Thursday, December 30, 2010

Remember when OU beat Georgetown...Favorite Memories of 2010

I'm going to miss 2010. Mostly because I liked saying "twenty-ten". Twenty-eleven" is too clunky. There's one too many syllables and your mouth has to drawl through it. "Two thousand eleven" isn't much better. It's the alliteration that made it work and it was just one of the many good things about the year itself. Those of you reading may think that 2010 was not kind to me, but personally, I loved it. I graduated from school, I made some cash, I paid some bills. Sports-wise, it was actually relatively successful (by my standards). Nobody advanced in the playoffs or even won a playoff game, but two of my teams actually participated in the postseason within the same calendar year. I can't remember the last time that happened. 

This is a blog about how sports hate me and 2010 provided plenty of evidence to support that claim. However, I try to keep things positive so here's what I remember most fondly about the year "Twenty-Ten". My two favorite personal sports moments of the last year. 

March - 14 seeded Ohio University upsets 3 seed Georgetown

Ohio University students rarely have much to get excited about when it comes to sporting achievements from their own school. Go to Court Street on Autumn Saturdays and you'll find more scarlet than green. Accomplishments by the Bobcats on the field of play are few and far between, but in early 2010 the student body, blessed alumni, and anyone who'd ever been fortunate enough to call Athens, Ohio home were given reason to put on their green and stand up and cheer. 

Simply making the big dance was an accomplishment in itself. They were long shots just to come out of the MAC as they were a modest 17-14 going into the conference Tournament. The Bobcats were 9 seeds and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament by way of victories over Ball State (in OT), 1 seeded Kent State, 4 seeded Miami (FACE), and then took out Akron in the title game with an 81-75 overtime victory. 

Winning the MAC meant an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. OU was given a 14 seed and paired against 3 seeded Georgetown. 14 seed? Who cares? National powerhouse Georgetown? Who cares? The Bobcats knocked down shot after shot. It felt like they couldn't miss anything from three point range and Georgetown didn't have an answer. OU looked like the confident higher seed and by halftime had built a 48-37 lead. In the second half Georgetown pulled within five, but a barrage of threes by Armon Bassett, Tommy Freeman, and DJ Cooper (who moonlights as Steve Urkel's stunt double in his spare time) pushed the lead back to a comfortable margin. Cooper's alley-hoop pass finished off by Devaughn Washington became the signature image of the upset victory. Bassett finished with 32 points, Cooper with 23 and the Bobcats not only pulled off the upset, but smoked Georgetown, 97-83.

Boom goes the dynamite.

The number 2 party school in the nation doesn't need an excuse to celebrate, but we'll take one anyways. I was watching the game from an apartment above Court Street (Athens' main drag) with a balcony that extends over the sidewalk. It was the absolute best place to witness the chaos and excitement that ensued immediately after the game ended. For those that don't know, Athens has somewhere between between 15 and 25 bars. From where I was standing I could see a mass of people empty out of Broney's, Courtside, The Junction, Pawpurr's, The Pub, Pigskin, The Crystal, The CI, Redbrick Tavern, Cat's Eye, and Lucky's. They all met in the middle of the street for a spontaneous celebration that lasted for what felt like over an hour.

Within minutes a mob of thousands flooded the street. The Cops, to their credit allowed it to continue, and closed the street to traffic. A camera crew came up and joined us on our balcony, which brought the crowd right in front of us. I stood next to the camera with its giant light and felt like the coolest kid in Athens. OU football players, safety Patrick Tafua and QB Boo Jackson led the crowd in chants and cheers. My personal favorite being "What's a Hoya? clap clap clapclapclap Bobcat's bitch!". 

Pictured: Joy

Most importantly, there was pride for being an Ohio University student. The best part was the sense of community we all felt. This small town in the foothills of Appalachia had just taken down a national power, a member of the mighty Big East conference, a school from freaking Washington D.C.. Our small little college town was on the national news and it wasn't because of a riot. Nobody wanted to leave, nobody wanted the party to end. It was, perfect. 

Two days later the Bobcats looked jittery and nervous against Tennessee in the second round eventually losing by 15 points. Such is the life of a MAC sports fan. Still, I'll always remember the night we beat Georgetown. Out of all of the people who have gone to OU, I honestly feel privileged to have been one of the Ohio University students fortunate enough to have been in Athens and on Court Street that night, one of the happiest nights Athens has ever seen.

September - Jay Bruce Clinches N.L. Central

The 2010 Cincinnati Reds were the definition of "pleasant surprise". They had a pitching staff, something I never thought I'd see. I remember the days when Eric Milton was our opening day starter. They were defensively the best team in the National League. Also something I never thought I'd see. I remember the days when Felipe Lopez was making untimely error after untimely error at shortstop. They had opportune hitting. They had cagey veterans in Scott Rolen, Orlando Cabrera, and later Jim Edmonds. They had overachieving sparkplugs in Jonny Gomes, Drew Stubbs, and Paul Janish. Bullpen stability with Arthur Rhodes and controlled instability with Francisco Cordero. They had a phenom, Aroldis Chapman, and the National League MVP with Mr. Joseph Votto. There were a lot of really great moments in the 2010 season in which the Reds went 91-71 (their first winning season since 2000), but my favorite of them all is without question Jay Bruce's walk-off home run to clinch the NL Central.

Inarguably, the lowest moment of the Reds 2010 campaign was getting swept at home in early August by St. Louis after a nasty brawl in the first game of the series. My friend Josh and I were in attendance for the brawl and after losing the game I don't think I've ever felt more dejected leaving a stadium/arena. It was a sinking feeling because the Cardinals were the more experienced team with the better pitching staff. Every baseball instinct in my body was telling me that the Reds season was over. 

"Your mother's tostadas were only the third best I've ever eaten" 

The Cardinals left town with a one game lead and the division title was seemingly theirs to lose. They did. They suffered baffling series losses down the stretch to the likes of Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Meanwhile, the Reds showed their resiliency with a 7 game winning streak after the "devastating" sweep by the Cardinals. The series against St. Louis was supposed to give the momentum to the Cards and demoralize the Reds. It did the opposite. The sweep galvanized the Reds and brought them together as a team. They never looked back. 

The best moment of the season was set up by a combination of wins and losses by the Reds and Cardinals. I watched as the magic number dwindled to under ten, which was a first for me. The last time the Reds won the division was 1995 and I was 8. Previously the only magical summer I'd had was 1999. That Reds team won 96 games and lost a heartbreaking one game playoff to the Mets for the wildcard. Still the most wins by a team that didn't make the playoffs in the wild card era. 

With the Magic number at two and the Reds on the road in San Diego a terrible thought popped into my head. "We're going to win the next game, the Cards will lose, and then we'll clinch on the road watching the Cardinals on TV." It would've been in the words of Reds-LIve host Jim Day, "lame". The Cardinals didn't lose and the Reds did win. It dropped the magic number to one and the Reds came back to Cincinnati hoping to clinch in front of the home crowd. The problem was they had an off day on September 27 while the Cardinals didn't. To get my climactic moment I needed the Cardinals to beat the Pirates. I felt sick cheering for St. Louis, but they did beat Pittsburgh, 6-4. I needed to see that moment where the team piles on the field and pops champagne in the clubhouse. 

