Friday, July 30, 2010

Alphabetical All-Pros

While perusing, I had an idea. This tends to happen when I have too much time on my hands. There are 25 positions in the NFL (loosely, if you count 11 starters on both sides of the ball, a kicker, punter, and return specialist), and 26 letters in the alphabet. But since there's never been an NFL player with a last name beginning with X, we'll say there's 25 letters in the NFL alphabet.

Taking one player from each letter by last name, here's a 25-man roster of starters from NFL history:

QB- John Elway: There's only 3 players with 'E' names, so picking a top-5 quarterback was a no-brainer. Especially when he might be the most physically gifted quarterback of all time.
RB- Marshall Faulk: Can you imagine Faulk and Elway in the same backfield? This team will be able to throw the ball all day, and Faulk won't have any problem with that (he had two years with 1,000 yards receiving). Not a lot of 'F's' to choose from in Canton, so I went with a recent player.
RB- Bronco Nagurski: I refuse to put two tailbacks on my team, so Nagurski, who played both ways and even threw the ball a little, is my fullback. And how about this- he retired in 1937, then came back to the Bears for one more year in 1943. They won the championship that season.
WR- Michael Irvin: He's the only member of the Hall whose last name begins with I, so he was a cinch here. The best way to fill this team out is to start with letters that don't have a ton of players, find the best, then fill the holes.
WR- Randy Moss: 'M' is filled with greats of the passing game (Joe Montana, John Mackey, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Don Maynard, Art Monk, Warren Moon), so I picked the most talented receiver ever to play the game. But the toughest omission might have been Anthony Munoz, an offensive lineman.
TE- Mike Ditka: Call him a player/coach if you'd like. There are a fair number of 'D' players, but none approached Ditka's stature, making him a shoo-in.
OT- Gary Zimmerman: There have been better offensive tackles than Zimmerman, but when you're looking at a letter like 'Z,' you take the only Hall of Famer you find and you move on. Three All-Pro teams in a career with Miami and Denver from 1986-97.
OT- Orlando Pace: The first of the super-tackles, paving the way for guys like Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones, Joe Thomas and Jake Long. He was pegged as a stud in high school, and was a cornerstone of the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf offense.
G- Gene Upshaw: Even though the ubiquitous 'Johnny U' was tempting, it's easier to find a Hall of Fame quarterback than a Hall of Fame lineman. Upshaw made 7 Pro Bowls and 5 All-Pro teams, so he's nothing to shake your head at.
G- John Hannah: This came down to a pair of guards, Hannah and Steve Hutchinson. Hannah gets the nod because he has a full body of work, while Hutchinson, one of the dominant guards of his era, hasn't yet sustained his play quite like Hannah did.
C- Jim Otto: In 10 of his first 11 years, he was the All-Pro Center. He was a Pro Bowler for each of his first 12 years. Not a lot of competition for this Raider in 'O,' but he might have found his way on here anyway.

DE- Deacon Jones: He was a terrifying pass rusher who changed the game. Anyone who put the fear of god in linemen and quarterbacks the way 'Demon Deacon' did is going to land here.
DT- Joe Greene: Big, durable defensive tackles who can get to the quarterback like Greene are tough to find. So he's got his spot here.
DT- Reggie White: Played both inside and outside on the defensive line, so this works
DE- Jack Youngblood: Sacks weren't an official stat until the end of his career, but at the age of 33 and 34 in his final two seasons, he still managed 20 sacks. Imagine what he did in his prime. After Steve Young lost out to Elway, Youngblood didn't have much competition.
LB- Shelton Quarles: Had to do it. I could put him on here or replace one of my receivers with Mike Quick, so I didn't have much choice. He was chosen to one Pro Bowl. I guess no team can be completely loaded.
LB- Dick Butkus: He had to beat out Chuck Bednarik to get here, but he's the most feared hitter in NFL history, so there wasn't much doubt he was going to find his way onto this team.
LB- Mike Singletary: Two Bears' linebackers, both of which might have been the best hitter of his generation. And of course, you have to love him in the Super Bowl Shuffle. "I'm Samurai Mike, I stop 'em cold. Part of the defense, big and bold. I've been jammin for quite a while, doing what's right and setting the style. Give me a chance, I'll rock you good. Nobody messes in my neighborhood."
CB- Herb Adderly: You haven't heard of him, but alphabetically, he's the #1 player in Canton. He was going to make this team, either as a returner or as a corner (he was drafted as a running back), but I needed a corner, so this is where he goes.
CB- Emmitt Thomas: He wasn't even drafted by the Chiefs, but only three corners have more interceptions than him. Cornerback is a position thin on overall talent because it's hard to sustain greatness there, but he managed it.
S- Ed Reed: Forgive me for maybe keeping the greatest player ever (Jerry Rice) off this team, but there's a shortage of great safeties, especially ball-hawkers like Reed. Besides, Reed will be in Canton one day. He already has 6 All-Pro selections.
S- Paul Krause: He had 12 interceptions in his rookie year and never looked back, finishing with 81 picks in a Hall of Fame career. Bet you've never heard of him.

