Saturday, June 30, 2007
Thursday, June 28, 2007
C - Victor Martinez, Indians
Martinez leads all AL catches with 14 HRs and 62 RBIs (almost 20 more than the next closest). The only other halfway legitimate argument here is for Jorge Posada, but Martinez has better numbers outside of average, and the Indians are 13 games over .500, while the Yankees are blissfully 3 under. Those who said Joe Mauer was too good to be true last year are halfway right - Mauer isn't hitting .390 at the break, but he's still going strong at .310.
1B - Justin Morneau, Twins
A word about David Ortiz: head to head at the plate, I'd take Ortiz over Morneau. Papi has a better average and plays on the best team in baseball. And Ortiz is a virtual lock to win the fan vote to start at first in the game. But my issue remains that Ortiz is a DH in real life, while Morneau actually plays first. Morneau also has 20 HRs and 57 RBIs, while hitting a passable .278. Ortiz gets the headlines, but Morneau is the better first baseman.
2B - Brian Roberts, Orioles
Maybe it's a sympathy pick, but Roberts seems to be the most complete player at 2B this season. He's hitting .322, which is in the upper echelon of 2Bs in the AL, and has 25 stolen bases to lead the pack far and away. Placido Polanco and Dustin Pedroia are also admirable candidates, but Roberts gets my vote.
3B - Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
The easiest pick of the year. I'm not an A-Rod fan, I don't like him at all. But his performance this season is undeniable. He leads AL 3Bs in triple crown categories (.331, 28 and 77) and it's not even close on the last two. Even with the Yankees struggling, A-Rod has reasserted himself as arguably the best player in baseball.
SS - Carlos Guillen, Tigers
With great apologies to the only Yankee I do like, I pull the trigger on Guillen this year. Again, in a close race between two players, you can't ignore the fact that the Tigers are 14 over .500, and the Yankees are - you can't say it enough - 3 under. So it's Guillen over Jeter. Jeter is hitting .343 (Guillen at .325) with five homers and 36 RBIs. Guillen brings more power with 12 homers and 56 RBIs. Miguel Tejada's injury helps remove him from consideration.
OF - Vlad Guerrero, Angels - Torii Hunter, Twins - Magglio Ordonez, Tigers
Guerrero and Ordonez are easy selections - Magglio is hitting .377 with 16 and 68, an MVP like season perhaps if A-Rod falls off. Vlad is right with him at .330, 14 and 69. Hunter separates himself from the pack with his defensive prowess to go with his solid numbers (.304, 15 and 59, 11 stolen bases). Ichiro, Alex Rios, and Gary Sheffield are also in the conversation, but these three stand above.
Starting Rotation - Dan Haren, A's - Justin Verlander, Tigers - CC Sabathia, Indians - John Lackey, Angels - Josh Beckett, Red Sox
Once again, you can't vote on pitchers, but these are my picks for the best five so far this year. Johan Santana gets the raw deal, because he's throwing 2.83, but he's only 8-6. Verlander, Sabathia, Lackey and Beckett appear obvious selections, but it's Haren who leads the AL in ERA at a sick 1.91. Several of the teams represented here have more than one starting pitcher capable of cracking this rotation, including Kelvim Escobar in LAA and Gaudin and Blanton from Oakland. Dice-K is 9-5 and 3.80 - a solid year so far - and I bet he gets a spot on this team, but I'm not quite sure he deserves it yet.
Closer - JJ Putz, Mariners
You may not have heard of him, but he's 22 of 22 with a 0.99 ERA, giving up 4 runs in 36+ innings, with 40 Ks. Don't sleep on the Mariners.
C - Russell Martin, Dodgers
In his second season, Martin has surpassed Brian McCann as the next great catcher in the NL. Martin does it all, hitting .294 with 8 HRs and 49 RBIs. He steals bases with 13. And an article in this week's Sports Illustrated says he is excellent at setting targets and calling the game from behind the plate. There's no other real choice at catcher in the NL this year.
1B - Prince Fielder, Brewers
Down goes Pujols! Down goes Pujols! I'm actually closer to voting for Derrek Lee here than Pujols, but Fielder's power is undeniable - leads the NL with 27 dingers - and again, he plays for the division-leading Brewers, who have been a great story that he's becoming the face of. Pujols and Lee are having a good year, but Fielder deserves the spot here.
2B - Chase Utley, Phillies
So far, I'm in total agreement with the fans in the NL. Utley leads 2Bs in batting average at .327, and has the necessary power to be a complete second baseman. He's also a part of the Phillies' return to the NL East conversation after a terrible start. This year, Utley's not just the best option among a list of forgetable second basemen, he's a very deserving all-star.
3B - Miguel Cabrera, Marlins
If Chipper Jones had been healthy all year, he might get this spot. Instead, Cabrera (.324, 17 and 55) is the selection here. Even the Marlins aren't out of the playoff run here at the halfway point. Cabrera continues to be a great player who might one day find even more success and noteriety somewhere outside of Miami.
SS - JJ Hardy, Brewers
This is, by far, the hardest spot to pick. You can make very convincing arguments for Edgar Renteria, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Jimmy Rollins, or apparently anyone else with a last name that starts with R. But where Hardy trails in batting average, and isn't the basepath machine that Reyes is, he's got 18 homers and 50 RBIs. And don't tell me you can't judge shortstops based on power hitting. And once again, he plays for a team that's leading the division, which helps push him over the top. But if you've got issues with this one, I do understand.
