Thursday, December 30, 2004

Jeremy: An Argument For Parity

The question of whether or not parity is good for the NFL has been a hot debate over the last couple of years. Many people still wish for the days of the dynasty. I am here to not only say that I feel parity is good for the NFL, I believe it would be good for all pro sports.
First, let's talk about how parity happens. Now I understand that parity isn't exactly something that you can manufacture. But one of the reasons that every single team has a shot at going to the big show in the NFL every year is because the NFL does not have guaranteed contracts. The only money that is guaranteed in the NFL is the signing bonus, and most teams spread the signing bonus out over the life of the contract so that if they do lose a player to injury, trade or otherwise, they are only responsible for what is left on that player's signing bonus. Since the contracts are not guaranteed, like in other sports, it's much easier to release players. The long-term commitment that you make to a player isn't necessarily as long-term as it may seem. Because of all of this contracts tend to be shorter in terms, and, generally, have a year or two at the end that are optional. All of this put together means that big name players, like a Terrell Owens, can move around the league more easily, and because of a salary cap and other things the NFL has put into place in order to protect the competitive nature of the league, the money isn't going to be much greater from one team to another, and so, players tend to gravitate toward teams that have the greatest chance of winning in the very short term.
So why is this a good thing?
First of all, it's great for the fans. In August of every year almost every fan in the entire league believes that their team has a shot to go at least to the playoffs, and maybe the Super Bowl. And none of them are wrong. Every team does have a shot because the system that is in place makes everybody truly even on opening day, unlike the NBA or MLB, each of which generally have one or two very clear favorites to win the title, and this almost always comes to fruition throughout the season.
Second, it's good for the teams. It means that every year, every team has a shot to rebuild into a championship caliber team that will be a serious force within three years. I've believed for many years that in the NFL you have a three year window to win. You have (1)your rebuilding year, (2)your figuring out your identity year, and (3)your year when it all comes together and you take a shot. If it doesn't pan out after the third year you go back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Jeff: Stop the Vinsanity. Please

Earlier this week, the most overrated player in the NBA was dealt from the Toronto Raptors to the New Jersey Nets for a couple of Williams, an aging and perhaps washed-up former all-star center, and a couple of 1st round draft picks. Sports stations and websites have been howling about how the Raptors got ripped off, dealing Vince Carter, a perenial fan selection to the All-star game and "one of the game's most talented players" for virutally nothing. That they just started the ball rolling for the Raps to move out of Canada and cripple the franchise. Maybe. But I say maybe not. Carter made his name winning the Slam Dunk contest a few years back when that still meant something, displaying an array of dunks that could have defeated MJ and Nique in their high-flying primes. A 20-pt-a-night scorer, Vinsanity brought the Raptors to the brink of the NBA Finals, missing the game winning fade-away pointer in game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-Finals against Philly in 2001. His popularity was never higher and it seemed his talent was soaring like one of his gravity-defying jams. However, it seems Carter's desire has been fading away ever since.

According to an poll, it seems there's still plenty of folks out there who think Vince can rise back to his 2001 stature as one of the league's top players teamed up with Jason Kidd. This is what happens when people only watch his occasional Sportscenter highlight dunk. They don't see his unwillingness to get in the paint, pass, defend, or do anything but shoot fade-away 3's and make an open-court dunk. Despite this year's career low totals, Carter still has a career scoring average of almost 23 pts a game, but if there were a way to measure heart, desire, and leadership, Vince would be in negative numbers. Not only do his lack of desire to play team basketball make Kobe look like unselfish, but his pouting, whining and dissatisfaction when things aren't going his way have made him a clubhouse cancer.

Need proof? In 2002, Carter suffered an injury called "Jumper's Knee" (or as I like to call it-- "Wuss-itis") and was lost for the last 3 months of the regular season. Instead of folding like a cheap tent or pulling a Vince and "fading away" the Raps rallied without their star and made an incredible run to get into the playoffs--back when that meant something in the Eastern Conference. Coincedence? The next year Carter was relatively healthy, and the same group finished with 4th worst record in the league.

