Friday

1-29-10: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Once again we've made it. The week is once again coming to a close and rest, relaxation and recreation are just around the corner!

First off, thanks to those who responded to Wednesday's column. To quote Brad Childress, I wrote it in sort of a “stream of consciousness” fashion. That's not always a bad thing, but sometimes it means you think you're expressing a thought, and yet it doesn't come off fully-formed on the page.

Thankfully, when I went back to edit the column, it turned out I didn't have to change too much. And given your responses, it came off about as well as I'd hoped!

That you all take the time to read is a mitzvah in and of itself. That any of you take the time to send me a note responding to something I wrote (good or bad), truly humbles me. I can't thank you enough!

That being said... I'll move on!

It's Friday, so we've got some Updating to do. And since the list of Favorite Teams seems to keep growing, there's no time to dawdle!

Off we go!

”Every composer knows the anguish and despair occasioned by forgetting ideas which one had no time to write down.”
- Hector Berlioz (1803 - 1869), French Composer


Granted, I'm not normally fond of the French. But if I could somehow magically recall every idea I've had for a bit or a column which I've subsequently forgotten, I'd have material to last me until Opening Day!

I've actually parked a pen and notepad on the nightstand to try and catch some of those ideas as they slip my mind. Unfortunately, if you've ever tried to read my chicken-scratch, and then throw in late-night fatigue and a lack of glasses, you'll understand why that doesn't always work.

C'est la vie! Wait, that's French... dammit!


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The end of another week means it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 27-23-4 (back to .500!), good for 58 points. They're fourth in the Northwest Division, and 10th in the Western Conference, two points behind Calgary for the 8th seed and final playoff spot.

Well, well, well. Just like that, the Wild are hot on the heels of the playoff squads. Since we last Updated, Minnesota's gone 3-0 with victories over Columbus, Detroit and Colorado - two of which are ahead of them in the standings - all three of which came in regulation. That's how you go from six points out of the playoffs to two points out in one week.

That's the good news.

The bad news comes in serious and not-so-serious forms.

The serious? The Wild are beat up at the position a hockey team can least afford to be beat up at. Their top goaltender, Niklas Backstrom has a lower back injury. And it's serious enough that the Wild have shut him down for a few days. He wasn't available last night, he's not scheduled to be available Saturday night in San Jose, and he'll be re-evaluated on Monday.

Josh Harding, who played brilliantly last night in Colorado, has been fighting a hip injury he suffered last week and which he might have tweaked again last night. Late in the third, as he was fending off an Avalanche surge, he had to make a twisting, sprawling save, and it took him several seconds to get back on his skates.

To make up for Backstrom's absence, the Wild recalled Wade Dubielewicz who WCHA fans will remember from his run with the Denver Pioneers. Dubielewicz (wow, is that difficult to type) is 11-10 with a 2.42 goals-against average in 24 games with the Houston Aeros. Previously this season, when the Wild needed goaltending help, they called up Anton Khudobin. But Khudobin was starting in Chicago last night, so the Wild asked for Duber (screw that, I'm calling him Duber for the rest of the column).

Now if Harding's injury got aggravated last night, who knows what they're going to do? If they need a longer-term solution, I'd imagine it'd be Khudobin. But they may have to look outside the organization for help too.

Hopefully, Hards is okay and Backstrom's back troubles are only temporary. Without at least one of those two guys healthy, this march towards the playoffs may end quickly.

The not-so-serious bad news is that ever since I officially declared Guillaume Lattendresse to be my favorite player, he's been all but shut out on the score sheet. 48 has had 1 goal and no assists in the 5 games since I professed my man-love for him. Compare that to the 10 points he had in the 5 games prior to my pronouncement, and I'm forced to wonder if I've created yet another form of the Sports Take Whammy?

Must I abdicate my new-found allegiance? I guess I'll give it at least another week. But if I have to choose between Gui being a strong part of a playoff push, or him being my “official favorite player”? Well it's not much of a contest!

The Wild are en route to San Jose, where they'll challenge the conference-leading Sharks Saturday night. After that, it's a Tuesday night game deep in the heart o' Texas against those evil, back-stabbing, good-for-nothing Stars. Then it's back home for games Thursday against Edmonton and next Saturday against the Flyers (which is penciled in as my triumphant return to the X - is it really possible that I haven't been there in over a month?!).


Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 16-5 (6-3 in the Big Ten). They're in second place in the Big Ten and ranked 16th nationally.

The good news is the Badgers are managing to hold their own without John Leuer in the lineup. Though he's not the same inside presence that Leuer is, junior Keaton Nankivil has stepped up to help fill the hole. Scoring in the double-digits in each of his last three games, Nankivil set a career-high last night with 25 on the road at Purdue.

The defense is still being exploited inside. And Wisconsin is forced to rely far too much on their outside shooting to generate offense. But so far, the Badgers have been managing those problems well enough to stay in in the upper tier of the Big 10.

The bad news is that up until last night, they'd caught some of the Wild's “come from behind” disease. They were down early to Michigan before coming back for the win. And they were down by 15 at one point to Penn State before coming back for the overtime victory against the Lions.

They corrected that problem last night as they traded leads with Purdue in the first half, and never trailed by a significant margin before losing by three points in West Lafayette.

If they've corrected that problem long-term, fine. But given the upcoming schedule, if not, then they're going to have a serious problem on their hands. We all know basketball is a game of runs, so being down by 6 or even 8 on the road against a good team is to be expected. But at home, against lesser competition, you're not going to come back from 15 each night.

Looking at the upcoming opponents, the Badgers are home against the number one team in the Big Ten, the Michigan State Spartans Tuesday night. It's a nationally televised game on ESPN, and tip-off is at 8pm. So if you have a chance, check it out. It ought to be a doozie. The following Saturday they're on the road at Michigan before returning home to face Illinois. Not an easy stretch.

And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you that the Badgers travel to face the Gophers in their only match-up of the regular season on Thursday, February 18th.

Yes folks, the very same Gophers whose football brethren just hired a brand-spanking-new offensive coordinator. Jeff Horton, late of the Detroit Lions, joins Tim Brewster as the third new offensive coordinator in Brewster's three years. The difference between Horton and his predecessor Jed Fisch is his extensive experience... as a quarterbacks coach. Because if your head coach has never been a coordinator before you hired him to run the program, why not hire a quarterback coach to run your offense?! (No, that's not it... wait for it...)

Okay, the truth is Horton's had two runs as a college head coach. One at UNLV and one at Nevada. And we both know what college powerhouses those two programs have been! (Nope, still not it... wait for it...)

Ultimately, I think the best way to look at this hire is as follows... if you're looking for a great offensive mind to turn around your moribund college offense, why wouldn't your first thought be to hire somebody from that offensive juggernaut, the Detroit Lions!

(And THAT ladies and gentlemen was this week's “Golden Gopher Cheap Shot” brought to you by Badger fans everywhere and Coke Zero... you know, Zero, like the number of New Year's Day games the Gophers have played in over the last decade... or Zero, like the number of NCAA Tournament games the Gophers have won over the last decade... or... well, you get the idea. *Special thanks to Michele Tafoya for bringing that stat to my attention!)


Minnesota Twins: It's the off-season, silly! The Twins don't have a record. But they are the defending American League Central Division Champions.

So why are the Twins making a January DFTU appearance? Two reasons. Jim Thome and Twinsfest.

This week the Twins announced that they'd signed the 39-year-old Thome to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million in base salary, and with an additional $700,000 in possible incentives. While I'm going to attempt not to gush about this signing - Thome's not going to be the make-or-break player on the 2010 Twins - I do like it a lot.

First off, I do like a solid veteran. Thome's got 19 seasons under his belt, and he's a proven performer. 564 career home runs, 1565 career RBI, and a .961 career OPS are evidence enough of that. And while he's clearly closer to the end of his career than the prime, he still hit 23 home runs with 74 RBI with the White Sox last year before being traded to the Dodgers for their playoff run.

Second, Thome's one of those guys who you love to have in your locker room. Not that the Twins lacked for veteran leadership, but that's one of those qualities it's impossible to have too much of.

Third, even though Thome's fielding days are long behind him, he still provides the Twins with some flexibility. Not only does he fill the role of “late inning power threat off the bench” - something the Twins have conspicuously lacked in recent years - but he can fill in as DH, freeing Jason Kubel to play outfield which can not only give Cuddyer and Young days off, but it can free Cuddy to play first to give Morneau a day off here and there.

So welcome, Jim Thome. Twins fans would've loved to have had you on the squad five years ago. But better late than never!

Twinsfest is the other big news of the week. The Twins annual fan festival kicks off this afternoon at Metrodome and runs through Sunday. Yes, even though the Twins have left the Dome behind as a playing venue, it's still the most ideal location to hold Twinsfest. Target Field's concourses are wide, but they're also open, which makes them less than ideal for a late-January weekend.

I'll be headed down tomorrow to check out all the various displays and see who's milling around. There are bountiful opportunities to collect pictures and autographs. Perhaps you'll remember last year's Photo Post? Personally, I don't get much into the autograph craze. Patience has never been a virtue I've been able to master. And the lines for autographs tend to be long and slow-moving.

But there's plenty of other things to see and enjoy. And if things go right for me, I may have a fun announcement for you all on Monday.

How's that for a tease?!


Maple Grove Crimson: The Crimson Women's Basketball team is 15-2 (9-0 in the Northwest Suburban Conference).

Another week, another two wins for the Crimson.

Last Friday it was a 56-34 dismantling of the Park Center Pirates (sorry Mary). Junior guard Ellen Edison led the way in scoring with 20 points for Maple Grove, while senior Julie Kruse and junior Anna Gerdes dominated the glass with double-digit rebounds. You want a dominating defensive performance? How about not allowing a double-digit scorer? Park Center rolled 6 players out on the floor, none of whom were able to score more than 9 points. Impressive.

