Category: Sports Sunday

Why I’m Rooting For The Panthers

Well it’s already February 2016 which means that Super Bowl 50, the Big Game, is upon us. This year the Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers will take on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Unfortunately it doesn’t start until 11:30pm London time but that certainly won’t stop me enjoying the spectacular spectacle that is the SB … not to mention the commercials, which in recent years haven’t lived up to the hype, but there’s always hope someone will put their millions of dollars for 30 seconds to good use.

Anyway I wanted to get right down to why I’m in my Carolina blue today and rooting on the Panthers to complete their season with only 1 loss, back in Week 16 to the Atlanta Falcons, on the books. I will certainly admit that I have a huge majority of my friends who will be at home rooting for the Broncos while only a handful are Panthers fans. So here’s my reasoning:

  1. The Coach – Ron Rivera, the head coach and recent recipient of Coach of the Year for the 2015-2106 season, has led the Panthers to their winningest season in their 20-year history. Now not only is it a nice story of going from literally worst to first but he’s got some great Chicago history which, as you know with me, is how a lot of my sports decisions are based. First off the Panthers were 2-14 in 2010 when John Fox’s contract expired (consequently he is now the head coach of the Bears) and in 2011 Rivera became the coach and they drafted Cam Newton as the #1 pick. They have steadily risen among the ranks and this season could be the ultimate culmination of hard work and game plan if they pull off the victory in SB50. His first 2 seasons were rough as they both ended up with high expectations and lowly outcomes of sub .500 records. However the last 3 years he has not only placed the Panthers 1st in their division but made it to the NFC Divisional Championship round, losing the first 2 years before finally making it to the SB this year. Now I also mentioned that Rivera has Chicago Bears ties … not only was he the defensive coordinator with them for a number of years in the mid-2000s but he was also a (fairly new) member of the SB20 Chicago Bears which had one of the most dominant seasons and SB wins in football history. They, like the Panthers of this year, had only 1 blemish on their regular season record in games both they and the 2015 Panthers probably should not have lost. However the Bears ended up getting to the SB with their incredible defense and rolled the New England Patriots by a score of 46-10 and did the Super Bowl Shuffle.
  2. The Tight End – Greg Olsen has been a huge reason on the offensive side of the ball as to why the Panthers are where they are. He has been a rock at the position and one of the best in the business since they acquired him in 2011 … remember that magical year they also brought in Rivera and drafted Newton to start their dynasty? And funny enough they got him, a former 1st round draft pick in 2007, for a 3rd round pick in the 2012 draft from who else but the Chicago Bears. Allegedly everyone but the Bears realized the raw talent there and didn’t feel as though they wanted to spend any more time developing him just as he was about to turn into an annual All-Pro TE. Also he’s got a pretty sweet beard going.
  3. The Linebackers – Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, to be exact, are the LBs I’m referring to. First up Kuechly was yet another cog in the dynasty wheel when he was drafted in the 1st round in 2012 draft. Kuechly handily won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award his 1st year in the league and followed up the next year by becoming the youngest ever Defensive Player of the Year recipient. Now if it hadn’t been for J.J. Watt’s freakishly amazing talent and play the last few years it would be tough to argue that Kuechly would have a few more trophies on his mantle. Thomas Davis on the other hand is absolutely going down as one the greatest Panthers to ever play. He was their 1st round draft pick in 2005 and has been with the team ever since although he has had some major bruises along the way. After a tremendous start to his career he torn his ACL in back-to-back-to-back years. He’s the first NFL player to come back from 3 ACL surgeries to play … and not only play but continue to play at a high level at the age of 32. He made his 1st ever First Team All-Pro this year after another outstanding performance (he was 2nd Team All Pro in 2013). Now the craziest thing is that 2 weeks ago, as the Panthers went on to beat the Arizona Cardinals, Davis actually broke his arm in the game. He went to make a play and afterwards immediately left the field of play but vowed that night and again the next morning that he would have surgery to repair it and be out there on the field for SB50. It will be interesting to see how much of a factor he is, if/how much he is limited by whatever cast or extra precautionary measures he will be undertaking will have on his game and ability to make plays. However this is his first SB since being in the league and he says he won’t miss it for the world.
  4. The Quarterback – No, not Cam Newton but rather the other QB Peyton Manning plays a part in my decision. Will he be a first ballot Hall of Fame QB? Absolutely. Will he go down as one of the best QBs to ever play the game? Of course. Is he the best regular season QB to ever play the game? Quite possibly. However there are a few things which I’m not too wild about. First, I’ll just get it out there … he and the Indianapolis Colts beat my Bears in the 2007 Super Bowl for his 1st and only SB Ring. That will always leave a bitter taste in my mouth since I was only 2 when the ’85 Bears won the only SB for our sports-crazed city so I don’t remember it that well. I also understand that everyone loves Peyton because he’s one of the best but he isn’t all that great in the clutch when it really counts, the playoffs. He’s had no problem getting there in almost all of the seasons he’s played. In fact here are some crazy stats since he was drafted in 1998. He’s only had 2 losing season (1998, his rookie season, and 2001). He’s played 266 regular season games and won 186 of them for an amazing 70% of his games. He’s thrown 539 TDs to 251 INTs in the regular season a remarkable 2.15-to-1 ratio. However things take a turn for the pedestrian once you start looking at his playoff record currently sitting at .500 with a 13-13 record. Now sure he’s played 26 game playoff games in 18 years in the league (technically 17 since he sat out the entire 2011 season after his neck surgery). Therefore he’s averaged 1.5 playoff games per year and has been to the playoffs in 15 of his professional seasons. Now that sounds good but here are some other stats. He’s been 1 and done in the playoffs 9 of those 15 trips. He’s won 1 Superbowl and this will now be his 3rd trip to the SB after he took the Broncos there in 2014 where they got literally embarrassed by the Seattle Seahawks and routed 43-8. He’s thrown 40 TDs to 24 INTs in the postseason and his passer rating drops nearly 10 points from a regular season average of 96.5 to 87.9. Now sure this may (or may not) be his last year in the league and Cam Newton still has plenty of chances to win one but this is where I like to root for the underdog because everyone loves Peyton and is rooting for him to go out on top … I like to buck the populist opinion and go the other way so here’s hoping he has a performance similar to 2 years ago. I do have to end this by saying that there is 1 amazing thing Peyton has done in his career and you can check it out here.

