Monday, January 29, 2007

It's Official!

Yes, moving day is finally here, and we're off for greener pastures.

Fleece the Pig, Flog the Pony is now officially a part of the Sweet Home Sports family.

From now you'll be able to find Fleece & Flog at http://sweethomesports.com/fleece/

Yeah, we're still sprucing up the place, but all our rants and all your comments can be found at the new address thanks to a neat little import tool from WordPress.

If you've linked us in the past, thanks! And we hope you'll update your link.

If this is your first time here, come on over to the new place (the above link) and check out the new digs!

Thanks again for all your support.

The Fleece & Flog Crew

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hump Day in the Life of Chicago Sports

---The White Sox are in talks to sign a former Nebraska punter. Seems a certain starting left-fielder had surgery and might not be ready by spring training. GM Kenny Williams, less than thrilled by the prospect of well, prospects, playing multiple outfield positions is trying to bring in ex-Angel Darin Erstad. If it so happens to make Scotty Posednik expendable/tradeable, all the better.

---The Fightin' Illini scored an upset at home. Did Indiana, and coach Kelvin Sampson, phone it in? Illinois' men's basketball program took another step toward securing an N.I.T. bid by knocking off the sanctions-in-waiting Hoosiers, previously ranked number twenty-third, although first in the hearts of Klan-worshippin' rednecks (go ahead, pretend it isn't true). Welcome to the era of daylight savings time!

---This just in; the Blackhawks still suck. Firing coaches only helps when the new coach can make good players better. The problem for Chicago's hockey fans is their NHL club can't seem to acquire enough good players in the first place. At thirteen points out of the last playoff spot, things sure do look bleak for the fellows in the bright red sweaters. No matter what, though, this is upper-management's fault. Don't blame head coach Denis Savard for this Suck-o-Rama.

---Former SouthSider Donovan McNabb is not unhappy in that happiest of cities, Philadelphia. Reports that he called teammate Jeff Garcia "gay" are also unfounded. Former Terrell Owens publicist Kim Etheridge was overheard telling anyone who would listen that McNabb has "millions of reasons not to want out of Philly".

---Over on the other side of town, it appears the Cubs are in talks to sign outfielder Cliff Floyd. Gm Jim Hendry can't buy anymore good pitching, so the only option is to stock bats. Much like the Soriano contract, there are rumored to be added perks to sweeten the deal. Floyd will get his own locker on the road, and full access to the post-game buffet spread.

---In other Cub news (and doubling the bad news day for our beloved administrator), the team recently plucked ND wide receiver Jeff Samardzija from a life without Brady Quinn, to, of all things, pitch. In his never ending pursuit to spend all of the Tribune's money, Hendry will soon roll out his new aftershave Desperation. Eau du Toilette (translation:toilet water) indeed.

---Turns out the local pro football team had some measure of success recently, in case you hadn't heard. Something about one more big game. Bears fans just hope that when the Tank (Johnson) rolls into Miami (having gotten a judge's permission to leave the state), all the bars of Ice have already melted. Without a pass rush, Peyton Manning just might have a good day.

---Speaking of that local football team, how a about a big huzzah (yeah you read that right) for the head coach, Lovie Smith? Criticized for sticking by Rex Grossman, demeaned for not being the best X's and O's coach, he nonetheless finds himself the coach of a team going to the SuperBowl. The first black head coach to do it, too, just hours ahead of friend and mentor, Tony Dungy. To invert, subvert, and paraphrase a moon landing astronaut, it is a big step for black folks, and a giant leap for nice guys everywhere.

---Until next time, be good.

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Call U-Haul!

Yep, Fleece & Flog will be moving soon!

What, you say? Why, you cry? Where are you gonna get your Chicago sports fix?

Well, a few weeks ago F&F friend D.T. Kelly invited us along with F&F contributor and Chi-Sox Blog's main man Jeeves to form a Chi-town sports hub of sorts.

We're calling our adventure Sweet Home Sports, and it's all about the Windy City. Under the head of SHS we plan to have dedicated blogs to the Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, White Sox, Cubs and Fire and maybe a few local college teams. (All the sites aren't set up yet.) Fleece and Flog will also have it's own page in the network eventually, and there you'll find rants, raves and unique slices of sporting news to feed the voyeur in all Chicago fans.

We're actually still looking for a few more writers for the site, so if you're interested, drop me an email at fleece-n-flog@sbcglobal.net. But understand this: you must be able to bring it. We want dedication, enthusiasm and passion. We want writers who aren't afraid to drop their pants and show their shit. We want hardcore Chicago fans. We want people who love Chicago teams as much as we do, and don't care they're not getting paid. (We won't be, so you won't be.)

So check us out and bookmark our new site; we've already started posting. Tell a friend or maybe even your cyber-dog. Tell the blogging masses or the crusty old man who shines your shoes. Tell your stock broker or probation officer. Tell whomever. Just tell someone.

Until we're fully imported, we'll still be posting here, but keep an eye out for the day of the move. And thanks for all your support.

Sincerely,
The Fleece & Flog Crew

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Wooderson Plays for the Bulls?

Remember Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklaters' artistic ass kiss to growing up in the 70's? Well, it sounds like one of the characters from that movie pulled a "Take On Me" and stepped into a uniform for the Chicago Bulls.

When asked about his team's flirtation with trading for Pau Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Bulls' Ben Wallace replied in his best Matthew McConaughey voice, "That'd be cool." He'd later say, "He's an unselfish guy. He can score...he's a good passer."

It's unclear whether Wallace was talking about basketball or the ganja, but one thing's for certain: Wallace sure is making a lot of money to NOT be working for the man. In a nip and tuck game against the Pacers where the Bulls were out-rebounded on the offensive glass 16-10, he didn't see an iota of playing time in the 4th quarter.

Must be rough.

But I have a little piece of advice for The 'Fro: "Let me tell you this, the older you do get the more rules they're gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin' man, L-I-V-I-N."

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

It's A Massacre!

The Bears are your 2006 NFC Champions. If you didn't watch this game I don't know why your reading this post. There is a great blog on making cupcakes down the road, buddy.

The Bears Defense came through big in this game. They successfully punched the Saints square in the mouth. The Defense forced turnovers, and got a key safety. This Defense did exactly what we knew it could do!

Due to the elation I feel over this win I'm going to be brief. There is one event in this game that I feel embodies the spirit of the Bears and Chicago. Reggie Bush caught a pass and ran it 88yds for a touchdown. This may have really swung the momentum of the game in the Saints favor, but Bush made one fatal error. He taunted Brian Urlacher. What did Brian and the Bears do. They quietly stepped up and destroyed the Saints offense and Super Bowl hopes. That's what the Bears and Chicago are all about. So to whatever team the bears play in the Super Bowl, I say one thing SHUT UP AND FIGHT! That is the Chicago way.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

"The Chicago Way" Bears V.S. Saints

This Sunday at 2:00pm central standard time the "Monsters of the Midway" will attempt to do the unthinkable. Namely, win their first NFC conference Championship since that magical season of DITKA! Despite a very turbulent year the Bears have won their division and put together a very solid season.

Going into this Sunday presents many challenges for our furry friends. First and foremost, the Bears need to somehow pull together and stop the tandem running attack of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. Not only can these two guys run all over a team, but they also catch the ball very well. Bush led the team this year with 88 receptions. Couple this with the fact that the bears allowed a 100 yards rushing in more than half of the games that they played on grass this year, and you start think that maybe the bears have opened the wrong picnic basket.

The Bears second problem in attaining victory comes in the form of one Drew Brees. I mean this guy is a MVP runner-up and had a 96.8 passer rating this year. Brees is a definite upgrade from Matt Hasslebeck.

So if the Bears manage to stop these three extraordinary individuals, they may just have a conference championship and a trip to Miami in their future. That is if the defense isn't totally exhausted from playing behind a ridicules Quarterback. Ok, so I said it. If the bears loose they have one person to blame, and that person is Rex Grossman. His horrible play has kept the Defense on the field all year. That fact is the cause for the injuries and the decline in play that the Bears once mighty Defense has been experiencing.

Bears fans we are in big trouble. This Saints team is not some silly paper opponent. If the Bears don't play to their full potential, particularly the Defense, we may very well loose this game.

That is why I implore the Bears to take action. This town needs a win. Desperate Times call for............Well you get the idea. I propose the Bears Get a guaranteed win, and they do it, The Chicago way!

