Friday, April 30, 2010

On The Ground: Talking to top CFL prospect Shomari Williams

The CFL draft is coming up [Jaime Stein,] this Sunday (noon Eastern, TSN). It's always an exciting time of the year, particularly from the perspective of watching CIS stars making the jump to the pros. To get you excited for it, here's an e-mail interview I just conducted with Shomari Williams, the Queen's defensive end who led the Gaels to the Vanier Cup this year and is ranked first overall by the CFL's scouting bureau. We talked about the CFL, CIS, the NCAA and his up-and-coming business helping recruits. My questions and his responses are below (slight edits for clarity).

Andrew Bucholtz: You've made a pretty meteoric rise up the CFL Scouting Bureau rankings, from #15 at the start of last season to #4 in December to #1 earlier this year. Do you pay any attention to the rankings, and if so, what did it feel like to take over the top spot?

Shomari Williams: It felt great being named the top prospect in Canada. I worked real hard all season and it was a great feeling to know that all my hard work paid off.

A.B.: With the draft coming up this weekend, there's a chance you could be selected first overall. Do you see the top spot as something special, the way it's usually viewed in the NFL, or does it not make as much of a difference in the CFL's smaller draft?

S.W.: I think this is a big deal. Even though the CFL is smaller than the NFL, only a select few people can ever say they were drafted and even fewer can say they were taken first overall. If I am picked first, it will be something special for me and my family to have my name in the record books as the number-one pick in the 2010 CFL draft.

A.B.: How do you feel about getting the chance to play in the CFL? Has it been something you've always been interested in, or a more recent goal?

S.W.: I feel truly blessed to have an opportunity to play in the CFL. When I first started college, I never had plans to play pro. My first goal was to get on the field and contribute to my team and go from there. As time went on in college, I started thinking about playing pro and coming back and going to Queen's really helped me in getting ready for a professional career.

A.B.: I understand you grew up in Brampton and then played in the NCAA at the University of Houston before coming to Queen's last year. Why did you choose that career path (high school to NCAA to CIS), and would you change anything if you had the chance to go back and do it again?

S.W.: Growing up, I just dreamed of playing in the NCAA. Watching it on TV made me fall in love with football in the States. Getting a scholarship and attending the University of Houston was a great experience for me. I graduated from Houston and I really wanted to play pro football, and I thought the best way to position myself for that was to come back and play for Queen's. I really don't like what-if scenarios, so I don't regret any of the choices I've made and I think all the experiences I've had has made me a better person.

A.B.: What did it mean to you to win the Vanier Cup in your only year of CIS football?

S.W.: Winning the Vanier made me feel like Carmelo Anthony! To come to a team for one year and have such a great season individually and team-wise, you couldn't ask for anything more. The 2010 Queen's Golden Gaels will go down in history as a championship team, and to be a part of that is something that I will never forget.

A.B.: How do NCAA and CIS football compare (calibre, coaching, atmosphere, practices, etc)? What did you like and dislike about each?

S.W.: Some things in the NCAA you can't compare to the CIS. It's just because the NCAA has so much money. The two things I think any football player is looking for when deciding on a program is the experience and the coaching. I had a wonderful experience and excellent coaching in my short time in the CIS and the playoff atmosphere was ridiculous too.

A.B.: Did you find it difficult to adapt to Canadian rules after your years in the NCAA? Which set of rules do you like better?

S.W.: To be honest, I barely noticed the rules. A few times, I lined up offside, but other than that, I really didn't notice the different rules.

A.B.: If you could change CIS however you wanted (at an organization-wide level, a football-wide level or just a Queen's level), what changes would you make?

S.W.: There are so many changes I think the CIS should implement to make the league better. To me, it has a great product, but we hear so little about it. I wish the CIS was run more like a business. To me, if the people involved had a greater stake in the success of the league, they would be more creative in how to expand and market the league.

A.B.: I understand you started Student Blitz (his recruiting business) in 2007. What gave you the idea, and how did you put it into practice? How many athletes have you worked with?

S.W.: Going through the recruiting process myself and seeing how much time and money it cost to send film to college coaches. I thought about ways to make the process more efficient for other players with time and money, so I created a database that allows you to send your film and athletic information to any NCAA coach. I've worked with about 15 athletes now and 70% of those athletes have received full scholarships, so I am happy with that.

A.B.: What are your future plans for the site?

S.W.: Right now, I am trying to get an investor and partner for the business so that he can run the day-to-day operations of the site. I am also excited about my new venture,, which should launch in May. This service will help high school athletes get recruited by CIS coaches.

Thanks to Shomari for taking the time to talk with me! Best of luck to him this Sunday. If you want to follow the draft, it will be televised on TSN starting at 12 p.m. Eastern/9 a.m. Pacific. I'll also be following the B.C. Lions' Den's crew's live blog; it should be an excellent source of draft coverage too. I'll hopefully have a post-draft summary up Sunday afternoon at both Sporting Madness and The CIS Blog.

[Cross-posted to The CIS Blog]

Football: The U2 draft

The NFL had their annual draft last week (you can find a good breakdown of the first-round picks over at SB Nation), which was interesting as usual. There were plenty of surprises, including the Raiders doing something logical (taking Rolando McClain, generally considered the best linebacker in the draft) with the eighth pick, the Jaguars going off the board with the 10th pick to take defensive end Tyson Alualu, the Broncos taking Demaryius Thomas (widely thought to not even be the best wide receiver in the draft) with the 22nd pick overall and then trading up to take Tim Tebow with the 25th pick, a quarterback many thought wouldn't go until the second or third round but a guy some Denver bloggers, including my Fanball comrade Bryan Douglass, are quite high on. All in all, it was a pretty entertaining few days.

In order to really enjoy the NFL draft, though, you have to keep extensive tabs on a lot of prospects. It's fun, but it either takes a fair bit of effort or you miss out on a lot of the significance. Thus, I present an alternative draft that you can enjoy without a lot of studying; picking a U2 song to represent each team. I got the idea from New York Times NFL writer Judy Battista, who started the idea up with a suggestion for the Raiders, "Bad" (coincidentally, my favourite U2 song of all time):

Thus, I went through the first round and picked a song for each team. I tweeted them all at the time (you can follow me on Twitter here if these sorts of random sports observations appeal to you), but figured I'd lay them out in draft pick order here, along with some relevant lyrics from each song. (Note; I did this before the draft, so this is in initial order and does not include any draft-day trades). Two teams, the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers, did not have first-round picks thanks to trades, but I included them anyway under where the spot where they would have picked without trades. Here's the list, along with a few alternate songs that would also work for certain teams. (All lyrics from elyrics).

1. St. Louis Rams (chose Sam Bradford):

Song: "All I Want Is You"

Rationale: This is a pretty good description of the importance of a number-one pick, and also the massive amounts of money you have to pay them, especially for a quarterback like Bradford.

Relevant Lyrics: "You say you want diamonds on a ring of gold
You say you want your story to remain untold/But all the promises we made/
From the cradle to the grave/When all I want is you"

2. Detroit Lions (picked Ndamukong Suh):

Song: "Running To Stand Still."

Rationale: For so long, the Lions have been struggling, but you never really got the sense that they were making any tangible progress. This was particularly evident during the draft, especially in the Matt Millen era where they took four wide recivers with top-10 picks from 2003 to 2007. That seems to have changed a bit now, and Suh should be a great addition for the Lions, but we'll see if they're truly able to turn it around or if they're still just running to stand still.

Relevant Lyrics: "Said I gotta do something/About where we're going/Step on a steam train/Step out of the driving rain, maybe/Run from the darkness in the night."

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (selected Gerald McCoy)

Song: "Where Did It All Go Wrong?"

Rationale: The title's appropriate, considering that new head coach Raheem Morris took the Bucs from a 9-7 team under Jon Gruden in 2008 to a 3-13 team in 2009 in what (in a study I did earlier this year) ranked as the worst first-season change under a new head coach from 2005-2009. Morris went from being an unknown secondary coach to following in Gruden's Super Bowl-winning footsteps, but things didn't work out as well as he hoped. There are plenty of parallels there to Bucs' owner Malcolm Glazer's ill-advised venture into owning Manchester United, which has worked out about as well. McCoy is a nice pickup, though,

Relevant Lyrics: "Did you get it?/Did you need it?/Did you really?/What you wanted?/Was it good in the sun?/Did you really have the fun?"

4. Washington Redskins (chose Trent Williams)

Song: "Crumbs From Your Table"

Rationale: The Redskins have been a historically great franchise, but they've struggled under Dan Snyder's ownership. That's not thanks to any willingness to spend; rather, they've always signed some of the biggest free agents. That focus on winning now at the expense of the future hasn't served them particularly well to date, though. They're doing plenty of speaking of signs and wonders, but their fans are still waiting on the crumbs from their table. Redskins fans will hope that Williams will be able to help turn that around.

(Oddly enough, thanks to the Jason Campbell trade, the Raiders will be literally relying on crumbs from the Redskins' table this year.)

Relevant Lyrics: "From the brightest star/Comes the blackest hole/You had so much to offer/Why did you offer your soul?"

5. Kansas City Chiefs (selected Eric Berry)

Song: "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"

Rationale: This is a pretty perfect description of the Chiefs so far. They've brought in a general manager in Scott Pioli who had great success under Bill Belichick in New England, and a coach in Todd Haley who was an excellent coordinator under Ken Whisenhunt, but those guys haven't been able to repeat that success in Kansas City so far. Now, they've added a couple of other ex-New England guys in Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis. Will that help, will it be enough, and will Berry help them go it alone?

Relevant Lyrics: "You're telling me and anyone/You're hard enough/You don't have to put up a fight/You don't have to always be right"

6. Seattle Seahawks (picked Russell Okung)

Song: "In God's Country"

Rationale: This one is more about me being a proud Pacific Northwest resident than anything about the team. However, taking a tackle like Okung may help to keep Matt Hasselbeck from a premature arrival of God's country. Also, the Seahawks are pinning a lot of their hopes on new head coach Pete Carroll; we'll see if those dreams survive.

Relevant Lyrics: "Set me alight/We'll punch a hole right through the night/Everyday the dreamers die/See what's on the other side"

7. Cleveland Browns (chose Joe Haden)

Song: "Daddy's Going To Pay For Your Crashed Car"

Rationale: There hasn't been a lot to cheer about for Cleveland football fans over the past few years, and there's been lots of criticism of head coach Eric Mangini. It does take time to turn around a team, but it's up for debate just how much Mangini has done towards that end so far. This offseason, though, Mangini hung on to his job despite many thinking he was doomed, even though the Browns brought in Mike Holmgren to run the show. Those who believe in Mangini's rebuilding process will see this as an endorsement of that; Mangini's critics will likely see it as someone coming in to clean up his mess. Either way, their first step in that process was the selection of Florida cornerback Joe Haden; we'll find out down the road if it was a good step or not.

Relevant Lyrics: "Daddy won't let you weep/Daddy won't let you ache/Daddy gives you as much as you can take"

8. Oakland Raiders (chose Rolando McClain

Song: "Mysterious Ways" (credit to @roto_tudor, Judy's suggestion of "Bad" also works).

Rationale: This really doesn't need much explanation. McClain seems like a pretty good pick, as he was largely considered the best LB in this draft, even if he was widely expected to go a bit later. Next to the rest of Al Davis' recent draft picks, though, this appears positively conventional.

Relevant Lyrics: "Johnny take a dive with your sister in the rain/Let her talk about the things you can't explain/To touch is to heal/To hurt is to steal/If you want to kiss the sky/Better learn how to kneel"

9. Buffalo Bills (chose C.J. Spiller)

Song: "So Cruel"

Rationale: Again, not much explanation needed here given the Bills' long list of heart-rending losses. Can Spiller help them start to change that?

Relevant Lyrics: "We're cut adrift/But still floating/I'm only hanging on/To watch you go down"

10. Jacksonville Jaguars (chose Tyson Alualu)

Song: "A Day Without Me"

Rationale: The Jaguars are probably the least-noticed franchise in the league. They may be in the largest city in Florida, but that's mostly because Jacksonville's city limits include much of the surrounding metropolitan area; the Tampa, Miami and Orlando areas all have more people. Moreover, their team has only been around since 1994, so they don't have much of a history to build off of, and they're dominated in their own state by Miami and Tampa Bay, two teams with large fanbases and long traditions. Few would notice an NFL without Jacksonville, making them a perennial candidate for relocation rumours. Moreover, their first-round pick of Alualu, a guy few had thought of as a first-round candidate, much less a top-10 pick, also fits this identity; would anyone have noticed him if he wasn't drafted in the first round?

Relevant lyrics: "If I were sleeping/What's at stake/A day without me"

11. San Francisco 49ers (from Chicago via Denver, chose Anthony Davis)

Song: "Miracle Drug"

Rationale: It's not hard to connect San Francisco and drugs, but this one actually goes a bit deeper. The 49ers are searching for the miracle drug to get them back to their glory days, and Davis might just be a key part of that. His physical talents are off the chart, but his effort has been questioned at times. Like any miracle drug, he comes with plenty of promise but plenty of concerns. Can Mike Singletary mould him into a dominant tackle?

Relevant Lyrics: "Of science and the human heart/There is no limit/There is no failure here sweetheart/Just when you quit..."

(Note: because Chicago didn't have a first-round pick, we'll cover them here)

Chicago Bears: (pick traded to San Francisco)

Song: "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (suggested by Garrett Bauman)

Rationale: The Bears have been rather cursed at the draft over the years, especially when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. Some of their recent first-round picks include Rex Grossman and Cade McNown. Thus, they tried to avoid another draft failure by trading Kyle Orton, two first-round picks and a third-round pick to Denver before the start of the season for All-Pro quarterback Jay Cutler and a fifth-round pick. Unfortunately, Cutler struggled in Chicago and tossed up 26 interceptions last year. He may yet return to form, but as of now, the Bears still haven't found what they're looking for.

Relevant Lyrics:

"I have run/I have crawled/I have scaled these city walls/These city walls/Only to be with you/But I still haven't found what I'm looking for"

12. San Diego Chargers (from Dolphins, chose Ryan Mathews)

Song: "Electrical Storm"

Rationale: This is the obvious choice for a franchise that features lightning bolts on their helmets, but it also works with the pick. San Diego's rushing game was 31st in the league last year, largely thanks to former NFL MVP LaDanian Tomlinson falling off a productivity cliff. They're trying to bring their running game back to its previous levels of success, and they're hoping that Mathews will be part of that process.

Relevant Lyrics:

"You're in my mind all of the time/I know that's not enough/If the sky can crack there must be some way back/For love and only love"

13. Philadelphia Eagles (from San Francisco via Denver, chose Brandon Graham)

Song: "I Threw A Brick Through A Window"

Rationale: This could apply as a cheap shot at the violence Philly fans have been known to cause in the past, but the song actually fits the Eagles' situation and their recent move to trade Donovan McNabb to the Redskins. McNabb had given them many great years of service, but was getting older, and they had replacement options with Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick. It was a difficult situation, and I'm sure they felt trapped the way the song's narrator does. With the trade, they certainly aren't going nowhere or walking into walls anymore; the question is if they're moving in the right direction.

