August 31, 2011
This week, Michael Vick signed a six year, $100 million extension with the Philadelphia Eagles. The electrifying quarterback definitely deserved a pay raise from the two year, $16 million he signed in 2010, despite his injury risk. This is the second $100 million contract signed by Vick, the previous with the Atlanta Falcons. But the real story here is Vick’s rise to extremely public rise and fall, only to rise again. The improbable nature of his comeback brings a few other sports icons that have climbed from rock bottom to stardom in recent years.
If you watch Vick on the football field, it’s no wonder there is so much fuss over his talent. The speed of a receiver combined with the arm of a quarterback creates a dynamic one two punch never seen in the NFL. In retrospect, there should be no reason he would not rise to Pro Bowl status again after being sent to prison for conducting a dog fighting ring. His public image was severely damaged by his actions, but we’ve seen sports fans overlook person misconduct in exchange for performance on the field – why not Vick?
The more surprising aspect of Vick’s comeback was the roadblocks on the team he signed with. At the time he joined the Eagles, Vick was behind Donovan McNabb, the franchise quarterback for the past decade who lead the team to four straight NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl, and Kevin Kolb, a proven back up who was able to step up in McNabb’s absence, so well that he created a QB controversy in the city. But McNabb was shipped to the Washington Redskins before the 2010 season, and Kevin Kolb manage to get hurt. Vick stepped in, put up huge numbers, and Kolb as sent to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason. The wall he had to climb, even after he got out of prison, was immense.
Hamilton was a top tier prospect drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999. The hot commodity signed a deal with a $4 million signing bonus, but ran into trouble in 2003. He began showing up late to practice and games in 2003, and was suspended at the beginning of 2004 for violating the league’s drug policy. Suffering from various drug addictions, Hamilton entered rehab and did not play professionally again until 2006. After being bought by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft, and sent to the Cincinnati Reds, Hamilton blew up – in a good way.
Hamilton had a great rookie year, losing out to only Ryan Braun for the Rookie of the Year award. The Reds traded him to the Texas Rangers before the 2008 season, and has been an All-Star caliber player ever since. Not to mention an inspiration for those who have battled drug addictions.
Although Andersen’s plot has been less chronicled than the above athletes, it is nonetheless remarkable. After going undrafted in 1999, Andersen began his career in the Chinese Basketball Association. He climbed his way to the NBA, joining the Denver Nuggets and appearing in the NBA Dunk Contest in 2004 and 2005. The high flying forward was then suspended by the league in 2006 for violating the substance abuse rules, citing “drugs of abuse” as the reason.
After nearly two years away, Andersen came back in 2008 to rejoin the Nuggets, helping the team reach the playoffs each year since then. The defensive stalwart, with his electrifying blocks and reliable rebounding, has become a fan favorite in Denver, getting loud cheers when he enters the game and commonly being referred to his nickname, the Birdman. Another encouraging comeback story.
August 30, 2011
Unlike the AFC, NFC has been wide open over the last few years. Six different NFL teams have played in the last three conference title games. Can the Cowboys, Redskins, Lions, Vikings, Falcons or 49ers make it 11 teams in 11 years? I think so.
Traditionally, Daniel Snyder and the Redskins win the offseason with big-name free agent signings and then the games begin and someone else wins the division. But this year, it has been the Eagles grabbing all the headlines and bringing in high profile players. Question: What do you get when you take an NFL team that went 10-6 last season and add Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rogers-Cromarti, Ronnie Brown, Vince Young, and Steve Smith? Answer: The NFC East champs. Washington still needs to figure who is going to play quarterback. Dallas and New York will be in the playoff hunt, but Philly has too much talent.
Division winner: Philadelphia
This ought to be one of the most compelling divisions in football. Green Bay is the defending Super Bowl champion and returns several players who were out with injury last year. The Bears won the division last year and hosted the NFC title game. How will they rally around Jay Cutler after his knee injury in the NFC title game? Detroit seems poised to make a playoff run if they stay healthy and Minnesota has Donovan McNabb as its new quarterback. Chicago visits Minnesota and Detroit will be in Green Bay in the last week of the season. Expect those games to be meaningful.
Division winner: Green Bay
I expect the South to be the most competitive division with three teams battling for the division crown all season long. Carolina should be better than the 2-14 team of last year, but the Panthers are another year or two away. The Falcons and Saints remain made the playoffs last year and have Super Bowl aspirations. Tampa Bay won 10 games and should be even better with another year of experience for a young NFL team. One or two of these teams is going to have its playoff hopes dashed in the last week of the season.
