Posted by: dvolpe | December 9, 2009

Rasheed Wallace the NBA Referee’s Target?

Maybe Rasheed wasn't quite as crazy as we all thought.

Well, well, well…. The plot thickens as they say. It seems that now Tim Donaghy, the same referee that Rasheed Wallace got in trouble for threatening years ago, and the same referee who himself was recently embroiled in a gambling scandal, is saying that Rasheed Wallace actually has been the target of NBA referees. Man… kind of liking finding out that we never actually did land on the moon, and there really is a bigfoot, and UFOs and a massive government cover up all in the same day isn’t it? I mean, could it actually be possible that ‘Sheed was right all these years? But then again if you really think about it, could it actually be possible that he wasn’t? I mean if you believe there’s any truth at all to the old adage that you catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar then you have to assume that ‘Sheed was never going to get the benefit of any call in doubt. And like NBA players, the NBA referees share a close-knit relationship. Very few people understand, or care for that matter, what they go through. So if someone threatens one of your own, how can that not affect how you feel about them? And how can the way you feel about someone, not affect the way you react to them? Sure, you can try to be fair, you can be conscious of the number of call that go for them and agains them. You can police your feelings towards them as much as possible and try to keep it from bleeding into your whistle, but the subconscious is a wonderfully persuasive thing. It can sometimes convince you that you saw something you didn’t, or didn’t see something you did. Whether or not the referees ever had a conscious bias against Wallace is in question, but whether or not they had a subconscious bias is not.

Still, now I’m starting to wonder if some of ‘Sheed’s other crazy theories might now be rumored to be true, or if this might be a tip of the iceberg kind of thing like when Jose Canseco started making all those “Crazy” accusations. You know, the ones that turned about to be extremely accurate, and almost entirely true? There’s an old saying and I think it applies to one Rasheed Wallace: Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not all out to get you.

Quick Bits:

Charlie Weis advises Notre Dame students to leave for the NFL: It seems that the recently fired head coach of Notre Dame football has advised two of his former players, Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen, to leave for the NFL. One can’t help but wonder if he’d have given them the same advice if he was the still the head coach. But for now we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, although I can’t imagine that he didn’t at least feel a little spiteful glee at being given the chance to stick it to his former employers.

LeBron dances at a game: I keep hearing the question, was it crossing the line? Was it going too far? Of course it was? Throwing an impromptu dance party because apparently the game is so far out of reach that it no longer holds your attention? This kid seems way to proud of himself, way too arrogant, way too above the law for someone who hasn’t won anything yet and may never hoist the coveted O’Brian trophy.  At 25 the time has come to lay these childish things aside. The time has come to be a businessman, be a grownup, most of all show some class.

NBA trendsetter Brandon Jennings

What at first appeared to be a gift from the NBA gods to the NCAA Basketball system, may, in the end, turn out to be a curse.  When the NBA introduced a minimum age requirement of 19 prior to the 2006 draft, it suddenly seemed that a lot more kids would be staying in school for a year. No longer would the NCAA be on the outside looking in for a shot at players such as LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant. There was backlash of course. But the NBA, like most businesses, is far more dictatorship than democracy and those who cried foul had a choice of the classic “Like” or “Lump” variety.

But then a funny thing happened. Along came Brandon Jennings. Not only did he choose to skip college and play overseas, but when he returned he had a phenomenal rookie season. Not only that, but in interviews he espoused the virtues of playing at a professional level “against grown men” everyday.

And now a move that at first looked to tighten the NCAA’s grip on high school players may actually weaken it. How many other players will now seek to follow in Brandon Jennings footsteps? How many will look to see the world, earn some cash, and (oh, by the way) develop their game against far superior competition than they would by playing one or two good teams and  numerous scrub teams in a season?

Well, the truth is, probably not that many. There is going to be a finite amount of room on the professional squads of the world, and many of the kids coming from high school will not be good enough to make the transition, or brave enough to live and work in another country. I think that most will still opt for the safer, more traditional route. But it’s good for a kid whose grades won’t let him into a school commensurate with his talent, or a kid who can’t afford not to work because he has a family to support, that this option is available. Kids that would have left high school and gone straight to the pros in the old days, should consider the option of playing overseas. Those that want to have some fun and get a good education before they go out into the real world, can choose school. And those that don’t want to do either, but have the talent, can go to the D-league. It will be up the individual to decide what is right for him.

