Monday, December 7, 2009

An Ax, a Phenom, a Punch, a Beast and a Homecoming

Holy calamity! That was one awesome sports weekend, especially considering there really wasn't anything on worth your time on Friday. But boy, did Friday start off with a bang. Or should I say, an ax?

On Friday, I almost wrote about Stevens, yet again stating my case that he should be fired. To my surprise, as I was walking out of my office around 5 p.m., I received a jubilant phone call from Adam EatShit proclaiming that "they finally did it. We got what we wanted." I had no idea what he was talking about, so I asked for some clarification. "They fired Stevens," he responded. I was stunned. Even though it was abundantly clear that the Flyers were never going to gain any consistency under the guy and the grumblings for his head were finally starting to swirl, he has had plenty of success in a short period of time and seemed to be backed by the organization. I didn't see him getting axed before the new year, if at all.

But boy was I glad when I heard the news. When I got home later, I heard he was being replaced by Peter Lavliolette. It was sort of a "meh" reaction, but definitely not upset about it. The guy does have a Cup. The important thing was that Stevens is out. This called for a celebration of the highest order. Instead I just got drunk with silver fox at the bar down the street as we watched LeBron and Kobe each lead their team to victory, LeBron in easy fashion and Kobe in dramatic fashion.

I'm not sure if you heard, but Kobe and LeBron are pretty good.

That set the stage for a beautiful Saturday afternoon of college football championship games, some de facto championship games, like Cincinnati-Pitt, and others actually championship games, like Florida-Alabama and Texas-Nebraska. It was honestly one of the most exciting Saturdays I've ever seen in college football, and it didn't take long for the excitement to get going.

If you didn't watch the Pitt-Cincinnati game, you are a bad person. Simple as that. And Adam EatShit, a friend of ours and I watched that shit in style. To really enjoy the festivities of the day, you have to have some good eating, so the three of us ventured down to Paesano's right near 2nd and Girard. If you haven't been, make it a priority, because that place has the best god damn sandwiches on earth. No joke. We then returned to kick back and watch the undefeated Bearcats take on Pitt in the de facto Big East championship game … and to watch Kentucky play UNC in Lexington. I love having two TVs.

Truth be told, I was focusing more on the Kentucky-UNC game early on for one simple reason: I couldn't take my eyes off John Wall.

North Carolina jumped out to an early 9-2 lead, making it look like the Wildcats would be in for a long day on their home floor. Then Kentucky went on a 16-0 run, which turned into a 28-2 run, due to one man. That man was John Wall. In that 8 and half minute stretch that saw the Wildcats go from 7 down to up 19, Wall looked every bit like the No. 1 ranked player coming out of high school he was proclaimed to be. He looked every bit like the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. He was head and shoulders above anyone else on the court … in a game between Kentucky and North Carolina. Every single player on each team is a stud recruit, some of the most talented college players on the planet. And Wall was way better than every single one of them.

It was the first time I got to see Wall play from start to finish, and to say I was impressed would be the understatement of the century. His speed in the open court was appalling. His explosiveness to the rim and finishing ability were ridiculous. And his decision making was nearly flawless. Everything about his game looked effortless, fluid, impressive. It was amazing to watch. He has everything you could possibly ask for in a point guard: size, speed, ridiculous handle, tremendous court vision, great decision making, an excellent ability to create, and a lethal scoring touch. He was flat out embarrassing anyone and everyone North Carolina put on him, and he was dominating even when he wasn't scoring the basketball. That's the sign of a truly great point guard.

Of course, that 19-point lead for Kentucky all but vanished in the second half when Wall was limited due to dehydration issues. UNC took advantage and made their run, showing this team has no quit and won't back down. But Kentucky and Wall were just a little too much. The freshman hit two clutch free throws to ice the game and cap of his impressive game: 16 points, 5 boards and 7 assists. Watch him while you can, Wildcat fans, because Wall won't be sticking around in Lexington that long. In just his second month in a college uniform, the guy is already a superstar.

Superstar would be a good word to describe Mardy Gilyard of Cincinnati. Or maybe quiet superstar would be more appropriate.

Pitt played a tremendous game, had a tremendous season, but even the talented Panthers couldn't contain Cincinnati's star senior receiver. Just as Wall stood out above all the rest on the court Saturday, Gilyard was far and away the most dynamic, most explosive player on the field in Pittsburgh. No question about it. He was completely terrifying in the return game — which Pitt already knew, evident by their refusal to kick to him on punts — just annihilating the Panthers on kick returns. He touched the ball seven times off kickoffs, once thanks to some smart placement by Brian Kelly, aware Pitt was trying to kick away from him, torching Pitt for 256 return yards, highlighted by his 99-yard touchdown. Read that again: 256 yards on kick returns. With a 36.6 average. That's frightening. Especially considering he added another 118 yards receiving including a 68-yard touchdown.

