Thursday, September 30, 2004

'Fantasy' baseball

Don't mind me. I'm just daydreaming about the baseball playoffs. You remember last year, don't you? When everyone seemed to be watching every game of every series? I-Rod holds on to the ball at home? Foulke blows the lead for the A's? Boone? Bartman?

October is usually a time (for me anyway) of hockey, football, and rooting against the Yankees. But this year, I think I'll have different interests. Hockey is gone -- maybe for good. (But don't believe anyone who says that, they haven't got a clue about professional sports). Football is always compelling, but I can put even Kurt Warner's wife on the backburner for more compelling storylines. And if things break the right way this October, oh the storylines we'll have.

Here's my dream scenario:

In typical Dodger fashion, L.A. pulls an El Foldo in the final days of the season, blowing a three-game NL West lead and allowing San Francisco to slip past them on a Barry home run with two outs in the ninth. Houston and Chicago tie for the NL wild card, setting up a one-game playoff, Clemens against Wood. Rocket strikes out 14 and goes eight innings before abruptly declaring he's retiring with the game tied at 2-2 in the ninth. Moises Alou (can you smell the irony?) belts a game-winning single to send Chicago into the postseason.

In the AL, Anaheim and Oakland are tied going into the last game of the season; it's Hudson against Washburn for the West Division crown. Vlad Guerrero cracks three home runs, erasing a four-run deficit as Anaheim heads back to the big show. Meanwhile, Boston makes the bumbling Yankees sweat it out till the final day of the season before getting blown out against pesky Baltimore to hand the Bombers the crown.

Now, it's on to the playoffs.

Atlanta meets Chicago, and since I can't think of any possible reason why anyone would want to watch the Braves any more than they'd have to, let's root for a three-game Cubs sweep... Mark Prior goes nine innings to nail down the series. Greg Maddux forgets which team he's on and leaves the country immediately after the series to begin his customary early-October vacation.

St. Louis takes on the Giants, and it's Barry vs. Albert. Pitching staff X vs. Pitching staff Y, where X = lousy and Y = who are these guys? Pujols & Co. battle Barry to a fifth game, where the Giants load the bases against Jason Isringhausen down two runs in the ninth. Edgardo Alfonzo lines a double to left-center, here comes the throw from Edmonds, Barry's chugging around third... The slide.... SAFE! Bonds' elbow pad is later found lodged in Cardinal catcher Mike Matheny's head.

Yankees vs. Minnesota: We've seen this before, haven't we? Due to a bizarre contractual clause, David Wells is allowed to pitch Game 3 for the Yankees, going eight innings and striking out nine. The sweep is complete!

Boston vs. Anaheim: In the battle of the only two teams with a shot at upending the Bombers, the Red Sox go down two games to love on a Chone Figgins suicide squeeze of David Eckstein in the bottom of the ninth. Derek Lowe leaves Game 3 trailing 9-1, but Manny and Ortiz go deep over the Green Monster to win it in the 11th. Vlad throws out his back hacking at Tim Wakefield's knuckler in Game 4. And in Game 5, Schilling dominates and the game is scoreless after eight. Orlando Cabrera drives in the winning run after robbing Troy Glaus in the top of the ninth.

We've set up a Cubbies-Giants matchup in the NLCS, which features Barry Bonds against the best pitching staff in baseball. Bonds jacks five homers in the series, but can't recover after a grown-up Jeffrey Maier (now a Cubs fan, by the way) reaches over the right field wall at Wrigley to steal a home run in Game 7. Derrek Lee renews his role as NLCS hero with a bases-clearing triple to seal the series in the bottom of the ninth. After the game, MLB announces the installation of 15-foot chain-link fences to surround the stands at Wrigley. Maier sells Bonds' would-be home run ball to Steve Bartman, who in turn sells it to a Chicago bar for $5 million, moves to Aruba, and retires a rich man.

In the ALCS, Pedro plunks A-Rod in Game 1, Brown punches out Varitek in Game 2, and in Game 3, the teams use 16 total pitchers in a 19-18 marathon. Byung-Hyun Kim is the emergency starter for Boston in Game 4, and appears to have everything well in hand, until allowing a pair of solo home runs by Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez give the Yanks a 3-1 series lead. The series moves to the Stadium, where the Pinstripes try to keep the Curse alive. Derek Jeter has a chance to tie it in the bottom of the ninth, but Boston's Bill Mueller makes a diving, head-first catch on a foul pop into the stands, breaking his nose and chipping a tooth. Schilling shuts down New York in Game 6, but the Yanks take an early lead in Game 7 against Pedro. El Duque takes the lead into the ninth for the Yankees; Rivera for the save. With two outs, Trot Nixon cracks a three-run homer down the left field line, sending all of Boston into revelry.

In the All-Cursed World Series, the Cubs jump out to 2-0 series lead before Schilling and Pedro tie it back up. Maddux is shelled in Game 5 to put the Sox just one game away from the title. But in Game 6, Kerry Wood is seen eating Baby Ruth bars in the clubhouse before the game, then strikes out 22 and and hits two home runs in a 3-0 win. Game 7 moves the series back to Wrigley, where Schilling meets Prior. In the 11th inning, it's tied 0-0 when Doug Mientkiewicz bombs a two-run homer off Joe Borowski to put the Red Sox on the precipice. Closer Keith Foulke gets the first two outs, but Chicago gets a pair of clutch singles from pinch-hitter Greg Maddux (series ERA: 45.00) and Corey Patterson. Nomar comes to plate with the series on the line. On a two-strike count, he hits a little roller along the first base line, behind the bag. Millar coasts over to pick it up but steps on the ball, breaking his arm. Maddux and Patterson score and all of Addison is in hysterics. Pedro relieves Foulke to face a slumping Sammy Sosa. On a first-pitch fastball, Sammy clocks one into the left field bleachers. "I don't believe what I just saw! Touch 'em all, Sammy! CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN!"

Somewhere Harry Caray smiles.

Somewhere George Steinbrenner shouts.

But there is no joy in Boston. They should have taken Pedro out.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Diary of a Triathlete

To fully understand the gravity of this situation, some disclosure is in order. I'm six inches shorter, 50 pounds lighter and 3.2 seconds slower than your basic NFL Pro Bowl left tackle.

In other words, I really had no business standing in the sand at Zach's Bay awaiting the start of the Jones Beach Triathlon on Sunday morning.

However, there I was, in wetsuit shorts and a long-sleeve Under Armour ColdGear shirt, waiting for a whistle to commence what is easily the most ridiculous and personally satisfying thing I've ever done in my 29 years, 1 month and 6 days on Earth.

Surprisingly, I was not nervous, just completely focused on the 800 meters of salt water in front of me. I could have sworn Shark Lavay was standing next to me screaming, "Get hyped! Get hyped!" Hey, when embarking on such a demanding physical challenge, especially for the least fit of 381 competitors, you search for motivation wherever the f-bomb you can find it, even if that includes random scenes from "Any Given Sunday."

Word from the other competitors is that Lawrence Taylor was not at Jones Beach. I contend he was.

But definitely in attendance was Lawyer friend Steve. He's what we call an accomplished triathlete, which is to say he's done several of these and got me interested in the prospect of completing a half-mile swim, 14-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run in the same morning.

The whistle blows. The race of my life is on. It's a race I know I won't win. But my definition of win is completely different from Webster’s. I finish, I win. I live to tell the story, I win. Last place or not. Odds of me finishing last are at "Smarty Jones winning the Belmont" proportions. Yet, in a statistical oddity, the line on me finishing this thing is off the board.

I know I'll finish. I spent two months preparing for this day and as DMX says, "You will not take this from me, bay-bee!"

The first few steps signal potential doom as I slip running into the water. It's a quick slip, the kind no one notices because I don't fall. Zach's Bay is forever known as Lake Valdez now, what with the tremendous amount of crude oil that appears to be poured onto the sand at the start of the race. Think "trying to stand up on a slip-and-slide."

