August 21, 2008

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LONGSHOTS: National news items of interest for local folks
by Dave Long

Here are four headlines of interest Iíve got more than a few thoughts on.

News item: The real pennant race begins Aug. 15.
Itís what sets baseball apart from other sports ó living with the ups and downs of playing nearly every day the last six weeks of a season when your team is in the thick of the race. Itís different than the NBA or NHL, where division races mean little since every good team besides Golden State makes the playoffs. While division races matter as much in the NFL, they only play once a week, so itís not the same. And so it will be for Red Sox Nation, despite the fact the mother ship has taken on water with injuries to Mike Lowell and Tim Wakefield, the continued strange season of Josh Beckett, unexpected struggles at the bottom of the rotation and the climactic scene of the eight-year Manny-being-Manny soap opera. As this is written they are 4Ĺ games back of surprising Tampa, whoís not going away, and a game ahead of Chicago in the wild card. Theyíve got nine games remaining with nemesis (and possibly resurgent under Cito Gaston) Toronto, six with the Da-Rays and two series with the Yanks including the final weekend at Fenway. Will they hold on? Only time with tell, but it will be fun in a way the other sports just canít match.

News item: Pats look like saps in pre-season
I know itís just pre-season and Tom Brady hasnít played. But the lethargy factor seems off the charts and thatís the biggest killer of good teams the year after. Remember, I had them 12-4 last year, so I lean toward pessimism in August, but theyíd better pick it up in Game Three or talk radio will go crazy.

The defense, whose deficiencies were disguised last year because the offense always had the ball, has holes. Foremost is corner back, where after the loss of Asante Samuel they have two gaping holes. You say Ellis Hobbs was injured last year and I say heís best suited to be the nickel back and top kick returner. Then, the last time they didnít make the playoffs was 2002 because they got toasted on the ground. While the d-line is solid, there are issues at inside linebacker. Tedy Bruschi is now a role player and the rest are untested. Unless Adalius Thomas plays inside, which takes him away from outside, where heís strongest. That puts pressure on the newcomers like Victor Hobson, who the Jets let walk, and especially Jerod Mayo. The comforting thought is that the last time they picked that high in the draft they took Richard Seymour amid shouts he wasnít good enough, so Iíve got faith in the Mayo pick. On offense, there are lingering concerns about how the line got handled in the Super Bowl, especially after how they ran it on Sunday. And itís pretty clear they need a back-up quarterback. Matt Cassell has been a disaster.

But the big issue looks to be intensity. If itís not there Friday vs. Philly, weíve got trouble in River City.

News Item: Michael Phelps Ė greatest Olympic athlete ever?
I tried hard on my show last week to get Ravi the Cricket-Playing Intern off the notion eight made Phelps best of all. I gave him Jesse Owens ó four goals in front of Hitler in 1936. Jewish Mark Spitz winning seven golds all in world record times while swimming before and after the murders of Israelís entire team by Black September terrorists in 1972 in Munich. He went no way to Al Oerter winning gold in the discus in four consecutive Olympics in 1964. He didnít even budge on the nine golds won by Carl Lewis. His rebuttal was that Phelps won 14 golds over two Olympics with record times in seven events this year. And you know what, despite hating when cricket-playing interns are right, I think Ravi just might be.

News item: The rest of the world has caught up to the U.S. in basketball
What a myth. But it is a commonly held belief among the, ahem, so-called experts. I say poppycock. I donít deny the world has improved greatly. But if it has caught up, why arenít there more players from outside North America among the elite in the NBA? There are Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan (a U.S. citizen), Yao Ming and who else from outside N.A. at the top? Please donít tell me the notion international rules are so different other teams is a big advantage, because itís an excuse.

If itís so easy to catch up, why havenít our men done it in soccer? Weíve got a country much larger than any European or South American country and yet our men lag behind even though itís the highest youth participation sport in America. My soccer friends tell me itís because the rest of the world has been playing so much longer and itís in the culture. Iím not sure thatís the whole reason, as our women have already won a World Cup, but it might have something to do with it. And look back at the NBA finals to recall how thoroughly mediocre and soft Pao Gasol was against the Celtics. That kid is the best player on the reigning world champions and Kendrick Perkins kicked his butt. We canít beat them?

Sorry, it is something else entirely. The reason the U.S. has seen its performance stagger since 1994 is arrogance and lack of effort. Arrogance from David Stern, who hijacked international play to promote the business interests of the NBA to put thugs like Derrick Coleman and Larry Johnson on our teams. Who in turn played like theyíd win by 50 just throwing their jock on the court. That set a tone for what followed and the perception grew.

But finally, real basketball people got embarrassed by the losing, saw it as a disgrace to our game and did something about it. First, they didnít invite players to join the team. They had tryouts, where those who really wanted it most gave the requisite effort or they went home. Second, they required a three-year commitment so players got used to playing together under the same coach. Third, they didnít adjust to the other guys. They put together an aggressive team that jams it down their throat and if the other guys can stop it so be it. And finally, Coach K has them playing defense, which is what wins in almost every big game no matter what the sport.

So with the right combination in place, Iíve got the U.S. winning by 30 for the gold. And if they donít maybe Iíll have to agree the world is much closer than I believe it is. But I donít think I will.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billyís Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM Ė The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


8/14/2008 A little of this and that from the good side of sports pile

8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
7/10/2008 Baseball season has actually started
7/03/2008 UL editorial in denial ó stop the presses
6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
6/5/2008 Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
5/29/2008 Sometimes a bat is just a bat
5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
5/8/2008 Cavalier attitude nearly derails first meeting with LeBron
5/1/2008 I'm so old,I remember ...
4/24/2008 Sox Line-ups, Celtics and ESPN investigations are in the mail bag
4/17/2008 Show me the way to that All-Star Game
4/10/2008 For C'ing a great time ahead as playoffs arrive this spring
4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 ó Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
3/20/2008 Whether forecast is right or not is the question
3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
3/6/2008 New hires, new trades in pro sports
2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
2/14/2008 Basketball rounds into form under the cover of Pats football
2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury ó that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK ó it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 Mís for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did

02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Heroís death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The†Demonization of Johnny Damon

Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat