Sunday, February 11, 2007

Another Hockey Night in Washington

I saw the Caps game on CSN last night. Through more than two periods, it was going pretty well to watch. There were a lot of scoring opportunities on both sides, some great shots, some better saves, and a couple of good fights. Sutherby has a nasty right hook! And Cal Ripken, Jr got a standing ovation watching from the owner's box. It was fun. And it honestly looked like we might be headed to overtime and then a shootout, knotted at 2-2. Then the Caps fell apart, losing 5-2. That just can't happen at this stage of the season -- we need points in the standings, badly.

The penalty kill was one of the worst efforts I've seen this season. The Ranger's first three goals were power play goals. And, as usual, our defensemen allowed a lot of wide open shots. Folks, this just isn't going to do. For one thing, a 37 year old Ollie Kolzig is only going to hang on so long in goal, and then we're really going to be exposed in years to come.

We are missing some personnel, and some of the personnel we have are missing experience. No question about that. However, with that said, when your team blows a game like that, do you really want to hear the coach say that he was happy with the effort he received? I feel our playoff hopes slipping away and the coach doesn't seem to care. Very blaise, very "whatever". And I think that sometimes trickles down to the players.

Hanlon is considered a developmental coach on a developmental team, fair enough. But I wonder if next year it might be worth considering bringing in a guy who can win. This team has made strides, we have two of the top goal scorers in the league. We have a young center overseas right now. We bring him in, sign a top defenseman, and we might have something. Is Hanlon the guy who can take us to the next level? I think maybe the stretch run here might be able to show us the answer. I hope the owner and the GM will listen.

All that said, the game was a lot of fun, and the Caps have been a lot of fun this year. I'm entertained almost every time I watch. And, in the end, I guess that's all one can ask from a sports team. But there are ways they can and should improve going forward, and I hope they make those strides.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

America's Game: The 1970 Baltimore Colts

The NFL Network premiered a new one-hour installment of it's continuing series "America's Game", which tells the story of Super Bowl Championship teams. Last night focused on the 1970 Baltimore Colts. Obviously, it's a story that's been told before, by NFL films, no less. This was by far the best film I've seen about that season, though. If you missed it and get a chance to see a rerun, do watch it. Clear your schedule, finally learn how to program that VCR, whatever it takes. :)

The footage itself was very well selected. It was sharper and had better color than even the half hour 1970 Super Bowl video aired after the game (I wasn't around to watch that when it first aired, but thanks to the NFL Network, I've actually seen it). Impressive, especially considering the years that have past. It also went into great depth, almost covering the season game by game.

Where this piece of television really stood out, though, is the storytelling angles. The way it weaved together the loss to the Jets in 1968 and Don Shula's departure with the move to the AFC after the merger with the Super Bowl victory in 1970 was a real strong suit of this show. One could feel the sense of the tragedy with the players years later talking about how they still just can't over losing the Namath's Jets in Super Bowl III, despite the ring in '70, despite some of them winning championships in years since, despite the passage of almost fourty years. It really gives those of us who didn't have the chance to live through it a sense of just how big Super Bowl III was, and an AFL team defeating an NFL team for the first time.

In a way, it strikes me that the whole Baltimore Colts franchise was a franchise that history will remember in a sense a tragic way, with that loss and the horrible surprise move to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. That's not to say it was all a tragedy by any means -- there was Johnny Unitas, the greatest QB ever to live, many great Hall of Famers, the greatest game ever played (the 1958 championship victory over the Giants), and just an incredible fan base and tradition. The NFL would not be what it is today without the Baltimore Colts. But there is that sense of a flame that burnt out before it's time. Like a beautiful love affair and a young marriage that ends in early renewed bachelorhood or widowhood. The memories are incredible, but tinged by a sense of bittersweet regret -- even for the next generation, that didn't live it, but wished they had been around for those glory, and not so glory, days.