Relevant Lyrics: "He was my brother/I said there was no other/Way out of here/Be my brother/Gotta get out"

14. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver, chose Earl Thomas)

Song: One Tree Hill

Rationale: It's not a perfect fit, as the song (one of my favourites) is about the tragic death of Greg Carroll, and there are no such tragedies around the Seahawks at the moment. They do have Pete Carroll (no relation that I know of) as their new coach, though, and the song's lines about "the cold, enduring chill" and rain are certainly a fit for the Pacific Northwest. Thomas, a strong safety out of Texas, also plays a quick and punishing style, which fits with some of the other lyrics, if not the overall theme.

Relevant Lyrics: "You run like river, on like a sea/You run like a river runs to the sea/And in the world a heart of darkness/A fire zone/Where poets speak their heart/Then bleed for it"

15. New York Giants (chose Jason Pierre-Paul)

Song: "New York"

Rationale: The song's a fit for obvious reasons, but also for some more subtle ones as well. Much of it's about overcoming some tough obstacles, and Pierre-Paul certainly fits that; he's spent time at three different colleges, faced severe injuries and made it out of a difficult neighbourhood. The Giants will be hoping he can stay afloat and help out their defensive line, which has faced its own issues in recent years.

Relevant Lyrics: "I hit an iceberg in my life/You know I'm still afloat/You lose your balance, lose your wife/In the queue for the lifeboat"

16. Tennesee Titans: (chose Derrick Morgan)

Song: "A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel"

Rationale: The famed Elvis song that inspired this one was recorded in Nashville, home of the Titans. Slipping to 16 also might have been a bit of a heartbreak for Morgan, a stellar defensive end in college at Georgia Tech. Still, he should get a chance to start thanks to the departure of Kyle Vanden Bosch. The Titans will be hoping he doesn't get distracted by the stars in his eyes as he moves from being a big fish in the small pond of Georgia Tech to a small fish in the big pond of the NFL.

Relevant Lyrics: "From where you're sitting, pretty one/I know it got to you/I see the stars in your eyes/You want the truth, but you need the lies"

17. San Francisco 49ers (from Carolina, chose Mike Iupati)

Song: "The Hands That Built America"

Rationale: This works from a couple perspectives. First, the 49ers' team name is itself an allusion to history and immigrants, the focuses of the song. Iupati himself grew up in American Samoa and had trouble meeting academic qualifications for college, largely thanks to struggles learning English. He dominated in college at guard for Idaho and may be able to play either tackle or guard in the pros. Along with Anthony Davis, he should be a crucial part of the rebuilding of the 49ers' offensive line.

Relevant Lyrics: "From the stony fields, to hanging steel from the sky/From digging in our pockets, for a reason not to say goodbye/These are the hands that built America"

(Note: because the Panthers traded away their first-round pick, we'll address them here).
Carolina Panthers

Song: "Zoo Station"

Rationale: This works for obvious reasons considering the Panthers' feline logo, but also makes sense considering some of their recent moves; they gave quarterback Jake Delhomme a massive extension after one of the worst performances in playoff history, then inexplicably kept starting him for awful performance after awful performance before finally cutting him this spring (in a move unexpected enough that he said he was "blindsided" by it). That seemed to pave the way for the ascension of Matt Moore, who performed promisingly in a backup role last season; however, the Panthers then confused the issue by drafting three different guys who played quarterback in college. They're apparently planning to turn Armanti Edwards into a receiver, but you can't say the same about Jimmy Clausen or Tony Pike. From too few quarterbacks to too many? It's all part of the Panthers' zoo station.

Relevant Lyrics: "The cool of the night/The warmth of the breeze/I'll be crawling 'round/On my hands and knees/Just down the line...Zoo Station/Gotta make it on time...Zoo Station"

18. Pittsburgh Steelers (chose Maurkice Pouncey)

Song: "Pride (In The Name of Love)"

Rationale: Most of the news around the Steelers this offseason has been in relation to Santonio Holmes (shipped out for a fifth-round pick after being suspended for a drug-policy violation) and Ben Roethlisberger (suspended for six games after rape allegations but still a Steeler, despite other troubling reports). The Holmes deal and the attempts to trade Roethlisberger seemed like attempts to protect the franchise's image, perhaps at the expense of on-field success. Pouncey looks like a good pick who should help the team return to prominence, and the decision to hang on to Roethlisberger is probably the right one, but if their wide receivers struggle this year, many will wonder if the Steelers' pride hurt their on-field performance.

Relevant Lyrics: "Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your pride/In the name of love!/What more in the name of love?"

19. Atlanta Falcons (chose Sean Witherspoon)

Song: "Gone"

Rationale: The Falcons' identity will long be bound up with former quarterback Michael Vick, who became the best running quarterback in the league during his stint with the team before heading to prison for his role in a dogfighting ring and then making a comeback with the Eagles. Atlanta's moved on with young quarterback Matt Ryan, and they look to be better off for it. Witherspoon, a stellar linebacker with Missouri, should help them improve on the defensive side of the ball. They'll be an interesting team to watch in the days to come.

Relevant Lyrics: "You wanted to get somewhere so badly/You had to lose yourself along the way/You change a name but that's okay... it's necessary/And what you leave behind you don't miss anyway"

20. Houston Texans (chose Kareem Jackson)

Song: "A Sort Of Homecoming"

Rationale: The song works for both the Texans and Jackson. The franchise has an odd sort of history, as they're in a town with long football roots but have only been around since 2002 as a replacement for the Houston Oilers (who headed to Tennessee in 1997 and eventually became the Titans). Similarly, Jackson's spent his life in the South, so this is sort of staying close to home for him, but not really; he was born and raised in Georgia and went to Alabama for college, where he played cornerback. The Texans have been reasonably successful in their short history, but they still have struggled to attract fans at times and make an impression on the wider area. It will still take time for the wounds of the Oilers' departure to heal, but success will be a crucial part of that, and the Texans will be hoping that Jackson can make an impact in their secondary.

Relevant Lyrics: "And you know it's time to go/Through the sleet and driving snow/Across the fields of mourning/Light in the distance/And you hunger for the time/Time to heal, desire, time/And your earth moves beneath/Your own dream landscape"

21. Cincinnati Bengals (chose Jermaine Gresham)

Song: "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight"

Rationale: Picking a tight end like Gresham in the first round is a reasonably unconventional move, but the Bengals are an unconventional team, one that's never shied away from collecting players other teams have written off (like Cedric Benson and Tank Johnson). This song might be the best fit for Bengals' WR Chad Ochocinco (formerly Johnson), though, possibly the best character in the NFL at the moment; he's certainly unconventional and crazy at times, but you wonder how much of his act is prompted by his audience's desire to see him act out.

Relevant Lyrics: "There's a part of me in the chaos that's quiet/And there's a part of you that wants me to riot/Everybody needs to cry or needs to spit/Every sweet tooth needs just a little hit"

22. Denver Broncos: (from New England, chose Demaryius Thomas)

Song: "Vertigo"

Rationale: Aside from the obvious connections to the Mile-High City, the song's lines about emotion over logic seem to be a good fit here. Thomas is an interesting prospect, but largely thought to be less talented than fellow WR Dez Bryant, although without the character concerns that have plagued Bryant. Josh McDaniels probably didn't want to deal with another talented wideout with potential issues so soon after he dumped Brandon Marshall, but that's an emotional decision; we'll see if that works out better for them than Bryant, who some would peg as a more logical choice.

