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The bests and worsts of Super Bowl XLVII

11:59 pm in Uncategorized by Chip Burch

Super Bowl XLVII was one of those Super Bowls that will go down in history in multiple ways.

The brothers Harbaugh coaching against each other, the loss of power in the third quarter, Ray Lewis going out in a blaze of glory and some memorable non-calls will make it one that many will remember.

So here with my analysis of the Super Bowl is the annual bests and worsts of Sunday’s game.

BESTS

Best play: You may say it was Baltimore Raven Jacoby Jones’ record-tying 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and I would listen to those arguments. But for me, it was the 56-yard pass to Jones from Joe Flacco where he got wide open, had to stop to catch the ball and then maneuver around a couple of defenders that did it for me,. Honorable mention was Jones’ kickoff return.

Best quote: When it was time to restart the game after the power outage, referee Jerome Boger got off a good one when he opened his mic and said, “Third and 13, let’s go.”

Best thing about halftime: Beyonce showed she wasn’t completely ungrateful for her time in Destiny’s Child, bringing back former mates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams for a couple of songs. That was classy and un-diva-like. There was no honorable mention in this category.

Best commercial: Once again Budweiser tugs at heartstrings with the story of a Clydesdale raised by his rancher, sent off to join the team, then makes an appearance near his rancher’s place, ending with a touching reunion after the parade. Honorable mention was the M&Ms commercial where Red is crooning to Meat Loaf’s “I Would Do Anything For Love” with clips of what he would and wouldn’t do. That was funny.

WORSTS

Worst play: Some called it a great call under the circumstances despite the play failing, but I couldn’t agree less. The fake field goal by the Ravens on fourth and nine with 3:05 left in the second quarter was not the right thing to do. Asking a kicker to run 17 yards untouched (eight behind the line of scrimmage and the nine needed for the first down) is asking way too much. Honorable mention was the skirmish in the second quarter in which offsetting personal fouls were called but Raven Cary Williams pushing an official was completely missed.

Worst quote: If CBS’ Bill Cowher was being looked at to get hired as an NFL coach, he lost some credibility when he said early in the power outage, “This isn’t going to affect either team. They’re professionals.” Really, coach? Baltimore’s offense didn’t play for an hour and 24 minutes and they came out flat, allowing San Francisco to get back in the ball game.

Worst thing about halftime: The “man-made countdown” was the lamest thing since “Up With People.” Honorable mention was all the guys on “The NFL Today” talking over each other trying to make a point before the segment was over. Too much talking, guys.

Worst commercial: While it ranked high on most lists I saw online, the Audi commercial where a boy goes to his prom alone and kisses the prom queen only to get punched by the prom king and go home with a black eye was dumb at best. Honorable mention was the GoDaddy.co commercial with NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, supermodel Bar Rafaeli and a computer geek. The whole commercial looked forced and lame.

Maryland, Rutgers only chasing money

2:56 am in Uncategorized by Chip Burch

And so the college realignment carousel continues to spin.

With the news that the University of Maryland leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference and Rutgers University leaving the Big East for the Big Ten-plus-two, the conference grows to 14 teams.

The Big Ten-plus-four? The Big 14?

Regardless of how you label it, the whole move of both schools continues the disturbing trend of schools moving from their traditional regions to places that make absolutely no sense for them to be in.

And the whole reason for all these realignments and broken rivalries is money, and that scares me.

Having teams go from one conference to another is all about the almighty dollar, and how many a school can get from being somewhere else, even if it means the teams at their school have to go halfway across the continent to play games (See San Diego State and Boise State in the Big East).

Most schools won’t come right out and say it, but that’s the motivating factor. At least Maryland president Wallace Loh admitted as much when his school’s move was announced Monday.

“We will be able to insure the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for decades to come,” he told a news conference.

Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson also said as much.

“No future Maryland athletic director will ever have to look in young men’s and young women’s eyes and say you can’t play here anymore,” he said, noting that the Terrapins had to cut seven sports teams in July.