OF - Ken Griffey Jr., Reds - Matt Holliday, Rockies - Carlos Lee, Astros
More difficult selections here...a big welcome back for Junior Griffey, who I'd love to see get on a contender. Matt Holliday is now flying under the radar for a second consecutive season, while Carlos Lee continues to plug along on a subpar Houston team. Other thoughts here: Adam Dunn (how are the Reds so bad?), Alfonso Soriano, and I'm sure Barry Bonds will make his way home...
Starting Rotation: Brad Penny, Dodgers - Chris Young, Padres - Jake Peavy, Padres - Ben Sheets, Brewers - John Smoltz, Braves
The pitching in the AL is light years better than the NL this season. Penny is the NL's only 10 game winner and would be an easy choice for NL Cy Young if the season ended right now. The Padres have a loaded staff, Sheets is the staff ace on those trusty Brewers, and John Smoltz continues to plug away in Atlanta. Hard to go anywhere else but with these five, though hats off to John Maine for proving people wrong so far this year.
Closer - Francisco Cordero, Brewers
More love for Milwaukee...Trevor Hoffman is always here, and Saito in LA has a better ERA, but it's Cordero who leads the NL in saves with 27 in 29 opportunities. All this being said about Milwaukee, watch out for the Cubbies baby...
Voting ends at midnight tonight...you can vote at mlb.com, or feel free to disagree with me on here...
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
While this blog is primarily read by personal friends, visitors from other specific blog sites, and the occassional opponent fanbase, it's also been touched on by several others during the 100 Best Vol Games feature, and, sadly, received 91 hits in one hour on Monday when I posted the Chris Benoit story. But regardless of the story, this blog has been a welcome friend in my first year here in Virginia, and I do appreciate those who read and take the time to listen to me ramble on.
On this one year anniversary, I've posted links to some of my favorite stories we've talked about over the last year. It's a real joy for me to write this...so thanks for reading.
The 50 Best Vol Games 1989-2005 Feature
Introduction & Games 50-46 - August 2
Games 45-41 - August 3
Games 40-36 - August 6
Games 35-31 - August 8
Games 30-26 - August 11
Games 25-21 - August 13
Games 20-16 - August 14
15. The Longest Third Saturday - August 15
14. The Rally at Death Valley - August 16
13. Eddie Who? - August 18
12. 12-Point UnderDawgs - August 19
11. Surviving Upset Saturday - August 21
10. In The Downpour - August 23
09. From Goat to Hero in 4:17 - August 23
08. Draining The Swamp - August 24
07. A Ring for Peyton - August 26
06. Turning The Tide - September 5
05. "Oh my goodness, he stumbled and fumbled!" - September 7
04. The Miracle at South Bend - September 22
03. At Last... - October 18
02. No-Sir-Ree! No-Sir-Ree! - December 14
01. The National Championship - December 19
Revised List (includes 2006 games) - January 4
25 Favorite Vols 1989-2005 (Weekend Blog)
25-21 - June 30
20-16 - July 1
15-11 - July 1
10-06 - July 2
05-01 - July 2
Tennessee Football 06 (final preseason thoughts) - August 30
California Rest in Peace - September 3
Florida State-Miami Rivalry - September 4
Vols-Gators Memories - September 14
Vols-Gators Prediction - September 15
Paddle That Behind (Vols/Georgia) - October 8
Third Saturday Memories - October 22
ESPN College GameDay History - October 23
06 Tennessee Senior Class - November 25
The Idiot's Guide to a College Football Playoff - November 27
Closing the Book on the 06 Vols - January 2
A Night of Mixed Emotions (Florida/Ohio State BCS Championship) - January 9
Biggest Games of 2007 - May 12
The Road is Long (Titans late season run) - December 26
Chris Lofton is Special (Vols/Memphis) - December 7
Here We Go Again (Vols/Oklahoma State ) - December 18
The One and Only Kentucky Game - February 11
The Next Steps (Vols/Kentucky) - February 14
Vols/Gators: Looking Forward, Looking Back - February 25
Representing The Family (Vols/Gators) - March 1
Pre-SEC Tournament Thoughts - March 7
Ouch (SEC Tournament) - March 10
The Happy Place (Sweet 16) - March 20
48 Hours Later... (Vols/Ohio State) - March 24
Chris Lofton to PG? - April 24
Stream of Consciousness - 07 Slam Dunk Contest - February 17
Buzz Peterson is to Bruce Pearl as Doc Rivers is to... - April 14
The Rise of King James (Cavs/Pistons Game 5) - June 1
Major League Baseball
The Other Side of the Trade Deadline - August 1
A Silent October - September 24
What John Smoltz Means to the Braves - May 25
Old and Alone (first post) - June 27
My Favorite Day (NCAA07 release date) - July 14
One Word (Tiger Woods at the 06 British Open) - July 22
The Introspective Light of MySpace - August 7
The Rules of Favorite Teams - August 28
Inside the Minds of Today's WWE Fans - January 30
WrestleMania 23 Preview - March 30
WrestleMania 23 Random Thoughts - April 2
The Agony of Defeat - June 7
WWE Power Rankings - June 9
Thanks again for reading...
Monday, June 25, 2007
UPDATE - Reports are now in that Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy ("Woman") Benoit, and their son were all found dead in Benoit's family home in Atlanta today. This story seems likely to get even worse than it already is as details unfold.
UPDATE 2 - Benoit was originally scheduled to compete at the Vengeance PPV last night for the ECW Championship against CM Punk, but missed a house show on Saturday and pulled out of the PPV to return to Atlanta for a "family emergency". Johnny Nitro took his place and ended up winning the match. But that piece of information suggests that some sort of freak accident appears to be out of the question...