Relevant Lyrics: "Lights go down it's dark/The jungle is your head/Can't rule your heart/A feeling so much/Stronger than a thought"

23. Green Bay Packers (chose Bryan Bulaga)

Song: "With Or Without You"

Rationale: "With Or Without You" has been the theme of the Packers ever since they cut ties with Brett Favre before the 2008 season, but it was especially apt last year when he led their rivals, the Minnesota Vikings, to an NFC North division championship and a spot in the NFC chamionship game. Meanwhile, the Packers fell in the first round of the playoffs despite a stellar performance from Favre's replacement at QB, Aaron Rodgers. The Packers probably made the right move considering the ages of the two quarterbacks and Favre's propensity to throw picks; in fact, I'd argue that Rodgers is currently a better quarterback than Favre, but just with a less-talented team. It still has to sting for their fans to see their legendary QB leading a hated rival to success, though. Last year, they couldn't have won with or without Favre, and a big reason for that was the dismal play of the offensive line. They'll be hoping that Bulaga, a star tackle from Iowa who many had projected as a top-10 pick, can help to turn that around.

Relevant Lyrics: "Sleight of hand and twist of fate/On a bed of nails she makes me wait/And I wait without you/With or without you"

24. Dallas Cowboys (picked Dez Bryant)

Song: "Playboy Mansion"

Rationale: The new Cowboys Stadium has many things in common with the Playboy Mansion, of course; both cost incredible amounts of money, both are destinations for many of the top tier and both have been called tributes to American excess. Mansions have also figured prominently in the history of the team, most notably the "White House". Furthermore, a former Cowboy's mansion had a significant impact on Bryant's life, as lying about his visit to Deion Sanders' house resulted in his suspension for most of last season.

Relevant Lyrics: "If Coke is a mystery, Michael Jackson history/If beauty is truth, and surgery the fountain of youth/What am I to do?/Have I got the gift to get me through/The gates of that mansion?"

25. Denver Broncos (from Baltimore, chose Tim Tebow)

Song: "Elevation"

Rationale: Beyond the obvious reference to the height of Denver, this is a fairly spiritual song, which makes it a natural fit for Tebow. We'll see if McDaniels can educate Tebow's mind and make the Broncos feel like they can fly; otherwise, this pick might leave them feeling like moles digging in holes.

Relevant Lyrics: "High, higher than the sun/You shoot me from a gun/I need you to elevate me here/At the corner of your lips/As the orbit of your hips/Eclipse, you elevate my soul."

(Note: because the Ravens lost their first-round pick in this trade, we'll cover them here)
Baltimore Ravens:

Song: "Wire"

Rationale: This one was pretty obvious thanks to the TV series, but it also fits the team. The Ravens are in an odd place at the moment as a team with a good shot at the playoffs, but one few would bet on winning it all. Do they build for the future or gamble on taking a shot with their current lineup? It will be interesting to watch.

Relevant Lyrics:

"In I come and out you go you get/Here we are again now, place your bets/Is this the time/The time to win or lose/Is this the time/The time to choose"

26. Arizona Cardinals (selected Dan Williams)

Song: "One Step Closer"

Rationale: This one describes the Cardinals pretty well. In 2008-09, they made it all the way to the Super Bowl, but they fell off last year and crashed out in the second round of the playoffs. They've seen the top of the mountain, but fell just short, and may struggle to make it back to the summit now that Kurt Warner's retired. Williams may help in that regard, as current nose tackle Bryan Robinson is 35, but for the moment, it looks like the future may be getting away from Arizona.

Relevant Lyrics: "I'm on an island at a busy intersection/I can't go forward, I can't turn back/Can't see the future/It's getting away from me/I just watch the tail lights glowing/One step closer to knowing."

27. New England Patriots: (from Dallas, chose Devin McCourty)

Song: "Bullet The Blue Sky"

Rationale: This song could be Bill Belichick's entrance music. He wrestles angels, and the angels are (usually) overcome. His system plants demon seeds and raises flowers of fire. However, the crop yields have been somewhat reduced of late thanks to his aging players, particularly on defence. Can McCourty, an excellent cornerback from Rutgers, help the Patriots regain their dominance?

Relevant Lyrics: "In the howling wind comes a stinging rain/See it driving nails/Into the souls on the tree of pain/From the firefly, a red-orange glow/See the face of fear/Running scared in the valley below/Bullet the blue sky"

28. Miami Dolphins (via San Diego, took Jared Odrick)

Song: "Miami"

Rationale: This is the obvious choice, but it fits with the "cool again" image of the Dolphins under Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano. Odrick, a defensive tackle from Penn State, might just be a crucial piece for them on the defensive line as they look to fight their way back into contention in the stacked AFC East.

Relevant Lyrics: "Love the movies... love to walk those movie sets/Get to shoot someone in the foot/Get to smoke some cigarettes/No big deal we know the score"

29. New York Jets (chose Kyle Wilson)

Song: "City Of Blinding Lights"

Rationale: Another pretty obvious one for a New York team, but it fits the Jets quite well. Under Rex Ryan, they've got a boyish exuberance and a new us-against-the-world attitude, and they're doing everything they can to win now, picking up veterans like Jason Taylor and LaDanian Tomlinson. They've made odd moves, too, though, including cutting All-Pro guard Alan Faneca. It will take some time to see which category the selection of Wilson, a star cornerback from Boise State, will fall into.

Relevant Lyrics: "Oh, you look so beautiful tonight/In the city of blinding lights/Time, time, time, time, time, time/Won't leave me as I am/But time won't take the boy out of this man."

30. Detroit Lions (from Minnesota, chose Jahvid Best)

Song: "40"

Rationale: The Lions have a long history, but not an especially proud one; not only haven't they won a Super Bowl, they're one of four teams that have never appeared in one (and the other three, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Houston, are all more recent additions to the league. The old Cleveland team won a Super Bowl after moving to Baltimore, but the Browns have never made it there in their original or expansion iterations). They're showing some promise under Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew, but their fans have to be wondering how long they'll be singing the same song.

Relevant Lyrics:

"I waited patiently for the Lord/He inclined and heard my cry/He brought me up out of the pit/Out of the miry clay/I will sing, sing a new song/I will sing, sing a new song/How long to sing this song/How long to sing this song"

Note: The Vikings didn't have a first-round pick, so we'll cover them here.

Minnesota Vikings:

Song: "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of"

Rationale: At the moment, the Vikings are still waiting on "The Orbiting and Ever Present Brett Favre PR Death Star/ Country Bear Jamboree" to find out who their starting quarterback will be next year. Unfortunately, they're probably wise to do so; despite Favre's flaws and generally annoying nature, they're a championship contender with him and a so-so team with any of the other quarterbacks on their roster. So, for now at least, they'll remain stuck in this moment.

Relevant Lyrics:

"You gotta stand up straight/Carry your own weight/These tears are going nowhere baby/You've got to get yourself together/You've got stuck in a moment/And now you can't get out of it."

31. Indianapolis Colts (selected Jerry Hughes)

Song: "Who's Going To Ride Your Wild Horses?"

Rationale: On the surface, this is a reference to their logo, but it makes sense for the Colts, too. They've continued to stick to their guts and their policies on such controversial issues as resting starters late in the year, despite widespread condemnation from media and league rule changes intended to prevent such an occurence. Hughes, a defensive end from Texas Christian, should be a nice addition to an already-strong Colts team, but if they have nothing to play for late in the season, don't expect them to change anything. No one's going to ride their wild horses.

