries through three playoff games, but he’s rushed for 169 yards – or 6.3 yards per carry. He’s a threat to break a big run if the defense isn’t on its toes, and he can wear them down while Rice gets a breather on the sidelines.
49ers return man Ted Ginn Jr.
He has been solid but unspectacular in the playoffs, until a 20-yard return to the Atlanta 38 put the 49ers in position for the game-winning touchdown last week. He still has the skills and speed to break a big return and he needs to be contained by the Ravens. And if you doubt his importance, just remember what happened in the NFC championship game last season, when Ginn was injured and his replacement, Kyle Williams, literally fumbled away a trip to Super Bowl XLVI.
By RALPH VACCHIANO
Super Bowl media day is usually pretty boring. It's full of pat answers and tired cliches. But every once in a while, someone breaks the monotony and actually says or does something interesting. Here are ten of the best (or at least most notable) media day moments in Super Bowl history.
This one barely squeaks in, because there was no media day back then, and the game wasn't even called the Super Bowl yet. But Fred "The Hammer" Williamson set the bar for subsequent game-week trash talk, vowing to inflict harm on Packer receivers Boyd Dowler and Carroll Dale. "Two hammers to Dowler, one to Dale should be enough," he said. Sadly, Fred was on the business end of a hammer himself: He got knocked cold by the knee of Packers guard Gale Gillingham.
Cowboys running back Duane Thomas was a man of so few words that he was known as the Sphinx. Prior to Super Bowl VI, he sat silently through media day, never uttering a single word, part of a year-long media boycott. The previous year, though, Thomas had made a pertinent observation about the Super Bowl: "If it's the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?"
Dallas linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson offered up a memorable assessment of Terry Bradshaw's mental acuity, or lack thereof: "He couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the c and the a." Bradshaw proved he could spell TD, or at least toss them - four of them, in fact, in Pittsburgh's 35-31 win. "I didn't say he couldn't play," Henderson said afterwards. "Just that he couldn't spell."
Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett grew up in a household with blind parents, one of whom died when Plunkett was at Stanford. On Media Day, one intrepid reporter wanted to make sure he had his facts straight. He shouted: "Jimmy, Jimmy, I want to make sure I have this right. Was it dead mother, blind father or blind mother, dead father?"
The Super Bowl media day that produced an urban legend — the Doug Williams "How long have you been a black quarterback" myth — did have an entertaining moment when notoriously under-educated Redskins defensive lineman Dexter Manley vowed to "catch the quarterback and hit him from behind, in between his two numbers, and cut his lights out." Reporters took the opportunity to remind him that John Elway wore No. 7.
The international nature of the Super Bowl, and the lack of football savvy among some of its international followers, was driven home at media day prior to the Niners-Bengals matchup when a Japanese reporter asked Joe Montana, "Why do they call you Boomer?"
Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan was so intent on proving that his Falcons didn't mind being underdogs to the Broncos that he wore a dog collar to media day, where he ripped Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe for being "an ugly dude" who looked like Mr. Ed (I think he was mixing him up with John Elway).
All this led to a hilarious back-and-forth between the two.
"Is he my friend? No," Sharpe said. "Did I ever view him as a friend? No. Did I ever view him as an acquaintance? No. Do I like him? No. If I see him in a snowstorm, his truck is broke down, mine is going perfectly, do I pick him up? No."
Buchanan's reply: "Shannon just runs his mouth saying anything, so we don't need to pay attention to him. He'd better watch out for himself, because he might get knocked out like he did that last game. We're not a team that's going to go out on the field and pull up our skirts and show our panties. I'm not saying we wear panties, but I'm saying we can't go out there and play like females and win the game."
Over to you, Shannon: "Tell Ray to put the eyeliner, the lipstick and the high heels away. I'm not saying he's a cross-dresser, but that's just what I heard."
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu took the opportunity of media day to thank "Entertainment Tonight" for giving him a "Best Hair" award, adding, "I'd like to thank Pantene Pro V, or anyone else who wants to send me free shampoo and conditioner."
