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Mailbag, post-Toledo and pre-Illinois

September 27, 2009

Week two of the mailbag, lighter on OSU critcism as we transition from the 18-1 loss to USC and prep for the Big Ten with a 38-0 victory over Toledo. After watching OSU hammer the Rock-ettes, all I can say is, “How does Dan Hawkins keep his job.” Sheesh, how bad must Colorado be to allow To-Le-Do score 54 points? Bad enough to join the Big Ten, maybe? Whew.

All right, send your emails to Bruce@971thefan.com and we’ll answer the best of them here on the Buckeye Ford Blog.

Q. from Brian: If Ohio State is having trouble punching it in in the redzone, instead of trying to pound it in running the ball, why dont we bring in Joe Bauserman at QB  split out 6’5″ Jake Stoneburner, and 6’6″ Jake Ballard, and put 6’6″ Terrelle Pryor and 6’2″ Duron Carter in the slot.  Have the Jakes run fades to the pylons, have Carter come across underneath, and have Pryor run the back line of the endzone.  You’d have ridiculous size advantages outside,,, either hit the Jakes with a jumpball,  or throw the ball between the goalposts a foot over the cross bar where only Terrelle can go up and get it… if thats not open you have an athletic Carter working underdneath.  Is there any secondary in the country that could match up with that height advantage?????  Id try that 3 times vs trying to go goal line power sets and watching our RBs run into a wall over and over.

A: Anything’s worth a shot, I suppose, but the larger issue is pounding the ball for a tough yard when needed. Are you going to run that on fourth-and-one at midfield? I doubt it. Sooner or later, you have to be able to get a yard when the defense knows you’re running it.

Q from Rob: I think we, as fans, need to afford Pryor the status of first-year-quarterback and give him time to progress.  Last year, by design, he was nothing more than a compliment running back to Chris Wells.

A: Well, he’s not a first-year quarterback. He has 15 starts entering Big Ten play. He should be better than the two horrible interceptions he threw against Toledo.

Q from Ed: I’m optimistic about the rest of the season because of what I see out of our defense. They are talented and relentless, and appear very determined. Our offense still has some growing to do, but I’ve seen the same pattern in previous Tressel teams…they get better as the year goes along. No, we are not a great team at this point; but I see us being a very good team by the end of the season.

A: Ohio State teams have always improved under Coach Tressel as the season progresses. There’s no disputing that. The defense appears capable of stopping most teams, but it has to make a stop at crunch time when it counts. Going back to Illinois’ last visit to the Horseshoe in 2007, that hasn’t happened. The Illini killed the last seven minutes that day and since then, Penn State and Texas in 2008 and USC this year have all driven for the winning points when a late stop would have brought an OSU victory.

Q from Angela: Year after year, fans have to hear Mark May and all the pundits slam OSU for all those games of the past, and we never hear much about USC losing at least one game a season to an unranked team they should have handled easily. Nor do you hear about Oklahoma on the national stage. People love to hate OSU — whether because of the fans, the team’s overall success in its conference, or Tressel. But just once I would like to hear Mark May bask USC or Oklahoma for their issues.

A: Mark May is, in my opinion, an equal-opportunity basher. That’s his role. He’s playing a part. The show he’s on is as much entertainment as it is informative. When Trev Alberts left, Mark May inherited the job of stirring the pot. He does it well. Believe me, Oklahoma is not getting a pass nationally for its big-game failures. OSU fans just aren’t as sensitive to OU criticism as they are Buckeye bashing. The OU jabs go in one ear nad out the other. The OSU cracks rattle around in your head for weeks.

We also had a spirited discussion Thursday about the most painful loss in Ohio State football history. Why? Because Illinois is the opponent this week, and the Illini knocked off the No. 1 Buckeyes, 28-21. That memory apparently conjured hundreds of others, judging by the response on 97.1 The Fan.

From Brian: I was at the game in 1995 in Michigan Stadium, and let me tell you it was not fun. I remember the crowd chanting “Biaka-batuka, Biaka-batuka, Biaka-batuka” as he ran all over us. I also remember a true freshman named “Woodson” covering Terry Glenn like a blanket. Bad loss!

From Teresa: There are several MSU losses that still give me heartburn, but by far the worst was 1998. When you look at who we had on that team (David Boston, Michael Wiley, Dee Miller, Ryan Pickett, Katzenmoyer, Na’il Diggs, Antoine Winfield, etc.)…they were coached by that jerk Nick Saban (who stole our signals)…it was Cooper’s best chance to get to a national championship. It still stings.

