A lot is going wrong in the NFL his year. Depending on what team you root for it’s either a blessing, same old or “we’ll get ‘em next year.” For these teams, there’s something wrong. Yet some of them still have playoff shots at the halfway point of the season.
Dallas Cowboys (1-6)
The pressure started on these guys when Cowboys Stadium was selected to host Super Bowl XLV. Coach Wade Phillips doesn’t have the leadership to mold this team, Tony Romo no longer dates Jessica Simpson (and he got hurt) while receiver Miles Austin no longer dates Kim Kardashian. I’d feel like losing too if I no longer dated those girls.
Washington Redskins (4-4)
New coach Mike Shanahan bullied lineman Albert Haynesworth during training camp, forcing the bruising defender to try to pass a conditioning test (which the massive Haynesworth failed repeatedly) before getting on the field. Haynesworth is an All-Pro player. Why would you do this? The team itself has been mediocre, but the most questionable move came this week when starting quarterback Donovan McNabb was benched for lack of conditioning and his inability to master the two-minute offense.
Guess who worked out for the Redskins this week? Jamarcus Russell, the former Raiders oaf, arguably one of the laziest players to ever put on an NFL uniform. This tub of lard is going to help? The Raiders have average quarterbacks now and technically, they’re in playoff contention.
Arizona Cardinals (3-4)
My friends always give me grief for saying quarterback Matt Leinart could have led this team. Well, he was never given a full season’s chance, outplaying Derek Anderson for the starting job and still getting released. Coach Ken Whisenhunt had his mind made up long before the preseason finished and now he has been rewarded with a season of mediocrity. Anderson, who has been OK his entire career and undrafted rookie Max Hall from BYU lead this team. The Cardinals still have a chance since they play in the awful NFC West, perhaps the worst division in the history of the NFL.
San Francisco 49ers (2-6)
I don’t know how to explain this one. The way the Niners have played the past couple of years this was a gimme. In a division with lowly Seattle, Arizona minus Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin and the always pathetic St. Louis Rams, San Francisco should win this division by default. Yet the team started 0-5. The 49ers can still win the division since the Seahawks are 4-3 and coach Pete Carroll had more talent at USC than Seattle.
Minnesota Vikings (2-5)
Brett Favre came back after holding the team, football fans and ESPN hostage. But receiver Sidney Rice got hurt early on, the Vikings got behind early and then superstar and super diva Randy Moss was brought in. Moss didn’t pan out as he was released this week. He had a bad attitude (what a surprise) and he might be an impact player for another team assuming he doesn’t wear out his welcome after a month. Minnesota’s defense is still good and running back Adrian Peterson is a stud, but losing close games has put the team in a hole. It doesn’t look good the rest of the way. To make the playoffs, the Vikings would have to finish 8-1 or 7-2 and that’s extremely unlikely.
Carolina Panthers (1-6)
Carolina still has a team? Who plays for them? Seriously, I can’t name any impact players for this team. I know they drafted Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame. That’s about it though. When you don’t have any players that the casual fan is aware of, you know the team is in bad shape.
Buffalo Bills (0-7)
The Bills’ major problem is that Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith don’t play for them anymore. The current Bills stink. Like the Panthers, they have no impact players. Nobody has a fantasy team loaded with Buffalo players. Nobody in their right mind would go to Las Vegas and bet that these Buffalo Bills will go to four straight Super Bowls.
Denver Broncos (2-6) John Elway doesn’t play for these guys. Neither does running back Terrell Davis. And Shanahan doesn’t coach here. At least with Shanahan the team had a system in which it could still be successful. Now, the Broncos are so bad they lost to the previously downtrodden Raiders, 59-14. Are you kidding me, 59 points? The NFL record is 62 points. No teams ever score that much. Maybe former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow can play defense. It can’t hurt, right?
San Diego Chargers (3-5)
This is all you need to know about the Chargers’ demise: they are coached by Norv Turner and he is a proven loser. He coached Washington and he coached the Oakland. Both of those teams sucked. San Diego probably would have at least gone to a Super Bowl with former coach Marty Schottenheimer. He was fired after going 14-2 and losing in the AFC divisional playoff game. The geniuses in the San Diego front office replaced him with Turner and the Chargers have underachieved since.