It set up my moment of the year. The Astros were in town and Wandy Rodriguez, a serviceable starter for Houston, was on the hill. The Reds jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first, but gave up two in the second. The Reds trailed until the 6th when Brandon Phillips singled in Orlando Cabrera. The game remained tied, that is until the bottom of the 9th. I turned to my mom and said, "Jay Bruce hasn't gone yard for awhile." First pitch, gone, over the center field wall. 

click to hear hall-of-famer Marty Brennaman's fantastic call

It was as climactic as it could've possibly been. For the first time in 15 years my favorite baseball team was going to the playoffs. I spent the next two hours texting every Reds fan in my phone. I couldn't go to sleep. I had to watch the post-game celebration. Aforementioned Jim Day proclaimed that he would shave his head if the Reds won the World Series. Rookie Pitcher Mike Leake called him a "pussy" on live air. Also on live air Dusty Baker said "god damn, I'm happy" and Arthur Rhodes showered Day with champagne and said "take that sh*t, bitch". It was everything I'd always hoped it would be. I could really get used to making the baseball postseason. 

You all know the end to the story. The Reds dropped to the three seed which forced them to play Philadelphia instead of Atlanta. The Phillies were a far more experienced postseason team and totally outclassed the Reds. The most memorable and personal lamp smashing moment was Roy Halladay's game 1 no-hitter. We don't talk about that game. In game 2 the Reds had a 4-0 lead and then errors by Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen, and then a huge error by Jay Bruce in rightfield allowed the Phillies to come back. The best defensive team in the NL erred their way out of a victory. The Reds lost game 3 in a blur. Chase Utley hit a home run and Cole Hamels shut out the Reds offense. My personal playoff losing streak extended to 14 (4 in 95 NLCS, 1 in 99 one game playoffs, Bengals 2005, 4 by the Blue Jackets in 09, Bengals 2009, and 3 by the Reds in 2010 NLDS) Sports Hate Me. 

It was an unceremonious end to a great season, but I hope there's many more seasons like this to come in the future and with the young pitching staff and solid lineup, I think the Reds have a window that should stay open for the next few years. 

Odds and Ends

Great Moments

Chicago Blackhawks, San Francisco Giants end long championship droughts. The Blackhawks are one of hockey's original 6 franchise and hadn't won the Stanley Cup since 1961. Young talent in Patrick Kane, Jonathon Toews, and Dustin Byfuglien scored timely goals, and solid defense held up average goal-tending. They beat Philadelphia in overtime of game 6 to capture their first cup in nearly 50 years. The Giants hadn't won a world series since moving west and were haunted by Game 6 of the 2002 world series. The band of misfits surprised everyone with their series win over the Philadelphia Phillies and they took American League Champions, Texas Rangers, down in five games. If you have some spare time search Giants closer, Brian Wilson on Youtube. It's worth it.

The Philadelphia Flyers only made the playoffs because of a shootout victory over the New York Rangers. A month and a half later the Eastern Conference's 7th seed found themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals. On their way there they encountered a speed bump few teams have ever come back from. They were down 3 games to none to the Boston Bruins. The Flyers managed to come all the way back to force game 7, but quickly found themselves down to the Bruins in Boston 3 goals to none. The Flyers scored 4 goals in the last period and a half and won the game 4-3. Unbelievable. 

Saints winning the Super Bowl. There's a certain kinship between the fans of long suffering NFL franchise. I feel a connection to Detroit Lions fans and to a certain extent even Cleveland Browns fans. The same could be said for true fans of the New Orleans Saints. They were downtrodden for so long and then when Hurrican Katrina hit it made it even more incredible what they were able to accomplish. It gives all the fans of bad teams hope that one day they will also stand on the Super Bowl podium. 

US soccer advanced to the elimination round of the world cup. It wasn't pretty at all. They needed a lucky misplay by the English goal-keeper to tie England, a two goal comeback to tie Slovenia, and a miraculous last second goal by Landon Donavon to beat Algeria. They lost to Ghana in the next round, but team USA still managed to win their group and that is a big accomplishment in itself. 

Joey Votto getting MVP. The first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds is one of sports' truly good guys. In 2010 he hit .324 with a .424 on base percentage. He also drove in 113 RBI and 37 home runs. After taking a month off in 2009 because of stress and depression related to his father's death Joey Votto was able to beat out the likes of Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carlos Gonzalez for the 2010 award. This is a great story.

Bad Memories

Sidney Crosby beating team USA in overtime in the Olympic Gold Medal Game. I'm one of about 15 people who follows USA hockey outside of the Olympics. I even have a team USA jersey from the 88 Calgary Olympics with my name on the back. To see team USA go into the gold medal game in Vancouver and lose in overtime was heart breaking. It was especially heart breaking because the Americans had come back from a 2 goal deficit. Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils tied the game with 28 seconds left. In overtime I got three texts asking me if it was the "golden goal" format. I replied "yes, and don't ever call it that again." For the Americans, it was more like silver goal. Sidney Crosby, usually of the Pittsburgh Penguins, lifted the puck past Ryan Miller's right shoulder with a low percentage, bad angle shot. It's the kind of goal that only Crosby can score and it ended a great game with the bad guys winning. 

In any consolation, it was a great game that had the nation talking about hockey and at least it's good to know that I could beat Crosby in a beard growing contest. 

Duke beating Butler in the National Championship Game. All I'm going to say is I hate Duke now more than ever. Before they were this cute story about a small academic school that wins the national title a couple times a decade. Now, they're evil. They robbed us all of a moment.  Butler, a school from nowhere, in a conference from nowhere came within inches of being the National Champions. It would've been the story of the decade and Duke smashed it with a big blue devil's pitchfork. Thanks for nothing, Dookies. 

Bengals losing back-to-back to the Jets and getting eliminated in the wild card round of the playoffs. In the early part of 2010 I did something that I had never done before. I watched the Cincinnati Bengals play in a playoff game. "But Sean, they were in the playoffs in 2005, remember?" Yes, I do remember. I never saw it. I had a high school hockey game that started at the exact same time. I was crushed when I learned what time the game would start. In the locker-room during the first intermission one of the parents stormed in and told everyone about Carson Palmer's knee injury. It was miserable and I didn't need to see the rest. I played like a zombie and the worst part was that the team we were playing, Thomas Worthington, was awful that year. I didn't need to be there. We beat them something like 8-2 and I think I even had an assist, but I couldn't take my mind off of Carson Palmer and the Steelers injuring his knee. 

As for the 2010 playoff game. Also miserable. The same team that had played so well all season and swept the AFC North made silly mistakes, missed field goals, missed tackles, missed execution and it all led to missing a trip to the next round. Perhaps it was foreshadowing for the 2010 season when they lost ten straight. Another bad memory. 

Already mentioned, Reds get no-hit, lose game 2 in meltdown, lose game 3 at home. Hopefully we won't have to wait another 15 years to get back to the post season. 

