Monday, December 24, 2007

Goodbye To You

My annoyance with Scott Skiles' stewardship of the Bulls had been relieved somewhat by two recent events: first, I was behind the basket with the Bulls at Verizon Wednesday night handle the Wizards and Griffin and Wallace didn't see the floor, while Gray began to show what he might be able to offer the team for the rest of the season; second, on a lark, I was at the Comcast Center for American University's first win over Maryland since 1926-1927.

Getting beat by a school that was a stepping stone on his way to glory at College Park is probably the lowlight of Williams' Maryland career. And Maryland's fans seem resigned to it. After a pathetic loss to Ohio on December 12th , Maryland fans -- who had enjoyed their team's 131 win and 3 loss record at home against non-conference opponents under Williams prior to the Ohio game -- filed out of Comcast with 3:30 left in the game and their team down 10. Maryland's fans seem resigned to the fact that Gary Williams is not going to be able to turn around what seems to be an otherwise fairly talented Terp squad (they embarrassed Illinois in the other game that I attended this year, resulting in me stupidly telling ACC-loving colleagues to watch out for the Terps when conference play began). Terps fans face at least two more ugly losses before the ACC schedule kicks in: a road game against Charlotte on January 5 (a team that has already beat Wake Forest) and a home game against Holy Cross on January 8 (a team that managed to beat Ohio). Slip-ups against Delaware and Savannah State do not seem to be as unimaginable as they would have before Saturday. But most Terps fans will not call for Williams' head for some time, although the problem with the team clearly rests with him -- if the players lack intensity, as Williams himself said in the postgame interview accompanying the departure of the fans remaining at Comcast, that is because he hasn't found a way to motivate them. And this is how it should be: Williams has an unparalleled record of success here and he's earned the right to test fans' patience while he figures out what has gone wrong.

The same cannot be said of Scott Skiles. In a surprise but necessary move, the Bulls fired Skiles today. I don't revel in the news as much as I would, say, celebrate Ron Turner's removal from the Bears (I am not bitter at all and don't constantly find myself thinking about how with a competent offensive coordinator the Bears win the Lions and Redskins games that I stupidly attended and the Monday night game against the Vikings and that the Bears would then be 9-6 and a difficult out in the NFC playoffs... again, not bitter). Nevertheless, I still consider the announcement a nice Christmas present from John Paxson. It had to happen and not just to embarrass Sam Smith for another prescient article (great call: "But thanks to Artis Gilmore, no one is about to be fired, cut, traded or released"). Commentators tend to focus on how demanding Skiles is of his players. But that is only because most sportswriters are lazy and would rather pilfer from each other than come up with an insight that would assist fans in understanding the game. The reality was that Skiles was tough on young players and once they bent to his will, he largely did not hold them accountable for their failings or backsliding. Skiles' coaching was largely an extension of his ego. He emphasized hard work because hard work is the quality about his play that he was most proud of and rightly so. But a berserker attitude is not sufficient to build a winning program (absent the population of a team with Nocioni clones). Skiles' coaching and game-time management remains deficient. And while he is frequently heard to complain that certain players haven't developed sufficiently (namely Tyrus Thomas) neither has his coaching. After taking out the Heat in decisive fashion in the first round of the playoffs last year, Skiles was outclassed by Flip Saunders in the second round. Skiles' questionable decision-making cost the the team the best chance the Bulls have had at making the NBA Finals since 1996.

Writers who think they know basketball chalk the Bulls' problems up to Paxson's decision to add Ben Wallace and jettison Tyson Chandler. I vehemently disagree. Paxson has done everything possible to give Skiles a stable of talent that should be the envy of the East. The team features some of the most gifted young talent in the league: Tyrus Thomas, Thabo Shefolosha, Joakim Noah, Aaron Gray, Ben Gordon, and Luol Deng are all 24 years old or younger. Each year, the talent on the team improves. And yet this year the Bulls are barely better than Zeke's Knicks.

Chicago Bulls fans aren't going to file out of the United Center early without letting the entire organization know that they won't stand for pathetic performances from an outstanding team. So there you go, we all got what we wanted for the holiday: Skiles gets some rest (sleep well Scotty) and Bulls fans get the possibility of a salvaged season and a deep run in the playoffs. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


As a fan, I am constantly whining. I openly question Ron Turner's aptitude for his position -- for which he receives substantial compensation (I now also question whether David Haugh is the latest in a string of sportswriters in Chicago with little understanding of the the sports they cover and even less interest in improving their knowledge, but guess given how the rest of the country must now suffer Jay Mariotti and Skip Bayless this is a good route to follow). I loudly voice my opinion that perhaps Scott Skiles' coaching philosophy regarding young players is far too influenced by the thinking that sent Dusty Baker packing (and, conveniently, now to our division rivals -- hope everyone in Cincinatti enjoyed what Harang and Arroyo have done for you the last couple of years). It is, of course, possible that Joe Smith doesn't deserve a starting spot on the team, that Gray, Noah, and Ty's respective youthful "mistakes" on the floor are more than compensated for by what they do well, and that a quick trigger on both Hinrich and Gordon would now be entirely appropriate given their consistently poor performances. But voicing these opinions is, unfortunately, annoying to all who must suffer hearing them . . . . including those within immediate earshot last Wednesday night at the Verizon center (but what, for pity's sake, was Joe Smith doing on the floor for most of the third quarter?).

I spent an inordinate amount of time today complaining that: (a) David Moyes cost Everton at least a point by failing to keep up offensive pressure on a less than impressive Man U defense; (b) the Milan derby featured worse acting than the Spanish-language infomercials for "natural enhancement" products that aired opposite the match on GolTV (and, more importantly, that Serie A matches are unwatchable unless you enjoy dudes extending their arms, screaming, and throwing themselves to the pitch every time they are touched); (c) Blackburn -- sans Friedel, Santa Cruz, and Bentley -- has quit on Mark Hughes and they should have taken at least a point off of Chelsea's lackluster performance; (d) Ronaldinho had no business being in Barca's starting XI for today's Real Madrid clash; and (e) Dave Toub should be named offensive coordinator or, if that seems wrong to the Bears' brass, perhaps a modified Magic Eight Ball should be used in lieu of an actual person.

For this and many other reasons, I am an idiot (but that doesn't change the fact that Ron Turner is one as well). As such, I am one of a proud nation of stupid sports fans. But as much as I accept this fate, I am hesitant to accept this states of affairs fully. I am, for instance, not stupid (or drunk) enough to argue (apparently seriously) that Alan Pardew should be sacked regardless of how poor the results were from Hull's brief stay at the Valley. And as much as I screw up rules about what constitutes a foul in soccer or how the intentional grounding rule works in the NFL, I believe that screaming at refs at a sporting event requires a clear understanding of the rules of the game that you are watching (a prerequisite not met by a family of people heckling the referees at Saturday's Maryland-American University basketball match near our seats -- the use of the jump stop is not, unfortunately, travelling).

The distinction is important, because there are shared responsibilities in the interactive nature of a sporting event. In professional sports, players, whether they admit to it or not, owe their livelihood to the spectators and, as such, must earn their income by performance. Coaching staffs only exist to assist players in performing to their full potential and, in consequence, must ensure that players are able to earn said income. Fans, obviously, pay the price of admission. But that is not the alpha and the omega of fandom. The purchase price of a ticket does not absolve one of further responsibility. No team is going to be successful with the support of just one fan or one small group of fans. Although the shirtless kid waving his clothing over his head (with jeans pulled down to reveal the top half of his boxers) was bestowed adulation by the Jumbotron operator at Wednesday night's Wizards-Bulls game, the Wizards depend on ticket sales to that idiot, that idiot's friends, the two sections that are suffering that group of idiot's ranting and heckling throughout the game, and the other 14,000 fans in attendance to keep Agent Zero and crew on the floor. All of this means that the fans of a team have, at base, a responsibility to ensure that those around them are enjoying the experience. I interpret this responsibility to mean that I better have a good reason for booing or openly disapproving of a team that I am supposed to be cheering for, that I take into account the views of those around me at a game, and that I remember that the stadium is not a pub (I can get trashed at a bar after the game).

This last part seems to be the most important at the moment. I am certain that American football games have been inundated by alcohol well before I was born. But I do not believe that the behavior accompanying the public drunkenness of stadiums I attended two decades ago was as nasty as what I've experienced more recently. I harp on the theme a second time in reaction to an article that appeared in Saturday's Washington Post on the Redskins-Bears game penned by CBS News' Editorial Director, Dick Meyer. I've had different experiences than Meyer: I have enjoyed the atmosphere at Soldier Field (at this year Lion's game, the drunken fan next to us with the traffic cone on his head was either ignored or jeered by most surrounding fans when he did something obnoxious; at last year's 49ers' game, the small group of fans in our section who took to berating another fan in our section who was wearing a Montana jersey were publicly rebuked by other fans who were deliriously happy with the game's progress); I brought a large group to the Meadowlands for last year's Jets-Bears game and had a great time (despite all of us being decked out in Bears jerseys); and we've driven down to Charlotte and enjoyed the college football-like atmosphere of Panthers games.

Unfortunately, while club level seats at the Redskins-Bears games led to the worst fan experience I've ever had, I've had similarly horrible experiences at Wizards and Nationals games. All of them have involved more than just the liberal application of alcohol. Indeed, the most important factor was the desire of others to be abusive. And the rise of the idiot DC sports fan certainly is having expected results. Attendance is poor at Nationals, Wizards, and Capitals games. Non-traditional sports have achieved some measure of surprising success in the area -- although attendance has fallen sharply recently, the Washington Mystics have had the highest attendance of any franchise in the WNBA in six of their ten seasons and there are four professional soccer teams between DC and Annapolis (DC United; Washington Freedom; Crystal Palace FC USA (Annapolis); and, now, Real Maryland F.C.). The Redskins are the exception, with a long waiting list for season tickets (but seeming difficulty in selling corporate seats).

And while it is probably not representative of what anyone else in the area might think, the problems posed by alcohol combined with idiot fans has changed my thinking about my rabid sports enthusiasm. I've asked for my name to be removed from the Redskins waiting list and will continue to politely decline requests to renew our Nationals' season tickets. I'll renew our United and Hoya Hoops tickets (where there is plenty of alcohol, but far less abuse), pick up Mystics season tickets again, add Freedom, Crystal Palace, and Maryland football plans to my list of sports expenditures, and watch the rest of it on television, if at all. I'm grateful to have the options.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

What Matters (Part 2)

A sensitive issue is very much on the forefront of sports reporting in contemporary America: the interplay of culture and the tragedies and travesties that have plagued professional sports of late. The question squarely presented is: does hip-hop/rap culture have any discernible, meaningful negative impact on the ways in which African-American athletes (and, more broadly, athletes that are racial minorities) conduct themselves and their lives? If one accepts the premise that hip-hop/rap culture is having a demonstrable adverse impact -- and unfortunately I now do -- the next leap is assuming that what unfolds in professional sports is a microcosm of what is happening in larger society and reflects the pathologies that impact us as a country.

The topic is, of course, extremely controversial and sports writers who choose to address the subject risk being pilloried by their own communities. Case in point: I was shocked recently to read a recent Sports Illustrated issue that included an article on the relationship between Michael Vick and the childhood friends who turned on him; not by the article itself, but by the short explanatory blurb that appeared at the front of the magazine that seemed to come close to apologizing for the piece and, at the same time, make clear that one of its authors was African-American. Thankfully, other sportswriters have been relatively fearless in expressing their concerns. Jason Whitlock, for example, has passionately argued that something has spun horribly out of control. LZ Granderson also recently wrote an eminently personal, persuasive piece for ESPN that was not nearly as inflammatory as Whitlock's piece, but equally meaningful. Michael Wilbon added his thoughts in a controversial column for the Washington Post. Predictably, Whitlock's piece found favor in the commentary of white conservatives that rail about all things largely irrelevant to them, but useful for distracting from the increasing inequality and deteriorating opportunities for economic mobility in the country. Just as predictability, Whitlock has been hammered as a sell-out in screeds notable only for their venomous illogic. Wilbon similarly has come under fire.

Whatever type of sellout it makes me, I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the celebration of violence in some of our nation's sub-culture and have been laid low by the absurdity of where we find ourselves. Scoop Jackson's two part series on his relationship with "LaTravis Hawkins" (part 1, part 2) is a strident reminder of what is at stake here: our future. Around my way, we struggle with the impact of the glorification of MS-13 and violence and misogyny in inane Reggaeton anthems that pimp Latin-American culture to the financial benefit of some large corporations that proliferate this bullsh*t. And the consequences cannot be denied, as we keep losing kids. While this should be perceived as a national tragedy regardless of one's politics, the reality is that where once we were told that "a mind is a terrible waste," most of us can only stand by and watch minds, minds that might have made a positive contribution to our communities, wither away.

For whatever reason, the recent death of major league baseball's Joe Kennedy brought these questions home to me -- not Sean Taylor's homicide, but a touching piece on Joe Kennedy written by Jeff Pearlman. I came out of the same lower-middle class neighborhood as Joe and we went to the same junior college. In El Cajon, there are poor kids that live in apartments and poor kids that live in trailers. I used to think that despite the gangs and violence that characterized my neighborhood, I was luckier than those living in the trailers. Now I'm not so sure. Kennedy capitalized on his athletic skills, pulled himself out of the trailers and, yet, according to Pearlman remained close with those back home. He, in the vernacular of the day, "kept it real."

There is no way I would go back. Athletics kept me somewhat protected from the predators that controlled the barrio. Fundamentally, however, I understand that those who gave me a pass were the same people who created the environment that would have caused me harm. And I fear that Angel, who used aluminum baseball bats swung at the craniums of teenagers to impose his will, has been replaced by someone who, bolstered by the fictional war stories that spill out of my radio and my television, believes himself to be truly bad *ss.

These thoughts probably make me a sellout. They probably diminish my standing within my own community -- certainly some of my friends vehemently disagree with me -- and they probably provide fodder to racists who believe that minorities can never be considered the equals of whites. But I hope those who have thoughts like mine continue to express them, without fear and with greater urgency.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Wow, You Know How to Curse

The Chicago Bears' visit to FedEx Field was disappointing. Not because we had an excellent vantage point of Archuleta whiffing on yet another tackle (we had a pretty good sight line on that particular display of AA's skill in Chicago), nor because first-hand visual evidence confirms that Brian Griese is, in fact, awful (also confirmed in Chicago); no, instead, for purely personal reasons, I regret going. Sports fans in all cities, for all sports, can be jack*sses. Whether you run across them in any given venue is really the luck of the draw. Two of the more pleasant NFL experiences I've had were at the Bears last two visits to FedEx. And yet some of the most disheartening sporting events I've ever been to took place in DC: A playoff game between the Wizards and Bulls in 2005 where some genius in the Wizards promotional department thought they could inspire the Wiz to greatness with a shtick whereby the Wizards mascot playfully attacked a faux fan in a Bulls jersey with silly string. Hysterical. Particularly when drunk Wizards fans started to toss $10 beers at anyone wearing black and red shortly thereafter. Several Nationals home games surrounded in Loge by a father, after downing six or seven beers, teaching his young son how to scream profanity at the opposing team's right fielder and young men who batted about xenophobic slurs towards a dad with his young son who were happily waving a small flag of the Dominican Republic. Good times. So good in fact that I walked away from my season tickets. And then there was last night. Club section, group of six, two young kids in tow and scores of belligerent, drunk, moronic purportedly Redskins fans surrounding us.

