Wednesday, June 04, 2014

2014 NBA Finals: "One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall."

"One shall stand and one shall fall." -Optimus Prime

This is what sports are about. Not the scandals, politics, lawsuits or any of the above. It's about legacies, careers, championships, time, greatness and more. It's about perseverance, adversity and most of all revenge.

That's the beautiful one - revenge. It's intriguing to all parties. It brings you in. Keeps you cozy. Makes sure you do not switch the channel.  

I sometimes lose sight of why I watch sports to begin with. In this day and age it sometimes comes across as a jumbled mess of politics, scandals, lawsuits and, well, frankly everything I did not care about as a kid.  You are supposed to be worried and concerned about conference expansion, mega-lawsuits and other off-the-field stuff. It's hard to stick to only the game. Maybe that's the ripple affect of being older. No longer are these athletes superheroes. They are some kid two years your junior making $8 million a year as he bricks two free throws.

That's what makes the Spurs-Heat series so great. It's a breath of fresh air in a sports world void of it. It's the collaboration of all things we admire about sports, about competition.

Watch enough sports and you realize these things. You appreciate the art of competition more so than just the final result. You acknowledge Hector's efforts. Far too often we, the fans, get robbed of that. It's fulfilling to see two formidable opponents on the world's greatest stage battle for something more than the next paycheck or shoe commercial. This series goes far beyond the next Sports Illustrated or ESPN magazine cover. This is for legacies of two players in particular.

On one end you have LeBron James. The self-proclaimed King who in recent years has rightfully earned his crown and some. His Anakin Skywalker past in Cleveland was traded in for the militaristic lifestyle of the Death Star in lovely Florida. He's the best basketball player on the planet and the leader of a team on the verge of a three-peat. Since joining the Justice League in South Beach the Miami Heat have gone to the NBA Finals four consecutive years seasons, the first team to do so since the 1984-1987 Boston Celtics. The only thing separating them from the historic three-peat (and potential four-peat) are the San Antonio Spurs.
In the Spurs you have the United Nations of team basketball, who are lead by the stoic, power forward Tim Duncan. Duncan is arguably (not sure how you can disagree) the greatest power forward that has ever played basketball. He brings with him 4 NBA Titles, 2 MVPs and countless other achievements.

His only blemish? A heart-breaking 2013 NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat.

There's a certain allure to a rematch that is American. We love sequels, we love another episode so it's no surprise that we love rematches.

We, the public, wanted this rematch. If LeBron is going to continue throwing his name in the same sentence as Michael Jordan and other legends he needs a three-peat. For the Spurs to be the best team in the post-Jordan era do they not need one more ring? For Duncan's legacy to be complete does he not need that fifth ring?

When the legs stop working and the shoes have to be hung up, and the women leave, and the sponsorships go elsewhere, the one that resonates longer than anything else are the championships.

Better yet- the legacies.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nick Saban's Journey is Eerily Similar to Anakin Skywalker

For 11 of the past 13 college football seasons Nick Saban has been at the forefront of the Ballay household when the college football season rolls around. The more I look at his journey, the more I am reminded of Anakin Skywalker's rise and fall.

Much like Anakin, Saban was a relatively unknown coach. His background had multiple stops that included the Cleveland Browns, Toledo, Tatooine University and Michigan State. LSU saw something in this coach that no one else recognized. Saban overhauled an entire program. No longer was the goal a bid to the Independence Bowl, rather it was to win championships.

But Saban was never like the other coaches. He wanted more. The NFL, his temptation, plagued LSU offseasons every year until finally on Christmas morning of 2004 he departed for greener pastures in Miami.

To understand the saga of Nick Saban/Anakin Skywalker you have to understand how the lust of power go hand in hand with evil. So on January 3, 2007 Saban submitted himself to the Dark Side and became etched in the Ballay household for all eternity as Darth Saban, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. A 5 year run at LSU, capped with an amazing 2003 championship, was slowly choked and crushed under the impenetrable reality that our greatest rival*, our most hated fanbase was being led by LSU's former coach Nick Saban. 

Et tu Saban?

For 7 insufferable seasons LSU has had to compete against the Nick Saban Process. Every recruiting season and game was a battle. There were great victories and terrible defeats. The word heartbreak had new meaning when it was one of your own that defeated you. He represented the greatest of betrayals. A modern day Benedict Arnold. The man who once led the Tigers to the Promised Land was now, much like Anakin Skywalker, the enemy.

But all sagas have an end, do they not? Evil can not triumph forever. Sooner or later the Empire has to fall and the stolen recruits have to stop. Eventually the whole operation comes crashing down. It happens quickly and without much notice. Anakin Skywalker was eventually saved after he threw Darth Sidious down the pit. How does this Nick Saban story end? Does he head back to Tuscaloosa and coach for the remainder of his life in crimson. Or does he leave the Dark Side? 

Maybe it's Texas, maybe it's somewhere else, but his story must end. Chris Davis's 109 punt return to win the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide was as symbolic and meaningful as the blowing up of the Death Star. 

Search your feelings Nick. I know there's still good in you. Now please get the bleep out of Tuscaloosa.

*I'm well aware LSU's “most hated” rival changes every 10 years.

P.S. Les Miles is Boba Fett; Charlie Weis is Jabba the Hutt

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Two-Year Hiatus Is Over!

Back in the spring of 2005 I started this blog as a senior at St. John's Jesuit High School. Throughout my time at LSU I kept you my readers posted on my thoughts on the latest sports issue.

