The season isn’t over yet Gator fans

September 28, 2008

Hours after the 2008 season appeared to have died on a failed Tim Tebow quaterback sneak, the Gator Nation got a repreive from an unlikely source: Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Bama’s crushing 41-30 win over Georgia – in which the Dogs had a glimmer of hope in the second half only to see it quickly extinguished – means that right now that the leading team in the SEC East Division remains the Vanderbilt Commodores. (Yeah, I know, something just doesn’t sound right when you say that.)

But the Georgia loss, and the ongoing futility of the Tennessee Volunteers, means that the Gators still have a decent shot at taking the East and have a chance at redemption by playing in the Southeastern Conference title game. With six SEC games remaining, including ones against Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and LSU, the Gators will have ever opportunity to win this wide-open race.

 It won’t be easy, far from it. The Oct. 11 LSU game will be crucial because right now the Tigers look like the one team that could stop Alabama’s march to the championship game. And there’s always the prospect of another unheralded team to surprise them. (Like say the still undefeated Kentucky Wildcats, although that will likely end next weekend.)

Now as for the elusive goal of another national title for Coach Urban Meyer, I think that is out the window.

The main problem is that the Gators lost to an unranked, twice-beaten team, and no, it doesn’t matter that the Gators lost by just one point. The damage is done. This is not the kind of team you are supposed to lose to at home. Another knock to the Gators title hopes: Bama’s drubbing of Georgia means that the Gators won’t get as much credit in the computer polls if they knock off the Bulldogs in Jacksonville.

It’s not that it couldn’t happen, but the Gators would have to pile drive through the rest of their season and hope for another slew of upsets to wreak havoc in the college football world. There’s still a lot of undefeated teams out there including Oklahoma, Texas, Penn State, and even that team down the road from Tampa, the University of South Florida.

But there’s still a lot more football to play. Heck, it’s not even October yet. Anything can happen.

So who’s a bigger jerk? The sports media “star” or the Olympian?

September 26, 2008

It hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention, but one-time Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard (he’s on hiatus from his print job) decided to have some fun on his South Florida radio program this week at the expense of Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps.

The upshot? Le Batard wanted Phelps to give him and his listeners the lowdown of the celebrity lifestyle and asking questions like “Do you like eating or is it a chore?” Phelps refused to play along and instead tried to talk about some of his corporate sponsors. But when Le Batard kept pressing him, going so far as to ask whether Phelps brought Kellogg’s cereal with him to night clubs, Phelps cut short the interview. The only problem was that Phelps didn’t turn off his phone quick enough and listeners were treated to him calling Le Batard an “idiot.” Go here to listen to it. Click on the Michael Phelps link.

Some other national sports media figures, such as Dan Patrick, have taken a mild shot at Le Batard, saying, ‘what do you expect?’ when you book a big-time celebrity. Part of the quid pro quo is they get a chance to push their product, Patrick said. Other bloggers have suggested Phelps – who sounds very stiff – got what he deserved for being so boring.

I can see both points of view from some standpoint, but there’s this ongoing hypocrisy in sports media that just keeps driving me crazy. The columnists and the radio stars get all peeved when someone doesn’t want to respond to their stupid questions. Yet – as evidenced by the Terrell Owens meltdown in Philly and countless other examples – these same sports media people will be the first to jump on an athlete who honestly answers a question and says something somewhat provocative.

You can’t have it both ways. And it explains why many sports athletes act like so many of the people in the sports media world are poison. What I want from my sports shows are people who give me useful information and interesting insights, not constant faux outrage. If I want faux outrage all the time, I can change to the cable news channels.

It used to be that the sports talking heads who succeeded were those who had good sources and provided timely information. Now it seems to be all about who can yell the loudest, or make someone else look like a goofball.

A radical concept: Time to say that I was wrong

September 22, 2008

In the rapidly-changing world of media, I’ve decided to do something that others don’t seem to do often. And that’s admit when I am wrong.

Brian Griese and the Jacksonville Jaguars made me eat the words that I used on my latest video at Well, at least for the time being.

I predicted that Griese would not be the answer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at quarterback this season. It’s not that I think that former starter Jeff Garcia is a top-flight quarterback, it’s just that Griese has bounced around the league like a shredded tire coming off a tractor trailer flying down the interstate. And the effect has been the same, little traction and danger of a car crash.

But on Sunday Griese passed for more than 400 yards as he hurled the rock a stunning 67 times. 67 times! That’s like a half season’s work for some of the quarterbacks in the NFL (and the fifth all-time amount of pass attempts in a single game.) And although Griese had three picks he also threw for two touchdowns and did just enough to help the Bucs pull out an overtime win over the Chicago Bears.

Do I still think that Griese is fool’s gold? You bet. But for now I will freely admit that on this Sunday, I was wrong. Dead wrong. Way to go, Brian.

I also erred in declaring the death and burial of the Jaguars, whose offense the first two weeks was pathetic. That all changed on Sunday afternoon when both Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew sliced, diced and ripped up the Indianapolis defense. Both backs rushed for more than 100 yards in the win.

(I will note this for the record: A bone-headed call by Jack Del Rio late in the fourth quarter almost gave the Colts a victory. When it’s 4th and short and you’ve got two timeouts left in the game, it’s ok to run the ball, Jack. A pass interference call fortunately gave the Cats a new set of downs and set the stage for a dramatic game-winning field goal.)

BUT, BUT, BUT…I did get one thing right.

I said that Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter had every right to question how well Matt Cassel would play in place of injured Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. I said Porter was merely telling the truth. Yeah, I guess he was, especially since he sacked Cassel three times. Welcome to the big time, Matt. The Fins defense smothered the Pats, while the Patriots defense designed by Mr. Genius, Bill Belichick, was completely thrown off stride by the monster performance of running back Ronnie Brown who had 5 touchdowns.

And to make it even so much sweeter, the Dolphins (the only team to STILL HAVE A COMPLETE PERFECT SEASON) ended the Pats 21-game regular season winning streak. The sting was so complete that the Associated Press reported that Pats fans were actually booing their team. Wow, what a bunch of ingrates. Guess winning three Super Bowls in the last decade isn’t enough.

Spectacular Saturday: Gators crush, Rays shine, Canes storm

September 20, 2008

What a huge day in Florida sports.

The Tampa Bay Rays reached the pinnacle of a miracle season, the Gators showed why their showdown against Georgia later year could decide the national championship, and the Canes proved that they are still one of the best teams in the ACC. Go to to get the full story.

A few random thoughts:

The Gators looked scary and their domination was near complete, including amazing special teams play and a bone-crunching defense. The down side, however, was the Gators were so good that Tim Tebow once again did not need to do that much to help propel his team to victory. Tebow doesn’t need to play like a demigod if Brandon James keeps running back punts for touchdowns and the defense forces turnover after turnover. One other thought: I know Urban Meyer is intense, but there were a few times he looked like a spaz, losing his cool on even minor setbacks. Hey Urban, did you see the score?

The Gators victory was so thorough that I was able to keep my remote on hyperdrive, flipping back and forth to the Rays game, the UM-Texas A&M game and then back again to the Gators just in time to see Vols head coach Phil Fulmer look he was going to swallow his tongue in frustration.

Key moment in the Rays game came in the 4th inning when first baseman Carlos Pena was able to double up the Twins on a routine fly ball out. Until that moment bases were loaded and Minnesota was threatening to get back into the game. The double play in the 4th shut down a potential rally and set the stage for the first-ever AL East title for the Rays.

And while UM wasn’t playing a Top 10 team, I think their hard-fought game against the Gators is paying dividends. While the Canes did not have enough power and speed to beat UF, they had more than enough to thump a mid-level team like the Aggies. They began to look like the Canes of old once again, scoring at will and keeping their opponents down. Graig Cooper had a monster day rushing the ball, ending with 128 yards and two touchdowns.

Gator QB losing grip on Heisman to USF rising star

September 16, 2008

Move over Tim Tebow. There’s another quarterback in Florida who may steal the Heisman Trophy away from you.

With his outstanding performance last Friday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, University of South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe has exploded into the national limelight as a bona fide Heisman Trophy contender. Even Sports Illustrated is now taking notice after Grothe threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 30 yards and another touchdown. While it was freshman kicker Maikon Bonani who got the winning field goal against the 13th ranked Kansas Jayhawks, the win would not have been possible without Grothe’s efforts.

