Monday, December 31, 2007

The 2007 Arizona Cardinals awards show bonanza

Note: This column appears in the 1/3 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 1/4 issue of the Peoria Times

Because I am not above such literary gimmicks as handing out fake end-of-the-year awards to professional athletes who don’t give two craps about what I have to say anyway, I think it’s time to do just that! So brace yourselves, Arizona Cardinals, because it’s award time…

Biggest Surprise:
Kurt Warner. From his valiant effort in replacing Matt Leinart against Baltimore in Week 3, to his 369-yard, three-TD performance versus Atlanta in Week 16, Warner pretty much saved the Cardinals from yet another embarrassing season. And he did it all with one elbow, an ever-graying beard, and while being sacked 20 times. Even Kurt Warner was surprised by Kurt Warner.

Best Season That Wasn’t That Great: Edgerrin James. Many (for example, Edgerrin James) will point out that James now has back-to-back seasons of rushing for over 1,000 yards, the first Cardinals’ RB to do that, since...I have no idea. Ever? Sounds good. But James displayed no game-breaking ability, and broke the 100-yard mark just three times this season, which were all Arizona victories. If James could have had just four really good games instead of three, the Cardinals might still be playing.

Best Injury: Matt Leinart. Remember him? Pegged as the face of the franchise heading into 2007, Leinart’s season-ending shoulder injury was ultimately a blessing for everyone involved, allowing Warner to shine, and giving Leinart the opportunity to have women sign his cast. Win, win.


My collarbone hurts...let's go back to my place

Worst Injury: Adrian Wilson. Before their standout safety went down, the Cardinals allowed more than 26 points in a game just once. Post-Adrian Wilson, they did it five times.

Best Win:
Arizona 21, Pittsburgh 14. In handing the Steelers their first loss of the season, the Cardinals made the rest of the NFL take notice. (The rest of the NFL was unimpressed, but still…)

Worst Loss:
San Francisco 37, Arizona 31. This game had it all -- missed chip-shots, bad coaching, turnovers galore – and it all happened at home, at the hands of one of the worst teams in the league, and in the middle of a playoff push. But other than that, it wasn’t so bad.

Best Upgrade: Ken Whisenhunt. In a move reminiscent of Justin Timberlake shedding Britney Spears for Cameron Diaz, the Cardinals went from Dennis Green to Whisenhunt, and watched as virtually the same team went from 5-11 to 8-8. He was far from perfect, but Whisenhunt exuded the confidence of man coaching a Super Bowl contender, and the Cards followed his lead.





The ‘Achy, Breaky Heart’ Memorial One-Hit Wonder Award: Antrel Rolle versus the Bengals. M.I.A. for much of the year, Rolle broke out against Cincy for three interceptions, returning two of them for scores during a crucial road win. Having filled his forced turnover quota, Rolle went back into hibernation.

Best Stat:
Cardinals hold Detroit Lions to minus-18 yards rushing. By the way, that game was the beginning of the end for Detroit, the first of a six-game losing streak. So if nothing else, the Cardinals ruined Detroit’s season. That’s almost like going to the playoffs, right?

Worst Ongoing Storyline: Penalties. In 2007, the Cardinals did their best Oakland Raiders impression, killing their own drives and sustaining their opponents’ drives with costly penalties throughout the season. Whether it was a brain fart, unwarranted machismo, or inexperience, almost no one was immune to the yellow flag in 2007. It was Ken Whisenhunt’s biggest failure as head coach.


And the Cardinals take the field...wait, there's a penalty flag

Worst Recurring Commercial Not Involving John Mellencamp: Dennis Green’s Coors Light Commercial. Nice job opening fresh wounds for Cardinals’ fans during game breaks, Coors Light. Oh, and it could have been much funnier. I’m just saying.

Best Player: Larry Fitzgerald. The Cards’ lone Pro Bowl starter had another outstanding season, and did so while battling injuries throughout. 100 catches for 1,409 yards and 10 TDs…I mean, wow.


Must...earn...fake...award!


