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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Pilots crash out of the rankings

This has been a tough year for LSU-Shreveport.

A rash of injuries has ripped through the Pilots' roster. A team that began the season in the NAIA's top 10 finds itself out of the poll this week.

There's a lesson here. You can't really count on anything in college basketball. Injuries can turn a top-10 team into an ordinary team.

There is still time to turn it around. But after the success of the recent years, this has been a difficult year for LSUS.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Super Bowl XLI prediction

Sunday is near so here's my Super Bowl prediction.

Indianapolis is favored by seven points over Chicago and many are picking the Colts to beat the Bears.

Having Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison win a Super Bowl would be cool, but I gotta go with the Bears on this one.

The Bears have to feel slighted about being a seven-point underdog and it doesn't take much to motivate Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and the rest of the Chicago defense.

The Colts better watch out because we will witness another memorable performance by a Bears team in a Super Bowl.

Prediction: Chicago 28, Indianapolis 13

Monday, January 29, 2007

Love them some Saban

Work has carried me to Alabama this week and it has been interesting to see how folks around here view the new Crimson Tide football coach.

The Montgomery paper carried a recruiting story in Sunday's paper on Alabama winning a few and wooing a few recruits. A local TV station showed clips from I-Bowl practices in Shreveport while discussing the departure of a Tide assistant coach for the Cleveland Browns. (Hey, John Thompson at least lasted a month with Saban at LSU.)

All in all, the people around here - at least the Alabama folks - are expecting an immediate difference in their team next year.

I think Nick Saban is a great coach. But until he gets some playmakers on offense, I have my doubts about Alabama next year. But that's why they play the games.

Barbaro latest example of animals' role

Yeah, I've heard it.
"Why are they spending all that money to save a horse that will never race again."
"It's ridiculous the attention people are paying to a horse."
Yada Yada Yada
I understand the cynics. It's tough to explain how many can slave over the life of an animal, when human beings die every day in senseless ways.
It makes no sense.
On one hand it shows how often our priorites are a bit mind-boggling. On the other, it shows how an animal can become more than just a pet.
Barbaro captivated the country with his underdog-to-superstar story. He was a horse that wasn't supposed to be near Churchill Downs, let alone in the world's biggest horse race.
His triumphant rise to fame was quickly soured with his infamous trip out of the starting gate at Pimlico. The support poured in from all over. Cards, letters, flowers -- any and every way to say "get better."
It's likely those people, and the ones whose hearts dropped when learning of today's news, have been touched by a pet or some animal.
Certainly the case for yours truly.
Ever since I can remember, animals have been important. And as I said before, it's hard to explain.
To put it simply, they're there when ya need them and they have a lot of attributes we should be jealous of.
As a matter of fact, I just watched "Because of Winn Dixie," yes I admit it. It's yet another mushy movie about a kid and her dog. The duo, in the typical Hollywood way, go onto teach adults real lessons.
It may be the movies, but it's not as far off base as one may think.
Was the Barbaro story overplayed? Possibly.
Should people care that much about a zillion-dollar horse when real people are sometimes forgetton? Absolutely not.
But there's just something about certain animals that makes us as silly as child, but as emotionally attatched as we'll ever be. That's just the way it is.

Woods or Federer?

Tiger Woods may be getting all the pub for his remarkable winning streak and going down as the greatest athlete in the world, but what about Roger Federer and what he's doing in the tennis world?

Federer won his 10th career Grand Slam title on Sunday with his victory in the Australian Open.
Since the start of last season, his record is 99-5 with 13 titles. He has failed to reach the finals of any tournament just once in 18 events in that same span.

He's less than a month shy of breaking Jimmy Connors' record of consecutive weeks at No. 1

And the guy is only 25 years old.

So why is it all we hear about is how Tiger is the most dominant athlete in the world today and Federer gets glanced over. Let's face it, he's in a much more grueling sport than Tiger, and he's dominating his sport more than Woods in his.

Even Tiger offered his props to him. After he was selected as the 2006 AP Athlete of the Year, Woods said: "What (Federer) has done in tennis is far greater than what I've done in golf."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sports as business part 1,256,728

So Todd Helton could be leaving Colorado soon. Just another example of why people my age and younger have trouble forming loyalties to teams, regardless of sport.

With the advent of unfettered free agency and mega-million dollar contracts, let's face it, sports is a business. Everyone is a hired gun whether they know it or not. Gone are the days of watching your team keep its players for the length of their careers.

In fact, we're lucky today if the above-average player spends more than 75 percent of his career in the same city.

I don't want to get off on a rant, but the way things are going, we may just want to pick our favorite teams based on their logos. With all the roster upheaval and turnover that's all we're rooting for anyway.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cowboys candidates

Excuse me, but I haven't exactly been knocked over by the candidates for the Dallas Cowboys' head coaching position thus far.

I understand Jason Garrett is an up-and-coming offensive coordinator. I also understand he'll have to deal with T.O.