250 meters in and I'm not nearly as dead as I expected to be. The pretty blonde in the kayak (she's a race volunteer) keeps me headed in the right direction. Fifty more meters and delirium sets in. My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Norton, is yelling at me to keep swimming. I think about the Papal snow globe in my bag, a good-luck charm of sorts from Artist-in-Italy friend Jenny. Then there's that Twix candy bar I bought three years ago after work one night -- did I really need that? I'm on a Hunter S. Thompson LSD trip right now, only I didn't take any LSD. Fear & Loathing in Lake Valdez.

By the backstroke of good fortune, I get to the second buoy and hug the turn like Dale Earnhardt Jr. Anything to shave a second or two. By now, I'm clearly last in Wave 1 (there are five waves, launched 10 minutes apart). Oh look, here comes the second wave. Flying right by me like a bunch of Thorpedos and Michael Phelpses. I care not about these people. We all paid our $80 or so, and I'm getting my money's worth. Let them pass me.

I'm on the last 100 meters now, not once thinking about the four years I’ve shaved off my life expectancy. Somehow, I finish. Pops has the camera ready. Not sure I'll want to see that picture until later in life, or at least until my left hamstring floats ashore. Oh, did I mention my surgically repaired left knee popped four times? So I have that going for me, which is nice.

Moms and others cheer me on. I have no idea what city I'm in, much less who these people are. I'm just figuring out a way to unload the six gallons of salt I drank while in Lake Valdez.

The makers of this athletic pit of hell were kind enough to place overhead showers near the bike area for people to wash off salt, sweat and sand before getting on the bike. It is here I realize that people who attend triathlons are the nicest people in the world. They cheer for everyone, even the left tackles who look completely out of place. One nice fella says, "You're doing awesome, big guy. Take a quick shower and keep going."

My response: "Oh great, more freakin' water!" He laughs and relays the line to anyone who would listen.

At this point, I wonder why I did this. My reasons are three-tiered:
1) Surface level: Tremendous exercise.
2) Underneath level: Unbelievable sense of individual accomplishment.
3) Subterranean level: Personal heartache needs an outlet for rechanneling of anger, aggression, depression, sadness, etc.

Reminded of why, I tune out the 378 other competitors and run my own race. Bring on that bike ride. Let's do this. Fourteen miles ain't nothing.

Around mile 6, Eminem's "Lose Yourself" comes through my headphones. This is my moment and I own it. For the rest of the day, the rest of my lifetime.

At mile 10, here comes "You're the Best," of Karate Kid fame, arguably the greatest song from a soundtrack since forever. The next four miles are a blur. I put that song on loop and cruise. It felt like two minutes. It felt like two hours.

I pass through the next time-point. Lawyer friend Steve is already done, and I haven't even started the run yet. This was to be expected. If this was Outrun, Pole Position II or Enduro, the game would end right there without my advancing to the next checkpoint. Lucky for me, I have a few quarters left.

Time for a 3.1 mile run. OK, more like a brisk walk with running in between. "I'll see you in an hour, kid," I tell Lawyer friend Steve.

"Don't worry, I'll be there cheering for you," Lawyer friend Steve responds.

The vote of confidence was nice.

Power-walking my way past the Pitch-and-Putt, the shuffleboard court AND the West softball fields, I wonder "I worked here three years when I was a kid and I never knew the boardwalk was this f-bombing long!!!!!!"

People who I've never seen before and will never see again are high-fiving me. The support is appreciated, even if they are 1.2 miles ahead of me already. Everyone loves a left tackle with a smile.

Somehow, I lug myself to the turnaround. Five young kids offer cups of water. I request vodka to dull the pain and forget where I am and what I'm doing. I settle for water, but the cups are half-full so I shoot it and pretend. By now, hallucinations are the norm.

In fact, Denzel Washington is at the turnaround, screaming "Fourth quarter, fourth quarter, fourth quarter." I yell back. "This is left side. Strong side!"

Hey, whatever works, right? Even Kevin Costner showed up, telling me "You gotta find it, buddy," just like he did to Adlai Stephenson in "Thirteen Days."

I start to book now, but I'm like Henry Hill: I said nothing and I got nothing.

A half-mile to go. I can see the finish line. I can see Mom, Lawyer friend Steve, his mom, his lovely girlfriend Jamie and one of her friends. They're all screaming for me, as are the other three spectators still hanging around.

Then, whammo! The battery in my mp3 player dies. What in the name of Dinacell 20-pack for a $1 just happened? I got mushed. No worries. I can see the finish line, which means I'm gonna finish this thing, which means this is easily the most proud moment of my life.

I put my head down and run as fast as I possibly can. I cut the corner as my family and friends cheer for me. Sixty feet left. Fifty. Forty. I might die right now. Thirty. Twenty. My spleen is on the ground. My kidney is somewhere near the umbrella stand. Ten feet. There's Rocky Balboa's trainer at the finish line. "Get up you son of a -----, because Mickey loves ya."

Five feet. Four. Two. One. Lean in and shave an extra .01 off, just like the pros do. Holy Mary Mother of God. I did it!

And I was third to last, unless you don't count the two people who quit halfway through the bike ride.

Last but not least never sounded so good.

Time to start my vacation. See ya next week. E-mail me.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Get your hustle on

Jay-Z was wrong! You can knock the hustle.

I caught another "Hustle" promo on ESPN late Thursday night/early Friday morning. Ouch.

This "movie" will supplant Joe Torre's "Curveballs Along the Way" as the worst two hours in cinematic history.

The creation of this "movie" combined with that outrageous wig atop Tom Sizemore's head are two more reasons Pete Rose belongs nowhere near the Hall of Fame. Did the producers call up Maury from "Goodfellas" for that wig (Maury's wigs don't come off)?

I'm slowly getting the feeling that the "So bad, it's good" corollary will apply to this production, which is a step ahead of those other straight-to-ESPN classics "Season the Brink" and "The Junction Boys," which were so bad, they were bad.

The concept of "So bad, it's good" goes like this: somewhere floating around in the ether is this imaginary threshhold that propels something completely terrible into the realm of moral imperative. Think "The Fast and the Furious," "Hudson Hawk" and Dirty South rapper Juvenile's song, "Back 'dat --- up." Life without working knowledge of these pop culture gems is not worth living.

Sizemore's wig is so bad, it could turn into the must-have haircut in Hollywood.

The acting figures to be so brutal, rumor has it Keanu Reeves didn't get a callback after his audition, so that's a positive.

Wait a second. I gotta go watch the trailer again on the Web . . .

. . .

. . .

. . . Ah, I feel better now. Thanks for waiting. I can't get enough of that wig. I'm like Pookie working in Nino Brown's crack factory in "New Jack City". It keeps calling me.

And what's with the misplaced pause and wrong word accent in that classic line, "No one is going to touch him while he's wearing . . . THE . . . uniform"?

So bad. So good.

E-mail me

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Mark's Mailbag

What do you make of Capriati's comments after the match? I thought she was callus and insensitive. She had the nerve to declare that she deserves to get a call once in a while. Hell, she got four! She even asked what the big deal was since Serena won the game! Wrong! What a (expletive)! Does she need to win that badly!? Don't answer that! Of course she does! It was almost as if no matter what Serena did, she was not going to win that match.

Whatever happened to good sportsmanship? Capriati could have acknowledged that the ball was in. Her lie that she was not looking is bogus. Both she and Serena moved to the opposite corner in preparation for the serve... a clear indication that both women saw the ball good.

There is a saying...God don't like ugly. She'll get hers. Some people just have no conscience. Hope she can sleep at night.
-- Josephine N., Parts Unknown

Dear Josephine: Capriati is trash. She knew that ball was in, but she can't beat Serena without cheating. Even high school tennis players are better sports than she is, and those kids make all their own calls. Seems to me if a 15-year-old is less apt to lie (and they don't have television replays), then Capriati could offer honesty once in a while. But if she had to lie, at least come up with a better excuse than not seeing the ball.