I any case, the Brandon Jennings story makes me happy. Because it shows people there are other ways, and that they do have options. It’s a hard thing to choose the path of your life when you’re that young, but the one thing harder than choosing, is not having any choice at all.

Quick Bits:

NFL an XL season? Lately there has been talk of making the NFL season longer.  Perhaps 18 games with a shorter preseason. I, for one, am for it. I would like to see less meaningless preseason nonsense. Two games should do it for evaluation purposes. And I would like to see a certain X-factor enter the league as well. In the NBA one of the most common things considered when talking about the quality of a team is the strength of their bench. It makes things very interesting when an inferior starting lineup gets a boost from the backups and ends up winning the game. I’d like to see teams without the greatest squad in the world rewarded for picking up a few good free agents and drafting well. I understand that there might need to be some restructuring of the cap in order for things to work, but just from a sports fans perspective, it’s something I’d like to see. So who knows, maybe some time in the near future you’ll hear someone say, watch out for the 49ers this year, they’ve got a great running game, a strong defense, and really deep bench. How cool would that be?

Henry’s handball: I would like to add my voice to the growing number of dissenting voices against soccer’s treatment of Thierry Henry’s handball. Yes, he did it. And yes, it was cheating. But is that not what referee’s are for? I mean, correct me if I’m wrong but did Soccer suddenly become tennis or golf when I wasn’t looking? Is it now a sport filled with gentlemen, instead of a worldwide brawl, where almost anything goes on the field and anything does go in the stands? Now they are talking about punishing Henry for the handball, after the fact. You know when the right time to punhish him was? During the game, right after he did it. But hey, if we’re going to get retroactive, and star punishing players after the game is over, maybe we should hop in the ‘ol time machine and go after Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” play while we’re at it, huh? After all, at least Henry didn’t actually use his hand to knock the ball into the goal.

Posted by: dvolpe | November 26, 2009

The Irrepressible Vince Young

You know what I love? Seeing someone get knocked down, and get back up again. I love seeing someone get knocked out, and battle back to come back, better than ever.

I’ve been getting that feeling watching Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans lately. And I know that Young has done what he’s done against inferior teams in the league, and that we can’t expect this kind of play every game, especially as the Titans get into deeper waters as the season continues.

But let’s get a little perspective here. Before the season started, people were wondering if Vince Young would ever start in the NFL again. Ever. His game was being questioned, his skill set was being questioned, and even his mental state, and his heart were being questioned. That guy, is the same guy that inherited the 0-6 Titans a few weeks back, and competition or no competition, hasn’t lost a game since. That, sports fans, is the kind of  story we can all appreciate. The kind of story we can tell our kids when they struggle, or fail, the kind of story we can tell ourselves when we feel like giving up. This kind of story, is what I love the most about sports.

Not long ago, Vince Young was at once ballyhooed and maligned. He was the superman, who seemed to almost single-handedly defeat the juggernaut that was the USC football program in the Rose Bowl. He was also the biggest question mark to be drafted so high in some time. I have seldom seen a player that dominant in college come to the league with so many doubters. Even more recently he was a struggling quarterback who was being booed, refusing to reenter a game and getting injured and rumors were swirling that he might be suicidal and it seemed that the young man’s world was crashing down around his ears. But now Commentators are speaking of Vince Young’s renewed commitment to the game, of his growth spurts in the maturity department and of his transformation from class clown, to student of the game.

Vince Young was quoted earlier in the year as saying: “I will be the next black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. And I will be in the Hall of Fame.” At the time he was at a low point in his career. He had not yet regained the starting job. He had not yet won four games in a row. And many scoffed at the statement. They had already written him off. But as he grows, and improves and continues to the pile up the wins, he increases the chances of his statement going down in history as prophetic in the vein of Tim Tebow’s words after that painful Florida Gators loss to Ole Miss , or Joe Namath’s legendary Superbowl guarantee. And wouldn’t it be a great story if he did? Just the kind of against all odds, comeback, story we love. The stuff that sports legends are made of…

 

Quick Bits:

Football firings: There was much talk about the three firings of offensive coordinators in the NFL before the season even started. The Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs all turned that trick this season.  And I think it’s safe now to say that the experiment failed. No team that attempted this maneuver currently holds more than 3 wins, and Tampa only has 1 so far. So I don’t think that the firing of the offensive coordinator a couple weeks before the start of the regular season will be catching on as an NFL trend. Hey guys, better luck next year, maybe try it with the defensive coordinator, or the head coach?