Wade Phillips is familiar with the 3-4 defense. He is also familiar as a retread coach.

Gary Gibbs is familiar with the Dallas talent having been an assistant coach for four years with the Cowboys. But his OU head coaching career was less than stellar.

Norv Turner is interviewing Sunday. How many head coaching jobs can this guy fail at before people quit interviewing him? I like Norv. I think he's a heckuva offensive coordinator. And let's leave it at that.

So where are the big names?

Lovie Smith would have to wait until after next week's Super Bowl. But the Bears may lock him up before the Cowboys even have their shot.

Apparently, Bill Cowher isn't lying and will take the year off.

So here you have one of the premier jobs in all of professional sports and this is your candidates list.


This just in...

Terry Bradshaw is still alive.

But, in other breaking news, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Recruiting hype takes off

This is slowly becoming my least favorite time of the year.

I used to love recruiting back in the 1980s. That was before it was a big business. That was before the coaches lied to the kids. And the kids lied right back. That was before you called a kid and got privacy direct on the phone lines. It was before kids belched on the phone and told you their "commitment.''

But now it is all hype all the time.

Unfortunately those of us who have covered recruiting for a long time are partially to blame for this mess. We've fed the beast and now the monster has grown.

It's grown to the point people care about Luther Davis. Never mind that there is no guarantee he ever does anything at Alabama. People care to the point of getting worked up over him.

Sadly, we can't turn back time. No matter how hard we try.

Kelly Leak...Good arm, strong hitter & Oscar contender???

I'm flipping through USA Today the other day and my eye drifts to a breakdown and picks for this year's Oscar race.

One name in particular catches my eye...Jackie Earle Haley. Jackie Earle Haley? Where have I heard that name before?

The name is stuck in my head until I see other day's copy of USA Today. And there he is...Jackie Earle Haley a.k.a. Kelly Leak from "The Bad News Bears," and Moocher from "Breaking Away."

Talk about coming out from right field (though I think Leak was the star left fielder for the Bears).

The guy fell off the face of the earth and is up for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar?! He had two roles (even the more shocking to me) in 2006. He was in "All the King's Men."

Loved "The Bad News Bears," and thought the sequel where they play in the Astrodome was OK. Never saw the one where they go to Japan or "Breaking Away," for that matter.

Wonder if he's still the power hitter he was back in 1976?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Roy Lang is still alive ... so is ...

Jimmy Watson, Jason Pugh and Tony Romo. Not to mention Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker and Payton Manning and, yes, Tim Fletcher.
Thankfully, The Times -- I can only speak for the sports dept. -- isn't into the business of printing rumor denials. We would have no room left for real news and scores.

Razorbacks Million Fan March? Not quite...

Arkansas fans rebelled in Fayetteville on Thursday to protest head coach Houston Nutt and athletic director Frank Broyles.

It seems some Razorback fans are a little disgruntled at how Nutt and Broyles are running the program, especially after all-world quarterback Mitch Mustain left the program because he couldn't play nice with others.

"The average Hog fan feels as though they have no voice, and that needs to change," said 24-year-old Randy Staton of Fayetteville.

"It is time for coach Broyles and coach Nutt to accept responsibility for the soap opera-type atmosphere that is prevalent in the local and national press."

Let me see if I got this straight. People in Fayetteville are marching on campus because they don't like the way the football program is heading? The team went 10-4 and lost to No. 5 Southern Cal, No. 4 LSU, No. 1 Florida and No. 7 Wisconsin.

What happened to the days when a march on a college campus was for civil rights or a woman's reproductive rights or the astronomical price of yak fur in Tibet?

Maybe that's what's wrong with my alma mater Michigan's football team. Kids majored in demonstrating at U-M. There had to have been a protest every single day in front of the grad library as I walked to class, and that includes the winter. They should be marching on Schembechler Hall demanding Lloyd Carr be held accountable for the Wolverines' dismal finish this season. Instead, they're marching on some affirmative action ruling. What nerve! Fighting for students' educations!

It's not like this was a well-organized march anyway. Less than 50 people showed up for it. TV crews were expecting a grand march across campus but were greeted by a handful of people.

And, since when does the average fan have a say in how a college program is run?! I don't recall having much of an impact when I was screaming at Lloyd Carr from Section 111, Row 2, Seat F of Michigan Stadium. He didn't bend his ear in my direction and reached an epiphany one day. "You know what? That kid in the second row of the student section is right. We do need to recruit more speed."

Two fans from Mustain's hometown of Springdale actually held up a sign that read, "Integrity matters."

I got one for you: "Get a life."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A good start for Grambling

While hiring a head football coach two weeks before signing day is normally not a good thing, you've got to give credit to the Grambling administration for making the wait worthwhile.

I can't tell you how Rod Broadway will do as the Tigers' head coach. But his resume is impressive. The people who called on his behalf (Steve Spurrier and Bob Stoops) are impressive. And he seems to have handled himself in a humble manner at the news conference on Tuesday in Grambling.

More than anything, Broadway represents a breath of fresh air for Grambling. Whether self-inflicted or dinged by outsiders, Melvin Spears had more than his share of controversy at Grambling.

Hopefully for the sake of Grambling's program, it will all be about football with Broadway at the helm.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Best rivalry in basketball

Forget North Carolina-Duke or Celtics-Lakers. The best rivalry going has to be Washington's Gilbert Arenas vs. anyone who coached on the USA Olympic basketball team.

Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni was an assistant on that squad under Duke's Mike Krzyzewski as was Portland's Nate McMillian. Already this season Arenas has dropped 54 and 31 points on D'Antoni's Suns as the Wizards split the 2 games. Arenas has called his next game against Portland as his next 50-point game.

All of this has lead to the best one-liner of 2007 (yes it's still early) from D'Antoni. Prior to Tuesday's Phoenix-Washington game, D'Antoni had this to say about Arenas, who still harbors a playful grudge against the U.S. coaching triumverate

"I can't wait to see what Gilbert's going to do against Duke. He's going to kill Duke."

Tech's Simoneaux makes elementary move

Louisiana Tech fans might not be too surprised to find their Bulldogs picked to finish third in the league, a sign that the program is up and coming. But they might be a little surprised to find none of Tech's players on the preseason All-WAC team -- not even Jericho Jones, last year's WAC Freshman of the Year and a guy who ripped the league apart with his bat.

That's because Tech coach Wade Simoneaux chose not to nominate any of his players for preseason honors. According to a release from Tech, Simoneaux "puts more merit into postseason awards." That might be a good move for an elementary school coach, bent on teaching his kids to play together, but it seems a silly move for a college coach. College players should understand all about accolades -- some get'em, some don't. If there's a division on a team because some players get awards and others don't, then a coach isn't doing his job. But you don't penalize your star players in the interest of team play at the college level.

It's much easier to receive a postseason award if you're listed on a preseason ballot. People are looking at you to see how you do during the season. With Simoneaux's communal move, Tech's players will be pursuing an uphill battle for postseason honors.

Let the body get cold

The New Orleans Saints have been out of the playoffs for less than 48 hours and already the speculation about their future - not on the field, off the field - has begun.

Arizona Repulic columnist Dan Bickley writes today about the Saints and the team's future. Bickley says he wouldn't be surprised to see the team move.

Look, the Saints may move. But the chances of that happening before 2010 aren't real good.

Granted, Tom Benson has more leverage when he sits down with Gov. Blanco this spring. But he is pretty much committed to being here through 2010.

New Orleans is a small market. But so is Green Bay, Jacksonville and Carolina.

It will all come down to money and the options Benson has.

But my problem with this kind of talk is this needs to be brought up before Benson and Blanco meet again. Not 48 hours after the greatest season in franchise history.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Putting Parcells in perspective

Dallas Cowboys fans should feel a little ripped off today. Bill Parcells is gone. But the Bill Parcells who is leaving Dallas isn't the Bill Parcells who was winning two Super Bowls with the New York Giants.

Would that Parcells have looked as tired as this one? Would that Parcells have watched the Cowboys meltdown after Thanksgiving?

No, Cowboys fans, you were ripped off. You thought you were getting BillParcells. Instead, you got a cheap imitation of the real thing.

Don't look for Jerry Jones to spend big bucks after Parcells didn't pay off.

Good karma for Lawrence?

Former Northwestern State Demon Brian Lawrence once again has a home in Major League Baseball. After missing all of the 2006 season because of a torn labrum, Lawrence has agreed in principle with the Colorado Rockies on a 1-year contract worth $750,000 pending completion of a physical.

Outwardly it seems strange -- a pitcher looking to overcome an injury goes to Coors Field to revive his career. But Lawrence's decision to pitch in Colorado could bring the former Demon some good karma. In 2005, Lawrence, a Colorado Springs, Colo., native lost the first 1-0 game in Coors Field history.

Should the right-hander regain his trademark sinker, however, his decision should be a boost for himself and for the Rockies.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

More Mora

I absolutely hate those coach-press conference beer commercials. Just the thought that someone would think that is how a press conference is, just is repulsive to me.

However, I can't get enough of Jim Mora.

"Play-offs? Play-offs?''

My favorite Mora memory comes from his time with the Saints. It was a particularly bad day at training camp in Wisconsin. The Saints were scrimmaging the Chiefs. After it was over Mora met with the media.

A New Orleans TV reporter was looking for something positive. So he asks Mora, "Coach, how about Tommy Stowers today?

And Mora looks at the guy and says, "Stowers? Stowers? Let me tell you about Stowers. He was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs. And today he was the best player on the field for the Saints. What does that tell you?''

It was classic.

Mora doesn't get the love and respect from either the Colts or Saints fan base. But the man could flat out coach football.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

What a week

The week is coming to a close, but there have been few weeks bigger for area sports fans than this one.

The week started with the realization of an opponent for the Saints in the NFC Championship Game - the Chicago Bears. Then in the middle of the week there was the CHL All-Star Game coming to Shreveport for the first time in 10 years. And now to end the week, there is the anticipation of the Saints possibly reaching the Super Bowl.

Even if the Saints were to lose Sunday, it would be hard to top this week.

Friday, January 19, 2007

All aboard the Saints bandwagon

Seeing those Saints fans disembark in Chicago from their 19-hour train from Louisiana made me wish I was there.

I usually don't jump on bandwagons, but I got to admit, I've leaped on to the Saints' express as it was pulling out of the station like I was a hobo trying to catch the 5:15 to Kansas City.

My new T-shirt arrived on Tuesday. I got a ringer T-shirt with the Saints retro logo - the one with the guy that looks like Count Chocula wearing a Saints helmet standing beside the Saints shield. My new hat is on its way and should be here by the big game.

I've never been a fan of the NFL. I'd much rather watch a college game than pros. The NFL seems so sterilized and regimented next to the college game. But the Saints have me eager for Sunday's big game. How can't you cheer for the Saints for their incredible success and what they've meant to New Orleans? OK, unless you're a Bears fan.

Sorry Cowboys fans. You probably outnumber Saints fans in the area, but the Cowboys are the team everyone just loves to hate.

It's New Orleans time now, and whether you cheer for Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco or whomever, you've got to realize just how special this team is.

I'll save you a seat on the bandwagon!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Do Rose, McGwire want Bonds' help?

In a story by The Associated Press, Barry Bonds says both Mark McGwire and Pete Rose belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The only question is do Rose and McGwire really want to hear those words from Bonds? Sure, the seven-time Most Valuable Player has the skins on the wall, sans a world championship. But he remains the most scrutinized and vilified athlete in North America. (Lance Armstrong is probably a close second in at least one of those categories.)

McGwire and Rose both had their chances to own up to their perceived, or in Rose's case, proven wrongdoings and both have repeatedly blown chance after chance to do so. For what they've done on the field, both belong in the Hall. And they don't need Barry Bonds' validation for that to be seen.

The smile said it all

Dan Wildfong was on top of the world and his smile said it all.
The eight-year Bossier-Shreveport Mudbug not only played in Wednesday night's All-Star Game at CenturyTel Center, he scored a first-period goal, too.
When Wildfong entered the ice during pregame introductions, the electricity was enough to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. I was on the Northern Conference bench and the chills ran through me.
Why? Because you knew how much it meant to him.
He loves this place and loves these fans. He's not the most talented guy in the world, but works his rear end off every night. He's an absolute pest on the ice, but off the ice he's the nicest guy you would ever want to me. Despite the leadership he's portrayed while with the Mudbugs, the crucial performances he's given his team and his outstanding presence in the community and charity work, Wildfong still has no idea why everyone loves him so much.
Oh by the way, his All-Star jersey went for $2,200 in the postgame auction.
He never thought for a second he deserved an All-Star selection, but he embraced it unlike any other player.
Mudbugs defenseman Jason Basile and goaltenders John DeCaro and Ken Carroll likely have multiple All-Star appearances ahead of them, but this will no doubt be the last one for No. 10.
What a night it was.
Now it's back to reality and the pursuit of that elusive CHL championship. But he will not forget Wednesday night, when he sat speechless at his locker after the Northern Conference's victory. That rugged face and those pearly whites -- yes, the not-so-real ones, were shining bright.
Just like he has for eight years.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

And they're off

Harrah's Louisiana Downs announced the schedule for its quarter horse meet this winter.

Yeah, I know, you only care about thoroughbred racing.

But that is going to be the trick for the folks out at the Downs - educating fans about quarter horse racing. Thoroughbred racing has a 33-2 start on quarter horse racing at the Downs. That is 33 years of thoroughbred racing compared to what will be the second year of quarter horse racing at the Downs.

The folks at the Downs are hoping to make quarter horse racing more than just an interlude until the thoroughbred season. If they are patient, then they might succeed.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mudbugs on center stage Wednesday

Wednesday night is the CHL All-Star Game, and there is no organization more worthy to play host than the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs. It is an organization that exudes class from the top on down, beginning with owner John Madden.

The game is a long time coming for the franchise, which probably should have received the game years ago. One problem they ran into though was getting airfare for all the competing players. Since Southwest Airlines didn't fly into Shreveport, it made finding reasonable airfare for the 20-plus players quite difficult.

General Manager Jason Rent and his crew will do a fantastic job with the game. I can't wait.

Monday, January 15, 2007

What are they thinking?

Sammy Sosa worked out for the Texas Rangers on Monday.

Yes, that Sammy Sosa. The one who hit 66 home runs in 1998. The same Sammy Sosa the Rangers gave up on in 1989 and traded to the Chicago White Sox for a bag of balls or the equivalent.

