Friday, December 6, 2013

The 2013-14 NBA Season The Few, The Proud, The Good Teams

The 2013-2014 NBA Season The Few, The Proud, The Good Teams
Baltimore December 6, 2013

Before the 2013-14 NBA season began many thought that this season would provide excitement in many different forms. Would the Heat come out on fire as they looked to challenge the Bulls 72 win season on their way to a three peat? Could Doc Rivers make the Clippers into a serious contender by bringing his championship experience and toughness? How would Brooklyn's attempt to go once more into the fray with KG and Paul Pierce turnout? Could the Spurs rebound from that devastating finals loss? How would Derrick Rose Return? Could the Thunder get over the hump? When and how would Kobe return? The questions were many and only time would tell the answers. Many thought they knew how the season would progress but, no one could have predicted how the first month of this year's NBA campaign would turn out.

A little over a full month of the season is in the books and there are only two, yes two teams above .500 in the Eastern Conference. Yes they are Miami and Indiana but, its not Miami who sits atop the standings with the best record in the NBA. The Pacers have been almost unbeatable at 17-2. Paul George has emerged as a bonafied superstar and is leading the Pacers as a man on a mission. In the Western Conference neither the Spurs, Thunder or preseason favorite Clippers currently hold the #1 spot. LaMarcus Aldridge is garnering early season MVP hype as he balls out of his mind and has the Trail Blazers at 16-3 surprisingly sitting atop the Western Conference. 
However, the Blazers lead is slim as the Spurs, Clippers, and Thunder are all right on pace with the Blazers out west. Moreover, Dwight Howard and James Harden have the Rockets playing playoff basketball once again along with the Nuggets, Mavericks and Warriors. 

The Eastern Conference however, has become the "Leastern Conference" as 11 teams are under .500 with the for-mentioned two above and the Wizards and Hawks sitting right at .500. The Nets experiment to capture some Irish luck and become the Celtics south has failed miserably thus far. The Nets are 5-14, have lost 7 straight at home and have as much chemistry as Senate Democrats and Republicans right now. Their cross town rival Knicks have been worse despite beating the Nets on Thursday night. Amare Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony just can't seem to play together and the talk of Melo leaving New York for brighter pastures has already begun. 

The tragedy that is New York Basketball is disheartening but, it is not the saddest story in the NBA this year. The Bull's Derrick Rose the guy who the entire basketball world was rooting for to return from ACL surgery at his super human form did so, but only for a short time. Rose tore his meniscus in the opposite knee and is at least out until the playoffs and likely for the year again. Rose will return again but, will likely never be the same and that indeed is a tragic loss for the NBA. Rose's unique abilities and skills were something that many NBA experts say had never been seen before and will likely never be seen again. 

As for the rest of the league they stink and aren't worth talking about. But, as the highly anticipated Christmas Day games approach there are more questions to be asked and some will be answered as Kobe is set to return and the Heat will do battle with the Pacers next week. Stay tuned this is guaranteed to get interesting.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Rivalries Old and New A New Thanksgiving Tradition

Rivalries Old and New A New Thanksgiving Tradition

Baltimore November 28, 2013

Earlier this week, Baltimore Ravens Head Coach Jon Harbaugh called for the NFL to begin a new tradition of a yearly Thanksgiving game in Baltimore.  The elder Harbaugh brother is on to something. The NFL should seriously consider making Baltimore (Ravens) the third home of a yearly Thanksgiving game joining Detroit (Lions) and Dallas (Cowboys). Why Baltimore? The answer simply lies with who Baltimore’s opponent is on Thursday night. Pittsburgh. No disrespect to the Peyton vs. Brady shootout lovers, but Thanksgiving football should be about hard hits and low scores. Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh, Ravens vs. Steelers a bitter bone crushing rivalry that has just as much the feel of a back yard Turkey Bowl as that of a prime-time NFL matchup.  

However, it is that old school football feel that has made the Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh rivalry arguably the biggest in the NFL in recent years and that’s exactly what Thanksgiving football should be about. Hated Rivalries! History! Bad Blood and Hatred! Two of the three games on the 2013 Thanksgiving NFL Docket meet this criterion. We've already discussed the aforementioned renewal of the Ravens vs. Steelers rivalry. The Packers will make the trip to Detroit to take on the Lions for the 167th time since the teams first met in the 1930s. Rivalry check! History Check! And then we have the Raiders vs. Cowboys.

