Archive for May, 2009
Detroit, Michigan is NOT Hockeytown!! I’m so tired of this self-appointed title. Although its sports fans support the Red Wings well and the franchise is currently the gold standard for NHL teams, it isn’t Hockeytown.
That title is and likely always will belong in Montreal. Plan and simple – 23 Stanley Cup titles for the Canadiens to go along with an outrageously passionate fan base. Detroit has 11 Stanley Cup titles. I worked in Detroit for close to a year and let me tell you that the fanbase there is not nearly as rabid as anything I’ve read about Montreal’s.
Detroit is possibly the most well-rounded sports city in the North America. It has strong pro franchises in basketball, baseball and of course, hockey. It pulls weight in college sports with nearby Michigan State basketball and UMich football. So I think it’s understandable that its denizens get pulled in multiple directions at once. This blessing is simple not conducive to building the same over-the-top passion as Montreal or even Toronto.
The Red Wings (and a couple other teams) have passed the Canadiens in terms of performance but that doesn’t mean that those cities can match Montreal’s fervor or passion for this one sport. Montreal is Hockeytown.
The question of loyalty to a hometown and to its sports teams is one that often comes up in sporting discussions. Some folks shed their loyalties to their hometown and its teams and adopt new teams as they move around the country. Others steadfastly cling to their sporting roots, while possibly picking up a “second” team. In some cases, this choice comes down to a fundamental question of identity.
In choosing to root for the Carolina Hurricanes over his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins, Bill Cowher created a maelstrom. Pittsburghers are, to put it lightly, livid. (As an aside, let’s dispense with any idiotic talk about his right to support whom he wants or that he owes Pittsburgh nothing. DUH!)
So does Cowher see himself, in any part, as a Pittsburgher or a solely a Carolinian? If the former, then he shouldn’t be surprised by the consternation created by his decision. If the latter, then so be it. He’s not one of “ours”.
It is generally believed that many ex-pat Pittsburghers take their sporting loyalties with them when they leave western Pennsylvania. The reason that Steelers fans show up in great numbers at road games is not because we travel well (though we do), it’s because ex-Pittsburghers already live there. And we’ve also converted anyone we can. So when Cowher chose to support the Hurricanes instead of the Penguins, he, in essence, chose Carolina over Pittsburgh as his identity. That one of our own would readily do so is reponsible for the hurt and disappointment that many of us feel.
I don’t particularly care to explain away Cowher’s decision based on his Raleigh business contacts or the possibility of coaching the Carolina Panthers one day. If he still saw himself as a Pittsburgher, he could have begged off taking part in such a public display as he gave during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The bottomline is that Cowher isn’t a Pittsburgher anymore, if he ever was. And yes I feel justified in making that statement based on his turncoat sporting allegiance. Perhaps his experiences at NC State and the pressure cooker of coaching the Steelers rendered him less able to embrace this part of his (former) heritage. Sure he had the accent and the roots but in some ways, he always seemed more of a hired hand than someone who embraces his city, like Mario Lemieux or Franco Harris have done.
Of course, I don’t wish Cowher any ill will. Many Steelers fans aren’t from Pittsburgh and so they are under no obligation to root for our other teams. They’re still part of the Steelers Nation. He was a fantastic coach for many, many years and I think Mike Tomlin winning a Superbowl in his second year has blinded some Steelers fans to the difficulty of winning it all. Cowher is welcome to turncoat again and root for the Penguins. But he won’t be doing so as a Pittsburgher.
Well, little Mikey Vick is getting out of prison and will no doubt find his way onto an NFL roster soon enough. He spent over a year in prison and his life as a star is pretty much trashed. Hopefully he’s also broke.
