Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Story of the Year: 2001

A Healing Classic
September 11th had come and gone six weeks earlier, however it was now more important than ever. Truly, it will never leave, it will be a date that will rival July 4th as the most memorable (in one way or another) in the history of this country. I was never around for JFK's assassination, obviously, so September 11th became my "I remember exactly where I was when I heard about it" moment. I was sitting in the art class of Mrs. Bladel in the A-Wing of the Upper Elementary Middle School (although that was the least creative name possible, somehow it feels more original than its current name of Millstone River). I was close by to her desk, as she was alerted by some other faculty member to put the radio on. I wasn't really listening; I mean, come on, the radio, but immediately turned my head when I heard her gasp in horror. She told us, something I eventually learned that she should not have, that planes had hit the twin towers. Again, as a 10 year old, I did not know what terrorism truly was, I had no idea this was a complex plot that would still haunt me and millions other 9 years later. When I went home later that day, and learned that the twin towers had fallen, that the buildings I loved, the buildings my dad once worked in (thankfully not during the September of aught-one), I took a walk around the neighborhood with my sister, just having an empty feeling inside. I still did not truly understand the events of the day, I did not understand why anyone would want to do such a thing. Of course, I still don't quite understand it, but I at least understand that such things will happen in life (and, sadly, have since happened). What I did understand was that the world truly stopped.

New York City, the city that never slept, the city that was the economic and social capital of the world, the very city that was essentially a trump card that America could hold over any other country, was engulfed in smoke, death and tears; millions and millions of tears. Just six weeks later, with 'Ground Zero' still cautioned off, with deadly toxins still floating around the space once inhabited by people, including one man from our neighborhood, Mr. Jeffrey Fox, New York was full of joy. The Yankees had won the pennant. Sports are inherently meaningless at the best of times. Unlike most other proffessions, sports is one that serves no real benefit than to entertain lives, like music and art. It's not a financial service to create money, or a restaurant to feed masses. It is pure entertainment. On a normal autumn day it is meaningless. On an autumn day just six weeks after America was ruthlessly attacked, it was even moreso. However, there has never been a time where something so meaningless has meant so much.

Baseball may no longer be the sport that is most beloved by America. In fact, it is definitely not. Football has taken its perch high above Mt. Olympus, the king of all athletic competitions, something that is the only sport whose schedule can tangibly impact how the other sports schedule their events. Football is king, but at that point in time, baseball was what we needed. Baseball still holds a special connection to this country. It may seem terribly cliched to say that like Apple Pie, Chevy's and Hot Dogs, baseball is lodged in the fabric of the country, but like most cliches, it is true. Baseball is a sport of individual excellence, of tense, sensual moments, of a unique intimacy. Thousands of people hold on to the pitcher's arm and go for the ride. It is breathless, it is pure, it is spectacular. It is America's definitive sport, one of grace, style, power and precision. At a time where the country was down, was injured, laying on the mat like a lifeless, prideful fighter, baseball lifted it out. For 10 days, baseball went further, and created a deeper impact than ever before. It did not restore the nation, but it captivated one, it aided one, it made one take pride in its achievement. Maybe America wasn't the safe haven it once was, but God damn if it didn't have the ability to create a Shakespearean Theatre on a 90x90 diamond.

The Yankees and Diamondbacks were the competitors, but it really was the country and the Diamonbacks. Arizona was the site of two routine wins in Games 1 & 2, with Curt Schilling and then Randy Johnson shutting down the Yankees, as the D'Backs won the two games 9-1 and 4-0. The series shifted to New York, and then it really started, the healing really took place. In the course of three days, the country was introduced to Mystique, Aura, Byung-Hyun Kim and the raw power of baseball to heal, to soothe and to inspire.

George W. Bush's First Pitch in Game 3.

The whole world series started in earnest with George W. Bush's first pitch. Bush's following 7 years tend to outdo the fact that at that point in time he was beloved by all, seen as a man that was given an impossible task, dealing with the greatest terrorist attack in US history, and mending the wounds created by it. He did all of that, uniting the nation against the terrorists, leading the USA into a period where there were more flags flying in the sky than there were Fords littering the streets. It was impossible to imagine the pure brilliance of George W. Bush's first pitch. In the backdrop of a city that lost its true face, Bush strolled out to the rubber and uncorked a perfect curveball for a perfect strike. It was a clear message, "I can throw a perfect strike. I can do it all. We can do it all." That might have been the greatest moment in the Bush Presidency, and that is not a knock on Bush, as that first pitch in New York City, with 100 NYPD and FDNY officers on the field might have been one of the most chillingy beautiful moments in the history of the American presidency. What followed was a good, but untimately forgettable game, because for two nights, the Yankees, the Diamondbacks and a boy named Kim would captivate a nation. Ground Zero was shifted 10 miles north, to the Bronx, the site of baseball magic, magic that spread past the diamond and accross the nation.

Byung-Hyun Kim is Korean born, and in 2001 he barely knew English. He knew little of America, beyond his fair grasp of the ability to pitch. Little did he know that the man would become a tragic hero, but moreso a guy who simultaneously haunted his career and helped heal New York. It was near 11:30 pm on Halloween. The millions of kid ghosts that patrolled the streets of America hoarding candy were all inside, tucked away. Their time had pasts; it was time for the real ghosts to be unearthed. Down two, with one out remaining, one out seperating the Yankees from a nearly-impossible to recover 3-1 defecit in the series. Tino Martinez digged in. Tino Martinez wasted little time, taking the third delivery from Byung-Hyun Kim and knocking it deep. It was heading for the deepest part of the park, the black seats that once held fans who cheered on Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, men who were heroes in their day. "Mystique and Aura: Appearing Nightly" one fan's sign said, but it was the ghosts of those thousand new yorkers, of the countless fireman who took off Yankee hats and put un their gear before entering the burning tower, that lifted that ball further and further back. It nestled comfortably into the seats in right-center field, tying the game and sending the World Series into extra innings and into a new month. Baseball was to be played in November for the first time. Derek Jeter made the most of that opportunity, slamming the first pitch he saw the next inning off Mr. Kim. This time the power of the ghosts were not neccessary, as it shot into the stands, sending the Yankees into a celebration and the series into a deadlock. Byung-Hyun Kim left the field, head down, thinking that he had cost his team a game. Of course, he would do so much more than that.

The next night, Kim had a chance to redeem himself. Same situation, one out to go, two runs ahead. The Yankees were lifeless, having not scored a single run, and been helpless against Kim. Scott Brosius came up. The son of a police officer, Brosius knew that there were hundreds of kids who lost their fathers because as police officers, they entered the towers. Brosius knew that there were thousands in the city still grieving, still crying every time they went near Ground Zero, still replaying the attack over and over again. Brosius also knew that the ghosts would make their nightly appearance, that he was a Yankee, at a time that name meant more than ever. Brosius hammered the first pitch he saw, and in cleared the left-field wall, tying the game once more. It was too impossible. Only one world series game in history before 2001 had ever been won by a team who was down by more than one run with one out to go. The Yankees pulled off the feat twice in two days. 51 days after New York seemed helpless, seemed desolate and bleak, anything was possible again. The city that once built higher than anyone ever, the city that served as a refuge for those leaving squalid lives overseas, the city that stood for freedom, wealth and liberty, could conquer all odds, and it did. Byung-Hyun Kim again had to leave the field knowing that he cost his team a chance to win the world-series. He probably cost himself millions, as he would have been known as a lock-down pressure closer. However, this time, his head wasn't slumped down, it was high, it was up, mouth agape and eyes open. He was soaking it in, he was not revelling in his failure, he was admiring the pure joy that his failure had given too a city that needed it more than any.

Kim, and the Diamondbacks, would get the last laugh, with their memorable win in Game 7, coming from a run down with two outs to go against the best postseason closer in MLB history. Luis Gonzalez would get his name put along Brosius and Martinez as heroes of the 2001 World Series. However, the real winners were New York City, and America at large. At a time where America was still picking up the pieces from a shattered sense of security, at a time where millions of people were itching for something to captivate them, sport, a simple game with a stick and a ball, delivered.

Baseball will never be America's pasttime again. It has forever ceded that title to the NFL, a more marketable, more social game. However, there is no sport that is as dramatic, as memorable, as impactful and as meaningful as baseball. It is not a sport, it is an American tradition, like fireworks on July 4th. Every year, there is no tenser moment in sports than a close baseball playoff game, where every pitch seems like a mini-heart attack, a trembling silence, broken with a violent pitch and an equally violent swing of the bat. This was not every year, this was the year. This was the year that America's lost its security, lost its innocence. This was the year where America was brought back to earth. This was the year America was taught a lesson. No, not by the 19 terrorist, but by the 50 baseball players and a courageous president with a good right arm. The Yankees taught America to never give up, that even when faced with odds that have never been beaten ever, that there is still, and always will be, a way. Byung-Hyun Kim taught American's that the best way to respond to defeat is to hold your head high, to see that there is always joy in the world, wether the world that is your own life is crashing and burning. Finally, the ghosts taught us the greatest lesson of all. The Ghosts appear nightly, wether it be to lift a ball over a deep, deep fence or to comfort those it left behind far too soon. The World Series is the Fall Classic. In 2001, it was the American Classic, and there was no loser. Only the D'Backs held the trophy, but the country held their heads up high.

A Beautiful Clip of the Game 1 Intro. Only baseball can make these introspective, patriotic intros work. Why? Because it is still, and will always be, the most meaningful game.

Top 10 of the 2000s: Coaches

They are the nice suited (well, in the NHL and NBA at least) men. Domineering yet enchanting, boring yet mesmerizing. They are the men whose lives are pure death, with hours and hours of work, for payoff far less than their players who supposedly it is their job to "boss". The 2000s saw its fair share of great coaches. Here are the Top-10 (excluding college guys, as their job mostly consits of recruiting and paying players), starting with the 5 who just missed the cut:

15.) Mike D'Antoni

He was the guy that along with his trusted sidekick Nash brought the NBA back from the dead. His system made guys like Jim Jackson, Raja Bell, Quentin Richardson and Boris Diaw into good players, and made Nash a two-time MVP. Sadly, his failure to win a title, and his horror show in New York put him down here.

14.) Bill Cowher

The chin would probably be higher if he was a coach for more than just the first seven years of the decade, years that included three times not making the playoffs. He did, however, lead three spectacular regualar seasons, but twice lost at home in the conference title game. His one troph redeemed the decade for him, etched his name into the walls of Canton and also made it known that coaches that don't work 100 hour weeks can win.