He's also the same Sammy Sosa who has been suspiciously inconspicuous since the steroids scandal in baseball really heated up.

Look, the Rangers have had enough problems crop up this offseason with players leaving and being used by Scott Boras again just to name two. They don't need a way, way, way over the hill ex-superstar to add to their roster, especially Sosa.

Tom Hicks and Jon Daniels need to determine a direction for the club and fast. Either go young and rebuild or get players who can make a discernible impact and help you win now.

NFL title game predictions

I've had a hard time deciding who will win Sunday's championship games.

The early game pits the Chicago Bears - one of my favorite teams since I was a kid - against the New Orleans Saints - the team I've rooted for every week during the NFL season for nearly two decades.

The decision would be easy, I thought: "Go with Da Bears."

But then one of my good friends reminded me he asked early in the season who I'd want to win if the Bears and Saints got in the NFC title game. My answer? The Saints, because their cheerleaders -- the Saintsations -- are better looking than the Bears' cheerleaders, the Honey Bears.

So I'll keep my word and say the Saints will beat the Bears, 28-24.

In the afternoon game, I'll go with Peyton Manning, Joe Addai, Booger McFarland and the Colts to beat the Brady Bunch, 21-17.

Enjoy the games.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Greatest time of the year?

It's going to be hard to top this month for Louisiana sports fans.

First, there was the LSU Tigers' win in the Sugar Bowl over Notre Dame. Now the New Orleans Saints have matched their all-time playoff win total and are just a win away from the Super Bowl.

The basketball hasn't been so hot around here lately, but the football has at least taken the spotlight off some of those woes .

Normally January is a depressing month in Louisiana. Not this year.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Jon Alston update

You may remember reading former Loyola star Jon Alston's training camp blog here at shreveporttimes.com.

Well, Alston completed his rookie season with the St. Louis Rams and if The Sporting News is any indication, Alston's future appears to be bright.

You'll find Alston's photograph on page 40 of this week's issue. Alston is fighting off a block from an Oakland player.

The reason for Alston's appearance is the magazine's prediction for a bigger role for Alston in 2007. Says TSN:

"The Rams' Jon Alston could have a significant role in his second season, but it's uncertain at what position. Alston (6-0, 218) prefers to play linebacker but would need to gain weight to do so. Coach Scott Linehan is intrigued by the idea of using Alston as a safety who would play near the line of scrimmage in run support. Alston also has the speed to be an effective blitzer.''

Any Saints predictions?

I took my lumps by sticking by my Big 10 team and picking Ohio State to beat Florida in the BCS title game, and then mentioning it on the airwaves on a local radio station. Great move, Vernellis.

That being said, I'm going to make another pick with the Saints.

I saw the Saints beat the Eagles in the regular season, using a mammoth drive in the fourth quarter to seal the game. That's become the Saints modus operandi this season, stringing together drives that chew up a ton of time and keep the opponent's offense off the field.

Jeff Garcia ignited the Eagles down the stretch and injected life to the team, but I've got to go with the Saints in this one. How can't you? The Superdome will be buzzing with excitement today and the Saints will feed off it.
Philadelphia faces a challenge in getting the crowd out of the game, but I don't think it's going to happen.

New Orleans 34, Philadelphia 17.

The Saints are coming: Here's the Green Day/U2 version and here's the original from the Scottish punk band The Skids.

Best H.S. hoops team in city?

My vote goes for Fair Park. The defending Class 4A state champ has speed at every position on the floor with guys like Markcus Jackson (right). Sophomore Morris Claiborne is going to be the city's best player some day, if he isn't right now.

Huntington split the six games with Fair Park, so they can certainly challenge the Indians. The Raiders' win in the finals of the Bossier Invitational was a big win, but I don't know if they win it if Claiborne is healthy. Coach Mack Jones (left) brought up that very point after the game. A bad ankle sidelined Claiborne for most of the game, and the Raiders took advantage with the big men.

Huntington does have one advantage over Fair Park - depth.

I was eager to see how Bossier looked on Friday, but they were lucky to escape Captain Shreve (link). Shreve just ran out of gas at the end. That and it didn't help that Bossier shot 54 free throws and the Gators had five players foul out!

Captain Shreve head coach Todd Martinez didn't gripe about the officials after the game, but he had every right to. There were a ton of charging calls. Some were a bit obvious, but more times than not the defender wasn't even close to being set. All Martinez could do was throw up his hands and turn his back in disgust.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Beckham not the answer for sport's growth

Soccer has never taken off in popularity in the U.S., like the rest of the world.

David Beckham's signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy won't change that.

The strategy was tried once before. Pele and Franz Beckenbauer joined the New York Cosmos in the mid-70s, hoping to spark ticket sales and excitement in the sport. The media foretold of the sport's rising popularity and how kids would soon abandon playing baseball for soccer.

Thirty years later, we're still waiting for soccer to capture the passion.