5. The NFC Championship "Falls off a truck"

4. Both cities vote on a winner. There isn't an election we can't fix!

3. Lovie Smith and Sean Payton Have a polish sausage eating contest, I mean look at them.

2. The Bears convince New Orleans to just give up and, "CROWN THEIR ASSES"

1. Tank Johnson invites Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister to the ICE BAR Saturday night.

In all seriousness, Screw it, We know the stats. We know the odds. Who cares. ITS GOING TO BE A WILD ONE! GO BEARS!

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In The Line Of Fire: Bears Linemen

Cliche Alert: Football games are won and lost in the trenches.

As true today as it was when it was first said, probably in some Harvard vs. Yale game a hundred plus years ago. Cliches are often based in reality, with a solid foundation in the truth. That is why they became cliches. The same goes for generalizations and stereotypes. There are exceptions, of course. This week just won't be one of them.

The Chicago Bears are a very good team. It is hard to reach the Conference Title game by even being mediocre, let alone outright sucking. The team is not without weaknesses, however. Run defense, for instance. Against the Seattle Seahawks nobody except probably A. Ogunleye had a really good game for the defensive line. The other defensive linemen, T. Johnson, I. Scott, M.Anderson, and A.Brown, all got pushed around far too much; especially on run plays. Brown got pushed around by a Seahawk tight-end W. Heller. A defensive end should be able to handle a tight-end with regularity, no? More interesting is that the other option, the rookie Anderson, is mostly just a pass-specialist. Case in point, the Seahawks ran right by Anderson for six yards behind Walter Jones. Thus the Bears don't/won't/can't leave him for long in run situations. Scott, on the other hand, isn't asked to do to much on pass plays because of the scheme that the Bears employ. The problem is that last week he didn't make plays versus the run either. For a defensive tackle, that doesn't bode well. The team desperately misses the injured Tommie Harris, with Johnson being the closest thing the team has. Johnson is, as far as can be genetically proven, not Harris however. Aside from the timely sack got, he only had one other tackle in the game, and it was on a draw at the end of the first half. Don't be surprised if the Saints run at Johnson this next game. In fact, on obvious run plays, especially the short yardage kind, the bigger, bulkier A. Boone might be the better option. Ogunleye had a very big sack, and even fell back into pass coverage to give Seattle different, confusing looks. Adding to the problems for the line is the continued absence of Mike Brown's run support. It doesn't help that the best linebacker in the league will sometimes disappears when a fullback is sent to block him. Not the line's fault, but it is their problem. Add to that native son/Saints head coach Sean Payton aggressively calling plays all year long.

On the other side of the ball, the Bears are a very good running team. The issue is the passing game. While a fair share of the fault/blame can be said to lie with the quarterback, it would be unfair to lay the entire matter at the feet of Rex Grossman and his inconsistent play. It might even be partially negated due to his offensive line. To be fair all the way around, pass blocking is inherently a thankless, uphill battle of a job. Run blocking is typically easier. Blow off the line, straight ahead, plow the road, is a different animal. Compare that to: hang back, block more guys coming in than you started with, and try not to get caught holding the guys who can use his hands. Still, if Grossman had another half to full second sometimes, he might not have so many oops moments. Sure, it would help if he could learn to move up (or forward) in the pocket, as opposed to running backward into trouble. It would help if he could be trusted to think after the snap, not just react. Since that seems unlikely to change this week the offensive line will have to concentrate that much harder. There is a reason the Bears don't use a lot of seven step drops. There is a reason the team does use (and have success with) quick slants. It is easier on the QB, but also the line. Without a great "game-managing" quarterback (think the good Manning brother) to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage, more pressure is put on O. Kreutz, and company to keep this signal-caller upright. It isn't that this is a bad unit, they just face a little more work and a bit more of a challenge. Even the Bears' last Super Bowl team, blocking for the great Walter Payton, couldn't keep Jim McMahon healthy all year.

If this team has any hope of advancing to the Super Bowl (as their talent would indicate they should) it will be in large part to their control of the line of scrimmage. Pressure on MVP runner-up Drew Brees by the D-line will be a good start, along with at least containing the dual threat in the Saint backfield. Letting T. Jones and C.Benson wear down the Saints while keeping Grossman standing long enough to pick on the depleted Saints secondary will pretty much insure victory.

Hopefully, Bears fans can tune in next week for an update of the Cliche Alert: Turnovers.

Until next time, be good.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Great Links Coaster

In honor of the "Rexy Back" video and not unlike the great Phoenix rising from the ashes, we bring you the triumphant return of the The Great Links Coaster.

Yes, we've neglected our duty to bring other blogs and posts to the masses and masses of readers here at Fleece & Flog. And since we've had the busiest week ever at Fleece & Flog, we figured it was high time we returned the favor!

Many have been the links to the digs here, and we are greatly appreciative to those who've visited and linked and commented and supported and blah blah blah...

Using a children's puppet to pimp our friends at other sites seems like just the right mix of respect and, umm, disdain. Just kidding , guys. We love their work and hope they keep our bellies full or laughter, our monitors full of boobies and our memories full of happiness.

So Gary Gnu is back to see you see what's to see in the world of sports.
  • A lot of professional athletes are in a lot of trouble if more mistresses decide to become blog writers. (Double-Nickel)
  • There's no such thing as a ball girl at US Cellular Field anymore? Why didn't I notice that? (Foul Balls)
  • Rex Grossman, meet Barak Obama. Barak Obama, meet Rex Grossman. (Ron Karkovice Fan Club)
  • And now he's back, from the Dominican, no, the Far East, no, Texas... (We Are the Postmen)
  • In a past life Jeeves earned an A in sports journalism. Just check out his Kenny Williams pieces. (Chi-Sox Blog)
  • Tom Brady is a pussy; just ask his dog. Did I mention his dog is a poodle? (The Mighty MJD)
  • Kwame Brown hates cake. How can anyone hate cake? (The Big Lead)
  • Forget the mistresses of pro athletes, look out for the ex-wives! (Deadspin)
  • Andres Nocioni is a bad fit for the Tyrus Thomas and the Bulls? Blasphemy, I say. (Blog-a-Bull)
  • The Blackhawks are pissed about something, and it isn't the lack of butts in the seats. (Wirtzsucks.com)

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Rex Grossman Immortalized on Video

Normally, when I see or read a funny sports related post or incident on this inter-web thingy from a different site, I'll make a small reference to it in my next post. If the something funny approaches genius, I'll post a link so you the reader can take time to check out the source yourself and partake in the hi-jinx as well. Every so often, however, a Picasso or a Joyce or a Led Zeppelin shows up, and I can't withhold the joy -- plagiarism be damned.

Take the following You Tube submission from the nut-cases over at Kissing Suzy Kolber. They've been slanderously funny on old Rex Grossman all season, and now they've made a tribute video including a few of the catch phrases they've betrothed upon the Bears QB. This shit is just fucking funny! Set to the tune of "Sexy Back" by Justin Timberlake, I give you "Rexy Back!"



(Thanks first to With Leather for the original heads up and again to KSK for the video, and the posts that led to it.)

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Bulls Score 99 Again to Win

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The Bulls decided to get their third straight victory by scoring 99 points again for the second consecutive time against the Bucks who scored 90. Although victory was their's, the Bucks made the Bulls work for the win. "It was not a beautiful game, that's for sure,'' said Bulls coach Scott Skiles. "We kept saying the whole game we were doing a good job of turning them over, but on many occasions we kept giving it right back to them.'' The Bulls recorded 22 turnovers, and the Bucks 26. "We turned the ball over a lot, passed up on a lot of open opportunities,'' Kirk Hinrich said. "We struggled. It seemed like we could not get into a rhythm all game.''

Late in the third quarter while Chicago was down 73-65, the Bulls decided to pick it up a notch and went on a 20-3 run. "When you shoot 30 percent in the second half and have 26 turnovers, you put a lot more pressure on your defense,'' Bucks coach Terry Stotts said.

With the recent addition of 5'5" Earl Boykins playing his first home game in Milwaukee, the Bucks were hoping for a chance to win against the Bulls. He scored 30 points against Charlotte in the Bucks previous game but only 17 against the Bulls. "We just didn't finish,'' Boykins said. "We put ourselves in a position to win and in the fourth quarter we just didn't do it. We started the fourth extremely flat and they jumped on us.''

"That was probably the thing that helped us go on the run,'' Gordon said. "That defense translated into offense for us. That was a big part of us getting a big lead on them.'' Gordon had 20 points against the Bucks in the 99-90 win. He has scored at least 20 points in his last seven games, and at least 20 points in his last 16 out of 17 games.