Of course, the Big Ten-plus-two/four will also benefit from having East Coast teams in the fold, as there will be more revenue coming from the Boston and New Jersey markets. Those are huge money markets, so it makes sense for the bottom line.

It will also make sense for the two new universities, as there are estimates that each could get $35 million from the conference, which would double the $17 million Maryland would get from the ACC.

But other than the money, there’s no reason for Maryland and Rutgers to move from their current conferences. If it’s about football, both the ACC and Big East have automatic bids in the BCS this year and next, so that’s out.

Maryland has been a top-tier men’s basketball team, but other than that, all the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights are doing is losing to bigger-name teams.

And geographically it doesn’t make sense to have two schools from the East Coast when all the other schools are in the Midwest. That’s like putting an NFL football team in London.

Alas, it’s all about money, and who can give them more of it.

So we’ll see the realignment carousel continue to spin until there is no more reason for schools to jump ship. What will that reason be? Everyone getting the same amount of money.

Yeah, like that will ever happen.

Pistons need to define players’ roles

7:53 pm in Uncategorized by Chip Burch

After watching the Detroit Pistons play a couple of games recently, I have come to a conclusion that should shock no one at all.

They’re bad. Real bad.

And I don’t mean “bad” like the “Bad Boys” of the late 1980s and early 1990s. I’m talking horrible here.

After Monday night’s 92-90 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Pistons dropped to 0-8 on the season. Already the excuses are starting to pour in.

I might listen to a couple of them, but for the most part they are just that: excuses.

Of course, George Blaha and Greg Kelser on Fox Sports Detroit’s broadcast of the Pistons are supposed to be leaning toward the team they are calling. But come on, guys.

Yes, the schedule makers didn’t exactly help the Pistons with their start, putting them at home for the first game against a revitalized Houston Rockets team, then sending the Pistons out west for six straight games against the best of the Western Conference.

And the Pistons haven’t played an Eastern Conference team until Wednesday’s game against Orlando – the newly Dwight Howard-less Orlando.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if Detroit lost that game, too. Here’s why I think the Pistons will struggle again this season.

It looks like very few of the Pistons have a defined role on the floor. In fact, I thought I read one time that guard Rodney Stuckey would be floating between point and shooting guard.

I know that happened fairly regularly last season, but he needs to be stuck into the point guard role and left there. Right now Detroit doesn’t have a reliable point guard.

Sure, Stuckey wants to shoot. But there are enough shooting guards on the Pistons (Will Bynum, Brandon Knight, Kim English) to fill that spot and then some. He needs to go to the point.

The veteran of the group, Tayshaun Prince, is also seeming to go between power forward and shooting forward. The power forward positions belong to Jason Maxiell and Andre Drummond, so he needs to be the wing player that we all know about from eight years ago.

And whatever happened to Charlie Villenueva, who was one of the “big” free agent acquisitions the Pistons got when they couldn’t land any of the big prizes of the 2009 free agent class? He’s been relegated to the end of the bench, which is a painful admission that signing him was a mistake.

Now I realize that when Vyacheslav Kravtsov comes back from Russia it will create even more problems for coach Lawrence Frank to put people into defined roles.

But that was supposed to happen during the offseason. And the results are showing in the win-loss column and in the play of Detroit. (See the 11-point fourth-quarter lead blown to the Thunder at home Monday.)

I do agree with Kelser in his observation that the Pistons don’t have a go-to guy to come in and take over a game – not that one is on the horizon either.

But there needs to be defined roles for the players so that they can be put in positions to win. Otherwise, it’s a matter of who the Pistons will draft with their lottery pick in 2013.

What went wrong with the Tigers?

8:51 pm in Uncategorized by Chip Burch

I’m sure many will agree that the World Series was tough to watch if you were a Detroit Tigers fan.

Seeing the Tigers get swept out of the series by the San Francisco Giants after sweeping the New York Yankees out of the Fall Classic was something no Tigers fan expected.

If you would have told me the Giants would sweep Detroit after coming from behind in two different series to get to the World Series, I would have asked you to submit to drug testing.

But once the shock of the losing wears off, a lot of people will see what went wrong – that is if you didn’t see it already by watching the games.