Pele and Beckenbauer were two of the top names in the sport, albeit past their prime, but they sparked an immediate interest in soccer. Giants Stadium was sold out for games. They lived like rock stars in Manhattan.

But, 30 years later, what's changed? The sport is extremely popular among kids, but the MLS struggles to appeal to the average sports fan. The MLS' biggest fan base is the Hispanic market, especially in Los Angeles.

Beckham might have a few years left in his game, but he was benched by the England national team and was on the outs with his professional team, Real Madrid. It will be exciting to see a player of his caliber playing in the U.S., I must admit. I would like to see him action on ESPN.

But, his involvement isn't going to finally push soccer among the big-3 sports.

The sport will never garner the popularity that it does in Europe and South America. Just ask a hockey fan. Hockey will never see the kind of support that it does in Canada and the northern U.S. It's a niche sport. Soccer fans, embrace your uniqueness.

SEC love

OK, SEC haters, trying explaining this from tennis' James Blake in this week's Sports Illustrated.

Blake talks of returning to Harvard after his tennis career to finish his degree in economics.

"People think we're all nerds who don't leave the library, but there is a social scene,'' Blake says in the magazine. "There are some fun guys and a few cute girls. I'm going to say it's like an SEC school, but you'd be surprised.''

So not only did the SEC produce this year's national football champ -- it is also the king of the social scene.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Evangel could care less

Evangel continues to restock its football program as two BTW players have enrolled on Broadacres Road. It's legit, assuming the players sit out the 2007 season, but this isn't going to help the Eagles' reputation.
I can tell you one thing though, no one at Evangel cares about a reputation.
Scrib "The Pimp" Pipkins (BTW's quarterback) and receiver Eric Thomas will no doubt make their presence know with the Eagles.
I have great respect for head coach Ronnie Alexander ... he did a stellar job this season in winning a state championship, but perception and reality have long been muddied when speaking of Evangel.
The perception is Evangel recruits. Reality says there are no facts of anything illegal. Events such as the "sudden appearance" of Logansport players in the weight room or a BTW duo enrolling for class at Evangel immediately after the football season ends just won't help the two separate.
But again, Evangel doesn't care.

Good start for Dooley

It is always interesting watching a new head coach put together a coaching staff. Those hires are usually what makes a coach a success or failure.

So it was with much interest to see what Derek Dooley would do with his two coordinator positions.

I give up a thumbs up to Dooley for the hiring of Frank Scelfo as offensive coordinator. Scelfo did some good things at Tulane in the same position. He is familiar with Ruston and Louisiana which should help both in the transition and in recruiting.

I am a little less certain about Tommy Spangler as defensive coordinator. Spangler had been a head coach at Division II Presbyterian College in South Carolina. I'm sure he is a fine coach but there will be a transition from Division II to Division I-A (OK, Bowl Subdivision) football.

Still, it appears to be a good start for Dooley at Tech.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Happiness is another Duke loss

It's only January and two games into the conference basketball season, but there's something heartwarming about seeing mighty Duke with an 0-2 mark in the ACC.

Yep, with a home loss to Virginia Tech and Wednesday night's road loss to a young, tough-to-figure-out Georgia Tech team, that's where the Dookies stand. There's still a long time until March Madness, so I'll enjoy this while I can, although the potential for a four- or five-conference loss Blue Devils squad still exists.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Coach Tressel, you are on the clock

Congrats to Florida for winning the national title. I know a photographer in Tampa/St. Pete who's making room in her new townhouse for a championship poster to accompany her 1996 poster.

The talk of a playoff system is gaining strength though the Big 10 and Pac-10 could care less and would rather maintain the status quo. Thanks Jim Delany!

So from here on out let's just have a presentation from coaches to decide who's playing in the big game.

Have all the coaches from any team that is unbeaten or have one loss gather at some Radisson or Sheraton conference hall and give a five-minute presentation on why they think their team should be in the championship game. No graphics, no charts. Just a coach pleading his case.

ESPN or Fox Sports can even televise it for added suspense, and I'm sure fans would love to hear what their coaches' arguments are for playing in the big game.

This way we can avoid all this whining from teams that they got left out (hear me Michigan and Auburn fans) because everyone gets their fair say. Coaches sell their team to the voters and we go from there.

It can't be any less absurd than the system in place now.

Revisionist history

Good to hear all of the apologies today to the Florida Gators from the national media.

If they had paid any attention, they would have known Florida had found ways to win all year. This is a team that ended the season with wins over the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country with only a road loss to a top-10 team.

Once again, the national media jumped to a premature crowning - just as it did with USC last year and Oklahoma in the 2004 Sugar Bowl.

One day people will learn to judge a team on the whole season and not on just what ESPN tells them.

Paging Jimmy Watson ... the SEC is calling

Any more ridiculous arguments about the SEC not being the best conference?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lee Smith's best chance?

On Tuesday, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn should be the newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, elected in their first year of eligibility.

