Friday

1-30-09: Twins Just Say No

Hello again everybody...

I'm getting after this a little later than usual today. There are several reasons for that. Number one, I'm writing from the home offices today. Vive le Vacation!

Number two, I'm still fighting off the virus/plague/Andromeda strain that's been making the rounds at work, so I slept in nice and late. I think I'm on the upswing with this thing, but I don't want to jinx it.

Number three, I've been reading the latest Bill Simmons chat session on ESPN.com. Not only is the guy a brilliant writer, but he's awfully quick witted, as displayed clearly in this chat.

And finally, number four, because I'm at home, I actually can listen to the shows we usually just watch at work. (We have 4 TV's in the studio, but because it's radio, the volume's always turned down. Which usually isn't a problem, since we're just checking out the Cable News Babes anyway, but it's intriguing to actually hear them.)

So forgive me if this get out later than usual. Then again, with no job to interrupt my writing, maybe it'll all even out. Let's get to the writing and we'll see!

I know I promised you all a DFTU today, but I decided to start with the Twins calling off negotiations with Eric Gagne. I fully intended to follow that with a DFTU, but I got so carried away ripping Heavy-G, that I decided to hold off the DFTU til next week (secretly hoping the Badgers can end their 5-game skid so I can discuss it in the past-tense). So I hate to disappoint those of you tuning in for the DFTU, but I promise to be as entertaining as I can in the interim! Off we go!

"We confess our little faults to persuade people we have no large ones."
- Francois de La Rochefoucald (1613-1680), noted French author and accomplished nobleman


First of all, typing "Francois de La Rochefoucald" is really hard. Go ahead. Open up "Notepad" and try it. I'll wait.

See?

Secondly, how does one become an "accomplished nobleman"? Is it just being nice to the unwashed masses? Is there philanthropy involved? Is it simply a matter of not executing members of the working class for fun? These are the things I wonder about when I'm home from work and not feeling well.

«Read More...»


But let's get to the actual column, shall we?

For those of you who didn't read Joe Christensen's article in the Star Tribune (and if you're a Twins fan, Joe C. and Lavelle are required reading), the Twins have halted talks with free agent RP Eric Gagne.

If that name sounds familiar to you, it should. I spent most of last baseball season savaging him and the Brewers for signing him to that gaudy 1-year $10 million deal.

Fortunately, his talks with the Twins this off-season have flown mostly under the radar, so I've been able to ignore them and pretend they weren't actually happening. One of my Brewer-fan friends kept trying to bring it up, but I wouldn't take the bait.

Now, I can finally talk about it.

Yes, the Twins still need late-inning relief help. Pat Neshek's not coming back this season (and if you believe some of the rumblings, may just plain be done), and Jose Mijares is still awfully young. Plus you'd rather have him as a left-handed specialist, than locked in as your go-to 8th inning guy. Jesse Crain's still a distinct possibility, but there's no guarantee that his comeback from arm surgery will continue on the same path it was on late last year. So you'd like to bring in another arm as an insurance possibility if nothing else.

There was a potential for some intra-DFTU-ness to happen when the Twins talked to D'backs free agent RP Brandon Lyon. Alas, Lyon went to the Tigers where he's got a shot at closing. And that's the major hold-up for the Twins. If you're a late-inning reliever, you'd like to go someplace where you have a shot at the closing gig, because that's where the big money lies. But if you're going to sign with the Twins, you've got no shot unless Joe Nathan gets hurt. And he's shown no inclination towards injury so far.

So apparently one of the guys the Twins were looking at was Eric Gagne. There were two major problems in my mind. One, Gagne sucks. And two, his agent is Scott Boras.

I'm not sure how much more evidence people need that Gagne's cooked as a big league pitcher, but apparently Boras is still able to weave his magic (see: Jason Varitek's two-year deal with the Red Sox... 2 years for a .220 hitter? why not?!).

We know that Gange was named in the Mitchell Report as a steroid user. And not at all coincidentally, his career went straight into the tank after the report came out (also the point at which, one would presume, he stopped using). Have we seen anyone who used steroids with fantastic results, then stopped using, and did anything other than break down til they were forced to retire? Not to my knowledge.

(Aside: this would be the part where I have to acknowledge that Wednesday, I said that I didn't know anyone who wasn't watching the Superbowl on Sunday, only to have a comment attached from a regular reader who won't be watching on Sunday. Sorry Mary. I stand corrected.)

For their $10 million last year, the Brewers got 4-3 with a 5.44 ERA and 10 saves. $1 million per save? Sounds reasonable to me! (insert sarcasm here). The guy hasn't managed more than 16 saves in a single season since 2004 when he was at the end of that stellar (yet steroid induced) 3-year run of 45+ saves per year.

But the Twins weren't looking at him to close, they wanted him to set-up for Joe Nathan. And as Joe C. pointed out, Gagne went 0-1 with a 3.09 ERA in September setting-up for the Brewers, right?

So what! Those aren't exactly lights-out numbers. And the guy had to know he was pitching for his major league life at that point. And the Twins were talking about a $3 million deal with $500,000 in incentives?! Maybe, maybe, if those numbers were the other way around, I could've lived with the idea. But as constituted? Not a chance.

So yeah, the guy sucks.

But there's also the nightmare of dealing with his agent: Scott Boras. For those of you who doubt Boras' evil genius credentials, you need only peruse Bill Simmon's article about Manny Ramirez's exit from Boston to get the idea.

(Warning: if you're going to read it, either make sure you have a solid chunk of free-time to devote to it, or print it out so you can use it for "throne time" reading. It's epic, but worth the read.)

This is the same problem the Twins are dealing with in their flirtations with 3B Joe Crede. When you're dealing with Boras, you can be fairly sure you're going to over-pay for the guy you sign. And it's entirely possible you may find out 6 months down the road that the fine print of his contract says that Satan has a "club option" on your soul.

This is the guy that convinced the Texas Rangers to bid against themselves and pay Alex Rodriguez $250 million. This is the guy who convinced the Boston Red Sox (whom I hate) to resign their .220-hitting catcher to a 2-year deal. And this is the guy who's going to get Manny Ramirez a ridiculous contract even though the league's apparently decided he's more trouble than he's worth. I mean, after everything he did to help get the Dodgers into the playoffs last year, doesn't their reluctance to re-sign him tell us something?

So why would you want to deal with an agent who's this much of a headache to sign a steroid-depleted pitcher who won't be happy as a set-up guy because in his heart of hearts, he still thinks he should be a closer?

If you're the Twins, you don't.

Thank God.

I can't even imagine the things I'd have had to write if the Twins had signed him. It wouldn't have been pretty. It may not have even been fair. It would've been just plain painful.

Fortunately, sanity prevailed. Thank you Billy Smith. Thank you baseball gods. Thank you Scott Boras for holding out so long, that the Twins had time to come to their senses.

I can finally breathe again. And it feels damned good.

That's all for this week. I'll be back on Monday with your "delayed but never denied" DFTU (unless the Badgers lose again and I find something else to write about so I can stall again). Until then, stay safe and thanks for reading!

Wednesday

1-28-09: Super Hype

Hello again everybody...

Time to turn the corner on this week and get headed for the weekend. And it can't come soon enough. Those of us here in the upper Midwest are finally emerging from another deep freeze. And if your workplace is like mine, you're trying to dodge the latest virus that's going around (I failed in that endeavor).

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And I'm fairly positive it's not an oncoming train! Super Bowl 43 is headed our way on Sunday. I haven't delved much into the NFL this year, but I can't help but wade into the media frenzy that surrounds the single largest spectacle in sports. Is it all too much sizzle and not enough steak? I'll discuss.

"A healthy adult male bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people's patience."
- John Updike (1932-2009), American novelist, poet, short story write, art and literary critic


Thank heavens I'm not boring... right? Right?!

«Read More...»


Speaking of things that aren't boring, Sunday brings us the 43rd edition of the largest media/sports/entertainment spectacular in modern American culture: the Superbowl.

There are people who'd argue that the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is a bigger sporting event because it spans 3+ weeks. And there are those who'd argue that events like the Olympics or the World Cup are bigger because they involve the entire globe, rather than just America.

But I don't think any single event quite brings together the worlds of sports, pop culture, and advertising quite like the Superbowl.

Do you know anybody who's not watching this thing on Sunday? I don't.

I know people who couldn't name 5 players collectively off either team, but I don't know anyone who won't be watching at least part of it. If they're not football fans, then maybe they're watching for Bruce Springsteen at halftime. If they're not fans of the Boss, then maybe they're watching for the commercials. Whatever the reason, people watch this event in numbers unseen in any other sporting spectacle.

Which brings up an interesting question. Because the Superbowl transcends other sporting events, becoming a cultural icon unto itself, does it lose something in terms of a pure sporting event?

Is the fact that we crown a NFL champion on Sunday drowned out by the talk of which new commercial will be the best, or whether there's a wardrobe malfunction?

I'm not a huge NFL guy personally. I watch, but I don't feel attached to any teams like I do in baseball and college football. But if I had to name a team I'd like to see in the Superbowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers would be tops on the list. So I'm happy that the Steelers are the favorite going into Sunday.

Yet, I don't feel like the game's really the thing anymore. Even amongst my most ardent sports-fan friends, they're more into prop bets (who wins the coin toss, who scores first, who turns the ball over first, etc., etc.) than they are into the actual game.