Division winner: Atlanta
Year after year, the West is thought of as the weakest division in the league. However, no other division has had three teams in the Super Bowl in the last decade. Once again, nobody expects much from the West, so watch out for a surprise team to make a run come playoff time. It would be nice if the team that wins this division at least has a winning record this year though. Who will it be? When in doubt, go with the team that has the best quarterback. Kevin Kolb could prove to be that man, but until he gets a full season under his belt I’m going with Sam Bradford.
Division winner: St. Louis
Wild Card winners: Dallas, New Orleans
NFC champion: Atlanta
August 29, 2011
When I inform people that I’m a pro wrestling fan, reactions usually range from something along the lines of ‘It’s okay, we all have our problems’ to ‘You know it’s not real, right?’ to ‘How old are you, again?’
When you think of pro wrestling fans, what’s the first thing that comes into your mind? Quick! Some guy living in his parents’ basement? 12-year old kids? Rural America? The simple fact is that wrestling fans come in all shapes and sizes. And not because we’re convinced the Undertaker really came back from the dead or that Jack Swagger is really a great American hero … but because it’s darn entertaining stuff.
Like most fans, I started watching when I was a kid. Somewhere around the age of 11 I figured out that things weren’t quite as they seemed. Wait, you tell me that guy got bit by a poisonous snake but he’s still alive and doing just fine signing autographs afterwards?
I’m outta here.
And so a long hiatus from the ‘sport’ began until I went to college. There, I was quickly informed by others in the WWE’s target demographic that watching wrestling wasn’t only perfectly acceptable, but encouraged. We knew it wasn’t real per se (well, at least the results and the storylines – I’ll get to that whole fighting part later), but still tuned in weekly for the latest drama from the WWE’s DX stable and rival WCW’s nWo. We had small parties for a Monday night TV show and bigger ones for Pay-Per-View events. Wrestling was cool, even hip.
College came and went and I was convinced that it was no longer okay to watch wrestling. Further cementing my feelings was the fact that the product deteriorated wildly as the two main factions were in a constant battle for ratings. Wrestling had taken a turn for the worst and, to be perfectly honest, had become too vulgar for words. I was convinced I was through.
Then 2010 rolled around. While flipping through the channels one night, I noticed something. Something odd. The WWE was still on – not only on, but thriving. New characters had replaced the old. Gone were Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and HHH (well, at least gone for a while) and in their place were guys like Alberto Del Rio, CM Punk, and some guy that calls himself The Miz. What was happening? Why did I … care?
The fact is wrestling never really left. Sure, other things had taken its place for a while, but there was something strange about the theatrical sport. It was, and remains, incredibly captivating. Not only are the characters interesting, but what most fail to realize is how talented they really are.
Talented and hard-working.
Wrestling is the sport that doesn’t take a break. While we gush like adolescent schoolgirls over athletes in other sports that can play up to seven or eight months in a particular season, wrestlers go about their business, traveling from town to town year-round. Many believe that wrestlers only perform for televised shows, but in actuality, they travel and wrestle nearly every other day in the year for untelevised events. How’s that for a grueling schedule?
The steepest uphill battle that pro wrestling faces as an industry is that the matches are predetermined. Because of that, it’s easy for those who don’t follow the sport to extrapolate from there and come to the misinformed conclusion that the entire sport deserves no credibility. The fact is that while the matches are predetermined, the action is not without pain. When a wrestler takes a stiff chair shot to the back, the chair isn’t made of Styrofoam. That mat where said wrestler then was bodyslammed onto was not made of pillows and Serta matches. Much of the action is as rough as it looks – just ask Mick Foley who once fell from the top of a steel cage onto a table, rolled around on thumb tacks, and then proceeded to fall through the top of the cage for a second time.
All in the same match.
Another bad rap that wrestling gets (though, to be fair, it created this perception by living up to it years ago) is that it’s not family-friendly. Sure, there are still occasionally some things that would make a parent blush if their ten year old were in the room, but the sport has really done an amazing job in making the program cleaner and more watchable. Wrestling is not only far more toned-down in terms of offensive content, but it’s much easier on the eyes and ears than even daytime soap operas.
Sure, it’s not without problems. While other sports have a steroid problem, it could be argued that wrestling has a steroid epidemic. Too many wrestlers have died too young and if the sport doesn’t get cleaned up, it’s easy to believe that the industry could be on a fast downward spiral.