TV Azteca's Ines Gomez Mont showed up at media day in a wedding gown and asked several players to marry her, including Tom Brady. During Brady's press conference, she shouted out, "I'm the real Miss Brady." Brady, who was busy juggling Gisele Bundchen and Bridget Moynihan, replied, "I've got a few Miss Bradys in my life."
A year after being involved in an incident at a Super Bowl party that resulted in two stabbing deaths, Ray Lewis showed up for Super Bowl XXXV and addressed the inevitable questions about the incident. "Yes I got money. Yes, I'm black and yes, I'm blessed," Lewis told the crowd. "But at the same time, let's find out the real truth. The real truth is [this] was never about those two kids that's dead in the street. This is about Ray Lewis." Okay then.
What major league pitcher hit the most home runs?
It wasn’t so long ago that the star of Super Bowl Sunday was a talking frog. Or a dancing monkey. Or Cindy Crawford enjoying a refreshing cola.
For a stretch of time that lasted more than a decade, the only suspense after kickoff of the Super Bowl came from anticipating the next clever commercial. More often than not, the actual game was over before it even started.
From 1984-97, in particular, the Super Bowl morphed into a near-annual blowout—anything but a battle between the NFL’s two best teams. During that period of time, the average margin of victory was an obscene 21.4 points and nine of the 14 games were decided by more than two touchdowns.
But a funny thing has happened this millennium. The focus has shifted back to football thanks to a series of tight contests, each more compelling than the next. Since 2000, only two Super Bowls have been decided by more than 14 points, while eight games have ended with a one-score differential. Three others—Super Bowl XL (Steelers-Seahawks), XLI (Colts-Bears) and XLIV (Saints-Colts)—also featured one-score margins at some point in the fourth quarter.
Clearly, it seems, something has changed in a drastic way to make the NFL’s title game far more competitive. Except that’s not actually the case.
A common refrain is that the tighter Super Bowl scores are a byproduct of the NFL’s salary cap. The timing makes sense—the cap came into place in 1994, which was the tail end of the blowout era. And the cap’s reason for existence is tied largely to ensuring competitive balance, so a closer Super Bowl would appear to be the perfect manifestation of that goal.
But that’s not consistent with the way the NFL has changed since ’94. Instead, according to Aaron Schatz, who runs Football Outsiders, a popular advanced metrics website, parity has actually declined in the salary cap era. “In general, the best teams have been coming in stronger each year, while the worst teams have been worse and worse, using our advanced stats,” Schatz says.
So how, then, do we explain the Super Bowl shift? It’s actually the product of two factors. First and foremost, time has allowed us to see the 1984-97 period as a statistical outlier. It’s abnormal for any team to beat another by 20-plus points in any game, let alone when two top teams spar in the Super Bowl. The string of blowouts, not the recent stretch of close games, is the real story, because Super Bowls prior to 1984 also tended to be more competitive. What happened in the ’80s and ’90s was unnatural.
The blowouts weren’t all the product of random chance, though. “We all know the NFC was much better than the AFC throughout the ’80s,” Schatz says. Indeed, the dominant teams of that era were the 49ers, Giants and Redskins, with the Cowboys joining the mix in the ’90s. Facing the AFC champion (often the Broncos or Bills) often turned out to be a breeze compared to surviving the NFC gauntlet. But that still doesn’t mean the outcomes should have been so one-sided.
This year, though, appears headed in the other direction. According to Schatz, this season featured more close games than any in NFL history. Sure, in time we will probably see that as nothing more than a statistical outlier, too. But if you’re into omens, it bodes well for Feb. 3.
At what age do NFL players start drawing their pensions?
Who is considered the best athlete-turned-musician? I think it is one of these three: Wayman Tisdale (jazz), Shaquille O’Neal (rap) or Bernie Williams (soft jazz). What do you say?
Thomas De Thaey played 22 career games for the NC State Wolfpack. He averaged 1.7 points per game before transferring out of Raleigh in November of 2012.
He was obviously watching the Wolfpack get upset by a mediocre Wake Forest team on Tuesday night because this is what he thought of the performance by his former team and head coach Mark Gottfried the next morning:
That's what happens when you're a great recruiter, but a terrible coach!— Thomas De Thaey (@de_thaeyGOPACK) January 23, 2013
It's not some revolutionary idea that a former player would be upset with his former head coach.
