sports

Stuart Scott (1965-2015)

ESPN anchor Stuart Scott died Sunday morning at age 49. My condolences to his family and friends.

It is hard. As we move on in life people are taken from us. Whether a family member, a friend or simply someone who we grew up with. Sometimes it is someone who seemed ever-present in our lives, someone like Stuart Scott.

The first time a celebrities death truly hit me was with Johnny Carson. Ended every single day with him for longer than I care to remember. He was the uncle who made you laugh. Much the same recently when we lost Robin Williams. But the hits keep coming.

I first saw Stuart Scott on the local news here in Orlando, he worked for WESH the NBC station here in Orlando before moving onto ESPN. We grew up with his catchphrases: “Booyah…” and “cooler than the other side of the pillow” became part of the national lexicon. Through Scott sportscasters are often as known by their catchphrases as for their work.

When I saw Scott’s speech at this years ESPY award show I was at once proud and saddened.

I was proud seeing a strong man fighting cancer and staying positive. So many fight this dreaded disease and it is absolutely a fight. Those like Stuart Scott and Jim Valvano who fight the fight and live their lives gives me hope for so many others.

I was saddened because, because I knew this day was coming. This day comes far to soon for each and every one of us.

We will miss you Stuart Scott.

Categories: ESPN, sports, Stuart Scott | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Miami Dolphins vs. Baltimore Ravens: Five Things

Al Diaz/Miami Herald

Al Diaz/Miami Herald

When the Miami Dolphins came out to a 10-0 lead against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday I felt pretty good, that feeling did not last. Of course I felt good the defense had stuffed the Ravens offense for three straight drives, the offense seemed to be able to move the ball on Baltimore’s defense as well. All seemed well.

It was not.

The cracks began to show and you saw what followed. The Ravens dominated the rest of the way, outscoring the Dolphins 28-3.

So here are Five Things.

1. The season is not over, it just feels like it is. Mathematically the Dolphins still have a shot at the playoffs, a shot. Most likely they need to win out, which means beating New England in Foxboro.  They will need a lot of help. A lot of teams need to lose at least once in the next three games. I hate depending on other teams. They should have just taken care of business themselves.

2. Defense: Where did the run defense go to? Once upon a time the Dolphins boasted a top-ten run defense, not anymore. Getting pushed off the line of scrimmage, bad angles, missed tackles just plain bad. They have given up over-650 yards in the last three games. That makes things even easier for upper echelon quarterbacks like Joe Flacco, what will it do against Tom Brady.

3. Injuries: These are players that left the field at some point Sunday- Jared Odrick, Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins, Samson Satele, Charles Clay and Louis Delmas. Add those names to Branden Albert, Knowshon Moreno, Dannelle Ellerbee, Michael Thomas, Will Davis, Jamar Taylor and Courtland Finnegan. The team is looking like a mash unit. The loss of Branden Albert hurt the offensive line badly but the secondary may have been hit the worst.  Delmas may be gone for the season and only Finnegan looks to return anytime soon to help. RJ Stanford was one of our starting corners this week, let that sink in.

4. Mike Wallace. Many fans are upset about the lack of shots deep by the offense. Wallace should be a weapon deep but watching the game it does not look like Ryan Tannehill has the time to even attempt a deep pass let alone complete one. The bigger concern is the occasional lack of effort by Wallace. Commentators claim that Tannehill missed a touchdown pass to Wallace in the second half. That simply did not happen. The ball was right where you want it away from the defender towards the pylon, the receiver has to make that play. If Wallace had tried to get to the ball and could not that would be one thing, he gave up on the play. Gave up. Unacceptable.

5. Coach Joe Philbin has been criticized for a lack of emotion. He is so even-keeled sometimes you wonder if he has a pulse. The problem is when he does not seem to get the team ready to play. Watching the second half I found myself wondering if the team knew how important this game was. That is on the coach. Yes there are three games left and a slim chance to make the playoffs still exists but this game mattered. It would be nice if the coach understood that.