The other thing about this film that was neat was the focus on Mike Curtis. He's a guy that my generation doesn't hear much about, because he isn't really a presence in Baltimore in the same way some of the other guys are. Before John Unitas' death, he lived in Maryland and attended Ravens home games. Tom Matte did color commentary on radio for the Baltimore Stallions (Canadian football) and then the Baltimore Ravens for ten years, and is still a radio talk show presence. Bruce Liard is doing color commentary today on the radio. Artie Donovan is, well, Artie Donovan. But Mike Curtis is a character we don't hear much about, and I give NFL Films all the credit in the world for tracking this guy down.

This film is worth watching to hear Curtis alone. He was a great character. From tackling a fan who ran out onto the field, to his feud with Johnny Unitas (Curtis still is talking trash about him) to a million other things. I think NFL films had the right angle there, too. Kudos.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Arenas for 3!

I'll admit, I had no intention of watching the NBA All-Star three point contest this year. Even when a news story came on at the intermission of the Caps game said Gilbert Arenas was going to be in it, I was still kind of iffy. I mean, honestly, All-Star games are often just glorified exhibitions and the contests are even less meaningful. But then I heard Arenas vowed to come back and win it this year after his second place finish last year, and suddenly I want to watch. Genuinely so. See, make the outcome something sound like it means something to somebody playing in it, and fans tend to get interested. All-Star game planners (in all sports), take note!

If they played the games like they meant something and toned down the substitutions, we might all be fixated on events like the MLB, NBA, and NHL All-Star games or the NFL Pro Bowl. As this stand, though, I'd rather watch an actual exhibition game typically -- at least there I can see how people are preparing for the season on my favorite teams.

UPDATE: Gilbert says he's been practicing for the 3 pt competition for weeks. :) Sounds like he really is taking this seriously.

"When the chickens came in we had to switch barns"

As those of you who watched the World Baseball Classic last spring know, Orioles ace Eric Bedard is a native of Canada. His local paper, the Ottawa Citizen, wrote a really neat article about him recently. Seems like a really down to earth guy, like any other farm boy tossing some baseballs around in a barn. Only difference is -- he's a big leaguer.

Here's the excerpt I liked, but go ahead and read the whole article by clicking the link above if you've got a few minutes:

The families live just down the road from each other, and with Bedard in need of a place to throw each of the past three winters, the relatives have kindly shuffled him from one chicken coop to the other chicken and now into the barn, originally built to raise geese.

And these chicken coops are nothing to cluck at. Each houses 40,000 chickens in a year, just 8,262 short of capacity at Baltimore's Camden Yards.

As for the geese emporium, the Laplantes built the barn in 2003 for about $180,000, and by the time Bedard is taking to the mounds in Yankee Stadium, the Rogers Centre and other American League ballparks, it will house a new tenant, one trying to grow herbs and spices.

All winter, though, twice a week since early December, the Orioles' top winner drags his 24-year-old brother, Mark, to the barn where every night is like Opening Day in the northeast in early April -- temperature-wise, that is.

Inside the barn, it's always 5C, and it nevers wavers despite weather conditions outside.

Mark was a tough-as-nails running back/safety with the Orleans Bengals in his teens. Now he passes for a pretty fair left-handed catcher by evening, and just like his father, Normand, is an elevator mechanic by day. It remains open to debate which vocation is safer, but Mark earns more in his real job.

Catching a 90 to 92 m.p.h. fastball is never easy -- even if his brother does have great control. And an above average major league curveball can sometimes get away from a pitcher, and it's the catcher who always chases the ball.

The good news is Bedard's workout goes fast. A quick warmup, a little long toss and it's right to work for a brief 60-pitch session, then it's out the door.

Bedard just goes from pickup to the door, plunks his portable mound on the heated (for the geese) floor and goes to work.

"When the chickens came in we had to switch barns," says Bedard. "But it worked out OK.


