Sunday, February 27, 2011

Despite the impending NFL Lockout, The Pittsburgh Steelers are business as usual
For Steeler fans, the 31-25 defeat in Superbowl XLV at the hands of the Green Bay Packers is still vivid in their minds. The final two-minutes of the game with the Steelers down six and a chance to pull off another incredible comeback, they came up short. This loss will stick with the fans long after the NFL draft and right up to the first regular season game in September, if there's no lockout. While us regular folks will put in the DVD's of the Steelers 2008-09 Superbowl run, the Steelers organization is hard at work. Like Santa's elves preparing for Christmas in July, the GM and coaches are evaluating player performances, watching game film, and preparing for the combine. The Steelers brass have licked their wounds, turned the page, and are preparing as if there will be football played in 2011.The NFL draft is more than just players names being called by the commissioner. It represents a beacon of hope for a struggling franchise, or the missing piece to a team on the verge of greatness. 
 In football, one player can revitalize and re-energize an organization. The most stable franchises in the league are the one's who notoriously draft well every year. These are the teams that find the hidden gems, dust them off and have them ready to make impact plays come fall. The Steelers are no different. They are not a team known for bringing in flashy and high-priced free agents, but rather they build and promote from within. The Steelers blue-collar, hard-hat mentality which represents the city itself is instilled in every player from the moment they arrive at camp. This grind-it-out mentality has translated well for the Steelers and is their identity on the field and off. What the Steelers were able to do in the draft last year with the 18th pick was remarkable. 
Center Maurkice Pouncey might have been a rookie, but he played all year like a seasoned veteran. Pouncey quickly became the anchor of the offensive line, the captain in the trenches. When he wasn't able to suit up for the Superbowl due to injury, his speed and athleticism were greatly missed. Pouncey, in one season with the Steelers has become a premier All-Pro center elected to the Pro Bowl. This is what separates the elite teams from the proletariat, the teams who are in the hunt every year from the teams who are the prey.
Last years draft wasn't the first time the Steelers found a star player. In 2005 they drafted wide receiver Santonio Holmes with the 25th pick. Holmes would go on to make one of the best touchdown catches in Superbowl history and be awarded MVP. For this upcoming draft, the Steelers have two positions that need an upgrade; right guard and corner back. By far their best corner, Ike Taylor is an unrestricted free agent and will be highly valued on the open market. The Steelers need to sign him and also try to draft another corner. The secondary was the weakest link of the team last season and constantly exploited by the Packers in the Superbowl.
The lockout may be looming over the NFL like a dark cloud, but that didn't stop the Steelers from making key moves. This week, they put the franchise tag on big play linebacker, 26-year-old Lamarr Woodley who had 50 tackles to go along with 10 sacks this past season. He recorded a sack in six consecutive postseason games and 11 sacks total in seven postseason contests.
This week at the NFL combine, the Steelers will begin to write the next chapter.

Monday, February 21, 2011

This past weekend's NBA all-star extravaganza in Los Angeles had a little bit of everything. In the celebrity game, Justin Beiber won MVP for the west squad finishing with eight points, four dimes, and one impressive NBA three-pointer. Just when everyone over fourteen was about to change the channel, Scottie Pippen rejected the Biebs, his feet still firmly planted on the hardwood. I was expecting the Biebster to go all space jam on us and lift vertically fifteen feet in the air stretching his arm like Mr.Fantastic to dunk the ball. Maybe Pippen is Bieber's kryptonite.

Saturday night was the much anticipated slam-dunk contest where the preemptive favorite Blake Griffin didn't disappoint. The donut man clinched the crown by dunking over a shiny silver Kia Optima, alley-opped from out of shape and overpaid teammate Baron Davis. The star-studded weekend reached its finale with the 60th annual all-star game.

For 99% of the players on the floor, this is a fun exhibition where they can mix And-One moves with lobs to themselves. This is the one time a year when the NBA's best play together and heated rivalries are be put on ice. The one player who competed like it was game seven of the Conference Finals was the Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant. He finished as the game's MVP with 37 points and 14 rebounds, tying Bob Pettit for the most all-star MVP's in NBA history with 4. For weeks now, Laker-land has been in panic mode about the recent string of bad losses.