Here comes the kicker. It appears as though current NC State freshman forward T.J. Warren retweeted it. No, it wasn't an original tweet but a retweet is essentially the same thing and is certainly can be considered an endorsement of Thomas De Thaey's thoughts.
Imagine a former employee at your company blatantly insulting your boss to which you respond with a public endorsement of said insult?
Anyone think that makes any sense at all? How much would you pay to be a fly on the wall in that team meeting?
Warren has, not surprisingly, since deleted his tweet but Athlon Sports has the evidence:
NFL scouts, coaches, administrators and support staff have converged on Mobile for the Senior Bowl. The draft is still a few months away, but this week’s events in Mobile are a huge opportunity for teams to get acquainted with the prospects, along with evaluation of their skills against top competition.
Senior Bowl News and Notes
The Senior Bowl is under new management this year. Phil Savage spoke to the crowd before weigh-ins began and pointed out several interesting roster-affecting items.
First, seven players flatly turned down a Senior Bowl invitation. Among them, Alabama’s Chance Warmack (OG), West Virginia’s Geno Smith (QB), Wisconsin’s Montee Ball (RB) and the now infamous Manti Te’o of Notre Dame (LB).
Twelve players were extended invitations but could not attend due to injuries which have not healed to the point that they could safely or effectively participate.
Of greater interest is the fact that five players had to pull out within the past 72 hours because of new injuries which occurred (ideally) because of preparatory workouts. Included in this group is West Virginia’s Tavon Austin (RB/WR), Florida’s Jonathan Bostic (LB), Southern Cal’s Khaled Holmes (OC) and South Carolina’s DJ Swearinger (FS).
Of the players who reported, here is a list of the outliers:
Lightest player: Onterio McCalebb (RB/RS), Auburn - 164 pounds (5’ 10 1/8” tall).
Shortest player: Robbie Rouse (RB), Fresno State – 5’5 7/8” (186 pounds)
Heaviest player: D.J. Fluker (OT), Alabama – 355 pounds (6’4 7/8” tall)
Tallest Player: Margus Hunt (DL), SMU – 6’8 1/4” (277 pounds)
Dynamic Duo: Rutgers placed two linebackers on the North’s roster (Steve Beauharnais and Khaseem Greene) and they weighed exactly the same (236 pounds).
Harvard has not been a recent pipeline of talent into the NFL. However, it did register a player on this year’s roster. The Crimson supplied the North’s only fullback – Kyle Juszczyk (6’ 1 3/8” 248).
Crimson Tide Well Represented
The reigning National Champions have five players on this year’s South roster: D.J. Fluker, OT (6’ 4 7/8” 355); Nico Johnson, LB (6’ 1 7/8”, 249); Robert Lester, S (6’ 1 1/4” 212); Carson Tinker, LS (6’ 0 1/8”, 231); and Michael Williams, TE (6’ 5 3/4 “, 269).
Every year, the Senior Bowl gives players from smaller schools a chance to shine against the best of the best from the BCS schools. This year’s small school participants include: Robert Alford (DB), Southeastern La. (5’ 9 7/8” 186); Garrett Gilkey (OL), Chadron State (6’ 5 7/8” 314); Montori Hughes (DL), Tennessee-Martin (late addition – did not attend weigh in); Aaron Mellette (WR), Elon (6’ 2 1/2 “ 216); Ty Powell (LB), Harding U. (late addition – did not attend weigh in); B.W. Webb (DB), William & Mary (5’ 10 1/4”, 183); and Brandon Williams (DL), Missouri Southern (6’ 1 7/8” 341).
North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon, Miami (Ohio)’s Zac Dysert and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib are the signal-callers for the North. They have been taking equal reps at practice. Yesterday’s rotations in 11 on 11’s started with Nassib and ended with Dysert. Dysert’s last rep may have been the most impressive as he hit Kansas State’s Chris Harper on a deep route to end the session.