UPDATE 3 - Fox News is now calling it a double murder suicide, which WWE.com confirms. Fox News alone is saying that Benoit killed his wife and his son sometime during the weekend, and then took his own life today. Autopsy reports are due on Tuesday.
The WWE did a good job on short notice to turn RAW tonight into 3 hours of Benoit's greatest moments. And hats off to them for having Vince McMahon open the show and eradicating the death angle they had been running with his character as well. They handled the whole thing very professionally. As for the story itself...it's numbing. It's 12:17 here and I'm going to bed, but I'm sure there will be more details and more questions in the morning.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
The Vols had already traded Dane Bradshaw's heart for JP Prince's length. Prince, a 6'8" transfer from Arizona, is cleared to play in the spring semester, which means he'll be there for all the SEC contests. The Vols had already returned everyone else from a team that was a 17 point halftime lead and a one point loss to the #1 team in the country away from the Elite Eight. The Vols were already the favorite to win the SEC in 2007-08, and a commonplace pick in national preseason Top 10s.
Now, with Tyler Smith in the fold, allow me to be the first to pose this rhetorical question: Is Tennessee the best basketball team in the nation?
And how in the wide world of sports did we get to that question just three years removed from a losing season?
You know how there's a lot of elementary school kids in the greater Knoxville area named Peyton right now? Wait ten years. Then see if Bruce isn't the most popular name at your local K-12.
And does anybody remember a little thing called football season?
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
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.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Five Stadiums I Want to See (realistic):
1. Jordan-Hare Stadium - Auburn
2. Tiger Stadium - LSU
3. Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium - Arkansas
4. The Superdome - Sugar Bowl
5. Mountaineer Field - West Virginia
Five Stadiums I Want to See (fantasy):
1. The Rose Bowl
2. Notre Dame Stadium - Notre Dame
3. Kyle Field - Texas A&M
4. Doak Campbell Stadium - Florida State
5. Carrier Dome - Syracuse
Best Football Experiences (special event stadiums)
1. SEC Championship - Georgia Dome
If you get a combination of FLA/UGA/TEN vs. ALA/AUB/LSU when both are having a great season, you get the 50/50 split at this game with the rivalry factor thrown in. The 97 SEC Championship with Tennessee and Auburn, where this happened, is the best crowd experience I've ever had.
2. Capital One Bowl - Orlando
I saw this when it was the Citrus Bowl (UT vs. Ohio State), but I like the stadium, there's plenty to do in the city of Orlando, and the now-Capital One Bowl is as good as it gets outside of the BCS, so you get two great SEC/Big 10 teams going at it.
3. Chick-fil-A Bowl - Atlanta
We'll exclude Fulton County Stadium from this list, even though I was there for the 1987 Peach Bowl, since it's now a parking lot. But the Georgia Dome is, once again, a great venue, and this is another great bowl matchup if you don't get an SEC team that's not happy to be there. Otherwise, you usually get great football, great attendance, great ratings.
4. Fiesta Bowl - Tempe (old ASU stadium)
If you remove all the emotion from the 98 National Championship from the equation...the old Fiesta Bowl was a total dump. The new stadium is nice to look at. Phoenix in January is quite nice.
5. LP Field (for college football)
It's last on the list because I saw Tennessee play Wyoming there in 2002. But it is, in fact, a nice football stadium, and one of these days I'm actually going to make it to a Titans game.
Home Field Advantage Rankings (all stadiums I've seen)
10. Vanderbilt Stadium - Vanderbilt (1998)
Because of course we start with them at the bottom of the list. A physically dominating sight at 41,448 with a hostile crowd composed of the other team's fans. One of my favorite football moments is still the 98 game at Vandy with thousands of UT fans outside the gates at kickoffs, refusing to let themselves believe that there are, in fact, simply no tickets left to be scalped.
09. Commonwealth Stadium - Kentucky (1995, 1999, 2001)
A step up the ladder at 67,530, it's also a much different experience now than it used to be. I first went there in 1995, when it was best described as "they found some land and put a football stadium in it, park in that field over there." After what we affectionately refer to as The Tim Couch Expansion in 1999, the ends were enclosed and now it actually looks like an SEC stadium. The lack of enthusiasm - in 2001, the crowd size doubled at halftime because the Cats were ahead - from a basketball school is remotely understandable, though if the football team found consistent success (not likely in the SEC East), Bruce Pearl has shown that you can do both and make both work. For Vol fans in Knoxville and the surrounding area, it's usually a nice short drive up I-75 for a sure win.
08. Cardinal Stadium - Louisville (1991)
Even though they built Papa John's to replace it, it was still a nice slice of life back on a Thursday Night in 91. It functioned well as exactly what it was - a small stadium for a (then) small college football team. It did that well. The new stadium in Papa John's is bigger as the team has become bigger.
07. Scott Stadium - Virginia (2006 vs. Maryland)
Beautiful campus. Great scenery. My overall impression of this place is hampered by the fact that they were playing Maryland and they weren't very good last year. But it has potential, and I remember seeing their crowd make a difference during the Tiki Barber administration, becoming the first ACC team to beat Florida State. They need to do a better job of making it feel "old" like the rest of the campus, instead of using some of the most ridiculous computer graphics in their pregame introduction I've ever seen. But the cavalier riding on the horse was very cool. And the lawn, while I'd never want to watch a big game from there, is stylish.
