Just Win

“Just Win Baby.”  It’s a simple motto, and one that has been associated with the Oakland Raiders for as long as I can remember.  Late owner Al Davis had the right approach when his Raiders adopted the motto.  Just win.  In football, that is all that matters.  His team, the other NFL teams, and college teams, are judged by how many games they win.

Which brings me to this.  In the wake of Auburn’s thrilling victory over Alabama this past weekend in the Iron Bowl, there is already talk that the winner of the SEC Championship Game this weekend, should leap-frog Ohio State and into the National Championship Game in Pasadena, assuming Ohio State wins.  The winner would take on Florida State, assuming the Noles win this weekend.

Make no mistake about it, I am no Ohio State fan, and I find very few opportunities to defend them, but in this case, it is warranted.  Contrary to what the Auburn AD might have people believe, it would not be “un-American” if a team from the SEC was not in Pasadena.  Not one bit at all.

Winning is what matters, and Ohio State and Florida State have won all of their games thus far.  They are the only two to be able to make that claim.  If they both win this weekend, they both deserve to be in Pasadena.  Period.

I don’t want to hear about strength of schedule or how tough a conference is.  I want to hear about what matters.  Wins.  Last I checked, both teams in the SEC Championship Game have one loss.  It does not matter to me at all that Missouri lost in double overtime; they still lost.  Auburn lost by 14 to LSU.  Lost.

I doubt that I am alone in my thinking on this.  I also think that a team should not be able to play for the National Championship without having first won their conference, and a few years ago, a team from the SEC made it to the National Championship without even winning their division.  That’s right, they did not even win their division, conference be damned.

I guess while I am at it, I should point out something else that I find ridiculous:  people who will rant and chant “SEC-SEC” about how great their conference is.  I have had friends of mine who are Florida fans rub in my face that the SEC has won the last 7 BCS Championships; they brag that Alabama has won the last two and three of the last four.  Cheering for how great your conference is is sort of like a Red Sox fan hoping the Yankees can win the World Series for the pride of the American League East.  Stupid.  And not going to happen.

I honestly care only about one team’s chances of going to Pasadena, and that is Florida State’s.  Who they play does not matter to me one bit.

It Should Be A Holiday

Today is really one of my favorite days of the year.  It should really be a national holiday.  No, I am not talking about April Fools’ Day, although it does happen to coincide with it this year.

I am talking about, of course, Opening Day.

I am a huge baseball fan.  In years past, I would call in “sick” on Opening Day, just so I could park myself on the couch and watch a marathon day of baseball.

I am a Red Sox fan.  Big time.  Through the good times, and the bad times.  I kept a glimmer of hope in September 2011 as they slowly imploded, missing the playoffs; I endured the torture of Bobby Valentine’s tenure (2012), when injuries and underperforming ruled the day.  Through it all, I have stayed loyal.

It has been years, however, since I sat here on Opening Day with such low expectations from the Sox.  To be perfectly honest, I would be thrilled with 85 wins from them, especially coming off a 69-win disaster of a season.  The pitching staff was dreadful last year, and the rest of the team, with a few exceptions, was not much better.

I am hopeful for what the 2012 season brings for the Sox.  I am confident that Jon Lester will bounce back and be the pitcher he was developing into before last season; I am confident Clay Buchholz will continue to improve, and that Ryan Dempster was a good addition to the staff; and I am confident that John Lackey is going to silence some of the haters, if only because he has always seemed to me to be one of those pitchers who pitched better when he was pissed off, and that is how he should pitch this year.  I like what Will Middlebrooks brings to the lineup (“Wake and Rake”), and Dustin Pedroia is a player any manager would love to have.  I like that they brought in David Ross, Mike Napoli, and Shane Victorino because those guys just seem to put their heads down and get the job done.  From the small sample size that I have seen out of Jackie Bradley, Jr., his energy could be and should be contagious to the rest of the team, though it seems like he will be sent to the minors when David Ortiz returns.

I am not making any predictions for this year, because I am not really good at them.  I will watch the Sox every chance I get, and I will enjoy watching Bryce Harper and the Nationals when they are on, too (talk about someone with his motor constantly running, Bryce Harper is fun to watch).  I am rooting for the Pirates to finally get over the .500 mark for the first time since I was in middle school.

The More I Think About It

Yesterday, after it was revealed that the Hall of Fame would be inducting exactly zero players this summer, I expressed my opinion.  I focused on Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens.  Two of the three are very much suspected to have used PEDs during their career (Bonds and Clemens).  I neglected to point out how Mike Piazza, who was probably the best offensive catcher in baseball history, was also snubbed.  Four players who should have been elected.

