Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Smart decisions are often easy

In April of 1993 the greatest quarterback in the history of professional football was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. For Niner fans, it was a day of mourning. The story behind that trade goes something like this. 49er brass preferred to trade their greatest asset a year before he couldn't play anymore as opposed to hanging on to him for another year, knowing he was on the downside of his career. Oh yeah, they also had a future hall of famer gripping a clipboard with both hands and ready to kick some ass!!!

On February 27, 2013, another 49er quarterback was traded to Kansas City. Alex Smith is far from Joe Montana and the comparison between the two players stops at the fact that they were traded to the same team. Fans of this franchise have been split most of the season with a good chunk of the fan base saying that Alex deserved to start after his injury and the other half bidding him a good riddance. The 49ers did the right thing today and despite the fact that we don't know exactly what they will receive in the trade (it's said to be the first pick of the 2nd round and possibly another; the deal won't be official until March 12, 2013) we do know this much. Alex Smith was due $8 million and the team would be stupid to keep him, pay him that much cash to be the backup, knowing they have starters on this roster who deserve the cash instead.

The media loves this stuff. They are already labeling this as a fresh start for Alex with a new coaching staff in Kansas City. A fresh start is something a high school bully gets when he changes high schools. A fresh start is something the prom queen gets when the high school jock ditches her. Alex Smith is n't getting a fresh start; Kansas City is getting a tired, soft and ineffective player who is not good enough to be The guy. When Jim Harbaugh looked to Kaepernick instead of Smith, knowing this team needed to get to the Superbowl no matter what, it told us all we need to know. Alex is a stand up guy, he's respectful, a good clubhouse guy, and a great teammate, but to quote my all time favorite guy, Charles Barkley, "he just not very good."

Monday, February 25, 2013

A-Rousey Suspicion

 The UFC made history on Saturday night at UFC 157. Dana White, just a few years back, clearly stated that women would "never" fight in the UFC. I would imagine based on the buzz, the turn out at Honda Center in LA and more importantly, based on the fight itself, he is glad he changed his tune. In the weeks leading up to this historic fight, I thought it would be foolish to spend $54.99 to watch a couple of women I knew nothing about. Luckily I decided to pay closer attention to the story behind the fight and HBO Real Sports aired an in depth look at the life of Ronda Rousey the week leading up to the fight. I've heard her on Jim Rome a few times and she is a very entertaining listen. She's a really cool cat that's easy to like and her story, from the moment she was born up to the moment she stepped into the octagon for the first time, was about as amazing as anything I've ever heard. I am confident that if you really care, you will do some research to find out what I am referring to. She worked very hard to get to this place and the opportunity she received was earned, not given to her.

I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I don't think it takes a genius to say the majority of fight fans are men. A step further, a great number of those men would be classified as male chauvinists. It's a very sticky topic that a lot of us would refuse to address, but I strongly believe that's just how it is. That makes it extremely difficult to take women seriously when it comes to fighting in the octagon. Most guys can get down with them swimming in the Olympics or playing soccer, but MMA is an entirely different beast. One of the mediums I use to judge popularity is social media and based on the posts to Facebook shortly after this fight went down, a lot of guys have changed their tune. Yes, a good number of those posts were simply "damn, Ronda Rousey is hot" but a lot of them were centered around her ability, not just her beauty. In the same breathe, I would imagine that a lot of male fight fans feel strongly that this was nothing more than a circus act and not worth the time or effort it takes to give women credit where credit is due.
A few thoughts on the fight. Ronda Rousey was wearing a serious mean mug on her way into the cage. Her eyes were burning a giant hole into the heart of Liz Carmouche and clearly both women were all business. Ronda sped her ass down the aisle, hopped in the cage without cracking as much as a smirk or smile and was ready to get this fight under way. She was in trouble early on and it should be mentioned that he opponent, former U.S. Marine Liz Carmouche, was a tougher match up than Vegas gave her credit for. Carmouche was on Rousey's back, cranking her face and attempting to sink a rear naked choke. She nearly had it locked in and for about 90 seconds, Rousey was in serious trouble. The fight seemed to be over and I was curious to see how much pain Rousey could endure, and then she shed Carmouche from her back, got on top and for the reminder of the fight was trying very hard to lock in her signature arm bar. The fight ended with about 19 seconds left in round number 1, Carmouche submitted by Rousey with that arm bar locked in really tight. It was easily the fight of the night, (fight of the night and $50,000 bonus was given to Dennis Bermudez v. Matt Grice) laced with excitement, energy and most importantly, these women showed off their skills. Both of them competed at a very high level from the moment the fight began to the moment Carmouche tapped out. It was an electric event that I thoroughly enjoyed.