Then this past Tuesday night, it was an opportunity to avenge one of Maple Grove's two losses this season. Back in December in the Dicks Sporting Goods Classic, the Crimson came up short against arch-rival Osseo 55-53. Tuesday it was an official conference game, and Maple Grove turned the tables. Osseo jumped out to a 28-27 first half lead, but Maple Grove cranked it up in the second half and finished with a 57-54 victory. This time it was Kruse leading the way with 13 points and 9 rebounds. Edison was right behind her with 12 points and 5 boards. Junior guard Stephanie Davidson also broke the double-digit scoring barrier for the Crimson, racking up 11 points to go with 3 rebounds and a pair of assists.

That win kept Maple Grove perfect in the conference, a game ahead of Centennial (who they've already beaten once) and now two games ahead of arch-rival Osseo.

The players are performing. The coaches are scheming (including legendary assistant Kurt Maus, whom I egregiously neglected to mention in last week's column - my bad). The Crimson are on a roll, and the home stretch is dead ahead.

Nine games remain in Maple Grove's regular season and then the road to the Sate Tournament begins.

Tonight, the Crimson travel to meet the Coon Rapids Cardinals. The Cardinals are 3-12 on the year, but all three wins have come in-conference. Maple Grove should be confident (though hopefully not cocky) as they dismantled Coon Rapids 72-34 in a mid-December meeting.

Coming up Wednesday, Maple Grove hosts the 8-9 (5-4) Blaine Bengals. In their last meeting, Maple Grove scored a comfortable 55-41 victory.

But there's no complacency on this club, right Coach Cook?!


Okay, that'll about wrap things up for this week. Hope you enjoyed the Update. Have a safe, enjoyable weekend. I'll be back on Monday with news and notes from the weekend.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

1-27-10: The Hangover

Hello again everybody...

Allow me to begin by apologizing for the lack of a Monday column. Here's a little inside baseball for you... Generally, I write the columns the night before they're published. That's not always the case since sometimes there are games or other things that push my writing to the day of publication, but I'd say at least 85% of the time, I'm writing the night before.

Well, Sunday night, there was a little game that most of you are aware of. Vikings/Saints ended shortly after 9pm. When the game ended I was such a jumble of emotions, thoughts and feelings, that there was just no way I was going to write anything coherent, much less entertaining that night. Writing Monday wasn't going to work either, since the nerves were still raw. Plus there was a guest host to babysit.

So I made the executive decision to give myself a pass on Monday, in order to bring you a more well thought-out column today. Hopefully you'll understand.

That being said, today's going to be a Purple epitaph. Let's see if waiting an extra couple of days helped, shall we?

Off we go!

”It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”
- James Thurber (1894 - 1961), American author and cartoonist


And after that NFC Championship, Vikings fans are left with a ton of questions...

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What's that you say? I've said all year long that I'm not a huge NFL fan? I've said my interest in the Vikings hinges on the uniqueness of the Favre story? I've said I'm not emotionally invested?

Yes, I've said all that. And it's genuinely how I felt at the time I said it.

But it's a fine line between being “interested” and “invested”. And when the last time a professional team from your state played for a championship was nearly 20 years ago, it's a line one can find themselves easily tripping across.

I'll admit it. Sunday I got invested. I'm not sure I was at the beginning of the game. I'm not sure I was at halftime. But at some point in the second half I started to notice that I was getting nervous and excited. I started shouting at the TV when the Vikings fumbled, or when there was a lousy call by the officials, and cheering when the Vikings made a big play.

In short, I started doing the things I'd promised myself I wouldn't do over an NFL team again.

If the Twins are trying to get to the World Series? I'm all in. If the Wild are making a Stanley Cup run? I'm growing the playoff beard. (Don't ask for pictures, it would only scare the children.)

But with the NFL, I thought I'd lost the capacity to care that much.

Apparently not so much. So as the Vikings were driving late in the fourth quarter for what looked to be the game-winning, NFC Championship-clinching, Super Bowl-qualifying score, I was in. My brain was abuzz with the possibility of a Minnesota team playing for a title. The last time the Vikings played in the Super Bowl, I was two. Needless to say, I don't remember that game vividly.

I even went so far as to send a text to my brother, who's far more of a Viking fan than I am, which read...

"Oh... my... God..."

Knowing that he'd understand the implied “I can't believe this is going to happen.”

And to his credit he did, and sent back...

"I know... I know..."

Neither one of us was willing to finish the thought, because we understood the history. We understood how many times Vikings fans had been Charlie Brown, believing that this was the time that Lucy wouldn't pull the ball away. Only to find out, as they stared at the sky, how dreadfully wrong they were.

We didn't want to tempt fate. We didn't want to goad the gods. We didn't want to mess with the magambo.

But in the end it didn't matter. Favre threw the pick. New Orleans won the toss. And the kid drilled the winning field goal.

So for whatever emotional investment I had, it came to naught. And now all I'm left with are questions.

What if Peterson didn't fumble before halftime after Reggie Bush gacked up the punt return?

What if Peterson hadn't fumbled three more times?

What if the Vikings could count to 11 instead of ending up with 12 guys in the huddle?

What if Favre had run the ball instead of trying to force it to Rice?

What if the Vikings defense had punished Brees the way the New Orleans defense punished Favre?

How much did Motorola pay to have that logo attached to Brad Childress' “Madonna” headset?

Okay, so maybe that last one wasn't quite as vexing as the others, but still... it hadn't been there all year. Did Motorola just notice? Did they pay a little extra to get it on there? How did all that come about? Come on Pam Oliver! You should've been all over that! Michele Tafoya would've had that information in the pre-game for chrissakes!

So here's where I'm at...

I'm not going to blame the fullback. The coaching staff is responsible for making sure the guys understand their assignments and get on and off the field in the correct numbers. It was noisy as all get-out in the Superdome. So if the player heard wrong, it was on the coaches to double-check and make sure he heard right.

I'm not going to blame Favre. Should he have run the ball and slid after 5 yards instead of forcing it to Rice? Of course he should have. He'd be the first to say that. But after the ass-kicking he'd been taking all day, in that moment, he was a 40-year-old guy who just didn't want to get hit anymore. So I understand what motivated him to try and gun it in there one more time.

I'm not going to blame Adrian Peterson. Yes, his technique is awful. Yes, it should've been fixed long before a critical NFC Championship game. No, there are no excuses for putting the ball on the ground that many times. But he also made some huge plays and showed an anger and intensity that we hadn't really seen since the Cleveland game to open the year. Could Chester Taylor have accomplished the same thing? I'm not sure we can say.

In the end, I'm not going to blame anybody, because it wouldn't matter.

After a game with periods of dominance and periods of mind-boggling ineptitude, the Vikings had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds and failed to execute.

And that's just sports. There isn't any getting around it. Only one team/fan-base gets to be happy at the end of the year. Like so many years in the past, this isn't going to be the Vikings year.

If this was the movies, we'd have had a Minnesota/Indianapolis Super Bowl. The “Quarterback of the '90s” versus the “Quarterback of the '00s”.

But it's not the movies. This is life. And in life, sometimes your quarterback throws an inexplicable pick to ruin your chances of a championship.

The good news? It's not the end.

Sure we have no idea whether Favre will return. And no matter what ESPN wants to report, nobody does. Could we be in for a dose of the same drama Green Bay experience? Of course we could. Would I welcome Brett back after yet another off-season of flip-flopping? You'd better believe I would!

But right now, all of that doesn't really matter, because we've got a hockey season to finish, and a baseball season to start.

I'm moving on. The Wild are four points out of a playoff spot. The Twins have a Central Division Title to defend.

I guess what I'm saying is that there's always another season coming. And when that season involves the greatest sport known to mankind (baseball), it's all the sweeter.

Sure, I'll watch the Superbowl. But I'll likely care more about the commercials and The Who's halftime show than I will about the game itself.

I get to see Spring training games in 44 days. Opening Day for the Twins is April 5th. And the home opener at brand-spanking-new Target Field is April 12th.

Vikings who?

See? It's just that easy.


That's all for today ladies and gents. Hope it was worth the wait. Don't miss Friday's column. The DFTU will be back. The Wild are still in it. The Badgers are rolling. I have a fantastic “Golden Gopher Cheap Shot” to lay on you. And the Twins made an interesting signing yesterday.

If I can't lure you back with that menu, I've got no shot anyway.

Until Friday, thanks for reading!

Friday

1-22-10: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've made it! Yes, the weekend is nigh and I'm thrilled to actually have two consecutive days off. I'm going to skip the boss-bashing for today. There's only so much of that I can do before it becomes just plain boring. And if it's boring me, it's got to be damned near killing you, my fine readers.

So I digress...

(but they're still only a notch above Conan's superiors... really)

It's Friday after all, and Friday is a day for positivity. To whit, we've got some Updating to do. But before I get to that, I want to address one thing...

I realize that when I include the Wisconsin Badgers in the DFTU I'm losing some of my readers who've unfortunately decided to be die-hard Gopher fans. Why people would want to be fans of a program that consistently produces 6-6 football teams and Insight Bowl losses, along with basketball teams that recruit kids with more legal troubles than the Heene and Salahi families combined, is truly beyond me.

But that's your choice, and I respect your right to make that mistake.

The thing that troubles me most, is that people are choosing to skip over the Badger section of the DFTU. Now, certainly I can't ask you to root for Bucky (though if it were me, I'd want to be on the right side of 13 of the last 15 Wisconsin/Minnesota football games - but you folks do what you do). But I can assure you that I attempt to write each section in an entertaining manner. So even if you don't want to hear about the wonder of the Badger program, you should at least give it a skim, or you'll be missing some fabulous one-liners... though, to be honest, many of those will be at the expense of the Gophers.

Sorry, but they just tee it up so well, I can't help but take a swing!

So don't miss out! Read the whole column. You won't regret it... much.

Onward!

”Happiness is nothing more than good health, and a bad memory.”
- Albert Schweitzer (1875 - 1965), Alsatian German-French theologian, musician, philosopher, and physician.


Nice! The first “Alsatian” to grace The Sports Take with a quote! I've got the bad memory part covered for sure!

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Congratulations to all of you for making it to the end of the week. Your reward is that it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 24-23-4 which is good for 52 points. They're fourth in the Northwest Division and 12th in the Western Conference, 6 points out of a playoff spot.

