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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Wish list for the coming year

As 2006 ends, here are a few things I'd like to see happen for some of our local athletes in 2007.

For David Toms, another PGA Tour victory or two. Toms is one of sports' good guys and it's always nice to see those guys rewarded.

For Todd Walker, a win in arbitration if it goes that far and a season of meaningful at-bats with the San Diego Padres.

For B.J. Ryan, a September filled with meaningful saves. For Ryan's teammate Vernon Wells, a Shreveport native, a chance for baseball fans to see just how good he really is.

For Scott Baker, no trips back to Rochester.

For Arnaz Battle, continued improvement for himself and the 49ers.

For Stromile Swift, a chance to contribute to a playoff team that won't bow out in 4 games.

Most importantly, for local sports fans, a 2007 that somehow tops the memories of 2006.

When no really doesn't mean no

This is where we've gotten to with the Nick Saban and Alabama romance -- we're now at the stalking point.

According to a report in The Palm Beach Post, Alabama is set to offer Saban a financial package worth anywhere from $40-50 million and a $5 million signing bonus. The report says the length of the deal has not been determined.

Saban has repeatedly, emphatically rejected the Tide on at least two or three occasions this month -- sorry I've lost count of the exact number.

As for Alabama, enough is enough. How many times do you have to be told no before you look elsewhere?

Rich Rodriguez has turned you down once. Why not go back to him? Or why not listen to CBS Sports' Tim Brando, a Times contributor, and just stick with Joe Kines for a few seasons.

Greetings from Texas Stadium

It's a little chilly - but then again it is New Year's Eve. There doesn't seem to be a lot of buzz outside of the stadium. But that's to be expected with the Dallas Cowboys already wrapping up a playoff spot and the hapless Detroit Lions in for the game.

But there is plenty at stake today for the Cowboys. A Cowboys win and Eagles loss would give Dallas the NFC East title and a home game next week in the playoffs. An Eagles win or a Cowboys loss and they're on the road to Seattle.

It's been a weird year for the Cowboys. They've looked like Super Bowl contenders at times. And at other times, they don't look like they even belong in the playoffs.

It'll be interesting to see which team shows up today.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

You never know who's watching

PetroSun Independence Bowl officials were pleased with their 3.0 telvision rating for Thursday's Alabama-Oklahoma State game.

Perhaps just as impressive as the rating was who was watching the game.

In an Associated Press story about former New York Yankees star Bobby Murcer's recovery from brain surgery, it mentions that Murcer watched the Independence Bowl on Thursday afternoon.


Let's hear no more complaints about a matchup of 6-6 teams. Apparently the I-Bowl was good enough for Bobby Murcer.

In all seriousness, our prayers and thoughts go out to Murcer and his family as he recovers from surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Hicks no longer synonymous with ATM

So Barry Zito called the Texas Rangers' bluff.

The Rangers were trying to stonewall the eccentric left-hander and his agent/devil minion Scott Boras into making a decision by this weekend to accept Texas' contract offer. Zito and Boras quickly made their decision and it was not to go to Arlington.

Apparently, some things in San Francisco are bigger than Texas. Say what you will, I think Zito would have been an awful fit in Texas.

This time, Hicks stood his ground and didn't get swindled by Boras (see A-Rod's $252 million contract and Chan Ho Park's 5-year, $65 million deal/albatross). Good for Tom Hicks and good for the Rangers.

Now if they could only solve that pesky starting pitching problem.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gents hang close with Longhorns

The Centenary Gents continue their improvement and have shown over the last few weeks that they may be Mid-Con upper echelon contenders.

After easily dispatching Louisiana Tech last week, the Gents hung with mighty Texas on Thursday before falling by 10 points. The last two times the teams have met, the Longhorns have won by at least 40 points.

Next up is a road game at Texas State, a team that the Gents defeated 91-85 in the Gold Dome. Although winning on the road is always tough, if coach Rob Flaska's team has indeed improved as the season has rolled along, Saturday's game is one they should win.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

No box springs for the Cowboys

The New Orleans Saints should send the Dallas Cowboys a set of mattresses. The Cowboys laid down twice for the Louisiana squad this season.

Not only did the 'Boys give the Saints an easy victory a couple of weeks ago, they're routine loss to Philadelphia on Monday allowed the Saints to clinch a first-round playoff bye.

Does Sealy Posturepedic fit your needs?

Shreveport's day in the sun

OK, former Shreveporters who read this Web site - Thursday should feel just like home.

You can watch the Independence Bowl on ESPN beginning at 3:30 p.m. That game figures to last until about 7. Then, if you haven't gotten enough of Shreveport, you can get more by watching the Centenary-Texas men's basketball game on FSN at 7.

It won't be a bad day for sports in Shreveport.

How does Carroll make the All-Star team???

Below is a recreation of the CHL All Star ballot for goalies Roy Lang III sent in this year.

CHL Northern Conference goalies (pick one)

Kenny Carroll __

Ken Carroll __

K Carroll __

Kenny Boy X

K.C. __

Other __

I guess when Carroll makes the All Star team as a starter despite having played in fewer than half of his team's games, it makes the NFL's selection of Tony Romo as an All-Pro QB not seem so bad, eh?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cotton Bowl showing its age

If you're looking for a good bargain, then the Cotton Bowl should be just the answer. You can go online and get tickets to the Nebraska-Auburn game for as low as $12.

That's right -- 1976 prices here in 2006.

What gives?

Well, apparently there is more supply than demand for Cotton Bowl tickets. This is what happens when you (a) play at 10:30 in the morning on New Year's, (b) take a team that lost in a championship game and feels let down over not making the BCS, (c) take a team that feels let down after having dreams of a national championship and (d) play in Dallas, a Shreveport on steroids so to speak.

Look, I respect and admire the tradition of the Cotton Bowl. The first thing that bowl has to do is get a reasonable kickoff. If that means getting out of the SEC end of the contract then do it.

Then, the bowl needs to up the ante and force its way to the BCS table.

The Cotton Bowl can be saved. Someone just needs to save it.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Pro Bowl QB my ....

Not to beat a dead horse, but Tony Romo is a Pro Bowl quarterback?

Yes, I know, he's the second coming of Roger Staubach. But for the second time in three weeks, Tony Romo wasn't any better than Tony Soprano would have been.

His numbers today? Romo completed 14 of 29 passes for 142 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. His 142 yards passing are the fewest in a start this season for Romo.

Look, I'm sure the guy could be a good quarterback in the NFL one day.

But for all of these people to run around saying he's an elite quarterback in the NFL, that's just wrong.

Maybe one day.

Not today.

Ho Ho Ho from Texas Stadium

How about this for the football fans around the Shreveport area. A Dallas win today would give the Cowboys the NFC East and at LEAST the No. 3 seed. This would mean that either the Cowboys or the Saints would get the No. 2 and a BYE ... WHICH MEANS a playoff victory by the team NOT GETTING THE BYE would leave a rematch between the Cowboys and the Saints! The game would be for a trip to the NFC Championship game.
What an atmposphere that would be!
Of course Dallas has to take care of business beginning now.

