Articles By Athlon Sports
Hunter, who is arguably one of the most exciting and explosive players in college football will have to hit the rehab room, but should be expected back for spring workouts next season.
It's a crushing blow for one of the most promising players in the NCAA. ANd a huge blow to the Volunteers hopes for the 2011 season.
Tennessee was hanging tough in the Swamp until Hunter went down. It seemed to take the wind out of the team's sails as the injury could be felt on the sideline. Who knows if the Vols could have pulled the upset if Hunter had not gotten injured, but it was clear they had a much better chance of making it a comnpetitive game with Hunter still in there.
The freakish nature of the injury made this much harder to swallow. Hunter wasn't hit on the play. He caught a pass from up-and-coming Vol quarterback Tyler Bray, turned to pivot and went down immediately, clutching his left knee in visible pain. he was helped off the field, where it was later learned that he wasn't going to return for the rest of the season.
Hunter's size and speedm the two things that make him a difficult receiver to stop, ironically may have contributed to his injury. At 6 foot 4 inches, and 200 pounds, he is a huge, lanky player. It seems like players of his size who play the wide receiver position have a tendency to get injured.
Here's hoping his rehab goes well and he comes back at 100% next season. Until then, the Volunteers are going to have a tough time replacing one of their biggest playmakers, as this injury should also have a negative affect on Bray as well.
Remember last week when that bum Tony Romo played like a stupid jerk and ruined the Cowboys victory against the Jets? Yeah, me either. Because after suffering through a week of "he can't do it" and "Romo is not a gamer" and "The Cowboys can never win with Romo as their quarterback," Tony Romo came out and was the hero against the San Francisco 49ers.
By now you've seen the footage of Romo getting sacked, and then lead off to the locker room, where his disgusted face told the whole story. Jon Kitna comes in, tosses a TD and a couple picks, but the Cowboys are still losing.
Then, in a moment fitting of a Hallmark Channel made-for-TV movie, Romo comes out of the locker room, shakes off his aching ribs, grabs his helmet and gets back in the game, leading the Cowboys to a much-needed overtime win on the road.
This moment has so much meaning to thie season for Romo and the Cowboys it's almost too big to quantify.
Let's imagine for a moment that Romo doesn't come back out. Kitna stays in the game and the Cowboys lose like it seemed like they would.
What would the Monday morning headlines have to say about an 0-2 Dallas team and an injured Romo. The anti-Romo bandwagon would have snowballed bigger than the boulder that chased Indiana Jones, and Romo may not have been able to get out of the way.
The hate may have become too much for Romo (who's gotten a bad rap) and the city, which was already on the verge of turning on him, would have completely turned against him. But more importantly, he may have lost his teammates as well.
The problem with Romo is that he has taken it on the chin in his whole career. And it's mostly because of a few notorious plays and games. His botched field goal attempt on 1996. A couple of bad playoff games. But when you look at his body of work, Tony Romo has been a great player for the Cowboys. Since 1996 no other NFL quarterback has had a higher QB rating in the 4th quarter than Romo. Not Brady, not Manning, not Brees, not Rivers, not anyone. And yet, he throws one bad pick on Monday Night football and he's a goat, the reason the Cowboys can't win a championship with him at the helm.
But now, things might be different.
Instead, Tony solidified his position as the leader and captain of the Cowboys and fortified that locker room just when they needed it most. That decision to gut it out and play through the pain was the turning point for the 2011 Cowboys NFL season. If the Cowboys do anything at all this year and finally live up to the high expectations they seem to have each and every season, every pundit and media talking head will turn and point to this moment when Tony Romo the Bum became Tony Romo the Hero.
Jamaal Charles, the Kansas City Chiefs' star running back who was poised for a breakout season has torn his ACL and is out for the season.
From a regular football standpoint, this is almost a deathblow to an already horrific season for Kansas City. After two games, KC is 0-2 and have been outscored 89-10 in losses to the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills. They have looked like one of the worst teams in the NFL and could be vying for the coveted Andrew Luck sweepstakes (which right now looks like a race to the bottom of the NFL standings between the Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs).
And now, with Jamaal Charles out for the season, it's adding insult to injury. If the Chiefs were getting destroyed with Charles IN the lineup, it's scary to think of what will happen with him out of the lineup. I know it's easy to overreact this early in the season, but it's not far-fetched to think that the Chiefs could be a team that wins one or two games this season.
Which brings us to the fantasy side of football. Charles was a top 5 pick, and a consensus pick to be one of the leading fantasy scorers in the 2011 season.
Most fantasy football owners who drafted him had to take him so early that they don't have a viable backup at running back. Which almost kills their chances of taking any fantasy crowns this season.
How can you recover from losing your first round pick?
Last season there were two ways: picking up Michael Vick or Peyton Hillis. Looking back on most league champions last year there was one common thread among them in that they were lucky (or smart) enough to pick up either one or both of those players.
Charles owners will be asking themselves the question: Who are this year's Vick and Hillis?
A few of the candidates are:
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: The rookie looks like a seasoned veteran havin thrown for close to 900 yards in his first two games. Sure, one was against a suspect Cardinals defense, but the other was against the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers D. Nothing to sneeze at (sure he also had three picks that probably cost his team the win, but the thing about fantasy is that real-life wins and losses have no affect on ours.) He probably was picked up in your league last week, but he may be worth a look this week now that's he's proven that the first week wasn't a complete fluke.
Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos: There were whispers of the Broncos wide receiver being a deep fantasy sleeper before the season, and he proved that to be true with a big 2 TD game against the Bengals on Sunday. Pick him up if he's available in your league. He probably won't put up these numbers every week, but at least he's proven than he can perform when called upon (even if it is against the lowly Bengals.)
Dexter McCluster, WR, RB; Kansas City Chiefs: The guy most likely to see a big increase in touches with the loss of Charles. He's sort of a catch-all kind of player who lines up at wideout at times, as well as running back and kick returner. Stash him in your league right away. He's a slasher who could put up big numbers this year. The only problem is that the Chiefs are going to be losing a lot of games, so their running situation should be mediocre at best. I had him last year and he showed flashes of greatness. Now with more playing time and another year under his belt, he may be the breakout candidate everyone is looking for from a waiver wire pickup.
Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans: I'm all in on Ben Tate. If there's one thing sports fans know about hamstring injuries, it's that they linger more than that Cranberries song. And Arian Foster could be in big trouble. The consensus first round pick when healthy, is now a week-to-week concern and after getting pulled this week proved that he can't be counted on. Even if he plays next week are you going to feel comfortable slotting him in your starting lineup knowing that he could tweak his fragile hammy once again? Get Tate if he's available. Ben won't catch as many balls as Arian (if you're in a PPR he won't be as valuable) but he's still a great guy to have on your bench.
Mike Kafka, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: This one is a long-shot, but what the heck. Peyton Hillis was a long-shot last year, too. With Michael Vick out of for an unknown amount of time and Vincy Young nursing a hamstring (and you know how we feel about hamstring injuries), Mike Kafka could take the helm for a while and become the quarterback for one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. He is definitely worth a flyer, so drop your extra kicker, defense or pine-riding scrub and take a chance on Kafka. It really can't hurt.
Michael Vick was spitting up blood and walking off the field the last time fantasy football owners saw him. And that's not good.
The Eagles electrifying quarterback, and very high draft pick in fantasy football leagues injured his neck in yesterday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons on a weird play where he was whipped around and knocked helmets with his own offensive lineman. On the play Vick bit his tongue and had to be helped off the field as he was seen spitting blood onto the turf.
Apparently the blood is only from his tongue and not from anything more serious. But he also suffered a concussion on the play, leaving his availability for next week's game against the New York Giants up in the air.
What's so ironic about this injury is that it didn't happen on one of Vick's trademark scrambles or one of his superhuman athletic moves. Instead of getting hit by a charging linebacker, he took this hit from his own teammate.
And this is what we all knew would happen to Vick. He's a small guy who throws his body around more than any other NFL quarterback (or NFL running back for that matter) who's playing behind a questionable offensive line. This was bound to happen. And yet, fantasy football sites (except ours) had him ranked as either the first or second quarterback overall behind Aaron Rodgers. We had him ranked sixth for this very reason. If we're going to have to spend a late first or second round pick ona guy, we'd rather go with the one that has a better chance of staying on the field and playing all 16 games, than the one who's missed games in nearly every season of his career (and that's not counting the ones he missed for dog fighting.)
Everyone knew Vick was going to get injured at some point this season. It was just a matter of when and for how long. More information will be available later today, but we've seen how concussions have affected players lok Austin Collie, Ben Roethlisberger, the NHL's Sidney Crosby, MLB's Justin Morneau and countless other athletes in recent years.
If we've learned anything from the scariness of concussions, it's that Vick could be out for the rest of the season. He's almost assuredly out for their home opener, but time will tell how much longer he's out.
For all you fantasy players out there who owned Vick, you may want to scour the waiver wire this week for a replacement. It could be a very long season.
Here we are in week 2 of the NFL season and fantasy football players are already faced with three difficult questions. Here's what you should do with three of them.
Arian Foster: Don't Play
Yes, he's going to give it a go, but at what point is he worth being in your lineup. Is a 75% Arian Foster worth more or less than the third running back in your lineup? WIth Ben Tate proving he can be a more than capable replacement, the Texans are going to be more cautious than crazy with Foster, so I would sit him. I know he's targeted for 20 touches against the Dolphins, but I'd rather see it before I believe it. And the Dolphins (despite what Tom Brady did to them on Monday night) have a pretty stout run defense. Chances are, you have someone in the Benjarvis Green-Ellis, Mark Ingram and Reggie Bush tier. Those are a better play than Foster this week.
Johnny Knox: Play
I love Johnny Knox this week. The Saints gave up a ton of yards to the Packers and Jay Cutler could have a similar field day. With Roy Williams nicked up and listed as questionable, this could be Knox's game to breakout and recapture the starting role in the second week of the season. Play him if you got him. And if he's available on your waiver wire, pick him up immediately. The Bears offense looks much different than it did last year, and they could actually look like the Greatest Show On (Terrible) Turf--since Soldier Field's sod is like a swamp.
Santonio Holmes: Don't Play
Holmes is going to "give it a try" and play on his injured knee and quadricep. I don't like how that sounds. What happens if he gives it a try, it doesn't work and now you're left with an essentially empty spot on your roster. I hate these types of gamble, so go with the sure thing you have on your bench (as if anything can be a sure thing in fantasy football.) The Jets should also be up handily on the pitiful Jaguars so they may turn to a run-heavy offense in the second half. Do you really think Holmes (who I think will have a great year) will do much with just a first half? Go bench here.
By RALPH VACCHIANO
In 2003, the New England Patriots released popular safety Lawyer Milloy, causing an uproar up in Foxboro, Mass. He promptly signed with the Buffalo Bills, and together they hammered the Pats 31-0 on Opening Day. Tom Brady was picked off four times.
The Patriots looked like their NFL dynasty would never get started. The Bills looked like they had recaptured their glory days.
The Bills finished 6-10 that season. The Patriots finished 14-2 and won the Super Bowl.
The point: Strange things happen on Opening Day.
So it’s always wise to hold off on the overreactions until at least Week 2, when at least the beginnings of pretenders and contenders really take shape. In the first game of the season when nerves are tight, emotions are high, and players are still getting up and back to speed, results sometimes tend to be aberrations. It pays to be cautious when reading the week one tea leaves.
For example, here are five overreactions from the first week of the season that aren’t likely to turn out to be true:
1.“Cam Newton is a Pro Bowler.”
One of the most controversial rookies in years had the best debut for a rookie quarterback since … well, ever, really. Going 24 for 37 for 422 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals was remarkable considering the No. 1 overall pick had no offseason, thanks to the lockout, to work with his team.
Here’s a fact, though: Rookie quarterbacks struggle. Newton will struggle. This won’t be an arrow that points directly up and makes him immediately one of the best quarterbacks in the NFC. Even Peyton Manning had some troubles as a rookie, and he was arguably m ore polished than any quarterback who ever entered the league.
So expect flashes of brilliance from Newton, like he displayed on Sunday. But also expect to see more downs than ups.