From Jason: I find the loss to Florida in the NCAA basketball championship game the most painful  We had already been devastated by the Gators in the football championship the same year and thought we may get our revenge on the court, only to be disappointed again.

From Grant: For me it was the ’04 Iowa game.  33-7, on the heels of two big ten losses to NW and Wiscy, and then Iowa chicken-kicked us sooo bad that the 33-7 wasn’t even reflective of how bad it was. My wife and I were babysitting my nephew at his house and all we wanted to do was go home and we couldn’t even do that. Dang, I still feel sick to my stomach thinking about it.

From Jonathan: The 1999 game between Illinois and Ohio State in Ohio Stadium where Illinois won 46-20. Rocky Harvey ran for maybe 20 TD’s and 1,000 yards that game. My entire group had left and I sat in the South Stands alone for the entire fourth quarter and watched that debacle. Anyone who made it through that entire game (or the 1999 season) can make it through anything.

From Craig: The weekend of the OSU and MSU game in 98 was my high school jr year homecoming.  I grew up in Southern California so the game was pretty early there so I was able to watch the first half before going to a team meal and then to our game. I had my best game of the year with 3 sacks and our team won big. After the game we had our dance which I was really looking forward to with the girl I was taking. As soon as I got home to get ready for the dance my mom sat me down and told me the outcome of OSU’s game and I was so crushed I barely made it out the door and only lasted about half an hour at the dance. I will always remember that feeling and nothing else I have experienced as a sports fan compares.

From Adam: It’s 1996 vs Michigan, the fact that Shawn Springs slipped and gave up his only td should not have even mattered…. OSU had a high scoring offense that got inside the 5 yard line three times and could only score FG’s. That’s why OSU only had 9 points. OSU should have had a 21-0 lead or 17-0 lead and should have won 21-13 or 17-13 instead of losing 13-9. That’s exactly what happened this year vs USC when we got inside the 10 2x and got 2 FG’s instead of atleast one TD! Also Cooper, panicked and started Joe Germaine instead of Stanley Jackson. OSU was 11-0  when Jackson started and Germaine came off the bench (including the Rose Bowl win ) . When Cooper announced Germaine was starting early in the week, I knew OSU was in trouble.

From Ron: Wisconsin  1982 6-0, cold wet and third loss in a row, first time since the ‘Shoe opened in 1922!

From Ben: The first two Buckeye games I ever went to were the 1996 Michigan game, and the 1998 Michigan State game.  I thought I was a jinx!  I didn’t go to another game for five years.  I have been to a half dozen or so games since, and they’ve won every one, so hopefully the curse has been broken.

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Mailbag, post USC loss and pre-Toledo game

September 19, 2009

With Ohio State football at the quarter pole, and given the fallout from the 18-15 loss to USC, we’re going to make the Buckeye Ford Beat a collective effort and allow you to get the answers you want regarding Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes.
Send me an email at Bruce@971thefan.com and, while I won’t guarantee it will be included here, I’ll try to get to as many as I can.
Here’s a sample of what flooded the email inbox this week:

Q: from Jim — Do you think #2 is thinking he should have gone to The “U” instead of signing up for 4 years of Tressel ball???? How many OSU QB’s are starting in the NFL right now, let alone on an NFL roster?? It was just good to see that a Sophomore QB can actually make plays when he is working with a real Off. Cord. and not a stubborn head coach trying to stick around peg in a square hole.
A: Zero OSU QBs are starting now in the NFL. That’s never been a strength at OSU, developing NFL quarterbacks. As for an offensive coordinator, don’t hold your breath. Jim Bollman has the title, but JT calls the plays and will continue to do so. He said this week, he doesn’t want to be a coach with his feet up on the desk, reading the paper. He wants to be involved. Of course, he could be involved with a new guy who has been somewhere other than Youngstown State or Ohio State, someone who might be able to say in a meeting, “Coach, when we played Oklahoma (or Florida State, or Miami, or any other big-time team), this is how we did it.” There’s no one on the staff who can do that now. They all owe their careers to JT.