So here’s hoping for a Panthers victory tonight but overall I’m truly interested in a good game that makes it worth staying up for, some classic LOL commercials peppered in there and a Bears SB win next year! We can dream ….

– Beard

We’re Going Streaking!

Bring your green hat because we’re going to take a look at some of the streaks going on in sports lately and see how they compare to the all-time leaders.

First we’ll head out to the Bay and take a look at the dominate performance to start the NBA season by the Golden State Warriors. As of this posting they are 26-1 to start the season. Now before I get too far into the stats of their streak let me start by saying thank you to the Warriors for pretty much being the only team that is keeping people interested in basketball this year.

The golden days of the NBA are well behind us as the 2000s were pretty horrible to watch and it’s getting worse and worse since you see 1 of 3 things on every trip down the floor:

  1. Jack up a 3-pointer
  2. Throw an alley-oop
  3. Try to make a circus shot like you’re on the playground

Luckily the Warriors are excellent 3-point shooters and just skilled shooters in general so they can get away with it. Not so much on just about every other team which seems to have 1-3 good players and a bunch of guys who in any other era would probably be riding the pine the entire season except for in blowout games or more likely in the D-League. Basketball hasn’t really been basketball in a while where it used to be a team sport as opposed to a bunch of 1-on-1 scenarios each time up the court.

The one team that consistently bucks this trend (and has 5 championships to show for it in his era) are the Gregg Popovich-led San Antonio Spurs. He’s a true old school coach who stresses the importance of teamwork, sharing, good defense, moving the ball on offense and no matter who you are if you make a bad play you may be pulled from the game. So while I’m on this tangent let me talk about his streak numbers since he has been the coach of the Spurs starting in 1996 (19 years ago):

  1. He has put together 18 consecutive winning seasons, in which they made the playoffs of all of them, which is the most in NBA history … his only losing season was his first when he took over 18 games into the season so that doesn’t really even count
  2. He was a perfect 4-0 in the NBA Finals until 2013 when the Miami Heat beat them … luckily they rebounded the next year to win it again against the same Heat team
  3. While not a streak he is 1 of only 2 coaches in NBA history to win 1,000 games with one franchise … the other being Jerry Sloan with the Utah Jazz

Now getting back to the Warriors, who are chasing my childhood team, the Chicago Bulls, record-setting season of 72-10. Obviously on this pace they’re going to crush that mark set back in the 1995-1996 season but that also means that for the next 4+ months they will continue to play out of their minds and at the highest possible level night in and night out. While anything is possible I think they will fall short … I obviously hope they will fall short as well since I’m a lifelong Bulls fan and grew up as a teenager watching Jordan and company dominate the NBA during the 90s. Let’s look at some of the comparisons between the 2 teams (however you may want to skip this part if you’ve watched any ESPN recently as it’s all they talk about):

2015-2016 Warriors

  1. Started the season 24-0, the best start of an NBA season ever, before falling to the Milwaukee Bucks on December 12th, 2015 and are now 26-1 after defeating those same Bucks at home on Friday night … they eclipsed the 1884 St. Louis Maroons who started 20-0
  2. Dating back to last year’s regular season the Warriors had won 28 games before their Dec. 12th loss which, while impressive, is still only 2nd to the 1971-1972 Lakers streak of 33 straight victories which occurred all in the middle of the same season
  3. They set another NBA record for road victories to start a season by going 14-0 before losing to the Bucks
  4. The Warriors are currently on a 29-game home winning streak between this season and last season which is still a ways off the pace of the Bulls who won 44 straight home games between the 1994-1995 and 1995-1996 seasons
  5. Although they’ve only lost 1 game so far this will be an interesting stat to revisit at the end of the season … number of total points they lost by this season which, so far, stands at 13 in their 1 loss

1995-1996 Bulls

  1. Through their first 24 games they went 22-2 and through their first 27 games (which are what the Warriors are through now) they were 24-3
  2. Here’s a fun stat about this magical season the Bulls won their first 37 games at home this year and then, oddly, went 2-2 at home in the final 4 home games … both 1 point losses (as was their 3rd to last loss of the season)
  3. The total number of points they lost by this year … 77 points in 10 losses and 32 of those came in their only blowout loss of the season to the hated, rival New York Knicks meaning the other 9 games were lost by a total of 45 points … the 77 points is an NBA record for lowest total number of points in defeats in a season
  4. The Bulls also only had 1 losing streak, granted it was 2 games, this season as they neared the All-Star game in February … a 6-point loss at Denver and a 10-point loss at Phoenix (before going to Golden State and beating them by 4 to end the 1st half of the season)
  5. Another stat that jumps out is that the Bulls had 2 of the best players on their team, the G.O.A.T. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen; one of them lead the Bulls in scoring in 78 of the 82 regular season games meaning they stayed healthy and dominate night in and night out … currently 1 of the Warriors 2 main scoring machines, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, have led them in scoring every game thus far

Now the 1 thing that can hurt the Warriors is defense. While they’ve been red-hot from the field, hitting timely shots and blowing people out from the get go for the most part there will be times when you have some off nights and need some stops to help you out. As you could probably guess both the Bulls team and this Warriors team were/are #1 in offense in the league. However the difference is on the defensive side where the Warriors are #21 (out of 30 teams) the Bulls were #3 (out of 29 teams).

So we will see what the rest of the way holds for the Warriors and if they can surpass the mark set by one of the most dominant seasons ever recorded on their way to a championship. However while it would be a nice thing for the Warriors to achieve you know they don’t (or at least shouldn’t) care as much about a record as they should about returning to the NBA Finals and repeating as World Champs!