Yes there are other things to complain about. Bad calls from the officials: two questionable ineligible man down field calls and the reversal of a game changing fumble. The team inexplicably giving up on the run in the second half. But that is nitpicking. The team got beat down. We all saw it. Only one question:

What happens next?

On to New England.

Categories: AFC East, Baltimore Ravens, Football, Miami Dolphins, Mike Wallace, NFL, Ryan Tannehill, sports | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just One

Jim Rassol/Sun-Sentinel

Jim Rassol/Sun-Sentinel

Just one.

Just one play changes a win to a loss. One throw, one catch. One stop.

Single plays throughout the course of a sixty-minute, sometimes longer, game mean all the difference. These plays separate pretender from contender. These plays build a champion.

On Sunday, the Miami Dolphins just needed one play from their defense. They needed one stop that is all. One field goal instead of a touchdown. Just one more tackle, one pass batted down, one sack. Any of these would have gotten the job done.

That did not happen. If it had this would be a much different column.

Going into the Denver game defense was not the concern. No one worried if the defense would do their job. This was a top-5 defense, they had gotten it done all season long.

The question was if the offense and more importantly quarterback Ryan Tannehill would do their part. They did and then some. Tannehill went shot for shot with Peyton Manning going 26 of 36 for 228 yards and three touchdowns. The offense scored 36 points, the fourth time this season the team had scored over thirty points.

36 points should have been enough for the Dolphins defense to win two games. Not this time.

The defensive line, a strength of this team all season long, rarely pressured Manning. He would go on to throw for 257 yards and 4 touchdowns, three of them to wide receiver Demaryuis Thomas. Even worse they allowed the Broncos to run over them for 201 yards. There were receivers running free throughout the secondary and runners fighting for extra yards.

All the Dolphins needed even after all of that was one stop. Just one.

The offense had put in its work. The defense simple was not up to the task this day. One stop would have given them a chance.

These are the growing pains of a good team getting better. This team has shown that it belongs on the field with the best. Now they need to show that they can beat them, consistently.

 

Categories: Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, NFL, Peyton Manning, Quarterbacks, Ryan Tannehill, sports | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Four Quarters: Miami Dolphins v. Green Bay Packers

Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald

Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald

Sunday morning I decided I would do things a little different this week. Instead of the usual review/preview I thought I would try to write about my thoughts as the game was going on. Quarter by quarter. So here goes…

Four Quarters: Green Bay Packers v. Miami Dolphins

First Quarter.

Green Bay started out with the ball. They moved down the field with ease. The Dolphins secondary were playing off the receivers and Aaron Rodgers made them pay with a touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson.

After a great return by rookie Jarvis Landry the Dolphins started in Green Bay territory. The Packers defense came to play forcing Miami to settle for a Caleb Sturgis. The score now sat at 7-3 Packers.

After blocking a punt the Dolphins once again had good, no make that great field position. Unfortunately even after getting the ball down to the Green Bay one yard line they could not find the end zone. Missing out on a scoring opportunity against a team like Green Bay is dangerous.

The good news as the quarter ended was that the defense had finally come to play, bad news was the running game was stuck in neutral.

Second Quarter.

Both teams defenses stood tall. The Packers struggled to move the ball and Aaron Rodgers began to feel the effect of the Dolphins pass rush. On the other side Green Bay forced Miami quarterback into two interceptions costing the Dolphins the opportunity to put points on the board.

I feel there are three types of interceptions: 1. The receiver simply fell down on his route, offense has no chance. 2. The defense just makes an incredible, highlight-reel kind of play. and 3. The quarterback had no business throwing that ball whatsoever. The first two are forgivable offenses, the third-well the third you want to kill the qb. In this case the defense simply made a great play on a contested ball. It could easily have gone the other way.

Needless to say the half ended with the Packers up 10-3

Third Quarter.

