Thursday, May 27, 2010

Damn Yankees

This is what total domination looks like. So how big was tonight's win? By winning two of their last four against the Evil Empire, the Twins may have proven to their fans, and more importantly themselves, that they can compete with the Yankees in a 5-game playoff series. I have a gut feeling that when the season ends, we'll be looking back to this game as a major turning point. Not only in the standings, but between the ears.

Despite a terrible start to the season, I have to give a tip of the hat to Jason Kubel. He continues to redeem himself when it matters most: against the Yankees.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Green with Envy

With the Boston Celtics breezing through the playoffs, I've noticed a disturbing trend emerging in the local hoops community. It's suddenly become very fashionable to hate the previously beloved Kevin Garnett. In 1995, The Kid came to Minneapolis and changed the NBA, as the first prep star to skip college in 20 years. Kobe, LeBron, and Dwight Howard would all follow this blueprint. The Kid became The Franchise in 1998 when he changed the NBA again, with the signing of a then-unprecedented $126M deal. But more importantly for local hoops fans, KG made professional basketball matter in Minnesota for twelve years. Everything before him and after him has been unbelievably irrelevant.

Just three years removed from his departure, I now hear local fans whining about his dirty mouth and his aggressive, "chippy" play. Ironically, when KG was in Minnesota we referred to this as "fiery competitiveness," and we adored him for it. I hear local fans whining that he's "cocky," yet three years ago we called this "passion." Well, guess what? You can't have it both ways, Minnesota. Either you're lying to yourself now, or you were lying to yourself then. While it's true that KG's contract made it difficult to for the Wolves to add other pieces, they do it in other cities all the time. Like Boston, for one. KG has never stolen a paycheck; his level of effort and intensity is incredibly rare in today's game. An incompetent, scandalous front office is what made it impossible for us to compete. I thought that was obvious. How quickly we forget, and let our envy and jealousy get the best of us.

Kevin Garnett is the exact same player now that he was as a Timberwolf. The only difference is he's wearing green and he's winning at a higher level. And that's OK, we don't have to take it personally, Minnesota. It's OK to be happy for him, realizing he wasted his best twelve years giving everything he had to make this franchise a winner. For my money, watching KG completely lose control of his emotions after finally winning the elusive NBA Title will go down as one of my favorite moments in sports. And here's hoping he gets another ring. After twelve years of purgatory, he's earned this.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

King of the Ping (Pong)?

A recent on-air pact between KFAN's Paul Allen, and the Timberwolves' president of basketball operations, David Kahn, has the voice of the Vikings packing his bags for next week's NBA Draft Lottery in Secaucus, New Jersey. Allen, a horse racing aficionado, reasoned that if he were to snap his own decade-long Kentucky Derby losing streak, then his "three chins and a unibrow" would be a perfect good luck charm for the notoriously unlucky Wolves franchise. Kahn half-heartedly agreed, and when the unplucked Allen's pick (Super Saver) won the Derby the next day, his ticket was punched. "P.A." hopes to pull off yet another Kentucky miracle, by winning the rights to Kentucky Wildcat phenom, John Wall. Slotted with the second most ping pong balls and a 19.9% chance, it would be the first time in its 21-year history that the Wolves not only won the lottery, but improved their draft position. Will P.A. pull off the Daily Double? Check back Tuesday, May 18. In the meantime, try your own luck at ESPN's Lottery Mock Draft.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Texas Forever: FNL Returns to NBC

Critically acclaimed and publicly ignored, Friday Night Lights has beaten the odds again, and will kick off its fourth season this Friday on NBC. Saved by a worshiping fan base and consistent award recognition, NBC bit the bullet and teamed with DirecTV for a final two-season renewal. The network will continue to lose money with each episode, as FNL remains a ratings underdog to the flaky programming preferred by a Snuggie-draping public. It's tragic that a compelling drama centered on faith, family, and football can't hang with something called Wife Swap (pass the popcorn - they have sleeves!). With struggling ratings, but rave reviews, there's a good chance that: a) you're not watching, and b) you probably should be.