Well, what will we see today at Texas Stadium between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles?
The NFL has been so wacky this season, it's certainly not inconceivable Philadelphia could win and throw a mokey wrench into an already cluttered NFC playoff picture.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Sports Illustrated apparently could use some fact checkers.

In the magazine's most recent issue, it looks back at some of the famous sports figures to die in 2006. One of those is legendary Ole Miss football coach Johnny Vaught.

The magazine writes: "His Rebels won six SEC titles, and the '60 team, with Archie Manning at quarterback, claimed a share of the national title.''

That would be quite the feat for Manning, who was still playing for Ole Miss IN 1970.

Maybe instead of assuming that any decent Ole Miss team had a Manning at quarterback, SI's reporters could pick up the phone and call the Ole Miss sports information office.

As it is, it is an embarrassing gaffe.

As someone who knows all about those kinds of gaffes, it is understandable how it could happen. What's not so understandable is how with SI's resources that happens.

Chargers' charmed life continues

Yes the San Diego Chargers are still coached by Marty Schottenheimer, which should automatically eliminate them from any Super Bowl talk.

But, as the NFL season progresses, San Diego has emerged as the league' s most balanced -- and most resilient -- team.

Sunday was just another example. LaDainian Tomlinson's touchdown binge ended as he was kept out of the end zone. Quarterback Phillip Rivers misfired on 22 of his first 28 passes.

So what happens after Seattle takes a 17-13 lead? Rivers connects on a 39-yard touchdown pass to win the game and clinch a bye for the Chargers.

In a year of mostly mediocre teams, wins like Sunday's are why the Chargers keep looking more and more Super.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

L.A. Saints?

Leave it to Sports Illustrated to rain on the Saints' parade.

The magazine's look ahead to 2007 has good news and bad news for Saints fans. Good news in that SI expects the Saints' resurgence to continue. Bad news in that it expects the franchise to be the leading contender to move to L.A.

Never mind that waiting list to get Saints season tickets in New Orleans for 2007. Never mind that Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, isn't all that excited about the L.A. market.

Just recently Goodell told the AP, "I think there's been a misunderstanding in the past that we have to be in Los Angeles. I think we've proven that we don't have to be in Los Angeles."

SI is pushing the Saints out of the door.

Look, New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf South region may be too small and too poor for today's NFL. But so far the city, state and region are bucking the odds.

And until the waiting list shrinks and people stop coming, I'm betting on the Saints being in La. and not L.A.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Attention SEC haters

You might want to check out this week's Sports Illustrated. In the magazine, Peter King has a note on former Alabama linebacker DeMeco Ryans, currently playing with the Houston Texans.

King notes that Ryans "has outplayed the No. 1 pick, Mario Williams.''

Now, here's where it gets interesting. King quotes Ryans as saying, "I don't think the adjustment from college to pro football has been that great. I've played against so many of these guys before.''

He wasn't talking about those nonconference games with Utah State and Middle Tennessee. He was talking about the SEC preparing him for the NFL. Ryans, obviously, was well prepared for the NFL.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Last leap for Favre?

Maybe ESPN hasn't cornered the market on evil media conglomerates.

Now thanks to the NFL Network, it has company.

The last couple of seasons, we have managed to last until March or April before we heard talk of Brett Favre retiring or not retiring. Thanks to the NFL Network, however, it started earlier this week.

To hype the game between Green Bay and Minnesota at Lambeau Field, the network ran spots of Favre and the Packers with the title "The Last Leap?"

Thanks guys. Obviously in the NFL Network's eyes, six months of teetering on the bridge of retirement isn't enough. Nine months, however? Hmmm, that's about right.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Smack at you!

Some Louisiana Tech fans who thrive on internet smack talk without using their names seem to think that Tech Athletic Director Jim Oakes is on his way out.

One of the reasons they cite is Oakes lack of visibility at Derek Dooley's hiring party. Malcolm Butler spoke, President Dan Reneau spoke, then Dooley spoke and talked about sitting across the table during negotiations with Reneau. Meanwhile, Oakes remained as incognito as an athletic director can remain.

Fact one: Reneau asked Oakes to speak and he chose to let others shine.
Fact two: Oakes does not seek out, nor does he prefer to be in the media limelight.
Fact three: Oakes was not only in Miami interviewing Dooley, he set the whole thing up.
Fact four: Jim Oakes isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

And you can take those items to the bank.

Need my bowl fix

I'm looking at a blank TV screen here in the office. There is no bowl game being played tonight.

What? Thirty-two bowl games and we go a day without a bowl game.

Wait, we have a game on Thursday and at least one a day until Christmas and then pick back up and run all the way to Jan. 5 before an off day.

C'mon. In all seriousness, there are too many bowl games. College football is hampering its own product by watering down the postseason field.

Here is a prediction. In five years, we won't have 32 bowl games. Some of the 32 will be weeded out. If we get down to about 20, we should be able to have both opportunities for teams without an embarrassing product.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dooley needs to lighten up

New Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley may turn out to be a good head coach, but he's already showing signs that he isn't nearly as media friendly as former coach Jack Bicknell.

In an e-mail from Tech Media Relations Director Malcolm Butler, area media types were told that Dooley doesn't want anyone calling his assistant coaches or his players. Everything must go through Butler. Sounds like Dooley is going to be a Nick Saban-type control freak, which will severely limit the fan's rights to know what's going on in the program.

Someone in charge needs to tell Dooley real quick that he is at Louisiana Tech, not LSU or the Miami Dolphins. Media access is a must if Tech wants to grow its program. Bicknell never had a problem with a phone call directly to him at any time of the day and it didn't bother him if you called one of his players.

If Dooley wants to be successful in Ruston, that's one asset of his predecessor that he should adopt.


Why is Tony Romo a Pro Bowl quarterback? He didn't play until Oct. 15. He didn't start until Oct. 29. The Dallas Cowboys played four games without him. He didn't come close to playing the whole season, but he is a Pro Bowler?

I realize that past Drew Brees there isn't much in the NFC at quarterback. But shouldn't you have to play at least most of the season to play in the Pro Bowl? Don't you need at least a year to prove that you're not a fluke?

Putting Romo in the Pro Bowl is a slap at Michael Vick and the other quarterbacks who played well for the full year.

Have Romo give us a full year before we call him a Pro Bowler.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Carmelo makes his move

Way to go, Carmelo.

You really showed ‘em.

The sucker-punch you delivered to New York’s Mardy Collins before you backpedaled like a circus clown on a unicycle was one brilliant move.

And you couldn’t have picked a better place to do it. Madison Square Garden. New York City. NBA headquarters.

Brilliant move, Carmelo.

Oh, you apologized.

Apology accepted.

I just hope your teammates and fans can be as forgiving during your 15-game suspension.

You’re the NBA’s leading scorer. And even when you’re playing, your Denver Nuggets (13-9) are barely able to keep pace with the Utah Jazz (18-6) in the Northwest Division. And now they’ll be without you for 15 games.

Brilliant move, Carmelo.

Enjoy your vacation.

International Bowl?

