Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ouch! That hurts.

In SI this week the Blazers franchise suffered a severe beatdown. In a script rewrite the Blazers replaced the Clippers as the joke. In a scene, Josh Hartnett was to say that his son was a Clippers fan and Alan Alda responded that his son "should find a less pathetic team to follow." Since the Clippers performed well this year the writer changed it to the Blazers.

I'm ok with people taking shots at the JailBlazers or the teams futility in the past few seasons but really. One playoff season doth not make the Clippers a pathetic team. The Blazers had 21 straight seasons of playoff births, 3 finals appearances and 1 championship. Yes, the team has had poor seasons the last 3 years by those standards but lets look at what other teams have done to really judge pathetic. The Clippers have made the playoffs a grand total of 4 times in the past 22 seasons. Not to mention Elgin Baylor's repeated failures, until this year, to do anything good with the team. The Golden State Warriors haven't made the playoffs since '93, one year after the Blazers lost to the Bulls in the Finals.

Or how about the Knicks? Do I need to even say how pathetic that organization is right now? The Blazers are bad but nowhere near as bad the Knicks and have actually been making progress by getting rid of John Nash and having a decent draft. The Knicks still have Isiah Thomas running the show and now he's coaching!!!

Maybe if the Blazers become perennial lottery dwellers over the next 5 years and make poor draft choices year after year it will be deserving of the title of pathetic. But until then the team is still trying and will not be truly pathetic only disappointing.

Following the Four Major European Soccer Leagues

I have been heartened to see that others have begun to appreciate soccer as an entertaining sport. The Sports Guy, aka Bill Simmons, recently has thrown his support behind Tottenham Hotspurs of the Premiership and The Mighty MJD has selected Man City as his team for a trial basis. While I am not new to soccer fandom, I think it is a good exercise to find teams to root for in European soccer. So, I am going a step further than these two and endeavor to choose a favorite team from each of the four leagues elite European leagues and I will try to post weekly about the teams.

Firstly, the four leagues I believer to be the elite (and I assume others do as well) are: the Premiership, the Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A. Nothing against the leagues in France or the Netherlands or any other country, but these four are where the major players end up, the most money is found, routinely win the European championships and it is going to be difficult to follow four leagues as well.

There are several reasons for not having favorite teams in these European leagues. None of which, I fear, are acceptable in this age. But here are my reasons. First, I only know one foreign language, German, which makes it difficult to follow the Spanish and Italian leagues. Second, it is difficult to follow several different leagues when the only information comes from the internet and you can’t watch the games on television unless it’s in the Champions League (I only have basic cable). Third, I’m lazy.

I hope to get several things from this project. First, whenever I go back to Europe I will have a team to support in several countries. Second, I will have more information about players in each area. Third, I will get read about and watch a lot more soccer.

My choices are based on a number of factors: try not to be a fair-weather fan; consistently performs reasonably well; locations that I want to visit or have some sort of connection to; and, good jerseys.

English Premier League: Liverpool FC. This is an easy choice for me because I have supported the team since 9th grade when I bought a Liverpool shirt. I didn’t know anything about the team but I got it and started to follow the team and still do. I know the team is a perennial power but I didn’t know that when I started so I feel ok about not really being a front runner. The jerseys are decent with a beer company as sponsor but I don’t know much about Liverpool or for that matter really desire to travel there other than for a game.

Bundesliga: Another easy choice. Hertha BSC. I spent a semester in Berlin and this is the only Berlin team in the Bundesliga. Berlin is one of my favorite European cities and has many great attractions and an immense history. The team hasn’t had consistent success having spent many seasons in the German Second Division but has performed well the past few seasons.

Serie A: AS Roma. I already had the city chosen because my mother lived outside of Rome for 5 years when I was a teenager and I visited nearly every summer. Rome was and is my favorite city. It is just an incredibly interesting city with ancient history and culture. But, I wasn’t sure whether to choose Lazio or Roma as my Serie A team. The current match fixing scandal made it a little easier because Lazio is caught up in it. However, in my research it seems most Italian teams have had some match fixing scandals, although there was nothing on the Wikipedia page about AS Roma. Roma also has a history of staying in Serie A but not always being at the top like Inter, AC Milan and Juventus.

Unfortunately, the team does have some history with the Italian fascists. This sort of negative political association is not uncommon for any of the teams playing in the leagues of the old Axis powers and must just be overlooked.