I'm not a Serena fan, but if they don't investigate further, I'd really be surprised. An umpire overruling a line judge from the other side of the court, at a critical point in the game, and the fact that it wasn't even close makes me even more suspicious? Forget replay, if it were baseball or football there would be a major investigation to see if gambling was involved, this shouldn't be any different. I guess they just want this to go away, quietly?
-- Dan F., Parts Unknown

Dear Dan: Shhhhh, they might hear you.


Thank You Mark for echoing my sentiments exactly. I was so appalled by the unfair call(s) that I could not even watch my favorite, Roddick, play. I turned the channel and thought about what I had just witnessed. I wish Serena or someone from the audience would have raised a greater objection and continued until it was fairly resolved. Once is a mistake but two, three and four times after that isn't.
-- Debbie C., Parts Unknown

Dear Debbie: Wow! Denying yourself Mr. Roddick because of shady umpiring. I'm impressed. I thought I was bad not accepting phone calls for three days after Roberto Baggio put the final penalty kick over the crossbar, handing Brazil the 1994 World Cup. But your decision brings sports self-martyrdom to an all-time high. We need to hang out.


hockey is only for canadians migrating to your "fine" country? according to an NBC survey, hockey fans are the highest-educated of all American sports fans. Pass that on to Steve from N.Y.
-- Adrian B., North Babylon

Yo, Adrian: Does this NBC survey you speak of come from the same source Dan Rather got his Bush papers from? Hockey and highest-educated should never be used in the same sentence. Hockey belongs exactly where it is now: locked out!


Please tell Steve from NY that he is an idiot. Just because he doesn't care about the greatest sport in the world(hockey) it doesn't mean other people don't!!!
-- Heath C., Bellmore

Dear Heath: We appreciate your passion for what you enjoy. But name-calling never helped anyone, except for Dave Winfield who earned the greatest derisive nickname in history - "Mr. May." However, I allowed this into my mailbag just to spark some debate. If Steve from N.Y. is still out there, feel free to respond to Heath from Boogie Down Bellmore. I promise to keep the barbs going each mailbag, but you barb-slingers have to promise to keep it clean and to keep things within the confines of this column and the law. We don't need any hockey dad incidents here. It's a free speech world and we're just trying to have some fun.

That wraps up our second mailbag of the season. No animals were harmed in the writing of this mailbag. The next one will post when I receive enough good e-mails in which to respond.

E-mail me


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

For the love of the game

Ahhhh Mark, we fans of the pigskin do some terrible things to ourselves in the name of love, don't we?

Some like to lay down an occasional buck on teams named the "Browns," the "Seahawks," and the "Cardinals," then seem surprised when these perennial losers don't come through. Others prefer a more interactive form of torture.

Fantasy football, I'm convinced, is the greatest invention of the 20th century. Forget television and the internet. Nothing Al Gore claims to have invented could rock this hard. Like all good inventions, though, fantasy football can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

Take my friend Glenn, which is not is real name, so we'll call him Pete for honesty's sake. In just the second year of our keeper league, Pete has managed to turn his team of respectable NFL starters into a Who's Who of the 1997 All-Madden team. Jerome Bettis, Terry Glenn, Marcus Robinson, and Eddie George are all nice players, if you're hosting an old-timers day. But when you're up against Clinton Portis, Koren Robinson, Edgerrin James, and Steve McNair, that simply won't cut it.

Yet Pete's predicament is secondary to ones like what I endured last night. Trailing by five points, I needed Terrell Owens and Bryant Westbrook to outscore Philly kicker David Akers by a margin of 5.5 or more to go 2-0. Simple enough. Of course, this required me to root for the hated Eagles, which I, as a lifelong Giants fan, decided to allow myself given the substantial prize pool at stake.

At the end of the first quarter, Philadelphia had a 7-6 lead and I still trailed by four. McNabb started the Eagles' first drive of the second with a 15-yard pass to Owens. A couple of decent runs by Westbrook and I was only down three. But on 3rd-and-7, the Eagles try a bizarre screen play to Owens that is stopped for -3 yards. Worse yet, I don't get the points for a reception, because the almighty ($%*!hole) official scorer rules it's a backwards pass. Worst STILL, here comes Akers for a 37-yard field goal.

I'm back down by six. But I'm relaxed -- I still have two of the best at their position out there... it's just a matter of time...

Sure enough, the Eagles get the ball back and connect with Westbrook for a 19-yard pass play. That's worth a big two poin-- oops! Westbrook fumbles. Instead of rolling out of bounds, the loose ball sits like a stone near the sideline until a cloddish Vikings defender snatches it. Westbrook giveth; and he taketh away. Minus two for the fumble. Still down six. Time for a rally.

I go downstairs and fetch my lucky Sam Adams bottle, which I found next to eleven others in the fridge, and wait for the magic to begin. It seems to be working as Westbrook notches a catch and an 18-yard carry and I'm only down five at half.

On the first drive of the second half, McNabb finds Owens for six yards. It's a negligible play, but due to our bizarre scoring system, I'm now trailing by just 3.5. Next play, McNabb takes the snap... looks, looks, Owens is open!... pulls it downs and run for a 20-yard touchdown. *#@! Another point for Akers.

Now the Vikings get the ball and a series of painstaking conversions begins. 3rd-and-3: three yard pass. 3rd-and-1: three yard run. Get the ball back, D! The Eagles take a pair of penalties. Finally, the bumbling Vikes boot a 39-yard-field goal. That drive took 6:45, and now I only have 20 minutes to make up four points. I'm getting nervous. Worse yet, I'm still rooting for the Eagles.

Eagles ball. 10 yard pass to L.J. Smith. No points. Two yard run for Westbrook. No points. Incomplete pass to Owens. No points. Incomplete to Ritchie. Zip. 18 minutes to go. Vikings ball.

Again, it's a torturous drive of narrow conversions when all I need is a Vikings touchdown or Eagles stop to get the ball back. Culpepper throws a 10-yard pass on 2nd-and-1. Then a five-yard pass on 3rd-and-3. Another five-yard pass on 2nd-and-3. A 20-yard pass on 3rd-and-11. They're only now reaching Philadelphia territory. A few more dinks and dunks, and I'll be done. Only 11 minutes left. Minnesota's in a 3rd-and-16. Culpepper trots out of bounds and finally this beast is over. Anderson misses the FG... Hooray.

Go to work Eagles. (I'm rooting openly now.) McNabb one-hops a pass to Owens. That was worth 1.5, you #@%!!. Six yard pass to Greg Lewis. Who the hell is Greg Lewis?!. 15-yard run by Westbrook. Now I'm in business. Down 3.5 with 8 minutes to go. But I still need a big gainer by Owens. McNabb drops back to the 50... Throoooows... Is it Owens?. 81 is lunging after the toss. Catch it, big boy!. He got it. He got it!. He tumbles, near the goalline. "Touchdown!" says Al Michaels. "Yeeeeeeahhh!!" I scream, no longer in my head.

Even Akers' meaningless extra point can't stop me now. It's an insurmountable lead with 7 minutes to go. Why are they showing replays? ABC shows Owens bobbling the ball near the endzone. Snap it! Snap it! Snap the ball! The boot is up.... and good! Atta boy, Akers! Unchallengable, baby!

The win is complete. A night of shameful rooting for an enemy team is over. Embarrassed and a little excited, I reach for the remote. It's 12:15 a.m. Work is in five hours. Time to dream a winner's dreams.

But first, I need another drink.

E-mail Mike at michael.casey@newsday.com

Monday, September 20, 2004

Every Given Sunday

Last week, it was Curtis Martin and Terrell Owens. This week, the Jaguars defense, Kellen Winslow and the referee who called offensive holding on Cleveland in the end zone combined to send me up Pleasure Mountain only to come crashing down off Torment Cliff.

Why does such a combination of elation and crippling anguish always happen to me on Sunday? The two leading answers are 1) it’s the NFL and 2) I’m stupid. I prefer the first answer, but the second one makes the most sense.

