Monday, November 23, 2009

Flutie's Silver Anniversary

Loyal readers, on this day, I ask that you take merely a minute of your time and reflect on one of the most miraculous moments in the history of sports. Twenty-five years ago today, Doug Flutie connected on a 65-yard miracle to Gerard Phelan that simultaneously took down the might Miami Hurricanes and changed college football forever. If you are unfamiliar with this iconic piece of Americana, do yourself a favor and get familiar.

Take it away, Brent Musburger...

So Happy Doug Flutie Day, everyone. More to come from A-Rondo the Horn shortly -- likely a college basketball season preview. But until then, stay tuned and stay classy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Picking Up the Pieces After Super Bowl XLIII.5

Loyal readers, having spent the last few days reeling and searching for answers following New England's already infamous loss to Indianapolis on Sunday night, I have overcome the unavoidable irrationality that inexorably follows in the wake of a punch-to-the-gut loss such as this. To that end, I now feel comfortable and confident in my abilities to shed a pragmatic light on this head-scratching game.

So whom or what is to blame for this prime time disgrace? Let's take a closer look into the potential culprits. (Note: I fully realize that this topic has already been debated ad nauseum, but bear with me, a fresh take does lie ahead.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

College Football Road Trip Extravaganza Round Three: Happy Valley

Loyal readers, welcome back for the third and final installment of my 2009 College Football Road Trip Extravaganza. It's been a tiresome, arduous, but ultimately memorable three-week stretch, and I sure hope you have vicariously enjoyed the ride. I have driven through six states (CT, MA, NY, PA, OH, MI) and set foot in two others (IL, NC). I have logged just under two thousand five hundred miles onto my car's odometer, and put several, uh, "miles" on my liver as well. I have reveled in the passion and pageantry of college football with over two hundred and fifty thousand other spectators (on aggregate), and I have single-handedly injected enough money into the American economy via gas purchases to end the current financial crisis. And why did I do it? In a desperate attempt to make up for time and experiences lost by not attending an institution with big time college football -- what I was thinking, I will never know -- I have taken it upon myself to be a part of a world that passed me by. Ergo, I have delved deep into the heart of Big Ten country for the last fortnight and a half and sought to do as the locals do. It has been an experience that has further fueled my fiery fixation with the world of college football -- and all sports for that matter -- by reinforcing what I already knew and loved, but not without throwing me a few curveballs along the way.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Giving Thanks to Greatest Show on Turf 2.0

Loyal readers...(sigh)...I stand before you a broken man. Having just watched the dreaded Yankees buy, er, um...I mean "win" their 27th World Series Title, and the 5th of my lifetime -- and knowing all too well of the impending chest pumping and flagrant arrogance that will be proudly displayed by insufferable Yankee fans for the ensuing calendar year -- I find myself face down on the canvas. Perhaps this will motivate my beloved Red Sox and imbue them with some of the pre-2004 passion that fueled their quasi-dynastic run earlier this decade. I can only hope that Theo Epstein is sick to his stomach at the sight of this Yankee jubilation and wants nothing more to ensure that it does not happen again. This offseason will be very telling. But for the time being, Red Sox Nation isn't choice realty. Needless to say, I am not exactly in love with the world of sports at this moment. But this is not a forum of pessimism and self deprecation (see: Ragin' Rubin). To that end, I have decided to take stock of my [sports] life, and appreciate all the things that I should be thankful for. So, this being the Holiday Season and all, let's gather 'round and give thanks for the following gifts from the world of sports.

A Challenger Arises

Loyal readers, some very exciting new to report. Thanks to some much appreciated feedback, a name has been established for the Texts of Fury segment introduced in Part Two of my College Football Road Trip Extravaganza. This idea was actually spawned by the man, the myth, the legend -- Mr. Adam Rubin himself. I decided that he was a fairly reputable source on this matter. And if you don't like it, tough -- go write your own blog. Nevertheless, from this time forward, the segment formerly known as Texts of Fury shall hereby and forever be entitled....... (drum roll) ....... Ragin' Rubin! Glorious, isn't it? Concise, descriptive, and even alliterative - couldn't have asked for anything more.

