Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Random Thoughts - Tuesday June 19

Tennessee Football Notes
Preseason magazines continue to make the rounds - if you're a Vol fan and you're going to buy just one, this year I'd go with Lindy's, who has UT picked to win the SEC East. And while everyone and their brother is picking Southern Cal #1 (and rightfully so), here's where the Vols currently stand in the preseason Top 25s:

- Lindy's - 7
- CBS Sportsline - 14
- CollegeFootballNews.com - 16
- Sporting News - 18
- Athlon - 20

The big websites will re-release their Top 25s as the season gets closer. We're 28 days away from NCAA08, and just 74 days away from kickoff...in the meantime, you can also check out a good article from Gene Wojciechowski on Phillip Fulmer's work with suicide prevention on ESPN.com.

Basketball Season is now year-round
I witnessed this first hand yesterday, while in Knoxville on my way back to Virginia. I noticed it first when I went to JC Penny at Knoxville Center Mall to pick up a copy of the 06-07 UT Basketball highlight DVD. Sold out. Father's Day, they tell me. I then noticed that this need could be supplemented by picking up a copy of Dane Bradshaw's book. Only three left. Now only two left. Full review to follow.

If I was going to be back in Knoxville anytime over the next four weeks, I would definitely stop by Bearden High School on Monday and Wednesday nights. The Rocky Top Basketball League, based on what I read in this morning's News-Sentinel, is already a rousing success with standing room only crowds, limited parking, and Tyler Smith - who I'm having to learn not to hate - taking over. If he scores 33 points and grabs 10 boards on Duke Crews again, I think I'll have less of a problem with him. You can read more about the Rocky Top Basketball League on the News-Sentinel's govolsxtra.com (paid subscription site).

Is this the breaking point with Pacman Jones?
The NFL is a now sport. And right now, Pacman Jones is not a part of the plan for the Tennessee Titans.

For big fans of professional sports teams, we'll hand out the benefit of the doubt like Halloween candy. But there comes a certain point, a certain line that, once crossed, it swings fiercely the other way. I did this with John Rocker in Atlanta at the turn of the century - he says some things, he rubs people the wrong way, sports fans nationally are angry with him...but you defend him, because you're a Braves fan. And he's getting the job done, and getting it done so well and with so much charisma you actually kind of enjoy it. But the longer it goes on, and the less he's able to maintain that top-tier performance, you start to worry. And then, there just comes a day where you wake up and you say "You know what, this just isn't worth it." And he's cut off. And who knows where John Rocker is today. Braves fans disassociated with him, and he, professionally, was done.

I see the makings of the same thing with Michael Vick here in Southwestern Virginia. The boyhood hero for Virginia Tech, who took the program to its highest apex. The flashy NFL quarterback and Madden god, whose charisma makes up for a questionable (at best) arm, and some on-field decision making that's only matched by what he does in his spare time. So you overlook the Ron Mexico incident. I've been in restaurants here in the area where I've heard some ridiculous defenses for the hidden compartment in the water bottle. Because he's your boy. You defend him. But as his on-field success becomes less and the clock ticks in Atlanta, you start to see with greater clarity. And eventually - which may be now via the dogfighting - you cut your ties. Because it's just not worth it - you've got other Hokies with which to associate. And, even if it sounds unbelieveable right now, Michael Vick could go from cock of the walk to a washed up and washed out NFL ex-superstar, who'll find the hometown reception in Blacksburg ain't what it used to be, because they moved on.

Pacman Jones is in a world of trouble. First, because he never had the chance to become a real star, though he teased you with the potential of it last year. Second, because he's currently irrelevant in the right now world of the NFL, because he's not on the field. 10 games at best - which, based on his once-a-week sightings on ESPN's bottom line with the word "police" somewhere in the same sentence, will likely be the full 16 - means you make no preparations for him in 2007. And no matter what happens this season, whether the Titans go 16-0 or 0-16, you will think about him less. And out of sight...

I've defended this kid (which makes me feel old every time I use it) up to this point. "He's never been convicted!" "Roger Goodell is making an unfair example out of him!" "Don't they know our front office is inept and we need his help?!" But yesterday, when I see his name again, I start to say to my dad "He wasn't even there!"...and then I actually hear it coming out of my mouth. And suddenly I see. The clarity arrives. And now I simply don't care anymore. He's not a factor in 2007. And that makes him unimportant right now. And that means this kid is in a bad, bad way.