At some point, something has gone seriously wrong in the way that a significant minority of people in the DC area behave at largely populated sporting events. Want to scream the word "c*ck" over and over again for no particular reason? Head to a Redskins game. Want to call a young woman a "b*tch" for two quarters, joined by three of your best friends? FedEx is your destination. Want to shout homophobic slurs and racial epithets after dropping several hundred dollars for the pleasure of entering an arena? Grab your Miller Lite, hop on the Blue Line, jump off at Morgan Boulevard, and walk due north.

I guess I would be able to understand the phenomenon if it was young men who just wanted to get into a fight. But each and every time any of the idiots around us was physically confronted, they backed down, slinked away, stayed silent for tens of minutes, and then slowly built their confidence back up so as to express what could not be said in even the most anarchic drinking establishment. At least in our section, the motivating force for the behavior appeared to be akin to the third-grader who, upon the departure of a teacher from the classroom, tries to impress his friends by dropping a number of f-bombs for the sake of dropping of f-bombs. Strange way to seek approval, but if that is all you have going for you, well, that is all you have going for you.

I'm angry that I've been in this area long enough to see the devolution of DC professional sports (sans soccer and Women's basketball) to places where a major attraction is the ability to offend and denigrate with impunity. Ultimately, it doesn't matter and the easy answer is to just stop going to the games. I would, however, like to think that after a decade of being here, I might be able to cheer for the local teams in games that did not matter to those of my hometown. But I can't. Wizards fans made me hate the Wizards. Last night, Redskins fans have made me hate the Redskins. And, I'm fairly sure that if the Nationals ever get fans, I'll learn to hate the Nationals as well (and should hockey ever matter again, I'll probably hate the Capitals).

Whatever. It was still a good perch to view the game:

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What Doesn't Matter

It took place over a month ago, but I could not bring myself to face it. My annual trip back to Chicago for a Bears game happened to be for the Bears-Lions game on October 28th. Fortunately, the visit instilled in me a hatred for Ron Turner that is only surpassed by my hatred for John Shoop. (How about that Terry Shea? You don't even rate anymore). Of course, it makes watching LSU games all the more painful as I now pine over Gary Crowton in the same way that 50 Cent loves fat girls that love cake.

So no comments (well, no comments except why did I think that Griese was anything but horrible? How low are my standards for a quarterback? Where are you now Jimmy Miller?). Just photos:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What Matters (Part 1)

I'm learning to turn a bit away from my professional sports affiliations as the Bears and Bulls sink even further into wasted seasons and the Addicks' have suffered two horrible losses to Sheffield and Burnley at the Valley. A trip to Wales has temporarily righted the ship, but my confidence is a bit shaken.

After watching (virtually) Charlton's collapse to Burnley, we headed out to check out Georgetown as JTIII's kids took on a surprisingly competitive Fairfield squad. I have absolutely no ties to Georgetown but I feel privileged to have the opportunity to watch the Hoyas take the court nevertheless. The team is incredibly charismatic and the energy they exude is infectious. Georgetown presents, for DC residents, the last meaningful sporting event that can be attended by those on strict budgets and watching a wide diversity of my neighbors -- most of whom, like me, have no formal connection to the University -- filter into the Verizon center with broad smiles on their faces is something I look forward to. The Hoyas are doing what they ought to do in these games against lesser opponents; namely, seeing what everyone in a Georgetown jersey not named Roy Hibbert can contribute before they head to Tennessee for their showdown with Derrick Rose and the Memphis Tigers on December 22nd. Patrick Ewing Jr. continues to be my favorite to watch as despite obvious offensive deficiencies, PE2 never eases up on defense and his contribution (I hope) will prove a difference as the Big East season runs its course. From what we've seen so far, I am also hopeful that Macklin and Rivers will continue to develop and that Wright and Freeman remain comfortable with taking on more and more responsibility. But regardless of what happens, I am certain to enjoy it.

Later on Saturday night, we headed over to Ludwig Field to watch Maryland's very good men's soccer team take on Bradley in the third round of the NCAA's tournament. We watched the first half from the touch line behind Bradley's goal and were treated to an impressive display from Maryland's squad:

Of particular note was the Terps' phenomenal freshmen midfielder Rodney Wallace, who punched in Maryland's first goal at the 17th minute. Unfortunately, Wallace was knocked out of the match with an injury a little over six minutes later. The rest of his team picked up the slack and Maryland took a two goal lead into half time on a header by Omar Gonzalez, photographed horribly here:

Maryland dominated for much of the game, but as we sat in the bleachers for the second half, a let down seemed inevitable. Fans around us began to talk about Maryland's next possible matchup against Ohio State or Santa Barbara. A little later they talked about what it would take to make the final four, and a little later after that there were those who were wondering if this wasn't 2005 all over again. I looked up at the scoreboard with three minutes left in the game, frozen (and therefore certain that the match was going to come down to penalty kicks), and marveling that Bradley had taken only six shots in the first 87 minutes of the contest. Maryland failed to clear the ball well and the team's defense relented and Bradley scored in the 89th minute. Bradley's fans cheered wildly and the Maryland folks on the other side of the pitch scoffed that Bradley was excited to lose by one. And then Bradley scored again. 42 seconds from time. And this time, the Bradley supporters were orgasmic. The cheers were visceral. The reaction of the squad on the field was of immense joy. And it was guaranteed that Maryland wasn't moving on. Bradley confirmed it with a minute fifteen left in the second overtime. And there it was again. Bradley's cadre of fans out of their minds. The joy, the thrill, evinced by the folks from Peoria was usefully contrasted by a sole drunken idiot Maryland student screaming "F*ck you" at what he believed to be the referee but was, in fact, a member of Bradley's coaching staff. (Otherwise, the Maryland fans were great... the impossibly-sustained "Knock, Knock, Who's There? Banana. Banana Who?" chant at Bradley's goalie is one of the most improbable things I've witnessed at a sporting event).

I know next to nothing about college soccer and I was left a bit startled by Bradley's reaction to the win. Of course, knocking off Indiana and Maryland in consecutive games is impressive, but perhaps didn't warrant that much of a response. And this is, of course, why we have the internet. To answer random questions that should not take up much of our time. So why did Bradley react that way? Really? Wow. Sports might mean something to me, but I hope that I never have it mean as much to me as soccer means to those kids right now. Regardless, I am certain that when Chris Cutshaw put the ball in the net to send it to overtime, the Braves' fans knew that it was going to happen. And when Cutshaw put the ball into the net the second time, each and every Brave fan in the grandstand thanked a power higher than themselves for having the opportunity to be there for it.