13.) Ozzie Guillen

The funniest guy on the list. If this was a list of "Coaches I would most like to have a beer with", he comes first (just ahead of Mike Tomlin, with Gregg Popovich (the bearded era Pops), Mike McCarthy (looks like he could throw many down) and Stan Van (just for the comedy) rounding out the top-5. Belichick would be in there, for bar-brawl purposes). Sadly, his team has only once made the playoffs outside of the 2005 World Series win. But, when you win a title in a city that had gone 187 years without one, you get on the list.

12.) Charlie Manuel

Seems to be a fun jovial guy. Plus, he's huge in Japan. Steered the Phillies nicely, but I would have to say was a gib dissapointment until 2007, as he had many talented enough Philly teams that couldn't even get past the Marlins of the world.

11.) Mike Scoscia

He did win a title this decade, and has made many trips to the playoffs, but they have only made it past the first round three times. When he marsterfully guided the 2002 team to the World Series title, he was hailed as a saviour, a brilliant mind leading a small-market team. Sadly, the Angels are not a small-market team any longer, which makes his lack of total playoff success a legitimate knock the past 5 years. They might not have the Yankees/Cubs/Mets type wealth, but they have brought in stars. Scoscia has been good, but not good enough.

And Now, The Top-10 Coaches of the 2000s:

10.) Dick LeBeau

I felt that it would be nice to start with an assistant coach. What is more ironic is that he was a HORRIBLE head coach in his three years this decade (2000-2002) when he coached the Bengals. All is forgiven in my book, though, with his years in Pittsburgh. He joined Bill Cowher's staff in 2004, and for the next five years, his team had the league's top ranked defense three times, finishing second another year. He was the best coordinator in the league. The Steeler's defense went through all kinds of overhaul. In his first year, the guys by the name of Clark Haggans, Larry Foote and Joey Porter, as well as DeShea Townsend and Bryan Flowers were all major cogs in the Steeler machine. All of them are gone, replaced on the fly without drop off. LeBeau will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player this August, but I am almost 100% sure that if not for his success in Pittsburgh Part II, he doesn't get there.

His ability to scheme his zone blitzes is amazing. He is the man singularily responsible for the zone blitz being run by nearly every team in the NFL. He is the man that made blitzburgh a reality, showing that being smart can beat being strong. In his six year run that saw the Steelers win two titles, the team went 65-31 (8-2 in the playoffs). In the five years in Pittsburgh that surrounded those, the team went 38-25-1 (2-2 in the playoffs) without him. Cowher left, replaced by a green Tomlin. Porter left, replaced by a street player named James Harrison. Kimo von Olhoffen left, replaced by a guy named Brett Keisel. Tommy Maddox left, replaced by Ben Roethlisberger, and the Steelers kept humming. Why? LeBeau. He's the real brains behind the Steelers dominance in the 2000s.

9.) Ron Gardenhire

He's won a total of one playoff series since 2002. He's won just two playoff games since 2003. So, why is he on this list? He's been as succesful as any team not named New York, Boston, Philadelphia or St. Louis, and he's done it with a small-payroll year after year. Brad Radke? Brian Duensing? Carlos Silva? Kyle Losche? Lew Ford? Corey Koskie? Shannon Stewart? Nick Punto? Those are the names of guys that started playoff games for the Twins under Gardenhire's managerial run. Other than Santana, Hunter, Mauer and Morneau, Gardenhire has never been given a great every-day player or starting pitching. The Twins cut corners at every opportunity they can. The Twins are cheap. They are finally opening their pocketbooks now, but if they did back in 2002 when they hired Gardenhire, he would have won mutliple titles.

There were Yankees who didn't like Torre. There have been Red Sox critical of Francona. I have never heard of a single twin who did not love Ron Gardenhire. Teaching the fundamentals of OBP, throwing strikes and playing defense, the Twins have been to the playoffs five teams, and lost a play-in game in 2008. It is hard to statistically defend this selection, but anectodally, it is easy.

In 2002, with the MLB all-but assured of a strike (one that never came) Bud Selig brought up the dreaded "C"-word, 'contraction'. The two teams in question were the Expos, a team deserving of contraction, and the Twins. Seriously, during a year where the team was rumored to be on the contraction block (a much scarier block than the trading block) Gardenhire piloted the team to the ALCS. With a frugal owner, despite being worth billions himself, Gardenhire has taken the players given to him and always molded a competitive unit. This year might just be his year, with the team moving to outdoor Target Field, and finally opening up a fat, fat wallet that Carl Pohlad has been hiding. Gardenhire might finally get the ultimate success, but he earned it years ago.

8.) Andy Reid

He may be the butt of jokes due to his large butt (as well as his large body mass). He might be criticized alot for wasting timeouts and being terrible at calling two-minute drills. Those are both legitimate claims against him. However, we should not gloss over the fact that between the layers of fat, lies a great coaching mind, talent evaluator, game planner and big heart. It is never easy to coach in Philadelphia, a city that demands excellence at all times. Even though his regime has easily been the best in Eagles history at consisitently putting a winning product out on the field, Reid has been hammered by the Philadelphia media and fandom alike. It is not fair to a good man and a good coach.

Andy Reid inherited slop, left over by the Ray Rhodes era. He took one year to clean house, and then, starting in 2000, he went to work, making the Eagles the best NFC Team of the decade, and the most consistently good year-in-year out team not quarterbacked by first-ballot hall of famers. He didn't have a Brady or a Manning. He had a good QB one level below. He did not have a Marvin Harrison or a Randy Moss. The one year he had one of those players, his team made the Super Bowl. Other than in 2004, he has had McNabb throw to guys named Pinkston, Trash, L.J, Staley, Westbrook, Curtis and Baskett. It was the passing form of the Denver running game, just plug in a WR, and McNabb will find him. If not McNabb, then Feeley or Detmer, as shown in 2002, when he lost McNabb for 4 games and went 3-1 with those two world-beaters. One year, his receivers were so bad that none of them caught a TD until Week 9, and his team started 0-2 losing their first two games, both at home, by a combined score of 48-10. What happened? His team went 12-4, and hosted the NFC Title Game

Sure, he has had the benefit of a LeBeau-level defensive coordinator in the late Jim Johnson, but that defense has never really been a top-5 unit since that Super Bowl. It has been Reid's offense, which primarily has late round picks (as the Eagles use the early draft for primarily defensive players) that has made this team a playoff team eight times in the decade (one more than New England, two more than Pittsburgh). The knock on Reid is that his team falters in the NFC Title Game, losing it four times, twice at home. However, what people fail to mention is that the guy always got to the title game. Winning playoff games are hard, period. Bill Belichick's early-2000 success makes alot of people scoff at going one and done. Reid, until this year, has never done that, winning his first playoff game every time out. Reid has twice gone on the road in round two and pulled an upset. Reid has taken the Eagles further than anyone else.

7.) Tony LaRussa

The old brooding bespectacled one. Always looking dour, directly into the camera that fixes its lense, entrapped by his ornery gaze. LaRussa seems like some classic suave villain, a man whose curmudgeonly demeanor hides a brilliance. It does. The brilliance is not villainous, but much simpler, a brilliance of throwing strikes, getting hits and winning baseball games.

Tony LaRussa has done it all, winning big in Oakland and Chicago before turning his attention to St. Louis. He entered the new millenium, about to begin his fifth season in St. Louis, with a team that had missed the playoffs each of the past three years. What happened next was St. Louis magic, as in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, he proceeded to open the gates for the Cardinals to seven trips to the postseason, including six as a division winner, five trips to the NLCS, two to the world series and one World Series Title. He won over 90 games six times, and 100 back-to-back years. His teams could do everything, but they could pitch as well as any team ever. Credit has to be given to Dave Duncan, but even he alone could not turn Chris Carpenter, Matt Morris, Woody Williams, Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan into a 105-win team. Albert Pujols helped too, but until 2004 when Rolen got into town, it was above average players, like Edgar Renterria, Jim Edmonds (who did have one huge year in 2004), Reggie Sanders, Fernando Vina and Placido Polanco that were key batter on 95 win teams.

The Cardinals were the Braves of the 90's in the NL, getting close every year, but in the end winning just one title. But having a team that year-in-year out competes to the highest level is vastly underrated. LaRussa excelled at bringing his team together. The Cardinals twice experienced tragedy, wether it was the deaths of pitcher Darryl Kile and beloved announcer Jack Buck within a week of each other in 2002 or the sudden drunk-driving death of Josh Hancock, and the team kept together and kept on winning. He may never have the titles of a Torre or a McCarthy, but he is as important. LaRussa continued his winning ways for a third straight decade.

6.) Mike Babcock

Amazingly, no hockey coach one more than one title in the 2000s (The Devils and Red Wings were the only franchises to win multiple titles, and they both had two different coaches), so I had to look to find the best hockey coach of the decade. I didn't have to look far. Mike Babcock is his name, and the hyper-focused handsome Canadian is the best coach of the 2000s in the NHL. He has been a coach for 6 full seasons, and all he has done is take the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost a tight 7 game series to the New Jersey Devils, and then led Detroit to the Cup Finals each of the last two years, finally winning a cup in 2008.

Mike Babcock was hired to Detroit in a time of transition. Gone were Shanahan, Federov and Yzerman. Gone was Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Dominik Hasek was a section 8, going in and out of retirement, showing some seriously bipolar attitude toward playing. Babcock had to replace a coach in Dave Lewis who took the Red Wings to the playoffs in each of his two years. All Babcock did is become the first coach in NHL history to coach a team to over 110 points in four straight years. His first year, the Red Wings had the third best record in NHL history. In two of his first three years the Red Wings had the best record in the NHL. The other two years: the second and third best. His teams have won at least two playoff series each of the past three years. His teams have been the envy of the league, as his puck-possesion game-plan has allowed overtly average players like Dan Cleary, Johann Franzen and Valterri Flippula to become star cogs in a well-oiled machine.

Hockey coaching is the hardest to judge, because it is also the hardest to understand. However, understanding Babcock's strategy is easy, just hold onto the puck. The same thing that made Barcelona into the most dominant club team of the past 3 years, made the Red Wings into a dynasty of success. He may never get the credit of the other 9 guys around him, and he has had his fair share of playoff burns, including two losses in 7-game Stanley Cup Finals, but he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as all of them.