Yes, there is some history between these teams. Yes, they are two of the league’s most storied franchises. Yes, Dallas’s current owner Jerry Jones and Raiders late owner Al Davis are the most polarizing owners in league history. But, these teams don’t hate each other, nor does this match-up have any feel to it other than that of an early season BCS debacle between a top 5 team and some school paid to be obliterated. Last year however, the NFL got it right with the Dallas game when they placed them against their arch rival Redskins.

The National Football League is the goose that laid the golden egg and that golden egg is a compelling attractive can’t look away for a second we want more product. If the NFL powers that be are smart and I believe they are brilliant, they will make Thanksgiving Football one of our nation’s biggest sports stages about rivalries and tradition. Each year Detroit should take on Green Bay or Chicago, Dallas should do battle with Washington and Baltimore should go to war with Pittsburgh. Millions more will watch and new generations of football fans will learn to appreciate rivalries and tradition. At last, is Thanksgiving not all about being thankful and tradition? 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Is it Time to Show Joe the Dough?

Is it Time to Show Joe the Dough?
Baltimore January 20, 2013

Before the 2012 NFL season began Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco made it known to all that he believed he was an elite NFL quarterback even if many did not and questioned if Baltimore should reward him with a big payday. In a interview with WNST Flacco took it step further saying “I think I’m the best, I don’t think I’m top five, I think I’m the best” implying that he is a better quarterback than guys who last names are Brady, Rodgers, Brees and Manning (Eli and Peyton). Although he may believe that he is the best there is no avoiding the fact that the five gentlemen mentioned above all tout two things that Flacco does not have, a Superbowl ring and a franchise quarterback contract. After negotiations stalled this off season Flacco would again start the season without the contract he was seeking and on the hunt for his first trip to the Superbowl.

Today the Ravens are in the AFC Championship game facing the Patriots in Foxboro for the second year in a row and Flacco is a big reason why. Flacco out-dueled one of the Ravens arch nemesis’s Peyton Manning in Denver delivering a knockout bomb to Jacoby Jones to send the game into overtime. Sunday Flacco could take that last giant step in to the Superbowl but, this season however has not been without its challenges.

Baltimore started the season 9-3 but even then Flacco and the offense took the familiar look of a Jekyll and Hyde group. One week they were putting up 55 points in Oakland and two weeks later they depended on an extraordinary catch and run by Ray Rice as they struggled to a 16-13 win in San Diego. Much of the inconsistency was tied to Flacco’s icy relationship with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron who was fired following the Ravens lost to the Redskins.

Jim Caldwell is now calling the plays for the Ravens and Flacco is now the teams “General” as Ray Lewis told him following the team’s overtime victory over the Broncos. Although, for all intents and purposes today’s game will decide if Flacco is the General and if he will be paid as one.

To his compliment Flacco has already accomplished some pretty impressive things in his career. Flacco was the first rookie quarterback to win two playoff games; he is the only quarterback to start and win a playoff game in his first five seasons and is tied with Eli Manning for the most playoff road wins by a quarterback with five.

Flacco also already holds Ravens franchise records for Career Passing Yards, Completions, Touchdowns, regular and post season wins. These accomplishments are very impressive for the young quarterback however; they will mean nothing to Ravens fans and Flacco’s payday chances if the Flacco fails to get the Ravens past Tom Brady and the Patriots to make it to the Superbowl. 

A poor performance and a Ravens loss today would likely mean an off season of questioning weather Flacco is the answer for the Ravens at quarterback although, those who would raise that question should research the lack of available options. However, if Flacco shows up big and propels his team to the big game the Ravens should indeed as Jerry Maguire would say “show him the money.” 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ray Lewis Ravens Linebacker, Baltimore’s Heart

Ray Lewis Ravens Linebacker, Baltimore’s Heart
Baltimore January 6, 2013

All great things must come to an end. Today at M&T Bank Stadium will be the last time that Ray Lewis; the face of the Ravens Franchise, the greatest linebacker of all time and the heart of Baltimore City will play at home. For 17 years #52 has patrolled sideline to sideline instilling fear in opponents like never before by playing with passion, determination, and dedication that will likely never be matched.  

