On The Edge Blog

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

All-Star Boredom

The first Sunday of the year without football is always an adventure, and for some reason I can never remember what I did without football on this weekend last year. Back in August, it was easy to fill a Sunday afternoon because the Phillies were playing, and a game of wiffle ball or volleyball was always calling.But sadly, it's the end of the January, and it's too cold to play either sport (and I'm using the term "sport" loosely for wiffle ball because I really don't think it can be classified as a sport if a person can play the entire game while holding a beer), and the Phillies are still a few weeks away from reporting for spring training down in Florida.
So on this Sunday I tried filling my day with various activities that would make me feel as manly as I feel when I'm sitting around watching football.
I tried watching the NBA, but then I remembered how much I hate watching professional basketball and quickly turned off the Celtics/Magic game. Then I tinkered with my car, and I failed miserably at fixing my broken brake light. Apparently changing the bulb was not the solution, so I'm completely clueless as to what's wrong with it, and still have a broken brake light.
Then after some Xbox 360, I landed on the NHL All-Star game! Yes! Sports at its finest. Because when I think of quality entertaining sporting events, I immediately think of all-star games (I know you can't see my face, but please detect the sarcasm in my writing).
So I watched about ten minutes of the NHL All-Star game, because that was really all that I could take of it, but it got me thinking about this: Which all-star game is the best?
In reverse order, here we go!
NFL Pro Bowl: The NFL does one thing right with their All-Star game. It comes after the season. As my friend Jim pointed out, the Flyers (with the exception of that pounding at the hands of the Devils) were on a roll, and now they get forced to sit for four days. After that facet of the game, the Pro Bowl is pretty much worthless. Safeties aren't allowed to cover wide receivers outside of the hashmarks, players don't really hit anyone, and I'm shocked they haven't instituted an "auto-hike" rule straight off the playground, so the wide receivers don't have to come back to the huddle.
Enjoyment rating: 1 out of 10
NBA All-Star Game: This might be the only all-star game that players don't opt out of for "health" reasons. However, I can't really enjoy this game because the goal isn't to win, it's to make a SportsCenter top 10 highlight. I can't stand watching every third trip down the court result in Tracy McGrady trying for a Phi Slamma Jamma dunk off the backboard, but actually just throwing the ball into the stands or to the other team.
Enjoyment rating: 4 out of 10
NHL All-Star Game: This mid-season battle is fine display of what is good about hockey, but I really need to see some hitting and maybe even a few fights to enjoy a hockey game. I love that the best players in the world compete in this game, and they can show off their talents because no one is playing defense, but I need some checking! Would it really kill the NHL to reward the league's best fighters with a chance to pound each other on a national stage? It sure would liven up the game a little if the NHL took a few players that really despise each other and put them out on the ice.
Enjoyment rating: 7 out of 10
MLB All-Star Game: This is the most enjoyable all-star game of the bunch, and coincidentally, the most like an actual game. Unlike the other three sports, baseball is more of an individual, one-on-one game, so the all-star game is just like a regular season match-up, only better! Each pitcher/hitter match-up is a quality battle, and there really isn';t any showboating. It's simply the best hitters facing the best pitchers. I like the idea of seeing Mariano Rivera pitching the ninth inning with a one run lead and having to face a Murderers' Row of Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, and Albert Pujols (I know they are all first basemen, but it's hypothetical!). Granted, it's always on Fox, which means we have to listen to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, but other than that, there really isn't a bad part of baseball's midsummer classic. Best of all, the winning side actually gets something worthwhile, in that their league champion gets home field advantage in the World Series.
Enjoyment rating: 8 out of 10
Wow, after this analysis, I've come to the conclusion that Bud Selig actually did something right in the last 15 years. Who would have thought that?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Where's my hatred??