What was even more impressive was that Grothe led the Bulls back to the victory even though USF trailed 20-3 at one point. That’s the largest comeback win in school history.

Amazingly SI’s Gene Menez has Tebow ranked higher in his Heisman Watch list than Grothe. (He’s got Missouri QB Chase Daniel in the lead right now.) Maybe this is what we call in politics the advantage of being the incumbent.

While Tebow has been solid, he hasn’t put in the kind of performance that should elevate him ahead of Grothe. By the numbers, Tebow has put up nearly 500 yards of offense in two games. But it’s reasonable to argue that the Gators would have probably beaten the Canes and Hawaii with or without Tebow. I don’t think the same can be said for USF. Grothe has been a difference maker, helping the team with two tight back-to-back close victories over the University of Central Florida and Kansas. And Grothe will get a chance to enhance his reputation in the next few weeks as USF is scheduled to be on national television at least three or four more times.

Tebow gets his chance to prove that he deserves a second Heisman Trophy when he takes on Tennessee this weekend. But right now the top quarterback in the Sunshine State doesn’t wear orange and blue, he wears gold and green.

FOX Sports calls Gators and Noles fans obnoxious

September 11, 2008

In a provocative posting meant to do nothing more than insult certain college football fans – while boosting page views – FOX Sports, along with its partner, MSN, has decided to trash Gator Nation and Noles fans.

Using 10 photos and scant information, FOX has dubbed the Gators fans and Noles fans the 10 “most obnoxious fan bases in the country.”

Is there any logic in how Fox arrived at this conclusion? Not as far as I can tell. And it doesn’t even appear to have even a scintilla of evidence to back up the specious claims. Florida “lives in the past and never shuts up” quotes the FOX posting. Huh? What kind of nonsense is that? Their quarterback won a Heisman Trophy and the team is just two seasons removed from a national title. Part of the criticism has to do with Steve “Evil Genius” Spurrier, who did of course earn lots of scorn from opposing fans and coaches, but that’s ancient history now.

I mean if you are going to come up with some reason to rip the UF fans, at least mention something with a little more zing, such as those allegations from a million years ago that Gator fans poured urine on visiting Tennessee fans.

But in my mind, FOX Sports goes even more overboard when it comes to Florida State fans, saying that the fans spend more time “bragging about themselves and their rituals instead of their football team.” The posting goes on to rip FSU’s tomahawk chop as “cheesy.” All I can say is that person who wrote this particular work of fiction – her name is Lisa Horne – has probably never been to an FSU game and doesn’t know anything about FSU. In recent years, coaches and team players have complained that the fans don’t show enough enthusiasm and that the team can’t fill up the stadium for games against lesser-known opponents. How that is “obnoxious,” I honestly can’t tell.

What’s even more telling is that if Horne knew anything about FSU she would realize that FSU fans have for a long time suffered from a massive inferiority complex. It wasn’t that long ago that Coach Bobby Bowden had to annually answer the “can’t win the big one” question from the media.

And finally, after all this, if you are going to rip UF and FSU, how on earth could you omit the Canes fans? Has anyone at FOX ever gone to a game here in the state of Florida? Have they ever seen Sebastian the Ibis hold the “State Champs” sign when UM would beat FSU? Has anyone at Fox ever heard Ray Lewis and other Canes players talk about the “U” and the “five national titles” etc. etc.

Somebody needs to tell FOX Sports they are full of it.

Brady injury may give Fins faithful new hope

September 10, 2008

I don’t cheer for injuries, especially when the person injured was the number one person I took in my fantasy draft this year.

But the dramatic demise of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may have a magic effect on transforming last year’s moribund Miami Dolphins into a potential contender. Brady’s bone-crunching season-ending injury upends the entire AFC East and makes the decision of the N.Y. Jets to land Brett Favre and the decision of the Dolphins to sign Chad Pennington as an inspired move.