My NFL Sundays consist of fantasy football and real-life gambling. In Week 1, I cheered with little-girl glee as Curtis Martin ran wild on Cincinnati and Terrell Owens made the Giants’ secondary look worse than the Rancho Carne Toros from that cheerleader cult classic “Bring It On.” That solidified my comfortable parlay and new Nike Shox. Then I realized my fantasy football team was playing against Martin, Owens, and oh by the way, Donovan McNabb.

Ouch. So bumming. Wait, cool, I’m up for the weekend. But my fantasy team was put in a position where I needed five touchdowns and 220-plus yards from Steve Smith on Monday night. And what does he do? He breaks his freakin’ leg!!!!!

I was torn between the short-term financial windfall and the long-term ramifications of a season-opening lambasting. Five-Dollar Mike put things into perspective, claiming one week of fantasy football is worth a little less than $10, so I’m up for the weekend. Yeah, great. The beauty of fantasy football is talking smack to other league owners, not getting smacked by other league owners.

Week 2 delivered a Bernard Hopkins punch directly to my liver and I collapsed to the ground quicker than Oscar de la Hoya (I whined a little softer than he did, though). There I am, completely prepared to throw up after seeing Yo Vinny’s three interceptions stifle the Cowboys’ offense into an uneasy five-point lead with less than 20 seconds left. In case you’re wondering, I had the Cowboys laying 5 ½ points!!!!! Quick hit for the masses: Is there anything worse than that nasty fraction? (please respond here)

Cleveland gets called for offensive holding in the end zone, which by rule, awards the defense a safety. (Turn on Randy “Macho Man” Savage voice now) Oh yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah! (Turn off Randy “Macho Man” Savage voice now). I erupt in excitement and colleagues across the room know what just happened. “Uh oh, sounds like a cover yell.” Bingo!

Cowboys take the 19-12 lead with eight seconds left. All Dallas has to do is recover the onside kick and end the game with me being able to pay my credit card bills without having to wait for the next paycheck. But, nooooo-oooooooooooooooooo! The Browns recover the kick. There I am, reveling in nervous excitement like Jon Moxon knocking on Darcy Sears' door in "Varsity Blues," when I noticed a Brown down.

Would you look at that? It’s Kellen Winslow II. Gee, I wonder who my fantasy starting tight end is? Hmmmmm, could it be . . . Kellen Freakin’ Winslow II? Yes, I think it is. And wait, what’s this? He has a broken leg? Perrrrrrrrr-fect!

This is more ludicrous than chicken and beer. I just threw my keyboard through the monitor. Unbelievable. I’m Eddie Mush from “A Bronx Tale.”

It gets worse. The Jacksonville defense shut down Quentin Griffin just enough to give me good fantasy defensive points but the Jaguars couldn’t score enough to cover. And yes, Griffin is my fantasy running back.

Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!

Well, at least I didn’t bet the Saints game, where my other running back managed to lose me two points with a fumble before getting injured.

If this was an “I quit” match in pro wrestling, I wouldn’t make it past Week 3.

But if you’re looking for Big Bucks and a whammy, try [avoiding] this: Favre plays at Indy next week. Indy plays in a dome. Favre stinks in domes. I think I’ll take the Colts and lay the points, which should just about guarantee the cover and two fumbles, a broken arm and ruptured Achilles tendon for Marvin Harrison, my only good fantasy receiver left.

I wonder if I can parlay that. Help me.

Share your frustrations, or just make fun of me in e-mail

Saturday, September 18, 2004

We need another Miracle!

Somewhere in between references to LL Cool J, twins and bling, my fellow blogger makes one thing clear in his previous post.

He doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Hockey is a great American sport. Unfortunately a commissioner that makes Bud Selig look like the second-coming of Pete Rozelle has run it into the ground.

That is not to say that this lockout is the fault of Gary Bettman, but letting the NHL fall this far is. In 1994 we had the Rangers win the Stanley Cup (I mean buy the Stanley Cup), we had Gretzky in Hollywood and yes, even rap stars were wearing hockey jerseys in their videos. Hockey was on the brink of bling.

However, the Rangers fell apart, as did the Kings, knocking the NHL out of its two biggest American cities. The Canadian economy is designed to make people move south and we get stuck with expansion.

All I know is that if I don’t have any money coming in, I’m not going to build a new kitchen on my house. This is essentially what Bettman allowed.

No TV contract? Put a team in Phoenix! No new American stars? Put a team in Atlanta. And while this was all going on, great teams in big cities were being ignored. Detroit and New Jersey had a dynasties and no one noticed.

I agree hockey needs to change. It needs to accept its fate as the 4th sport in this country. They need to make the rinks bigger. They need a salary cap. They need fewer teams.

They need to come back.

And they do, I will be in Section 307, just under the overhang at Nassau Coliseum, where the spackle is cracking off the roof screaming.

Mike must go!


Friday, September 17, 2004

Bye Bye, NHL!

"Greed, for lack of a better word, is good."
Gordon Gekko, Wall Street


Yes, folks, greed is fantastic because it has removed hockey from the American sporting landscape.

I could not be happier right now. If the twins from Coors Light commercials drove to my crib in a brand new Jeep Wrangler playing LL Cool JJ's "Back Seat" and wanted to swing an episode with me, then gave me the keys to the Wrangler and three duffel bags full of cash, that would not surpass the end of hockey on the Weekend Excitement scale. (It would be very close. I'm not that crazy, even in the hyperbolic world.)

No more hockey means no more Todd Bertuzzi stupidity -- which for all those fans who point out the once-in-a-million times something like that happens, it's more like once a year. No more hockey means no more outrageous free-agent contracts by the Rangers, though I will continue to bash Dolan management any chance I can. No more hockey means the rest of the world can have their consonants back to spell their last names.

There is nothing appealing about hockey. If you like thuggery and buffoonery, try watching a few rap videos. It's more economical on the wallet and the time. Four minutes and it costs nothing. Or maybe try some professional wrestling. A good superplex off the top rope is sure to quench your thirst for mindless aggression. And those guys are more of athletes than hockey players.

Besides, is there anything dumber than the illegality of the two-line pass?

I hope the lockout lasts until some time into next year if not May of 2132. I also hope there's a mass exodus of players to European leagues, so franchies go completely bankrupt and have no choice but to disband the NHL forever. On that day, I will drive a Zamboni to work.

The lockout came about because of greed. Players want more money than Bill Gates to play a sport only a handful of people care about. Why is hockey in Columbus? Tampa Bay? Carolina? Though the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, did anyone see it?

Putting this sport in the rich television markets that didn't have any real professional sports teams already there (i.e. Columbus, and the Yankees' minor-league affiliate and Ohio State don't count) was stupid. Put the sport where people care about it. Disband six franchises and cut the playoffs down by a round. (In fairness, basketball, a sport worthy of rich television contracts, should do the same thing.)

Owners are at fault too. The Gordon Gekko anthem holds true to these suckers as well. They can't resist paying $93 million for two years to some free-agent goon who had more goals than teeth because his jersey will sell out in stores. Then the whole system backfires and the owners claim they can't succeed in an environment they helped to create.

I am rooting for both sides equally in this glorious position, so long as both work cohesively to further destroy the sport. And I thought "Iced out" was only reserved for those who bling bling and lean back.

Stand your ground, Bettman. America is counting on you.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Fighting the Irish

I hate Notre Dame. But I love Ty Willingham, its football coach, so I like Notre Dame.

No, wait, I spent 20 years cultivating my disdain for the Fighting Irish, and this guy comes in and changes all that? It's not like he's Touchdown Jesus, or even close. How is this possible? How can I go against all that I hold dear to the sports ventricle of my heart? Am I turning to the dark side? What's next, a Mets jersey? Nooooo! Quick, God, if you're all knowing, send me a sign, intervene divinely, something. Help!

Some soul searching was in order last Saturday evening after noticing my cheering of Notre Dame in its 28-20 fourth-quarter rally against Michigan. At first, I blamed the excitement of the game as the reason for "Go Irish Go" mentality. I also had the over of 44 points, so the blocked punt and the collapsing of Michigan's defense played a role in the alumni-esque enthusiasm I displayed. (I'm proud to say I did not attend Notre Dame, be it the real one in South Bend, or any of those J.T. Marlin chop-shop colleges that also use the words Notre and Dame).