Then I left Baton Rouge for New Orleans and I have never posted since. Similar to Bruce Wayne, I too needed to find myself (a job).

With all that said I am starting up the site once again. Lots of great things to discuss on the horizon:

-The BCS Debate: Buckeyes or War Eagles?
-Pelican Dive Bomb? How will Anthony Davis's injury hamper the Pelicans' season?
-Saints Rebound? After the embarrassment on Monday how do the Who Dats respond?
-Rumors circulating that a fourth Mighty Ducks film will be made in the next year. How will it be?

I apologize the last topic (MD4) was completely made up.

I look forward to posting as soon as possible.



Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dirk Overcomes All Odds

Michael Jordan remains in the eyes of many the greatest basketball player that ever lived because of his ability to defy gravity all while time after time manipulating games with his pure basketball skill. Sports are an unknown. They do not follow the rules of mathematics or basic science, but rather chaos theory. We can not predict the outcome of a game with absolute certainty because we do not know. With Jordan we knew. We knew he would take the game over and we knew he would win. The reason being was his drive.

Michael Jordan's drive was not nearly as flashy as his free throw lines dunks, or his patented fadeaways. For much of his career Jordan's drive was on the back burner to his physical abilities. One of the more remarkable things about him as a player is when his abilities did start to erode and he could no longer glide, Jordan and the Bulls were still winning. This was most prevalent during the Chicago Bulls' last championship run. In the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals the Chicago Bulls were facing a younger, bigger Indiana Pacers team. Despite Game 7 being in Chicago, some people did think this was the end of the Jordan era.

Chicago won the game in a hard fought defensive slugfest 88-83, but more importantly was the fact that Chicago outrebounded Indiana by a staggering 16 rebounds. Quantifying something as vague as drive is difficult to say the least, but the number 16 gave us a clearer picture on just how much this game meant to Jordan and the Bulls. And how they were not going to fall.

I bring up Jordan and his drive because in some ways Dirk Nowitzki's performance during these 2011 NBA Playoffs (and especially the 2011 NBA Finals) was very similar to Jordan and his Bulls during that 1998 NBA Playoff season. Countless times this postseason Dallas was faced with a dire situation in which a loss seemed imminent and countless times Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks gathered themselves, rallied and won.

How ironic is it that a player like Dirk Nowitzki, who has remain driven to bring Dallas a championship since 1998, beat LeBron James of the Miami Heat, a player who deserted Cleveland after he, himself, could not bring the city a championship?

I have always talked about how the one thing separating a champion from the rest of the pack is the X factor. There is something inside of a handful of players that when the odds are stacked against them, they can still will their team to victory. Bird did it. Jordan did it. Kobe does it and now Dirk does it. Since 1995 I have watched every NBA Finals. This year marks the first time where I have ever witnessed a team with little or no momentum, switch and turn the tide. In the first four games it is safe to say that Miami was outplaying Dallas the majority of the time, but on two separate occasions Dallas still prevailed. Dallas was hanging on to life by a thread. In Game 2 trailing by 15 with a little over six minutes remaining and a 2-0 deficit staring them in the face, Dallas rallied. In Game 4 with Dirk battling a sinus infection, Dallas rallied from nine down in the fourth quarter.

Great players seize that opportunity when it's prime for the taking. They step up when the stakes are the highest. They can take something like a game of basketball where so many variables are occurring on and off the court and manipulate and control the outcome. They can win. It did not matter that from a talent stand point Miami had more star players. Dallas felt they could win having a better team. It did not matter that outside of Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas's only other real reliable scorer was 6th man Jason Terry, who at the time was struggling. All of that was irrelevant because for Nowitzki he HAD to win this series. Losing another NBA Finals series was too painful. 2006 was too painful. This series was not everything to No. 41, it was the only thing. He HAD to overcome the sinus infection, the struggling teammates, the juggernaut opponent because he HAD to be a champion.

The Dallas Mavericks run to an NBA Championship proved so fulfilling on so many fronts because it boldly underlined why a team is more important than a three guys, but it also showcased in the purest form one individual's over-the-top drive and dedication to do whatever it took to stand on top of the mountain with one index raised in great pride.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why We Should All Be Rooting for the Dallas Mavericks

Sports are adored by fans because of those magical moments, those moments that grab your attention and freeze time. Movies best emulate this quality. All our childhood movies from Mighty Ducks to Hoosiers display that "Against All Odds" aspect we like about sports.

The 2011 Dallas Mavericks capture everything that captivates us towards sports. And on the contrary the Miami Heat, in my great humble opinion, highlight everything we do not like about sports. On one hand you have a Dallas team that has battled the "too soft" label for about a decade. To top it off they are lead by one of the most highly criticized players in the sports. Period. Dirk Nowitzki's past playoff shortcomings seem to suffocate any accomplishments that he has ever had in his career. Now rightfully so Nowitzki has earned some criticism, but overall I do feel the guy gets a worse bad rap than he deserves.

The 2011 NBA Finals is a prime opportunity for Nowitzki to prove to all doubters the legitimacy of his career and what better way to "slay the dragon" than defeat the very franchise that shattered his dream five years ago.

With a little over six minutes remaining in Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals the Dallas Mavericks held a 13 point lead. They were on the verge of going up 3-0; of being a mere one game away from a championship. But they slipped and Dwyane Wade rose up. Dallas lost Game 3. Then Game 4. And Game 5 and finally Game 6. In a week Dallas went up from 2-0, to losing 4-2. Despite the controversy that does exist when looking at the 2006 NBA Finals Dallas did choke and more importantly Nowitzki choked. Since the meltdown of 2006 Dallas and Nowitzki have carried that scar.

