Archive for March 2008

The Road to San Antonio Goes Through North Carolina

March 30, 2008

Well last night we got one good game, which is more than we can say for almost the entire third round. I got both of my picks right, which really isn’t much to brag about considering I picked the favorite in each game. Nevertheless, both games played out basically how I envisioned.

We’ll start with my team. To say I was nervous going into the game would be fairly accurate. Louisville has been playing really solid basketball lately; their closest game thus far in the tournament was an 18 point victory over Boise State in the first round. Added to the fact, Rick Pitino is nothing short of a genius, especially when it comes to tourney time. As I pointed out yesterday, I felt like UNC’s keys to winning were simple. They needed to make the easy shots and take care of the basketball. In their only two losses this season, I watched them turn the ball over way too much as well as struggle to make shots from inside 8 feet. Last night’s game was just what it needed to be for the Heels, as they came out strong in the first half and went into the locker room at halftime with a 12 point lead. They were controlling the tempo of the game and keeping it very fast-paced, just like they like it. They were getting rebounds and making their free throws and everything looked just gravy.

Then, the thing I said yesterday that I was afraid of happening began happening. Louisville came out in the second half and looked like almost a completely different team. I don’t know what Pitino said, but the Cards began making it rain out there. They were ripping down boards, applying airtight pressure on D, cashing shots from 20+ feet, and forcing turnovers. They worked their 12 point deficit down and before I could even blink, it was a tie game. I immediately went from being comfortable to being in the I-think-I-just-shit-my-pants mode where I sit on the edge of my seat with my body clenched up until something good happens. The teams battled back and forth for the better part of the second half, but Louisville struggled with their free throws and UNC began to inch away. Hansbrough was absolutely tough in the last few minutes and hit a few really big shots, a couple of them from just inside three point range. The most impressive part of the entire game to me was the Heels’ ability to close out their opponent and finish the game. They made their free throws and took good care of the ball down the stretch, which is where a lot of young teams seem to come up short.

All things considered, it was a well-played game for the Heels. They shot 53% from the field and 86% from the charity stripe, they outrebounded their opponent yet again, and they forced more turnovers than they gave up. When they play like that, they are tough to beat. Hansbrough finished with 28 points on 12-of-17 shooting and 13 boards, while four other Heels were in double figures. The only negative thing that sticks out to me was Wayne Ellington’s performance. He finished with 13 points, but it came on a not-so-stellar 5-of-14 shooting performance. He took a few questionable shots, and if they end up playing Kansas next week, he is going to have to make sure he is only taking premium shots because the Jayhawks will punish a team for those misses.

In the UCLA-Xavier game, I hinged the Bruins’ efforts for a victory on the performances of Kevin Love and Darren Collison, each of whom finished with 19 points as UCLA made a statistic out of yet another team. Now UCLA looks ahead to April 5th, when they will face the winner of tonight’s Memphis-Texas game. I’m not going to lie, I watched some of the game, but when the Bruins started running away with it, I ended up flipping around a little bit and followed that up by dozing off on the couch for a while.

Don’t hate, I was just sick of watching one lopsided game after another in this damn tournament. As good as the first two rounds were, I cannot believe how many blowouts and one-sided games we’ve endured since then. I’m not going to write the whole tournament off just yet though, because we’re halfway there to having a Final Four with all four one-seeds for the first time ever and THAT would be worth watching. With that said, let’s get into my picks for today’s games.