The Warriors came out to play: You’ll have to forgive the play on words, but I just couldn’t resist. What am I talking about? Most of you are probably too young to get that reference anyway. Kudos to the Golden State Warriors who played just 6 players and and were coached by their assistant coach (who was filling in for the head coach, Don Nelson) and still pulled off a 111-103 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. This is the kind of win that can buoy a team’s spirits and bolster their belief in themselves for the entire season.

Ole Miss
Posted by: dvolpe | November 16, 2009

Another Dreary Day in Detroits Sports

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Ther is no joy in D-town, for the Lions have struck out.

Sunday was another dreary day in Detroit sports. It was a cold gray day, with drizzling rain and wan sunlight. The Detroit Lions were taking the field against one of the NFC’s best, The Minnesota Vikings. Hope springs eternal in the heart of even the most jaded sports fan, but I think we all knew we were going down in this one. So I watched for a while. The Lions, in classic form played well enough to beat the St. Louis Rams, but not near well enough to beat the Vikings. Funny how when they play the Vikings they play well enough to beat the Rams, but when they play the Rams they play just well enough to lose.

But I digress. The point was that it was another dreary day in Detroit sports. The Lions lost, again. No big deal, saw it coming, didn’t hurt. But hope springs eternal in the heart of a sports fan. Enter the Pistons. Pistons Mavericks, to be exact. Boy wouldn’t a Pistons win be just the ticket to brighten this dreary day. Well, yes it would have. And the Pistons gave the Mavs all they could handle for four quarters, but fell down at the end. The new young team looks good, but they are still gelling and they are still missing Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton.  So another day was done. A day chocked full of losses and dashed hopes, and shattered dreams, and I wondered why sports fans choose to live and die with their teams. Why do we tie the fate of our emotional well-being to that of a team whose actions we don’t have the slightest control over? Why do we seek refuge from the gloom of our daily lives in a past-time that at least half the time is just as gloomy?

I guess its the same ride as life in many ways. We experience the highs and the lows. I was there for this dismal day, but I was also there in ’84 when the Tigers won the world series and every other  car had a bright orange “Bless You Boys!” bumper sticker on it. And I was there in the late 80s early 90s when the Bad Boys won back to back championships and nobody in the whole country could stand them but us. That was really our team. I was there when the rejuvenated Pistons and Wallace x2 and fear the fro and the no fly zone, and Rip city and Mr. Big Shot and the Prince of the Palace were all in full effect. And I was there when the Detroit Red Wings won it all for the 11th time in the ’07/ ’08 season. So I guess that’s why we suffer through the years of medicrity, and sometimes futility, because we are waiting for the dizzying heights of playoff berths and Conference championships and the great golden euphoria of winning it all, where an entire city, even an entire state is warm and fuzzy for days and weeks and sometimes months, depending on how long its been. Those are the good times.

But for now Detroit sports fans will have to wait. The Pistons are rebuilding, the Lions are still in the planning stages, the Wings are just beginning a new season, the Tigers fate is unknown. So we’ll wait, and grumble and suffer with our teams, until the great golden times come again. And I will sit and look at the standings and wonder if the Lions will get their 2nd win of the season against the struggling Browns. After all… I’m a sports fan and hope springs eternal…

Quick Bits:

Belichick blunders: Man is the old ball coach gonna hear about it this on Monday. In a heated game against their biggest rival the New England Patriots looked to have the game sewed up late in the 4th quarter. But the Colts mounted a furious comeback and were knocking on the door at the end. Still, all the Patriots had to do to salt away the win was to run the clock out. But the Colts defense proved equal to the taks, forcing a 4th and 2 situation with the Patriots backed up on their own 28 yard line. That’s when Patriots coach Bill Belichick decided to go for it, rather than punt and trust his defense to stop the Colts from driving the length of the field in 2 minutes. Long story short, the patriots didn’t make it.  As a result, the Colts marched down the field (all 30 yards of it, give or take a few inches) ran the clock down and scored, dropping a big fat “L” on the Patriots and preserving their own unbeaten status. I don’t believe in hypothetical situations so I’m not going to get into what Belichick should have done. All that matters now is what he did do, and what he’s going to be doing all day today and probably for the rest of the week, and that’s trying to explain his decision to go for it on 4th down.