There used to be too many bowls, but not any more.
Now there are WAY TOO MANY BOWLS.
The following teams are in bowl games this year, and this is all the evidence I need that there are WAY TOO MANY BOWLS: East Carolina, Troy, Rice, San Jose State, New Mexico, Central Michigan, Middle Tennessee, Western Michigan, Southern Miss, Ohio, Tulsa and Northern Illinois.
So, to review, that's four MAC teams. FOUR. (And if one of those is no longer in the MAC, it should be.)
Bowl madness. I am opposed to a national playoff, but if it would get some of these bowls out of the way, maybe it's worth thinking about.

See ya later, Melvin

Let's all pause for a moment out of respect for the coaching career of Grambling's Melvin Spears.

The firing of Spears on Monday came as little surprise to some GSU alumni who feel the man should have never gotten the job in the first place. Just after he was hired, it was discovered that the Master's degree Spears claimed he had, according to his resume, was not quite complete. Spears flew to Arizona and mysteriously came back with a Master's degree, dated after he was hired. He kept his job, but didn't get off on the right foot.

Winning cures a lot of ills, and Spears did that last year. But his 2006 season, which ended with a loss to Southern, apparently was enough for GSU President Horace Judson to send him packing.

That should be a positive move for Grambling.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I might be an idiot

If my name were Jon Gruden right now, I'd have to wonder a bit about my coaching ability.

Let me see, Chris Simms loses a spleen, do I go with a rookie (Bruce Gradkowski) or a guy who has started in the NFL (Tim Rattay) before?

Oh, let me go with the rookie - and punt the season away.

So Rattay finally gets his chance and nearly rallies his hapless team against the Bears.

Look, Tim Rattay will never pass the eyeball test. He is not big and strong. He's not going to win any track meets.

But the guy is a quality quarterback - especially when you consider the alternatives.

Saints' defense, coach full of early mistakes

A horrible use of a challenge by Saints head coach Sean Payton leaves New Orleans with just one more challenge the rest of the game. Payton challenged a non-fumble call on Redskins running back Ladell Betts midway through the second quarter. The replay was clear as can be. No fumble. Hope Payton doesn’t need that challenge later.
Redskins at the Saints' 11, leading 10-7.

The Redskins are moving the ball at will. Washington is using a nice combination of run and pass to decimate the black and gold.

Harry's in the house

In my opinion, Harry Connick Jr. is the best personality associated with New Orleans. He was on hand at the Superdome to sing the Star Spangled Banner. He is the face of this city, and I'd expect him to have this duty during the postseason. Who else would the people here love more?
Bring back Harry!!

Saints have another point to prove

New Orleans is in the playoffs, don't let scenarios fool you. However, today the Saints have another hurdle to conquer. Washington is a heck of a lot scarier than its 4-9 record. And coming off a big road win like last week's triumph isn't easy.
That being said, Sunday is a win that will go a long way in proving the Saints' future. It would all but wrap up a bye week in the postseason, the importance of which cannot be understated.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

NFL Network blues

Oh for a dollar for every phone call to The Times today wondering what channel is NFL Network?

You won't find the NFL Network here. You'll only find it on the satellite dish. It seems the NFL and some of the nation's largest cable companies are playing a high-stakes game with your NFL games on TV.

Here's a prediction: The NFL will win. I'm guessing the cable companies will cave in before the NFL. And I'm predicting that the cable companies will be carrying NFL Network next year.

For dish owners like myself, NFL Network is a quality addition. If you don't have it, then your best move could be to call your local company and complain - or dump the cable and buy a dish.

Showing some love for the I-Bowl

The Sporting News threw some love toward the Independence Bowl in its most recent issue.

TSN called Poulan-Weedeater the best sponsor for a game that isn't around anymore....

And, they ranked the Dec. 28 game as the best chance for snow. Amazing how the Mississippi State-Texas A&M "Snow Bowl" game still draws publicity.

On another note, congrats to Scott Ferrell for post No. 600 on The Times Sports Free for All blog...Scott will take home a lifetime supply of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat.

Friday, December 15, 2006

I-Bowl talk

I caught part of Alabama interim head coach Joe Kines' news conference today.

He seems awfully upbeat for a guy who will be coaching somewhere else in about three weeks. But then again, Kines is a professional. He wore the interim tag at Arkansas and he's wearing it now.

Alabama lost its defensive line coach on Thursday. Yet, Alabama may be better in the I-Bowl that it was during a 6-6 season. And here's why:

1) Kines says the team is healthy
2) Dave Rader, not Mike Shula, will be calling plays
3) Kines says the bowl - and the near-miss by Bama - gives the players motivation.

It's way too early to tell about the bowl game, but for a bad situation, Alabama seems to be making the best of it.

Wells deserving of monster payoff

Shreveport native Vernon Wells is close to landing a seven-year, $126 million contract extension from the Toronto Blue Jays, which would be one of the top 10 contracts in baseball history.

In this wacky offseason of funny money, Wells' contract may be the smartest yet.

He's a Gold Glove center fielder. A Silver Slugger candidate at the plate. An All-Star. And, from dealing with him and interviewing his father, his off-the-field intangibles are far above what he brings to the Jays on the field.

How many children can say they helped one or both of their parents learn about doing right by their family? Or how many can say they showed their parents a better way to be a parent?

According to Vernon Wells Jr., Vernon Wells III can. Don't look for Wells III to get a big head over his contract. In July he was named to his second All-Star team and a week later his voice barely changed when asked about it.

It's funny, as one of baseball's recognized good guys (Houston's Jeff Bagwell) said good bye on Friday, another one (Wells) was rewarded accordingly for his special talents.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Not so fast, my friend

The crew on ESPN's College GameDay gave their preview of the BCS bowls and said that the most likely chance for an upset would be Notre Dame over LSU.

In what games this year has Notre Dame given any indication it can beat a No. 4 LSU team? What indication has it given that it can beat a top-25 team?

Team speed has leveled the Irish throughout the season. It's the reason why Michigan smothered them in their own stadium and how USC dismembered them too. LSU is probably half a step faster than the Wolverines and Trojans.

His Holy Rotundness Charlie Weis has shown the only squads he and his team can beat are institutions that require their students to take oaths before enrolling. I wonder if the Girls Scouts can put a team together for next year's schedule?

Saints talk

If you're a New Orleans Saints fan, then you'll be loving some love from the national media.

This week's Sporting News has a column from Dan Pompei devoted to the Saints' Pony formation - when Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister are in the backfield at the same time. It makes some interesting observations that should give some insight to Saints fans.

One example: The Saints have used McAllister and Bush in the backfield together for 124 plays or 14 percent of the team's offensive plays.

The same magazine also looks at Drew Brees' chances of winning the NFL MVP.

And then Sports Illustrated has a little nugget for Saints fans tucked away in a Tikki Barber story. Barber basically says he career was going nowhere with the Giants until assistant coach Sean Payton figured out a way to use him.

That's the same Payton that has drawn up plays out of the Pony formation for the Saints.