No matter how the TV pundits may spin it, there’s just no way that Matt Cassel is going to fill Brady’s shoes. First off, there’s a big difference between how Brady came in, and Cassel’s situation. Brady was there to fill in for an injured Drew Bledsoe. There were no Super Bowl expectations heaped on Brady’s shoulders before he threw his first pass. Brady’s charge was do no harm and help this team win. Cassel is already under tremendous pressure. No matter how well he plays if the Pats fail to make the Super Bowl it will be his fault. And secondly, I haven’t seen anything so far to suggest Cassel can even come close to matching Brady. He looked shaky in pre-season and didn’t light it up against Kansas City, one of the worst teams in the league.

The question, is whether the Dolphins can take advantage of this sudden and dramatic change of fortune. Pennington is a solid if unspectacular quarterback who actually had a chance to beat the Jets this past weekend. The team around him has many solid parts, including a defense that looks like it may be much stronger than a year ago. The Fins sacked Favre three times in the close loss to the Jets.

It won’t be easy of course. The Buffalo Bills look like they have improved although I’m still not totally sold on Trent Edwards as the next Jim Kelly. And of course there’s always the Jets, the team that has always been the Dolphins main rival in the AFC East over the last 25 years. The addition of Favre – and the loss of Brady – has catapulted the team into playoff contention. We will get a chance to see the new reality of the AFC East when the Patriots travel to the Meadowlands this weekend to take on the Jets. I expect to see Cassel on the ground a lot.

But Fins fans may be amazed where their team stands in a few weeks: Miami plays Arizona, Houston and New England in the next five weeks, all games they have a legitmate shot to win. The team also has to play San Diego and Baltimore, which could be tough, but there’s no reason that the Ravens — especially if they are still led by a rookie quarterback – can’t be beaten as well. That means that the Dolphins could be 4-2 or even 5-1 heading into an Oct. 26 game with the Bills.

That game may be the day we truly learn how big Tom Brady’s injury truly was.

Fearless fantasy predictions for 2008

September 5, 2008

Another wonderful NFL season is upon us and it begins yet another round of longing and quiet confidence that your fantasy team will prevail this year.

But as any good fantasy team owner knows, take everything you read in preseason with a garbage-can size dose of salt. Each season comes with new stars and more importantly, unexpected busts, that can turn your season into a three-month long nightmare.

With that caveat, here are some of my fearless fantasy predictions for Florida’s three NFL teams.

* Maurice Jones-Drew is a perfect candidate for a fantasy player who WILL NOT live up to the hype. Why? There are a handful of reasons, but I’ll start with the great Fred Taylor. In my mind, Taylor has been a fantastic back who has put to rest those early career problems with injuries. But I am worried about the 32-year-old back and I am worried about the Jacksonville Jaguars offense in general. David Garrard still doesn’t have a top-flight, week-in, week-out receiver who can help propel the passing game. (Sorry, Jerry Porter, Matt Jones, Reggie Williams.) That puts more pressure on the running game, but if Taylor’s numbers slip, so will Jones-Drew because his success is dependent on being a receiving, change-of-pace running back. And in case you didn’t notice, Jones-Drew actually put up worse numbers last year than in 2006. 

* Ricky Williams will in the early going help out a lot of fantasy owners who took a chance on the former pot-smoking, do my own thing in my own time, break the mold running back. I have no doubt that the Miami Dolphins will run, run and run again. But we’ve seen this movie before and at some point Williams may run out of gas, or give way to Ronnie Brown. Enjoy it while you can.

* Earnest Graham could easily have a breakout season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I don’t think that Warrick Dunn will steal many carries from him. Cadillac Williams was placed on the PUP list, which will knock him out for the first half of the season.

* Chad Pennington could be a decent quarteback for the Dolphins this season. But unless you are in a fantasy league that prizes accuracy, he won’t bring much to your team. Only use him in a bye-week situation. There’s a reason that the New York Jets scooped up Brett Favre. Pennington’s limitations are also why I would shy away from taking any Dolphins receivers other than Ted Ginn Jr.

* The Jaguars defense remains the best among the three Florida teams, although the prospect of a decent running game in Miami and Tampa Bay could help those two teams as well. But the downside to the Miami defense is that it has to play some explosive offensive teams, including the Patriots.