And as if this wasn't sufficient excitement for one day, wrap your minds around this new development. Clearly, the capacity for my humble rants to shape the thoughts and actions of those around me has reached magnificent new heights, as in light of my Texts of Fury segment, Rubin has taken it upon his grumpy shoulders to create his own blog! That's right ladies and gentlemen, Ragin' Rubin - A Very Angry Look at the World of Sports is now available for your perusal. Those of you with any sense of morality, a modicum of integrity, or an inkling of self respect need not apply. But for the rest of you ne'er-do-wells and malcontents, I urge that you contain your excitement, abstain from taking to the streets to incite riots or flip cars (or however you express deep euphoria), and go have a look.

So do yourselves a favor and be sure to check that out (well, until he gets more readers than which point I will have to run him into the ground faster than you can say "fratmosphere"). His first order of business regards the upcoming return of the USFL. Did you know that was happening? Do you even know what the USFL is/was? Don't lie, just read and be enlightened. More to come from A-Rondo the Horn shortly, so in the meantime, stay tuned and stay classy.

Monday, November 2, 2009

College Football Road Trip Extravaganza Round Two: Chicago

Loyal readers, welcome back for part two of my three week College Football Road Trip Extravaganza. I have some exciting things for this week, including the debut of what will surely become a column staple, and an opportunity for reader participation (that's you!).

After trip number one (Ann Arbor, MI), I already found myself wishing for nothing more than the luxury of spending the upcoming college football Saturday on my couch, armed with the remote, sweatpants, and a six pack. But there shall be no rest for the weary, so onward I proceed. What’s on tap for this week? Penn State at Northwestern in Evanston, IL. I will be attending the game with my buddy Mike and my friend/Mike's girlfriend, Beth. Beth - a Penn State alumnus - is very excited to support her beloved Nittany Lions and cross yet another Big Ten stadium off her list (she wishes to see Penn State play in every opposing conference venue). Mike goes to the University of Michigan, so he is, shall we say...less excited. We will be spending the weekend in Chicago, a city that this increasingly well-traveled blogger and weekend nomad has yet to experience first hand. So without further ado, let’s get you right into the action with a retro-look back on the weekend that was.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tis the Season - College Football Road Trip Extravaganza

Loyal readers, today marks a truly momentous occasion - the triumphant return of A-Rondo the Horn! After an incredulous five month hiatus the little blog that could has finally returned, so prepare yourselves for a steady flow of sarcasm, sass, and if there's time...a light dusting of sports talk.

It truly is a glorious time of the year. The leaves have changed and the air is crisp as we all revel in the sublime interlude between the scorching humidity of summer and the biting cold of winter. Autumn is upon us, and that means more than cider doughnuts and pumpkin spice lattes. We sports fans now turn our thoughts and gazes to NFL football, postseason
MLB baseball, the drop of the puck, the impending NBA season, and college football (for those who wish to delve deeper into the grandeur of the October sports scene, check out Bill Simmons' latest mailbag). And in this, the most wonderful month of the sporting calendar, what better way to return to the blogosphere than with a retro-diary of an epic three week stretch of college football road trips? None! So prepare yourselves for a detailed account of the pageantry of college football, the beauty of the open road, and the mind-numbing stupidity of seven guys in their early twenties on a three day bender. Let it begin!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cavs-Magic Game 4 Running Diary

With tonight's Sox-Twins game conflicting with Game 4 of Cavs-Magic, and with LeBron James in full blown "watch me play or you will regret it forever" mode, I have thought better of submitting a Sox-Twins recap, in favor of a Bill Simmoms-esque running diary of Game 4. Originality be damned....let's do this!