A year ago, the only attention in the national media was about how soon the Saints would pack up and leave New Orleans and Louisiana. Now, the attention is significantly better for all the right reasons.

These guys care

Ever think you'd see a Major League Baseball pitcher enjoy watching a chicken nugget-eating contest between high school students? It happened Thursday night and for a good cause.

The second annual FCA Night at Chick-fil-A drew some of the area's most recognizable athletes and sports luminaries, including the aforementioned Scott Baker, Todd Walker, Tim Brando, Pat Tilley and Elois Grooms.

Brought together by Terry Slack and his staff, the event gives local FCA chapters a chance to mingle with some of the area's biggest names while celebrating the organization's goals.

It also gave Baker and the others a chance to enjoy an impressive display of competitive eating. The high school winner devoured 51 nuggets in the allotted five minutes.

Society crashes, McNabb at fault

Yes, I've found a way to blame the Mitch Mustain parent trap on Donovan McCnabb. Ever since the Eagles quarterback let his mom start bringing soup into the locker room, mothers everywhere have begun to believe they have the right to tell football players what to eat, and, thus, do.
Now, they have taken a mile and want to tell coaches what to do. Bravo to Houston Nutt for telling her like it is!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Monken may get Tech job

It's looking more and more as if current LSU assistant coach Todd Monken will be the new head coach at Louisiana Tech. Monken certainly has the inside track, recruiting north Louisiana and east Texas for LSU, along with his past ties to the Bulldog program.

But don't bet the bank on it just yet. Interviews are still underway and there could be a surprise on the horizon.

If Monken does get the job, you can expect him to keep interim head coach Ed Jackson, along with assistants Conroy Hines (a close friend) and Petey Perot. Jackson and Perot have established themselves as strong recruiters, while Hines is indispensable in keeping the players on target academically. Valdosta State coach Chris Hatcher made no such commitment during his interview on Tuesday.

Thank you, ma'am

Mitch Mustain's mother has given Houston Nutt permission to run the Arkansas football program. Thanks, ma'am, now the Earth may return to its axis. You have spoken.
Don't get me wrong; every parent should have input in a child's life, but is this the best timing for a player's parent to be complaining about how the Arkansas offense is run? THE TEAM IS GOING TO A MAJOR BOWL GAME and the running back was just THE RUNNER-UP TO THE HEISMAN WINNER.
Apparently, a mother's advice is more significant. To her I say, SIT DOWN!

Astros suffering from Texans-itis

Doctor, doctor, please hurry. The Houston Astros have contracted a severe case of Texans-itis.

In the early stages of the malady, judgment is impaired. Decisions are made without regard to consequences. If left untreated, Texans-itis can lead to Eggonyourfacia (the appearance yellow splotches on the face).

The origins of Texans-itis can be traced to Houston Texans headquarters shortly before the NFL Draft last April. (Several Texans officials were treated for Eggonyourfacia after Sunday’s game.)

And now, it’s hit Astros headquarters. How else can you explain why the Astros would send Taylor Buchholz, Jason Hirsch AND Willy Taveras to the Colorado Rockies for Jason Jennings and Miguel Asencio?

The Astros gave up far too much for the 28-year-old Jennings, who’ll fill the No. 2 spot in the rotation. Why not give Hirsch, the organization’s top pitching prospect, a shot at the No. 2 slot?

Buchholz showed flashes of brilliance last season. Why not give him more time to develop?

And Taveras? No way. The speedy outfielder can patrol center field with the best of them. And remember his 30-game hitting streak and timely infield hits?

Who’s going to play center?

Word has it that the Astros are preparing Jason Lane to play center. Yes, the same Jason Lane whose offensive struggles last season resulted in a return trip to the minors.

It’s difficult to see how this trade made the Astros better. If you understand, contact a physician immediately.

Best NHL line ever?

ESPN.com is asking fans to compile the top four lines in hockey history.

Here's how I would pick them...

1st line: Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux
2nd line: Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard, Bobby Hull
3rd line: Frank Maholvich, Guy Lafleur, Ted Lindsey
4th line: Bobby Clarke, Marcel Dionne, Steve Yzerman

I'm torn between putting Richard on the first line instead of Lemeiux. I've never seen Richard play, so Lemieux gets the top nod.

I like the combination of speed and finesse on the second line with Beliveau and Richard, though Richard could mix it up with anyone. Hull's shot was lethal.

Maholvich and Lindsey would be great physical complements to Lafleur.

I put Yzerman on that list ahead of guys like Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Peter Forsberg because I'm a homer. It's truly amazing the career Yzerman had. I don't think anyone had to adapt his skills through the years like him. When he came into the NHL, he was a pure goal-scorer. Under Scotty Bowman, he had to accept his new defensive style and became one of the game's best two-way players.

On a side note: I went home to Michigan for Thanksgiving and got tickets to the Red Wings-Canucks game. They announced before the first intermission that Gordie Howe was in attendance and would be signing copies of his book in the concourse.

The guys is nearly 80 and is treated like a rock star in Michigan. People stood four, five deep around his table snapping pictures on their cell phones and cameras. I've only seen him play on ESPN Classic broadcasts, but he's one of my favorite players all-time. The guy was still playing at 70 years old for crying out loud.

If you see a Red Wings jersey with No. 9 on the back about town, that's me. Though I must admit, I thought it was so cool when I saw Cameron in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," wear his around Chicago.

A round of 18, anyone?

Congrats to the Shreveport Country Club for reaching its goal and getting their finances in order.

Club officials announced on Tuesday that they had successfully formed a limited liability company (LLC) to manage the club's lease and finances. In essence, members bought into the LLC and assumed control, leasing the club back to other members (for a nominal fee).

And, if everything works out, David Toms could be a part of the club's future. Toms has expressed interest in developing adjacent land for a junior golf academy. The board of directors for his foundation backed out from any further planning in August, at least until the club got its finances in order.

Now that they do, it will be interesting to see what happens next. If Toms does partake in the venture, you can bet it will be a fantastic facility for kids to learn the sport.

But first, the SCC has to get membership back up. They've been hovering around 400 members for some time, but a few more would definitely benefit it.

The SCC is a vibrant piece of Shreveport's history. Its ballroom and reception are still the places to have a wedding reception or debutante ball. It would have been a shame if it dissolve before its centennial in 2009.

UFC live tonight on Spike TV

Several fighters from past "The Ultimate Fighter" seasons will fight tonight at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California. The card will be shown live on Spike TV beginning at 7 p.m.
Season 1 champion Diego Sanchez gets top billing for his fight against Joe Riggs.
Season 4's flamboyant character Shonie Carter will also fight tonight, taking on fellow 171-pounder Marcus Davis.
Should be a doozy tonight, check it out.

Card and weights
Diego Sanchez (169.5) vs Joe Riggs (170)
Jeff Joslin (169.5) vs Josh Koscheck (169.5)
Drew Fickett (171) vs Karo Parisyan (171)
Marcus Davis (171) vs Shonie Carter (171)
Victor Valimaki (204) vs David Heath (206)
Alan Belcher (186) vs Jorge Santiago (186)
Dave Menne (171) vs Luigi Fioravanti (171)
Keito Nakamura (169.5) vs Brock Larson (170.5)
Logan Clark (186) vs Steve Byrnes (185.5)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Good sign for I-Bowl

If you were wondering why the I-Bowl passed on a 7-5 Kansas State team to take a 6-6 Oklahoma State team, those thoughts should have been erased on Monday.