But Tuesday also marks Castor native and former NSU Demon Lee Smith's best chance for election by the writers committee. Smith was up to 45 percent of the vote following last year's election.

This has nothing to do with the number of years Smith has been on the ballot. Instead it has to do with someone else's timing. Trevor Hoffman broke Smith's all-time saves mark in late September, which should give Smith some added momentum. Hoffman spoke with Smith about attending the record-breaking game in San Diego, but Smith politely declined.

Even with teams' growing emphasis on finding a reliable closer, it still seems unlikely Smith will get the call to Cooperstown this year, thus making the following years longer and longer shots.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

2007 Heisman favorites

If LSU QB JaMarcus Russell stays for one more season instead of bolting for the NFL, next year's Heisman race becomes murky.

There won't be a clear-cut favorite in 2007 like Ohio State's Troy Smith was in 2006. Notre Dame's Brady Quinn was getting all the preseason pub, but was he really a worthy candidate? I don't think so. He had great games against inferior talent, but when he played equal or superior teams, he didn't have his best.

The SEC will have two candidates - Arkansas' Darren McFadden and, if he stays, Russell. McFadden probably has the preseason nod for the trophy, considering his breakout season. Russell's game against Notre Dame propelled him among the list of contenders.

The Heisman might be headed back to Southern California though. Given his performance against Michigan in the Rose Bowl, USC QB and Shreveport's own John David Booty (right) will be one of the early candidates too. He had a shaky game against UCLA when a berth in the BCS title game was on the line, but he ripped Michigan's secondary, and he had the help of receiver Dwayne Jarrett, who was unstoppable. Jarrett catapulted himself into consideration with a 200-yard effort against Michigan's supposed elite defense.

My early nod is for McFadden. The kid is a punishing 6-2, 205. As much as Mitch Mustain's parents would hate to hear it, McFadden (right) is the Razorback offense, not their baby.

Let's see what the Saints have got

All right Saints fans, here we are again.

That's right, the Saints are in the playoffs. They've won only one playoff game in their history, much less the two in a row they'll need to reach the Super Bowl or three in a row to win it.

The guys in Vegas think the Saints can get Postseason Win No. 2. New Orleans is a four-point favorite over Philadelphia.

And the Saints have been in the divisional round before, losing at Minnesota back in 2000.

So what should we all expect Saturday against the Eagles?

Who knows?

The Eagles didn't exactly set the world on fire on Sunday. They may be about to run out of gas after a great run.

Or the Saints could sputter on offense enough to expose their defense.

We just don't know. But we do know this, rarely has a Saints team had the weapons this one has. Defense is an issue, but the Saints should be able to score points. That alone means they have a chance.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ferrell beat me to it

I knew Scott would throw Romo under the bus. But seriously, has anyone risen to fame so quickly only to crash this hard?
That being said, I think overturning the first-down spot was horrific. There was not a replay that conclusively showed the ball and where it was. PLUS, how does the official determine forward progress from a replay?
Who knows, the Cowboys may have blown it anyhow. The Cowboys played a very good football game, but the jaw-dropping finish is only fitting for this bunch.
Expect MAJOR offseason changes at Valley Ranch. And T.O. better be a goner.
He's a curse. And I wouldn't be surprised if he was laughing at tonight's ending.

Ro-momentum heading south

How 'bout that Tony Romo?

How 'bout that Pro Bowl quarterback?

Please. I take no pleasure in seeing a grown man cost his team a game by his inability to field a snap.

I don't. Really, I don't.

But the ridiculous amount of hype put on a guy who hasn't played a full season in the league was just wrong.

I'm not saying Drew Bledsoe would have been better.

All I'm saying is next time, spare us the hype. Let the kid play some before making his jersey a best seller. And by the way, I bet you can get one real cheap right about now.

Interesting reading

Baseball America still thinks highly of Shreveport-Bossier City's baseball exports.

LSU may be nowhere near Baseball America's preseason Top 25, checking in at No. 50 in the magazine's preseason top 50, which is available on www.baseballamerica.com, but a pair of local players garner mention in the preview.

The magazine compiled "all-star" teams of current major leaguers from the six BCS conferences, as well as the Missouri Valley and Conference USA.

Guess who represents the SEC at third base? Former Airline High standout Todd Walker, who will likely see playing time there with San Diego this season. Former Captain Shreve right-hander Scott Baker (Oklahoma State) is mentioned among the notable Big 12 alumni as well.

It's a reminder of just how good -- and at times undervalued -- the Shreveport-Bossier-City area has been at producing major league-caliber athletes.

Friday, January 05, 2007

It's basketball season?

It's hard getting into basketball when college football's national championship hasn't been decided and the NFL playoffs haven't started.

Well, the NFL playoffs start today and college football's bowl season ends - finally - on Monday night with the national championship game.

By the time we get into basketball around here, the season's half over - and that's a shame.

The NSU men are struggling. Tech showed a sign of life on Thursday with a rout of San Jose State. Centenary is better, but the Gents are still about a year or two away from making real noise.