So for the past three days, I've walked the Earth searching for answers. Here are my reasons for allowing pro-Notre Dame comments into my world (note: This column will self-destruct in 46 seconds, so print it out now if you want proof I'm rooting for Notre Dame):

* Ty Willingham - Any man who can still rock the wraparound shades deserves props

* Ty Willingham - Came to Notre Dame with a shaved head and won eight games, which was a school record for self-induced bald-headed coaches.

* Ty Willingham - I immediately root for all black head coaches in college football, since it's probably the worst Old Boys Network in sports

* Ty Willingham - He looks like he can still play

* Ty Willingham - He's the college equivalent to Herm Edwards

* Ty Willingham - He's always stoic on the sideline, making his emotional outbursts on the sideline rare and awesome at the same time. When Notre Dame forced a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Michigan game, Willingham went crazy on the sidelines, jumping higher than anyone else. After a touchdown, Willingham jumped into the air to high-five one of his players coming off the field. Seconds after these two incidents, he was back on the sideline, headset on, stoic and intense as ever. We equate this to farting in front of a guard at Buckingham Palace and watching him twitch from the smell, then regaining his composure.

Those are my six reasons for rah-rahing the Fighting Irish this season. Should this be brought up against me in sports court one day, I will deny the allegations and will plead the fifth Dave Chappelle style.

I hate Notre Dame (that's a lie . . . this year).

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Monday, September 13, 2004

Jacksonville Jets

I'm having a hard time resisting the urge to put the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets in the Super Bowl down in Jacksonville this coming February. It's just one week, I tell myself. It's the Bungles, I tell myself.

It's no use. Maybe a few deep breaths and a viewing of the 2003 NFL Yearbook will calm me down.

But Curtis Martin looked so goo . . .

One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi.

And McCareins is the big receiver the Jets nee . . .

Three-Mississippi, Four-Mississippi.

The rookie secondary played dece . . .

Five-Mississippi, Six-Mississippi.

Chad Pennington is a stud quarterba . . .

Seven-Mississippi, Eight-Mississi . . .

Oh, f-bomb it. Make those reservations because the Jets are going to the Super Bowl. No sense trying to hold back anymore. The offense looked explosive. Curtis Martin ran like he was 23 years old. Santana Moss caught some deep balls and Justin McCareins flashed as the possession receiver every Jets fan has been screaming for since Keyshawn left. Even Jersey Shore Wayne caught a few passes and walked off the field knowing exactly where we has was. Jerald Sowell had a 19-yard run, which is more than nine times as many yards as he gained all of last season.

OK, so I sighed "Here we go again" after the first play of the game when the field turf of Giants Stadium made a great open-field tackle and then stripped the ball from Jonathan Carter. I was fully prepared for a night of "You just knew"s from Joe Beningo. But something happened. Chad happened.

On to the defense, where no third-and-long is too long to convert against these Jets. But at least Sam Cowart is still alive, contrary to reports that said he died before the start of last season. Heck, the Jets even stopped the run a few times. Donnie Henderson deserves a raise immediately.

See you in Jacksonville!

E-mail me | Gameday photos

Friday, September 10, 2004

Tecmo-style NFL Preview, Part 2

For the thousands of you that e-mailed me thanking me for the hard work that went into producing my Tecmo Super Bowl-style AFC preview, thank you. I do it for the fans. And for the millions more who are dying to read my NFC preview, here you are:

NFC EAST

1. PHILADELPHIA -- I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about how badly I'd carve up defenses using Donovan McNabb's speed, Terrell Owens' glue-like hands, and Bryant Westbrook's return game. And ohhhh the defense! Jevon Kearse, Hugh Douglas, and a surely-overrated Dhani Jones! Thank you, Lord, for giving us the most perfect Tecmo Super Bowl team since the 1990 Bills. (14-2).

2. WASHINGTON -- Sometimes a good running game is all you need. With Clinton Portis, Washington zig-zags their way to a NFC playoff spot. The Skins lack an established passer, but Mark Brunell could be good on those Tarkenton-esque rollouts. The receivers stink, but hey, after a few Portis runs, a flea flicker might do the job. Use LaVar Arrington on D, probably the only defender worth mentioning. (10-6)

3. GIANTS -- The weapons are there, and the rest means jack squat in Tecmo Super Bowl. With Kurt Warner's arm, Tiki Barber's legs, and Amani Toomer's fingers, the Giants could off-set their miserable offensive line and shaky defense. Jeremy Shockey in 'good' condition would destroy opposing DBs. Michael Strahan is hard-pressed to carry the defense, but he'll make a go of it with TSB's patented five-yard lunges. (9-7)

4. DALLAS -- Defense may be the 'Boys' best weapon, but TSB gamers know it's all about scoring. With Vinny tossing footballs like bagles all over the field, his crummy receivers routinely peeling off routs, and Eddie George bogging down the running game, Dallas looks like a lost cause. Wait for Julius Jones to emerge, get a real quarterback, then try again. (3-13)

NFC NORTH

1. MINNESOTA -- When I think of Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper, I imagine Warren Moon and Haywood Jefferies, tearing down the field with lightning precision and tremendous 90-yard pass plays. Both WRs and QBs have extraterrestrial talents. The difference? Culpepper can run. Remember that bizarre QB draw from the Oilers' playbook? Doesn't seem so useless when Culpepper runs it, does it? It might be a little tough to get stops on defense, but no one's feeling bad about that after another 48-24 win. (12-4)

2. GREEN BAY -- Green Bay has come a long way since the days of Dan Majkowski and his wretched offense limping the ball all over the field. Now, with Brett Favre running the show, Ahman Green dodging LBs with stunning evasiveness, and a capable defense, the Packers are in the hunt for a playoff spot. Just watch out that KGB doesn't get injured, or your defense might be in trouble. (9-7)

3. DETROIT -- The TSB ratings gurus usually don't think too highly of unestablished rookies and youngsters, so the Lions might have a tough time getting many wins. Joey Harrington has yet to have a breakout season; Charlie Rogers was hurt most of last year, and Harrington's other options (RB Kevin Jones and WR Roy Williams) are unknown quantities. The defense is nothing to get excited over. Maybe they'll get some respect in next year's game. (7-9)

4. CHICAGO -- Brian Urlacher is a dominant force on D, but who's going to score points? Anthony Thomas and Thomas Jones might be good on those fake-draw pitch-outs, but Rex Grossman won't be doing much on offense, other than lobbing a lot of balls 50 yards beyond the closest receiver. I foresee a lot of blitzing (pick-your-plays), and a lot of swearing and joystick smashing. (5-11)

NFC WEST

1. SEATTLE -- This team best compares to the 1990 Redskins. It's a solid quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck), a quick running back (Shaun Alexander), and two reliable receiving options (Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson) coming off the line of scrimmage. Seattle's offense should be unpredictable, because they can burn you with a deep pass or a run up the middle as easily as they can with a WR reverse or direct snap. That ridiculous WR-reverse-flea-flicker seems made for this team. (11-5)

2. ST. LOUIS -- I can only imagine how devastating this team would have been three years ago. Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt... (sigh)... Now that's 16-0 material. But now they've been reduced to a sum of working parts. Marshall is slowed, but still runs with his deadly agility. Holt and Bruce still run crisp routs. But mistake-prone Marc Bulger is problematic. Too many INTs and fumbles can ruin even the best offense. (10-6)

3. SAN FRANCISCO -- No defense! None whatsoever! At least they've got Kevan Barlow, Brandon Lloyd, and Tim Rattay, to whom I think TSB's scouts would inexplicably give acceptably high ratings. Seven wins would be a coup. (5-11).