2.“The Buffalo Bills are a contender.”
Coming off a 4-12 season, even the most optimistic Bills fan couldn’t have expected what happened on Sunday: a 41-7 blowout win in Kansas City. And the Bills did look good, no doubt.
It was also a classic case of a game snowballing out of control, starting with the Chiefs’ fumble on the opening kickoff. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw four touchdowns, but only 208 yards, so it’s not like the offense lit up the Chiefs. It had more to do with turnovers and the Bills’ defense shutting down the Chiefs.
In other words, it was good, but not great, and in a division with the New England Patriots and New York Jets, they’ll need much more. The Bills are improved, no doubt, but the playoffs are likely still out of reach.
3.“Donovan McNabb is done.”
It’s a hard point to argue after his 7-for-15, 39-yard performance in a loss to the Chargers. One observer said “He looked disinterested,” which is an alarming criticism of a 34-year-old vet who was supposed to be revived by another fresh start.
Don’t completely write off McNabb, though. He’s only two years removed from a good season in Philadelphia and even last year he put up decent numbers in the midst of Washington’s mess. He has some weapons to help him in Minnesota, like Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson, and he definitely has a little bit left in the tank.
There’s no defending his opening-day showing, but you dismiss his chances of a rebound at your own risk.
4.“The Colts can’t win without Peyton Manning.”
They probably can’t, given how much he’s meant to that offense, and the longer he’s out with a neck injury the bleaker their prospects get. But could there have been a worse opening-day situation to through 38-year-old QB Kerry Collins into? On the road in Houston against a team with an explosive offense and good young defense, after signing late in camp and not having much time to learn a complicated offensive scheme?
Collins struggled, fumbled a couple of snaps, and the offense was so inept it put the defense in terrible position. But Collins is a pro with a big arm and he’s surrounded by talented weapons. He’ll get more comfortable as the games go on. The Colts probably won’t win a championship unless Manning returns healthy, but Collins is more than capable of keeping them in the hunt until their savior gets back.
5.“The NFC South has gone from ‘beast’ to ‘least’.”
With the Falcons, Saints and Bucs all with double-digit wins last year they may have been the best or most exciting division in football. This year all four teams are 0-1 and all of a sudden everyone has noticed they fattened their records last season on the terrible NFC West.
Will they have three teams with double-digit wins this year? No. But don’t knock this division, especially with the improved and reloaded Carolina Panthers bringing up the rear. The New Orleans Saints lost their opener in Green Bay to the defending Super Bowl champs on the last play of the game. The Atlanta Falcons lost on the road in Chicago against a tough Bears defense and a team that reached the NFC championship game last year. The Bucs lost to a Detroit Lions team many think will be surprise contenders this year.
All three of those teams have good quarterbacks and an array of offensive weapons. The NFC South may take a small step back, but at least three of their teams will be in the playoff chase right until the end.
College football uniforms have been in the news lately. With Maryland's flag uniforms that looked like something out of Middle Earth, Boise State's "Power Rangers" getup and Oklahoma State's all grey, we're not sure what's going on with the current state of uniforms. What happened to the classics?
In an effort to see what uniforms will look like in the future, we looked into our crystal ball (which is actually just Photoshop) and saw what the college football uniforms will look like in the upcoming seasons.
The Texas Longhorns
Florida State Seminoles
Oregon Ducks (if their mascot is too good for pants, then we're guessing the players will be, too.)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Joe Paterno's Nike-sponsored IV bag
By Josh Kipnis
This past weekend, we all witnessed history as Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers broke the record for most passing yards in a quarterback’s NFL debut. Even with his astonishing 110.4 passer rating, 2 TD, 422-yard performance, Newton still has a long way to go before he can claim kingship over the division. With Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Josh Freeman leading the other three teams in the NFC South, 2011 should be a very promising year for this division.
Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)
Background: Brees, who was signed by the Saints in 2006, led the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl victory in 2009. Winner of the MVP award in that game, he is also the Saints’ all-time leader in passing yards. The five-time pro-bowler was the AP Player of the Year in 2008 and has thrown over 4,000 yards each season with the Saints.
Strengths: Brees’ most eye-catching strength has to be his pinpoint accuracy. In fact, “pinpoint” cannot even describe how well this guy can hit a receiver downfield. In his “SportsScience” debut, Brees was asked to throw a football at an archery target from 20 yards away. Out of the ten throws he took, he hit the bulls-eye all ten times. Not even Olympic archers hit the bulls-eye that much.
Weaknesses: Many scouts questioned the Purdue alum’s height (6-0) as he entered the NFL draft back in 2001. His arm strength is also below average compared to the competition around the league. Nonetheless, do his weaknesses even matter at this point? He is unquestionably a top five QB in the NFL, and has the Saints in the Super Bowl conversation every year.
Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)
Background: Ryan is one of two rookie quarterbacks (Peyton Manning) in NFL history to throw over 3,000 yards in his rookie season, making him the obvious choice for the 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year. Ryan led the Falcons to the playoffs his rookie season and again last season. Ryan continues to show signs of improvement; increasing his touchdown totals in each of the three seasons he has been a pro.
Strengths: Ryan shows a great balance of attributes; he might not be the most accurate or have the strongest arm, but he is definitely above average in both categories. So what’s so incredible about “Matty Ice?” In just three seasons in the NFL, Ryan has led the Falcons to eight 4th quarter comebacks and thirteen game winning drives. I’d say the nickname holds true.
Weaknesses: Leading the Falcons to the playoffs twice is a great feat, however, Atlanta lost in both of those openers. His 0-2 record in the playoffs is the only part of Ryan’s game holding him back from an elite status.
Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Bucs)
Background: Freeman broke the Bucs’ rookie records in passing yards (1,855) and TD passes (10) back in 2009. In just his second NFL season, he blew those numbers out of the water, throwing for 1,600 more yards, 15 more TDs, and 12 less INTs. Just 23 years old out of Kansas State, Freeman is posting numbers close to Brad Johnson in ’03, the last time Tampa Bay won the Lombardi Trophy.
Strengths: Coaches have to wipe the drool from their mouths when they see this guy throw on a pair of shoulder pads. Standing at 6-6 and weighing 248 lbs, Freeman is an absolute monster at the quarterback position. Add his mobility and arm strength to the list, and defensive coordinators suddenly find their tail between their legs.
Weaknesses: The major flaw in his rookie season was turnovers. Freeman ranked 4th in the NFL with 18 interceptions in 2009. However, it seems he found a solution to the problem during the off-season because he threw 12 less INTs in 2010. It sounds crazy, but does this guy have a weakness? Maybe his only limitation is Tampa Bay’s receiving corp.
Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers)
Background: As mentioned earlier, Newton displayed one of the best rookie performances ever, by throwing for 422 yards in his NFL debut. The Panthers have to be ecstatic seeing their number one overall pick playing this well. Last season, Panthers’ starter Jimmy Clausen never threw more than 300 yards and one touchdown in a game; Newton was better in both categories in just his first NFL start. The Heisman Trophy winner and NCAA National Champ from Auburn posted the 2nd highest yardage total among all QBs in Week 1.
Strengths: Almost identical in size to Josh Freeman, 6-6, 248 lbs, Newton is another beast among men. His combination of size, arm strength, and mobility made it impossible for Carolina to pass on this young stud. Although it is too early in his career to say his mentality is a strength, you have to love how the 22-year old carries himself in an interview. Following his epic performance, all Newton could think about was not being able to lead his team to victory, his first loss in over a year. “The last time I lost a game was Navarro Junior College,” Newton said. “What do you want me to say, it feels great? It is not a comfortable feeling for me.”
Weaknesses: The only flaw in his rookie debut came in red zone efficiency. On the final drive of the game, the Panthers had a first down on the Arizona 11-yard line. Newton’s next four plays were incomplete passes, and the fifth fell short of the end zone.
No question about it, the NFC South is stacked at the quarterback position. With Drew Brees continuing to display his pro-bowl career, and young gun-slingers Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman, and Cam Newton entering the NFL’s spotlight, one thing is for sure: defensive backs around the league are all starting to shake as they see NFC South teams on their schedule.
That's kind of weird. What about the other swimmers? If she had any respect for the others around her, she would take one in the bathroom, like every other person.
This article was originally published in the 2004 Athlon Sports Racing Edition Vol. 2/2004
Realignment… Athlon Style
For the past few years, NASCAR has been adding, subtracting, swapping, cutting and pasting the Cup schedule. It has become clear to die-hard fans that NASCAR has less interest in staying true to its roots than in taking the series to the big markets across the country. While change is natural to any sport’s evolution, many feel that taking dates from the old tracks that have character (North Wilksboro, Darlington, Rockingham) and moving them to the new cookie-cutter tracks (California, Kansas, Chicago, Las Vegas) will make aerodynamics more important than driver skill. If we wanted follow-the-leader, spread-out-style racing, we’d watch the IRL.
We at Athlon believe that a diverse schedule that takes the sport to many areas of the country is important to the continued growth of NASCAR. At the same time, we believe that loyalty goes a long way in the eyes of the fans. The following is how we would put together the 2004 Nextel Cup schedule if we were in charge at the France Palace. We have no hidden agendas or allegiances to anyone — except to true fans. Our purpose is to provide the best, most entertaining schedule for the most avid fans while supporting NASCAR’s plans for future growth. So the SMI/ISC tug-of-war does not play into our schedule, but you better believe Darlington getting its Labor Day date back does.
2/7 Bud Shootout Daytona Int’l Speedway
2/12 Gatorade Twin 125s Daytona Int’l Speedway
2/15 Daytona 500 Daytona Int’l Speedway
2/22 Subway 400 North Carolina Motor Speedway
2/29 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Daytona is where it should be on the schedule, and what better way to follow up the glitz and glamour than with a trip to historic, quaint little ol’ Rockingham. Follow that up with a trip out west to Las Vegas, which will now fall on what was an off weekend. More about that off-weekend later.
3/7 Kentucky 400 Kentucky Speedway
3/14 Checker Auto Parts 500 Phoenix International Raceway
3/21 Golden Corral 500 Atlanta Motor Speedway
3/28 Samsung/Radio Shack 500 Texas Motor Speedway
Here’s where we start having a little fun. The drivers seem to love the new Kentucky Speedway, with most taking a trip or two up there to test each year. Give that track a date and you’ll attract the Louisville/Lexington/Cincinnati crowd. Out to Phoenix and its fun little one-mile oval, then down to Atlanta for the annual March race in the Peach State and on out to Texas, whose date is moved up one weekend.
4/4 Off-Weekend #1
4/10 Food City 500 Bristol Motor Speedway
4/18 Aaron’s 499 Talladega Superspeedway
4/25 Banquet 400 Kansas Speedway
April gets real silly. Let’s give the boys a break on the first weekend of the month. That’s seven points races to start the season followed by an off-weekend. This is a trend that will continue throughout the season. Why run 20 weekends in a row if you can space your off-dates evenly? Follow that up with the first of two Bristol night races. That’s right, run both Bristol dates on a Saturday night. Why? Because Bristol is just better at night. Talladega makes for two awesome weekends in a row on the 18th, followed by the annual bore-fest at Kansas.
5/2 Advance Auto Parts 500 Martinsville Speedway
5/9 Pocono 500 Pocono Raceway
5/16 Colorado 500 Pikes Peak Int’l Raceway
5/22 Nextel All-Star Challenge Lowe’s Motor Speedway
5/30 Coca Cola 600 Lowe’s Motor Speedway
Let’s start May at Martinsville and then head up to Pocono and pray for good weather for its one and only race of the year. Out to Pikes Peak for the inaugural Cup race there. This one mile D-shaped oval puts on a heck of a show when the Busch boys come to town. Plus, you’re hitting a new fan base and, hey, the track’s got character. The All-Star race and the 600 round out the month as usual. And by the way, we think the All-Star race should stay in Charlotte.
6/6 Off-Weekend #2
6/12 Pontiac Performance 400 Richmond International Raceway
6/20 MBNA America 400 Dover International Speedway
6/27 Michigan 400 Michigan International Speedway
Another off-weekend to start June. As with Bristol, we’re going to run both Richmond races at night. Up to Dover, because the weather should permit it by June, and then over to Michigan.