06. Bryant-Denney Stadium - Alabama (1999, 2003)
Haven't seen her since the 2006 end zone expansion that took her to 92,138. Love The Quad and the Bear Bryant stuff. And in any other conference, this place would be ridiculously intimidating. But in the SEC, with four legitimate top tier crowds and several others that would like to be...if there's such a thing as too much tradition, Alabama has it. The old feel and its arrogance in the fan base makes for a less hostile and more uppity crowd, which recently seems like it's been waiting for something to go wrong. And Alabama's previous success wasn't really credited to home field advantage, it was credited to The Bear. The fact that Auburn and Tennessee have, for the most part, been able to walk out there with victories recently, takes it down even further. When you walk on campus in Tuscaloosa, you feel the history. But you somehow feel it less in the stadium. Hard to explain.
05. Sanford Stadium - Georgia (2000, 2002, 2004)
The little kid at the adult table. Sanford has the size requirements - 92,746 - but once again, in this conference, you need something more. Georgia has, in my experience, the greatest proportion of fans who love to whine than any other SEC school. They want respect, which must be earned, and they want to believe that they're on par with Florida/Tennessee/Alabama, but they're not. The hedges are cool, but there's nothing else really remarkable about the gameday experience. They are hindered by their proximity to Atlanta, where the real action is for visiting fans. And I do like "The redcoats are coming!" with their band. But Georgia does everything good in a conference where others are doing it great.
04. Williams-Brice Stadium - South Carolina (1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006)
The king of all road trips for yours truly. SC is the best picture of a team and a program that's not there yet, but they desperately want to be. The Cocks don't claim to be on the top tier, like Georgia fans do. They know they're a step below. But they pour their hearts into making that step. South Carolina didn't become a cool football experience with Steve Spurrier - it's always been that way. The first time I went there in 1996, fans came up to my father and I and, no joke, thanked us for letting them into the SEC. In 2000, their "Who let the Cocks out?! LOU, LOU, LOU LOU..." is among the best stuff I've ever heard. And while most program's fans take on the personality of their head coach (which might make Alabama rise on this chart in the future), last year in Columbia, Carolina fans still seemed to lack the Ballcoach's arrogance. Once they arrive, it might become less fun. But the environment is always that great balance of rabid fans and expectations that have never quite been realized, but this just might be the year...the facility itself is nestled nicely on the state fairgrounds, with Columbia having a Knoxville-like quality to it with the blend of a small downtown area and the university campus. And the 2001 on field entrance is my favorite to watch among opponents. Bonus points for all the kids who call it "The Ric Flair Entrance".
03. Lane Stadium - Virginia Tech (2006 vs. Clemson)
When you've spent your life watching high quality SEC football, you notice certain things about big games. These are the things I noticed as absent when I went to UVA. These are the things I noticed present at Virginia Tech. The crowd, the atmosphere, the environment - nevermind the capacity, recently expanded to 65,115. Tech fans are a special breed. In southwestern Virginia, there really isn't much else around. There are no professional teams in close proximity, nor are there any other universities. If you live in SWVA, you are a Hokie. From there, the unique qualities continue - you ain't seen fans get up for special teams like this. The "stick it in!" cheer is classic. The student section is jumping. Literally. And it's size even gives it some charm. Virginia Tech maximizes every single seat in the house. Good football.
02. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium - Florida (1999)
The one reason Florida Field isn't better than Neyland Stadium: tradition. For noise...well, like I said yesterday, once you get to a certain point, it's all just loud. For temperature and alcohol, it's advantage Gators. But The Swamp is a byproduct of Steve Spurrier, over the course of a decade. Urban Meyer, clearly, has done a great job of keeping it going. But for The Swamp to truly go down in college football history, they'll need to keep it going for another decade. So we'll see. Let the record show that I do enjoy the pure hatred that seems to flow from that place - when we went in 99, I felt like I was under attack as soon as I stepped out of my car for wearing orange. Good fun.
01. Neyland Stadium - Tennessee (145 games 1985-2006)
Size? Check. Noise? Check. Unique features (orange, checkerboard end zones, running thru the T, Rocky Top, Vol Navy, Vol Walk)? Check. There are other places that do individual things better than Neyland Stadium. You might get a decible or two louder somewhere else. You will get higher attendance a couple places. You have schools that have longer tradition. You have fans who are nicer, smarter, meaner, more respectful, and more hateful. But, as The Sporting News agreed with a few years ago, there is nowhere in the world that combines all these elements into one so perfectly as Neyland Stadium. The secret of life is a Fall Saturday in Knoxville.
Monday, June 11, 2007
10. Notre Dame Stadium - Notre Dame
09. Michigan Stadium - Michigan
08. DKR Memorial Stadium - Texas
07. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum - Southern Cal
06. Neyland Stadium - Tennessee
05. Lane Stadium - Virginia Tech
04. Beaver Stadium - Penn State
03. Tiger Stadium - LSU
02. Ohio Stadium - Ohio State
01. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium - Florida
Let me be the first to say that it's ridiculous, though understandable from a marketing standpoint, that Southern Cal cracked the top ten on this list. Playing the Trojans is intimidating. Playing at the Coliseum is not. There are a dozen SEC/ACC/Big 12/Big 10 schools who are cussing EA Sports over this right now, and rightfully so.