Bottomline is Carter didn't want to be in Toronto and it was obvious they didn't want him. They basically gave him away to the Nets, and although they may have gotten a better deal had they waited a little longer, the Raps are sending a message. They feel like they can make a run to the playoffs (which isn't saying much in the East), and wanted to rid themselves of the distraction of Carter. THey have an up-and-coming star in 2nd yr forward Chris Bosh. Like the Wolves did with KG, the Raps want to surround Bosh with "good guys" who will be a positive influence on him. Look for Bosh to break out and the Raps, at just 9-18 with Carter, to slide into the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed. This team will be a prime example of the Sports Guy's Ewing Theory.

As for the Nets, they'll have plenty of highlight-reel plays, with JKidd throwing lobs for Carter and Richard Jefferson. A playoff team? Maybe, but I can think of, well, just about anybody else I'd want taking crunch-time shots instead of Carter or RJ. The word "soft" comes to mind for both guys. The Nets are team who needs to trade JKidd and rebuild. Instead they dealt some assets for a guy who might put some butts in the seats but won't do a whole lot for them in the standings. Style over substance. That's too much of the NBA today.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Jeff: Oh really?

I apologize for calling any of you MN sports fans crazy for having an emotional attachment the Metrodome--aka the worst pro sports facility in America today. But in a way, you guys are all crazy, and that's the point: Minnesota probably has the best fans in the country, and you have 2 of the worst owners in sports in the same town holding the fans hostage with one big giant plastic ugly Metrodome. MN sports fans are playing a game of chicken with Pohlad and the Used Car Salesman (I am positive he is evil because he is from San Antonio, as is anybody I know who moved there), and I think fans from other parts of the country are proud of MN sports fans because they're standing their ground. However, I've seen what a new rink has done in Vancouver (oh wait, we don't have hockey), and a beautiful new baseball park in Seattle, but the taxpayers were forced to pay for most of it. Even with the lockout in the NHL (keeping in mind that Canadians are completely irrational and dilusional when it comes to hockey, and have also been drinking a lot more Molson since there hasn't been any hockey to watch) I'd say if you asked either fan base if it was worth it to pay more in taxes to keep their teams (true in both cases) and get new facilites, most would say yes. Eventually, Hennepin or Ramsey county taxpayers may have to suck it up and help pay for one and give in to the Evil Friends of Sid (Hartman). I hope the fans win and Pohlad and Red will sell to somebody like Glen Taylor who actually cares about the fans and the teams. Although my opinion on this site apparently doesn't count for much, in my brief time in the midwest, I can say that nobody deserves new digs more than the fans of the Land O' 10,000 lakes.

I do not, and should not, pretend to know what it's like to be born and raised in Minnesota and grow up with all these teams. At the same time, I still consider myself as passionate a sports fan as Minnesota Jer, cheering as hard for my teams as you do for yours. There are times when it seems like you think of me a lesser fan because I had to choose my teams, rather than being born into them. However I assure you that having to choose your sports affiliations at an early age and having to live with those choices is just as difficult as being born into them.

And hey, at least we can agree on one thing: we both hate Iowa.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Jeremy: The Black Eye of the Sports World

It has not been hard to see over the last few years that Major League Baseball is in serious trouble. Year in and year out fans, sportswriters and players alike talk about how the Yankees spend so much money. About how George Steinbrenner is constantly trying to buy a championship. Listen, I'm probably one of the biggest Yankee haters around, but in a major league sport where teams are allowed to spend absolutely as much as their heart's desire to win, how can anybody blame Steinbrenner for what he does? Perhaps the reason that so many people hate the Yankees as much as they do isn't because they win so much, or that they buy the best talent in the league to win, but that we are all jealous because the owner's of our own teams aren't willing, or don't have pockets deep enough, to do the same. The league is lopsided toward big market teams and teams with the richest and most eccentric owners.
Despite all of it's problems sitting in the stands at an outdoor baseball stadium with a plastic glass of beer and a hot dog topped with all the fixin's still feels like one of the most pure fan experiences in sports. Even if that outdoor stadium is indoors and the grass is plastic, there's something American about the experience.
A few years ago baseball looked like it had a chance to make a comeback. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire battled in the late summer to see who would break the all-time season homerun record. It was quite possibly the most storied record in all of sports and the entire country was interested to see who would get it done. In the end McGuire ended up outdueling Sosa.
A couple of years later Barry Bonds beat the record set by McGuire. It was a bit anti-climactic when Bonds did it. It felt too soon, the ink of McGuire's name had barely dried when Bonds beat it.
With all the recent news of steroids and human growth hormone and creams and on and on and on, Bonds record looks like complete crap. Baseball already had a paper thin reputation with most of the country. The casual fans of baseball have been beat up for the past decade at least but the powers and money in baseball never seem to be concerned about the fans or the future of their sport. I just wonder if baseball will be able to recover from this latest set-back and win back some of the fans, like myself, who wonder if it still has anything worthwhile, and honest, to offer.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Jeremy: Toughen Up, Lose The Dome