Thanks for reading my blog. I really appreciate you taking the time to listen to complaints about teams you probably don't care about. I look forward to writing in the future and I hope you continue to follow me and my sports hate. 

see you all in 2011

If you agree, disagree, or have thoughts of your own. Share them with me at OR follow us on twitter at!/SportsHateMe

Friday, December 24, 2010

Another Christmas, another Blue Jackets collapse

Driving back from Akron, a trip I'll explain later, I had some time to think to myself and listen to some out-of-town radio. It was one of those drives where the seek button goes almost all the way around landing on two, maybe three stations. My listening options were a bad top 40 station, country western, or religious talk-radio. I settled on top 40. While driving I came to three inarguable conclusions. 1: Justin Bieber is dangerously terrible, 2: I dislike people who have stick-figure versions of their families stickered to the back window of their mini-vans, and 3: Steve Mason, the goalie for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is an operative from the NHL sent to destroy the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

I was in Akron to catalog my late grandfather's massive collection of books about magic so we can sell them at an event called "Magi-fest". That's a true story. Do your relatives a favor and don't leave them with a strange hobby - they'll appreciate it - but I can't fault the man for pursuing his interests and if he had one true passion it was the art and scholarship of the performing magician. He owned 36 books on Harry Houdini alone which disproves the old saying that if you've read one book about Houdini then you've read them all. Shut up, that's a saying. 

He also had framed posters, elaborate tricks, and loads of memorabilia. His house is a veritable museum of Magic pariphernalia. A really messy, dusty museum.

Sometimes people don't believe that my grandfather was a magician. These are his live doves.

Whether Akron, Ohio televises Columbus Blue Jackets games is unknown to me because the cable in his house was disconnected months ago. We watched the last game of the Western Canada road trip via ether-net cable and a well-kept secret of a website whose name I will not publish. Okay, it rhymes with Don't tell too many people. 

The short length of the ether-net cable meant that I had to sit right next to the doves' cage. I tried my hardest to ignore them, but I found it difficult. Disgustingly difficult. Birds are gross and "Coo-dini 6" and "Coo-dini 7" cooed the whole time. Coo-dini's 1 through 5 either escaped during shows or were eaten off the back porch by racoons. If I was given the choice between being locked in a room with a bengal tiger or 75 birds. I'd choose the Tiger. At least I'd get to pet it while it ate me and there wouldn't be thousands of nasty feathers everywhere. I'll touch a decayed dead fish before I touch a live bird. 

The last game of the road trip to western Canada took place in Edmonton, Alberta. A desolate frozen wasteland that has two things, a bad NHL team (who somehow made it to game 7 of the finals in 06) and a gigantic mall with an indoor wave pool. Edmonton is also the home of my adopted Canadian Football League team, the Edmonton Eskimos. They somehow managed to miss the playoffs in an eight team league where six teams make the playoffs. Sports hate me. 

The first two games of the 3-gamer were overtime losses. Against Calgary head coach Scott Arniel started Steve Mason in net. Five minutes into the game the Blue Jackets were down 2-0 on a couple of softies by Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrison. Mason was so poorly positioned you could've scored with a beach ball. 

weird that the NHL would actually let them play with a beach ball

Arniel pulled him after the second goal. I love this move, by the way. I don't understand why coaches leave in goaltenders who clearly aren't mentally in the game. They let the goalie give up 4, 5, 6 goals before they pull him and by then the game is out of hand. Arny put in backup Mathieu Garon who played perfectly. The Jackets tied it late, but lost in OT thanks to a power play goal. Even though it was a loss, Arniel should've gotten one of the three stars for the game. Giving Mason the hook after two goals gave the Jackets the opportunity to come back. 

Garon started the next game against the Vancouver Canucks, which also resulted in an overtime loss. That said, you have to like the effort in shutting down the red hot Sedin twins and if it weren't for Ohio State Buckeye and USA Olympic hero,  Ryan Kesler and his hat-trick, the CBJ would've taken the full two points. One point in the Canucks' barn against a team of Vancouver's ability is strong. 

The next night Mason got the start in Edmonton. The Oilers are in last place in the Western Conference and a win for the Blue Jackets would've meant 4 out of a possible 6 points on the road trip. Didn't happen. Three Oiler goals in the first period were followed by three more in the 2nd period. Steve Mason did not return for the third period and the Blue Jackets lost 6-3. Kristian Huselius did end up with a hat trick, though. 

In two relief appearances Mathieu Garon gave up one goal. Were it not for Steve Mason the Blue Jackets likely would've won both the Calgary and Edmonton games and the CBJ would be higher in the standings. 

Steve Mason is a baffling case study. He showed up in 2008 as a relatively unknown kid. He was a third round draft pick and before the call-up to the NHL he'd only played 3 minor league games. All he did that season was lead the Blue Jackets to their first playoff appearance in franchise history and win the Calder trophy as rookie of the year. He led the league with ten shutouts and posted a goals against average below 2.3. (read: good)

Since the end of the 2008-2009 regular season Mason has never looked the same. He had a bad series against Detroit in the playoffs, but his performance in the postseason looks great in comparison to his second regular season. Mason's second season should be the definition for the sophomore slump. His goals against average was over three (read: bad) and his win/loss record was 15 games below .500. Games were tossed away with large first period deficits. In one particularly bad game in Denver, he gave up four goals in the first four minutes. 

This season started promising, but since a 14-6 start the Blue Jackets are 3-8-3. They have 9 out of a possible 28 points in their last 14 games (read: bad). The December slide has returned and Steve Mason is a big part of the problem. Since the start of the 2009 season no goalie has been pulled from more starts than Steve Mason. 12 times he's gotten the hook. Each of those games ended in a loss.

The guy clearly has the ability to play at a high level, but right now his positioning his off and his rebound control is atrocious. On a team with less than stellar defense to swat away rebounds, you need solid rebound control. He was a phenomenon his rookie season, but it's apparent that his problems are mental. 

Outside of NFL quarterback there is no position more mentally demanding than NHL goaltender. It requires a cool confidence and a short memory. Mason seems to have lost both. In his rookie season his confidence built to the point where he was stringing together shutout stretches and making Hasek-esque saves. Now the tide has turned in the other direction. 

Along with field goal kickers and relief pitchers, ice hockey Goalies are one of the biggest collections of whack-jobs in sports. The two I played with in high school were the two goofiest nuts on the team, and that team had a guy who got married a year out of high school to a girl he met on craig'slist. 

I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would want to play goalie. For one, it's a simple numbers game. Only two goalies make a team and only one gets to play in a game. There are 18 skaters and you're basically guaranteed playing time. If you want playing time, don't play goalie. 

Second reason I don't understand goalies: there is no sport with the grace and creativity that hockey requires. Scoring a goal at any point can be one of the most euphoric moments in sports. It takes a certain craziness to look at the beautiful game of hockey, to watch the athleticism combined with incredible finesse, to watch the guys scoring goals, to watch the speed and physicality and then say to yourself I'd like to be the guy that stands at the other end in bulky equipment twice as expensive and three times heavier. I want to be the guy who doesn't get to fly down the ice, score goals, or celebrate with teammates. Also, about 35 times a game I'd like to get hit with a hard rubber disc. Sign me up. 

Choosing to play goalie spits in the face of one of the most beautiful games ever conceived and that's why every team's weirdest guy is the goaltender. The mental side of the game is huge and Steve Mason isn't dealing with walking that line between stable and crazy.

For the time being, Matty Garon has been named the number one goalie and Mason has been relegated to backup. The best thing for Mason would probably be a stint in the minor leagues, but because he isn't on a two way contract, he'd have to clear waivers to get sent down. Any number of teams would likely snatch him up and because the Blue Jackets haven't given up on him, they'd like to avoid that. 

All I know is that if he isn't careful people are going to start calling him "Sieve" Mason (get it?) He needs to step his game up and if the Blue Jackets are going to go anywhere this season they're going to need Sieve Mason (see what I did there?) to play better. If not, the Blue Jackets will miss the playoffs again and Sieve Mason (sigh, a sieve is a colander like thing used in cooking. It's also a term often used in hockey circles to describe a goalie with lots of holes in his game. It's funny.) will find himself outside of the NHL. That'd be all the motivation I need and the Blue Jackets really can't afford many more seasons out of the playoffs. 