Next let’s turn to hockey where another impressive streak has recently come to an end. Once again I get to gloat a little since it was a guy from my Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Kane, who recently had his point streak snapped at 26 games. For anyone not as familiar with hockey scoring you can get a point by either scoring a goal or getting an assist. Now 26 consecutive games with a point seems pretty impressive. I mean in those games the Blackhawks went 15-7-4 in that stretch and Kane compiled a total of 40 total points (16 goals and 24 assists).

Now let’s break down some of the streaks he broke with his 26-game dominance:

  1. He broke the record for longest point streak by an American born player which had been 18 games held by Eddie Olczyk and Phil Kessel
  2. He broke the record for longest point streak by a Chicago Blackhawks player which had been 21 games by the great Bobby Hull
  3. While Sidney Crosby had a 25 game streak in 2010-2011 this was the longest in the NHL since 1992-1993 when Mats Sundin did it for the Quebec Nordiques
  4. However while 26 straight games is impressive, it becomes much less impressive when you remember what the G.O.A.T Wayne Gretzky did back in 1983-1984 when he almost doubled that and went 51 straight games with a point

As we turn our attention to football this may be the streak getting the least amount of recognition and the most amount of haters. The Carolina Panthers have started the season a perfect 13-0 looking to make it 14-0 this week as they take on the New York Giants on the road. Granted no other team is still unbeaten in the NFL (there are currently two 2-loss teams which is the next closest) the Panthers have only recently gone to the top of the NFL Power Rankings. They could easily have both the MVP (Cam Newton) and Defensive Player of the Year (Luke Keuchly) on their team but are constantly downplayed as the favorites to win it all this year.

Now we’ve seen in the past how a perfect regular season means nothing when you get to the playoffs in the case of the 2007 New England Patriots. They made it all the way to Super Bowl XLII undefeated only to lose to the New York Giants who snuck in as a 10-6 Wild Card team that year.

Now going back to last year the Panthers have amassed 17 straight regular season wins dating back to last season where they won their final 4 games. This is still a ways off the pace of the longest streak though set by Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts back in 2008-2009. The Colts won the final 9 games of the 2008 season on their way to their Super Bowl victory over my Chicago Bears. They then started the 2009 season 14-0 to set a record of 23 consecutive regular season wins. Next you have 2 different streaks by the New England Patriots (21 games between the 2006 and 2007 seasons and 18 games between the 2003 and 2004 seasons) before Manning shows back up with the Denver Broncos who won 11 games to close out the 2012 season, his first in Denver and then he reeled off the first 6 wins of the 2013 season bringing the total to 17, which is where the Panthers currently sit as well.

One more NFL streak I’d like to highlight before signing off for the week. This one also came to an end recently and really the only reason I bring it up is to celebrate it ending since it was a streak for my rival and hated nemesis cheesehead Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers is nothing but a stellar QB (except for the last few weeks) but earlier this year he finally had his streak broken of not throwing an interception while playing a game at home in Lambeau Field. Rodgers threw an interception (well actually 2 that day) against the St. Louis Rams on October 11th, 2015. His last interception at Lambeau came on December 2nd, 2012. That is an impressive span of 586 consecutive passes and 49 touchdowns between INTs.

Here are a few other things to take note of while we’re talking about his streak ending:

  1. As I mentioned he threw 2 INTs which was the first time he did that at home since the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7 of the 2010 season
  2. Coincidentally the Vikings were also the last team to pick him off at home on that December 2nd, 2010 game
  3. Rodgers also lost a fumble in the October game against St. Louis giving him 3 turnovers on the day which was the first time since Week 9 of the 2009 season he’s committed 3 TOs on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the first time he’s ever had that many turnovers at home (he had just 3 TOs in his previous 17 home games combined)

Anyway I wanted to end that on an upbeat note for me. Hope you enjoyed

Pride & Disbelief

Pride. There are many things I am proud of and feel pride in. This week I’m highlighting one specific thing which has been with me since the day I was born, possibly even before that … being a diehard Chicago Cubs fan.

Sure our season ended sooner than I would have wanted. But we also made it further than a lot of people thought this year. Plus this means that next year should be another fun one with a good, young, talented core of guys on the heels of the buzz we created this year.

Sure every year I’ve ever known (along every one both with my parents and grandparents have known) seems to end with heartbreak even when we may have a hot start to the season or make the playoffs. But true fans stick it out and find hope even when there seems to be none left. Plus we have a chance to possibly boast some awards this year … Rookie of the Year (Kris Bryant), Manager of the Year (Joe Maddon) and NL Cy Young Winner (Jake Arrieta).

Sure it was great to see us dominate the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals (the teams with the 2 best records in all of baseball ahead of the Cubs). But it was tough to watch us get swept by the hottest team in baseball, the New York Mets, in the NLCS. Plus this means that we’ll see a team win the World Series who hasn’t won in almost 30 years … the Kansas City Royals won it in 1985 with the New York Mets winning it in 1986, the last time for either team.

Sure the bandwagon got pretty crowded and it has gotten lighter and smaller now. But, as the old saying goes, next year is our year! Plus I think this time they really mean it.

So may the best team win although I don’t think I’ll be staying up for any more 1:00am game starts unless it goes to a Game 7.

Disbelief. This feeling has nothing to do with the Cubs, quite the opposite actually as this has nothing to do with baseball. Instead I’m switching gears to the NFL and while I could again mention a bunch of examples, I’m going to focus on one them … the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve come across 2 specific stories which made me both sad and mad at the same time. First a little background though before I get into the stories. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While this is an issue that should be talked about and thought about every day as opposed to one month out of the year, and is for anyone who has been directly or indirectly affected by it, I guess a month is better than nothing at all.

Now the NFL, for the month of October, seemingly promotes Breast Cancer Awareness by having all the players, coaches, refs, etc wear accessories that are pink such as towels, wristbands, mouthguards, game balls, coins and other paraphernalia. They also have special hats, shirts and jerseys which have the team logo and numbers outlined in pink. In fact they have an entire section of their NFL Store which sells this special gear.