For the Hall of Fame to truly claim that it celebrates the best of baseball, guys like Clemens and Bonds have to be in.  Whether or not they used steroids is not the point.  If they did, the same writers who took the moral stand against them and did not vote for them, were complicit in the coverup in not reporting it from the start.  But apparently morality has different standards based off of who is claiming the high ground.

The Hall of Fame proudly displays artifacts directly attributed to both Clemens and Bonds.  Items such as the glove used while striking out 20 in a game, or first base from home run 715, or the ball from home run 756.  The Hall is most likely in possession of dozens of game-used artifacts from two players deemed unworthy of enshrinement.  Can you say hypocritical?  But, you may ask, don’t the fans deserve to see the ball that Bonds clobbered for home run number 756?  Sure, why not?  But to celebrate that feat while excluding the player is insane.  The Hall has the same standard when it comes to Pete Rose.

The more I think about next year’s ballot, when guys like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, and Frank Thomas are eligible for the first time, how would the voters be able to justify voting any of them in?  Just because nobody has said that they used PEDs, does not mean they did not.  They should face the same standard as Bonds and Clemens.  But Maddux and Glavine are rail-thin, you may say.  Sure they are, but it has not been only gigantic sluggers who have been busted for PED use.  Andy Pettitte admitted to using steroids to help him get back on the mound quicker, and he looks more like Glavine or Maddux than he does like Bonds or Clemens.  How do we know that Maddux and Glavine were clean?  Because they were nice guys who went out every 5 days and took the ball?  So they never had anything bother them that some ice couldn’t handle?  I will admit that it is a stretch to think that either Maddux or Glavine ever used PEDs.  You can’t just assume they didn’t because they were not assholes to the media like Bonds or intense and fiery like Clemens; Andy Pettitte is very cordial to the media, and stays rather even keel on the mound, yet he used steroids.

Maddux and Glavine are pretty sure bets to be elected next year, and Mussina and Thomas will probably be elected as well (if they are not, they will fall just short).  It is a shame that Clemens and Bonds are unlikely to be there with them.

Mixed Feelings

I am a life-long baseball fan.  I have rooted for the Red Sox since the mid-80s.  My first “real” job was working for the single-A affiliate of the Montreal Expos.

I have mixed feelings today.  The 2013 Hall of Fame class was announced today.  Zero players received the necessary 75% of votes to be enshrined.

I have mixed feelings today because the voters made their voices heard that they have strong feelings toward known and suspected steroids users.  I am not going to sit here and wax poetic about the purity of the game being ruined by steroids, or that it was ok for players to inject themselves because everyone else was doing it.  But I will acknowledge that what so many writers spoke out against today was something that was not against baseball’s rules until a decade ago, and is also something they willingly and knowingly ignored for years.  They are almost as culpable as the players in the rampant use of steroids in the 1990s and into the early part of this century.

But if you take their supposed standing on the moral high ground that they are protecting the integrity of the game by not voting in alleged steroid users at its face value, it holds no water.  The Hall of Fame is a museum that enshrines the best players of a given era.  And the era where steroids were all over clubhouses existed, and to once again turn a blind eye to it only further soils the integrity and reputation of the game.  Baseball writers had no issue with the integrity of the game when the Hall was merely a club for white boys, since minorities were not allowed to play in the majors until 1947.  Shoot, my beloved Red Sox did not integrate until 1959, a full 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.  Yet the greatest hitter to ever live, Ted Williams, is enshrined in the Hall (and rightly so); wouldn’t it be fair to discount his stats from 1947 until 1959 because the integrity of the game was compromised?  I don’t think it would.  And it is also not fair to not vote in a single player this year.

A player who played all of his 20 seasons with one team, the Houston Astros, and amassed 3,060 hits during that time, while becoming an All-Star at three positions in his career did not get voted in.  Craig Biggio has never been linked to steroids, yet somehow did not hit the 75% threshold.  Where is the integrity of the writers there?

If you want to make the argument that Barry Bonds does not deserve to be elected, you certainly could.  It is widely speculated and accepted that he took steroids.  I have a picture of me standing next to him in the late 1980s when he was with the Pirates; he weighed no more than than I do today, and was skinny as a rail.  It is a safe bet to be on the side of those who believe he used steroids.  Does that discount the fact that he was among the best players of his era?  As much as it pains me to write it, no, it does not.  Bonds retired with 762 home runs, and has the single-season mark of 73 homers.  He has a roomful of MVP awards.  Just because he was the best user of the users does not diminish what he did.  If the Hall wants to make a note of the “Steroid Era” on his plaque, they should go ahead and do it.  To leave him out is ridiculous.