Best Coverage:
The Glendale Star. Hey, what can I say?..the fake voters have spoken. (Runner up: Peoria Times.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Classic card of the week



Louis Lipps, 1992 Collector’s Edge

Louis Lipps did not exude the confidence of a man who caught passes for a living. Take this card for example. This looks like the “before” snapshot of an extremely bad dropped pass. There is too much concentration going into this feat. Louis Lipps is attempting to catch this pass as if his life depended on it, and that is just too much pressure to place on oneself as it pertains to the pure simplicity of catching a football. If this were Randy Moss, he would casually be reaching down to catch this pass with his right pinky finger (or, ya' know, his ELBOW!) while simultaneously staring at a cheerleader and contemplating what he was going to do for his touchdown dance. Meanwhile, Louis Lipps doesn’t even have his chinstrap fastened, there’s not a defender anywhere in the picture, and it looks like he’s one second away from pooping his pants. Even his positioning doesn’t make sense! His back is to the freakin’ endzone, and he looks like he’s fielding a line-drive punt instead trying to catch a pass. (Then again, that pass was most likely thrown by Neil O’Donnell, who didn’t exactly catch Louis in stride with this one.) Whether or not he caught this pass is mostly irrelevant, considering that Louis Lipps broke down NFL barriers by becoming the first player in league history to rock the receding hairline flattop. This eventually paved the way for Jerry Rice’s receding hairline cornrows, which was the fashion equivalent of an extremely bad dropped pass.




Did you know?*

Yes, I am aware that Louis Lipps also returned punts – quite well, actually – but his hands would be more underneath the ball if that were the case. I am also aware that this picture could be from warmups and not during an actual game. However, both of these scenarios ruin my original intent, which was to make fun of Louis Lipps. In other news, I am running out of football cards.

*longest “Did you know?” ever.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Classic card of the week


Latrell Sprewell, 1997 Upper Deck

When there’s a minute and 10 seconds left in the game, and you’re playing in a half-empty black-and-white arena against a team that refuses to wear numbers on the back of their jerseys, there’s few people in the NBA that you want with the ball in their hands more than Latrell Sprewell. To wit:

In a game vs. the Los Angeles Clippers, Sprewell became the difference in a 97-91 victory. With 1:10 on the clock in regulation, Sprewell shaked and baked his way to a three-point play and sealed the win at home.

Did Walt Frazier write this little tidbit? That will remain a mystery. And apparently in California, 1:10 left on the clock equals “crunch time,” regardless of the fact that those final 70 seconds probably took 23 minutes to play out. (Not mentioned is another “crunch time” play by Sprewell during this game, when he sank one of two free throws midway through the second quarter.)

When asked by a reporter after the game how he managed to be so clutch against the NBA’s elite Clippers, Sprewell stressed that he was only trying to feed his family, and if feeding his family meant draining jumpers over miscellaneous opponents with 1:10 left on the clock, then so be it. When the reporter asked if his family could eat the 20” spinning rims on the wheels of his Bentley, Sprewell choked him.

Did you know?
While it can often sound like a cliche, it nevertheless rings true: You don't want to barf on Latrell Sprewell's yacht.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It could be worse for Cardinals...no, seriously

The Christmas season is a time for joy, and also for perspective. Arizona Cardinals fans throughout the Valley are left lamenting the fact that their team will, yet again, miss the playoffs.. To this I say, “Who cares?” For now is the time of the year to appreciate what we have, so as the Cards face-off against them this Sunday, I think it’s time for everyone to be thankful this holiday season that the Arizona Cardinals are NOT, in fact, the Atlanta Falcons.

For all the disappointment inherent in rooting for the franchise that is the Arizona Cardinals, it can be argued that those twenty years of general ineptitude cannot match what the Falcons have accomplished in a mere six months.

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? The Falcons’ star quarterback -- and, to the casual NFL fan, their only recognizable player -- was suspended for the season as a result of being indicted on charges of heading a dog fighting ring. Two weeks ago he was sentenced to almost two years in a federal prison after being found guilty of those charges. So there’s that.

Not foreseeing the possibility that their starting quarterback would go to prison for dog fighting, the Falcons shrewdly traded their backup QB, Matt Schaub, to the Houston Texans before the season began. Said Falcons’ GM Rich McKay, “My bad!” (He didn’t really say that, but still.)