Who is this Jennings kid anyway? Looks like the NBA may have a new rising star on its hands. Milwaukee Bucks guard, Brandon Jennings (a rookie) scored 55 points in a 129-125 win over the Golden State Warriors. In his short career, Jennings is averaging over 25 points a game. The only question is whether he can maintain this kind of play and become one of the NBA’s rising stars, or if he’ll allow himself to be derailed by fame, fortune and life in general and disappear into NBA anonymity.

Posted by: dvolpe | November 5, 2009

TUF 10: Coach Rampage Finally Wins One

marcus jones

Marcus Jones of the UFC is one to watch in the future.

Sorry I haven’t been around much sports fans. By way of excuse, the best that I can offer is that Detroit sports have been really depressing lately. First the Tigers stopped playing about a month before the season ended and tailspun right out of a playoff berth. Then Pistons came out with a new season, a new attitude and the same old .500 record. Meanwhile the Lions apparently got upset at the St. Louis Rams for challenging their title of worst team ever and decided to go out and give them their first win of the season, thereby preserving the Lions 0-16 record for futility for another year. So yeah… down economy, crappy sports teams. I just could not bring myself to write about how much the sports scene here stinks.

But lately I ‘ve been hooked on The Ultimate Fighter series on Spike. They are in their 10th season, and coaches, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and “Sugar” Rashad Evans are battling it out in the first round. And much like the Lions of last year, the question all season has been will Rampage be able to win one at some point? Last night we got the answer to that question in the form of Marcus “Big Baby” Jones. The massive, soft-spoken ex NFLer, Who loves Mixed Martial Arts so much he actually gets giddy during practices. Big Baby, finally got Rampage a win and saved the coach from the humiliation of a clean sweep in the 1st round.

But the show will soon be over, and the winners and losers will not be near as important as what the fighters go on to do after the show. Many of the winning fighters from previous seasons have gone on to very successful UFC careers. But those that have the drive and determination, and the physical skills can easily recover from an Ultimate Fighter loss and go on to have a fantastic career in their own rite. I think that Marcus Jones is one to watch. At 6’6″ and 260 lbs he is a force to be reckoned with for his sheer physicality alone. But beyond that, he actually showed a ground game in his match with the, admittedly overmatched, Mike Wessel. First Jones used his size, and strength to reverse Wessel’s takedown and then he shifted seamlessly from an attempted Americana lock, to a rear naked choke attempt and into an arm bar that submitted Wessel almost immediately and left the onlookers wondering if Wessel’s arm might have been damaged. In terms of potential, Marcus Jones represents a new breed. I have never seen a man that large, move as agilely from submission attempt to attempt. Like some kind of 6’6″ BJ Penn. As they often say in the UFC there are levels to Jujitsu. In all likelihood, Jones is at a very basic level right now. But his thirst for knowledge is tremendous. He truly loves the sport and once he becomes an expert in Jujitsu, a man of his size and strength and agility should be nearly unstoppable. Watch out for Marcus Jones ladies and gentleman. He may be the first opponent that has a legitimate shot at taking down the reigning champion of the heavyweight division, former WWE star Brock Lesnar.

Quick Bits:

Yankees win world series: The Yankees have defeated the Phillies in the world series. Finally, some relief for all those 8 year olds out there that haven’t seen a Yankees championship in their lifetime.

Streaky ‘Stones: It looks like another year of identity crisis for the Detroit Pistons. Losing to teams like the up and coming Oklahoma City Thunder, and Memphis Grizzlies, but beating the Orlando Magic. It’s another case of which Pistons team will show up tonight? If there is one bright spot that has been consistent, it’s the lazarus like revitalization of Ben Wallace who really looks almost as good as the championship Ben Wallace of 2004. Only time will tell if he can keep it up as the season wears on, but it’s been fun to watch him trolling the paint for steals and blocked shot opportunities as he did in the good old days.