Add in the 7 yards he got on the one punt he was actually given an opportunity to return and his stat line is even more absurd: 381 total yards and two touchdowns on 13 touches. That's just stupid. Almost as stupid as Matt Millen.

Listen, Dion Lewis is a stud of a running back — a completely awesome find for Pitt. He was a monster again Saturday, tearing up the Bearcats for 194 yards and three touchdowns on 47 — 47! — carries. His touchdown with 2:24 to go put the Panthers up 44-38 and looked to give them the Big East title. He's a phenomenal player, especially for a lightly recruited freshman. But to continually compare him to Barry Sanders, arguably the greatest running back who ever lived and unarguably one of the three best running backs to ever take the field, is simply absurd. Yes, Lewis is tough to tackle and an elusive runner, but to equate him to the greatest elusive back of all time, one with track star burning speed, and to do it all game long is going more than a bit overboard. Dion Lewis, with the exception of being short and playing running back, does not resemble Barry Sanders one bit. You know why? Not because he's not as fast or as talented, which are both true, taking nothing away from how incredibly talented he is. No, he doesn't resemble Barry because no one resembles Barry Sanders. No one.

I don't recall Dion Lewis doing anything like that. Again, Lewis is incredible. He's had an insane freshman season, breaking Ironhead Heyward's school record of 42 carries in a game Saturday and now just 46 yards shy of Tony Dorsett's freshman record of 1,686 yards, which you have to think he'll break in Pitt's bowl game. But Barry Sanders he is not. Because no one is Barry Sanders except Barry Sanders. Matt Millen is an idiot, and I'm ashamed that he went to Penn State.

Anyway, Matt Millen's stupidity aside, this was quite possibly the most entertaining game of the weekend. Not only was it a shootout that came down to the final moments, not only did each team's stars rise to the occasion, not only were there big plays galore, but most importantly, Pitt lost and Pitt lost by a point while botching their final extra point attempt of the game. That is awesome.

Every bit as awesome as that final throw by Tony Pike, hitting a wide open Armon Binns perfectly in stride on one of the most beautifully thrown passes I've ever seen. Pike had a rough game, completing just 50 percent of his passes and throwing three picks, but he came through when it mattered most, leading his team 61 yards right down the field in just four plays after getting the ball with 1:30 left to go and down my six. Pike was masterful on the drive, getting the Bearcats in the end zone in just 33 seconds. It was a drive for the ages, and it removed any hope Pitt had of reaching a BCS bowl. Great game.

In fact, it was a much better game than the one everyone was anticipating as the marquee matchup of the day between No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Alabama in the SEC Championship game. But that was far from a good game. Bama stomped all over the Gators in blowout fashion, trouncing the Tebows 32-13 and driving college football's golden boy to tears. For some reason, this made me smile.

I have to admit, Bama looked like the best team in the country from start to finish. Greg McElroy was impressive under center, proving he is a prime-time QB ready to lead the hallowed Crimson Tide. The defense was suffocating, intense and delivered bone-crushing blow after bone-crushing blow. Rolando McClain was flying all over the field, Terrence Cody was his mountainous self, and the Tide controlled the game thanks to Mark Ingram, who probably cemented his Heisman Trophy with 113 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries to go along with two caches for 76 yards.

The Tide rolled all over Florida, and it was nice to see the Gators dropped down a peg. But the game was actually pretty boring, and after a wild Cincy-Pitt game and thrilling UNC-Kentucky battle, it was sort of a letdown of a game. I needed more excitement back in my life. Thankfully, the night games offered me plenty of that.

It all started with a punch. A lethal punch at that. In their first game since John Stevens was fired Friday, the first game with Peter Lavliolette at the helm, the Flyers once again fell behind 1-0 to Washington. But finally, mercifully, the Flyers scored to tie it up, breaking an 8-plus period goal-less streak. The game was tied, and the Flyers were showing some fight for their new coach. Then they showed a little too much fight. At least, Dan Carcillo did:

For one reason or another, Carcillo took exception to Bradley's hit and unleashed. He earned a cross check, evident on the replay, a roughing minor, a fighting major and a game misconduct. 19 29 minutes of penalty time, a 9-minute power play for Washington. Not a smart move by Carcillo at all, and one that certainly cost the Flyers. The Caps scored three goals on the resulting penalties to go up 4-1 and never looked back. As a fan, it was an awesome thing to watch Carcillo completely knock out Bradley in one punch, gashing Bradley's face on the lethal blow, but it was something that completely cost the team and let the game get away from the Flyers. Nine minutes of power play time is asking an awful lot from the penalty kill unit. And for his actions, Carcillo was suspended four games, putting the ailing Flyers down another man for four more contests.