Last night the Laker's struggles hit me like a mac truck. Kobe is in that 1% of the population who are different than everyone else. He's the type A personality, ambitious, aggressive, and highly competitive. He could be playing water basketball at a hotel in Jamaica and if there's a ball and a hoop, he will play the game like it's the NBA finals. The Kobe's, Jordan's and Tiger Woods of the world are all the same. They are just more intense and driven than the rest of us, workaholics to the nth degree, and singularly focused on the goal. This is what makes them the absolute best in their professions. Even Lebron James took the first half of the game off last night. His intensity only reached Bryant's level with a few minutes left, but it was too late. Kobe never lets his foot off the gas. From tip-off to the final buzzer, he pushes it to the limit.

They used to say that to motivate himself, Jordan would take a line from the paper and change it, twist it, and manipulate it into a negative comment for fuel. Kobe plays the same Jedi mind trick with himself every game. It almost seemed like when Charles Barkley would say he had lost a step, Kobe would jump two. He had three dunks last night that had us all flash back to the baby faced 22-year-old Bryant.

The Lakers recent road-trip has seen defeats to Orlando, Charlotte, and most recently the dreadful Cavaliers. They have been losing because most of the Laker players are the opposite of Kobe. Ron Artest and Lamar Odom are more concerned with reality shows and spraying Cologne on reporters than urgency for a regular season game. Kobe is an A-personality playing with B-personality types who are apathetic and disengaged. In Bryant's mind he doesn't understand how a professional athlete could take a night off. To him, every game and every play matters.

The laissez-faire attitude of these other important players doesn't jive with Kobe. We all can relate to how he feels in our own way. Who hasn't played in scrimmages with friends and gotten irritated with their constant trips to the water fountain or their need to answer mom's call about chicken or fish for dinner. The best piece of advice for the Zen Master Phil Jackson is this: Find the neuralizer Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones used in Men in Black and tell his team they lost the NBA finals to the Celtics. If the Lakers current state of mind doesn't change soon they will be the one's going fishing come June.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Albert Pujols is Iconic but not Bionic

For the past decade, number 5 has been the face of the St. Louis Cardinals. He's the hometown hero picked 402nd in the draft from Kansas city only to blaze through the Cardinals farm system like Seattle slew. Pujols will be 32 when his current contract is up and he wants ten years and 300 million for his new one. He might be the best player in the game, but he's not worth 300 million dollars. I know this because no player is worth that amount. His batting average of .312 for the 2010 season was the lowest of his career. He struck out 76 times, the highest in his career other than his rookie year. This tells me his bat speed is slowing down, slightly but it's happening. The science is simple. Your bat speed slows down with age, proven fact. Let me revise. Without pumping anabolic steroids into your veins, speed slows with age. The Pujols we will be watching five years from now is going to be a different player than the one before us today.

Some out there in the sports universe have argued that he deserves that monster contract because he could break the home run record someday. He's 31-years-old and has 408 home runs right now ten years in. Pujols will need 355 bombs to break Barry Bond's record of 762. Tainted or not, this is the number he needs. Whose to say he will get there?

The Cardinals can't afford to gamble and sign him with the hope he will get the all-time record. It's just not smart business. I'm no wall street guru, but I have watched the movie Wall Street to know there's a difference between market value and market price. Pujols market value which is his "true underlying value" is much less than his market price. His market price is high, but that doesn't accurately reflect the true market in baseball.

Okay, this is confusing. From now on, I will refrain all of my analogies to anecdotal tales, superhero references, and pop culture icons. Television icon, Steve Austin (Not Stone Cold), the six-million dollar man had a bionic left eye, bionic legs, and a bionic right arm. He had infrared vision, could run up to 66 miles per hour, and had the arm strength of a bulldozer. Albert Pujols thinks he's worth 294 million dollars more than that!

The bottom line is that the Cardinals don't make enough off of Albert being in a St. Louis uniform for the deal to be worth their while. Pujols doesn't bring extra seats to the ballpark. The stadium was filled before he got there and there will be warm butts in those red seats way after he's gone.  Paying Pujols 300 million will handicap the franchise for the next decade. There is also a handful of fans who believe he deserves 300 million because he was underpaid his first ten years. I didn't know 90 million was shorting somebody, but yes he was in relative terms not paid like the best player in the game. Unfortunately, in any industry the best aren't always the highest paid. If you are a top salesman at Cricket, you will make less money than a average salesman at Verizon. Verizon is the bigger company with more resources. This is just the way it works.