Relevant Lyrics: "Who's gonna ride your wild horses/Who's gonna drown in your blue sea/Who's gonna ride your wild horses/Who's gonna fall at the foot of thee?"

32. New Orleans Saints (chose Patrick Robinson)

Song: "Gloria"

Rationale: This is a perfect fit for both the reigning NFL champions and a team with a religious name. After a long history of struggle, they finally made it to the top, claiming their first title. Now, they'll be trying to return to those heights. They'll be hoping that Robinson, a Florida State cornerback, can help them do so.

Relevant Lyrics:

"I try to sing this song/I...I try to get in/But I can't find the door/The door is open/You're standing there/You let me in/ te domine/Gloria...exultate."

Thoughts? Feedback? Alternative suggestions? Leave them in the comments below or get in touch with me via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Canadian Hosers 4, Outdated Monarchical Institutions 2

So, the Canucks finally knocked off the Los Angeles Kings for good. My thoughts on the game and the series are up over at Canuck Puck, along with some excellent topical videos, but if you don't want to read that, here's another video for you.

What can we take from this series? Sum it up, please, Dennis.

"Listen -- strange league executives lying about icy ponds and distributing video-review judgements is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical bureaucratic ceremony!"

Well, Dennis comes on a little strong, but he's right about one thing. For now, it's time to say goodbye to the Kings.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Whitecaps win in a walk

A 1-0 score frequently suggests a close match. That wasn't the case at Burnaby's Swangard Stadium tonight, as the Vancouver Whitecaps walked all over expansion AC St. Louis. They outshot St. Louis 11-1, had five shots on net to the visitors' nil and also dominated the possession battle, particularly in the first half. With the win, Vancouver improved to 2-0-1 on the season, while St. Louis fell to 0-3-0.

Head coach Teitur Thordarson was not overly impressed with his team's showing, though, despite coming away with three points and statistical dominance. His criticism was for good reasons. Particularly in the second half, the Whitecaps sank to St. Louis' level and spent more time just passing the ball around than creating anything offensively.

"I wasn't happy with the game today," Thordarson said after the match.

Thordarson liked the way the team came out of the tunnel, but he was less impressed with their play as the game went on.

"I thought we did well in the first half; we totally dominated the game," he said.
"In the second half, we just gave the initiative away. ... We lost the ball on every second or third possession."

In addition to lacking style points, the game also created further problems for the Whitecaps. Already dealing with several injuries, they picked up two more today. The worst came to central defender Mouloud Akloul, who started his Whitecaps' debut in fine fashion, notching the only goal of the game in the 19th minute off a Martin Nash corner. He injured himself in the process, though, and was stretchered off. He was undergoing X-rays after the match to check for the possibility of a broken leg.

Thordarson said Akloul's injury will be difficult to handle, as the team was counting on him to anchor their defence.

"It is a very tough thing if that's the case that he's broken his leg," Thordarson said. "It's very hard."

Greg Janicki came on in relief of Akloul without the benefit of a warm-up, but turned in a solid showing.

"It's always tough to go in under those conditions," he said. "You never expect to go in and play 65-plus minutes."

It was a good showing from the Whitecaps' defence overall. Janicki and Nelson Akwari stood firm in the middle, with Chris Williams impressing at right back and Zurab Tsiskaridze turning in another strong performance at left back. Keeper Jay Nolly wasn't really tested, but he did well to collect a few crosses here and there. The Whitecaps' defence has now recorded three consecutive clean sheets, but Janicki said that comes with a caveat; the teams they've faced so far haven't been the most offensive-minded.

"They haven't been pressuring us too much," he said.

If Akloul's injury is as severe as thought, Janicki may play an increased role for the Whitecaps in the days to come. He said he's comfortable doing whatever he's asked, though.

"I'm ready for whatever."

Another loss for the Whitecaps was winger Wes Knight, who had a solid 37 minutes of work on the right flank and created several chances, particularly off long throw-ins. He was taken off as a precaution after a collision, and his injury isn't expected to be serious, but he's still being evaluated. If he's out for any length of time, that could further thin an already-depleted Whitecaps' squad.

One bright spot was Marcus Haber, though, who continued to impress up front and had several chances to score. He's making the decision to bring him back on loan look very good, particularly thanks to the Whitecaps' injuries up front. Haber said he didn't think the team played all that well, but they were happy to pick up full points.

"It wasn't pretty," he said. "The most important thing was the result."

Haber said the team's playing better offensively than their record of three goals in three games would suggest.

"I think it's just sharpness in the final third," he said. "The goals will come."

Whitecaps fans will be hoping he's right on that score, as most opponents won't go down as easily as St. Louis did today.

Vancouver Whitecaps - AC St. Louis live blog

Today features another interesting soccer clash, with the Vancouver Whitecaps hosting AC St. Louis [Simon Fudge,] in USSF Division II action. The Whitecaps got off to a strong start to their league campaign on April 11 with a win over the NSC Minnesota Stars at home, but they were held to a scoreless draw on the road against Miami FC last weekend. They still lead the NASL conference with four points from two games, though.

St. Louis, in their first year of operation, have gotten off to a tougher start, losing all of their first three games. They'll be eager to turn that around, but Swangard Stadium is always a difficult place for road teams to get a result. They're also playing on short rest after getting thumped 3-0 by Portland Thursday, so this fixture doesn't auger well for them.

There are some concerns on the Whitecaps' end, though. Their depth up front, already questionable, took another hit midweek with Dever Orgill suffering a calf injury in training [Marc Weber, The Province]. Marcus Haber and Randy Edwini-Bonsu are expected to start, but beyond them, the chief option is Marlon James, nursing an injury of his own. New signing Mouloud Akloul is also expected to get his first Whitecaps' start [Weber] in central defence; we'll see how he does. It should be an interesting clash; I'll be live-blogging from the press box at Swangard and doing a post-game report afterwards. Free live video and audio is available through the Whitecaps' website, so it's easy to follow along. Come join the live blog at 4 p.m. Pacific/7 p.m. Eastern!

There Will Be Live Blogs: Manchester United - Tottenham Hotspur

The English Premier League title race has seen a couple of outstanding games lately, including Chelsea's victory over Manchester United and United's last-second escape against City in the Manchester derby. The title is still very much up for grabs, though, with United trailing Chelsea by two points heading into this weekend. Their game against Tottenham could go a long way towards deciding the race, particularly if they lose, so it looks like the clash of the weekend. I'll be live-blogging it both here and at Epic Footy, starting at 4:45 a.m. Pacific today (7:45 a.m. Eastern). You might want to watch this one, even if there might not be any kraken released.

One of the interesting elements heading into this one is that Tottenham have done more than anyone else to aid United's title quest so far; they knocked off Chelsea last week and beat Arsenal before that. They won't be in a mood to help the Red Devils out this weekend, as they need every point they can muster if they're to claim a Champions League spot, and they'll even have Chelsea and Arsenal fans rooting for them, but they may still have a difficult time: they haven't won in their last 66 games at any of the Big Four (United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool for Premier League newbies) and they've never won a league game at Old Trafford. Will that trend continue? Drop by the live blog starting at 4:45 a.m. and find out!

*Note: I'll also be attending the Vancouver Whitecaps game later in the day against AC St. Louis and live-blogging that from the press box starting at 4:00 p.m. Pacific, so feel free to come back for that one if you like!