The NFL then auctions off a lot of these items with proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society’s Community Health Advocates implementing Nationwide Grants for Empowerment and Equity (CHANGE) program. On October 13, grant-funded community health system partners are teamed up with the American Cancer Society and the NFL to launch its second nationwide breast cancer event, A Crucial Catch Day, to provide breast cancer education and free or low-cost screenings within underserved communities.

2 Pittsburgh Steelers players this year have taken this another step, one for breast cancer and the other for a personal remembrance of how cancer affected his life. The first one is Cam Heyward, a defensive lineman, whose father also played in the NFL back in the day. Craig “Ironhead” Heyward was a fullback who played on quite a few different NFL teams and was a dominating force in college as well at the University of Pittsburgh.

I mean he didn’t get the nickname ‘Ironhead’ for no reason, although there are 2 tales of the true meaning. He was a beast on the field with massive strength and also had a huge head (size 8 3/4). The other story is that when he would lower his head into an oncoming defender and hit him in the stomach it used to hurt them so much that they said he literally had a head made of iron.

ironhead

Well sadly in 2006, at the age of 39, ‘Ironhead’ passed away after an on and off battle with bone cancer. In 1998 he had a malignant bone tumor which was pressing on his optic nerve and blurred his vision which is how he originally caught it. After undergoing a couple of surgeries and quite a bit of treatment he was pronounced cancer-free. In 2005 the tumor came back and he passed away less than a year later.

This month, to honor his late father Cam Heyward, wore the words ‘Iron’ and ‘Head’ on his eye black during cancer prevention month and to raise awareness. The NFL responded by fining him $5,787 since it was a violation of their uniform standards. The next week he did it again, the fine rose to $11,576 for a second-time offense.

Some say that for the money he makes it’s a small price to pay for not only paying tribute to his late father but also raising awareness but shouldn’t the NFL possibly rethink their stance on something that has a positive message even if it goes against their standards?Now before you get too outraged there is a semi-happy ending to this story. Heyward appealed the fines and both sides came to an agreement of sorts. Heyward’s fines would be significantly lowered if he does not violate the uniform rules again this weekend. He can honor his dad in other ways … Heyward not only plans to wear his dad’s name on a shirt under his jersey but also has been doing charitable work for eyeblack.com.

heyward

The next case is Deangelo Williams, the Steelers backup running back. Last season he dyed the ends of his dreadlocks pink to honor his late mother, Sandra, who battled breast cancer from 2010 until she passed away in 2014. Sadly he’s had 4 aunts afflicted with the disease as well. This season he’s kept the pink-tipped dreadlocks and also has the desire to not only wear the pink clothing the NFL allows during the month of October but throughout the year.

Once again the NFL has stepped in and said that if he does so he’ll be paying the fines associated with breaking their rules. So instead of paying fines to the NFL he has decided to do something much better with his money. To honor his mother’s age when she passed he will be paying for 53 mammograms between his current NFL city (Pittsburgh) and the city he spent the majority of his career before this (Charlotte). While most health insurance plans will cover mammograms, he will be helping those who do not have health insurance where it can average about $190 so just over $10,000 out of his own pocket. However he is also selling pink t-shirts with the slogan ‘Pittsburgh is stronger than cancer’ to raise funds for mammograms as well.

The NFL is estimated to collect almost $4 million per year in player fines which is then donated to the NFL Player Care Foundation and the Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust. However there have also been a few articles recently speaking specifically to the money and donations the NFL makes from their October pink campaign which is quite crazy.

Now the American Cancer Society CHANGE program (mentioned earlier) is all about awareness, education, and screenings for women over 40. That’s great except that this still doesn’t do enough to highlight the research factor that is needed to figure out a cure for cancer. And this is where the NFL’s funds come in since they only go towards the CHANGE program.

Their website says that 100% of their profits from the sale of these pink items go to the ACS but this has never been substantiated. Many companies will plainly say that a certain % will go to a cause or that they’re going to raise a certain amount of $ for a cause and once they hit that goal they will donate. But that does not mean if you buy a $100 shoe from NFLShop.com, ACS gets $100. If you’re buying any pink products from the official shop, the wholesaler, distributor, and retailer give 0 percent of their shares to ACS. The only portion that goes to the society is the NFL’s royalty percentage from wholesale sales.

They say that on average over the last 6 years given $1.1 million/year to the ACS. This sounds great but again doesn’t go to any actual research in the cure for cancer and is a drop in the bucket when you learn that last year the NFL was estimated to make a whopping $10 billion (with a B) in revenues. So less than .01% of this is going to the cause.

So as not to end on a super depressing note let’s finish on a happy story. Now oddly enough this also has a link the Chicago Cubs but it wasn’t planned, it just fit perfectly with the theme. Andy Lane had one of the best jobs in baseball, he was a former bullpen catcher. Now Andy recently had a son who was born with a rare heart disease in 2014, just over 1 year ago in early October.

The MLB pools their fines from everything from uniform violations to disciplinary actions into a fund called the Baseball Assistance Team or BAT which provides financial relief former players, staff and personnel in times of need. The Lane’s learned of the cardiac condition during pre-natal testing in addition to the absence of a pulmonary valve. They decided to have the child even though they were advised to consider terminating the pregnancy since it was caught so early.

After Jackson was born he spent 10 weeks in the hospital undergoing operations, procedures, treatments, etc but was finally strong enough to come home just before the holidays in 2014. The BAT program made it possible for the Lane’s to get the best medical treatment, give their child a fighting chance, become an ambassador for the program and see how well it can work when funds are not only properly allocated and used but how a bad situation (say a player getting fined for throwing helmet at another player) can be turned into a good situation (like saving a life).