Apparently I don't hate the Giants?
Yeah, I'm as shocked as you are!
As soon as Lawrence Tynes' third game-winning field goal attempt went through the uprights, I immediately began wondering which team I would root for in Super Bowl XLII.
Let's go back a few weeks to the start of the playoffs. The only team in the NFC that I could really root for was Seattle. Obviously, I couldn't root for Dallas, Washington or the Giants. I couldn't cheer for Tampa Bay because of my hatred of Ronde Barber, stemming back to his pick-six of Donovan McNabb in the NFC Championship game in 2003. He single-hand-edly ruined the last football game at Veterans Stadium. After Seattle, the only other real option was the Packers, but if they won the Super Bowl, I would have gone insane listening to six months of "Will Brett Favre choose to go out on top or come back for one more year?"
Over in the AFC, I was really hoping for anyone but the Patriots. I wanted the Colts, Jaguars, Steelers, or Chargers to beat the smirks right off of Bill Belichek and Tom Brady's faces, but naturally, none of my wishes came true, so we now have a Giants/Pats Super Bowl and, worse, a pretty depressing two weeks ahead for us Eagles fans.
So, much to my surprise, I immediately said I was rooting for the Giants to beat the Patriots and ruin their undefeated season. (Sorry to all the Giants fans reading this, but I pretty much guaranteed that the Patriots will win with that last sentence.)
If it was Dallas or Washington squaring off against the Patriots, I would definitely be rooting for the Patriots, which leads me to an important question: Why don't I hate the Giants?
Well to figure this out (and I'll be honest, I really have no idea, so this should be enlightening for me as well!), I feel I must do a little soul searching.
Like any logical argument, I should start with what I know.
I know that I hate the Patriots (for a refresher course of why I hate New England, peruse the last few entries on my Blog at BucksLocalNews.com!), the Cowboys and the Redskins.
But why do I hate the Cowboys and Redskins?
I hate the Redskins because I lived in their territory for four years. Even though the Eagles won three division titles in those four years, every day I'd hear some reason why the Skins were suddenly better than the Birds. Whether it was the Ol' Ball Coach (Steve Spurrier) bringing in his deadly passing game from Florida, or Joe Gibbs (an actual old ball coach) bringing back his smash-mouth football, they always had a reason...and were wrong.
I hate the Cowboys more than any other team in all of sports. I may not have been alive for Lee Roy Jordan's hit on Timmy Brown or for Dennis Thurman's hit on Harold Carmichael, but I still have a full amount of hatred in my heart for them. I hate their big three - Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin - from the 1990s. I hate the fact that even after they all retired, I still have to see them talk about football, and none of them have an intelligent thing to say! Emmitt thinks "blowed out" is an elegant use of the English language. Irvin was too stupid to even listen to during his time on ESPN, and, somehow, Aikman makes Joe Buck sound like a brilliant football mind. And by the way, Emmitt Smith may be the all time NFL rushing leader, but that's only because Barry Sanders retired in the prime of his career. Smith played five more seasons than Sanders, and only ran for 2,149 more yards.
So why don't I hate the Giants?
I guess it's because I can't think of any real heartbreaking losses to the G-men. In fact, I can only think of reasons for them to hate us (Westbrook's 84-yard punt return that saved the Eagles' season in 2003, and Brian Dawkins' collar-breaking hit on Ike Hilliard in 2002). Now that Tiki Barber took his thesaurus to NBC, I can't even think of any players on the Giants that I really don't like.
Now, before I get stoned by Eagles fans, I'm not saying I like the Giants!
I'm just not ready to place them in the pantheon of hated teams alongside the Cowboys, Redskins, Mets, Braves, and Rangers.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Keep Riding the Carousel