Pujols wants to be the highest paid player in the game. Alex Rodriguez currently is with his 10-year 275 million dollar deal. The difference is A-Rod plays for the highest revenue grossing team in baseball. The Yankees are the rich family in the middle class neighborhood, the mansion on a street of duplexes, operating differently than any other team able to pay their players what no other market can. The Cardinals want to sign Pujols and are willing to make him in the top 10 of highest paid players, but they don't have the resources to give him A-Rod money. St. Louis is a middle-market club and can't afford to give 30% of their annual payroll for the next decade to a 31-year-old first baseman. If somehow the Cardinals do make a deal in the realm of 300 million, what will happen to their two star pitchers? Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are ace pitchers always in contention for the Cy young award.

Pujols does have a world series championship, but his numbers in the series weren't spectacular. He had one home run and a .200 batting average. Edgar Renteria had 2 home runs this world series for the Giants with a batting average of .412.  We just experienced the year of the pitcher. Now that steroids have been taken out of baseball, speed and pitching wins games, not power. The San Fransisco Giants won the world series and were one of the worst hitting teams in the National League. They beat the home run hitting Rangers by dominate pitching. There is the possibility that the Cardinals could lose Albert Pujols. Teams like the Cubs, Yankees, and RedSox will show interest. Personally, I'd rather take 70% the player of Pujols whose five years younger for 50% of the price. That seems like the smarter investment. Pujols preparation and focus for the game is undeniable, but that won't stop him from getting older. There have always been great players in every sports arena, but none of them could beat the opponent that is father time.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Off the Grid(Iron): Eagles Desean Jackson makes his biggest play yet

This story hits close to home, literally. Nadin Kourny who goes to school in Upper Darby, Pa, a 20 minute car ride from where I spent my formative years had been bullied on a regular basis since moving from Minnesota with his mother and sister. It was YouTube that documented the tale. I have been a harsh critique of social media outlets like facebook and twitter for allowing people to remain on these sites after they virally harass another person. I had generalized social media as the downfall of our society. Only 24-years-old and I pined for the days of real social interaction, poking someone as a literal finger to flesh, rather than a click of the mouse. Nonsensical tweets and irrelevant facebook statuses had me on the brink of committing social network suicide. What could be the positives of a world dominated by adding friends instead of actually making them?

The story of 13 year old Nadin Khoury completely opened my eyes. Bullying happens in thousands of high schools in the U.S. everyday, most never reported, a blip on the proverbial radar screen. Nadin Khoury's story started out similar to most kids who are bullied in the eighth grade. Coming from Minnesota, to Philadelphia, Nadin quickly became a target simply for being new. I was lucky growing up to never have had to move to any other school district, let alone another state. I do know people who have. The kids who thought their roots were deeply planted in the soil, just to get them abruptly pulled out from under them. For a thirteen year old, this transition can't be an easy one.

Upon Nadin's arrival at his new school, the verbal abuse began. Classmates made fun of Nadin's Liberian born mother, calling her names and talking about her physical appearance. It's when Nadin told the boys to stop, that the beatings began. The seven bullies self-proclaimed as the "wolfpack" pushed and tossed him down a hill, along with tying him up to a tree. When Nadin rose up and fought one of them back, the beatings got more severe. Witnesses walking by the school never reported it and teachers never muttered a word. It was social media that brought the story to light. One of the seven bullies captured the Jan.11 beatings and posted it on YouTube changing everything. A decade ago, with no YouTube, the "wolfpack" would have continued their attacks, hidden in plain sight.

It wasn't long before the Philadelphia Inquirer caught wind of the video and wrote a piece about it. The piece then bounced to the "View" and eventually the Eagles had landed, the Philadelphia Eagles that is. Their biggest weapon, Desean Jackson found out about Nadin and flew from LA to NYC to do the View and meet his biggest fan. Desean didn't come alone. He brought reinforcements; 300 pound reinforcements in guard Todd Herremans and center Jamaal Jackson. The shot of Desean Jackson putting his arm around Nadin was priceless. As hard as it is to believe, I don't know if the "View" could get anymore emotional than that.