5.) Terry Francona

I have had Red Sox friends tell me that as long as Francona knew when to take out Pedro, they would be fine with him. Fortunately for them, he knows so much more. Terry Francona has already taken the Red Sox to the playoffs more times than any other manager in team history, and has won two more world series than the previos 26 managers combined. He was the guy who broke the curse. He was the leaders of the "Idiots" (still the most apt nickname for a team in baseball history), with his big floppy ears, pointy nose, round face and wad of chew in his cheek. He became synonomous with the Red Sox, and the Red Sox with winning. The Red Sox are now the new-Yankees, the team that spends tons of money, that is hated by every fan base, and Francona oversaw the transformation perfectly.

There he was, in his first year. Sure, Grady Little may have left Pedro out there too long, but at least he won three games in the ALCS. Francona wasn't going to win any. He, in a quick, calculated decision, sent out Dave Roberts to pinch run, telling him to go wether Posada knows it or not. Off Roberts ran, off the Red Sox walked three innings later. Seven games and seven wins later, Francona was christened along with his idiot players. A hero was born. Three years later, with another miracle run from 3-1 down to Cleveland, he was beatified a saint of Boston. Move over Belichick, there was a new hero in town, and this one had the ability to tell a joke in public.

Baseball managers have it easy, but in Boston, that is the most pressured job in all of sports. He has to get up every day and walk into a band-box of demanding fans, fans that have tasted the water of victory, and need their thirst filled. Knowing that Terry Francona is the man heading the team, dealing with the bullpen and joking with his players, the thirst is already filled. Francona turned the question of a Boston World Series win into a 'when' instead of an 'if' and there is no better way to show what Terry has done.

4.) Tony Dungy

A football coach is generally a man with no life, a man who lets go of sunlight, ceding it for a life with the never-ending tick of the tape-projector in the background. Dungy was not a normal football coach. Dungy would see the daylight. Dungy would see his kids more than three hours a week. Dungy would not overreact to a loss, or celebrate too much with a win. Dungy would leave each game the way he entered, with a confident smile, knowing, win or loss, his work is done, and the real challenges and fun lie outside. Dungy was not a football coach who happened to be a classy guy, he was a classy gentleman who happened to know alot about football.

He inherited a team that was 6-10, that had a coach who scoffed and regrettably was furiated by the talk of playoffs. He inherited that team, and from day one told his players that football was not his life's work, that football was not the number one thing in his mind. He told he players he
wouldn't yell like Parcells, wouldn't scowl like Belichick and wouldn't tear up like Vermeil. He told his players he would win, and God knows he did that.

10-6, 12-4, 12-4, 14-2, 12-4, 13-3, 12-4. Those were the records of his seven Colts teams. Teams that, besides having a once-and-a-lifetime QB and a hall-of-fame receiver, had nothing much but discarded and undervalued players. They had no real defensive talent other than Dwight Freeney. They were helpless, but year in and year out, they won twelve games, and reached the playoffs. Dungy had the sad task of going head to head with a better coach and a better team at the hight of their powers twice, but never wavered, never questioned his team, his will and his players. He kept preaching patience, that when the time comes to reach the mountaintop, that he would be ready, and it would be joyful. They finally did, and it was.

Dungy means alot more to the world than being a football coach. He was a trailblazer, hiring african-american coaches and mentoring them up to head coach levels, and then becoming the first African-American coach to hold the Lombardi Trophy. He is an activist, a man more interested in helping better the country and the youth than scheming his Tampa-2, a system that he created. On the side, he coached football, and he was damn good at it.

3.) Phil Jackson

The man now has 10 rings, four from this decade, and did it all with a shape (the triangle) and some stars. He was able to prod Shaq to give him his best, and he did that. He was able to prod Kobe to change his ways, to embrace shooting and art, and was able to do that too. He entered this decade as the 'coach of Michael Jordan' an epithet that would inevitably be etched on his grave, something he would never overcome, never outgrow. He would always be Jordan's coach. Somehow, he has outgrown it, has passed it off. He is now his own guy, he is the coach of champions, period. Wether they wear 23 or 24 is irrelevant.

His triangle offense is a simple way to describe his coaching. Sure, it has some technical meaning about flex passing, changing the pivot corner and some other crap. However, it has a real meaning: calmness, helping and movement. The three virtues of a man embracing Zen were carried onto the basketball court and somehow molded to for teams that ran, that passed that shot and defended, and most importantly won. The 4 titles this decade are alot, but can be used as praise for the singular brilliance of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. However, they can moreso be used as proof of the ability of the Master of Zen.

Phil Jackson is an interesting character. He is probably the only man who has never gotten in trouble for sleeping with his boss. He is probably the only man ever to coach a team to three titles, then be forced to retire because of a player ruining the team, and then be courted with open arms and chocolates to come back. The greatest example of Phil's power, and his perfect new epithet: he is the only coach ever great enough to be able to write a book calling his star player a selfish teammate, then coach that same player and force him to not only pass more, but embrace being part of a team. That is a recipe for failure, for Phil, its a recipe for a Champion.

2.) Gregg Popovich

Like his star player, he is hidden beneath the San Antonio desert, cornered away from normal civilization, in the grout southern outpost of the NBA. Like his star player, he is the best at what he does, and has been for the full decade, taking a team blessed with one great player, and doing things normally reserved for teams with two or more. His three titles may be fewer than Phils for the decade, but his one star player is fewer than Phil's two. What shapes Popovich is a love for wine, business and defense, and his penchant for winning.

Pops too has never lost 30 games in a season since the decade started. Pops too has never gotten nearly the credit he deserved. He molded the Spurs, but he was also the one who bought the iron, assembling the team through his talent eye. He was the one who thought that Tony Parker was a star. He was the one who like the cutting ability of a spindly Argentinean named Ginobili. He was the guy who embraced a lunatic named Stephen Jackson, turning him into a team-first defensive presence. He was able to make the Spurs into the perfect team, one that had the defensive ability to outplay the Pistons, at that point the best defense in teh NBA, on the defensive side of the ball. He was the coach of the team that took on the 2005 Suns, in their "7 seconds or less" peak, and outran and outscored them.

The Spurs never backed down, and that came directly from their coach, a man with the complexion and temperment of a cool Army General, one strict enough to elicit great reaction, but smart enough to plan for any style of game. Popovich is tethered to Duncan, and why not. It was a perfect marraige, a coachable brilliant player paired with a brilliant coach. Four titles, 10 fifty win seasons later, Popovich can see the end of the Duncan era. He is smart enough to realize that it might be over, and that what he created was a masterpeice.

1.) Bill Belichick

The pain of this is hard to bear. I have to swallow pride (and some inebriation-causing beverages) before writing this. It will be difficult for I hate the man more than any human should hate someone they have never met. Yet, there is no way around it. He has been the best coach of the decade, if not the best coach of the past 2. He made a dynasty out of his own image, surly, smart and special. Bill Belichick is the best coach of the 2000s, in football and in all American sports. Period.

It wasn't always like this. After five average years in Cleveland, he was stunningly given a second chance, and not so stunningly started out with a nice 5-11 season. What followed next is NFL history. For the next 6 years (the real Patriots dynasty, not the offensive showboat that arrived in 2007), the Patriots won 70 games, and 12 more come playoff time. They were the team that could do it all. They could win games close, like 9-3 over Cleveland in 2003. They could win shootouts (38-34 over Indianapolis, 38-31 over Tennessee). They could run, they could pass, and boy could they play defense. Inside Belichick's mind was a super-computer (had a nice web-cam!!), analyzing everything about every other team, proccessing what he had learned, and formulating a plan of action. The plans were never the same. One game it was putting out seven d-backs, rushing just four and focusing the defense on the running back. One game it was running a 4-2-5, with the safety playing close coverage and the cornerback shading deep. One game it was playinga 4-3 alignment for the first time in 14 weeks, in what happened to be the Super Bowl. It never stopped, and it seemed like it never would.

Tom Brady wasn't yet Tom Brady the stat machine that he is now. Tom Brady was then just a nice player, a Jeff Garcia with more hair and fewer questions about his sexuality. It was Belichick's team, created in his own image. Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest, Ty Law and Richard Seymour seemed like bigger versions of Belichick, playing on the field with their master controlling the action from the sides. Whatever he wanted done, they would do. It was flawless, it was perfect, it was going 17-2 in back-to-back seasons. It was the Patriots, it was pure hell for the Patriots-haters, it was hell frozen over for Patriots fans wondering where this messiah in a hoodie had been the last 20 years.

Nothing is more perfect about Belichick and his team than their 2004 AFC Playoff march. First, the played a Colts team that was red hot, with a QB that had thrown for 49 tds, and a team that had score 523 points, and 49 more in the Wild-Card round. His ingenious defense held them to 3. Next round they faced a Steelers team that had reeled off 15 straight wins, and had the NFL's best defense. His offense score 41, including seven on a play he diagrammed himself. Nothing was beyond their reach, and that was because they had the master on their side.

The luster is now gone. It has been five years since the Patriots were on top, and two since their disastrous Super Bowl XLII loss. However, it is still a Belichick world. The mere presence of that man prowling the sidelines makes them favorites in nearly every game. The mere presence of his hoodie and his scowl makes the pits of the stomachs of the opposing teams fan's drop. Finally, it is the mere presence of his calm look, his confident aura, that makes everyone think, the Pats have a shot. They have Bill.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The #4 Athlete of the 2000s: Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan - The Quiet Giant

If the NBA really wanted to clean up its image, turn over a new leaf from a era filled with blinged-up swatches, booming glocks and booze, an era where the NBA seemed like a live-action hedonistic rap show (not entirely true, but to David Stern it was), then instead of instituting a communist edict of a dress code, they should have turned to the best player in their sport. No, not LeBron and his entourage, not Kobe and his alleged rapings, and no not Shaq and his superman persona (although as a back-up Shaq would have been better than the dress code). Dwyane Wade comes close, but the man in question has been around for 12 years, plodding around the desert Alamo outpost of San Antonio, working magic night in and night out for the entire decade. Tim Duncan, the greatest power forward in NBA history, is the best NBA player of the last decade, the most important one and the cleanest one. Why that triangular equation never transformed into marketability for a league that was dying for a wholesome superstar is more an indictment on the NBA's inability to function, not a shot at Duncan. Tim Duncan's glory days are past. His team will probably lose 30 games or more for the first time in his entire CAREER. He may never hold the Larry O'Brien trophy again. He doesn't need all those things, he needs the recognition he deserves. LeBron can wait, one of the 10 best NBA players ever is still here.