Oklahoma State's sellout of its 12,000 tickets for the Dec. 28 Independence Bowl is evidence of how much enthusiasm the school and its fans have for the game.

Let's face it, K-State would bring a lot of fans - if the I-Bowl were a BCS game or had a beach. But the I-Bowl has neither and probably would have drawn the same numbers Iowa State (7,000-10,000) would have drawn.

Oklahoma State's enthusiasm should rub off locally. And Alabama, well, given the circumstances of this season and the coaching change, you'd like to think a fresh start could give Tide fans some hope.

As it is, you can't really question the selection of Oklahoma State from a business standpoint.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Punking on Dennis Erickson

Dennis Erickson is a punk and Arizona State should be proud of what their getting in a coach.

When he took over the Idaho program last year, Erickson said all of the right things, including "This will hopefully be my last job, but we have to start winning games," Erickson said. "I love this area and I saw this as an opportunity to come back, give back and to get back into college football, which has always been my first love."

One year later, the smooth talking Erickson big-timed the people of Idaho. He's now once again a BCS coach but with Division III class.

Bob McNair is having a bad day

Is it possible that the Houston Texans could have had a worse day than the one they had Sunday?

It's bad enough to lose in the NFL on Sunday. But the Texans lost to the Tennessee Titans, the team that used to call Houston home and ripped the hearts out of Oilers fans when they moved.

So that's twice as bad.

But there's more. Not only did the Texans lose to the Titans, they lost in overtime on a 39-yard touchdown run by Vince Young. That would be the same Vince Young from Houston and the University of Texans that the Texans passed on in the draft.

The Texans are committed to David Carr at quarterback. Apparently, they are committed to being mediocre as well.

But that's not all.

Later in the same day, Reggie Bush - another player the Texans passed on in the draft - caught a short pass and turned it into a 61-yard touchdown. It was the kind of dazzling play that keeps those No. 25 jerseys selling.

Can it get any worse for owner Bob McNair and the Texans?

They are becoming what the New Orleans Saints used to be - a franchise seemingly cursed with every move.

I give up, Saints are for real

All season I have doubted the Saints, waited for this team of cast-offs and prima-donnas to succumb to their reality that the sum of their parts weren't ever going to be enough to make it to the playoffs.

Now I believe the Saints are heading to the Super Bowl.

Following last night's complete dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys in Irving, the Saints are clearly the best team in the NFC. Not only that, the Saints are also playing the best football in the NFC. Division leaders Dallas and Seattle took losses and Chicago isn't going too far in the playoffs with its quarterback play. New Orleans, led by a poor man's Joe Montana, Drew Brees, just has all the horses necessary to take it to the house against anyone in the NFC.

Forget about hosting one playoff game in the Big Easy, I'm pretty confident the Saints will get two since the Bears' defense is too tired of carrying its offense all season to hold up in the post-season.

The rest of the schedule is at worst a 2-1 and the Saints now own the tiebreaker over the Cowboys and have a better conference and division record (8-1, 4-1!) than the Seahawks.

As proven during the middle of the season, N.O. still has a gap to make up when it comes to facing teams from the superior AFC. However, in a one-game winner takes all scenario, you only need to bridge that gap for one night.

And what a glorious night that would be ... but, I'm not willing to go that far!

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Consider this one over

We've got 3:29 left in the third quarter, and this game is done.

The Saints aren't just beating the Cowboys. They are throttling them. The Cowboys look old and slow compared to the Saints. Drew Brees is picking the Dallas secondary apart like a buzzard nips at a carcass.

This game was actually over with Brees' 61-yard screen pass to Reggie Bush. Bush did all the work scooting and ducking his way through the Dallas defense for the touchdown. That was early in the third quarter and was the Cowboys' death knell.

Uh Oh...

Marques Colston is on the ground with trainers huddled over him, looking at that pesky ankle injury of his. Trainers were looking at his ankle like it was a high-ankle sprain. He's up and walking off the field on his power. Let's see when he comes back in.

1:02 left before halftime, and after giving up the big run to Julius Jones, the Saints have responded by controlling this ball game thoroughly. Drew Brees is running the offense very effectively.

Saints are rolling

New Orleans turns a Tony Romo interception into a touchdown. Brees hits Mike Karney for his second touchdown. New Orleans is dominating the time of possession. The Cowboys need a good drive soon to halt this momentum.

Saints find their counter!

New Orleans strings together a very nice drive that encapsulates 88 yards for the touchdown. The Saints didn't do anything fancy (OK, except for a reverse to Devery Henderson), but they kept it simple and exploited the Dallas defense with quick slants. The biggest play was a nice read by Drew Brees to hit tight end Mark Campbell that put the Saints in scoring position.

Saints better find a counter...

for the Dallas blitz. The Saints had two series dry up and it's not three minutes elapsed in the game. Each drive ended with fantastic pressure from the Cowboys either sacking Drew Brees or forcing him to get rid of it quicker than he wanted.

There goes Julius

Julius Jones just broke for a 77-yard touchdown run. The Saints defensive line may be in for a long night with the departure of Hollis Thomas. Terrell Owens threw a terrific block to spring Jones around the left end.

The Cowboys ran right at end Will Smith, and he couldn't make the play.

First play of the game...

Is a 10-yard pass completion to Colston...welcome back Marques.

Did I hear that correctly?

I do believe I heard a "Who Dat?" chant rise up from one corner of Texas Stadium during the coin toss.

Quick change your lineup fantasy guys!
End Will Smith (knee) and receiver Marques Colston (ankle) were listed as questionable for tonight's game, but the two are dressed and going through pregame warmups.

Smith is doing one-on-one drills while Colston is running routes in skelton formations. Colston missed the previous two games thanks to that ankle. He would be a welcome asset for the Saints who are still without Joe Horn (groin).

So far both look fine and ready to go.

Terrance Copper, a former Cowboy, will get the start for Horn.

Keys to success
Less than three hours before kickoff, and the game could come down to a couple of factors for the Saints.

1) Stopping the Cowboys run. With Hollis Thomas out, due to a suspension for the rest of the regular season, the Saints defensive line is weakened. The Cowboys could exploit his absence.

2) Pressure on Tony Romo. Even with Thomas' absence, the Saints defensive line has tremendous pass rush abilities - Will Smith (8.5 sacks), Charles Grant (six sacks) and Brian Young (4.5 sacks). Smith didn't play last week and is questionable for tonight.

3) Sean Payton. The former Bill Parcells assistant meets his former mentor for the first time during the regular season. Payton has an opportunity to impress his former boss and get the Saints that much closer to a first-round bye.