As far back as I can remember, the Flyers have hit the midway point of the season with the same issues each year. Someone important always seems to have a concussion (this year it's Simon Gagne, previously it has been Keith Primeau or Eric Lindros), someone always is under-achieving (Daniel Briere), and the backup goalie (Antero Niittymaki) is always doing better than the guy dubbed numero uno at the start of the season (Martin Biron).I thought I might have been overreacting to the fact that the Flyers have nine points in Niittymaki's last five starts (as of January 15), while the Flyers have lost five of Biron's last eight starts, but then I did some research and realized that we always go through this.
To put the revolving door that is our goaltending situation into perspective, since 1993-94, when Martin Brodeur took over as the starting goalie for the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers have had 18 goalies stand between the pipes. Don't believe me? Here's the complete list: Dominic Roussel, Tommy Soder-strom, Frederic Chabot, Ron Hex-tall, Garth Snow, Sean Burke, John Vanbiesbrouck, Jean-Marc Pelletier, Brian Boucher, Roman Cechmanek, Maxime Oullet, Neil Little, Robert Esche, Jeff Hackett, Antero Niittymaki, Martin Biron, Michael Leighton, and Martin Houle. Worse yet, seven different goalies have started a playoff game, six different goalies have led the Flyers in games played in a season, and five times a guy has started a playoff game despite not starting the majority of the regular season games! During this time period, Hextall has had the longest stay, five consecutive years, but only two of those years was he the top dog during the playoffs.
In comparison, since the strike-shortened 1994-95 season, Brodeur has been between the pipes for at least 80 percent of the Devils games each season, and always was the number one goalie in the playoffs, leading them to three Stanley Cup titles. He has been so consistent that NHL video games rarely even find out the name of the Devils backup goalie! It's usually an unnamed goalie equipped with a plain white mask and generic black pads.
Don't get me wrong, this problem for the Flyers dates back much further than 1993-94, and includes guys like Ken Wregget, Pete Peeters, and Mark Laforest, but I figured that a good jumping off point for this discussion would be the start of the Brodeur era.
So here we are in January of 2008 and the Flyers face the same problem they've had pretty much every year since 1993-94. So the question remains, 18 goalies later, how did we get here? More importantly, how can we stop it?
For starters, the Flyers need to pick a young goalie (Niittymaki) and stick with him. Goalies are like high schoolers. They're self-conscious, they have fragile psyches and they need constant approval from their peers. But every time the Flyers have a good young goalie, they give them the job and then yank it away in favor of a new high-priced acquisition. It happened with Brian Boucher after the 1999-2000 season. It happened with Robert Esche right before the 2003-04 season, and it happened again with Niittymaki last season.
So why stick with Niittymaki? Let's go back a few years. In 2003-04, Niittymaki, just 23 years old, filled in for injured goalies Jeff Hackett and Robert Esche and gave up just three goals in three wins. Naturally, the Flyers then traded for 37-year-old Sean Burke, who won just six of his 13 starts, and Niitty was sent back down to the Phantoms. The following year (when the NHL season was cancelled due to a lockout), Niittymaki led the Phantoms to an AHL title. Then in 2005-06, Niittymaki played great down the stretch, replacing an ineffective Robert Esche, but Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock chose (poorly) to ride Esche in the playoffs. During that season, Niittymaki led Finland to a Silver Medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics and earned the MVP of the games, but apparently wasn't worthy of leading the Flyers in the playoffs.
Now, I will admit that Niittymaki didn't look so hot last year, as his glove-hand seemed to go missing, but wouldn't it have been smarter to see if the horrible team in front of him was to blame for his woes in net? Obviously the Flyers don't think like that, so they chose to invest millions of dollars into Martin Biron, who had been riding the pine in Buffalo for the past two seasons after losing the starting job to Ryan Miller.
So of course, after anointing Biron as the starting goalie, Niittymaki has regained his form from a few years back, while Biron shows why Buffalo was so willing to trade him away.
At this point, after more than 15 seasons of riding the goalie carousel, I feel like it's time to start fresh. It's officially time for the Flyers to choose a franchise goalie and stick with him through the typical ups and downs of a season and not overreact to a few bad games.
This means that when (not if) the Flyers make the playoffs, Niittymaki should be standing between the pipes.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The return of American Gladiators!!

Columnist ready?!?!
Readers ready?!?!
The psyche of my inner child definitely received a boost on Sunday. In a span of about three hours, my childhood hero denied using steroids and more importantly, after a 12-year absence, a brand new American Gladiators appeared on my television screen!
Now I could fill up pages of this newspaper writing about why I believe that Roger Clemens didn't use steroids (including the fact that his fastball routinely hit 98 or 99 mph earlier in his career, but barely hit 90 the last few seasons, and he still dominated), but the most important event of Sunday evening was the return of American Gladiators.
I remember being a little tyke in elementary school watching the original episodes on Saturdays after the early-morning cartoons. Years later, as a college student, I skipped lectures with my friends to watch the reruns on the USA Network (sorry Mom!).
In between I tried to fill the void with Spike TV's Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, but that wasn't so much cool as it was hilarious. For those of you who don't know, they took a real Japanese game show and then dubbed it over with random English dialogue that had nothing to do with the show, and then it ended with a bunch of injured people.
But then came Sunday night! Hulk Hogan, Laila Ali, and two 16-person elimination brackets!
By this point, you must be thinking that I'm nuts, but I wasn't the only one who was this excited. Literally every guy I know was sitting in front of their TV reliving their youth. The only thing that would have made this better was if "Real American" was playing in the background every time the Hulkster started talking.
The only worry we all had was could this possibly be a colossal letdown?
The answer was a resounding no! This show rocked! Within the first ten minutes, one of the contestants took a brutal hit during Power Ball and was done for the tournament.
After a few more updated events, the new and tougher Eliminator was unveiled. More than two minutes of all-out energy exertion! Over the wall, through the flaming water, up the 30-foot cargo net, around the barrel roll, then the hand crank, to the balance beam, up the pyramid, down the zip line, up the reverse escalator, and through the block wall to victory!
And just when I thought this version of American Gladiators couldn't get any more awesome, 90 minutes into the night, there it was: Assault! No event was cooler as a child than Assault. Seeing the Gladiator shooting 100-mph tennis balls at a contestant really gets the childish blood pumping again.
Now I'm not advocating everything from my childhood making a return. Homework and my old Atari can stay in the past where they belong, but every so often it's good to be reminded of the simple things that got you excited as a child.
I know this is a sports column, but every so often I come across something so incredibly stupid that I have to bring it to the attention of a wider audience. A "scientific" study by researchers at San Diego State University and the University of Michigan has found that drinking games lead to higher blood-alcohol levels. Well duh! That's like spending countless dollars to figure out that pushing down on the gas pedal in a car leads to higher speeds of driving! Or better yet, my friend, Halen, is going to request grant money to study whether you get sleepy after staying awake for long periods of time. So far, results are inconclusive!
Now, at the risk of sounding like (or possibly ripping off) a random comedian, I must have missed that miracle cure for cancer or the completely fool-proof vaccine for AIDS because apparently San Diego State University and the University of Michigan just have stacks of research money piling up around their laboratories because they have the time and resources to conduct pointless and obvious studies.
Couldn't this money have been put to better use? Or if the scientists at those two schools aren't smart enough to cure anything, why not just donate the money to a food bank or, better yet, to smarter scientists who are actually trying to help society!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Mass., hatred