Really fun game to watch as the Caps downed the Los Angeles Kings 4-3. Dainus Zubrus had the game winner in OT, sparing the Caps the dreaded shootout. :) It was nice to see the Caps finally win a shootout the other day, but I think we're all more comfortable seeing them pull it out before it gets to that point giving their otherwise abysmal record in the post-OT scoring competition. No goals from the two Alexs, they're both in slumps by their standards, but it's hard to really complain -- they're not quite superhuman, after all. And Ovie did at least pick up an assist. ;)

The Hurricanes were winning when last I checked, so if that held up, the Caps remain 9 points out of the last playoff spot. That's not quite as bad as it sounds -- the equivalent of being 4 1/2 games back in any other sport. Even so, the Caps are going to have to play very strong down the stretch to close the gap and beat out not only the division rival Canes, but also the numerous other teams between the Caps and the Canes. Keep your fingers crossed and hang on tight. We could fall out of it at any moment, but if we step up our game, it could be a wild exciting ride.

Spring Baseball TV Schedule

MASN has announced it's spring training slate, with a total of eleven games, which breaks down to eight Nationals games and seven Orioles games, because the teams play each other several times (Up from 4 Nats and 2 Orioles games covered by their respective channels in previous years). When the two teams play, the home team's announcers will be featured, except in their final contest, which will feature a split between MASN and MASN2 (the redubbed MASN Plus), with each channel carrying one team's announcers. Day games will re-air that evening in prime time, night games the following day.

The schedule listed on the MASN website is set up in an odd way, which the Washington Post mimicks, so I'm going to go ahead and present the schedule my own way, which I think is simpler to navigate, for your viewing pleasure:
  • Saturday, March 3, 1:05 pm - Orioles at Nationals, Viera, FL
  • Thursday, March 8, 1:05 pm - Astros at Nationals, Viera, FL
  • Friday, March 9, 1:05 pm - Nationals at Orioles, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • Monday, March 12, 1:05 pm - Mets at Nationals, Viera, FL
  • Sunday, March 18, 1:05 pm - Red Sox at Orioles, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • Wednesday, March 21, 7:05 pm - Braves at Nationals, Viera, FL
  • Saturday, March 24, 1:05 pm - Dodgers at Orioles, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • Tuesday, March 27, 7:05 pm - Mets at Nationals, Viera, FL **
  • Wednesday, March 28, 1:05 pm - Cardinals at Orioles, Ft. Lauderdale, FL **
  • Friday, March 30, 2:05 pm - Nationals at Orioles, Norfolk, VA
  • Saturday, March 31, 1:05 pm - Orioles at Nationals, Washington, DC ***
** Featuring Orioles or Nationals Xtra
*** Both teams' announcers on separate channels

The other bit of news we're getting from all this is that, during the regular season, Nats and O's games will share the main channel equally, alternately going to the alternate channel when games conflict.

USA versus Mexico

I had a chance to watch the second half of Team USA soccer's 2-0 victory over the Mexican national team last night. It strikes me, as it always does when I watch soccer, that this is really a wonderful sport. It reminds me a lot of hockey, really, both in terms of the way the game is played, and also the fact that it's a wonderful sport that has never really caught on in the United States the way it should.

The good news is, though, that we're making strides, both on and off the field. Team USA is more competitive than ever, and has a lengthy win streak going against Mexico, a country that traditionally has been a lot better at the sport than we are. At the same time, the MLS has integrated itself as a fairly permanent fixture on the American landscape, even if it's not quite so "major league" as it's modiker might lead us to believe. David Beckham should help a lot, too -- bringing a lot of much needed publicity to the sport.

Beckham's LA Galaxy, by the way, will be in Washington DC playing the United this summer. Something to look forward to as we move towards another soccer season in not too much longer.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

In or Out?

Here are the NHL Standings. As of the time of this posting, the Washington Capitals are in 13th place in the Eastern Conference with 52 total points in the standings. That leaves them nine points behind the team that would have the 8th and final playoff spot if the season ended today, which is the Carolina Hurricanes. There's still 25 games or so to play. The Caps aren't out of it, but they're fading.