What else can you say? I've covered several Saints and Cowboys games this season and Sunday's outcome was flat out unbelievable. I like the Saints. I'm glad for the Saints and the people of New Orleans, but this season is just too much to comprehend. Completely dismantling the Cowboys on national television will no longer allow the Saints to go unnoticed. They are now in line for a bye. Yes, folks, a playoff bye in the NFC. Just crazy. As for the Cowboys, don't count them out just yet. They are a good team that just ran into destiny tonight. And for once this fall, it wasnt on the Cowboys' side.

Thank you Patrick Netherton ...
who just sent me a text that said, "Peyton beats Blanco easily in the next election."

Are you freaking kidding me?
Tony Romo throws a ball directly into the arms of Saints cornerback Fred Thomas on fourth-and-forever and Thomas bumbles the ball like a school kid. The ball deflects into the arms of Terrell Owens, who walks into the end zone to cut the New Orleans lead to 28-17.
If the Saints somehow implode, this play will go down in Saints' history.

Joel Anderson, where ya at?
Reggie Bush -- we all know this guy -- does it again. 61 yards after hauling in a screen pass, the rookie from USC headed to the house.
It's all Saints all the time.

Romo not sharp by any stretch
The Cowboys QB tried to throw an interception (twice) in the end zone. Luckily for him and Dallas, the Saints weren't able to hang on and Martin Gramatica cuts the lead to 21-10 with 11:26 left in the third.

Who the hell are these guys?
Mike Karney scores the first two touchdowns of his NFL career. Jamal Jones the first. Huh. The Saints have brought these guys out of obscurity and into the spotlight to take a 21-7 halftime lead.

Officials tonight are less than stellar
One member of the media quipped, "the officials should have taken a nap." The debacle is going both ways.

Non-call a huge break for Dallas
The Cowboys catch a break when Miles Austin hauls punt returner Reggie Bush down inside the 5-yard line by his facemask.
The officials somehow miss this and New Orleans starts at its 5.

Payton abusing Cowboys' defense
Yes the Saints are executing, but the play calling is downright masterful to this point. No one would have predicted Mike Karney being called on to be the difference maker in this game.
So far, with two touchdowns, he is.

Romo makes game's first blunder
Dallas QB Tony Romo casually launched a pass downfield toward Terry Glenn early in the second quarter. Unfortunately, Omar Stoutmire was there and Romo obviously didn't see him.
Not sure how. Every team has a safety and he's wearing black. Cowboys have white on.

Payton ... GENIUS!
The Saints spread the field and then watch Mike Karney waltz in the end zone up the middle. Great play call. Cowboys did have Reggie Bush smothered though. Is that any consolation?

Big play here
Third-and-goal at the 3. Brees calls timeout. Look for sort of play-action or stretch play. Halfback pass?

Dallas defense stammering
Sean Peyton looks likes a genius on this drive. Every play is working. The last double-pump dump over the middle to tight end Mark Campbell brings the fleur-de-lis inside the 10.

Razzle dazzle
A couple big plays to Karney and Bush brought the Saints to a 4th-and-1 inside Dallas territory. Devery Henderson takes the reverse for the first down.

Perfect example of Bush as a decoy
On first down of the Saints' drive midway through the first quarter, Reggie Bush came out of the backfield to the left and it appeared Brees would look his way. Once the Cowboys' corner, Terence Newman, committed to Bush, Brees dumped it over the middle to fullback Mike Karney for a 9-yard gain.
Two plays later, the Saints did the same thing to the right. This time Brees hit Bush for a 13-yard gain.
Bush won't pound it down your throat 8 yards at a time, but he does alter a football game.

Dallas sputters on second drive
Romo hits tight end Jason Witten for a big gain, but the drive soon stalls. For now, New Orleans has collected itself.

Julius Jones found a way to score. He is replaced by Marion Barber III in the red zone and only had three scores on the ground heading into Sunday. On the Cowboys' second play, the Notre Dame product rumbled 77 yards for a touchdown. It was the fifth-longest touchdown run in Cowboys' history and the longest of Jones' career.

Ware gets to Brees already
DeMarcus Ware sacks Saints QB Drew Brees on New Orleans' third play from scrimmage.
On third-and-17, Brees hits Reggie Bush over the middle for an 8-yard pickup.
Bush tried the shake-n-bake on Dallas cornerback Terence Newman, but the Kansas State product made a beautiful form tackle on the rookie from USC.
Edge to Dallas' defense early.

New Orleans rookie phenom Marques Colston, the seventh-round gem, will play tonight. He missed the past three games with an ankle injury.

This game just got bigger ...
The Seattle Seahawks fell to the Arizona Cardinals this afternoon. Therefore, the Saints-Cowboys game is for SOLE possession of second place in the NFC. Second place gets that all-important bye week.
Wow. Huge, huge game.

Keys to Cowboys' victory
1. Run defense
Dallas has a solid defense, but the only way I think the Saints can win this game is if Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush go off. New Orleans is without Joe Horn.
Late word is that Marques Colston will play, so that's encouraging news for Saints fans.
That Saints' receiving corps still is a bit thin. Sooner or later, that has to hurt. It will be sooner.
Let Drew Brees throw all day. I don't think they can outscore you with Devery Henderson and Terrance Copper on the outside.

2. Eyes on Bush
Pretty much a given. In a tight game, Reggie Bush is going to have the ability to change the outcome with one of his special moments. Dallas must do everything possible to shadow this kid.

3. Romo avoids the big mistake
Dallas' offense is balanced. it can be efficient or deadly, depending on the situation. Romo must not give a suspect Saints defense any momentum or reason to think they are going to take the Texas Stadium crowd out of this game.

Dallas wins. And I hate to say it, but this could be pretty dominating.

Welcome to Texas Stadium!
We are three hours from kickoff and there's an ugly green tarp on the field. The light rain is hardly menacing. Kudos to Times' writer Brian Vernellis, who pulled off a move Mario Andretti would be thrilled with on I-20.
Vernellis maneuvered his SUV around a pack of dogs that sprinted into the middle of the highway, avoided the ditch and kept us going toward the Metroplex this afternoon. WHEW.
Thanks BV!

Vince's homecoming

Usually, there's a late-arriving crowd at Reliant Stadium. But favorite son Vince Young is here, and a lot of his supporters arrived early.

This has to be a record crowd, from the look of things. And there's no shortage of Vince Young or Houston Oilers jerseys in the crowd.

The Texans just went ahead of Tennessee, 7-6. But it's still early.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ho-hum Heisman

Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy today. Yawn.

Has there been a Heisman with less doubt than this one in recent years?

The only surprising thing about the Heisman Trophy balloting was not who won, but who came in second. Arkansas' Darren McFadden beat out Notre Dame's Brady Quinn for second, positioning McFadden for a run at the Heisman next year.

My ballot - I had Smith one and McFadden two. I didn't feel good about Quinn, or anyone, at No. 3. But the Heisman folks make you pick three so I went out of the box and put down Patrick Willis at No. 3.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Tech search moves along

Louisiana Tech AD Jim Oakes isn't saying much about his school's search for a new head football coach. But he did say tonight the search was on schedule. And Dec. 15 remains a target date for a hire.