Q from Jack — I, like most people, think Jim Tressel is a terrific person and certainly an outstanding head coach. But I do not think he has found “true north” on his offensive compass. What I mean is that he is enigmatic. For example, he has both Pryor and Boeckman in the Texas game last year and uses the athletic talent of Pryor to score a TD as a receiver — yet Coach T restrained use of Pryor’s athletic ability in the USC game by not using his option skills and apparently having Pryor mentally clamped into not running the ball when the field was wide open for him with the result that Pryor had to throw a pass that he instictively (you could tell) did not want to throw because he either saw or peripherally sensed the opening was there for thim to take off. The great coach that Tressel is surely must know that if Pryor has to think too much or be shackled by the called play, he will become robotic and ineffective (even when he does run he seems “controlled”). So, Coach T is a mystery to me
A: The slot receiver appeared open a lot against USC. The key word is, appeared. USC often rolled its coverage to that guy once the ball was snapped. Maybe they were baiting Pryor, or maybe he missed opportunities for easy 5-yard-or-more gains. Clearly, TP doesn’t read the field as well as he perhaps will when he’s more experienced. JT said this week that at this point in their careers, Troy Smith, Vince Young and others weren’t starting or shouldering the responsibility TP does. What he didn’t say was that TP has a full year as a starter under his belt. He should be better at a lot of things he struggles to do.

Q from Chris: We’ve seen numerous coaches completely transform a team within 2 years. I think what is so frustrating, is that it’s obvious that what Tressel is doing isn’t working. Why is it taking so long for a relatively MINOR change?Whether that means with his coaching/teaching philosophy, offensive philosophy, new offensive coordinator, etc… whatever. Fans have given him plenty of time to make the minor change and we’re seeing what appears to be the SAME philosophy that continues to not work. We’d just like to see more obvious adjustments to show us that they are trying SOMETHING.
A: Getting Jim Tressel to give up control of the offense is far from a minor change. He, like all coaches, are control freaks. Last year, he said he couldn’t envision giving up play-calling responsibilities because “my ego wouldn’t let me.” JT doesn’t open up the window to his soul too often. That time, he did.
Q from Dan: It’s comical how well Tressel is at never answering any questions, but thanks for pointing out that he is beginning to become condescending in the face of due criticism. For starters I’m not even sure that I believe he does care about losing, but I certainly don’t care how upset he is about losing to 6 or 7 straight top 5 teams because I don’t feel upset, I feel embarrassed

A: My comment on The Big Show about JT sometimes being condescending referenced his point that “I don’t know what I have to gain by addressing (reporters) every week. Why does he have to gain from it? It’s his responsibility to talk to the press, because that’s how the fans get answers. He, of course, makes the call on what he answers. But it’s not appropriate for him to insult reporters for asking USC questions late in the week before the Toledo game. A good reporter asks questions fans want answers to. My guess, even with Toledo coming up, most fans wanted answers to numerous issues that arose against USC.

Q from Benjamin: I normally support Tressel and his conservative game management approach, I think it wins games. But folks, the fact is that he abandoned his core philosophy when it mattered most in this game, and no one seems to have noticed. Why is no one focusing on our last possession of the first half, it was inexcusable and inconsistent with Tressel’s whole coaching strategy, and that is the main reason people have a right to be upset with him. It’s OSU’s ball with 1:49 left, 10-7 lead, USC has no timeouts. Repeat, USC has ZERO TIMEOUTS. What do we do? I’ll tell you: Pass incomplete on 1st down . Seven yard run on 2nd down. Pass incomplete on 3rd down. Punt to USC on 4th down, leaving them 0:55 in the half. That’s right, we didn’t even run a minute off the clock! Everything else I can forgive, but USC’s field goal as time expired on the 1st half was totally preventable, and the resulting 3 points were the difference in the game. Run the ball on 3rd and 3 in your own territory against USC with a 10-7 lead (that you earned in on the first play of the quarter by kicking a field goal on 4th and goal from the 1) with 1:00 left in the half when USC has no timeouts. And we lose 18-15, imagine that. UNFORGIVABLE!!!!
A: No argument from me on that one. The series at the end of the half was a head-scratcher. Seriously, has Terrelle Pryor shown he can move the team down the field throwing the football in the hurry-up offense? It was a high-risk attempt to score, without a percentage reward for the risk. What hurt OSU was the failure of its defense to bottle up Stafon Johnson on a first-down run when USC was clearly trying to run out the clock. When he made it to midfield, Pete Carroll went all-in with his true freshman. You could look at it like OSU was fortune not to give up a touchdown on that series. The fade route to David Ausberry was there, if not for Ausberry starting his route too close to the sideline.
Q from Angela: If we had been down most of the game and had not dominated throughout 3.5 quarters (minus 2 minutes before the half), and we had finished 18-15, Tressel would have gotten a pass from fans. But because we dominated the entire game on defense and should have won the game by most views, Tressel takes the heat because the same thing happened in the last 2 minutes vs. Texas last season in the bowl game. When you have dominated and have the game won and you go safe rather than trying to seal the win, and your defense falls apart AGAIN in the last couple of minutes, then fans get frustrated. Tressel doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. When you have a 6’6” Qb and you didn’t get the 1 yard you need on 2nd down when you ran the tailback up the middle, then maybe you should use that QB to try and get the yard.
A: That’s an interesting observation. After winning close against Navy, most OSU fans expected USC to dominate. I think they would have accepted an 18-15 score before kickoff. But the way it transpired really ticked them off. As for running TP on short yardage, I am mystified why a guy that big and supposedly talented as a runner isn’t used on the goal line or when a tough yard is needed.Why not roll him out on a quarterback sweep and let him use his athleticism to go for the mark?Maybe because JT has no faith in his O line to keep a defender from shooting the gap and making a tackle for a loss. I understand if that’s his fear, don’t you?
Q from Kyle: One thing I have not heard a lot of is in order for Tressel ball to work you have to have a lock down defense. This years defense is not that type of defense. In order for them to win a big one is score 21 then play D. Just my thought.