I wonder if that's a good thing or a bad thing?

On the one hand having all the extraneous hype and sizzle brings in people who'd ordinarily never watch sports and allows them to experience the wonder of athletic competition at the highest level. That's probably a good thing.

But if the beauty of sport gets overwhelmed by whether NBC runs the PETA ad showing scantily-clad women or not, or by whether Bruce Springsteen includes "Thunder Road" in the halftime show or not, then are those folks who aren't normally football fans really experiencing the things that make the game great in the first place? I don't know if that's such a good thing.

Then again, if the game's a stinker (and there's every opportunity for Superbowl 43 to be a "less-than-picturesque" game) then maybe it's a good thing to have all the outside hustle and bustle involved.

The 2008 World Series is not going to go down amongst the annals of baseball as one of the more exciting championship series. And unless you were intrigued by the weather interruptions, there wasn't a whole lot else to hang your hat on.

But if Superbowl 43 is a blowout, or an ugly, low-scoring affair, there's still all the razzle-dazzle to entertain us. And if you're a sports-fan, wouldn't you rather have people watching, even if they're not seeing the greatest game in the world?

These are the things I'm pondering as I watch the ridiculousness of "Media Day" and listen to the debates of which ads will make the cut, and which ones won't. I don't pretend to have the answers, but I think it's interesting to look at the game on Sunday from that perspective.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I like the Steelers to cover the spread (-7) and if I had to, I'd take the Under (46.5)!

Enjoy the game!

That's it for today. I'm back on Friday with more DFTU goodness for you. Until then, stay safe, and thanks for reading!

Saturday

1-24-09: Photo Post - Twins Fest

Hello again everybody...

Those of us in the upper Midwest are starting another week in the deep-freeze, but fortunately, it's supposed to be a short stay, as we get back near the freezing mark by Wednesday. Thank heavens for small favors I guess!

While the last couple of weeks have seen the return of some classic Sports Take segments, today marks the beginning of a new segment: the Sports Take Photo Post. As you may guess, it's where I take you on a photo tour of a sporting event I attended. I have no idea how well this will work, since this is my first attempt at it. But let's give it a go!

"Language is the source of misunderstandings."
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944), French writer and aviator


So fewer words create fewer misunderstandings? Yeah I can see that.

«Read More...»


And it's in that spirit that I give you the first ever Sports Take Photo Post. As you've probably guessed from the title, I attended the 2009 version of Twins Fest over the weekend. The following are pictures (and hopefully entertaining descriptions) from my time at the Metrodome:


Twins Fest is held on the floor of the Metrodome each January to get fans psyched up for the upcoming season. As you enter the stadium, you see a sea of people and displays waiting to be waded through.


There's plenty of baseball memorabilia and paraphernalia on display. From the interesting, to the mildly gaudy. I'll leave it up to you to decide which category these oil paintings fall into.


Plenty for kids to do at Twins Fest from the "4 on 4 Yardball" area, to the "Kid's Corner":



And for us big kids, there's my favorite area: the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum display:


What separates baseball from other sports is it's long, rich history. And it's at this display you can see items like:


Cy Young's Jersey and Honus Wagner's Bat and Shoes. If you look close enough you can see a stain on Young's left shoulder. Chaw or pine tar? You decide.


The hat and jersey in this photo were worn by Lou Gherig in his last season, 1939. The bat was used by Gherig in the 1937 All-Star Game.


Here we have a Jersey worn by second baseman Nellie Fox. The bat was used by Ted Williams when he got his 2000th hit on August 11th, 1955. Let's see, that would be the week before my Dad's 6th birthday. Context is a wonderful thing, no?

And lest you think all the displays are from other teams, here we have a jersey worn by Twins legend Harmon Killebrew from the 1968 season when he led all of baseball with 49 home runs:


The bat was used by Rod Carew in the 1975 All-Star Game.

Also on display: the 1987 World Series trophy...


Which means there's also:


The 1991 World Series trophy. Balance is a good thing, don't you think? And finally we have the Hall of Fame Plaques:


Dave Winfield's. Yes, he's wearing a Padre's cap, but he's a St. Paul native and spent a season with the Twins where he collected his 3000th hit and and cemented his Hall of Fame status.


Kirby Puckett's. Like many, Kirby was my favorite player growing up. Yes, he had some struggles after his career ended and sure, he left us way too soon. But I choose to remember a guy who thrilled me with his play and charmed us all with his smile.

You can also check out the Twins Minor-league affiliates at Twins Fest:

Their caps...



And their jerseys...



Here are a couple of minor-leaguers signing autographs. I have no idea who they are. Then again, neither did anybody in line for their signature.



Which brings me to a short rant. I understand that it's fun to meet ball players. But to stand in line for an hour to spend 10 seconds getting them to sign something? Not sure I'll ever get my mind wrapped around that. Seem like a colossal waste of time to me, but there were hundreds of people lined up, so what do I know?

One of the most popular new features this year was the display for the new ballpark: Target Field. Opening Day 2010 is just 81 short games (not counting playoffs) away!



They have all the information you could want on the new ballpark, including:


Versions of all 6 different kinds of seating. These look fairly comfortable, no?


A display of the various forms of stone used on the facade and in the ballpark itself. Limestone is such a classic look.


In this artist's rendering, they show you the various levels of seating in Target Field. There are, naturally, a variety of price points to go along with the levels. But there's still plenty of opportunities to take in a ballgame at a reasonable price!


Here they show the dimensions of Target Field. Surprisingly similar to the Metrodome actually. Including a 30-foot wall in right field, reminiscent of the "baggie". The most important difference is the angles included in the walls. Can you imagine Carlos Gomez gapping one that takes a strange bounce off a corner and turning into an inside-the-park home run? I can.


And of course, the obligatory scale model of Target Field. I love all the areas outside and around the ballpark for fans to hang out before and after the ballgame. Did I mention I can't wait for 2010?

And then, of course, there are the players:


Joe Nathan on the KSTP radio stage. (Enjoy the rights while you can KSTP, we're coming for the Twins when the current deal expires. Some things have changed, and I like our chances!)

I actually saw several players and coaches milling around, but they were usually on their way someplace, and I couldn't break out the camera in time.

Manager Ron Gardenhire was there. OF Carlos Gomez, RP Matt Guerrier, 3B Brendan Harris (who was having all sorts of trouble figuring out where he was supposed to be... I must have passed him three times while he followed a very confused-looking security guard) and even Twins legend Tony Oliva was there.

Of all the fun to be had at Twins Fest, it's the interaction with players that really makes the event what it is.

The Twins do a fantastic job putting this annual event together. And the amazing number of people who ventured out on a frozen winter Saturday confirmed that again in 2009.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed the first ever Sports Take Photo Post. It was a fun to take a couple of hours away from Winter and think about the Boys of Summer. Pitchers and Catchers report on February 15th. Needless to say, I can't wait!

That's all for today. I'm back on Wednesday with more Sports Take goodness. Until then, stay safe, and thanks for reading!

Friday

1-23-09: I'm back... and so is the DFTU

Hello again everybody...

My apologies again for the lack of a post on Wednesday. The grab bag of ideas was just flat empty, but I'm back, feeling refreshed, and even have ideas for what I want to do next week. So hopefully I won't come up empty again any time soon!

Today, it's DFTU time again. Did Bucky rebound from their soul-crushing loss to the Gophers? Did the Wild finish strong headed into the All-Star break? These issues and more will be discussed. Off we go...

"Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money."
- Jules Renard (1864-1910), French author


On the one hand, I'm glad this guy thinks I'm not ridiculous for spending so much time on this without receiving any pay. On the other hand, he's most well known for a book titled, "Carrot Hair". Read into that what you will.

«Read More...»


Moving on...

It's time, once again, for everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 23-20-3, good for 49 points and 3rd place in the Northwest division.

I asked the question in the preamble: did the Wild finish strong headed into the All-Star break? In a word, no.

Since I last wrote about the Wild they've gone 1-2, beating the hated Blackhawks in between losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles.

Those of you who read Monday's post know all about the loss to Anaheim, so I won't belabor that game.

The 4-1 victory over Chicago was fairly definitive. But so was the 5-2 loss to Los Angeles. It's been more of the "feast or famine" offense that I railed against last week.

Equally troubling was the team's ability to look so solid on the road, and yet look so helpless at home.

I hate to say it, but if the All-Star break marks the unofficial halfway point of the season, this kind of schizophrenic offensive personality may just be who the 2008-09 Wild are. It may not be a funk they break out of. It may just be how they play the rest of the year.

Boy, this is turning out to be a sunny description, ain't it?!

Sunday is the All-Star game. The Wild's lone representative is goaltender Niklas Backstrom. I'd advocate watching the game, but goalies traditionally get lit in this game, so I'm not sure how much fun it'll be for Wild fans. Besides, BBC America is running a Bond marathon, so I think you know what I'll be watching.

After the break, the Wild come back with a home game against Toronto Tuesday night. And that's followed by a 2-game Canadian swing through Edmonton and Vancouver.

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 12-6 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten which ties them for 6th place in the conference.

Last week I discussed the crushing home loss to the Gophers. Since that game, Minnesota is 0-2, which has mitigated my bitterness somewhat. In fairness to the Gophs, they lost on the road to a Northwestern team that then went into East Lansing and beat the 7th ranked Spartans. So as it turns out, the Wildcats are playing some excellent basketball right now. As a Badger fan, I also have to point out that Wisconsin beat Northwestern by 30 earlier this year. Go figure.