When the fight ended the raw emotion we saw from both of these women was truly incredible. Rousey was nearly brought to tears and Carmouche was not far behind. Rousey broke out that signature smile that we've seen plastered across the internet and made some funny comments to Joe Rogan in the post fight interview. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Rousey's phone will be ringing off the hook in the weeks and months that follow with countless endorsement opportunities. There is also no doubt in my mind that she belongs in the UFC because of her ability to fight, her dedication to her craft and most importantly, her desire to be, not the best female, but the best fighter in the history of the sport. I'm hopeful that if you watched this fight it changed your opinion about women in the UFC, but I definitely understand if it didn't. The UFC made history, the media attention was reportedly stronger than ever before and the next question to ask is simple. What's next for the women of UFC and will fight fans watch if Rousey isn't the headliner?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Second Guessing Greatness

The San Francisco 49ers accomplished what was said to be extremely difficult. Prior to the 2012 NFL season, many experts and talking heads were convinced that the 49ers would stumble and couldn't possibly repeat the performance from the year before. Those experts cited a much more difficult schedule, the team being the hunted rather than the hunter and of course, they claimed that San Francisco was somewhat lucky and that luck wouldn't strike this franchise twice. In the off season the GM addressed positional holes that were problematic in 2011. They brought in Randy Moss, signed Mario Manningham, drafted LaMichael James and A.J. Jenkins among other moves. With the exception of Jenkins, the players listed above contributed to the success in 2012 and improved the team as a whole. Randy Moss may not be the greatest of all time, as he claimed to be, but what he did was provide leadership for the younger guys in that locker room.

There is absolutely no way around the fact that 2012 was an up and down rocky road for this franchise. They didn't play well every time they took the field, they lost games they should have won and also won games they were tagged to lose. Jim Harbaugh made a very difficult decision during the season when he benched a healthy Alex Smith in favor of a young, unproven kid in Collin Kaepernick, which proved to be a decision that led this team to New Orleans. From the perspective of the media, this team was really good but laced with flaws. From the perspective of fans who followed this team daily,we saw how hard this team worked to accomplish their goals, to avenge the loss to New York in the NFC Championship game. We bought what Jim Harbaugh was selling and we bought it in bulk. He's our guy and for the most part, we saw him as the man we were looking for all the years that we suffered through countless 10 loss seasons.

Entering the home playoff game vs. Green Bay many fans were skeptical and many others were convinced that the team would lose that game. Could Collin do enough to beat Aaron Rogers and the vaunted Green Bay Packers? Could the team win a shootout against a hefty opponent? They did more than win, they dominated the football game in all three phases by doing what this team does best. They played a very physical game and forced the opponent to be uncomfortable. Heading to Atlanta, similar questions were raised and the Niners beat up on the NFC's #1, in their house, on their way to Superbowl XLVII. It wasn't pretty at times, it definitely wasn't easy. They overcame adversity once again by playing their brand of football. Physical on both sides of the ball, smash mouth running game and an excellent performance by a young and exciting Kaepernick.

The two weeks leading up to the Superbowl media types across the land were guzzling the Harbaugh kool aid. San Francisco was now the favorite to win the Superbowl and just about every person asked about the match-up favored San Francisco. They were younger, more talented, more physical and the overall theme was that San Francisco was much better than Baltimore. I heard former head coach Brian Billick on 95.7 The Game prior to the Superbowl and he claimed that San Francisco was head and shoulders better than Baltimore and the Niners would likely win going away. The team and the fan base were riding high, feeling good about themselves and it brought a lot of us back to the glory days. The days when San Francisco was the most successful and hated franchise in the NFL. We were right back tot he goold ole days of Superbowl or bust and back then, the idea of bust didn't even cross our hemisphere because the team was so damn good. We were peppered with stories of Jim Harbaugh's greatness and what I took from the many stories I read and heard was that San Francisco has taken on the identity of their head coach. A tough minded, physical football team with a competitive edge and a team that worked harder than many others in the game.