Andres Nocioni, Luol Deng, and Kirk Hinrich all contributed to the Bulls victory as well. Nocioni led the team with 21 points on 8-11 shooting from the floor, Deng 19 points, and Hinrich had 16 points.

Ben Wallace returned to the Bulls for the first time since being scratched from the line-up on Saturday with a sore back. He accumulated 10 rebounds against the Bucks. When asked about his back, Wallace replied, "It was a little stiff, but it didn't hinder anything.

With the Bulls only one game out of the lead in the Central division, as well as the Eastern Conference, they hold a record of 23-17, and 18-7 against the East. They also have a 7-1 record against the Central, which is the best in the NBA for any teams against their respective division. Will they be this successful in the second half? Hopefully better.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

It's Official: God Hates Notre Dame

From the world of "kick us while we're down" comes the plight that rare bird, the Caucasian wide receiver Jeff Samardzija. The two-time, 2nd team All-American from Notre Dame is now officially a ONE-time, 2nd team All-American. Seems that in auditing the vote count for what is essentially the college All-Pro teams, a slew of votes from The Sporting News were missed and Jeff Samardzija's award was rescinded. (Dwayne Jarret and Calvin Johnson were the actual winners.)

Let's see. Nine straight bowl losses (a dubious NCAA record as there ever was), repeatedly sub-par recruiting classes including a losing a top ten blue chipper who chooses Illini football of all teams over the Irish, a Heisman dud campaign, a defense that can't keep up with the nuns from Our Lady of Perpetual Motion, a coach who looks like he gets his clothing tips from the Michelin Man, and now the white boy receiver flap. Maybe this is God's payback for the Spanish Inquisition and those ugly mitre caps.

(Thanks to Fornelli and his Foul Balls for the info.)

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Crede Avoids Arbitration; Hell Does Not Freeze Over

Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn avoided the ugly, bloodletting ceremony that is arbitration with the main man-crush of White Sox fandom, Joe Crede. Scott Boras, the Dr. Evil of sports agents and the object of Kenny Williams' ire in the past, allowed Crede to sign a one year deal for a paltry $4.94 million dollars -- some $3 million less than what Joe was speculated to be asking for. Boras and the White Sox have been shaky partners in the past and KW has gone so far as to say he won't he deal with Boras or sign Boras clients.

So why the jovial about-face? Is Joe Crede secretly Kirk Hinrich in a White Sox uniform?

No, the White Sox own arbitration rights with Joe until after 2008, and the market is only gonna explode to even grander proportions after this season. And I'm betting Scott Boras offered Joe Crede his first-born to take the lower money in advance of a greater payday down the road. After all, Boras will have exhausted his A-Rod blood money by then, and Joe will be his new golden goose.

In related news, reports say it was business as usual in hell yesterday, and there was nary a snow flake to be seen.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Spurs No Match For Bulls

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It was a good day in Chicago for some basketball. The Bulls, (22-17), had a 1:00PM game scheduled on Monday, hosting the San Antonio Spurs. Were the Bulls ready for the Spurs? The Spurs, (27-12), are one of the elite teams in the NBA. While being shorthanded, the Bulls managed to flutter the Spurs 99-87. "I don't want to be short-handed, but we've been able to get away with it for a couple of games," Bulls head coach Scott Skiles said. "It's not something long-term I want to do. It gives other guys who are good NBA players an opportunity to play. You get to see other people and it helps me get a different perspective on some other guys." Chris Duhon was suspended for one game for not practicing, and Ben Wallace missed his second straight game because of a sore back, but the Bulls came with their game face on.

The Bulls, (trailing 27-23), went on a 17-5 run early in the 2nd quarter to overtake the lead. With Kirk Hinrich, looking to be back to his usual form, they never looked back. "I have been feeling good the last few games. I kind of gotten back to myself, playing aggressive on both ends and I think my floor game has been a lot better," Hinrich said. He had 23 points and 10 rebounds. "I have played a lot more loose. I think before I was kind of thinking too much, kind of worrying about what the coaches wanted me to do. Instead of going out and playing and using my instincts," he said.

But that's just one of many Scott Skiles' weapons of the day. Ben Gordon, who started in place of the suspended Chris Duhon, also helped with 20 points against Tim Duncan's Spurs. "All in all, they just outplayed us," Duncan said. "They're a good defensive ball club, very good at rotating." Good enough to limit the Spurs to 87 points, who are currently scoring 98.8 PPG, and hold them to 39.5 percent shooting.

After missing the last game on a suspension, Andres Nocioni aided the Bulls with 12 points and 11 rebounds. He also had an impressive 3 point shot, followed by another 3 point shot from Thabo Sefolosha, to give the Bulls an 83-69 lead in the fourth quarter.

Luol Deng respectively contributed 17 points against San Antonio. He's currently scoring 18 PPG and has a FG% of .533.
The Bulls are fighters, and they want to win. Even though they're coming off consecutive wins against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Spurs, the Bulls did lose 5 out of 6 games prior to that. They need to keep winning. Hopefully they can put together a good 10 game winning streak to possibly gain the lead in the Eastern Conference. How about a 20 game winning streak? Eh! Let's just take it one game at a time.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Dear Illinois Basketball Program,

We noticed your recent second-half collapse against Michigan State. We also noticed it seems to be a bit of a pattern. Your team had trouble holding on to half-time leads versus Maryland, Michigan, and Xavier prior to this game. In order to have a good chance at making the NCAA tournament we reckon a winning conference record would look great on your resume. To that end (that end being a 9-7 conference record) your team would need to go 8 and 4 the rest of the season. Not to say that is an impossible task, but it certainly looks to be an uphill battle from here. There is a distinct possibility that your squad might miss the BIG DANCE. More is the pity.

However, we are here with some good news. The proverbial silver lining, as it were. Should you find yourselves unable to qualify for MARCH MADNESS, there is another option. US! Us being the NIT. We would love to have you. It might be as fancy as the other event, or have all the games televised. The winner might not be held in very high esteem, or have a yearly video game about it. Still, it isn't like kissing your sister, as some have opined. (Maybe like a second cousin? Is that something you would be okay with?)

In any case, we will be like the girl at the DANCE who isn't really pretty, but is better with a nice dress on and has a fantastic personality. While all the real jocks go with the pretty girls who go all the way, we will wait for the guys who don't want it quite as much. Don't get us wrong. We are wishing you luck. But like that girl, we are secretly hoping you don't get too lucky.

See you in the spring,
The NIT Selection Committee

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Friday, January 12, 2007

In The Line Of Fire: Lovie Smith

There is a team going to the next round after this weekend on the strength of a very good running game, a tight end having a breakout year, and consistently strong play-calling. They will do so despite an erratic quarterback and a defense struggling through injuries. A loss in this game might cost the head coach his job.

Since Mike Holmgren isn't about to lose his job, the team in question is obviously the Chicago Bears. Despite some similarities between the two franchises, the Bears are the clear favorite. Granted, the Seattle Seahawks didn't have a healthy Shaun Alexander the last time they played earlier this season, but do they now? Alexander hasn't looked like the MVP of last year at all this year, coming back from foot problems. Worse still for the Seahawks, the recent signings to the defensive backfield give new meaning to the term journeymen. As in trade worker-style. These guys were one step above the Carlos Mencia bit about the day workers in front of California Home Depots. Good luck in the NFL playoffs your first day at work, fellas.

What does this mean for your beloved hometown team? Don't lose to very recently retired house painters, for one. Brian Urlacher's recent sarcastic comments about the media coverage notwithstanding, it would be foolish to consider the Bears the best 13-3 team ever. Sure, worst is probably an exaggeration, if only because of the difficulty in quantification of said description. Even the most cursory glance of some key statistics paints a...colorful picture.

For instance, the string of three hundred yard plus games the defense has given up. With some key injuries, most notably Tommie Harris up front, and Mike Brown in the DB corp., the Bears have slowly drifted toward NFL defensive mediocrity. Added to that is the midseason Tank Johnson-debacle for distraction-sake.

Another interesting number is 0.0. While this might be good if pulled over for potential D.U.I., it is less good when it is the rating for a team's starting quarterback. At least Rex Grossman was able to explain it afterward as a lack of focus and preparation on his part. An argument might be made that great NFL QB's don't let such situations occur. Even good quarterbacks might have a rating in the fifties every once in great while. Grossman's play is so inconsistent, he might as well tie a string to his waist and get a tattoo on his chest reading Duncan Imperial. Some will say he doesn't have two bad weeks in a row. Some had better hope the bye week wasn't the "up" week.

This all matters because the Bears haven't won a home playoff game in a while. (Cheer up, the Seahawks haven't won a road playoff game in quite a bit either.) It really matters to Lovie Smith because it isn't good to lose in the first playoff game two years in a row. When the team started out hot, fans and many media were decrying the fact that Smith's contract was not being extended, post haste. While it is unlikely that Jerry Angelo had a vision of what was to come, for whatever reason, he did not jump on that bandwagon. Was he/is he waiting to see what happens this post-season? Angelo recently mentioned he was working on an extension for Smith, but unless it is unexpectedly finished (extension signed) before this weekend, nothing is guaranteed for next year. Thus it appears to be a vote of confidence for his head coach, without an actual painting into a corner scenario. As an added bonus of drama, there are the low level rumblings of Smith going home to Texas to coach the Dallas Cowboys. With Jerry Jones emphatically stating that Terrell Owens will be back next year it is not emphatic that Bill Parcells will be back to coach. Furthermore, both defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, and offensive coordinator Ron Turner are getting mentions for replacing the many head coaching positions already available. What better time to leave than when all your best assistants have gotten promotions outside your current organization?

Will Coach Smith pull a flailing Grossman before all hope is gone if need be? Will the defense stop somebody? Can Smith survive another earlier departure from the playoffs? Will it depend on the How or the Why of such a loss? Would it be another Grossman-fueled turnover fest? Alexander running for a hundred and sixty? The defensive line failing to get pressure on Matt Hasselbeck, who without said pressure has the ability to pick even very good defenses apart? If, indeed, Grossman falters, and the change to Brian Griese is not made, might that one particular decision spell the end of the Lovie Smith era in Chicago? Should it? If Griese does come in, but does poorly will that excuse Smith with an "at least he tried" attitude? If the Bears lose to an undermanned, somewhat undertalented, already once beaten Seahawks team in any fashion, is there any excuse Bears fans, or probably more importantly, Bears management will accept? Again, should there be?

There are only so many shots at the big game in the modern NFL. If a team can't take advantage of the chances they have when they have them, there are seldom many places that are looked at for blame beside the head coach position. Smith certainly seems like a good head coach. It will be interesting to see if the Bears should fail to advance; can he overcome the possible demand for his job? Bears fans hope they don't find out.

That's all for now.
Until next time, be good.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

More National Pastime:Still not NASCAR

This is a second round involving a first sporting love, baseball. The last column gave short shrift to a continuing controversy that is always bubbling just below the surface...until the pressure is too much and a new eruption bursts forth. This speaks, of course, to the eternal debate about wet-tarp sliding. Oh, wait; steroids, yeah, steroids.
Somewhat overshadowing the achievements of Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn was the babble of Mark McGwire's chances at The Hall and why those chances stand where they do. Resisting the urge initially, it cannot be restrained any longer.
So why is McGwire's case so important? The answer is that it stands as the acid test for the "known" steroid/performance-enhancer users who might find themselves at the BASEBALL HALL OF FAME's doorstep and don't want to buy a ticket and stand in line to get in. McGwire might be the first of his "generation" but he certainly will not be the last. At least not as long as anyone can say Barry Bonds.

Let alone Sammy Sosa. Interesting that he was traded from the White Sox because he was a speed guy, not a good hitter (considering that he was dealt for a very fading George Bell).
What a coincidence that Sosa was caught with a corked bat AFTER the waft of steroid rumor had begun to float. Invited by an SI writer to go with him to take a drug test, Sosa shrank (or not, as the case may be) from the challenge.

Inevitably, nothing with the word steroids in it can go without some expounding upon the poster fool for performance enhancement, Ben Johnson. No, not really, it's the aforementioned Mr. Bonds. With his "flaxseed oils" and ever-increasing cranial cavity, his protests will likely fall on deaf ears. What is interesting is how his apologists will claim that his numbers before his homerun spiked run would still get him in easily. That, in an of itself, is highly debatable. The funny part of the joke is that the apologists essentially acknowledge that Bonds did become a cheat, but as if he were two separate people (half as unnecessarily bitter or twice the jerk?) they feel his career is not connected from one year to another, and as such should be judged first half and second half. If that were a valid way to approach the matter, how many players had promising but interrupted careers due to silly reasons like fighting in World War II, for instance. "Hey, not fair, they were off getting shot at and literally saving the world. If their numbers go up it's because they have fresh legs."

Also, please, please, everyone, reject the moronic Ty Cobb argument that is used to defend other idiots' chances of Hall-of-Fame-ing. Yes, Cobb was a murderer, racist, thug, and all around jerk. Yes, in a perfect world he wouldn't be in The Hall. Saying that other cheats, addicts, or assorted miscreants should get in because he did is ridiculous stance, sorry. Such a view is akin to those who say that all the other drugs should be legalized because alcohol and tobacco are. Show some restraint, draw a line, and get a grip.

Worry about guys that are far more deserving without the taint of...whatever. A player like Andre Dawson was a great right fielder, or a guy like Alan Trammell, who will be perenially overlooked, should get in well ahead of cheats like Mac, Sosa, or Albert "Corked Bat" Belle. Not to mention the relief guys that continue to get overlooked. There shouldn't even be much debate.

Is it fair that not all the cheats get caught? Of course not. Are the all the cheats ever caught? In any facet of society? No. Do we cheer on the thieves and thugs in other walks of life? Just sports. Why is that? Do we as a society invest too much into these empty idols to admit to ourselves when the idols fail? As a fan of baseball it is hard to keep ingesting the slop being fed as excuses for behavior no normal adult would toloerate from their own child. When players fail to live up to even lowered expectations it is up to the fans to take the sport back to it's foundation to clean up the mess. Reward only the players with the least to disbelieve, maybe? Like politics, fans get what they vote for; in this case the voting is done with hard earned dollars. Expect more from the players. Ask for more from the executives. Most importantly, demand more from Baseball.

Sorry, can't have a picture every time.
Until next time, be good.

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Futbal That Could've Been

The British Invasion is happening all over again.

Seems Mr. Posh Spice, David Beckham, has rejected Real Madrid's contract offer and has accepted a deal from the MLS's L.A. Galaxy.

Being the Chicago fan that I am and living a scant few miles from Toyota Field, when I first read Mr. Beckham was coming to America, I was honestly hoping the guys in Bridgeview would have a chance to sign the man a movie was named after.

And a beauty like Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham inhabiting our environs would be a major boost to ego that is the grit and grime of the industrial corridor of the southwest side. A Spice Girl comes to Burbank! What a tale! I could imagine sweeping her off her feet and sitting her down to a lush meal of Durbin's Pizza followed by some serious pillow talk at Charn's Motel and maybe a trip to the waste water treatment gardens in Worth. Maybe we'd enjoy a walk around the pond next to the Little Red Schoolhouse, a slide down the snowy hill at the Hickory Hills park district and a night cap taken in at Frenzel's Pub.

How could she not fall in love with those wonderful south side destinations.

And if it's class she really wants, well then, there's always Polekatz strip club and the Sybaris!

But alas, my dream faded when I read that Mr. Posh signed with Los Angeles, that city teeming with sunshine and all the beautiful people. And rich ones too.

By the way, did I mention he signed a 5 year deal for -- get this outrageousness -- $250 million dollars!

Take your money and run, Mr. Soccer-man. We'll keep our blue collar roots in tact without you, and pray for a glimpse of your wife when you visit Bridgeview next season.

Maybe I can sell t-shirts in the parking lot; all the little girls love David Beckham.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

National Pastime: NO, not NASCAR.

The ballots for the BASEBALL HALL OF FAME are in and
counted. Not surprisingly, Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn both
went in on their first attempt. Also not surprisingly, to people
with brains everywhere, neither went in with every ballot. The great thing about these two players is the types of players that each represents. In Ripken's case, it is that he personifies the work ethic. Obviously any player can be stopped short by a
devastating injury. The modern day player isn't always so choosy,
however. Add to that careful. How many times have you heard
about a player sitting out with some obscure rib cage muscle pull?
Even better, falling, flipping, or otherwise failing to stay on a motorcycle? For Gwynn, well, he epitomizes the contact hitter. Pay attention kids, because there was a time when there was value in a guy who could spray singles and doubles around the yard with some skill and regularity. Ever hear of Rod Carew? The only 'juice' Tony Gwynn was ever on might have been a beef sandwich on which he sat down.

Speaking of juice...What a tragedy that Mark McGwire didn't get voted in on the first ballot. He might not have wanted to talk about the past in front of Congress, but the voters didn't forget about his past.

There are, of course, others for whom a case could be made for induction. These include (but are not limited to) Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, Harold Baines(well mostly just White Sox fans), and the walking paternity suit, Steve Garvey. Dawson will most likely get in next year primarily due to his time as an Exposition, his Cubs career notwithstanding. Rice will get in next year, not sooner because he was not considered reporter-friendly.

The most interesting players not voted in are two relievers, former White Sock Rich Gossage, and former Cub (and sleeping giant) Lee Smith. Why interesting? Because in the modern era of baseball, when every situation, every job is micromanaged to death, all everybody (most especially baseball writers) complains about in baseball is the lack of relief pitching. So who did the Hall of Fame voters (baseball writers!) leave out? Possibly two of the best. Granted Smith took a nap until the bullpen phone rang for him. All he did was take the ball an amass more than four hundred saves. Many for the Cubs (yet nobody called him Sisyphus, odd...). As for Gossage; Billy Martin would say he was the best he had, so why get beat with someone else? Gossage would proceed to go out and pitch two, three innings at a time with great success. Don't worry, Baseball Writers of America, everyone loves a hypocrite.

Guess that is all for now. The picture? What; a guy can't like sunsets?
Until next time, be good.

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Medieval Answer to a Modern Problem

The balls of the world are taking quite a bit of abuse lately.

First Duke PG Ron Paulus gets tea-bagged in a game against Virginia Tech.

Then, if you haven't heard yet, a former Colorado high school boy's basketball coach, Greg Lynn Burr, has been arrested on charges of sexual assault for, among other things, hitting his students in the testicles, some even to the point of needing medical attention. His attacks were coupled with showing some students porn and dowsing them with cold water before driving them to high school games with the windows down. As one student described, his favorite joke was...
"What is the capital of Thailand?" When they would answer, "Bangkok," he would hit them in the groin.
Aside from being a plain old asshole, you'd think he'd come up with a better joke than that.

Finally and completely unrelated comes word that some people are having issues with the football used on the fumbled snap by Dallas Cowboy QB and place kick holder Tony Romo.

Back around 1998 the NFL's competition committee decreed that kickers and punters would no longer be allowed to doctor the balls prior to using them during the game. It seems some of the kicking fraternity were rubbing and buffing and possibly even cooking their balls in an effort to enhance the lengths of their kicks. Kicker Mitch Berger of the Minnesota Vikings had a record 40 touchbacks the season prior to the change. After the institution of the new rules, he had 16 touchbacks. Maybe there was something to the story.

But watching the play that essentially ended the Cowboys' season, one couldn't help but wonder if the slickness of the ball, called a K-Ball, didn't play a part in Romo's botched placement. Even from a seat in front of the television some 2000 miles away, I could see that the ball was different. It was so shiny in fact that Romo could have seen his own reflection between the laces on the pigskin.

Ron Paulus' love affair with sniffing other guys balls I can't help, but I have one solution to the second two problems. Have Mr. Burr be forced to use his nut-sack as a pregame or sideline practice tee so the kickers can kick a little wear and tear into the footballs. If they're good kickers, Mr. Burr can breathe a little easier. If he's Mike Vanderjagt, well Mr. Burr, welcome to Bill Parcell's nightmare.

How's that for a punishment fitting the crime?

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bears 13 wins, Bulls 2 games out

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
When Mr. James Nordberg Jr. told me he had created a sports blog called, "Fleece the Pig, Flog the Pony," I was definitely interested in reading it. So, I proceeded to do so. Little did I know, it was a CHICAGO sports blog, with CHICAGO sport fans, that are CHICAGO CUB haters, and are generally Chicago White Sox fans. I do stress the generally, because I wouldn't want to put the dis on my only Cub buddy on this blog, (ChicagoCubbin). I am a diehard Chicago sports fan, (except for the White Sox of course). So naturally, I took it upon myself to ask Mr. Nordberg if I can be a part of this blog.

Chicago is a wonderful sports city to live in. We have the Cubs, the Bulls, the Bears, the Blackhawks, the Fire, and the Sox. Personally, I'd rather watch 2 flies getting it on, then enjoy a Sox win, but that's beside the point. Are we spoiled? I believe so, but being spoiled as opposed to not having a competitive town, is a great thing. Not to mention, the food is outstanding compared to other major cities in the U.S.! That's always a PLUS!!!

But baseball fans, listen up! We need to focus on the sports we have in Chicago right now. The Cubs and the Sox are irrelevant to the playoff Bears for one. We have the Bears going to the playoffs again for the second straight year. Is that not a good reason to be excited? Even though their defense carried them most of the way, the Bears found ways to win 13 games this year. Yes it looks like Grossman is choking on his own vomit at times, and yes Tank Johnson should keep his ghetto fabulous wanna-be crap in the ghetto where it belongs, but look, the Bears are 13-3!!! 13 wins!!! Division champs two years in a row, best record in the NFC, 2nd best record in the whole NFL? Is that not something to cheer about, even if they weren't accomplishing the next level of stardom? C'mon! Let's cheer for them now, because
we may not have another chance again. Let's hope they can accomplish some playoff victories, even though we Chicago fans should know that the Bears sucked lately! Hey, at least they're there!

Bears playoffs are great, but let's not forget about the Bulls. They are 20-15, only 2 games out of first place in the Central, and only 2 games out of the whole Eastern conference. Not bad huh? They could be like the 76ers and have only 9 wins and are in dead last in the Eastern conference. But, the Bulls are actually a good team. How about Deng? FG% .540, averaging 18 ppg. Not too
shabby, eh?. The kid keeps getting better and better. What do you do when you need a player to step it up? Just Deng it!

Gordon has had some good games too with 20.8 ppg. You've got to like that! He is a bench player folks! That's like getting a bonus on your check, getting free drinks at your local bar, and even getting your burrito for nothing on a good drinking night. That's awesome. Does it sound like Jordan? No way! But let's not treat him like a piece of dog poop, and compare him to the best basketball player to ever live. He can definitely lead the Bulls in scoring on any given game though. That's pretty darn good. Once again, not too shabby, eh?

Nocioni ain't looking too bad either. He has a .400 3p%, 15.6 ppg., and a fg% of .482. That's exciting, yeah? Is there a reason to cheer? Yes! Is there a reason to be mad? Not really.

Just remember, the Bears will step it up in the playoffs on Sunday against Seattle. Trust me, they'll have to. The Bulls are only 2 games out of the lead in the Eastern conference, but they have a pretty good chance to do something this year. They did smoke Detroit, (the #1 team in the east), on Saturday. Not too shabby, eh? Yeah, I know the answer.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Writers and Their Ruses

I hate media controversies. When writers complain about other writers' choices of topics or subject matter, it's like fingernails grating down a chalkboard. Of course I have advocated the neutering of Jay Mariotti's word processor in the past, so I'm not completely innocent of the charge either.

But now comes the Daily Southtown's Paul Ladewski and his absurd baseball Hall of Fame ballot, and I just can't keep silent. He submitted a blank ballot in what he called a test to provide further evidence that the steroid era in baseball wasn't a charade as it concerns first ballot nominees Cal Ripken, Jr., and Tony Gwynn. He says he wants to wait a year or two in case more evidence is uncovered in the ongoing steroid investigations.

But a closer reading of his column explaining his actions reveals a deeper, more hidden agenda:

"Besides, what makes Gwynn and Ripken so special that they deserve to be unanimous selections?

Walter Johnson, Cy Young and Honus Wagner didn't receive such Hall passes. Neither did Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. In fact, nobody has in the history of the game.

Based on the standards set by the Hall of Fame voters decades ago, is there a neutral observer out there who can honestly say Gwynn and Ripken should be afforded an unprecedented honor?"

Is Mr. Ladewski's real problem all the talk about Ripken and Gwynn possibly being unanimous inductees? And is his abstaining from voting on the grounds of possible steroid use just a ruse to hide his indefensible position of not wanting them to have an honor that Ruth, Gehrig and Williams never received?

If steroids were really the question, couldn't he find a few more worthy candidates whose service time didn't conflict with the so-called Steroid Era of 1993-2004?

Say a Jim Rice, perhaps? Or Bert Blyleven? Or maybe even an Andre Dawson?

To summarily reject all Hall of Fame candidates based on his disdain for the possibility of cheating would mean removal from Cooperstown of known spitball pitchers, George Brett and his pine-tar bat, and anyone who may or may not have used a corked bat from time to time. Show me a player from the late '70s to the late '90s who doesn't fall under that cloud of suspicion.

My suspicion is that he just didn't like the idea of anyone being unanimously voted in, but maybe Ladewski's blank ballot was just a political statement on the Steroid Era of baseball. However, if that's truly the case, will he abstain from voting until any and all players from the same era are no longer eligible for the Hall of Fame? Will he turn in a blank ballot next year too? If that's the case, he'll be waiting a long time before he ever votes again.

(Editor's note: In the interest of full disclosure, the Daily Southtown is the one newspaper I actually receive each morning on my porch, and prior to his last column, I'd always considered Mr. Ladewski to be a capable and diligent writer which makes this recent admission and submission that much harder to comprehend.)

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In Case You Forgot...

There's kind of a big game tonight.

It involves one team from Big Ten country and one team from south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Both teams are previous champions, and both teams have been at or near the top of their respective conferences this season.

One team has the better all-around game, while the other team boosts a couple individual superstars.

One team destroyed the defending champions, while the other team has survived in the toughest division around.

One team seems to always play from ahead, while the other team seems to always rally from behind.

Both teams are coached by men who preach defense, ball control and aren't afraid to slug it out.

One team wants respect, while the other team just wants a little payback.

Of course I'm talking about the Bulls vs. Rockets tonight at the United Center.

Who'd you think I was talking about? A couple silly college football teams?

Oh, there is that BCS Championship thingy tonight too.

My prediction: OSU 31 Florida 17

But more importantly: Bulls 108 Rockets 98

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Weekend Update with Fleece & Flog

Happy Monday, critters, and welcome to the first official weekend recap for 2007. For those living in water-logged -- as opposed to frozen solid -- Chicago, hopefully your perennials haven't started blooming and the maple tree in your front yard hasn't started producing buds. For those in warmer climes, screw you, your suntan and your fruity drink with the little umbrella in it. For those of you in colder climes, ha-ha ha ha-ha! The sports news here in the City of Big Shoulders wasn't what it could have been but it wasn't a complete disaster either.
  • The team that plays on ice reverted to it's losing ways, dumping a few turds in losing to the Nashville Predators on Friday night, 3-8, and the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday, 2-4. The Blackhawks have now lost three in a row and five out of their last six, and the honeymoon is officially over for Denis Savard. Hopefully he enjoyed that Manager of the Year award from Fleece & Flog because 4 for the last 49 on the power play means he may be stripped, tarred and feathered faster than a Chicago lane change on the Dan Ryan Expressway. Martin Havlat missed the last two games with a pulled groin, and captain Adrian Aucoin was a healthy scratch on Sunday. But in good news, 38 year-old Peter Bondra scored again. There's no truth, however, to the rumors that Dale Tallon tried to talk Bobby Hull out of retirement.
  • In Bears news and in a bit of odd irony, for the second straight season the Bears face an opponent they dominated in the regular season: the Seattle Seahawks. NFL flavor of the month, Cowboys QB Tony Romo, proved that men and moisturizing do not go hand in hand when the game winning field goal attempt slipped thru his hands. In other Bears news, Rex Grossman was NOT intercepted this weekend and Tank Johnson could only bring a knife to a gun fight.
  • The Cubs still suck. In other news, Lou Pinella was seen cavorting with Larry Brown.
  • In White Sox news, on Friday starting SS Juan Uribe said he may not play in 2007 due to a Dominican Republic judge ordering him to make mandatory twice monthly appearances in court. On Saturday afternoon, Sox GM Kenny Williams issued a statement saying if Juan Uribe was unavailable, Alex Cintron would take his place in the lineup. Saturday night, Juan Uribe said he WILL be available to play for the White Sox in 2007. On Sunday, negotiations were started between the accuser in the Uribe case and Sox management to frame Scott Podsednik for the Kennedy assassination since there seems to be no other way to get rid of Pods.
  • In local college basketball news, the Illini (12-5, 0-2) suffered their worst home loss in 31 years by losing 62-44 to the best team money can buy, the Ohio State Buckeyes, despite Greg Oden's 3 of 12 shooting from the field. Taking in the game first hand, Isiah Thomas was seen crying in a corner after passing John Paxson somewhere in the bowels of Assembly Hall.
  • In other college basketball news, DePaul (10-6, 1-1) went on the road to Philadelphia and defeated Villanova 73-65 for its first Big East win. Nice win, but just how far have the Blue Demons fallen off the map of Chicago sports? Even if Sammy Mejia were to wear a name tag, he'd be mistaken for Sammy Sosa -- ON HIS OWN CAMPUS!
  • Lastly, the Bulls split back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday losing 91-86 on the road to the New Jersey Nets then pummeling the Detroit Pistons 106-89 at the United Center. Friday night after squandering a 18-0 lead to the Nets, coach Scott Skiles' News Years resolution to stay off the wacky-tobaccy went the way of the 8-track and the Yugo. No word on whether Skiles' man crush Chris Duhon joined him for the festivities or was too busy hitting on short Asian chicks. On Saturday night former Piston Ben Wallace was greeted by his former teammates all wearing headbands. The Body then turned green, ripped off his warm-ups, and gnawed off Detroit coach Flip Saunders' arm. Rasheed Wallace also received a technical for smiling at a Luv-a-Bull, and the Bulls stopped a twelve game losing streak at the UC to the Pistons. On Sunday Luol Deng, shooting 64.7% in his last five games, sunk all twelve of his shots shooting his laundry at the washing machine. Even domestic chores have no chance against Luol right now.
  • One more note: D.T. Kelly is finally out of hibernation and has updated his Sports Page. He's decided to focus more solely on the White Sox and as such has renamed it "The Exploding Pinwheel". I've updated the side link so check it out when you can!

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More Cubby Madness

I have a soft spot in my heart for my friends. No matter what their faults may be, I just can't seem to let them go.

Take for instance the newest "new guy" here at Fleece & Flog: Cubby_Dog. He's an unabashed and extremely loyal Cubs fan.

And yes, before everyone jumps down this Sox fan's throat, I know that's TWO Cubs fans to three Sox fans here. I know the ratio is decreasing. I know my Sox-cred has reached critical mass. Two tears in a bucket...

But despite his major character flaw in being a Cubs fan, he'll be the only guy at Fleece & Flog to completely have my back when it comes to all other major sports. Yes, his Cub love runs deep, but he's crazy about his Bulls, loves cold steel on ice, and can do the best Steve Fuller dance in the Super Bowl Shuffle since, well, Steve Fuller. Oh, and he's a Notre Dame fan -- huge, huge brownie points from me for that.

He's a Chicago guy thru and thru and that means he can take Chris Farley's place at the Super Fans table any day.

So Fleece & Flog fans, give him a hearty welcome, and White Sox fans give him a mighty middle finger. You know, the one with the 2005 World Series ring on it.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

2007: The Year of the Flying V

For me, the start of 2007 is about 5 hours too heavy. At least for the purposes of this post, the year 2007 started at 7:15 PM on December 31, 2006. Why, you ask? Well, at about that time Robbie Gould was kicking a football to the return man for the Green Bay Packers, and a few minutes later, the Flying V was on.

The Flying V (not the guitar pictured to the left, it's just a non sequitur) is that little reaction your gut gets every time a play by your favorite sports team goes awry. It's that dry heave you feel when a hometown batter strikes out with the bases loaded and trailing with two outs in the bottom of the 9th. It's that stomach jerk you feel when a goalie gives up a sudden death overtime goal to an arch rival. It's the sour stink that rumbles thru your olfactory nerves after the gut punch that is missing a game winning field goal.

Scott Norwood knows all about it, as do most of the denizens of Buffalo, New York. And the Flying V appeared in mass quantities mere seconds after the T.V. announcer uttered those famous words, "Wide right!"

Yes, the Flying V is ubiquitous in sports, professional and amateur. Some athletes and even fans acquire the syndrome pregame, some feel its wrath while in play, but most enjoy -- in a William Wallace purged by pain way -- its grip and hold shortly after the final buzzer sounds.

And this first four days of 2007, I've experienced the Flying V in all its gory glory.

Bears vs. Packers. Bulls vs. Suns. Notre Dame vs. LSU.

The appearance of the Flying V at the Bears/ Packers mess was a little unexpected. After all, the game was meaningless -- even for the Packers. Whether the Bears won or lost, their fate was sealed, and I thought I could sit and watch the game in relative comfort and without the aid of some TUMS or Rolaids. But when Rex Grossman decides to relive the Arizona, Miami and New England game ALL IN ONE HALF, and his backup decided to end any controversy by making Kyle Orton look like a better option, the Flying V is bound to find its mark. And in two weeks, when the Bears take the field for their playoff game, the Flying V will undoubtedly be present.

As for the Notre Dame/ LSU beat down (I will get to the Bulls vs. Suns later), not many people were giving the Golden Child, St. Charles and the Caucasian wide receiver much of a chance, but the loyalty invested in a college football team runs deeper than the San Andreas fault and a magnetism drew my hand to the remote control to suffer what was sure to be another appearance of the Flying V.

I wasn't disappointed.

14-0 at the end of the 1st quarter, a missed FG, a turnover and a momentum killing drive late in the 2nd quarter was all this ND fan needed to feel the stinging wrath of the Flying V. Halftime presented me an opportunity to escape the Flying V's clutches -- a diversion, a trip to bountiful -- and I took it, spared the walls of the viewing room any more abuse, and retired to a restaurant without an idiot box.

Not long enough.

Upon my return, idiot turns idiot box back on. Commercial. First jerk of the Flying V. Another commercial. Anchovy-laden stomach lurches a little more. Bingo. Scoreboard. 34-14. Return of the Flying V in all his olive and green pepper glory. Bathroom. Porcelain god. Good night. Winner: 2007's Flying V.

I take the case of the Flying V associated with the Bulls vs. Suns very seriously for it was the worst form of the entity -- the sudden, gripping malignancy that accompanies any groin shot. That night, that dastardly dirty Tuesday night the Bulls were on their way to ascending to the conference throne. They were even captain-less and still they were playing cat and mouse with the highest scoring team in the NBA. They controlled the tempo, passed the ball like the immortal team from Hickory, and had their own Jimmy Chitwood knocking down shot after shot after shot.

But the 2007 Flying V wouldn't let this night be. No, he turned January 3rd into the next January 1st, better known as National Hangover Day. And as Leandro Barbosa is raising up for his game winning three pointer, in unison the Flying V is rising up in my throat, bringing with it all its Miller Lite and Black Haus badness to remind me that I have no control over the sickness. I have no ability to stop the madness that is the 2007 Flying V, and he's gonna be around all year long.

Yes, that night I realized I'm in for some grave disappointments this season. Will it be the Bears losing it Super Bowl? Will it be another first round playoff exit for the Bulls? Who knows. What I do know is that the 2007 will be the Year of the Flying V, and I'm helpless to stop it. Who knows, maybe it's even warning me of a Cubs World Series win to be.

Me and my damn queasy stomach.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Goodbye 2006! Hello 2007!

I've always hated Year in Review stories that were published or printed or broadcast before December 31st of the year being reviewed. Generally, these kind of stories run the week between Christmas and New Years, and I was always worried that something B-I-G happening would be left out of the festivities. It reminds me of how my old high school yearbooks always used to wrap some spring events from the previous school year into a yearbook that had nothing to do with that year; my freshman yearbook has all these pictures of people I never saw walk the halls at my school.

We at Fleece & Flog have decided to wait until 2006 was completely laid to rest before having our first ever "Year in Review" post. Me and the guys take a look back at the year in Chicago sports stories and have no reason to think we missed anything since it's now 2007. Also included are some minor prognostications for 2007 in the hopes that this year outshines the last, and we can always revisit the silliness that a "Cubs will win the 2007 World Series" vision provides and make fun of the guy (ChicagoCubbin, maybe?) who made such an outrageous claim.

So as our first post of 2007, here's our look back at 2006.

2006 Chicago Professional Team of the Year:

James: Chicago Rush: Arena League Champions! (Sorry, Jeeves, but the Fire weren't the only team to win a championship in Chicago in 2006.)
Jeeves: Chicago Fire. They are the only team to bring home a championship to Chicago, bringing in the US Cup, but if they're not considered enough of a pro team, I gotta say Da Bears. They've locked up the best record in the NFC and have a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl.
ChicagoCubbin: Bears
Soxually Repressed: The Bulls gave eventual champs Miami all the could handle earlier in the playoffs.


College Team of the Year in Chicago (the whole Big Ten counts too):

James: Bradley basketball. Led by big man Patrick O'Bryant, they made a nice run during March Madness.
Jeeves: Ohio State (although it kills me to say it.) They're in a position to win the NCAA Football championship, and have to be considered co-favorites with Wisconsin for the Big Ten title in basketball.
ChicagoCubbin: Ohio State
Soxually Repressed: Hint: They had a very good year against mostly crummy teams, had a Heisman hopeful, and lost the last game they played in California. Answer: N.I.U. What does another LOCAL team match those criteria? BIG TEN team? Even if Ohio State loses, they probably get the nod.


White Sox of the Year:

James: Jermaine Dye, hands down. At one point, he was the leading AL MVP candidate.
Jeeves: Jermaine Dye. He's our MVP, hands down.
ChicagoCubbin: Jon Garland
Soxually Repressed: Joe Crede. Had a Gold Glove robbed from him, saving Reinsdorf money at the negotiation table.


Cub of the Year:

James: Carlos Zambrano. Despite cramps from surfing the net -- and possibly pole stroking -- he was the only Cub with any real emotion or desire on the team.
Jeeves: I honestly couldn't say.
ChicagoCubbin: Zambrano
Soxually Repressed: Carlos Zambrano. If he's the first player a non-Cub fan thinks of, before the third-baseman who shows up after the manager give up on the season, it is a good indication of his importance. (Hello run-on sentence.)


Blackhawk of the Year:

James: Martin Havlat is the most dominating player on the Blackhawks, and when he was injured, it showed in the win column.
Jeeves: The 'Hawks have been an utter disappointment in pretty much all areas. Martin Havlat represented hope during the first 13 games of the season before getting hurt. Those 13 games represent the most impressive and productive of any player, including Bulin Wall's recent hot stretch, so for that reason alone he gets my nod in a category void of legitimate contenders.
ChicagoCubbin: Denis Savard
Soxually Repressed: When in doubt in hockey, pick the goalie. If he's hurt, pick the leading scorer. If he's hurt, pick a top defenseman. If he's hurt, credit the coach. If he's been fired,(it is hockey after all), blame the owner. When blaming the owner see the 'Worst Owner' question.


Bull of the Year:

James: Kirk Hinrich. Anytime a player gets to play on the Team USA, he's usually are doing something right. He's the catalyst on the fastest rising team in the NBA.
Jeeves: Andres Nocioni. Benny G was too up and down, and Noc absolutely carried us in the playoffs.
ChicagoCubbin: Ben Gordon
Soxually Repressed: Luol Nocioni or Andres Deng, take your pick.


Bear of the Year:

James: Brian Urlacher, although maybe he should be disqualified for having a Jordan-like consistency.
Jeeves: Urlacher. The face of the defense and the franchise. His effort alone in the Cardinals game will always stand out to me. I'll never forget how he just ripped the ball away from Edge.
ChicagoCubbin: Urlacher
Soxually Repressed: The portrait of consistency (at least ON the field) B. Urlacher.


Fire Player of the Year:

James: Yeah, like I know anything about soccer. I leave this one for Jeeves to answer.
Jeeves: Justin Mapp. He was the man that linked the defense in the offense, and knew just the right time to push up or drop back. It was really a breakout year for him.
ChicagoCubbin: I refrain from answering this question due to the fact that there is only one recognized fire in Chicago history and that nearly ruined the whole town.
Soxually Repressed: When in doubt, in Futbol, pick the goalie. If you still care, move to any other country beside maybe Canada.


College Player of the Year in Chicago:

James: Brady Quinn is the golden boy and even made a token appearance at the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan, but "the Shark" Jeff Samardzija deserves this award because he not only became the all-time greatest WR in Notre Dame history, he pitched for the Cubs' class A minor league farm teams Boise and Peoria. Oh, and did I mention that he's a huge White Sox fan? That'll always win you awards at Fleece & Flog.
Jeeves: (Again, ew) Troy Smith.
ChicagoCubbin: Brady Quinn
Soxually Repressed: LOCAL: Heisman hopeful Garret Wolfe


Game of the Year in Chicago:

James: I have a few I'd like to nominate. Of course Da Bears vs. Arizona and the Monday night miracle! That night Denny Green uttered a sound bite destined to remain in the Chicago (and national) lexicon for eternity, but it was also the most fun I've ever had watching a non-playoff game at the pub.