Now, Bradley should have gotten a fighting major in my opinion for dropping his gloves, but Carcillo deserved every penalty minute he got. He wailed on Bradley before the guy was even remotely ready, a no-no in fighting. Bradley was left defenseless. Then so were the Flyers, who lost 8-2 after unraveling from the penalty. Ray Emery was pulled. Brian Boucher wasn't any better. And the Flyers continued to struggle. Instead of coming out and proving a point to their new coach, they showed this team has along way to go to get back to the team everyone was expecting to compete with Pittsburgh for a Stanley Cup.

The Sixers were equally pathetic Saturday night. Spending most of our time watching the Flyers and the football games on, we flipped over to the Sixers just in time to see the utter debacle that was the final minute of play. Up by a point with less than a minute left to play, the Sixers gave up a layup to Boris Diaw with 17 seconds to fall behind 104-103. A layup. With the final moments winding down and the team up a point. That's just sad. But wait, it gets worse.

On their ensuing possession, the Sixers got bailed out. With 13 seconds left, Andre Iguodala was fouled. He went to the line and calmly sank both, putting the Sixers back up 105-104. All they needed was a stop and the game was theirs, losing streak over. Instead, they gave up another layup, this one to Raymond Felton, to go down 106-105 with four seconds left. The Sixers gave up two layups in the final 17 seconds to lose by a point. Not two baskets. Not two contested jump shots. Not two three pointers. Two fucking layups, each coming when the Sixers held a one-point lead. Iggy took a ridiculous fadeaway that never even had a chance to go in at the buzzer, and the Sixers lost yet again, their 9th straight loss. This team is pathetic. Thank god Allen Iverson is returning tonight.

With the Sixers and Flyers both embarrassing themselves, I was able to spend the majority of my time focused on two more insanely awesome football games: Texas-Nebraska in the Big XII Championship game and Clemson-Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game. Now, seeing as Colt McCoy led the Longhorns on the winning drive and that Mark Ingram went bonkers against Florida, one of those two is probably going to win the Heisman, most likely Ingram because his performance against the Gators was epic. Regardless, Ingram and McCoy will finish 1-2 in the voting. No doubt about that. But the best players in the country were two guys who have not gotten nearly enough love from the nation this year, two guys who played for the losing sides in those night championship games. That's right, Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Spiller are the best two players in the country.

I've gotten to see Jared Odrick play football the past four years and completely dominate for Penn State. I couldn't image any defensive lineman, especially a tackle, as dominant as him. That is until Ndamukong Suh came along. Ladies and gentlemen, if you haven't seen Suh play this season, then you haven't seen the best player in the nation. He is, hands down, the most impressive defensive lineman to hit college football in decades. He's a 6'4", 300-lb. defensive tackle who LEADS HIS TEAM IN TACKLES. He is a defensive tackle. A god damn defensive tackle. And he leads his team in tackles. That's not unheard of. That's impossible. Defensive tackles aren't typically measured by stats because they typically don't put up huge stats. They get penetration, eat up blockers and let their teammates clean up the mess. Well, Suh does all of that AND makes more plays than anyone else on his team. And his team has one of the best, most suffocating defenses in the nation. Yet somehow, Suh leads the Cornhuskers with 50 solo tackles — 10 more than safety Larry Asante and linebacker Phillip Dillard — and leads them in total tackles with 82 — six more than Asante and Dillard. He has 23 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and three blocked kicks. He is not human.

And Saturday, he was the best player on the field in the Big XII championship game. Better than Colt McCoy. Better than Jordan Shipley. Better than anyone. All game long he was absolutely killing any and all Texas linemen who had the unfortunate assignment of trying to block him. I honestly don't think he lost a battle on more than a play or two. He led everyone on the field with 10 solo tackles and 12 total. He sacked McCoy four and half times and notched seven tackles for loss. He was terrifying just how awesome he played against the No. 3 ranked team in the nation. If Ndamukong Suh isn't the first pick in the draft, something is terribly, horribly wrong.

Just like something is terribly, horribly wrong with America for the simple fact that C.J. Spiller is not considered the favorite to win the Heisman. Suh I can understand. He's a defensive player, and we all know defensive players aren't allowed to win the Heisman ever since Charles Woodson did. Since then, there's some stupid unspoken ban on allowing a defender to win it even if he is the most outstanding player in the country, which is exactly what Suh is. But if Suh can't win it, then it should unquestionably go to C.J. Spiller.