A: Good thought. You’re not a lockdown defense unless you can lock down when it counts the most. The OSU defense has shown a troubling knack for allowing a big game-deciding drive against Illinois in ’07, Penn State and Texas in ’08 and now USC in ’09.

KEEP THOSE EMAILS COMING TO BRUCE@971THEFAN.COM AND WE’LL TRY TO ANSWER AS MANY AS POSSIBLE HERE AT THE BUCKEYE FORD BEAT.

The answer is still, No

July 27, 2009

The first time I met Pete Rose, it was the winter of 1985, before his first full season as player-manager of the Cincinnati Reds. The team’s annual winter caravan was in Dayton and I felt a tap on my shoulder just as dinner began. “Anyone sitting here,” a voice asked about the seat next to me. How could I say anything but, “No,” since the person asking was Charlie Hustle himself.
Throughout dinner, Rose talked about three things and three things only. Not his bullpen, his starting pitching or his everyday lineup. Instead, he talked at length about his newborn baby, how fast he could drive his sports car from Cincinnati to Dayton (12 minutes) and how he had lost thousands of dollars betting college football and basketball games that ended with Hail Mary touchdowns or half-court shots.
Before the end of that decade, Rose was accused of betting on baseball and his defense at the time was that he never bet on anything but thoroughbred and greyhound races in the State of Florida during spring training.
I knew he was lying then, and I suspected he was lying throughout the 15 years he maintained he never bet on baseball until coming clean in his book, My Prison Without Bars, in 2004. He confessed then to not only betting on baseball, but betting on Reds games in which he managed.
Now MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is weighing whether to lift Rose’s lifetime ban for betting on baseball, which would make Rose eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame. There’s no guarantee the Veterans Committee, composed of the 65 surviving Hall of Famers, would give him the 75% approval he needs to gain a spot in Cooperstown. Rose wouldn’t be subjected to a vote of the Baseball Writers Associaion of America, because he’s been out of the game too long for the BBWAA to consider his candidacy.
While I give Rose more leeway in his efforts to be reinstated because of the steroid era in baseball, I still can’t sanction the removal of his lifetime ban.
Every major league clubhouse posts Rule 21 in a prominant place. It reads: “Any player, umpire, club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”
That rule was posted the day Pete Rose walked into the majors. He knew the rule and the consequences and he ignored them. You may argue the propriety of the rule, realtive to some of the other transgressions of Hall of Famers or players who have never been permanently banned, but that’s not what this argument is about. It’s about whether Rose knew the rule and violated the rule, which he did, and so his consequences were predetermined.
I would not argue that Rose’s performance as a player makes him worthy of the Hall of Fame. The Hall, however, instituted a rule in 1991 that no player who has been banned from the game can be elected to Cooperstown. If there’s a rule you want to rescind, then rescind that one and enshrine Pete Rose along the game’s other greats.
But he can never be rightfully reinstated because he knew and repeatedly violated the one rule baseball elevates above all others.
Is that harsh, severe and unforgiving. Yes, it is. And when Pete Rose looks to blame someone for that, he’ll find the culprit staring back at him in the mirror.

It’s Shaqtastic!