Unfortunately, the Hammer came out on top.

I'll let that thought percolate for a moment...

Yes, the Red Wings defeated our beloved Minnesota Wild last night 4-3 in a shootout. The loss highlighted a couple of problems for the Wild.

First, for the fourth game in a row, the Wild surrendered the first goal of the game. But that's only four games, you say? How about this: they've done the same in 8 of the last 10, and 24 of the last 32.

Those are downright staggering numbers. How they've won as many games as they have when having to come from behind so often is mind-boggling.

And they almost pulled off the trick again last night. After tying the game at 1 in the second period, they gave up two goals early in the third to go down 3-1. A furious comeback late in the period tied it up and sent it to overtime, where they lost in the shootout.

I'll grant the Wild have above average numbers when it comes to winning games in which they've trailed, but math like that always catches up with a club. You simply can't surrender that many leads and hope to make the playoffs.

The second problem is also math-related. The nature of the 3-point game is such that even had the Wild come through in the shootout last night, they still would only have gained one point on the now 8th-place Red Wings.

That's what makes regulation wins so vital. It's tough enough to climb into the playoff race in the NHL, but overtime games - even if they're wins - aren't going to get it done. Especially when you're playing a team you need to pass to gain entry into the post-season.

Fortunately, the Wild get another crack at the Red Wings in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center come Wednesday. But last night was clearly a missed opportunity.

Prior to their next battle with the Wings, they host the Blue Jackets on Saturday (a game I hope to attend - it's been FAR too long since I got down to the X). After the Wings game, they hop a plane to Colorado to take on the Avalanche on Thursday, which is the start of a 3-game road-trip.


Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 15-4 (5-2 in the Big Ten). They're in second place in the conference and are ranked 18th nationally.

You'll recall last week when I was mildly concerned about the upcoming road game in Columbus? The Badgers got blown off the floor by the Buckeyes, 60-51. Not good.

Fortunately, they came back with a 54-48 win over Michigan at home on Wednesday night.

Two things are obvious to me so far.

One, the Badgers sorely miss the inside presence that Jon Leuer brings to the team. And two, this is a completely different team on the road than they are at home.

First, Leuer. I wrote last week that he was the sole, reliable inside presence that the Badgers had. And in both games this past week, that was clearly reinforced. Both Ohio State and Michigan attacked the middle of the Badgers defense and found the path to the rim fairly easy to navigate.

The Badgers were able to make runs in the second half in both games, but couldn't get all the way back against OSU. But it was clear that Wisconsin has some work to do. Offensively, they're relying far to much on their outside shooting. Even without Leuer in the line-up, they have to work the ball inside to free up their shooters. Defensively, they've got to rotate better to give help down low. They simply can't match-up size wise with some of the bigger post players in the Big Ten, and if a perimeter player gets beat, they don't have a presence inside to help.

This failing can be schemed around to an extent. And there's no one I trust more to accomplish that than Bo Ryan. But they need to figure it out quickly, or opposing teams are going to abuse them inside.

Second, the home/road split. All four Badger losses have come away from the friendly confines of Kohl Center. Obviously most teams are better at home than on the road, but the disparity in the Badgers' play, home vs. road, is greater than you'd expect. They trailed early and often at that hoops powerhouse (insert sarcasm here) Northwestern, and it took a furious late come-back to seal that victory.

It's tough enough to win in the Big Ten, but when it takes extra exertion to defeat teams you ought to be able to handle, then you're taking that much more tread off your tire for late in the year, when you want to be peaking.

It's rare that a team gets to play Tournament games close to home. So if they want to make a run, the Badgers had better figure out how to play more consistently on the road.

But it's not all bad, Badger fans. They could've been beat by Indiana on the road! What? That just happened to Minnesota, you say?! Damn. Getting beat by glorified walk-ons and a coach that look like he's going to have a stroke at the best of times has to sting!

Fortunately for Minnesota, they've got Freshman Royce White back at practice. White's been held out of all of Minnesota's games so far due to several theft-related legal issues, and yet somehow still leads the team in steals! I hope the rest of the team left their laptops under lock and key!

(And that was this week's “Golden Gopher Cheap Shot”, brought to you by Badger fans everywhere... and Lowes - Let's Build Something Together... you know, like White's rap sheet!)

(Ed.'s Note: News broke this afternoon that White has now been charged with trespassing in relation to the laptop theft incident. Stay classy Gophers!)

Wisconsin has a winnable game at home versus Penn State on Sunday, then it's back on the road on Thursday to visit West Lafayette, IN, to battle the Boilermakers. Purdue will be looking for revenge after Wisconsin handed them their first loss of the season earlier this month.


Maple Grove Crimson: The Crimson Women's Basketball team is 13-2 (7-0 in the Northwest Suburban Conference). They're currently ranked #5 in Class 4A.

What's that you say? How can I include an arch-rival in the DFTU when I attended Osseo Senior High School?

Two reasons. One, I don't have many fond memories of high school anyway (I mean no offense to the many wonderful friends I have from my school days - I just value my post-high school experience more). And two, blood is definitely thicker than water!

That's right, the Crimson Varsity Women Hoopsters are coached by none other than my brother, Mark Cook.

And as he so kindly pointed out to me the other day (kindly here having the meaning of “only mildly profane”), they're on the heck of a run and deserving of a little pub.

Their only two losses on the year are to said arch-rival Osseo in a Holiday tournament as well as fellow-Top 10-ranked Eastview.

On the plus side of the ledger, they've got wins over Hill Murray (ranked #4 in the state at the time), Minneapolis South (ranked #2 at the time and still in the Top 10), Eden Prairie (ranked # 8 at the time) and just this past Tuesday, they defeated conference-rival Centennial, who was responsible for knocking Maple Grove out of the post-season last year.

The 2010 Crimson are led in scoring by Senior Julie Kruse (15.9 PPG), who's headed to UMD next fall to play college ball. Right behind her are Junior Ellen Edison (12.7 PPG) and Senior Jen Field (10.5 PPG).

As a whole, the team is shooting 42.8% from the floor and 29.1% from beyond the 3-point arc.

But shooting isn't the end-all, be-all. You want to know how teams cement leads at the end of games? Tough defense and making their free throws.

The defense shows through in the fact that they've scored a collective 239 more points than their opponents. That's an average of nearly 16 per game!

From the charity-stripe they average 70%. Not a blow-you-away number, but not lousy either.

As the coaching staff would tell you, there's still plenty to work on. In addition to improving from the free-throw line, the clubs assist-to-turnover ratio isn't really where you'd like it.

But it's hard to argue with results, and 7-0 in the Northwest Suburban is nothing to sneeze at.

Plenty of tough games still loom for the Crimson. Arch-rival Osseo shows up on the schedule two more times, and there's still another battle with Centennial to look forward to.

Maple Grove puts its 6-game winning streak on the line next tonight as they host the Park Center Pirates.

So there you have it, a little extra wrinkle to this week's DFTU!

That's going to wrap things up for this week. I'll be back on Monday to review the weekend. I think there's a football game or something on Sunday? I'll have to double check! (insert LOADS of sarcasm here)

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

1-20-10: Notes

Hello again everybody...

Happy Hump Day to you all. I've actually got a two-day weekend coming up, so it really is all downhill from here for me this week.

No, our crack management hasn't quite gotten around to hiring another Coordinator yet. Who'd have thought that visit to the diversity fair on MLK Day wouldn't have resulted in an instant hire?! But hey, I don't work for NBC. So there's that...

Ahem... Move on already? You're right...

I'll be honest with you at the outset. I'm struggling to find material for today. There's news with the Wild, but I'm not sure it's all that controversial. I'll opine as best I can, but don't expect a lengthy read today.

After that, I have no clue what I'll be writing about. Not the greatest way to start a column, but hey, they can't all be winners, right?!

Oof...

”Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.”
- Evelyn Waugh (1903 - 1966), English writer


That's English as in “emanating from England”, not pointing out that he wrote in English. If that were the case, I could dub myself an “English writer”. Though I'm sure some of you would take issue even with that.

Can you tell I'm trying to fill space? Unsuccessfully? Right...

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Time for some...

Wednesday Notes

So what was your favorite Petr Sykora moment?

Petr, oh Petr, we hardly knew you!

After being a “healthy scratch” for weeks on end, the Wild and Sykora have finally parted ways. The forward voted “most in need of buying a vowel” was placed on waivers the other day. Technically that doesn't mean he'd have to be gone from the Wild, but based on indications from management, he will be.

If you want a more specific explanation, I can't do better than the Strib's Michael Russo did here.

In fact, I sometimes feel embarrassed writing about hockey at all. I read Russo religiously and follow him on Twitter for links to his prolific writing. Half the time, when I start to write hockey, I feel like just linking you to his blog and columns.

I love hockey. And I'm lucky to have the special access that I do to a world class facility to watch so many games. But even with that, I don't know a 1/10th of what Russo does. Hell, I don't know a 1/10th of what some of my fellow Wild fans on Twitter do.

But I do my best to entertain you with the knowledge I have.

To whit, I don't think Sykora did anything wrong. I don't think there was any specific animosity between Petr and Coach Richards. It just wasn't the right situation. Sykora signed late in the off-season, got hurt early and often, and was just never able to get into the flow of the Wild's roster.

It wasn't going to be fair to him to keep scratching him. So GM Chuck Fletcher took the only/best option left to him and put Sykora on waivers.

Russo has dubbed Sykora a “Top 6” forward, and who am I to argue? So it sucks to lose a guy of Sykora's potential, especially on a club that's not deep in that kind of talent.

But if Richards wasn't going to be able to find the right spot for him, I guess this is what had to happen.

I know there are going to be a lot of people critical of the way the Wild has handled this situation. And certainly signing a guy late who turns out to contribute virtually nothing is a situation which deserves scrutiny at least.

Usually these things have to be judged in the long term, however. If Fletcher and Richards get the Wild to a point where they can make a deep playoff run in a few years, then they'll be excused for a bump or two in the road along the way.

If not, then it's mistakes like the Sykora situation that will ultimately be the epitaph on their time with the Wild.