There have been any number of reactions to this situation. Most people who aren’t dog owners will probably think that Vick has paid his debt to society and should get a second chance in the NFL. After all, we give domestic abusers and worse (see, Ray-Ray Lewis) multiple chances. Further, they would claim the amount of outrage thrown Vick’s way is disproportionate to his crimes. It seems as though society more easily forgives the likes of Warren Moon than Michael Vick. I’m a dog owner. I love my Oreo puppy dog. I also believe that Vick has paid his debt to society and that it’s ok by me if he gets another shot in the NFL. Thankfully, I know that my team, the Steelers, won’t be signing him. I would prefer if the NFL put some condition on his playing that severely restricts his salary so that he doesn’t become fabulously rich again (if indeed he is broke or close to it). I don’t wish him well. I won’t be particularly displeased if he fails in the NFL and ends up working in some menial job.
Look at the picture above and then decide. I’m not saying that crimes against animals should be seen as worse than crimes against man. They’re simply different. Vick’s crimes were the result of repeated and ongoing nefarious behavior – a pattern of criminality against creatures least able to defend themselves. People don’t realize that dogs taught to fight each other can actually be quite people friendly. They fight in order to please their masters. On the other hand, many crimes against humans, assault even murder, are one-time acts. Different does not mean better or worse; it just means different.
I take issue with claims that the outrage against Vick is disproportionate to his crimes. Instead, I would say that the outrage displayed at criminal acts committed against other humans is too low. The way that our society glosses over assault, battery and abuse is a travishamockery, not the way that we reacted to Vick’s animal abuse.
James Harrison is a bit of a nut. His first well-publicized reason for skipping the Steelers’ visit to the White House received headlines across the country.
“This is how I feel — if you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don’t win the Super Bowl. As far as I’m concerned, he [Obama] would’ve invited Arizona if they had won,” said Harrison.
Now the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has revealed that Harrison actually has a fear of flying.
Of course, Harrison is somehow gobsmacked that so many people have taken an interest in his personal decisions. Shocking how one of the highest profile players on the Superbowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers would attract attention. Get over it. If the White House invites you, GO. Don’t take a flight if you have a fear of flying. Pull a John Madden and take a bus or a boat or cycle or drive down for the event.
It’s the fraking Pres-o-dent who is inviting you! YOU, James Harrison, who worked your way up from undrafted free agent to become the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. It doesn’t matter if Harrison agrees or disagrees with President Obama’s policies. If I was part of a Superbowl winning team, I would’ve gone even when George W. Bush was in office.
Harrison should realize what an honor he is receiving. This trip to the White House should remind him that however enjoyable FOOTBALL may be, and even if the President picked your team, that the really important people in this world ARE.NOT.JAMES.HARRISON. They are ones who have invited Harrison to the White House.
The University of Tennessee recently offered a football scholarship to a kid named Daniel Hood, who at the age of 13, helped tie up his 14-year old cousin and watched as her 17-year old boyfriend raped her. Hood was convicted of kidnapping and aggravated rape. The boyfriend was convicted of rape and assault and is serving a 10-year prison sentence.
The astonishing thing about this saga is that the victim forgave Hood. THE VICTIM! Even to be an accessory to rape is such a heinous crime that I have a hard time figuring out how/why she forgave him. And how did he get a scholarship at Tennessee. I’m not saying that his life should end but given the egregiousness of the crime, might it have been too much to ask the kid to walk-on to the team.
Tennessee is going to take a lot of flack for giving this kid a scholarship and probably, deservedly so. Some other clean kid should have that scholarship. In the football-rich south, it shouldn’t be too hard to find another talent who deserves a scholarship.
I guess some other school (Auburn, perhaps) would have given Hood a full scholarship but they too would have been in the wrong. Ole Miss and Georgia Tech wanted him to pay his own way during the fall semester before going on scholarship in January, which isn’t much of a difference from Tennessee’s approach.
By all accounts, Hood is indeed mortally sorry for what he did.
“There’s no getting around what I did. It was terrible. I’ve not lived a life merited to be a scholarship athlete at UT. Luckily, through Christ, I’ve become someone different from who I was, and who I am now is not who I was when that happened.”
But I keep thinking of the victim in this case. She forgave him. They talk. They have a relationship, of sorts. She forgave him. She forgave him. I’ve heard of the concept of “Christian forgiveness” but this boggles the mind.