Also in fairness to the Gophers, their home loss to Purdue last night was at the hands of some of the most suffocating defense you'll see in the college game. Purdue's not going to run and gun with teams in the tournament, but the run and gun teams are going to have a heck of a time against the Boilermaker defense. So who knows, maybe they'll make a deep run.

So why all the Gopher talk when I'm updating you on the Badgers? Yes, I'm just that bitter. Forgive me.

Ironically enough, it was a last-second, desperation 3-pointer by Wisconsin that sent their game Wednesday night against Iowa into overtime. Unlike the Gophers however, the Badgers weren't able to turn that into overtime-momentum and lost to the Hawkeyes 73-69.

So where are we with this Badger team? Clearly they've got talent. They took a 4-point lead into halftime in Iowa. But it seems they also lack the ability to close teams out. Their current 3-game losing streak is due, in no small part, to allowing comebacks in the second half. That's not to take away from the efforts of their opponents, but when it becomes a pattern, you have to look inward to find a solution.

I don't pretend to be enough of a basketball expert to know what that solution is. I do trust the coaching abilities of Bo Ryan enough to believe that if it can be figured out, he'll do it. But my fear is the same that I have for the Wild: this team may just be what they are. There may be no way to fix this. Sometimes, especially in college when there's constant turnover, you just don't have the right mix of guys to be successful.

I hope I'm wrong, but I'm fearful. When does Spring Training start again?! Oof.

The Badgers are at Illinois on Saturday and then home against a tough Purdue team on Tuesday.

That's all for this week folks. If things work out for me this weekend, I've something interesting planned for Monday, so I hope you'll check back then. Thanks, as always, for reading!

Wednesday

1-21-09: No Take

Hello again everybody...

It's finally happened. I was dreading this when the college football season ended, and now we're here.

I've got nothing.

I've got a DFTU all racked up for Friday, but I've got nothing for you today.

Apologies to those of you who've come to count on a regular schedule here from The Sports Take. I don't know what to tell you other than the muse has taken a brief vacation.

As a peace offering, I still have a quote for you:

"Wisdom is what's left after we've run out of personal opinions."
- Cullen Hightower (1923- ), American conservative author


Fill in your own punch-line here.

I'll be back on Friday with your end of the week DFTU. Thanks for your understanding, and thanks for reading!

Sunday

1-18-09: Sports Take Game Commentary 3

Hello again everybody...

We're back at it again, at the start of a new week. But at least those of us in the upper Midwest can look forward to a week solidly above zero. And perhaps even near freezing? Dare we dream?!

As you'll recall, last week was a week of "comebacks". After the fun, yet sometimes painful slog that was Bowl Mania, both the Sports Take Open Letter and the DFTU made their triumphant returns.

It's in that spirit that I bring back yet another classic Sports Take feature: the Sports Take Running Game Commentary. This past Saturday night, I ventured to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to partake of Hockey Day in Minnesota as the Wild clashed with the Anaheim Ducks. And today, you can relive the experience with me. Off we go...

"The artist doesn't have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don't have time to read reviews."
- William Faulkner (1897-1962), Nobel Prize-winning American author


Who wants to be a writer? I just want to write!

«Read More...»


Looking back through the archives, it's been since August that I wrote my last Game Commentary. So it's high-time that I bring the feature back.

And what better time to do it than on "Hockey Day in Minnesota". For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, FSN North, the Minnesota Wild, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State High School League have come together for the 3rd year in a row to schedule a day full of hockey games in the "State of Hockey".

So without further ado, I bring you the Sports Take Running Game Commentary from the Wild vs. the Ducks, circa January 17th, 2009:

Pregame: One of the best perks of my job is access to media passes to local sporting events. This includes a season media pass to the Wild games. My work schedule prevents me from taking in weekday games, but I try to take advantage of the privilege as often as I can on the weekends. Which brings me to the X tonight for the Wild and the Ducks.

Checking out the "Game Notes", it shows that Jonas Hiller is starting in goal for the Ducks instead of Jean-Sebastian Giguere. Whereas most teams would enjoy getting a shot at Anaheim's #2 goaltender, the Wild have often been stymied by #2's. I hope that's not a bad omen for tonight!

The Wild still have the coolest pre-game routine that I've ever seen. When it's time to announce their starting lineups, the lights dim, the laser light-show hits the ice and the crowd goes crazy. And then, at the height of the frenzy, a spotlight shines on the Wild's goal crease, where each game a youth hockey player is picked to skate the "State of Hockey" flag out to center-ice and plant it on the face-off dot. Once accomplished, the Wild are introduced, the fog horn bellows and the teams hit the ice. I get goosebumps every time I see it, and tonight's no different.

But we're not done. Completing the wonder of the Wild pregame is the "Let's Play Hockey" announcement. Immediately preceding the opening face off, the Wild have a local celebrity, sports figure, or corporate partner lead the fans in kicking off the game. Tonight's announcers? A group of Minnesota National Guardsmen and women, currently stationed in Iraq. Good stuff.

First Period: And we're underway. The Wild take the initiative early on. Near the 2 minute mark, Wild rookie Krys Kolanos finds himself alone in the slot with the puck. He hesitates just a moment - seems even he's surprised to be so open - and the hesitation allows Ducks G Jonas Hiller to be in position to make the save. Though he did have to do the "Did I Really Stop It" peek over his shoulder to make sure.

At the 8 minute mark*, Derek Boogaard makes his first appearance to a chorus of "Booo's " from the fans. That's the good Boo, not the bad Boo mind you. Havoc ensues as Boogaard mucks it up behind the net. Why does Boogaard receive such adoration from the fans? This might explain it:



One punch, fight fin. That's why.

(* - Why does hockey insist on marking time counting forward? I always thought this was just a way to make the announcers' lives more difficult. Not only do they have to keep track of 10 guys zooming around the ice, changing at frequent intervals, but now, any time they want to mark an event in the game, they have to quickly do math to convert 7:10 on the game clock to "at 12:50 of the period". Can't we cut these guys a break?)

At 9:07, the Wild get the first power-play of the game as Corey Perry of the Ducks is escorted off for Goaltender Interference. For shame Corey, for shame. One of my long-time favorites, Pierre-Marc Bouchard (we share the same barber) finds himself open on the back side, but can't settle the puck and his backhand shot sails wide. The Wild have 4 solid scoring opportunities with the man advantage, but can't knock one home. So far, the offense is looking good though.

One of the fun things about being at a hockey game live, is that you can see things developing behind the play. It's stuff that TV just can't show you in real time. At 11:31, the Wild's Antti Mietteinen gets caught reaching at neutral ice rather than moving his feet, resulting in a 3-on-2 break for the Ducks. Wild G Niklas Backstrom makes a huge save to pick up Miettinen.

At 15:50 of the first, Wild C Eric Belanger (pronounced bell-AHN-jay... oh those wily French Canadians) whiffs on a pass from next to his own net. Sure he could've dumped it to D Brent Burns behind the net, and let the breakout proceed as normal, but where's the fun in that? Instead, let's whiff on a pass, turn it over to the Ducks in front of the net, and force Backstrom to make yet another wonderful save. Thanks, eh!

At 18:45, Wild W Cal Clutterbuck* takes a run at Ducks D Bret Hedican**. Hedican objects and returns the favor a few moments later. A sign of physicality to come? We shall see.

(* - Through deep philosophical discussion, Hammer and I have determined that Cal Clutterbuck is the 3rd greatest "hockey name" in Wild history. Though we've agreed to disagree on the order they should appear in, we've designated Lubomir Sekeras (or as Dark Star pronounced it: Lubomir Succotash) and Sergei Krivokrasov as the two best.)

(** - Hedican is married to
Dancing With the Stars champion Kristi Yamaguchi, making him the only player in NHL history to have his fame eclipsed by marriage to a reality TV star. Congrats Bret!)

First Intermission: Wild and Ducks scoreless after one. Time for me to go get a hot pretzel. The fare in the Al Shaver press box isn't what it once was, but times are tough all around. And the pretzels are damned tasty!

Whilst collecting my pretzel, I run into local SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) guru, Stew Thornley. Anything you want to know about Minnesota Baseball History, Stew's your guy. And it turns out he's jonesing for Spring Training just as much as I am. February 15th Stew... Twins Pitchers and Catchers report February 15th...

Second Period: Back underway with teams skating in the opposite directions from the first period. Only fair, right?

At 3:50, my man Pierre-Marc Bouchard (did I mention we share a barber) slips behind the Anaheim defense and moves in alone on Hiller. Hiller gets the best of the confrontation as Bouchard is unable to get his shot over Hiller's glove. Remember when I said that the Wild struggle against #2's? I'm getting that feeling again.

At 4:33, Wild W Andrew Brunette crashes awkwardly into the boards behind the Anaheim net. He got tangled up with Ducks C Ryan Getzlaf, and his legs sort of went the way of a wishbone. Speculation is a right knee injury, but it looks like a groin tear to me. Either way, it's not good.

At 6:31, Wild D Marek Zidlicky is sent to the sin bin for hooking. Thanks to the magical scoreboard over center ice, I'm informed that the Wild have the best penalty killing unit in the NHL. 88.1% of the time their opponents go on the power play, the Wild shut them down. Thanks Mr. Scoreboard!