Sure it's more fun to declare them bumbling fools now, but I don't think that's terribly fair. They're not the first administration to whiff on a free agent signing, and they won't be the last.


The Twins have signed all their arbitration-eligible players....

Yep, I'm definitely stretching today.

But since the Twins are my favorite team, I feel the need to comment on it.

Pitchers Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Francisco Liriano, Pat Neshek and Carl Pavano, infielders J.J. Hardy and Brendan Harris, and outfielder Delmon Young all signed new contracts with the Twins on Tuesday. Harris' deal was the only one longer than one year (Brendan signed a two year deal).

Pavano and Guerrier were the big winners. Carl will make $7 million next season, while Guerrier will more than double his 2009 salary.

The rest of the freshly re-signed Twins all received healthy bumps in their paychecks. Hardy will make $5.1 million, Liriano $1.6 million, Crain $2 million, Neshek $665,000 and Delmon Young $2.6 million.

None of those contracts are grossly out of line, and it's always nice to get your players signed without having to enter the wacky world of arbitration. If a contract negotiation ends up in front of an arbiter, the process usually gets acrimonious to the point where it's well worth it to avoid it if you can.

So where do the Twins stand right now?

They've still got a large question mark at third base. Joe Crede is still in the mix, though the Twins are likely to be very cautious after watching him miss so many games last year. Brendan Harris is clearly an option in Bill Smith's mind, or there's no reason to sign him to a two-year deal. I suppose Nick Punto could play there some if needed.

Any way you cut it, the Twins either need to sign somebody, or get prospect Danny Valencia ready for the majors sooner than later. There's been a hole at the hot corner for too many years in Minnesota. It's time to get that taken care of.

Another question mark is what form the starting rotation is going to take. Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano and (presuming he's healthy) Kevin Slowey are locks for the rotation. That only leaves the 5th spot. Fortunately for the Twins they've got a lot of candidates to choose from. Brian Duensing certainly earned a shot at it given his performance down the stretch. According to reports, Francisco Liriano has been dominant in winter leagues, so he's in the mix. And though there have been reports that he's on the trade block, Glen Perkins is still technically available for the Twins should they decide to hang onto him.

I realize none of these names equal the kinds of “sure things” fans might like to see signed from the free agent market. But trust me, there are lot of teams that would like to have the pitching problems the Twins have in terms of trying to fit guys into spots.

Finally, of course, is Baby Jesus' contract status. On the plus-side, both Mauer and the Twins have declared their intentions to keep any and all negotiations out of the press. This is a good thing, since it prevents mis-communications and “interpretations” on the part of the media. It's also a bad thing, since it means we have no idea where the negotiations stand.

I've said it before, but the best-case scenario for Twins fans is to get this deal done prior to Spring Training. Otherwise, that's all anybody's going to be asking about come March. And heaven help us if it drags on into the season. It's not a distraction anybody needs. And can we please not try one of these “we're not going to negotiate til after the season” things?! Sorry folks, but that never works. Players and management can say that all they want. The only thing that stops those questions is a signed contract.

I'm starting to stress myself out over this situation again, so I'll digress...


Actually, I'll just put a bow on this thing. Sorry that there wasn't much to talk about today, but these things happen. I'll be back on Friday with the usual end of the week nonsense. Hopefully I'll have a little more to say by then!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

1-18-10: Notes

Hello again everybody...

Back at it again. Not quite as crazy of a sports news weekend as last weekend was. But there was still plenty to comment on.

As usual, I have a collection of rants and ramblings ready for your early-week perusal.

Before we get to all that though, I have a quick question for you: is the presence of an owl a good sign or a bad sign?

I was sitting in my living room Friday night, watching... well hell, I don't remember what I was watching. But I noticed a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye. I'm not completely unused to there being movement out on my deck. Birds fly in and out of there all the time. And, of course there are the famous Rocky the Squirrel incidences (Part the First and Part the Second).

But this particular movement I sensed was unlike either of those. When I first looked out on my deck, I thought a hawk had landed on the railing; the bird was that big. But then it turned it's head and I realized it was a small owl. I tried to get a picture of it, but I didn't want to spook it and the zoom on my camera phone leaves a bit to be desired.

So I guess I have a new neighbor. I'm just trying to figure out if it's a good thing or not. On the one hand, his presence might help keep Rocky from trying to chew his way inside my apartment again. On the other, I'd really rather not get dive-bombed by Errol while I try to grill on my deck.

Any thoughts?

Let's get on with the Notes then...

”Character is what you have left when you've lost everything you can lose.”
- Evan Esar (1899 - 1995), American humorist


Character, class, sportsmanship... yup, those lead us to...

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Monday Notes...

The “Eff You” Touchdown...(copyright: Bill Simmons)

Here's how this is going to go. First I'm going to describe it, then I'm going to point out reasons to defend it, and finally, I'll tell you the real reason it was a bad idea.

For those of you who missed the Vikings/Dallas tilt from Sunday, well, you didn't miss much. To be honest, it wasn't a very entertaining game. Sure, if you're a Vikings fan, you liked the way Minnesota dismantled the Cowboys. But if you're not invested in either club, it was a snoozer... until the end.

The Vikings were up 27-3 with less than four minutes to go in the game. For all intents and purposes, the game was over. Dallas had quit playing hard long before that, and their quarterback Tony Romo had gone completely fetal in the early goings of the second half. The Cowboys weren't going to come back. They weren't even threatening to come back.

And yet for some reason, in the closing moments the Vikings dialed up a pass play on 4th-and-3 from the Dallas 11 and tacked on another touchdown to make the final score 34-3, Minnesota.

Instantly, cries of “running up the score” rose from those who enjoy being morally outraged everywhere.

Here's why you can say it wasn't a bad thing...

First, just because the Cowboys quit doesn't mean the Vikings are required to. What's lost in this "controversy" is the fact that Dallas showed a conspicuous lack of heart and determination. Sure, Tony Romo was the poster-child for said gutlessness, but he was far from the only Cowboy to shut it down before the final whistle. So the Vikings are supposed to honor Dallas's lack of commitment by going vanilla? These are paid professionals, not high school kids. This wasn't a case of talent-disparity. One team showed up, one team didn't. That's the bottom line.

Second, is there any team on the planet more deserving of an “Eff You” touchdown than the Cowboys? Seriously. Their quarterback won't date a woman who doesn't have a significant Q-rating. Their wide receiver pouts because he doesn't get the ball, yet doesn't get the ball because he sucks. Their owner thinks he should be the head coach, and built a bajillion-dollar stadium because he couldn't fit a 10-ton HD screen in his mansion. I'm not above saying it: eff you Dallas. You deserved it, ya smug bastards.

Thirdly, (and this is the reason the Vikings are going to cling to) Minnesota wanted to send a message to New Orleans: “we just dismantled the 'hottest team in the NFC' (full disclosure, I was one of the folks giving Dallas that label) and we're didn't let off the gas just because they quit. Be ready, Saints. Be ready.” Let's be honest, psychology plays a role in playoff sports. The Vikings started the gamesmanship with the “Eff You” touchdown. I'll be surprised if a Saints player doesn't comment on it during the week.

But as I said, ultimately, I think this was a bad idea. And here's why...

What are we talking about? The Vikings dominated a Dallas club who I, amongst others, said was the favorite to go to Miami. But instead of talking about the big win, or Brett Favre's clutch performance (his on-field performance... not his version of ”Pants on the Ground” from the locker room), we're talking about the “Eff You” touchdown. Some people defend it. A lot of people are criticizing it. Either way, it's distracting us from the biggest Viking playoff win since 1998.

And for that reason, if no other, it's a shame the game had to end that way.


I've got a new favorite Wild player...

… and his name's Guillaume Latendresse.

There's always been guys I was a fan of on the Wild, but I've never really locked on to a guy as “my favorite player”.

Marian Gaborik was supremely talented, but kept getting hurt, and always seemed annoyed that people questioned his commitment. Mikko Koivu is also very talented, but let's face it, he's about as interesting as dry toast. Andrew Brunette is as hard a worker as you'd ever want on your club, but doesn't inspire me to rise out of my seat. And as I like to say, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and I share the same taste in barbers, but he never really seemed to fully realize his potential. And given that he's been out all year with a concussion, I can't really latch on to him.

But now I've got Gui. All #48 has done is log 13 goals and 19 points in 24 games since joining the Wild. And included in that was a hat trick Saturday night that nearly single-handedly brought the Wild back against the Coyotes

(Aside: Phoenix fans, I love you. Really, I do. Trying to promote hockey in the desert. It's a valiant effort, really. But next time, make sure Peter Brucha actually scores his third goal of the game before littering the ice with your hats. Losing your hat when a player doesn't actually score a hatty? Not good.)

Lats out-Crosby'd Sidney Crosby when the Wild beat the Penguins 4-3 on the 11th of January. Gui's 4 points topped Crosby's 3. He also played a huge role in bringing the Wild back against the Blackhawks on the 9th, scoring a pair of goals including the game-tying marker with a minute-and-a-half left.

In a season where the Wild have been maddeningly inconsistent (they followed an impressive 4-game winning streak with two stink-bomb losses Thursday and Saturday), Latendresse has been one of their few consistent performers.

He's got size (6-2, 229), skill (seven goals in his last seven games), and he plays hard on every shift. What more could you want from a favorite player?!

So next time I hit the X, I'll be checking the Hockey Lodge to see how much a #48 green sweater might run me. (Short answer: more than I ought to spend - but when has that ever stopped me?)

I've finally got a favorite player. And though Hammer will gleefully point out that he's Canadian, I don't care. He's a member of the Wild, and that's all that matters to me!

Thanks Gui!


The DFTU jinx is on?!

Let's see... I go all “the Wild are back in the playoff race”, and the team turns around and gacks-up two very winnable games. They never got off the plane in St. Louis. And it took a Latendresse hat-trick and a huge effort in the 3rd period to make it a “respectable” loss to Phoenix.

But “respectable” losses don't earn you points, and the Wild have gone from two points out of the final playoff spot to six points out in two games. Not cool.