  • (2) Texas over (1) Memphis. For the third game in a row I am picking against the Tigers, and for the third time in a row, I’m probably going to end up eating my words. It all depends on which Memphis team shows up. If the Memphis team that played Michigan State shows up, Texas is in trouble. If the Memphis team that played Mississippi State shows up, Texas is going to punish them. Both sets of guards are extremely athletic, but I would go so far as to say that Memphis has the edge in that department. Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose are both amazing, and usually carry most of the scoring load for the Tigers. However, this is not to take anything away from DJ Augustin or AJ Abrams. For Texas to win this game, they are going to have to keep their fouls to a minimum as they aren’t especially deep. Connor Atchley and Damion James both have their work cut out for them going up against the rotating threesome of Memphis big men in Robert Dozier, Joey Dorsey, and Shawn Taggart. Texas has to do everything they can to control the boards and get as many second chance points as they can. The Memphis big men usually don’t shoot the ball very much, and they are very often in foul trouble, so if that happens then Texas needs to take advantage and attack the basket. I’m sick of Memphis, I just don’t like them. I can’t even explain it, but they are just not enjoyable to watch in my opinion. Accompanied with that, I think my Tar Heels would have a better shot at beating Texas than they would at beating Memphis if Memphis brought their A-game. I gotta think about this kind of stuff.
  • (1) Kansas over (10) Davidson. Okay, this has to be it. I’ve really enjoyed watching Stephen Curry and the boys make this run, but Kansas is just way too good. They are too deep – they have 4 players who average in double figures whereas Curry along with Jason Richards do the bulk of the scoring for the Wildcats. I know it’s easier said than done, but Kansas simply cannot allow Curry the space he’s been getting. He has a quick trigger and doesn’t need a whole lot of room to bury a shot, so keeping constant pressure on him is a must. Conversely, if Davidson is going to pull off this upset, I have some keys for them that will need to be followed. First and foremost, they have to challenge shots. As I said, Kansas is deep, and everyone on the floor can contribute, so Davidson needs to get hands in as many faces as they can. Also, they need to keep the Jayhawks away from the basket and force them to shoot jump shots. I’m not implying that Kansas can’t shoot the ball, they can light the place up, but they more often opt for a line to the basket and an easy two. I’m going to say this one more time: Davidson doesn’t seem to me like they have enough weapons to match up with Kansas. While Curry has proven himself to be nothing short of superhuman, I don’t know if he has the support in the frontcourt to keep this game close enough to where he can take over in the second half like he has done so three times so far. If Davidson gets behind early, look for them to start rushing and forcing shots. Along the lines of which team I would rather see UNC play, that has to be Davidson. I really have to imagine they would have an easier time focusing on locking down two people and letting Hansbrough go to work on whomever Davidson stacks up against him as opposed to dealing with Kansas’ deep bench and their extremely talented backcourt. As I’ve been saying all week, though, I just want to see a good game.

Well, the first game is about to get underway, so I better post and get my ass on the couch. Have a great Sunday, and I’m sure I’ll be back tomorrow to either gloat or eat my words.

One love,

10

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Four More Games, Four More Blowouts

March 29, 2008

Alright, I’ll admit it. I was wrong. I’m man enough to eat my words when I have to. On one side of things, I completely fouled on two of last night’s games, picking Wisconsin to beat Davidson and going with Michigan State over Memphis. I really thought Wisconsin would lock down Curry and the boys seeing as how they lead the nation in scoring defense, giving up 52.9 points per game throughout the season, and I was equally convinced Memphis was going to crap out. But alas, the Memphis team that won 30 games this year showed up rather than the Memphis team that almost lost to Mississippi State, and Curry proved he is possibly Superman with yet another 30 point performance.

One the other hand, I was eerily correct about the other two games…

In a not-so-surprising outcome, Kansas absolutely demoralized Villanova en route to a 15 point victory. It wasn’t even a fair game, and Kansas probably could have run up the score, but they didn’t. Instead they resorted to throwing forty thousand alley-oops including one off the backboard to Brandon Rush which was the play of the day as far as I’m concerned. Kansas just has too much talent on the floor for most teams to match up with, and God willing, if UNC beats Louisville and has to play Kansas in the Final Four, it could be a very good game.

Watching the Texas-Stanford game was like watching the words I wrote come to life, complete with commentary from Dick Enberg and Jay Bilas. I said Texas’ guards were too much to handle. I said that if Texas could somehow neutralize the ginormous Lopez brothers inside and shoot effectively from outside, it could turn into a runaway. I was right. After one of the towering twins went out for a break, Texas ripped off a 20 point run, lead by DJ Augustin, and never looked back. Augustin finished with 23 points and was followed by a few more Longhorns in double figures. If things work out the way I slated them to in my bracket, that would mean Texas would meet Carolina for the title game, and I really don’t know how to gauge that matchup. UNC would have to D up more than they have all year in order to keep Augustin and AJ Adams in check, which is no easy feat. Also, they would have to keep tabs on Connor Atchley and Damion James, who is hot as of late. The thought scares the hell out of me to be quite honest.