(Just for the record, since the Magic's tragic dismantling of my beloved Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, I have jumped on the Cleveland bandwagon so hard that I may have broken the wheels and shattered the axles...and I don't feel bad about it. And you can't make me. Needless to say, if you are looking for objectivity and an unbiased perspective, you came to the wrong place.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Twin City Nail Biter

The Red Sox rode the wave of residual momentum from their 12-5 shellacking of the Mets to a 6-5 Memorial Day victory over the Twins. This victory came with considerably more drama, including the enigmatic Jonathan Papelbon giving up his second two-run 9th inning home run in the last three games. The first of these squandered a 2-1 9th inning lead over the Mets on Saturday night in Fenway, resulting in Pap's first blown save since September. The second (given up to the suddenly power-hitting Joe Mauer, who has surpassed his home run total of last season in one month of this season) allowed the Twins to creep within one run, and likely created a collective conniption across Red Sox Nation. Fortunately, both for Papelbon's psyche as well as the mental well being of Sox fans, he managed to slam the door on the Twins and preserve the win, collecting his 12th save in the process.

The Sox victory put an end to the Twins four game win streak, and provided the Twins with only their second loss in their last ten home games. Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hit streak to twenty games with a slow roller over the mound that Minnesota pitcher Francisco Liriano was unable to field. Mike Lowell put together an impressive 4-5 effort, filling in for Ortiz as the DH. Youkilis and Bay each contributed crucial two-run doubles.

Boston pitcher Brad Penny, despite a 5.96 ERA, has quietly put together an impressive 5-1 record in his inaugural Beantown campaign. Overshadowed by the likes of Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, and Boston institution Tim Wakefield, Penny has proved to be an invaluable offseason acquisition. He bounced back from an early home run given up to Michael Cuddyer to pitch into the sixth inning (scattering six hit and three earned runs) despite a sinus problem that caused an upset stomach and vomitting between innings.

Hopefully this win will provide Boston with the requisite confidence and momentum to carry them through the remaining nine games of this season long road trip. Or perhaps some of the momentum can be used to rejuvenate Ortiz's swing, something that the collective will of every Sox fan has failed to do. It will be surreal and bittersweet to see Big Papi return to the lineup outside of the number three spot (which in all likelihood will be the case), but his lackluster performance thus far this season leaves Terry Francona no choice. But even as Papi strikes out by failing to catch up to a 91 mph fastball in his next plate appearance, I plead you to remember the good times and all the he has done for this previously star-crossed franchise, before tossing him under the proverbial bus. And remember, the season is young, and there is more than enough time for Ortiz to get into a rhythm and at least resemble a mere shadow of his former self. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

On the Road Again

On Sunday, the Rex Sox logged a much needed victory at Fenway against the Mets. Although contrarions will be quick to point out the insignificance of a single victory in late May (especially as Boston stands at 26-18), I believe this victory is momentous for morale across Red Sox Nation. A three game sweep at the hands of the Metropolitans would have been devastating heading into their upcoming season long ten game road trip (against the likes of surging Minnesota and resurgent Toronto), especially after squandering arguable ace Josh Beckett's best start of the season (8.0 IP, 1R, oER) the previous night on Jonathan Papelbon's first blown save since last September.

Tim Wakefield delivered his typical shaky-yet-solid performance (6.0 IP, 7H, 5ER) and the bullpen slammed the door on the Mets, allowing only one hit over the final three innings. The precocious Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 19 games, JD Drew had a four-hit day, and David Ortiz's painful struggles at the plate continued. But perhaps trumping all of that was the biblical weather that befell Fenway Park, resulting in a 36 minute rain delay. Seeing golf ball sized hail rain down upon the Fenway faithful on a May afternoon seemed to be an ominous portent of doom for the Sox, but fortunately such was not the case.

And so the Sox hit the road, riding the hot bats of Ellsbury and Youkilis and a starting rotation that finally seems to be rounding into shape, after being prematurely dubbed as one of the league's best. Also, look for Ortiz to finally move down in the batting order, much to the chagrin and dismay of Red Sox Nation. Manager Terry Francona will sit Ortiz for the Memorial Day game against lefty ace Francisco Liriano, and expect to see Big Papi return to the lineup against Minessota's righties somewhere besides the number three batting spot that has owned during his auspicious stint with the Sox.

