Saturday, January 29, 2011

Deron Please Teach Us

Is Illinois the same school that produced the Utah Jazz's Deron Williams. Especially early on in the season, the Jazz were becoming known for their astonishing second half double-digit comebacks to win games against quality teams like the Magic and Heat, even on the road. D-Will leads that kind of winning team. The curious part about this situation is, though, that Deron's alma mater, the University of Illinois, is becoming known for not being able to finish ball games. This year's Illini have quite a bit of talent and a healthy mix of young and experienced players. However, the immaturity is all that is shining through, and brightly. Of their seven losses, six could have been W's had the game ended about midway through the second half. In other words, Illinois held the lead during the 2nd half in every game except at Wisconsin. These guys fold when ahead more often than most teams. They are about as reliable as Demetri McCamey. Take a look at each loss.

Texas - Illinois held a two point lead with 2:27 left on the clock. The Illini scored two points for the rest of the game, and it went to overtime. In OT, we surrendered 15 while scoring 9. Granted, Texas is a talented team, but our guys had their opportunities late in the game.

UIC - The Illini were up by six with five minutes to go and looked as if they would blow open a big lead like they should against the Flames. Instead, they were outscored 13-3 for the rest of the way. Included in that stretch were a couple blown chances within the final minute to at least send the game to overtime.

Mizzou - Against another high-quality opponent, Illinois led by three points with 4:05 to play. The Tigers scored 20 in those last four minutes while we garnered seven.

Penn St - Illinois scored two points in the final four minutes of regulation.

Wisconsin - The Badgers hit us up for 49 points in the second half!

Ohio State - Myers Leonard and the gang were looking confident starting off the final twenty minutes. They even held an eight point lead with less than thirteen minutes to play. However, they could not make any type of basket again for five more minutes as they watched the number one team in the land take over the game in Champaign.

Indiana - Bruce Weber's team was up by three with 2:46 remaining, but they did not score the rest of the game.

So taking out the Missouri, Wisconsin, and Buckeyes losses, Illinois scored a combined total of 7 points in 14 minutes of play to close out four different games. Wow! Deron please get to Champaign ASAP and teach your boys how to finish like you did in the Elite Eight.

Great Weekend for Golf

What a spectacular weekend to kickoff the 2011 professional golf season. Believe it or not this is actually the fourth week of the PGA Tour season, and the competition thus far has been extremely entertaining. From Jonathan Byrd edging out Graeme McDowell to get into a playoff where he defeated Robert Garrigus to Mark Wilson's 36-hole Sunday marathon victory in Hawaii to big Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas's playoff win over defending champ Bill Haas in the California desert, many sports fans have missed out on some exciting finishes the past few weekends in golf. The European Tour has produced some fireworks too in this young year. Last week, now world number two (number one in my book) Martin Kaymer lapped a field that included Rory McIlroy, Retief Goosen, Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, the Molinari brothers, and Charl Schwartzel in Abu Dhabi. All of this thrilling golf went under the radar of most sports fans because Tiger Woods had not ventured onto any of the tracks the pros played. However, Tiger is playing in California this week, and the sports world is now watching.

The Farmers Insurance Open is hosted at Torrey Pines, the site of Woods's 2008 U.S. Open triumph. Tiger has won an unprecedented eight titles at Torry Pines, and he has put himself in position to win a ninth this weekend. Bill Haas currently holds the 36-hole lead at eleven under par, but a whole slew of big name contenders is right behind him. A more mature Anthony Kim is the closest competitor to Haas at nine under, but three back of the leader sit Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, John Daly, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, and Ben Crane. At six under par, CBS will be highlighting Tiger Woods, Jhonny Vegas, and Dustin Johnson. Five strokes back with 36 holes to play is easy ground to cover for Woods. Sports fans and true golf fans alike are anxiously awaiting the outcome of golf's first big week. The scenery from the southern California coast has already been breathtaking during the early rounds. If you do not watch for the incredible golf, you have to check out the amazing views of the cliffs holding up the golf course diving into the Pacific.