On Tuesday, Glennon was given the first reps in 11 on 11’s and, unfortunately, the very first snap was a dropped exchange under center. It is too early to read anything into the rotations but it is noteworthy that all of the quarterbacks pushed for routes downfield rather than settle with check-down receivers as was their cautious pattern on Monday.
Oregon State Representing!
Oregon State put unexpected stress on the outcome of the Pac 12 standings with a stout performance in 2012. Their success can be assigned, in part, to the mighty contributions of two players who occupy positions on the North squad – cornerback Jordan Poyer and wide receiver, Markus Wheaton. The ability for them to battle each other in practice every snap sharpened their respective units into top-20 groups (OSU ranked #20, nationally, in both passing offense and pass-efficiency defense).
Wheaton has been one of the more impressive receivers the past two days for the North. He is slippery and has caught nearly every ball thrown to him. He has been able to slip behind coverage on several occasions. He catches the ball with his hands away from his body and soaks it in.
Poyer’s name was mentioned by colleague and adversary alike during media night. Texas’ Marquise Goodwin identified Poyer as someone with whom he was familiar from their bowl game and as somebody whose great skills was only raising Goodwin’s own game.
Poyer is sticky. He is quick with his direction changes and neither flustered nor displaced with hand replacements and physical play from the receivers.
Keep an eye on the Oregon State guys. They will impact not only this game but should leave a mark on the next level.
Goodwin Continues to Impress
Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (two-time NCAA champion long-jumper) clearly demonstrated that he had an extra gear on the field yesterday. He caught the balls he should have caught and did it with his hands. He was quick to switch from catch to progressing upfield and he was not afraid to scrap with a very physical group of corners.
Goodwin continued to catch balls today and get past defenders in drills.
With his elite speed and explosiveness in a small package, he is one of the more intriguing players this week.
UConn has a pair of cornerbacks at the Senior Bowl and both are having a good week, so far. Dwayne Gratz was one of the stickier cornerbacks in one-on-one drills with the receivers yesterday and continued that trend today. Meanwhile, UConn teammate Blidi Wreh-Wilson has quietly put in a solid two practices.
Michigan’s Denard Robinson is being worked at receiver but is in a yellow jersey like the quarterbacks. He showed some good moves on Tuesday and continues to get work as a punt returner. He was kept out of Monday’s drills but was allowed to mix it up a little on Tuesday. In his first contested snap, he caught the ball in a crossing pattern off of a good separation move but he was stripped of the ball. He was not included in the more intense 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills. So, it is hard to tell whether and to what extent he can progress against actual opposition.
The North’s defensive backs are physical. Very physical. Perhaps the most physical is Washington’s cornerback, Desmond Trufant. Having two brothers in the NFL does not hurt but, whatever the reason, he seems utterly at home in this environment. He is among the most physical of his unit and has even hammed it up with the NFL Network staff on the sidelines following a few plays.
Brock Murphy is a freelance sports writer and college football analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]
A clear conscience is good for the soul. Or for some, it's good for the public reputation or book sales.
Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey was not a first in the sports world, nor was it a surprise -- he told the host he indeed used performance-enhancing drugs on the way to Tour de France titles and building the Livestrong nonprofit empire.
Some confessions are foisted upon athletes by the media, mainstream or otherwise (hello, Deadspin!), or by the athletes' peers. Other times, these confessions, simply put, help move memoirs and autobiographies.
Here are a handful of the sports world’s top confessions, ranging from admitting to recreational or performance-enhancing drug use, discussing money problems or revealing close personal secrets.
Jan. 17, 2013: Lance Armstrong
In a Monday interview with Oprah Winfrey, cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his run of seven consecutive Tour de France titles. Armstrong had been stripped of his titles and had long been accused of doping, but his vociferous denials over the years made his confession itself a shock.
Jan. 16, 2013: Manti Te’o
In a statement in a response to a Deadspin article on the hoax of his deceased girlfriend, Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman finalist Manti Te’o states: “I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.” As more news and nuggets trickle out of the Lennay Kekua hoax story, this may not be the final confession.
May 2010: Floyd Landis
Before Armstrong revealed his PED-use, Landis did. Like Armstrong, he fought the accusation of doping on the way to a Tour de France title in 2006. After he tested positive for multiple PEDs, Landis implicated Armstrong and others in communication with anti-doping officials.