Cincinnati Bengals (2-5)
Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco is a recipe for disaster. Pair these guys up with Moss and you’ll be guaranteed an 0-16 season. The team would probably be so dysfunctional, the Bengals would cease to exist and fans wouldn’t even be given a refund for games they don’t get to attend. On paper, the team looked strong and like Minnesota, has lost close games. But this is the NFL. You win two close ones, you’re in playoff contention. You lose them and you end up on this list. Cleveland Browns (2-5) The Cleveland Browns will suck forever. When are they ever good? Who plays for them? Does Tim Couch still play quarterback? Ever watch “The Drew Carey Show” and just get baffled at the “Cleveland Rocks” song? Who likes the Indians? Browns? Cavaliers? Hell, LeBron James loved the Cavaliers so much he took his talents to South Beach. Cleveland is playing for another top three pick in the draft and judging by its sorriness, will “earn” that pick yet again.
Catch that opening game Miami Heat loss? Of course you did. Rooting against LeBron James is the most American thing to do now that the New York Yankees lost the American League Championship Series and the Dallas Cowboys suck.
Since the NBA’s new Big Three united in July, the Heat have dominated all of the off-season talk. All because of these words: “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”
Former Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy predicted Miami would eclipse the Chicago Bulls’ 72-win season. I bet some thought the Heat were bound for an 82-0 season.
Either way, people seem to hate the Miami Heat and comparisons have been made to the creation of the New World Order back in the good, old days of World Championship Wrestling. Good guy Hulk Hogan turned his back on WCW and joined up with cutthroat heels Scott Hall and Kevin Nash (most remember them as Razor Ramon and Diesel of World Wrestling Federation fame).
These three were legitimate superstars who beat up other wrestlers mercilessly, gained popularity, got other wrestlers in WCW to join the nWo cause and beat up whoever didn’t rock the faction’s black and white colors.
LeBron and Dwyane Wade, I could see as superstars. But Chris Bosh, who the hell is this guy? This guy isn’t a superstar. He was the leading scorer on the Raptors, but remember, every team has to have a leading scorer. Bosh is no Hulk Hogan and hasn’t even paid his dues to be on Hall or Nash level.
Nash won the world title and went up against the likes of Hogan, Undertaker, Bret “the Hitman” Hart and Shawn Michaels. Hall never won an individual world title, but he was the winner of one of the greatest Wrestlemania matches of all time: the first ladder match in history against Michaels.
What has Bosh done? He was part of the 2008 Olympic “Redeem Team” that won the gold medal. Then again, so was Michael Redd and Tayshaun Prince, would you call those guys superstars? Bosh led the Toronto Raptors, whose greatest claim to fame was losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the playoffs in 2001, in scoring and rebounding (24 points and almost 11 rebounds per game).
I guess Bosh gets the Hall role.
That leaves Wade in the Nash role, which is unusual since D-Wade is the only player in the Big Three with a championship ring.
James is the Hogan role, cause let’s be honest, he’s the baddest dude to put on a jersey in the league. Kobe Bryant is the most clutch in playoff time and Kevin Durant’s youth and potential may one day dethrone the King, but LeBron is too nice.
He’s one of the faces of the league. Love him or hate him, he can ball. Despite the nWo’s dominance, they lost every now and then.
Even Hogan, whose most famous defeat as a member of the nWo was against Sting, who no longer looked like the Ultimate Warrior, but an exact replica of the Crow. If he carried a baseball bat around.
This classic match took place at Starrcade 1997. It had tremendous pre-match hype and great intros.
Hogan lost and it was like, “damn, why didn’t the nWo just cheat to win?”
A lot of people think Miami cheated to get its players. The Heat did nothing wrong. In fact, the Big Two (plus Bosh) all took less money so they could play together.
So what if they lost the opener against Boston? If you haven’t noticed, the Celtics are a loaded team that came within a quarter of winning the championship.
Trust me, Miami will have games in which it wins handily. And one day, the Heat may win 72 games or more. It’s not that difficult. Two teams came within five games in the last decade without even trying (2000 Lakers and 2007 Mavericks, both with 67 wins).
A real conspiracy would be another legitimate superstar taking his talents to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat. Until then, I’ll just wait for a Miami Heat T-shirt to come out in the likeness of those old nWo T-shirts everyone had. Root against the Heat all you want, they’ll do just fine with or without your hate.
It’s been about a week since Reggie Bush gave up his Heisman Trophy. Is this mess finally over? Anything else people want to pressure him into doing?
There’s no denying what Bush did was wrong. Even if what he did exactly is kind of fuzzy, we know he was involved with a sports agent while playing college football, a big no-no.
A Heisman-less Bush must now move on with his life. It must be tough, what with his millions of dollars, Super Bowl rings and memories of a relationship with Kim Kardashian.
Bush said his giving the Heisman back was “not an admission of guilt.” He can think what he wants. Officially, the Heisman Trust said the 2005 Heisman would be vacant.
Yet a bunch of crazy talk erupted last week that former Texas Longhorns quarterback Vince Young wanted the award.