Based in fictional Dillon, Texas, FNL has been praised for its realistic portrayal of Middle America and the intimate exploration of its central characters. Using a documentary-style filming technique, scenes unfold organically as actors are afforded the freedom to improvise their deliveries. Most scenes that air are first takes, and the artistry of stripping away rehearsals and redo's paints a gritty authenticity that is deeply engaging. It's the rawness of these imperfections that creates an uncommonly strong bond between fans and characters. This is where a show about football becomes a show about life.

There is something undeniably real about Friday Night Lights. As reality television continues to become more artificial, couldn't we all use a little honesty? Welcome back, FNL.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Discrimination of Toby Gerhart

Toby Gerhart takes the handoff and runs into a wall. There’s no daylight, no path. There’s nobody paving the way for him through this seemingly impenetrable roadblock into the uncharted territory beyond. Toby Gerhart is a modern white running back. In this new NFL landscape where speed is king and jerseys are dollars, “white running back” has become an oxymoron. So much so that robotic football examiners feel automatically compelled to call him a full back and lazily compare him to Mike Alstott, a skin-based correlation that couldn’t be more inaccurate.

It’s curious. This is the league where the Rooney Rule has opened the door to an explosion of black coaching talent, where black quarterbacks are now thriving, and where white receivers continue to establish themselves as valuable assets. In the last 30 years, barriers have been dropping like Troy Williamson. Yet the rarity of a successful white running back leaves us scratching our heads and pointing to plodders from the Nixon administration. Why have white running backs not made a real impact in the modern NFL? Is it racial profiling by coaches, scouts and front offices? Some think so. Is it inferior athleticism in an era of speed and agility? Most think so (but won’t say so). The fact of the matter with regard to Toby Gerhart is that a color blind spectator wouldn’t compare him to Mike Alstott, a low-running fullback who simply dropped his head and trucked anything directly in front of him. My objective is to shed the stigma and give you a color blind comparison to the new Minnesota Viking running back. Who does he really run like? Who does he really measure up to?

Here are the draft profiles of two modern NFL running backs:

Now, imagine you're a GM in need of a workhorse running back, and you're on the clock. Without peeking, who's your guy? These backs are nearly identical prospects when the color is removed, but you'd probably lean RB1, with his strength and college running production giving him the edge. RB1 is Toby Gerhart. RB2 is Steven Jackson.

Disclaimer: I am obviously not here to tell you that Toby is the next Steven Jackson. When healthy, Jackson is one of the best all-around backs in the leauge. I'm simply attempting to illustrate that, coming into the league, Toby and Steven were clones of each other, both physically and stylistically. A second rounder and the 51st overall pick, Toby proved slightly superior in the color blind prospect analysis. Yet he was selected nearly a full round later than Steven Jackson, who was taken with the 24th pick in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams. Toby Gerhart is surely paying for Tommy Vardell. But nobody holds Steven Jackson responsible for Curtis Enis or Ki-Jana Carter, and nobody ever asked Steven Jackson if he'd consider being a full back at the next level. Why would they?

The similarities don't stop with the style and measurables. Both racked up their stats in the Pac 10 against similar competition, making college production more relevant in this case than most. Both are extremely intelligent, a skill that certainly helped Jackson adapt to the pro game. Both started their NFL careers as backups to elite runners (Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson). Distrubingly, the more you dig, the more you’ll discover that Toby Gerhart and Steven Jackson entered the league with just one major difference, and it had nothing to do with a football.

Proving that Toby Gerhart was discriminated against in the draft would be a seemingly impossible mission. I mean, nobody is actually going to come out and say that they passed on Toby just because he’s white, right? Well, close. Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports recently set the topic on fire with his publishing of this shocking pre-draft quote from an unnamed NFL scout: “He’ll be a great second-round pickup for somebody, but I guarantee you if he was the exact same guy – but he was black – he’d go in the first round for sure. Thud. I don’t want to believe this. Unfortunately, Steven Jackson was the “exact same guy.”

From his production at Stanford to his freakish athletic ability, a strong case could be made that Toby Gerhart is the most spectacular white running back prospect to enter the NFL in decades. Maybe ever. This fall, all eyes will be on him when he smashes into that wall. Will he break through into daylight, opening up worlds of possibilities for future generations of white running backs? Or will he be stopped in his tracks, further sentencing white running backs to eternal fullbacking?

Never has a single back formation looked so lonely.