It is a question that has plagued mankind since the very beginning of organized sports. Who was the greatest to ever play the game? It doesn’t matter if the sport is boxing, football, soccer, or tiddily winks, the question has been asked and more than likely it has raised more questions than it’s answered, started more disputes than it’s settled and blackened more eyes than it could ever hope to enlighten. Still, it’s just so much fun. So without further ado, my greatest of all time list, starting with one of the most important and exciting positions in football the running back:

The best of the rest: Here is a short list, in no particular order, of the running backs considered. None of them were selected as the greatest of all time  (I’ll reveal who was at the end) but all of them can make a convincing argument that they were the best of all time.

John Madden used to say Barry Sanders looked like he had ball bearings in his ankles

John Madden used to say Barry Sanders looked like he had ball bearings in his ankles

Barry Sanders: He doesn’t have the all time leading rusher record, but he could have. Easily. He was healthy when he retired, and needed only a couple seasons, 3 at the most, to overtake Walter Payton who owned the record at the time. Had Barry Sanders stayed on and competed for the record, I believe that Emmitt Smith would never have been able to catch him. Sanders doesn’t have the greatest single season rushing record (he’s third on that list and one of only 5 to ever eclipse the 2,000 yard single season mark) but he could have had that as well had he been a little more selfish, and a little less team oriented. He ended his greatest season just 52 yards back of Eric Dickerson’s all time mark. But Barry Sanders never cared about individual accolades and seemed at times to even reject them. I remember him taking himself out of a game that was all but over, in spite of the fact that he was within easy reach of the single season rushing title for that year.  He ended his career in much the same way, retiring too early for many of his fans, when the all-time career rushing record was well within his reach. But if I had crowned him the greatest of all time it wouldn’t have been because of any of this. It would have been because he was the most breathtaking, exciting, incredible running back I’d ever seen. Weaving in and out of traffic, stopping and starting, accelarating and decelarrating like a $100,ooo dollar sportscar, he was as much a showman, and escape artist as he was an athlete. Even though he never once in all the years I watched him, showed an opponent up after a long run or a touchdown. He did, however, Show defenders up during play at least 3 or 4 times a game. But when you’r as good as Barry Sanders was, and as dedicated to winning games, how can you help it?

OG running back

OG running back Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe: It is hard to quantify the greatness of an athlete that played so long ago that his achievments have passed beyond history into legend. His presence on this list is much more anecdotal than mathematical or scientific. But the legend has it that after running a 92 yard touchdown and having it brought back on a penalty, Thorpe ran a 97 yard touchdown on the very next play. I don’t think there’s a running back in the league today that would even be in the game after a 92 yarder that was called back, much less run the next one back. They’d all be on the sideline sucking on an oxygen mask for the next series of downs. Thorpe may well have been the single most natural athlete that the modern world has ever seen. Legend has it that he never cared much for practice. He simply showed up to the game and dominated. He could basically play any position in pretty much any sport, and played running back, defensive back, place kicker and punter in college.

The NFL's all time career rushing yards leader, Emmitt Smith

The NFL's all time career rushing yards leader, Emmitt Smith

Emmitt Smith: Only two things keep Emmitt Smith from being the greatest of all time. 1: the amount of years he played and rushes attempted makes his longevity a little more impressive than his running ability, and 2: There is a feeling that many of the records Emmitt holds, he holds simply because Barry Sanders didn’t want them.

Eric Dickerson one of the most deceptively fast players ever

Eric Dickerson one of the most deceptively fast players ever

Eric Dickerson: Eric Dickerson still holds the all time single season rushing yards title with 2,105 yards. He still holds the record for most touchdowns in a rookie season with 18, and most yards gained in a rookie season with 1,808. He had a distinctive “upright” running style and deceptive speed. And was one of the most feared runners of his era. But among the all-time pantheon he fails to generate the dual emotions of fear and respect my pick for the all time greatest did.

Walter Payton missed being the greatest by a toenail on this list

Walter Payton missed being the greatest by a toenail on this list

Walter Payton: Walter Payton was one of the greatest running backs to ever play the game, no question. He ran like a gazelle and then hit like a rhinocerous when the defender finally made contact.  He’s all over the record books and it was almost a toss up between him and the eventual winner, but in this one Mr. Payton came up just short.

