|12-02-2002, 11:24 PM||#1|
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Sports Central Newsletter - #91 - Sapp and the NFL
The Sports Central Newsletter
December 1st, 2002 - Issue #91
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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|
- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "One Man's Ballot"
- Reader's Showcase (Sports Rant)
- What's new at Sports Central?
- Feature Article: "Warren Sapp and the NFL Deserve Each Other"
- Marquee Matchups (NFL, NBA)
|-- WORDS FROM THE EDITOR --|
I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was fulfilling and relaxing. It's time to get back to business now, but before we know it, Christmas will be here. I don't know about you, but I'm finding it easy to get into the Christmas spirit as the calendars turn to 2001's final month.
In the O-Files, Brad breaksdown his early Pro Bowl choices and meanwhile, Mike comments on the controversial Warren Sapp hit last weekend and on the state of the National Football League. And don't miss our extensive preview of Monday's showdown between the AFC's two hottest teams: the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets. See you next issue!
Until next time,
- Marc James
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|-- THE O-FILES--|
"One Man's Ballot"
By Brad Oremland
Although the NFL opened its Pro Bowl balloting more than a month ago, we've just gotten to the point in the season where it's reasonable to make selections for this year's game. The season's a little less than three-fourths done, and here's a sneak peak at my ballot, with AFC choices listed first.
Rich Gannon (OAK), Drew Bledsoe (BUF), Tom Brady (NE); Brett Favre (GB), Jeff Garcia (SF), Michael Vick (ATL)
The guys I felt bad leaving off were Peyton Manning (IND) and Aaron Brooks (NO). No one else even merits serious consideration. I picked Brady over Manning because I think he's better in the clutch and plays with inferior personnel, and I gave Vick the edge over Brooks because the Falcons are 2-0 against New Orleans this year. I made Donovan McNabb (PHI) ineligible because of injury.
Priest Holmes (KC), LaDainian Tomlinson (SD), Charlie Garner (OAK); Deuce McAllister (NO), Marshall Faulk (STL), Tiki Barber (NYG)
There should be no argument on my first two in either conference, but Garner and Barber are underrated by those who consider rushing yards the only important statistic; they're excellent receivers out of the backfield, and both get outstanding yardage per carry. Ricky Williams (MIA) is a great back, but he's overrated.
Marvin Harrison (IND), Eric Moulds (BUF), Hines Ward (PIT), Derrick Mason (TEN); Terrell Owens (SF), Keyshawn Johnson (TB), Joe Horn (NO), Torry Holt (STL)
The only NFC change I can see would be voting for Randy Moss (MIN) or Marty Booker (CHI) instead of Holt, but there are a ton of candidates in the AFC. Space limitations forbid lengthy explanation, so I'll just list the others I considered: Corey Bradford (HOU), Plaxico Burress (PIT), Chris Chambers (MIA), Peerless Price (BUF), Jimmy Smith (JAC), Rod Smith (DEN). I like Mason because I think he's incredibly valuable to his team, and Moss and Booker are too inconsistent.
Tony Richardson (KC); Bob Christian (ATL)
As always, the most important thing to do here is vote for someone other than Mike Alstott. He's a good runner and a fine receiver, but he isn't a fullback. I've watched the Bucs several times this season, and I have yet to see Alstott run-block or take a handoff from the fullback position. On the few occasions, he lines up there (less than 25%), he usually goes out for a pass.
That said, Richardson was an easy choice, and it was a no-brainer to tab Christian, the most underrated offensive player in the league, although Cory Schlesinger (DET) also deserves recognition.
Tony Gonzalez (KC), Randy McMichael (MIA); Bubba Franks (GB), Jeremy Shockey (NYG)
I had the hardest time leaving Todd Heap (BAL) off my ballot, but the NFC picks were pretty easy, although I'd like to see Shockey do more as a blocker.
Adam Vinatieri (NE); David Akers (PHI)
I gave Vinatieri the edge over Jason Elam (DEN) because Denver has someone else do kickoffs; Akers is having a sensational season and was an easy choice.