On the drive home the top 40 radio station played two Justin Bieber songs within the same half hour. I'll give the kid credit, he can somewhat sing, but it's everything else that makes him intolerable. In Akron we watched a rerun of a CSI episode in which Bieber plays one of the side parts that helps the gang solve the crime. You can tell his agents were essentially auditioning him for movie parts. What his agents may not have considered is how awful he might be. You could literally see his acting coach off camera directing him. 

Steve Mason against Edmonton was as bad as Justin Bieber's acting on the CSI rerun and just as annoying as the people with stick-figure families on their minivans. The goalie who was so good as a 19 year old rookie is the reason for the Blue Jackets slide over the last two years. If he can get his stuff together then the Blue Jackets could be magical.

 Sports hate me. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Why we shouldn't be Surprised by the Bengals at 2-11...but still are.

The Cincinnati Bengals have lost ten straight games. A facebook friend made the observation that the Reds have won a game more recently than the Bengals. Reading this fact sent me into a head-shaking fit that has yet to end and the only thing that will stop it is if I log my thoughts.

Probably the only team having a more dissappointing season than the Bengals are the Vikings. One year removed from their 13-3 record in which they were an ill-advised pass away from the Super Bowl, this season pales in comparison. And then this happened...

With all the jump cuts and angles it looks like a sequence in an action movie. "Hugh Jackman is dome-ologist Tom Foster. Can he save the dome from total destruction while keeping Brett Favre's streak alive? Will the Vikings move to Los Angeles. The fate of pro-football in Minnesota lies in the balance."
Working under two titles. The movie is going to either be called "The Day after Brett Favre" or simply, "Dome". 

If you would've told me before the season started that the Bengals would at one point lose ten games in a row I would've kicked you in the head and called you stupid. I knew 2010 would be a tougher go of things seeing as how their schedule is a who's who of who's good in the NFL (Steelers 2X-Ravens 2X-Patriots-Colts-Saints-Jets-Falcons-Chargers Oy effing vey), but I never expected the roster that swept the AFC North a year ago would play with such ferocious idiocy this season. 

Before the season and assuming the Bengals would play with the same heart and intensity they did in 2009, I pegged them for 9 to 10 victories. I figured that in the division they'd split with Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and beat Cleveland twice. They'd lose games against New England, New Orleans, Indianapolis, and Atlanta. I thought they'd avenge their playoff loss to the Jets and they'd beat the Chargers, and I never thought they'd lose to Tampa Bay or Buffalo. That's what's been so maddening about this season.They haven't even beaten the "softies" on their schedule. Before the season wins over Buffalo, Cleveland twice, Carolina, and Tampa Bay looked like locks for W's, but one after the other they've played themselves out of wins. Only  the Carolina Panthers were inept enough to give the Bengals a victory. The Panthers are 1-12 themselves, by the way. 

The Bengals did beat the Ravens in week 2, which reminds me of the scene in Bull Durham when the manager is chewing out the team while the bench coach jumps in: 
"how many games have we won?!"
"8! How did we ever win 8?!"
"It's a miracle"

translated to the Bengals' season:

Did we beat the Baltimore Ravens?
How did we ever beat the Baltimore Ravens?
It's a miracle

Once again: The 2010 Cincinnati Bengals

Some fun facts about this Bengals Season:

- They've had a winning streak this year. They won back-to-back games against Baltimore and Carolina in weeks 2 and 3, which also means that at one point they were above .500.  

- The lost to the Buffalo Bills again, their tenth straight loss to Buffalo. The Bengals haven't beaten the Bills since the 1988 AFC Championship game. Another fun fact: The Bills and Bengals once played each other - in Cincinnati! - for the AFC Championship. Holy bizzarro world. 

- In 2009 the Bengals swept the division and won the AFC North championship. So in one year they've gone from division champions to 2-11? Just trying to get that straight in my head.  

Scholars maintain that this did actually in fact happen

More fun facts:

- This is the second ten game losing streak in team history which ties an in-season record for longest losing streak that was set by the 1993 team who started 0-10. The longest overall losing streak is eleven games which spanned from the last week of the 92 season through the tenth game of the 93 season. Those teams were coached by Dave Shula who was presumably only hired because Mike Brown didn't want to be the only incompetent son of a hall-of-fame coach working in the Bengals organization. Dave Shula is irrefutably the worst head coach in Bengals history (19-52 record as head coach) and the quarterback of that team was David Klingler and they were coming off a 5-11 season the year before. At least that losing streak makes sense when you look at the 93 team on paper. This current losing skid is one of the most baffling things I've seen in sports. 

- As head coach, Marvin Lewis has had two separate losing streaks of 8 or more games. I'm willing to bet he's the only coach to ever win two division titles and also lose 8 straight games twice. 

Out of curiosity I recently went through and compiled the Cincinnati Bengals complete win-loss record since the day of my birth. Since that glorious day of September 6, 1987, the day that I became a fan, the Bengals have gone 148-240-1. In the 24 seasons since my birth only four have ended with a winning record. There's been four playoff appearances, five 8-8 seasons, five seasons with 13 or more losses, twelve double digit loss seasons, one stretch from 1991 through 1994 where the team went 3-13 three times in four years, and their last playoff win was in 1990 which is currently the longest such drought in the NFL.

Yes, they went to the Super Bowl in the 1988 season which falls in that time frame, but I was 1 year old. I'm not counting something I have zero memory of. 

Worst of all about the Bengals in my time as a fan is their winning percentage of .380. The NFL is a league built on parity. It's systematically designed so every franchise has an equal shot at winning the Super Bowl. Sports are cyclical and things even out, at some point the law of averages says that things should get better in Cincinnati. The NFL has a draft without a lottery, there's free-agency rules, they have the salary cap. There's no reason any team should be below .500 in a 24 season stretch. You have to be specifically avoiding trying to win when you only win 38% of your games.

That said, I'm still surprised with how bad things have been for the 2010 Bengals. Very little has changed from the team that won the division and went 10-6 in 2009. If anything, the roster got deeper and healthier, yet with all the historical evidence piled against this Bengals team having a good year, here are 5 reasons why we shouldn't be surprised by the Bengals 2-11 record...but still are. 

5. Carson Palmer 
Why we shouldn't be surprised by his bad play this season: 
Because Carson Palmer is not the quarterback that most people believe he could be. He isn't a bust, but his career in Cincinnati hasn't lived up to its billing. This isn't to say this is his fault. He's played behind some terrible offensive lines for a lot of his career and because of this some serious injuries have cost him time and probably some of his ability. 

Most people will point to his knee injury in the 2005 playoff game against Pittsburgh as the point when his career started to slide downhill. I will maintain until the day I die that Kimo Von Oelhoffen was trying to injure Palmer on that play, but Carson Palmer actually had his two best statistical seasons coming off of rehab in 2006 and 2007 throwing for 4,000 yards in both seasons. In those seasons Palmer looked like the prototypical pocket passer with a rocket arm that we knew he could be and threw for 28 and 26 touchdowns, respectively. The point where he took a turn for the worst and hasn't been the same since was his elbow injury that he sustained early in 2008. He sat out the final 12 games of the 08 season and the Bengals limped to a 4-11-1 record. In 2009 the Bengals were primarily a running team and the success of Cedric Benson had a lot more to do with the offensive side of the Bengals division championship than Carson Palmer. 