Since Tim Duncan was drafted #1 by San Antonio before the 1997-1998 season, he has been in the league for 12 full years. In this time, he has been an All-NBA first team player 9 times. All-NBA Defense first teamer 9 times. Twice he has won the MVP of the league, and twice more finished as the runner up (to Shaq and then KG). Again, he has never played on a team that lost more than 29 games (until probably this year). He has been to the finals four times, and won all of them, three times winning the Finals MVP. Yet, with all these numbers, including a five year stretch from the 1999-2000 season to the 2003-2004 season where he had 23 points, 12 rebounds 3 assists and 2 blocks per game each year, there is so much more that makes Duncan the best NBA player this decade. He won, and he was the sole reason.

Kobe might have as many Championships, but Shaq will fight anyone to the death if they say that Shaq was not the primary force on all three of those teams. Wade may have carried a team, but he still had Shaq at a first-second all-nba level. In the four years that Tim Duncan won NBA titles, he had a total of two third team all-NBA players (Robinson in 1998-1999 and Parker in 2006-2007) on his side. That is it. Yet, there was no better franchise all decade around him. They guy who passed in and out of San Antonio are a laundry list of average (Mario Elie, Avery Johnson, Sean Elliot, Stephen Jackson, Nazr Mohammad, Fabricio Oberto, Malik Rose, Speedy Claxton, Steve Smith, Devin Brown, Rasho Nesterovic, Brent Barry and Francisco Elson all played major minutes on the three title teams in the 2000s) sprinkled with some good players (Parker, Ginobili, Horry, Bowen). However, he was really the power-forward form of Steve Nash. In his and the Suns prime, Nash made Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw, Jim Jackson and Quentin Richardson into good team players. The only difference with Duncan is he took lesser talent, and won titles. Sure, Duncan was handed one of the 10 best coaches in league history in Gregg Poppovich, but coaching only goes so far in the NBA. The NBA is about players. Other than a hockey goalie, no other sport has a player that can win titles basically by himself than NBA players, and no one did this like Duncan.

If you needed a rebound, he got it. If you needed a defensive stop, he got it. If you needed a pick, he got it. Hell, if you needed a last minute three-pointer to tie the game and kill off the last vestiges of a critically-acclaimmed offensive show, he got it. Look at these games that he posted in critical playoff games. In 2003, Duncan had a seven game stretch against the Lakers and Mavs in the playoffs where he had these games: 27-14-5 (points-rebounds-assists), 37-16-4, 40-15-7, 32-15-5, 34-24-6, 21-20-7, 23-15-6. To cap it off, he put up a 32-20-6 in Game 1 of the finals, and in Game 6, to close out a good Nets team, Duncan fell two blocks shy of a quadruple-double with a 21-20-10-8 (blocks). That was Duncan's peak, in the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 seasons. He could do no wrong. He did every single thing and NBA player is supposed to. When the Spurs needed Tim to drop 30, he dropped 40. When they needed him to take out Shaq, he did. He was the best defender of the past decade too, mercilessly helping his four teammates, turning the Spurs into the best team defense in the league year after year, with a revolving door of players around him. The fulcrum was Duncan. He stood strong, as the tides of ebbs and flows around him thrashed. He never wavered, he never got emotional or angry. He made the best with foreign players and cheap veterans. He was San Antonio. He was the most dominant force in the NBA.

What killed Duncan was his quiet persona. Duncan denied the spotlight more than he shied away. He didn't want to please anybody with his words or his jokes (he is supposedly a funny locker-room guy. Somehow that is more believable than the supposed Belichick jokester that people sware exist). He pleases with his play, his never ending desire to win and win alot. Duncan must hate what the Spurs are now, another run of the mill 45-50 win team, one that will always make the playoffs, never really challenge. That is what happens when you win 53-58-58-60-57-59-63-58-56-54 games in the last 10 years. That is what happens when you win three titles in five years, including beating down the James Cavs to a pulp in 2007. That is what happens when you exhude excellence, when you rise to the challenge night after night. Tim Duncan may never win the title again. Doesn't matter that much. He's already got four the hard way, winning without the help of another hall of famer (Robinson was a shell of himself in 2003). Other than the 2004 Pistons (who had 5 all-stars but no likely hall of famers) there probably was not a team in recent memory that won a title without at least two hall of famers as key contributers. Duncan won 3 without one, winning in every way from sweeping the Cavs to grinding out a 7-game series win over Detroit.

The NBA is now LeBron's world, a world where a stat-compiler that gets bailed out by refs and touches the ball on every play, allowing for assist totals that guys like Kobe or Wade would get if they demanded the ball that much. The NBA landscape has changed. The best true team is probably Denver, not relying on one player. The Duncan era is over. It is all about flash. Evidently David Stern has given up on making the NBA into a gentleman's game. Stern so much wanted a classy wholesome image for the league. He tried everything, and little did he know that the classiest superstar in recent memory (a philanthropic, polite giant of a man), who doubled as the best power forward in NBA history, was right there in from of him. Remember the Alamo, sure, but remember Duncan as well.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Legacy of Erotic Pie

It has now been nearly 11 years since 'American Pie' came out. Since I was eight at the time, needless to say, it has been fewer than 11 years since I first saw the movie. Back then it was fresh, funny and ludicrously edgy. The 90's were a different era, with conservatives running Washington, turning the movie industry into a censored, un-masogynistic world, far from the frat-party nature of the comedy films that littered the 1980s. That all changed when a group of men decided that they would build a movie about the all-to-real pressures of high schoolers trying to lose their virginity before they graduate, because, you know, everyone else is doing it. They then decided that, as a way to add to the fun, they would make a kid have sex with a pie, show a kid, lets say, letting loose early not once, but twice (sadly same kid), and then have other kids crap in a women's bathroom, and go after one of their friends mothers. All of this was packed into a 90 minute bundled, causing teens and college-aged kids to finally flock to the theatres (for something not related to a galaxy far, far away), and the middle-aged mothers to lose their cool. The page was turned. 'American Pie' was here, and it was not leaving.

Sadly, the two sequels were quite bad, with 'American Pie 2' delving into the category of utter crap. 'American Wedding' slightly redeemed the franchise, but essentially 'American Pie' had run its course. The game was over. There was only so many ways you can use one man and his constant ability to get caught naked doing embarassing, and sometimes illegal, things. However, a recent announcement was made that Universal was ante-ing up, giving the thumbs-up for an 'American Pie 4' (an actual movie, not those direct-to-dvd 'versions' of American Pie), one that would, they hope, feature all of the original cast in their roles at some reunion (I assume). That got me thinking about one questions and one realization: 1.) Is there really a need for another movie and is anyone going to care? and 2.) 'American Pie' may well be the most important movie of the last 12 years.

First, I'll answer the question. There probably is no need for another slice of Pie. It is intriguing that they signed the writer's of the original Harold and Kumar to write the movie, leaving the first acclaimed then criticized Adam Herz out in the cold. However, it has been seven years since we have seen the gang, and 9 since we saw some of the characters. There is no doubt that some of the cast will be itching for work, as the lives of Chris Klein (by far the WORST actor I have ever seen on a movie that was succesful), Mena Suvari, and Thomas Ian Nicholas haven't turned out the way they all hoped. God knows Tara Reid thought she would have some relevance other than her breast implant horror story a decade later. The only three people that have done anything are Eddie Kaye Thomas (Finch), Seann William Scott (Stiffler) and Alyson Hannigan (Michelle), who unsurprisingly are the best three characters in the movies anyway. This is where the problem exists. Are Scott and Hannigan going to do the movie? Scott, who at least is in movies (unlike the rest of the cast, not counting Hannigan) that are popular (Role Models, Cop Out) has already said that he would do it, but Hannigan is the wild card. In reality the character of Michelle is probably something Aly Hannigan doesn't want to revisit, unless the character matured tremendously in her 7 years of marraige. Aly is a mother now, and she might not want the fact that she once said 'I stuck a flute up my pussy' to be rediscovered and brought out into the limelight. Aly has said in the past she said no to other movie parts and auditions because she wants to concentrate on her family, and the 'How I Met Your Mother' schedule is already long enough and lucrative enough that she probably has no need for American Pie. I will say this, they cannot make the movie and have any hopes of being successful if one of its only two marketable stars does not sign on. A Michelle-less movie will not go well, especially since Michelle became a lead in 'American Wedding'.

Now, for the more debatable and exponentially more controversial realization. 'American Pie' (and I stress 'Pie' not its sequels) is the most important, influential movie of the last 12 years. No, its not all that great (although to its credit, the original 'American Pie' movie was and still is funny and watchable), and no it will never get acclaim from the "critics", but damn is it important. The answer lies in one word: Apatow. Apatow is famous, and worth millions, for two reasons. One is Will Ferrell, and the other is 'American Pie.' If 'Pie' never gets made, I doubt '40-Year Old Virgin' or 'Knocked Up' or 'Superbad' do. Those three movies are Apatow's magnus opus, they are his masterpeice. Those are the movies that he directed/produced/wrote, unlike Anchorman, which technically is an Apatow production, but Judd had little to do with it. Those three movies revolve around sexual humor, cursing and lewdness. Hell, there is a scene where they depict a 10-year old kid addicting to drawing cartoon phalluses. Cursing is in alot of movies, but not to the extent that it is in an Apatow (at least for successful comedies). No one cared. There were no protests, no wives of Senators creating a 'committee' to make sure children did not see this 'smut' like there was in the 80's. Nothing but millions of kids ready to see what Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Steve Carrell would say and do next. Why is that?

It all goes back to 'American Pie.' 'Pie' made it okay to curse, it made it okay to show nudity, to show sexual-oriented situations and ideas (the 'penis drawings' in Superbad can probably be tied back to the 'book of oral sex' in American Pie). 'American Pie' was the first movie since the early 90's to say, "screw you Congress Moms and your taste, we're releasing something kids want to see" and see it they did. Without 'American Pie' breaking that ground, rebelling against the iron curtain restricing movies sexual humor, Apatow is never able to make '40-Year Old Virgin'. Sure, Apatow's movies were better and funnier (although Judd has produced his fair share of clunkers like 'Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story' and 'Drillbit Taylor' and 'Year One'), but they were not the original, they tied themselves to the universal acceptance of 'American Pie'. Judd was able to see that America didn't care if a movie's premise was teens going to all odds to have sex, featuring a foul-mouthed teenage gigolo with a hot mom. If America would accept that, why wouldn't they accept a movie that has a scene with a laundry list of sexual acts and another with a whole conversation about a box of porn ('40 Year-Old Virgin), or a movie where the leads run a web-site that lists all the nudity in movies ('Knocked Up').