Shane Lechler (OAK); Todd Sauerbrun (CAR)
Another easy choice. If I were a GM, I would give up a high draft pick to get Lechler from Oakland.
* An interlude: offensive line is coming up. I don't tape games and I don't have some crazy TV package that lets me watch five games at once, so most teams I've only seen two or three times. That makes it difficult for me to accurately assess offensive linemen, since little statistical help is available as a guide. Furthermore, I'm a mediocre judge of offensive line play to begin with. That disclaimer aside, here are my choices:
Alan Faneca (PIT), Dan Neil (DEN), Will Shields (KC); LeCharles Bentley (NO), Tom Nutten (STL), David Dixon (MIN)
I've been impressed with Faneca's play, and the Steelers have gone from being a team that relied on defense to one that's third in the AFC in total offense. The Vikings lead the NFC in total offense, and Dixon, a holdover from the Minnesota line that was so superb in 1998, is a big reason. Bentley should be a Rookie of the Year candidate.
Lincoln Kennedy (OAK), Jonathan Ogden (BAL), Willie Roaf (KC); Earl Dotson (GB), Jon Jansen (WAS), Luke Petigout (NYG)
I'm very comfortable with my AFC choices, but the NFC calls are a little shaky here. I love Kennedy, and if it seems like Rich Gannon should have been sacked a lot more often for how many passes he's thrown, Kennedy is the reason. Jansen is the one solid link in Washington's patchwork offensive line, and Petigout has quietly evolved into a very solid player.
Tom Nalen (DEN), Damien Woody (NE); Mike Flanagan (GB), Olin Kreutz (CHI)
Everyone still likes Kevin Mawae (NYJ), but I think he's lost a step. Flanagan has been solid at center and filling in at left tackle because of injuries.
Deltha O'Neal (DEN), Patrick Surtain (MIA), Ty Law (NE); Ronde Barber (TB), Troy Vincent (PHI), Will Allen (NYG)
This one was easy. The only change I considered was Will Peterson (NYG) instead of Allen.
Lawyer Milloy (NE); John Lynch (TB)
Another easy one. Lynch is actually playing better than he did last year.
Rod Woodson (OAK); Darren Sharper (GB)
I'm not crazy about tapping Woodson, but he's been the dominant player in Oakland's defensive backfield, and he's made big plays in every game I've seen. Sharper was a tough choice over Brian Dawkins (PHI) and Deon Grant (CAR).
Jason Taylor (MIA), Trevor Pryce (DEN), John Abraham (NYJ); Simeon Rice (TB), Andre Carter (SF), Julius Peppers (CAR)
Taylor and Pryce are overhyped, but they really are the best DEs in the AFC. Choosing Abraham didn't make me happy, but there's no one I liked better. The NFC choices were tough, and again, I'll just list the guys I almost took: Mike Rucker (CAR), Michael Strahan (NYG), Patrick Kerney (ATL), Hugh Douglas (PHI).
Zach Thomas (MIA), Donnie Edwards (SD); Keith Brooking (ATL), Brian Urlacher (CHI)
Thomas and Urlacher are overhyped; Edwards and Brooking are underrated. Easy choices at this position, though.
Joey Porter (PIT), Ian Gold (DEN); Derrick Brooks (TB), Nate Wayne (GB)
Porter and Brooks are Defensive MVP candidates, having monster seasons. I chose Gold over Eric Barton (OAK) because of his speed and because Denver's defense has been so good this year, and I gave Wayne the edge over Jessie Armstead (WAS) and LaVar Arrington (WAS) on consistency.
Jason Fisk (SD), Marcus Stroud (JAC), Tim Bowens (MIA); Darwin Walker (PHI), Warren Sapp (TB), Bryant Young (SF)
Stroud has delivered consistent play for a unit that lost several key starters this offseason, and Walker has become the best DT in the league. Bowens and Young don't make many big plays these days, but they create crucial opportunities for their teammates. I also like Daryl Gardener (WAS), but I didn't vote for him.