The European Tour also has more excitement lined up for golf fans around the globe. Colin Montgomerie is showing off one of his designs in the oil-rich Middle Eastern island nation of Bahrain. With only one round to play, Paul Casey is tied for the lead at sixteen under par with both Molinari brothers, Darren Clarke, Matteo Manessero, and Miguel Angel Jimenez all in striking distance. The Volvo Golf Champions was being billed as Sergio Garcia's first start of 2011. He started off with an impressive 67 on Thursday, but his third round of 73 has put El NiƱo nine strokes back heading into Sunday. The Golf Channel will have delayed morning coverage of this event.

The final big event of the weekend has yet to start actually. The Champions Skins Game will be played out in Maui on Saturday and Sunday. The defending champs for this team event are none other than Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. The duo is teaming up again this weekend, and anyone who has not seen the great Golden Bear play before better be watching Golf Channel because Jack very rarely plays anymore. Arnold Palmer is easier to catch on the course than Nicklaus. As the greatest player of all time, Jack is a joy to see and learn about. Going up against this formidable pairing are the teams of Fuzzy Zoeller-Ben Crenshaw, Nick Price-Fred Couples, and Bernhard Langer-Mark O'Meara. The players are miked and are a blast to watch play and interact with each other.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Oldest Pro Football Series

I am currently enjoying Joe Ziemba's When Football was Football: The Chicago Cardinals and the Birth of the NFL during my lunch breaks. I have yet to finish, but all the attention the much-anticipated Bears-Packers NFC Championship game is getting has highlighted one little piece of NFL history I learned from this book.

Chicago's and, arguably, the world's first professional team is the Cardinals, now rooted in Arizona. The Morgan Athletic Association played its first official game on October 15, 1899 in a win over the Shermans on Chicago's south side. The club eventually became known as the Chicago Cardinals franchise when the NFL organized in 1920. The Cardinals continued to play, oftentimes lousy, football as apart of the NFL in Chicago until the move to St. Louis in 1960.

While grocery shopping at Wal-Mart and Kroger today, I noticed an alarming number of people proudly sporting every piece of Bears or Packers clothing they have. The build up for this exciting bout is huge. Most of the cashiers at Kroger were wearing Bears jerseys and t-shirts. The TV section at Wal-Mart was broadcasting a December 2007 Bear-Pack game. The local Christian radio station was telling cheesehead jokes on their morning show. I even glanced at the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times only to discover the lions guarding the front doors of the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue donning Bears scarves and earmuffs. I did not even witness this much to do while teaching at a school on the Illinois-Indiana border during the Chicago-Indy Super Bowl. Now, don't get me wrong. I love all the attention the Bears are getting. However, much of the acclaim is touting the showdown as the biggest game in the oldest rivalry of pro football. Mr. Ziemba, the author of the Cardinals history book, has something to say about that assertion, though.

Many Bears fans know "Papa Bear" George Halas got his pro football start in 1920 as the player/coach of the Decatur Staleys and that the Staleys had become the Chicago Bears by 1922. Many Bears fans, inluding myself, also know the NFL's longest running rivalry is between Green Bay and our beloved. The history books say otherwise, though. The Chicago Cardinals, who were a legitimate annual contender for the title in the early '20's, first battled and defeated the Decatur Staleys by a score of 7-6 on November 28, 1920. Therefore, the series between the Bears and the Cardinals is the NFL's oldest because neither the Cards nor the Staleys played against the Packers until November of 1921. The Cards and Pack fought to a draw on the 20th, and the first staging of the "oldest rivalry" was on November 28, 1921 when the Chicago Staleys (Halas agreed to keep the Staley moniker for the '21 season and changed to the Bears in 1922) beat Green Bay 20-0.

Now, the argument becomes that of the definition of "rivalry." I would assert that the Cardinals do not have a rivalry with either the Bears or the Packers. The Cards moved farther from Chicago than Green Bay over fifty years ago, and they are not even in the same division anymore. Chicago has played Arizona only twice since 2003. How can that be termed a rivalry? To me, a rival is not just any team you may play against at some point in time. A rival must be a team you play regularly, a team within reasonable geographic distance, a team in your division, a team you have a long history with, and a team whose fans interact negatively with one another. Hence, the Bears and the Packers do have the NFL's oldest rivalry in my opinion even if the Cardinals played both teams first. Had Chicago retained their south side gridders, we may have an argument. So enjoy Sunday afternoon's game all the more now that you have a little extra background knowledge of the rivalry.
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