Go Bradley. All that stands between y'all and the championship is Ohio State and either UMass or UIC. We will be rooting for you throughout.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Good Times

The last month has not been fun from a sports perspective. The horrible, abysmal play of both the Bulls and Bears, coupled with the ineptitude of those managing both underperforming teams, has overcast most every other cool development of the last four weeks: the resurgence of Illinois football under Ron Zook, culminating in a 28 to 21 win over Ohio State on November 10th (and a performance by Juice Williams that will be passed down in Illini lore); Charlton's four game November winning streak in the Championship (that will, with luck, continue against fellow relegees Sheffield United on Tuesday night at the Valley); the Georgetown Hoyas racking up its first three wins -- with an impressive dismantling of Beilein's Wolverines (before Western Kentucky beat them); and Darren McFadden's star-making turn in a gritty Razorback triple overtime win over LSU.

What Scott Skiles and Ron Turner haven't been able to do, however, is effect how much I am enjoying American soccer. On Thursday, November 8th, DC United invited planholders to RFK to meet the team. My sister and I attended, trying to swing in and out of the stadium quickly so as not to miss a pre-scheduled screening with Uwe Boll's "Alone in the Dark" later that night. After purchasing far too many game worn jerseys from the team in a room packed with United fans grabbing everything they could, we stood in line for a chance to get autographs from, and say hello to, every United player but Jaime Moreno. I've asked for autographs from Cubs players at spring training and my sister and I had once stood together in a line as kids in a suburban Sears in west Chicago to meet Wilber Marshall, but I've never stood in a line with other adults waiting to meet professional athletes that I barely recognized. Whatever reluctance the circumstances might have created in me was wiped away quickly upon getting a chance to greet Tom Soehn. To a man, United's players appeared to be happy to have the opportunity to meet fans and made those who took the time to drop by feel as if both the fan and the player were better off for the interaction. I had the opportunity to thank Bobby Boswell for his blog and to tell Guy-Roland Kpene how much I enjoyed his flair on the field and the joy he brought to the game. I did not, however, take the opportunity to sing my rendition of James Blunt's "Beautiful" to Emilio. I am certain that he would appreciate my forebearance. I called to renew and upgrade my season tickets the next day.

Nine days later I was back at RFK, this time with my wife, to take some kids to a free event that Major League Soccer was hosting for area kids involved in club soccer. We were not sure what we were going to, but the event featured DC United's Nicholas Adderly, the Fire's Chris Armas and Diego Gutierrez, and two other MLS players, running drills with children on the auxiliary field at RFK:

Now I knew who Adderly was before the event -- after all, I had asked for his autograph a little more than a week earlier -- but I did not, in all honesty, recognize Chris Armas or Gutierrez and that's embarrassing. All the more embarrassing not only because of who Armas is, but how he acted throughout the day. Armas was amazingly patient with the kids and spent time with them with a smile on his face, laughing the entire while. Whatever Armas has meant for U.S. soccer or for the Chicago Fire, these kids, who also did not know who he was, greatly enjoyed the time he set aside for them. Nicholas Adderly spent even longer on the field. Had I taken the time to learn more about Adderly prior to the event, I would have loved to have asked the Jamaican-born striker how he found himself playing professional soccer in Trinidad and Tobago (South Starworld Strikers and San Juan Jabloteh) before ending up in Vietnam playing for a club team (Dong Nai FC) and then with DC United in 2007. But whatever else Adderly has done, whatever else he achieved, he dealt with a gaggle of screaming young girls with equanimity and joy.

The next day we took ten people with us to the MLS Cup match between the Dynamo and Revolution. I admittedly know little about soccer and my ignorance may be the reason why I cannot understand why European ex-pats living in the U.S. spend so much time denigrating American soccer. I've watched enough Fizzy Pop football now to, I believe, say with conviction that I'd rather watch Houston play New England than Scunthorpe take on Cardiff. Regardless, the Cup match was thoroughly entertaining. Canadian international Dwayne De Rosario, American international Taylor Twellman, and Grenadian international Shalrie Joseph played eminently watchable football. The announced crowd of just under 40,000 (and there were well over 30,000 in the seats) was fully into the game. Andy Dorman, who will likely be in the Championship come January, subbed in for Steve Ralston at the 79th minute and almost sparked the Revolution. Michael Parkhurst, who has been linked to Fulham (and would be the fifth American on the South London squad), also played a good game.

And this is important, to me, in that I can read about the Bulls losing to the Knicks and the Raptors and listen to Ron Turner further Shoopify the Bears remarkably talented offense and think happy thoughts about what is waiting when the CONCACAF 2008 Champions Cup begins.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Revisiting an Old QB

I am not a huge fan of Brian Griese and the decision to go with Griese at QB over seeing what Orton can do rankled me. But I am also frequently wrong. And it appears that Griese may yet salvage this horrible season and give the Bears a shot at the playoffs, even if they can only hope for a wild card. Griese followed up the great deep throw to Hester against the Vikes last week with a jaw-dropping 97 yard drive with under 2 minutes left on the clock and no timeouts. Not surprisingly, Griese was able to take advantage of the Eagles' soft coverage over the middle -- something the Eagles had left exposed for most of the game -- on two big passing plays to Berrian and Hester for 47 of the 97 yards that netted the winning score. Perhaps even less surprising, Griese called the final plays himself, as radio communication with the underwhelming Ron Turner was cut off for that last drive.

Unstated in much of the coverage of today's game in the Chicago press is a fact that I find, well, unreal: in two games, Griese has thrown for 322 and 381 yards. The two back to back 300+ yard games equal the amount of 300+ yard games a Bears quarterback has had in the 5 seasons between 2002 and 2006. Last year Grossman threw for 339 yards against Tampa Bay in an overtime game on December 17th. Before that, no Bears quarterback had thrown for 300 yards in a game since Jim Miller threw for 353 yards in a loss against the Packers on October 7, 2002. In fact, I believe that the 381 yards that Griese threw for in the loss against the Vikings two weeks ago were the most a Bears quarterback had amassed in a game since Jim Miller threw for 422 yards against the Vikings in week 10 of 1999.

The performances that Griese has turned in the last two weeks fully justify the move away from Grossman and have helped to demonstrate how good the receiving corps of the Bears has become. While Berrian and Bradley have not shined, the two U alums (Olsen and Hester) have flourished and present daunting additional threats for opposing defenses. The more dangerous the passing attack becomes, the greater the chance that Ced Benson will have some success carrying the ball. And, if Benson does not, the "bust" tag can be hung on him with little controversy and Angelo can use the offseason to figure out what alternatives exist to shore up the team's backfield.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Season for a Fifth Round Draft Pick

Chris Harris is a good man. In April, he made his second trip to Iraq, traveling with then teammate Israel Idonije and the Colts' Nick Harper. By all accounts he was loved by the rest of the players on the Chicago defense. I loved watching Harris play, he was a safety who, while not a great coverage guy, hit hard and played with reckless abandon. Other Bears fans disagreed. Regardless, the former 6th round draft pick was traded for a fifth round pick in 2008 and given a chance to start with the Panthers. The Panthers are now 4-2, Harris has been credited with four forced fumbles and a pick in those six games.

Todd Johnson, like Harris, was not a great coverage safety, but hit even harder than Harris. The Bears let Johnson walk as a free agent, and he signed with the Rams for a relatively modest 4 year, $4 million (or $3.9 million) deal. The Rams, in contrast to the Panthers, are horrible and Johnson's not been as big a part of St. Louis's team as Harris has been for the Panthers. Of course, the Rams are coached by Scott Linehan.