K- Adam Vinatieri: I nearly named Mark Moseley, the 1982 MVP our starting kicker, but there wasn't much competition among 'V' names for the best clutch kicker ever. Jeff Van Note, a center from Kentucky, was the biggest competition. I feel good about this pick.
P- Shane Lechler: There were a lot of tough omissions from 'L,' including Ray Lewis, Night Train Lane, Ronnie Lott and Jack Lambert. But I wanted either Ray Guy or Lechler as my punter, and there were too many great 'Gs' to use Guy here.
Ret- Jack Christiansen: The scouting report on this safety was 'Don't pass in his area, don't punt to him.' He played only 7 years in the NFL, all with the Lions, but had six punt return touchdowns on just 34 attempts in his first two years. For comparison, Devin Hester had seven touchdowns on 89 attempts in his first two years.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Top 10 LeBron Commercials

These are from the days before LeBron's Q rating was still higher than a NASA engineer's IQ. Now, at least in Cleveland, I'd say he's slightly more popular than Osama Bin Laden, but slightly less popular than Bill Belichek.

The LeBrons: Swimming Pool:

Pretty much everything about this one is perfect. It's entirely possible LeBron's acting career peaked in these 60 seconds.

The throwback: LeBron vs. Dwight Howard in HORSE:

In the original, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan played HORSE for a Big Mac. Larry Bird makes his appearance near the end.

Oddly prophetic:

If LeBron had done this in his press conference on ESPN, it would have made my century.

Because the real LeBron isn't good enough:

Powerade had to make him better. Not the only one with fake stuff on here (like McDonalds' spot above), but it's worth noting there was debate if this one was real or not when it debuted.

LeBron is too cool for school:

One of my favorites. Even if it hurts for all the Cleveland fans now.

The best of the puppets:

Anbody else think the $20 Chinese food part is the funniest line in this one?

Good luck finding your chair, LeBron:

He did two spots for 'This is SportsCenter,' but I like this one. Scott van Pelt helps tremendously.

LeBron finds the energy to rule another court:

Funny when it initially came out, then got overplayed, but is still a little funny now that you haven't seen it for a while.

Puppet Kobe gets his revenge:

Funny how well this one holds up after a few years.

The Lakers would crush Miami

LeBron is in Miami. So is Chris Bosh. So is Dwyane Wade. So what?

In a seven-game series, the Lakers would only need five to finish them off.

Here's the way I see it. The Lakers have Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (they have Bynum most of the time anyway). Those two guys can rotate on Chris Bosh, and I'd take that duo over Bosh and whatever 7-foot stiff the Heat sign to play center. The top big men still available include Luis Scola, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O'Neal. None of those guys (except maybe Scola, but he won't sign with Miami) would give the Heat a better frontcourt than Los Angeles.

But here's the kicker. Don't forget that the Lakers are perhaps the only team with two legitimate All-NBA defenders on the wings. One of those guys can guard LeBron, and one can guard Wade.

According to my math, that means Mario Chalmers might have to step up offensively for the series to swing to the Heat. That doesn't make me feel very confident.

Look, I understand that the Heat still have to round out their bench, and there could be some very good veterans to help out when it's all said and done. But the Lakers have built a formidable bench, led by Lamar Odom. The Heat won't be signing anyone near Odom's caliber to help them out.

Miami can put together a starting five that could win any playground game. They'll probably tear through the regular season and could well be the top seed in the East (though LeBron has learned the hard way that a No. 1 seed isn't always the best route to the Finals). But Los Angeles has built a championship team that can play with anyone. They can go small and use Gasol at center and Odom at power forward. They can go big, with Odom, Gasol and Bynum all in the lineup at once. They can deal with just about any kind of team out there, and they feel comfortable no matter what kind of style of ball you want to play. And don't forget, they just beat the Celtics' Big 3 (which isn't as formidable as Miami's Big 3, but Miami won't have a center as good as Kendrick Perkins or a point guard as good as Rajon Rondo).