Rarely does a franchise and a player like Dirk Nowitzki get a second chance like the Mavericks have. That window of opportunity that opens and closes within a sports minute was thought to have been bolted shut for the Dallas Mavericks. But this postseason changed that. Dallas got by the first round and then bounced the two-defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in six games. And in a single four game sweep people started to believe in Dallas.

One of the things we admire about people in general is hard work. When someone continuously and frivolously works for something and finally gets what they desire, whether it be a co-worker or some athlete on television, it is human nature to feel a sense of happiness for them. Dirk Nowitzki fits this mold as well as 18 year veteran Jason Kidd.

In the Miami Heat you lose that feeling.

By all means I realize LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh work tirelessly at their craft to one day be champions, but for the Heat that lust that is so apparent in the Mavericks is, well, nonexistent. The best example of this is LeBron James. James had every right to leave Cleveland. He had every right to head elsewhere. The Cavs failed to develop enough talent around him among other things. Where LeBron James lost his appeal and solace from the fellow basketball fan is when he decided to air The Decision and when he decided to join the Miami Heat. In The Decision, for the first time I can recall, the public had an aggressive backlash (but warranted) response to a spoiled athlete who despite all the physical talents he possessed in the world, still did not have the brain capacity to understand the simple logic that it's not okay to humiliate the city you grew up with. Add in the fact that LeBron joined a team that already was in supply of someone who played his position (and was his rival) and you get the general outline as to why people like myself do not see the same appeal with LeBron winning a title as they do with Nowitzki.

In short, LeBron, Wade and Bosh all seem to have taken a "shortcut" in their pursuit of a title.

Through LeBron's decision, to Carmelo Anthony's push for New York, heck even through Kobe Bryant's push for a trade in the summer of 2007, Dirk Nowitzki has remained in Dallas loyal to his objective of winning a title as a Maverick. One of the best things about witnessing a player win a championship is seeing that player go from such a low, to such a high.

The Dallas Mavericks success this postseason has been the result of great team defense, an unstoppable Dirk Nowitzki and strong bench play. Despite the significance of these three factors in Dallas's first three rounds, they alone will not be enough to defeat the three-headed monster simply known as LeBrondwyanechrisosaurus. For Dallas to have a shot against Miami, Coach Rick Carlisle must devise a game plan that stops one Miami Heat player and not three. With a team as talented as Miami, Dallas is wasting it's energy, or better yet shooting for the impossible, if they plan on stopping LeBron, Wade and Bosh. The best option for Dallas is to choose one player they will put more focus on stopping.

My thoughts: Run a defensive game plan that constantly has Dwyane Wade or LeBron James being doubled. Create a situation where Miami will only win if Bosh is putting up 25 and LeBron or Wade is putting up 35 each night. Use Miami's weak bench to your advantage.

Easier said then done.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nowitzki Eyes Chance at Fairy Tale Ending

Sports are an absolute. Unlike politics, sports have a definite winner and loser. It's the one universal thing about sports that attracts fans. We, the fans, enjoy knowing that at the end of any sporting event there will be one team that's victorious, while another will soak in defeat. We enjoy knowing that with all the stats and variables taking place on the field of play, the only thing that matters is the final score.

The same can be said when looking back at a player's career. Whether right or wrong, we enjoy labeling a player "good" or "great" by whether or not he won a championship. Why is that? Why does a title, a championship, hold so much merit into how a player is viewed for the rest of time?

Simply put, a metal trophy signifies the purest example of someone being the best, of living up to their expectations.

As kids when we imagined ourselves playing in the NFL or NBA, we do not imagine scoring the winning touchdown in the NFC Championship Game or hitting the game winning three pointer in the Eastern Conference Finals. No, we imagined winning the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals.

We imagined being number one.

I mention all of this because of one current player still fighting in the NBA playoffs: Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki is a 10x NBA All-Star, a 4x All-NBA First Team member, the 2007 NBA MVP winner and someone who has averaged over 23 points and 8 rebounds for a career. With his 7'0" frame and his patented fadeaway he is as unique of a player as we have ever seen. His style of play has made him unstoppable and when he does hang it up he will probably be in the Top 15 of NBA Career Scoring Leaders.

In short, Nowitzki's career has been expectional. But through it all the one glaring omission is that Nowitzki has never won a title. And if Nowitzki never wins a title the only thing that will remain on his record is the note, "Can't Win the Big One."

This is what I like so much about the playoffs in any sport. I enjoy watching a cherished veteran, a future Hall-of-Famer put up absolutely everything in hopes of getting the one thing missing from his trophy case.

Since the debacle now known as the 2006 NBA Finals, Dallas has gagged in almost every way imaginable way. In 2007 they got bounced in six games in the first round to the 8th seeded Golden State Warriors. In 2008 they got knocked out again in the first round by the New Orleans Hornets and in 2009 Dallas lost in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs.

I like the Oklahoma City Thunder and what they have going on with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. I like the Chicago Bulls and Derek Rose, but neither of those teams have the intrigue or appeal that the Dallas Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki bring to the table.

We see it all the time in sports, but rarely does it happen where the veteran going for his last shot at a championship grabs that elusive ring. We saw guys like Charles Barkley fight valiantly to get another shot in the finals, but fall short in the postseason. We have seen the likes of players like Karl Malone lose three NBA Finals series (1997, 1998, 2001) with 1997 and 1998 ending in the most dramatic fashion.

You know what was one of the bigger things I enjoyed about the Saints winning the 2009 Super Bowl? I enjoyed seeing a 12 year veteran like Darren Sharper, who contemplated retirement, who was let go by the Minnesota Vikings because his playing days were long gone, who was a part of the Green Packers team that lost Super Bowl XXXII, stand up and fight through it all and win a championship. Those moments sell me sports. Those moments bring me back. The glitz and glamour are nice, but seeing that guy who has worked tirelessly his entire career finally get that moment where he can put one index finger in the air is what resonates the most.

On April 23rd the Dallas Mavericks coughed up an 18 point 4th quarter lead against the Portland Trailblazers. With the win the Blazers tied the series at 2-2. We all thought the Dallas Mavericks were on course for another postseason collapse. Fast forward 15 days to May 8th and the Dallas Mavericks were putting the finishing touches on the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers with a 122-86 thrashing.

Nowitzki's situation remains unique because that window we all thought was closed for his moment of glory still seems to be ajar. Here's a guy who has been with the Dallas Mavericks through thick and thin. How fitting would it be for Nowitzki, having been victimized countless times for his team's failures, to overcome it all and take home the title? Better yet how fitting would it be for Dirk Nowitzki, loyal Maverick and all, to take down the evil Miami Heat empire that took away his dream five years ago?

It would be nothing short of a fairy tale.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Uber-Competitive Uncle Ruins Another Family Reunion

Every family has one. He is either your father, brother, uncle or distant relative, but we all have that uber-competitive family member who plays every sporting activity like his life depends on it.

Uncle Ted Dandridge of Erie, Pennsylvania is no different.

Last week the Dandridge family had their annual family reunion at the nearby state park. The afternoon consisted of burnt hot dogs, lousy potato salad, volleyball and the traditional basketball game. Like so many years in the past Ted played the meaningless game like it was the Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

"Did you see me out there?" Ted proclaimed. "No one can stop the February 1986 Pennsylvania High School Player of the Week! I still got it baby!"

Ted put up a "family reunion record" 57 points in the game, including 0 assists, 24 rebounds and 12 blocked shots of 8-year-old nephew Timothy Dandridge.

"Doesn't matter if you are 35 or 8 the Ted-O-Nator is going to bring it 100 percent all day," Dandridge explained. "The joke is on the other team! They lost again! Ha! What a bunch of losers!"

Some of the highlights of the game included Ted sporting his high school uniform with a head band, 12-year-old Katie Dandridge getting elbowed in the face before Ted hit a fade away jumper, Ted throwing the ball at older brother Joel Dandridge's face during an inbounds play and Ted dropping the F word numerous times when fellow teammates did not understand the play he was calling.

"Did you see that jumper?! All day every, every day. It's what I do," Dandridge said. "During Thanksgiving this year Katie made a snide comment about my apple pie. That will teach her a lesson next time she thinks about ragging on the Ted-O-Nator!"

Despite putting up 57 points and leading his team to another victory, not all was well for the winning team.

"For the past 5 years Ted has gotten progressively worse at this reunion," teammate and cousin Rick Gathers said. "We all talk about not inviting him to the reunion, but then we start thinking that maybe his 41-year-old brain now understands that maybe it's not the best idea to block every shot of your youngest nephew. Or maybe it's not the best idea to drop kick the ball 30 feet in the air simply because you believe you got hacked by a 12 year old girl while you were going for a layup. We all hope this, but it never gets better."

The game ultimately ended when Ted jumped off Joel's back and dunked the ball, thus breaking the rim after hanging for two minutes. Following three minutes of trash talking by Ted to the opposing team, everyone decided it was best to just go eat the lousy potato salad and try to make the best out of yet another pathetic family reunion.

"Am I happy the Ted-O-Nator dropped 57 points and pulled down 24 monster rebounds? You bet," Ted explained. "But the Ted-O-Nator is never satisfied. If this team wants to be the best everyone has to play their best. No more dropped passes like Rick and his slow son did today. I did not beat St. Joseph High School in 1986 with a fade away jumper with two seconds left just to watch my family members dog it in a family reunion bloodbath 25 years later. This is war."

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

NFL Lockout Talks Cause Grown Man to Go Insane

James Donaldson was like any other resident of Topeka, Kansas.

“He was a good husband, a good friend and an even better host,” local neighbor John Barkowski said.

At 54 years old Donaldson was a happy man who could light up a room with his winning smile, but with the recent ongoing saga dealing with the ever-boring NFL labor talks, for all intensive purposes, multiple reports say Donaldson simply went insane.

Donaldson has been a season ticket holder of the Kansas City Chiefs for 22 years, but as far as the game of football he has been a fan for life.

“James was a true fan of the Chiefs, but more so he was a fan of football,” his wife Amy Donaldson explained. “Honestly, he loved seeing a grown man get hit so hard that he would suffer for the rest of his life. That is James for you.”

When news of a possible NFL lockout came up Donaldson remained optimistic things could be resolved.

“He knew it was coming, but knowing James he really thought things would get resolved, that the season would come just like any other season. I just don’t think he ever thought the constant boring coverage of an NFL lockout would cause him to lose his mind,” Barkowski explained.

Once Super Bowl XLV concluded every sports station spent countless hours evaluating the possible NFL lockout from what needed to happen to prevent it, what the garbage owners wanted, what the players wanted and what in the living hell a “collective bargaining agreement” actually was. Through it all, Amy says, Donaldson watched every minute of it.