'American Pie' was a cultural phenomenon. It turned the comedy movie industry all around. 'Austin Powers' is the only other movie I can think of that aided the direction comedies took as much as 'American Pie.' Sure the two sequels were bad, and of course it is hilarious that all but one of people 'American Pie' introduced to America as its stars actually became one (Stiffler - unfortunately for American Pie, many people knew Aly Hannigan before it because of her work on 'Buffy'), but it is an oversight to not mention what the movie meant to the industry. In some ways, Judd Apatow would have had to rely on his other comedic abilities (riding cottails of Will Ferrell, creating shows that while good were cancelled - Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared - or producing bad not-sex comedies like 'Year One' and the un-funny 'Funny People'). I'm sure many would not believe this, or think that Judd Apatow's brilliance would have shown out anyway. Fine, we can all agree on one thing that 'American Pie' allowed to become mainstream: the MILF.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The 10 Greatest Athletes of the 2000s: 10-6

Before we start the countdown from 10-6, here are the guys 20-11, the guys that just missed the cut.

20.) Kurt Warner - If '99 was included, it might be hard to put him off. The most deserving great QB of all time.

19.) Nicklas Lidstrom - The only key link between the '02 and '08 Champs, the consumate pro, winner of 5 defensive player of the year trophies. He was the best defensman for a full decade.

18.) Steve Nash - the man who saved the NBA. Period.

17.) LeBron James - For all the hype, he has won a total of 0 NBA Final games, but
has lived up to the hype in every other way.

16.) Usain Bolt - Put on the best show in Olympics in the decade. Yes, for entertainment purposes, better than Phelps. But never did much in '04.

15.) Serena Williams - Considering she has not truly cared about tennis for much of the decade, and has probably never trained as hard as all those Russians, she is underated in her dominance.

14.) Rafael Nadal - The man who made Federer cry has to be celebrated, because he may never be the same again.

13.) Ben Roethlisberger - Brady's clone, but bigger and more entertaining, and could never allow guards to open fire at paparrazzi at his wedding.

12.) Shaquille O'Neal - Dominant for the first three years. Never the same again.

11.) Alex Rodriguez - Considering half the pitchers were probably roided up, those numbers are sick enough. Plus, he's got a ring now.

10 - Albert Pujols

Since his 2001 call-up, there has been no more perfect baseball player on the planet. Alex Rodriguez was close, but his roided-up body of work cannot compare to that of the, as of now, clean slugger, Mr. Pujols. In the beginning, he lacked speed on the basepaths and the ability to field. Now, he has been successful on 70% of his steals and has a gold glove in his coffers. He is great in every single way, making the fielding of first base into an artform, and hitting the ball with a sublime ease that makes it look simple enough that you wonder how no one else has been this good.

He is probably going to go down as one of the ten greatest baseball players of all time. So, if you ask, why is he down at number 10? Two reasons; one, all the other players on this list will probably be in the top-10 of their sport (its been a pretty good decade in sports), and two, there still is the steroid cloud hanging over it all. He has never been truly convicted, but there has been speculation. Here, we have a guy coming from the steroid mecca of the world, the Dominican. He had a truly uninspiring minor league career, where he was thin. He comes up as an udonis and proceeds to emulate Willie Mays for 9 years? A little suspicious, as is the fact that he is only "29" when he looks 34.

Anyway, that is getting into areas I should not, and Pujols doesn't deserve. That is mainly the talk of an Astros fan that has been burned by the Pujols too many times. He is too good. It is not fair for any one batter to be this good for this long. Considering that he hasn't had a solid hitter behind him from the 2005-2008 seasons, it makes the numbers so much more awesome. There seems to be no end to the limits of this mans power. Pujols has made St. Louis into the most consistent NL team of the last decade, and it is his face that fronts baseball. Let's just hope he is never added to the long list of disgraced "faces" of baseball in the next decade.

9 - Michael Phelps

The most decorated olympian comes in at number nine. I could spend the next three paragraphs throwing verbal bouquets at him, but enough people, people that can write much better and be read by more people, have already done that. Instead, I will go the opposite direction, write about why he should not be any higher, even though he has been made out to be Michael Jordan in a wet-suit.
He's a swimmer. That negates those medals. Divide it by three. The Olympics are, in a word, unfair. Basketball teams can only win one medal. One, in two weeks. Swimmers have, essentially, like 25 different opportunites to win a medal. Even track stars don't have it as good. Usain Bolt didn't have the opportunity to run backwards and skip 200 meters for medals, but Phelps could swim four different ways. Also, it was his teammates record setting lap that allowed Phelps to win his second medal in '08. His teammate had to make up for Phelps' underwhelming run. Finally, I'm still not convinced he won that race that he won by like .001 seconds.

Again, he's a swimmer. The sport you play matters. Even as the most famous swimmer ever, he will never reach the fame that the rest of the guys on this list will (in some countries). I will give him some credit. He made America go swimming-crazy for two weeks, and forced American's to stay up late and watch his 1:00 AM races, which he somehow got the country to do. He should be celebrated like the champion he is, but I feel that what he did was barely more impressive than what Usain Bolt did in those same Olympics.

8 - Tom Brady

Again, here is someone that would probably be much higher on most lists. He is the king of hype. He is mytholicised like some Greek God. He is loved for knocking up one hot actress and leaving her stranded with the kid for the most succesful model of all-time. He is called "the Golden Boy" and was once known as the best QB of the decade (ha). He doesn't deserve that title, since without a defense that perennially ranked at the top of the league, allowing him to win games putting up games like 17-30 191 yards 1 td 1 int (patent: Throwing a Brady), he would be Jeff Garcia, with better looks and less questions about his sexuality. Then, he was given the best deep-WR ever, and the best possession receiver currently in the league, and a top-flight third receiver and put up 8 games that were better than any other QB. But none of that puts him on this list. What does is what he did in the clutch.

Being a clutch QB is a legitimate thing, but one whose label is missaplied alot. Peyton Manning is a clutch QB. Kurt Warner is not. Brady is. Brady never wavered, got better as the game got closer. Brady was able to channel all the focus, all the ability that he had, and unleashed it on tired defenses as the clocks wound down and the pressure amped up. He has an insane 14-4 playoff record, one that was bouyed by a 10-0 start, one in which he led five game-winning drives in the 4th quarter or OT. He was smart, resiliant and driven.
All of that is gone now. Brady was once quoted in 2008, after he lost the parking spot next the Belichick's in the practice facility given to the hardest working player, saying that "my priorities changed" in reference to his kid and wife. They sure have, Tom. He is now a major world-spokesman, more likely to be spotted at TMZ at 3AM than watching film. He is the guy that now converses with Pat O'Brien before games, and cares about his looks. He's the guy that goes to the press conferences with the 20,000 dollar suit, and has security guards open fire at papparazzi at his wedding. He is no longer the kid that once spiked the ball in the snow so hard he fell down. He's no longer the kid that went crazy butting helmets with Drew Bledsoe before the Super Bowl. He's the guy that walks off the field aimlessly after another soulless loss.

He may have changed. He may no longer have the drive to be great, the drive to conquer the league like he once had, and that Peyton and Drew currently have, but he had it, and for a majority of the decade, he was IT. He was the guy with the impossible to defeat spirit and concentration. He was unflappable, unstoppable and unbelievable. Just because that Brady is now long gone, does not mean we should forget about him. Brady was great. Brady was Super.

7 - Kobe Bryant

Other than Michael Vick, there probably has not been a single athlete who has had a more tumultous decade. However, unlike Vick, the stain of his off-the-court actions are long gone. Dave Chappelle once joked Kobe was playing for his freedom. Fortunately for Kobe, that was true. He raised his game when the spotlight shown brighter and brighter on him.
It would be remiss not to mention that he was the one who broke up the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, running the man responsible for those first three titles, O'Neal, out of town. It would be more remiss not to mention that he was once charged with rape, which was eventually settled. However, there was no better scorer and determined figure in the NBA. He has changed his game as his career went on. No longer is Kobe driving the lane and throwing it down like D-Wade. No, Kobe has developed a reliable mid-range jump shot. Kobe has built an arsenal of low-post moves, and back-to-the-basket shots. Kobe evolved, into a more conceited man, but one that still had the fire of a dragon.

Kobe Bryant is again on top of the NBA world, leading the Lakers to another title, bookending the decade. In 2000, he was the precocious 21 year old, running as the virtuoso youngster sidekick, witnessing the most destructive force in NBA history play at an all-time high. He ended the decade as the most destructive force, showing why he is the best single force in the NBA. He is not LeBron. He is not the powerful force, the great passer, the primary ball-handler. He is better. He is just a sublime player, an artistic one. His game, unlike his passion, is not one of brute force, it is one of skill. That is the most amazing part of Kobe's transformation from athlete to possible-felon, to disgraced and cancerous Superstar to finally artist. It was a long one, but a journey that was eventually redeeming and fulfilling.

6 - Roger Federer

I hate him. I despise him. He is secretly the biggest arrogant prick in sports. He is Belichick-level arrogant, just with a swiss accent that infatuates reporters to the level they seem not to understand the demeaning and self-aggrandizing words flowing out of his mouth. He is the one tennis player that is actually better looking than his WAG. He is a tool that comes out to the Centre Court in Wimbledon in a dress pant and jacket. He is a serious tool for going down to the ground in tears even in his fifth US Open win. He is the greatest Open Era tennis player of all time.

I can try to pray for some new, more interesting less robotic player to come along and break his record of 16 slam titles, but for now, he's the best there is. Pete Sampras set his record of 14 titles in the US Open in 2002. I don't think he ever thought that his record would last only seven years, and be beaten by a guy who at that time had 0 major wins. There has to be some explanation of Federer's brilliance. He is like Pujols x 10, he is just too consistently good to be true. Sure, from '07 to now, he has been beatable, winning just 7 of 13 majors. But the fact that winning only 7 of 13 majors is "beatable", which it is since he won 9 out of 14 before that, defines his greatness. His three year run from '04 to '06 will never be topped, as he lapped the field easily, winning games so efficiently that when a set went to Federer 6-4 it was a minor upset. He was sick, making passing shot after passing shot from every flank. Thank God for Rafael Nadal, or Federer might have 20 majors by now.