One reason why Michael Jordan's Bulls were such a great team is because you had three of the best defensive players in league history (Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman combined for 27 All-NBA Defensive teams in their careers). LeBron has made two All-NBA Defensive teams, but no one has ever accused Wade or Bosh of being a great defender.

We know that Bryant and Artest can stick with LeBron and Wade. But that's a terrible matchup for the Heat. Put LeBron on Kobe and Artest can eat Wade alive in the post. Put Wade on Kobe, and, well, Dwyane Wade won't stop Kobe Bryant.

You can wait to see how Miami fills its roster out before you make a call on who could beat who. But I'll take Los Angeles right now, and I'll take it to the bank.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I'm Back!

I coached a few friends of mine in church league basketball senior year of high school. One of the players was a close friend of mine, a 6-foot-2 power forward who played defensive end on his high school football team. He wasn't much for shooting, but he could rebound, block, and intimidate. He was our enforcer.

At halftime of a particularly close game, I approached him once and told him he only had one foul (he averaged about four per half). When I told him this, he began to grin.

"Really? That's about to change."

He fouled out before the end of the third quarter.

It's been over a year since I posted on this blog. But that's about to change.

I'm working in the features department for The Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Minn. For the first time in two years, my life isn't all sports, all the time. When it isn't your job (as it has been for me in the recent past), sports becomes a lot more fun. So I'd like to put some thoughts up here every once in a while (as my current job allows).

Maybe I'll get bored with it. Maybe I'll run out of things to talk about as the dog days of summer approach - I've never been much of one for baseball analysis. More likely, once the summer ends and I go back to writing sports full-time and start zombie-ing my day through classes, I won't have the time or the energy to post stuff on here.

But for now, I do. Let's see if I can enjoy this. Better yet, let's see if you can enjoy this.

Follow me on Twitter at

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Strange Brand of Hate

Memphis hates John Calipari.

We're not talking the kind of hate you have for your screen door that doesn't close all the way and slams open and shut with the breeze. And we're not just talking about the University of Memphis. The entire city shakes its head and bristles at even the briefest mention of the now-departed coach, who took more than just his family and his dribble drive motion offense when he left town.

"He didn't leave for the money," one Memphian told me. "It was about the prestige. I used to brag about this team to other people. Now? They're going to the NIT. We ain't got nothing to look forward to."

Memphis took it personally when Calipari left. It's a city with identity issues, where the local college basketball team is the most popular tenant of an arena owned by an NBA team. It's a city buried south of the Mason-Dixon line where the majority of residents are black.

This is what people rallied around in Memphis. The Memphis football team is a joke, the Grizzlies are pathetic, and there isn't a lot else to galvanize the public here. Several billboards around town advertise for the team with the tagline "Local pride. National power."Most people in around the city just seem to think Memphis wasn't good enough for Calipari. Not the city, and not the program.

Folks talk about how he took players with him. It's true. DeMarcus Cousins and Darnell Dodson used a clause in their letters of intent to follow Calipari to Lexington. Calipari flat-out beat his former assistant Josh Pastner in recruiting wars for Eric Bledsoe and John Wall. Nolan Dennis backed out of his committment to the Tigers and left for the Baylor, and Xavier and C.J. Henry bolted the school for Kansas. Forward Shawn Taggart looks like he's going to stay in the NBA draft rather than come back to school, and Tyreke Evans unsurprisingly left to be a surefire lottery pick.

When the dust settled, Calipari was King of the Bluegrass. He's sitting pretty, with 16 scholarship players and 100,000-plus members of Twitter-nation. Pastner had eight scholarship players and was forced to sign mystery prospects like Latavious Williams, a superb talent who may or may not qualify, and Martin Ngaloro, a French forward. The programs clearly seem to be headed in opposite directions.

Now, with the NCAA guillotine hanging over the men's basketball program and their 2008 NCAA runner-up banner, people are even more disgusted with Cal. It might end up that he undid all the good things he accomplished during his time in the city. You can't even blame the people. The only thing they did to deserve it was support the program for years and years, even when the Tigers weren't competing at the national level.

But here's the catch. Everyone is glad he was here. No one wishes that he never came, or even wishes that he had operated differently while he was here. None of the fans would trade Memphis' NCAA title game appearance or the program's rise to national prominence for a less successful coach who might still be with the program.

It's not over here in Memphis. More information is probably going to come out soon in the Rose case - information that could do more damage yet. Calipari is dead to Memphians. They just want to move on. Because for everything he gave the program - and the city - in his time at Memphis, he may have taken something even more important away from them.