The Bengals didn’t hit at all in the series against the Giants. That was obvious by scoring zero runs in two of the four games played.

The starting pitching was fine. The bullpen – not so much, but it wasn’t ungodly horrible.

But they weren’t the problem.

The main reason I thought the Tigers lost the series was they took the wrong approach to hitting the G-Men’s pitching.

It was personified in Miguel Cabrera, who had homered in Game 4 to give the Tigers a short-lived lead. Cabrera watched a fastball go right down the middle of the plate to end baseball season. Normally Cabrera would turn that pitch around and make it a souvenir to someone in the left-field seats.

It didn’t help that Prince Fielder, who signed a $219 million contract to hit the ball, did exactly the opposite in the Series, getting a whole one hit in four games.

The concern was justified. After all, look at the middle two games of the ALCS. The Tigers won those only because the Yankees were worse hitters than they were, scoring one and zero runs in those two games while the Bengals had a total of four.

And as fans kept waiting for Detroit to suddenly break out of the hitting funk they were in, the losses mounted. At no point in time was the hitting woes more evident than when the Tigers hit into two double plays in Game 3 with one out and runners on first and second.

What I saw was the Tigers were so concerned about hitting they started going after all the junk Frisco was sending up to the plate.

Mostly the Tigers were swinging at balls in the dirt, while the fastballs that came up there were watched like the house by the side of the road (to quote the great Ernie Harwell).

Had the Tigers been sitting on the fastball more, they would have taken a few more pitches than they did and they would have either walked more or hit better.

But the Tigers were impatient at the plate, and it showed in all those strikeouts.

So for now the Tigers will have to go back to the drawing board and see where they could improve the hitting again.

I don’t think making personnel changes will be the answer. I just think a better hitting approach will do more to straighten out the team than another big bat.

I don’t know what to think about Armstrong

2:20 pm in Uncategorized by Chip Burch

After reading all the things I have about Lance Armstrong and the doping he allegedly was involved in, I’m not too sure what I think about him any more.

Both the United States Anti-Doping Administration and the governing body of cycling, United Cycling International, have decided to strip Armstrong of his seven straight Tour de France titles after compiling evidence of systematic doping and an elaborate cover-up to get around drug testers. The USADA compiled a report over 1,000 pages long to document their case against him.

After initially questioning the findings, last week UCI not only went along with them, they even went so far as to vilify Armstrong.

“Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling, and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling,” UCI president Pat McQuaid said at a news conference.

Ever since USADA started looking into the matter, I’ve seen all the columnists who once backed Armstrong are now backpedaling faster than Armstrong pedaled forward.

Armstrong is also losing endorsements like he’s radioactive.

Now some of you may remember that I was a staunch supporter of Armstrong. Heck, I even said he should continue the fight against the allegations is he’s really clean, just like he took to court anyone who said he doped.

Instead, when it came time to arbitrate with USADA, he chose not to fight, and instead called the process “unfair.”

Here’s why I don’t know what to think on this anymore.

Armstrong said he has been tested over 500 times and never failed one. But so did Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, who were implicated as part of the BALCO scandal with “the cream” and “the clear,” designer steroids made specifically to avoid detection.

Along with that, according to USADA’s report, there was a large conspiracy to avoid detection, just like “the cream” and “the clear” were.

As I mentioned earlier, Armstrong took to court anyone who would claim he was cheating. You would do that if your name had been defamed. Bonds had been accused of the same in two different books and never sued anyone – probably because the books were truthful.

Jim Rome brought up a good point Friday about Armstrong’s endorsers bailing on him now that the USADA report is out. Rome asked if the sponsors, specifically Nike, are bailing on him because he doped or because he’s no longer competing and not in the public eye where the logos can be displayed?

If it’s the latter, then how are people still having Michael Jordan endorse their products? He gave up on basketball years ago and you can still see his picture on Hanes advertisements in Wal-Mart or Meijer.

And remember, Armstrong is a cancer survivor, and set up the Livestrong Foundation to help others fight cancer. He has stepped down as chairman of that foundation, however.

