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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.