June 25, 2009

We all knew the Cleveland Cavaliers needed an engine overhaul in the wake of their loss to the Orlando Magic in a six-game Eastern Conference final series.
So, they went out and added a Diesel.
By trading spare parts and the change hidden beneath owner Dan Gilbert’s couch cushions for Shaquille O’Neal, the Cavaliers significantly improved their chances of competing evenly with the Magic and everyone else in the NBA.
I like the trade, but don’t love it. I’d date it, but I wouldn’t marry it. At least, not yet.
Sure, O’Neal could turn out a forlorn figure, sulking on the sidelines, either hurt of ineffective, just another aging superstar playing out the final year of his Hall of Fame career in a goofy-colored uniform.
We’ve seen that with Joe Namath as a Ram, O.J. Simpson as a 49er, Michael Jordan as a Wizard, Willie Mays as a Met and on and on and on.
But while the the acquisition of Shaq and his $21-milion contract is a gamble, it’s a safer bet than buying a lotto ticket.
The odds are long at all that O’Neal will arrive in Cleveland motivated. A fifth championship ring one-ups Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant, and it would make the Daddy the unquestioned Kingmaker of the NBA, giving Kobe, Dwyane Wade and now LeBron James their first world titles.
Also, now that he’s in the East, O’Neal gets the chance to go head-to-head with Orlando’s Dwight Howard, who Shaq thinks is an imposter in a Superman cape. Remember, the original Superman…it was Shaq.
And, O’Neal’s dislike of Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy is well-documented, from him calling SVG, “a master of panic,” dating to their days together on the Miami Heat. Rest assured, The Big Fundamental won’t forget Van Grumpy calling him a flopper this year when Shaq tried to draw a charge from Howard.
Then there’s the one motivating factor that stokes the fire of every veteran professional athlete. This, my friend, is O’Neal’s contract year. He wants another two-year deal, either in Cleveland or from someone else. What better way to get that than to deliver numbers like he did last season — 17.8 ppg., 8.4 reb. and a career-best .609 field goal percentage in 75 games — or play even better?
The Cavs added O’Neal without touching their core, ridding themselves only of Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic, not of Delonte West or young prospects like J.J. Hickson or Darnell Jackson.
Jackson and Hickson could each play up to 20 minutes per-game next year to spell O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and keep them fresh for the playoffs.
It’s a certainty Cleveland isn’t done tweaking its roster, still needing a big wing who can stretch defenses with the jumper. That dude is going to get an amazing number of open looks next season with teams trying to double O’Neal in the post and LeBron on the perimeter at the same time.
The standard for whether this was a great move by the Cavaliers isn’t solely how the team fares in the upcoming season. If Cleveland doesn’t get to the NBA finals, many will see this deal as a failure.
But if adding O’Neal’s expiring contract to the books for 2010, plus the $11.5 million that will come off the books with Big Z’s deal running out at the same time, the Cavs will be perfectly positioned to go out and buy another Robin to LeBron’s Batman.
OK, so maybe now I’m ready to start looking for an engagement ring.

The lesson of Donte Stallworth

June 17, 2009

I don’t really know what I want from Donte Stallworth, but I want more than I feel I’m getting.
Maybe the Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver really is, like many people say, taking responsibility for his actions by paying off the family of the 59-year-old crane operator he hit and killed while driving drunk at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning in Miami.
If the wife, children and relatives of Mario Reyes are satisfied, why am I not satisfied with Stallworth getting 24 days in jail, two years of house arrest, 1,000 hours of community service and eight years probation?
I don’t know why I’m not satisfied, I just know the whole thing smells wrong.
Stallworth may, indeed, be truly remorseful. This may be a life-changing moment for him, and perhaps the money he’s paid to the Reyes family will lift them out of poverty and do for them what their father/husband was trying to do for them that morning — provide a financial means to survive.
There’s just a part of me that can’t get past the contrast between a many dying needlessly and an NFL player with the means to write a check and make it all go away, writing a check and making it all go away.
So Donte Stallworth now sits in a cell for the next 3 1/2 weeks, then he’ll be free to pursue his NFL career.
Florida law says anyone with a DUI manslaughter conviction must serve two years of the 15 years in prison Stallworth faced had he gone to trial and been found guilty.
But Stallworth’s guilty plea to vehicular manslaughter is not considered a conviction by Florida law, so he will serve only 24 days.
Yes, I know, a guilty plea is not considered a conviction. All together now…”Huh?”
Attorneys on both sides say Stallworth faced up to his actions, that he waited for police to arrive after killing Reyes, and admitted to hitting him with his car.
That, they say, makes this a just result for a guy who owned up to what he did.
So, we’ve officially reached the point where an athlete who does what they’re supposed to do earns bonus points and the brand, “This is a stand-up guy.”
Really, I’m not surprised. Sickened, yes, but not surprised.
We long ago made clear to Donte Stallworth and other elite athletes that if they could run fast enough, jump high enough or do whatever to help our teams win, the rules would be different for them.
In high school, they got grades they didn’t deserve or other preferential treatment.
It continued in college, and it’s ramped up even more in their professional sport.
Not every pro athlete taps into this entitlement, of course, but it’s always there for them.
It was there for Donte Stallworth the day after he cashed a $4.5-million roster bonus for remaining a Cleveland Brown. Maybe that’s what he was celebrating when he got drunk — 50% over the legal limit — and decided to drive his $179,000 Bentley across the causeway between Miami Beach and Miami.
He was driving 50 miles-per-hour, 10 over the posted speed limit, when he saw Mario Reyes running to catch a bus after finishing his shift as a crane operator.
Reyes wasn’t in the crosswalk. Stallworth flashed his lights.
The rest you know.
What we don’t know is whether Stallworth will be cleared by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to play this season.
Goodell also has similar decisions to make on Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress.
Vick is under house arrest, fulfilling the final portion of a sentence that included nearly two years in prison for financing and participating in a dog-fighting operation.
Burress faces a mandatory minimum 3 1/2-year sentence for discharging a gun at a New York nightclub and accidentally shooting himself in the leg.
His case has been continued until September, and with skillful lawyering will most certainly be postponed long enough so Burress can play this season.
Not surprisingly, Burress’ attorney thinks Stallworth’s sentence sets an appropriate precedent for his client: “They gave him 30 days and someone ended up dying,” Benjamin Brafman said on Sirius NFL Radio. “In our case there is no victim. So I think I have a powerful argument as to why there should be a lenient sentence here.”
Of course, he does, because, after all, his client, like Donte Stallworth, can write a check big enough to make it all go away.