7/3 Auto Club 500 California Speedway
7/11 Tropicana 400 Chicagoland Speedway
7/17 New England 300 New Hampshire Int’l Speedway
7/25 Subway 500 Martinsville Speedway
OK, OK, before you throw a rod, let’s get one thing straight: the Labor Day date needs to be at Darlington. Therefore, we’ll throw California a bone and give them a high-profile Saturday night date on the Fourth of July weekend. We’ll get back to Daytona soon enough, don’t worry. From there, it’s up to Chicago and New Hampshire only, and we mean only, if NHIS puts some lights up. Then we go short track racin’ again at Martinsville, moving their race weekend up from October.
8/1 Off-Weekend #3
8/8 Brickyard 400 Indianapolis Motor Speedway
8/15 Dodge/Save Mart 350 Infineon Raceway
8/22 Ford 400 Homestead-Miami Speedway
8/28 Chevy Monte Carlo 400 Richmond Int’l Speedway
August starts with an off-weekend after seven weeks on the road. Indy’s weekend stays pretty much where it’s always been. No real change there. Then out to Infineon, so we can run our one and only road course. Down to Miami, which is moved up from the last weekend because let’s face it, Miami is the ultimate anticlimax to the season. Then back under the lights at Richmond for some hood stompin’.
9/5 Mountain Dew Southern 500 Darlington Raceway
9/12 Michigan 400 Michigan Int’l Speedway
9/19 Lone Star 500 Texas Motor Speedway
9/25 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 Atlanta Motor Speedway
We’re giving Darlington its Labor Day date back, provided they run it under the lights. I doubt we’ll get too much negative feedback on that. Up to Michigan before it gets too cold. Texas gets its coveted second date which we hope will end the silly feud between NASCAR and Bruton Smith (er, we mean Francis Ferko). Finally, on to Atlanta, where AMS’ weekend gets bumped up from October. While we’re at it, let’s run Atlanta under the lights. The cars look spectacular qualifying at night, so why not turn all 43 of them loose in prime time.
10/3 EA Sports 500 Talladega Superspeedway
10/10 Off-Weekend #4
10/16 Athlon Sports 400 Nashville Superspeedway
10/23 Pop Secret 500 California Speedway
10/30 Sharpie 500 Bristol Motor Speedway
We start our stretch run at Talladega, then give everyone a week off to catch their breath. The Cup boys then visit Nashville Superspeedway for its first-ever Cup race. Even better: it’s under the lights. California gets its second date, which will also be run at night, as will the Sharpie 500 at Bristol.
11/6 UAW-GM Quality 500 Lowe’s Motor Speedway
11/13 Pepsi 400 Daytona International Speedway
11/21 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 Darlington Raceway
The months of October and November are set up to take the Series to some of its most popular events. Imagine a race for the title coming down to the final few weeks where the guys have to slug it out at tracks such as Talladega, Bristol, Lowe’s, Daytona and Darlington. In our world anything is possible, so November shapes up to be truly amazing. Lowe’s is run at night in the teams’ backyard. A Saturday night race down in Daytona, where we’ve taken their July 4th race and placed it in “the stretch run.” And finally the season wraps up at the one track that tests every driver’s mettle — Darlington.
So let’s summarize: We run a bunch of events on Saturday night because night racing rules. It’s as simple as that. Plus, that makes for more prime-time exposure. You’ve still got 36 points events, and the season still encompasses 41 weeks. Some tracks must lose a date, and some must be awarded one. Off-weekends are spread out evenly, and the end of the season brings possibly the most exciting eight-week stretch of racing imaginable. As fans of racing, we feel this is the ultimate format to watch today’s NASCAR bridge a gap between the old and the new. Now if only we could get NASCAR on the phone…
by Mark Ross
When the NFL announced in March that kickoffs would be moved from the 30-yard-line to the 35-yard-line, it was not well received. Everyone from players, coaches and team executives to analysts and fans voiced their displeasure at a decision the league said was made to address player safety concerns. The general consensus among the dissenters was this — moving the kickoff five yards would result in basically eliminating any sort of return.
So now that Week 1 of the new NFL season is in the books, did the new kickoff rule have that much of an impact on the games? Yes, but not necessarily in the manner that so many predicted.
Moving kickoffs to the 35-yard-line definitely resulted in more touchbacks, substantially more in fact. In 2010, only 24 of 137 kickoffs (18 percent) in Week 1 went for touchbacks, according to STATS LLC. This season that number grew to roughly half as 79 of 162 (49 percent) kickoffs went for touchbacks. However, what must not be missed is what happened when one of them was returned.
Three kickoffs were returned for touchdowns, which ties the record for most in NFL history in an opening week. The record was initially set in 1970 and then tied in 1998. Last season only one kickoff was returned for a touchdown in Week 1. And if anything, moving the kickoff back five yards actually produced more exciting kickoff returns, highlighted by Green Bay Packers rookie Randall Cobb's record-tying 108-yard kickoff return in the Thursday night game against the New Orleans Saints that marked the start of the 2011 NFL season.
Besides Cobb, the other two kickoff returns each were more than 100 yards as well as the Minnesota Vikings' Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff against the San Diego Chargers 103 yards for the score and the San Francisco 49ers' Ted Ginn Jr. returned one 102 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in the 4th quarter of that game.
And Ginn didn't stop there. Following the kickoff return and a three-and-out by the Seahawks, Ginn returned the subsequent punt 55 yards for a touchdown to put the game out of reach. With that return, Ginn became the first player to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same game in the opening week of an NFL season.
Ginn's punt return for a touchdown was one of five that happened during Week 1 action. The Saints' Darren Sproles got the first one of the 2011 season on Thursday night against the Packers, followed by Jacoby Jones of the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals rookie Patrick Peterson in their games on Sunday. The fifth and final one came courtesy of Eric Decker, who returned one 90 yards for his Denver Broncos against the Oakland Raiders on Monday night. That game also had the Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski tying the NFL record for longest field goal made when he booted one from 63 yards out to end the first half.
In total, the eight combined kick-return touchdowns (five punt, three kickoff) set a record for the most combined kick-return touchdowns in a single week in NFL history. So using Week 1 as a gauge, it appears that while the new kickoff rule may have significantly reduced the number of kickoff returns in a game, it also created the potential for more exciting plays in the process because of the increased distance (not to mention degree of difficulty) on those that are returned from deep in the endzone.
Besides the impact on the return game, the increased number of touchbacks from the new kickoff rule also meant teams were starting the vast majority of their drives from their own 20-yard-line. Whether or not the two are directly related, this much is clear — the first week of game action using the new kickoff rule featured plenty of prolific offense. Among the other records either set or tied in Week 1, according to the NFL:
- The 752 points scored tied for the ninth-most in a single week in NFL history and were the second-most ever scored in Week 1.
- There were 89 touchdowns scored, tied for the sixth-most in a single week in NFL history and tied for the most ever in Week 1 (2002).
- Teams combined to throw for 7,842 net passing yards, the highest total in any week in NFL history.
- There were five games in which each team had a player throw for at least 300 yards, the most such games in a week in NFL history.
- Fourteen quarterbacks threw for at least 300 yards, the most in a single week in NFL history.
And far as the NFL's concerns about player safety go, the new kickoff rules did produce substantially more touchbacks, which resulted in fewer returns and thereby reduced the number of chances players could get hurt during a return. To be fair, players still got hurt during kickoffs in Week 1, most notably Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff that Harvin returned for a touchdown. But let's be realistic here. This is football we're talking about. It's a physical, contact-oriented, high-impact sport. To quote what one former college football coach once memorably said, "It ain't intramurals brother!"
It's still (really) early, but on first glance, it appears that moving the kickoff results in more exciting returns and the potential for even more offensive fireworks. If that's the case, while the players, coaches and team executives may not still not be crazy about the new rule, and I'm sure you'll still hear a fair number of analysts put their two cents in; I don't think you'll hear the fans complain. And in the end, that's music to the NFL's ears.
With the very unexpected news breaking this week that Sarah Palin and ex-Michigan Wolverine and NBA star Glen Rice had a one-night stand back in the 80s (seriously, did anyone see this one coming?), we thought we'd provide this very informative and helpful flowchart to break down and analyze the various ways in which you could bed Sarah Palin.
Don't you feel like you are much more prepared if you ever come across the Republican presidential candidate (yes, she will be some day) who's known for family values event hough her daughter has two kids out of wedlock and Sarah herself has had one-night stands?
With Peyton Manning missing his first game in decades with a neck injury, we wanted to take a look back at the beginning of his career. This article originally appeared in Athlon's 1995 college football annual.
Archie's boy became a big Manning quickly at Tennessee
by David Climer, The Tennessean
Peyton Manning, resplendent in an orange jersey but still unmistakably green around the edges, jogged toward the huddle on that September evening, mindful of his father's advice.
"Even though you're a freshman," dear old dad told him a couple of days earlier, "take charge of the huddle."
Manning leaned in to complete the 11-man oval, his spotless uniform contrasting against the blood and sweat and smell of the others. It wasn't yet halftime, but Tennessee was already beaten and it showed. Florida was quick-kicking the Vols all over the Neyland Stadium field, and emotions were strained.
Attempting to rally the troops, Manning offered encouraging words to his older, wiser teammates. But the impromptu pep talk didn't get far.
"Shut the bleep up and call the bleeping play," said offensive tackle Jason Layman, three years Manning's senior and infinitely wiser in the ways of the college football world.
Welcome to the Southeastern Conference.
OK, a little journalistic license may have been taken with Layman's comment, but it underscores what Manning discovered in that galvanizing moment. Perhaps it was a coming-of-age for an 18-year-old. In September, it was becoming abundantly clear that the new kid in town would soon become the big man on a campus that adores its football team.
It was a daunting situation. Freshman quarterbacks, even those with such exemplary pedigrees, are not supposed to make the quantum leap from high school skirmishes to major college warfare without suffering inevitable breakdowns in confidence and performance.
"Nobody understands what a huge jump it is," says Heath Shuler, Tennessee's starting quarterback the previous two seasons and now a rising star with the Washington Redskins. "I hear people talk about what a difference it is going from the college game to the NFL, but I really believe it's a bigger jump from high school to college. For a freshman to come into a program like the one at Tennessee and handle everything that goes with being a quarterback in the SEC is unbelievable."
Peyton Manning appreciates the kind words, Heath, but he's been dealing with great expectations as far back as he can remember. He is, after all, Archie Manning's son.
"I'm sure it's been tough on him in some ways because people expect so much of him," says Archie Manning, ever the proud father and source of advice on deportment in the huddle. "But we've always taught him that all he could do was go out there and give it his best shot. He's very ambitious. He's always worked hard and he was a delight to raise. You know, it doesn't matter to me if he's a good football player or not. That's just the way it is with a father and his kids."
Wholesome? Corny? Maybe. But in an era of generation gaps and failures to communicate, it is wonderfully refreshing to stand between the Manning quarterbacks - one past, one present - and soak up all these family values. It's almost as if you've been transported to the set of one of those old TV shows where sons actually listen to the advice of their fathers. It's as if Rocky Top has given way to Walton Mountain.
"I feel really fortunate to have grown up in the environment that I have and to have the opportunities that I've experienced," Peyton says. "One thing I've learned, no matter what happens, is to keep a good, level head. My father's like that."
Maybe that's why Peyton has eased into his role as if it were a comfortable pair of jeans. His first-year credentials are impeccable (Freshman All-America and SEC Freshman of the Year) and his off-field performance is just as flawless. Manning is a media favorite because of his willingness to conduct interviews and offer honest views, and his teammates have embraced him because of a blue-collar work ethic that shows in everything from his increased strength in the weight room ("I gained almost 20 pounds of muscle since I got to campus, and I've got a stronger arm now," he says) to his clutch performance in games.
Manning is a serious young man, but he can still laugh at himself. He smiles while telling the story of a case of mistaken identity that transpired last winter, when, during a visit to a Knoxville hospital, a nurse walked up and began talking as if she knew him. The more she talked, the clearer it became to Manning that the nurse thought he was somebody else.