Now, what we learned from talking to others.

Tech has three serious candidates and has talked to all three - LSU assistant Todd Monken, Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and Valdosta State coach Chris Hatcher.

Gannett's Glenn Guilbeau talked to Monken today and he confirmed both an interest in Tech and conversations with the school.

Other sources have since confirmed talks with Muschamp and Hatcher.

As the Alabama search proves, a public courting of a candidate can backfire. So don't expect much coming out of the school.

But expect a coach by next Friday.

Storybook or just special? We'll find out Sunday Saints fan

The New Orleans Saints have already accomplished enough to satisfy most of their fans. The 8-4 record, the aquisition of Drew Brees and the emergence of Reggie Bush as an all-purpose threat and role model -- throw in the atmosphere in the Dome on opening night and you have quite the story.
But the real humdinger would be a victory at Dallas on Sunday. The 2006 season would then go from special to storybook. From delightful to destiny. Dare we say ... from San Antonio to Miami?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I-Bowl announcement party

The I-Bowl Team Announcement Party was a little more lively than usual tonight.

Rayfield Wright, the PetroSun president and former Dallas Cowboys great, told a story about seeing Cowboys owner Jerry Jones earlier in the year.

"Jerry said, 'Rayfield, you look like you could still play,''' Wright recalled. "I said, 'Jerry, I'm good for two minutes.''

Wright then offered his service to both teams - for two minutes, in the Dec. 28 game.

Emcee Tony Taglavore introduced Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover by saying Glover made history last month.

After taking the microphone, Glover said, "Indeed, indeed, we made history. Shreveport has its first 6-foot-4, 350-pound mayor ... Fifty plus.''

Glover also offered his services to the two teams - except Glover pledged four plays.

Bossier City mayor Lo Walker was late arriving. But he got there in time for a zinger at Glover.

"I looked at Mayor Glover over there,'' Walker said, "They say Shreveport is three times bigger than Bossier but this is ridiculous.''

Later, Alabama coach Joe Kines said he would take both Glover and Wright up on the offers. One, he said, could be a rush end and the other could be a defensive tackle.

Interview with the General

When I was a cub reporter (I've always wanted to use that phrase) first starting out at a tiny semi-daily in Michigan, I got to cover high schools and a Division III college. Once in awhile, I'd get to go to a Detroit Tigers game or a Michigan football game where I felt completely out of place and intimidated by the surroundings.

I felt like that again on Wednesday covering an historic game - Bob Knight's 876th career win against Louisiana Tech tied him for second on the Division I wins list with Adolph Rupp.

Knight joined the news conference after two of his players spoke. He entered the Hall of Fame room at the Thomas Assembly Center, noticed the TV microphones set up at the far end of the table and sat down at the opposite end.

The guy has an air of intimidation. How many times have we seen on TV his antics and incidents - throwing chairs, kicking players, spewing profanities? You try asking him a question with those scenarios flooding through your mind.

He didn't address the big question (What does it mean to tie Adolph Rupp?) until a reporter asked him as he was ready to leave. His response was in today's Times.

Knight was cordial with the media, possibly because he won. As he was leaving, he stopped in the corridor, turn around and came back in.
"But if you want to hear another Rupp story I've got one for you."

He may hate the media some times, but he certainly knows how to play it.

.5 percent may mean everything for Saints

Drew Brees carries himself with a quiet confidence. He is the epitome of calm in a 2-minute drill and, oh yeah, he's exactly 99.5 percent confident in himself. And for that, every New Orleans Saints fan should be happy.

In a teleconference Wednesday, Brees revealed the secret to what made his comeback from offseason labrum surgery go so well so fast.

He said it was the tiny sliver of doubt -- exactly .5 percent -- that he may never be the same QB he was before being injured in the 2005 season finale with San Diego. That was the motivation he needed to work through tortorous rehab on his shoulder. That was the motivation he needed to perfect throwing a deep ball -- one big question mark that lorded over him. And that -- that tiny, nearly impercetible feeling of doubut -- has been the motivation for the most successful Saints season in recent memory.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cowboys can't stop talking about Bush

Just got back from Valley Ranch, the center of the NFL universe this week as the Dallas Cowboys host the New Orleans Saints. Both teams are 8-4 and the winner will clinch at least a wild-card berth. After three hours listening and talking to the men with stars on their helmets, two names were heard all afternoon -- Drew Brees and Reggie Bush. It seemed like there wasn't anyone else on the Saints. Brees this, Bush that. By the way, I didnt hear (and fellow reporter Jason Pugh will back me up on this) Duece McAllister's name ALL DAY. It's clear the Cowboys defensive players have put a bullseye on Bush's back. Former LSU and current Dallas linebacker Bradie James said Bush can "take it the distance any time he touches the ball." The Dallas defense has clearly made it a point not to let the NFC's leading pass catcher (second in the NFL behind Houston's Andre Johnson) beat them Sunday. I think the Cowboys' defense is plenty good enough to stop Bush and the Saints running game. And with the receiving corps likely depleted, it could be a long day for the Louisiana boys.

If I may offer a suggestion ...

Louisiana Tech is searching for a new football coach having fired Jack Bicknell. I don't know what the Bulldog Nation expects for its new coach, but I have one man in mind who might fit the bill for what LaTech needs ... former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney.

He comes from a BCS conference, he already has years of experience as a head coach, he is the most alumni friendly head coach as you'll find anywhere. Dan is a great salesman of his program and his university, he is one of very few head coaches who will call you back himself AND pick up the phone when you call his office. He built the Iowa State program to the point where young Iowa high schoolers really would have some thinking to do when they had offers from both Iowa State and Iowa.

On the recruiting front, where better than this part of the country to find high school talent and he would come with relationships already established with the rich Midwest junior college programs.

I realize Bulldog fans will look at McCarney's record this past season and roll their eyes at my suggestion. However, if you only knew from how far down Iowa State was throughout its history to where McCarney built it today, you'd understand why I make the recommendation.

Believe me, Bulldog Nation, you could do much worse than McCarney.

Giving the devil his due

I've been a pretty harsh critic of Tom Benson in the past. But I have to give him credit this time.

He is doing the right thing in regards to ticket prices. The Saints are freezing season ticket prices with one condition: depositing $100 before Feb. 28.

That's really not too much to ask.

"Saints fans stepped up and supported the team this year, even before the team had proven success on the field,'' Benson said. "We wanted to do this to say 'Thank You' for their loyalty and offer them the same commitment they showed us."

Will miracles never cease? The Saints in first place. Benson doing the right thing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Moving on

Louisiana Tech is not wasting any time looking for a new head football coach.

I talked to Tech athletic director Jim Oakes tonight and he said he hopes to have a coach hired by Dec. 15.

That's pretty quick - 11 days after the firing of Jack Bicknell. But this is recruiting season and every day counts.

If Tech can find the right guy in 11 days, then that will be quite a coup. As it is, recruiting could be harmed the longer the Bulldogs are without a head coach.

Still, Tech has some company in the market. Among those still without a coach are Alabama, Arizona State and Miami.