Yes, Toby Gerhart has more yards and more touchdowns, but Spiller is the best back I've watched all season in my book, and he saved his best for last, even if it wasn't enough. Laying it all on the line, Spiller, even though he has been hampered with an injury for a while now, exploded for 233 and four touchdowns on 20 carries. 233, four TDs. He added another 63 yards on three kick returns. He was the sole reason the Tigers even had a shot at defeating Georgia Tech, ripping off two electrifying scoring runs, one for 41 yards and the other for 36.

That guy is amazing. While all the talk all year has been focused on Tebow, McCoy and Ingram for Heisman, Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Spiller are really the most deserving candidates. Too bad their teammates aren't as good as the players on Texas, Bama and Florida. Heisman voters are stupid.

Oh, and seriously, what in the hell were Mack Brown and Colt McCoy doing at the end of that game? They knew they had a timeout left, right? What the hell is going on with teams and end-of-game scenarios? Texas was lucky as shit that time didn't run out. Andy Reid's time management "skills" are scarily trickling down to the college ranks.

Speaking of Andy Reid, wouldn't you know it but the Eagles ran the ball 26 times yesterday and threw it 27, remaining balanced and efficient most of the game, and the Eagles easily won 34-7 in Atlanta, giving the Falcons their first home loss of the season. Amazing how that works.

The defense played phenomenal and Jeremy Maclin showcased his blazing speed, but the biggest stories of the game were unquestionably Mike Vick's return to Atlanta and Leonard Weaver going nuts.

It had to feel good for Vick to get his first two touchdowns since being released from prison and to do it in Atlanta. Frankly, I don't give a shit about his return, but I was happy that the Eagles finally actually used him with a purpose. His rushing touchdown proved he can be effective in the red zone and add a wrinkle to an offense that has struggled to get touchdowns at times inside the 20, and his throwing touchdown to Brent Celek gave me some crucial fantasy points. Congrats, Mike.

To me, the most impressive thing was one Leonard Weaver, who made play after play, averaging 7.4 yards per carry, catching a touchdown pass and hauling in another grab in ridiculous fashion and barreling 59 yards with it.

My only gripe with the offense was not getting LeSean McCoy enough touches. The guy is good. Not sure if you heard. But still, solid performance. As far as the defense goes, yes, it was a task made much easier by the fact that the Falcons were missing their starting quarterback, starting running back, a starting wide receiver and two starting offensive linemen, but for what it's worth, I think that was the best game Sean McDermott has called all season long. He didn't just blindly blitz on every passing down, he mixed things up very well and his defenders were well-prepared, getting their hands up in the throwing lanes against Chris Redmond, containing Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White, and just having a tremendous game all around. Very impressive stuff.

And Asante even made some tackles, and impressive ones at that. In fact, I don't remember him even missing one all game. The one that it looked like he missed on Tony Gonzalez, he was actually going for the pick, clearly seen on the replay. Other than that, he was flawless in his tackling. Looks like someone was reading the press clippings griping about his flimsy attempts at bringing down ball carriers and took it personally. Well done, Asante. Now start doing it on the regular.

Oh, and is it just me or do Moose and Goose somehow manage to get even worse each and every time out? I used to think Daryl Johnston was a pretty good announcer. I don't know what I was thinking, because now I can't stand him. I think hanging around Goose has made him dumber.

All in all, excellent weekend in the world of sports. And the capper comes tonight, as Allen Iverson comes home. I'll be there, and frankly, I cannot wait.

Update: Two things I forgot to mention about the Texas-Nebraska game that I meant to. First, the interception by Dejon Gomes in the fourth quarter was absolutely absurd. I have no idea how he managed to do that, but it was one of the most impressive defensive plays I've ever seen. Watch it here (2:00 in, and watch the Suh highlights too):

Second, when the broadcast started, ABC showed highlights of the Florida-Bama game and ended it with Tim Tebow bawling like a little girl on the sidelines. Brent Musburger actually said that you gotta feel sorry for Tebow failing in his quest for a third SEC championship. Well guess what Brent, no, no I don't. You wanna know why, asshole? Because Tebow already has two of them. And two national championships. And a Heisman. And four years as the quarterback of the Florida Gators, one of the most high-profile positions in the nation, three of which he was the starter. And he's about to graduate, go the NFL to earn millions of dollars and no one ever has a bad thing to say about him. So no, Brent, I don't have to feel sorry for him. In fact, no one should feel sorry for him. He's had a great life and still has a great life. Get off your god damn high horse Musburger and get a grasp on reality.

That is all.

Oh wait, Allen Iverson tonight. Now that is all.

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. I'm just going to say this before anyone else does: Bill Simmons thinks this post was too long.

  2. As a PSU alumnus and Philly fan, I enjoy reading these writeups; they're usually good for applauding/venting/commiserating, based on the weekend's results. Keep up the good work.