"She was telling me all these things like, 'I saw your mother earlier today and she was about to go visit so-and-so,' and I could tell she had me confused with somebody," Manning recalls. "I waited until she stopped, and then I said 'Ma'am, I don't believe I'm who you think I am. I'm Peyton Manning.'"
The nurse gasped and scurried away.
This is the exception rather than the rule. Tall and athletic, with just the slightest wobble in his walk and a distinctive boyish face, Manning is the most recognizable figure in Knoxville.
Manning navigates the concrete and grass of the Tennessee campus with a pleasant smile. It's the same way he acted at Isidore Newman, a small, private school in New Orleans, and he didn't think it necessary to alter his lifestyle when he arrived on a campus of more than 25,000 students.
He has grown accustomed to the attention. He's a bit embarrassed by it from time to time, but he recognizes that it comes with the turf.
"Around here," Manning says, "Tennessee football is big, whether you're the starting quarterback or a walk-on who has never played before. People are interested in you. They're always looking at you, speaking to you, asking for autographs or just wanting to shake your hand. I get invited to speak to groups, and if people think what I have to say is that important and that interesting, shoot, I'm going to do it. When I was growing up, I had my heroes too."
It is here you that you begin to gain some real insight into Peyton Manning and the world he comes from. If ever a child was born to be a star quarterback, it is he.
Asked to name his heroes, Manning's face quickly twists into a grin. "I didn't have to go very far to talk to my favorite hero. He lived in the same house. Anytime I needed to talk to him about anything, he was there," Manning says.
He didn't mention his father, an All-America quarterback at the University of Mississippi and former New Orleans Saint, by name, but he didn't have to. Some things go without saying.
The rapport has been built through the years. Young Manning was a regular visitor to Saints practices during his father's career. He even made two Pro Bowl trips with his dad, meeting such quarterbacks as Roger Staubach and Dan Fouts, whom he mentions as personal heroes slightly behind his father.
But Peyton kept his distance. He was very much his father's son.
"I never asked for autographs," the younger Manning says. "I thought shaking somebody's hand and telling them my name and 'nice to meet you' was good enough. I guess I just saw my dad signing so many autographs that it left an impression on me. A lot of times he and I would be walking somewhere, and he'd stop to sign autographs for people and I kind of wanted to keep on going."
There is an irony to it. The kid who didn't collect autographs now finds himself with writer's cramp after every home football game.
"I understand autographs; it's a big thing now," Manning says. "I just accept it as part of the job at Tennessee. People get real excited, and I'm happy to sign for anybody that wants my autograph. After the Mississippi State game, even though we lost, I saw the way people reacted when I came out of the locker room and walked to the bus. I said 'Uh-oh. Something's about to get started here. This is no small deal.'"
Indeed, it was no small deal. It was in that game, a loss in Starkville, Miss., that Todd Helton suffered a knee injury, joining senior Jerry Colquitt on the sideline. Suddenly, Tennessee's two apprentices, Manning and fellow freshman Branndon Stewart, were the Vols' only healthy scholarship quarterbacks. The game had changed.
Exactly four weeks ago after his college debut, an uneventful three-play cameo appearance against UCLA in Pasadena, Calif., and two weeks after the huddle faux pas against Florida, Manning, due to make his first start, found himself the center of attention as the team walked from Gibbs (athletic residence) Hall to Neyland Stadium to meet Washington State.
"When we made that walk from the dorm to the field with all those people around, it hits you how big it all is," Manning says. "I could tell how much it matters to everybody. You realize how fast things are changing. Before the first game against UCLA, I told my friends back home, 'Look for me on the sideline. I'll stand by the coach so I can get some camera time.' The next thing I know, Jerry gets hurt, and I say to myself, 'I'm in for a different type of year here.'
"My dad did the best he could to prepare me for the job. The quarterback job is the hardest one on the field. You can go from the top of the cloud to the lowest place on earth in a flash. He taught me to have a level head about it."
The rewards are evident. Manning completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,141 yards and 11 touchdowns. More importantly, he was 7-1 as Tennessee's starting quarterback, which he calls "the best stat to come out of the whole season."
There are a few regrets, not the least of which centers on the departure of Stewart, who packed up in January and transferred to Texas A&M. But, really, the town wasn't big enough for two young-gun quarterbacks.
"Branndon and I could've been real good friends," Peyton says, "but it was something that we both understood. As long as we were competing, there was no way for us to get real close. I thought I was the better quarterback and Branndon thought he was better. There was constant competition.
"From a football standpoint, it's worked out better for me. It means I'm Tennessee's quarterback. I'm going to be taking the snaps. But as far as the friendship part and losing a teammate from my recruiting class, I miss him. It's different without him around."
And then there is the unpleasant matter of last season's Tennessee-Alabama game. There was one pass play in that contest that Manning would like to have back.
The Crimson Tide led 17-13 when, on a last-minute, fourth-and-three play from the Alabama 7, Manning turned to his left and threw low and outside toward Nilo Silvan. On the other side of the field, running back James Stewart was all but ignored by the Crimson Tide defense.
Manning calls the misfire against Alabama "the low point of the season." He says if he had put the pass on target or turned to the other side and found Stewart "then we might have won that game and ended the 10-year drought of not beating them."
But in the aftermath of the Alabama disappointment, Vol players and fans discovered something about Manning. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, Manning stepped into a hostile environment and completed 18 of 23 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns while leading the Vols to victory at South Carolina.
"You just have to keep learning and keep growing," Manning says.
It is with this attitude he took virtually everything in stride as a freshman. Even when Manning was booed by some Neyland Stadium fans during the lackluster victory over the University of Memphis, he kept on plugging, calling upon his background as the son of a quarterback to help him get through the tough times.
"That's just part of it," he said of the brief booing, which occurred at the height of the Great Freshman Quarterback Debate among Tennessee fans. "I was kind of surprised. I wasn't really aware that there was that much booing in college football. I'd been around the Saints a lot, and in pro football you kind of expect it. But I guess it comes with being a quarterback."
Watching Manning direct the offense at the end of last season and in spring practice, it's hard to believe he is entering his sophomore season and is still a neophyte among college quarterbacks. His cool, efficient style would seem to indicate an older, wiser, more experienced player.
"He's in total control," says Bubba Miller, who anchors the offensive line at center. "Even though he is just a sophomore, he proved to all of us what he could do last year. We have absolute faith in him."
Last year, Manning was the pupil. This year he's the teacher.
"I came in and had so much to learn," he says. "I was lucky to have guys like Jerry and Todd to watch and learn from. I can't tell you how many times I would have a question and instead of going to one of the coaches, I'd just ask one of the older quarterbacks. They really helped me because they had gone through everything and remembered how things looked to them when they first got here. That's why I always try to help out the new quarterbacks. I figured that's part of the responsibility of being a starter."
This hand-me-down approach was a key element in the Vols' spring practice routine. With newcomers Jeremy Bates and Shawn Snyder struggling to learn the nuances of the offense, Manning often intervened with words of advice.
"Peyton has been wonderful," says Snyder, a walk-on from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., who enrolled at Tennessee in January to participate in spring practice and learn the Vols' complicated passing offense. "He's done everything that he can to help us get ready. There isn't enough to say about what he's done to help us both out. He's been a good teacher."
That's all well and good, but the real challenge is on 11 Saturdays this season, when Manning faces up to the expectations of the Big Orange legion. He is no longer a freshman, nor is there any debate about who should be taking the snaps.
"I'll be a lot more comfortable and there'll be a lot more in the offense," Manning says. "They didn't want to overload me last year, but I think I'll be comfortable with the whole package this year. It's amazing what a year can do. I'm much calmer now.
"Now I can get in the huddle and say, "All right, listen up. Let's go make the play.' I couldn't do that in the first few games last year. I've tried to earn the respect of the older guys."
He has. These days, Peyton Manning does more than just call the bleeping play.
Why is the death of Brian Urlacher's mother in the news? Why is it that everywhere I turn, sports pundits on TV and radio feel the need to weigh in on their thoughts on whether Urlacher should or should not play this weekend against the Saints?
The death of Brian's mom should be something that Brian deals with privately. There was a time when media outlets wouldn't dream about discussing this on the air. Now, radio hosts feel as it is their right to give their opinions on how Brian Urlacher should deal with his tragedy. Well, it's not.
Is anything private anymore?
In a perfect world, this is a 20-second news piece about the tragedy and then it should be left alone. How do you think Brian feels hearing his mother's death bandied about across the AM dial like any other news topic? I'm sure he's not too happy about it.
Is it a slow news week? Isn't there a brand new NFL season to discuss? Aren't the baseball playoffs right around the corner? Shouldn't there be other things to talk about?
But this is the problem with the 24-hour news cycle. Everything needs to be discussed to the point of oblivion. If you listen to half the pundits, they will talk about this for 15 minutes, only to end their piece with the standard "But Urlacher should do anything he wants." Like that makes it OK.
As if the gross dissecting of the pros and cons of whether or not he should play while he's grieving the death of his mother can all be wiped away with a platitude before going off to commercial.
As if saying "we all feel for Brian at this time" makes up for the fact that you just spent 10 minutes talking openly about how whether the death of his mother should trump football right now.
If everyone really cared about the way Brian felt right now, maybe you shouldn't keep bringing up the death of his mother on national TV and radio. Because you're only making his time worse right now. Much, much worse.
The Bears season, while important to many, is not more important than family and family tragedy. If we had a little more decency, we would have some perspective about what we choose to discuss and not discuss.
Brian Urlacher, or any player in the national football league, national hockey league, major league baseball--any player anywhere--should be able to deal with matters like this privately, without analysis and discussion for however long he or she needs to.
Football players and athletes everywhere give us so much. Let's give them a little bit back and show a little class and dignity when they need something from us.
by Mark Ross
Tuesday night, Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers shut out the Chicago White Sox 5-0. Not only did the win, coupled with the Cleveland Indians' loss at Texas, push the Tigers' lead in the American League Central to 12.5 games with two weeks to go in the regular season, but it also was Verlander's 23rd win of the season. At 23-5, he already has the most wins by any pitcher to win the Cy Young since Randy Johnson won 24 in the NL in 2002.
He's just the fourth pitcher in the AL with 23 wins since 1990. The previous three — Bob Welch (1990), Pedro Martinez (1999) and Barry Zito (2002) — all won the Cy Young Award that season. Add a no-hitter earlier in the season, a 2.36 ERA, microscopic 0.92 WHIP and a ridiculous 238 strikeouts in 236 innings to his resume and MLB officials may as well go ahead and finish putting his name on this year's AL Cy Young Award trophy to save them some time.
This has been Verlander's year, hands down, which is not to say other pitchers have put up some impressive numbers. In the AL, Jered Weaver (16-7, 2.44 ERA, 187 Ks) has kept the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the AL West race with the Texas Rangers, while C.C. Sabathia (19-8, 2.93 ERA, 216 Ks) has been the lone consistent starter for the New York Yankees. Not to be outdone, James Shields (15-10, 2.70 ERA, 210 Ks) has the most complete games (11) of any pitcher in baseball since 1999 and has tossed four shutouts as his Tampa Bay Rays have made a late-season charge for the AL wild card.
The Cy Young race in the National League is even more muddled with the list of contenders including the reigning winner (Roy Halladay), a former winner in the AL (Cliff Lee) and a couple of young guns in Clayton Kershaw and Ian Kennedy. Halladay (17-5, 2.44 ERA, 204 Ks, NL-leading seven complete games) and Lee (16-7, 2.44 ERA, 211 Ks, six CGs and a ML-best six shutouts) have teamed with fellow starters Cole Hamels (14-8, 2.71 ERA, 177 Ks) and rookie Vance Worley (11-2, 2.92 ERA) to lead the Philadelphia Phillies to baseball's best record.
Meanwhile, in the NL West, Kershaw (18-5, 2.36 ERA, 231 Ks in 213.2 IP) has been one of the few bright spots for the Los Angeles Dodgers this year and at 23, he could become the youngest Cy Young winner in either league since a 20-year-old Dwight "Doc" Gooden won the NL Cy Young in 1985. Not to be outdone, Kennedy (19-4, 2.99 ERA, 182 Ks) is just three years older than Kershaw (26) and has emerged as the ace for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are on the verge of going worst-to-first in the NL West this season.