At that moment sports became real life's saving grace. Desean embraced Nadin as he would his own brother stating simply, "your not alone anymore, we got your back." What might seem like a simple statement will change Nadin's life forever. No longer will he have to walk alone, his support is real. Desean not only gave him Eagles tickets, 76ers tickets, jerseys, and T-shirts, but most importantly his cell phone number. Desean set an important example and message for other famous athletes. Like Uncle Ben said to Spiderman, "with great power, come great responsibility".

Jackson took it upon himself to use his celebrity for something great. He showed that the power and reach of an athlete can not be something wasted or simply disregarded. He sent a message that will reverberate through the NFL and all sports landscapes of how to use their famous names to help others. Jackson has started a non-profit program called Desean Jackson against bullying. This was a message from one of the NFL's most explosive players that an Eagle beats a wolf any day of the week.

Friday, February 11, 2011

To be a (Knick) or not to be?
The NBA stars have aligned, well almost. News of the final destination for Denver Nuggets superstar Carmelo Anthony has dominated the basketball cosmos for the past month. Anthony has shouted from the highest mountain top in the mile high city of his desire to become a New York Knick. When Anthony spent his one college year playing for the Orangemen of Syracuse, he feel in love playing at Madison Square Garden. The energetic, young and hip vibe appeals as much to Melo's game as it does his persona. Growing up in Brooklyn, Anthony is a Knick at heart and his wife LaLa wants to pursue an entertainment career in the Big Apple.
On the Cusp...
The Knicks have returned to relevance this year, first landing Amare Stoudemire, and then his emergence as the leader of the team. Amare has been playing at an MVP level but he needs more help. The Knicks are currently sitting sixth in the eastern conference, but only one game above .500 at (26-25). Carmelo will bring his fierce offensive game on the wing to compliment Stoudemires scoring in the paint. Even with Anthony, the Knicks aren't a championship level team but they are exciting basketball. The Miami and New York rivalry from the late 90's will be taken out of the NBA's freezer to be re-heated. Carmelo plus Stoudemire together will equal competitive basketball from the Knicks every night and their winning will be a victory for the entire league. If Carmelo lands in the city that never sleeps, the NBA will officially have it's biggest faces in all of the biggest cities.
                          Big Cities, Brighter Stars

Boston: The Celtics still have the veteran prowess of the big three and are vying for a championship this year.
Star Power: Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg: How good was the Departed, seriously?
Miami: The new big three who will dominate the east for the next six years.
Star Power: Power couple Enrique Iglesias and Anna Kournikova: Who doesn't listen to Enrique's new song, Tonight I'm $%#$% you?
Chicago: Derek Rose is playing at an MVP level and the addition of Carlos Boozer makes them legitimate contenders.
Star Power: President Obama and Marisa Miller: Aren't these two fans we can believe in?
Dallas: Dirk is healthy, Terry is clutch, and Marion gives them the toughness to play in the west.
Star Power: David Hasselhoff and eccentric owner Mark Cuban: Who else thinks the Hoff should join Randy, Steven, and J-LO on American Idol?
Oklahoma Thunder: Durant's ability to win the scoring title for the next decade mixed with his humbleness is the perfect fit for the fans of middle-America.
Star Power: The Home Crowd Fans: Does 20,000 fans in the stands equal one Kardashian?
Lakers: Kobe, Gasol, Ron-Ron, and Odom have enough gas in the tank to three-peat.
Star Power: Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, and Leonardo DiCaprio: Can someone please explain to me "Inception"?
New York Knicks: With Carmelo, the Knicks will be an offensive machine that can churn out 120 points a night.
Star Power: Chris Rock, Howard Stern, Kanye West, and of course the original Knick celebrity fan, Spike Lee: I wonder with Stern's length if he could help the Knicks play defense.
The NBA in 2012 could shine even brighter: This is the year when superstars Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Dwight Howard will all become free agents. The precedent has been set by Lebron James that it's no longer taboo to team up with rival stars to pursue an NBA title. There have been rumblings of Howard to the Lakers and Paul to the Knicks to make another big three in the east.