Sure, the Ravens’ Brass knew that they were selecting a great talent when they drafted Lewis with the 26th pick (acquired from the 49ers as the Browns in 1995) in the 1996 Draft. However, there is no way that they could know that they were selecting a player who would not only lead them to a Super Bowl championship, become the greatest to play his position and who would also undoubtedly become the face of the franchise and city. 

Every so often the stars align perfectly allowing for something special to take place; that’s exactly what happened with the Ravens and Ray Lewis. From day one Lewis has proven to be the Ravens franchise’s most valuable asset. With his play, charisma and emotion Lewis lead a Ravens defense that was more feared than nuclear warfare for over a decade; this of course includes the 2000 Super Bowl winning defense that may be the best ever. 

The statistics are astonishing to say the least; 13 100 tackle seasons, Defensive Player of The Year (2000, 2003), Super Bowl XXV MVP, 13 Pro Bowls and 7 AP All Pro First Team selections. “Sugar Ray” is also the only player in NFL history to have 40 sacks (41.5) and 30 interceptions (31).

Head Coaches, Offensive Coordinators, Quarterbacks and Running Backs alike time after time have sat in meetings quivering trying to figure out ways to avoid #52. Time after time, sack after sack, tackle after tackle and hit after hit they have failed. In fact the only thing that seems to be able to stop Lewis is himself be it injury or deciding to walk away from the game on his own terms.

Lewis’s impact off the gridiron has been just as significant if not more. No player in NFL history has had the uncanny ability to motivate not just his teammates or athletes but young men (African American in particular) like Lewis. When Lewis speaks young men from some of America’s most dangerous places and in the most dire of situations listen, often with goose bumps on their skin and tears in their eyes.

 Unlike most men that come before them Lewis can relate 110 percent to their plight. Yes he has seen the highest of highs as he was awarded super bowl MVP but like so many inner city young men he has seen the lowest of lows being charged with murder. It’s that perfect storm of being a superior athlete, superior motivator and his rise from ashes, fall from grace only to rise again that makes Lewis’s voice so potent.

And there is nowhere where Lewis’s voice rings louder than the City of Baltimore. He exudes the hard working, gritty, grind it out, fight through all adversity and charming spirit of Baltimore. During his 17 years in Baltimore, Lewis has impacted so many young men who were in need of a helping hand or calling out for a positive male role model. He has helped countless families who were struggling to obtain basic necessities. From toy and clothing drives to donating holiday dinners to families, the list of Lewis’s deeds in Baltimore goes on and on. But, there is something else Lewis has provided that has been just as, if not more important. Hope!

Lewis provided a sense of hope, passion and will to improve and succeed to a city in dire need of all the above. Lewis came to a city struggling with over 300 homicides and as he continued to grow in his greatness both on and off the field the city improved. There is no doubt that Baltimore still has a long way to go but, for 17 years one man has been a "Ray" of light for those whom would have otherwise been in the dark.

Mayors have come and gone and the Baltimore City Police Department has had more commissioners than the Cleveland Browns have had starting quarterbacks. However, through all the change, turmoil, good times and bad times there has been one constant; the riveting pregame speech giving, hard hitting, dancing linebacker dawning that familiar #52 who seemed to have put the pulse of the city into every tackle. It’s fitting that Lewis is hanging it up when Baltimore is seeing violent crime at historic lows but, simultaneously is at another pivotal crossroads. Fate would also have it that Lewis’s last home game would be played against “that team” that left Baltimore by way of Mayflower 28 years ago.

So today as you watch the pregame dance that has become just as synonymous with Baltimore as crabs for the last time think and reflect but also recognize one thing; when the clock reads 0:00 there will be a curtain call and likely a victory lap that Lewis should take with pride (especially after beating “that team”). You should stand and applaud wherever you are as it will be the last time you will see Mr. Raven and the heart of Baltimore dawn the Ravens #52. There is no doubt that there will never be another Ray Lewis but, who will take his place as the face of both the Ravens and the city remains to be seen. There will be much debate about what Ray should do in retirement. Some believe he should coach, many think he should become a motivational speaker and some say he is destined for sports broadcasting. However, for now we should all just say thank you, thank you, thank you!