Then I jump firmly on the Bucky basketball bandwagon (damn I love alliteration!), and they get blown off the floor in Columbus, losing to the Buckeyes 60-51. And trust me, it wasn't really that close.

So have a created a whole new jinx? And what do I do if I have?! I can't just drop the DFTU. It's been a staple of The Sports Take since its humble beginnings!

This could be bad... this could be very bad.


Who do I root for in the USC/Minnesota game this fall?

In all my ranting and raving about what a lousy, good-for-nothing scumbag Lane Kiffin is, it just dawned on me that the Trojans are coming to TCF Bank Stadium on September 18th.

What am I going to do?!

Obviously I'm not rooting for the scumbag coach's team! It's my plan to thoroughly enjoy watching Kiffin ride a wave of sanctions down the path of the deterioration of the USC football program. So part of me wants to go to the game to lustily boo the Trojans, and more specifically their coach.

But the Gophers are part of the original class of the "Pantheon of Hate". I can't root for them either. Kiffin may be a scumbag, but Gophers coach Tim Brewster isn't exactly a paragon of virtue. This clown's coaching ability is so far behind his mouth, they need a satellite connection to communicate with each other.

I guess I could just boo both teams, but that hardly seems sporting.

I'm honestly at a loss here folks. I don't know what I'm going to do. Fortunately, I've got plenty of time to figure it out. But if you have any suggestions, I'm happy to listen to them!


That's going to wrap things up for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with more indignation and tomfoolery for you.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

1-15-10: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've done it! Mostly...

Yes, most of us have reached the end of yet another work week. Except for me. I'll be working a 10-hour shift tomorrow because the brain wizards who run this shop continue to take their sweet time trying to find the perfect candidate to fill an entry-level overnight position.

Not just anybody can baby-sit Dark Star and a syndicated overnight show for minimal money. No, we've got to search high and low, consult gurus and Shirpas, and look in every nook and cranny to make sure we've got absolutely the perfect candidate for the position. And if we work our part-timer to death and force the rest of us to work a ton of overtime, well that's just the price that has to be paid.

Funny how the folks identifying the “price to be paid” are never the ones actually paying it, isn't it?

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

It is Friday, so I'll still celebrate the weekend being nigh, even if mine's a little shorter than I'd like!

Friday also means that it's time to get you updated on my favorite squads. So let's get to it shall we?

Onward!

”Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty - a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture.”
- Betrand Russell (1872 - 1970), British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, socialist, pacifist, and social critic


How on earth do people get that many titles? Did people in Mr. Russell's era just have more time to study because there wasn't any TV?

Funny he should mention math, since it plays a role in at least one of the two sections today.

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With that, it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 24-21-3 (back to the .500-mark) which is good for 51 points. They're fourth in the Northwest Division and 10th in the Western Conference, 3 points behind the Red Wings for the 8th and final playoff spot..

Math is beautiful, you say? Well it sure is when the Wild win four of five, and pick up 5 points against the 8th playoff spot in one week's time!

Seriously! A week ago I was discussing “fire sales”, and now the Wild are right back in the thick of the playoff race. Hockey's a crazy game like that, I guess.

For those of you who are surprised by my cheery attitude towards the squad after they laid a complete egg last night in St. Louis, what can I say? It was the back end of back-to-back games with one at home and one on the road. I'm not saying the Wild can afford many lack-luster performances, but I think they get a pass considering the conditions.

So maybe I should be more upset that they let two more points slip through their fingers, but all in all it's hard to argue with their success of late.

You know things are going well, when the opposing team's coach is purposely sending guys out to fight you. According to Derek Boogaard, he was told just that by Darcy Hordichuk late in the 3rd period of the Wild's 5-2 win over Vancouver Wednesday night.

Unfortunately for Vancouver, it didn't help much. Hordichuk got worked by Boogaard and then poor, poor Alexandre Bolduc decided to follow coaches orders. The 6-foot, 180-pound Bulduc decided to square off with 6-8, 260-pound John Scott. The following video shows what happened:




Notice 3 things...

1 - You can see the “I don't want to do this” look on Bolduc's face as the two start to square off. Bolduc actually asks Scott to take off his helmet. This is a common courtesy amongst fighters so they don't scrape their knuckles on a helmet. Turns out, Bolduc needn't have asked, since he never landed a shot on Scott.

2 - Just after Scott takes his helmet off, he teases his hair. Seems like a ridiculous move, right? He told the Star Tribune's Michael Russo after the game that he's got a bit of a bald spot, and wanted to make sure it was covered because he knew the cameras would be on him. Yes, these are the things they're thinking of before a fight.

3 - After beating the holy hell out of Bolduc, Scott skates off to the penalty box while shaking his right hand. Apparently if you smash your fist into someone's skull that often, it's going to hurt. That's not so surprising. But if you look closely, Scott teases his hair again! Apparently he was really worried about that bald spot. Someone get that man some product! Stat!

I can't really defend the barbaric nature of hockey fights. But I can't help but enjoy them either. Especially when a man's hairline is involved!

The Wild are still on the road as they head to Phoenix this weekend (I'm sure my folks will be in attendance... er, will be watching on Fox Sports AZ... er, well maybe they'll catch the result on the news!). Then Monday they travel to Dallas to take on those evil, back-stabbing, good-for-nothing Stars. They're back to the X on Thursday to host the Red Wings (eh tu Hammer? Eh tu?).


Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 14-3 (4-1 in the Big Ten). They're in third place in the Big Ten, behind only Michigan State and Illinois. Currently, they're ranked 13th in the country.

I know, I know. I've been pretty hit or miss with the Badger basketball squad so far. So call me a front-runner if it makes you feel better.

But when my club gets a big win, I'm gonna crow about it a little bit.

Yes, the Badgers beat the highly-ranked Purdue Boilermakers 73-66 this past Saturday. Purdue was 15-0 coming into the game. Nearly one week later, they're 15-2 after losing to Ohio State on Tuesday night.

So did the Badgers catch them on a downward trend? Perhaps. I prefer to think the loss to Bucky so rattled the Boilermakers, that they weren't able to seal the deal against the Buckeyes (whom Wisconsin has also beaten).

Yes, Badger Fans, I think we can safely say that this team is better than advertised. Senior PG Trevon Hughes seems to have officially made the leap to star status. He's averaging 15.8 points-per-game in leading the Badgers in scoring. And he canned several huge 3-pointers down the stretch Wednesday night against Northwestern to seal a road win for Wisconsin.

Equally encouraging has been the performance of native-Minnesotan Jordan Taylor off the bench. Taylor's averaging 9.3 points-per-game and over 3 assists-per-game while spelling Hughes. Coach Ryan has even thrown a smaller line-up out there with Hughes and Taylor as the two guards. When both of your point guards are also adroit shooters, it can create all sorts of havoc for opposing defenses.

Wisconsin has a lot of the pieces you'd want to see in a quality team. They've got the point guard play I've mentioned. They've got a 3-point sniper in Brian Bohannon. And they've got a quality defensive stopper in Ryan Evans.

The one thing they're lacking is a strong inside presence. Their tallest starter, 6-10 junior Jon Leuer (also a native Minnesotan... thank you Minnesota, we appreciate all the talent you keep sending to Madison... keep it up!) isn't a low-block banger. He can play inside, but against a team with a truly dominant forward/center, he's not the guy you're looking to have guard them.

Even if he was that guy, Leuer broke his wrist in the victory over Purdue, and is out indefinitely... not good.

Freshman Jared Berggren (also from Minnesota... wow, this almost isn't fair... almost) has a little more meat on his 6-10 frame, but again, isn't really a dominant presence inside.

The lack of a true big-man is a problem that can be lived with for the most part, unless your opponent has a beast in the middle. Fortunately, there aren't many Big Ten teams that present that difficulty. But if the wrong match-up comes Wisconsin's way come Tournament time, it could be an issue.

But that's not til March. And in the mean time there's a long Big Ten slog ahead of the Badgers, including their sole game versus the Gophers (how is THAT allowed to happen? Only one Minnesota/Wisconsin match-up? Sacrilege I say! Especially since it's at Williams Arena and not Kohl Center!) coming up in February.

In the near future, Wisconsin travels to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes on Saturday. Then they return home to face Michigan on Wednesday and Penn State the following Sunday.


So there you have it. Do you feel sufficiently updated? Well I feel better about things anyway.

That wraps things up for this week. Enjoy your weekend. I'll be back on Monday with more rants and ravings about whatever happens this weekend.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

1-13-10: Notes

Hello again everybody...

The hits keep on a-comin'...

I thought the weekend was chock full of news! But apparently the news truly never stops. There were a couple more major bombs yet to fall over the last couple of days.

Naturally, I feel the need to rant and ramble a bit about both of them.

I see no reason to dawdle...

Off we go!

”The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything - or nothing.”
- Nancy Astor (1879 - 1964), the first woman to sit as a Member of parliament in the British House of Commons.


What a coincidence?! Today we're discussing two gentlemen. One who wants to change nothing, and the other who wants to change everything. How fortuitous!

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Wednesday Notes...

First up...

Big Mac says he's sorry...

… but I'm not sure I buy it.

Mark McGwire now admits that he used steroids “off and on during the 90's” including during his historic run in 1998 when he broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record.

Naturally, no one's surprised by his admission. After the third or fourth time that he told members of Congress “I'm not here to talk about the past” in 2005, it became obvious that he'd used, and his lawyers had told him to admit to nothing for fear of prosecution.

So why am I still bothered by the situation?

Because once again, we've got a star athlete going about handling a scandal all wrong.

Instead of holding a press conference, say at the Cardinals' spring training facility shortly before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report, McGwire releases a carefully worded (and doubtlessly PR-manager-scripted) statement to the Associated Press. Then he conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with hand-picked interviewers.

I don't mean to disparage Bob Costas, St. Louis radio or the New York Times. But people aren't going to believe that McGwire has really run the gauntlet until he's taken on “all comers”.

I don't envy the idea of having to answer questions in a questionably-controlled environment like that. But I believe that if you're truly sorry, then you stand up and take your whipping (in this case of the verbal variety) like a man. And Bob Costas isn't the guy to deliver said whipping. Sorry Bob, you're just not.