With respect to all four games as a whole, it was a relatively uninteresting night of basketball. Wisconsin kept it close for a while, but eventually Davidson just ran away with it. The closest game of the night was the 15 point drubbing Kansas laid on Villanova, and believe me, the score makes it seem closer than it was. The only thing that stands out to most fans is the fact that there is now a 10 seed in the Elite 8.

I’m expecting better things from the next round. Tonight’s games pit a couple of three seeds against a couple of one seeds. My picks are as follows:

  • (1) North Carolina over (3) Louisville. Ty Lawson is really coming around since returning from injury, and Tyler Hansbrough is being Tyler Hansbrough. If the team can make the easy shots and avoid turning the ball over more than about a dozen times, I really think they’ll be in good shape. On the other hand, Rick Pitino is a smart man, so Louisville could end up laying in the weeds the first half and come out firing in the second half. Since I’m a UNC fan, I can do nothing but pick my team to win and cheer accordingly.
  • (1) UCLA over (3) Xavier. JK said it best the other night when he said “No one locks down like UCLA does.” They do play really tight defense and I think they have way too many weapons for Xavier to keep tabs on. As fate would have it, ESPN just showed a graphic that said Xavier has never won an Elite 8 game in school history, going 0-8 thus far. Look for Kevin Love and Darren Collison to each contribute as they have been all year, and look for this one to be over early enough for you to catch the back end of whatever lame movie USA is showing tonight.

I’ll be back tomorrow with reactions to tonight’s games as well as my picks for the two remaining Elite 8 matchups. As for tonight, since tomorrow is the first day all week I don’t have to be up at 7:30 (or 4:30, like today) I might go find some kind of an establishment that serves my favorite ale and consume one or two … or nine. I fully expect to reach Stage 5 of Drunkenness tonight my friends. I hope you have a marvelous Saturday.

One love,

10

How Sweet It Is … Or Is It?

March 28, 2008

Yesterday’s Sweet 16 tourney games were so-so at best, with exception of course to the OT thriller between Xavier and West Virginia.  The other three were fairly anti-climactic, except for that late push Western Kentucky had against UCLA which was quickly squashed by the Bruins.

The UNC game was a big step for the young Tar Heels, who proved they can play a little defense if necessary.  Say what you will about Washington State’s offensive capabilities, it’s still difficult to hold a team to only 47 points in the Sweet 16. Also, UNC proved they can distribute the ball and score without a major contribution from Tyler Hansbrough, who led the team with 18 points, but was accompanied by three others who scored in double figures.  One last thing we saw from this game was that UNC doesn’t have to play an up-and-down fast paced game in order to keep things within their comfort zone.  They responded well to a tough defense and played a slower halfcourt style than they are used to, but they still looked sharp, more so in the second half than the first.

Louisville proved that they are as good or better than everyone thought.  They scare me even more now than they did before because after watching them manhandle Tennessee it tells me they will be a real test for my Tar Heels.   Speaking of Tennessee, I have been saying it since they beat Memphis and no one listened.  They turn the ball over way too much at bad times and they play a sloppy, high-paced streetball style of game which can be to their detriment against a solid team unless they shoot the lights out (which they didn’t last night, shooting only 33.9% from the floor and 68% on free throws).  If I could offer only three words of advice to the team, those three words would be: Lock it up.

Tonight’s games should be exciting.  They are a little harder to pick, but I am not going to shy away from a challenge.   Here are my picks:

  • (3) Wisconsin over (10) Davidson.  I just think Stephen Curry and Davidson are going to run out of gas.  Wisconsin plays tight defense and I just don’t think Davidson is going to be able to find enough people to score.
  • (2) Texas over (3) Stanford.  As I said in a previous post, Texas’ guards are just too good.  If they shoot the ball well this one could get a little out of hand.
  • (1) Kansas over (12) Villanova.  Kansas has too much talent, and that’s all there is to it.
  • (5) Michigan State over (1) Memphis.  Memphis is just not doing it for me.  They have almost fallen apart twice now in their first two games and I’ll be damned if they aren’t lucky as hell to be playing tonight.  They should be at home in their respective Section 8 houses watching the game.  Now I’m not saying Memphis is a team full of thugs, but I’m pretty sure that as a team they own more handguns per person than a group of NRA members.