“I think he was just trying to be a good fan,” Amy Donaldson said. “I think he just wanted to show everyone that he could and would understand what exactly was going on. Poor guy just never realized that if you try to acquire too much worthless information in a small amount of time you lose your mind. You go insane.”

Today is March 9, 2011. The sun comes up in the morning and dries the dew on the grass. Laying in a lawn chair in the grazing meadows at the Topeka Institute for the Insane is a man wearing jorts, no shirt, a red bandana and eating a bag of Cheetos. Foam slowly drips from his lips as he yells at the sky some incoherent babble.

This is James Donaldson. I try talking to James. I ask him a question about the NFL. He turns towards me, but is unable to make eye contact. His eyes wander. The only thing he mutters, or I can make out is something about “decertification.”

“What is decertification Roger,” Donaldson yelled. “What is it Roger?!”

This is who James Donaldson has become: lost, incoherent and of course insane. This was a man who only liked football, a man like any other man who just wanted to know what was going on with the possible NFL lockout. Unfortunately for a guy like Donaldson that task turned out to be too burdensome.

Some day when the Chiefs do play again their fans will rejoice from Arrowhead Stadium, but in one section of the stadium there will be an empty seat.

The seat of James Donaldson: a normal guy who went mad because of the constant news coverage of the dull, dreary and tiresome details surrounding the possible NFL lockout.

Only time will tell if James Donaldson is the only victim.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Wrapping Up the LSU Season and Bowl Thoughts

It has been quite a while since I last wrote on this blog. To be honest I have be spending the past three weeks doing missionary work in Santiago, Chile.

I am sorry that was a 100 percent lie. Completely and utterly made up, but for a second I had you wondering.

Alright, back to LSU football. Let us recap how the season finished. The last time we saw the LSU Tigers in Tiger Stadium they played a game against Ole Miss that had "LOSS" written all over it. I have watched LSU football since 1995, so despite my young age I still have some years under the belt. With that said, I can say there have been those games where everything has just gone against the Tigers. Every flag, every big play, everything just seemed to be going against LSU that night against Ole Miss. But the thing that was so interesting about that game was how LSU would not bow down. They hung in their and the one guy who has been more criticized than any other Tiger, Jordan Jefferson, managed to truly carry the team to a victory.

Seven times this year LSU has won by a touchdown or less. The thing so many college football analysts fail to point out about this LSU team is they have what I like to call, "four quarter grit." Even if the window is closing and things look bleak for the Tigers, this team has shown the ability to still pull out the 'W' when the odds are stacked against them. LSU has a unique reputation where they are always in a game till the end. Even during their worst games, LSU still finds themselves in line to win.

(Look at the difference between the Ole Miss and Arkansas games. In both you have games where things are not going LSU's way, yet in one LSU managed to pull it together and another they fell apart. Maybe Tiger Stadium's magic is that powerful?)

Here is the thing that needs to be taken away from LSU's 43-36 victory over Ole Miss even after the Arkansas loss. All season long we criticized Miles decision to keep Jordan Jefferson in so much of the time. I, for one, wanted Jarrett Lee to start more often and I started to really think that maybe Jefferson would never understand how to be an effective quarterback. I realize it was only one game and Ole Miss was a struggling team, but just maybe, just maybe Les Miles knew what he was doing all along. For the second half it certainly looked like Jordan Jefferson could be the type of quarterback we had dreamed of.

I am not sold on Jefferson yet, but it is interesting to look at the big picture. Only about 6 quarterbacks in Division I-A football where statistically worse than Jordan Jefferson. Even so, Miles stood by him. Never threw the towel in on the kid. He believed.

I am happy to see this for the guy. I hope it is a sign of things to come. A friend of mine ran into Jordan Jefferson not to long after he had pulled off the big win against Alabama. My friend made a couple jokes to Jefferson about the block he put on an Alabama defender on the famous 4th and 1 reverse. Though the interesting thing is my friend told me was that Jefferson shook his hand and told my friend, "Thanks man, you have no idea the things people have been telling me. It means a lot." Jefferson has a had a tough year to say the least. I hope he continues to grow.

The Ole Miss game was a bright moment for Jefferson and even to a point so was the Arkansas game, but the end of that night in Little Rock ended all too familiarly - with a loss.

Personally, I hate the Arkansas game. It is never easy playing Arkansas, even during a win. (And it does not help that the one game I watch with my family is the Arkansas game during Thanksgiving.) Including this year's 31-23 Arkansas win, the last 6 games in this series have been decided by a TOTAL of 21 points. Prior to this year's game that number was 5 games decided by 13 points. "Close game" is an understatement.

I think the reason I hate the Arkansas game so much is because when the Tigers play the Razorbacks every comprehensible things goes wrong: passes are dropped, bad snaps are abundant, the defense misses tackles and of course golden opportunities to score or get a turnover are washed away. All those things describe the 31-23 Arkansas loss.

Jefferson, though not as well as Ole Miss, did play efficient against Arkansas. He had 184 throwing (0 turnovers) and 34 yards rushing. (218 yards of total offense) But like it has been all too often this year, LSU's offense was stagnant. Down 31-20 late in the 4th quarter, LSU gets the ball at their 38 yard line. On four straight plays LSU throws the football and then for some unknown reason LSU decides (with time being a factor) to run it not once, not twice, but THREE STRAIGHT TIMES. LSU ends up getting a field goal cutting the score to 31-23 with 1:58 left.