But the manner of McGwire's admission isn't the only thing that bothers me. It's the justifications he insisted on offering that have me shaking my head as well.

First of all, he says, “I wish I'd never played in the steroids era”. So he's trying to push some of the blame off on the “era” he played in.

The problem with that is that McGwire was at the vanguard of that “era”. The Bash Brothers (McGwire & Canseco) were amongst the first to go from “big” to “cartoonishly big”. And McGwire was certainly the earliest example of the “bloated slugger setting records” version of PED-user that we've grown to know and loathe.

Sorry Mark, you can't blame an “era” you helped start. You weren't reacting to what was going on around you. You were helping to inspire what was going on around you. Barry Bonds saw the love that you and Sammy Sosa got after you ballooned up and chased history in '98, and decided that if it was okay for you guys, it was okay for him. Now not only is the single-season home run record tainted, so is the career record.

The other part that bothers me is McGwire's insistence that the steroids didn't help him hit home runs. When asked if he thought he'd still have hit all those home runs without using PED's, he responded, “I truly believe so. I believe I was given this gift. The only reason I took steroids was for health purposes.” Health purposes here having the meaning of aiding his recovery from injuries.

But that doesn't wash either. If a player is able to recover faster from injury, it only follows that he's given more opportunities to hit home runs. Ergo, the steroids absolutely helped him hit home runs.

I understand that steroids can't improve hand-eye coordination, and that if you're not born with the ability to hit a baseball, no amount of injections are going to give it to you. But there's no way you're going to convince me that the quicker recovery time, along with the increased strength that we know, we know steroids bring doesn't aid a professional hitter in hitting more home runs.

Why can't these guys just come clean? Why can't they just say “I did it. I took them because they weren't against the rules and I wanted to improve my performance on the field. It was wrong, and I'm sorry”? Why is that so hard?

Instead of the “next day” story being, “McGwire apologizes”, now it's “McGwire says steroids didn't help him hit home runs”. And the story gets perpetuated. Instead of it being over, now it's going to continue.

If McGwire thinks that he's done what he has to in order to put this to rest, he's sorely mistaken. I fear this is going to follow him into Spring Training, and we're going to end up with a video of McGwire blowing up at a beat reporter before the team packs up to head north.

I hope I'm wrong. But I just don't get why these guys can't just come clean. I don't understand why there has to be justifications and mitigating factors. Stand up and make a real apology and take the heat , Mark. It's what's best for you and what's best for the game you claim to love.


Lane Kiffin is a carpet-bagger of the highest order...

… and I never thought I'd say this, but Al Davis was right to send him packing, and in the long-run, Tennessee is better off without him.

News broke last night that after Pete Carroll had skipped out of USC for the NFL just ahead of NCAA sanctions, the Trojans had turned around and hired Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin to be their new head coach.

Let's review.

Kiffin, son of well-known NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, rises to national prominence as the offensive coordinator at USC.

After interviewing for several college head coaching vacancies, he accepts a head coaching job with the Oakland Raiders which seemed odd since he had minimal NFL experience. After just 20 games with the Raiders, he was fired in a falling-out with owner Al Davis. When someone like Al calls a coach a “liar” and someone who “brought disgrace upon the Raiders”, that my friends, is an indictment!

After being fired, he accepts the head coaching position at the University of Tennessee and immediately sets about pissing off as many other SEC coaches as he can. Most notably, Florida head coach Urban Meyer. He suggests several times that there's a lack of integrity in Gainesville, yet it turns out that the “rules” that Meyer supposedly broke, didn't actually exist.

And now, 14 short months after promising Volunteer fans that he'd help restore their program to prominence, he bolts with the bulk of his coaching staff for Los Angeles. Oh, and did we mention that he's raiding cross-town rival UCLA's coaching staff while he's at it?

So what have we learned? Apparently Lane Kiffin is a liar, doesn't understand recruiting rules and has no business lecturing anyone else on the subject of “integrity”.

Every sport has its trouble. And we all know that coaching contracts aren't worth the paper that they're printed on. But this has become ridiculous.

How many times does John Calipari get to leave a school under investigation for breaking rules before he stops getting primo jobs? (I know he's a basketball coach, but the example fits.)

Nick Saban gets out of his LSU contract by going to the NFL, and when that isn't working for him, leaves the Dolphins in the lurch to go back to college in the same conference as the Tigers. How is that fair?

Is there any question that Pete Carroll will be welcomed back with open arms by a major university if/when his stint in the NFL fails, even though it's going to come out that he broke NCAA rules while at USC?

And how on earth can USC brag-up hiring a guy who's left a trail of slime like Lane Kiffin has?

Something is wrong folks. I love sports as much as anybody. And college football is one of my favorites. But this ridiculous coaching carousel is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. How any family can allow one of these jokers into their living room to recruit their 18-year-old and put any faith in them is beyond me.

I guess I should find some positive in all this. Now I have an NFL team I don't have to bother rooting for anymore (Sorry, Hammer... but I can't root for a Pete Carroll-led team after he basically skates from whatever sanctions he earned while at USC), and I have a new college team to put into the “Pantheon of Hate”. Any program that wants a clown like Kiffin at the head of it, is someone I can easily root against.

I don't know how to fix it ladies and gentlemen. But I can certainly point at it and say, “Indianapolis (home of the NCAA headquarters), we've got a problem!”


That's going to wrap it up for today. Wow, that was a lot of venom to spew. And frankly, I'm not sure I feel any better. If you've got thoughts, or opinions, or if you think I'm way off, please attach a comment and let me know!

I'll be back on Friday to wrap up the week (hopefully with no more disappointing news) with the usual DFTU tom-foolery.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

1-11-10: Notes

Hello again everybody...

I hope you all had a restful and fulfilling weekend. I certainly have no complaints about mine.

I got to see “Sherlock Holmes” this weekend. It takes a bit to get used to the accents, but once you can figure out what everyone is saying, it's a solid movie. Downey is brilliant. Jude Law is pretty good. I wasn't thrilled with Rachel McAdams, but nothing's perfect. If you thought you'd like the movie, you probably will. Enjoy.

As for sports? Umm, yeah, there were more than a few things to comment on. And believe it or not, much of came under the heading of a sport I don't comment a ton on around here.

Should make for an interesting column, should it not?

Off we go!

”The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.”
- Nikola Tesla (1857 - 1943), inventor and mechanical and electrical engineer


So do I think clearly, or deeply? You decide...

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As we get to some...

Monday Notes...

Bert Blyleven comes up five freaking votes short...

… the fourth-closest-to-election result in the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

That basically means that next year, he'll get in. Don't ask my why the vagaries of the election process work the way they do. I'm not sure I understand it better than anyone else.

What I know is that when a former player's voting percentage goes up for 4 consecutive years, and in that fourth year he falls short by .8%, he gets in the next year.

But is he *really* a Hall of Famer? If it takes 14 ballots to get in, what does that say?

In baseball, the bottom line is statistics. And when I look for statistics I turn to BaseballReference.com. At that website, they have a neat feature called Similarity Scores. It's a formula developed by baseball guru Bill James. They comb through statistics and come up with the 10 players most-similar to the player you're researching.

For Blyleven, those players turn out to be: Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Tommy John, Robin Roberts, Tom Seaver, Jim Kaat, Early Wynn, Phil Niekro and Steve Carlton.

What do nine of those ten players have in common? They're already in the Hall of Fame (Kaat is the lone non-member).

That's as much evidence as I need. If your numbers compare closest to nine Hall of Famers, you deserve to get in. Even if it takes 14 years.


Pete Carroll appears to be the new head coach of the Seattle Seahawks...

… and I don't see this ending well.

First of all, the timing is suspicious. The USC basketball program just administered a host of self-punishments in the hope of avoiding worse from the NCAA. It turns out that there was money paid to star-recruit (and current Memphis Grizzly) O.J. Mayo. It also appears that such rule-violating payments may have occurred in other USC athletic programs. If that's the case, the football program has to be Suspect A. And that would, of course, put Carroll in a tight spot.

Instead, he resigns his position at USC to take another run at the NFL. An attempt that didn't go so well the last time he tried it with the Jets.

So what do we make of this?

On the one hand, Carroll was publicly critical of QB Mark Sanchez after Sanchez declared for the NFL Draft last year. Admittedly, the timing of Sanchez's announcement wasn't beneficial to the USC program. It was sufficiently late enough to inhibit the preparation of a new quarterback. Hence the rushing of Freshman Matt Barkley to the starting role, and hence the struggles of the program in 2009.

Now Carroll is leaving kids whom he asked to join him at USC to the care of a new coach which he'll have no hand in choosing. And due to NCAA rules, those kids can't transfer to another Division I program without sitting out a season. Hardly seems fair.

But can we really be critical of Carroll for this?

There's never going to be a “good time” to leave a college as a head coach. Each year there's a new crop of kids coming in who are going to get left in the lurch if the coach leaves. And can we really blame Pete for taking a job that's going to be a significant salary increase, not to mention a new challenge?

Let's face it, Carroll has nothing left to prove at the college level, and clearly he has unfinished business in the pros. So why not take the shot?

On the other hand, why do college coaches insist on trying to make the transition to the NFL when history shows it usually doesn't work?

Why leave a spot where you can essentially name your price? USC has as many rich boosters as any other school. In fact, they have more than most. Money wasn't ever going to be a problem for Carroll.

As for the “challenge” of the NFL, I can see the lure of it. And on certain levels, football is football. But the interactions between coaches and players are completely different at the college and pro level. At the college level, coaches are gods. They can do nearly anything (short of locking a kid in an equipment shed - copyright Mike Leach) and the players have to go along. At the pro level, that doesn't fly. In the NFL, players make as much, if not more than most coaches. So if they don't like what a coach is trying to sell, they quit on him, and let management fire him and find a new coach. Very few college coaches are equipped to deal with that difference.