Like the greatest of all time this back will go over around or through you

Like the greatest of all time this back will go over around or through you

Adrian Peterson: Only time will tell if he will challenge the game’s elite. But he bears mentioning for 2 reasons. 1: He has the greatest combination of speed, quickness and strength that I’ve seen in many years; He is one of those rare athletes that actually has a choice between outrunning you or just running you over. And 2: he is not even midway through his 3rd season in the NFL yet and he is already in the NFL all-time record books twice. Once for holding the most yards in a single game record with an incomprehensible 296 and once for being one of the 19 players in NFL history to have a 200 yard game twice in the same season.

And the winner is:

Jim Brown ran like a force of nature and led the league in rushing 8 of the 9 seasons of his career

Jim Brown ran like a force of nature and led the league in rushing 8 of the 9 seasons of his career

Jim Brown: Take a look at the NFL rushing record book and this man is all over it. He is #1 in most seasons leading the league in rushing with 8 (he played 9). He’s #1 in most consecutive seasons leading the league in rushing with 5. He’s tied for 2nd in most touchdowns in a game with 5 and he’s one of just 6 running backs to have 4 or more 200 yard games in his career. When measured against his contemporaries, he has no rivals, and when measured against the all-time greats he comes in 8th on the all-time career rushing yards list after playing just 9 seasons 4 of which were 12 game seasons, the rest being 14.  But Jim brown holds the king of all stats and measures of a running back, in my opinion. He is the #1 running back in yards per carry with 5.2. This stat cuts through all the clutter. It measures without regard to the number of seasons played, or the number of games in a season. It measures without regard to the number of carries a running back receives, or the number of great games or poor games he had. A a running back can never be measured in a vacuum to see the full extent of his qualities, there will always be other factors such as quality of opponent, coaching decisions, offensive line and the changing styles and of the league. I believe this one stat is the purest measure of a running back available, and in this one stat, as in my list, Jim Brown is king.

Quick Bits:

Lions slowly, but steadily, showing improvement: The Detroit Lions lost 20-28 in their recent game against the Steelers, but I, for one, wasn’t watching the score. I didn’t expect the Lions to beat the defending champions from last year, but I wanted to see how they would respond to some of the worst special teams play I’ve ever seen against the Bears the previous week. The Lions shored up their special teams play, especially the kickoff coverage. The Steelers went for 142 combined kickoff and punt return yards,  but that was a welcome relief after the 277 combined the Lions allowed the Bears in the previous week. I don’t expect a team that went 0-16 to be great this year, but I do expect them to fix, and learn from, their mistakes.

Who dey? Who are these Cincinnatti Bengals? Suddenly they find themselves in 1st place looking down at the likes of the Baltimore Ravens and the defending champion Pittsburgh steelers. I have to say I didn’t see that one coming. Of course now the question remains, can they hold on to the top spot with serious competition like that nipping at their heels?

Posted by: dvolpe | October 9, 2009

Career Rushing Yards Record: Can Anyone Dethrone Emmit?

Emmitt Smith is the NFL's all time career rushing leader, but for how long?

Emmitt Smith is the NFL's all time career rushing leader, but for how long?

A long time ago, in a city called Dallas where a man named J.R. got shot and the stars at night are big and bright, and people liked to greet each other with a firm handshake and a “how ’bout them Cowboys?” a man achieved his dream. That man was named Emmitt Smith, the dream was to be the NFL’s all time career leading rusher. Even Emmitt’s own teammate Michael Irvin was on record as saying words to the effect of, you do realize the difference between dreams and goals don’t you? But the Cowboys in those days were a juggernaut. Their defense caused frequent turnovers, their O-line opened up holes you could drive a truck through for their running backs and somewhere along the way to winning 3 Superbowls in 4 years the dream actually became a possibility. It was a long hard slog, that went on long after the Cowboy’s glory years, but through toughness and perserverance, Emmitt achieved his dream and became the all time career leading rusher in the NFL. Now it should be noted 2 things had to happen before Emmitt could realize his dream. 1: he actually broke the record for carries, before breaking the record for yards and 2: Barry Sanders retired…

Barry Sanders, the spectacular Detroit Lions running back who made watching the Lions fun even during the losing seasons,  ended his career after 10 seasons with a career total of 15,269 yards, just 1,457 behind Walter Payton the (then) leading all time rusher in the NFL. At that time Emmitt Smith after 9 seasons had 12,566. It would not be until 2001, 3 years after Sanders retired and 12 NFL seasons into Smith’s career to Sanders 10 that Smith would accumulate enough yards to pass Sanders on the all time list. It would not be until 2002 that he broke the deceased Payton’s record to claim the rushing crown for himself.