Points in the last two games are a good sign. The team is going to have to go on a run very soon to have a chance, though. First they could score goals but the defense was shaky and just as the defense is starting to shore up a tad, thanks to the addition of Jurcina, the offense seems to be slumping.

Even if the team misses out on the playoffs, though, it's been a heck of a year. Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin have both more a joy to watch. As has Ollie Kolzig, as always, even at the age of 37.

Signing Day

The Baltimore Sun has just put a story up that runs down some statistics and opinions about the Maryland Terrapins' incoming football class. One of the key guys is lineman Bruce Campell, profiled here in the Diamondback (The U of M student newspaper)

Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions lost out on top prep prospect Broderick Green, whom they were hoping would fill the consider shoes left behind by graduating senior running back Tony Hunt. Green is going to USC, but the Joe Paterno's gang still has a pretty good recruiting class, bolstering the offensive line considerably, according to recruiting experts. I guess it's just been an offensive line kind of day here at that thoughtful crab, with this in addition to Ravens and Redskins offensive line news. Anyone who saw the Michigan game last year knows the Lions need the help there, though!


I know a lot of the PSU faithful are down on soon-to-be-senior quarterback Anthony Morelli. He struggled at times last year and is going to face a stiff challenge for his starting job in spring practice from newcomer Pat Kennedy. I really am willing to go on record as saying that Morelli deserves a shot at the the starting nod in his senior year, though, unless Kennedy really blows Joe Pa out of the water.

I'll never forget that Michigan game where Morelli, after the offensive line was letting him get knocked down the whole game, instinctively stepped off to his side to avoid a pass rusher he couldn't possibly have seen with his eyes, threw a 25-yard pass across his body to the other side of the field for a complete, got leveled by a guy and sustained a concussion, and then asked if he completed the pass as he was taking to the sideline. This kid has a big league arm and a big league attitude. So he had some adjustment issues his first year at the helm, don't count him out yet.

Offensive Line News

The Washington Redskins inked offensive tackle Jon Jansen to a five year deal, ensuring that run blocking will continue to be one of their strengths. I was honestly just blown away by a few of those late season games as, apparently, were the opposing defenses' front sevens, as Ladell Betts tore things up. Betts deserves a lot of credit, but the key thing I noticed was the blocking he got, from the offensive line, but also from the tight-ends and Mike Sellers the fullback, and even a few wide receivers. The image of little James Thrash just leveling someone still sticks in my head. That's how you run block.

Meanwhile, Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun Reports that the Baltimore Ravens are looking to play hardball with right tackle Tony Pashos in contract negotiations. They believe that Pashos is fairly replaceable, despite strides he made last year. They're right. The only potential problem here is that with Hall of Famer Jon Ogden considering retirement, the team might have to replace both starting tackles. Adam Terry can probably step in at one position, but then that levels the other, and also a void in terms of the first guy off the bench. I'm fine with letting Pashos go, but only if Ogden stays, and only if they can then address this position in free agency or the draft. Pashos isn't exactly an All-Pro, but I do think it's important that they make sure there is some level of continuity and don't just throw a bunch of inexperienced nobodies out there at one of the most crucial and yet perplexingly underrated positions in football.

Fresh Start

Like a struggling radio station, I'm going to attempt a format change with this blog. Unlike a radio format change, though, the DJ gets to stay during this transition. :) Hopefully this will result in a higher level of interest both from readers and from me, your humble crab, who may actually crawl out of his shell to post on a semi-regular basis now.

Our new format, Mid-Atlantic sports. In alphabetical order, this blog is going to cover the following pro teams:

Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore Ravens
DC United
Washington Capitals
Washington Nationals
Washington Redskins
Washington Wizards

And the following colleges:

Penn State University
University of Maryland

I'm going to try to be as even handed as possible and cover each of those nine teams. If you like the format leave some comments. That's in part how I am going to guage the success or failure of this thing. If we get lots of comments, I'll try to step up the posting and maybe even bring in some guest bloggers to ensure a constant stream of sports information each day. I may also add in a few other mid-atlantic teams to cover.