At 8:13, the Ducks score on the power play. Corey Perry gets the marker, assisted by Andrew Ebbett. Screw you, Mr. Scoreboard!

Over the next two minutes, the Wild turn the puck over in dangerous areas twice. The momentum has clearly shifted to the Ducks. The Wild need a break. Backstrom needs a little help from his defensemen.

At 10:49, we get a TV timeout. Thank God. I notice the shovels they use to scrape the snow (hockey term, not mine) off the ice are sponsored by Ace Hardware. That makes sense. The large, red, plastic garbage bins they dump the snow into? Sponsored by Schweigert Hot Dogs. My friend Lon, who hasn't been able to stomach a hot dog since he spent a summer at a Scouting camp eating nothing but, would delight in the pairing.

At 12:19, Ducks G Jonas Hiller takes a Brent Burns slapshot straight off his mask. Those things offer some protection, but not that much. In the immortal words of Pepper Brooks: "Ouchtown, population: you, bro!"

At 13:23, Zidlicky fires a slapshot flush off the Anaheim crossbar. The rebound comes loose and is eventually knocked into the net. Referee Steve Kozari emphatically waves the goal off, saying that he'd blown a whistle prior to the puck crossing the line. In the ensuing scrum, Wild W Owen Nolan faces off against Ducks D Steve Montador. Nolan has 10 penalty minutes on the season. Montador? 87. Who won the fight? Nolan of course! Who doesn't love hockey?!

At 14:25, Clutterbuck delivers another huge hit. This time to Ducks W Chris Kunitz. Careful Cal, Kunitz is a hair-puller!



Second Intermission: Anaheim leads 1-0 after two periods.

In the second intermission, the Wild like to hold trivia contests with a couple of fans vying for various fabulous prizes. Tonight's contest is "Guess the TV Theme Song". Unfortunately, the Wild have found the only two guys in the building home-schooled on PBS. Fan #1 wins 3-1, but his 8-year-old son gave him two of the three.

Third Period: Off we go for the final stanza. If the Wild can just get one goal, it feels like the floodgates will open.

At 2:27, the Wild get their first chance as Ducks W Rob Niedermayer is penalized for holding. Unfortunately it takes the first 1:15 of the 2:00 penalty for the Wild to establish possession in the Anaheim zone. Brent Burns' slap-shot is stopped by Hiller and the penalty expires. That bad feeling returns.

At 4:45, Annti Miettinen's shot at a wide-open net somehow finds the knob of Hiller's goalie stick and bounces harmlessly away from the net. Now I know the Wild are screwed.

At 6:04, Ducks W Bobby Ryan confirms my knowledge burying a rebound past Backstrom to make it 2-0 Anaheim. Assists go to Montador and Rob Niedermayer.

At 10:26, the Ducks give the Wild another chance with the man advantage as Ryan is sent off for hooking. There's still time for the Wild to tie it up if they score here. Just over a minute in to the power play, Wild C Mikko Koivu takes a stick to the face which would've given the Wild a 5-0n-3 power play had a referee been doing his job. Am I upset with the officiating? Just a touch. No call. No power play goal. No chance the Wild are getting back into this thing. Ugh.

At 14:12, the attendance is announced at 18,568, the Wild's 348th consecutive sellout. I like the Wild. I love what they do. But this sellout streak is ridiculous. If there were 18,568 in the building, then at least 750 of them were wearing "green seat cushion" costumes. We are the greatest fans in the world!

At 19:36.3, Corey Perry twists the knife in the Wild's back by notching his second goal of the game to make it 3-0 Anaheim. Assists to Ryan Getzlaf and Drew Miller (not the proprietor of www.millercomics.com, which I highly recommend!).

Post-Game: Ducks defeat the Wild 3-0. The 3 Stars of the Game as determined by some guy I don't know from "Let's Play Hockey" magazine: 3 - Annti Miettinen, 2 - Niklas Backstrom, 1 - Jonas Hiller.

Backstrom? Really? Over the guy with two goals in the game? Oookay.

One of the other benefits of having a media pass is that it allows me to attend the "Jacques Lemaire post-game press conference". Listening to Lemaire talk hockey is like what I'd imagine listening to Einstein giving a physics lecture must have been like. You don't understand half of it, but you can easily tell how much more he knows about it than anyone else in the room.

Asked about the officiating, Lemaire skirts the boundaries of getting fined by the league by suggesting they had a "bad demeanor" early on, indicating to him that it was going to be a rough night.

Surprisingly he's happy with his team's effort overall. He says that the missed chances in the first period led the team to "think rather than skate".

See? I told you he knew more than we did.

So there's your Sports Take Running Game Commentary. Sure my team got shut out, but it's never a bad time at a hockey game! Hope you enjoyed it too!

That's all for today. I'll be back on Wednesday. Until then, stay safe and thanks for reading!

Friday

1-16-09: The DFTU Is Back!

Hello again everybody...

Congratulations on making it to the end of another work week. And special congratulations to those of you who survived the Arctic blast here in the upper Midwest (those of you who copped out and worked from home don't count - not that I blame you).

But we're here. We've made it. And 48 hours of rest and rejuvenation loom. (Sorry Josh, I'm not trying to rub it in. Honest.)

So for the last column of the week, I've decided to bring back everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update! Admit it, you've missed it. Well it's back. I'd like to say it's better than ever, but given some of the results from last night, that may not quite be true.

Off we go...

"The best measure of a man's honesty isn't his income tax return. It's the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.
- Arthur C. Clarke (1917- ), British author, inventor and futurist.


I've bypassed the entire measure by not having a bathroom scale. Much easier, and less destructive to the ego.

«Read More...»


Okay, it's been a little while since I've done this, so let's see if I remember how this goes...

It's time once again for everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 22-18-3, good for 47 points and third place in the Northwest Division.

It's been about a month since I last discussed the Wild and what a shaky month it's been. The Wild lost 9 of 11 games during a stretch in December. Things have turned around a bit lately with 5 wins in their last 8 games, but they're still mired in 3rd, 11 points behind the Calgary Flames who've grabbed a fairly firm hold on first place in the Northwest.

We also learned in that time, that Marian Gaborik's recurring "lower body" injury was more serious than first thought and required surgery which will keep him out a total of 10 weeks, or the bulk of the season more or less.

Strangely enough, it was around the time that the club learned that Gabby would be out for an extended period of time that they started to turn things around. Are those two things linked? Or is it a mere coincidence?

I'm sure the end of speculation about Gaborik's injury ended a distraction for the rest of the club, but I think it's an oversimplification to say that's what led to the turnaround.

Instead, I think it really boils down to their offensive production. In the last two games the Wild have scored a total of 11 goals. In the 6 games prior to those two? Yup, they scored a total of 11 goals. That kind of "feast or famine" approach to offensive hockey isn't going to put your name on the Cup any time soon.

Yes, the Wild have always been a "defense first" team, and that's led to a fair amount of success. But if the other team gets one, you have to get two. And if you're struggling to get two, you're requiring your goalie to pitch a shut out more often than not. Nik Backstrom's good, but nobody's that good.

Obviously we can't expect the Wild's recent scoring binge to continue. I just hope they're able to balance things out a little bit. I'll give up a little bit of the feast, if we don't have to try and survive so much of the famine.

The Wild host the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night as part of "Hockey Day in Minnesota" (check your local FSN listings). Then it's off to Chicago Monday night, followed by a return to the X to face the L.A. Kings on Tuesday.

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 12-5, 3-2 in the Big Ten and in 4th place in the conference.

I didn't want to have to write about this. But I'll man-up and take the hit. The Badgers blew a 14-point lead at home last night, losing 78-74 in overtime to the Minnesota Gophers.

Long-time readers of The Sports Take know that the Gophers hold a special place in the "Pantheon of Hate". As much as I try to mitigate my distaste for all things Maroon and Gold, I'm constantly and consistently reminded of why they've earned my loathing.

No sooner had Minnesota hit a last second shot to send the game to overtime, then my cell phone started buzzing with text messages from Gopher fans worshiping at the altar of Tubby. Really folks? You win a game in Madison for the first time in 15 years, and your response is, "ha ha, badgers suck"... really?!

And why is it the folks who've never spent a minute in a University of Minnesota classroom are the most vociferous in making these comments? No, you don't have to be an alumnus to be a fan, but you may want to dial the volume down a notch. Just a thought.

I tried very hard to be humble and congratulatory, but dammit, a man can only be pushed so far!

But kudos to the Gophers for walking through the door after the Badgers threw it wide open. Their press worked wonders in the second half, and they hit some critical shots down the stretch to send it to overtime and eventually win the game. Tubby Smith is a fantastic basketball coach, and clearly out-dueled Bo Ryan in the second half.

The game really was a microcosm of the Badgers season so far. They've looked really good (see: 74-45 win over Northwestern and the first half of last night's game), and they've looked lousy (see: 76-57 loss vs. UConn and the second half of last night's game).

I guess I'm surprised that their season has been that volatile, since it seemed to me that they had a nice mix of veterans and youngsters. And you'd expect a team that has been this up and down to be young and inexperienced.

To me, it seems that a lack of floor leadership should then be blamed. Marcus Landry and Trevon Hughes are leading the team in scoring, but that doesn't mean they're actually "leading" the team. Landry especially seems tailor-made to set the tone for the rest of the club. But based on their performance last night especially, it's clear that something's lacking. You can't blow a 14-point lead at home. Leader's don't allow that to happen. But it did. And if that's not a wake-up call for the veterans on this team, then I fear for their prospects in the post-season.