The Golden Era of Ohio State football

June 11, 2009

Tiger Woods awoke Sunday morning and, before going out to shoot a final-round 65 to win his fourth Memorial Tournament, tuned in to watch Roger Federer’s victory at the French Open. That win was Federer’s 14th major championship, tying him with Pete Sampras for the most in tennis history, and, coincidentally, with Tiger.
Woods sits on 14 majors, too, heading to the U.S. Open next weekent at Bethpage Black, where he’s now favored to get one step closer to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 professional golfing majors.
So, with Federer and Woods breathing down the neck of their respective sports’ histories, could this era properly be termed the Golden Era of Sports? After all, besides Federer and Woods, this decade has given us a new home-run king in baseball and the Olympian greatness of swimmer Michael Phelps. Plus, there are now whispers in the aftermath of LeBron James’ first MVP award at age 24 that he will eventually surpass Michael Jordan as the acknowledged greatest basketball player of all-time.
I batted this around with my radio sidekick, Chris Spielman, on 97.1 The Fan and our conversation eventually turned, as it often does, to Ohio State football. Could it be that this is, in fact, the Golden Era of Buckeye football?
Now, to settle that argument, one must first decide what an “era” constitutes. To me, it’s more than a four-year period, because for something to get labeled an era it must extend beyond the duration of one recruiting class’s stay on campus.
Given that one caveat, the issue then becomes which time period surrounding one of Ohio State’s national championships stands above the rest? We can all agree, can’t we, that no era can be the best at a school where the national championship has been won four legitimate times that no era can be deemed the best without including at least one No. 1 finish?
The choice boils down to a pair of possibilities, either starting in 1968 with the 10-0 national championship season of Woody Hayes’ Super Sophomores, or commencing with the 14-0 national championship season of 2002 in Jim Tressel’s second season.
Both titles kicked off wildly successful periods that saw Woody’s teams from 1968-75 go a combined 73-11-1 and Tressel’s teams from 2002-08 go 76-14.
That Woody era included seven Big Ten titles in eight years, with the lone down season a 6-4 mark in 1971.
Tressel’s on-going era numbers five conference crowns and one middling season of 8-4 in 2004.
Each era featured a Heisman Trophy winner (Archie Griffin in 1974-75, Troy Smith in 2006) and brushes with other national championships.
Hayes’ teams in 1969, 1970 and 1975 lost national championships by losing their final game of those respective years, and could have won a title in 1973 if not for a 10-10 tie with Michigan in the final regular season game.
Tressel’s teams, of course, lost in the BCS title game in both 2006 and 2007.
I side with the Hayes era as the best in OSU history because of the sheer dominance of the Super Sophomores and the Griffin-led teams that reached the Rose Bowl a record four consecutive times.
Tressel’s era could yet surpass those achievements depending what transpires in 2009 and beyond, but for now I’ll go old-school and side with the Buckeyes of my youth.