Dennis Northcutt (CLE); Brian Mitchell (PHI)
The one slot I left blank, though I like what I've seen of Larry Izzo (NE), Travian Smith (OAK), and Ifeanyi Ohalete (WAS), who has been promoted to a starting role.
Cast your own votes for the Pro Bowl at http://www.nfl.com/probowl/2003/ballot
Who would be on your Pro Bowl team?
Brad welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=O-Files
|-- READER'S SHOWCASE --|
Each issue, the Reader's Showcase features either challenging sports trivia or sports rant entries from readers on a rotating basis. For the Sports Trivia questions, we will randomly choose trivia questions ranging from baseball to hockey to golf. As for the Sports Rant, you, the readers, have the opportunity write-in with your opinions and thoughts and have your thoughts published in front of thousands of interested eyes,.
In this issue, we're featuring another sports rant. Have something on your mind? Send us your thoughts on the sports world and we might publish them: mailto:email@example.com?subject=Readers_Showcase
--> SPORTS RANT
A Toronto Raptors insider was recently quoted as saying:
"Vince (Carter) thinks 10 minutes in rehab and 20 minutes of shooting is enough. He understands nothing. He'd rather be home playing video games with his mother."
Does Vince Carter have it in him to be one of the NBA's top players year in and year out and lead his team to a title or is he just a flashy dunker? Send us your thoughts:mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Readers_Showcase
[ Last Issue ]
Last issue, we asked the question, "What college has won the most bowl games?" The correct answer was Alabama, and congratulations to readers Larry Mecom and Michael Nashalsky for answering correctly. Good luck to everyone next time!
|-- WHAT'S NEW AT SPORTS CENTRAL? --|
Revisiting the new articles for the week of 11/25/02 - 12/01/02:
NHL: Hockey at the quarter point
By Glenn McCready
Here we are, just after Thanksgiving and the season is a quarter of the way complete (give or take a game or so). This can only mean one thing: it's time for the first progress report. And while it has been interesting so far, there is plenty of time for the landscape to entirely change, says SC's Glenn McCready.
COLUMN: Amico Report: Fabulous Philly
By Sam Amico
Hoops aficionado Sam Amico takes you around the NBA in his weekly column, The Amico Report.
NBA: Shaq's still the man
By Rich Levine
The Mavs are off to an amazing start ... the Sonics are surprising everyone ... Yao Mania is taking over us all ... well, guess what? One man's return to the court will quickly make this all very insignificant, says SC's Rich Levine. After two games with their big man, L.A. has all the confidence they need for another title run.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: The greatness of Garyland
By Brendan McEvoy
It took Maryland's Gary Williams 13 years to help his alma mater win a championship. He is close to his milestone 500th career win and his teams are fundamentally sound. But to find what makes Williams great, look no further than his recruiting style and his most recent signee: Darryl Strawberry, Jr.
NFL: Around the NFL coaching carousel
By David Martin
As we start the holiday season with turkey and stuffing, the National Football League playoff picture begins to crystallize. Several teams' next loss drops them from playoff contention, and jockeying for homefield and wild cards begins in earnest. While the season starts its stretch run toward Super Bowl Sunday, NFL Coach Pink Slip Day looms ever closer.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Fan riots are out of control
By Sean Pullins
In a season of close games, miracle endings, and big-time upsets, the college football world has also seen its share of unruly fan behavior. SC's Sean Pullins gives a bird's-eye view on the unruly and dangerous fan riots after weekend games, saying that the riots are out of control.
NBA: NBA's top rookie has finally arrived
By Bill Ingram
China would like for Yao Ming to be the NBA's Rookie of the Year this season. This seemed like an unlikely scenario until Yao Ming had his coming out party in Dallas last week. SC's Bill Ingram takes a look at what led to the emergence of Yao in his latest article.