Why we're still surprised:
Because this guy looks like he'd be a good quarterback. Actually, everything about him is designed to give the appearance that he's a good quarterback and for years he's put on the illusion that he is or could be a very good quarterback. There's flashes there. He's never thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and he's had two pro-bowl seasons. In 2009 he led game winning drive after game winning drive. 4th down conversions in crucial situations were automatic. But these days, it's back to just looks. At times he looks like he could be the next great quarterback and there are times when he makes decisions that rookies don't make. During the Pittsburgh game CBS aired a montage of Palmer's pick-6 touchdowns from this season alone. We're still surprised this guy isn't performing because he's a 6'4 Heisman trophy winning quarterback with a laser arm who looks like Dan Marino in a football uniform. Palmer could play a QB in a movie, we're just beginning to think he can't play one in the NFL. 

4. Chad Ochocinco/Terrell Owens
Why we shouldn't be surprised by their impact on this season:
Nobody has raised more attention or eyebrows over the last decade than Terrell Owens. With Owens as a free-agent, the Bengals decided to sign him and pair him with professional goofball Chad Ochocinco. The two then hosted their own grating VH1 reality shows in the off-season and then teamed up for the TOchocinco show on Versus during the season. At the very least, the two have been a distraction. At the most, Owens has thrown a wrench into the delicate chemistry that exists in a football locker-room. My theory is that his presence has tricked with Carson Palmer's timing and rhythm. Regardless something is off with the offensive unit and the wide-outs are at least somewhat responsible. 

Why we're still surprised: 
Because TO isn't having a terrible season. He had 71 receptions through the first 12 games and 9 touchdowns. The guy is one of the best wide receivers to ever play the game and Ochocinco through all his chatter has quietly put together a nice career of his own. It can be argued that these two have actually been one of the few bright spots, but they were supposed to open up the offense and allow Ced-Bens to run more easily, but this hasn't happened and although it's not their fault, the sputtering running game that they were supposed to supplement is surprising in itself.

3. Expectations
Why we shouldn't surprised they haven't lived up to expectations:
Rule of thumb about the Bengals: if they're supposed to have a good season, they won't. They haven't had back to back winning seasons since the mid 70's when they went 11-3, 10-4, and 8-6 in 1975 through 1977. The Bengals are a team that plays with a lot of emotion and in 2009 they were a motivated bunch. This season that chip on their shoulder is gone. We shouldn't be surprised because the last Marvin Lewis coached Bengals team that came off a division title went 8-8. They were prone to losses in close games that ultimately led to them missing out on the playoffs. 

Why we're still surprised:
Because the Bengals still had a lot to play for coming back for the 2010 season. They were embarrassed by New York in the wild card round of the playoffs and all off-season the experts picked Baltimore and Pittsburgh to win the division. As the defending champions they should've taken offense to that. They've completely let down and haven't played up to their potential. Injuries on the defensive side of the ball haven't helped, but you'd think a professional football team would be able to rise above injuries and wouldn't need extra motivation to play good football. Still, don't be surprised if they come out and win 8 or 9 games next season, pending lockout. That's just the way things go for this franchise.

2. Marvin Lewis
Why we shouldn't be surprised:
Marvin Lewis has a losing record. He's 58-66-1 as the Bengals head coach. His teams have won two division titles, but they've also had three 8-8 seasons, a 7-9 year, and now two seasons with more than 10 losses. In every single one his seasons with the Bengals I can say that his teams should've and could've easily won two to three more games. His teams play undisciplined mistake-prone football that often costs them games. Against the Saints the Bengals had New Orleans at 4th and 2 on their own 5 and the Bengals were leading by 3 with less than a minute to play. The Saints "went" for it and drew defensive lineman Pat Simms offsides. The first down gave them room to score the winning touchdown. It is likely that the only thing the Saints were trying to accomplish by going for it was to draw someone into the neutral zone so they could get a first down. Had nobody jumped then Drew Brees probably would've called timeout and the Saints would've lined up for the tying field goal. This episode is a micro-cosm of Marvin Lewis' teams. They don't play with any intelligence and game after game is given away because of dumb play. 

Why we're still surprised:
We're still surprised because Marvin Lewis has done a lot of good for football in Cincinnati. He's only 3 wins away from tying Sam Whyche for most wins as the Bengals head coach. He came into a situation in 2003 where the team hadn't won in years. He took a 2-14 team, changed the culture completely and instilled a goal that they hadn't seen before. He won the division in his third year and I contend that with Carson Palmer that 2005 Bengals team would've been dangerous in the playoffs. He was supposed to be the savior for NFL football in Cincinnati, he was supposed to be the guy who could look Mike Brown in the face and tell him when he's wrong but it seems as if he's been beaten down by the big man. He's more a victim of a poorly run front office than anything else.

Marvin Lewis is a really good person, but at some point you have to move on. We've played 8 seasons under Lewis and we have zero playoff wins to show for it. I like the guy and think he's been good for Cincinnati, but It's time to move on, start over, and see what somebody else can do. Mike Zimmer, the defensive coordinator, might be a good hire. 

1. Mike Brown
Why we shouldn't be surprised: 
Mike Brown is the worst owner in professional sports. He's the common denominator in the Bengals failure as a franchise. Since his father's death in 1991 he's had a winning percentage of  .350. Not only does he contribute to the poor play on the field with his refusal to hire a competent GM, choosing instead to run football operations himself, but he also encourages mediocrity. 8-8 non-losing seasons are celebrated. First round playoff losses are celebrated. Above all that he's perpetuated a culture where he's always right. If you stand up to him then you won't be around much longer. There's no incentive to win with him.

You win in the NFL with good ownership and smart coaching. The Bengals have neither. The Brown family looks to be locked in as owners for the foreseeable future and most smart coaches won't touch the Bengals job with a first-down marker. The Bengals need a guy who can tell Mike Brown when he's wrong. They need a guy who can make the personnel decisions. The problem is that Mike Brown would never hire that guy. 

Why we're still surprised:
I'm not surprised. Mike Brown is the worst. It's become apparent that the 11-5 and 10-6 division titles were more accidental than they were the result of steady planning and goal-oriented work. The Marvin Lewis/Carson Palmer era will be looked back on as a simple distraction from the regular ineptitude that permeates the Mike Brown-run Bengals. Honestly, it's amazing that Marvin Lewis has been able to win as many games as he has. Is there any way the fans can fire an owner?

Still, I love this team. I don't know why. At the Tampa Bay loss the guy in the seat behind Sports-Hate-She and I yelled, "Why do I even like these a**holes!". I don't know and honestly, I was thinking the exact same thing. All I know is that we've put in our time. We've been through these miserable hopeless seasons many times before and I'm tired of being miserable and hopeless. I want the NFL to be fun again and 24 seasons of hopelessness isn't fun. You think maybe it's time for somebody else to suck? How about Pittsburgh, those people could use the kind of character building that a 2-14 season delivers. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Sports Weekend From Hell

The title of this blog is "Sports Hate Me". As previously alluded this is a scientifically proven fact. This weekend did nothing to dissuade me from believing that I'm never going to see success from any of these teams. If there is any doubt from anyone, then all the evidence you need can be found in box scores and highlights that occurred between the dates of December 4, 2010 through December 6, 2010. I call it, "The Sports Weekend From Hell".