Monday morning after the Superbowl loss to Baltimore was a very tough day for fans of the San Francisco 49ers. A lot of us wanted to second guess the offensive play calling, the coaching, the way the players performed or didn't perform. It was almost too easy for us to head back down the path we walked when Mike Nolan, Dennis Erickson and Mike Singletary were in charge of our football team. So many of us were riding Jim Harbaugh's coat tails all the way from a lockout shortened off season to the Superbowl in the Big Easy and we couldn't see what was right in front of our faces. After a very difficult loss we were ready to jump ship and tag him as a failure. Some of the fans were posting "Faithful for Life" pictures to Facebook but for every one of those there were ten people questioning the game plan, the play calling, the coaching, the preparation and the worst thing, we were bitching and crying that the refs did a job on us. Take a moment to reflect on where we were before Jim Harbaugh signed a 5 year deal to coach this football team. We were a fan base that went from expecting to win a Superbowl every season to a fan base focused on the NFL draft when the weather changed in the month of December. It's very difficult to accept that we lost and as much as we want to finger point and place blame, the fact remains that this football team had an amazing season. The core of this group will return in 2013 with similar aspirations and goals. Superbowl or bust is once again the expectation of the great fans in The Bay Area and rightfully so. However, I would like to focus some energy on what we did accomplish this season, rather than what we didn't.

When the final seconds ticked off the clock and the confetti rained down on the Mercedes Superdome, I was stunned. I wanted the result to be different and of course, I wanted to call in sick today, Tuesday February 05, 2013 to attend the biggest party in the country. The San Francisco 49ers Superbowl parade. But here I sit, at work and listening to Jim Rome talk about Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens Superbowl parade. It's a tough pill to swallow and the pain in my gut will be there for a very long time. On the flip side, the fans know who their quarterback will be going into next season and we won't be forced to spend $8 million on Alex Smith because we don't know what Kaepernick can do. Jim Harbaugh, the quarterback guru, will have an entire off season to work with Kaep and to improve upon what we already know to be a highly talented and valuable asset. The 49ers are one of the youngest teams in football right now and the core of this team is under contract for the next few seasons. The team is poised to take the next step forward and will have 14, yes 14 draft picks to work with. We made it to the top of the mountain and when we got there, another guy was already planting his flag. I'm OK with that and a step further, I am proud of the accomplishments in 2012 and not looking to place blame. I'm looking at this glass knowing it's half full and as high as my expectations are for the 2013 season, my praise for the 2012 season is just as high.

Friday, June 22, 2012

One down, just Seven to go

"Not one, not two, not three, not four, NOT FIVE, not six NOT SEVEN." Those were the words uttered by Lebron Raymone James on July 8, 2010 when he joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Allow me to start by saying, congrats Lebron. The first ring is said to be the hardest one to obtain and countless hall of famers played their entire career and made tons of money, enjoyed the fame and lifestyle of a professional athlete and would trade it all today for one ring. This is a great win for the Miami Heat franchise and for their fans, but is it a great win for Bron Bron?? 

It's no secret that I can't stand the sight of Lebron James, the sound of his voice, the cut of his jib and the simple idea that so many declared him the greatest basketball player of all time before he stepped foot on the hardwood of The Association. All of those things were starting to dissipate when he took the Cleveland Cavs on his back and nearly won a championship ring for his hometown. I felt like he was doing it the right way, building something special in Cleveland and the idea of hating a guy for doing that started to seem a bit ridiculous. Had he chosen to stay in Cleveland, forced owner Dan Gilbert to spend some serious money to get top flight players to join him, I would probably have stopped hating him so much and settled for disliking him. Hell, if he would have left Cleveland respectfully instead of in the middle of the night with a bunch of Mayflower moving trucks like Art Model, maybe I would respect that. But he didn't and he felt the need to make a spectacle unlike any other athlete in the history of professional sports. I don't need to rehash The Decision and go into great detail about how pathetic that was, but I do need to address the insanity of predicting eight championship victories. If Rafa Nadal predicted 8 grand slams, nobody would care. Not only because he plays tennis and few people care about that sport, but he plays an individual sport. It doesn't take an MIT Graduate to recognize that the odds of winning 8 championships in a team sport is highly unlikely. That being said, I will answer the question I posed earlier. Is this a great win for Bron Bron? No, it's not. Had he kept his mouth shut and predicted that he would bust his ass for this franchise, leave everything on the court and make sure he got a ring, I'd say it was an incredible victory, but he didn't do any of that. He flat predicted 8 championships and for that, I have to point out that he's only an 1/8th of the way to the promise land. 