I’m beginning to wonder what the hell I’m going to talk about after this tournament is over.  For now, rather than stress too much about it, I am going to take full advantage of the hand I’ve been dealt and use it as an excuse to sit on my ass and watch every game I can. Have a great weekend everyone!

One love,

10

Child Care 101

March 27, 2008

Life is hard, no doubt about it.  Life is especially hard when you’re a teen.  As most of you probably know, Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant at the young age of 16.  With everything going on in her already hectic life, I figured I would do her and other expecting mothers the courtesy of breaking down the basics of child care.  Now I, myself, am not a father, so I won’t preach too much about particulars, but I think these are some of the few problems a young mother like Jamie Lynn might run in to.   Jamie, if you’re reading this … You’re welcome.

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I found these to be absolutely hilarious, and since I have a butt load of things to do today, including watch Sweet 16 basketball, I figured by posting this I would save myself some time but still give you something to ogle at for a few minutes, thus making all involved parties happy.

For those interested, my picks for tonight’s games are as follows:

  • North Carolina over Washington State
  • Xavier over West Virgina
  • Louisville over Tennessee
  • UCLA over Western Kentucky

One love,

10

A Weekend Worthwhile

March 25, 2008

Wow do we have some catching up to do!

What a weekend. Not only did I have Friday and Monday off thanks to Easter, but there was a lot going on worth mentioning. Of course, the first two rounds of the NCAA tourney were on, and as exciting as always. Every year I tell myself that the current year’s first two rounds are the best I’ve ever seen, and this year certainly stacks up with those in the recent past.

Before we get into the games and such, I think it’s worth mentioning that my roommate Waldo and I have a friendly bet on whose bracket will come out better after it’s all said and done. We’re not doing the points system, just straight up correct picks, and as of today I am up 5 over him. He’s got a little bit more light at the end of his tunnel though, as his Final Four is still in tact, while I only have three of the four remaining after my sleeper pick, UConn, put up a stinker in the first round. Yeah I know, in hindsight this was a stupid pick, but it really made too much sense to me since the Big East was pretty good this year, and the Huskies play good defense. It really didn’t help things when A.J. Price left due to injury either.

The story of the weekend pertaining to basketball is certainly the rise of Davidson as this year’s possible Cinderella story as they ride the coattails of sophomore phenom Stephen Curry. To my credit, I had the 10th-seeded Wildcats knocking off Gonzaga, a 7 seed, but I never would have thought they would upset Georgetown. After back to back games in which Curry absolutely went off in the second half, it makes me wonder if Wisconsin’s defense is going to be able to stop him. ESPN jerkoff analyst Skip Bayless says they will, but he hasn’t been right about anything since 1984, so look for that to be a good matchup. Seriously though, Curry is amazing.

I hate Duke, so I love the fact that they once again crapped out early despite being a high seed. As everyone has said over and over, they just relied too much on the three ball. However, they are going to be amazing next year because they are only losing one player to graduation (DeMarcus Nelson), Gerald Henderson is only going to get better, and somehow Coach K makes sure no one ever leaves early for the NBA. I’m pretty sure he either bakes the world’s best cookies or he scares them into staying by threatening to have J.J. Redick call them five nights a week to read them his poetry.

UCLA has the easiest remaining path to the Final Four, (they play Western Kentucky on Thursday and if they win, would play the winner of the Xavier-West Virginia game) and they are still getting every call, so that looks like it’s about as close to a sure thing as it can get.

My Tar Heels are looking strong on offense, but I am beginning to worry that they are allowing too many points. JK keeps saying that if someone holds them under 75 they’re in trouble. We’ll put a pin in that and keep it off to the side, because I let my heart do the picking this year and they’re my pick to win it all. Louisville scares me way more than Tennessee to be completely honest, because Tennessee just gets way too unorganized and hectic way too often, and they always seem to turn the ball over at bad times. I’d much rather see UNC playing Tennessee to get into the Final Four because I just know they would score about 40 points off turnovers alone.