"It looks like this whole 'dog' thing is gonna pass...So we got rid of Schaub"

During the offseason, the Falcons hired head coach Bobby Petrino away from the collegiate ranks of Louisville, awarding him millions of dollars in the process. Petrino’s reputation as an offensive mastermind was supposed to help Michael Vick turn the corner on his career (oops!). Petrino lost control of his team approximately around Week 1, and subsequently resigned after the teams’ Week 13 loss to the Saints, and was introduced as the new head coach at Arkansas later that week. Petrino’s legacy in Atlanta will be refusing to play Jerious Norwood (their potentially game-breaking running back), for being publicly berated on the sidelines by defensive back and famed nut job DeAngelo Hall, and for making Nick Saban look like Mike Krzyzewski. But other than that, it worked out great!


DeAngelo Hall: Backing up his cockiness

Then there’s Joey Harrington. Astonishingly frustrated with Harrington’s performance, the Falcons picked up gimpy QB Byron Leftwich, who somehow managed to play worse than Harrington, forcing the Falcons to awkwardly hand the starting job back to Harrington, who repaid their confidence by playing even worse than before. As of last Sunday, Chris Redman (?) was the starting quarterback, who turned in this stellar line: 4-of-15 passing, for 34 yards, two interceptions and a lost fumble. And yes, he played the entire game.


Arrggghh! Put your hands down...I can't see!

Oh, and the Atlanta Falcons are 3-11, good for last place in the NFC South.

Now, many of you may be saying to yourselves, “Yeah, okay…but do they have Neil Rackers?” And that is just not fair. The fact remains that the Falcons have no coach, no discernable talent with the exception of a few guys who are either crazy or who have yet to fully emerge, and are in general shambles as an organization. When the Cardinals suit up on Sunday, and look across the field, they should have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, and that is all that really matters.


Now 20% less embarrassing to stick on your tree! Call now!

Of course, this is not to say that the Cardinals should gift wrap a victory for the Falcons simply out of sympathy. On the contrary, that would be really, really, really bad. No matter what the outcome however, the Cardinals are not going to the playoffs, which definitely stinks. But hey, things could be worse.

They could have hired Bobby Petrino instead.


If this all works out -- and I have no reason to be believe that it won't -- I think this will be the most successful fourteen weeks in Atlanta Falcons' history!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Classic card of the week


Brad Davis, 1990-91 Skybox

The easy joke here would be to say that Brad Davis was flaming. Or, at least, his balls were flaming. But I am not going to go there, because that is not how I roll. “But how does Brad Davis roll?” you may be asking yourself. That, I cannot answer. All I can do is show you the back of the card,
(check the “Brad” in the lower right-hand corner of the picture…that’s class!), remind you that Brad Davis played for a team whose symbol was a cowboy hat resting on top of a giant “M,” and then ask you to look at the front of the card again. Says Troy McClure, “Yes, Smithers IS Mr. Burns’ assistant.”

Of course, I am joking with these implications and innuendos. Brad Davis was just a product of the times, a times that just happened to involve short shorts, mustaches, flaming basketballs, and cowboy hats. Let’s face it – we were ALL a little gay in 1991.

Anyhoo, I perused Brad Davis’ Wikipedia page, where I discovered that Brad Davis was not a good basketball player. This seems contradictory to what the front of this card would imply, because Brad Davis is obviously about to skool some mo fo’s. Nevertheless, says Wikipedia:

Davis was an average NBA player, averaging less than 10 points per game for his career, but his drive and love for the community made him a fan favorite.

After games in which Brad Davis would miss a game-tying layup by tossing it over the backboard, many of the die-hard Mavericks fans could be overheard saying things like, “Man, Brad Davis really sucks. But he’s got such a love for the community! I just can’t stay mad at the guy!” Also according to Wikipedia, “Davis became the first Maverick to have his jersey retired when his #15 was raised to the rafters of Reunion Arena.” There may be no better indictment of the pre-Dirk Nowitzki Mavericks than the fact that a guy who couldn’t average 10 points a game had his jersey retired because they had to get something up there. Then again, be careful what you wish for, because Dirk Nowitzki totally hates the community.

Did you know?
When the Mavericks moved to the American Airlines Center in 2002, Brad Davis' retired jersey was left behind, with the reason being that "nobody could reach it."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cardinals must cover up Warner’s inevitable mistakes

Note: This column appears in the 12/13 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 12/14 issue of the Peoria Times

If this past Sunday was, in fact, the biggest game in almost a decade for the Arizona Cardinals, then let’s hope that they don’t react the same way this Sunday, which will definitely be the biggest game in almost a decade for the Arizona Cardinals.

Now to the hard part.

As good as he has been this season, the fact that Kurt Warner is the starting quarterback has been the elephant in the room. Warner has never been adept at taking care of the football, and if not turning the ball over has become a football cliché, then Kurt Warner obviously did not get the memo.

The Cardinals failed in every aspect of the game against the Seahawks. The defense was terrible, and could never manage to stop the bleeding. Special teams was, at best, a non-factor. And the rushing “attack” was on par with what it’s been for most of the season, which is to say that Edgerrin James was, yet again, nowhere to be found. That said, Kurt Warner’s five interceptions are what ultimately decided the game, and, more importantly, put the spotlight on the Cardinals’ Achilles Heel as they attempt to make a playoff push.

Anyone who has watched the Cardinals play this season cannot deny being impressed with Warner, yet can also not deny holding their breath every time he drops back to pass. With the exception of a ball he just threw up for grabs at the end of the first half, all of Warner’s interceptions on Sunday were terrible throws. They couldn’t be blamed on bad route running, tipped passes, or the sun in his eyes – they were overthrown, underthrown, badly thrown, or all of the above. Every pass Warner threw on Sunday seemed to hang in the air for twenty minutes, stubbornly biding its time knowing it would land in the waiting arms of the opposition.

And these are just the times when he was able to get off a pass. Let’s put it this way: When Kurt Warner gets sacked, I am shocked – shocked! – when he manages to hold onto the football. So it was a pleasure to see Warner retain possession during each of the five times he was sacked on Sunday, although the interceptions more than made up for it.


Not shocking

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Kurt Warner is 37. The man is not changing. He obviously doesn’t want to turn the ball over, he just kind of does. As Dennis Green might say, “He is who we thought he was!” And what Kurt Warner is is a pretty good quarterback with a penchant for turning the ball over. So there.


I was confused! You guys wear red too!

Now that this reality has been exposed and thus, accepted, it’s the job of the rest of the team to outplay Warner’s weakness. If Warner throws a pick, the defense has to get it back. (Which, with the exception of Sunday, they’ve been able to do.) If Warner gets sacked and fumbles the ball away – and by “if” I mean “when” – then Steve Breaston can make up for it with a big return. If Warner has nobody to throw to because his two best receivers are either inactive or playing hurt, somebody should find Edgerrin James and let him know that the game started.

As the Cardinals attempt to win at least two of their final three games in their quest to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years, I’d prefer not to hear Ken Whisenhunt stress how the Cardinals cannot turn the ball over, which is exactly what he did on Sunday evening. No Ken – you WILL turn the ball over. Kurt Warner is your starting quarterback, and that’s kind of his thing. Instead, tell me about how the rest of the team is going to make up for it.

Because if the Cardinals want to make the playoffs, they’ll have to.


Edgerrin James: Because just standing there is almost as good as 3.5 yards per carry

When keeping it full goes wrong


Dramatization: "Before"

This morning I was filling my car up with gas -- yes, in Arizona you have to pump your own -- and I was, as usual, watching the money counter, and making bets with myself on where it was going to land. Keep in mind that, as any professional gas-pumper will advise, I was not actually holding the pump. Instead, I had it set in its little pump crevice. “Let the pump do all the work!” is my motto. So I was watching the digital money screen with my arms folded, looking pretty cool, if I might add. Now, I had expected it to land at around the $25 mark, so when it passed that with no signs of slowing down, I said to myself, “Huh, that’s strange.” Then $27…$29…$30…

As it’s going through the 30s, I started to hear a funny noise, like it was raining outside, but only next to my car. When I looked down, gas was splurging everywhere. Apparently, the pump had failed to click and deactivate. At this point, gas is spewing all over the car and on my shoes, the money counter is still going, and I’m trying to get the pump out of the freakin’ pump hole (it’s called a pump hole, right?). Eventually, I get the pump out, and now I’m trying to corral it like it’s some kind of wild, spewing beast. (I don’t look AS cool at this point.) My total now reads “$31.01,” and it’s asking me, as if to taunt me, “RECEIPT YES?” Yes, you asshole machine. I would like a receipt.

The receipt printer isn’t working. “PLEASE SEE CASHIER.” Fine! I was going to do that anyway.


Evil

What follows is a dramatization that includes both my actual words and thoughts as they related to my conversation with the cashier at the local gas station:

“Ummm, yeah. I was just at Pump #2, and I think something’s wrong because it never stopped, and gas went everywhere.”