Nadal is really the only person ever to get into Federer's head, ever to have the mental fortitude to compete with Federer. Other players just wilt in his presence (see Murray, Andy). The battle is over before they enter the ring, knowing that perfection is required just to have a chance. There have been players that came along with as much talent (Safin), as much strength, agility and shotmaking-ability (Nadal) and as much "screw-you" determination (Del Potro, Djokovic at times), but no one combines all three things like Federer. The Federer cocktail is the strongest ever. He is the greatest silent assassin, never seeming bothered. In his prime, he never even seemed to sweat. He was truly the highest form of perfection an athlete can acheive. I hate him, but as Wes Mantooth said to Ron Burgundy, "I hate you, but God Damnit do I respect you."

(Federer highlight video -

Friday, February 19, 2010

The 10 Biggest Football Controversies of the Last Decade

This the countdown of all the things that made news in the NFL and NCAA Football for all the wrong reasons. Reffereeing mistakes, coaching blunders, outside problems and espionage, its all in here.

Here are the ones that just missed the cut: The Death of Chris Henry, Plaxico Burress' Shooting, and the death of Darrent Williams, Ray Lewis, murderer? and Hurricane Katrina displaces the Saints.

10.) The 2004 "Rule Change"

The Colts were somehow still in the game, even though Manning had thrown four interceptions, and the Colts gave up a safety. Somehow, it was still within reach, at 21-14, two minutes to go. Manning had a 3rd and 10, and attempted to pass to Marcus Pollard. After a blatant hold that was left uncalled, Manning attempted one last pass to Pollard, again the refs did not call a penalty after Pollard was mugged. After the game, Colts GM Bill Polian complained that the refs did not honor the "5-yard contact" rule put in place back in 1979 that prohibited defenders from holding receivers after 5 yards from the line of scrimmage. After admitting the missed calls, the NFL sent a memo to the refferees stressing that this rule should be called more often and more strictly. Since, it definitely has been, with defensive contact and holding penalties way up. However, the controversy comes from the outrage against Polian. Polian, already no friend to the media, was hailed as a cry-baby, molding the NFL's rules to help his team. What was left in the dust was that this rule was in place for years, but had been neglected wrongfully. There was no real rule change, as so many people feel to be true. Polian, to this day, gets hammered, even though he did nothing wrong.

9.) Sean Taylor

This is why I defend Plaxico, although Plax should have licensed the gun. This is why all the right that say, "What need to NFL players have for getting guns," are so wrong. Becuase, at any time, your life, especially when you are a rich, successful man from an area where success is scarce, is one with a bulls-eye on it at all times. Sean Taylor was known for his huge heart on the field, and his reformed, quiet life off the field, one that was centered around staying clean and living with his daughter. Four men, all poor villains from the Miami ghettos, decided to rob his house, thinking Sean was gone. Sadly, recooperating from injury, Taylor was there, and when the four men noticed their mistake, it was all too late. Sean was shot in the femural artery, killing him over time from major blood loss. The NFL was truly at a loss for words. All of Goodell's work (see below), and for the second time in nine months, an NFL player was shot to death doing nothing wrong but being a target. Sean Taylor was a star player too, making the pain from loss so much worse. The league did its due diligence honoring him, while his team did more, running off four straight wins to make the playoffs, but Sean Taylor, and the idea that football player's are never safe, even in their homes, has never truly left us.

8.) Roger Goodell's Personal Conduct Policy

This all predates Vick, although the scepter of a certain, do-ragged canine-killer overshadows the developments that happened before. Goodell entered into the Commissioner's Office as the NFL entered an age of unmatched popularity and labor peace (he kinda ruined the latter one), but also an age of unmatched thuggery (not really, but with 24/7 news all player mishaps were bigger news). Goodell's answer, one that was particularily aimed at the devil that was Pac Man Jones, and hauntingly the now-late Chris Henry, was to create a new "personal conduct policy", one that would allow Goddell the dictatorial ability to suspend players without a conviction or settlement. Essentially, Goodell was allowed to suspend and fine players becuase he did not like the way they acted. It was purely un-American, but since the espousers of freedoms, the right, were all secretly petrified of Pac Man Jones, a man who has still never been convicted of anything (he does seem to have the inteligence of a anal bead though). No one complained except for players, and they have a most viable claim. How can the commissioner suspend players with the only cause being that he did not like their conduct? Lord knows, but it happened. Pac Man, gone for 16 games because he was addicted to strip clubs.

7.) Terry Porter's Pass Interference

Miami had done it. 34 straight wins. 2 straight National Championships. Following in the footsteps of the most loaded college football team maybe ever, the 2002 Miami Hurricanes, albeit slightly less dominant, had run the table and run Miami into the history books again. It was all over. Yet, for one man, it was not. Terry Porter, the backjudge that had just witnessed Miami defensive back Sean Taylor bat a pass targeted for Michael Jenkins with perfect coverage, decided, after waiting three seconds, to throw a flag. Pass interference was the call, Ohio State was given new life, and the Miami fans that had rushed the field were herded like cows back into the stands. Ohio State would go on to complete the historic upset, winning 31-24 in double overtime, allowing Maurice Clarrett his 15 minutes of fame (minutes that Clarrett foolishly tried to add to with his "attempt" at cracking the NFL early). Miami was left to wonder, what if? the country was outraged (at least the college football loving part of the country). The National Championship of College Football was, in their eyes, decided by a striped man. Refferees had made a mockery of college football's biggest game. Little did anyone know, in three short years, they would do the same to the country's biggest game.

6.) Nipplegate

There is a reason that the last six halftime acts at the Super Bowl have been Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and the Who (Combined age: 234). That reason happens to exist on the left breast of Janet Jackson. For all the people who scream every time the NFL announces another male senior-citizen laden halftime show, blame Janet. It was Justin Timberlake's de-shrouding of Jackson's nipple that ruined the halftime show forever. Granted that show was horrible even before it happened, the reason Beyonce will never be allowed to do the halftime was becuase of Jackson. What was lost was that all it was was a momentary nip-slip, something that isn't that common and isn't that big of a deal. Sure, it was live, but just have a seven-second tape delay and blur that boob out. End of story, end of problem.

5.) Super Bowl XL

And here was where the refs decided to screw the Super Bowl up. Referees jobs are hard, but honestly, a gymboree class could have worked this game better. Tim Donaghy must be proud of the work Bill Leavy put in that day. Three calls, that was all it took to ruin what should have been a close Super Bowl. First, was the negation of Darrell Jackson's first quarter TD catch becuase of a push-off that had all the strength of a stampede of pillows. Next, came the call of Ben Roethlisberger's running TD, a play that did not cross the goal-line in any camera angle available to man. Third, a holding call on Seattle tackle Sean Locklear that negated what would have been a first and goal for the Seahakws, three yards from a 17-14 lead, setting up a great ending. All of the calls went against the Seahawks, and that only made it worse. The Steelers were the sentimental favorite, America's true team, with a fat, lovable Wiggle of a man in Jerome Bettis playing his final game. Seattle had a lovable, fat wiggle as well in Mike Holmgren, but other than that were a soulless bunch from Seattle playing in a Detroit crowd that was 99.4% Steeler fans. It was a despicable display of reffereeing, and probably Exhibit A in any case that the NFL riggs their games. It was all-summed up with Mike Holmgren's comment at a Seahawks rally: "I knew it would be tough playing the Steelers. I didn't know we had to play the men in stripes too." Yes, Mike, yes you did. The Super Bowl officiating has never been the same since.

4.) The Tuck Rule

The rule that started a dynasty. Still, to this day, no one can say that even using the inane rule, if it was a fumble. All anybody knows is that it was a fumble. It was called one on the field. It was called one in everyone's living rooms. Even the Patriots knew it. Tom Brady walked off the field, slamming his helmet into the snow-draped sideline, knowing in his heart and his head that he fumbled away the final game in Foxboro Stadium history. Sadly, Walt Coleman was the sole person on earth who thought that there was considerable enough evidence to overturn the ruling, granting the Patriots new life, life that they would extend to the next nine postseason games. The Patriots dynasty was born, and the Raider run ended, as Gruden left two weeks later, something Al Davis admits would never have happened had the Raiders won that game. The Tuck Rule remains the most controversial refferee decision this decade, probably in any sport, as it is the one where the fight is over the call itself, more than the outside influence. It wasn't the Super Bowl, where the calls came in the middle of the game. This one decided it, and what only made it worse was that the Raiders, the team that always thought the NFL was out to get them, was on the wrong end. As a Raider fan, I have never gotten over that call, but when a highlight or review of the call or game is on TV, I, and millions of others scarred by the wrong-ness of it all, cannot turn our heads. It is too compelling, too important. One call created one dynasty, and killed one franchise.

3.) Michael Vick

I won't get into the demerits of what he did, and the punishment he received. Simply put, I believe what he did was wrong in many ways, but in no way deserved 24 months in prison. Dogs may be beautiful, regal creatures, and deserve to die in more humane ways than torture, but they are not humans. Two years in prison was ridiculous. Anyway, I know that probably around 80% of the populus greatly disagrees. What is not disagreeable though, is that this was the single biggest off-the field story in the NFL this decade. This was a story that if it happened to anybody famous, let alone the single most marketable star in the NFL, it would make major headlines. It became the worst nightmare the NFL could have envisioned, as the league was under attack, seemingly as if they were harboring a terrorist (some claimed they were). The Falcons were charged by Peta, as if Arthur Blank, Falcon's owner, was personally shooting the films of Vick doing the deed. The Falcons recovered quite nicely, drafting Matt Ryan one year later, but for one year, there was no more ultiamtely irrelevant, but absolutely mystifying NFL location than Atlanta, Newport Beach, Virginia and the now infamous Leaven-worth penitentiary.

2.) The BCS

Love it or hate it, everyone has to admit that it has made college football much more important and talked about. The BCS' major claim is that "it makes the regular season so much more important", and do you know what? They are absolutely right. It has made the regular season infinitely more important. If there was an 8-team playoff, and Alabama and Florida both had locked in spots, do you think the SEC Title Game in '09 would have received 31.3 million viewers. The BCS has helped the college football regular season become a money-making racket, getting more viewers and more spots on Sportscenter than ever before. However, the overwhelming majority hate it. Guys like ESPN analysts Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso all slam the BCS, but fail to understand that if not for the BCS, their jobs would be pretty much useless (and much less lucrative) until January. College football is now the most exciting regular season of any sport not named the NFL, and the sole reason is the BCS. Sure, there is no perfect formula, but without the BCS, we never would have seen Texas play Alabama, or that classic USC - Texas or Ohio State - Miami title games, as all those teams would have had to fill their previous conference bowl obligations. Small schools say the system is unfair, well, then if you are Boise St. go ahead and join the Pac-10, or TCU in the Big 10. The Big 10 is here to stay, which will only get talking heads brewing a controversy. Talking heads, that would have had nothing to talk about otherwise.