Cameron Worrell was also in the Bears secondary in last year's Super Bowl campaign, although he largely contributed on special teams. Worrell was allowed to walk and signed a relatively modest two-year, two million deal with the Dolphins. Injuries have depleted the Dolphins secondary and Worrell's been pressed into service as a starting safety and some of his coverage deficiencies have been exposed.

Harris, Johnson, and Worrell are not going to be mistaken for Hall of Famers and they were never going to be in the pantheon of Bears greats at the position -- in my lifetime, Mike Brown, Mark Carrier, Shaun Gayle, Dave Duerson, Gary Fencik -- but they did have one thing in common: they can tackle.

At least, they can tackle better than the sorry lot that now inhabits the starting lineup of the Bears secondary. Brandon McGowan was appropriately singled out during the television broadcast for his pathetic effort on one of OAP's long TD runs, but a breakdown of film will show how intimately involved McGowan, Danieal Manning, and Adam Archuleta were in each and every long touchdown play for the Vikings today. Archuleta, who cost the Bears a 6th round pick and is signed to a three-year $8.1 million contract, with $5 million guaranteed, (with the Bears said to have assumed the majority of the $5 million roster bonus that Archuleta was due prior to the start of this season), has been simply horrible (regardless of how his girlfriend looks).

Mike Brown got hurt and is out for the season. Kevin Payne got hurt and is out for the season. Archuleta has a broken hand (he couldn't tackle even with both good hands). These things might have had an impact, but the big difference was the decision by the Bears coaching staff and the front office to get rid of Harris, let Johnson and Worrell walk, and roll into the season with Archuleta, Manning, and McGowan. That decision has been fatal to the Bears season this year. The arrogance of thinking that Archuleta could return to form despite his horrible showing in DC... the arrogance of giving away a starting NFL safety to a NFC rival for a second-day draft pick... and the arrogance of thinking that Danieal Manning could be coached out of the deficiencies that he evidenced all last year are what has led to the sorry state of Bears defensive football that was on display today.

Bet Lovie wishes that he had Rivera to kick around these days.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


The year that the word "Bartman" was added to the constellation of phrases signifying the Cubs prolific tendency to fall short was, otherwise, a pretty good year to be a Cubs fan. On October 5th, we sat in the stands at Turner Field with thousands of other Cubs fans and witnessed something that did not seem possible -- the Cubs winning a postseason series. But before the Cubs got to the playoffs, Cubs fans were forced to deal with something that the rest of baseball fans already knew: Sammy Sosa was not a good guy. In June of that year, Sosa was caught with a corked bat and provided an inane explanation for why he was using the bat. The week following, the Cubs traveled to Baltimore to take on the Orioles in a three game series. We had tickets to all three games and I don't remember feeling as miserable at a Cubs game (well, maybe the Rob frigging Mackowiak doubleheader at PNC Ballpark, but they are close) as I did in our short time at Camden -- we later decided not to use some of our tickets. People came to the ballpark not to cheer for the Orioles (because, after all, who in their right mind does that? Thank you, Peter Angelos) and instead were there to get obscenely wasted and berate Sosa and all resident Cubs fans for the duration of the game. The whole thing was painful. In the nearly two decades that had passed since the team choked at Jack Murphy, the Cubs had managed only meek performances against the Giants and Braves in the playoffs and pretty much the only exceptional stories for Cubs fans in the latter half of the nineties was Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game and Sammy Sosa’s home runs. In one corked bat, Cubs fans were largely stripped of that joy – not that we deserved to have it, as most of us turned a blind eye towards his doping and general surliness, but we were stripped of it nonetheless.

The Sosa corked-bat incident is relevant at the moment for two reasons: first, it helps to explain why the epic incompetence displayed by this year's Cubs team, culminating in a sweep by a pretty bad Arizona Diamondbacks squad, hasn't bothered me as much as it probably should. Second, I'm reminded of it every time I watch the Patriots destroy another NFL team this season.

On the first point, there is no question that I am p.o.'d about the lifeless performance of the $100 million Cubs in the NLDS. In what would have been the ultimate irony for Sweet Lou, he might have been better served if he'd sat the starting veterans in game 3, played Ward at first, Fontenot at second, Theriot at short, either DeRosa or Aram at third, Soto at catcher, Murton in left, Pie in center, and Jacque Jones or Cliff Floyd in right. I can now add Mark DeRosa's horrible at-bat in the fifth inning to the constellation of bitter Cubs' failures -- bases-loaded, one out, three and one count, team down two, and Livan had just walked to two straight batters. Well hit fly ball gets you within a run. Or you could reach for a ball out and away and hit it into the ground for a Drew-Ojeda-Jackson double play. Whatever works. When the Cubs lost to the Marlins in 2003, the sports media chalked it up to Bartman. Some Cubs fans hung the series around the neck of AGone. Cubs fans who understood what was going on blamed Fox and Bernie Mac. But given four years of sorrow, of thinking about what it would have been like to see and hear Santo calling a World Series game, have taught me that it was karma. I, and thousands of other Cubs fans, gave Sosa a free pass and let him demean the game and the Cubs uniform. At spring training in Mesa in 2004, I was aghast watching Maddux shag fly balls in center field while Sosa had a cadre of sycophants around him and his personal assistant in right. Despite the exhortations of the crowd watching batting practice (and CPatt put on a show), the most that Sosa could be troubled to do was to send his assistant to give a ball to a young girl who would not stop shrieking his name. In three days, that was the only recognition I saw Sosa give fans. He was bigger than us. He was the personification of American baseball. Cubs fans were prepared to let Prior treat them just as badly. Just so long as the Cubs were relevant, just so long as we weren't the joke of the National League, just so long as we weren't being told that Jose Guzman was the equivalent of the recently departed Greg Maddux, that an outfield with Kal Daniels or Candy Maldonado would get us back into contention, or that Danny Jackson was the best free agent in Cubs history. When (if?) the Cubs win the World Series, I want it to be a team that I can cheer for unequivocally. The suffering has to mean something. I don't cheer for the Cubs because I believe in winning at all costs. I am not a Yankees fan. Had the 2003 Cubs gained rings, it would have made it even more difficult for the organization to extricate itself from the debacle that became Sammy Sosa -- we would be the Giants, hoping that Barry would just up and decide to wander the subcontinent a la Ricky Williams. The 2007 Cubs presented different problems. Z's sense of himself and his achievements has lost its bearing to reality. Prior remains on the team (as does, I believe, Scott Eyre). Cubs fans viciously and unfairly killed Jacque Jones all season. The team lost way too many games that they had no business losing by ridiculously listless performances (where have you gone DLee? The city of Chicago wants you back). This was not a team to be proud of. This was, instead, the perfect team to post yet another postseason failure in the record books. At least they, like the Phillies, had the good grace to make it quick.

At the same time, I believe that the karmic wheel will come around on the Pats this season. I love Bill Simmons' writing. I often disagree with his analysis of sports, but there is no more entertaining read about sports. But this has got to be a difficult time to be a Pats fan. Gregg Easterbrook has correctly expressed the appropriate level of indignation for what Belichick has done to disgrace the NFL. It is, however, even more painful to watch, listen to and read apologists trying to excuse Belichick's actions. At the moment, most Pats fans can take solace and salve wounds by reference to the quality of the team -- clearly superior to every other squad in the league. But as JT sings, what goes around comes around and the Pats are prime candidates for comeuppance. It is a whole new type of losing -- one that Cubs fans are used to -- a catastrophic loss that is looming and the whole time that you as a fan anticipate it, you know you deserve it. Belichick's taping on top of (1) the addition of Randy Moss, (2) drafting Brandon Meriweather, and (3) Rodney Harrison's HGH tempts the fates too much to believe that the road from Foxboro to the Super Bowl has already been paved. Look to the horizon, Pats fans, something wicked is headed your way (or there is no justice in sports, in which case we'll soon be witnesses to the Knicks rallying around Zeke and leading NY back to the Finals).