Secondly, the Bulls season opening 42 point blow out of the defending champion Miami Heat led to more than one or two drunken howls at the moon that Halloween evening.
Jeeves: Cardinals vs. Bears
ChicagoCubbin: Bears/Arizona
Soxually Repressed: OSU-UM Best Series/playoff: Bulls vs. Miami Heat.


Manager/Coach of the Year in Chicago:

James: Denis Savard. (Yes, above Scott Skiles and Lovie Smith.) Since taking over for Trent Yawney, he's vaulted the Blackhawks near .500 this late in the season for the first time in a decade. Charlie Weis is a close 2nd.
Jeeves: Ron Rivera
ChicagoCubbin: Lovie Smith
Soxually Repressed: Skiles got his team the farthest.


Worst Player(s) of the Year in Chicago:

James: Scott Podsednik and the demons in his head. Tim Thomas getting paid NOT to play.
Jeeves: Tim Thomas
ChicagoCubbin: Tank Johnson/ let the team down
Soxually Repressed: Maybe Podsednik isn't THE worst, but he's the most memorably, consistently bad.


Worst owner/ manager in Chicago:

James: Maybe Bill Wirtz wins the lifetime achievement version of this award, but Dusty Baker wins the 2006 version for being as clueless as a Jay Mariotti column about sports.
Jeeves: Wirtz
ChicagoCubbin: Dusty Baker
Soxually Repressed: Baker took a team with some talent and after one (albeit good) player went down used it as an excuse to throw in the towel way early in the season. Essentially told twenty-four other guys they sucked too much to win anything. Buttermaker was better.


Biggest 2006 Chicago knucklehead(s):

James: Michael Barret and his weak ass right cross. Tank Johnson thinking Gurnee is a good place for a weapons depot.
Jeeves: Tank Johnson. Weakening an already weak (relatively speaking) run defense could kill Chicago's Super Bowl hopes.
ChicagoCubbin: Javier Vazquez implodes in the 6th all the time
Soxually Repressed: If it isn't Tank Johnson, how screwed up is the yutz that beat him out?


Biggest blunder by a 2006 Chicago team:

James: Ozzie continuing to start Rob Mackowiak in CF, Cubs sticking with the notorious toothpick killer, Dusty Baker, for the whole season. Where are the tree huggers when you need them?
Jeeves: The Cubs depending on a healthy Prior and Wood.
ChicagoCubbin: Sox miss playoffs
Soxually Repressed: Cubs not firing Baker sooner. Like last year.


Best and Worst free agent signing/ trade involving any Chicago team:

James: Best: Martin Havlat, Ben Wallace, Jim Thome (for half a season at any rate.) Worst: Javy Vazquez and all his 6th inning gory, Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones and his love affair with Chicago in general.
Jeeves: Best: Kirk Hinrich. Bargain price for one of the better point guards in the league. Worst: Jason Marquis. He's essentially getting paid for once decent year.
ChicagoCubbin: Worst: Ted Lilly Best: Alfonso Soriano
Soxually Repressed: Best:At the time; Sox trading for Thome. Worst:Now; trading away a solid centerfielder in A. Rowand.


Favorite sports-related moment of 2006:

James: Three days in late March and early April of ring ceremony, banner raising wonderment at U.S. Cellular Field and the envy my Cubs-fans friends felt.
Jeeves: UCLA beating USC.
ChicagoCubbin: Denny Green comments on the Bears: Crown their asses!
Soxually Repressed: Whatever day the Cubs were officially elimanated from the playoffs; was that May or early June?


Biggest Sports Story of 2006 (national or world):

James: The BALCO/ steroids scandal and grand jury testimony leak which could have much greater implications than just its effects on the MLB, and Terrell Owens hijacks the media at every turn.
Jeeves:
ChicagoCubbin: T.O. suicide
Soxually Repressed: Locally, the Tank Johnson debacle. Nationally, out of many to choose from, a good one, if not the best, George Mason's advance in the college hoops tournament.


2006 Chicago story you're most sick of/ over reported:

James: The Ozzie Guillen vs. Jay Mariotti war of words.
Jeeves: Headband-gate and the BCS.
ChicagoCubbin: Rex Grossman’s poor play
Soxually Repressed: Urlacher is overrated stories. Anyone who cares or pays attention should be made to repeat the eighth grade until they learn the other kids are just saying mean words, but words can't hurt.


Current player(s) you'd most like not playing in Chicago in 2007:

James: Scott Podsednik -- but his wife can stay. Lisa, call me!
Jeeves: Scott Podsednik (ha!)
ChicagoCubbin: Rex Grossman
Soxually Repressed: Please trade, waive, cut, ship to a foriegn land for a sack of fungo bats Scott Podsednik.


Next Chicago athlete(s) to become a household name:

James: Devin Hester. Athletes wearing the #23 in this town tend to do quite well. Other #23's: Ryne Sandberg, Jermaine Dye, Robin Ventura, Shaun Gayle, and some guy on the Bulls.
Jeeves: I'm assuming outside of the Midwest...Luol Deng.
ChicagoCubbin: Ben Gordon steps up his play. Gordon/ Jordan comparisons rage!
Soxually Repressed: D. Wade already has a commercial with Barkley (who bizarrley has his own homage-named band).


Best athlete from Chicago not playing for a Chicago team:

James: Sure, Dwyane Wade can say he won with Shaq and schmoozed with Sir Charles, but let's look past the media darling and find a more worthy candidate. How about 2006 Olympic speed skating gold medalist and south side native Shani Davis? Sure he might have sabotaged his teammates chances at a relay gold medal by not participating in the event, but damn, if this isn't about individual accomplishments. Can Dwyane Wade say he earned a gold medal? Nope, he only earned a bronze medal at the World Championships in 2006.
Jeeves: D-Wade. Led the heat to the championship.
ChicagoCubbin: Wade, obviously
Soxually Repressed: Well...D. Wade won a championship in his sport before Jordan won his, and he has that funny spot with Barkley previously mentioned, AND he did play high school ball in the town I live in. Okay, Wade.


Predictions for Chicago Teams in 2007:

James: In chronological order (not order of disappointment), the Chicago Bears lose the Super Bowl when Rex Grossman, down 24-20 late in the 4th quarter, mistakes San Diego Charger Shawne Merriman for TE Desmond Clark and hands him the ball on an attempted double-reverse flea flicker -- his record-tying 5th individual turnover of the game. In the post game interview room, Lovie Smith asks for a police escort to keep Rex's teammates from killing him.

The Chicago Bulls, facing the humility of an All-Star snubbing of the entire team, decide to wear headbands as a sign of team unity. Coach Scott Skiles and GM John Paxson are then forced to suspend the entire team for a game for violating team rules and sign the entire roster of the an NBDL team to 10-day contracts. The team subsequently breaks the record for biggest loss in NBA history as their opponent, the Washington Wizards, outscore the Bulls 245-100. At least the Chicago fans go home with free sandwiches.

The Blackhawks miss the playoffs again, and fans boycott the 2007 home opener. The actual butts-in-seats attendance for game include a few tourists from Japan and a lumberjack from Alberta, Canada who thought he was attending The Great Outdoor Games on Ice.

The Chicago White Sox return to glory and win the 2007 World Series over the...

...the Chicago Cubs, and ChicagoCubbin is forced into posting Siberia as his every post, Cubs-related or not, is subject to vile heckling.

Jeeves: Sox World Series, Bears Super Bowl, Blackhawks 10th in the conference, Cubs fall just short of the wild card, Fire get bounced in the MLS finals. (Yes I'm a homer.)
ChicagoCubbin: Disappointing playoff runs for everyone but the 'Hawks...sorry hockey fans, all two of you
Soxually Repressed: The Sox will play cat and mouse with the Twins for the Central, with Detroit fading like the Sox did this year. The Cubs will regret not getting better pitching, like the Cubs did last year. The Bulls will make the Conference Finals, IF they don't play Detroit before then. The Bears will try VERY hard to resign Briggs, but will probably say goodbye to injury-ridden Mike Brown. Also, both Grossman and Griese will not both start next season on the same team, especially with Grossman starting. Grossman's playoff's will determine his future with the former Decataur Staleys.


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