4. ARIZONA -- Some things just never change. An inept quarterback, useless running game, and wholly worthless defense smacks of their 1990 counterparts. The only bright spots are at receiver, where a healthy Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald might be effective if Josh McCown could ever get them the ball. But McCown's frustrating inaccuracy and lob passes will somehow lead to a lot of X's winding up near the bottom of your screen, out of bounds and completely uncatchable. (3-13)

NFC SOUTH

1. ATLANTA -- He's a running back! No, he's a quarterback! No, he's a running back! Roll him Michael Vick out on bootlegs and let the fun begin. If I were ever inclined to use the 'playbook' feature (and I never have been), I would make sure every Falcons down involved some kind of trickery. Fake-draw pitch-outs to Warrick Dunn, playaction dives to T.J. Duckett, WR reverses to Peerless Price; flea-flickers! Chaos! The Falcons offense might not have the most talent, but they will be fun to watch. (11-5)

2. NEW ORLEANS -- Michael Vick be damned, they say. The Saints have Deuce McAllister and they're not about to concede the division title. Although Pat Swilling and Sam Mills don't run the defense any more, they still have good receiving options, a talented, mobile quarterback, and a fitting heir to the dangerous Hilliard-and-Heyward running game. (9-7)

3. CAROLINA -- Sadly, defense just isn't rewarded as much as a the defending AFC champs would like to believe. Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker will do their best to destroy opposing offenses, but it still may be possible to burn them on pass plays. Jake Delhomme is only average, and Stephen Davis won't win any rushing titles. (8-8)

4. TAMPA BAY -- Brad Johnson? No thanks. We'll take Chris Simms for the block. True, Simms has never taken a snap in the NFL. But at least it will FEEL like we're playing with a good team. Just imagine... Simms drops back! Throws to Bavaro -- no, wait, that's Ken Dilger. Ugh, sorry. Handing off to Charlie Garner seems like a slap in the face to powerful '90 Bucs back Reggie Cobb. We'll take Derrick Brooks on defense and hope he can steal the show. (6-10) I added an extra win because they signed original Tecmo Bowler Tim Brown -- that's gotta be worth something.

The Halle Berry Syndrome

Watching Andre Agassi dismantle Roger Federer in the second set of the U.S. Open quarterfinals Wednesday night, I was struck with memories of how good he used to be, followed by how bad he used to be.

Though Agassi wound up losing in five sets to Federer, who looks too much like Antonio Banderas for me not to mention it, I got to thinking about the chronology of Agassi's demise, his marriage to Brooke Shields, his rise to the top, and his divorce from Shields. Wow!

Intrigued, I kept digging and have developed what I call the "Halle Berry Syndrome." The basic principle of HBS is the hotter the wife is, the worse the athlete becomes.

It's bad enough when a woman breaks a man's heart, but does she have to destroy his career and bring the value of his memorabilia below that of gas prices in 1984. It's plain wrong. Not nearly as wrong as wearing a blue shirt with brown pants, but very close.

A look at history's support of the HBS, in order of devastation:

1) Tiger Woods -- Forget cameramen and crazy caddies and new clubs and the absence of swing coach Bruce Harmon, the slow and steady decline of Tiger rests on the shoulders of Elin Nordegren, the stunning blonde Swedish model. Is it a coincidence that Tiger got engaged this calendar year and he is no longer the No. 1 ranked player in the world? Tiger was No. 1 for five years.

Engaged for less than one and all of a sudden, he's No. 2. Funny how that works. And Tiger hasn't won a major in more than two years.

2) Andre Agassi -- We all remember those commercials about he came from 141st in the world a few years ago to No. 1 and U.S. Open champion. Little of that is credited to the removal of Brooke Shields from the joint checking account in 1999.

The two married in 1997. Agassi won zero events that year, and just five in 1998. In 1999, after the annoucement of an impending divorce from Shields, quite possibly the quintessential classic American beauty of the 1980s and 90s, Agassi returns to greatness and wins the French and U.S. Opens. He finished the year ranked No. 1 in the world.

Upon marrying Steffi Graf, a winner of 4 million Grand Slam events, later on in life, Agassi remains one of Top 10 players in the world. (Out of respect for Agassi, we will not speak of the Barbra Streisand fling/debacle/moment of weakness every man goes through once in his life).

3) David Justice -- Every experiment needs a control and Justice is it. He's also the guinea pig for this experiment, giving him one of the rarest double-doubles in sports history. Justice began his career with the 1990 NL Rookie of the Year.

In 1993, he married Halle Berry, who if not the most beautiful woman in the solar system, then certainly our little rock of matter called Planet Earth. He had a monster year in 1993, believed to be attributed to first-year marital bliss. Then (turn on Emeril voice now), BAM! (turn off Emeril voice now). His career found the dumper, culminating in a season-ending shoulder injury in 1996, followed shortly thereafter by a divorce from Berry. Ouch.

No man should suffer through those two events in the same calendar year. Justice eventually turned his career around and resumed a productive role in baseball.

4) Derek Jeter -- He learned one of the most valuable lessons never chronicled accurately in history until this very moment: Always, always, always be careful when entering into a relationship with a woman from Long Island.

This is further proven true by "Star Wars." At the end of Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Anakin Skywalker marries Padme, played by Natalie Portman, who just happens to be from Syosset. Anakin Skywalker will turn to the dark side of the force in Episode III, and we all know about Darth Vader's long history of Imperial torture and doom.

Jeter had a well-documented relationship with Mariah Carey for a few months in the early part of 1998. Jeter ended April with a .261 batting average that year. The relationship ended in early May and he closed out that month hitting .329. It had little to do with seeing the baseball better and everything to do with not having that crazy lady in his life anymore. The Yankees went on to win 125 games that season, including the World Series. Jeter hit .324 for the season. He glittered that year.

5) Jason Kidd & Jimmy Jackson -- We all know the silky, sultry voice of Toni Braxton is making us high, but Jason Kidd and Jimmy Jackson couldn't breathe the same air again after she allegedly pick-and-rolled with the two when they played for Dallas.

Rumor has it Braxton was supposed to date Jason Kidd in November of 1995, but Jimmy Jackson stole the ball and ran out on a fast break. Kidd and Jackson fervently deny the rumors, but Braxton's weak, ambivalent denials keep the rumors alive longer than any of her songs lasted on the Billboard charts. Jackson was traded to the Nets in the middle of the 1996-97 season and he finished with his second-worst scoring season of the decade. Hey, it's Jersey, can you blame him?

Kidd was dealt to Phoenix that same season and finished with the third worst assist average of his career. It's just another sad HBS song rocking our brains.

6) Derek Jeter -- You have to give both mack-daddy props and a smack upside the head to a man who appears on this list more than once. That's some kind of stubbornness when it comes to the ladies, not unlike Many from "Scarface." Early in 2003, Jeter was romantically linked to Jordana Brewster of "Fast and the Furious" fame, if such a movie can be called famous.

On March 31, 2003, Opening Day in Toronto no less, when every team is in first place, Jeter slid head first into third base and has his shoulder separated. He missed the next six weeks. The couple fizzled (her choice of movie roles had nothing to do with it). Jeter returned to hit .324 and lead the Yankees to another World Series appearance.

7) Scott Erickson -- Though we must note the demise of Erickson began before the start of this relationship, this marriage is the HBS version of Rocky II when Rocky and Apollo both get knocked down at the end of Round 15. Erickson married former actress/former sportscaster/former Monday Night Football sideline reporter Lisa Guerrero in February 2004. Two days later, he signed a deal to pitch for the Mets. Things are looking up for Erickson. For about three minutes. He strained his groin in the bullpen warming up for regular-season debut, then gets sent to the DL until July.

Soon after, the Mets released Erickson. He caught on with Texas, invoking the "Evander Holyfield Principle," which states an athlete nevers knows when to quit even when it's obvious to everyone. He made a few starts and is again designated for assignment, a fancy term for "turn in your glove and go home, you're done." Guerrero's stint as MNF reporter lasted one season. She was replaced by Michele Tafoya in May. Anyone heard from her lately? The referee's count is at 9 and the two years left on her ABC deal gives Guerrero the best chance of getting standing before the countout.

Even the richest, most talented people are not impervious to HBS. It's a shame to see good people destroyed by love/lust.