Still, it's a shame that basketball gets overshadowed the way it does.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Yankees get a helping hand

Once again, someone helps the poor pitiful New York Yankees.

This time it's the Arizona Diamondbacks who must have some holiday spirit left over. The D'backs have agreed to take aging, breaking-down Randy Johnson off the Yankees hands and, get this, give up a solid reliever (Luis Vizcaino) and some decent prospects.

Oh, and of Johnson's $16 million due in 2007, how much are the Yankees paying? A whopping $2 million.

Stuff like this is enough to make you wonder if George Steinbrenner has illicit photos of Bud Selig lying around his Tampa, Fla., offices.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Down day for the WNBA

The WNBA had a double whammy on Wednesday when the Charlotte Sting ceased operations and Houston coach Van Chancellor retired as coach.

The loss of the Sting leaves the league with just 13 franchises heading into its 11th season in May. Although the Charlotte players could be picked up by other teams in a dispersal draft, the shutdown could spell bad news for former Lady Techsters star Ayana Walker. Walker averaged a team low 7.2 minutes in 25 games last season. Unless she's the right fit for a remaining team, she could be jobless.

Chancellor was the final remaining original coach in the league. He was a great spokesman for the league while winning four WNBA titles. We interviewed him on numerous occasions about WNBA issues and found him honest and forthcoming. That's something that is sorely missing in most professional sports.

And now the wait

I love college football as much as the next guy - but do we really need to wait until Monday to play the national championship game?

And how about Ohio State, the Buckeyes haven't played a game since mid-November. At least Florida played in the SEC Championship Game in early December.

Nope, we've got to wait. We've got to wait through something called the International Bowl and the GMAC Bowl before we get to Monday's title game.

I'm sure there is some reason about TV ratings and advertising dollars and all kind of things.

Me, I'd prefer to play it Thursday night.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Some WAC love

I admit I am a BCS snob. I like my traditional college football programs.

That being said, I was pulling for Boise State in overtime last night.

Nothing against Oklahoma. But when you give up a touchdown on a fourth-and-18 hook-and-ladder played with 7 seconds left, you don't deserve to win.

And I was wanting Boise to go for two points because it's easier to get it on one play than it is driving for a touchdown. The Statue of Liberty play was an absolutely great call.

Congratulations to Boise State. A ho-hum Fiesta Bowl turned into an all-time classic.

The good news for the WAC is it is elevating itself away from some of the so-called mid-majors. The bad news for Louisiana Tech is keeping up with the WAC may be more difficult now than when the Bulldogs first entered the league.

Still, competition will only make Tech better.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Cowboys' collapse

OK, a day removed from watching the Debacle at Texas Stadium, my view of the Dallas Cowboys' postseason hasn't changed all that much.

Personally, I don't see how this team is going to last past 10 p.m. Central time on Saturday night. Certainly not playing the way it is right now.

What's wrong with the Cowboys?

Where do you want to start?

The defense is terrible. Their only pass rusher it seems is DeMarcus Ware. Without a pass rush, the secondary is exposed for what it is. The only guy that appears to be able to cover is Terence Newman. The linebackers aren't playing much better. Bradie James is making a ton of tackles - way down field. And did we mention they can't get off the field on third down?

The offense is erratic. Tony Romo is starting to show his inexperience and his decision-making wasn't the best in the world on Sunday either. Still, the Dallas offense put up 24 points (Newman's punt return was good for the other seven).

And special teams didn't help with an inability to cover punts.

That being said, anything can happen in the posteason. Just look at the St. Louis Cardinals.

However, until proven otherwise, I don't expect the Cowboys to flip the switch on Saturday.

R.I.P., Darrent Williams

As far as news goes, learning that Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was shot and killed in a Hummer limo earlier this New Year's Day morning is about as bad as it gets.

I knew, and covered, Darrent when he was a star cornerback and kick returner at Oklahoma State. He was a nice, funny, cool guy, someone whose future seemed as bright as the diamonds he wore in his ear lobes. Darrent had big dreams of being the next Deion Sanders, and in fact, most of the time I saw him in Stillwater, Oklahoma, he was wearing some version of idol's NFL jersey.

Darrent seemed well on his way to stardom during his first two seasons with the Broncos. From what I read and heard recently, he also was rapidly maturing and had big plans to help out underprivileged youth in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.

Now, sadly enough, he's gone. Tragically and inexplicably dead before his 25th birthday. What a loss.

But, before folks start moralizing about NFL players and guns and money, like a certain Sports Illustrated columnist tried to do in his online column today, let me say this: every day we leave our homes, there's risk involved. There's no guarantee that we're going to make it back to our front doors safely. A lot of making it through youth, and life in general, is being in the right place at the right time.

Without knowing many details of the case this morning, let's leave it at this: this seems to be the worst kind of death, a young man struck down as he entered the prime of his life.

May the rest of us receive the grace and blessings to make it even that far.