I've been to The Swamp, and it's impressive. I've also been to Lane Stadium, and while it's not as loud based on sheer attendance size, it is very, very intimidating. My experience is that once you get to a certain point, it's all just loud - playing at Auburn, Florida, LSU or Tennessee is intimidating in the SEC, and I don't think one of them is any moreso than the others. It's just loud. There have been moments at Neyland - Collins Cooper's missed FG in overtime in the TN/Florida game in 98, Travis Stephens scoring on the screen pass against Georgia in 01, Cedric Houston breaking loose on the second play from scrimmage against Miami in 02, James Wilhoit from 50 yards at the end of the TN/Florida game in 04 - where it got so loud, you literally couldn't hear your own voice coming out of your mouth. And it's no different at other schools on this list. So while everybody's got a beef over who's number one, I'd say that for most of these schools, it's just flat out intimidating for the opposition, period. The teams at the top of this list have difference making crowds. And that's what Home Field Advantage is all about.
Don't tell the folks in Ceres that Virginia Tech was ranked higher than Tennessee.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
...but here, instead of trying to predict what direction the writers will go in for the tri-brand draft by relying on my rusty e-wrestling skills, we'll instead take this opportunity to take a look at who's still alive and kicking - even if injured - in today's WWE. So, as they write "fake" storylines for the draft, they're also writing "real" issues behind that in determing who is most valuable, most marketable, and the like - who are the breadwinners in today's WWE?
So this is a right now Top 25 - not who's had the best career or who's the most talented, but an overall power ranking of sorts for the 25 best wrestlers today. Injured superstars are included, but those who come and go are not (sorry Mick Foley, Steve Austin, and Hulk Hogan). Those on the cusp or rumored to be headed towards WWE in the near future are also not included (sorry Chris Jericho). That being said...away we go, in reverse order for pseudo-dramatic effect. These are the 25 names I would build wrestling around today, who I would draft if I had a say so. By the way, wikipedia is an excellent wrestling resource, and YouTube is an excellent way to waste a day watching old matches.
Career Highlights: WCW Television Champion, WWE United States Champion
You've got to give some credit to a 48 year old midcard mainstay. WWE knows what they're doing in playing him simple ("My name is Finlay, and I love to fight!"), and he's an easy heel for anyone on their way up as a face. He's just important enough to make the midcard and the Top 25.
Career Highlights: 5 time ECW Champion
Though not nearly as effective without Metallica behind him, Sandman is still an easy crowd pleaser in the line of Hacksaw Jim Duggan, in that he can walk to the ring with a cane and a beer and the people will love it every night for about 10 minutes. For that reason alone, he's valuable. They'd be stupid to take him out of ECW in the upcoming draft.
23. Elijah Burke
Career Highlights: none yet...
...but here's somebody that does need to be taken out of ECW. Burke is relatively young and has built a relative following as a heel on Tuesday nights, now they need to see what he can do on Raw or SmackDown. He's got the talent and charisma to go much farther than this, so you can call this a potential inclusion.
Career Highlights: WWE United States Champion (current)
Here's another guy who hasn't been around very long, but appears to be on the relative fast track to success in WWE. His feud with Benoit produced some decent wrestling, though he definitely needs some new in-ring attire to be taken more seriously. He is the current United States champ, but like Burke, he also has potential upside...
Career Highlights: WWE United States Champion, WWE Intercontinental Champion
Carlito is an example of an "almost" guy, who's been in a few main events and flirted with the next level, but never quite broke through. His current feud with Ric Flair may or may not have any shelf life, and beating Flair may not move you far up the ladder these days. He's got the charisma and the versatility to play both the face and the heel well, but may do better on a less crowded SmackDown. Again, potential.
20. Shelton Benjamin
Career Highlights: 2 time WWE Tag Team Champion, 3 time Intercontinental Champion
The victim of some bad gimmicks during his run, but immensely talented and fun to watch in the ring, Benjamin is another tweener. He's had three runs with the IC title and has scored pinfall victories over some of the bigger names in the company. Teamed with Charlie Haas, they are an effective tag team (two titles), but perhaps he's being wasted. He's been out of the big picture storylines for almost a year now - hopefully they can use the draft to bring him back in.
19. CM Punk
Career Highlights: none yet...
Another rising star, like Burke, who may be able to benefit more away from ECW. He's probably more likely to remain on Tuesday nights than Burke, because they still need ratings too. Rose quickly with fans and they teased a heel turn with him right after WrestleMania, but that didn't last. They need to use his momentum now to help him rise - if they get the ECW title off Bobby Lashley, he could easily wear it in the future...
18. Booker T
Career Highlights: 5 time, 5 time, 5 time, 5 time, 5 time WCW Champion...
WWE World Heavyweight Champion, 2006 King of the Ring, 14 time tag team champion
...and that's among others, as Booker has been around the block a time or three. Booker has been out for a couple months but is scheduled to return later this month. He can play the face and the heel (King Booker) very well, and has really been underrated throughout his career. You tend not to miss him until he's gone, but WWE could definitely use him right now in any capacity. I miss Harlem Heat.
17. The Great Khali
Career Highlights: none yet...
...at least no titles yet, but Khali has been the receipient of a major push on two occassions in just a little over a year, walking right into a favorable feud with The Undertaker upon entering the WWE, and then going round and round with John Cena here recently. There will always be a place for a giant in the WWE, and somewhere like ECW, Khali could really dominate. The translator/no mic skills will only work for so long, and Khali isn't good enough to hold either of the two major titles. ECW could benefit from him, or he's always a physical threat against any good face.