The Dolphins started the second half with the ball. Ryan Tannehill hoped to erase the memory of the first half quickly. On the second play of the drive he took it himself and ran 40 yards, surpassing the Dolphins rushing total of the first half. Watching this first drive you would never think that this was the same team from the first half. Jarvis Landry caught his first NFL touchdown pass to tie the game. Both teams would trade drives during this quarter leading to a tie game at 17-17 early in the fourth quarter.

Fourth Quarter.

Rodgers is not simply one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, he is THE best. On this afternoon Ryan Tannehill showed he could stand toe to toe with the best the NFL has to offer. This is something Tannehill’s critics should remember.

Sadly we tend to remember what we saw last.

What we saw last was Aaron Rodgers being Aaron Rodgers and the Dolphins defense falling apart when they were needed most. With a 24-20 lead the Dolphins failed to get a first down and gave the ball back to Rodgers with 2:04 left in the game. It would be just enough.

There was blame to go around on the last drive. Brent Grimes falling down while covering Jordy Nelson. Cortland Finnegan trying a very lackadaisical tackle of Davante Adams inside the ten yard line. Worst of all was the coverage by Philip Wheeler on the touchdown play. It is not that he got beat by the tight end for a touchdown that will happen. It was that he did not even try to engage Anthony Quarless until he was already in the end zone. By that point he had already lost. If he made contact before Quarless entered the end zone he may have had a chance. It was not to be.

A great comeback fell just six seconds short. All of the good things we saw in the second half came of naught. Time to move onto the Bears.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, NFL, Quarterbacks, Ryan Tannehill, sports | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

This is Jimmy V week.

I did not know Jim Valvano.
I never saw him play, never saw him coach. When he was cutting down the nets after winning the 1983 NCAA Basketball Tournament I was only 12 years old. I was unaware of Jim Valvano’s entire existence until this:

It is odd going from being unaware of someone to feeling a great admiration for that same someone in the span of mere minutes. That is what Jim Valvano gave us.

Sports is life. It is more important than the simple games we play and enjoy. Sometimes it can bring people together in a fellowship, a brotherhood that would not exist otherwise.

The “Jimmy V” speech is outstanding. It is inspiring. You do not need to even like sports to be touched by the words he said that night. The thoughts he shared that night transcend the sporting world.

“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s one heck of a day.”

It is an amazing day. Here was a man dying of cancer(he would pass less than a month later) urging those in attendance to live their lives to the fullest. That night he would form the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research to help others. And he has helped so many others. Not only those helped by the foundation, but those inspired by his shining example.

It inspires me every day of my life. Every time I watch that speech is like watching it for the first time. Chills go down my spine and I feel like I could run through any wall. I feel I could do anything. Time is a gift, there is only so much that we each have. So live your life.

“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

If you would like to donate: 1-800-4-JIMMYV

Categories: College Basketball, ESPYs, inspirational, Journalism, Speeches, sports | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Play to win, not draw.

 

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This Thursday the US Men’s National Team will play the most important match of their lives. Beating Germany would make a statement. Beating Germany would declare that the US team is ready to make that next step to becoming an actual power in the soccer (or futbol if you prefer) world. So why do so many seem to want the US to play for a draw?

For me this actually started with the Germany-Ghana match. While I was cheering on Ghana(for what looked like an upset of Germany), a friend of mine tried to convince me that I should be cheering on Germany. His rationale was that it would give the US team and easier road to the knockout stage if Germany won. It would have. If Germany won all the US would have needed was a draw, which is what they got. I did not care. For me it is nice and simple. I wanted Germany to lose because Germany is one of the best teams in the entire World Cup, if there is a chance to prevent them from making the knockout stage then you take it. As far as the US team is concerned: Take Care of Business.

It is real simple win and you get in. That was true against Portugal, it is still true against Germany. Win and we are in.

I feel like I am channeling Herm Edwards here,

“You Play to Win the Game!”

It was true when he said it as a football coach, it is still true now.

Playing to win is the only way to do it.  Playing for a draw-there are too many things that can go wrong. Athletes are programmed to win, not to tie.  Trying to draw against one of the best teams in the world is courting disaster. You play to win, you may settle for the draw. But you always play to win. Come Thursday the US team will play to win and all will be good.