I was cozied up on the couch in my comfy pants, my favorite hooded sweatshirt and a comforter as I watched Daunte and the Vikes drive down the field on their first possession against the Bears earlier today. It was a good drive. Balanced, time consuming, several players were involved. I was comfortable with my position on the couch and with the way the boys were playing. I thought to myself "Wow, they really look like they've figured it out!"
But, as often happens when I'm cheering on any of my beloved Minnesota teams, I forgot who I was watching, and the next thing I knew Daunte threw an interception, and the reality of being a Vikings fan would set in heavily over the next 3 hours.
On a mild late fall day in Chicago, despite Daunte's best efforts, the offense never found any momentum. They had three long, time-consuming drives that ended with zero points. The defensive pass rush was good, but as a whole we made yet another terrible, inexperienced quarterback look like a pro-bowler. And turnovers were a problem all day.
During the Mike Tice era the Vikings are 1-12 in outdoor games. 0-5 in 2002, 1-4 in 2003, and 0-3 so far this year. The Vikes DID beat the Texans at Reliant Stadium in Houston this year, which has a retractable roof, but I'm not sure if the roof was open or closed that day. Nonetheless, it took them overtime to win the game.
The truth is that this isn't a new problem. The Vikings have never played well on the road, especially outside. Since the Denny Green years this team has been built for speed and finesse on astroturf with an emphasis on the offensive side of the ball.
But this might be the single most glaring problem that the Vikings have: they just aren't tough mentally or physically.
The lack of toughness comes through in many areas of the game. If the Vikings get behind early in a ballgame, you can bet that they won't have the intestinal fortitude to make a comeback. As stated before, anytime they have to play outside, they have almost no ability to adjust, and if it's even a little bit cold forget about it. The defensive line is built for a speed pass rush, but they are too small and the translation is that their run defense is just about the worst in the league. Anytime an opposing offensive line can get physical with our D-linemen, like the Bears did on Sunday, our guys are so tired by the end of the game that we might as well throw the practice squad on the field.
I've never been one to get involved in the stadium debate. I'm a huge Vikings fan, so I'd love to see them get a new stadium, but if it has to be funded by public dollars, I'm just not sure that I support it. Red McCombs wants a retractable roof stadium, but despite the fact that he bought this franchise for next to nothing, relative to other pro sports teams, because the stadium revenue was so low, he doesn't want to put a penny into a new building.
I do not support Red as the owner of the Vikings, but I am now placing myself squarely on the bandwagon carrying the folks who are pulling for a new Vikings stadium... with a couple of qualifications.
I think the Vikings should get a new stadium, but I think it should be an outdoor venue with no retractable roof.
Look at the Packers. Lambeau Field is probably the toughest place to play in the entire NFL. Part of that has to do with the amount of paint thinner Packer fans huff before each game. But the biggest advantage the Packers gain at Lambeau, especially late in the season, is that they are acclimated to the weather conditions and they are tough enough to play through those conditions when most teams are not. An outdoor stadium would give the Vikes a similar advantage and help them when they have to go on the road and play outdoors.
Right now the Vikings play a minimum of 9 games in domed stadiums each year (8 home games and one game in Detroit). Many years they also play games in other cities with domes like Seattle and St. Louis. But even if you could guarantee that they would win all of the games that they play in domes that would still be roughly just over half of their games, which would put them, at best, in the middle of the pack in the NFC.
In order to get to the level of the elite teams in the NFL you need to be able to produce double-digit win seasons year in and year out. They are nowhere near that level right now and it is my opinion that until Red & Tice can figure out how to toughen the team up they might ever get to that level. When the stadium finally does get approved, committing to an outdoor stadium, and getting back to the tough, hard-nosed football that the Vikings of the 70's were known for, is a good start down that road.