16. Jeff Hardy
Career Highlights: 3 time Intercontinental Champion, 7 time Tag Team Champion
At times better alone, at time better with brother Matt, Hardy is still crazy enough and entertaining enough to be a solid upper-midcard draw. He's never going to be world champion - at least no time soon - but Hardy is always great fodder for someone like Khali, and is yet another name that could go farther somewhere like ECW.
Career Highlights: WWE Intercontinental Championship
While Umaga has the same lack of communication as Khali and isn't as physically imposing, he makes up for it with sheer aggressiveness, and has also received major pushes, competing with Cena for the title at the Royal Rumble, and being front and center in the Vince McMahon/Donald Trump ordeal at WrestleMania. This is yet another guy that won't be holding the world title, but is solid as a heel and has come along way since his days in 3 Minute Warning.
14. Mr. Kennedy
Career Highlights: WWE United States Champion, 2007 Money in the Bank winner Kennedy has grown on me recently, at least up until his most recent injury. His gimmick might need tweaking to get him to the next step, but he's got the charisma and the talent to go to the next level. He's been involved in big money feuds already with Undertaker and Bobby Lashley, and was in line to get a huge push after winning the Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania, but a triceps injury currently has him out. Can be a nice addition to any brand upon return.
Career Highlights: WWE Champion, 10 time Tag Team Champion
Kane, who is among the last generation of superstars to cross the 40 year old barrier, is still a viable force in any brand. But to me, he hasn't been as effective with the mask off. He got totally jobbed at WrestleMania by Khali, and the more big bodies that are around (Taker, Khali, Snitsky) the less effective Kane is without the hellfire and brimstone gimmick. While I'll agree that parts of that may have run their course, he's just not complete without them. Still, he's one of the fewer and fewer guys left that people who tuned in to watch Austin and Rock will still remember today, which gives him value. And he's always good for a feud with Undertaker.
12. Chris Benoit
Career Highlights: WWE World Heavyweight Champion, 2004 Royal Rumble winner
...and, aside from a legion of WCW titles, Benoit is also a WWE Triple Crown winner and another name that fans from 5-10 years ago would still know today. Benoit is also 40, but can still go. His day in the sun as a main eventer may have passed, but team him with someone and he can get the job done. It's hard to have him be a superface or a great heel, he just doesn't draw enough from the fans either way. Still, they don't come much more solid than the Wolverine.
11. Ric Flair
Career Highlights: 16 time World Champion
The Nature Boy is 58 years old, and can't have much more in the tank as far as in-ring performance goes. Maybe one more WrestleMania, or two to get to 25, we'll see. As an aside, no matter how "boring" the in-ring action might be, whoever thinks it's not a good idea to get Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair to lock up at WrestleMania 24 or 25, and that people wouldn't love every second of it...well, I hope none of those people are working for WWE. Flair still gets in the ring and dances, still wrestles fairly regularly, and has been involved with Carlito of late. He's also incredibly valuable with others (The Four Horsemen, Evolution) and will always be one of the best in the game on the mic. Ric Flair could wrestle once a month, and he'd still be worth this spot.
10. Rob Van Dam
Career Highlights: WWE Champion, ECW Champion
RVD is also one of only six men to have won the Grand Slam (WWE, Tag, Intercontinental, Euro). His status at the moment is unclear, due to injury and contract negotiations, but since he's still with WWE as of this blog, he counts. RVD got his moment in the sun last year by winning the title from John Cena last May, though he didn't hold it long. He got close to being a consistent main eventer several times over the last few years, but never quite got there. Still, Van Dam is always exciting and will always have fan support, and is still valuable in the WWE.
9. Rey Mysterio
Career Highlights: WWE World Heavyweight Champion, 8 time Cruiserweight Champion
Due back from injury soon, Mysterio is another easy face who can fly around the ring and get fan support. He was able to get to the main event better than RVD and held the World Heavyweight Championship for four months last year. He may never be a consistent main event superstar, but Mysterio will be a fan favorite again when he returns, and thus quite valuable to Raw/Smackdown.
8. Bobby Lashley
Career Highlights: 2 time ECW Champion (current), WWE United States Champion
The biggest problem with Bobby Lashley is that he smiles too much. His mic skill leave room for improvement no doubt, but he's quite the physical force and needs to wear a personality as dominant as his in-ring performance. He and Batista are really the only current superstars in WWE capable of this sort of physical dominance. He got the push and the win for Donald Trump at WrestleMania. Down the road, Lashley can easily become a Raw/Smackdown main eventer and win the big belts - he's still relatively young at 30. If he toughens up and gets out of ECW, he'll have his shot.
7. John Cena
Career Highlights: 3 time WWE Champion (current)
The problems with John Cena are well documented, but they're not all his own. Cena struggles to be THE face of the company, because right now it lacks a dominant heel - someone good enough to win the title and keep it for a lengthy period, and someone who you simply love to hate. As a result, when you put Cena against relative newcomers (Umaga, Khali) or against those without enough heat to sustain it (Booker), or against another face (HBK), he's not going to get the unconditional love from the fans. An excellent question here is, after this 18 month reign as the strained superface of the company, could he become an effective heel? There's lots of fans, especially the smart ones, who don't like him already. And here's the other problem: who's out there for him to take down to make people hate him? And again, the lack of surrounding talent hurts him - there's no one that's popular enough with the fans for Cena to backstab and attack that would make that much of a difference. When Steve Austin turned heel, he had to attack The Rock, side with Vince McMahon, and then attack Jim Ross to seal the deal before people really started to actually dislike his character. Cena, of course, isn't Austin and is booed 50/50 when he gets in the ring with another face like HBK. But this current path isn't getting it done for Cena. And I don't want to see Cena vs. Triple H at WrestleMania next year, because we've not only done that before, but Cena doesn't have the face pull to make that an even matchup. He's getting stale and needs something new. He's got the charisma and enough talent to stay in the main event, he just needs some help.