Texas’ guards are too much for Stanford in my opinion, so as long as they can stay away from those two giants Stanford has lurking inside and shoot the ball effectively from about a 12 to 22 foot range, they’ll come out on top there. Memphis is on the brink of a breakdown, and I’ll be damned if they shouldn’t have lost against Mississippi State. If Michigan State keeps the game within single digits late, Memphis’ inability to shoot freethrows at a level acceptable for humans with two arms will surely haunt them. The whole time during their last game, JK and I were wondering why teams just don’t put in their 11th and 12th guys off the bench to hack away and force Memphis to shoot over 40% from the charity stripe. Either way, they’re screwed.

Villanova, I’m sorry, but you’re also screwed. Kansas is good and the upperclassmen are hungry. Whether they end up playing Wisconsin or Davidson remains to be seen, but whomever it is, I just hope that’s a good game.

I’m still standing by UNC to win it all, and you can quote me on that.

Shifting gears, us golf fans enjoyed an exciting weekend of play again, with different results than we’ve grown accustomed to. For the first time in seven starts for Tiger Woods, he didn’t finish atop the leader board, and in all honesty, I’m a little glad. Not because I don’t like Tiger – I really enjoy watching him play and he’s a marvelous ambassador for the sport. It’s just that if he would have kept on winning and I would have been further subjected to talk of him having a perfect season, I might have ended up choking someone. Instead, he finished in fifth place, two strokes behind winner Geoff Ogilvy, and I can breathe easy again and enjoy each week’s tournament without this cloud looming over the whole thing.

JK’s trip up here was a good time, as usual. This time around he actually had his ID so we were able to partake in adult-type things. We went out with the rest of the guys a couple times over the weekend, but nothing got really out of control, so I don’t have any funny stories for you on that. However, everything I saw adds up with what I wrote last week about the stages of drunkenness as well as the gender differences during said drunkenness.

As I mentioned this morning, I started my new job today.  It’s an international corporation in the Fortune 100 and just in case some kind of legal hulla balloo prohibits me from mentioning it directly, I’ll say this:  It’s a shipping company that rhymes with “red ex.”  Nevertheless, the first week is all training, so I spent most of the day watching training videos and filling out paperwork.  From everything I’ve gathered so far, it seems like it’s going to be a really good gig, so I am very excited to be working there.  On top of the fact that the pay is really good, I am actually going to have health insurance for the first time in almost four years!  Also, I signed up for the A.M. shift, so I will be done by 9:00 or 10:00 every morning, and that means I can devote my afternoons and evenings to golfing as much as I possibly want to, which is much nicer than last summer when I worked 60 hours every week and had to resort to golfing at 6:30 in the morning some days just to get my fix.  I know it’s still a couple months away, but I am declaring the upcoming months the Summer of Mike.

My last few days at my old job were lame, and it took every ounce of me to get myself to show up.  As much as I would have loved skipping out on my last day especially, I just couldn’t stand being the kind of guy who screws everyone over like that, even if it was only a gas station.  I consider myself to be a stand-up guy like that, plus I hate it when people don’t like me.  I really feel like I left behind a legacy anyway, because for my last seven months there, I was in charge of hiring and I did what anyone in my position would do … I hired my friends.  I hired my roommate’s girlfriend, my sister, a friend, and my roommate all in the span of about five months.  It was like my own little dynasty, but it was time to move on.
It’s that time of year where there will be plenty to talk about in the coming months …  the NCAA tournament, the NBA playoffs, baseball is starting up, the NFL draft is just around the corner, golf, the summer Olympics, the election race will be heating up, and much more.  I promise not to have a five day hiatus again this week, because believe me, I missed you as much as you missed me.  You did miss me right?  Good.

One love,

10

Back From Hiatus … Briefly

March 25, 2008

Good morning everyone.  Sorry about that little hiatus I was on, but between putting in my last couple shifts at my old job and March Madness, my weekend was pretty busy.  I start my new job this morning, so I don’t have time to write much now, but I just wanted to get back on here because I was itching to post something.  I should be done by 5:00 or so this afternoon, after which I will definitely be writing  plenty about my weekend.  JK came up to visit and share in the magic that is the first two rounds of the NCAA tourney, so you had better believe fun was had.

I hope everyone had a good Easter, those who celebrate it anyway.  For now, I need to get going.  Don’t worry though, I’ll be back before you even know it.  I’m itching to write something, so check back this evening.

