Can you feel it! Super Bowl Sunday is that close. So we have some of that, in particular some thoughts on why, if Aaron Rodgers was so good, he was the 24th pick overall. Also a look at LeBron James' historic night and a t-shirt that Ron Wilson will not be buying any time soon. Here we go:
1. If Quarterbacks are so important, why can't anyone draft them right?
In Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, Sunday's Super Bowl gets a pair of young, marquee quarterbacks in what should be the early prime of their careers going head-to-head for the biggest prize in the sport. Good stuff. But what's a little strange is that neither of them were the most coveted player at their position in their draft class -- Roethlisberger was the third quarterback taken in 2004 (though the ones taken ahead of him, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, have had nice careers too) and that despite the significance of the position, neither of them were particularly high picks. Rodgers, in particular, had a long stay in the green room: It was April 2005 and Rodgers was a smiling kid out of Cal expected to go high in the draft. On that big day, he sported a dark pinstripe suit and perfectly knotted tie. He was ready for his moment. Rodgers took a seat in the draft Green Room with cameras filming his every grin and fidget. There, he sat. And sat. And sat some more.
Two hours later. Still sitting.
Three hours later. Still sitting.
Four hours later. Still sitting.
The Packers picked Rodgers 4 hours, 35 minutes later with the 24th pick. It was one of the more embarrassing Green Room waits in draft history.
"I was starving," Rodgers joked this week.
It's stunning the list of players taken ahead of Rodgers, who is now one of the best pure throwers in football. Quarterback Alex Smith, the pseudo bust in San Francisco, was picked ahead of Rodgers.
So were names like Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, Pacman Jones, Troy Williamson, Carlos Rodgers, and Matt Jones.
"When it comes to Aaron the NFL mostly got it wrong," Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings said.
The question is why?
A couple of years ago Malcom Gladwell tried to figure that out in a story titled Most Likely to Succeed that used the challenge of drafting quarterbacks to investigate hiring practices generally. Definitely a good read if you've got some time to kill between now and Sunday: We're used to dealing with prediction problems by going back and looking for better predictors. We now realize that being a good doctor requires the ability to communicate, listen, and empathize-and so there is increasing pressure on medical schools to pay attention to interpersonal skills as well as to test scores. We can have better physicians if we're just smarter about how we choose medical-school students. ... The problem with picking quarterbacks is that [their]performance can't be predicted. The job [they're]being groomed for is so particular and specialized that there is no way to know who will succeed at it and who won't. In fact, Berri and Simmons found no connection between where a quarterback was taken in the draft-that is, how highly he was rated on the basis of his college performance-and how well he played in the pros.
2. For the Record: I'm taking the Steelers on Sunday and the NFL owners for the off-season
For a lot of reasons Sunday's game had me pretty pumped; the quarterback match-up is one and the franchises themselves is another. it's not often in North American sports you can say it, but in this case each franchise actually stands for something and it's fun to get caught up in that once in a while. But just to be a wet blanket, enjoy Sunday's game because there is the possibility that it could be the last NFL game anyone gets to see for a long time, as the labour drumbeat picks up intensity. Stephen Brunt sums up the mood nicely from Dallas: So what, in a nutshell, are the issues?
To oversimplify, the NFL's owners believe they erred in 2006 when in order to get a deal, they agreed to a salary cap based on roughly half of designated revenues, including new monies they might generate. That's why they decided to opt out of the contract early, as was their right, in the hopes of knocking that percentage down to something they consider more manageable. ... The owners would like the players to accept a smaller cut and a rookie salary scale, with the promise that the found money would be invested in the game and make everyone richer in the long run. On Wednesday, when he took his turn at the podium, Pash spoke of all kinds of wondrous things the owners might create: new stadiums in Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Francisco and Atlanta, more international games, perhaps even a team in London. (He did not mention that they could also opt to stick those newfound profits in their jeans.) ... What the owners would also like is for the players to agree to an 18-game regular season, which would increase both gate and television revenues, and fly in the face of the lip service paid to player health and safety issues.
3. If he keeps this up it might be okay to like LeBron James again:
Well, maybe not in the same way -- The Decision was simply that bad -- but James epic performance Thursday night in Miami's win over Orlando Magic will begin to amp up James' chances to earn his third consecutive MVP award. There is a case made here that it was among the best regular season performances in NBA history as in scoring 51 points James: took 25 shots and only missed eight of them. He only missed three free throws. 3-5 from the arc, and he nailed more jumpers than he missed. That's a remarkable barrage, topped only by the fact that he also dropped in 11 rebounds, and eight assists which netted 19 points (three 3-point assists and five 2-point assists) . So of the Heat's 104 points, James himself created 70 points, or over 67% of the team's total offense. The very definition of high-usage, while also facilitating and getting his teammates involved. It was the most complete game we've seen, and it came in a huge win over a division rival.
No one game will determine the MVP. But in a race as close as this year's has been, games like this will stick in the minds of voters. Because what James did Thursday against the Magic? It's simply not believable.