Friday December 4, 2010
Friday had two games of personal interest on the docket. Of particular curiosity was the MAC Championship Game between Northern Illinois and the "most annoying school in the world", Miami. Originally I had planned on being in attendance for the MAC title game in Detroit, which would've been the third time in 5 years that I've been to the MCG, but Ohio University's players also planned on being there as well forgetting they had a game to win against 4-7 Kent State. Some fraternity bros and I discussed (rather prematurely) that we'd head north to Detroit. We planned on getting a hotel room, playing blackjack, and maybe even making it to the game. Cause, you know, the place everyone wants to be in early December is Detroit, Michigan. 

Detroit, Michigan: The City of Lights

The last two times OU participated in the MAC Championship Game they were easily defeated by Central Michigan and their Quarterback Dan "Please play him, Bengals" Lafevour had monster games. I was excited to play somebody other than those pesky Chippewas with their goonish fans and I thought the Bobcats could handle Northern Illinois. What I didn't anticipate was that they would be so emotionless and uninterested in playing Kent State and going to the championship game hinged on beating Kent. The Golden Flashes head coach, Doug Martin, resigned earlier that week and they put out an emotional effort for him in his last game beating OU 28-6. Are you serious? How do you let that happen Solich?

So losses happen. It's conference play, anybody can beat anybody. After all, 0-10 Akron had the ball on Miami's 5 yard line down 5 with less than a minute to play. Miami came out of it with a win and Akron fell to 0-11, but parity still reigns. The biggest reason for the awful taste in my mouth after OU's loss to Kent was that the loss that knocked out the Bobcats sent the aforementioned "most annoying school in the world" to the MAC Championship Game. Miami. 

Miami students dress like they're in the SEC and act like they're an Ivy league school. They possess an air of snobbery and entitlement so pungent even I can smell it. Most of you don't get that because you don't know that I have no sense of smell. To their students, parents of students, and alumni, if you are from Ohio and you don't go to Miami then you must be in some sense, kidding. This is the school that produced Ben Roethlisberger, enough said there. 

Flash forward to the 4th quarter of the game itself. Miami trails by 1 and their field goal kicker's already had two blocked and they've failed to convert on a fake field goal. Basically, they need to score a touchdown or it's over. They're driving with about a minute left and Northern Illinois backs them into a 4th and 20. Awesome, the game's over, sorry Redskins, not gonna happen. Then Miami, channeling Kyle Orton to Brandon Stokely via Leon Hall, converts the 4th down off of a ball batted by a Huskies defensive back. The second luckiest play I've seen all football season (the first was that Hail Mary in Jacksonville that some might remember). Two plays later they score the go-ahead TD and go on to win the game in complete and total douchey fashion. 

You might be saying, "so what, it's the MAC, who cares?" Well for one, I do. If you're in a conference you might as well try to win it and if you don't then at least don't give it to your arch-rivals. OU lost out on the conference championship game while controlling their own destiny and handed it to Miami. I'm bitter. Though in consolation I think we got the better bowl bid. New Orleans Bowl versus the MAACO Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. I'll take New Orleans. December 18 at 9 pm against Troy. Mark your calendars.

Still Friday
Simultaneously the Blue Jackets were taking on the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo with about 3 feet of snow on the ground. The Blue Jackets came into the game in the midst of a three game losing streak after wining 5 straight. If there's one team that can't build on anything it's the Jackets. Make the playoffs one year, finish 14th the next. Win 5 in a row, lose 5 in a row. The normal building blocks every team takes, right?

The CBJ have actually been fairly decent against the eastern conference in recent years and the last time they were in Buffalo they came away with a 7-2 victory. Not this time. I knew we were doomed the second they stepped out onto the ice wearing the third jersey uniforms. 

They're 0-4 in the new alternates and above that they're really bland uniforms to watch a team wear. They've only worn them 4 times and I'm already bored, plus they may be cursed. Let's bury the suckers at the bottom of the Scioto river. 

What I look at when I can't sleep

The Blue Jackets came out with zero energy and got down early. There isn't a sport that is more difficult to come back in than hockey and lately the Blue Jackets have been giving up a lot of early leads. It was their downfall a year ago when they started a franchise best 12-6-2 and then went on a 3-24 skidmark that began in December. This season they started 14-6, another franchise best, and since have dropped five in a row, which includes this Buffalo loss. Another repeat of last year will not be good for my health or well-being. 

I always like beating Buffalo because their fans have a reputation as some of the worst visiting fans in the league and I like to shut them up at home. Wasn't to be. Jackets got shutout by true American hero, Ryan Miller, and lost 5-0 which extended their losing streak to 4. Giving away the puck will do that. 

Great start to the weekend.  

Saturday December 5, 2010
I spent Saturday at Lifetime Fitness in what was my first true workout there. I like being out of college and having money to spend on things. My monthly gym membership is more than what was my monthly food budget in school. Somehow I still gained weight. That's what happens when you eat cereal for dinner, I guess. I surprised myself and ran nearly 3 miles on the treadmill. I learned the game of squash and pumped some iron using the girly machines. Good start to the day and I was able to vent some hostility about the night before and ramp up for the CBJ battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins later that day.

I went with Sports Hate Sister to the Blue Jackets-Penguins game that night. Believe it or not, this is the first time I've ever seen the Penguins in Columbus. I've seen them in Pittsburgh before, but never at Nationwide. My sister and I knew we were in trouble the second we parked and saw a team of squirts in Penguins jerseys (with incorrect number font. just saying...) shouting "Let's go Pens!" at the top of their lungs. I later remarked that "Pens" becomes "Penis" so easily, but this was brushed aside because my team's initials are "B" and "J". 

It got worse when we got in line at the door's security check and were outnumber 3:1 by people in Penguins paraphernalia. It felt like I was entering the thunderdome. Penguins gear was everywhere. By the way, either people in Pittsburgh are stupid or the counterfeiters are really bad at matching their jerseys because I saw Ebay fouls left and right. Also, what is with the popularity of the Penguins light blue throwback sweater? The only thing uglier going in the NHL right now is the Florida Panthers knockoff of the Penguins light blue sweater. 

Once in the building it was about 60% Penguins fans which brings up another point, if you have season tickets to the Blue Jackets please don't sell them online. Anyone can buy them and they're usually the visiting fans. 

The Blue Jackets got down early thanks to turnovers and their inability to clear the puck from their zone. By the end of the 1st period the CBJ were down 4-0 and Steve Mason had been pulled in favor of Mathieu Garon ( lovingly pronounced Matoo Garaw. French Canadians. pssshh).

I've seen all 30 teams in the NHL at Nationwide arena and I've had pleasant experiences with most every fanbase. Even the visiting fans from Detroit and Buffalo, who have bad reputations around the league, never got to the point where their presence or their actions affected my enjoyment of the game. Pittsburgh's fans were a completely different story. They were easily the most obnoxious, rude, entitled, boorish fans I've ever had to deal with. Any true fan of a team would've been embarrassed by the display this group of mouth-breathers put on. People ask why Pittsburgh is so high on my hate list (#1 in case you were wondering), and it's because of games like that. There's such a thing as winning with class and for a team that has had recent Stanley Cup success their fans are one, terrible at winning with any sort of class or grace, and two, behave as if a goal in a regular season December game is the Stanley Cup winner. I hate this saying, but at some point you have to learn to act like you've been there before. Behaving otherwise is unbecoming. 

Note to Pittsburgh, nobody has ever looked cool waving a terrible towel. Ever. They're the Ed Hardy of the sports world. They're ugly and owned by douche bags (I'm well aware the proceeds go to charity). Plus, you're at a freaking hockey game. Leave them at home and stop mixing your allegiances. The Steelers aren't playing the Blue Jackets, the Pirates aren't playing the Blue Jackets. You're at a hockey game, support your hockey team. You'd never catch me in a Bengals jersey at a Reds game (and I seriously hate Cincinnatians who do this). 

The Blue Jackets came out with a little fire in the second, but that was quickly squelched with another Penguins goal. It got as bad as 5-0 before the Blue Jackets put one past Marc-Andre Fleury (what is it with French Canada and goalies?). The Penguins added three in the second to reach what would ultimately be their final goal total of 7. 

The third period wasn't much better, though the Blue Jackets did win the period 1-0. The Penguins fan next to me got "sleepy" and began to drift off. This made me feel good about the booger I left on his seat when the Penguins scored their 6th goal. If by some miracle you're reading this, guy in section 115 Row R seat 13, I'm not at all sorry. You were a poor seat neighbor. Another note to Pittsburgh, most visiting fans will generally try to engage with the home fans, perhaps develop some kind of friendly banter. 5 seconds of talking to the dude next to me and I decided it wasn't worth it. If I can name more players on your team than you can, you're not a fan. I didn't say a word to him for the rest of the game. 

At some point during the third period the Penguins fans started doing the wave. Apparently 1989 has yet to hit Pittsburgh. During the last period a gangly gentleman in a Penguins hat and a Gretzky Kings jersey (WTF?) was kicked out by the cops. I didn't see what he did, but based on the way he handled it and his behavior on his way out, I was okay with it. 

As per personal policy, we sat through the entire game. I don't leave games early, but I thought hard about it in the third period. In ten years of going to Blue Jackets games that was easily the worst game I've ever been to and only about half of that was because of the absurd amount of Pittsburgh Penguins fans. The Blue Jackets got blown out, on home ice, while outnumbered by visiting fans, while playing with zero heart. They were utterly dominated. The Penguins held the puck for over two thirds of the game and the Jackets struggled to even carry it through the neutral zone. Like clockwork, the Blue Jackets' December woes have returned in a strong way. 

At least the Pittsburgh Pirates still suck. You need the Pirates to continue to perform terribly, Pittsburgh, otherwise you'd be even more unbearable than you are now. 

Also, the SEC put another team into the National Championship game. Ugh. 

Sunday December 5, 2010
I've pretty much given up on the NFL for this season. 2010 has been a year where absolutely nothing has gone right. The Bengals are in the midst of a 9 game losing streak and with the Steelers coming up it doesn't look like it's going to stop there. The Bengals have the worst body language in the league and lack any kind of killer instinct. On Sunday they took on the defending Super Bowl champs in the New Orleans Saints and if the game hadn't been televised in Columbus then I probably wouldn't have tried to follow it. 

The Bengals got down early but rallied late to tie the game and then took a 3 point lead with about a minute and a half to go. They then systematically allowed the Saints offense to work their way into field goal range. The Saints moved the ball to the Bengals 5 yard line, but faced a 4th and 2. Here's where things get rage-fit-inducingly bad. The Saints opted to go for it rather than kicking the tying field goal. The Bengals defensive lineman, Pat Simms, created a neutral zone infraction giving the Saints the first down and ultimately the go-ahead touchdown. I thought I'd seen every way to lose an NFL game, but I was wrong and if this hasn't cemented the Bengals as the dumbest team in the NFL, I don't know what will. 

T.O. and Ochocinco both had solid games and Carson Palmer looked competent as an NFL passer for maybe the first time all season. The problem was that Drew Brees is an undeniably good quarterback, arguably top three in the NFL, and he tore through the depleted Bengals secondary and the Bengals made another mental mistake at the worst possible time. 

At one point the Bengals were a 2-1 team. I wish I could live in that time between weeks 3 and 4 where all the expectations and hopes for a division championship repeat were still alive. It was bliss looking back on it. 

Pictured: The 2010 Cincinnati Bengals

Also,  the Browns beat the Dolphins because former Michigan quarterback, Chad Henne, threw a pic late in Dolphins territory that gave the Browns the go-ahead score. The Steelers rounded out the horrible weekend by beating Baltimore on a late defensive play as well. Par for the course and I  found myself completely unsurprised. I would've been more shocked if the Steelers hadn't found a miracle way to win that game. 

The Steelers victory Sunday night finished off the worst sports weekend I've had in a long time. In moments like this it's important to find the good and appreciate the small victories. You have to weed through all of the crap and terrible to find something to hold onto to get through to the next weekend. It looked like I was going to have to go with the old standby, "at least the Pittsburgh Pirates suck". That is, until Ben Roethlisberger broke his nose.

Sweet redemption. Thanks Haloti Ngata of the Ravens. Your Congressional Medal of Honor is in the mail. 

There were six games that I had a vested interest in. All 6 of them went the wrong way and went the wrong way in ridiculous fashion. Maybe next weekend will be better. I'm not optimistic because...

Sports Hate Me. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lebron Heats Cleveland. Get it?

I'm no NBA all. Going to college with thousands of Clevelanders meant that I was forced to sit through tens of Cavs games. We'd watch the Cavs stroll through the Indiana Pacers or the Memphis Grizzlies or the Toronto Raptors. Let me share a secret with you, I don't get the appeal of the NBA's brand of basketball.

There are few moments where you feel intense excitement while the game drudges along, counting points until you reach 100. NBA Basketball as a standalone sport rarely provides climactic moments. It's like a team is perpetually down by ten. If Lebron goes coast-to-coast in the second quarter and dunks on someone's face then it is a great athletic play that will get people standing, but it's still only worth 1/50 of the team's scoring. Constant scoring and the ease with which it happens denigrates the importance of small individual highlights. NBA regular season games  are basically like watching a race between two tug boats. You don't need to see the first three quarters of the race and if one team is getting blown out, then you don't need to see the last one either. 

All that said, I was enthralled by the lead-up to the Cavaliers-Heat matchup simply because I wanted to see how Cleveland reacted in-arena. There's two cities that could really pull off this kind of vindictive revenge in the right way and one of them is Cleveland. The other is Philadelphia. They are the grudge holding pros. JD Drew still can't play in Philly without getting the middle finger salute. Eric Lindros is 6 years retired and they still won't let him back in. They're the champs, but Cleveland is a close second. 

I'm conflicted as to cheer for. On one hand, I've spent the better part of 6 years silently and openly (depending on what room I was in) rooting against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They're an Ohio team and they're Ohio's only NBA team, but I can't bring myself to get on Cleveland's side. I wanted to be a Cavs fan, it looked like a ton of fun during my college years, but psychologically I would've been lying to myself. I couldn't do it and I boiled the issue down to one thing and It's pretty simple. My problem with the Cavs and their fans is that they so shamelessly hopped on the Cavaliers bandwagon when Lebron showed up and in so doing pretended as if they were there all along. 

Stay with me, Clevelanders. That all said, there's no denying that what Lebron James did to Cleveland was one of the worst things a pro athlete could do to a city. 