One love,

10

Viewer’s Choice #3: My Top Ten Favorite Athletes

March 19, 2008

The third installment in my viewer’s choice posts is an idea that came from Julie, a self-admitted avid reader of yours truly, and Hammen, who has an excellent blog of his own and is one of the handful who actually shares his thoughts and comments. They both declared their love for my previous posts in which I created a top ten list about something, and Hammen suggested I write about my ten favorite athletes of all time. So, that is what I will set out to do here and now. I am going to focus on professional careers rather than dabble in collge as well. Fair warning, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t care for hockey so you can expect to see exactly zero puck pushers in this list. Another fair warning, I love the Minnesota Twins – a lot. Which would explain the number ten spot …

10. Chuck Knoblauch – 2B (1991-2002)
Although he finished his career putting in three years with the Yankees (puke!) and a season with the Royals, Knobby is a Twin through and through, playing there from 1991 to 1997. He made an immediate impact on the ’91 Twins roster, hitting in the lead off spot most of the time and playing solid defense at second base. His standout play not only won him American League Rookie of the Year, but it also helped the Twins win their second World Series in four years. His unique batting stance, humble attitude, and fantastic range in the field made him a fan favorite here in Minnesota. Despite the fact that he was named in the Mitchell Report, it was alleged that his HGH use was during his 2002 season with the Yankees. This having been said, I’ll be damned if I don’t blame the Evil Empire for turning my favorite infielder into a cheater … allegedly of course. He would more than likely be ranked a little higher on this list had he not demanded a trade from the Twins in 1997.

Career stats: .289 batting average; 1,839 hits; four time All-Star; four time World Series champion; Gold Glove recipient; 1991 AL Rookie of the Year.

9. LaDanian Tomlinson- RB (2001-Present)
This is the most exciting player in the NFL right now in my mind. If you’re any kind of a sports fan, you’ve heard the cliche about a player being a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Well LT is exactly that. After being drafted 5th by the Chargers, he has rushed for at least 1,200 yards in each of his seven NFL seasons. In 2006, he notched an NFL record 31 touchdowns and rang up over 2,300 all-purpose yards as well. LT has the unique combination of speed, elusiveness, and strength that make him the best in the game today and he is single-handedly bringing back the stiff arm, no pun intended.

Career stats: 10,650 rushing yards; 4.5 yards per carry; 115 total touchdowns; 2006 NFL Most Valuable Player; five time Pro Bowl selection

8. Bo Jackson – RB (1987-1990)/OF (1986-1994)
The list’s only two sport athlete is one I grew up watching. I still maintain that he could have been one of the greatest running backs in NFL history had his career not been shortened by a massive hip injury. Jackson was a beast in college and a force in the NFL, combining a love for contact with lightning fast speed. He was one of the best power backs in the game who could also run right past any defender. Many speculate that if he had stayed healthy, he may have ended up atop the all-time rushing list due to the fact that he boasts an NFL record 5.4 yards per carry even despite the fact that he was second string behind Marcus Allen. His unique blend of power and speed also carried well into his baseball career, most of which was spent with the Kansas City Royals. He could hit a towering home run or notch an infield hit with a ground ball to third base, so he was very difficult to adjust to defensively.

Career stats, NFL: 2,782 rushing yards; 5.4 yards per carry; 16 touchdowns; one Pro Bowl selection.

Career stats, MLB: .250 batting average; 598 hits; 141 home runs; 1989 All Star MVP

7. Randy Moss – WR (1998-Present)
Despite the many off-field incidents throughout his career, Moss is without question one of the most dominant receivers in the NFL today. He is so fun to watch because he can lay dormant for play after play, series after series, but all it takes is one play for him to take it 80 yards to the house. His explosive speed and incredibly soft hands make him a threat to score on a fifty yard bomb or a five yard slant. For defenders, the choice is yours: either play up on him and try to jam him at the line, risking a total whiff followed by a good long look at the back of his jersey as he makes his way into the end zone, or play back on him and give him a running start at you. I’ll go so far to say that he is more explosive off the line than any other receiver I’ve ever seen. In his rookie season, he helped the Vikings lead the league in offense and score a then-NFL record 556 points. Moss has since gone on to set the single season record for receiving touchdowns with the 23 he caught last season en route to a Super Bowl berth with the Patriots. Look for Moss to continue to be a headache for defensive backs in the years to come. He has stated publicly that he would like to finish his career in New England, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets himself a Super Bowl ring playing there.