Friday, September 14, 2007


The first english football match I ever attended was last season at Stamford Bridge when the Addicks traveled west to take on Chelsea. Ignorant of the nuances of the sport when compared to U.S. spectator sports, I was excited to pick up four tickets for the match from Chelsea's web-site and more than a little stunned to read the conditions on the piece of paper when the tickets were issued. Ejection for supporting the visitors? Well, no problem, I picked up a three lions shirt, the other three people going with me were neutrals, and this was my first match, so we should easily have been able to passively take in the spectacle.

I was even more surprised when arriving at the stadium. I've traveled all over the United States going to sport events and, because I no longer live in Chicago, I tend to be cheering for the visiting team. But not one of these little sojourns could have prepared me for a modern english football stadium. The whole set-up is menacing. Giant metal/iron turnstiles, little freedom to move around the stadium, and security at every turn. And then we are at our seats. And we are surrounded by supporters that, like me, appear to be tourists, out to get a taste, however removed, of english football. No chanting, no singing, just taking in the game. And when Carson saves a penalty, the only sound from my section was my cheer, quickly stifled. And then the game is over. We linger inside momentarily before we are authoritatively ushered out of Stamford Bridge and out into Chelsea. And I am thinking, this is it? This is the english game that instills such passion and enraptures the world?

The next Saturday, we take our first trip to the Valley, freshly back from Bergerac, on our way to Keflavik. This time, the heavy metal-iron turnstiles are more familiar and there is greater berth to wander the grounds. We sit next to the West Stand and there is considerably more energy than the previous week. Nevertheless, Pompey beats up on a listless Addicks squad and we've managed to travel a great distance to witness our side get pummeled on successive Saturdays. On the way out of the Valley, heading towards the Thames, a little bit of a window opens: a Portsmouth supporter, equipped with black, shin-high, steel-toed boots, heavy piercings, and tatoos over the length of his body, finds joy in menacing a twelve-year old boy who has briefly wandered from his father's side. The curtain rolls back slightly further: a little further on, a group of Portsmouth lads sit in an open, empty lot cursing the red clad families that walk by, launches the occassional projectile, and rejoices in the cowardice of the home side's supporters who are unwilling to invest the time or energy in dislodging them from their roost. They have taken Charlton ground. Good on them.

At home, I read the hue and cry for a return to terraces and enjoy the bastardized version of them created at RFK by Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles. These fans keep the games vibrant and energize the team. But time passes on and this season my enthusiasm for the mini-terrace created by these fans is diluted in the antipathy reflected by the casual toss of smoke bombs into sections crowded with revelers simply trying to take in a game.

It is, I believe, impossible for an American to understand what took place in the European game twenty years ago. The inane wistfulness for those days on this side of the pond is devoid of any understanding of the chaos that reigned with absurd regularity at football matches throughout the region. We have no context for any of this. As a child, my brother used to regale me with stories of the disco demolition at Comiskey, he'd bring golf balls and batteries to games to wing on to the field. He was a Tigers fan and, in Chicago, his sympathies lay with the Sox. And that is just how Sox fans behave, or at least some do. And, admittedly, Lincoln Financial has a jail built into the grounds. But there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in this country that even comes close to approximating what Bill Buford describes in the remarkable "Among the Thugs." And it is Buford's account of what took place at Hillsborough that brings sharp focus to the layout of the modern english football stadium, to the easily understandable trade-off made to achieve the security and peace offered by all-seaters versus the chaos of the terraces.

I no longer have any sympathy for the pleas for the return to terraces and I no longer have any interest in being in close vicinity to those that would try and transplant the culture to DC. I am, at base, a now fully-converted, fully-devoted soccer fan. I want to witness Emilio's brilliance, Gomez and Moreno's skill, and Gros and Burch's interminable hustle. That's release enough for me. I don't need the faux violence to feel alive. Punch-ups can be had for the cheap in a bar, where there is only the furniture, the pint, and the odd-tv to distract from pent-up frustration. Soccer is performance art of aesthetic beauty, one that need not be marred by a moron with a 0.10 BAC, a lighter, and a small incendiary device. And if the expansion of the violence can threaten the game in a league as established as Argentina's, then f*ck the romanticism of the crowd. I'll sit behind the benches.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Gross Allegiance

For Bears fans, the NFL season starts tomorrow with a tough test against the very talented Chargers in Jack Murphy/Qualcomm. The beginning of the season is bittersweet given the loss in Miami last season and the fact that nearly all NFL commentators are chomping at the bit to denigrate the team's prospects for this season with Rex Grossman at the helm. And, certainly, given his performance against the Colts and his disastrous miscues in the preseason, this is a story that writes itself.

For football fans -- and for Bears fans in particular -- the focus on Grossman makes little sense. Like with every other team in the NFL, success or failure will largely be contingent on the health of the team. Unlike other NFL teams, the Bears' season will be substantially impacted by the type of production the squad gets out of its running back and secondary positions. Cedric Benson and, to a lesser extent, Adrian Peterson and Garret Wolfe have huge shoes to fill with the departure of Thomas Jones and it is unlikely that the running game will be nearly as effective without TJ. At safety, letting Chris Harris go and leaving the safety position to the somewhat fragile Mike Brown, Archuleta, Danieal Manning, Brandon McGowan and Kevin Payne may turn out to be a disastrous offseason move. The Bears not only gave away Harris, but also lost the underappreciated Todd Johnson and special-teams standout Cameron Worrell at safety. How Babich's Cover-2 scheme works with the Archuleta/M. Brown/Manning/McGowan/Payne combination in the Chargers game should be a good indication for what can be expected from the Bears' last line of defense throughout the season.

So why not be concerned about Grossman? Because Bears fans are used to getting little or nothing at the quarterback position, and Grossman has already proved that he can do much more than we would have ever anticipated. Last season, Grossman completed 54.6% of his passes, threw for 3,193 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also threw 20 interceptions -- 16 of those came in just five of sixteen regular season games started by Grossman last year. When he was bad, Grossman was terrible (Arizona; Miami; New England; Minnesota (2); and Green Bay (2)). And when he was good, he was phenomenal -- in the first Green Bay game, the first Detroit game, and the games against the 49ers, Giants, and Tampa Bay, Grossman was 108 for 156 (a 69.2% completion rate), for 1,388 yards, 13 touchdowns, and two interceptions.