The Badgers face a couple of stiff tests next week as they travel to meet the Hawkeyes in Iowa on Wednesday, and then head to Illinois on the 24th. Time to step it up boys!

Okay, that puts a bow on this week. Enjoy your weekend. I'm going to go weep silently in a corner somewhere. But I'll be back and over my depression on Monday, I promise! Until then stay safe, and thanks for reading!

Wednesday

1-14-09: The Open Letter Returns

Hello again everybody...

It's a frigid Wednesday here in Minnesota, so I'm thoroughly jealous of any of you living south of the Arctic Circle. Didn't know that extended down to Minneapolis, did you? It does today anyway. It's so cold, my future generations are complaining.

I'll let that image marinate for a moment...

Enough? You're right. Moving on...

More baseball on the docket. It's time for the return of the Sports Take Open Letter. And the addressee is one of my favorites: Twins General Manager, Bill Smith. So let's get to it...

"The reserve of modern assertions is sometimes pushed to extremes, in which the fear of being contradicted leads the writer to strip himself of almost all sense and meaning."
- Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), noted statesman, orator and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

In other words, don't let the man hold a brother down! Preach on Winston!

«Read More...»


Long time Sports Take readers will recall in the past when I've written Open Letters begging the general managers of my favorite baseball teams not to sign certain ballplayers which I've deemed detrimental to their clubs' chances, regardless of the obviousness of their talent.

This time, I'm taking a different angle. So without further ado, a Sports Take Open Letter:

Bill Smith
General Manager
Minnesota Twins Baseball Club
34 Kirby Puckett Place
Minneapolis, MN 55415

Mr. Smith:

First off, I'd like to congratulate you on the success of last season. While the result of Game 163 wasn't what we all would've hoped for, just being in that game was a pleasant surprise to Twins fans everywhere.

Like most fans, it's my earnest hope that you'll be able to build upon last season's success and make the playoffs in 2009. And I think a sizable opportunity to do that lies in front of you right now.

5-time All Star shortstop Michael Young has asked the Texas Rangers to explore trade opportunities after they asked him to move from shortstop to second base.

While I'm aware that you've re-signed Nick Punto with the intention of having him be your everyday shortstop, I think the opportunity to trade for an All Star at the same position can't be discounted. Punto could easily be shifted to third, and frankly, Young outclasses him in every measurable way.

As I'm sure you're well aware, Young hit .284 last year with 12 home runs and 82 RBI. Add to that a .984 fielding percentage - which helped earn him a Gold Glove - and you have a presence in your lineup and on the field that provides a serious upgrade to anyone you've fielded at shortstop in the last 3 years.

I understand why you wouldn't guarantee the third year on the offer to 3B Casey Blake. By the end of that contract, he'd have been pushing 39 years old, and to guarantee that kind of money to a guy that age is a huge risk. I also realize that the $60+ million due to Young over the next 4 years could be viewed as a risk as well.

But Young has far outstripped Blake in terms of numbers, and is better defensively as well. Plus, Young is only 32. He's still in the prime of his career. And landing a guy like him instantly energizes your fan base.

The other consideration is that due to the size of his contract, you shouldn't have to offer up the kind of prospects you've been asked for in the past. Obviously, Colorado's asking for Denard Span and Kevin Slowey when asked about the availability of 3B Garrett Atkins, is a non-starter.

But given the size and length of Young's contract, the asking-price would have to be lower. Having that kind of salary coming off Texas' books would have to be a factor in the number and quality of prospects that they could ask for in return.

And lest anyone be concerned about Young's impact in the clubhouse, take the word of Ranger Senior Adviser John Hart who said recently on MLB Network's "Hot Stove" program that Young's one of the most professional ball-players he's ever worked with. And considering this is a guy who got the Cleveland Indians to the World Series twice and had to deal with Albert Belle in doing it, I'd take him at his word.

I urge you to give Texas G.M. Jon Daniels and at least inquire what the Rangers would want in return for a player who's clearly expressed a wish to play elsewhere. A consistent hitter and fielder? An All-Star and Gold Glove winner? I think that's worth some serious effort and consideration.

Thanks for your time, and good luck with the 2009 campaign.

Dan Cook
Minneapolis, MN

So will the a trade for Young happen? Probably not. Stories are already being written that indicate that the likelihood is that the rift between Young and Rangers management will be repaired sooner than later. But the beauty of the Hot Stove season is that until we reach the non-waiver trade deadline in July, anything's possible! And that means that Twins fans like me are allowed to dream.

That's all for today. I'll be back on Friday with yet another returning segment. That's right, the DFTU makes it's triumphant return in just two days! Prepare yourselves! Until then, be safe and thanks so much for reading.

Monday

1-12-09: What the hell do I talk about now?!

Hello again everybody...

Welcome back and Happy Monday to you all. For those of you not mired in the Winter wonderland that is the upper Midwest, be happy about that. The latest estimates have us getting 2-4" of snow, followed nearly immediately by a polar plunge, with lows near -17 by Wednesday night. Yes, we're loving life here in Minnesota!

Oof.

So the first full week of no baseball and no college football is upon us. As the title of this post suggests, this has left me wondering what in the world I'm going to talk about now? The short answer is: whatever strikes my fancy on a given day. Hopefully that will tide us over until Spring Training opens in earnest (pitchers and catchers report February 15th... pitchers and catchers report February 15th...).

Without further ado, I give you: Sports Take - The Dark Ages. Let's get to it.

"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."
- Jack London (1876-1916), American author.


You hear that "inspiration"? I'm coming for you, and I'm bring a big stick!

«Read More...»


So what strikes my fancy today? Two things. And both are related to baseball. A shocker, I know.

First of all, have you seen the new MLB Network yet? Oh my. As near as I can tell, the only people not getting it are Dish Network subscribers. I have no idea where it shows up on other systems, but if you're a Comcast digital cable subscriber, flip on channel 733 and enjoy.

As for the programming? Naturally, it's all baseball all the time. All kinds of historical packages ranging from overviews of teams' seasons, to retrospectives on individual players. Their studio show right now focuses on Hot Stove action, runs for an hour and is played twice nightly. Once the season begins, they'll go on the air at 6pm central and run til the last pitch of the night has been thrown. An ambitious endeavor I think, but I look forward to watching it.

And if those things don't interest you, Tuesday nights they're airing Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary. If that doesn't hook you in, then there may not be hope for you at all.

I'm kidding... mostly.

Trust me, if you like baseball half as much as I do, it's worth a look-see.

Secondly, I still hate the Boston Red Sox.

Yes, I know that will come as no surprise to any of you who read my work over the season, but Red Sox (whom I hate) owner John Henry has come out with yet more fuel for the raging inferno that is my hatred for those posers.

As many of you know, the Yankees have been big players in the free agent market this off-season. Their three big signings so far have been: CC Sabathia (7 years, $161 million), A.J. Burnett (5 years, $82.5 million), and the coup de grace, Mark Teixeira (8 years, $180 million).

Obviously that sounds like a lot of money. And it is. But people have to maintain a certain amount of perspective in all of this. Did you know that this year's Yankee payroll is actually lower than last years?

Apparently Red Sox (whom I hate) owner John Henry didn't know that. After the Yankees signed Teixeira right out from under the Red Sox's (whom I hate) nose, he had this to say:

"From the moment we arrived in Boston in late 2001, we saw it as a monumental challenge. We sought to reduce the financial gap, and succeeded to a degree. Now with a new stadium filled with revenue opportunities, they have leaped away from us again. So we have to be even more careful in deploying our resources."

"More careful in deploying our resources"?! Are you freaking kidding me?! This is the guy who built seats on top of the Green Monster. This is the guy who's raised ticket prices across the board. This is the guy who's developed 235* different alternate jerseys and insisted that "real" Red Sox (whom I hate) fans would own all of them.

(* this number may be slightly exaggerated for effect)

Do you know know who the only two teams ever to win a World Series with a $100 million+ payroll are? That's right, the 2004 and 2007 Boston Red Sox (whom I hate).

So shut up, John. Just shut your damned pie hole. I hate you and I hate your team because of you. I hope the Rays kick your ass again you moron.

(breathing deeply...)

Okay... I feel better now. But in case you think it's just me, here's what ESPN's Bill Simmons, the biggest Red Sox (whom I hate) fan I know, had to say about it:

"Note to John: They already hate us enough. Just stop. You sound like a rich prep-school kid lamenting the fact his Lamborghini isn't the most expensive car in the parking lot anymore. And while we're here, Fenway is a cash cow -- you can't play the "new stadium with revenue opportunities card" when you've done everything but stick hanging box seats on the Citgo sign. Boston's payroll has been somewhere between $120-145 million each year for the past five. Every middle-class fan you have has been priced out unless they want to sit in the bleachers or wooden grandstand seats down the outfield lines that face second base. Just stop. Please, stop. Thank you."

Now if a die-hard Red Sox (whom I hate) fan recognizes the ridiculousness of those statements, then hopefully you can understand how an accumulation of these asinine assertions would lead to the pure and unadulterated hatred which I harbor for them.

The only thing I'm certain of, is that this isn't the end of the Red Sox's (whom I hate) whiny, fit-pitching stupidity. If history has taught us anything about them, it's that they always find something new to bitch about.