Career stats: 774 receptions; 12,193 receiving yards; 124 touchdowns; NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1998; six time Pro Bowl selection

6. Johan Santana- LHP (2000-Present)
The league’s most dominant pitcher of the past few years has a new home this year in New York, but at least he’s not wearing pinstripes. The Mets immediately became the favorite to win the NL East and became the sexy pick to make it to the World Series after signing Santana, and for good reason. His laser-like precision with his fastball combined with one of the best changeups in the game make him very difficult to hit no matter who you are. I’ve seen him pitch in person about four times and if there is one thing I can attest to, it is that he has a way of just taking over a game. There was such a different demeanor among Twins fans on days when Santana is pitching as opposed to anyone else. It was like a sense of calm in knowing that as long as we managed to score three runs, we would be alright, especially if it was the second half of the season. Back in 2004, Santana had the best second half of any season on record, going 13-0 with a 1.21 ERA, notching 11.13 strikeouts per nine innings and allowing only 4.74 hits per nine. Look for him to have plenty more outstanding years despite last year’s downturn. Remember, he is only 29 years old and the way he takes care of himself, he can easily pitch on an effective level well into his 30s.

Career stats: 93 wins, 44 losses; 3.22 ERA; 1,381 strikeouts; three time All Star selection; two Cy Young awards; 2006 AL Pitching Triple Crown; one Gold Glove award

5. Kevin Garnett – F/C (1995-Present)
In his 12 seasons with the Timberwolves, KG was often the only part of the franchise worth mentioning. He was constantly surrounded by sub-par talent and his frustrations became rather public over the past few seasons during his tenure in Minnesota. The Wolves were unable to get further than the first round of the playoffs until the 2003-04 season, during which they got all the way to the Western Conference Finals, only to have 90-year old Sam Cassell go down with a back injury leading up to a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Lakers. Despite the lack of talent he had with him most seasons, KG is a player who was able to make people around him better. Were it not for him, I submit that no one would even know who Fred Hoiberg, Darrick Martin, and Troy Hudson are. In his 13-year long pursuit for an NBA Finals title, Garnett was seemingly pleased when he landed in Boston to join the budding Celtics for the 07-08 season. Even though he is no longer a part of Minnesota sports, I still root for The Big Ticket. He deserves a title more than anyone else in my mind. He stands for everything that is right with sports today.

Career stats: 19,041 points; 10,542 rebounds; 4,146 assists; 1,576 blocked shots; 1,282 steals; 49.1 FG%; 78.0 FT%; 11-time NBA All-Star selection; 2003-04 NBA MVP; 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist

4. Eddie George – RB (1996-2004)
This is the man who single handedly made me a fan of Ohio State Football as well as the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans. While I can certainly admit he is far from the best athlete on the list, he had several qualities that appealed to me. Firstly, he played hard every single play. Second, he played the game the way it was meant to be played: with heart and passion. And mostly, you could tell it was never about the money for him. He played because he truly loved the game and because he loved the competition. His efforts at OSU landed him the Heisman and made him a first round pick in the 1996 draft. George’s Titans experienced their best season when they made it to Super Bowl XXXIV against the Rams. George rushed for 95 yards and scored two touchdowns, but his team came up about a two feet short of victory when receiver Kevin Dyson was tackled on his way into the end zone, ending the game. George went on to enjoy a few more successful seasons despite battling injury in his last few years. He rushed for at least 1,200 yards in each of his first five seasons and over 1,000 yards in seven out of nine seasons throughout his career.

Career stats: 10,441 rushing yards; 3.6 yards per carry; 268 receptions; 2,227 receiving yards; 78 touchdowns; four time Pro Bowl selection; 1996 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

3. Kirby Puckett – OF (1984-1995)
In my opinion, you can’t think of Twins baseball without thinking of Kirby Puckett. This is the man I grew up idolizing. His love for life and love for the game of baseball made him one of the most inspiring and fun-to-watch players of his time. He is one of only two players to reach 2,000 hits during his first ten full years in baseball, and as if that weren’t impressive enough, he is the holder of Twins records for hits, doubles, runs, and total bases. Kirby is most often remembered for his heroics in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, in which he made an amazing, acrobatic catch against the center field wall to prevent an Atlanta Braves rally and followed it up with an 11th inning walk-off home run to send the series to Game 7. Despite the controversy that arose in Kirby’s life in 2002, he never lost his fan base and was welcomed by a huge amount of support when he was accused of sexual harassment (he was acquitted of all charges). He retired from baseball due to glaucoma which greatly affected his vision. On March 5th, 2006, Kirby had a massive stroke and passed away the next day. His legacy lives on in Minnesota where his familiar number 34 has been retired and he will forever live on as the foremost ambassador of Minnesota sports.