At the end of the day, though, it’s okay to be a wrestling fan. The sport combines true athleticism and acting like no other and these athletes get far less credit than what they deserve.
Yes, I used the term ‘athletes’ – because that’s what they are, whether you choose to believe it or not.
August 26, 2011
Once again the NFL has dominated the Top Fathead Sellers List, although a few MLB representatives held their own. In the Number 1 spot is the NFL Fantasy Draft Board, a consistent landslide winner over the past few weeks. Let’s all thank the end of the lockout for this trend and also for my job because quite frankly I don’t know what we would be selling if there were no NFL season (Hint,hint).
Anyway, the NBA lockout could be Fathead’s new foe. Despite the looming threat of a lost season, one NBA player continues to find his way on to our list. Can you guess who? Let’s just say we might need to find a company to ship our products to Turkey.
1. NFL Dry-Erase Fantasy Draft Board
6. Derek Jeter
9. Michael Vick
August 24, 2011
This previous Saturday, arguably the greatest street ball game ever occurred in Washington, D.C. As I discussed two weeks ago, the game between Washington, DC’s Goodman League and Los Angeles’s Drew League was going to be the final touch on Kevin Durant’s month long dominance of various pick games across the nation – and it did not disappoint.
To be honest, the event itself was not very well organized. The gates opened at 3:30, with an AAU game at 4:30 and the main event at 6:30. My crew decided to get there around 4:30, which we did, expecting somewhat of a line. But as we walked on to the Trinity College campus, we saw an estimated 1000 people waiting to get in. After two hours, we were finally able to get in, but others behind us weren’t as lucky. The line was still four football fields long when they decided to stop letting people in – even if they had tickets. Disorganization is probably an understatement.
For those who got in, even those sitting in the aisle of the bleachers (me), it was a thrill ride from the start. Fast paced dunks, alley-oops, deep threes, no defense – exactly what you’d expect. Check out some of the top play videos online, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. But they don’t depict the amazing essence the vent offered.
My top reasons why the Goodman vs. Drew game was better than an NBA game.
Durant vs. Harden
The biggest star and kingpin of the NBA players was undoubtedly Kevin Durant. The young forward had a breakout season last year, and was instrumental in setting up the East vs. West match up. Representing LA was Durant’s teammate and close friend, James Harden.
The majority of the game, Durant covered Harden and vice versa, as consistent high jinks ensued. Every time Durant ran up the court, Harden would jump directly on him so his face was an inch from Durant’s. KD’s response? To jokingly shove Harden 5 feet away. This didn’t happen just once – but nearly every single time KD ran up the floor. At one point, Durant drove to the basket, drawing a foul from Harden (yes, there were fouls). Harden countered by pegging a chess pass directly at Durant. All in good fun, all hilarious.
Lack of Defense, Traveling, Harder Fouls
The NBA of today is often criticized by dissenters because of the lack of defense allowed, traveling doesn’t get called as often, and the petty fouls called on players. I agree there’s an argument to be made that the league isn’t as tough as it used to be, but it’s not necessarily bad.
The extreme lack of defense, excluding the last minute of the game, made for constant highlights. The first quarter alone had at least three alley oops, including one on the first play of the game, deep threes, and quick drives to the basket. Players were simply aloud to do things they wouldn’t be in a normally officiated game.
In the first half, Demarcus “Boogie” Cousins was able to completely dominate Javalle “Pierre” McGee. Cousins, 6’10” and 250+ pounds, pushed the lanky, taller McGee around like a grown man would do an 8 year old. My favorite play of the game was when Boogie got the ball on the baseline, quickly spun on Pierre, took at least 5 steps and slammed down a thunderous one-hand dunk.
Boogie also had 7-8 fouls, but played until the end of the game. Can’t get away with all that in the NBA.
Part of the disorganization of the event was because the normal court the Goodman League plays on, “Inside the Gates,” was unable to handle the number of people who wanted to attend. The vibe gained from a street court would have been very cool, but I think this was just as good.
The game was played at Trinity College, a small DIII women’s only college in Northeast DC. Not the nicest part of the city, but certainly nicer than where the games usually occur, which was a plus. The gym the game was played in was smaller than my high school’s with 1400 students enrolled. It was a flashback for me – watching the varsity team from as little as a few feet away, except with world class athletes who can reach five feet above the rim.
Sure, it was crowded, but that’s a small price to pay for the show that was put on.