In the last 20 years, the only guy I know of who made the transition successfully is Jimmy Johnson going from the University of Miami to the Dallas Cowboys. And in that case, the relationship between coach and owner didn't exactly work out. I suppose you could argue that Barry Switzer made the transition successfully, but was it really his success, or was he riding the coat-tails of Johnson? I think you could argue the latter.

Meanwhile, the list of coaches who haven't pulled the transition off is extensive. Steve Spurrier, Butch Davis, Bobby Petrino, Nick Saban, Dennis Erickson, Rich Brooks, and Mike Riley just to name a few. And not only have those guys failed, but they've gone right back to college and found success again. Clearly their mojo works at one level and not the other.

In the end, I guess it's a no-lose for Carroll. If it works out in Seattle, he becomes one of the few college coaches to pull off the trick. If not, he gets fired, collects the rest of the mega-contract he's signing, does a couple of years of television analyst work, and then returns to college coaching if he so chooses.

And for those reasons, I can't blame him. Even if it's not the choice I think I'd make were I in his shoes.


What exactly makes a game an instant classic...

… I mean did you see that Arizona/Green Bay game?

And yet there was a debate amongst sports fans afterward if that was an “instant classic” or just an “exciting finish”.

Clearly when 96 points are scored in a game, it's not exactly a defensive masterpiece. And as much credit as we ought to give to the Packer and Cardinal offenses, anybody who watched the game could tell, both defenses basically sucked.

Green Bay barely found a way to stop Arizona. The Cardinals punted exactly once the entire game. Then again, were it not for turn-overs, the the Cardinals didn't stop the Packers at all. Green Bay punter Jeremy Kapinos only took the field to hold on Mason Crosby's kick attempts.

And yet, the game was ultimately decided on a defensive play. Arizona's forced fumble in overtime turned into the game-winning touchdown.

It's that exact juxtaposition that makes the game a “classic” in my mind. Sure the defenses were awful, but watching those offenses marching up and down the field was a lot of fun. And then to have the game decided by a defense finally stepping up and making a play? That's damned entertaining if you ask me.

There are many ways to define what makes a “classic” game. For me? Having an offensively-dominated game decided by a defensive play is definitely on the list.

And finally...

Did you see the Wild game Saturday night?!

Or read about it? Or see people's comments on Twitter? Something? Anything?!

If not, you missed out.

The Wild found themselves in a 5-1 hole against the Blackhawks when the third period began on Saturday night.

But oh my what a third it was.

Six minutes in, the comeback began as Kim Johnsson scored on a nifty pass from Andrew Ebbett. Though perhaps the best part of that goal was Derek Boogaard actually getting an assist. Sure, it didn't break his goal-scoring drought, but still, it's a point! That made it 5-2 Chicago.

But the Wild didn't stop there. Less than a minute later, Mikko Koivu found the back of the net off of a Greg Zanon rebound. Suddenly it was 5-3 Chicago with 12-and-a-half minutes remaining in the hockey game.

They couldn't really pull this off, could they?!

One minute and twenty seconds later, it seemed a helluva lot more likely as Marek Zidlicky made up for an earlier gaffe on Chicago's fifth goal, by scoring one himself on the power play. Now it was 5-4 Chicago and there were still over 11 minutes left in the game.

At that point, however, Chicago seemed to shake off it's malaise and started taking it to the Wild again. This time, they were thwarted by Josh Harding who'd taken over for Niklas Backstrom in net after the second. Not that the Hawks' five were exactly Backs' fault. But still, Harding stood up to Chicago's onslaught and kept them off the scoreboard down the stretch.

Time started to become a factor. The momentum the Wild had built up seemed to be ebbing. Then, as is so often the case, the most crucial goal came on something of a flukey play.

The Wild had finally gained the Chicago zone - something that they'd had trouble doing for the last five or six minutes. Eric Belanger had worked it into the corner and was scrapping for the puck when it popped out to the low slot, in perfect position for Guillaume Latendresse - who seemed to pop out of nowhere. Latendresse fired a quick shot which beat the Blackhawk net-minder via the five-hole. And with one minute and 33 seconds remaining, the Wild had come back from a four-goal deficit to tie the game.

Of course, NHL games don't end in ties any more, so there's more to the story.

After a scoreless overtime, the two clubs went to a shoot-out. Mikko Koivu opened the scoring on the Wild's first attempt. Chicago responded on their second attempt. The teams then traded 5 misses/saves until we reached the 8th round (shoot-outs are scheduled for three) and the cagey veteran Owen Nolan lit the lamp to put the Wild ahead. That was followed by Josh Harding making his 7th save of the shoot-out to secure the win, 6-5 Minnesota.

I'm still shaking my head as I write this column. Minnesota was dead and buried after two periods. Chicago is the best team in the Western Conference so far this season, and had easily handled the Wild just last week.

But somehow, some way, the Wild found something. They didn't quit and showed a tremendous amount of guts and heart as they fought back to eventually win the game.

Maybe this translates into a winning streak. Maybe it took so much out of them, they'll come out flat tonight against the Penguins.

Whatever happens, it was an amazing game to watch. Speaking of “instant classics”? This was one for Wild fans, no doubt.

(All apologies to Mr. David Anton, my favorite Blackhawks fan... but I still hate your team!)


That's going to wrap things up for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with more... right after I catch my breath from this weekend!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

1-8-10: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've made it... barely. Though not all of you are dealing with the extreme cold that we here in the upper Midwest are braving, it does seem unseasonably cool across most of the country. And since the more tropical climes that some of you are used to are woefully unprepared for any un-natural dip in the temperature, it seems everybody is feeling some effect.

Though I still think those of you south of the Mason-Dixon line should quit your bitching. But that's just me!

Today's going to a slight hybridization of the DFTU. Since I'm not feeling particularly inspired to talk college hoops this week, we'll stick to the wild and then have a few, appropriate comments about last night's college football championship game.

Sound good? I thought so too.

Let's do this!

”I know there are people who do not love their fellow man, and I hate people like that!”
- Tom Lehrer (1928 - ), American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician


Wow. Now *that's* a resume! I still say it comes down to one of my basic philosophies: “I just don't like people that much.” Be honest... are there really all that many people you care for? I didn't think so.

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Moving on...

We've reached the end of another week. And that means it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 21-20-3, which gives them 45 points. They're still 4th in the Northwest Division, and are 11th in the Western Conference.

After the Wild finally broke their four-game losing streak with a win over Calgary, they now find themselves eight points out of a playoff spot, still with three teams to leap-frog.

I guess if I'm going to find the positive here, it's that there's only three teams to pass, even though the point-gap has grown wider.

As good as their December was overall, it ended with a pair of losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles. And the losing continued in January, dropping a game to New Jersey in Jacques Lemaire's return to the X, and a getting shellacked in Chicago (ooh-boy are the Blackhawks good, or what?).

The problem with dropping four straight like that for a team like the Wild is that they were already in such a hole from their early-season doldrums, that they really can't afford stretches like that. They can drop a couple here or there and get away with it. But four-game droughts like that are problematic.

Now that we've hit 2010, that trade deadline in March is suddenly a lot closer than it appeared just two weeks ago. And considering that it's just a few days after the end of the Olympics, there could be a flurry of movement this year.

The question is, are the Wild going to be close enough to the playoffs to be buyers, or will they be far enough back that they'll turn into sellers?

It's a unique question for the Wild, since the previous regime was never terribly active around the trade deadline. And considering the turn-over we saw once the new group took over, a “fire-sale” isn't out of the realm of possibility.

When you throw in the fact that this market is absolutely aching for a winner, the notion of said “fire-sale” becomes even more tricky.

I don't know what the Wild are going to do. The last report I read had GM Chuck Fletcher going through the roster and conversing with players about their interest in remaining in Minnesota long-term. What bearing those conversations will have on the direction the teams decides to take is anyone's guess.

Personally, I'm hoping they're able to hang in there and keep the roster intact. There are a lot of guys on this team who are fun to watch, and it'd be too bad to have them get traded.

That being said, it's also clear that the rosters going to need some serious upgrades if the Wild are going to be competitive in the West long term, so maybe it's better to get to the getting.

Can you tell I'm of several minds on the subject? This team is like that in a lot of ways. They'll give you hope, then depress you for a while, then give you hope again. It's frustrating. But for those of us who love hockey, what else can we do?

I'm not rooting for the Blackhawks dammit. I'm just not!

The Wild are back in action tomorrow night as they host Chicago. Then next week they host Pittsburgh on Monday, Vancouver on Wednesday, travel to St. Louis Thursday before jetting Phoenix next Saturday.

Wow. Have fun with that boys!

That leaves us with a Championship Game to discuss...

Alabama is your 2009 BCS National Champion...

But what a bummer of a way for them to win it. Sure, I'm glad my Alabama pick held up. But that's not the way anybody wanted it happen.

It's not the Tide's fault. It was a legal hit that knocked Texas QB Colt McCoy out early in the game. Alabama did their job and are deserving national Champions.

Like any other sport, football has it's fair share of flukey occurrences. And certainly nobody saw McCoy's injury coming. But injuries are an unfortunate part of the game. They can't be 100% prevented. They can only be dealt with.

But there's only so much Texas could do to deal with McCoy's absence. I mentioned on Wednesday that McCoy was the whole of Texas' offensive production. His back up, Freshman Garrett Gilbert, did as good a job as you could have expected. And Texas' defense deserves a ton of credit for keeping the Tide within reach, so they could come back and make a game of it. But the bottom line is there was just no way that Alabama was going to lose after Colt got hurt.

And maybe that's what made last night's game so dull. Alabama's not an offensive machine to begin with. Once they got that lead and knew they didn't have McCoy to contend with, they could afford to run a vanilla offense. They could afford to hold Ingram out once he started having cramps. They could afford to rest on the laurels of their defense and know they were going to win the game.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think it makes their title any less legitimate. I just wish we could've seen the best of Texas versus an Alabama team that's probably (though not “clearly”) the best team in the country. Maybe it wouldn't have been a thriller of a game. But it would have to have been better than the dreck we saw last night.

None the less, congratulations to Alabama. The history geek in me is glad to see a former national power work their way back to the top. Even if I'm not the biggest fan of their carpet-bagging coach!