La Liga: This was the most difficult decision for me. I didn’t want to choose Real Madrid—a traditional superpower—or Barcelona since it is the current cup holder for the Champions League. I don’t have much connection to Spain but I did spend about two weeks there during 1999. I really enjoyed everywhere I went but I whittled my teams down to Sevilla, Real Betis and Valencia.

The first two are in Sevilla, a vibrant town with a good nightlife where I spent a week. Valencia is a Spanish city on the Mediterranean coast. I’ve never been there but it sounds like a good city to visit. Valencia has the edge with a moderate coastal climate whereas Sevilla scorching during the summer but pleasant other times of the year. Advantage Valencia because of the weather and the beach.

As far as past performance goes there is a clear order here. Valencia has won two La Liga titles in the past five years, Sevilla hasn’t won since the 40’s, and Real Betis hasn’t won since 1935. Valencia is regularly in the Champions League while the other two are not. Betis has had the most trouble staying in La Liga although has had some success lately. Advantage Valencia since it performs well but is not on par with Madrid or Barca.

Sevilla has by far the worst jerseys—ugly maroon and powder blue jerseys. Betis has the best with green and white stripes and Valencia has classy and simple white home and blue away jerseys. I already have a striped team in Hertha but I really like the green. Advantage Betis.

Intangibles for the teams are quite varied. Valencia has a cool bat looking creature in its crest and Sevilla has ominous looking religious figures. Betis is a team traditionally for the working class. Sevilla is like the Green Bay Packers in that the fans own the team. Sevilla and Betis have one of the strongest Spanish rivalries. It’s always good to have a team to hate but I think you can always hate Barca and Real Madrid in La Liga since they spend so much and regularly win.

In the end it came down to Betis and Valencia. I couldn’t go wrong with either city. Betis has better jerseys but Valencia has better performances. Valencia has the bat in the crest and Betis has a strong rivalry. In the end I want to root for a team that can challenge Barca and Real Madrid and not just a pretty jersey so I choose Valencia. We’ll see how this one goes, I may have revisit it next year.

To recap: My teams are Liverpool, Hertha BSC, AS Roma and Valencia CF. I will try to keep updated the teams’ progress and any other developments and I’ll see how this betters my soccer knowledge and fandom.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Former Blazer News

Surprise, surprise, one of the former Jailblazers, Shawn Kemp, just got arrested for marijuana possession. Kemp has been attempting to make a comeback after eating his way out of the NBA. The story listed some of Kemp's career highlights:
Kemp’s career highlights include five straight All-Star appearances and being a member of the gold-medal winning Dream Team II at the 1994 World Championships of Basketball.

The story forgot to mention these other highlights: fathering at least seven children out of wedlock with seven different women; severe alcohol and drug problems; weight issues; and, a general lack of motivation in his last few years in the NBA.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Back in the

In stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France, Floyd Landis, to borrow a Bill Simmons phrase, displayed a Pantheon Performance to put himself into contention for the Tour. Two days earlier, in stage 15, Landis captured the yellow jersey. But, twenty-four hours later he relinquished the jersey in a stunning collapse. In one stage he fell behind the leader by over eight minutes.

Then, today, Landis showed he had a heart as big as Andre the Giant's by dominating the final mountain stage to race back to within 30 seconds of the overall leader. Since this all happened on European time I read the story in the morning and was able to watch the replay on OLN, which doesn't have anything else to show at 10:00 a.m. (or for that matter at 10:00 p.m) but the Tour.

It was an amazing performance and I would have to rank it up there with a flu-ridden Jordan in the NBA finals, Kobe's 81-point performance, or some other amazing performance I can't think of right now. Keep in mind that he choked, flopped, and failed to show up in spectacular fashion one day earlier and this guy has a bad hip that needs to be replaced after the race. This would be like Landon Donovan following his performance in the first-round of the World Cup with 8 goals in the knockout stages (if the US had advanced).

It would be nice if Landis could cap this story off with a victory because that is how a performance like this should be rewarded and that would make it eight straight years of an American champion. The French would really hate that.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What? Auburn Football Players Don't go to Class?