Now realize that LSU got the ball back down 31-20 with 5:59 left, yet they still thought it was appropriate to run it three straight times. That final drive was 11 plays for 43 yards and it took 4:11 off the clock. Disgusting to say the least.

I could talk excessively about the defense's inability to tackle in yet another game or the fact that the unit made some boneheaded decisions. (The first half Hail Mary?! I may sometime understand the Law of Relativity, but I will never understand why Karnell Hatcher thought going for the knockout blow in a situation like that was appropriate. YOU DO NOT RISK THAT. And worse Hatcher knocked the daylights out of his own teammate, Morris Claibourne!) The unit has been great this year at times, but I am growing tired of not seeing Defensive Coordinator John Chavis adjust. Chavis, as it seems, likes to stick to his base defense. How the game transpires has no impact on how he plays the rest of the game.

So it seems.

Alright so LSU played in 12 games this year and won 10. Say what you would like, cut it up as much as you please, but 10-2 is pretty damn good. The three big things Les Miles needed to do this year was beat Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss. (The previous two years Miles went 0-6 against those schools.) Miles did that. The thing I was worried about after the Arkansas loss was LSU getting screwed come Bowl Selection Sunday.

I was wrong.

LSU playing Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl on the night of January 7th does not get any better. Playing in the Sugar Bowl would of been terrific, but the way things turned out LSU would of been playing Ohio State. (Sorry, been there done that.) The Cotton Bowl use to be on the same level as the Fiesta, Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowl. Over the years the Cotton Bowl lost sight of this and had far too many noon January 1st games. This year looks to change that. Playing in Jerry Jones's spaceship at night should do the trick. This year's Cotton Bowl has the potential to be a great way to end the 2010 season for the LSU Tigers.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Miles Hushes Critics

The more I watch him coach and the more I see the public react to his every move, the more I realize that Les Miles is more scrutinized than any coach in the country.

Sure others have lots of pressure on them as well, but no one seems to be ridiculed quite like Les Miles when things do not go according to plan. I understand how some of his press conferences are hard to understand and how his play calling at times can be unconventional to say the least, but that still does not excuse the reality that more so than anyone else in the country Les Miles's every move is watched, studied, analyzed and dissected.

And this is all for a guy who has a career record of 59-16.

I have seen it all year. One week LSU plays sloppy, the media tears Miles apart. The next week LSU prevails, the media kneels before Miles. It remains the same. A couple times this year Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has made some questionable calls, in particular during the waning moments of the Tulsa game. Down 28-27 late in the game, Kelly opted for his quarterback to throw one in the end zone despite the Irish already being in great position to kick a winning a field goal.

The pass was thrown, the ball was intercepted. Game over. Kelly came under some scrutiny, but I could not help from laughing. Heck, if Miles pulled that same stunt the media would be trying to publicly execute him.

There is not another coach out there like Miles. He is one of a kind. He does not abide by the rules most coaches go by. I guess that's why with all the hate he seems to constantly get, it makes it that much more satisfying to watch his LSU Tigers beat Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide 24-21 in Tiger Stadium.

I have heard it a million times. Saban will always be better than Miles. Miles is dumber than Saban. Saban will always outsmart Miles. Miles only beat Saban in the past because he had Saban's players.

Yet at the conclusion of the game everyone could see that not only did LSU win, Les Miles and his staff had out coached Nick Saban and his staff. The very thing I, as an LSU fan, was told could never happen happened.

Could it be that Les Miles is smarter than we all give him credit for? Could it be that, much like Keyser Soze from Usual Suspects, the greatest trick Les Miles ever pulled was convincing the world that he was an idiot?

This game was bigger than an SEC showdown, it was bigger than LSU vs. Alabama, it was bigger than Alabama trying to continue it's run for a second straight national championship. This game was beyond all that.

For some this was the moment when the wheels really started to come off the Les Miles's wagon, for others this was the moment when Miles showed he was and could always hang with the best of coaches. This game symbolized the moment when the nation and some of the doubting LSU fans finally saw the reality: LSU has a pretty damn good coach.

Did you realize that Les Miles has won nearly 80% of his games at LSU, which plays in the toughest conference in college football? And that against Nick Saban and Urban Meyer (arguably two of the best coaches in college football), Miles has record of 5-5?

I have often wondered how much different the public perception of Les Miles would have been had Terrence Toliver dropped that 4th and 26 pass against Ole Miss last year. If Toliver drops that pass, there is no clock management fiasco that ensued in the closing moments of that game.

Les Miles is an emotional coach, which means he has an emotional team. In recent years his teams have been motivated in big games, but at the same time they have made mental errors because of their high emotions. We, as fans, have grown use to that. The Tigers will be pumped to play, but do not be surprised if they get a few false starts or silly turnovers. On Saturday that notion that LSU could not play four quarters of good football was buried. (Okay, I understand it was really the 3rd and 4th quarter. Just bare with me.)

Overall, the thing that recedes more than anything after LSU's win over Alabama is the uniqueness behind Les Miles and his style of coaching. This element of him was lost in the shuffle the past two seasons. In 2007 Miles's gambling tendencies were at center stage. Prior to this season I had hoped Miles would go back to his gambling ways because it was what made 2007 so special, it was what made Miles, Miles. As this season has shown the Mad Hatter is back.