The same goes for Roger Clemens.  It is not as clear that he used steroids, but there is a pretty good argument that he did.  For full disclosure, I was and remain a huge Roger Clemens fan.  As a Red Sox fan, I despise anything to do with the Yankees (on the field only.  Off the field, I have no issue with any of their players.), yet if you were to walk in to the guest room in my house, there is an autographed picture of Roger Clemens, wearing pinstripes.  Clemens was arguably the best pitcher of the steroid era.  He notched 354 wins, struck out 20 batters in a game twice (of the four times it has been done, Clemens has half of them to his credit), and won 7 Cy Young Awards.  So those same writers who voted him as the best pitcher in his league 7 times, are now all high and mighty about voting him into the Hall?  Talk about integrity.

Biggio received 69% of the votes, so it is safe to assume that he will make it in next year.  He will be joined by at least Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, although if the writers want to be consistent and not vote them in on the first ballot because they pitched during the same era as Clemens and against Biggio and Bonds, it would only be the right thing to do.  You know, for the integrity of the game, especially since, like Biggio, neither of those two pitchers have been linked to steroid use.  Clemens received 37.6% and Bonds received 36.2%, and it is unlikely they will double their total next year.

I have no problem with Bonds and Clemens being voted into the Hall of Fame, and I have no problem if they are not in, either.  But spare me the “integrity” arguments from the writers.  They are complicit in the rampant use of steroids almost as much as the players who were suspected of using or were confirmed to have used.  Voting no new members into the Hall today had nothing to do with protecting the integrity of the game or the Hall of Fame  and everything to do with making themselves bigger than the game.

Strength In The Storm

I have a strong connection with Penn State.  My dad went there.  I went to one of their satellite campuses to play baseball my freshman year of college.  The first college football game I attended was the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl when the Lions played my Noles (I was one of two people in our group cheering for FSU that day), and I have been to several other bowl games of their since then.

At this time last year, Happy Valley was not so happy, and rightfully so.  The football program was wrapped up in an ugly scandal, one that cut deep.  There is no need to recap that whole situation here other than to say that I have always felt that one man’s sick actions did not necessarily represent the beliefs and values of the entire university.

When the NCAA announced it was punishing the Nittany Lions for the scandal, even though they gained no on-field competitive advantage and it really was not an NCAA matter, I had my concerns.  While I am a Seminole first, I want to see Penn State do well, unless they are playing FSU.  Even a novice football fan could tell that a 4 year bowl ban, coupled with a loss of 10 scholarships during that time, was going to hurt the Lions for a long time.  Some suggested it would take a decade for the program to recover, and that might still be the case.

When Bill O’Brien was hired away from the New England Patriots to replace Joe Paterno, I thought they made a good choice.  No, he was not a “Penn State guy,” but when is that a requirement to be a good coach?  PSUIt’s not, but some Penn State alumni vowed to stop supporting the program because he was hired.  It told me a lot about their character.

The college football world learned a lot about the character of Bill O’Brien after the sanctions were announced.  He could have voided his contract, and any number of schools and NFL teams would have been happy to hire him, but he did not do that.  He put his head down and got to work.  Some players, including star running back Silas Redd left the program, but O’Brien just kept on working.  A vast majority of the team stayed on for this season, and that told me a lot about the character of those young men.  They were committed to the university, the program, and to O’Brien.  In an unprecedented move for the program, O’Brien had player names put on the back of the jerseys this season.  It was a way to reward the players who stayed, and a way to show that those players would be held accountable for their play this season.  He was not giving them a free pass because things got tough.

Penn State promptly lost its first two games of this season, and I saw a lot of articles and Facebook comments about how happy people were that they had struggled.  Some people felt justification in the struggles of college athletes who had nothing to do with what had happened, and they were taking out their anger and disgust on these young men; I did not understand it then, and I do not understand it now.

With 10 games to go in the season, it appeared as if the Lions were in for a long season, and that it just might take them a decade to recover.  Then they went out and won 8 of those 10 games, and it can be argued that the Nebraska game might have had a different outcome had a touchdown not been incorrectly ruled a fumble.

At 8-4, Penn State would have been bowl eligible this year, but they will not be heading to a bowl.  The players who stayed for the 2012 season showed a lot of character, and will be remembered more because of it than they would have if they had gone to the Alamo Bowl or some other bowl.  The entire team was inducted into the Ring of Honor at Beaver Stadium, and rightfully so.