Despite all of these impressive credentials, there's no debate that Verlander has been the best pitcher in the AL, if not all of baseball. Who has been the best pitcher in the NL this year? Let's save that for another time shall we? The more important question when it comes to Verlander's dominance on the mound is this — does him being the best pitcher in AL merit him being named the AL MVP?
Nine pitchers in baseball history have been named the Cy Young Award and MVP recipient in the same season. Six (Vida Blue, Roger Clemens, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Denny McLain and Don Newcombe) were starting pitchers, while three (Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Willie Hernandez) were relievers.
Eckersley was the last pitcher to be named MVP (AL, 1992), while Clemens was the last starting pitcher (AL, 1986). So should Verlander be the first in nearly 20 years to achieve this rare feat?
There's no denying the Tigers wouldn't be in the position they are, first place in the AL Central, without Verlander. The Tigers have won Verlander's last 11 starts, with him going at least six innings in each of these. His shortest outing of his 32 starts on the season is six innings and the most runs he has given up in any start is six, which was against Tampa Bay back on May 24.
Since then, he's gone 19-2 in 21 starts with a 1.83 ERA and only three outings of less than seven innings pitched. On May 25, the Tigers were 25-23 and six games behind the Indians in the AL Central. Entering Wednesday, the Tigers were 86-62, tying them with the Yankees for the second-most wins in the AL. Coincidence?
Detroit starting pitchers have combined for 67 wins, second-most in the AL, and a 4.07 ERA, which is seventh in the league. The only other team in playoff contention with a higher ERA for its starters is the Boston Red Sox (4.26).
If you were to take out Verlander's numbers (2.36 ERA in 236 IPs) the Tigers' starting pitchers' ERA would balloon to 4.67, which would put them second-to-last in the AL, ahead of only Kansas City (4.95) and Baltimore (5.33). Further, Verlander's consistency and durability as a starter has saved the Tigers' bullpen, which has pitched the ninth-most innings among AL pens.
Considering the relievers have a collective ERA of 4.04, putting them in 11th place among AL relievers, that's a good thing.
Offensively, Detroit's hitters are no slouch as the lineup led by Miguel Cabrera (.332, 26 HR, 97 RBI, 101 R), Victor Martinez (.324, 11 HR, 94 RBI, 71 R) and Jhonny Peralta (.306, 19 HR, 80 RBI, 62 R) have scored the fourth-most runs in the AL and have the third-best team batting average.
However, the Tigers' offensive production is still a far cry from the production of the three teams who have scored more runs — Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers — who also just happen to be the three other AL playoff teams, if the season ended today.
To put it another way, Verlander's Run Support Average of 5.61 puts him in 29th place among starting pitchers in the AL. Among those who have received more run support is three of his teammates (Brad Penny, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer), not to mention all five Rangers starters, three Yankees (including Sabathia) and two Red Sox.
Outside of Verlander, the only starting pitcher in the AL whose done done more with less support is Weaver (4.33 RS). So not only has Verlander been productive, consistent and durable, he's also been highly efficient. It doesn't get more "valuable" than that does it?
In the end, the AL MVP vote will most likely come down to the debate of everyday position player vs. a pitcher who goes out to the mound once every five days. And there certainly is no lack of candidates among position players for this year's AL MVP with a list that includes (in no particular order):
Jose Bautista (.304, 42 HR, 100 RBI, 100 R)
Jacoby Ellsbury (.321, 27 HR, 94 RBI, 108 R, 36 SB)
Adrian Gonzalez (.340, 25 HR, 109 RBI, 102 R)
Robinson Cano (.305, 26 HR, 111 RBI, 96 R)
Curtis Granderson (.268, 39 HR, 111 RBI, 128 R, 24 SB)
Mark Teixeira (.248, 37 HR, 104 RBI, 85 R)
However the fact that Bautista's Jays aren't in playoff contention and the Red Sox and Yankees each have multiple candidates, a strong argument could be made for Verlander, as he is clearly the Tigers' most valuable player and the best pitcher in all of baseball this season, which incidentally has been called "The Year of the Pitcher."
In fact, it's a shame that the AL MVP votes will be cast before the postseason even starts. Because as it stands now, Verlander would face off against Ellsbury, Gonzalez and the rest of the Red Sox in the AL Division Series and should the Tigers make it to the AL Championship Series, their opponent would be either the Rangers, the reigning AL champions, or Cano, Granderson, Teixeira and the rest of the Yankees. What better way to prove who is the most "valuable" then to have the best square off against the best, no?
Everyone loves a viral video. Even marketing departments of giant corporations. Which is why it's no secret that many of the viral vids your co-workers send you are not actually "real." They're real in that they are a video that's going viral. But they're not real in the fact that the people and stunts in the video are paid actors and the actions taking place are CGI'd more often than you want to believe.
But just because they're fake doesn't mean they're not entertaining. Here are some of our favorite from over the years. Some because they're actually interesting, and some because, well, they're embarrassingly terrible.
1. The Bunt Home Run
Commercial For: Didibao Shoes (maybe)
Some fake viral videos involve expensive CGI and complex camera shots. But this one is genius in its simplicity. Just cut together video of a bunt with video of a home run video using some grainy, foreign Japanese baseball game and voila. (One of the Ten Commandments of making fake viral videos is: Something is much more believable if it's foreign.)
2. Hot Girl Pulls off Insane Golf Trick
Commercial For: Bud Light
We can tell this viral video is fake because no man in his right mind would stand in front of a girl taking a full swing with a driver (and I don't care that he covers his crotch right before she takes a swing). If she could really do this, she'd be on Letterman, not a shaky-shot camera phone in some random backyard. Oh, it also helps that the money shot at the end is a Bug Light bottle. (Full disclosure: I also know this was fake because I created it for Budweiser.)
3. Ball Girl Makes Crazy Catch
Commercial For: Gatorade
While this video was clearly a fake, the Internet went mental for it and it spread like wildfire not long after it's release. Gatorade admitted they were behind it, but only after they said they weren't going to release it. Which seems even fishier than the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-catch this girl supposedly pulled off.
4. Guy Catches Laptop With His Butt
Commercial For: MSI
This may be my faovrite fake viral ever. It doesn't even try to be real, it just tries to be ridiculously over the top and funny. This is the Internet version of the Old Spice guy.
5. Running On Water
Commercial For: Hi-Tec
Even Jesus was like "Faaaaaake" the first time he saw this.
6. Evan Longoria Makes A Bare-Handed Catch
Commercial For: Gillette
It's a dead giveaway when the description of the video refers to Evan Longoria as a "Gillette Young Gun". I'm not totally clear on how this video makes me want to buy more Gillette razors, but at 5 million views and counting, it clearly did it's job of going viral.
7. Girl Kicks A Soccer Ball Through A Big Donut
Commercial For: Nike
Marketers have clearly figured out that the formula of girl + doing something x Internet video = page views. We really like how she just happens to place the ball down so the Nike Swoosh is facing the camera. That's in the subtley-branded Hall of Fame.
8. Bike Hero
Commercial For: Guitar Hero World Tour
When it came out that this one was fake, everyone went "Who cares, let's watch it again."
9. The Craziest Slip and Slide Ever
Commercial For: Microsoft
I'm not sure how a dude riding a home made slip n' slide jump into a hilariously tiny pool is going to get me to buy more computers, but I'm glad they made this.
10. Rob Dyrdek's Floating Skateboard
Commercial For: SweeTarts
I know this piece is called "Best Fake Viral Videos" but this is clearly on this list ironically. This is by far the lamest one we've ever seen. They should've put some more of their CGI budget into getting actors who can say "Whoa!" a little more believably.
11. David Beckham Has Three Balls
Commercial For: Pepsi
Hi, my name is David Beckham and I drink Pepsi all the time. Oh, and I also hang out with complete morons who like to yell stuff in clown voices while I make CGI'd videos of me kicking soccer balls into trash cans on the beach.
12. Michael Vick Throws a Football Out Of A Stadium
Commercial For: Powerade
Michael Vick is a superhuman specimen, but no athlete is strong enough to overcome crappy CGI.
13. Lebron Hits Some Full Court Shots
Commercial For: Powerade
If they really wanted to pull this off, they should've cut the dopey newscaster (who is clearly not going to win any Academy Awards) and had LeBron not shoot 80 footers like they're a free throw.
Article originally published in 2004 Athlon Sports Racing annual
Opinions are like … well, you know the rest of that saying. Opinions are a little more valuable, though, when they belong to seven of Nextel Cup racing’s top guns. We think you’ll enjoy what they have to say on everything from rules changes to Cup contenders to the best toys — all of it refreshingly candid and unsanitized.
Would you change the point system? Does the winner deserve more points? Do pole winners deserve points?
Jimmie Johnson: I think that it would be beneficial if the winner of the race received more points. The way the points system works now, if you finish second and lead the most laps, you can finish with the same number of points as the winner, so I think there should be some reward for winning the actual race. The pole winner deserving points is a mixed bag. I could go either way. Track position is so important these days that if you win the pole it is a reward to have the track position. In addition, if you win the pole you have the best opportunity to lead the first lap and get five bonus points, so in some ways I can see how people want to reward the pole with points, but in a way, we already do.
Ryan Newman: I don’t really feel like the point system needs changing, but yes, I feel that points should be awarded for poles.
Elliott Sadler: I think the points system is just fine as it is. In all the years the points system has been in place this was the biggest year for controversy. The team with the most consistency earns the most points.
Mark Martin: They can do whatever they want to do with it. It doesn't matter to me. I don't think anything is wrong with the system. It’s the same system that we’ve always had and it has worked really well for us. Just because someone won by a lot of points this year, doesn’t mean we need to change anything. Last year (2002) Matt Kenseth won five races and finished eighth and there was no reason to change it then.
Ricky Rudd: No. I look at it like, why fix something that’s not broken. It’s been that way for many years. There are some arguments for pole position points and so on. But I think the system is pretty good as it is.
Ricky Craven: No, I think the points system is fine the way it is, with the exception of the pole winner. I think the pole winners do deserve some points. I mean, we spend an entire day each week focusing on nothing but qualifying. If we’re going to do that, I feel like the pole winner deserves some kind of reward or bonus for being the best on that day.
Sterling Marlin: I wouldn’t necessarily change the points system, but if they did then the winner and the pole winner definitely deserve more points.
Who besides yourself and your teammate do you consider the front-runner for the 2004 Nextel Cup?
Craven: Jimmie Johnson. His team just seems to have all the right ingredients in place to possibly claim the title. They have the equipment, but more importantly, Jimmie and Chad (Knaus) and the rest of the crew seem to have the chemistry and communication necessary to win it all.
Marlin: I’d say you’d have to look at Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson. They were real strong toward the end of the season. The 8 was really good there at the end of the season as well.
Martin: It’s hard to tell. There are a lot of factors that play into that and there is no way of predicting that now.
Newman: Jimmie Johnson is a good candidate and so is Junior or Jeff Gordon. It really depends on who has the best, most consistent season.
Johnson: I would say that there are about five to 10 teams that could win the championship next year. Just look at how close the points were this season. The No. 8, 12, 29, 24 and 48 were all battling it out for second through sixth and it came down to the last race. The No. 17 was so consistent this season they just didn’t have that many bad things happen to them. You also have to take into consideration the 18 and 20, who had bad luck this year, but they had new bodies this year and you could tell they were trying things that I’m sure will pay dividends for them next year. The team that will win next season is the team that has the fewest what-ifs at the end of the year.
Rudd: I think Ryan Newman is the guy. They have been very strong all year. They’ve had some mechanical problems, but they’ve been very fast on the race track and he’s got them beat I think.
Sadler: Ryan Newman — those boys are geniuses.
If you were building a new track, which current track would you use as a template?
Marlin: Homestead would be a good template to use. They have really fixed that track up nice.
Rudd: If I were building a race track I’d use Richmond as my template.
Craven: Dover International Speedway. I just think we need more pure, one-mile ovals on the circuit. I love the place. The fact that I usually run well there probably has a lot to do with that, but I love it.