I honestly felt bad for them because he did something to a group of people that is literally unprecedented in sports. Cleveland happened to get the one guy with a big enough ego who at the same time is a big enough dick to destroy his home town city while completely aware of their rough sporting history. Yeah, that's not a big deal, a-hole. 

Pictured: Cleveland Sports

and now

The Douche-Bag. 
Honestly, I feel for you guys, though you have won a playoff game more recently than 1995 so... 

Lebron strung the Cleveland fans along for years. He dropped lines like, "I'm not going to stop until I get Cleveland a championship" and then went to an Indians-Yankees playoff game in a Yankees hat. He played a game day after day with secret meetings with teams around the league. Worst of all, he used a one hour prime-time television event to embarrass the city and ultimately decided to leave. What kind of egomaniac does that? People say "He doesn't owe Cleveland anything". No, he doesn't, but the city still has the right to be angry. 95% of athletes in that situation would've stayed with the home team that drafted them. Most of them would've been up front about their options months or years before the free agency period came up. Most probably would've signed a restructured deal years before their current deal expired (ala Kevin Durant) and literally none of them would've held a live press conference with Jim "the Weasel" Gray to announce that he was leaving. When I heard that he was going to use a TV special to make the announcement I thought there was no way that anyone could be callous enough to leave a city as starved as Cleveland on live TV. Nope, I was wrong, we all were, and Cleveland, I'm sorry it happened to you. 

Now, bandwagon jumping is a touchy issue in sports because it's one of the worst things you can accuse of a fanbase. It basically means they're too soft to deal with the hardships and thus aren't worthy as fans to be apart of the good times. I can't really blame any group of fans for not supporting a bad team. I always make the analogy that says that if you were a fan of a coffee shop who suddenly starting making really low grade coffee then you wouldn't support that coffee shop. Why react differently when it comes to professional sports? Money talks to owners and supporting a bad team will only maintain status quo. 

The facts are there however. The Cavs averaged 11,000 in attendance the year before Lebron. I grew up in Columbus and would often forget that Cleveland even had an NBA team. Their anonymity was astounding, their highlights weren't on the local news, and their jerseys weren't being worn in my elementary school. In other words, they didn't pass what I like to call, "the Columbus Test" which basically means that if something is big enough in either Cincinnati or Cleveland to be abuzz in Columbus then it must be noteworthy. 

So normally I wouldn't have a problem with people hopping on the Cavalier-train as the pre-Lebron Cavs were beyond unwatchable (that's what happens when you build around Darius Miles), and I more than anyone understand not paying to see a crappy team, but Cleveland more than any other city loves to trumpet their undying loyalty to their teams. This is literally the number one trash-talking point they bring up when talking NFL. If their favorite past-time is talking about the convicts on the Bengals, then their second favorite is labeling Cincinnati Bengals supporters as "bandwagon fans". I think it's safe to say that most Cavs fans are also Browns fans and It was this hypocrisy above anything else that turned me off from the Cavs. 

So with the game starting and without a clear decision on who I wanted to come out victorious, I decided to take a running log and see if the game decided for me. 

- The Heat exit the tunnel by skipping onto the court for warmups. When did skipping replace confidently jogging out of the tunnel? Dislike, but isn't it funny how certain mannerisms go in and out of style? Don't believe me? Look at how guys used to celebrate and high five in the 80's. Behave like that today and you're instantly the biggest dork in the room. 

- Watching Lebron going through warmups is like watching two people who used to be a couple pretend to ignore each other from opposite ends at a bar. Both act like they're into what is happening on their end with their group of friends, but you keep catching them glancing at one another. Lebron isn't interested in this warmup in the least, only pretending like he's into it. 

- Pretty cool commercial about the Eiffel Tower and other famous landmarks being moved. Can't say I like the statement that Lebron James is as big as the Great Wall of China, but it does a good job of placing the emotion into how Cleveland felt when this guy left. 

- The Heat are introduced to Darth Vader's entrance song. Fitting choice. 

- Just realized the Cavs have new uniforms again for this season. I don't know how that got past me, but I like them. They're simple and devoid of Navy blue. They look like they were designed in a flash in the contingency that if Lebron left then they'd at least have new uniforms to give people an excuse to buy more Cavs stuff, but they came out sharp. 

- Drew Carey sighting during pregame behind Reggie Miller. Over/Under on how many Price is Right beauties he's currently sexually harrassing is set at 3. I'm taking the over. Nobody who wears a plaid shirt under an NBA replica with those glasses isn't creepy around models. 

- Lebron has the gall to go through his hand chalk routine. To me this isn't as big a deal as everyone will make it. Kevin Garnett and I'm sure others were doing the same thing years before Lebron was even in the league. Cleveland shouldn't take offense to that because the powder thing really was never theirs to begin with. 

- Craig Sager in neutral gold blazer with red tie. Would've gone with a plaid number myself. I'm just going to say this now, Craig Sager can't pull off these whacko suits. It's the hair. You can't be insane down low and a banker on top. They don't mesh well. 

- Lebron touches the ball for the first time. The entire city of Cleveland loses its mind. I really wish the TV audience could hear the personal barbs. should've set up a webcam called "Hate-Cam" that lets you in on the personal attacks. I'd pay to listen to that. 

- Chris Bosh looks like a velociraptor. That was the best nickname specific matchup between a player and his team since John Elway and the Broncos. It's a shame he left Toronto for that reason. 

- I can't make out any of these chants. Is there a closed captioning for crowd noise?

- Lebron at the free throw line and out on the court looks patently uncomfortable and not because he just lost his head band and his receeding hairline is visible. Perhaps it's time he went the Jordan route and starting shaving his head completely. 

- Apparently Josh Cribbs and Bernie Kosar hang out together. Hmm 

- Lebron just hit a mid range jumper and the crowd collectively said, "agh, I hate you" in unison. Seriously. It was more clear than any of their chants. 

- End of the first quarter and we're treated with the Carmelo Anthony commercial where he plays everybody in the arena. I don't get it. Is Carmelo Anthony known as a versatile player that can do a lot of things? Also, I thought he wanted out of Denver where this ad seems to imply that he likes it there. 

- Spoelestra interview with Sager. Spoelestra looks like an insurance adjustor that lives in Miami not the head coach of the most scrutinized basketball team in the NBA. 

- Lebron is getting friendly with the Cavs bench. This is one of the most irritating things about pro athletes today. To them it's a job and most of them growing up weren't huge fans of the team they play for. They don't hold the same resentment and grudges that fans do, they just play and have fun with their friends. As fans, we wish the players were as intense about the personal vendettas as we are. For the life of me I will never understand how NFL players can laugh with the other team after a game especially between rival teams and especially after a loss, but it doesn't surprise me to see the Cavs players giving Lebron a warm reception. 

Halftime. I've had enough. The Cavs are getting boat-raced and their venom towards Lebron seems to have plateaued at a rage level that would lead to anything between upper-deckers and egging someone's house. I've said this before, but honsetly, I don't think it's been any worse than when Paul Kariya returned to Anaheim with Colorado the year after the Ducks lost in game 7 of the finals. Cleveland held back and didn't completely fall off the deep end. Good for them. 

Oh yeah, who did I ultimately decide to cheer for? Cleveland, you came out on top with me. Lebron rubs me the wrong way and the fact that he came into the building and had a good game while the Cavaliers themselves laid an egg bothers me. Cleveland as a city could've used this one. At least you get another shot against him, Cleveland.