Friday, April 23, 2010

CIS: Looking at the Canada West schedule and the chances the Gaels head west

There's an interesting piece from Ian Hamilton in the Regina Leader-Post today. Hamilton talks to Regina Rams head coach Frank McCrystal and comes away with a couple of valuable notes. First, he addresses the new Canada West schedule. In the wake of SFU's departure, the conference is down to six teams, which could provide an opportunity to balance the schedule for everyone. That's something McCrystal would like to see.

"We put all this time and money and effort into the football program, so let's play more games," he told Hamilton. "We should be playing 10 games. We should be playing everybody twice."

This might be worth looking at. Currently, the conference plays eight regular-season games, and that hasn't changed thanks to SFU's departure. At the moment, the Rams get Saskatchewan, Calgary and Manitoba twice each, face UBC on the road and host Alberta. I'm not sure if that's "easily the toughest schedule in the CIS" as McCrystal calls it, but it is reasonably difficult; Saskatchewan and Calgary should both be strong, and a road game against UBC isn't easy thanks to the travel involved. Meanwhile, for example, UBC only plays Calgary once and Manitoba faces Saskatchewan once.

That's not saying the schedule is especially unfair; from this viewpoint, it looks like the schedulemakers did a pretty good job given the constraints of each team playing eight games in a six-team league. It's just that a eight-game schedule with five opponents is obviously going to give some teams an easier path. In a league where it looks like the competition for the third and fourth playoff spots might be particularly tough, that could make a difference.

The question is if a solution can be found, though. Eliminating the conference bye weekend (Oct 8-10) and scheduling a game there would provide one of the two extra games, but that would also kill the Shrum Bowl, which would be unfortunate. Even if the conference went that way, however, they'd still have to find a spot for an extra game. The playoffs are scheduled to start on November 6, and that can't be bumped any later without altering the entire CIS playoff schedule.

At the other end, the Canada West season is set to start September 3, which is alreay one of the earliest starts nationally. Last year, Canada West did play one regular-season game on August 29 (UBC-SFU) before starting up fully on September 4, so adding the last game on the last weekend in August might not be completely out of the question. Keep in mind that few students are around then, though, which would hurt attendance and game atmosphere. That weekend also traditionally sees out-of-conference exhibition games, which I would argue can help teams across CIS sports by exposing them to high levels of competition and different styles of play. If Canada West wanted to play 10 games but still keep those exhibitions going, they'd have to be bumped up to the second-to-last week in August, and that might be a difficult sell for university officials (more required of student-athletes, summer practices would probably have to start even earlier) and out-of-conference coaches (an exhibition game two weeks before your season starts might not be as helpful as the current practice of having one the week before, and it might also force you to start your own practices earlier).

On that note, the piece also mentions that "the Rams have been in touch with the Queen's Golden Gaels about a possible pre-season game." This would be interesting to see, as Queen's hasn't played a Canada West team in preseason competition in a while (they faced McGill in 2008 and U of T in 2009). However, the reigning Vanier Cup champions might be looking for a little more in an opponent than a Regina team that went 3-5 in the regular season last year and got knocked out in the first round of the Canada West playoffs. We'll see what happens there. On the schedule front, though, it would be nice to see balance, but it doesn't seem likely to happen without a radical consensus from Canada West coaches and administrators and possibly national changes as well.

[Cross-posted to The CIS Blog]

Thursday, April 22, 2010

CIS: Shrum Bowl back on

One of the side effects of SFU's decision to jump to NCAA Division II and UBC's subsequent decision to remain in CIS for the time being was the potential loss of CIS football's most storied games, the annual Shrum Bowl between the two teams. The Shrum Bowl has been contested 32 times over the years and always gets a fair bit of attention; everyone in the Lower Mainland knows about the UBC-SFU rivalry, and the annual football game has been one of its best expressions. Fortunately, as Howard Tsumura of The Province reports, that's going to continue for at least this year.

Oddly enough, SFU's switch to the NCAA both threatened and preserved this year's game. The two teams will no longer meet in Canada West competition, but the Clan's departure left Canada West with only six football teams and forced a conference-wide bye on the Oct. 8-10 weekend. During that bye, the game will be played under the Friday night lights at UBC's Thunderbird Stadium on Oct. 8.

The other interesting element of this is the changes in the rules. They go back to the days when UBC was in CIS and SFU was in the NAIA. The two schools would alternate hosting the game, and it would be played by Canadian rules at UBC and by American rules when SFU was hosting, giving it a unique atmosphere and feel. When SFU joined CIS, the Shrum Bowl was still important, but it was also just a league game (and one of the two the teams would play each year). Now, it's set to go back to a once-a-year event with alternating hosts and rules, and it will become much more unique again.

Of course, the scheduling issues might make this just a one-off. We don't know if Canada West will add more football teams or alter the schedule after this year, and the Division II Great Northern Athletic Conference might do the same thing. Either of those changes could kill the game for good. UBC might wind up jumping to the NCAA as well, which could let the game continue but turn it back into a regular league game. For now, though, the Shrum Bowl is alive and well, and back to the clash of countries it used to be. Let's hope it's able to continue in some form; it's a unique showcase for CIS football.

[Cross-posted to The CIS Blog]

Saturday, April 17, 2010

City. United. A derby to remember?

This weekend sees yet another interesting early match in the English Premier League, with Manchester United taking on local rivals Manchester City. It could be a great derby; United are four points back of Chelsea in the chase for the EPL title with only a few games to play, so they absolutely need full points here if they want to put pressure on the leaders. Chelsea will have their own tough match later in the day against Tottenham, but the importance of that one will be diminished if United can't get it done against City.

Tensions are perhaps even higher than normal for a Manchester derby, especially considering the role that Carlos Tevez's defection to City may wind up playing in the demise of United's title ambitions. If United can't pull off a title comeback, the decision to let Tevez go will likely be debated all summer long regardless of Sir Alex Ferguson's comments, so a crucial win here over him and his current club would go a long way towards stifling that discussion. Wayne Rooney also could return, but that isn't inspiring a lot of hope in some United fans. It should be a fantastic clash. I'll be live-blogging it here and at Epic Footy. Kickoff is set for 12:45 p.m. local time, which is 7:45 a.m. on the East Coast and 4.45 a.m. (gulp) out here on the West Coast. If you're up, come stop by!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Survey: Posnanski, Simmons and Reilly, Oh My!

There's been some interesting discussion lately about the prominence of ESPN's Bill Simmons from the likes of Paul Oberjuerge and Jason Fry. I've got some of my own thoughts on the topic, a few of which I talked about in my last post on Simmons, but I think there's room for a bit of a more detailed discussion on the successes and failures of different writers in attracting certain audiences. I prefer working with data to making wild guesses, though, and that's where I could use your help.

When I think of broad-ranging sportswriters with substantial mainstream profiles, three in particular come to mind: Simmons, his ESPN counterpart Rick Reilly (formerly of Sports Illustrated) and SI's Joe Posnanski. I'm sure there are others out there, but these guys struck me as useful for a survey because they have similar profiles and exposure, but approach writing in very different ways. I've got a quick survey below on your impressions of these writers, and the plan's to use the results in constructing a post, so the more responses I get, the better. If you're able to fill it out quickly, I'd really appreciate it.