No common sense in the NFL

Saints defensive tackle Hollis Thomas will miss the rest of the season thanks to a suspension handed down by the NFL. The NFL says Thomas violated the league's steroid policy and will miss the last four games of the regular season as punishment.

Thomas and the Saints counter that he failed his August drug test because it was the steroids in his asthma medication. Thomas has appealed to the NFL and even received the backing of the team and the Saints' trainer, who's an assistant professor at the LSU Health Science Center.

Have we reached a new level of absurdity with the zero tolerance standard? Surely there are intelligent men and women in the NFL front office who can decide when there are circumstances that yield special consideration.

Thomas needs his medication to live. He's not using it to add bulk or repair fatigued muscles quicker.

Rather than do the right thing, the NFL throws the "zero-tolerance" blanket over each case. Yes, there are steroids being used in the NFL, and those violators should be punished. But when a guy needs them to breathe, is common sense the biggest casualty?

Monday, December 04, 2006

3.1 yards and a cloud of smoke

So, we were invited to find a chink in the armor of Reggie Bush.

That's easy enough, Roy:

1. He averages 3.1 yards a carry.
2. He's an undersized receiver, an overrated returner and a backup tailback, stuck behind a guy coming off major knee surgery. If Michael Bennett would have stuck around, he probably would have been the No. 3 running back.
3. He isn't even the best rookie backup running back from the PAC-10 in the NFL. That would be Maurice Jones-Drew, of Jacksonville and formerly of UCLA.
4. He once finished a game with minus 5 yards on 11 carries; it was the sort of performance that would have embarrassed even Blair Thomas.

We're all supposed to be impressed with No. 25's 4-TD game against those mighty San Francisco 49ers, right?

Um, no. This was Bush's first good NFL performance and it only took 12 games to get it - against the league's 22nd-ranked defense. He wasn't facing the '85 Bears, the '00 Ravens or even the '06 Cowboys. Or the '06 Browns. Get the picture?

Before Sunday, Bush was looking every bit like the 21st-Century John Avery. I really didn't see anything against the 49ers that would change my mind about that. Remember, Roy: he only needs 632 more yards rushing in the next four games this season to crack 1,000.

You can't run your way into the Hall of Fame 3.1 yards at a time.

Hypocrisy rules

Hell hath no fury like a sports writer scorned (from that book deal following his team's appearance and/or winning the national football title).

In today's Detroit Free Press, columnist Mitch Albom is outraged, outraged I tell you, that Michigan got bypassed by Florida in the final BCS standings.

"Did Michigan get jobbed?'' Albom writes. "Sure it did.''

Boy, that's one more homer the Detroit Tigers could have used in the World Series.

I have been Googling this afternoon for Albom's outrage at the BCS in 2004 when an undefeated Auburn team got left out. Or back in 2003 when No. 1-ranked USC didn't even play in the BCS title game. Or in 2001 when Nebraska made the game despite not winning its own division.

Nope, still can't find those stories.

I guess you're outraged only when it affects teams in your own region, teams you cover and, of course, those book deals.

Albom isn't alone. Another Detroit sports writer complained that CBS' Gary Danielson campaigned for Florida during the SEC Championship Game.

OK, let's say Danielson did. Will Michigan then send that 1997 Heisman Trophy to Peyton Manning that ESPN campaigned for TWO MONTHS for Charles Woodson?

I'd call that one even.

As for Florida coach Urban Meyer, he has been called shameless and rude by the folks up north.

I'm no Urban Meyer fan - I think his offense is pure high school - but he did what every fan in the country wants their coach to do. He fought for his team. Maybe if Lloyd Carr had done the same they would be in the game.

In the end, I don't think all of this makes much difference. I've thought all along Ohio State was the best team.

I do find it funny each year when a new region realizes how much of a joke the BCS is.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I-Bowl talk

The PetroSun Independence Bowl announcement had been made less than three hours before the shots began from the national media.

The Orlando Sentinel tabbed the I-Bowl's Alabama-Oklahoma State pairing as the No. 31 bowl out of 32 games.


Is it really that bad? Probably not. Oklahoma State does own a win over Big 12 North champion Nebraska. And Alabama took No. 2 Florida to the fourth quarter before losing.

What has drawn negative attention to the bowl, though, is the records of the teams. Both teams are 6-6.

Look, when you pick seventh in the Big 12 and eighth in the SEC you're not going to get 9-3 or 10-2 teams. Not going to happen.

From where the I-Bowl was picking, the best record it could have possibly had was 7-5 with Kansas State.

I-Bowl officials, rightly in my opinion, made the decision to go with Oklahoma State because of proximity, fan base and all those things that keep the bowl afloat.

Would it have been nice to have an 8-4 team versus a 7-5 team? Yes. But until the I-Bowl moves up in the pecking order, this is what we've got.

Saints look to solidify playoff position in dangerous game

There is nervous excitement here in the Superdome this morning. The New Orleans Saints have a chance to make this season more special -- and create some leeway -- with a win against San Francisco today. However, the 49ers aren't bad. They come in 5-6 and winners of three of their last four games. No matter what happens this week, the Saints will face a huge contest next week at Dallas, so this would be a prototypical "look-ahead" game. If the Saints are the real deal, this game should result in a victory. But then again, this is the NFL, and this season, anything can and has happened.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Love that BCS

You've just got to love college football's BCS.

What other system could take the No. 1-ranked team in 2003 (USC) and not have them in the title game. What other system could take the two teams that should have played in 2003 (USC and LSU) and possibly matching them up three years later.

So here we go again. Ohio State is a clear No. 1. But No. 2, well, open up the door.

USC's loss brings back Michigan into the picture as well as Florida.

Here's a bet: Michigan plays again in a game we've already seen. But you know what, Florida has no one to blame. The Gators could have gotten in with an impressive win over Arkansas. They didn't impress.

Please, someone fix this system. I almost prefer the old days where everybody cut their own deals and the polls were voted on after the games.

Just say no, Rangers

Saw the other day where the Texas Rangers are pursuing free-agent left-hander Barry Zito.

Just a word of caution for Jon Daniels, Tom Hicks, et al: Don't do it.

Yes, Rangers, you need pitching. Yes, Zito is a legitimate All-Star/Cy Young kind of pitcher. But he's also a flyball pitcher and we all know how that story plays out in Ameriquest Field/The Ballpark at Arlington.

The free-agent market has hit crazy levels already and we're still 36 or so hours from the Winter Meetings beginning. The Rangers, after losing so many key components from last year's team, need to make a big-time move. It's just the big-name lefty from Oakland isn't the right move to make.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Not again

While thumbing through Sports Illustrated, I came across something that caught my eye.

The magazine is pumping up the Missouri Valley conference again. Seems Wichita State's win at LSU last week was enough to get that train rolling out of the station again.

Look, as Russell Hedges posted a couple of weeks ago, mid-majors winning basketball games should not be a stop-the-presses news story.

But apparently, the national media loves the underdogs and the Missouri Valley in particular. Come March, it will be a good win for Wichita State and a not-so-bad loss for LSU.

Shouldn't that be enough.