The Griffin Factor: The other team in L.A. has the NBA's hottest attraction. The Clippers Blake Griffin aka the human posterizor, aka the donut man (he's always dunking) has taken the league by storm. Not only can Griffin throw it down with authority and originality, but he can flat out ball. He's averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds a game and has his Clippers playing with intensity.
Star Power: Billy Crystal, well it's a start. Sports-writer Bill Simmons summed up the excitement Griffin brings to the court with a one word tweet as Blake threw it down against the Bulls last week. He tweeted, " Whooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

 The Green Bay Packers reign supreme in Superbowl XLV

Last night, the Pittsburgh Steelers fell short, 31-25 to the Green Bay Packers in Superbowl 45. The Steeler's had no answer for Superbowl MVP Aaron Rodgers and his passing attack as he went through the steel curtain defense like a propane torch.  Green Bay packed on the aerial assault, only running the ball thirteen times, the lowest in Superbowl history. The Packers game plan was to exploit the biggest weakness of the Steelers which is the Pittsburgh secondary. They did just that. The Packers offense spread out with four and five wide-receiver sets and picked the Steelers apart. Green Bay must have watched film from when the Steelers lost to the Patriots earlier in the season. The Packers knew that the Steelers were the best in the league all year at stopping the run so they avoided it as much as possible.

For the Steelers, the Superbowl played out the opposite of how the AFC championship game went against the Jets.This time it was the Packers who jumped out to an early 21-3 lead. The Steelers resolve and veteran leadership wasn't enough to overcome the 18-point hole they dug for themselves. The Packers were able to draw first blood as Rodgers floated a perfect pass over the outstretched hands of William Gay to Jordy Nelson for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The Packers used that score to set the tone and the Steelers were never able to grab a lead. When the Steelers made it 21-10 just before halftime on a Hines Ward touchdown, the game seemed back in reach. For the first time, the momentum swung the Steelers way. At that moment, the spectators in Cowboy stadium all seemed to bleed black and gold as they chanted "Here we go Steelers, here we go!". The terrible towels were ripped from back pockets and swung into the air waving with ferocity.

In the third quarter, when the Steelers were only down 21-17 and marching, Rashard Mendenhall had the ball stripped by defensive juggernaut Clay Matthews. This was one of the three costly turnovers for Pittsburgh and the Packers capitalized on each one of them for 21 points. Let's give credit to the Steelers for battling back from 21-3 to make it a game but history was against them. No team in Superbowl history had come back from that steep a deficit to win, and still hasn't. Yesterday, Green Bay was the hotter team with the hotter quarterback.

The Packers did what they did all year, battle through adversity and multiple injuries. In the biggest game, their best defensive and offensive players in Charles Woodsen and Donald Driver went down before the over-hyped and under-delivered halftime performance by the Black Eyed Please, I mean Peas. The injuries suffered to important pieces of the Packers was a microcosm of what they faced all season.

It's hard to overcome three turnovers and win against a good football team. Ben's numbers weren't terrible, but his missed throws were. He uncharacteristically overthrew receivers and missed routes all game that he usually hits. Rodgers on the other hand was brilliant. His receivers had six drops and two that would have went for touchdowns. Despite those miscues, Rodgers still finished with over 300 yards passing and three touchdowns. The defensive player of the year Troy Polamalu had no impact and was only seen in the frame twice, when Greg Jennings caught two touchdowns. The Steelers defensive had no answer for Jordy Nelson who racked up 9 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown.

With all of the mistakes the Steelers made, they still had a chance with two minutes left. All of Steeler nation took a collective breath and envisioned another come from behind victory as is accustomed with this team and this quarterback. The story didn't end that way.

As Mike Tomlin says there are no moral victories, and this loss will sting the city of Pittsburgh for a long time.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Superbowl XLV: Ben continues to play Big

Tomorrow night, if Ben Roethlisberger wins his third Superbowl, he will join elite company. He will have as many Superbowl rings as Troy Aikman and Tom Brady, two more than Peyton Manning, and three more than Dan Marino. Unbelievably, this is only Ben's seventh year in the league. He's 28 years old and at this rate could tie Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most rings by a quarterback in NFL history before celebrating his 30th birthday. All week leading up to this Superbowl, the talk has been about what Roethlisberger's legacy will be if he wins his third championship, if he belongs in the upper echelon of the great quarterbacks of all time. ESPN Radio show listeners have called in all across the country this week claiming he is overrated, wins because of a great defense and steady running game. The naysayers believe he's nothing more than a caretaker of the offense.