I wish him the very best. If he ever wears a Titans uniform again, I'll cheer for him. And as a human, as a person, I feel for him and I really want him to get his life on the right path. But as a professional football player, right now I could care less about him. I'm disassociating. And I know I'm not alone.

The Fall of King James
I'd post a link to my NBA Finals preview on the heels of LeBron's 48 point epic Game 5 performance in the Eastern Conference Finals, but I'm too embarassed. Like I said, it was all heart and no brain in picking the Cavs in 7...but even if I had used my brain, it wouldn't have forseen what actually happened. San Antonio imposed its will, no matter what the scoreboard says. And the Finals were, absolutely, mostly unwatchable. And while all these questions about "what can the NBA do?" may be irrelevant, because it's too bad that it just so happens that the Spurs are a boring 4-time NBA Champion and LeBron has no help, that's life...I really thought he, and the Cavs, would make a better showing. Remember, you know about Jordan's highlights because he became Jordan. And if LeBron ascends, so will your appreciation for the 48 points in Game 5 against Detroit, and you'll instead remember the 2007 Finals as "a young LeBron learning his lessons and taking his lumps against the masterful Spurs" instead of "wow, that was horrificly ugly basketball." He and his career and his legacy are still quite young. He doesn't have to win it all next year. But it will continue to be interesting to see where his story goes...for now, we focus on the draft next week and the hopes for the future for fans in every city. And if you're willing to listen, the Celtics would like to offer you a deal on the #5 pick...

Struggling to the All-Star Break
Back on May 24, the Braves and John Smoltz beat the Mets and Tom Glavine to move to 6-3 against the Amazin's this year, and move to 1.5 back in the NL East. Today, on June 19, the Braves are still 1.5 back...but it's been a head-scratching three and a half weeks.

Ready to make their stand in the NL East, the Braves were promptly swept at home by the Phillies, who've made their own run to go from an afterthought to the thick of it at 3 back. Atlanta rebounded by taking road series at Milwaukee and the Carlos Zambrano vs. Michael Barrett/Lou Pinella vs. 3B Umpire double main event series at Wrigley. Then the Braves came home and lost three of four to the Marlins. They split a four game weekend series with the Cubs, then got swept by the Twins in Minnesota. Then they took two of three from Cleveland, and opened the Boston series at Turner with a big 9-4 win over Curt Schilling last night. They're 10-14 in the past three and a half weeks. When it's been bad, it's been really "blow them up!" bad. When it's been good, it's been "we're going all the way!" good. But at least it's not boring.

Meanwhile, the Mets came off the Atlanta series and promptly swept the Marilns in Miami to take all the Atlanta momentum, then won two of three from Barry Bonds and the Giants. This pushed Atlanta to 5.5 back when the calendar hit June. With Atlanta playing sub-.500 ball and the Mets on a roll, we were having flashbacks to last year when the Mets ran away with it. And they had a big chance to do so again.

Instead, June hasn't been their month. At all. Lost two of three in a home series with Arizona. Swept by the Phillies. At Shea. At least we've got that in common. Lost two of three at Detroit. Swept by the Dodgers in LA. Lost the Subway Series at Yankee Stadium. Back at home last night, they took the first game against Minnesota. But that still leaves the Mets at 4-12 in June. Instead of running away, or even holding pace, they've allowed an Atlanta team that's only 8-10 in June to gain four games in the standings to get it back to 1.5, and watched the Phillies forcefully enter themselves in the race. Even the Marlins aren't dead yet.

With three weeks to the All-Star Break, there's still time for lots of hair pulling and lots of premature jubilation. The Braves are in the midst of a nine game homestand (Boston, Detroit, Washington) before a ten game road trip (Florida, LA Dodgers, San Diego) leading to the break. Then they'll play ten straight at home on the other side. And of course, this is June, not August, so we're not sweating yet. Like I said, at least it's not boring. I'd just like to see Atlanta take advantage if the Mets continue to struggle. And would someone please tell the Phillies to stay dead...

Does anyone care who "killed" Vince McMahon?
Really, do you? Cause I don't.

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