And finally one quick note in hockey. Last night was an early season rematch of the Stanley Cup teams last year. Like the outcome of the Stanley Cup, the Chicago Blackhawks were victorious over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The game play was not really playoff worthy but it was only the 8th game of the season so there’s a long way to go to hone those skills and really gel as a team. The first 3 periods were scoreless on both sides so the teams headed to the new overtime format with 3-3 play to speed things up and provide more scoring chances. Well 17 seconds into the OT period the Hawks captain, Jonathan Toews, scored his first goal of the year on a sick deke between 2 Lightning defenders and putting in his own rebound. A good feeling on a season that has started quite pedestrian but there is a long way to go.

– Beard

Soccer or Futbol?

So I’m sure everyone expects me to write about the Cubs making the playoffs and, I must say, even I’m a bit surprised I haven’t spent more time on it below. There are two real reasons for this:

  1. I expect them to continue at this rate so there will be more time
  2. There are some other stories that have been cropping up in sports which I feel need some more coverage

The Sunday Sports was one section that, when I chose to not post as much, I had personally seen a decline in the content of. I love all sports but I felt like I was simply regurgitating the stats of instead of highlighting meaningful stories which didn’t get as much press or I thought were cool.

First up was a super important match yesterday between the U.S. and Mexico in soccer. El Tri and the Stars and Stripes first met in 1934 with the U.S. getting the victory by a score of 4-2. Then there was a little more than half a century of, more or less, domination by Mexico. Since 2000 however the U.S. has fared much better and are an extremely respectable 13-5-5 against our neighbors. It doesn’t make it easier that 2 of our 5 losses though have been in the Gold Cup Finals (2009 and 2011) however. Plus with our poor performance in this year’s Gold Cup, which resulted in us even having to play this game, there was a lot at stake.

Last night was a tough and, yet again, disappointing loss for the USMNT. We fell by a final score of 3-2 in a game which only saw 2 goals in regular time, one by each side. In the 30 minutes of extra time 3 more goals were scored as there were some tired defenders out there and unfortunately for the U.S. things didn’t end up our way.

After allowing a goal to mexico to make the score 2-1 in the first 15 minute period of extra time, we came back and tid it up yet again in the 2nd extra time period. However with 2+ minutes left Mexico netted their 3rd goal and held on for the victory. While the stats of the game favored Mexico (time of possession 63% to 37% and shots (on goal) 23 (7) to  14 (4)). However both teams were not without their chances and opportunities throughout the game to make it a higher scoring match but there were some slightly errant passes and good saves by both keepers in the end.

A few more interesting stats about this great rivalry:

  • Both of the second leading scorers in their country’s history (Clint Dempsey for the U.S. and Javier Hernandez or Chicharito for Mexico) have never had a goal against the opposing team when these 2 teams have gone head to head before … Chicharito ended his drought tonight with the first goal of the match
  • This was the 6th time the two teams have met at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, which is normally a more pro-Mexico crowd, and has now seen a record of 2-1-1 in favor of Mexico
  • This game, technically being a friendly, meant a lot as it was for an automatic bid into the 2017 Confederations Cup which is essentially a solid warmup tournament to the 2018 World Cup, both in Russia

Next up, let’s stick with soccer for a minute. While I have really only been covering U.S. sports there has been an ongoing story of a more international nature which may finally be getting somewhere. The embattled (and no doubt corrupt) FIFA president Sepp Blatter has finally been suspended by FIFA ethics committee for 90 days. When Blatter, somehow, won his re-election for president back in May 2015 and has been the reigning president since 1998 allegations started to surface against him and others in his regime. Namely on the naming of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup sites in Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Not only is Russia one of the most politically crazy places right now with Putin and his camp running wild out there but Qatar may be the bigger story. First the World Cup is normally played in the summer when temperatures reach over 120° on an almost daily basis and will be even hotter on a soccer field. So they have moved it to late November/early December when it will be cooler but still hot. However the bigger issue is how many people have already died building these stadiums and structures for the World Cup. An estimated 1,200+ people have already perished which, again is being denied as reaching those numbers, but many say are a conservative guesstimate.

Over the years there have been rumblings and allegations of misuse of funds, bribery and, simply put, corruption under his watch and directly from him but nothing has really been done until this year when he was reelected. Finally people starting speaking up, members within his “inner cabinet” were being indicted on different charges.

Since then Blatter has done what any politician in his position would do … deny, deny, deny. Until finally he said that he would step down but not until a February 2016 vote to elect a new president since he was not guilty and didn’t want to throw FIFA into some crazy downward spiral. What a guy …

So knowing that the current FIFA organization is as corrupt, if not more so, than I already think it is I’ll be very interested to see what happens to Sepp Blatter in the coming weeks as he obviously maintains he’s completely innocent and has done absolutely nothing wrong. Something to keep an eye on and if you haven’t already heard of this do a bit of research for yourself, quite the interesting story.

Finally we come to the glory that is October baseball. It’s quite the interesting mix of teams that made the playoffs this year and there are some really interesting match-ups in the Division Series round. Here are the quick highlights (and current standings) of each series:

Kansas City Royals vs Houston Astros – the series is tied 1-1; the theme of this series is last years young guns (Royals) vs this years young guns (Astros); the Royals were in the World Series last year so they’ve got what it takes, especially with some good mid-season moves to make it back if they continue their dominance; the Astros have not been in the postseason since they lost in the World Series in 2005 when they were still a part of the National League so they’re a big underdog with a young core who could cause some havoc and already beat the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card game

Texas Rangers vs Toronto Blue Jays – the series is 2-0 in favor of the Rangers; the theme of this series is better luck next year; Texas had a blistering end to the last 2 months of the season and came in red-hot to the playoffs but can they continue this scorching effort with an injury to one of their leaders, Adrian Beltre, and  have known the sting of defeat in the playoffs a few years ago; Toronto isn’t that used to being in the postseason and while they have one of the best regular season pitchers in David Price he has never really gotten it done when it truly matters for any of the teams he’s played on plus now the Blue Jays need at least 1 win otherwise it’s quickly going to be better luck next year

New York Mets vs Los Angeles Dodgers – the series is tied 1-1 ; the theme of this series is pitching, pitching, pitching; the Mets had a wonderful run to the postseason which was anchored not only by their ability to score runs in bunches but mainly their starting pitching; the Dodgers were the team who had the least wins of any to win their division but have a huge advantage over a lot of other teams thanks to their top 2 pitchers (Kershaw and Greinke) who are 2 of the most dominating in the entire league and are 2 of the 3 up for the NL Cy Young award with Arrieta from the Cubs

Chicago Cubs vs St. Louis Cardinals – the series is tied 1-1; the theme of this series is the rookies (Cubs) vs the veterans (Cardinals); the Cubs are obviously on the longest championship streak of any team in the majors professional sport groups and have a young core to try to get them there; the Cardinals however seem to be in the playoffs and battling to get into the World Series year after year; plus this is a bitter division rivalry but only the first time the 2 teams have met in the playoffs

– Beard

Down To The Wire

It’s hard to decide which sport to focus on yet again as football is getting going and baseball is coming to its most exciting part of the year, finally. I figure since there is still next Sunday before baseball’s regular season is officially over let’s start with the NFL this week.

Though it’s only going into the 3rd week of the season we can already take some things away from the NFL.

  1. The Seattle Seahawks will overcome their 0-2 start and push for a playoff spot although a division crown may be tough with Arizona out to a 2-0 start
  2. The Dallas Cowboys are 2-0 but will be without their starting QB (Tony Romo) and star WR (Dez Bryant) for the next few weeks so should cool off with 2 unbeaten teams in the next 4 weeks then Seattle; also you have to think the Philadelphia Eagles will find their offense at some point because Chip Kelly is too good not to make either Sam Bradford or Mark Sanchez look good
  3. The AFC South has been completely flipped on its head with the Jacksonville Jaguars leading the division at 1-1 and the Indianapolis Colts at a woeful 0-2 but it will be interesting to see who finishes on top … also to note is that the Colts next 3 games are against their division foes which always add an extra level of toughness and intensity
  4. The New England Patriots and New York J-E-T-S are both 2-0 and looking solid so far this year with offense carrying the Pats and defense carrying the J-E-T-S … should be a good match-up when they finally see each other for the first time in Week 6
  5. My Chicago Bears are done this year, especially with the injury to our starting QB (Jay Cutler), but it’s been uglier than expected for new coach John Fox thus far … here’s hoping we get in the win column

Here are the top 3 intriguing games for me in Week 3:

  1. Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens – the Bengals are off to another hot start at 2-0 (though their problem has been getting a playoff win in recent years) and the Ravens fell last week to 0-2 with a loss at the Oakland Raiders so will Cincy come into Baltimore and keep it going or will the Ravens dig deep and get back to their game even though they are down star DE Terrell Suggs?
  2. Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins – the Bills focused a ton of effort on the New England Patriots last week, since coach Rex Ryan holds a deep hatred for them, but will he get his players refocused after the loss going into face a potentially touch team in the Dolphins at home?
  3. Kansas City Chiefs at Green Bay Packers – so it’s been documented that Aaron Rodgers hasn’t thrown a home interception in years but for some reason I feel it could come to an end this week as we know the Chiefs will try to manage the game plus Rodgers may be more inclined to throw with his RB (Eddie Lacy) out this week … but would it be more likely for the Chiefs to win in Lambeau or for them to simply pick off Rodgers there?

Now granted the NHL is only in preseason it’s great that it’s back and almost that time of year again. In most sports you see a handful of minutes per game with the normal starters on the field but in hockey preseason you actually get quality minutes and some intense play from everyone including the stars you want to see. Now the real action obviously starts in the a couple of weeks but I will always stand by my statement that the NHL playoffs are the most fun and intense professional sport playoffs to watch. Sure there’s something about a 2-minute drive to win it in the Superbowl or the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the World Series but the action in hockey is so fluid, fast and constant that things can change in a second and you’re constantly on the edge of your seat.

Finally onto baseball. While things aren’t quite set in stone just yet, we’ve got a pretty good idea of who will be playing in October:

AL

  • Toronto Blue Jays
  • New York Yankees
  • Kansas City Royals
  • Texas Rangers
  • Houston Astros

NL

  • New York Mets
  • St. Louis Cardinals
  • Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Chicago Cubs
  • Los Angeles Dodgers

The way it currently looks in the AL the New York Yankees will host the Houston Astros in a 1-game wild card and in the NL the Pittsburgh Pirates will host the Chicago Cubs in a 1-game wild card. Which brings me to my next point, the playoff ranking and system needs to be altered in MLB, badly.

Of course as a Cubs fan I am being extra critical of this because there is about to be cannibalism in the best division in baseball this year, the NL Central. The teams with the 3 best records in baseball are, in order, the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs, all from the NL Central. The way the current scheme is set-up the division winners (NL East, NL Central and NL West) automatically move onto the next round (with STL being from the NL Central) and the next 2 best teams in the NL will face off in a 1-game wild card “series” to see who gets into the real playoffs (Pirates and Cubs). However it will also stand that the winner of the wild card game will face the St. Louis Cardinals so you get to the NLCS and only 1 team from the NL Central can even possibly remain although it was the strongest division in baseball.

This brings me to my other point, as if that isn’t bad enough, you play 162 games of baseball over 6+ months to, in the case of the Cubs/Pirates and Yankees/Astros, get the “privilege” to play 1 more game to see if you can get into the playoffs. This pretty much goes completely against the thinking of baseball where 1 game doesn’t make or break your season since it’s so long and everything is 3 or 4 game series. At least do them the courtesy of having a normal 3-game series even if it doesn’t move venues like all the other rounds do at least once to give both teams a home field advantage. /end rant

– Beard

Next Man Up

Man, what a great week in sports as the NFL season is underway, NCAA Football has now completed its third week, MLB is soon to be in the intense and highly contested playoff race come October, we’ll see NHL preseason action start this week and the NBA is right around the corner as well. Therefore, once again, let’s dive right into the past week wrap-up.