Johnson: I would pick something like Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Dover and New Hampshire — tracks that I’ve had success on so I would have a better chance at winning some more races. In a perfect world I’d have them build an off-road track. I miss competing in those races and don’t really have an opportunity to with the schedule the way it is right now.
Sadler: For the fans I’d have to say Bristol. For the drivers, I love Atlanta, Vegas, Texas and Darlington.
Newman: If I could build a brand new Darlington, that’s what I’d build because it’s my favorite track we race at.
Martin: Lowe’s Motor Speedway. A lot of the other tracks have tried to copy it, but it’s my favorite track to race at. I just like the style of racing there. It’s a driver’s kind of track. Handling, especially in the corners, is key, and that suits my style of racing.
If you could eliminate a track, which would it be?
Rudd: Nothing jumps out in my mind right now. I enjoy all the tracks.
Newman: Daytona or Talladega because restrictor-plate racing isn’t fun for any of us out there.
Sadler: I would have to go with Martinsville, I’ve struggled there my whole career.
Johnson: I’m not sure I’d eliminate any of the tracks we race on. Each track is different, and they all offer their own challenges, so I really like most of the tracks we race on.
If you had to start an ill-handling car and the only hope you had at a win was dependent on your talent and driving skill, at which track would you be able to make up the most? At which track would you not have a shot at all?
Newman: I’d be at a disadvantage at restrictor-plate tracks, but all the rest, I’d say I’d have a shot at. Especially, if the car isn’t handling well, you’d want a track you can win on fuel. The ALLTEL team is good at calculating fuel, so I’d have a good shot at Chicago, Pocono, Michigan.
Rudd: At this day and time, I don’t care who you are, you can’t overcome a car that is not driving correctly. There are just too many good cars out there to be able to do that. If you go back four or five years ago the track would probably be Bristol. There were different lines around the race track and some things that you could change that might make up a little bit for an ill-handling car, but today you aren’t going to win with an ill-handling car.
Craven: I think Rockingham is probably the track where I could make up the most. I’ve had a lot of success there, and I seem to be able to get up on that high line and make up a lot of positions when I need to. I don’t seem to have a lot of luck at Homestead Speedway, but I do like the way they reconfigured the place, so maybe my luck will change there in the next couple of years.
Sadler: Well, if you can’t fix a car at certain tracks everyone is wasting each other’s time. Crew chiefs are experienced enough to where if the driver is complaining about something it is up to the driver and crew chief to come up with something that will fix the car. You can’t ever just give up.
Johnson: Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the win. For some reason I can really get around that track.
At which track does the X-Factor come into play for you? The X-Factor being a combination of luck and being at the right place at the right time.
Rudd: That statement applies to any given race on the (Nextel) Cup circuit today. And that is what really determined the winner in many cases — the pit strategy on fuel and tires. That’s really what has won quite a few races this year.
Johnson: I think all the tracks require the X-factor. Just look at Bill Elliott in Miami last season. Look at the fuel mileage races we’ve had this year. With the new ‘Lucky Dog’ policy, the X-factor is at every race. For you to have a strong finish these days, I think the X-factor plays a part in about 90 percent of the races. Anything can happen out there and a lot of it is out of your control.
Sadler: Every track. Anything can happen at any time, man. You can be running first and be taken out by a lapped car or a blown tire. That has happened to me and it sucks, but sometimes it works in the other direction.
Newman: It could be at any track really. I’ve had days I came from two laps to win. That was at Dover last year, and then Chicago I went on and won on fuel.
Darlington losing its Labor Day race, rock music instead of country music on the pre-race shows, millions and millions of dollars to run a full-time team. All this has sparked debate over how to balance the growth of NASCAR with the tradition of NASCAR. In your eyes, how does this sport continue to grow while staying pure to its roots?
Craven: I think that more prime time, Saturday night races is one way to continue the growth. I also think that we should follow the NFL’s lead and have a special weeknight race, maybe on Wednesday nights. I mean, NASCAR used to race three or four times a week back in the early days, so if the goal is to stay true to the roots of the sport while also growing the sport, that would be an ideal way to do that. I think the ratings would be tremendous for something like that.
Johnson: That’s the billion dollar question right now. NASCAR is doing a good job of trying to balance the old and the new. There is no way that you can please everyone in this situation. But just like other major league sports, in order for NASCAR to continue to grow and gain new fans and please our committed fans, we need to continue to evolve as a sport. We can’t stay the same, so NASCAR is working hard to make the right moves and not make drastic changes.
Sadler: As long as it stays a family sport and the most accessible sport in the world then we will always be staying close to our roots. We need to make sure we get new fans — they might be kids who listen to rock groups or whatever. We can remain close to the roots but escape stereotypes that racing is redneck or Southern. It’s much more than that.
Newman: Let’s face it, NASCAR is a business and if a business is going to survive, it needs to cater to the people that are buying into it. I feel like the sport itself is the tradition, but what drives it now is the sponsors and the demographics of the fans.
Martin: I’m just a race car driver. I show up each week and race; all of that other stuff is really out of my hands. All I can do is my part to help put on the best show possible for the fans.
Is 36 too many races? Would 30 be better? Theoretically, that’s a 16 percent decrease in revenue. Would you be willing to accept a 16 percent cut for fewer races?
Johnson: Yes. 36 or actually 38 races are too much. The drivers have it easy; it’s the crew guys that have it really tough. These guys work seven days a week, 13 to 15 hours a day and aren’t at home with there families. We have them going coast to coast and really take a lot away from them and take the balance away in their lives. I think that we should trim the schedule down and allow for more time at home for everyone. NASCAR has the longest professional sports season out there and I think that needs to change.
Rudd: I started my Winston Cup career when there were 28 races. I liked 28 races a lot better than I like 36. I’m not saying that we can’t handle more. It’s just that you would have a little more time for your personal life.
Sadler: No, 36 is cool. Actually it’s 38 if you count the Budweiser Shootout and the Nextel Cup All-Star Challenge. We are racers, and I’d race every day if you’d let me.
Newman: The number of races isn’t so bad, it’s the days away from home. If we could have the same amount of races, but make it a two-day show, that would be great.
What safety features does NASCAR need to implement?
Newman: I’m not going to make any decisions for NASCAR. They’ve been doing a great job listening to what the drivers have to say and work on those issues. We’ve come a long way in the last few years on safety, and it will get better.
Sadler: I’m a big guy — 6'2". Me, Dale Jarrett and Michael Waltrip are the biggest drivers on the circuit. I think that escape hatch will be good when it gets cleared. Hopefully I will never need to use it, but I think an alternative to getting out of the car besides the window would be helpful.
Johnson: I would like to see a traveling safety crew. I know that NASCAR is looking into this and I understand its reasoning as to why they have the current system. But for me and my family to know that the safety crew that might need to help me one day knows everything about me each week and I personally know them, that’s very important.
Rudd: I think NASCAR is looking at pretty much everything they need to look at right now. The one thing I would like to see them do is look at maybe getting the driver away from the left side door cage a little bit. Maybe locate the driver so many inches off the centerline of the driveshaft to get him out of the left side window. Maybe that will help prevent some of the injuries when the driver’s side smacks the wall.
Is the racing back to the yellow rule being handled correctly?
Newman: The first race NASCAR put the new rule into effect, I won. I got lucky, but I also had to gain one more lap before winning. I think the rule is good and NASCAR will work on it more and more.
Sadler: I think 13 seconds after the car stopped tumbling there was a safety worker talking to me through the window (at Talladega). That was also a good effort on the 42 other drivers on the track for slowing down to allow the safety crews to get to me.
Johnson: I think NASCAR is doing a good job with it. Things had to change because it was just a matter of time before someone got injured from racing back to the yellow. I’m not sure about the ‘Lucky Dog’ rule. It’s hard for the racer in us to see someone get a free pass, but as time goes on we’ll get everything worked out.
Rudd: I like the rule. I think it needs some adjusting on the shorter tracks a little bit where you have so many caution flags. At the end of the race virtually everyone is on the lead lap.
Should there be a traveling safety crew?
Martin: I wish there was.
Sadler: I think there needs to be a traveling medical crew. If I end up in the infield care center, it’s good that I know the person looking over me and they know me.
Rudd: I would say that before the new rules that NASCAR has on racing back to the flag, that we definitely needed a crew every week that was familiar with the rules. Today, it would still be nice knowing that you had people coming to your car that knew how to deal with your particular needs or knew about your previous injuries. That would be nice. But with not racing back to the flag, it has freed up how quickly they can move the safety crews. I think that all any driver wants to see is, when they have an accident, that you are going to have somebody there pretty quickly.
Newman: Most definitely. NASCAR has a traveling chef, why not a safety crew?
Should there be a yellow and/or red light on the dash board?
Rudd: I think some other series use that situation. I haven’t really seen a big need for that. Currently in Winston Cup with the rule change we don’t race back to the flag. If there is a problem and the caution flag comes out people slow down. It’s working real smooth right now. I really haven’t seen a need for a light on the dashboard.
Sadler: No, not necessarily. It might be too much of a distraction — I’d have to try it. My spotter Brett is 100 percent on his game. As long as he is paying attention, and I am paying attention I think we can avoid accidents with accidents.
Martin: That would be a nice addition.
Newman: I don’t think so.
What are some things (away from racing) you have been given the opportunity to do because of your position as a NASCAR driver?
Newman: Last year’s trip to NASA was about one of the coolest things I’ve done.
Martin: To be able to do all the charity things we have done over the years — it’s always a good feeling to give something back. We have the greatest fans in the world in this sport and it’s not always easy, but it’s always great to be able to help out charities and people in need of assistance.
Sadler: Gosh, too many to count. I’ve been to The Final Four, NBA games, MLB games, met celebrities like Carmen Electra, Serena and Venus Williams, the band Three Doors Down, WWE Wrestlers, and been in my buddy Blake Shelton’s country music video, Ol’ Red. I also get to travel in planes and cool cars. I’m real, real fortunate.
Johnson: I’ve thrown out the first pitch at a Phillies vs. Braves game, stood on the sidelines at a Georgia Tech (football) game, been able to get dinner reservations, meet actors and other celebrities. Just do things that you would never have guessed in a thousand years. I have the best job in the world that offers me a lot of benefits.
Rudd: A good example for me, I’ve always been an aviation sort of nut. I’m a pilot myself and having the U.S. Air Force associated with our car has given us a lot of opportunities to visit a lot of bases, to see a lot of the state of the art sort of equipment, visit with the Thunderbirds, things like that that I would not have had the opportunity to do otherwise.
Craven: The biggest thing that the notoriety of being a NASCAR driver has done for me is to allow me to put on my annual Snowmobile Charity Ride up in Maine. We’ve been fortunate to be able to raise a lot of money and help a lot of people. I can’t ask for anything better than that. I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of stars and go a lot of places during my time in the sport, but giving something back is the coolest thing being a NASCAR driver has allowed me to do.
Who was your favorite driver growing up? How has he influenced your driving style or how you conduct yourself at the track?
Rudd: I didn’t really have a favorite driver. I was always busy racing myself since I was about eight years old running go-karts and motorcycles. But I guess I did watch the Indy 500 and I remember watching A.J. Foyt. I remember Dan Gurney from road racing being a kid watching some of the races that came on ABC. I remember those guys, Gurney and Foyt, from when I was young. But I didn’t really follow the races that heavily because I was busy racing myself.
Sadler: My uncle Bud Elliott, my brother Hermie Sadler and Dale Earnhardt. They showed me how to be successful but stay real.
Craven: I really idolized Richard Petty when I was growing up. He served as a great example of how to handle yourself in the heat of the moment. He always had a smile for the camera, even after he might have just gotten wrecked on the track. Whenever I’m in a similar situation, I always try to remember how well he handled himself. I don’t always succeed in living up to the precedent he set, but I do try.
Johnson: I started out in motocross and Rick Johnson was a guy I looked up to. I also followed Rick Mears, since he was from California, thinking I’d take the same path from off-road to Indy cars. In stock cars, I was a Cale Yarborough fan. I also followed the Allisons and Dale Earnhardt. I had always wanted to race against Dale Earnhardt, and I’m sorry I missed the opportunity. As far as what I’ve taken from them, I would say that I’ve taken from them the desire to win and the work ethic. These guys wanted to win every time they got on the track and so do I.
Martin: Richard Petty. He is and always will be the greatest ambassador of our sport.
Newman: I always admired Dale Earnhardt for his way of mentally beating people before the race even started.
If you had to choose one driver to be NASCAR’s spokesman to America, who would it be?
Sadler: I think Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett are excellent spokesmen for the sport.
Martin: Jeff Gordon.
Newman: I don’t know if there is just one. Jeff Gordon’s made a good name for himself, but there’s a lot of guys out there.
Craven: I think Jeff Gordon has done a great job of being a spokesperson for NASCAR. He handles himself extremely well in interviews, and he’s a very intelligent, well-spoken guy. I think he helps to dispel a lot of the stereotypes that some of the country might have about our sport. He’s a hard guy to dislike, I think. I mean, he’s young, he’s a good-looking guy, and he’s very articulate.
Marlin: Rusty (Wallace) would be entertaining as a spokesperson. He’d be honest.
When you came into the sport, who took you under their wing?
Martin: Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.
Johnson: This isn’t going to surprise anyone, but when I got into Winston Cup Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick really took me under their wings. Jeff has taught me a lot about racing both on and off the track. Both Rick and Jeff have taught me a lot about the business side of the sport and how to deal with the pressures and what it takes to be a winner. I’ve been fortunate to get in with a tremendous organization and have a very supportive sponsor in Lowe’s.
Newman: Buddy Baker.
Marlin: No one really took me under their wing; I had been around racing so much already because of my dad that I knew everybody. It wasn’t like I was first starting.
Sadler: Dale Jarrett as a matter of fact. He and I were testing at Darlington — he in a Cup car and me in a Busch car. I went to him for advice on how to get around the ‘Lady In Black’ and he pretty much dropped everything, put me in a rental car and drove me around the track for 30 minutes. It’s cool because I won my first pole there in 2003. DJ and I have been tight ever since. I’ll never forget that.
Craven: Jeff Gordon really took me under his wing, even though I’m older than he is. He had already had a couple of years in Winston Cup before I moved up in 1995. When I joined Hendrick Motorsports, he really taught me the right way to do a lot of things. I really treasure his friendship, and the way he’s always been willing to help me. Among the drivers, he’s probably the one I’m closest to.
What other drivers or crew chiefs would you want to play poker against? Which would you not?
SadIer: I wouldn’t want to play with my own crew chief, Todd Parrott. He has too good of a poker face. Also, Matt Borland and Ryan Newman — forget it man.
Newman: I don’t know, but I can tell you, you don’t want to play against my crew chief Matt Borland. He’s a good poker player who actually competes in tournaments when we’re not racing.
Craven: Well, let me think. First, Mike Helton. I know he’s not a driver or a crew chief, but I think he’d make one heck of a poker player. Jimmy Spencer, just because he’d make for an entertaining game. Matt Borland and Ryan Newman would make for a good game, because of how analytical and intelligent they are.
It’s said that the difference between a man and a boy is the size of his toys. What are some of your favorite toys?
Sadler: I am not allowed to ride on motorcycles. My mom won’t let me. I have a pontoon boat and in my motorcoach I have two Xbox’s and a karaoke machine.
Craven: I love my snowmobiles and my Sea Ray boat. I love getting out on Moosehead Lake in Maine first thing in the morning on the Sea Ray. There’s nothing better than that. With the Snowmobiles, we have a lot of trails around Moosehead that we ride on, and we’ll just go for hours and hours on those things. It really clears my mind and recharges my batteries.
Rudd: I guess most of my toys are something I can share with my son, Landon. He is nine years old now and we enjoy doing a lot of different things, but one of the things he really enjoys is riding four-wheelers, running through the woods chasing each other. We enjoy doing that. And a little bit of go-karts; nothing real serious there. The other thing is airplanes. I enjoy aviation and because flying is a necessary part of our sport I enjoy the airplane and I enjoy the flying part of our sport.
Marlin: Some of my favorite toys are bulldozers and other farming equipment.
Newman: I’ve got a Ranger 520 Bass Boat, wave runners. I’ve got a 1928 Ford Roadster with a 1953 Ford engine that has dual 94 Stromsburg carburetors, Offenhauser heads, and a 1957 Ford 3-speed transmission. I have a 1953 Plymouth with the original flathead six cylinder and a 1957 Ford Thunderbird (one of Krissie’s favorites) with a numbers matching 312 engine and automatic transmission.
Johnson: I have a 36-foot Fountain boat, a couple of motorized bar stools that will go about 40 mph and a Harley-Davidson fatboy. We’re so busy I hardly have time to use them, but they’re great when I can.
Martin: Well, they’re not toys but my Citation Jet and my Vantari motor home. I’m very proud of both.
Do you play NASCAR video games? Do they ever help you prepare for a track?
Newman: I used to play them more, but definitely. I feel I’ve learned a lot about Darlington and Bristol by playing the NASCAR game.
Sadler: Yes, tons. I play EA Sports NASCAR Thunder 2004 all the time. It helped me get used to the new Homestead-Miami Speedway configuration before we got on the track.
Johnson: Yes, I play a lot of the games. The 2004 EA Sports NASCAR Thunder is pretty realistic. When I first came into the series, I played a lot of the games to experience the track and see what they were like. It helps a little in giving you the feel for what it will look like.
Martin: No. I leave all the video games to my son Matt.
What would be more entertaining: 43 NASCAR drivers playing Augusta National or 43 PGA golfers shooting it out at Bristol?
Craven: The 43 PGA Golfers at Bristol would be more entertaining to watch, but it would be a very short race. You could probably make a lot of money off the scrap metal that would be left over, though.
Johnson: I would say the golfers in Bristol. There is no way people would want to see me golf. I can play about seven or eight holes and then it’s off to the clubhouse.
Sadler: As much of a golf fan I am, I have to go with Bristol. Its heaven on earth. Those PGA Golfers need to try it out sometime.
Martin: 43 PGA golfers shooting it out at Bristol.
What is your favorite sport other than racing?
Marlin: My favorite sport other than racing is football. I love watching the Tennessee Vols play every week.
Newman: I watch hockey only because my wife Krissie is a Devils fan, but I really don’t like or watch other sports. I like watching fishing shows mostly.
Craven: Hockey is a lot of fun for me to watch. Growing up in New England, Hockey was one of the biggest things around. I was never very good at it, but the game has a lot of speed and excitement, which appeals to me for obvious reasons.
Sadler: Golf and deer hunting.
Who is your favorite athlete outside racing?
Craven: Carlton Fisk, the Boston Red Sox catcher. Being from Maine, the BoSox were everything to me as a kid as far as baseball was concerned, and Fisk was just such a strong player.
Sadler: Too many to name. I am a sports nut so I have favorites in every sport.
Martin: Michael Jordan. We shot a Gatorade Commercial with him a while back and he is great.
Do you have any crazy rituals or superstitions for race day?
Craven: I always try to carry something in my car that my kids (Riley, age 11 and Everett, age 7) have given me. My daughter even knows how much luck each good luck charm has in it. One time, I was in a wreck, and I told Riley that the good luck charm must have run out of luck. She said, “No daddy, that one still has at least two more races worth in it.”
Sadler: I don’t really, but I just do the same thing every week. Get lots of rest, drink a ton of water and Powerade, and breathe pure oxygen. A lot of resting and relaxing.
Newman: Not a one.
Johnson: No. I used to be superstitious, but now I just try to stay focused.
What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done on the track?
Sadler: Probably that little helmet toss in the Winston a few years back. I was mad at Ryan Newman because he wrecked me. It cost me a little bit of money when I got fined by NASCAR, and I also felt bad for all my sponsors at the time for acting like that.
Marlin: I can’t remember the exact year, it was 1976 or 1977 at Nashville. I had won the pole and we started the pace lap and I ran out of gas. I thought the crew guys had put the fuel in it and they thought I had put the fuel in it. I coasted right into the fuel pump and put about five gallons in and went back out there.
What track, NASCAR sanctioned or not, do you consider your home track?
Sadler: South Boston. That is where I grew up. I won a track championship, and they have a grandstand named after me. Richmond is my home track on the NASCAR circuit.
Newman: IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park) — maybe since I’m from South Bend. I raced there a lot in open-wheel.
Martin: Daytona, because that’s where we live now.
If not for racing, what would you be doing now?
Sadler: I’d be working in the family business or playing ball somewhere.
Martin: I'm just not sure.
Johnson: I’d be a fireman. Growing up I use to live next door to a fireman and have always wanted to be one. I’m not really sure what draws me to it. It might be the sense of being on the edge and trying to control something that isn’t controllable, but who knows.
Newman: Fishing, of course.
Michelle Williams is going to play Marilyn Monroe in an upcoming movie. We're not exactly sure why. Yes, she's a pretty good actress, but can she pull off the sultry, steamy sexiness that Marilyn exuded? We have yet to see it.
Michelle discusses her new role in the new issue of Vogue.
The movie, titled My Week With Marilyn, is set to hit theaters in November of 2011, also stars the ultra sexy Emma Watson. We know she's British, but we think Emma Watson exudes more of Marilyn's iconic sexiness than Michelle Williams. We wonder who Joe DiMaggio would have chosen to play the love of his life if he were still alive. The Yankee Clipper probably would have asked if Jayne Mansfield was available. And that would be an awkward conversation. (This is the last time we try to imagine how dead celebrities would answer questions 10 years after their death.)
By Mark Ross
On Aug. 11, 1994, major league baseball players walked off the field and started what ended up being a seven-month work stoppage that resulted in the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years. Games resumed the following April, but the fans didn't return. Attendance dropped 20 percent during the 1995 season and it took nearly a decade for average attendance to approach it's pre-strike level. Fast forward to the present and with a reported $7.1 billion in gross revenue in 2010, a 400% increase compared to 1995, it's fair to say that America's favorite pastime has since rebounded. However, the point is this: it took some time and there were certainly some "growing pains" along the way.
So let's contrast that to the NFL, or what is affectionately known as America's game. With estimated revenue of $9 billion in 2010, the NFL is clearly king among the four major sports when it comes to TV viewership, game attendance and corporate involvement. But the NFL is coming off of a work stoppage of its own that just ended in early August with the official ratification of a new CBA by both the owners and players. Only one preseason game was lost to the work stoppage, but there was plenty of frustration, disbelief and anger expressed by football fans across the country as the labor negotiations dragged on through the summer and were covered ad nauseam by every medium that exists. The question then becomes would a summer's worth of discontent translate to any sort of fan-led lockout once the games started?
The answer — not so much. Compared to Week 1 of last season, opening week attendance numbers were pretty much equal. Last year, more than 1.09 million fans attended games in the opening week. This past Thursday, Sunday and last night, about 1.08 million fans were in attendance in stadiums across the country, according to numbers found on ESPN.com. The total difference between the past two opening weeks is less than 11,000.
Eight teams — Chicago, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New York Jets, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Washington — hosted Week 1 games each of the past two seasons. Of those eight, only three of them (Jacksonville, Kansas City and Washington) drew fewer fans this season compared to last. Tampa Bay was the only team that didn't sell enough tickets to prevent a local TV blackout for its opening game, although it did draw more than 4,000 fans this season compared to last.
And speaking of TV, the NFL and ESPN announced a new agreement last week that keeps "Monday Night Football" on ESPN for the next decade and also will increase the number of NFL-related shows on the network. The agreement, which officially begins in 2014, has ESPN reportedly paying the NFL $1.9 billion per year, up from the current $1.1 billion. Further, NBC's opening "Sunday Night Football" broadcast of the Dallas Cowboys-New York Jets game two nights ago set a record as the series' highest-rated game ever and earned the best ratings for a Week 1 game broadcast on a Sunday or Monday night in 15 years.
Overall, the NFL is estimating that it will take in $9.5 billion in revenue during the regular season, including a 15 percent increase in sponsorship revenue. So it appears that fans, TV viewers and corporate America all have put the lockout behind them and returned to the game they love. In fact, according to this Associated Press article, the return of the NFL acts as its own stimulus program for the national economy in and of itself. Clearly, it is good to be the king.