My generation has grown up with fantasy football statistics, rankings, and ratings; of EPSN polls and Madden video games. The fantasy player prizes the 400-yard regular season performances more than the gritty come from behind playoff win. Ben doesn't get any respect because he plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 70's quarterback for the Steelers, Terry Bradshaw witnessed the same scrutiny. Bradshaw, even with four Superbowl rings tied with Montana for the most ever is never put in the conversation as one of the best to play the position. When you play for the Steelers, there's a mystic that the team wins with ferocious defense and a great running attack. That might have been true during the steel curtain days of the 1970's, but the Steelers passing game has played a pivotal role in their latest Superbowl victory.

Just as the sky high steel mills have been replaced with research facilities and corporations, the Steelers offense in the 21st century has evolved. The longer Roethlisberger has been with the Steelers, the more the offense has shifted from the ground and pound mentality to a dynamic aerial attack. The Steelers offense is now at its best when Big Ben scrambles out of the pocket, dodges defenders, and makes a big play to Hines Ward, Heath Miller, or Mike Wallace down the field. The change came slowly and gradually, but it happened.  Each season, since Roethlisberger has been at the helm, his throwing attempts have gone from 300 his rookie season to over 500 last year. The more trust the coaching staff has had in him, the more the offense had become a passing one.

Don't get me wrong. Running is still a big part of the Steelers identity, but its not what makes them win. They will pound the rock to keep the defense honest, but when the offense needs a big game changing play, they call upon number seven. Roethlisberger has thrown for over 3,000 yards four times and last year for over 4,000. He also gets less respect for the way he looks when he plays the game. The school yard dump pass, the double pump-fake, and the unorthodox delivery doesn't have the flash of Brady or the precision of Manning. Ben looks more like an offensive lineman than a quarterback. But, what defines a great leader is how you react in crisis and Roethlisberger is the best when he needs to deliver.

When there is 1:30 left on the clock, no timeouts, and his offensive in pinned back at the 10 yard-line needing a touchdown, no one is better. Ben shows up for the big games and the big moments. He's 10-2 in the playoffs, while the great Peyton Manning is 9-10. Ben plays better when the weather is worse, on the road, and later in the year which tells me that when he runs into adversity, he faces it and beats it down. I'm the type of person who respects the guy that can ad-lib, wing it, and get the job done. I have more respect for the news reporter who is told to riff off the cuff for three minutes about a story more than the anchor who is reading straight off the teleprompter. Ben plays better in crisis, when the chips are stacked against him. As a fantasy football crazed society, we put too much emphasize on numbers, touchdown passes, and quarterback rating (although Ben's career QB rating is higher than Troy Aikman, John Elway, and Dan Marino who are all in the hall of fame).

Troy Aikman comparison: Even though the rules today help quarterbacks more than they did twenty years ago, I could argue that the great Troy Aikman was only a manager of the Cowboys. Troy Aikman was a no-brainier, first ballot hall of famer. In Aikman's eleven years with the Cowboys, he threw for over 19 touchdowns only once. Four times, he had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and had six seasons where he completed less than 60% of his passes. Aikman had arguably the best duo of weapons in NFL history in Michael Irvin and Emmit Smith.  Aikman had hall of fame offensive talent around him but didn't put up great passing numbers or throw for a million touchdowns. But, Aikman was great and a shoe in for the hall of fame no questions asked. In the realm of fantasy football the Matt Schaub's and Kyle Orton's of the world get regarded higher than a big Ben because they throw for 400 yards a game and are better fantasy players. But is Schaub and Orton even in the same stratosphere as Ben Roethlisberger? Getting too caught up in stats can skew someones greatness, but this weekend Roethlisberger gets another chance to prove that after only seven years, he is already a hall of famer.

The Comeback King

Roethlisberger set a NFL rookie record in 2004 with five comeback wins in the fourth quarter, and six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter/overtime (including one playoff game). Roethlisberger has the most comeback wins (19) and game-winning drives (25) through the first seven seasons of a player's career. 
Plain and simple this guy is tough, wins when it counts, and plays best when things are at there worst. In a big game, I will put my money on Mr. Clutch, Ben Roethlisberger to hoist the Lombardi trophy over his 6'5 260 pound shoulders. 