NFL

The biggest news this week is that I went 1-0 in all three of my fantasy football leagues under the name ‘Edward Fortehands’ and look to keep my domination going this week. But in real NFL news and a recap here’s what we got:

Week 1 Upsets:

  • St. Louis Rams 34 Seattle Seahawks 31 (OT) – the team that won it all 2 years ago and came so close last year was upset in the opening game this season and it’s not just that they lost in OT but how Seattle’s staunch defense which has carried it allowed 34 points … will they be able to rebound in an extremely tough Week 2 matchup against the Packers in Green Bay?
  • Buffalo Bills 27 Indianapolis Colts 14 – we all knew the Bills are built around their defense but their offense came to play as well plus they kept one of the most up and coming offenses in check with Andrew Luck and the Colts … they have a long time to figure out what went wrong as they don’t play until Monday Night Football this week against a seemingly better New York Jets team (although they did beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 1 so not much competition there)
  • San Francisco 49ers 20 Minnesota Vikings 3 – now the 49ers are a solid team but with all the turnover and turmoil, especially on defense, and an up and coming Minnesota offense led by Teddy Bridgewater and with Adrian Peterson back I expected more than 3 points from them and a W on the board … the Vikings can try to get on track against another tough D in the Detroit Lions where they not only face a division rival but on the road

What 2 Watch 4 in Week 2:

  • New England Patriots vs. Buffalo Bills – Rex Ryan and his big mouth will try to put his money there when he tries to get his defense to shut down Brady, Gronk and the Pats at home
  • Atlanta Falcons vs. New York Giants – Atlanta got out of Week 1 with a win over the new-look and under-performing Eagles while the Giants have a controversy-filled loss against the Cowboys with their RB Rashad Jennings saying he was told not to score near the end of the game … speaking of those 2 other teams
  • Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles – for the 2nd week in a row Dallas will have a tough challenge against a division rival although this time they’ll need to do it without star WR Dez Bryant while the Eagles try to figure out how to make all their individual pieces work together and get a victory

Finally in the NFL world, Week 1 saw some big injuries which means 2 things … not only is there a conspiracy going on to thwart my fantasy football season but it’s Next Man Up. Here are some of the big injuries thus far:

  • Dez Bryant (WR for Dallas Cowboys) – he broke a foot in Week 1 and will be out until Week 8 most likely and has already had surgery
  • Terrell Suggs (DE for Baltimore Ravens) – the heart and soul of the defense tore his achilles and is done for the season
  • DeSean Jackson (WR for Washington Redskins) – he strained a hamstring in Week 1 and will be out for 3-4 weeks while it heals
  • Reggie Bush (RB for San Francisco 49ers) – luckily they have Carlos Hyde so Bush’s injured calf, which will keep him out a while, may not be as big a loss as it seems
NHL

That’s right, hockey is almost back! As a fan of the current dynasty in hockey, the Chicago Blackhawks, I’m excited to see if they can repeat and continue their dominance yet again this season even after losing plenty of keys pieces. Their first preseason game is Tuesday the 22nd against the Detroit Red Wings, who they also play the next night as well, which used to be a bitter rivalry until they reorganized the divisions. The official preseason starts today with 3 games and the regular season kicks off Wednesday October 7th with the Blackhawks facing off against the New York Rangers in Chicago as the season kicks off with a match that could very well be a preview of the Stanley Cup matchup.

Well I was going to do more this week but I’m #inbruges taking care of my wife on her birthday who has massively (British term) hurt her ankle. So hopefully I’ll have more next week … until then.

– Beard

The Best Sunday In A While

There’s a lot of sports this week so let’s get right into it:

NFL

I’m so excited that football (American Football) is back today and every Sunday for the next 20+ weeks that I can barely contain my excitement!!! Now officially the season started on Thursday with a game that looked closer on paper than it really was as the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-21 in Foxboro, MA. The other 30 teams play today and tomorrow to fully get the NFL season in full gear. I’ll have a review of the results next week but here are some storylines to look for in Week 1:

  1. Trash Talk – the Chicago Bears/Green Bay Packers match-up is the oldest and most storied rivalry in football history with Packers coach, Mike McCarthy, saying the other week that they will “kick Chicago’s ass” … Green Bay may be an excellent football team (even though I despise them with every bone in my body) but remember, Da Bears seem to only play good at the beginning of the season so could there be an upset at Soldier Field today?
  2. Phoenix Rising – last year saw the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins take steps forward and look like solid teams, both have retained a lot of talent and added some key additions in the offseason and start off against teams who have been moving in the opposite direction in Washington Redskins and the New Orleans Saints, respectively.
  3. Bad Blood – the Sunday night game features 2 teams that have a fierce rivalry and usually one that sees quite a few flags and shoving matches between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants … who will come out on top this week?
  4. Invincible? – the Philadelphia Eagles made some splashes this offseason with trades and acquisitions but can Chip Kelly get everything to sync as he hopes or will the Atlanta Falcons spoil the party as they are consistently one of those teams we expect great things from but never really know who will show up


NCAA Football

Last week also saw the start of the NCAA College Football season. I was going to write about it last week but was a little distracted with my folks in town, Michigan losing and neglected to even touch base on it. Now I didn’t go to Michigan but they’ve always been my team. In fact my small little school in Central Illinois decided back in 1970 that academics needed to be a bigger focus so they disbanded their football team. While this was a bummer for anyone who enjoyed school spirit it just meant I got to travel a lot on the weekends to different college campuses to tailgate and experience their football life. However I’ll make up for last week with 2 weeks of upsets and highlights.