I apologize in advance for the angry nature of this column, but I am so sick of Boston sports teams and their fans. In the past few years, it seems as though the center of the sports world has shifted from New York to Boston. At first I didn't mind that shift, but my hatred began in late October when the Red Sox (and that pompous hypocrite Curt Schilling) won their second World Series title in four years. Red Sox fans just couldn't be happy with their sweep of the Colorado Rockies. They had to whine that A-Rod opted out of his contract with the Yankees during game four of the series. I haven't seen a Philadelphia championship in my lifetime and these morons care more about someone stealing their thunder than the fact that they just won a title!
I'm sure you heard by now (how could you not?) that the New England Patriots completed an undefeated season by beating the New York Giants on Saturday night. But here's the most irritating part: they bought this undefeated season! The Pats were successful this year for the exact same reason that the New York Yankees, Boston's sworn enemy, were so successful in the late 1990s.
The Colts and Steelers won the last two Super Bowls, so Bill Belichek, head coach of the Patriots, seeing the rest of the AFC catching up and passing his team, decided to go out and buy the best team he could find. He saw the Steelers win a Super Bowl with great linebackers, so he went out and spent $35 million on free agent linebacker Adalius Thomas. He saw Peyton Manning win a Super Bowl with great wide receivers, so he went out and bought Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker for a combined $51 million to go along with trade acquisition Randy Moss.
And don't get me started on Randy Moss, whose touchdown record deserves the same asterisk as Roger Maris' 61 homers. Jerry Rice's 22 touchdowns came in just 12 games because of a players' strike in 1987. It took Moss four more games to get to 23 receiving touchdowns, but that's barely mentioned because of the media's love affair with the Pats.
What about Tom Brady's new single season passing touchdowns record? Well it looks like Mr. Brady isn't such a team-first guy after all. The best thing for the team would have been him resting to make sure he's healthy for the playoffs, but he needed to throw those two TD passes to break Manning's record. Looking back at Peyton's record-breaking season in 2004, he could have padded his stats in the final game of the season, but he threw just two passes and then grabbed a clipboard in that meaningless game.
In fact, it seems like all Boston teams have taken to the Yankee way of life. Look at the Celtics. At 26-3, they're off to one of the best starts in NBA history. Why? Because they don't care about the NBA's luxury tax, and brought in superstars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
What about the Red Sox? Obviously, the Yankees were hit with baseball's luxury tax this year, but you'll never guess who the only other team was. Wait for it. Keep waiting...it was the Red Sox! After years of their fans crying about the Yankees buying titles, the Red Sox payroll keeps rising higher and higher, but I don't hear their fans complaining about how despicable it is to buy a championship. And I'm sure they won't mind spending $200 million on Johan Santana if they can swipe him from the Twins.
Even though they're an average team, I hate the Bruins, too. After Flyers defenseman Randy Jones injured Patrice Bergeron with a clean hit against the boards, the entire NHL world started calling the Flyers a dirty team. It was clean hit! If you don't want to get injured in hockey, don't stop suddenly and put your head down a foot away from the boards!
Despite all the success that Boston teams are having, their fans whine about everything possible. From ARod opting out of his contract during the World Series to the 1972 Miami Dolphins not giving them enough respect, Boston fans are just never happy.
Well I'm going to give them one more reason to be unhappy. I don't respect the Patriots. Not one bit. If A.J. Feeley, Kyle Boller and Eli Manning (a real who's who of great NFL quarterbacks) can almost beat them, I'd bet a cartoon-sized bag of money that Jacksonville, Indianapolis or San Diego knocks them off in a few weeks, rendering this undefeated season quite lame.
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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
Location: United States

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