1.) Spygate

And finally, there is the story that got congress involved, made Bill Belichick into the Nixon of the NFL, coincided with the most pariahacal/excoriated team in NFL history. It was the perfect storm. Mix in one team already seeking revenge for their embarrasing loss in the 2006 Title Game, with the added bonus that the team's success and bombast had already merited some nation-wide hate. Add in one coach who was seen as a obnoxious, arrogant jerk. Add in one video-camera cheating scandal (aren't those type of scandal's always the best), and a Watergate inspired name. And Viola!! The greatest football scandal ever. Also, let's not forget Roger Goodell's butchering of the entire situation by burning the evidence, the very tapes that actually went back to 2000, and included some playoff games. In the end, it amounted to nothing, with the Patriots eventually getting their commeuppance, one that was wholly deserved after somehow turning themselves into the victims, with their loss in Super Bowl XLII. The Matt Walsh situation, one that if true would probably have gotten the Patriots stripped of their 2001 Super Bowl title, ended up being nothing. But, there was no situation that enveloped a nation and had legs longer than Spygate. Amazingly, this is not the last Spygate column in the decadium. That jsut goes to show you that there was no bigger football controversy in the aught's if ever, than Spygate.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Greatest Moment in Nick History.

Here it is, arguably the best one-liner in comedy television history, from the greatest kids show of all-time, the show that led Nickelodeon to its highest days, and was passed over in the moves that led to Nickelodeon's terrible downfall. I give you Patrick and Squiddy.

Read on for the breakdown of Nickelodeon's downfall, the Saddest Trend of the 2000s.

Sad Trend of the 2000s

The Death of Nickelodeon

It all started with that gay sponge and his starfish lover. It all ended with a idiot kid and his fairy godparents. Nickelodeon had finished its transformation, it had become a real kids network, one that espoused silliness, pre-adolescent interests, sports and cool strange animals. Gone were the days of 'Pete and Pete'. Gone were the days of 'Clarissa Explains it All'. Gone was 'Harriet the Spy' and 'Salute Your Shorts'. 'Figure it Out', 'Double Dare', 'Legends of the Hidden Temple' relegated to Nikcelodeon Gas. "All That" served as the last vestiges of a bygone era, where Nickelodeon spanned a gray area between kids and teens. The century was turning, and Nickelodeon turned with it. It had its power-lineup, a '27 Yankees batting order of 'CatDog', 'Rocket Power', "Hey Arnold', 'Fairly OddParents' and the Babe Ruthian 'Spongebob'. Among the all-stars, lesser known role players and veterans like 'Rocko's Modern Life', 'According to Ginger' and 'Ahhhh, Real Monsters' came up and down, like September call-ups filling the roster, stealing bases and entertaining audience looking for more edge, more sex and more gross-ness. Nickelodeon was on top, and they even catered to the highest level of childhood delights, dumping goo on unsuspecting and absolutely suspecting, if not awaiting, people, with Slime Time Live. Sure, the remnants of Doug Funnie, Finster and the 'Are You Scared of the Dark' gang was gone, but a new, funnier, fresher generation was here. It was here to stay. Cartoon Network was dead, killed by the combination of worse programming and a lack of a flamboyant Sponge, a football-shaped teen and a pair of beavers.

As the decade turned over to the teens, Nickelodeon is battered, a shell of its former slimy self. The Nickelodeon Studios at Universal Studios has seen visotors drop by 35% since 2002, the height of Nick's powers, while general attendance to the Universal Studios has been increased by 27% in that same timeframe. 'Wild Thornberry's', gone and replaced by 'Danny Phantom.' 'Invader Zim' gone, replaced by 'My Life as a Teenage Robot'. 'Hey Arnold' gone, replaced by 'Jimmy Neutron' which in turn is gone, replaced by some cataclysm of suck 'Mr. Meaty'. What happened? Why had the network that stood out, the network that won the race to draw in kids, done to itself? How could a network that once put out stuff that obviously made the kid viewers dumber but still enthrall them to the point that their shows were getting ratings primetime cable shows weren't getting fall out?

It is a sad feeling to get. Looking at a list of all the Nicktoon shows that were once so prominently a part of the daily life of millions, smart, edgy funny shows, just gone, with the waste lying in a dump. There was something beautiful about 'Spongebob' (easily the most reprehensible show on the network in its Glory Years, so reprehensible I would never allow my kids to watch it), there was something majestic about Mr. Krabs. Everyone wanted a Krabby Patty, I'm pretty sure no one wants "Chum" eaten on the I can only assume captivating show "Fanboy and Chum Chum". Maybe I am wrong, maybe kids are watching, however, there will never be another time where a kids network is as important, as meaningful. This was past the era of scripted live-action shows, the ones that got the name Amanda Bynes into the lexicon, the ones that remain Nick Cannon's only work of consequence. There was nothing better, nothing more relatable than Hey Arnold! (still the most truly meaningful and legitimate nicktoon post-Doug). It was the story of a boy, his secret love, his secret lover, his black fried, and every single ethnicity and background mixing in that melting pot of Sunset Arms. Who can forget Pheobe and Rhonda, Gerald and Stinky, Harold and Sid, Mr. Kokoshka and Dino Spimoni, the uber-cool Iggy and of course the bastardized brilliance of the unibrowed Helga Pataki. They were relatable, they were real. They were just animated people. It all changed, though, with The Fairly Oddparents, the last true great Nicktoon, and it did for one single reason: Nickelodeon thought kids wanted crazy.

Up until the Fairly Oddparents, everything about Nickelodeon was real, was human. Sure, they had shows where Baby's talked and Cats were siamese-ly conjoined to Dogs, and Beavers lived in woods with the ability to sing. Sure, there was a whole society of bipedal sea creatures, headed by a squirrel that lived in a reverse fishbowl. However, all of these shows were essentially based on humans. All of these shows, whether featuring human man or cold-blooded creature, created an infrastructural system, a seperate environment eerily similar to the human world. Spongebob worked an everyman's job, had a difficult boss, had a depressed terrorist (Plankton) in his neighborhood, and fell in love (whether that token of effection was Sandy or that bastion of hilarity Patrick is debatable). CatDog, too had a house, had jobs and lives. In Angry Beavers (probably the two most underrated characters in Nickelodeon history, just becuase they combined the most alpha-dog mentality into what can only described as a homosexual relationship setting), those two shared "marital" strife. In rugrats, there was an alternate reality created, sure, but that reality emulated much of the real world, with real-life problems. There were no special powers granted, no special storylines that exhibited some character far away from modern-life. Everything represented some aspect of human life. Sure, animals were fighting in 'the Wild Thornberry's' but the fight always centered around some all-too-human problem.

Again, that all changed with one Timmy and his Special Godparents.
Timmy was ordinary, as was his living situation, but aided by the fact that his 'parents' were 'Fairies" that could grant wishes, making it a wholly moronic premise altogether, made the reality of the situation dissapear. This wasn't a kid, he wasn't facing normal kid problems. There were episodes that centered around saving Christmas and Cupid. No kid cared about those things. Those things aren't real. What was real was helping a depressed Plankton have F-U-N. Fairly Oddparents budded into 'Chalkzone' and 'Jimmy Neutron' all shows that centered around 21st Century premises, magic and technology, whether it be a kid with magical chalk or one with an Einstein-ian brain. What kid cared about the daliances of a boy genius with an IQ that exceeded most adults? What kid cared about some subversive chalk-world? The game was over, evolution had taken its toll. Down-to-earth relatable storylines, in Nickelodeon's mind, died off with the 1900s. They evidently and certainly wrongly ascertained that kids needed to be stimulated with what is magic: Teen-robots, kids that were phantoms (I assume that is what "Danny Phantom" does in his time). They assumed that kids needed to watch kids save the world. What they forgot was that kids don't care about the world. Kids only wanted to watch kids save themselves. Gone was the humor, however silly and irreverent it may be. Thrust into the spotlight was problems and built-up heroes to solve it.

Nickelodeon vastly underrated the ability of a kid to comprehend that the world was not an inherently magical place, that there were problems that needed to be solved, and couldn't be solved with the help of robotic children or genius-pubescents. Even in the strangest of nicktoon premises, 'Ahhh, Real Monsters', a show that did end before the Glory Days, there was a government set up in the monster world. It really is brilliant to see how those old Nickelodeon shows did, in each their own way, connect to the real world. Again, nothing stressed this point more than Hey Arnold, where Arnold was the real magician, waving sense and compassion, instead of a wand, fixing problems like the mid-life crisis of a hilariously spoofed Sinatra, in Dino Spimoni, instead of building a force-field to protect the earth from a meteor (something that even real geniuses can't do). Nickelodeon was underratedly funny (the duo of Patrick and Squidwerd rank right below George and Kramer for me), but even more underratedly meaningful. The world's problems certainly have changed, but the best Nickelodeon could do was to allow kids a glance into the Iraq War by showing the Fairly Godparents trying to beat a Saddam-Schwarzennegar lovechild in Jorgen Von Strangle and his nazi-esque pixies (these are all legitimate comparisons written by critics of the show, not cultivated figments of my mind) by leading an army of fairies. The world still has problems lide environmental disregard and stealing, problems that were addressed in more real, more truthful ways in shows that still managed to be far funnier.

Nickelodeon will probably never rise to the levels it once was, unless the entire cycle starts over, and the neo-'Adventures of Pete and Pete' come about (which I'm fine with - I would dig a neo-Michelle Trachtenberg) followed by the neo-Rugrats and neo-Doug (Again, I would dig some neo-Patty Mayonnaisse). However, Nickelodeon seems to far gone, as once you release a program called Mr. Meaty, all bets are off. Nickelodeon will never have the cultish sublimity of the early nineties (remember Wild and Crazy Kids), but will also never have the singular popularity and importance of the period from 1998-2002. Nickelodeon was an integral part of each child's upbringing, and did more, in an insanely humorous and subtle way, to instill values and the ability to solve actual ethereal problems than it will ever be given credit for. I hope to God that Nickelodeon is no longer an important part of every child's upbringing. Just as Blues Clues killed Nick Jr by teaching every kid that there were magic pails and that a band of jolly kids would point out the answers to lifes problems, the new Nickelodeon killed itself by teaching kids that there are children out there that can build airplanes and get all of their wishes granted. Danny Phantom is not waling through that door when a problem arises in a kids life. Sadly, neither is that gay Sponge, his cyncical squid neighbor and his idiot starfish friend. Somehow, we need those three people more than ever.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Story of the Year: 2000

A Great Show

If you could pick the most common pair of first and last names in America, high atop the list, probably only beaten by John Smith, is Mike Jones. Mike Jones is an everyman. Mike Jones is omnipresent, that person embodying America. Mike Jones shies away from the limelight, putting his hard-hat on every day, never admiring the stars nor shooting for them. Mike Jones is in every community, picking up his lunchpail eating a hamburger. Mike Jones is the person responsible for the best finish in the best game in the biggest sporting event in America's history. Mike Jones is the guy who made The Tackle.