Halle Berry was so good to us. She gave us the club scene in "Strictly Business." She wore those chaps in the cage in "The Last Boy Scout." Then there's "Swordfish," arguably the greatest movie of all time, next to "Monster's Ball," (this is a family web site, so I can't explain why. If you don't know why, rent the movies. If you know why, buy the movies.)

Still, we should have been more astute. With those cinematic gems put forth by Halle, the principles of HBS tell us something else must happen, and it's called "Race the Sun."

P.S. Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams recently became engaged to Destiny Child's Kelly Rowland, so keep an eye on him this season.

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Thursday, September 09, 2004

NFL Preview: Tecmo-style

Those of us in the Nintendo generation know that God has blessed us with no greater gift than an eight-bit jewel of fun known as “Tecmo Super Bowl.” With its revolutionary eight-option playbook, use of real NFL team names and players, and ability to compile statistics throughout an entire NFL season, it single-handedly changed the lives of millions of studious 10-year-olds. All of my sub-90 grades in middle school are owed to that game.

With a new NFL season dawning, I got to thinking the other day: What if Tecmo Super Bowl only appeared now? Which would be the best teams (think Bills and 49ers) and which would be the dregs? (think Packers and Colts).

With everyone offering their own perspectives and predictions on the season before us, I don’t see my system as anything crazier than anyone else’s. So without further adieu, here are Mike’s AFC predictions – Tecmo Bowl-style.

AFC EAST:

1. Patriots – Tom Brady doesn’t have the strongest arm, but his accuracy will help avoid those pesky interceptions. Corey Dillon’s combination of speed and power make him a dangerous back, particularly on those off-tackle runs. On defense, I’m scrolling over to Ty Law to harass quarterbacks with the occasional blitz, sprinting all the way across the screen to defend passes over 15 yards. Adam Vinatieri bombs field goals from behind the 50-yard line. (11-5)

2. Bills – No doubt Tecmo would have highly overrated Drew Bledsoe’s throwing arm, making him and receivers Eric Moulds, Lee Evans, and Josh Reed nearly unstoppable. Travis Henry and Willis McGahee make a decent one-two punch at back. On defense, Takeo Spikes crushes any running play. (9-7)

3. Jets – Even with Chad Pennington and Santana Moss hooking up for 2-to-3 touchdowns a game, the Jets’ lack of superstars is their downfall. There is no clear standout on defense, and with a slogging Curtis Martin running the ball, the best they can hope for is an 8-8 season. (8-8)

4. Dolphins – No Rickey, no QB, no chance. No Tecmo team can succeed without stars at one of the two backfield positions. With Williams gone and Jay Fiedler at QB, it’s going to be a long, painful year, Fins fans. Use Sam Madison on defense and hope you can shut down the opponent’s passing game. Stay close with a few Randy McMichael button-hooks. Prepare for the worst. That’s all you can do. (4-12)

AFC NORTH:

1. Baltimore – Jamal Lewis. How can you stop him? Bo Jackson he’s not, but with power, speed, and still more power, he’s going to run over a lot of LBs. Think Christian Okoye in ‘excellent’ condition. On defense, Ray Lewis is a sure-fire sack leader. Just run him right through the line at the snap, evading and obliterating blockers. Expect a 64-sack year. (13-3)

2. Pittsburgh – Call us crazy, but this is an offense with potential. Tommy Maddox may be a bust, but Ben Roethlisberger could be golden off the bench. Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress will devastate on deep routes, and Antwan Randel-El is a kick returner extraordinaire. Kendrell Bell and James Farrior are solid options on defense. I’d take Farrior for his all-around skill. (10-6)

3. Cincinnati – Tecmo doesn’t think much of rookie quarterbacks, so Carson Palmer – or should we say QB Bengals? – will struggle to move the ball. Rudi Johnson is OK at tailback, but he can’t do it alone. The defense lacks true playmakers, but Kevin Hardy at least brings respectability. (8-8)

4. Cleveland – Yuck. No top QB, RB, or WR means the Dogs get pounded this year. Run all the rollouts you want, Jeff Garcia; your best receiving option is still Andre Davis. Linebacker Andra (yes, Andra) Davis is your only hope on ‘D.’ (3-13)

AFC WEST:

1. Kansas City – Priest Holmes may be the best RB in the game, but he’ll struggle due to his lack of pure speed and power. With Priest, it’s all about a nose for the endzone, and that just doesn’t translate in TSB ratings. Trent Green and Tony Gonzalez help move the ball through the air. Defense just doesn’t seem the same without Derrick Thomas, but one of the Chiefs linebackers could still emerge as a star. (11-5)

2. Denver – After KC, this division’s a toss up. Losing Clinton Portis hurts the Broncs offensively, but they still have enough firepower to be competitive. On defense, Champ Bailey could be the most dominant DB in the game. Get a few INTs, a few sacks, and Denver should be good to go. (9-7)

3. Oakland – It’s hard to pick these guys over a team with LT, but how can you turn down Warren Sapp? Sapp will terrrorize quarterbacks with his deadly off-the-snap strength and quickness. It will be tough for anyone to put a block on him. On the offensive side, Rich Gannon and Tyrone Wheatley won’t get anyone too excited, but Jerry Porter could be a star at receiver. (7-9)

4. San Diego – Up-and-comers, but still at least a year away. LaDainian Tomlinson is unstoppable coming out of the backfield or taking the ball on an outside sweep. He and Tim Dwight might even hook up on the occasional reverse to really throw the defense for a loop. We have to put these guys last because they just have no reliable defenders. (4-12)

AFC SOUTH:

1. Indianapolis – Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, and Marvin Harrison. They don’t call ‘em the Triplets for nothing and they’re still the best QB-RB-WR trio since Aikman-Irvin-Emmitt. I don’t see them dominating on defense, but when you’re putting up 60 points a game on offense, who really needs defense? (12-4)

2. Jacksonville – TSB fans would surely love Byron Leftwich’s mobility, although his accuracy might leave something to be desired. A very solid Fred Taylor in the backfield and Jimmy Smith and Reggie Williams on the flanks completes a very nice offense. I foresee a lot of flea-flickers, and a lot of QB draws. (10-6)

3. Tennessee – Steve McNair can still throw the ball off the screen, but his options are just too limited. Promising running back Chris Brown could help relieve some of the pressure, but with no standout WRs and a gaping hole filling Jevon Kearse’s left end spot, the Titans could disappoint some country fans. (9-7)

4. Houston – David Carr is coming along, but Domanick Davis isn’t ready to be a star yet. Andre Johnson will haul in some of those sick leaping catches, but the defense and the supporting cast aren’t ready for prime time… Yet. (6-10).

Coming tomorrow….. NFC!

E-mail Mike at michael.casey@newsday.com

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

What a sham!

I'm all for point shaving, gambling on the sport you manage and searching for that competitive edge, but the hosing administered to Serena Williams in the U.S. Open quarterfinals last night was more than any corrupted person can handle.

For reasons unbeknownst to Serena, the viewing public and the line judge who ruled the ball in by a mile because, well, and this is the funny part, it was in by a mile and a half, chair umpire Mariana Alves silently overruled the call and awarded Jennifer Capriati the point. That gave Capriati, who I can't stand despite her being Italian, from New York and a party girl with a VH1 "Behind the Music" documentary just waiting to happen, the advantage in game 1 of the third set.

Serena protested to no avail. The hosing was already in place and sometimes you just can't fight The Man, even when The Man is a woman.

This umpire lady, Mariana Alves, sat on her high horse, in this case, her high chair and robbed Serena of a point she rightfully earned, not unlike the thousands of dollars that could be in electronic-transfer route to an obscure bank account in some remote part of a remote country that can be discovered only in the next installment of The Bourne Identity.

Granted, Serena played somewhat lousy, ok quite lousy, at times (57 unforced errors), but to have the match decided by some lady who's trained to have an acute sense of vision and not a potential bias toward a player is wrong.