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Gil Meche shocks the world!

    During Superbowl week its easy for other sports stories to be overshadowed. I couldn't ignore this one. Gil Meche, 32-year-old pitcher for the Kansas City Royals has retired. He has walked away from a guaranteed $12.4 million dollars that was due to him for the last year of his contract. To put that into perspective, that's enough to buy 2.5 million five-dollar foot longs from subway or 885,714 Hanalei rolls, my favorite sushi dish. It's amazing in today's sports world to see a pro-athlete leave money on the table, especially money that the organization wasn't asking for back.

    Earlier this week, I flipped on ESPN and watched contract negotiations get tense between St.Louis Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols and his club. Anyone who has ever covered or dealt with Pujols always says he is a different kind of cat. People around him state how he is a spiritual man who doesn't put money as his priority. Well, we had Pujols give an ultimatum to his Cardinals this week. He either wants a 10-year/275 million-dollar-deal or wants to be a free agent. It was only a few months ago that contract discussions with Derek Jeter and the Yankees got heated and public. The guy who we all thought was the ultimate teammate, turned out to be all about the Benjamin's. There's a big difference between the Yankees and the Cardinals however. The Yankees can afford to overpay for a  36 year old short-stop. The Yankees are baseball's largest market and sports biggest brand. The Cardinals are a mid-market team with limited resources and revenue. The Yankees can spend frivolously on one player and still be competitive.

     If the Cardinals give into Pujols demands, the overall team will suffer. (This is why the Texas Rangers are going to be thankful they didn't lock up Cliff Lee). For the first five years of the deal, Pujols will be worth it. But, think about the back five. Pujols will be 36 years old entering the 2015 season. The past three seasons, we have already seen a slight decline in his production. I emphasize the word slight because he has been the best player in the game for a decade. But, his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in 2010 were all the lowest of his career.

    Gil Meche is just a different breed. Meche grew up in the town of Lafayette, Louisiana and money was something that his family didn't empathize as the most important thing in life. Meche got drafted in 1996 and debuted with the Seattle Mariners on July 6, 1999, finishing the season with a 8-4 record. It's not like Meche got drafted, signed a mega-deal, and never produced. He had five winning seasons for the Mariners and the Royals, consistently bad offensive teams.

    After missing the 2001 and 2002 season with a frayed rotator cuff, Meche came back to win the 2003 AL comeback player of the year award finishing the season with fifteen wins. In 2006, Meche and the Royals agreed on a 5-year contract worth $55 million, which matched Mike Sweeney's contract as the largest in club history. In 2007, Meche's arm held up and he rewarded his club for their faith in him. He was selected to his first all-star game and posted career highs in ERA (3.67) and innings pitched (216). The following season Meche continued to be the rock of the Royals pitching staff going 14-11 with a 3.98 ERA. The story of 2009 and 2010 was that of more injuries as he spent most of his time on the disabled list. We see this a lot in sports. The player has the will, the drive, and the work ethic but his body says enough. Their bodies fail them for no explicable reason but if for cruddy bad luck. Gil Meche was one of those players. He rehabbed and did all the right things, but his body let him down time and time again.

    Anyone who thinks that this is a common tale, that athletes selflessly only take money they earned from their organizations would be sorely mistaken. Injury plagued pitchers like Mark Pryor and Kerry Wood got monumental contracts, never lived up to them, and never looked back. They believed all of the money was deserved, simply because they were major league pitchers. Meche actually wanted to only be paid for the services he provided, paid for what he believed he was worth.

    On retiring Meche said," "When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it. Once I realized I wasn't earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn't feel like I deserved it. I didn't want to have those feelings again."

    In an interview with's Buster Olney, Meche added, "I didn't want to go try it again for another season and be the guy making $12 million doing absolutely nothing to help their team. Yeah, a lot of people might think I'm crazy for not trying to play and making this amount of money. I don't think I'm ever going to regret it."

    Meche will be remembered in the baseball realm as a unselfish hero, a representation of the word team, and an example of how professional athletes should leave the game; with grace and dignity.