“Oh fo real?”

“Uh, yeah. For real.”

“You know dem things is s’posed to stop when they full…”

“Yes, I am aware of how the gas-pumping process works. What I am trying to say is that it didn’t stop, and gas went all over the car, my shoes…everywhere.”

“Fo real? Was it a lot of gas?”

“Yes. It was a lot of gas.”

“Aiiight…(now looking at the register)…what would you say, like, a half gallon? A gallon?”

“Ummm, I’m not really sure. It was difficult to get an accurate measurement on the gas flow, as it was spewing it 80 different directions at the time. Maybe if I ring out the bottom of pants into a measuring cup, I can make a guesstimate.”

“I’ma say a half gallon.”

At this point I’m thinking to myself, “Okay, she’s obviously working on getting me some type of credit on my gas purchase. And that’s nice, because I’m not asking for a credit, I just want to inform her that I think the pump is faulty.”

“Was your total $31.01?”

“Yes.”

“Aiiight, here ya’ go.”

She hands me the receipt, her voice trailing off as she says something that kind of sounds like “Have a nice day,” and then she leaves from the behind the counter. I look down at the receipt and, of course, it reads $31.01. So, not only did she not give me a credit, she also gave me no indication of there being a solution to this problem, nor voice any concern whatsoever for my unfortunate incident. Frustrated, confused, and about to be late for work, I went back to my car.

As I’m pulling out of the gas station, I notice the cashier walking out towards Pump #2, holding one of those Big Gulp-style cups. I realized that the cup is probably filled with water, and she’s going off to rinse the ground of the surplus gasoline. I imagine that her question about “a half gallon or gallon” must directly relate to size of the Big Gulp cup of water they use to clean it up. (Half gallon = 32 oz; Gallon = 44 oz.) Awesome. Don’t worry about my entire body or automobile, lady -- just make sure that the concrete ground gets the attention it deserves.

Now I am at work, and people are walking by my desk and saying, “Hmmm…what is that smell?” And I say, “Oh that? That’s just me. I showered in gasoline this morning!”

And the moral of this story is two-fold: 1) The service in Arizona is just as awesome as it is in New Jersey, and 2) you should always hold the pump, because the pump cannot be trusted.


What I should have worn to work this morning

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Classic card of the week



Kevin Willis, 1992-93 Stadium Club

Kevin Willis is arguably the last link to those legendary Atlanta Hawks teams that were pretty good, but not really. It is impossible to think of the late 80’s/early 90’s Atlanta Hawks without immediately seeing a visual image of Kevin Willis in the background of a Dominique Wilkins poster. Or, possibly, you see this very image instead. Or, even more unlikely, you rarely think about the late 80’s/early 90’s Atlanta Hawks, in which case you can go to hell.

Kevin Willis was famous for his humongous biceps, which were on par with those of David Robinson. In fact, the only difference between the two men was that David Robinson had a small face, and Kevin Willis had a huge face. And they played for different teams. And David Robinson scored more than seven points per game.

But Kevin Willis could rebound his face off! So to speak. For statistical proof, let’s check the back of the card:

Remarkable rebounding season, finishing 2nd in NBA…Had as many as 33 boards in one game…

"As many as?" Not sure why that is there, but 33 rebounds in one game has to be some sort of Hawks’ record. Even more amazing was that all 33 boards came off of missed Kevin Willis shots. In addition, the famed “Sporting News Skills Rating System” clocks Kevin Willis’ “Intimidation” factor at a 4.5. This means two very important things: 1) I sure as balls never want to see a 4.6, and 2) intimidation is, in fact, a skill. So there.

Kevin Willis also perfected the “triple-threat” position, as evidenced by this photo. With this particular pose Kevin Willis could a) throw a chest pass to Dominique Wilkins, b) crush the basketball with his bare hands, or c) dribble through his legs as many as 33 times. If you cannot put yourself in a position to do all of these three things, then you might as well not play basketball. Any coach will tell you that.

But you may be saying to yourself, “This Kevin Willis card is okaaaay, but I’d sure love to see a different Kevin Willis basketball card.” Well then, today is your lucky day, because this particular set of Stadium Club cards included a picture of another basketball card on the back (as evidenced by this), because that is what the people wanted, apparently. So please, enjoy!


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Did you know?
Uh oh. I found a 4.6.