Historically, it was only the fourth 50-plus-point, 11-plus rebound, 8-plus-assist game in history, with Jordan, Bryant, and Wade owners of the other three. It's the second highest field goal percentage in such an effort, behind Jordan's 20 of 28 performance in '89. And with Wade and Bryant's both coming in a triple-overtime and double-overtime game respectively, Jordan and James are the only two players in history to complete a 50-11-8 game in regulation. What's more? This was the slowest-paced game of those historic efforts, with an estimated 88 possessions, while Bryant's was at 90. This wasn't just a herculean effort, it was the very model of modern efficiency.
And this was against the Magic, who host the fifth best defense in the league. This was on a Thursday night nationally televised road game against a division rival and championship contending competitor, in which the second best player on his team left for a long stretch with a back contusion. Granted his third best player is better than most team's best player, but the point should still be made. If you want to talk about stepping up, this was a huge one. It may matter nothing in the context of LeBron's recent playoff history, but this game is well worth your respect. It was truly one of the all-time greats.
4. The opposite of the Super Bowl
Does the name Eamonn Coghlan mean anything to you? If it does you might enjoy this story about the Millrose Games, the indoor track meet held at Madison Square Gardens. it used to be quite the deal, in the way horse racing and boxing did; it would be carried live on ABC's Wide World of Sports. Coghlan was a dominant miler from Ireland I was fascinated by. Anyway, the Millrose Games stil exist, and if you're looking for an antidote to Super Bowl hype, you should read this:
With the right turn of mind, it's like stepping into a time machine.
The charms of Millrose are many. More than three dozen events uncorked in about three hours, something happening in every second, never a moment's pause, all of it set to music, someone running or jumping or throwing in all directions all at once, every ring of the circus busy with purpose. Every silver-haired official straight-backed in a tuxedo.
For elite athletes from around the world, and U.S. college teams from coast to coast, this is the first event on the annual calendar of their ambitions.
For those of us up in the stands, though, those of us looking for simplicity -- looking for ease or peace or redemption -- what can restore us, what can heal the worst of our cynicism and our disappointment are the high school and kids' events. Boys and girls running flat out in those oddball indoor abbreviations like the 50-meter dash. Running that absurdly steep miniature track in crowded relays. Running for likely the only time in their lives in front of this many strangers.
5. If you're curious why there were three fights in the first four seconds of the hockey game, here's why:
One fight as the puck was dropped and two more in the next three seconds -- that's how the Dallas Stars-Boston Bruins matchup started, prompting the obvious question: where was Reg Dunlop?(some bad words there, FYI).
As for what was going on, this story by the Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa sorts it out quite well: Hockey players have long memories. Last night at TD Garden, when Gregory Campbell lined up next to Steve Ott for the opening faceoff, revenge was on the Bruin forward's mind.
After the 6-3 win over the Stars, Campbell played coy, a wise byproduct of being the league disciplinarian's son. But even if Campbell wasn't willing to discuss his intentions, his actions spoke for him.
On March 28, 2009, when Campbell was playing for Florida, Ott cleaned the unsuspecting center's clock with a blindside wallop. Campbell, standing along the boards, had just gotten rid of the puck when Ott rammed him into the wall. Last season, Ott was suspended for Dallas's only game against Florida.
So before last night's game, after Dallas posted its starting threesome of Ott, Adam Burish, and Raymond Sawada, Bruins coach Claude Julien answered with his fourth line. Then Campbell, who takes just about every faceoff when he's on the ice, switched places with Shawn Thornton to line up against Ott. One second into the game, with no puck drop to concern him, Campbell dropped the mitts with Ott.
"That's what happens in hockey,'' Campbell said. "Words were said. Things happen. There was really no forewarning or anything like that. It just happened.''
6. Soccer: Canada begins a long winding -- okay, really long -- road to the World Cup:
Nice job here by Paul Attfield to set up Canada's upcoming friendly against Greece as Canada tries to get it's house in order with the beacon of 2014 on the horizon: Early season friendlies - although for the European-based players it's very much a midseason game - are not so much about the result as getting the players to bond and giving younger players a run-out and a feel for international soccer. Hart is certainly looking at the journey as such, and with Canada, currently ranked 80th in the world in FIFA's rankings, very much the underdog in taking on the 10th-ranked team in its own backyard, it is an appropriate attitude to have. "Greece is not an opponent we play on a regular basis," he said. "What we do is go into these sort of games is we tell the players it's more important the things we do as a team and we do well as a team. Of course, you go into the game, you're playing to win the game and get a result. [But]it's more important how we play the game, how we manage the game and use it as a building block towards the next one." The next one, as he put it, will likely be held in mid to late March, with the Canadian Soccer Association saying it is very close to finalizing a game, although it will again be an away fixture. With the Gold Cup coming up in June, these games will be crucial in helping to finalize a squad and starting 11 to challenge CONCACAF powers the United States and Mexico in the tournament, and start building confidence for the opening rounds of World Cup qualifying. And it's the World Cup that is currently the focus of Hart's attention.
7. At last, you can buy a good James Reimer shirt:
Ron Wilson may be trying to play down the exploits of James Reimer, the hottest Leaf goalie prospect since The Monster, but resistance is futile; Leafs fans have been waiting for the second coming of Johnny Bower -- or at least Curtis Joseph -- and he's finaly here; might as well enjoy it. Here's a site selling Reimer t-shirts -- "Optimus Reim" is the nickname, which just might catch on. (HT Puck Daddy).
I'll be travelling today, so this is it from here 'till Monday; enjoy the Super Bowl.