Bush won that Heisman. By a lot. He received the second highest amount of votes ever and doubled the votes Young received. The race wasn’t close.
Who’s to say Young would have won had Bush been ineligible? Bush and 2004 Heisman winner Matt Leinart were on the same team, they could have split votes. Yet Bush still won in a landslide. Without Bush who’s to say Leinart doesn’t become the second two-time Heisman winner.
Ignorant fans say Young should have won, especially since he almost single handedly beat USC in the Rose Bowl. Guess what, geniuses? That game happened after the Heisman Trophy was handed out. You can’t use that as a case for Young nabbing the award.
The man behind this madness was none other than Texas’s Mack Brown, the world’s best (or worst) politician disguising himself as a college football coach. “I talked to Vince and told him that it would be very important for the University of Texas football program if the Heisman was brought back here,” Brown said. “Not for you, but for the university I’d like for you to stand up and say you want it because I think it would be important to bring it back here.”
In 2004 Brown persuaded pollsters to bump Texas up in the rankings in order for the Longhorns to play in a Bowl Championship Series game. It worked and poor Cal, perhaps the second best team in the nation that season (yes, including undefeated Auburn and Oklahoma) was unfairly pushed aside despite being ahead of Texas during the final weekend of the regular season.
Common sense prevailed, as Young won’t be awarded a Heisman he didn’t deserve.
Now that the Heisman mess is sorted out, I have some points to bring up regarding the entire Bush saga:
USC’s facing severe penalties is simply wrong. The NCAA has to change its method of punishing schools. Why should these players who were middle schoolers at the time pay the price for Bush’s misdeeds?
There needs to be a way to penalize the player. Make him (or her) pay back whatever tuition costs, whatever room and board costs, any fees associated with going to school for a free ride. Fine the college a hefty dollar amount.
But don’t punish players that have nothing to do with the situation. That makes no sense.
I also don’t think what Bush did was really that bad. These student-athletes make universities loads of cash. You want to know what’s bad? Using steroids, that’s bad. Having someone else do your homework, that’s bad. Cheating or falsifying grades to get into college, that’s bad.
Your parents getting a pad? Driving a new car? Travel expenses paid for? How does this help someone on the field?
Finally, who here thinks Bush was the only Heisman winner to get a little something extra? Not just Heisman winners, you know these athletes get a little something extra not just in the classroom, but in the wallet. Watch “The Program,” it’ll clear everything up.
Imagine if a Heisman winner from back in the day, maybe from the 60s or 70s, was found to be dirty. Would a media frenzy come about? Would hardware be given back?
I think every university is dirty until it’s caught. When I went to school, an instructor offered to give me a free A if I just continued writing coverage on their sport. No attendance, no work, no tests, just a free grade. I wasn’t an athlete, just a mild mannered reporter without the physique of Clark Kent.
Hell, I knew an older dude who played baseball about four decades ago, was heavily recruited by many universities, and had tremendous offers. One, which sounded very tempting, went like this: Attend our school and you’ll never have to go to class. Ever. You’ll get a degree and all you have to do is play baseball.
This was a tiny college that was hurting, but the offer was out there. Not from a coach, but from an administrator. A big shot was offering that “education.”
Temptation is out there. Bush got popped and now the Heisman is his penance. Unfortunately, USC is serving its penance for years to come.
Yes, outrageous, I know.
The Lakers are thin up front and Shaq was the best player still available. But the Lakers have the triumvirate of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom? True, and no team has three better players in the frontcourt. But take away one of them (probably you, Bynum, who can’t seem to stay away from the operating table) and there’s a problem.
Again, wishful thinking.
Instead, Shaq signs with … the Celtics? Why, Shaq, why? The hated rival to the Lakers and you sign with them? No, this can’t be. This is just as bad as waking up one morning and finding out John Walker Lindh, an American, was a member of the Taliban. I had never heard of Lindh, however, I know he’s serving time for being a turncoat.
Boston gets a burly center to make up for the loss of Kendrick Perkins, who will be sidelined for about half of the year with a knee injury. But if you wanted to shore up your defense with a backup player capable of playing like a starter then the Diesel was the way to go. For years I envisioned the Big Aristotle’s career coming full circle. Winning another title with Kobe Bryant and then riding off in the sunset. Now, his career will end with the Celtics.
Ugh, where’s the Pepto Bismo?
The Lakers never thought of Shaq… instead they added a veteran to spell Bynum. Theo Ratliff, a player I remember from way back, was brought in. I didn’t even know he was in the league any more.
If Bynum gets hurt can you see the 37-year-old Ratliff starting for the Lakers and delivering? Hell no.
Not that the former Big Cactus is any younger; Shaq is the oldest player in the league at 38. But he’s a very capable player. He can’t dunk over two or three guys like he used to, but he sure can box out, take up space and intimidate. You think a guy like Dwight Howard, who was on the cover of Men’s Health looking all swoll, will be able to knock around the original Superman? Afraid not.
Like loving a relative who goes off and marries some malcontent, I will still wish Shaq the best. Every team he has ever played for I have rooted on. Boston, however, I will not.
As a coach, Phil Jackson wins championships in threes. His Chicago Bulls won three in a row from 1991-1993. The second three-peat took place between 1996 and 1998. When he changed scenery to Los Angeles, the Lakers won from 2000 to 2002.
The current Lakers have won back-to-back titles. Do they have what it takes to continue the Zenmaster’s trend?
Jackson’s Bulls and Lakers never played in four straight NBA finals. If these Lakers make it to the championship round again that will mean more than 100 games played for four consecutive years.
That type of fatigue will take its toll on any human, even professional athletes. Too much sweat even for the champs. In about 1,460 days the Lakers will have played more than 400 games. That doesn’t include preseason games, practices, morning shootarounds, weight room sessions, media appearances and offseason workouts.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol also played extensively in international play and the Olympics in 2008. Lamar Odom plans to play in the FIBA World Championship later this summer.
Where’s the rest?
The Health of Andrew Bynum
If he’s healthy, the Lakers are unstoppable. During their three years in the finals, Bynum was never 100 percent.
Against the Celtics in 2008 he wasn’t even active. Last season against the Magic, Bynum was coming off a regular season injury. This year, he missed a handful of games to finish the year and was hobbled during the playoffs. Bynum had his knee drained during the NBA finals and played just enough to squeak through the championship.
Bynum had impressive numbers during the regular season. The Lakers need his size, rebounding and ability to block or change shots. Without him, they have a gaping hole at center. Gasol could fill in admirably, but his natural position is power forward.
Lack of Depth
Whenever money becomes an issue it could change the dynamic of the team. Certainly, that will be the case with the Lakers. They have many free agents.
The team’s core will be intact, but what about the role players? Those are a serious question mark.
They have no point guards as Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar may all be gone. DJ Mbenga, Josh Powell and Adam Morrison aren’t in the Lakers’ future.
Brown recently announced he would opt out of his two-year deal.
Will Los Angeles be able to field a team? Which brings the next obstacle …
They Won’t Get Better
The Lakers have had the best eight-man rotation in the league the last two years. Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Ron Artest, Fisher, Farmar and Brown delivered two straight titles.
The only change from the ‘09 championship was at small forward. Trevor Ariza was a slasher who could hit open shots and defend the perimeter. Artest wasn’t the same type of offensive player, but his brute strength helped the Lakers match Boston’s physicality.
So will they get better? Probably not. They need backcourt help and an experienced big man. A three-man rotation of Bynum, Gasol and Odom works — if neither of them are in foul trouble or injured. A fourth frontcourt player is needed.
Not improving their roster will only diminish the Lakers’ chances of winning another title. In 2003, the Lakers did nothing to improve their stock which led to them getting stopped by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. Not adding quality players will only help the rest of the league catch up.
The NBA Will Get Better
During the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe years the NBA was chasing the Lakers. The same thing is happening again. Through trades, free agency and sheer willpower, the rest of the league — the Western Conference especially — has to catch up.
The only question is when. What team has the best chance to knock off the Lakers? Boston might be too old, Phoenix and Cleveland could lose Amare Stoudemire and LeBron James, and Oklahoma City is still a bit green. Some team will step its game up.
Jackson has announced that he wants to return to the Lakers. But will a coach make up the difference if the Lakers’ talent isn’t the same?
Los Angeles’ run has to end some time. It might be next year.
* The Celtics will complain for the rest of eternity that Kendrick Perkins didn’t play in game seven. Newsflash! Perkins wouldn’t prevent 23 offensive rebounds. He’s not Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain. Hell, he’s not even Dennis Rodman.
And remember, Rasheed Wallace gave the C’s much-needed offense. With Perkins it’s like playing four on five. Try getting the ball in the hoop like that. Boston gave the ball to Wallace in the post consistently. Wallace, the man with the most ejections in NBA history, scored the Celtics’ first bucket. All night he kicked the ball out of the post and ended up with 11 points.
Perkins can’t come close to doing that on offense. Wallace can at least come close to doing Perkins’ dirty work on defense.
* Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he thinks Wallace has played his last game. Before game seven Wallace told Rivers that he planned on retiring. Several sources have confirmed that statement.
If this is true, the career of the enigmatic and energetic Wallace will be a serious loss for the league. Supremely talented and short tempered, Wallace won a title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. His erratic antics didn’t earn him favors from the referees, who had no trouble whistling him for technicals.
For years he was one of the league leaders in this category, getting nailed for more than 306 technical fouls during his career.
Wallace had the ability to be one of the most talented players in the league. His dangerous post-up game and shooting range stretched the floor, causing numerous match-up problems, even with big men.
Good luck, Rasheed. You were an interesting character.
* Viewers tuned in to the NBA finals. The largest sporting event is the Super Bowl, but that’s one day. ABC and the NBA got their money’s worth.
A seven-game series in the NBA finals is rare and with a throwback series between the Lakers and Celtics you knew there would be butts in front of TVs.
An estimated 28.2 million people watched game seven which pales in comparison to Super Bowl XLIV’s gargantuan audience: more than 106 million, the most watched event in U.S. television history, surpassing even the “M-A-S-H” series finale in 1983.
While the ratings combined don’t quite measure up to the Super Bowl, it was a ratings victory for the NBA. This year’s championship clincher was the highest watched game since Michael Jordan won his last championship in 1998.
Two weeks worth of viewers coupled with hefty advertising means big bucks. The ratings can never match the might of one Super Bowl, but seven games can at least sniff the ratings title of the king of sports.
* Had the Lakers not won a championship the blame would have been on Ron Artest.
The only major change to this year’s roster, Artest, in place of the lanky Trevor Ariza, looked like a bust until the playoffs started.
Artest’s shooting was erratic, clanging open shots all season long and through the first two rounds of the playoffs. But his defense was stout during all of this. And he found his shooting touch against Phoenix.
In game seven against the Celtics, Artest carried the Lakers through three quarters. At one point he was the game’s leading scorer. Late in the fourth quarter he hit a three-point shot that gave the Lakers a cushion to hold off Boston.
Artest played with exceptional high school players in his younger days. Now he has joined Lamar Odom as the only player to win an NBA title from those years. He had played with Elton Brand, Brendan Haywood, Erick Barkley and Speedy Claxton.
Now he’s a champion instead of the goat many people thought he was the entire season.
* What team did WNBA star Candace Parker root for in the NBA finals? The Los Angeles Sparks NBA counterpart, the Lakers, or the Celtics, the team her husband, Sheldon Williams, plays for? The team that plays in her home arena or the breadwinner in the family?
Wait, is he the breadwinner? Actually, he is. Despite being a scrub in the NBA, Williams’ paycheck is much fatter than the female superstar. Parker, one of the most popular players in the WNBA makes $44,000 while Williams, an NBA journeyman, earns more than $800,000.
Conventional wisdom says she was pulling for hubs. But the Lakers winning must help the Sparks, right? Maybe? Who knows? It can’t hurt.
With low pay such as that how does the WNBA keep operating? The financial backing of the big brother NBA, that’s how.
* Kobe Bryant was asked what does winning a fifth championship mean?
“I got one more than Shaq,” Bryant said. “You can take that to the bank.”
Obviously, Kobe hasn’t gotten over the Shaquille O’Neal feud. Bryant and his teammate, Derek Fisher, have the most championships among active players.
At this point in their careers it is unlikely Shaq can catch Kobe. The Black Mamba is still playing at a high level and Pau Gasol is there to help with the heavy lifting.
Kobe’s earned the right to talk trash.
After all, it was Shaq who started the juvenile hijinks in 2008 after the Lakers got housed by the Celtics.
Boston made Los Angeles look silly, especially Bryant who looked, well, human, against the Celtics’ stingy defense.
After the NBA finals that year, Shaq ripped into Bryant, grabbing a microphone at a party and taunting his former running mate. “Kobe, tell me how my ass tastes,” Shaq dissed over and over.
After Kobe’s most recent jab, Shaq took it like a champ, updating his Twitter with this response: “Congratulations Kobe, u deserve it. U played great. Enjoy it man enjoy it. I know what ur sayin ‘Shaq how my ass taste.’”
The former Shaqtus, Man of Steel and three-time NBA finals MVP is taking it in stride. Good for him.
* The end of the veteran, gritty Celtics could be near. Rivers has announced he will be back, but the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce will only slow with age. Allen is a free agent and Pierce has opted out of his contract
General Manager Danny Ainge may gut the team that has been to the championship round two out of the last three years.
Boston’s run to the finals this year was improbable. As talented as Rajon Rondo is, another run seems almost impossible.
The Celtics craze will die down, but their resurrection literally came out of nowhere. Before KG and Jesus Shuttlesworth came on board they stunk. Certified losers.
Ainge pulled a rabbit out of his hat and with the right role players they went from being in the lottery to winning a championship.
Any GM would take that.
* Poor, poor Los Angeles Lakers. After having the highest payroll in the league the higher-ups are complaining that they are spending too much.
So instead of signing players, taking care of coach Phil Jackson and just basically ensuring that they are on track to win another title they are tightening belts.
Perhaps Odom will be moved. They might downgrade in the backcourt. A new coach could be on the sidelines (some of that has to do with health).
It doesn’t look good, Lakers fans.
After all, what an awful scenario for a franchise to have: they just won back-to-back titles and the dire money situation is that the Lakers only made $15 million to $20 million.
That’s right, during a recession this kind of cash was made. Every team in the NBA would love to win a championship while “only” netting $15 million to $20 million. Grow up, Lakers management.
Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street” said greed is good, but this is ridiculous.
What would have happened had the Lakers not won two home games in a row? Defending champs, favored to do it again, and what’s best, they were playing the Boston Celtics. Revenge time, it all comes full circle, not only is there redemption for what happened in 2008 …
It almost blew up.
See, in 2008 when the Lakers lost I wasn’t devastated. Sure it was sad. It was even worse that the clincher, game six in Boston, was a serious stomping. But it was fine, the Lakers shouldn’t have been there. They were just another NBA team that got Pau Gasol donated and all of a sudden they get to the championship.
Just happy to be there.
But they rallied the next year. This one had potential for major hurt because the Lakers were the better team. And when the better team loses it’s heartbreaking.
I have had a few bouts with my favorite teams losing when they were the better team. Some I have recovered from, others haunt me to this day. Luckily, I don’t have to recover from a 2010 Lakers collapse.
Oakland Raiders vs. New England Patriots, 2001 AFC semifinals
Although I’m not from Oakland, as a kid the Raiders played in Los Angeles. They were my pro team. So when they moved to Oakland I still followed them.
This was a solid team that seemed like they had made a big defensive stand by stripping the ball from Tom Brady. They were on the verge of securing a win in snowy New England.
Then the inexplicable tuck rule was called. That must be the most replayed play in NFL history. Brady clearly wasn’t throwing the ball. So it’s a fumble, right? To this day that’s one of the strangest calls in sports history.
The Patriots went on to win Super Bowl XXXVI.
Oakland Raiders vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Super Bowl XXXVII
The Raiders with their wealth of veteran talent went to the Super Bowl and were favored against the Buccaneers. Oakland had more talent and was led by NFL MVP Rich Gannon.
Unfortunately for them, their former coach, Jon Gruden left to lead Tampa Bay. When these teams met, it wasn’t even close. Gruden knew exactly what his former team was going to run. Raiders coach Bill Callahan changed nothing.
What should have been a sweet taste of the Vince Lombardi trophy for the Raiders turned into gut-punching defeat. How could a team with Gannon, future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Rod Woodson, Bill Romanowski and other Pro Bowl caliber players lose so badly?
In NFL films footage Buccaneers safety John Lynch tells his teammates during the game what plays are about to happen. In some instances Callahan didn’t even change the audibles for the Raiders.
With that inside knowledge Tampa Bay won, 48-21. Thanks for nothing, Bill Callahan.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons, 2004 NBA Finals
This was the one that had the potential of being the most devastating run in sports history. Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and coach Phil Jackson … This was too good to be true.
Like Persephone in “The Matrix Reloaded” noted, “Such a thing was not meant to last.” It’s easier to hear when Monica Bellucci in a sexy dress says it. The Lakers were making their fourth trip to the finals in five years.
They had dominated the league during Jackson’s reign. The Lakers were so fearsome when they returned to the finals in 2004, forward Rick Fox said the previous year’s misstep was a “pause.” People had said Shaq and Kobe were so good, it was like Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain were on the same team.
Who could stop these guys? NBA Commissioner David Stern once noted the best finals matchup would be the Lakers vs. the Lakers. And that’s what happened.
The Detroit Pistons happened to be there. Kobe vs. Shaq, Big Chief Triangle vs. the organization, Gary Payton vs. the team, Karl Malone’s injury. NBA analyst Tom Tolbert said if the Lakers lost the championship the whole season would be a disappointment.
He was right. The franchise was dismantled after the loss. Shaq was traded for far below value, Malone retired, Payton and Fox were traded, and Derek Fisher signed elsewhere. But Kobe re-signed. These guys had limitless potential.
Shaq still plays and had he been teamed with Kobe, along with other prime free agents, the Lakers could have won more than five titles in 11 years. Those were sad years after Shaq left.
USC Trojans vs. Texas Longhorns, 2006 college football national championship
Texas was a great team. I think USC was a bit better. Unlike a seven-game series, however, the better team doesn’t always win in football.
This one really crushed me. USC had won two straight national championships and were in line for a third. This was and still is unprecedented in the modern era. And don’t think for a second that Reggie Bush’s parents living in some house had something to do with success on the field.
Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart came close to capping off a career with three national titles and one loss. These numbers would have put Leinart up there with one of the best, if not the best college quarterbacks of all time. But Vince Young of the Longhorns had a monstrous game passing for 267 yards and rushing for 200.
Surprisingly, Young’s effort gave him so much notoriety, ESPN named him one of the 25 greatest players in college football history and not Leinart. So Leinart wins more national titles than Young, wins a Heisman Trophy, puts up better numbers and wins more games and Young gets named to this list?
USC Trojans vs. UCLA Bruins, college football, 2006 regular season finale
In a rebuilding year USC needed to win one game to advance to the Bowl Championship Series title game. UCLA was an average team, but had some strong players on defense.
It was a game Bruins fans will remember forever. And Trojans want to forget it. I was at that game, sitting on the UCLA side, my friend and I the only ones wearing cardinal USC shirts.
The Bruins put together one of the most stellar defensive efforts ever, holding the Trojans, an offensive powerhouse, to just nine points.
What hurt most about this loss was the potential opponent for USC in the title game: Ohio State, the whipping dog of championship foes for years. Florida whipped the Buckeyes for the national championship. That could have been USC.
When Boston comes back to Los Angeles to try to clinch the NBA finals there is a chance for victory. Sure, the Lakers have a tremendous record at home. They almost set an NBA playoff record for most consecutive wins at home.
But don’t attribute that to the fantastic crowd. Had they been playing in a neutral court similar results may have taken place.
This wasn’t always the case for the purple and gold. During the creaky Great Western Forum days (that dump was once state of the art) fans howled in unison at Showtime. Magic, Kareem and James Worthy kept the crowd involved all game long.
At one time Staples Center harnessed great Lakers energy. When it first opened, fans were treated to three straight championships. Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and whoever the other three players on the court were amazed the fans.
They were loud. Very loud, especially when the Lakers needed the noise the most: game seven of the 2000 Western conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Real Lakers fans will remember this game. Before the tip-off the crowd was up. They chanted defense on the opening possession. Loudly. And they needed it against Portland, one of the most loaded teams never to win a championship. That team was so stacked their second unit probably could have won 50 games.
Their roster consisted of ballers such as Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, Steve Smith, Damon Stoudemire, Brian Grant, Arvydas Sabonis, Greg Anthony, Bonzi Wells, Stacey Augmon and Detlef Schrempf. A young Jermaine O’Neal was also on that team and he wasn’t even in the rotation.
In that game seven, Portland had a 16-point lead in the third quarter. The Staples crowd kept the faith, the Lakers tightened up on D, Portland went almost eight minutes without a point in the fourth quarter and Los Angeles came back.
That game finished with one of the most iconic plays in NBA history as Kobe beat Pippen off the dribble and alley-ooped a pass to Shaq for one of those demoralizing dunks.
The crowd throughout all of this stayed strong. After Shaq’s dunk they went into a ridiculous frenzy. Can the Staples Center crowd do the same for game six and maybe, game seven against the Celtics?
It seems as if the Staples Center ticketholders are growing more timid with each year. How can this be? The Lakers have the most talent in the league led by Kobe and the Spanish Jesus, Pau Gasol. They’ve played in three straight NBA finals. They won four championships in the last decade.
The almighty dollar has silenced Lakers fans. Only the rich or the truly lucky or truly stupid can afford to go to Lakers games. Insane ticket prices keep the real fans out.
So who gets in? Celebrities who are more concerned with getting on camera. Whoever has the newest movie, E from Entourage and the Kardashians. Only Kim deserves courtside seats. Corporate types. Businessmen who wear suits to work every day. People who live off mommy and daddy’s money.
Are these the guys who should be cheering for the Lakers to defeat the hated Celtics? Is this who the Lakers want when they have their backs to the walls and must win two home games in a row?
These fakers are no better than the bandwagoners who update their sudden love for the Lakers on Facebook (which happen to begin around playoff time), go to bars and rock their brand-new Lakers gear.
They claim to be fans but can’t even remember the lean Randy Pfund years, the angst of losing to the Celtics for decades or even a rough East Coast trip this season.
This is the time Staples Center needs to support the Lakers the most. Look at the Boston crowd. They’re jacked well before the game starts. The Los Angeles crowd, they don’t seem to give a damn, and if that’s the case they will be rewarded with another Celtics championship on the Lakers home floor.
The Boston Celtics have gone back in time. Two years to be exact. Somehow, two players — power forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis and point guard Nate Robinson — have got a hold of plutonium and used it to power “Doc” Brown’s DeLorean.
Rather than going to the future and buying a sports almanac like Biff, these two have gone to the past and witnessed what it takes to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals.
What they saw was a perfect formula; somehow, they have recreated the circumstances of 2008 by getting back to the future without the use of lightning or the speed of a train. Former Celtics P.J. Brown and James Posey killed the Lakers off the bench.
The DeLorean doesn’t have enough room for four large NBA players (well, Robinson’s only 5-foot-8) so Big Baby and the three-time Slam Dunk Contest champion came back by themselves. And they have recreated Brown and Posey’s play.
In 2008 Brown banged bodies, grabbed rebounds and scored in the paint. Big Baby has done the same thing and stomped the Lakers in the Celtics’ 96-89 game four victory. He scored 18 points on seven for 10 shooting.
Posey nailed three pointers and provided a great spark off the bench. Robinson doesn’t play the same type of lockdown defense, but his spark is just as lively. His drives to the basket and accurate outside shooting helped the C’s pull away from a close game. He scored 12 points in game four.
Somehow, Boston received the good fortune of not having to contend with the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum. The seven-footer played only 12 minutes and none in the fourth quarter. Without his presence, the C’s attacked the basket and all of a sudden the Lakers were dangerously thin up front.
What will happen in game five? The winner will be in the driver’s seat to clinch the series with a three-games-to-two lead.
Unless the Celtics luck out with some more plutonium, it is unlikely they’ll get 30 points off the bench from only two players. At this point, only “Doc” Brown (and maybe Marty McFly) knows. He could go to the future, check out the game five results and let everybody know.
Does Andrew Bynum bounce back and play? Does Paul Pierce finally come through in the clutch? Do any other Lakers help out Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol? Does Celtics coach Doc Rivers have any more complaints about the officiating?
Then again, Biff knows too because of that sports almanac, but he’s probably too busy to divulge secrets. Good luck, Biff. Even with that almanac this series has been so competitive, it wouldn’t be a surprise if those pages were wrong.
For the Los Angeles Lakers, it was Kobe Bryant. He scored 29 points, but struggled from the field (10 out of 29). He also had seven rebounds and four assists. Bryant continually saved the Lakers, swishing buckets late in the shot clock.
But he needed help in the Lakers’ 91-84 win.
It came in the form of Derek Fisher. The Lakers’ 35-year-old starting point guard, often matched up against lightning quick, young guards, helped the Black Mamba just enough.
Well, more than enough as Bryant scored just four points in the fourth quarter leaving D-Fish to pick it up. Fisher came through with 16 points, 11 of them in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a groundbreaking game at all, but someone else needed to shoulder the scoring load.
If Kobe was the superhero, Fisher helped some. He was Robin to Kobe’s Batman. See, Robin’s important too.
“I’m always excited for him when he does it,” Bryant said. “He’s been criticized quite a bit for his age. It’s a huge thrill for him and for all of us to see him come through in these moments. But truthfully, he’s done it over and over and over again. It’s almost his responsibility to our team to do these things.”
Points came at a premium as both teams went through dry spells. Fisher, however, was hot in the fourth. He shot five for seven and sealed the game with a three-point play by driving to the basket where three Celtics hammered him. The play stretched the Lakers’ lead to seven points with 48 seconds left to play.
“He won the game for them,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Derek Fisher was the difference in the game. He’s just a gutty, gritty player and he gutted the game out for them. I thought Kobe was struggling a little bit, and Fisher — he basically took the game over. I don’t know what he had in the fourth quarter … but most of them were down the stretch.”
The Lakers’ victory in Boston was their first since Magic Johnson hit his famous baby hook in 1987.
The Celtics got the Kevin Garnett of old back. The Big Ticket notched 25 points and six rebounds. This was Garnett’s breakout game, but he didn’t have help.
Paul Pierce struggled once again, scoring 15 points on five for 12 shooting, but his play was sporadic because of foul trouble.
Ray Allen, who broke an NBA finals record with eight three pointers, had no baskets. Zip, a fat doughnut. Allen was zero for 13 from the field and finished with two points (free throws).
Allen had the second worst shooting night in NBA finals history, narrowly missing the record set by Baltimore’s Chip Reiser and Seattle’s Dennis Johnson. They shot 0-14 in 1948 (against Philadelphia) and 1978 (against Washington), respectively.
Game four of the NBA finals is Thursday.