Hating a team really shouldn't feel this good, should it? I might have to ponder that one.

But that's all I've got for today. I'll be back with more on Wednesday (and it quite possibly could be more baseball). Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

1-9-09: Bowl Mania - The Final Analysis

Hello again everybody...

We've made it to the end of the first full work week of 2009. I don't know about you, but I'm still having trouble writing "'09" instead of "'08". Generally I get over that sometime around the end of January, but I'm hoping to speed up the process a touch this year, since I have to make a note of it close to 15 times a day!

Last night we had the final bowl game of this season. It wasn't the "all-time classic" that I thought it might be, but it still was an excellent college football game. So today, I've got to break down the final pick of the season and give you my thoughts on Sports Take Bowl Mania as a whole. So let's begin!

"The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of the ages, may be preserved by quotation."
- Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), British conservative statesman and literary figure


Just in case any of you were wondering why I always include a quote, there you go!

«Read More...»


So to start today's column, I've got to officially post-mortem the final pick of Sports Take Bowl Mania.

FedEx BCS National Championship Game: Florida -4 vs. Oklahoma

ST Pick: Florida -4
Hammer's Pick: Oklahoma +4
Dark Star's Pick: Florida -4

Final Score: Florida 24, Oklahoma 14

A nice way to finish the season for yours truly. My bowl picks didn't go as well as I'd hoped (more on that later), but I got the big one right!

As I mentioned in the preamble, this wasn't the "classic" game that I thought it could be, but it was still a good game.

I think the relatively low score was probably part of that. The total for the game at game-time was 69 (for those of you who aren't degenerates, that means when you combine the scores of the two teams, you can wager on whether it'd be over or under 69). Most people thought this was going to be a shoot-out, and instead we got a big time defensive-struggle in the first half. That led to a lower score than predicted.

And it's not that defensive battles can't be good games, but I think when most people envision the "classics", they're more offensive than defensive in nature.

The Oklahoma defense played surprisingly well, but in the end the Florida Defense made more key plays.

And how good is Percy Harvin? Playing on an ankle he described as 85-90% recovered from a sprain, he had several runs of 30+ yards. You know a guy's a big-time athlete when he makes other guys look like they're moving in slow motion. Harvin's one of those guys.

Tim Tebow played a whale of a game as well. Even though he threw 2 picks (he had only thrown 2 total this season coming into the game), he made some huge plays running and passing to lead his team to victory. And while I counted myself amongst those who though wondered if Tebow's skills would translate to the NFL prior to this game, I saw Tim make several throws over linebackers and in between defensive backs that convince me he's got a good shot.

So here's the final tally:

Hammer: 18-16
Sports Take: 14-20
Dark Star: 12-22

Congratulations to the Hammer on earning the first ever Sports Take Bowl Mania title! Enjoy the honor while you can Hammer, I'm coming for you next season!

As I mentioned earlier, 14-20 wasn't the result I was looking for when I began this 34-game expedition through the college football bowl season.

But I learned a few things.

First of all, though it was a lot of work, it was also a lot of fun. In the past, I'd have paid no attention what-so-ever to the "magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl". But this year, not only did I watch it, I actually put some thought in to who was going to win it before hand, giving me a horse in the race. Mind you, my horse broke down somewhere around the quarter-pole and had to be put down, but you get the general idea!

Second, although I had a notion of how teams sometimes mail it in when they're playing in a bowl game they feel is "beneath" them, it was interesting to me to learn how "hit-or-miss" that concept really is. How do you predict that a Boston College will roll over and play dead, while a Maryland comes out like gangbusters? I haven't figured it out, but it's something I'm going to strive to understand.

Third, how anyone can bet sports on a regular basis is beyond me. Yes, there's a thrill involved with correctly analyzing a game, and watching your break-down bear fruit. But I'm not at all convinced that the thrill of that kind of victory counteracts the gnawing, bile-ridden ache in the pit of your stomach as you suffer through the closing moments of a game, praying that a coach decides to kick a superfluous field goal just so you can cover the spread on your wager.

I mean I had zero money bet on any of these games, and I still got a taste of that agony. How anyone with significant funds dependent on the outcomes of these games maintains any sense of sanity is something I guess I may never understand.

So in the final analysis, Sports Take Bowl Mania was a success for me, even if the outcome of my predictions was less than the plus-.500 standard that I set during the regular season.

How can I call 14-20 a success? Easy. I enjoyed the bejabbers out of getting there. And I hope you did as well. I've tried out several ideas over the course of the not-quite-a-year that the blog's been in existence. Some have worked, some not so much. But Bowl Mania scratched me where I itch, so I fully intend to give it another go this coming December. After all, I have to redeem myself after 14-20!

(That number's going to be tattooed in my brain for the next 11 months, I swear.)

So as I said, I hope you had fun too. I tried to keep it from getting too dry. If any of you have thoughts or suggestions on how I can do it better next year, I hope you'll send them my way!

That's all for this week. I'll be back on Monday with... well, I have no idea what I'll be doing on Monday. This "no more college football" thing has me a bit thrown! But rest assured, I'll have something to help you waste time at work, or distract you on the throne. Whatever works for you! Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

1-7-09: Bowl Mania - Round 7 Post-Mortem & Final Pick

Hello again everybody...

We've reached the summit of another work week, and it ought to be all downhill from here, right? Boy I sure hope so! Though I'll admit to a certain amount of trepidation, as the end of the week means the end of the college football season. Friday will be my last "all college football"-themed post until sometime in September I'd guess. And yes, that brings a tear to my eye. Well it's either that or the -5 degree windchill. One of the two.

But today, there's still one more pick to make. And before I can make that pick, I've got to break down the two picks from Round 7 of Sports Take Bowl Mania. So let's get to it!

"Think of what would happen to us in America if there were no humorists. Life would be one long Congressional Record."

- Tom Masson (1866 - Wikipedia is relatively sure he's dead, they just don't know when it happened), American editor and author


Scary thought... soooo scary!

«Read More...»


First up, I have to break down Round 7. I set a goal to go 3-0 in the last 3 bowl games. How'd I start? Let's find out...

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Texas -8.5

ST Pick: Texas -8.5
Hammer's Pick: Texas -8.5
Dark Star's Pick: Texas -8.5

Final Score: Texas 24, Ohio State 21

Of course...

You'll recall of the 3 possible outcomes (OSU wins outright, Texas wins and covers, Texas wins and doesn't cover), 2 of them were of benefit to me. If OSU won outright, I'd win my bet with former-newsroom-guy. If Texas won and covered, then I'd be off to the start I need for my 3-0 run.

So naturally, we get the third option (Please don't sue me Vince Flynn, I really enjoyed the book!), Texas won but didn't cover.

I'm trying to comfort myself with the knowledge that Ohio State finally gave a quality performance in a big-time bowl game. And that, even though the Big Ten went 1-6 in bowl games, solid performances by Northwestern and Ohio State mitigate that awful record a little bit.

I'm trying.

Oh well, I had a shot with less than a minute left, and Colt McCoy screwed me. Now I'm glad I voted you second for the Heisman Colt. Damn you!

Sports Take: 12-20
Hammer: 17-15
Dark Star: 11-21

Lastly in Round 7...

GMAC Bowl: Ball State vs. Tulsa -3

ST Pick: Tulsa -3
Hammer's Pick: Tulsa -3
Dark Star's Pick: Ball State +3

Final Score: Tulsa 45, Ball State 13

And the streak is broken! After losing 5 picks in a row, I finally got one. And like most streak-breakers, it wasn't even close.

I was worried about the Cardinals lacking confidence and going fetal if Tulsa got out to any kind of lead and that's pretty much what happened. The Golden Hurricane shut Ball State out in the second half, scoring the last 21 points of the game to put this one to rest.

It was actually fortunate for me that this one was over early, as I was able to focus my attention and energy on the Wild beating the red-hot Boston Bruins 1-0. As a complete aside, Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom was named as a reserve for the NHL All-Star game today. That he'll be the only Wild representative is too bad, but he's had such an incredible season so far, that he fully deserves the honor.

(Can you tell I'm trying to prep for the transition away from college pigskin?)

Oh yeah... the records:

Sports Take: 13-20
Hammer: 18-15
Dark Star: 11-22

Congratulations to Hammer who's now guaranteed himself a winning record. And to me for guaranteeing myself second place. Okay, it's still woefully under .500, but at least I'm not last!

That being said, it's time for the final pick of Sports Take Bowl Mania. That's right, the "penultimates" have all passed us by, and there is only one contest left to be picked. Only one clash remaining to be prognosticated. Only one match-up to be opined upon.

Here it is:

FedEx BCS National Championship Game - Dolphin Stadium, Miami, FL
Thursday 1/8, 7pm CT (FOX)

Florida -4 vs. Oklahoma


The Gators are 12-1 (8-1 in the SEC). The Sooners are 12-1 (8-1 in the Big 12).

I've vacillated on this pick for some time. Both of these teams are excellent and there are cases to be made for either to win the game.

Offensively, I have to give an edge to the Sooners. The stat has been used to death, but I still think it deserves repeating: the Sooners have scored 60+ points in each of their last 5 games, and in the game prior to that streak, they scored 58. That's an unprecedented scoring streak in college football. There have been some who've suggested that less-than-stellar Big 12 defenses have played a role in that streak, but even if you allow for that, it's still an impressive stretch.