MLB: Seeing things after the Series
By Brian Algra
SC's Brian Algra is still transfixed by visions of Barry Bonds and his Anaheim adversaries. Are you one of the many millions who turned a blind eye to baseball this past October? Be your answer yeah or nay, you'd do well to join Brian for his analysis of the late Fall Classic as an intersection of athletic egotism, team spirit, Hollywood cliches, and personal psychosis.
COLUMN: Tiger Woods in ruining my life
By Ryan Noonan
SC's Ryan Noonan has no job. He hasn't showered or eaten a decent meal in two weeks. The pile of clothes on his floor has grown immense and he's been reduced to wearing only a t-shirt and basketball shorts. In the latest installment of CTS, he writes that only one person is to blame for his current condition: Tiger Woods.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Pac-10 season preview
By Alan Rubenstein
The Pac-10 enters the 2002-03 season at a crossroads with the losses of many key players. Leadership will be extremely important in this season's conference championship race and Arizona has plenty of that. That's why the Wildcats are the prohibitive favorite to win their tenth Pac-10 title in 18 years.
NFL: Week 12 power rankings
By Brad Oremland
In this week's Power Rankings, all of the top three teams are different there's a 12-weeks-later look at the Drew Bledsoe/Tom Brady debate. SC's Brad Oremland also discusses the impressive accomplishments of Rich Gannon and Marvin Harrison. Get the rankings and analysis for all 32 teams for Week 12.
NFL: The golden rule: Pass or perish
By Jeff Moore
Where did all the running backs go? If it seems like there aren't anymore premier backs in the NFL, look to the play calling. More and more teams in the NFL are looking to pass. But does passing the ball more lead to success? SC's Jeff Moore investigates.
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|-- FEATURE ARTICLE --|
"Warren Sapp and the NFL Deserve Each Other"
On the face of it, it's not been a good week for the National Football League. Carolina wideout Steve Smith was arrested for assaulting a teammate, the same team cut 1999 top-pick Chris Terry after he failed to show up in court on domestic abuse charges, and Warren Sapp and Mike Sherman went at it publicly after Sapp laid out Packers' Chad Clifton. In actual fact, the NFL relies on weeks like this to keep its viewers, because on the field the standard of play is at an all-time low.
By Mike Round
I watched the Packers/Bucs game last Sunday afternoon. It wasn't a great game, though I didn't expect it to be anything other than moderate. The "highlight" of a mediocre game featuring a lot of inept offensive play was the sickening hit by the Bucs' Warren Sapp on Packers' lineman Chad Clifton. My first thought was that it was a cheap shot by a player known for picking on soft targets. My second thought was that the suits of the NFL would be rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of all the extra computer games to be sold on Monday. Cheap, stylized violence on a Sunday sells games on a Monday -- the new NFL mantra.
I canvassed some opinion this week on hit on Chad Clifton. Firstly, I asked friends who, like me, have played the game at some sort of serious level. I asked them two questions -- would you have made that hit in the exact way given the chance and would you be miffed to be on the end of it? No and yes came out a convincing winner, even though almost all of them are, or were, capable of using their bodies as a heat-seeking missile on a hapless opponent and causing serious damage.
Exactly the opposite answers were given, in the main, when the same questions were posed to my "smaller" friends and acquaintances. Those cretins who have been flooding talk shows and message boards with the usual, "It's football and a man's game, dude" bull are, in the main, a lot less than six-foot tall and 200 lb. in weight. Which brings me to the appeal of football and the NFL in particular. It allows the small and physically insignificant to live their lives vicariously through men like Warren Sapp. They'd love to stick a lick on a big guy like Chad Clifton, but sadly for them, if they tried, he'd crush them like a cockroach.
I'm over six-foot tall and more like 270 lb. than 220 lb. Actually, I just polished off another turkey leg and slice of pie, so make it 280. I played football in the UK at college level, which is an extremely low standard of football, but played by true enthusiasts. I played both sides of the line and very rarely came across a vicious, mean opponent who wanted to cause me serious physical harm -- unless I ventured downfield and came across wideouts and cornerbacks, whose idea of blocking was to dive head first at your knees and then do a passable impression of MC Hammer to celebrate the fact that a big guy was writhing in agony in the mud.
The proponents of the "It's football and a man's game" argument justify Sapp and his cowardice by correctly pointing out that his hit was ruled legal by the NFL. What a pathetic indictment of an increasingly sad and desperate league. A 300 lb. man -- and that's purely an anatomical reference -- can launch himself, with both feet off the ground, at an opponent who is completely defenseless and not involved in the play in any manner at all and the suits of the NFL see nothing wrong in it?! These are the same suits that repeatedly fine players for having socks arranged wrongly.
Hits like Sapp's take the emphasis away from the dismal state of pro football. Check out the standings in the AFC. Take out the Bungals and the expansion Texans and you have fourteen teams with records between 5-6 and 7-4. Two games separate 10 teams. Apologists for this mass ineptitude amongst the insipid NFL media scrum call it exciting and engrossing. My take is that the standard is falling to the level of the lowest common denominator, rather than the bar being raised by those elite teams at the top.
Take yourself back to the '80s, to the days of San Francisco supremacy. The 49ers set a standard so high it required super human efforts by the Giants and Bill Parcells, the Redskins and Joe Gibbs, the Cowboys and Jimmy Johnson, and the Packers and Mike Holmgren just to compete. All those teams had bruising brutal battles through the 80's and 90's just to win the NFC Championship, let alone a Super Bowl title. There is absolutely no team in the NFL today that has caused its rivals to completely re-evaluate its football philosophy, the way Jimmy Johnson did in the early '90s in order to compete with the 49ers.
Over-hyped "superstars" like Warren Sapp prosper in an era where offensive line play has been reduced to coaches wheeling out a bunch of wide bodies with concrete feet and hoping for the best. This malaise has particularly affected tackles, which en-masse seems to be incapable of carrying out even the fundamentals. I spent the summer listening to Saints fans eulogize over the play of Kyle Turley. I watched him in Thibodaux at camp and in preseason. Uh-uh, nice hair and body art. Likes to pile on after the whistle blows. Enjoys pushing (smaller) opponents in the chest and trash talking. Doesn't belong in the same zip code as Anthony Munoz.
The truly sad aspect of what happened on Sunday in Ray Jay, besides the fact that Chad Clifton will spend the rest of his life in pain, was that Sapp, his mouth, ego, and "hit" took up so many column inches that there was no room for Priest Holmes to get more than a cursory mention. Holmes leads the NFL in rushing with 1,209 yards at 4.7 a pop. Add in 17 TDs, and you have a remarkable player having a remarkable season. This comes on top of last year's league-leading 1,555 yards.
Holmes had an incredible day last Sunday, with 3 TDs and 307 yards from scrimmage. His team lost, but that's not to detract from Holmes' gargantuan effort. Put Warren Sapp in Holmes' situation on Sunday and you would have heard some all-star trumpet blowing. Holmes' comment post match was, "Individual accomplishments count at the end of the year. Right now, it's a team game."
Warren Sapp has spent years blabbing to the sycophantic NFL press about the failings of the Tampa Bay offense, and how it's incompetence contrasts with his own mean defense. The Chiefs have four times scored more than 30 points this season and lost. Priest Holmes has said nothing.
"I hurt for Priest Holmes. He's a special human being. I felt very bad for him," said Dick Vermeil, head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
If only the NFL had more men like Priest Holmes and Dick Vermeil, and a lot less like Warren Sapp and Steve Smith.
Mike welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:email@example.com?subject=Feature_Article
|-- SPONSOR --|
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|-- MARQUEE MATCHUPS --|
--> National Football League
By Brad Oremland
New York Jets (6-5) vs. Oakland Raiders (7-4)
Monday, Dec. 2, 9 PM EST; Network Associates Coliseum; Oakland, CA; TV: ABC
Last season, the Jets made the playoffs on a thrilling Week 17 win over the Raiders, who were fighting for a homefield advantage that would have kept them out of snowy Foxboro Stadium on the day the "tuck rule" became famous. Oakland went on to avenge the win in the first round of the playoffs, and a mini-rivalry is developing between these two teams from opposite sides of the country.