Division I college athletes, particularly those in the major sports, are not by-and-large the best students on campuses across the nation. It also is not surprising that athletes often take easy courses, courses that are athlete friendly, and professors often bend the rules to help these athletes. But, it is always somewhat astonishing to see these stories in print. A NY Times article yesterday discussed an Auburn University sociology professor who had been helping the Tigers’ football team keep its grades up. Apparently, this one professor allowed the football players to get credit hours without ever attending class.

It’s unfortunate that the NCAA, colleges and universities, faculty, coaches, and “student-athletes” all allow this too happen when it is quite apparent that the vast majority of them will never make any money as a professional athlete. All this does is cheat the athletes of their opportunity to capitalize on a free education because in the end it will be revealed that the emperors have no clothes.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

No Longer An MLB Virgin

This past week I went to the San Francisco area for a wedding and a buddy of mine came up with some Oakland A’s tickets. I have never attended a Major League baseball game for several reasons: (1) I grew up in the country, a minimum five hour drive away from the closest team; (2) I currently live in a city without an MLB team; and, (3) as I have stated before I am not much of a baseball fan. However, I am a huge sports fan and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see my first MLB game and catch up with an old college roommate and his wife (also a college friend). I had a good time and this is my story about losing my MLB virginity after 27 years on this earth.

For a first game, I couldn’t have really asked for much more. The Oakland Athletics were hosting the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of the State of California in the United States of America (seriously, listening to the announcer introduce the team took thirty minutes). Not a marquee match-up but an ok one. There were seven homers and the A’s won in the bottom of the ninth with two outs on a Frank Thomas walk-off homerun. The game was close throughout and it was an exciting ending.

I had a good seat, only 16 rows up from first base, in prime foul ball territory. A few balls came close but none within reach. It was funny, however, to watch grown men fight over the balls and then get booed when they couldn’t catch a weak pop-up. Being fairly close to the action it was impressive to see how big the Big Hurt really is—he just towered over everybody out there—as well as Vlad Guerrero. Those guys are immense! Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me and my buddy’s camera died while we were there.

Probably the funniest moment came in the eighth inning. One guy seated about four rows in front of us and a little to the right had been razzing the players and being somewhat obnoxious for the whole game. Then in the eighth he started to go up the steps to the walkway but he didn’t quite make it. On the last step he hunched over and lost his dinner on the steps and the crowd serenaded him to a nice chant of “Let’s go puker!!! Let’s go puker!!!,” while some random guy took some action photos of said puker. Priceless. After he finished his business, stadium security had to help him stagger up the stairs.

After attending my first MLB game I have a few observations. First, it is much more difficult to follow a baseball game at the ballpark than on the TV. There are tons of distractions like pukers or conversations with your friends, and you don’t get the best views of the plays. Second, somebody needs to help some of these ballplayers with the headshots shown on the big screens. Many look like mugshots and others are just plain goofy (see right). Third, the A’s stadium is absolutely boring. The stadium wasn’t full (although it was a Thursday night) even after the upper deck had been closed off. I would like to go to one of the new parks and see if the experience is better. Overall, good experience, probably better the more you drink unless you get serenaded to “Let’s go puker,” expensive, and I wouldn’t mind doing it again.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Gone until Monday, the 10th. Have fun, enjoy the World Cup, and drive safely.

When Mascots Attack

Add this to the long list of mascot misconduct. Benny the Bull, the Chicago Bulls mascot, was arrested for assaulting an off-duty police officer. Looking at the list, one would think that these mascots are actually athletes because they get arrested just about as frequently as the athletes. The Stanford Tree gets special recognition for getting into trouble often. Maybe it's the whole privileged, upper-class thing that makes them think they're above the law.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Obviously I am not good at prognostication.

One for Four. That's it. A monkey could have done better than I did in picking the teams to win in the WC quarterfinals. Despite my lack of success in picking the knockout winners I am still going to give my picks. Drumroll...France v. Germany in the finals...and let the invasion jokes begin.

I like an in form France over Portugal. Zizou won't let his team lose and the experience will finally bring down the plucky Portuguese. I also will go with my heart and pick Germany over Italy despite the team's lack of success against Italy in the WC. Italy thinks it is a team of destiny because of its recent tribulations but Germany is the host nation and 80 million germans will carry this team to the finals.

Don't be surprised if Portugal faces Italy though because I obviously don't know what I am doing.

Videos, We've Got Lots and Lots of Videos

Here are several videos I have seen over the past few days that I have enjoyed immensely, many of them soccer related: