Author Archives: Ted Barry

Friday Fives: The MLB Second Half

He’s…still alive?

 

The All-Star Game has come and gone, and we’re at the point of the season where games start to matter. Yes, it’s nice to have momentum and a lead on your divisional opponents starting the second half, but as countless teams have shown us in recent years (Red Sox, Pirates, Mets), anything can happen after the break. Here’s what we’re most looking forward to in the dog days of August and beyond.

 

TED

WILL

GREG

5. The next breakout rookie sensation:  In 2007, Jacoby Ellsbury made his major league debut on the last day of June and hit .353 with a .902 OPS over 33 games for the eventual World Series champs, turning into a sometimes MVP-level player. In 2010, Stephen Strasburg debuted in June and hurled 92 K’s with a 2.91 ERA over 12 starts, helping ignite what looked like a Nationals dynasty-in-the-making until he turned into the next Mark Prior. Last year, Manny Machado got the call in August and swatted 50 hits and 7 homers over 51 games, helping keep the Orioles alive down the all-important stretch run and make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. He now has the second most hits in the majors and is on pace to break the single-season record for doubles. So who’s gonna be the next big late-season-callup-turned-star? It looked like Baltimore could strike gold for the second year in a row with Dylan Bundy (his two late September appearances last year notwithstanding), but then he had to go and get Tommy John surgery. Wil Myers is a solid candidate, though he debuted a month ago and has yet to display the power expected from him. Yasiel Puig has, of course, already taken the league by storm. Could the Red Sox pull a power move and call up uberprospect Xander Bogaerts when the rosters expand? Could the hopeless Twins throw caution to the wind and see how Byron Buxton fares in the bigs, only a year after drafting him #2 overall? Whoever it is, some young guy is gonna make a splash and turn some heads for a playoff-bound team, and I can’t wait to see who it is. 5. The Oakland A’s:  How the hell does this team keep doing this? Two of the team’s top players are Bartolo Colon and Coco Crisp! When you look through this team’s lineup, with the exception of third baseman Josh Donaldson, it has to be the most mundane lineup I’ve ever seen. There is no way an opposing pitcher would ever walk onto the mound preparing to face this team and be intimidated, and yet for the second consecutive year they are the front runners in the AL West and have the best regular season record over the past year and a half. Notice how the term “regular season record” had to be used. Despite the mystifying success of the A’s, their regular season success has yet to translate into any type of postseason success. As amazed as I am by this ragtag group of misfit toys and Dominican Santa Claus’, I still can’t believe this team can win in the postseason. But then again, I have no idea how they’re winning now, so who knows? 5. Clay Buchholz:  I have to start with my Red Sox because I have barely paid attention to this season, I’m not going to lie. I’m just super busy and baseball has a ton of teams, players, stats, and superfluous shit that I haven’t been able to follow, so the Sox are the only team I’ve really followed. Since Clay tossed a no-hitter back in ‘07 he has struggled to maintain consistency and health, but he started this year on another planet. He was arguably the best pitcher in baseball and the Sox are going to need his services if they want to maintain their hold on their playoff spot. Lester has been terrible since May, Doubront is still inconsistent but is turning into the reliable poor man’s Pettitte I thought he could be, but Lackey has kept the staff afloat while Young Buck continues the cunnilingus. Guy can’t stop. Take a break bro, she’ll be okay. If the Sox want to contend, Clay needs to play. I’m so good at rhyming words.
4. The Pittsburgh mothaf—-n Pirates:  Yeah, yeah, I know we should be suspicious. After all, the Bucs have carried a winning record into the All-Star break in each of the last two seasons, including last year when Andrew McCutchen’s breakout year and AJ Burnett’s resurrection put them 11 games over .500 at the break. Both times they imploded miserably in the August heat, solidifying two entire decades since their last winning season. Can they finally break that godawful curse this year? Well, they do own the second best record in the majors (which is absolutely mind-blowing considering they have one of the worst offenses in baseball by every measure imaginable). And they do have, statistically, perhaps the best pitching staff in the league, including a lights-out bullpen led by NL saves leader Jason Grilli and hold artist Mark Melancon. (Yes Sox fans, the same Mark Melancon who couldn’t even make the ATROCIOUS Sox bullpen last year was an All-Star this year. Go figure.) And they’re a great story, and have really likable players, and all that good stuff. But they also have waaaay too many games left against St. Louis and Cincinnati, the other two best teams in the National League who also happen to be in their division. And that offense is way too top-heavy, with 80% of its meager production coming from McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Starling Marte. So unfortunately, while they’ll finally break their ridiculous losing streak, I don’t see them making the playoffs. Which brings us to… 4. PED suspensions:  How sick of this story is everyone at this point? I’m not just referring to this latest Biogenesis case either. Rather, the entire issue of steroids in baseball is beyond played out and I’m just sick of it. At this point, we know so many players have done it and apparently will continue to try and do it. If players want to have massive bulbous heads and shriveled ball sacks, f— it, let them. The best and most memorable baseball season of my lifetime that wasn’t Sox-related was without question the Summer of ’98. Singlehandedly saved baseball which was still crawling out of the shadows of the ’94 strike and struggling to regain popularity. This new scandal represented by the faces of Braun and A-Roid needs to go away. If MLB is stupid enough to prosecute the players connected to Biogenesis it will cause the biggest in-season headache of Bud Selig’s career and completely distract from the fantastic baseball that is being played this season. Let Ba-Rollo Colon (stretch?) and the rest of the gang finish out the season uninterrupted so that the attention remains on the field where it belongs. 4. Will Manny play?:  By all accounts from my sources with the Round Rock Express, Mr. America is back. Manny is hitting .300 with three dingers and appears to be poised to make an impact for the middling Texas Rangers. The Rangers need a bat and Manny is the guy. And if Manny Ramirez is motivated, healthy, and pumped full of PEDs, no pitcher in the bigs will want to face him. I loveme some Mantics so I’m pretty excited to be heading back to Texas for the stretch run. Let’s just hope Manny isn’t tested any time soon.
3. The NL Central:  One division in the MLB is home to the two best records in the majors, as well as two of the top three teams in its league. Nope, it’s not the AL East. The NL Central boasts an impressive array of playoff-quality teams, and similar to the AL East, it’s perfectly reasonable to think that the top three will find themselves in the postseason. The Cardinals have one of the best all-around teams in recent memory: a top three offense, a top three starting rotation, a solid bullpen, and impeccable defense. They’re led by Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright and MVP candidate Yadier Molina, and just seem to be unstoppable. The Reds’ rotation is just as good, and their Joey Votto-driven offense isn’t far behind. The Pirates, who as I explained above will eventually fall short, are clearly blessed by a higher power and will take some valuable divisional games from St. Louis and Cincy, like a shitty presidential candidate stealing precious votes from a tight race. It seems all but certain that the National League World Series representative will come out of the Central, and at least two of those teams are highly capable of taking home the hardware. May the best city win, fellas. 3. Puigmania:  Snubbed or not snubbed? No matter your opinion, this dude can play. His play has not only been exciting to watch, but has rejuvenated the Dodgers as a team. They currently stand only 2.5 games behind the D’Backs for first in the NL West – and the D’Backs aren’t running away with this thing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more debate or attention for a player who barely played over a months’ worth of games. But that’s how exciting this guy is. His average has begun to drop slowly, now batting only .394, but keeping up with his torrid pace of hitting close to .500 was simply unsustainable. But where does he level off? Is .375 in the second half reasonable? .350? Or does he fall off and dip below .300? By season’s end we will have a full sample size of Puig and just what he can do. Does that include keeping the Dodgers in the playoff hunt? For my preseason predictions, I hope so. 3. Justin Verlander:  Verlander has long been known as a workhorse who gets better as the game goes on. He often starts games in the low 90s and ends them near 100. But this year has been different. Verlander’s average velocity is down roughly 3-4 MPH and it has shown in his performance. His strikeout totals are down and his ERA and WHIP are up. Not a good sign. But although he’s not what he was even a year ago, Verlander is still one of the game’s best. However, the Tigers need a dominant JV, not a JV Verlander. They have the team (still no closer) to get back to the World Series, but Verlander must return to his Cy Young form.
2. Matt Harvey:  In a season in which the Yankees are freefalling out of the public eye, the rookie pitcher from that other New York team is taking the league by storm. He’s not really a threat to win the pitching Triple Crown because of his low win total for the offensively-retarded Mets, but the rest of his numbers are otherworldly. Of course it’s much too early to know for sure, and if he was smart he’d get out of Citi Field as fast as possible, but with Jeter nearing retirement, why couldn’t he be the new face of New York baseball? He’s a young stud banging a supermodel, he’s dominating the league as a rookie, and he’s a likable and recognizable dude. All he has to do is clinch the second straight Cy Young for the Mets (neither of whom would be named Johan, surprisingly enough) and the Big Apple will be bending over backwards for him. 2. AL East race:  Call me a homer if you want, but this may be the best division in baseball we’ve ever seen. At one point every team had a record over .500, and the Blue Jays are one good week of baseball away from making it happen again. Within the new playoff format it’s a very real possibility that a division will for the first time ever feature three playoff teams. Heading into the season the first-place Sox and last-place Jays were predicted by most to be flipped at this point (see Barry, Teddy). As a Sox fan I’m eagerly awaiting the start of this second half as their first 10 games out the gate go as follows: three vs. New York, four vs. Tampa Bay, and three vs. Baltimore. Tons of time left in the season and plenty of opportunities for teams to flip the script 1-5 in this division. It’s possible that in September at least four of these teams will be scoreboard watching each other, each trying to jockey their way to the front like Seabiscuit, trying to win that division crown and avoid having to roll the dice in a one-game elimination playoff to earn the true Wild Card berth. Prediction: Sox win the division (okay, that’s a homer pick) and Tampa Bay will edge out Baltimore for the Wild Card spot. 2. LA investments:  The teams out in LA have not been shy about spending money over the last two years, but it hasn’t quite worked out. Both teams have struggled and both have seen guys named Josh with large contracts spending that money while never really earning it. Well, I haven’t seen their budgets but I can imagine they aren’t being too frugal. Beckett is done for the year, but Hamilton has been showing signs of breaking out of his over-caffeinated slump for the hopeful Angels. But it’s funny seeing these teams overspending on “superstar” talent when both franchises had it all along in their farm systems. Just because you have the money doesn’t mean you need to spend it. But I don’t think the Dodgers could make a run in the second half and I’m sorry Angels fans, Joseph Gordon-Levitt isn’t walking into that clubhouse anytime soon.
1. The AL East:  The only division with four 50-game winners. Three teams within six games of first place, with Toronto not really that far behind. The worst-to-first Sox, the surging and always dangerous Rays, the upstart Orioles who are turning a miracle 2012 squad into an actual contender, the decimated Yankees hanging tough, and the big-money cellar-dwelling Jays, who less than a month ago reeled off an 11-game winning streak. Throw in the established rivalries, the larger than life personalities, some of the best managers in the game, the imminent returns of A-Rod, Jeter, and Buchholz, the Biogenesis scandal swirling around A-Rod, Francisco Cervelli, and Melky Cabrera (and Cano?), and you have the most entertaining pennant race in years, even for an outsider. We’ll be glued to our TVs for the next two months, just in time for the August heat wave. 1. Miggy/Crush:  This isn’t even close. In a very statistic-driven sport, these two are at the head of the class and fondling the sexiest of these stats. Miggy is aiming for back-to-back Triple Crowns after being the first since Yaz in ’67 to pull off the feat. However, there is a mammoth Reese’s-colored uniformed man named “Crush” Davis standing in his way. Crush has blasted the second most home runs before the break and is on pace to crack 60 homers and maybe even challenge the record. Which record you believe is the true record is up for debate. Ask Crush and he doesn’t hesitate: it’s Maris. So not only is this a race for MVP but perhaps a race for immortality. Cabrera can potentially win back-to-back Triple Crowns, an unheard of accomplishment in modern times, but in his way may be a guy that baseball fans can finally get behind as the true single-season home run king after the mess left behind by McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds. As we all know, if Crush does set the record, let the questioning begin. It’s not fair but it’s the world we live in. Either way, if these guys put up as exciting a second half as their first, we’re in for some special moments for the rest of the summer. 1. Playoff positioning:  The great thing about the MLB is that it has made the regular season more meaningful for average teams by adding an additional playoff spot so teams are more likely to be buyers than sellers come the trade deadline. This makes for great drama down the stretch as multiple squads will be pulling out all the stops to be playing after Game 162, and I like that excitement. It’s the same for me with hockey. I can’t really watch the regular season when it doesn’t matter too much, but once the playoffs begin I tune in. Once the calendar turns from July to August, baseball becomes watchable again. I’m just excited to have a few relaxing post-work adult beverages with my buddies and talk sports while we semi-pay attention to the game on TV. This is why I love sports and why I love life. Stay cool friends.
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…And Boston…Was Confused?

Here at Bucking Aikman it’s hard to contain our hometown bias for the Boston squads. As an ostensibly general sports blog, we do our best to stay objective and to cover a wide range of topics outside the scope of New England, mainly because, frankly, not everyone cares as much about Boston as we do (including some of our readers…right guys?). But the past month has been a whirlwind across the Big Four sports like nothing seen since…well, maybe ever, and as such deserves a little more attention. Yup, we’ve just experienced what might have been the wildest 30 days in Boston sports history – at least in terms of impactful transactions.

Two weeks ago enough madness had occurred for us to run an article on all the happenings to date: Doc Rivers’ ignominious escape to the Clippers, the Bruins’ narrow failure to capture another Cup, the first rumblings of the Aaron Hernandez murder plot, the head-scratching signing of Tim Tebow. But if you can believe it, the events of the 18 days since have been, if possible, even more shocking – some good, some bad, most baffling, all intriguing. To avoid repeating ourselves, we’ll move down the list giving a quick recap of what happened in Part I, what’s gone on since, and what we can expect from the future.

 

 

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Categories: MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Friday Fives: Sports’ Best All-Star Moments

All-Star Games are a difficult bunch to predict. As a usually midseason exhibition contest that has no impact on standings, players obviously treat them in a much more cavalier fashion, preferring to goof off and have fun, especially in this age of huge money where one wrong move at any time can end a lucrative career. This results in some weird moments, with some being undeniably awesome (see yesterday’s TBT) and some being undeniably awful (see every single Pro Bowl). Here are our favorite moments in All-Star history.

TED

WILL

GREG

5. Sean Taylor destroys a punter:  The Pro Bowl is not only the worst all-star game in pro sports, it may be the worst sporting event in the world (men’s sports, of course). For one thing, nobody wants to play in it: the players from the best teams don’t compete (i.e. those playing in the following week’s Super Bowl), anybody with even a hint of an injury opts out, and plenty of guys just bail because they don’t want to go. Those who do play don’t try at all, because who wants to pull a hammy in a game that happens after the season? So you have a bunch of second and third choices jogging around at half-speed busting out trick plays, which are entertaining for like the first five minutes, then get old really fast. Not to mention those hideous uniform/helmet combos are enough to drive away even diehards. Enter Sean Taylor. The late, great Redskins safety – one of the hardest hitters of the 21st century – was playing in the 2006 Pro Bowl when Buffalo punter Brian Moorman decided to try to run for a first down instead. Gee whiz, have you ever heard of such a thing? Ha ha! That wacky punter! Yeah, Taylor wasn’t having any of that shit either, and absolutely annihilated Moorman as he snuck up the sideline. Seriously, there are few hits that hard in playoff games, never mind in a game that’s basically two-hand touch. To his credit, Moorman hopped right up to congratulate Taylor and never cried about it being against the unwritten rules, unlike someone further down this list. Taylor was taken from us far too early, but we’ll always have the memory of when he made the Pro Bowl enjoyable for 30 seconds. 5. The 1992 NBA All-Star Game:  This game was monumental for a multitude of reasons. Magic Johnson had retired prior to the season because of his HIV diagnosis. Via a special exception from the NBA, the game was supposed to serve as his last. The game itself was filled with amazing moments, including Magic going one-on-one with the likes of MJ and Isiah Thomas. Magic would eventually seal the deal with a late three-pointer and won MVP honors to boot. Magic had swag throughout his career and never was it more present than on this night. 5. Jason Williams’ off-the-elbow:  This put White Chocolate on the map. In the 2000 Rookie Game, Williams came down the middle of the floor on a fast break with teammates on both sides and only Lamar Odom in his way. He faked an around-the-back pass to Dirk Nowitzki and as the ball was behind his back he hit it with his opposite elbow, landing the ball in the hands of one Raef Lafrentz in stride. Now looking back on it, the ball should have gone to Dirk because Dirk > Raef is as obvious as e=MC2. Nevertheless this play is amazing and is still one I would like to execute just once in my life. But it’s been 13 years and I still can’t do it so I think it’s time to move on.
4. Reggie Jackson blows out the lights:  The 1971 All-Star Game was far inferior to the previous year’s, with one towering exception. With his American League down by three in the third inning, a young Reggie Jackson stepped up to the plate, brimming with raw power. He promptly jacked a pitch over the right field roof of Tiger Stadium for a two-run bomb. The home run kickstarted an AL rally, but it was the moonshot itself that got attention: it crushed a transformer that was 100 feet above the playing field for an estimated distance of 530 feet. Jackson was well-known for his monster shots but this may have been one of his longest. If the game hadn’t taken place during the day, who knows what would have happened to the field’s lights. 4. Shaq & the Jabbawockeez:  First time I tried to spell Jabbawockeez I was way off, not even close. But to the point of the #4 slot, Shaq is just the anti-Dwight. Everything Dwight wishes he could be is what Shaq was/is. One of the best entertainers of all time, Shaq probably sacrificed a few rings for the sake of making raps, producing indie flicks, and of course the occasional group dance. As a basketball history nerd who always wants to know where a player ranks historically, it’s a bit frustrating that he didn’t achieve at his highest level – which may have been astronomical, considering he won four championships with minimum effort towards the sport. But the kid inside me who grew up wanting monster dunk after monster dunk loves the fact that Shaq traded a little bit of winning for the entertainment of millions. By the way, this clip from the intros at the game may have been the last good highlight he ever had. Enjoy. 4. Kobe’s first game:  When you look back at this clip it’s pretty easy to see why Kobe turned out to be one of the best players of all time. As a 19-year-old pro he proved he belonged on one of the game’s biggest stages. Playing at MSG against an unconscious Jordan, Kobe took the challenge of guarding the GOAT, and although MJ completely dominated him, especially in the mid-post, this clip shows why a young Kobe would eventually transform into the Black Mamba. He loved the fact that he was guarding Jordan despite the very clear “No Defense Allowed” signs hanging up in every ASG venue. And while he was playing D you know Kobe was learning the subtleties of MJ’s post game from the defender’s perspective because he was always an astute student. For anyone who has seen Kobe play over the years, you know that his mid-post game and flawless footwork are the keys to his deadly arsenal. And there’s a reason he is so good at it: he copied Jordan. And that is not a knock on Kobe. He is the closest thing to MJ we may ever see. Get well soon.
3. The entire 1988 NBA All-Star Weekend:  This game alone could have easily made the list, but it’s the entire weekend that pushes it over the top. First, you had the third 3-Point Contest, the first two of which Larry Bird had won handily. Prior to this year’s, Bird walked into the locker room and asked, “Who’s finishing second?” The notoriously cocky Bird made good on his boast in classic fashion: needing to sink his last shot for the win, he heaved up the money ball and as soon as it left his hands, turned to the crowd with his finger raised. The ball hit home behind him. Game, blouses. Then MJ and Dominique Wilkins staged the greatest Dunk Contest in history, throwing down windmills, off-the-glass jams, under-the-rim reverses, and Mike’s legendary free throw dunk. Jordan took it home (amid some controversy), but the competition between the two didn’t stop there. In the All-Star Game itself, overflowing with Hall of Famers, ‘Nique poured in an astounding 29 points…and was completely dominated by MJ. Check out this stat line: 40 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 steals. I know it’s crazy, the best players in the Game also competed in the Dunk Contest! Who woulda thunk it! 3. The Big Unit vs. Kruk:  This is what baseball and the All-Star Game are all about. Baseball is such a relaxed sport and when you can visibly notice the players having fun, it makes the watching experience that much more entertaining. Clearly Kruky and his insane rattail were a little shook going up against 100 mph stinky cheese from the Big Unit. Maybe the easiest K the Unit ever had in his career. One pitch over the fat man’s head, three pitches in the righty batter’s box, and it sounds like we have ourselves a John Kruk All-Star Game blooper for the ages. Baseball needs to get back to its roots and needs to find new energy and charisma from its players. Let’s hope this next generation has that. 3. MJ’s last game:  This is without watching the clip: Jordan was a 40-year-old superstar playing well past his prime, but he could still be the best player on the floor at any given moment. There really was no chance that that Wizards team was going anywhere so his motivation was never too high, but when he did find himself with MJ-blood flowing through his veins it was still something special to behold. So when Jordan laced up his legendary shoes for his final All-Star Game, you knew you were about to get a show. The best part about this game was that Jordan was chosen as a reserve, but Vince Carter gave up his starting spot for the GOAT because that’s just what you do. (BTW, I doubt anyone would give Kobe that honor). Jordan started slow, missing his first seven shots, but finished with 20 points (his average for the season at age 43), and hit a classic baseline fadeaway that won the game. Oh wait, Jermaine O’Neal committed the silliest foul ever, dampening what should have been the perfect bookend to the most illustrious career in NBA history.
2. Pete Rose yokes up a catcher for the walkoff win:  The 1970 All-Star Game was an all-time classic. It featured twenty future Hall of Famers, including five of the top 20 home run hitters in history, and not even including  the career hits leader himself (who absolutely should be in Cooperstown, but that’s another column). After the likes of Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver helped their teams spin five shutout innings, the American League struck first, and took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth with the immortal Catfish Hunter coming on to save the game. The NL scratched back to send the game into extras, and in the bottom of the twelfth Pete Rose stood on second base. A bloop single into center field might not have scored most other players, especially in a meaningless contest (this was before Bud Selig stepped in and made everybody hate him), but this is Charlie Hustle we’re talking about. As the throw reached home, Rose steamrolled catcher Ray Fosse, who was obstructing the plate, and the National League walked off with the win. Fosse was still bitching about the play as late as last year. Okay, I get that you got a separated shoulder that derailed your career after your first full season. But again, this is Pete Rose we’re talking about! Don’t block the plate without the ball! It’s part of the game! Another unfortunate accident, but another gem in the storied career of Rose. 2. The Tie:  The 2002 MLB All-Star Game is more memorable for the mark it left rather than anything significant that happened that evening. Sure, the game ended in a tie when both teams ran out of pitchers after the 11th inning. It was an anomaly that without a doubt would draw headlines the next day. But that’s all it had to be. Baseball history is chock full of oddities that only nerds like Olney and Kurkjian could ever remember. Make this another footnote and move on. That’s all Bud had to do. Instead, he did one of the stupidest things imaginable: je made it count. Winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series. So technically a team from the AL could finish with a record 15 games better than their NL opponent in the World Series and have to lose home field advantage because some scrub from the Astros bullpen couldn’t hold a lead in an exhibition game that he was only playing in because rules mandate a player from each team must be chosen. Wait, what am I saying? That seems totally fair. Smooth move Bud. Change it back ya goober. 2. Torii Hunter robs Barry Bonds:  There was a time before the Mitchell Report when fans didn’t care about steroids. We were just happy to see baseball players with oversized heads and undersized testicles smashing homers at a Crush Davis-like rate. And no one had a bigger head or smaller testicles than Barry Bonds. He took on the aura of a superhero where absolutely no one wanted to pitch to him and even fewer people wanted to talk to him. He was absolutely terrifying. So when he fisted this dinger out to centerfield in the 2002 All-Star Game, everyone expected the ball to land outside the playing boundaries. BUT NOOO! Torii Hunter came out of absolutely nowhere to do what Torii Hunter did better than anyone except maybe Jim Edmonds. He robbed Bonds of the home run, ultimately risking his life in the process. When Bonds ran onto the field and scooped up Hunter like most adults pick up a finicky midget, you know Torii was just hoping Barry was lucid and not on one of his infamous ‘roid rages. Luckily for everyone involved Barry remembered where he was as Torii was on his shoulder and playfully placed him back on the ground. Here’s a clip of Torii Hunter doing this a lot.
1. Gordie Howe’s homecoming:  The NHL All-Star Game is kind of goofy and has gone through a ton of facelifts, from the defending Stanley Cup champs vs. a team of all-stars (which actually sounds pretty awesome) to North America vs. The World (again, AWESOME) to its current form of a “fantasy draft” (kind of cool in theory, but actually pretty lame). But in 1980 none of this mattered. Nine years after his retirement from the NHL, Gordie Howe was returning home. Howe had spent several successful years in the upstart World Hockey Association following his retirement, but when the WHA folded in 1979, his team joined the NHL. At the age of 51 years old, Howe stayed for one final season and helped bring the Whalers to the playoffs, making his last All-Star team in the process. The site of this game? Detroit, where Howe had spent 25 seasons setting every record imaginable. The ovation he got, as you can imagine, was the loudest thing heard in Detroit until the crushing implosion of its economy (…too soon?). And guess who he shared the ice with that night? A 19-year-old rookie named Wayne Gretzky, who would eventually go on to break just about all of Howe’s records. There might not be a better example of passing the torch in all of sports: possibly the two best players in the history of their game playing at the same time, 32 years of age separating them, one playing his first of 18 All-Star Games, the other playing his last of 23. This truly was the Game to end them all. 1. Cal Ripken’s farewell:  I’m a sucker for the drama of sports. A hopeless romantic if you will. It’s rare that a career gets the chance to end properly and in a fitting manner. For some, freak injuries (Bo Jackson) ruin that chance and for others, drugs and the want to hold on for a bit longer than they should (Sosa, Bonds). For Cal, he got the chance to end things his way. His final All-Star Game went about as perfectly as one could’ve scripted. First, you have the best player in the game giving up his position to you so that you can play your final ASG at the position it began. At the time, who knew how much foreshadowing A-Rod’s gesture to play third would ring true? As if that moment wasn’t enough, in Cal’s last at-bat, on the first pitch he saw, he sent a ball flying over the left field fence for a home run – the oldest to ever accomplish that feat. Of course he won the MVP trophy and after the season rode off into retirement. Like I said, I’m a helpless romantic. 1. Kane’s first Bad Blood appearance:  Okay so I am 100% cheating and just want to put this clip here because I was talking about it the other day and it remains my favorite moment in WWF history. I was going to put my favorite Royal Rumble, but I kind of love them all (though I haven’t watched one in a few years), so I figured I’d go with this. First of all, the match between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels is one of the greatest matches of all time. Both wrestlers beat the living doo out of each other (see Shawn Michaels’ face) in this “Hell in a Cell” match (the best gimmick match in wrestling) and it would have been fine with everyone in the world if Undertaker tombstoned Michaels, pressed two hands over his opponents barely beating heart, flicked his eyes back into his head, and pinned The Sexy Boy for the victory. Then it happened. Here is the transcript from the moment the lights go out and Kane’s music begins: “What’s that? Oh my god! Wait a minute…it’s Paul Bearer! It’s Paul Bearer! And that’s, that’s gotta be – that’s gotta be Kane! That’s gotta be Kane!” Enthralling. I remember watching this as a little kid and I went nuts jumping up and down wondering what in the world I was witnessing. Then it got crazier. Dude ripped the door from its hinges, nearly killed the referee, entered the ring over the top rope, set the turnbuckles aflame with unforeseen magical prowess, tombstoned his older brother, and strutted out of the arena as Shawn Michaels crawled over to pin the Undertaker. Talk about an All-Star performance.
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Friday Fives: Toughest Sports Performances

The Bruins lost in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals earlier this week, but not before turning in one of the grittiest performances in playoff history. In addition to Gregory Campbell’s instantly legendary refusal to leave the ice even with a broken leg in the conference finals, alternate captain Patrice Bergeron was so badly injured in Game 5 of the Finals that he was rushed to the hospital before the game was over…and returned to play in Game 6 with a broken rib, punctured lung, and cartilage damage. In other words, they’re some tough sons of bitches. Here are some of our other favorite hardasses.

(DISCLAIMER: For obvious reasons, we didn’t include hockey players – because they’d make up the entire list. Nobody’s questioning that they are far and away the toughest dudes on earth. I mean, they actually penalize the few guys who take dives for God’s sake! So assume that even the pansiest of hockey players – AKA Sid Crosby – is higher even than our Number 1’s on this list.)

TED

WILL

GREG

5. Byron Leftwich:  The Jaguars had high hopes for Leftwich when they drafted him seventh overall in 2003, and though he never materialized as a top-flight threat, he was a solid middle-tier quarterback for a few years. You know, 60% completion rate, more touchdowns than interceptions, didn’t make TOO many game-killing mistakes – not your first (or tenth) choice, but better than half the other teams’ starting QB’s. But one thing he was known for was toughness. As a big, lumbering quarterback behind a below-average line and with only Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor to help him out, Leftwich was a big target and took a lot of hard hits, yet “only” missed nine games in his first three years… Fine, I’m definitely reaching here, but check this out: as a senior at Marshall, he broke his shin in the first quarter of a November game, but finished the game and even engineered a 17-point comeback that ultimately fell short in true Leftwich-ian fashion. But the shots of his linemen carrying him downfield on his frenzied drives were pretty badass, and if it was anybody other than Byron Leftwich I might even use the word “iconic.” This selection pales in comparison to the rest of this list, so let’s move on. 5. Matthew Stafford:  Yes, this guy looks like the typical frat bro who’s a little too into the frat scene and seems to have his face grow fatter with each semester, but damn is this dude tough. Forget the up-and-down stats we’ve seen from him over the past two seasons and let’s revisit a game against the Cleveland Browns from his rookie season. During this game, in which he throws five TD’s and becomes the youngest QB to ever achieve that feat, he leads an injury-riddled comeback to boot. After taking this bone-crunching hit from C.J. Mosley where he separates his shoulder, the man refuses to quit. After being brought to the sidelines and begged not to go back out there – remember, this guy was the #1 overall pick that year – he disregards the training staff and valiantly returns to the field. On the very next play he throws the game-winning touchdown and seals his fate on the BA Friday Fives. 5. Rajon Rondo:  Man, this sucks writing this right now because it’s 11:30 PM, which means I just learned that the Celtics will be unrecognizable next season, so talking about Rondo pains me – but probably not as much as this pained him. Say what you want about Rondo’s attitude, jumper, or style, but he is one of the toughest players in the league. I mean, shit, he played an entire fourth quarter and overtime with a torn ACL. Not only has he played through gruesome injuries, but he also takes more tumbles during a game than Gabby Douglas during a floor routine (don’t overthink it…okay). Seriously, this guy is always hitting the floor whether it’s diving for a loose ball or taking a hit from a guy 75 pounds heavier than he is. But no matter what the cause, Rondo always gets up and brushes the dust off of the enormous chip on his shoulder. That is why people in Boston love him, because he plays the game with grit and balls. KG taught him well. (Side note: WHY Danny Ainge????? WHY???? But I get it, I’m just too emotional.)
4. Evander Holyfield:  Maybe not the first boxer that comes to mind when you think of the greats, but Holyfield is history’s only four-time World Heavyweight Champion, a boast that guys like Ali, Frazier, Foreman, and Tyson can’t even make. Holyfield made his pro debut at 1983 and KO’d his way up the weight classes, winning his first heavyweight title in 1990 and his last in 2000 – a solid decade-long run that included memorable and grueling bouts with Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, and Tyson himself. You’ve gotta be insanely tough to win four heavyweight titles across ten years, especially when they include going through Iron Mike twice, including the infamous Bite Fight that left pieces of Evander’s ear on the mat. 4. Allen Iverson:  Typically the smallest guy on the court but almost consistently had the most heart. Yes, he was a bit of a ballhog and is the definition of a volume scorer. But when he was on the court there was little denying that he was giving his all. He played with reckless abandon and probably cut a few years off his career with all the bone-jarring drops to the floor he took driving into a lane of giants. Iverson definitely ranks among the top former or current NBA players you don’t want to run into in a back alley. Now, all that I’ve said about Mr. Iverson does of course presume we aren’t talking ’bout practice. 4. Curt Schilling:  Such a homer pick, but the bloody sock game remains one of the coolest things I ever witnessed. Just the buildup to the game was intense: would Big Schill pitch or was he done for the season with a damaged ankle (you know, the ankle on the leg from which he derived all of his power)? Then we heard he would pitch but that he had to undergo experimental surgery to allow his tendon to remain out of place so as not to elicit unimaginable pain. Then he came out with a noticeable bloodstain pouring through his sock as he pitched one of the most memorable games in Red Sox history. (It was like something out of a movie, but then again so was the entire 2003-2004 journey. That could be a great documentary now that I think of it. ) No big deal. He just helped break the curse and exorcise the demon of Aaron Boone. Sure, Schilling is a douchebag and a little bit of an attention-whore, but Boston fans will never able to repay him for what he brought to this city.
3. Cal Ripken, Jr.:  It’s admittedly tough for baseball players to make this list, given the relative lack of physical activity and bodily punishment they endure compared to their hockey, football, and basketball brethren. But then, Cal isn’t your average ballplayer. The Iron Man shattered Lou Gehrig’s legendary and seemingly unbreakable record when he played his 2,131st consecutive game in 1995…and then played another 500 straight games after that. For you laypeople, that’s 17 straight years of playing every single game of baseball’s grueling summer schedule, playing through six straight months of sweltering heat with maybe one day a week off, tops. And it’s not like he coasted through his career either: he was a two-time MVP, two-time Gold Glover, and 19-time All-Star at the most demanding position on the diamond. If you don’t think he played through a ton of pain and injuries to keep his streak intact and his team in contention then you’ve never watched a full season of Major League Baseball. In an era of regular rest days for baseball’s biggest stars and in which pros get injured for the dumbest shit imaginable (seriously, take a look through a few of those and double check that it’s not The Onion), Cal’s is a record that we can confidently say will never, ever be broken. 3. Kobe Bryant/Michael Jordan:  This quality may be the closest skill these two share among a myriad of other prolific on-court traits. Two of the fiercest competitors the sports world has ever seen. I literally think each of them would straight up Walder Frey one of their own family members if it meant winning and being called the greatest. These guys have a different type of motor. One of MJ’s most historic games is the Flu Game. Maybe he was hungover, maybe it was bad pizza, who knows? Either way he gets props for having one of his best Finals performances ever under those circumstances. Then there’s Kobe who averaged over 27 ppg this past season while dealing with several injuries before his knee finally gave out. Kobe knew an injured version of him was better than anything else the Lakers could put on the floor and gave it his all. That’s toughness. 3. Larry Bird:  Honestly, I’m not even trying to make this Boston-centric, but there is no way I can write a piece about toughness and not mention Larry “I had to have my spine readjusted everyday just so I could walk, never mind play an NBA game” Bird. Watching clips of Larry Legend diving headfirst onto the floor and into the stands, fighting Dr. J, and willing himself and his teammates to win after win despite the aforementioned back issues is my idea of a perfect first date. If she doesn’t appreciate my Birdboner then she won’t get…okay I’ll stop there. Inappropriate. Larry was from a blue collar family and took a blue collar approach to the game of basketball. Hearing him describe his father’s black and broken foot as inspiration for his attitude towards receiving his paycheck from Red Auerbach is something I want to play for my kids one day. If you get paid to do something you do it. Simple as that. And Larry kept it simple.
2. Bo Jackson:  The world had never seen a physical specimen like Vincent Edward Jackson, and it very well may never see another (apologies to LeBron, but it’s true). The list of tools that Bo possessed across multiple sports is utterly incomprehensible: blazing speed, a cannon for an arm, brute physical strength – whether it took the form of 500-foot homers or truck-sticked linebackers – and stamina and toughness that should make every other pro athlete ashamed. I mean, the guy played two completely different sports at the highest levels on earth, constantly, for three straight years! Every other athlete gets three to six months off each year for recovery, rest, and improvement, but not Bo: from 1987-1990 he played pro football and baseball all year long, displaying prowess that countless players would kill for. In one of the saddest stories in sports history, a freak hip injury ended his football career and sent his baseball career on a downward spiral, thereby derailing the monstrous force that was Bo. But even while writhing on the ground after the football hit that set off his injury, the legend of his toughness grew: he reportedly snapped his own hip back into place, something that former teammate George Brett noted that no human should be strong enough to do. And his tendency to snap his bat over his knee or head like it was a twig was awe-inspiring entertainment at its best. Damn, I wish I could have seen him play. 2. James Harrison:  Tough and physical is an understatement to describe this guy’s game. For a time he was the fiercest hitter in the league and no one wanted to cross the middle of the field when James Harrison was on it. Granted, a few of the hits may not have been the cleanest, but a lot of tough guys don’t always fight clean. Harrison is not only fierce but he knows he’s fierce. He’s openly said that he tries to injure people while he’s on the field. He did clarify that there is a difference between injuring and hurting someone, so he does have a heart. It may be black and cold, but it’s there. 2. Tiger Woods:  Whoa, whoa, whoa, a golfer on the list of toughest athletic feats? That sounds blasphemous right? Wrong. Remember the 2008 US Open? I know Rocco Mediate does because that was the tournament in which Tiger Woods beat him in a sudden death playoff on a torn ACL and a broken leg. For those of you who haven’t played too much golf, playing 18 holes is no walk in the park (even though it literally is, but you got that pun right?). It can be grueling especially considering the added pressure Tiger faced, this being a major championship and all that jazz about him being the only reason anyone watched golf in the first place. Imagine the intense focus Tiger had to display just to finish his rounds. Now multiply that by a hundred when you realize he had to beat all of the other best golfers in the world while grimacing with every step and crumbling with every swing. But we all know why he really did it right? Chicks dig a tough guy.
1. Logan Mankins:  A torn ACL is akin to the kiss of death for far too many professional athletes. As the most vital ligament in the most crucial joint on the athletic body, the ACL allows players to run, plant, turn, and generally do the things most important to their jobs. An ACL tear means a six-month recovery at the very least and has ended countless careers; many athletes are never the same, and only in the rarest of cases does a player finish a game after suffering the injury, let alone play again that year. Enter Logan Mankins and the Patriots. When Tom Brady tore his ACL in Week 1 of 2008, he missed the entire season, caused the Pats to miss the playoffs for only the second time in his career, and led to Matt Cassel becoming a starting NFL quarterback. So, an all-around disaster. When Mankins tore his ACL in Week 1 of 2011, not only did he finish the game…not only did he finish the season…but he anchored the impressive line that helped lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl. Oh, and then he tore the MCL in his other knee in their first playoff game, meaning he played the Super Bowl with torn ligaments in both knees. And he made the Pro Bowl!!! Imagine playing an entire NFL season while supporting a 300-pound frame on busted knees that hurt so bad that you can barely move – and you’re still one of the best at your position. That, my friends, is toughness. 1. Every hockey player ever:  This list is relatively obsolete because numbers 1-100 are probably all hockey players. These guys are insane. Just in the most recent Finals we saw Patty Bergeron have about four different serious injuries that he played through and was subsequently hospitalized for two days after the series. Then there’s Shaw from the Blackhawks who took a f—in’ puck to the face in Game 6 and was out playing again by the next period! Injuries that put other athletes on the shelf for weeks barely put these guys out for a line change (or switch, I don’t really know hockey). Despite not being a huge NHL fan, there’s nothing I can do but respect and admire these tough SOB’s for what they do on the ice. No one is tougher than a hockey player and these guys are a different breed of sickos and savages. Now if you’ll excuse me my fingers are getting a lil cramped from typing. See you guys in 15 days. 1. Ronnie Lott:  On some real shit, I love having full use of my fingers and toes. It just makes life easier and I hope I always get to have all of these things that are typing these very words, but Ronnie Lott apparently didn’t share the same affinity for his pinky. This guy had the choice of fixing his finger and missing games, or amputating his finger and playing games. For me the choice is simple. I want that finger. But no, Mr. Lott thought he’d cement his legacy as one of the craziest mofos to ever put on a uniform because really, ask yourself: would you really give up a finger to play a game? It’s not like Lott was playing in the Super Bowl either. He amputated his finger so that he’d be ready for the season opener. He has since admitted this was a horrible decision, but talk about dedication. I do get it though, as someone who literally played an entire year of football, basketball, and baseball with a shoulder that popped out every time I was tackled, dove on the floor, or swung a bat, you kind of just shrug it off. (Yeah, I got a bad rap as being injury-prone but you try playing quarterback behind a 160-pound center when you have torn labrums and rotator cuffs. Give me my tough guy award! This is also the biggest reason – aside from not wanting to destroy my beautiful face – I try not to fight. First punch I throw will be my last because those babies aren’t holding up.) But like this was something permanent. This was a pinky! That’s a vital part of who you are and Lott deserves to be recognized for the sacrifice he made for the sake of competition.
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…And Boston Wept

The City Formerly Known as Titletown is officially in shambles.* The past week has been something out of a nightmare, possibly one of the worst all-around sports weeks since the city began its glorious run at the turn of the millennium. To recap: the Celtics lost Doc Rivers, their best and most beloved head coach since Tommy hung up the suit in the late ’70s, when he bailed on the forthcoming years of miserable rebuilding after a painfully drawn-out and arduous courting process with the Clippers. Paul and KG are pissed and beyond their primes, Rondo is apparently the Basketball Antichrist, there’s an inexplicable chance that their next coach could be Vinny Del Negro, and they had to watch their archrival Heat hoist the trophy for a second straight year as LeBron cemented his legacy. The Patriots had two of the top young tight ends in the game…until one turned into a walking medical school cadaver and the other casually shot a couple dudes and looks to be headed to the slammer. Now Tom Terrific has exactly zero serious threats to throw to and Tim Tebow might actually be promoted from punchline to serious playing time at a position he’s never played before (gulp). The Red Sox, though still owners of the best record in the American League with more than half a season to go, have dropped four of their last five thanks to a pitching staff that includes a chronically injured ace who hasn’t pitched in two and a half weeks, an ineffective #2 who’s allowed 17 runs over his last three starts despite not making it to the sixth inning in any of them, and their fourth closer in a year and half. And last night…hoo boy, last night.

 

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Friday Fives: Sports Criminals

Sorry, ladies: your boytoy might be a murderer

A couple months ago we listed our favorite sports villains in our Friday Fives. This week, in response to Patriots star TE Aaron Hernandez apparently being involved in a really dumb murder and an only slightly smarter coverup, we talk about the biggest criminals in sports. The important distinction is that the villains are almost all deemed as such for misdemeanors in the realm of the sporting world alone, while the criminals are, well, actual criminals and bad people. Like, nobody is gonna get arrested for cheating or taunting or being annoying to fans. But the guys on this list…well, just read on and prepare yourself to be depressed.

 

TED

GREG

MARK/TAYLOR

5. Delonte West:  Let’s start with something tame since the rest of this list will get dark pretty quickly. The former Celtics and Cavs point guard is recognized as one of the more intimidating NBA players of the last decade, solely for his off-court exploits. First off he suffers from bipolar disorder, which is absolutely not a laughing matter nor makes him a criminal, but makes the following more understandable and scary. Pretend you’re a cop and picture this: you pull over a vehicle for a minor traffic violation, only to discover it’s a 6’3” guy with a guitar case strapped to his back riding one of these. He pulls off his helmet and – wait a second, isn’t this guy a pro athlete? Uh-oh…is that Delonte West? The guy with bipolar who’s had problems with every team he’s been on? Umm…I guess I should check the – holy shit!! Did he just pull three guns out of that case??? ……So yeah, West was riding his motortrike Desperado-style with three diesel pieces packed into a guitar case on his back – and not just any guns, but these bad boys. Such a terrifyingly badass image. Oh, and he banged LeBron’s mom when they were teammates too. Definitely not a crime (although some might disagree…) but awesome nonetheless. 5. Michael Vick:  I’m so unbelievably torn about present-day Mike Vick because everyone deserves a second chance and everyone is influenced by, and desensitized to, the environment in which they are raised. Vick grew up around dogfighting and I would imagine at some point he got over his childhood innocence (probably around the same time he realized he was the best athlete in his town) and figured dogfighting was pretty cool. So he did it and then just kept doing it, eventually using his incredible means to turn a lifelong hobby into another source of income. I can’t really blame Vick because I grew up in a family that revered its dog (RIP Wilbur) so I have no idea how to feel anything but love for those loyal creatures, but Vick didn’t see his dogs as pets. He viewed them as assets or employees that he could throw to the wolves. Nevertheless, Michael Vick was a transcendent talent at the quarterback position and was my idol growing up. I even tried out for the freshman football team throwing left-handed despite my clear right-handed dominance (still made the team as a QB!…I’m such a douchebag). So when I heard about Vick’s involvement in Bad Newz Kennels I felt confused, betrayed, and then utter hatred for the man. But he did his time and appears to feel genuine remorse for his transgressions so I am willing to give him a pass. Now Eagles fans just hope he remembers how to pass. 5. Plaxico Burress:  The Cheddar Bob of the NFL was arrested for shooting himself in the right thigh at a nightclub. Life sometimes imitates art, but unless you’re a young rapper on the comeup, no one wants that art to be the movie 8 Mile. This fashion choice had the biggest impact on NFL history this side of Von Miller deciding that dressing like Urkel was cool. For those of you who don’t know, it was a loose sweatpants band that caused his weapon to drop. This act resulted in an embarrassing amount of attention from ESPN and an exceptional amount of laughter for the rest of the world. Plax had a few forgettable seasons since then, and according to my sources (asking Jeeves to google “plaxico burress” for me) he signed for another year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. While this is perhaps the only crime on this list that is a laughable offense, Burress has also faced multiple domestic abuse and driving violations. There is a bigger problem to deal with, and unfortunately cases like Plaxico’s make a mockery of it.
4. Pacman Jones:  Pick any player who’s seen the field for the Cincinnati Bengals in this millennium and there’s a 70% chance he’s a convicted felon…and yet even among that Hall of Shame roster, Adam Jones stands out. The owner of the best nickname and longest rap sheet in recent NFL history, Pacman has been arrested like 20 times since being drafted sixth overall in 2005, for everything under the sun: fighting with bouncers, fighting with strangers, fighting with his bodyguards, weed and coke possession, public intoxication, vandalism, and being “associated with” more shootings than should be humanly possible. Pacman also seems to have a strange affinity for strip clubs – not strange because he frequents them (he is a red-blooded male, after all), but because he still frequents them despite the constant trouble he finds himself in while there. He’s been connected with at least FOUR DIFFERENT INCIDENTS at strip clubs (that we know about), from a couple shootings to assaults on women to general mayhem. The most insane and sociopathic instance came in 2007 in Vegas when, up big after leaving a casino, he made it rain on the strippers to the tune of $40,000 in singles. But perhaps misunderstanding how strip clubs work, he didn’t appreciate the working girls actually taking the money, so he quite reasonably punched a stripper and bounced her head off the stage. All hell broke loose, one of his boys pulled out a gun, a couple people got shot, one was paralyzed, yadda yadda yadda. In other words, the guy is a grade-A piece of shit. Yet he has enough talent that he bounces back every time he gets busted or suspended, and is currently with the Bengals where he probably feels right at home. There’s no justice in the world, I tell ya. 4. Mike Tyson:  We here at BA love to include Mike Tyson in our Friday Fives, so when Aaron Hernandez ended up on the wrong end of the Channel Five News, I was stoked to bring Iron Mike back into the fold. Tyson seems reformed, but there was a time when he was one of the most despicably depraved human beings in western society. Like Vick he was raised in a horrible environment that turned him into a borderline monster, but that does not excuse raping women. Rape is disgusting and so Tyson makes the list. BUT let’s not just call Tyson a rapist because he is also one of the most entertaining and fascinating individuals we have ever seen. (And really, human beings are perverse. Even though rape is unforgivable and disgusting we will sit through an entire afternoon of an SVU marathon like our lives depended on it. Therefore, Tyson is okay to talk about because we crave depravity.) Okay. Enjoy this. 4. Kobe Bryant:  I am very hesitant to finish this list. I tend to make my writing humorous, or at least attempt to, but I find it near impossible to do so with the current material. You can make jokes about the amount of times Kobe smacked his lips in the apology, the size of the ring he bought his wife, or his “thing” during sex, but all of that veils a very troubling night in Colorado. Many people believe that Kobe is only guilty of being unfaithful to his wife, and though I believe I would never do that, I am not an NBA superstar and I am not here to crucify him for that. What is terrifying, however, is how athletes feel as if they are entitled to everything, even women’s bodies. It is a real possibility that Kobe might have acted consensually with that young woman, but, of course, that means that the other possibility could also be true. We will never know for sure what happened in Eagle but what we do know is one person in that room was a millionaire only a few years removed from an astounding Los Angeles Lakers championship three-peat, and could afford the best lawyers in the world to make the female look promiscuous and untrustworthy. I know one of the people in that room was a world-traveled adult male and one was a 19 year old hotel employee. The case was dropped because she refused to testify in court. Sound familiar? It should because it happened a few years later with Ben Roethlisberger. The jump-to-conclusions reasoning would be that these girls won’t testify because they made it up. That is lazy on the part of everyone who thinks that. The reason these girls won’t testify is because their families’ names will be dragged through the mud, their entire sexual history will be displayed in front of the country as if it’s something they should be embarrassed by, and their lawyers will be outmatched. I know that Bryant said this: “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.” And that does not sound right in any way to me. It is time for us as a culture to change the way we view rape.
3. Oscar Pistorius:  This guy has been embroiled in controversy and negative press virtually since his career took off. Originally a feel-good success story as a double leg amputee who was fast enough to compete with able-bodied runners, Pistorius pissed off a lot of people when he qualified for the 2012 Olympics despite, you know, having springs for feet. (Although this can easily be turned on its head: The guy has no freakin’ legs!!! I’d call that something of a disadvantage.) Then when he finally lost his 200 meter title at the Paralympics later that year, he took the sore loser route of accusing his opponent, who had called the Blade Runner his “idol,” of cheating with longer prosthetics. Apparently, Pistorius’ inflated ego from the nonstop media coverage allowed this delicious irony to escape him. Anyway, we already knew he was a dick…but we didn’t know he was a murderer. And yet he shot his defenseless girlfriend to death last February, spurring multiple acquaintances to recount the fights they’d been having recently. Pistorius has claimed self-defense, saying that he thought an intruder had locked him/herself in the bathroom – though why they might do that, or why Pistorius’ immediate reaction would be to fire five rounds through the door, must also be clouded by his massive ego (though this all occurred in South Africa, which is part of Africa, where I assume they don’t have things like “laws” or “sanity”). We won’t know more until his trial starts later this summer, but it’s pretty obvious where this one is headed. 3. Ugueth Urbina:  Remember Ugie? This former Red Sox closer is serving a lengthy prison sentence for attempting to kill someone by cutting them with a machete and setting them on fire. That’s another level of crazy. That’s some truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stuff. But anyone who watched Ugie pitch kind of saw this coming, right? Kind of like if you woke up tomorrow and you heard that Jonathan Papelbon tortured iguanas…you’d be like “Oh. That makes sense.” Even though that just shouldn’t make sense. But Ugie was a nut on the mound and was clearly a nut in reality. Here’s to hoping he never sets foot on American soil again. 3. Ray Lewis:  Ray Lewis is undoubtedly one of the greatest football players to ever strap on a pair of cleats. His drive, intensity, and leadership of muscled-up millionaires on the gridiron are qualities every young athlete should aspire to attain. In recent years faithful NFL fans have been able to break down the facade a little bit and have realized his position is more of a glorified hype-man, but that still does not take away from his Hall of Fame-level accomplishments. Whether or not he took deer antler spray probably doesn’t matter, and if the guy who broke that story wanted to be taken seriously he probably should have called it something that wouldn’t provide fodder for Twitter hack comedians and PETA outrage. Ray Lewis will be remembered for everything I just said, but also for being involved in a homicide outside of a night club in Super Bowl week of 2000. Even if Ray wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger, athletes need to stop going to nightclubs with weapons! Nothing ever good happens to professional athletes at clubs. The combination of testosterone, alcohol, ego, haters, and scantily clad women is more dangerous than going into a house with eight other murderers. It’s the 21st century, no professional athlete needs to get all dressed up and go on the prowl for groupies – that’s what Twitter DM’s are for. Go to Applebee’s or something, man. Unless your waiter is wearing too much flair and your jalapeno poppers come out cold, you don’t need guns there. At least no other professional football player would make a mistake like this again.
2. Luis Resto and Panama Lewis:  AKA the guys who took padding out of boxing gloves and indirectly killed a fighter. In a 1983 bout with Billy Collins, Jr., Resto destroyed Collins’ face so gruesomely that he looked like something out of a horror movie. Apparently this wasn’t enough to get people wondering about foul play, but when Collins’ trainer shook Resto’s hand after, he realized how thin his gloves seemed. He justifiably flipped out, and an investigation revealed that not only had Resto’s trainer Lewis removed padding from each glove, but he had wrapped each hand in plaster of Paris – essentially turning each fist into a giant rock separated from Collins’ face by a thin layer of mesh. Collins’ vision was permanently affected, ending his career and driving him to (possible) suicide in a drunk driving accident a few months later. Resto and Lewis eventually went to jail, and subsequent interviews revealed that this wasn’t the first time the pair had pulled this stunt. It really doesn’t get much more assholish than that. 2. Lance Armstrong:  Once again, I’m torn on Lance. Sure, Livestrong has given hope to countless individuals struggling with cancer and those families affected by the illness, but he is also a duplicitous cheater and an asshole. Like Vick, he has owned up to his mistakes and exposed his degeneracy to the world “Yeezus” style, but that does not just excuse him for a decade of debauchery. Lance trampled on teammates, opponents, the sport of cycling, and the global population on his path to the top, acting in a manner most aptly described as “sociopathic.” Like many of the athletes on this list his legacy will either be as a criminal or as someone whom the American public allowed to have a second chance. I’m siding with the second chance because I know too many good people with cancer who would be disappointed in me otherwise. 2. Rae Carruth:  Oh man this is taking a lot out of me. Rae Carruth is the pinnacle of ruthless, violent athletes. He had his wife and unborn child slaughtered in a melee of bullets! Sin City and 300 are two of my favorite movies ever so I have what would be considered a tolerance for violence, but this is just deplorable. Ahh let’s lighten this up a little bit.
1. Marvin Harrison:  A curveball! I can hear the peanut gallery now: “Quit sniffing paint thinner you ding dong. Marvin Harrison was one of the most respected NFL players in history and is a saint.” True, he did put up astounding numbers while paired with Peyton over his 13-year career, and to call him quiet would be an understatement. Seriously, did anyone ever hear this guy speak? Did he ever celebrate a single touchdown? Harrison epitomized professionalism and set a lasting precedent for other superstar receivers in the burgeoning age of look-at-me divas. (How are Ochocinco and Desean Jackson doing these days? While Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald continue to dominate the league.) So why does he make this list? What if I told you that Marvin shot a drug dealer while bouncing at his bar (yes, he was the doorman at the bar he owned)…and that after the guy fingered Harrison as the shooter in an ESPN interview, he mysteriously wound up murdered? And somehow the police never really pursued him and nothing has ever come of it??? Yup, from this single piece of evidence we can conclude that Harrison is a ruthless underground warlord, using his nice-guy demeanor and low profile to lull his enemies into a false sense of security – the Keyser Soze of the NFL, if you will. Who knows how many bodies lie decomposing in the boarded-up units of the North Philadelphia projects? With his rough Philly background, innocent façade, and brutal brand of street justice, Harrison is essentially the opposite of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. 1. That coach from Penn State:  I refuse to write this guy’s name. In my opinion he is the single worst human being to have lived in the past 20 years. That is all I have to say. This man is the devil. 1. OJ Simpson:  Professional actor and football player OJ Simpson was involved in an incident in 1994, when sources say that he was having some marital issues with his then-wife Nicole Goldman. In what sounds like an episode of CSI or Law and Order, the ex-wife of a Hall of Fame football player and her lover were found dead in her Brentwood apartment. There, law enforcement found a glove with more Simpson DNA in it than an episode of Family Guy. What resulted was a media circus that made the Kobe trial look like the WNBA draft coverage. This was a cultural milestone referenced in Eminem songs, Seinfeld episodes, South Park episodes, and indirectly, an actual child being named “North West.” Later Orenthal showed what a terrible person he really was with a string of bad decisions, eventually getting convicted in a robbery case and currently serving time in one of the greatest makeup calls of all time. OJ was at the cutting edge when it comes to professional athletes on trial.
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Friday Fives: Sports Dynasties

In honor of the San Antonio Spurs’ improbable run to yet another NBA Finals we’re looking at the greatest runs in sports. These are not just dynasties – you know, teams who actually won –  but teams that gave their fans consistent greatness and something to cheer for year to year, so don’t be alarmed when you see a certain Utah team on one of our panelist’s list. Who did we leave out? Probably someone because we always do, but hey, we don’t get paid for this shit, so donations are welcome.

TED

GREG

MARK/TAYLOR

DISHONORABLE MENTION: The 1990’s Bills.  It might seem ridiculous now but the Buffalo Bills used to be kinda sorta good. After the NFL merger they were pretty miserable, with only three postseason appearances despite the presence of pre-murder OJ Simpson, but with the arrival of legends like Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, and Andre Reed in the late 80’s, fortunes began to turn for the residents of Canada’s Butthole. The team took off and before they knew it, the Bills had made four Super Bowl appearances. Can you say dynasty!!! Wait a second…they lost every single one? Four years in a row? To three different teams??? The run of shame began in the 1990-91 season, when the hugely favored Bills lost Super Bowl XXV on Scott Norwood’s infamous “wide right” kick (laces out Marino!). The next year Buffalo cruised through the regular season again, only to get smoked by the Redskins in the Super Bowl after reigning MVP Thomas lost his helmet and had to sit out a couple plays (that sums up the city of Buffalo pretty nicely). Year Three saw a change in the winds, as the Bills completed the biggest comeback in NFL history to win their wild card game, steamrolled their next two opponents…then watched the emerging Cowboys dynasty drop 52 points on their heads in the third-biggest blowout in SB history. By the time their rematch with America’s Team rolled around in Year Four, Bills fans figured, statistically speaking, there was no way they could lose again…but weren’t surprised when, of course, they did. Buffalo deserves some credit for reaching four straight title games, something no other team has done and very well may never do again. But losing all four – I mean, c’mon man. UConn women’s basketball.  Women’s ball gets a bad rap because of the relative lack of athleticism these athletes possess compared to their male counterparts. Men’s basketball is just more fun to watch. Just last week ESPN ran a “highlight” of a Brittney Griner dunk that occurred after the whistle…c’mon now. However, the dearth of excitement in the women’s game should not detract from the accomplishments of Geno Auriemma’s UConn Huskies. These ladies were literally unbeatable for over two seasons and have won eight national titles under Coach Geno. Since the turn of the century the Huskies have won seven titles, including this past season, and win their conference nearly every year. Not only is this a special program, but some of the greatest players ever have graduated from this university, including personal favorites Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore. (I’d actually really like to play these women in games of 1-on-1 to see how good they really are. I would not be surprised one bit if I got shut out.) I won’t watch much women’s basketball, but if UConn is playing, the chances increase exponentially. Jerry Sloan’s Jazz.  To kick off this list, I’m going to start with the best franchise run that includes a very hard-to-miss blemish: no championship. A team that consisted of Karl Malone and John Stockton unfortunately was never able to secure a title, primarily because of a guy named Michael Jeffrey Jordan. I can’t say I blame them, but I still can’t put them on that high of a pedestal. I have, however, made it my mission in life to tell people that John Stockton is not only the all-time leader in assists, but steals as well. People like to discredit the former by announcing that he had Malone to pass to, but then explain the latter to me: was Malone picking Stockton up and using his body to take the ball away from other people? The guy could play, folks, and if it wasn’t for his Dad-like fashion sense I think he’d be widely considered the greatest point guard of all time not named Magic. Malone’s numbers (and cowboy hats) speak for themselves – it’s just a shame he has empty fingers. The Jazz make this list due to Stockton and Malone, but also to the man behind the curtains (okay, on the sidelines), Jerry Sloan. The John Kerry lookalike led the Jazz to the postseason for 20 straight years, which is probably a record but my work’s firewall blocks out too many sites for me to fact-check that.
The early 1980’s Islanders.  Similar to the Bills, the current Islanders are a disgrace to their predecessors (a longtime fan recently told me, “I know more about those 80’s teams than I do about this year’s) – but their earlier incarnations actually have the success to back up that statement. In 1980 the Islanders began an incredible run that netted them four straight Stanley Cups, with their hopes for a fifth only ending in that year’s Finals by the emergence of Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers dynasty (are you sensing a trend here?). With massive contributions from Mike Bossy, two-way phenomenon Butch Goring, and the brothers Sutter, the Islanders reeled off a North American pro sports-record 19 straight playoff series victories, a mark unlikely to ever be broken. The run had it all, from an overtime Cup clincher in Year One, to the Isles losing only three games over four series in Year Two, to a first-round series-winning comeback followed by sweeps of their final two opponents in Year Three, to holding Gretzky scoreless (after his mindblowing breakout season) in a Finals sweep in Year Four. The Great One would have his revenge in the following year’s Finals, starting an immensely dominant era of his own, but not before the Islanders had cemented their legacy in the NHL. The PTI Guys.  Can you believe Pardon the Interruption has been on the air for over 12 years? Mike and Tony are what is great about America: they are two rather ugly human beings, one black, one white, who have made a living talking about shit that really doesn’t matter, and we as a consumer audience cannot get enough. Everyone aspires to PTI status but few have the staying power to pull it off. ESPN offers First Take (formerly known as Cold Pizza), Around the Horn, and Numbers Never Lie (which I guarantee doesn’t last), and countless other programs on various stations have attempted shows that do not measure up to PTI (Around the Valley excluded). Remember when Stephen A. Smith was given his own show called Quite Frankly? He was ESPN’s hot new personality with outlandish opinions and comical catchphrases. If anyone could have carried a show by himself it was Stephen A. Well, it sucked. I’m not even going to bother looking up how long it lasted because it probably lasted a shorter period than the time it would take me to do that research. So after a strange hiatus from mainstream ESPN where he was replaced by Chris Broussard – until Broussard proved himself to be nothing more than a rumor-whore – Smith had to team up with Skip Bayless to go at PTI with its adjusted PTI format (a female host and way more nonsensical yellow journalism) because America likes seeing a white guy and a black guy argue about things in a nonthreatening manner. It appeals to everyone and satisfies lingering racial tensions. But no one is going to touch PTI and I hope we get another decade of Mike and Tony. Now go drink some booze you knuckleheads. The 1990’s Braves.  To put it articulately, the 90’s Braves were freakin’ dope mang. Their pitching rotation was one of the lesser acclaimed but still devastating Big Three’s in sports, and they won the NL East every year for an entire decade. They were also one of the whitest teams of all time. The one thing also holding them down is their lack of rings. Legendary franchise runs should have more than just one. The Braves had the burden that so many teams in the 90’s had – existing when there was  another ballclub playing on Dynasty mode. If it was not for the New York Yankees, the Braves would likely have had one of the winningest decades in MLB history.
John Wooden’s UCLA basketball.  The godfather of college basketball, John Wooden led his Bruins on a stunning display of dominance in the 60’s and 70’s. In 12 seasons from 1963 to Wooden’s retirement in 1975, UCLA amassed some of the most impressive numbers in NCAA history: 11 tourney appearances, 11 #1 rankings, 10 national titles (including seven straight), four undefeated seasons, and a record 88 straight victories at one point. And he did all this without the stalwart superstars of the pro leagues, given the yearly turnover of college rosters due to graduations, transfers, and the like. The man was a basketball genius, plain and simple, and there’s little wonder the NCAA player of the year award is named in his honor. Duncan’s Spurs.  Since Tim Duncan joined the San Antonio Spurs they have been one of the best teams in the league by any measure or stretch of the imagination. Since Jordan retired for the second time, no team has been as consistently great (save for Brady’s Pats – in fact the similarities are remarkable). Not only have the Spurs made the playoffs every season with Timmy, but they have never had a regular season winning percentage under 61%, have never finished below second place in their division, have only lost in the first round three times (call them the anti-Karl’s), and have a very good chance of bringing home banner number five this year. They are underappreciated because they don’t have any celebrity superstars or sexy personalities, they play the game the right way without searching for SportsCenter highlights, and they’re seemingly never in the news – though Tony Parker might have something to say about that. Wow, I think Tony has a little bit of a lollipop fetish.  I think my first video is going to look a little different. The 2000’s Lakers.  “What?” you exclaim loudly, outraged while staring at your computer in disbelief. “How can you possibly choose the turn-of-the-millennium Lakers team over its 80’s counterpart OR their rivals, the Bird-led Celtics?” The answer is this: efficiency. While the 80’s teams were battling each other from coast to coast for the “Team of the 80’s” title (a still-ongoing debate), the Phil Jackson-led squad was dominating the league and was the unarguable team of the turn of the century. Mark Madsen was of course the centerpiece of this team that had a decent supporting cast in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. They were certainly outstanding, and another skeleton will unfortunately have to pop out of my closet – I loved them. Though my animosity for Kobe Bryant has always existed (even if it has waned in recent years), Shaq was both dominant and charismatic enough for me not to care. How could you not love the man who made Steel and Kazaam? I had about 34 Shaq posters on my wall as a youngster, including his original incarnation on the Orlando Magic and his appearance on the ‘96 gold medal Olympic team. One time my dad bought me an NBA magazine and it had a Lakers cheerleader in it and I kissed the picture when I was alone in my room. Okay, now I’ve revealed too much.
Mike Tyson.  What more is there to say about Iron Mike? Books can be, and have been, written about the dominance of The Baddest Man on the Planet, the last of the great and legendary heavyweights of the boxing world. He burst onto the scene as a 20-year-old when he won his first 19 fights by KO – 12 in the first round! – and was undefeated through his first 37 bouts before losing his belt to Buster Douglas in a shocking upset. Nevertheless, he was one of the most feared boxers of all time, thanks to a combination of ferocious punching power, eye-blurringly quick defense, and utter insanity. He went 50-6 in his career, which unfortunately is often overshadowed by his bizarre personal life and the fact that he’s a complete lunatic. Don’t let the pigeons and Hangover cameos fool you, kids – Iron Mike is one of the scariest men who’s ever lived. Tiger Woods.  Tiger, Tiger, Tiger, Tiger Woods y’all! It seems like a lifetime ago, but there was a time when other PGA Tour members would have rather been face-to-face with an actual tiger than see good ole Eldrick lurking behind them. You know, before the gratuitous sex narrative mechanically poked its head into the ever-verdant tee-box (umm…yeah, I like that metaphor). This man spent over 500 weeks as the World’s Number One Golfer while capturing more majors than anyone not named The Golden Bear. He is a ten-time Player of the Year, nine-time leading money earner, and has the second most tour wins all-time. And no one can attract an audience quite like Mr. Woods, so even the most casual fan will tune in when Tiger is in the mix. And this weekend Tiger hits the links at the U.S. Open looking to recapture some of his feral virility. Women beware. The late 1990’s Yankees.  Shame on me I suppose but I loved the New York Yankees before I turned 10 years old. I suppose as adults we realize all the intricacies that go into liking or not liking a team, but as a preadolescent it’s hard not to like things that are awesome on a surface level. The Yankees won all the time and for that I thought they were cool. It would be hard explaining this to almost anyone outside of the Tri-State area, but Paul O’Neill was one of my top three favorite baseball players. Add to him names like Bernie Williams and Tito Martinez and that team elicits positive emotions in my brain. It wouldn’t be until years later that I realized people usually dislike the Yankees for their players, but for the fans and general attitude they have as an organization. Talk to a New York fan of any sport for five minutes and you’ll find yourself developing a sudden allegiance to whatever team is their rival.
Red and Bill’s Celtics.  Come on, what else could I finish with? At least I can justify my homerism with the fact that this was legitimately one of the most dominant teams of all time, reeling off 11 titles over 13 years in the late 50’s and 60’s, including a pro sports-record eight straight that will absolutely never, ever be touched. Yeah, yeah, the NBA was a different animal back then, with much fewer teams and nobody to compete with freak of nature Bill Russell, but the fact that Red Auerbach built this team, and essentially the league, from scratch and dominated for so long is astounding. Plus, Russell coached himself to his last two titles, giving him 11 rings. He says he hangs the last around his neck, but I think we all know where he really puts it. MJ’s Bulls.  This might be the best team ever assembled so there really is not much I can tell you that you don’t already know. They won six titles, including two three-peats, have the most wins ever in a season (72), never had a season with a winning percentage lower than 57%, and loaned their best player to the Looney Tunes in order to save America’s favorite cartoons, costing them two more rings. They made a mockery of the league and the supposed parity within the game and cakewalked their way into the annals of the NBA. Jordan and Pippen were the most fearsome wing combination ever, combining ballhawking defense (ask Toni Kukoc) and efficient, awe-inspiring offense on the road to success. They singlehandedly ruined the legacies of Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and John Stockton, none of whom will ever be able to lay claim to a top ten legacy despite a Gollum-like pursuit of that coveted ring. Thanks for the memories, fellas. The 2000’s Patriots.  Ahhhh finally a team I can fully praise with no remorse. Tom Brady has won three Super Bowls and appeared in five. To realize just how good he is, take into consideration that he appeared in his fifth Super Bowl a full decade after his first one. Belichick might be known for his crop-arm hoodies, having a really hard to spell name, Spygate, and for just generally being a curmudgeon, but he is unavoidably on the short list of greatest coaches of all time. The Pats might be known for their offense now, but the defense in the early years was flat out terrifying. To sum it all up, watch this and think about what your life is like compared to his.
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TBT: Tiger is BACK!

The U.S. Open is upon us, which this year means rain-soaked links, fresh woven baskets, SCOTT VAN PELT!!!, and intense groupings. The top three golfers in the world will play together for the first two rounds: No. 1 Tiger Woods, fresh off his Players’ Championship victory, starting to look like his old pre-scandal self, and hunting his first major championship since 2008; No. 2 Rory McIlroy, the onetime Tiger 2.0 who finds ways to choke away victories but has still won a major in each of the past two years; and No. 3 Adam Scott, the reigning Masters champ who stole longtime Tiger caddy Stevie Williams after their dramatic breakup and helped Stevie’s delusion that he was a big part of the reason for Tiger’s success. How will this tournament play out? Will the weather ruin, delay, cancel play? Will Tiger finally round into form and get back on track with his chase of Jack Nicklaus? Will Rory prove himself in front of the man he was supposed to replace, or fall apart á la Sergio Garcia? Will Stevie Williams be able to deny the emotions he feels, or will he secretly start working for Tiger, culminating in his ripping off his shirt to reveal a red polo with Tiger’s face on it on the 18th hole??? These are the real questions we should be asking, people. Until then, enjoy some of the best shots of Tiger’s illustrious career in the hopes that we can witness this magic on the green once again.

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Analysis from a Pro: The Stanley Cup Finals

by Kevin Moore

 

The conference finals were supposed to be dramatic knockout/drag-out affairs that were going to give us nonstop excitement, but it just didn’t happen consistently in either series. Tuukka Rask stymied the Penguins and allowed just two goals in the sweep while emerging as the front-runner to win the Conn Smythe and making Pittsburgh the biggest playoff disappointment since the 1995 Red Wings – coincidentally the last time the NHL had a shortened schedule due to a work stoppage. Jonathan Quick was not the superman we thought (although he still played great, just not out of this world) and Patrick Kane woke up just in time to make everyone realize that the Blackhawks have been the best team in the NHL from day one this year. What we are left with is the NHL’s first Original Six matchup since 1979 when the Canadiens beat the Rangers in five games.

 

1. Chicago vs 4. Boston

Forwards: The Blackhawks stars have not been consistent this playoff year but there is hope. Patrick Kane’s Game 5 hat trick could be the spark that wakes him up and has him playing up to the playoff standard he set in 2010. Patrick Sharp (14 pts) paces the Hawks with 8 goals, good for second in the playoffs, and Marian Hossa (14 pts, +8) has continued his solid two-way play. Chicago’s biggest surprise has been Bryan Bickell (13 pts) who since being inserted on their top line has contributed some big goals; he’s tied with Sharp for second in the playoffs with 8 goals. If the Blackhawks are going to win this series they are going to need Jonathan Toews (1 G, 8 A) to wake up and play like the Conn Smythe winner he was in 2010.
Boston’s forwards have played a physical brand of defensive hockey that frustrated Pittsburgh’s skill players last round. David Krejci (9 G, 12 A) leads the playoffs in points while Nathan Horton (7 G, 10 A) has been a force, leading all players in +/- by a wide margin with a +21 rating. Patrice Bergeron (5 G, 6 A) has cemented himself as the top defensive center in the NHL by logging big minutes last round against Pittsburgh’s top line and winning draws at a very good 61% clip in the playoffs. Boston’s confidence and production from all four lines should give them the edge overall in this series and be a big factor in wearing down Chicago’s top guys.

 

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Summer is Coming: A Roundup from Last Week

“This kingdom will be yours someday, Simba”

The past week and a half has been a whirlwind in the sports world, from intense postseason action in two sports to marathon MLB games and extra-inning heroics to crazy moves in the NFL to horses running in a circle for a couple minutes. Here’s a breakdown of the most important happenings of the past 10 days, and a brief look ahead at the future.

NHL

  • The Bruins swept the punchless Penguins to advance to their second Stanley Cup Finals in three years. Despite the Bruins’ continued insistence that they weren’t taking the Pens for granted and were expecting a surge at any time, the dangerous Pittsburgh offense that had averaged more than four goals a game over the first two rounds never materialized against the stifling Boston defense, and the Penguins only managed two goals all series. Two goals. In four games. Only three other teams in NHL history have allowed so few goals in a series of at least four games, so yeah, that’s pretty good. Much of this was thanks to the lights-out netminding of Tuukka Rask, the Finnish goalie who watched from the bench as Tim Thomas made history in leading the B’s to the Cup two years ago. We’ve spent much of this postseason trying to figure out who’s taken the mantle from 2011 Thomas/2012 Jonathan Quick – at times bouncing between Henrik Lundqvist, Tomas Vokoun, and Quick himself – but it certainly looked like Tuukka in the Conference Finals. After Game 2, when most of us were still wary of Pittsburgh despite them being outscored 9-1 over two games, I was actually preparing to write that while Tuukka looked phenomenal, we shouldn’t expect him to be a reincarnation of Thomas. Then he notched 53 saves in an intense double overtime victory in Game 3 and recorded his second shutout of the series in Game 4, and I canned that article pretty damn quick (sometimes it’s good to procrastinate). Two U’s, two K’s, it’s Tuukka Time! Other takeaways from the series:
    • Despite allowing six goals in four periods and getting yanked in the first period of Game 2, Vokoun settled down nicely at the end of the series, giving up only three goals over the span of nearly three full games. After allowing a Brad Marchand breakaway goal that totally wasn’t his fault in the opening seconds of Game 3, he essentially pitched a shutout for nearly the remainder of the game, giving up his next goal at the end of the second overtime period. And in Game 4 his only mistake was a third-period Adam McQuaid snipe that he lost in the various skaters in front of him. Were it not for his offense’s miserable performance, this series would have gone a lot longer than four games, and Pittsburgh better think long and hard about their starting goaltender for next year.
    • Lots of credit goes to Tuukka, but an equal amount must go to the rest of defense as well. Led by captain Zdeno Chara and spurred by the return of Dennis Seidenberg, the B’s utterly neutralized dangerous weapons Sid Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Bruins fan favorite Jarome Iginla – a whopping combined total of ZERO POINTS – and shut out their fearsome power play with swarming and relentless pressure. Oh, and they pitched in on offense too, scoring 15 goals from the point – one more than they scored in the entire regular season.
    • Marchand and Patrice Bergeron are the heart and soul of the Bruins’ offense, hands down. In their fourth year on the same line, they appear to share one mind, and have been responsible for some of Boston’s biggest moments of the playoffs:  Bergeron’s equalizer with seconds left in Game 7 of the first round and his overtime series clincher (assisted by Marchand), the OT winner in Game 1 of the next series against New York, which was a carbon copy of the Toronto winner with the roles reversed, Marchand’s two goals in the first period of Game 2 in Pittsburgh (including this incredibly satisfying play against professional dickhead Matt Cooke), and Bergy’s double OT winner, assisted by…who else? David Krejci may lead the league in points this postseason, and Torey Krug may be the favorite story, but there’s little doubt as to who’s carrying this team.
    • Enough has been written to fill a Stephen King book about Gregory Campbell’s Game 3 performance on a broken leg, but it’s hard to overstate how much his gritty fearlessness meant to this team. After a Penguins power play shot shattered his leg, not only did he refuse to leave the ice – which would have put his team down two men – he disrupted a pass and even prepared to lay down his body to block another shot. As a Boston.com article scathingly pointed out, this kind of determination seems to be practically unique to hockey, though comparisons to Schilling’s bloody sock have already run rampant. Either way, Campbell’s toughness has simultaneously made him an instant legend in Boston and given his team something to play for.
    • The Penguins are arrogant sore losers, and it starts at the top with their crybaby captain. Crosby disappeared when his team needed him the most and handled it by trying to fight a goalie, barking at his opponents and teammates, and getting a stupid penalty at the end of the game when his team was about to pull their netminder – and this was all in Game 1. He set a terrible example for his colleagues, all of whom let the Bruins get under their skin and throw them off their games. And when Boston had proven its dominance with a sweep, Crosby still refused to take responsibility, claiming that they had chances and the Bruins didn’t “totally shut us down.” You scored twice in four friggin’ games! With an extra period and a half thrown in!!! How is that not shutting you down? Funnily enough, the only humility came from Iginla – who, in a perfect twist of irony, had spurned Boston midseason to win a Cup with Pittsburgh – when he admitted that he “just didn’t play very well.” The culture of winning that Crosby has installed in Pittsburgh has made the Penguins stubborn and resistant to criticism. On the other hand, the Bruins’ lack of a true “superstar” and subsequent team efforts, their reality check against Toronto in the first round, and their general humility has helped lead them to the Finals. Smell ya, Sidney.

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