Career stats: .318 batting average; 2,304 hits; 207 home runs; ten time All Star selection; six time Gold Glove recipient; 1993 All Star MVP; 2001 Hall of Fame inductee

2. Michael Jordan – G (1984-2003)
There isn’t much I can say about His Airness that hasn’t already been said a thousand times. He is the man, the elite, the supreme being. If you’re a basketball fan, you no doubt worship this man for everything he’s done for the game over the past 20+ years. In addition to winning six NBA Titles, Jordan’s individual accolades and accomplishments include five MVP awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, nine All-Defensive First Team honors, fourteen NBA All-Star Game appearances and three All-Star MVP, ten scoring titles, three steals titles, six NBA Finals MVP awards, and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. He holds the NBA record for highest career regular season scoring average with 30.1 points per game, as well as averaging a record 33.4 points per game in the playoffs. In 1999, he was named the greatest North American athlete of the 20th century by ESPN, and was second only to Babe Ruth on the Associated Press’s list of athletes of the century.

Career Stats: 32,292 points; 2,514 steals; 5,633 assists; 14-time All Star selection; five time NBA MVP; 1985 Rookie of the Year; 1988 Defensive Player of the Year; three time All Star MVP; everything listed above and much, much more

1. Barry Sanders – RB (1989-1998 )
In my opinion, Sanders is the most exciting player to watch in all of sports history. No running back was ever dreaded more than him due to his almost inhumanly ability to shift and change directions on a dime and then kick into high gear in a matter of just a few steps to leave everyone in the dust. The best part about Barry in my opinion is the fact that he was constantly on awful teams. He never had a decent quarterback, he never had a worthwhile offensive line, and he never had a good defense to give him a rest. Yet despite all this, he still managed to climb to second on the NFL’s all time rushing yards list, only behind Walter Payton. Had he not retired prematurely due to his team’s inability to win, many speculate that Sanders would have passed Payton within the next two seasons for the lead on the list. As it stands, Sanders is now third on the all time list behind Emmitt Smith and Payton. Not only is he one of only a handful of players to ever rush for 2,000 yards in one season, but Barry did it in only 14 games after notching only 53 yards in the first two games of the season. Another thing worth mentioning is Sanders’ poise and demeanor on the field. He played the game the way it was meant to be played. He didn’t talk trash, he let his actions do the talking. He never spiked the ball and did a dance after scoring, he would hand the ball to the ref, hug a couple teammates, and trot back to the sidelines. Barry Sanders made football so exciting to watch in the same way watching Rounders always makes you want to go play poker. Had Sanders been part of a more capable franchise, I can only assume he would have done even more for himself and others around him. As it is though, it’s impossible to put the guy down for everything he has done. Seriously, watch the clip below of his highlights. At about 2:59 he makes John Lynch look like a school girl, as he did to almost everyone else at one time or another.

Career stats: 15,269 rushing yards; 5.0 yards per carry; 99 touchdowns; ten time Pro Bowl selection; 1997 co-MVP; 1989 Offensive Rookie of the Year; two time NFL Offensive Player of the Year; dozens of college and NFL records

Well there we have it. Those are the athletes I grew up watching and/or continue to love to this day. Since ten is a rather small number, I decided to throw in a few extras that were close, but didn’t quite make the cut …

Honorable Mention: Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Jerome Bettis, Joe Montana, Torii Hunter, Ray Lewis, Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant

Well, thus concludes our viewer’s choice posts, unless you have any more ideas for me. I’d like to keep this train moving, so don’t be shy about suggesting something. I’m really open to anything, so if you’ve got an idea, anything, throw it at me. I’m a roast, baste me.

One love,

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