Week 1

  • #21 Stanford only mustered 6 points in a losing effort to Northwestern
  • Texas A&M took it to #15 Arizona State by beating them 38-17
  • #3 Alabama beat #20 Wisconsin 35-17 so while obviously not an upset I expected it to be a little closer of a game on a neutral field

Week 2 Upsets

  • #18 Arkansas went down to Toledo 16-12, quite an embarrassing loss for a program suspected to be on the rise
  • #20 Boise State fell to BYU, in Utah, by a score of 35-24
  • There were 2 close calls this week with #9 Notre Dame sneaking out with a victory over Virginia, 34-27, with a TD with :12 left in the game; #6 Auburn needed OT to defeat Jacksonville State 27-20 and also dodged a close call last week by only beating Louisville by 7

Other Info

  • #17 Ole Miss has absolutely been racking up points in their first two games outscoring their (lowly) opponents by a total of 149-24 with wins of 76-3 vs. University of Tennessee-Martin and 73-21 vs. Fresno State
  • #15 Georgia Tech is trying to keep up with a 2-game total of 134-16 with wins of 69-6 vs. Alcorn State and 65-10 vs. Tulane
  • Michigan got its 1st (of hopefully many) wins under the new Jim Harbaugh regime
  • While the top 5 (Ohio State, Alabama, TCU, Baylor, Michigan State) will remain the same, Michigan will most likely move up from the #5 spot with a well-fought victory over #7 Oregon yesterday
  • Notre Dame lost their starting QB to a broken ankle this week so it’ll be a tougher road than expected

Games To Watch Next Week

  • #6 Auburn vs. #14 LSU … always a good rivalry when they meet, can Auburn finally get on track against a better opponent this week?
  • #9 Notre Dame vs. #15 Georgia Tech … will Notre Dame rebound from both an emotional win last week on the road and the loss of their starting QB or will Georgia Tech continue scoring in bunches
  • #17 Ole Miss vs. #2 Alabama … even though Ole Miss has scored at will this season expect this to greatly calm down this week against a staunch Alabama D and team

Tennis

Next up in a very busy time in the sporting world is tennis and the US Open update. We’ve reached the final day and will see the match we expected for the Men’s Championship between #1 Novak Djokovic and #2 Roger Federer. These two always have some epic matches and a great rivalry has developed over the years. Also to note for the men is that Djokovic defeated Marin Cilic last round so there will not be a repeat champion on this side.

Now I happened to be up late on Tuesday night (Wednesday morning for me) to do a fantasy football draft and saw that the Venus/Serena match was on so I decided to watch it. It was a helluva match and one of the best I’ve seen in a while. They have now met 27 times and although Serena has a better win percentage it isn’t by much and Venus has always proven to be her toughest opponent. Serena holds a slight edge with a 16-11 advantage including her win on Tuesday in 3 hard-fought sets, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.


serena-venus-match


Unless you have been under a rock this past the last couple of days you know Serena, extremely unexpectedly, lost to unranked Roberta Vinci in the semis. Flavia Pannetta defeated Vinci in the Women’s Championship to win her first ever Grand Slam tournament victory. It will also be her last as she announced her retirement afterwards. Now getting back to Serena’s loss, while people still cannot believe it, there is a logical explanation … Drake.

That’s right, she’s now going out with the Toronto-born rapper Drake and has been hit by the Drake Curse. Don’t believe me, check out these stats:

  1. Toronto Raptors – Drake became their unofficial ambassador in 2013; they then got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round of both the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons
  2. Kentucky Wildcats – last year they had a perfect, undefeated season going through the regular season when Drake hopped on the bandwagon; they got to the Final Four and lost to Wisconsin and Drake actually received a cease and desist order from them to not attend their games anymore
  3. Miami Heat – back to the NBA … when LeBron James was still leading the Heat to the NBA Finals in 2014 (after his Raptors got knocked out) he decided to root for them; they ended up losing to the San Antonio Spurs
  4. England National Team – who knew Drake was a football fan as well as he met-up and supported England striker Daniel Sturridge in 2014; shortly after England was bounced from the World Cup, not even getting out of the Group Play round

However you slice it though, tennis pun intended, this picture is still epic:


drake tennis ball


U.S. Soccer

Another embarrassing loss ensued for the USMNT as they went down 4-1 to Brazil this past week with the U.S. lone goal coming in stoppage time and not making anyone at home feel good about their huge upcoming match next month with Mexico. Luckily this one didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, except pride, so I won’t even dissect it and break this ugly match down. Let’s just hope they get back on track soon and figure out their woes.


usmnt-vs-brazil-at-gillette-stadium


Boxing

Floyd Mayweather Jr. has, very unsurprisingly, defeated Andre Berto in his last match ever to move to 49-0. That is “last match” until he gets offered a more ridiculous sum of money than he normally makes for less than an hour of work every few months. I mean he’s gotta get to 50-0 right … how can a man with his ego possibly go down in the record books as tied for the best record in boxing at 49-0 with the great Rocky Marciano?!

MLB

Finally we need to check in on baseball as we’re coming up to the end of the season rather quickly. Although not much has changed in the standings here’s a quick rundown of each division heading into the last 3 weeks of the regular season.

AL East – the Toronto Blue Jays are holding a lead on the New York Yankees; it seems one team will win the division and the other will get a Wild Card spot … that is unless Drake works his “magic” on his hometown Blue Jays

AL Central – the Kansas City Royals all but have this division locked up but the Minnesota Twins are still within striking distance of a Wild Card spot perhaps

AL West – the youth of the Houston Astros hasn’t wavered yet as they maintain their lead in the division however both the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels are within reach of the lead and there may be a Wild Card spot coming out of this division as well

NL East – the Washington Nationals have literally handed this division to the New York Mets on a silver platter over the last few weeks of implosion from a team who was picked by many to win it all or at least contend in the playoffs at the beginning of the season

NL Central – the St. Louis Cardinals are still the best team in baseball and will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs; the Pittsburgh Pirates are still holding onto 2nd place and a Wild Card spot and my Chicago Cubs remain in 3rd place with their Wild Card spot held firmly however they’re trying to overtake the Pirates to at least get home-field advantage

NL West – the San Francisco Giants just haven’t had the muster (and healthy players) to compete down the stretch this year when they usually shine and start their epic playoffs runs but the Los Angeles Dodgers look to be heating up and will win the division barring a massive breakdown

Plenty more sports stories to cover next week!

– Beard

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