To make matters worse Lebron is delusional enough to believe his own bullshit after he won his first ringwhen he said and I quote "I'm really glad I did this the right way, no shortcuts and because of that it makes it that much more special." I disagree with all of that and feel like this is one of the reasons why I can't be onboard the Bron Bron train and never will. You did this the right way? You joined forces with 2 of the best ballers in the league and ditched your hometown team to buy a ring. You didn't take any shortcuts? You are the same guy who deflected blame after you tanked the 2011 NBA Finals and said "At the end of the day, all of the people that were rooting for me to fail, tomorrow they will have to wake up and have the same life they had before they woke up today. They got the same personal problems they had today and I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do." I'd define that as a shortcut and a gut punch to fans who pay for you to live the way you live. That's wrongfully taking out your failures as a pro on the fans and pointing the finger of blame at anyone and everyone but yourself for choking away a chance at your first ring. I'm confident that Lebron can handle the success better than some professional athletes but it's the failures that have bit at his ass all these years. He has an extremely difficult time facing adversity with class, dignity and respect. Now that you've won the first ring, I gotta ask it Bron Bron. Can you do it 7 more times as you predicted?

Is the no-hitter becoming so common that it's losing its luster?

The title of this blog post is stolen from a professional sports writer named Tom (Todd) Verducci. More often than not I prefer to think up a creative (or not so creative) title that's original and fresh. However, the article featured below was not posted today or even over the weekend. It was posted Thursday June 14, just hours after Matt Cain turned in the performance of his lifetime, tossed only the 22nd perfect game in the history of major league baseball and his feet hadn't even hit the ground, but ole Tom was already puking all over this amazing accomplishment.

I'm a young guy with an old heart and old soul. I have learned that I was likely born in the wrong generation because for all of my life I've wanted my baseball served up the way it was generations ago. Simple, clean, by the "book" and stats are for fans to enjoy while sipping coffee. Currently, statistics in baseball have become completely out of touch with the game that's played on the field and I refuse to indulge any further than that. What I will say is that I don't care that of the twenty-two perfect games in major league baseball history, five of them have been thrown in the last three years. That's none of my business and I refuse to play ball here. In my book, a perfect game is an amazing accomplishment and each and every time a guy gets one, it should be given the respect and credit it deserves. Reading this article the day after Matt Cain pitched the best game of his life, the first perfect game in the history of one of the proudest franchises in baseball history, made me sick and I am not even a Giants fan. If you have enjoyed any of my work over the years, you know a few things. I don't toe the line and I refuse to take marching orders. I am not the guy who forms an opinion based on what the majority feels or thinks; I think for myself and I know my thoughts are in the minority, but I do know this. Diminishing a perfect game is something I will never engage in and I can't help but think that because Matt Cain plays on the West Coast, this article hit the internet before the fans at AT&T Park made their way home. I know for a fact that if Josh Beckett or CC Sabathia threw a perfect game last week, Tom Verducci would be sucking knee caps not pointing a fire arm at them.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rivaling pure Dominance

In the event that you missed UFC 145 in Atlanta over the weekend, allow me to explain what happened in the main event. Suga Rashad Evans spent months running his mouth, talking trash about Jon Bones Jones and was hell bent on taking back "his" belt. he crawled into the ring as Jones does and for the record, it was not nearly as slick as cool as when Bones Jones does it. From the word go, Jones was dominant. 

 The fight was not nearly as exciting as we had hoped and the feeling out process lasted the entire fight. Some would lead you to believe that this was a boring fight, but I am here to disagree with that and explain what really happened in the octagon. Jon Jones prevented Evans from engaging him by slamming elbows in his face. He prevented Evans from using his tremendous wrestling skills by keeping his distance and it was nearly impossible for Evans to even attempt a take down. When Evans did attempt to take Jones to the ground, he was met with a fierce knee to the chest and that was followed up by even more vicious elbows that put fear in the heart of a once fearless Evans. I forget the exact moment that it happened, but Jones had Evans in a guillotine choke, it appeared as though Evans' was going to have the life choked out of him, then jones let him go, pounded him with leg kicks, more flying elbows and pure dominance. At the end of that round I realized that Jones did something that's rarely done in MMA. He decided not to finish his opponent. Not because he couldn't, not because Evans countered with something he couldn't handle and not even because it was too late in the round for a submission. He let him go because he wasn't done torturing Evans.