Historically, Grossman presents a luxury that Bears fans are not used to... the ability to field a dangerous offensive team that can blow out any opponent with a suspect defense (the Bears scored 30 points or more in seven regular season games last season, in 1985 they scored 30 points or more in six regular season games). The 23 touchdowns that Grossman threw last year were the most that a Bears quarterback had thrown for since Erik Kramer's phenomenal 1995 season (60.3% completion percentage; 3,838 yards, 29 TDs with only ten picks). After that you have to go back to 1949 when Johnny Lujack threw 23 touchdowns (with 22 picks) to find as effective a scorer at quarterback. Since Sid Luckman took over as the Bears' quarterback in 1940, only four men have thrown for 3,000 or more yards in a season: Grossman, Kramer (who did it twice, in 1995 and again in 1997), Jim Harbaugh, and Bill Wade. In '97, Kramer threw 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. In '91, Harbaugh threw 15 touchdowns and 16 picks. In '62, Wade threw 18 touchdowns with 24 interceptions. At the same time, only six other Bears' quarterbacks have thrown 20 or more interceptions in a season: Vince Evans, Rudy Bukich, Bill Wade, George Blanda, Johnny Lujack (who did it twice, including the 1950 season when he followed up his 23 touchdown effort with 4 touchdowns and 21 interceptions), and Sid Luckman (31 to accompany 24 touchdowns in 1947).

Grossman is being asked to navigate Bears fans through uncharted waters: he is a high-risk, high-reward quarterback that we have little to no familiarity with. And while many are quick to assert that Grossman will not win the Bears a Super Bowl, the claim misses the point that Grossman doesn't need to. Every single Bears fan knows that last year's game with the Colts is completely different if a healthy Tommie Harris lines up on the other side of Jeff Saturday. And if the team decided to recklessly roll the dice at safety, they did not do so at defensive tackle. A line featuring Harris, Dvoracek, Darwin Walker and Anthony Adams is vastly improved over what the team trotted out in Miami at the beginning of this calendar year. As such, whenever Grossman struggles, the Lovie and Ron Turner should have the ability to convert to a conservative smashmouth offensive gameplan that wins games. Grossman may not win the Bears a Super Bowl, but that observation is irrelevant to the question of whether they will win one. And in the interim, Grossman is going to win the Bears more games than he loses.

Can't wait until kickoff. Go Bears.

Monday, September 3, 2007


Cubs fans have developed the nasty habit of turning bitterly on certain players that put on the blue and white uniforms. The anger and vehemence that some spew seems to largely be fueled by stathead drivel on fan web-sites from people who, if they only were able to run the team, would call an end to the team's century-long vacation from titleland. This phenomena, augmented to demented degrees over the last five years, is my least favorite aspect of being a Cubs fan.

Certainly, some Cubs players deserve to be booed and derided (Felix Heredia). More recent targets of fans' spite, however, are not as defensible. At spring training the year that Maddux returned to the Cubs and Todd Walker was unveiled as the new second baseman, Walker spent a lot of time with fans at HoHoKam. After one game, he stood around, signed autographs, and chatted leisurely with people in the stands. While near us, a fan behind me screamed out that had Walker been playing shortstop and not Alex Gonzalez, the Cubs would have played in the World Series the year previous. That claim is, obviously, idiotic and, to his credit, Walker responded simply that the fan was not correct. AGone was certainly not the best shortstop I've ever seen in a Cubs uniform, but he did nothing to deserve the emnity of any fan of the team (because, of course, as any true Cubs fan knows, fault for Game 6 lies squarely with Bernie Mac and Fox). In the NLDS and NLCS, AGone hit four home runs, knocked in eight runs, and had an OPS of .966. AGone had the game winning rbi (a solo home run off of Mike Hampton) in Game 5 at Turner Field that resulted in the first postseason series win that most Cubs fans had ever seen. He deserved to be remembered for those contributions, not damned for a botched double play ball.

That same spring training the Cubs unveiled another prominent free agent signing, LaTroy Hawkins. Never has a relief pitcher with a 2.63 ERA been more reviled by North Siders. LaTroy's sin was that he blew three saves at Wrigley and six saves on the road. He would blow nine saves in 2005 as well, (cumulatively, as a Cub and a Giant, after the Cubs dumped him for Jerome Williams and Aardsma). The hatred for LaTroy, however, was and remains inexplicable given the horrid performances of many other Cubs players during those two years. In 2004, I traveled significant distances to watch two of Hawkins' meltdowns, the Rob f'ing Mackowiak double header at PNC Ballpark and the Victor f'ing Diaz debacle at Shea. And I remain one of Hawkins' biggest fans. Hawkins didn't fail because he wasn't trying, he put everything into his job, and sometimes it just didn't work out. The fact that LaTroy is African-American should have made the vile spewed towards him even more reprehensible for the rest of Cubs Nation.

Fast forward to 2006 and the Cubs' brass acquires Jacque Jones. The GM starts off Jones' tenure by throwing him under a bus by informing dissatisfied Cubs' fans that Jones is sure to improve at Wrigley. JJ puts up decent numbers in 2006. In fact, his offensive numbers are the best for him in any single season outside of his career year in 2002. And yet, Cubs fans hated him. Annoyance with Cubs management for trying to plug a hole (one of three) in the outfield with Jones is aimed upstairs, but largely rains down on Jacque from the bleachers. When Jones struggled during the first half of 2007, Cubs fans called for blood both at Wrigley and on the internet. Many openly mourned when a deal giving Jones to the Florida Marlins for nothing fell through. Needless to say, I've remained one of Jones' biggest fans, largely because of who he is (thanks also to Sam Walker for confirming my thoughts on Jones in his excellent book FantasyLand) and because he works harder then almost everyone I know to be good at what he gets paid (handsomely) to do. And so it is with great joy that I watched Jones lay out today in centerfield -- on a ball that Soriano probably would have caught -- to insure an out that would maintain a one-run deficit that could be erased by one swing of DLee's bat. And it was with great joy that I watched and listened to Cubs Nation, short-term memory fully in action, give Jones a hardy ovation for his efforts while he lay on the grass with the wind knocked out of him. And it is with great joy that I can go back to the fan sites that I frequent and ignore the blowhards who still claim that we would be better off with Pie in centerfield.

The Cubs are in first place. In August, with Soriano out for the bulk of the month, Jones hit .349, knocked in 21 runs, stole four bases, played a good centerfield and posted an OPS of .909. Jacque Jones has carried this team. And when this hot streak cools, when the boos start to begin again, I hope that most Cubs fans will remember what Jones has done for our team this last month and tell their drunken neighbor to shut the hell up and drink his beer.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Spring Training

On Thursday night, the Cubs beat the Brewers 5 to 4 at Wrigley. The stadium was electric and marked an amazing turnaround from where the team was three months ago. Without question, the credit for the team's perseverance and vast improvement goes to Lou Pinella, who has played whoever is playing well regardless of service time (unlike, say, another manager who might have played certain really horrible veterans -- like, say, Jose Macias -- over younger players who would have undoubtedly contributed more). A 3-3 tie was broken with back-to-back homers by Matt Murton and Alfonso Soriano, but the real excitement was watching Carlos Marmol pitch. Check that, the real excitement was watching Marmol K five Brewers, including a transfixed and beguiled Corey Hart on a nasty, nasty slider (who cares if it was six inches off the plate?).