And while I supported the election of Sooner QB Sam Bradford as this year's Heisman Trophy winner, that actually may be a detriment to him in this game. Of the last 7 Heisman-winning quarterbacks, only 2 have won their subsequent bowl games. And both of those came from a little school called USC.

Defensively, I like the Gators. They have an amazing amount of speed on their defense, which allows them to cover receivers with fewer defensive backs and close holes quicker than offenses are used to. They've only surrendered more than 30 points once this year, against Mississippi on September 27th, in Florida's only loss of the year.

Then there are the intangibles.

Florida's had more success in BCS bowl games, with a 3-1 record including the '06-'07 National Championship. Oklahoma has more appearances, but has a 2-4 record including losses to Boise State and West Virginia. To be fair, the two wins were both National Championships.

The trash-talk has managed to even itself out. Initially it was Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks who stupidly opened his mouth, criticizing Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, saying that he'd be, at best, the 4th-ranked quarterback in the Big 12. Why would you want to motivate the guy nicknamed "Superman" more than he already is?

But then Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes responded with this gem:

"I really feel like they haven't faced a defense like ours and Big 12 defenses are a joke. It's always like a bunch of basketball scores when I watch SportsCenter."

Brandon... if you think their defense is the weak-link, don't create a reason for them to prove you wrong!

So add all that analysis up, and what conclusion do I reach? Boy this ought to be a helluva game!

Four points is slightly more than I'd like to give, but I think Florida's defense is good enough to slow down Oklahoma's offense enough for the Gators to come out on top. And a touchdown difference wouldn't surprise me a bit.

ST Pick: Florida -4
Hammer's Pick: Oklahoma +4
Dark Star's Pick: Florida -4

Dark picked Florida too? Oof... can I go back and change that?!

That's all for today. Enjoy the game Thursday night and make sure to stop back on Friday for a little diddy I like to call, "Bowl Mania: The Final Analysis". Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

1-5-09: Bowl Mania - Round 6 Post-Mortem & Round 7 Picks

1-5-09Hello again everybody...

We're finally clear of the Holidays and it's back to some sense of normality. For me that means my first 5-day work week in about 3 weeks. I'm not trying to whine, honest. But it is an adjustment, as I'm sure many of you know.

So today, I've got to perform a post-mortem on a disastrous Round 6 of Sports Take Bowl Mania. From my use of "disastrous", you can probably deduce how I did. Oof. But we're not done yet! There are still three games to pick, and two of those will be coming your way today. So off we go!

"Bureaucrats write memoranda both because they appear to be busy when they are writing and because memos, when written, immediately become proof that they were busy.
- Charles Peters


I don't have any info on who Charles Peters is, but I read this and it gave me pause. I was concerned about writing the blog while at work, but if Mr. Peters is right, then I have to look like the busiest guy in the building!

«Read More...»


Okay, first up, it's the Round 6 post-mortem. I really don't want to do this. But I started this beast, and dammit, I'm going to finish it. No matter how bad it makes me look!

First up (technically from Round 5):

AT&T Cotton Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech -4.5

ST Pick: Texas Tech -4.5
Hammer's Pick: Texas Tech -4.5
Dark Star's Pick: Texas Tech -4.5

Final Score: Ole Miss 47, Texas Tech 34

Thank you Red Raiders. I'm trying to remember what I got caught up in that kept me from watching more than bits and pieces of this game. But from what I saw, it appeared that Tech's defense had little, if any, interest in tackling any of the Rebels.

A bold plan by their defensive staff to be sure. But ultimately it wasn't terribly effective.

Sports Take: 12-16
Hammer: 15-13
Dark Star: 9-19

Next...

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Kentucky vs. East Carolina -3

ST Pick: E. Carolina -3
Hammer's Pick: Kentucky +3
Dark Star's Pick: Kentucky +3

Final Score: Kentucky 25, East Carolina 19

This began a run of games where the team I picked ran out to an early lead, only to be slowly reeled in and finally defeated by their opponent.

The Pirates had a 16-3 lead at halftime, and even held a 19-16 lead by the end of the 3rd quarter. But they couldn't hold off the Wildcats.

I let East Carolina go as my darling team, but they sucked me back in! Dammit.

Sports Take: 12-17
Hammer: 16-13
Dark Star: 10-19

Penultimately (oh yeah, it's back)...

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Utah vs. Alabama -9.5

ST Pick:
Alabama -9.5
Hammer's Pick: Alabama -9.5
Dark Star's Pick: Alabama -9.5

Final Score: Utah 31, Alabama 17

Here's a quote from my preview from this game:

"Even with their suspended offensive lineman, even with the disappointment of not playing for the National Title, 'Bama just has way too much talent for a Utah club to contend with."

I'm still not sure I was wrong, but Alabama came out flatter than the Kansas prairie. I was floored that Nick Saban didn't have his kids amped up and ready for this game. I know they had to be disappointed that they didn't make the National Championship game, but still, that was an embarrassing effort.

This was also the pick that guaranteed me a losing bowl season. So I'm doubly-pissed at Alabama now!

Sports Take: 12-18
Hammer's Pick: 16-14
Dark Star's Pick: 10-20

Finally...

International Bowl: Buffalo vs. UConn -6

ST Pick: Buffalo +6
Hammer's Pick: UConn -6
Dark Star's Pick: UConn -6

Final Score: UConn 38, Buffalo 20

This was another game where my team ran out to a lead (20-10 at halftime). But UConn made some sort of adjustment at halftime and blew the Bison off the field in the second half.

It was an awful game for me to watch. But I sat there and made myself watch the whole thing. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's some sort of penance for my losing record. Whatever it was, I watched it and I feel a little better for it.

Sports Take: 12-19
Hammer: 17-14
Dark Star: 11-20

So after Round 5, not only do I not have a shot at .500, not only do I not have a shot to catch Hammer for the title, but I also have only a 1-game lead over Dark (who's been on life support since Round 2) for dead-last. A depressing turn of events to be sure.

But there are still 3 games left, and I'm going to do my damnedest to get them all right!

So with that, it's time for Round 7 of Sports Take Bowl Mania:

First up...

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
Monday 1/5, 7pm CT (FOX)

Ohio State vs. Texas -8.5


The Buckeyes are 10-2 (7-1 in the Big Ten). The Longhorns are 11-1 (7-1 in the Big 12).

Here's my conundrum. I have a bet with a former colleague that the Big Ten will win more than one game this bowl season. So in that sense, I want Ohio State to win. And in the same way that Alabama laid an egg in the Sugar Bowl, it's not unthinkable that Texas could come out flat in this one after being "BCS'd" out of the National Title Game.

But how on earth can anyone have confidence in the Buckeye's post-season ability after their performances the last couple of years? At least they're not playing an SEC team this year. But after Texas' performance, I'm not sure there's that much difference.

So in the end, I have to take the chalk here. At least that way I can win with an OSU win or a Texas cover. Which pretty much guarantees a 7-point Texas victory no?

ST Pick: Texas -8.5
Hammer's Pick: Texas -8.5
Dark Star's Pick: Texas -8.5

Lastly...

GMAC Bowl - Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, AL
Tuesday 1/6, 7pm CT (ESPN)

Ball State vs. Tulsa -3


The Cardinals are 12-1 (8-1 in the MAC). The Golden Hurricane are 10-3 (7-2 in Conference USA).

No idea where to go here. Ball State's coming off two straight losses, and has to be lacking in confidence, but can I really pick Tulsa?!

I guess it's time to look at the money again. The game opened at Ball State -2.5 and is now Tulsa -3. Methinks the wise guy's are going with Tulsa, so thither shall I go as well!

ST Pick: Tulsa -3
Hammer's Pick: Tulsa -3
Dark Star's Pick: Ball State +3

So there are your Round 7 picks. Only one more game to be picked, the BCS National Championship Game. And that heads your way Wednesday.

Until then, I hope your week goes by quickly. I hope mine does too! Thanks, as always, for reading!

Friday

1-2-09: Bowl Mania - Round 5 Post-Mortem & Round 6 Picks

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to Friday. If you're not amongst those that have had yesterday and today off, don't fret, the weekend is closing in!

Also closing in is the end of Bowl Mania. Only 7 games left before the long, dark winter really becomes a reality (pitchers and catchers report February 15th Dan... February 15th...).

But we're not going to focus on the end today. Instead, I'll break down all the picks from Round 5 - did I get back to .500? Is Hammer still in the lead? Did Dark star consume something illicit before making his picks? I'll discuss. Then it's time for Round 6. No worries, there are only 3 games to pick today, so you won't have to clear time in your schedule to read about them!

So let's do this...

"People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get."
- Frederick Douglass (1817-1895), American abolitionist, women's suffragist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer.


Coming from a former slave, I'd say the man knows what he's talking about when speaking of working for what you get!

«Read More...»


First up, the Post-Mortem on Round 5!

(actually, one from Round 4 to start things off...)

Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl: Boston College -3.5 vs. Vanderbilt

ST Pick: Boston College -3.5
Hammer's Pick: Boston College -3.5
Dark Star's Pick: Boston College -3.5

Final Score: Vanderbilt 16, Boston College 14.

This, to me, highlights the difficulty in picking bowl games. It's clear that sometimes teams just don't show up for their bowls. Sometimes it's because they're disappointed they didn't make it to a "better" bowl. Sometimes it's due to arduous travel. Sometimes it's because they're in a gigantic megaplex hotel in Nashville and are focused on taking that all in, rather than playing the game.