How’s this for a plan?

June 3, 2009

Chad Ochocinco says he can’t wait to get to Bengals’ minicamp on June 18. Yes, that is the former Chad Johnson talking, the guy who never met a minicamp he didn’t greet with all the enthusiasm of a tax audit.
You might wonder what’s prompted the change of heart. Well, with players it’s always one of two things, and sometimes both things — playing time and, of course, money.
At age 31, with three years left on the six-year, $35.5-million contract he signed in April of 2006, Ochocinco would love to get one more contract before he heads off to the (snicker) Pro Football Hall of Fame. (You do remember the sport coat, right)?
Why else would he clearly reverse his field over the petulant stance he’s taken in the recent past regarding his future with the Bengals?
To its detriment, the Bengals have won the stare-down with Chad over his future in Cincinnati. They haven’t given in to his trade demands, so I guess they’ve won something. What they didn’t win was many games with him, which they might have done without him had they accepted Washington’s offer of two No. 1 draft picks for a guy who caught just 53 passes for 540 yards last season.
Chad promises those numbers will skyrocket this year, because he’s working out, he’s in the best shape of his life, blah, blah, blah.
He knows he can’t force way out of Cincinnati without performing and making himself attractive to other teams, and that won’t happen if the Bengals can get the same production from someone else that they can get from a disinterested Ochocinco.
That’s where Chris Henry, perpetual Bengals’ problem child comes in. Everyone from Carson Palmer to Marvin Lewis has raved not just about Henry’s performance at OTAs, not just about his physical condition, but about his new maturity and approach to football.
The Bengals are working Henry at Johnson’s position — the X, or weak-side receiver spot — and believe he’ll be just as effective on short routes and slants as he has been down the field.
So this is what it’s come to for the Bengals: The insurance policy against Chad Johnson going postal is Chris Henry turning over a new leaf.
Talk about building your foundation on sand.
Henry has five arrests on his resume as a Bengal. He was released by the team on April 3, 2008, and it certainly seemed from Lewis’ cool reaction to his resigning on Aug. 19 that the idea was entirely that of Bengals’ owner Mike Brown.
Henry had 19 catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns last season.
The Bengals, through their own stubborn refusal to trade Ochocinco, and their own cheapness at re-sgning Henry instead of a more expensive replacement, are either off their collective rockers or idiot savants.
They’re pitting their chief head case (Ochocinco) against their chief headache (Henry), hoping to get something out of one or the other.
It might just work.
Then again…

Can they (he) do it again?

May 29, 2009

I find it amusing that in the wake of the Cavaliers’ 112-102 victory over the Magic in Game Five of the Eastern Conference finals that LeBron James’ dominance in the fourth quarter is considered by many pundits to be an indictment of Cleveland’s chances to win the series.
So it’s a bad thing that Cleveland coach Mike Brown finally figured out a way to get his best player isolated, avoid double-teams and get the rest of LeBron’s teammates involved?
I’m not following that logic.
What James did by scoring or assisting on 32 consecutve Cleveland points from late in the third quarter to late in the fourth was a feat even more impressive than him scoring 25 consecutive points in Game Five of the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit two years ago.
This time, James’ full array of talents were on display. He scored on mid-range jumpers and daring drives, but he also showcased his remarkable court vision by seting up teammates for five three-point plays/baskets.
But if you listen to most analysts, that’s a bad thing.
They believe James simply cannot do this again, let alone the two more times Cleveland needs it to win the series and move on to the NBA finals.
My response to them: Why not?
James has already proven in this series that he cannot be stopped. No matter how many times the TNT crew tells you Mickael Pietrus is doing a marvelous job defending LeBron, the truth is James is averaging over 40 points per-game and shooting over 50% against Pietrus and whoever else the Magic throws at him.
So, if your Mike Brown, you look at that and you have two choices: Ride LeBron even more, or put your faith in James’ supporting cast and just keep running the same stuff you ran to get into a 3-1 hole.
In that light, Browns’ decision seems pretty wise.
Now Orlando must react. The Magic can run a defender at James as he penetrates the lane, but he will probably find the vacated Cavs’ player for an open jumper.
If Mo Williams, Delonte West, Daniel Gibson and others hit enough of those shots, the Cavs have a chance to square the series and send it back to Cleveland for Game Seven.
If not, Orlando wins and the Cavaliers have an off-season to lament how LeBron’s supporting cast let him down once again.

Can history smile on the Cavs?