Career Highlights: 2 time WWE Champion, World Heavyweight Champion (current)
Edge is also a WWE record 12 time tag team champion. You may not realize it, but Edge has been in the main event spotlight for the better part of four years now, and has been involved in some memorable feuds and big money matches. Of all the current superstars, Edge might be my non-DX favorite. He doesn't have a stupid gimmick, he's an effective heel but still comes across like an everyman, he's very driven and very talented. I liked his feud with John Cena last year, and there could be potential there down the road. Edge is a main eventer and should continue to do so, and while he's not on legendary status with the likes of HBK and HHH, he may be by the time he's done. All around solid, I wish the fans appreciated him more.
Career Highlights: 2 time World Heavyweight Champion
Batista, who also draws mixed reactions from some fans, though much less so than John Cena, has been the PWI Wrestler of the Year back in 2005, and, along with Lashley, is among the last of the truly physically dominant performers in the WWE. His personality lacks the charisma of Cena, but that hasn't been a problem for others in his mold like Goldberg or Brock Lesnar. Still, he's a powerhouse that will always be in the main event conversation on Raw or Smackdown. He lacks the mic skills and the current longevity to make him a legend, but he's valuable, no doubt.
4. Randy Orton
Career Highlights: World Heavyweight Champion, Intercontinental Champion
Among the WWE superstars on the current roster who weren't around in the late 90s during the WWE's peak, Randy Orton has the brightest future. He's the youngest (only 27 - and did you know he was born in Knoxville?!) and has been in and around the main event for years. He held the Intercontinental belt for seven months in 2003. He's been in feuds with Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley (and The Rock by proxy at WrestleMania XX), Triple H at the disbanding of Evolution, Undertaker, and even Hulk Hogan. His real life self-destructive behavior has gotten him in trouble more than once, and has perhaps kept him from ascending even higher. Batista, Edge, and Cena have all held more belts than Orton, but perhaps Orton has been involved in the most high profile angles. If his personal life stays straight, Orton - who can function well as a face and even better as a heel - can become one of the definitive faces of this company for the next decade. There's a lot riding on him.
3. Shawn Michaels
Career Highlights: 4 time World Champion
The Showstopper, The Icon, The Main Event...HBK is currently sidelined with knee surgery (sold as a concussion on TV) and should be back in November. Even at 41, Michaels is still, without question, the best in-ring performer in WWE, and is arguably the best in-ring performer in wrestling history. Put Shawn Michaels in the main event, and he will deliver. HBK is in a weird place, because he got hurt in January 98 and was put out of action for four years right at the genesis of the "Attitude" era in WWE that saw the rise of Austin and Rock (and Triple H in HBK's absence), and by the time he returned in August 02, the steam was running out of the machine. So the younger fans who love Stone Cold and Rock-E are less warm to HBK, have no idea what the heel HBK was like, only know what they read about Montreal (10 years in November, believe it or not), and in DX's most recent incarnation, saw HBK as the humorous sidekick to Triple H. And, even as a huge HBK mark, I'll admit that Shawn isn't at the top of his game unless he's going against someone at the top of theirs. It's not that Shawn isn't complete without Bret Hart, but that he needs someone who will rise to the occasion the way Bret Hart did to make him the very best. Undertaker and Triple H have been that foil at different times, but the face vs. face matchup with John Cena didn't really provide it. No matter what, HBK will always be at or near the top of lists like these as long as he's physically able to compete. When you watch Shawn Michaels, you're watching something special.
2. The Undertaker
Career Highlights: 5 time World Champion
Taker's not young either, though just a year older than Michaels at 42. But he's been around the block longer than anyone, making his debut way back at Survivor Series 1990. And especially at WrestleMania time, where Taker is 15-0 and the kids mark out, Taker is money in the bank. He's at his best the way he was before he got hurt - playing the silent deadman with the bells and the smoke and the chanting. He could never carry the company by himself, though really only Hogan, Austin and Rock have been able to pull that one off. But, like HBK but for different reasons, as long as he's still competing, he will be at or near the top of these lists. The older the wrestling fan, the greater the appreciation for the Deadman.