Add all those things up and there’s a conflict in my mind as to whether he cheated or not. I don’t know whether I should vilify him like I do Bonds or whether I should continue my support of him.

Help me out by telling me what you think in the comment section below. You might sway me one way or the other.

Leyland haters: you still want him fired?

8:58 pm in Uncategorized by Chip Burch

There is a lot of elation around Michigan now that the Detroit Tigers have made the playoffs as the American League Central Division champions for the second straight year.

Tigers fans are happy the team won the Central, and even happier when Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown. They’ll be even happier when he is named the MVP of the AL.

But I have noticed something from Tigers “fans” that hasn’t been said in a while.

Two weeks ago most of the “fans” were calling for manager Jim Leyland to be fired. Apparently most of those fans thought they knew (or know) more about baseball than someone who has been managing for almost four decades.

He’s starting Ryan Raburn, who can’t hit the Mendoza line. Leyland needs to go.

He’s put Quentin Berry on the bench, playing him only in a pinch runner or pinch hitter, especially after his hot start. Leyland needs to go.

Joaquin Benoit and/or Jose Valverde are coming in from the bullpen. Leyland needs to go.

The best players aren’t playing in a certain game. Leyland needs to go.

Really? THAT’S what you’re going with?

Leyland detractors don’t want to remember how he managed the team to the AL Championship Series last season. They also don’t want to remember 2006, when the Tigers went from having the worst record in American League history three years prior, to making it to the World Series.

But they will nitpick every decision Leyland makes as though the Tigers should be in the World Series by birthright.

The biggest complaint I saw from Tigers “fans” was that the best players would occasionally take a day off and not play.

Using that logic, then Justin Verlander should have pitched every game. After all, he is the Tigers’ best player at that position. And no one would want Verlander to pitch every day, so why should the other best players be forced to go out there with no rest?

Also, baseball is 162 games long. That’s 80 games more than an NBA player plays, and 162 games more than an NHL player will play this season. (See previous post.)

The reason NBA and NHL players will always play all 82 games is that there isn’t a month’s worth of games back-to-back-to-back like in baseball. At some point in time those baseball players need to rest and recuperate. So I don’t mind Leyland giving them the day off if they need it.

And bringing in Valverde, who has the highest save percentage of any Tigers reliever in history, is a no-brainer. Apparently fans were wanting his release because he wasn’t perfect in save situations like he was last season.

Those detractors don’t remember Mike Henneman, who also is a member of the Tigers’ 100-save club. He was a regular at making games closer than they needed to before getting the win. Yet no one was calling for his release.

So those of you who think Leyland should have been fired need to realize something. He’s forgotten more baseball than any group you can get together combined.

As far as I’m concerned, Leyland can stay as long as Sparky Anderson, another great baseball mind, did here in Detroit. We all know how that worked out.

So sit back and try to cheer on the Tigers as they go through the playoffs – again.

 

Prediction: No NHL this season

8:01 pm in Uncategorized by Chip Burch

On Monday the Grand Rapids Griffins opened training camp to get ready for the 2012-13 season. Their parent club only wishes they could have opened camp.

Because of the NHL players lockout – the second this decade – there will be no hockey in Hockeytown. Nor do I suspect there will be any time soon.

The core issue is money. The owners want to pay less of it to the players, and the players aren’t about to make major givebacks.

This whole scenario harkens back to the wiped-out 2004-05 season. Players were locked out then, and thanks to the bullying of commissioner Gary Bettman and a weak players’ union head in Bob Goodenow, the players caved in.

The same thing is playing out now. Bettman, with his ego very much intact, wants to force players to not not only give back some of the salary they signed for, but also wants them to take less of the overall pie. He’s modeling this after the NFL and NBA, who each got the players to give back a chunk of money.

There’s a few of interesting backdrops to this lockout that weren’t there in the previous one.

First, the NHL made $3 billion in revenue last season. No, that’s not in the same area code as the NFL, but still, that’s a lot of money to make. So there should be plenty to go around.

Also, it’s the owners who decided to sign these contracts like the long term deals handed out to just about ever star player over the past two seasons. No one put a gun to their heads and said they had to sign them. So it’s their fault the players are getting paid so much.

And finally, the fans come to see the players play, not the owners own.

So owners cry to the players to give back, and the players are looking at them with quizzical looks. If they thought they were giving out too much money to the players, why did they sign those players to contracts like those?

Unfortunately for hockey fans, this won’t get settled any time soon. Bettman is going to stick to his position of an immediate salary reduction no matter what, and new NHL Players Association head Donald Fehr, the former head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, isn’t going to give back much without seeing something come back in return.

Because of that I predict the 2012-13 season will also be canceled. The chances of the there being an agreement are so slim because of the personalities involved. It’s not likely they’ll see eye to eye in the near future.

The damage done to the sport will be vast if that happens, and it may not recover as quickly as it did after 2005.

So I hope West Michigan hockey fans enjoy the Griffins. Or maybe the North American Hockey League’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. Or the Central Hockey League’s Kalamazoo Wings. Or they are willing to travel to the other side of the state for the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit or Plymouth Whalers, or the NAHL’s Michigan Warriors – all of which play junior hockey.

Because that’s about the only hockey anyone is going to see this winter.

Players can end ref lockout, but won’t

2:26 am in Uncategorized by Chip Burch

I’m sure that every NFL fan in the world is upset with the replacement officials, as they are getting heavy criticism for how they have done during the first three weeks of the season.

It got even worse Monday night with that debacle on the last play of the game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.

You know the National Football League Referees Association was hoping for just that for leverage in their negotiations with the league on a new collective bargaining agreement. The worse the officials are, the more the real officials will be wanted. In fact, on Wednesday there was a leak that said there suddenly was “progress” in negotiations with the NFLRA.

Still the lockout persists and we can expect to see replacement officials hurting our enjoyment of the game for their incompetence.

The lockout will continue until one group of people finally decide enough is enough. That group of people? The players themselves.

Just before the season started, NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith said a strike was not off the table when it came to getting the replacement officials off the field. He has yet to follow through on that threat, though he did send a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell claiming the the replacement officials create unsafe working conditions that were agreed upon to end their lockout.

Goodell brought in the replacement officials so that the games would still go on and the NFL could continue to make money. If the players actually did strike the games wouldn’t go on and the league wouldn’t make the money they are now.

And if the players did strike the NFL would negotiate in a hurry with the regular referees and get them back on the field quickly so that the games played on.

Of course, that won’t happen. The players want to get paid also, and if they didn’t play they wouldn’t get paid. Also all those incentive bonuses in their contract wouldn’t get met, so there wouldn’t be any extra money to be made there either.

And what about the fans? Even though the fans never mattered to NFL types, not having the games would be killer to the league. The public backlash that would cause would be difficult to overcome.

But don’t expect to see anything different any time soon. This is one lockout that is sure to drag on for a long time, if not the entire season.

The complaints will grow, and the NFL will come down harder and harder to silence the critics as they try to spin the replacement officials’ performance in the public eye.

Regardless, if the players and coaches would like to see the regular referees return, they are the ones with the control. They can thwart Goodell’s plan of continuing to make money without the interference of the regular referees. They are the ones who can change how firmly the NFL stays with their stance against the NFLRA.

But since that will never happen, try to enjoy the games as they play on your TV screens.

In my next post, I’ll address the other lockout that is going on as we speak: the NHL lockout.

UPDATE: The players won’t need to do anything, as there was an agreement announced at midnight Wednesday night/Thursday morning between the NFL and the locked-out referees. Early reports have the regular referees working Thursday night’s game.

Robinson accountability starts with Hoke

8:59 pm in Uncategorized by Chip Burch

If you watched the game Saturday night between Michigan and Notre Dame, you would have seen how ugly football can be when it’s played badly.

Saturday’s 13-6 win by the Fighting Irish over the Wolverines was anything but a thing of beauty. Turnovers – eight in all, six by Michigan – were the undoing of the entire game.

The Wolverines themselves were guilty of six turnovers, and one Wolverine in particular – quarterback Denard Robinson – was guilty of five of those, and on consecutive series, no less.