February 2012: Tiger Woods
A 2009 car accident set off a series of revelations about Tiger Woods’ personal life including infidelity. Woods admitted to widespread extramarital affairs in a public apology less than three months later. As multiple women came forward with stories of affairs with Woods, the golf superstar lost many of his endorsement deals.
January 2010: Mark McGwire
McGwire, who broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in 1998, repeatedly said, “I’m not here to talk about the past,” during a Congressional hearing on steroids in 2005. By the time he wanted to re-enter baseball has a hitting coach in 2010 he talked about the past, admitting to taking performance enhancers at separate times throughout the 1990s, including during ’98 home run chase.
October 2009: Andre Agassi
In his autobiography Open, Agassi admitted to using crystal methamphetamine in 1997 and 1998. Originally, the tennis star claimed in a letter to the ATP that his failed drug test was due to accidentally taking the drug. Though another confession was less serious than using crystal meth, Agassi also admitted that for a time his legendary ‘do was actually a hairpiece.
October 2009: Theoren Fleury
A former star with the Calgary Flames, Fleury wrote in his autobiography he was sexually abused by a coach in junior hockey. The abuse, Fleury wrote, contributed to alcoholism.
August 2009: Rick Pitino
The Louisville basketball coach apologized in a press conference for “an indiscretion” that occurred six years prior. The indiscretion was an extramarital affair that led to extortion charges against the woman.
February 2009: Alex Rodriguez
After Sports Illustrated reported Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, Rodriguez told ESPN he used steroids with the Texas Rangers first in 2001 after he signed his record-breaking $252 million contract. Rodriguez called the era “loosey-goosey” and claimed he did not know what specific steroids he had been taking. Rodriguez had denied as recently as 2007 that he had ever taken steroids.
October 2007: Marion Jones
Marion Jones, who earned three gold medals in the 2000 Olympics, tearfully admitted to using PEDs and lying about it as part of the BALCO scandal.
May 2006: John Daly
The golfer has had his share of personal demons, but among them was a gambling problem he admitted in his autobiography in 2006. Daly wrote he lost up to $60 million during 12 years of gambling.
February 2006: Jose Canseco
In his tell-all book Juiced, Canseco wrote he used human growth hormone and steroids from beginning to end in his career, but the bigger legacy of Canseco’s book was accusations of the rampant use of PEDs through baseball during the 1990s. As he is now, Canseco was not considered to be the most reliable source of information, but the names mentioned — Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and more — were revealed to be PED-users themselves.
January 2004: Pete Rose
In advance of his book My Prison Without Bars, baseball’s all-time hit leader admitted to what had kept him out of the Hall of Fame and baseball altogether since 1989 when he confessed to gambling on baseball and gambling on his own team to win. After his banishment from baseball, Rose first denied betting on baseball, then admitted to that but denied betting on the Reds while Cincinnati’s manager, then he finally admitted to betting on the Reds but only to win.
June 2002: Ken Caminiti
The list of denials, investigative reports and eventually confessions regarding steroids in baseball could take up the bulk of this page, but one of the first belonged to All-Star third baseman Ken Caminiti in this Sports Illustrated article. He told SI he used steroids so heavily during his 2006 National League MVP season his body had all but stopped producing natural testosterone. Caminiti died in October 2004 at age 41 of a heart attack.
November 1991: Magic Johnson
At 32, Magic Johnson retired abruptly in 1991, revealing in a news conference he tested positive for HIV. At the time, he did not reveal how he acquired the disease, but he later explained he had unprotected sex with multiple women.
August 1987: Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson
Though he battled drug problems for most of his career, Henderson admitted to one episode in his autobiography that was especially troubling. The former Dallas Cowboys linebacker wrote he used a cocaine-laced inhaler during the second half the Super Bowl XIII loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
1981: Martina Navratilova
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, at the height of her career, announced she is a lesbian. She is credited as the first major athlete — male or female — to come out while at the height of her fame. The same year, tennis star Billie Jean King was outed in a palimony suit by a female former partner.