1. Triple H
Career Highlights: 10 time World Champion, 5 time Intercontinental Champion
You say, "10 time World Champion?!" Check this out:
I. Triple H d. Mankind (Raw, August 99)
II. Tripe H wins Six Pack Challenge to win vacated title (Unforgiven 99)
III. Triple H d. Big Show (Raw, January 00)
IV. Triple H d. The Rock, 6-5 in IronMan Match (Judgement Day 00)
V. Triple H d. Chris Jericho (WrestleMania X8)
VI. Triple H awarded vacant World Heavyweight Championship by Eric Bischoff (Raw Sept 02)
VII. Triple H d. Shawn Michaels in 3 Stages of Hell Match (Armageddon 02)
VIII. Triple H d. Goldberg/Kane in Triple Threat Match (Armageddon 03)
IX. Triple H d. Randy Orton (Unforgiven 04)
X. Triple H wins Elimination Chamber (New Year's Revolution 05)
Hunter Hearst Helmsley is the man. That's 10 titles, and he hasn't actually held the belt since he lost it to Batista at WrestleMania 21. With a full talent roster, there's still no one more valuable than Triple H. DX is fun and will sell merchandise. But there's no heel more valuable on the entire roster than The Game. With HBK on permanent face status, Triple H is the best (and only) true main event heel on the roster, which all the almost faces on the roster need to go up against. Triple H is also the last and best known remaining superstar from the WWE's highpoint in the late 90s/early 00s. Thus, he maintains the role of franchise player. Good on the mic, good in the ring, will fight through two torn quadriceps, and simply one of the best in the game. If everyone was healthy and I was picking on Monday night, I'd take Triple H with the first pick in the draft, and it wouldn't take me long to arrive at that conclusion.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
- In early November, the Vols were ranked #8 and were 7-1 when #13 LSU came to Knoxville. The subsequent losses to Arkansas and Penn State may have made you forgetful, but on the first weekend of November, the Vols were widely thought to be in control of their own BCS at-large destiny, and still needed only one Florida loss to take the lead in the SEC East. And after Erik Ainge was injured on a called bootleg the week before at South Carolina, Jonathan Crompton got his first significant action against an attacking LSU defense. The Vols used three big plays to score all of their touchdowns, but lost the time of possession battle by 21 minutes (LSU ran more offensive plays than Tennessee to the tune of around 3 to 1), allowed two 4th down conversions on LSU's final drive, watched the referees miss a call where JaMarcus Russell fumbled on the same drive, and surrendered the losing touchdown with :09 to play. LSU 28 - Tennessee 24. In a game where every play counted, LSU made all the right ones at the end. This is in no way to say that beating LSU would've meant a better performance at Arkansas the following week, but the Vols were in control of their own fate for the BCS, and LSU snatched it away from them. This one hurt.
- In mid-March, we found something that hurt more. In the program's second trip to the Sweet 16, playing #1 Ohio State in a rematch of another heartbreaking game in January, the Vols raced to a 20 point first half lead behind the most incredible postseason shooting display I've ever seen. Fans at halftime were thinking about the Final Four. Then Ohio State came to life and the defense lapsed, the Buckeyes started scoring on almost every possession, and the 20 point lead was single digits in a heartbeat. Ohio State would eventually take the lead, and the Vols were game enough to take it to the final possession, when Greg Oden made a "with the first pick in the NBA Draft..." play, rejecting Ramar Smith's layup attempt and the hopes of Vol Nation in an 85-84 Ohio State victory. Tennessee shot 8 of 17 at the free throw line. You went from euphoric to depressed in twenty minutes. In control of their own fate for the Elite Eight, Ohio State snatched it away. This one really hurt.
- The Sweet 16 loss hurts more because it's big money men's college basketball. But if you take that part out of the equation, the softball losses over the past two nights are probably worse. Playing for the National Championship for the first time in the history of the program (and the SEC), behind the best pitcher in softball, undefeated and unscored on throughout the WCWS, up 1-0 in the best of three championship series against defending champ and softball goddess Arizona...you consistently put runners on base. You load the bases in the 5th inning on Tuesday and don't score. You leave runners on base in the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th as the game carries on. You get in multiple situations where all you need is a walk, wild pitch, hit batsman (batswoman?), single, error, or sacrifice fly to win the National Championship. And you just. Can't. Do it. To the point that it becomes a complex, both for the players and the fans watching. Arizona wins Tuesday night by inches on a missed tag at home plate. You tell yourself you're alright, there's always Game 3. But you know that karma isn't working for you now. And after leaving 14 on base on Tuesday, you leave 12 on base on Wednesday, and still score no runs. And in the blink of an eye in the fifth inning, the game, the season, the championship, and the career of Monica Abbott, are all over. No Tennessee team has come to the brink of a championship and been turned away so coldly. Ever.
Sometimes seasons end and you know you went as far as you could and could go no farther, that the teams that beat you were simply better, and you're still on the way up. Sometimes seasons end with abysmal performances that leave you kicking and cussing and calling for the coach's head. And there are lots of ways to lose a season-defining game. But for football, men's basketball, and softball, with everything on the line, the Vols were right there...and came up short. And it hurts.
All three programs will have an opportunity to be back. All three programs have losses, both general and specific (Robert Meachem, Dane Bradshaw, Monica Abbott) that must be addressed. And all three programs still had overall seasons that would be viewed as successful - the football team rebounded from a 5-6 2005 and showed they were still more than relevant, the basketball team made the Sweet 16 for the second time ever, and the softball team was in totally uncharted territory, one pitch away from the National Championship. The heartbreak of 2006-07 doesn't guarantee a return investment of success in 07-08. But the Vols, in all three sports - and really, as is the beauty of the athletic department these days, in every single sport they field, men and women - have an opportunity to compete for championships. That is and shall remain the bar. Teams jumps high in Knoxville. Pat Summitt's team cleared it, again, last year. Several others came close. But for the breadwinners for Phillip Fulmer and Bruce Pearl, and for the new darlings in softball, it's like getting all the way over the bar, and then nicking it with your pinky toe. Almost. So close.
The thing becomes now to let those close calls make you better. Vol Baksetball has already adopted "Remember the Alamo" as its mantra for 2007-08 - which is helpful, being that the 08 Final Four is in San Antonio. Vol Football knows they're always on dangerous ground in the SEC, in a conference that's good enough to eat you alive with a team that's still good enough to win it. And for softball, replacing Abbott will not be easy. But neither was replacing Manning. And the strength of the collective unit has a way of rising above. We'll be back. We're always right there. And each program is always in the moment and the chance of rising above, clearing the bar, and setting it higher. Such is life in Knoxville. And life is good.