Take care of business.

Categories: Soccer, sports, World Cup | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quarterback Quandry

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Everyone loves the Quarterback.

While football is most definitely a team game, the quarterback position is very important for success. A great quarterback can cover a multitude of sins at other positions. So it is understandable that NFL teams and fans obsess about who they have behind center.

In this draft there are three quarterback that are universally at the top of teams draft boards: Blake Bortles (UCF), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) and Terry Bridgewater (Louisville). While some will insist that there are other quarterbacks that belong in the conversation (Derek Carr?) it really isn’t that close. So the question is: Who goes first?

Any team that takes one of these quarterbacks is going to get a very good player. This is not a case of one player is clearly better than another. I find myself liking each of these players in their own right. I simply like one more than the others.

Johnny Manziel

Johnny Manziel, Johnny Football. I wrote about him during his Heisman run. I insisted that he had to win the Heisman, there was simply no other choice. He is exciting, competitive, cocky. Those are good things. He has a rare ability to create plays from nothing that reminds me of Doug Flutie. He is the wildcard in this scenario. Manziel’s biggest asset is his biggest flaw. He is incredible when things break down, but that is not something you can coach up. There is no way to refine what makes him great, too much coaching may actually take away from his gifts. Then there is the bigger problem. His worst game last season was easily against LSU. The Tigers held him to 16 of 41 passing for 224 yards with two interceptions and only one touchdown in the Aggies 34-10 loss. The problem: simple LSU kept him in the pocket forcing him to win only with his arm not his legs. Until he shows he can play from the pocket there will be a huge question mark on Manziel.

Terry Bridgewater

Many analysts insist that Bridgewater is falling down draft boards, I find that hard to believe. He is mature, confindent, a leader. Bridgewater has a very good arm, he throws with touch and accuracy. Watching him play I see a smooth, polished passer. He makes me think of Joe Montana, Chad Pennington, and unfortunately Ken Dorsey. It is his frame that reminds me of Dorsey. Dorsey was a phenomenal college QB, leading the U to a national championship while racking up an impressive 38-2 record as a starter. The NFL was a different story. His slight frame and lack of arm strength worried teams, he was drafted in the 7th round by the San Francisco 49ers and had an unremarkable career. That is the concern with Bridgewater. Among the three quarterbacks he has the highest floor, meaning under the worst circumstances he will be better than the other two. The question remains what is his ceiling?

Blake Bortles

I am biased. I have watched every game Bortles played for the University of Central Florida. Every single snap. I watched when he came of the bench like a modern day Don Strock in relief of starter Jeff Godfrey. I was there when he took over the starting job in the 2012 season and I was there when he came from behind to beat Bridgewater’s Louisville team with a touchdown pass to that same Jeff Godfrey. He is big, strong, smart, he is a grinder. Bridgewater has the higher floor but Bortles has the higher ceiling. He just keeps getting better. He got better from his first start to when he beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. He got better from there to the combine and UCF’s pro day. At that pro day he said he did good…just good. Many observers felt he looked great. All Blake Bortles had to say was that he still had work to do, things to improve. That’s the guy I want. Confident, a leader, humble. A grinder.

 

Categories: Blake Bortles, College Football, Football, Johnny Football, NFL, NFL combine, NFL draft, sports, Terry Bridgewater | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Hands Like Feet

‘Hands like feet.’

Just roles off the tongue doesn’t it.

‘Hands like feet.’ After four days and countless hours of NFL Network coverage, that is what I took away from the NFL scouting combine.

Not Tavon Austin and Ryan Swope running 4.34 in the forty yard dash. Not even Manti Te’o crawling to a 4.82 forty time. Those were impressive and not so impressive feats, but I just like “Hands like feet”

It has quickly become my favorite scouting phrase. Why say a player cannot catch a cold when you can simply blurt out “hands like feet”, it is wonderful.

What else did I get from watching way too much of the combine over the last week?