May 28, 2009

Game 5 tonight at The Q, where the Cavaliers hope to stave off elimination against the Orlando Magic. Only eight teams in NBA history have come back from 3-1 deficits to win their series and move on. Eight teams, so it’s not impossible. But 182 teams up 3-1 have eventually closed out their competition, so history says the Cavs have only a 4% chance of moving on.
History, if you’ve been paying attention, hasn’t been too kind to the Cleveland sports fan. The Drive, The Fumble, The Mesa Blown Save — those are the lowlights of a Cleveland sports title drought that dates to the Browns winning the NFL championship in 1964. That’s 55 years of suffering, if you’re keeping track at home, and I know you are.
So, do the Cavs have a chance?
Yes.
Better than the historical average?
Yes, better than a 4% chance.
I’d put the Cavs’ chances at about 15% of winning this series, and here’s why: A win tonight puts some pressure — not all the pressure, as many have contended, but some pressure for the first time in this series — on Orlando.
The Magic have been playing with house money since their Game One victory in Cleveland. The Cavaliers had to struggle to tie the series on LeBron’s James’ buzzer-beater in Game Two.
Then Orlando won Game Three to get back in the driver’s seat. Was their pressure on Orlando that night? Not really, because it still had a Game Four at home immediately afterward to even the series in the event it lost Game Three.
That’s not the case if the Cavs win Game Five tonight. A loss by the Magic forces them to close the series out at home, or face a Game Seven at The Q.
Now, in order to put that onus on the Magic, the Cavaliers have to do something they have not since taking a 23-point lead early in Game One. That is, play like they are the superior team, the confident team, the team which believes it will dominate the series.
Orlando’s other-worldly shooting that enabled its Game One comeback put the Cavaliers on the defensive, both physically, and more importantly, mentally. You could sense the air going out of The Q as the Magic’s rally unfolded. It was as if Earnest Bynar trotted out to midcourt and dropped the football all over again, as if Brian Sipe threw another interception to Mike Davis on Red Right 88.
Delonte West, Mo Williams and the rest of LeBron’s so-called supporting cast were visibly afraid to shoot from that point forward. They shoot now, because they know they must, but only James is operating with the same energy and confidence he displayed during the regular season.
How do you play confidently in Game Five if your shots having falled in Games One, Two, Three and Four? You do it, because if you don’t, there won’t be a Game Six, let alone a Game Seven.
My prediction: The Cavaliers square the series with wins the next two times out, but surrender a spot in the NBA finals with a Game Seven loss at home.
It’s just too Cleveland for it to happen any other way.

I’ve seen this movie before

May 21, 2009

I’m trying not to panic. I really am trying. It’s just not working. No matter how many people tell me the Cavaliers will be fine, despite their 107-106 loss to Orlando in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals, I’m not buying it.
Maybe it’s because I was in Municipal Stadium for The Drive in 1987.
Maybe it’s because I took a seven-mile walk to get over The Fumble, or because I searched my apartment for something to throw through my TV screen when Jose Mesa blew a one-run lead against the Marlins in the World Series.
Or maybe it’s because, as I watched the Magic score easy basket after easy basket in the second quarter Wednesday night, I knew right then that the Cavs were in deep, deep trouble in this serious.
Yes, I knew a loss was inevitable even when the Cavaliers held a 15-point halftime lead and LeBron James was having perhaps his greatest game as a Cavalier.
Only a life-long Cleveland sports fan can be that certain of impending doom even in the aftermath of Mo Willaims hitting a 66-foot three-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
So you can tell me not to panic, but that’s a little like the time my dad told me not to look down on the double-ferris wheel at Cedar Point. “Don’t think about it and you won’t be scared,” he said.
Didn’t work then, and it ain’t working now.
If I thought the Cavs could do something, anything, to keep Orlando from scoring in triple figures, I’d calm down.
But while Cleveland has ample bodies inside – Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varajeo and Joe Smith – none of them are equipped to prevent Dwight Howard from getting any shot he wants, whenever he wants it.
It would be of considerable comfort if the Cavaliers, a great help-and-recover defensive team – could double-team Howard, but they cannot.
Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu , Rafer Alston and Mickael Pietrus shoot far too well to allow that, as evidenced by the Magic’s 55% shooting success.
Just that quickly, it’s all changed for the Cavaliers. They go from the best team in the NBA, one with homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, one on an incredible roll (winning eight playoff games by double figures), with the best player in the world….and one game later they are in a backs-to-the-wall, must-win-or-forget-it dilemma.
And you wonder why I panic?