First, a few quick notes before you begin. One of the most important parts of this poll for my purposes is the first question about if you identify yourself primarily as a sports journalist, a sports blogger, a sports fan or something else entirely. There are obviously many people who fit into multiple categories, including myself, and bloggers can definitely be journalists, but what I'm going for here is to try and separate the reactions of established traditional media people, up-and-coming new media types and people who read about sports but don't tend to write about them. We're not judging groups here or trying to definitively slot people in; just pick what category seems most appropriate to you. Also, for the text-response questions, don't worry about making them long or eloquent; I'm just trying to get an idea of what people like and don't like about these writers. Thanks for your time!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Soccer: Vancouver Whitecaps - NSC Minnesota Stars live blog

Welcome to today’s coverage of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ season opener against the NSC Minnesota Stars. Game video can be seen at the Whitecaps’ home page. Join the live blog below!

Soccer: The Whitecaps and the story of Marcus Haber

The Vancouver Whitecaps begin their new season today at Swangard Stadium, and I'll be live-blogging the game from the press box for this site, The 24th Minute and Epic Footy. They'll be taking on the NSC Minnesota Stars[Simon Fudge,]. Game time is at 7 p.m. Eastern/4 p.m. Pacific, and live video can be found via the Whitecaps' home page.

It should be an interesting clash; Vancouver finished with a mediocre 11-10-9 record last season, but got hot in the playoffs and went all the way to the USL championship before losing to Montreal. The Minnesota Stars are a new team, but they have nine players from the former Minnesota Thunder, who were 7-13-10 last year and missed the playoffs. They'll be eager to get off to a hot start.

I've already written a season preview focused on the Whitecaps' league and personnel changes for Dave Clark over at Sounder At Heart, and I wrote one focused on their potential Voyageurs' Cup ambitions over at Fighting For Canadian Supremacy, but I think there's still some ground to be covered. In my mind, perhaps the best way to do that is focusing in on perhaps the Whitecaps' most high-profile player, Marcus Haber, who recently returned to Vancouver [Marc Weber, The Province] on loan from England's West Bromwich Albion.

Haber is not expected to be available for today's game, but he should be a force for the Whitecaps in his two-month stay. He scored eight league goals for them last year and added four more in other competitions, and he also excelled at setting up other strikers like Charles Gbeke. With the departure of Haber and Gbeke, the biggest questions around this year's Whitecaps squad centred on where the goals will come from. Haber's return will reduce those questions, at least for a couple of months.

At the same time, though, he represents the odd dichotomy at the heart of this year's Whitecaps squad. On the one hand, they're all about building for the future. They'll be joining MLS next season, and getting off to a strong start there is far more important than anything they can accomplish in USSF Division II this year. To that end, they have built an excellent academy system and have focused on developing young players; some, like Haber, have turned out very well. The nature of soccer is that those who shine brightest don't often stick around in the dimmer leagues, though, and that's what happened with Haber's exit after the season. The Whitecaps still received a substantial transfer fee for him, so it was worth it for them to develop his skills, but it's unlikely that he'll help them on the pitch beyond this current loan spell.

On the other hand, though, this season and the Voyageurs' Cup do still matter to the Whitecaps. They've had a very successful run in the second tier of North American soccer, and they don't want to go out with a whimper. They'll give their youngsters some playing time to help them develop, but they'll also throw in guys like Haber (and other older veterans, such as Martin Nash and Takashi Hirano) who will help the team win now. Moreover, putting too much pressure on untested prospects could hurt their development, and giving them too much exposure could result in their eventual exodus. Those are all tough lines to walk, and the Whitecaps will be balancing on them all season long.

We'll likely see the Haber story play out again down the road, not just with Vancouver but also with the youth development arms of the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC. Development is a crucial thing, but not all the players you develop will wind up as part of your long-term plans. They can still be very helpful, though, both in terms of the transfer fees they bring in and in the way they build the reputation of their first club. In the short term, however, their most important contribution may be what they do on the pitch. Haber can certainly aid the Whitecaps this season, and I'm sure many fans will be excited to see him back in the blue and white. His return may not last for long and may not be a crucial part of the future, but he should help with the present, and that can be appreciated for what it is.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

On Eric Smith, mainstream media and bloggers

To me, one of the most interesting things about sports today is the shift in how they're covered. That's not just about the expansion of blogs, as newspapers, radio and television have changed dramatically too, but blogs have played a substantial role in changing the landscape. They've given exposure to people, issues and concepts that were largely ignored before that and might never have made it big otherwise. That isn't necessarily entirely good and not all of these changes have been positive (for example, I'm not sure we're better off for seeing naked pictures of athletes or hearing about their drinking habits), but I'd argue that some of them have been; I love a lot of the statistical analysis that's largely expanded thanks to blogs, and I love that there are different perspectives on sports being presented. Blogs really have revolutionized sports coverage, and other mediums are picking up on that; most TV and radio stations and newspapers have their own writers blogging now, and that adds even more to the conversation.

With all revolutions comes pushback, though, and that's something I've covered a lot here over the years. From Jay Mariotti to Geoff Baker to the cast of Prime Time Sports, there are plenty of traditional media people who have issues with bloggers. Their own positions often have issues of their own, but they reinforce that there is still a divide between bloggers and some mainstream journalists.

A divide in and of itself doesn't have to be a bad thing. Life would be pretty boring if we were all the same, and the sports universe would be far less extensive and interesting if all bloggers and all mainstream journalists acted exactly the same. In reality, blogger/journalist is not a binary toggle, but rather a continuum. There are traditional reporters who don't blog or offer opinions, reporters who run a newspaper blog as well, reporters with their own blogs, columnists/radio analysts/television analysts who offer opinions similar to those expressed in blog posts, bloggers who stick to objective reporting and analysis, bloggers who are fans of a certain team but try to still provide critical analysis, bloggers who see the entire world through their team's glasses and others who don't fit into any of the above categories. To clarify my own bias, my day job is as a reporter and my free time is spent blogging, so I've got a foot in both worlds. Naturally, I think this diversity of roles is a good thing.

The problem is that the divide often turns into armed camps. Traditional journalists go off on rants about blogs such as the ones I discussed in the above links and bloggers offer plenty of incisive criticism of the mainstream media. Criticism isn't a bad thing, but many people on both sides seem unwilling to consider criticism of any sort, instead banding together against the "enemy". Moreover, many of the legitimate points both sides have to offer are lost thanks to inflammatory comments, sweeping generalizations and a lack of context. This is unfortunate in my mind, because both sides have a fair bit to offer each other.

That at least partially happened with this piece by Eric Smith of The Fan 590 on his blog. Smith is a knowledgeable NBA guy and a writer I generally like. He makes some interesting arguments in this piece as well, but they're buried beneath some of the rhetoric he chooses to use (and it's that rhetoric that's attracted most of the discussion about it on Twitter, rather than the actual points he's trying to make). There are significant problems with this post, and I'll get to them, but first, I want to go against the grain of the mainstream versus blogs argument by highlighting where I agree with him.

One really interesting point Smith makes is about the value of access, which is something I've talked about before in my coverage of Blogs With Balls II. I think there can be a fair bit of value to access. Of course, it depends on what you're trying to do with your blog; if you're focused entirely on stats or humour, then access probably won't be that beneficial, and that's okay. Not everyone needs access, either, and some of the best insight comes from those who have no access at all.

I think Smith slips up by constructing a tiered system where those who have access have better insight into a team than those who don't. There are plenty of people with access who don't use it constructively, and there are plenty of people who do a fantastic job without access. It can be a tremendously valuable tool, though, especially for analysis-based posts; instead of speculating about why a coach called a particular play or made a certain substitution, you can ask them for their reasoning and then applaud or criticize from there. He's right that access and sources are absolutely vital to breaking news too, which is still quite important.