Bill O’Brien showed what it is like to demonstrate strength through a storm.  While the storm is not yet over, O’Brien sent the message that he is going to face it head-on.  I am excited about the future of the program under Bill O’Brien, even with the inevitable drop-off that is bound to happen over the next few seasons because of the reduction in scholarships.  The Penn State program is going to be stronger on the other side of the storm with O’Brien leading the way.  He was the right man for the job, and I hope he sees it through.  Maybe his approach to the whole situation can be attributed to who he worked for before heading to Happy Valley..Bill Belichick.  Say what you want about Belichick’s coaching style or personality, but there is no denying the success he has had by taking every day as it comes, and every game as its own event; there is no need to get caught up in what tomorrow might bring or in things that are beyond your control.

Whether or not you are a Penn State fan, or whether or not you believe that the program should be punished for the actions of a sick man, you cannot deny that Bill O’Brien did a tremendous job this season.

 

Deserving

Maybe I am a bit biased, but I think that, hands-down, the winner of the 2012 Lou Groza Award for the best placekicker in college football is Dustin Hopkins.  A senior for the Noles, Dustin has been the kicker here for four years (he replaced Graham Gano as a freshman after Gano won the Groza Award in 2008 and went to the NFL).

Putting his career records aside, although being the all-time leading scorer among kickers in college football history and being tied for the most career field goals made (87, and the record will be his alone after this weekend most likely) should count for something, let’s just look at his numbers from this season alone.

For 2012, Dustin is 24-for-28 in field goal attempts, with a long of 56.  Included in those figures is that he is a perfect 5-for-5 in attempts over 50 yards.  Outstanding.  He is 58-for-59 on extra point attempts for a total of 130 points this year.  Unreal.

If that is not enough, let’s not overlook the impact he has on the defense.  How can a kicker impact a defense, you ask?  I am glad you did.  Dustin has teed the ball up for a kickoff 95 times this season, and has recorded 40 touchbacks.  His average kickoff travels 62.9 yards.  Compared to FSU opponents who have kicked off 41 times with 10 touchbacks and an average of 58.7 yards per kickoff, the difference in noticeable.  If not for the rule change this year that brings a touchback out to the 25 yard line, I am fairly certain Dustin would have a higher number of touchbacks this year.

There is good news.  You can help Dustin win the award by going to the Lou Groza Award website (right here) and voting for Dustin.  If he wins, he will join Sebastian Janikowski (1998 and 1999) and Graham Gano (2008) as winners, and give the Noles 4 Groza Awards in the trophy case (no other school has won more than one, but with the other two finalists this year, Cairo Santos and Caleb Sturgis, representing schools that had a previous winner, Tulane and Florida respectively, there is a chance that FSU will no longer stand alone as the only school with multiple wins).  Voting only takes a second, so go ahead and vote already.

First Class

This past weekend, I had the honor of running the Soldier Half Marathon in Columbus, Georgia in honor of my friend John Tinsley, who died in an IED attack in Afghanistan in 2009.  While I was at the packet pickup/expo Friday night, I was waiting at the Fallen Heroes table to have them write Capt. Tinsley’s name for me to wear, when I decided that running in honor of one fallen service member was not enough.  I also ran in honor of SWO-1 Patrick Feeks, who was killed this past August in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. 

The Soldier Marathon events are first class events.  Packet pickup was at the National Infantry Museum, and it is hard to not be in awe from the second you pull into the parking lot.  I do not possess words that are appropriate enough and do justice to the Museum.  During packet pickup, as I noted above, is when I decided to run for a second Fallen Hero.  I decided to do so because I had specifically entered this race to honor my friend, and, while I did not know Patrick Feeks, I wanted to honor his service as well.

During packet pickup and during the run, I noticed several fellow runners had multiple service members they were running for as well.  I was both happy and sad to see that, because for everyone that was handwritten, I knew that there was a personal connection.  I will be honest and say that I was angry at those runners who chose to not participate in the Fallen Hero program, but that is something they will have to live with.

The run itself was just like every other half marathon I have run.  13.1 lovely miles.  What set this apart from the others, however, was the opportunity to run on Fort Benning, and take in such an awesome facility.  Runners even had the privilege of being motivated to get up some of the hills a little faster by a few Drill Instructors; they were motivational for sure.

I ran with a friend who is in the Florida National Guard.  It was his first half marathon, and I was determined to run with him the whole time.  I think we pushed each other at just the right times, and we finished side-by-side.  I have pretty much decided that I will be running this race again next year.

I was humbled after the race as we toured the Museum.  If you ever have the chance to go there, I highly recommend it.  There is an amazing display that makes you feel like you are in the last 100 yards of a Ranger assault (I got chills when I was there, and again writing about it just now).  The coolest part of the entire facility, in my opinion, was the area that was dedicated to recipients of the Medal of Honor.  The Medal of Honor is the highest and most revered honor our nation can bestow on member of our military, and I really do not even feel that I was worthy to be in the same room as one.