When Trent Green was writhing in pain on the Trans World Dome Turf, there was no darker gotham in the country than the Gateway to the West. Green was the future, the messiah. He was the man that, along with Marshall Faulk, would lead the Rams to glory, the handsome QB that could throw daggers all over the field to his fast, fleet flankers messers Bruce and Holt. On that day, Rams President John Shaw called owner Georgia Frontiere and unearthed a depressing, vulgar tirade about the decrepid luck of his club. A few hundred miles away, Jeff Fisher wondered, "is this the year?". That was a question worth answering of Fisher. Fisher was known as a talented and smart coach, but one that was in an run of mediocrity unmatched. Under his direction, the Oilers had gone 8-8 in three straight seasons, playing in three different home stadiums (the Astrodome, The Liberty Bowl and Vanderbilt Stadium). Fisher was confident, as he was dealt a team with good character players and been branded a new home (Adelphia Coliseum) and a new name, the "Titans". There was uncertain pessimism in Nashville, and despair in St. Louis, both ridiculously misguided. Little did Jeff Fisher, or Georgia Frontiere know, those two teams would put on the Greatest Show the Super Bowl had, and has, ever seen.

If one man new the power of Kurt Warner (other than Warner, and God for that matter, as Kurt would say) it was Dick Vermeil. The oft-crying coach, in a agitated sob that only he could rightfully pull off, lowered his voiced, focused his eyes and let out a decree. "We will rally behind Kurt Warner" he decreed, "and we will play good football." From Vermeil's ears to Kurt Warner's arm to Keith Lyle and Kevin Carter's bodies, it was true. The Rams were great, pacing the NFC with 13 wins, scoring 526 points and allowing just 242. The were the Greatest Show on Turf, with Mike Martz as the oafish ringleader, choreographing an aeriel show unrivaled in the legaue. Kurt Warner played like how the greatest Rams optimist envisioned the now-fallen and forgotten Green leading the team. The Rams were the best.

As for those Titans, they weren't. They scratched and clawed their way through the season, with a mental resolve that mirrored their gruff coach and stoic quarterback, a man named McNair. With Eddie George pounding, McNair passing, and a defense led by a freak, they copped 13 wins, but lost out to Jacksonville albeit beating them twice. Their storied year never reach the status, or exposure, of the Rams. The Titans just battled quietly in their new stadium, isolated from the league in small-town Tennessee. However, like the 'Titans' of Rome, they ran through the leagues, rolling into the enemies most daunting, that of 13-3 Indianapolis and 14-2 Jacksonville, and beat them up, in every way possible. They won with brute force, the Rams with brilliant flames.

That label, however, suffered a major hemmhorage in the NFC Title Game, when the big, bad Bucs came to the Gateway, with a defense that would be in the middle of the Greatest run of Defense since the Steel Curtain. The Bucs came into the game and fought and clawed their way, playing the perfect Tampa-2, a system named for their team, built to beat the other one. The Rams sat leery-eyed, finally realizing that Kurt Warner was still an MVP.... of an Arena League team. Kurt Warner was still a rookie, was still young and imperfect. Trudging down the field, facing a 3rd down and a 6-5 defecit, Kurt heaved a prayer, one that nestled over the outsretched arm of Brian Kelly, and settling in the hands of Ricky Proehl. Kurt Warner threw 41 tds (becoming the first person not named Marino to cross 40), yet Proehl did not catch a single one. He was option 5, if not 6, bested by Isaac Bruce, Torry Hold, Marshall Faulk and Az-Zahir Hakim. He was the forgotten man, slipping behind the Tampa-2, sliding into history. It was finally. The Rams. The Titans. Brash. Braun. Stunning Theatrics against Strong Tactics. It was cinderella, with both teams jockeying for the title. Clock would strike 12, but not before one hell of a ball.

The fact that the Rams and Titans were playing in the Super Bowl was scary enough, and coupled with the fact that Atlanta had an icestorm on Super Bowl Saturday, it was just set up for brilliance. If there was a way to draw up the way the game would be great, it would have the Rams playing to their full offensive potential, flying up and down the field, with the resourceful Titans blitzing and battling their way to forcing Rams field goals. It would have Eddie George and Stebe McNair proudly and passionately putting it all on the line, dropping blood, sweat and tears, if not other bodily fluids, onto the Georgia Dome turf, clawing that team back into the game. The fact that each and every one of these things happened was surprising. It was the Super Bowl, after all, the game that had featured a score of 55-10 just ten years ago, and 49-26 five. Now the Super Bowl is annually a close, competitive game, and it all started on that icy Sunday in Atlanta.

The Rams were the Rams, Warner was Warner, Faulk was Faulk and the Greatest Show was the Greatest Show. Kurt Warner threw for 277 yards in the first half, a total that topped 57 of the 66 Super Bowl QBs performances... for the entire game. Faulk had a long catch, Bruce had multiple. Torry Holt seemed to be running with rockets attached to his feet. Even Fred Miller, a paunchy 330 lb lineman got into the act. Yet, there was trouble. The Titans aggresive blitz scheme (led by the mad-man that is Gregg Williams, late of Saints fame, the perfect foil to the mercurial Martz) pounded Warner, and the Titans embodied Roman Warriors keeping the city of fortune, the end zone safe, forcing five field goals, one missed and one snap bobbled and just 9 points. It was a half that entertained, as the Rams played offense between the 20s better than ever before, and also embarrased, with four unsuccesful field goal attempts between the two teams. They entered the locker room, the Rams dominating on the stat-sheet, but relatively scraping the scoreboard 9-0.

The Rams continued with their routine, jetting down the field and then getting stopped twice inside the 10-yard line. The second stop was a short pass, which led to the Titans defensive enforcer Blaine Bishop hitting his head and lying motionless on the ground. After the game stalled, the Rams finally did not, with Warner hitting Holt, giving the Rams a 16-0 lead. The game was over. No team had ever come back from by more than 10. The Titans were down 16, and had failed to put up a point.

Titans: 173 yards.
Rams: 1 yard.

Titans: 16 points
Rams: 0 points.

Titans: 18:53.
Rams: 1:42.

Those are the stats of pure domination. Those are the stats of one team, led by two supreme athletes and even more supreme competitors, using sheer will to drain every last bit of energy away from their opponents. After Jeff Fisher's memorable "They're celebrating. They're celebrating. Go Win the GAME!!!! GO WIN THE GAME!!!!!!!" speech, the Titans did just that, personified by Eddie George's amazing one yard touchdown run, where he carries himself and some fat, tired Ram behemoth into the endzone. The game was now in the balance. In a quarter and a half, the game was reversed on its axis. Hell had indeed frozen over. It would soon be thawed.

With his team having done nothing offensively, and less than that defensively, Warner got the opportunity to do what every child dreamt of, the chance at being the hero in the Super Bowl, something that would seemed so very far away four years earlier when he was the hero, of the famed Arena Bowl. Sadly, he did not get that opportunity, as he scored too fast. One play. One pass, with one catch and run on the back-end, and all that work the Titans put in was gone. The identity of the Rams was their ability to score quick, and it was that self-same identity, the single thing that mysticized opponents, that allowed the Rams to erase 20 minutes of futility. Warner, holding strong under intense pressure from Jevon Kearse (a man has never done more to earn his nickname than Kearse's "The Freak"), unloaded a lofty hanging ball, that Bruce deftly adjusted to, caught and bobbed and weaved his way to the end zone. Suddenly, just 15 seconds after all was lost, it was Rams 23 Titans 16. Setting up the most memorable final drive in Super Bowl history.

Steve McNair got the same opportunity that Warner got, although he had to start from his own 12 yard line, 88 yards away from Glory, a trip to Disney World, and a huge diamond studded ring. 88 yards away from history, magic and triumph. He got 87. It was a slow drive, but one that was played out perfectly, the steady Titans, never gaining more than 14 yards on any play, overpowering and out-willing the Rams tired defense. McNair, who twice ran for 16 yards and drew another 15 on a penalty, standing back, a tree-trunk of a man in strength, and a heart and will the size of a California Redwood, guided that team down to the Rams 26. Facing a 3rd and 5, with 18 seconds to go, it was almost over. After the snap, the Rams defense finally siphoned enough energy to get at McNair, forcing him out, being chased by two men largers, stronger and faster than McNair. Yet, they were not tougher. McNair, bouyed by his hand pivoting the turf, stayed balanced and calm against the highest of choas, steadied himself and fired one last desperate pass, one that lasered into the breast of Kevin Dyson. 7 seconds left, one last play, one last chance. That trip to Disney world once stood 88 yards away, now only 10.

This was it, the play that would forever be known as the tackle. The day all the no-man's Mike Jones' of the world rejoiced. The Rams defensive no-name leader Mike Jones, steady but not spectacular all day, stood ready to face one last play. He had no idea it would be his desire, solely, that would bring home a trophy for St. Louis. Kevin Dyson ran the perfect route, on the perfect play, one that allowed him to matched up with the slower Jones, three yards away from the end zone. Jones leaped out, hands around Dyson's legs, bringing him down awkwardly on top of himself. When it was done, a swift yet eternally long moment in time, the Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time ended with the Titans one yard short. There was no need for any more, as pure exhaustion sunk into the Rams, and desperate darkness into the Titans. The teams, the flashy Rams that showed more heart than known, and the sturdy Titans that showed just how far their fight could reach, fought for 60 minutes, piling up points and yards. Yet, it had the ending for any fan and purist. Football, as it was once written by Paul "Bear" Bryant, "is a game of tackling. Period". There was no better way for the Super Bowl to end then by a single tackle, a perfect tackle, a perfect ending.

"He was a warrior. He was a sweet man. I have never met a man that could combine those two things in a more perfect way that Steve McNair. May he never be forgotten. May he always be remembered for what he did for his team, and his community. Steve, we love you." - Jeff Fisher

RIP. Steve McNair. You didn't lose, you ran out of time.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.