With the Sox standing atop the AL East standings for the first time this season (0.5 games up on Toronto, 1 game up on New York), this road trip appears to be as important as a ten game stretch in late May can be. With the slugging Yankees finally hitting their stride and nipping on Boston's heels (amazingly, A-Rod's presence in the lineup has single-handedly rejuvenated struggling slugger Mark Teixeira), the Sox have their work cut out for them if they wish to remain atop the standings for long.

The Forgotten Superstar

Superstars are the lifeblood of the world of sports, and no sport is in more dire need of the benefits of star power more than hockey. Still recovering from the fallout of the ignominious lockout and the subsequent canceling of the 2004-2005 season, the NHL is desperately trying to rid itself of the stigma of "niche sport" and return to its rightful place among the four major sports. Thanks to a much needed infusion of young talent and a riveting 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs (including a renewal of the Bruins-Habs rivalry and Gary Bettman's dream scenario of a 7-game Pens-Caps series), an auspicious future lies ahead for the NHL. Many credit hockey's recent pseudo-resurgence to the much ballyhooed rivalry between Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin, but lost in this debate is possibly the only under-the-radar superstar of any sport: Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin (the one possible exception: Kevin Durant).
If it is possible to lead the NHL in regular season scoring and be a Hart Trophy finalist while flying - or in this case, skating - under the radar, Malkin has pulled it off. His on-ice exploits are no secret to puck die-hards, but he is largely unappreciated by the casual fan (as is the sport itself). After being the second overall pick in the 2004 NHL draft, the gifted centerman burst onto the scene by winning the 2007 Calder Trophy (as the NHL's top rookie), being named a Hart Trophy finalist in his 2008 and 2009 campaigns, and winning the 2009 Art Ross Trophy (as the NHL's scoring champ). Quite a resume for a team's so called "second best" player.

Lacking the notoriety and bad boy image of fellow Russian Ovechkin and avoiding the limelight and pressure that seems to be reserved for teammate and NHL golden boy Sidney Crosby, Malkin has flourished, forcing himself to be included in the "NHL's best player" debate. At the time of this posting, Malkin is the leader in postseason scoring (28) and second in postseason goals (12), legitimizing his status as a big time playoff performer. Anyone who is not yet convinced of Malkin's place among hockey's elite, check out his video game-esque goal which clinched a hat trick against stellar netminder Cam Ward in Game 2 of Pittsburgh's Eastern Conference Finals matchup with Carolina. That filthy backhand certainly rivals Ovechkin's much hyped one-on-five goal in Game 5 of Washingon's first round series against the Rangers. You be the judge.

Ultimately, I believe it is time that the NHL's other talented Russian* receive his due as not merely one of the NHL's best young players, not simply a second fiddle on a talent-ridden Penguins roster, but as a legitimate superstar. It would be disingenuous not to put Sid the Kid and Alex the Great atop that list as well, as they are the standard to which all elite NHL players should be judged. But Malkin, the forgotten superstar, is closing the abject horror of opposing players and coaches across the league.

As the Penguins enjoy a 3-0 series lead over Carolina, all but assured of a second straight Stanley Cup Finals appearance, Malkin stands upon the cusp of greatness - five victories away from hockey immortality and a place in Pittsburgh lore, among the likes of Lemieux and Jagr. And with Malkin and notable cohorts Crosby and Jordan Staal all 22 or younger, the Penguins appear poised to dominate the Eastern Conference, and perhaps the entire league, for potentially the next decade. As a Bruins fan, I am terrified. As a hockey fan, I am pinching myself. Rest assured, Evgeni, you won't be forgotten for long.

*Not to suggest that Malkin and Ovechkin are the only talented Russians in the NHL. Other notable talents include Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk, and Washington's Alexander Semin, among many other natives of the reservoir of hockey talent that is Russia.