Whatever the circumstances of Mr. Smith’s achievement, it still is a monumental one. And the question I want to ask here is this: Can anyone, now playing, beat that record?

A quick glance at the all-time rushing record shows that there are few contenders. Considering what a destructive position NFL running back is, it is hard to consider those that have yet to break the 10,000 yard mark. Those under it are not very likely to have a long enough career to ever get there. Especially when you consider that the average NFL career length is under 4 years.

Last year LaDainian Tomlinson looked like the best bet to get there, having amassed almost 12,000 yeards in just 8 season, but this year his numbers haven fallen of a cliff as he’s only been able to play in 2 games and has rushed for just 70 yards in those 2. Even if he returns to perfect health and his old form, it is likely that the explosive Darren Sproles will cut into his carries and yardage totals, raising questions about his ability to sustain his run of seasons in excess of 1,000 yards. Edgerrin James and Fred Taylor are both hovering around the 12,ooo yard mark as well, but Fred Taylor is 33 years old and James’ numbers have dropped off drastically as well after he turned 30 in 2008.

So for now the only real hope for a new rushing champion lies in LaDainian Tomlinson returning to health and breaking the 1,000 yard mark this season. Adrian Peterson is as viable a candidate as there can be in the short term with over 3,000 yards in his first 2 seasons, but he runs so violently that I imagine him having more of an Earl Campbell or Jim Brown type career, powerful and impressive, but shortened.

So in the final analysis there are a few to watch, but I wouldn’t bother watching too closely. In all likelihood we have not yet met the next all-time rushing yards leader, or if we have, we do not yet know him very well.

Quick Bits:

A Rush to bad judgment: Apparently conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh has expressed an interest in NFL ownership. Yes that Rush Limbaugh. The same one who was fired from ESPN for making racist comments about Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Donovan McNabb. The backlash has been almost instantaneous with Bart Scott, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Donovan McNabb already speaking out against Limbaugh. Hopefully the NFL will deny Limbaugh’s ambitions. Football broke the color line a year before Jackie Robinson did it in 1947.  And has recently made advances, spearheading intiatives in order to increase the number of black head coaches in the league. It would be a shame to dishonor that tradition, and destroy the progress made by allowing an open racist into the league’s exclusive club of owners.

Tigers fall short: As a Detroit fan it was sad to see the Tigers fall short of making the playoffs this season, but 2 things salve that wound, 1: They didn’t deserve to make the playoffs after blowing a 7 game lead in September and a 3 game lead in October, and several 1 run leads in their playoff game against the Twins. The 2nd thing that salves the wound? Watching the Yankees wax the Twins in game 1 and knowing that it could have just as easily been the Tigers.

Posted by: dvolpe | October 6, 2009

NFL 1st Quarter Season Review

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We’ve come to this point already. Most teams, all those that haven’t had their bye week yet, are a quarter of the way through their season, so what’s new, what’s old, what was expected, what was surprising and what does it all mean for the future?

Surprises: I can’t really say there are any huge surprises so far this year. But I did not expect the Jets, with a rookie quarterback, or the Bengals, to be as good as they are this year. Denver Broncos 4-0 with Kyle Orton at the helm also raised more than a few eyebrows I”m sure. But biggest surprise of them all has to be the Steelers starting off 1-2 and only just becoming a .500 team this week.

Expected: T.O. is starting to act like a whiner and a malcontent, that was a lock. Chad Ochocinco is already up to more “zany antics” than an 80’s sitcom.  Pats are winning, Colts are winning, what else is new?

Predictions going forward: I think the last 0-4 team to win a game will be St. Louis Rams. They appear to have no offense or Defense with the worst points for to points against ratio in the league. I think that the last 4-0 team to lose will be the battle-tested Colts who may cruise into week 10 where they will face the New England Patriots and then the Baltimore Ravens the following week. The Colts will likely lose one of these matches but by that point they will already be the only undefeated team in the NFL.

