Tuesday, May 1, 2007

NFL Genuine Draught

Screw baseball.

Football runs the whole year now, so I don't have to bide my time waiting for the NFL preseason anymore with the second-worst run sports league in the world (a distant second to the NBA).

This past weekend's NFL Draft proved that.

Before I get into my main comments on the Uber Bowl, as I'm coining it for now til I come up with something less stupid, I want to congratulate/scratch-my-head-at ESPN for having wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson as a guest analyst during the draft.

He did pretty good and was never at a loss for words (he never was on the sidelines either). However after being boldly put on the spot every time his team, the Panthers, drafted a player, he spoke about their philosophy and the team's goals for the upcoming season.

He was cut by the Panthers today. While sad and ironic, it's also hilarious.

Now for my real top story from the draft - trading for Randy Moss was a brilliant move by Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe wasn't happy with the move, and thinks the Patriots made a major shift in personnel philosphy, but I don't think so at all.

The Pats have never really hesitated to take a player with a history of character concerns. Their character-first, team-first reputation has been built on what players do WHILE IN NEW ENGLAND. Randy Moss may have squirted a referee with a water bottle, but it won't happen in Foxboro. That's the idea anyway. When a player gets out of line, you never hear from them again.

Terry Glenn was an issue for years, and Belichick traded him in 2001 - his second year as coach - when Glenn loafed his way back from a hamstring injury.

This offseason, when Corey Dillon started complaining about playing time and wanting to possibly retire, Belichick wasted no time and making it easy for Dillon, releasing him shortly after he made his statements public.

If that happens with Moss, no big deal. We spent a 4th rounder on him. No big loss. If he stays in line, the Pats are in line for a fourth Super Bowl victory - and I'll be able to drink for this one - woah nellie!

In conclusion, nothing has changed in Patriots Land. Randy Moss won't change anything, and nothing will change for Randy Moss. I'll see you all that first week of two of the spring 2008 semester, when the next UMass Riot is for a fourth New England Super Bowl Championship.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A fan again...again

I wasn't planning on getting overly personal in this blog, but since i got so many comments on my last post with questions, I guess it's going in that direction anyway.

Objectivity is, unfortunately, a subjective idea. People can view something as objective or find some bias in it. Mainly because true, perfect objectivity doesn't exist. No matter what or how you write, your voice comes through.

Journalistic writing just asks more of than other forms of writing. It's easier for me, but then again, I could never write fiction the way Kim does.

"Do you find yourself objective in more things outside of the paper now? Just curious..." - Kristi

Not really. I rarely write news pieces, so every day events jump out at me as something that requires the same objectivity as a UMass sports game. When I see political news on TV, i still root for my side of the 'debate' or what have you. However, I can seem to see the other side of issues a little better.

"Do you feel that you are really objective inside when discussing a team you like, or you do just portray it outside in order to do your job well? . . . I am just curious how writing has changed your enjoyment of sports" - Nicole

When I discuss the Patriots, I can basically view them through both lenses. It's not a matter of one or the other. I'm one of those crazy screaming fans when I watch them with my family (who are also both crazy and screaming), but I can look at a game and be thrilled that they won, but also look at how I might report the story. The things I'd tell a buddy calling me asking how it went are completely different from what I would write in a 800-1,000 word game wrap.

I'd tell my friend the Pats kicked their asses up and down the field, but I'd write that the Patriots won the small battles against a tough opponent who was equally matched. Kind of means the same thing I suppose (?)

So it's not a matter of really being objective inside. No one is objective inside. It's a matter of whether you can be objective.

The last thing is Kim's question. . .

Here is the story she linked me to get my thoughts on it.

That really puts a whole new spin on masculinity and sports. It's certainly something that effects me and I can't imagine what it has to Christine Daniels.

My favorite sport has always been football, the most brutish, manly sport of brutish manly sports. But I don't consider myself a particularly overly masculine guy. It stems a lot from the clashing of my two biggest interests, sports and music.

I've played bass for seven or eight years, something like that. I also haven't missed a Patriots game since 1993. People who know me for one are astonished to see me in the other role. I'll jam with someone, and they'll say, "Wow, I figured you were more of a jock."

I really really love football. The demand on a player to be part of a team and physically abuse his whole body for the sake of 52 other guys is fascinating. You don't see that in baseball or any other sport. Trust me, you don't.

But how do you talk football with a guy you meet without making the women in the room bored as hell and think you have a one-track mind for violent sports, quickly transition to women's rights in the workplace or the last episode of House? (sorry, trying to think on the fly here)

Christine has a long road in front of her. Her identity as a sportswriter is going to come in direct conflict with her transexual identity. Not that she's a woman. There are plenty of women in the world of sports media. But being a former man is going to create the image that she's a very effeminate male, which is much harder to deal with nowadays.

It sounds like the people close in her life handled is well, which is a great sign, but her readers are another thing. Most people might see the new byline and just think it's a different writer, but for those who don't she may lose some of them.

Hopefully it goes well.

Oh, and Fillmore, it's objectivity not objectivism. As an editor, I feel obligated to tell you that.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A fan again?

I watched at least part of all three Red Sox/Yankees games this weekend. And for the first time, I realized exactly why it's a sportswriters buffet whenever the two teams meet. You don't need to hype the game. It's existence alone is enough hype to put two of the three games on national television.

It's one of the few rivalries where people outside the home cities (Boston and NY) actually want to see who comes out on top. It's just too easy. Say "Red Sox, Ya.." and before you can finish saying Yankees, the tickets are sold out and there's someone on Yawkey way trying to buy one at the last minunte, while EBAY has them going at a thousand bucks a pop.

I also realized how much journalism can change how you look at things. I planned on actually watching the Sunday Night's game (the whole thing, not two innings), but until the end of the game, the potential sweep of the Yankees was just something that might happen. The gravity of it - for a Red Sox fan - didn't strike me until Jonathan Papelbon was finished blowing away the top of the Yankees order to close the ninth.

Then I was psyched.

It's hard to dance in between fan and objective reporter, even when you don't have to. The only time I've completely let go and cheered to a maniac was during the Patriots' playoff run this past winter (I'm more of a Pats fan than a Red Sox one).

I accidentally cheered for the UMass hockey team early in the season - sometime in October. It was pretty embarassing. I hadn't even been to many hockey games before that. It was just habit for me to root for the home team. But since then, I've been leaning far the other way, holding back even when it wasn't necessary. And I've been trying to break myself of the typical sports fan habit of saying "we" instead of "they" when referring to teams we like.

I say we won the Super Bowl, meaning the Patriots. But now, UMass went to the NCAA Regional Championship in hockey. I had nothing to do with it.

That's true, but the latter is not as fun to say. At least not til you see it in print the next day.

I thought I had this whole subjectivity-objectivity thing worked out. But then the Red Sox swept the Yankees at home for the first time in 17 years, and I almost missed how cool it was. I had pulled myself too far in the opposite direction.

And somehow, it took the Red Sox sweeping the Yankees to make me realize it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

NFL Draft Outsider

I love the NFL Draft so much.

It's the ultimate speculation event in the ultimate spectator sport. Mock drafts are never correct and no one has any idea who's going to pick who on Draft Day. And in the past few years, it's even been tough to pick out the top pick in the draft.

The funny part is, most guys in the first round don't even pan out anyway. Marques Colston, a 7th round pick out of Hoftstra (a guy who embarassed UMass in his senior season playing Division 1-AA ball) was easily the best rookie wide receiver.

The Patriots are the perfect example of how weird the draft can be. They drafted running back Laurence Maroney last year late in the first round. It was a great pick. Maroney fell a little farther than he should have - just a little - and the Pats jumped on him. Now he's the franchise back after Corey "I'd run but I'm too old, so I'll just walk kinda fast and awkward" Dillon has left town.

However, in the second round, everyone thought the Patriots had struck gold. In the first round, the top two priorities were running back and wide receiver. There were two of each on the board that Bill Belichick and Co. were considering, and they definitely picked the best one.

However, Florida WR Chad Jackson was still on the board early in the second round. So the Pats, trumping the Broncos once again (Denver wanted both Maroney and Jackson, though they got their QB in Jay Culter so they're not complaining), traded up to the Packers' spot and snatched Jackson.

Somehow, the Pats grabbed both a first-round RB and a first-round WR without having to give up much at all. What a great draft. Add to that tight end Dave Thomas from Texas (the guy who made the best catch of the year against Jacksonville) and that's a very solid first day of drafting.

However, Jackson pulled a hammy early in training camp (somewhere around the second day), and never saw the field much all year. He missed so much time before the season that he was well behind the free agents New England signed, and spent most of the season as No. 4 on the depth chart.

To say he underachieved is unfair, yet. Injuries happen, and by all rights he could have a breakout year in 2007, but they Patriots thought they hit the jackpot by landing both Maroney and Jackson. They were featured together in all the preseason reports and touted as the new wave of offensive weapons for Tom Brady.

As the season progressed, the only things written about Jackson were how he was struggling along.

So from April to April, Jackson went from a first round talent to a guy who slipped into the second. Then he was a total steal for the Pats. When Deion Branch left, some thought he'd have to step up early and be the No. 1 guy. Then he got hurt, faded into the background, and three wide receiver signings later, is not better off than he was last year.

And the Patriots - who are annually one of the five best drafting teams in the league - are once again looking at taking a wide receiver on Day One of the draft.

Guess even Mel Kiper Jr. doesn't know it all...

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Jon Quick off to the Pros

If you followed the hockey team's historic season at all this year. You know who Jon Quick is. The team's MVP had one of the best seasons ever for a UMass goalie in the team's best season ever (first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance).

Well if you were wondering how good he and the Mass Attack will be next year, you can now count Quick out. He bolted for the pros this past week, signing an offer sheet from the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, the team that drafted him before he began his collegiate careeer.

Most reports are saying he was offered the standard three-year entry level contract, with a $250,000 signing bonus. He will join the Kings' Manchester, N.H. minor league affiliate in the AHL for the rest of this season.

I can imagine how hard it is to turn down money like that. Big-time hockey execs walk right up to you, and throw a check for $250K right in your lap, lay a contract in front of you and say, "The money is yours. No more classes. No living in a dorm room. You can move up to the ritzy part of New Hampshire, play pro hockey, and have no worries about money again."

They pump you up, tell you you're amazing, then give you the least amount of dollars they can to get you to play backup for some minor league team no one watches. He could have taken UMass even farther next year. And where would the money be after that?

Waiting for him in Los Angeles. Quick was the No. 3 prospect in the country when UMass recruited him. That's a big fish to catch for what has been a small-time hockey program in recent past. And he helped bring the team higher than ever (along with head coach Don 'Toot' Cahoon).

The team is only getting better, and is still young. Quick had two more years to play at the college level, where he could finish school, not have to live in the real world, with bills and taxes, and actual worries, and have almost no responsibility, except to get to practice and meetings on time.

I know its easy to chastise an athlete for not finishing school, when the only point of school is to increase your earning potential (he's done that), but what will he do in Manchester that he couldn't do in Amherst?

He likely would win more games, and more significant ones- more people pay attention to NCAA Frozen Four than they do AHL playoffs, and the fan base could not be more devoted. I was in the press box during the home playoff games against Maine. When the Black Bears players were announced the "SUCKS!"I heard all around me made me jump - and I had heard that before every game, so I was used to it. You're not going to get that from fans in Manchester.

Additionally, there's the matter of maturity. Covering the team all year, I've talked to Jon a number of times. I listened to him speak after win and losses in press conferences. I've seen how he acts around the locker room after practice. I've even seen him around campus - in the dining halls for instance.

In my humble opinion, I don't think he's ready to move on yet. He's not mature enough. And I have heard I am not the only one around this team that feels that way.

Maybe there's a part of me that selfishly wants him to stay. I'll be covering the team next year too, and I was looking forward to covering more NCAA tourney games. They may get there anyway, but it would have looked a lot easier with Mr. Quick between the pipes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

UMass Hockey falls in the end

Over the weekend, UMass hockey went farther than the program had ever gone before, reaching the 16-team NCAA Tournament.

After beating Maine four straight times at home to earn home-ice advantage one weekend, and then eliminate the Black Bears from the tournament the next, the Minutemen were bounced out of the Hockey East Tournament semifinals by top-seeded New Hampshire.

However, UMass had done enough already to prove they were finally worthy of making the national tourney, playing in the East Regional bracket in Rochester, N.Y.

They were the fourth seed of four, which I thought was a little low for them (they could have been a three seed). Nonetheless, they played No. 1 Clarkson (who they tied 3-3 in the second game of the season), and knocked off the Golden Knights, 1-0, in a thrilling overtime game.

However, what I truly had a beef with was the fact that the team they had to play in the next round was none other than the same Maine Black Bears. Maine had been given the third seed in the same bracket as the Maroon and White just two weeks after getting embarassed by them four straight times.

Then they went out and upset second-seed St. Cloud State, 4-1, to advance to the region final, setting up the most unlikely of matchups.

Maine won the game, 3-1, mostly due to the return of their injured starting goaltender (who admittedly missed all four games against UMass two week before).

The Black Bears are now in the Frozen Four this weekend along with fellow Hockey East rival, Boston College, as well as North Dakota and Michigan State.

Maine won the game against UMass fairly, the game in and of itself was what it was and everything the Minutemen were doing so well down the stretch disappeared in that game.

Still, it's appauling to me that they even had to play the Black Bears again. Maine should not have even earned one of the 16 spots in the tournament, nevermind get seeded above UMass in the same region.

I'll chalk it up to UMass still be a relative unknown in the hockey world (like I said, it was their first national tourney appearance), but how many times can you be expected to be the same team?

They were nearly the underdog in their own building two weeks ago, when they had tried to take two of three against Maine in the first round of the conference playoffs, one week after sweeping them to take the fourth and final home-ice spot (UMass finished fourth, Maine fifth in Hockey East).

UMass swept Maine again, making it four in a row. The next week they lost to UNH in the semis, then this past Friday they knocked off Clarkson, only to end up right where they were before, having to get past Maine.

This is no attack on Maine - they only did what they had to. But the NCAA selection committee must have really thought Maine goalie Ben Bishop was the difference in the first four losses, because they gave the team one last shot against UMass, this time with their star netminder.

I guess they turned out to be right, because Maine won. But once again, how many times can you beat the same team? UMass and Maine were probably evenly matched this season, but the Minutemen won when it (presumably) counted.

That should have knocked Maine out of contention for a tourney bid. Instead, they got a fifth chance to take down the Minutemen, effectively negating the value of the first four losses. Eventually, you're going to get one, and Maine did. But as I see it, they had their chance and blew it, they shouldn't have been given another one.

The fact that both teams had to win their opening round games just to meet again is irrelevant, the Selection Committee knew what they were making possible by putting them both in the East Regional.

Now, the magic season that UMass coach Don Cahoon helped build is over. The players are back in Amherst going to classes, but they're schedule's a little more open now that there are no more practices to attend or team meetings to get to.

Meanwhile, Maine is going to St. Louis this weekend with a chance to be deemed the best team in the country. Are they really? Even if they win those games, did they deserve the shot? I don't think so.

Teams like Minnesota and New Hampshire were ranked No. 1 in the country at different points this season (Maine was too very early on) and neither won a single game in the tourney, while Maine has won two already.

Does that legitimize them? Sure, they're a good team. I thought so after that fourth-straight L to the Minutemen, but do they deserve to be there over someone else? No. UNH and Minnesota deserved they're shots, even if they didn't follow through on them.

I know I sound like a homer, particularly complaining about this after the fact, but I would have the same issue if the roles were reversed, or if UMass was not involved at all.

Narrowing a large field of good teams down to few is always hard, but this one should have been obvious. UMass will be watching from home this weekend while Maine is there with a chance to win it all, and there's just something wrong with that.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

College Athletics: not all they're cracked up to be

As I'm writing this, the Massachusetts basketball team is in the midst of its opening round match against Alabama in the National Invitation Tournament. For the seniors, it could be their last game. Ever. Superstar Stephane Lasme may go to the NBA, but players like Rashaun Freeman and Brandon Thomas aren't going to the pros. Instead, they're going to have to think about getting jobs. Soon.

Cover college sports as a college student has brought to realize how temporary athleticism can be. One day you're a freshman on a new campus, nervous about... everything. All of a sudden, you're looking for employment, and not the kind you find at the dining hall's dish room.

For most student-athletes, as soon as graduation comes, your athletic career is over, and "real life" begins. These kids - and they are still kids - get overexposed on ESPN, expected to lead their bubble team into their sport's respective NCAA tournament. The pressure is immense, often moreso than professional athletes.

In the pros, you get paid, win or lose. In college sports, losing is so much more permanent. You have four years (thought usually two or three) to produce as an athlete, and prove your worth. And if you're not good enough to make the pros, your potential earnings drop 100-fold. You go from millions to tens of thousands, and 90 percent of it is out of your hands.

You can play your ass off and if win more games than you were every predicted too, then you snap an ankle, and its over. I've realized as a journalist who MAY make 25,000 a year if i get a job right out of school, I have more job security that Rashaun Freeman.

Like any kid, I wanted to play pro sports when I grew up. Now that I talk to the kids who actually have a shot (a number of the hockey players have already been picked up by pro teams for eventual insertion into the minor leagues) I wonder if its really worth.

Only if you make it, I guess.