At 7-4, Oakland is in a three-way tie for the lead in the AFC West, while the 6-5 Jets probably have to win to keep alive any hope of making the playoffs. Sound familiar?
This matchup, the first Monday night game of December, features the two hottest teams in the AFC. New York has won four games in a row, and the Raiders have made it three straight, including convincing wins over 7-4 Denver and 7-5 New England. The Raiders thrive on a passing game that makes few mistakes and consistently picks up first downs. The Jets are riding the hot hand of first-year starter Chad Pennington, who leads the AFC in passer rating (Oakland's Rich Gannon is second), with a lot of help from RB Curtis Martin, who has finally gotten hot after a slow start.
I like the Jets, but I don't see them stopping Oakland's tour-de-force, especially in Raiderville. New York's defense had trouble early in the season, and although it's held the last four opponents to 14 points or less, I don't think Herm Edwards and his players have the answer to an offense that shredded teams coached by Ray Rhodes and Bill Belichick. Teams who sit on the short stuff get burned deep by Jerry Porter, who leads the Raiders in receiving TDs, and covering Porter sufficiently necessitates giving up more room underneath.
Furthermore, no one can figure out whether or not to blitz Gannon, since sending extra rushers means taking men out of coverage -- perfect for the Raiders' short passing game, with a veteran quarterback making hot reads to Hall of Fame receivers. No last-minute field goal will save the Jets' season this December.
[ Game Breakdown ]
Offense - Raiders
Defense - Raiders
Spec. Teams - Raiders
Coaching - Raiders
Intangibles - Jets
Prediction: Raiders 34, Jets 20
--> National Basketball Association
By Mike Round
Dallas Mavericks (14-1) at Los Angeles Lakers (6-11)
Friday, Dec. 6, 10:30 PM EST; Staples Center; Los Angeles, CA; TV: ESPN
As of Saturday morning, the Mavs (14-1) lead the NBA in wins with only a loss to the Pacers blotting their copybook. That's no disgrace. The loss did prevent a record-setting 15-0 start and you can be sure Mark Cuban and Don Nelson will want to showcase their high-octane offense and stifling defense against the NBA's most glamorous team.
Dallas held the Shaq-less Lakers to just 72 points in their last meeting on November 19th in Texas, whilst rattling up 98 points of their own, with Dirk Nowitzki landing a season-high 17 rebounds. Michael Finley, Steve Nash, and Nowitzki are having magnificent seasons, but titles aren't decided in November.
Mark Cuban won't tolerate anyone taking the foot off the gas, especially against the Lakers. PG Nick Van Exel should be back at something like game fitness by Friday's clash and that will only help relieve the pressure off the Mav's big three.
The Lakers are languishing at 6-11, amazingly the same record as the Clippers, mainly due to injuries. Phil Jackson never asks his players to over-exert during the regular season, correctly figuring it's futile to wear out your star players before the playoffs. Jackson doesn't care about division titles -- he's aiming for a 10th championship in June. The Lakers went 3-9 without Shaq and will now be looking to start clawing back some of Sacramento's lead. They'll make the playoffs without a shadow of a doubt and are still the team to beat in the West.
Kobe and Shaq, with help from Rick Fox and Robert Horry against the Mavs big three and a fit-again Van Exel is a real mouth-watering clash. The Mavs will come to L.A. with intensity and something to prove still. The scalp of the three-peating Lakers is a prize Mark Cuban would give almost anything for. Expect a game of playoff intensity, featuring strong defense and some great personal battles. The Mavs can beat the Lakers in December, but it's what happens in June that counts.
[ Game Breakdown ]
Offense - Even
Defense - Mavs
Coaching - Lakers
Intangibles - Mavs
Prediction: Mavs 94, Lakers 92
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(Thanks for reading! Next issue set to come out on 12/15/02.)
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