The trick is trying to identify which teams are going to fall victim to that kind of malaise. I honestly didn't figure BC would be one of those teams. But they were. That's not to disrespect Vanderbilt who won their first bowl game in 495 years (that stat might not be technically correct), but if the Commodores and the Eagles played on a neutral field 10 times, BC wins 9 of them. That's my opinion at least.

Thanks for nothing BC!

Sports Take: 8-12
Hammer: 9-11
Dark Star: 6-14

Okay, now we're on to Round 5...

Insight Bowl: Kansas -8 vs. Minnesota

ST Pick: Kansas -8
Hammer's Pick: Kansas -8
Dark Star's Pick: Kansas -8

Final Score: Kansas 42, Minnesota 21

After the teams traded big-plays on each of their first possessions, Minnesota actually took a 14-7 lead in the 1st quarter. Unfortunately for Gopher fans, the Jayhawks scored the next 4 touchdowns and had the game salted away by the middle of the 3rd quarter.

In fairness, the Gophers played their game closer than the Badgers did. There, now I don't feel bad about ripping the Maroon and Gold for the next year!

Sports Take: 9-12
Hammer: 10-11
Dark Star: 7-14

Next...

Chick-fil-A Bowl: LSU vs. Georgia Tech -4

ST Pick: Georgia Tech -4
Hammer's Pick: LSU +4
Dark Star's Pick: Georgia Tech -4

Final Score: LSU 38, Georgia Tech 3

Oof. Missed that one by a bit!

Fortunately it took me exactly 3 minutes of game time to figure out that I was going to lose this one. LSU took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field, seemingly unopposed, for their first of 5 touchdowns.

The upshot? I could turn my attention elsewhere, since this one was over early.

Sports Take: 9-13
Hammer: 11-11
Dark Star: 7-15

Moving on...

Outback Bowl: South Carolina vs. Iowa -4

ST Pick: Iowa -4
Hammer's Pick: South Carolina +4
Dark Star's Pick: South Carolina +4

Final Score: Iowa 31, South Carolina 10

Finally I make up some ground on both the Hammer and the .500 mark. Not much to talk about here, Iowa ran out to a 31-0 lead before the "Ball Coach" was able to inspire his charges to score. Shame isn't it?

Ahem, yes, well...

Sports Take: 11-13
Hammer: 11-12
Dark Star: 7-16

Next up...

Capital One Bowl: Georgia -7.5 vs. Michigan State

ST Pick: Georgia -7.5
Hammer's Pick: Georgia -7.5
Dark Star's Pick: Michigan State +7.5

Final Score: Georgia 24, Michigan State 12

There were actually two ways I could win here. Yes, I picked Georgia to cover the 7.5. But had Michigan State won outright, that would've given the Big Ten two bowl victories, which would've won me a bet with a former colleague. It's nice to cover one's bases now and then.

As it was, Sparty gave Georgia a scare for about 2.5 quarters. But about midway through the 3rd, Georgia remembered the SEC routinely kicks the crap out of the Big Ten and pulled away for the double-digit victory.

Sports Take: 11-13
Hammer: 12-12
Dark Star: 7-17

One more loss and Dark clinches a losing record... not good!

Konica Minolta Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs. Clemson -2.5

ST Pick: Clemson -2.5
Hammer's Pick: Nebraska +2.5
Dark Star's Pick: Clemson -2.5

Final Score: Nebraska 26, Clemson 21

In case you didn't catch it after Wednesday's column, the patriarch of my favorite clan of Nebraska fans said I'd regret picking Clemson. I guess he was right!

Three thoughts on this game. One, this was a fun game to watch. If I wasn't so looking forward to the Championship game, I might declare it my favorite game of the year. Two, Clemson had a myriad of opportunities to cover in this game, but seemed determined to squander them. Three, if not for their own series of mistakes, Nebraska could've won this game by 14 easily.

Congratulations to the Husker fans. You're not back yet, but you're clearly pointed in the right direction!

Sports Take: 11-14
Hammer: 13-12
Dark Star: 7-18

Sorry Dark-man. Sub-.500 it is!

Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi: Penn State vs. USC -9

ST Pick: Penn State +9
Hammer's Pick: USC -9
Dark Star's Pick: USC -9

Final Score: USC 38, Penn State 24

Unfortunately for me, this one wasn't as close as the score indicated. And the score didn't indicate all that much to begin with!

The Lions hung in there early on, though there was a palpable feeling that they were going to have to work much harder at it than the Trojans were. And when Penn State RB Evan Royster came out of the game late in the first quarter with a knee injury, the writing was pretty clearly on the wall.

I knew I was stepping out on a limb with this one, unfortunately, the sumbitch snapped off a little earlier than I expected!

Sports Take: 11-15
Hammer: 14-12
Dark Star: 8-18

Penultimately (sort of...)

FedEx Orange Bowl: Cincinnati -2.5 vs. Virginia Tech

ST Pick: Virginia Tech +2.5
Hammer's Pick: Virginia Tech +2.5
Dark Star's Pick: Virginia Tech +2.5

Final Score: Virginia Tech 20, Cincinnati 7

I really wanted to pick Cincy in this game, because I thought they'd be the better story. I know that Utah is this year's official "BCS buster", but can we really consider the Big East a BCS conference anymore? Really?

Unfortunately, after opening the scoring with a spectacular touchdown catch, the Bearcats were shut down the rest of the way and Virginia Tech rolled to the win. How were the Hokies not favored here again?

Sports Take: 12-15
Hammer: 15-12
Dark Star: 9-18

Finally (sort of...)

AT&T Cotton Bowl: Mississippi vs. Texas Tech -4.5

ST Pick: Texas Tech -4.5
Hammer's Pick: Texas Tech -4.5
Dark Star's Pick: Texas Tech -4.5

Final Score: Game hasn't been played at the time of this writing.

So I'm still 3 games below .500 and 3 games behind the Hammer. With only 7 games to go it's going to be darned near impossible to catch Craig, so my primary goal has to continue to be to finish above the vaunted .500 mark.

In the interest of that goal, it's time to move on to Round 6!

AutoZone Liberty Bowl - Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, TN
Friday 1/2, 4pm CT (ESPN)

Kentucky vs. East Carolina -3


The Wildcats are 6-6 (2-6 in the SEC). The Pirates are 9-4 (7-2 in Conference USA).

Kentucky lost 4 of their last 5 with their only win coming against a Mississippi State squad who's already made a coaching change. East Carolina began the season as the Sports Take Darling Team, but hit a rough patch 4 games in to the season, going through a 3-game losing streak before rebounding to win 6 of their last 7.

There's no doubt that Kentucky faced better competition over the course of the season. What makes this pick difficult to make is that they got demolished by that competition. So were their opponents that good? Or were the Wildcats that bad? I'm going to go with the latter.

ST Pick: East Carolina -3
Hammer's Pick: Kentucky +3
Dark Star's Pick: Kentucky +3

(Given how Dark's been doing, I have to feel okay about that one, right?)

Next...

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Friday 1/2, 7pm CT (FOX)

Utah vs. Alabama -9.5


The Utes are 12-0 (8-0 in the Mountain West). The Crimson Tide are 12-1 (8-1 in the SEC).

The BCS bowl with the "BCS buster" in it is always a favorite upset pick. Generally it's against a team that until recently was a contender for the National Title, and this year's no different in that regard. So this should set up as a "let-down game" for a disappointed Alabama team, right?

Let's be honest - if you'll forgive the phrase - the Tide should roll here. (That was for you, Lon.) Even with their suspended offensive lineman, even with the disappointment of not playing for the National Title, 'Bama just has way too much talent for a Utah club to contend with.

The money's been coming in on Utah. The game opened: Alabama -11. So they've been reducing the spread trying to entice people to take the Tide. Consider me enticed.

ST Pick: Alabama -9.5
Hammer's Pick: Alabama -9.5
Dark Star's Pick: Alabama -9.5

Finally (What?! No "penultimately"?! Eh, there's only 3 picks, I figured I'd give it a rest.)

International Bowl - Rogers Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Saturday 1/3, 11am CT (ESPN2)

Buffalo vs. Connecticut -6


The Bulls are 8-5 (6-3 in the MAC). The Huskies are 7-5 (3-4 in the Big East).

Huh. -6 you say? And it opened: UConn -4. So apparently the bettors think the Huskies are going to roll here.

Let's see. Buffalo won 6 of their last 7, including defeating previously undefeated Ball State in the MAC Championship game. UConn lost 5 of their last 7, but one of those wins was a solid 40-16 thrashing of eventual Big East champ Cincinnati.

Then again, we just saw Cincy get shut down by Virginia Tech, so maybe that win wasn't so impressive.

Toronto's right across the border from Buffalo, but who knows how many Bulls fans have passports? So while there are likely to be more Buffalo fans at the game, I'm not sure it'll be a true home field advantage.

Aw, what the hell, I like Turner Gill. I'm picking Buffalo and taking the points.

ST Pick: Buffalo +6
Hammer's Pick: UConn -6
Dark Star's Pick: UConn -6

So Hammer and I disagree on 2 of the 3 Round 6 games. Maybe I've got a shot after all? Or maybe he'll bury me and clinch the Bowl Mania Title? You've got to watch the games (or come back here on Monday) to find out!

So that's it for this week. I hope your Holidays have been fun and fruitful. Until Monday, thanks for reading!