Some coaches are known for their defense, others are known for their offense, Les Miles is known for his close-game, unconventional play calling. I have come to realize that this is what makes Les Miles so extraordinary and so dangerous. Unlike any coach out there the "normal" call never appeals to him. On 4th and 1 against Alabama (much like the fake field goal against Florida) we were all convinced we knew what Miles was going to do. LSU was going to give it to their running back Stevan Ridley and hopefully number 34 could muster one yard.

But that is the problem. Once you think you have Miles figured out, once you feel like you have his team on the ropes and you know what they are going to run, he pulls a rabbit out of the hat. He does what he does best and runs the unconventional.

Jordan Jefferson hiked the ball and pitched it to Stevan Ridley who then pitched it to DeAngelo Peterson on a reverse. And poof! once again he had done it. Fans were stunned. The Alabama defense was stunned and best of all Nick Saban was stunned. There was still lots of time left in the game (I was not satisfied until the clock read :00), but that play was very symbolic for the game and for Les Miles.

Here was LSU going against Alabama and Nick Saban. It was midway through the 4th quarter and LSU trailed 14-13. On 4th and 1, like he has done countless times before, Les Miles fooled his opposition as DeAngelo Peterson blew by the Alabama defenders and Les Miles's doubters.

Geaux Tigers!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I Hate Alabama

Losing hurts. Losing to your rival stings. Losing to your most hated rival, at their stadium, surrounded by their fans after a blown interception call does not sting. It burns.

I have experienced many LSU losses. They never feel good, but last year's Alabama loss was only worse to the 2007 loss to Arkansas. To have seen the Tigers battle for four quarters and then to see their best player get robbed of an incredible interception in a 24-15 loss is sickening to say the least.

This is the most important game of the regular season for the LSU Tigers. It was probably the same for Alabama until Auburn started playing football. I am sure I should breakdown this game in a professional manner and I should evaluate all of aspects of both teams personnel in a professional manner.

But I cannot do that, I cannot seat here and act like this is just another game, just another SEC showdown being played in Tiger Stadium. This is more. This is LSU vs. Alabama and with all my heart I truly hate Alabama.

I hate the University of Alabama as much as a fat kid hates a treadmill, your mom hates cussing, your grandma hates rap music and you hate Mondays. I hate how the majority of their fan base seems to think Alabama football was Gods' gift to the world. (Hate to break it you, but I do not think our God is that cruel.)

I hate how Alabama "claims" 13 national championships. Using Alabama's logic, LSU does not have three national championship, rather the Tigers have about seven.

For much of my life the number one team I hated was Auburn. Auburn was always neck and neck with LSU. When LSU football came back in 1995, after six straight losing seasons, it was Auburn who LSU beat to get back on the map.

But things changed. Alabama became the No. 1 hated team in my eyes because of one moment: Nick Saban was hired to be their head coach.

And there lies the newest variable in this hated rivalry between Alabama and LSU.

I hate Nick Saban because he preaches a life of integrity and character, yet at the end of the day the man does not live by those rules himself. Is he a great coach? You bet. Does he know how to build a program? For sure. Just do not try to sell to me that Nick Saban is beyond a football coach garbage.

He is an excellent football coach. Period.

I appreciate everything Nick Saban did for LSU in five years. I appreciate how he brought LSU football to new heights, how he won two SEC championships as well as the ultimate prize - a national championship in 2003. LSU fans always knew Saban's ultimate goal was to win a Super Bowl. His ego would never be satisfied with winning national championships, so on Christmas Morning of 2004 we found out that Nick Saban would indeed be the next coach of the Miami Dolphins.

As fans we were disappointed, but understood this was Saban's goal, his ultimate quest. After only two years Saban darted Miami and signed a mega-million dollar deal with Alabama and in turn he forever tarnished his image to LSU fans.

I have heard it countless times, "If you were offered $4 million you would coach anywhere as well!"

Sorry not me and I stand by that. For $4 million I would not have sold my loyalties to my former team the way Saban did. That was Nick's price and he has to live with the consequences of that decision. I appreciate what he did, but again that was the past. For now he is the coach of LSU's most hated rival. The sooner he leaves Alabama, the better. (In all honesty he could of coached any other program in the country and the consequences would not have been nearly as harsh.)

I like to think of Nick Saban's journey from LSU to Alabama like that of Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. There was a time when Saban still had good in his heart, but ultimately he fell to the Dark Side. Is Saban disfigured like Darth Vader? Physically? No. Psychologically? Yes.

Behind the impressive winning streak, the Heisman Trophy winner and the recent national championship is a head coach at Alabama who knows he screwed by leaving Baton Rouge in the first place.

Do I want him back? Never. Quite simply, I want LSU to beat Alabama, I want the media to eat their words (why does Saban always get a mulligan when Alabama loses, but Miles is eaten alive?) and I want to see that trademark head-hanging walk Saban does whenever Alabama is about to lose.


Because I really hate Alabama.

Monday, October 25, 2010

LSU Got Beat, Plain and Simple

Do you know what the really interesting thing is about sports? How simple it really is. I love sports and watching LSU and Saints football are two of my greatest passions, but it is interesting to think how simple my admiration is for my teams really is.

All I desire, all I want is for my team to score more points than the opposing team. Whether the media talks about my team or whether my team throws for more yards are all irrelevant. And the end of the day it all comes down to who has more points.

Shockingly at times that one basic principle seems to be covered up. We spend an entire week breaking down the minor things in a certain game. Sometimes its productive other times its counterproductive.