Robinson was asked what happened that he threw four straight interceptions and fumbled the ball on Michigan’s first series of the second half.

“I wasn’t accountable,” he said. “You can bet that I will be accountable from now on.”

I can understand why he wasn’t accountable. Robinson must be the only quarterback in the country who can hand the ball to the other team five straight times and still keep his job. Heck, even Notre Dame removed starting quarterback Everett Golson after two turnovers on as many possessions.

And I don’t want to hear “they were still in the game.” The Wolverines were but Robinson wasn’t.

That accountability must start with head coach Brady Hoke. Hoke needs to know when it’s time to pull the plug on Robinson, no matter how athletically freakish he is.

I was screaming at my TV after the third interception for Hoke to bench Robinson in favor of the backup quarterback. Robinson was killing the Wolverines with bad decision-making and even worse throwing in the first half, and he needed to be sat down to either get his head clear or get the offense’s attention.

But Hoke continued to let Robinson play, thinking that somehow the quarterback would turn things around.

An interception, a halftime and a fumble did nothing to show Robinson was still ready to play.

Credit Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. The former Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and University of Cincinnati head man knew to bring lots of pressure to force Robinson into some tough situations, and it worked.

But we’ve all seen the definition of insanity. For those of you who have missed it, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

For Robinson to continue to play was Exhibit A of insanity. And he didn’t have to look over his shoulder to see if the backup was warming up, and that was Hoke’s fault.

The Michigan defense did its part. They held the Irish to just 13 points, and normally that’s enough to win ball games.

But with the offense sputtering, nothing changed, including the score.

Hopefully next time there will be some accountability, and someone will get the message that playing like that is not going to be acceptable.

Hopefully Hoke will get that message first, and Robinson will get that message next.

Five things to watch for in NASCAR

9:12 pm in Uncategorized by Chip Burch

The NASCAR season is somewhat underway, as Speedweeks have started before the big race on Sunday.

This season is starting out to be like many others, with no real things to note. (No, it’s not eventful that Jimmie Johnson had a part confiscated since that’s happened at previous Daytonas.)

But here are five things that I will be watching as the NASCAR season unfolds:

Can Tony repeat?: Despite what Johnson did for five straight years, it’s very tough to repeat as a Cup champion. Granted, Tony Stewart’s win in November was his third title in his career. But its so hard to get back to the championship. He sure got a good start winning the first of the dual races. But can he do it again? This will be interesting.

WWDD (What will Danica do): As if you haven’t figured it out with the current sports web sites, the season will be all about Danica Patrick and how she does after leaving the Indy Racing League for NASCAR. Pretty much everything she does will be chronicled now that she’s going to be full-time in the grand national series, which may lead to Danica overload. But she’s the story, so get used to it. You know NASCAR loves it.

Busch brothers behavior: When we last saw both of the Busch brothers, they were trying to repair their image after ugly incidents that caused them to take two steps back in the public eye. Big brother Kurt Busch lost his ride with Penske Racing after a profanity-laced tirade with ESPN’s pit reporter Jerry Punch after the race at Miami. Little brother Kyle was parked for the rest of the Atlanta weekend after retaliating against Ron Hornaday Jr. in the truck race. How good will each of those guys be? (And I don’t mean on the track.) Along with that…

Phoenix Racing an upgrade for Kurt?: After losing his Penske Racing job, Kurt Busch was accepted at Phoenix Racing, which is a minor player in the NASCAR circles. Jim Finch last year in the Cup? He ran all 36 cup races but with four different drivers. Phoenix Racing is a huge step down from Penske, and is definitely not the same as Roush-Fenway and Richard Childress Racing. If Busch can be competitive, that’s a whole different ball game. If not, we may have seen the last of the former Cup champion.

Will Junior win?: After a somewhat successful stint at Dale Eaarnhardt Inc. Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved to Hendrick Motorsports in an attempt to win championships. Since his move he has won zero races. Everyone is now questioning whether he made the right move to go to Hendrick despite making the Chase for the Cup last year. If he wins, all those questions go out the window. Junior is going to have to end the questions sooner or later.