Jim Balsillie, the co-CEO of RIM, has reportedly made a US$212 million offer to buy the financially struggling Phoenix Coyotes, provided he can move the team to southern Ontario. This isn’t the first time Balsile has surfaced. He was previously thwarted in his attempts to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and then the Nashville Predators, either of whom he would have moved.
The NHL is going to fight this move, at least officially, on procedural grounds. The league contends that it is running the team and has the right to determine the location of its teams. At least on that ground, I tend to agree with the NHL. It should have the right to locate its teams, so as to take advantage of geography and keep its operations strong.
However, I take grave issue with Gary Bettman’s misplaced attempts to grow the game in non-traditional areas, specifically in the US south and southwest. It’s one thing to have a team in Dallas, where the Stars have been successful and have slowly built a fanbase. But teams in Nashville, Phoenix and Florida have had very mixed success and have done almost nothing to ingratiate themselves into the local sporting cultures.
Let’s face it – hockey is mostly a northern, cold-weather sport. Unlike football, it can’t be played in warm weather so growth potential in southern cities will always be limited. It’s pretty well-suited to its northern cities – Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Boston, Buffalo, NYR, NYI, NJ, Pittsburgh, Philly, Washington, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, Minnesota. In addition, I think Colorado is well-served having a team.
Consolidate LA and Anaheim into one team because a region that tends to be as blase about sports as southern California shouldn’t have two teams. Keep San Jose for representation in northern California. Carolina has shown they can get rabid about hockey and Dallas is a successful franchise with room for continued growth.
I say abandon the southeast to college sports and Nascar for the time being. Eliminate or move the teams in Atlanta, Phoenix, Nashville, Florida/Miami and Tampa Bay. Winnipeg and southern Ontario should get two of the cast-offs. Winnipeg isn’t a huge city but with a proper arena, hockey will flourish there. If Green Bay can support an NFL team, so can Winnipeg.
Focus on continuing to strengthen the game in non-traditional areas such as Carolina, Dallas, LA/Anaheim and San Jose. (I’m not particularly enamored of having teams in sunny California but these are still good population centers for supporting the game and have experienced success in the past).
This plan leaves the NHL with 26 teams overall. Probably still two too many but with room for growth. Build a strong footprint not just a large one.
ESPN.com reports that Rick Pitino may be interested in the Sacramento Kings head coaching job. Having largely failed in two previous stints in the Ligg, Pitino’s outsized ego may push him to give the NBA another shot in order to prove that he has what it takes to succeed on both levels, ala Larry Brown.
With the exception of the aforementioned Brown, few successful college coaches, football or baskeball, seem to prosper in the Pro’s. Tim Floyd, Nick Saban and Mike Montgomery easily come to mind. Pitino’s new nemesis at Kentucky, John Calipari wasn’t successful in the Pro’s.
On the other hand, Bill Callahan failed miserably at Nebraska. Charlie Weis has yet to deliver at Notre Dame. Al Groh chose to go back to UVA rather than coach the New York Jets and although his record in Charlottesville is admirable, it’s not particularly elite.
In college, you have to schmooze alumni and boosters. You have to raise money for the athletic department. You need to court 18-year (oft-spoiled) superstar children who have never heard a bad word about their games. You have to graduate players. You are the face of a program, much moreso than in the Pro’s.
In the Pro’s, you have greater access to your players but have to deal with egos made larger by huge, sometimes unwarranted, contacts. You have to assist a general manager with navigating a salary cap/luxury tax. The season is longer.
Perhaps it takes failing like Steve Spurrier did with the Redskins for a coach to realize that he is better suited to one game or the other. I think Pitino is better suited for the college game. He’s a master at it.
I would posit that coaching in the Pro’s isn’t inherently more difficult; it’s just a different game. It’s not as if the salaries are markedly different. Phil Jackson, for instance, is a master at the Pro game. I don’t think he would be comfortable in college. But for some reason, we in this society equate the Pro’s with the pinnacle in all aspects. Becoming a Pro may be the ultimate goal for an athlete but it shouldn’t necessarily be the case for a coach.