What was sorely missing from the Colts shellacking at the hands of the Texans on Sunday was the camera cutting to a dejected, neck halo-wearing Peyton Manning. This game would have been much, much more entertaining if the camera kept showing Peyton Manning in the owner's booth, trying to stay as calm as possible and not rip the bolts out of his head. Since we don't have that shot, here are a few images of what Peyton Manning probably looks like right now.
An artist's rendition of Peyton Manning in his neck halo:
Ron Jaworski accidentally said the word "shit" during the live broadcast of the Patriots at Dolphins Monday Night Football game last night. Chad Henne missed a pass down the right sideline and as Ron was breaking down the mistake that Henne made, he let the s-word slip out. The transcript of what Jaws said was:
"That was one Chad would love to have back. He knew he had the one-on-one matchup going down the right sideline. Shit, you have to get rid of this ball just a split second quicker. You'll see it here."
Ron has apologized, but does anyone really care? In fact, if I'd like to see more swearing during broadcasts instead of less. In this day and age of reality TV, I'd like to hear what these commentators really think, in the language they would use if they were sitting in a locker room. I think it would probably sound something like this:
"Chad Henne is a piece of $&%# quarterback who will never lead the @&%#$% Dolphins anywhere. Can you believe this %&#@ is actually a %!*%$* NFL Quarterback? What %*%#@(% gave him a job? That %&@$* should be %&^#(@ fired right &^$(%&@ now. Back to you Mike."
NFL players are known for being tough, aggressive and violent people who will sacrifice their bodies to win at any cost. Emo kids, on the other hand, will sit in their room and cry if their mom doesn't buy them the right kind of organic tea. So, we wondered what it would look like if we combined the two using very poor Photoshop techniques.
1. Tony Romo as an Emo Kid
2. Peyton Hillis as an Emo Kid
3. Drew Brees celebrating the Super Bowl win as an Emo Kid
4. Philip Rivers as an Emo Kid
5. Aaron Rodgers as an Emo Kid
6. Tim Tebow as an Emo Kid (back when he was a Gator, and was in Fall Out Boy)
7. Bill Belichick as an Emo Kid (Probably listening to Fall Out Boy)
8. Peyton Manning as an Emo Kid
9. Clay Matthews as an Emo Kid
10. Tom Brady as an Emo Kid (it was temping to leave this one not photoshopped)
We take a look at some of the top storylines from Week One of the NFL's 2011 season.
Cutler, Bears Make Early Statement Against the Falcons
Now that’s how you bounce back from Wuss-gate. Jay Cutler, last seen making the now-patented Cutler Face from the sidelines in the NFC Championship game loss to Green Bay after an injury, dissected the Falcons defense in a 30–12 rout of Atlanta at Soldier Field. Cutler threw for 312 yards and a pair of scores, one of them a 56-yard screen pass to Matt Forte, in vastly outshining flavor-of-the-month Matt Ryan.
As usual, the Bears defense got in on the act, as Brian Urlacher grabbed a Ryan fumble on one of the Bears’ five sacks and took it 12 yards for a touchdown to cap Chicago’s scoring. Cutler is still Cutler — he threw a pick-six to reality hubby Kroy Biermann to make the score a little more respectable — but only one of these teams looked like a Super Bowl contender, and it wasn’t the trendy Falcons.
“Big confidence booster for us as a football team,” said receiver Roy Williams. “We knew what we can do offensively. We knew what we can do defensively. But to put it together, especially against a good football team in Atlanta, shows what kind of football team we have.”
Colts Look Lost Without Manning
Miss Manning much? The Colts looked utterly helpless without their field general and coach on the field, falling behind 34–0 at halftime to Houston before the Texans emptied the bench and coasted to a 34–7 win. It was Indy’s worst loss since a 27-point loss to Jacksonville in 2006, but this one felt different from your garden variety blowout.
Indy looked like Directional U showing up in Tuscaloosa to absorb a beating and pick up a paycheck. The Colts lured Kerry Collins out of retirement but might want to coax him back into it; Collins fumbled on consecutive first-quarter snaps, setting up Texans touchdowns, and he never looked comfortable against Wade Phillips’ aggressive 3-4 defense. Afterwards, receiver Reggie Wayne tried to encourage his teammates by reminding them that the Texans also beat the Colts in last year’s opener before normalcy returned to both franchises.
“I just told them: ‘We’re going to be all right. It’s a long season and there’s no reason to worry,’” Wayne said. “We were in the same position last year and we still accomplished our goal and that’s taking care of our division.” Sorry, Reggie. Things are different now. With Manning sidelined, the road to the AFC South title now runs through Houston.
Cam Newton Has Historic Debut
Sure, it was the Arizona Cardinals, not exactly the ’85 Bears. But Cam Newton silenced a boatload of doubters with a record-setting performance in his NFL debut. Newton became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 400-plus yards in his debut, completing 24-of-37 passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns. Alas, the outcome was a 28–21 road loss — this is still the Panthers, after all — but Newton could be the spark that energizes a moribund franchise.
“He was everything everybody didn’t expect him to be,” said Steve Smith, who caught eight of Newton’s passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns, including a 77-yarder. “He was on point, he made some great runs, he made some great reads, made some fantastic throws. He made some throws out there that honestly as a receiver it made it easy to catch them.”
The game’s other ballyhooed rookie, former LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, provided the decisive points for the Cardinals with an 89-yard punt return but was repeatedly victimized by his former college nemesis. “I told you guys from the beginning that he is a great athlete and is definitely going to be one of the greats in this league,” Peterson said. Maybe, maybe not. But he was great on Sunday.
Eagles Living the Dream
The Vince Young-proclaimed Dream Team made Week One a nightmare for the St. Louis Rams in beating them 31–13. Not only did Michael Vick dazzle, scrambling for 98 yards and throwing for two touchdowns despite completing fewer than half of his passes, but the Eagles also turned the Rams sideline into a MASH unit.
Quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson — in other words, the entire Rams offense — left the game with injuries, as did leading returning receiver Danny Amendola, cornerback Ron Bartell and tackle Jason Smith.
But the story of the day was the Philly playmakers, who did what they do. LeSean McCoy rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown, and DeSean Jackson caught six passes for 102 yards and a score. Still, the highest-profile member of the Philly offensive triplets was far from satisfied. “I’m thankful for the victory, don't get me wrong,” Vick said. “I just wish it could have been a little cleaner.” If Vick stays this hungry in pursuit of perfection, he might make Vince Young’s dreams come true.
Ravens Dominate Steelers
On a day when the theme was Never Forget, the Steelers may never forget the colossal beatdown they received at the hands of their bitterest rivals. Baltimore pummeled its AFC North nemesis, forcing seven turnovers and rushing for 170 bruising yards, a staggering number against a Dick LeBeau defense.
Ray Rice ran for 36 yards on his first touch, a sign of things to come on a day when Rice amassed 149 yards rushing and receiving and scored two touchdowns, breaking the hearts of fantasy owners everywhere who held him out against the vaunted Steelers defense.
The Ravens were the team with the dominant defense, as Haloti Ngata forced a fumble and caused an interception, and Ed Reed grabbed two errant Ben Roethlisberger throws. “We got beat into submission,” said a humbled James Farrior. It’s only one game, but it did a lot to erase the sting of last year’s playoff loss to these same Steelers. “That playoff taste? Now it’s over,” Rice said. “They beat us in the playoffs, all right. We got that burden off our shoulders, boom, we’re one up on them.” Only one up, but right now, the Ravens are miles ahead.
Does something about this fantasy football team's score seem odd? Defense/ST usually don't put up over 3,500 points in a decade, let alone a single game. In this team, the commissioner meant to set the defense scoring at 1 points for every 25 return yards. But he inverted it and set it at 25 points for every 1 return yard.
Needless to say he got more than a few panicked text messages after Thursday's Packers-Saints game.
By RALPH VACCHIANO
Six months ago, there was no guarantee this would ever happen. Yet here we finally are, in opening week. The lockout scared everyone and threatened take away football, but in the end the NFL hasn’t missed a beat.
In fact, it sure looked just as exciting as ever on Thursday night when the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers opened with a thrilling, 42-34 win over the New Orleans Saints and Lambeau Field. The action figures to be just as thrilling on Sunday, especially in these five big and interesting Week 1 games:
PITTSBURGH STEELERS AT BALTIMORE RAVENS
The Steelers will win if… they get RB Rashard Mendenhall going early. Roethlisberger is often the difference in these games (he’s beaten the Ravens seven straight times) but the best way to keep the Ravens’ pass rush off him is to soften it by pounding the ball on the ground. If Mendenhall gets going, the Steelers have plenty of passing weapons to make the Ravens pay.
The Ravens will win if… they get their own passing attack going. Joe Flacco hasn’t had much success against the Steelers, but he has plenty of weapons with Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans. He’s poised for a breakout year, too.
What probably will happen: Forget all the points these two put up in the playoffs, this still has the makings of a defensive battle where they slug it out on the ground. The Steelers are more equipped for that kind of game.
Prediction: Steelers 17, Ravens 13
ATLANTA FALCONS AT CHICAGO BEARS
The Falcons will win if… they rattle Jay Cutler. In their playoff loss to the Packers, the Falcons couldn’t get near Aaron Rodgers. Cutler is more vulnerable, and he’s shaky enough that he could be thrown off his game if he’s forced to run.
The Bears will win if… they run the ball effectively with Matt Forte, which won’t be easy if Marion Barber misses the game. Forte can be boom or bust sometimes, but he needs to be more of a grinder to keep the Falcons’ high-powered offense off the field.
What probably will happen: The Falcons loaded up on a pretty good team this offseason and they’re ready to show off all their weapons. Matt Ryan, Roddy White, rookie Julio Jones and Michael Turner will be way too much for the Bears defense.
Prediction: Falcons 31, Bears 14
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT HOUSTON TEXANS
The Colts will win if… they figure out a way to really run the ball and protect QB Kerry Collins. This is a team in trouble without Peyton Manning, so they need to scale back to a very basic offensive attack. No more wide-open passing game. Collins has a big arm, but can make the big mistake. Plus he’s not as young as he used to be.
The Texans will win if… they turn this into an offensive shootout, which they are perfectly capable of doing. With running back Arian Foster, quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson, they can put up points in bunches. If they do that early, Collins won’t be able to keep up.
What probably will happen: The Colts will be better than most people think without Manning, but this is too tough a test right off the bat. At some point, Collins will throw an untimely interception that will set the Texans off on an unstoppable run.
Prediction: Texans 37, Colts 20
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES AT ST. LOUIS RAMS
The Eagles will win if… Michael Vick picks up where he left off. He was the NFL’s most unstoppable weapon last season. He could throw on the run, run on his own, or sit in the pocket and dissect defenses. The Rams’ defense is improving, but if Vick is on, it won’t be pretty.
The Rams will win if… they turn up the heat on Vick. Pressure is a specialty of defensive-minded coach Steve Spagnuolo. His offense can score, but he’s got to stop Vick and the best way to do that is make him move out of the pocket. Sometimes that doesn’t help, but better that than letting him sit in the pocket with plenty of time.
What probably will happen: The Eagles didn’t really click like a “Dream Team” should in the preseason, but they are still pretty loaded on offense. It may take a while and it may not be pretty, but eventually they’ll get it going. Vick will find a way to make it work.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Rams 20
OAKLAND RAIDERS AT DENVER BRONCOS
The Raiders will win if… Darren McFadden stays healthy and the Raiders lean on him. The Broncos defense is vulnerable and not overloaded with talent, despite John Fox’s best efforts. Their line could be pushed around and McFadden could end up with a very big night.
The Broncos will win if… they control the game with a power style of their own. This won’t be the old aerial Broncos. Kyle Orton is efficient and the Knowshon Moreno, Willis McGahee combination should be the strength of the Broncos’ offense. They may have trouble with the Raiders’ defensive line, but if they don’t they’ll have a shot.
What probably will happen: This will be the Raiders’ coming out party and McFadden will show he really is an elite running back. For a change, the Raiders really might be for real.
Prediction: Raiders 31, Broncos 14