So that does it for the 1st quarter review of the 2009 NFL season, stay tuned for more news and notes at the midway point of the season.

Quick Bits:

Rio goes for the gold: Congratulations to Brazil for winning their first ever olympic bid. Sure I was rooting for Chicago to get it, but I understand the games have never been held in South America before, that being the case it’s long overdue. Don’t you know the way to world peace is through sharing.

Pistons beat Heat: The Detroit Pistons defeated the Miami Heat by a score of 87-83 in exhibition play. More important than the score was the first impressions of the new team. They look young, but they’ve got potential. There will definitely be learning curve with the new players and the new coach, but it will be fun to watch the new Pistons and a few old Pistons gel into a team.

Posted by: dvolpe | September 30, 2009

The Detroit Lions and the Curse of Bobby Layne

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Championships with Bobby Layne: 3 Championships without Bobby Layne: 0

Professional sports is a fertile field of superstition. Players go through elaborate pregame rituals that stipulate minutiae as infinitesimal as the order in which they put on their shoes and socks, the breakfast cereal they eat, and which spoon they use, and whether or not they do or don’t shave their beards. Small wonder, then, that pro sports is rife with another popular superstition, the curse. Quite a few teams have them:

The curse of the Bambino: This is perhaps the most famous of all sports related curses. In 1918 the Boston Red Sox won their 5th world series, and Babe Ruth was a pitcher on the team. But in 1920, Harry Fraze, the team’s owner sold his contract to the NY Yankees, purportedly, to finance one of his girldfriend’s plays. Since then the Yankees have won 26 World Championships and gone on to be one of the most storied and recognized franchises in all of sports, let alone baseball. Meanwhile the Sox did not win it all again, until the curse was reversed in 2004.

The curse of the Billy Goat: The Chicago Cubs suffer from the curse of the Billy Goat. According to http://www.Wikipedia.com:

The Billy Goat curse was supposedly placed on the Cubs in 1945 when Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave a World Series game at the Cubs’ home ground of Wrigley Field because his pet goat’s odor was bothering other fans. He was outraged and declared, “Them Cubs, they aren’t gonna win no more.”

And the Cubs haven’t. Strange occurrences such as the Steve Bartman incident, in which a Cubs fan interfered with a live ball in the 8th inning of game 6 of the National League Championship Series, have added credence to the curse, at least in the eyes of many sports fans.

Promotional curses: Then there are the Sports illustrated, Madden Football, and Campbell’s Chunky Soup, curses. Each of these based on the idea that being on the cover of Madden or SI, or in commercials for Chunky Soup will lead to a losing and or injury plagued season for the spokesplayer in question.

But the Detroit Lions have their own curse. The curse of Bobby Layne. This curse mirrors the curse of the Bambino, in that it involved a prominent player on the Detroit Lions (Bobby Layne) having lead the team to numerous championships (in this case 3) and like the Red Sox, the Lions have lost ever since. But this curse has a twist. The legend has it that Bobby Layne, after being dealt to the Pittsburgh Steelers said that the Lions would not win for 50 years. Whether or not the statement was ever really made, it turned out to be mostly true. There have been few winning seasons in those 50 years and even less playoff success, and of course, no championships. It is also interesting to note that in the final year of the 50 year curse, the Detroit Lions went 0-16, a fate no other team in the NFL has suffered in a single season.

Now only one question remains: What will become of this star-crossed franchise now that the supposed curse is over?

Quick Bits:

Who is your Favrite player? The Vikings fan base, and the sports world in general is doing more flipping than the international house of pancakes after Favre’s late game heroics last Sunday. It’s amazing what one 40+ yard pass with the clock winding down to the back of the endzone for the touchdown and the win can do for your reputation, even if part of that reputation is being a bit of a waffler yourself.

Terrell Owens and Rodney Harrison have words: Players and even former players talk smack all the time in the NFL, but the recent firestorm of on air- barbs and angry “tweets” between Terrell Owens and Rodney Harrison may have more serious consequences. Owens has accused Harrison of using steroids in big bold capital letters, and sometimes a forest fire begins with one errant spark. Will these accusations lead to an MLB style inquisition involving not just the media and players but eventually congress? Probably not. These things usually fall by the wayside, but stay tuned sports fans, you never know when one of the little sparks cast off by random comments will lead to a blazing inferno.

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