 I can understand how you might disagree with that last statement, but only if you didn't watch the entire fight or simply watched the highlights on TV. Jones was dominating this fight from the get go, throwing elbows that looked like closed fist punches, landing them square in the face of Evans and then he did something I've never seen before. He got Evans in the clinch and began to "throw" shoulders at his chin, stunning his opponent maybe five or six times consecutively before Evans even knew what was happening. It was pure brilliance. It was plain to see that Evans couldn't get anything going. When he did throw punches that landed, they seemed to have very little impact on Jones and a step further, they were single punches, not thorough combinations.

Jones won the fight by unanimous decision after a five round masterpiece and it leads me, as well as many others, to ask the question. Who will be the next victim to face Jon Bones Jones? Sunday morning I read an article that stated Dan Henderson would be next up, but by the time the fight happens he will be 42 years of age, far from in the prime of his career and not unlike every single man who steps in the octagon to face Jones, he will have a significant size disadvantage. Many rumors are circulating that Jones may be asked to gain some weight (or not drop so much weight before a fight) and compete with the heavyweights. As exciting as that sounds, I think Jones has earned a chance to compete as a light heavyweight for at least another 4-5 fights, despite the lack of competition in that division. I say this because the kid, yes kid, is still just 24 years young and is still learning the sport. His body will continue to grow, he will gain some weight as he matures and before we know it, he will be smacking around the likes of Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez and the other giants of that division. But for now, he's the greatest light heavyweight champion this sport has ever seen and he's far from hitting the peak of his abilities. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Giant Observations

I made my way to AT&T Park last night with one purpose. To watch Roy Hallday dominate the San Francisco Giants. Yes, Tim Lincecum was pitching but I couldn't care less. In my opinion, he's an overrated, over hyped kid who's best days are behind him.

I got to the park early enough to watch both pitchers prepare for their start. Having never seen Halladay in person I was curious to watch his pregame routine. It was really cool to watch. He starts out stretching is body and then he plays catch with his catcher. They start tossing the ball from about 20 feet and with every few throws Halladay moves back a few feet. They ended up about 180-200 feet apart playing long toss for the better part of 20 minutes. Then, Halladay slowly walks over to the mound, gets comfortable and throws a few to his catcher, while his catcher is standing upright. The catcher gets into his crouch and that's when Halladay gets his game face on. The picture below is from my seat and it's obvious that I wasn't close enough to analyze his every move, but I observed a pitcher with a plan of attack. He threw about 12 fastballs in a row, then switched to offspeed pitches. After about 12 of those, he gets in the stretch and mixes it up a bit. Fastball outside corner, followed by breaking ball and then a fastball to the inside corner. I was impressed by his efforts and it gave me an insight into the routine of one of the best pitchers in  baseball.

As Halladay finished his throwing, I noticed Lincecum stretching along the third base line so I paid close attention to him as I was literally 100 feet from him. He started off by stretching his legs out a bit, kinda like we did back in the day. Just enough to stretch and tell coach we stretched, but nothing serious. He headed straight for the bullpen mound and began to toss the ball to his catcher. It didn't appear as uniform or deliberate as Halladay, but he looked to have good life on the ball. Quickly he got up on the mound and started throwing fastballs, which missed the target at least five times in a row as I noticed Buster reaching for the ball and his glove moved, a lot. He wasn't in the bullpen for longer than five minutes and he was gone.

In the first inning, both pitchers struggled. Lincecum didn't have his command, his fastball was between 88-91 and he threw a good amount of sliders. He got hit around a little bit, his outfielders didn't help him much and he struggled. I noticed something very interesting. It's fair to say that neither pitcher had his best stuff going last night and that's actually a great opportunity for a fan to see what his pitcher is made of. When Lincecum isn't on his game, his body language tells the entire story. He appears to be frustrated, his facial expressions are priceless as his snaggletooth appears more and more frequently. He moves his body around a lot as if he's not feeling right. Halladay on the other hand is flawless. His facial expressions are the same regardless of the situation. He was giving the homeplate umpire the mean mug as he wasn't getting the call on balls that were close to the strikezone, or so they appeared. He didn't have his best stuff, but he got guys out. He worked through difficult innings and that's the sign of a true professional. Lincecum did a pretty good job after the first inning, but to be completely honest, it doesn't appear as though he is comfortable on the mound right now and I feel like it's because he doesn't do well when things aren't going his way. I don't like him, I don't think he's nearly as good as Giants fans would have you believe. I'm curious to see if he learns how to pitch out of jams in a different way than he has this month. I know it's April, but if i were a Giants fan, I'd be concerned.