Obviously, many major-league organizations are still very hesitant to credential bloggers, which I think is a big mistake. If anything, I'd argue that access helps to provide more positive coverage of teams; bloggers with access can get coaches' or players' reasoning for their decisions, thus including the team's perspective as well as their own. Some people undoubtedly would abuse access, which is why a screening process of some sort is still necessary, but I think teams should consider loosening their requirements. They'll be helping themselves in the long run.

Some of the value access provides can be obtained even without access, though, confusing as that may sound. What I mean is that it can be useful to put yourself inside the head of a coach or player and imagine what they'd say to a certain question about why they did what they did, or look through different game reports to see if anyone with access asked the question you wanted an answer to. There's still plenty of room to criticize with this approach, but it's worthwhile to at least try and consider why someone acted the way they did, even if you don't agree with their actions.

The problem is that Smith, rather than building up the importance of access and the value it can provide, chooses to focus on tearing down those who don't have it. His logic seems to be that access is good, everyone who doesn't have it is bad and everyone is trying to work their way up to it. That leads to the assumption that those who don't have access are thus the minor-leaguers, and that's a problematic position. He’s right that there are irresponsible bloggers out there, but that’s not because they don’t have access, and it’s not because they’re fans; it’s because of the decisions they make. Those decisions and their writing shouldn’t reflect poorly on all bloggers, just like irresponsible radio reports on another station shouldn’t reflect poorly on Smith and a poor piece in The National Enquirer shouldn’t impugn the credibility of The New York Times. This blame-the-medium approach isn’t often applied to newspapers, radio shows or television networks; praise is handed out to the good ones and criticism to the bad. Why can’t we adopt the same policy for blogs, praising and linking to the ones we like and calling out the ones we have issues with specifically instead of bashing the entire blogosphere?

Further on the subject of access, I don't think there are many bloggers who "need" access to be good, and I don't think giving someone access will magically make them better; it's a valuable tool, but it's not necessarily the best one for all approaches and it's not one that everyone wants or needs to use. I also find it curious that he singles out The Score's Sports Federation (which, as you know, this site is part of) for criticism; the blogs in this network are by-and-large excellent, and there are many sites that would be easier to take down.

I don't think those of us who write for blogs affiliated with The Score are diminishing the network's brand at all; rather, I think we're enhancing it by offering different perspectives you might not find from traditional media writers. The network seems to think there's some value in associating themselves with bloggers, and I'm glad they do. They're not the only ones, either; the National Post did an excellent two-page Blue Jays preview on the weekend featuring the opinions of several of my fellow Sports Federation members (including Andrew Stoeten of Drunk Jays Fans, Navin Vaswani of Sports and the City, and Callum Hughson and Matthias Koster of Mop Up Duty). Clearly, they too think there's some value in the work of us "Average Joes".

The overall point isn't to tar-and-feather Smith, though, and especially not to blast the mainstream media in general. The coverage they provide is still incredibly important and is a great building block for much of what bloggers do. Furthermore, their constructive criticism can be valuable as well. One issue in particular where this has happened is on anonymity, a topic I’ve addressed before; it used to be that most sports blogs were published under anonymous pen names, which isn’t necessarily a horrible thing, but does sometimes tend to hurt the credibility of the writer. If you want people to take you seriously, it can be often useful to put your real name on your work, and it shows that you stand behind it. This is an issue various mainstream media guys have raised over the years, and the blogosphere has listened; more and more bloggers are publishing under their own names now, and that’s probably good for the credibility of the blogosphere as a whole. That’s not saying that everyone has to do this or even that it would be a good move for every site; I do think it’s a positive trend on the whole, though, and I think the mainstream media deserves some credit for its spread.

Similarly, bloggers have influenced the mainstream media positively, with many of them even accepting jobs at traditional outlets. One example I love is The Sporting Blog, where The Sporting News decided to hire well-known bloggers like Dan Levy, Michael Tunison and my former The Rookies colleague Andy Hutchins. They continually produce interesting content, and the relationship helps both the traditional media outlet (it regularly brings blogosphere readers to The Sporting News) and the bloggers involved (who have a regular job and gain traditional media credibility from the association). Another example is Jason Brough and Mike Halford of Orland Kurtenblog working for The Province and Team 1040 (they’re on tonight at 7 p.m. Pacific, by the way). The blogosphere’s also had an impact in smaller ways, such as convincing many baseball writers to look at less-traditional stats such as OBP, OPS and UZR and convincing other sports writers to engage with their audience through comments, e-mail and Twitter.

I truly believe the relationship between the mainstream media and the blogosphere can be a mutually beneficial one in the future. Both sides have insights to offer each other, and both can provide different styles of analysis that sports fans can enjoy. Unfortunately, it looks like the two sides seem to be getting in each other’s way and wasting their time tearing each other down more than helping each other, and that’s only driving the sides further apart and creating increasingly polarized camps. In the future, I’d much rather see an ongoing debate with constructive criticism about how both sides can improve.

Friday, April 02, 2010

There Will Be Live Blogs: Man U - Chelsea

It's been a few weeks since I've live-blogged anything, and Saturday morning presents me with an excellent excuse. Manchester United will be taking on Chelsea at Old Trafford at 7 a.m. Eastern/4 a.m. Pacific. The match could be one of the most memorable of this English Premier League campaign.

United lead the EPL with 72 points from 32 games, but Chelsea are hot on their heels with 71 from 32. Moreover, United just suffered a crushing Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich in midweek and lost Wayne Rooney in the process, while Chelsea are coming off a 7-1 thumping of Aston Villa that may have increased the pressure on Martin O'Neill. They're also set to get Didier Drogba back. There's a chance Owen Hargreaves may return to the United bench, but that's about the only good news for United, who will have to rely on Dimitar Berbatov in Rooney's absence.

This clash could well decide the EPL title, so it will be live-blogged here and at Epic Footy despite occuring at 4 in the morning Saturday Pacific Time (putting a game of this scale so early is a scheduling fail on the EPL's part, but that's another topic). All early risers and insomniacs are welcome to stop by!

NBA: The curious case of George Hill

The San Antonio Spurs are kind of good. They've won four NBA titles in the last 15 years and been a consistent threat over that time, but the interesting thing is that their identity has changed dramatically over that period; they started with the twin towers of David Robinson and Tim Duncan, then evolved into the Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and now (thanks to Parker's injury) are perhaps in the throes of another transition. Parker's loss hasn't hurt them anywhere near as much as many would have expected, though, and one of the reasons why is the play of George Hill, who's the subject of my Stacheketball column this week. Hill's a fascinating guy, but not your traditional NBA star; he stands 6'2'' and weighs 180 pounds, and he went to the little-known Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis. Check out the piece for more background on him and a few thoughts on why he's a nice fit for the Spurs. Also, there's a video of The Semaphore Version Of Wuthering Heights that you really must see.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Previewing the Whitecaps

The start of the Vancouver Whitecaps' soccer season is almost upon us, as they kick things off on April 11 against the NSC Minnesota Stars. They're also preparing for the Voyageurs Cup, where they'll be facing domestic rivals Toronto and Montreal; their first match in that competition will be May 5 against Montreal. I'll have plenty of Whitecaps coverage here and at The 24th Minute all season, but I'm also covering the team for Fighting For Canadian Supremacy, a site started by Sam Gregory of The Canadian Stretford End that will look at the Voyageurs Cup through local perspectives from writers in each city. My team preview for that site, focusing on what that competition might mean to the Whitecaps this year, is up; check it out here!