Besides, Serena is only the second Williams sister to get shafted in a Grand Slam . . . this year. An umpire gave Venus' opponent a point off a deuce that Venus obviously won at Wimbledon. The announcers were lived the entire rest of the match. That umpire was kicked out of the tournament. Oooooooh, what a sanction! How about you dock him his pay for the day and suspend him for a while? These people get paid to do one thing: sit there. They're like Teamsters, only without the backing.

Why can't tennis have instant replay? Or a second umpire on the other side of the court?

The idea that tennis is still a "gentleman's" game is more preposterous now than ever before. The "gentlemen" who helped create that concept never played for a $1-million first-place prize.

Football has replay, basketball does, too. And since tennis is broadcast in many countries and those viewers can see clear as day the screwing of a player because of bad calls (Serena had three other incorrect calls go against her in that match), the tennis management, whoever they are (presumably old, white men who are friends with Masters ruler Hootie Johnson) needs to wake up and do something about their
sport before it becomes a farce.

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Monday, September 06, 2004

Mark's Mailbag

Hey Mark, I'm pretty sure a guy from Japan won a qualifying heat while in lane 8.
Sorry can't remember the stroke. Regarding women's gymnastics, if you give a bunch of teenage girls some money you can be sure SOME of it will be spent on makeup. -- Richard, (parts unknown)


Response: I believe it was Jean-Paul Sartre that once said, "If you can't remember something, did it really happen?" Of course, he probably said it in French. As for makeup, I'm guessing the plane to Athens had a stopover in Newark.

I'm sorry but the only thing you said right in that Madden article is that they should bring back Boomer. He was the only one with the [cajones] to correct some of Al Michaels mistakes. He makes a lot of them and nobody says a thing to him. They probably forced boomer off the show because he was making Al look dumb. Al is the one who needs to go. His time is over. -- Anthony Sosa, New Jersey

Response: And, and, and, and that's the thing. If you're not going to agree with me, then you're going to disagree with me. The removal of Al Michaels would require a miracle, one that I simply can't believe.

I think Joe Namath should be on MNF. In fact, I think I am going to buy a Namath throwback jersey and ask random [women] if they would kiss me. -- Steve, New York

Response: Forget the jersey. Get a full-length mink coat and 1973 pink-tinted sunglasses and walk around saying, "This is big plaaaaay for the Jets." You'll be just as successful in your quest for smooching with chicks.

Dear Mark: I'm working for the summer in Italy, and dearly miss New York sports, New York life, and long for New York customer service ineptitude (Italy's is by
far among the world's worst). I read the NY papers every morning (90% of the time is devoted to the sports sections) to see if the Jets or Knicks might be closer to an elusive championship, only to be greeted with mockery and cynicism of a bunch of
armchair quarterbacks and courtside columnists. So I clicked on "empathizing with Isiah," and loved it - i looked at your other columns as well - fantastic stuff! I enjoyed your J-E-T-S morning. The "7:15 - 'oh hell no!' " was pulitzer-worthy. -- Neil, U.S. Embassy in Rome


Response: How do you say, "I'm a sucker for praise and accolades" in Italian?


The Jankees aren’t going to be around for Game 5. Pitching wins playoff games, and frankly, Legs could do a better job than 2/3 of the staff right now. Oh, by the way, tell those idiots to STOP writing about hockey. Nobody cares…

Steve, New York


Response: Your disdain for hockey makes me think you're an intelligent person. Just like Sonny says in "A Bronx Tale," "Nobody cares." Except for the Canadians who migrated to our fine country and those three drunk dudes in the back of Charley O's at Penn Station wearing tethered Ron Greschner jerseys after another Rangers loss. As for those Yankees, El Duque is the Game 1 starter, Game 2 set-up man, Game 3 long-man, Game 4 starter and Game 5 whatever they need.

First of all, Drago said that Rocky was like a piece of iron, not steel. Secondly, I cannot believe that that you did not mention the similarities between Richard Jefferson and the robot Paulie gets for his birthday, before paulie gives it an overhaul. Both are stiff robotic, slow, and basically useless at this point in time. HAPPY BIRTHDAY PAULIE (weird syntho-pop playing from the stereo). Finally, Okefor is Rocky's kid - too young, has no purpose except to get in the way, and when he asks Rocky (Iverson) why he takes so many shots, the response is "I shoot so you don't have to."

Tim, New York


Response: Pure genius. I should have not included this e-mail in this mailbag because the powers that be might want to hire you instead of me. The world may need ditch-diggers, but I have a herniated disc in my back, so I wouldn't be effective. Please keep reading this column, but I'm not sure if I can keep taking these jabs to the face.


That wraps up our first mailbag of the season. No animals were harmed in the writing of this mailbag. The next one will post when I receive enough intelligent e-mails in which to respond.

E-mail me

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Aye, Papi!

My knowledge of the Spanish language goes no further than countless viewings of "Scarface," and the Spanglish version lyrics of Gerardo's "Rico Suave" and Mellow Man Ace's "Mentirosa," but it is my understanding that El Duque translated into English means: "Big Daddy stud pitcher who can thrive in the tough spot for the New York Yankees and make Fidel Castro want to shave his beard for letting him sneak out of the country."

Orlando Hernandez is the best pitcher in the Yankees' rotation and has been since he returned from reconstructive elbow surgery. His 11 mph curveballs from seven different angles are still unhittable and the fastball is approaching 90 mph. If you watch a game closely, Jorge Posada has to take off his catcher's mitt just to go through signs for all of El Duque's pitches.

His dominance this year (6-0, 2.62 ERA, 62 Ks in 58.1 IP) should come as no surprise to intelligent people with long-term memories not shortened by excessive partying in college. Some laugh when they hear or say that El Duque is the only trustable Yankee pitcher right now. Why does such laughter occur? Because he could be 83 years old?

The only laughing that should occur is when watching hitters try to hit the 18 mph floating, loopty-loo, gravity-does-exist, over-the-top curveball. They swing like they are the Gashouse Gorillas trying to hit against Bugs Bunny.

Then there's the postseason, where El Duque shines brighter than his shaved head on a day game at the Stadium. Peep the numeros: 9-3, 2.51 ERA, 97 IP, 73 H, 95 K. Stud!

Joe Torre should set up his rotation now so that El Duque starts Game 1 of the ALDS. Then he can throw an inning of relief in Game 3 (so as to avoid another Tom Gordon meltdown) and come back to start Game 4 and be available for Game 5.

E-mail me

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Icy reflections

Thoughts while watching Tuesday night's USA-Canada World Cup of Hockey game:

-Worst thing about hockey on ESPN: Gary Thorne's mispronunciations; best thing about hockey on ESPN: "sideline" reporter Erin Andrews.

-Jeremy Roenick is officially the Jerry "the King" Lawler of broadcasting.

-There is way too much yelling in that broadcast booth. Thorne and Roenick almost make Bill Clement tolerable.

-Canadians love hockey more than Brazilians love soccer, more than Americans love baseball, and more than Indians love badminton.

-Barry Melrose is still a goof. His mullet is still outstanding. Somehow it wouldn't be hockey without him. Where is John Buccigross? Riding the Zamboni with Cam Neely?

-Martin St. Louis = Theo Fleury with grace and without the baggage.

-I've got a great way to speed up the game: Get rid of the ridiculous 20-minute intermissions! And there are TWO of them!

-I thought of another... Make the blueline wider. There would be fewer off-sides calls (is there a more frustrating rule in the game?) and it would make the offensive zone a little larger.

-Kind of dig the 1920s-era yellow Team Canada sweaters, although I'm not sure that putting "CANADA" as the name on the back of every jersey is great for marketing.

-First hockey fight in two months: Jeff Halpern from Potomac, MD pounds on Norris Trophy winner Scott Niedermayer. Mario Lemieux drops the gloves with Steve Konowalchuk. This is what makes hockey fun.

-Former Ranger Brian Leetch is sporting sort of a spikey goatee. Sorry Brian, you're still not tough.

-Tell me this game isn't better than Cleveland 15, Yankees 0 or Marlins 2, Mets 0. I dare you.

-Canada 2, USA 1. Time to watch Sharapova.

E-mail Mike at michael.casey@newsday.com