Watching Marmol overmatch the BrewCrew's batsmen, including Ryan Braun, was a pleasant reminder of one of the more enjoyable places to take in a baseball game in the country: Fitch Park. This spring, we made our second trip to spring training in Mesa, Arizona. This time, however, rather than follow around the major league team, when the Cubs went to Scottsdale, we walked over to Fitch Park to watch the minor league teams practice and AA and AAA games with the Brewers. It was the most fun I have had at a ballpark as an adult. It helped to have the chance to watch Sandberg coach and the opportunity, however fleeting, to talk to players. But, as this season has progressed, what really sticks out is the AAA game we watched that featured Sean Marshall starting for the Cubs, Gallardo starting for the Brewers, Carlos Marmol relieving Marshall (after a frustrating start), and Ryan Braun ripping balls for Milwaukee. At the time, few would have imagined how much of an impact these players would have on their respective teams during this season. Marmol, in particular, looked like he was too raw to provide any major contribution this season:

Fast forward to Thursday night and Marmol is perhaps the Cubs' best option out of the pen. The impact that he is having on the team is comparable to what Zumaya did for the Tigers last season. And none of it could have been anticipated. How unanticipated? While Ryne Sandberg and Eric Patterson were mobbed for autographs, after Marmol got done with his session in the spring training game, I was the only person there who approached him and asked for his (asking for autographs at my age is pathetic but, well, there it is). Marmol was kind enough to stop, attempt to communicate, and afterwards leisurely walk back to the clubhouse to whispers of "who is that?" and "he's the converted catcher" echoing around him.

Great day, great time, and best of all, it was free. If you are a Cubs fan and ever find yourself in Mesa during the spring, go to Fitch Park to take in a game (or two).

Good Day

Cubs win with inexplicably rare blasts from DLee and Aram; D.C. United torches the Hoops in Dallas as Fred continues to find the net; FoxSoccerChannel broadcasts the incredibly enjoyable North London/South London challenge between Tottenham and Fulham (to be known in the States from here on out as "Clint Dempsey's Arrival") and Charlton takes the South London derby to inch further up the league table.

My history as a supporter of the Addicks is too recent to be able to lay any claim to the joy that appears to have prevaded throughout SE7 from the result, but I have certainly enjoyed reading others express their thrill. I was not impressed by Todorov's early contribution to the squad, but am once again happy to learn the limits of my analytical ability. Wonderful way to tide over the two week break.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Dropping Points

For the second year in a row, the trek to the Valley led to an unsatisfactory walk back to the River Thames. Last year, we witnessed Pompey's early season victory over Charlton, and this year we watched the Addicks open up with a pathetic draw with the (not-so-mighty) Iron of Scunthorpe. It was hard to find much good in the match. Marcus Bent, Charlton's only goal scorer, is now (thankfully) off to Wigan and Todorov was not impressive (although he has, apparently, impressed lately). Showing what little I understand of the sport, I greatly enjoyed the performances of both Lloyd Sam and Yassin Moutaouakil, who were both active and creative on their side of the field.

Otherwise, the squad just looked confused and discombobulated and, no doubt, supporters felt much akin to our captain:

In any event, the injury sustained by Yassin is most unfortunate as the right back looked quality. The seven goals allowed in the last three matches are a testament to how much needs to be improved in the back line and, with luck, the additions of Mills and Sodje will stiffen their resolve.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Here is a sight that you don't see at a Major League Soccer often:

Over 40,000 people were in attendance at RFK Stadium August 9th to watch cameras watch David Beckham. The match was a joy to attend, both because of the large rooting interest in United and the equally large (and bizarre) rooting interest in all things Beckham. Luciano Emilio continued his fine form of aggressive, attacking football for United and drove a ball square through Joe Cannon's hands for the only goal of the match. That goal set Emilio up as the MLS's lead scorer, and put DC United into second place in the East, three points behind New England, with a game in hand over the Revolution.

And yet the good people of Kansas City, Salt Lake, and Columbus are likely to be denied the opportunity to view such a spectacle at their home pitches this year because of the injury sustained by number 23 in the SuperLiga Final against Pachuca. This turn of events has led to absurd calls for refunds of tickets sold in anticipation of Beckham coming to town. The reasons for the demand were articulated most vehemently by Filip Bondy, the Daily News correspondent, in a recent piece for MSNBC.

The argument, however, is ridiculous. Up until he set foot on the field in the second half, the fans that turned up at RFK were not sure that Beckham would play. While his participation certainly made the night more enjoyable, paying spectators were treated to a fairly decent match without regard to whether Beckham played or not. The message that Bondy (and other commentators apparently lacking in other ways to fill column inches) wishes to have these squads send is that absent the presence of an international pop star, an MLS match is not worth the price of admission.

Bondy, for one, argues that refunds (or exchanges for future Galaxy games) will earn these teams good will. Perhaps. But such moves would also constitute an admission that there is really no other reason to go to an MLS game. Futbol commentators in this country, in general, spend an inordinate amount of time ripping the quality of soccer played here, but the hatred for the American game evinced by this proposal (and effort to stir emnity against these teams) is unparalleled.

Had Beckham not played in the DC United match, fans might have been disappointed, but many would also be pleasantly surprised by the product that MLS puts out on the field. Emilio and Moreno alone are worth the (reasonable) price of admission. With luck, the same holds true in Salt Lake, Columbus, and Kansas City. The peripheral fan who bought Wizards tickets with the hope of catching Beckhamania will face the choice of abandoning the match and eating the cost of his tickets or attending the game and taking a chance that he just might enjoy watching Eddie Johnson take on Landon Donovan. And, with even more luck, if he makes the latter choice, he may buy another ticket to watch EJ work his magic against other opponents.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Bring 'em up

What a happy sight to behold:


Not terribly aesthetically pleasing, but there is a general theme here: the ball gets across that line. I've liked everything I've read about the man, but I particularly like this:

McLeod Signs For Charlton

Now there have been false indications that McLeod is on his way to the Valley in the past and I can only hope that this is, in fact, true. The only unfortunate thing about this is that Pards move for Izale may be too late for him to see action against Scunthorpe on Saturday and the terrible possibility that Marcus Bent may play a major role in that match.

Regardless, may Charlton learn from Izale and just finish. Bring 'em up.

Goodbye Dante

The Bears announced today that defensive back/special teams whiz Dante Wesley was traded to the Patriots for an undisclosed draft pick:

Wesley came to the Bears with the promise of being a special teams gunner that would further bolster one of the best special teams unit in the NFL. While he certainly gave everything he had, he did not meet expectations. But rather than dwell on whatever may have led to Wesley's exit prior to opening exhibition matches, the important story, I think, is how much the coaching staff rates Trumaine McBride, the Bears 7th round pick out of Mississipi in this year's draft. David Haugh wrote a great piece on McBride in yesterday's Tribune that should have most of the city behind the kid:,1,6219336.column?coll=cs-bears-headlines

What Haugh aptly describes is McBride, the human interest story. I choose to interpret today's trade of Wesley as confirmation of McBride, NFL cornerback. I look forward to cheering for both as the season kicks off.


I grew up playing soccer in the western suburbs of Chicago. I vaguely recall being good at it, playing sweeper, knocking other kids down and occasionally (very rarely) the joy of converting the odd sitter. I also vaguely remember the Chicago Sting. But then things happened (as they tend to do), I moved to a part of the country where baseball/football/basketball ruled, to be around kinsmen who cared as much about soccer as they did about cricket or Australian rules. Never mind. For the next decade, soccer, for me, existed only in fragments -- as part of the Olympics and occasional border clashes with El Tri at Jack Murphy Stadium.

Fast forward another ten years and soccer is no longer fragments. I remain a diehard fan of the Cubs, Bears, and Bulls, but I am also a D.C. United season ticket holder. I make sure that I drop by the 4,000 seater where the men and women of Keflavik IF ply their trade and the training ground where Hearts of Oak refine their craft when the opportunity presents itself. I am now more interested in why Cienciano is revered in Peru than in the historical significance of Machu Picchu. I have become fanatical about something that an American should not be fanatical about: the world’s game.