This isn’t a bad draft class. There are many very good players coming to the NFL in April, just not many ‘shiny ones.’ That one, outstanding, no doubt about it number one overall pick: he isn’t here, keep looking. The quarterbacks leave a lot to desire; the wide receivers have more questions than answers. This particular combine seems to be more about who isn’t here than who is.

Quarterbacks Aaron Murray and A.J. McCarron would have been first round picks this draft. Jadeveon Clowney from South Caroline would have been a clear no. 1 pick. But they are not available; you can only work with what you have got.

Someone from this group of players will be picked no. 1 overall, until then I leave you with this:

‘Hands like Feet’

Categories: Football, NFL, NFL combine, NFL draft, sports | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Keep It Competitive

Thinking back to the Super Bowl, one of the things I took away from it was the officiating. It was great. Jim Harbaugh might not agree, he may still be arguing that last call. I found it refreshing. The officials actually let the two teams play. That is all we really want, let the players play. I can only hope the league noticed and let the teams play this upcoming season.

This week the competition committee meets to determine what, if any rule changes would be taken for the 2013-14 season. Now, many of these decisions will be made with an eye towards player safety. I will let people smarter than myself talk about player safety. I would rather focus on making the game better for everyone. I have a couple of suggestions:

Protecting the Quarterback:

Let’s just stop right there. We protect the quarterback way too much. These are football players not china dolls, treat them as such. With stronger, faster, more athletic players like Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton where do you draw the line between a passer and a runner? I am not suggest allowing defensive players free shots at the quarterback, simply treat them the same as you would a wide receiver or running back.

Kickoff Returns:

Leave them alone, don’t change one single thing. The league has tinkered with the kickoff game in recent years in the name of safety. It seems to have helped. Remember this is a full contact sport, injuries will happen. There are risks in everything we do. Let the players decide if they are willing to accept those risks. Just don’t take away one of the most exciting plays in football.

Pass Interference:

Too often the rulebook benefits the offense far more than the defense. This is never more obvious than in the case of defensive pass interference. In the NFL the penalty for defensive pass interference is as follows: first down and possession of the ball at the spot of the foul. This may not sound too bad on the surface, but seeing it in action demonstrates the problem. A pass interference call on a fifteen-yard out pattern is not too bad. What about a forty-yard post pattern? All a team needs to do is throw up a prayer every now and then. Even if the receiver doesn’t catch the pass there is a decent chance of receiving a pass interference call. Even if you throw an interception it just comes down to a long punt. For once college football has it right. Fifteen yard penalty and a first down. That’s it, that’s all. It affects the game but it is not a game changer. That’s how it should be.

The competition committee will make decisions on how better to officiate the game. The officials are there to keep the peace, not become part of the game. At the end of the day the best they can do is let the players play.

Categories: College Football, Football, NFL, sports | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Buyer Beware.

The Super Bowl signals the end of the NFL season. The end of months of hard work and struggle before crowning a champion in one final game: One winner, thirty-one losers.

Let us be honest: the season never ends.

Officially free agency begins the offseason on March 9th.  However teams already are making moves and slowly changing the way they will look in the upcoming season. General Managers set the table for what they want to do in March in February.

Players are resigned, others released, and still others are put up as trade bait. The landscape of the NFL prepares to change in big and little ways leading up to the draft in April.

Good players, talented players will find themselves without a home. Some are getting older, others simply disagree on how much they are worth, all of them hope to continue their professional careers.

As teams consider these players, remember “Buyer Beware”-there is a reason they are no longer with their previous teams.

Whether it is money, discipline, age, injury the reasons do not matter. The simple fact is that they are no longer wanted by their teams. That should give prospective suitors pause.

Why are they gone?

What mistakes did they make?

Why are they not getting paid?

Many teams prefer to resign their own free agents. After all they know these players better than anyone else. Signing strangers is courting the unknown.

The NFL is a team game. One player, no matter how good, rarely changes a team’s fortunes. One mistake can bring down a season.

Categories: Football, NFL, sports | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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