I say this now because after LSU's loss against Auburn the only thing burned in my mind is the final score of 24-17. I know LSU got outplayed and I know Auburn deserved more than LSU to win that game and I know LSU's offense was painful to say the least, but still all that is etched in my mind is the final score. The halfback pass for a touchdown was amazing, but it is now forgotten because LSU lost.

No matter how you cut it losing sucks.

If LSU loses a game I have been accustom to the game either being a blow out or it ending in a controversial manner. Seeing LSU just get beat is foreign to me. And on Saturday LSU got just that: beat.

LSU loses games in football. It happens, but rarely do I see a team physically beat LSU. Rarely do I see a team run the ball down LSU's throat. Auburn did that.

I understood going into the game that LSU had a good chance of losing to Auburn. This is not a knock on the football team, but rather a look at the fact that for three straight years LSU has beaten Auburn and that the game was in Auburn. In short, LSU was due for a slip up against a good Auburn team.

Looking back there are a couple things on the offensive and defensive side of the ball I wanted to focus on when discussing Auburn's 24-17 win.

Offense: LSU's offense remained stagnant again, but for the first time this year Jarrett Lee was unable to help LSU sneak out a win. In the second half LSU had five possessions start near midfield. One lead to LSU points (7). Three resulted in three and out and one resulted in a couple first downs followed by a punt. Sure the defense deserves a lot of criticism, but the unit did give the LSU offense chances. Jordan Jefferson's best trait is his rushing. Even with his passing struggles, Jefferson still poses as a threat because of his scrambling abilities. My issue with is if LSU is going to use Jefferson as a runner, stick to it. In the opening drive of the game Jefferson got down the field by running the ball, yet when LSU got closer they opted to start throwing. I think we can agree that was a bad move. Jefferson makes it harder every week to think he is going to turn the corner and be able to complete a measly ten yard completion. Far too often I find myself, like the Auburn game, optimistic that Jefferson can show some signs of improvement only to be blown away when yet No. 9 shows ZERO presence in the pocket on a passing down.

But with that said Jarrett Lee was not any better. Lee never got the LSU offense past midfield. Maybe Miles sees things in practice that lead him to believe Jefferson is the better start at quarterback? Jefferson was by the no means amazing, but he was able to get a rhythm going (when given the chance) to do what he does best: run the ball. The command Lee had of the LSU offense for most of the year was now where to be seen on Saturday. Lee's struggles gave LSU fans a gut-check reality that despite his successes this year, Lee still will have game where he is not playing well.

Even with Lee's recent struggle at Auburn I still feel Miles needs to address the quarterback situation. Lee had one bad game, Jefferson seems to have a bad game every week. LSU needs to consider running a two-quarterback system where the quarterbacks switch during plays, rather than series. I say this because with Lee at quarterback, defense's are able to sit back and play the pass. With Jefferson at quarterback, opponents can put eight guys in the box and anticipate a run. We thought Lee would always be able to work against a defense when they anticipated the pass. These past two weeks have shown us otherwise.

This predictability in LSU's offense does not seem to be worrisome to the coaching staff. Outside of a few new plays involving Spencer Ware, I rarely saw anything that made me think Les Miles and Gary Crowton are making changes to a disappointing unit. Each week, I see the same boring, stagnant offense. I do not think at the end of the year Gary Crowton will be fired, better yet I think he will leave on his own.

(Also, has Jordan Jefferson made a big throw on a big down this year? This is a serious question. There can not be more than five times this year where on a big third down Jefferson has converted.)

Defense: Losing to Auburn is not that big of a surprise. It stinks, but again this is a rivalry game and Cameron Newton is a pretty special quarterback. With that said, I think the thing that hurts more than anything in LSU's loss is how their defense was shredded against Auburn. Going into the game LSU's run defense gave up only 83 yards per game. Against Auburn the unit gave up 440 yards, including 217 yards to Cameron Newton.

LSU's bread and butter was not their offense, but their defense. The one thing LSU fans could stick their chest out about was the swarming Tiger defense. On Saturday that thought was crushed. I am thankful LSU has a bye before Alabama because after an embarrassing performance like that things can snowball. LSU needs a breather.

All season the defensive unit has been one word: AGGRESSIVE. Whether it was Drake Nevis up the middle or Tyrann Mathieu on a blitz, LSU's defense remained aggressive. But that aggressiveness was lost against Auburn. Obviously John Chavis's game plan was to sit back and let Auburn make their move before LSU made theirs. This hurt LSU because, like I said, it took away LSU's aggressive nature of playing defense. You know what LSU's defense in the Auburn game reminded me of? The 2009 LSU defense: passive and not aggressive.

So the game plan was passive? Okay, fine. And Drake Nevis was pretty much non existent? Okay fine, but that leaves no excuse to the lousy tackling LSU showed on Saturday. Two of Auburn's three touchdowns came off lousy tackling. That is just fundamentals.

Even with the defensive game plan LSU had and the lousy tackling they showed all game, LSU still did give the offense may opportunities to put points on the board. Auburn did miss six third downs meaning LSU's defense did get Cameron Newton off the field. With all that taken into consideration from the porous offensive production to the passive defensive game planning and bad tackling it is no surprise why LSU lost on Saturday.

I rarely admit these sort of things, but Auburn was better than LSU on Saturday. Even so, LSU was tied more than halfway through the fourth quarter.

One of the biggest signs to how good a team really is, is how they respond to a loss. LSU got physically beat by the Auburn War Chickens. The team has a week off before Alabama. Does the team come together and learn from their mistakes or do they sulk in their defeat?

Only time will tell.

Geaux Tigers!