That's going to do it for this week. Have a safe and (relatively) warm weekend! I'll be back on Monday with more of the goodness you've come to know and... well at least tolerate!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

1-6-10: Notes

Hello again everybody...

We've reached the middle of the week, and it's all downhill from here... right? I don't know about you, but after having two short work-weeks thanks to holidays, this week seems interminably long already. I woke up yesterday (Tuesday) trying to figure out how close to Friday it was. Not good. Hopefully the rest of the week flies by without incident. That shouldn't be too much to ask, should it?

I debated how I was going to write today's column for a good portion of yesterday. I've got a couple of baseball notes and a college football prediction to discuss, but also a personal story to relate. Now normally, I'd put the personal story in the preamble here, but since I have a feeling that this particular personal story is going to take up some space, I'm going to include it in the notes.

If that rubs some of my more “organizationally-inclined” readers wrong, I apologize. It just didn't feel right to write a huge preamble and then a few quick notes and be done. What can I say?

So more random thoughts and musings are headed your way.

Off we go!

”If you would be known, and not know, vegetate in a village; If you would know, and not be known, live in a city.”
- Charles Caleb Colton (1780 - 1832), Englich cleric, writer and collector


I mean no offense to my fine readers who happen to reside in smaller hamlets. But one of the best things I ever did was move back to Minneapolis after having resided in Eau Claire, WI for several years. Again, I'm not ripping Eau Claire per se. But it was one of those towns that seemed to have a habit of trapping people. Somehow it made it easy to forget that there was a great big world out there to experience. That's what I love about living in a city the size of Minneapolis. There's so much going on, and so many connections to the rest of the country/world that opportunities to experience things seem to abound.

Now if we could just transport Minneapolis' vibe to Phoenix's climate, I'd be golden!

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It's time for some...

Wednesday Notes...

Tomorrow night's the National Championship Game...

What? You didn't think you were going to get the personal story first did you?

Tomorrow night. Alabama vs. Texas. The BCS Championship Game. Pasadena, California. The Rose Bowl. Well, not the actual Rose Bowl Game. That's just what they call the stadium. It's a little confusing I know.

The important thing is that the number one team in the nation plays the number two team in the nation for the BCS National Championship. Who says college football doesn't have a playoff? Number one “plays off” against number two and we get a champion! Now we just need to refine things a bit and include a couple more teams, and we'll be set!

But that's the future. Tomorrow night will give us a champ for the 2009 season. So who will it be?

You probably shouldn't ask me. My record picking Bowl Games this year is beyond pathetic. It got so bad that around New Years, I gave up and started picking teams I wanted to lose. The sad part? It worked. In just about every game I've cared about and bet the other way, the team I wanted to win, won. I can't explain it. I don't recall doing something karmacally catastrophic. But apparently I annoyed some cosmic force somehow.

So maybe if I don't pick the Championship Game against the spread, I can get away with a straight pick. Maybe. Either way, I'm going for it and here it is...

Alabama. I know, I'm not going out on a limb since Alabama's the favorite. I also know that teams with Heisman Trophy winners don't tend to do well in National Championship games. But I think 'Bama's going to buck that trend tomorrow night.

We all saw Texas struggle with a nasty Nebraska defense in the Big 12 Championship Game. Now they face the number one defense in the country. True, the Tide don't have a player as singularly dominant as Ndamukong Suh (I think my spell checker just tapped out). But the stats say they have a better squad 1-11 than any other defense in the NCAA. And who am I to argue.

The key for Alabama is to get pressure on Colt McCoy. If you allow McCoy to get set up, or give him easy lanes to scramble out of trouble, he can kill you. But if you hit him early and often, and force him to throw before he's ready, his effectiveness decreases rapidly.

And realistically, McCoy is Texas' offense. He's their leading rusher. He's responsible for their success in the passing game. Without an effective McCoy, Texas is in all kinds of trouble. And I think Alabama is equipped to accomplish that.

Now for recreational gaming purposes, you should probably bet the college fund on Texas. That's how bad I've been picking.

I can't help but to keep picking games, though. And I truly think the Tide will come out on top tomorrow night. And immediately after, Nick Saban will say he has no interest in the Cleveland Browns job, which will be followed a week later by him accepting the Cleveland Browns job.

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'...


Randy Johnson is set to retire...

And if you've ever wondered what a lock-cinch first-ballot Hall of Famer looks like, look no further than Randy.

Consider these career numbers: 303 wins (22nd all-time in baseball history); a 3.29 ERA; 4875 strike-outs (second all-time in baseball history); a 1.171 WHIP; 10 All-Star appearances; and 5 Cy Young Awards.

Simply phenomenal numbers from one of the premier pitchers of our generation.

At 46 years old, it's not a shocker that the Big Unit is choosing now to hang up the spikes. But I certainly hadn't heard a lot of speculation about it coming before the story broke yesterday.

Yes, Johnson's last couple of years have been marred with injuries. And yes, hitting 300 wins last season was the last major milestone within his reach. So it certainly makes sense to retire now. But it's still somewhat saddening to see one of the greats call it a career.

My favorite moment from his career is now, and will always be the 1993 All-Star Game when Johnson (with the Mariners) was pitching to the Phillies' John Kruk. The first pitch was over Kruk's head. It was so high, and so hard, that Kruk feigned palpitations and spent the rest of the at-bat as far away from the plate as he could flailing at the next three pitches, taking his strikeout and sitting down. Check out the video here. It's hilarious.

So kudos to RJ on a Hall of Fame career. Thanks Randy! Best of luck.


St. Louis fans rejoice, you've got 7 more years of Matt Holiday...

Holiday hit .353 with 13 home runs and 55 RBI in 63 games with the Cardinals last year, so the fact that they wanted to resign him wasn't a surprise.

The fact that they wanted to sign him to a 7-year deal was certainly surprising, however.

Holiday turns 30 next week, so he's certainly in the prime of his career, but seven years takes him to well past his prime. And at an average of $17 million per year, that's a whole lotta cheese past his prime.

If I'm a Cardinals fan, in the short term I'm happy to have him locked up. Holliday and Pujols back-to-back is a formidable middle of the line-up. But when it comes time to sign Albert to another deal, and you start comparing numbers, Pujols just got a LOT more expensive.

If Matt's worth $17 million per year, then what's a reasonable number for Albert? $22 million per? $25 million per? It's got to be somewhere within that range, right?

And of course, as a Twins fan, I've got to wonder what this means for Joe Mauer's extension. Holliday's a nice player, but he hasn't won any batting titles, or an MVP. So I think this means the Twins have to start negotiating at $20 million per and seven or eight years right?

Ugh. Suddenly I'm liking this signing a lot less!


I am my mother's son...

Okay, you've waited patiently for it, and now here's my story...

First, I have to share a previous story.

I love my mom. She's the best. I want to start off saying that, because she might not be thrilled with me sharing this. But trust me mom, it all comes around in the end.

My parents fly me down to Phoenix for a visit each March during Spring Training. A few years ago, my Mom picked me up from the airport. As we were driving away from the gate, I noticed she looked a little harried. Apparently traffic had been a hassle getting out to the airport, and she was worried she was going to be late.

If she was late, I don't recall, because hell, I was going to Arizona for a week of baseball. What did I care if she was a little late getting there to pick me up?

But apparently it bothered here more than somewhat. As we drove away from the airport, she asked me to dig into her purse and pull out her sunglasses. There was only one problem. She was wearing her sunglasses at the time. Woops.

Now, that can happen to anybody. It's not a big deal, right?

Except, as we drove towards their house, and the sun started to go down, she commented, “Gee, it got dark really quickly didn't it?”

To which, I unfortunately had to respond, “Um, Mom? You're still wearing your sunglasses.”

Naturally, I found this line uproariously funny. My Mom? Not so much.

In fact, I can assure you that as she's reading this column, she's more than a little annoyed that I'm telling you this story.

But it's okay Mom, because, as you well know... I am your son.

Fast-forward to Monday night as I made my way to the bus stop after another successful shift at work (success here having the meaning of “keeping things out of the ditch... for the most part”).

Those of you in the upper-Midwest are well acquainted with the insanely cold weather we've been having. Personally, I've given up any deference to style, and have been bundling up as much as humanly possible. That means tying a scarf around my face to leave only the skin around my eyes exposed.

The draw-back to this strategy is that I can't wear my glasses. My breath is forced up by the scarf and fogs them over. Well, actually, given the temperatures, its freezes them over.

So Monday night I bundled up and tucked my glasses in an inside pocket of my coat and headed to the bus stop. All seemed well as I boarded the 17D and headed for home.

That was until I got to my seat and reached into that pocket looking for my glasses. They weren't there. I've feared in the past that one of these days I was going to tuck them in that pocket without actually making sure they made it into the pocket and I'd lose them. And now, it had happened. Panic, thy name was Dan.

My vision isn't that terrible, but the notion of my driving anywhere without them isn't a good idea. So that meant that I was going to have to get off the bus, retrace my steps, find the glasses (hopefully) and catch the next running of the 17D in 20 more minutes. A daunting list of tasks, but what could I do?

So I started to re-bundle myself up. Buttoned up the coat, put on my hat, retied my scarf... when strangely, my fingers bumped into something.

You've guessed it. My glasses were on my face.

How did this happen when I'd put them in my pocket? Glad you asked. You see, at 7th and Nicollet where I catch the bus on the way home, there's a small shelter with a heater. So when I got to the bus stop, I ducked into the heated shelter, and put on my glasses so I could see the route-displays on the buses to tell when mine was coming.

Sometime between putting them on, and actually getting on the bus, I somehow forgot that I'd put them on. Hence, my panic on the bus when they weren't in my pocket.

Oof.

So yes Mom, I am your son. And I apologize for ever having mocked you over your sunglasses.

Of course, I've got loads of other ammunition, which I'll eagerly substitute for the sunglasses story!

Just as I'm sure my friends will tuck this particular story away to mock me with later.

It's the circle of life, my friends. The circle of life.


And that's going to wrap things up for today. I'll be back on Friday with the DFTU in its proper place.

Until then, thanks for reading!