Archive for July, 2010

Ranking The Significance Of The 2010 Packers Games
July 12, 2010

It’s over. Thank God.

I’m talking about the World Cup, the only sporting event where even the highlights put me in a deep sleep I haven’t experienced since I had to sit through those Bruce Conner movies in college.

I’m talking about the LeBron James free agency hysteria, which contained little actual excitement outside the hysterically over-the-top reaction by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. I haven’t seen a hissy fit thrown like that since my three-year-old was denied Dum-Dum Pops and fruit snacks for breakfast (which admittedly happens every day).

I’m talking about the first half of the baseball season, another disappointing one for the Milwaukee Brewers which will get a whole lot worse in the year’s second half if the trade rumors swirling around Corey Hart and Prince Fielder have any truth to them. Yes, that sound you hear is the Brewers’ window of opportunity completely closing.

When things settle down like this in the middle of summer, I think of two things (OK, three things, but this is a clean blog.): CBS’s Big Brother and football.

With the start of NFL training camps under three weeks away and the first NFL preseason game less than four weeks away, it’s not too early to think football.

But even though the NFL has the most significant regular season of any major sport (and it’s not even close), not every week can be Favre vs. Packers. Here then, are my relevancy rankings for the 2010 Green Bay Packers regular schedule, from the least significant game to the most significant game.

16. Week 2 vs. Buffalo. The good news is that this game, on Sunday, September 19, is the home opener. So, after not being able to witness a meaningful game at Lambeau Field since last December, Packer fans will need little reason to get excited. Which is good, because playing the worst team in football doesn’t normally create much excitement. Aaron Rodgers will enjoy a good chunk of this game from the sidelines.

15. Week 6 vs. Miami. Miami, one of the more disappointing teams from 2009, should be better in 2010 with the addition of Brandon Marshall and the continued growth of quarterback Chad Henne. But this is still a fairly uninspiring interconference matchup for both teams, especially as it comes right before a crucial stretch of games for the Packers and right in the middle of a crucial stretch of AFC games for the Dolphins.

14. Week 13 vs. San Francisco. The 49ers are a potentially dangerous team that hasn’t played up to their potential in several years. Now that we’ve already seen the face-off between the 2005 quarterback draftees (Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers) in 2009, this is a one-time rivalry that has become a one-sided rivalry: Green Bay has won 12 of their last 13 meetings over San Francisco.

13. Week 4 vs. Detroit. It’s a division game and by week four, the Lions shouldn’t be mathematically eliminated from the postseason just yet. As a plus, Daunte Culpepper has signed with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL, so he definitely won’t be in attendance to stink up the field.

12. Week 12 at Atlanta. By week 12, we should know whether this is the surprisingly good Falcons team of 2008 or the surprisingly average Falcons team of 2009. Which will determine whether this game has playoff implications for one or both teams.

11. Week 14 at Detroit. By this point in the season, the Packers should be playing for playoff positioning. Also by this point, Lions first-round draft choices Ndamukong Suh and Jahvid Best should be starting to make an impact for a divisional rival that very well might be looking much more formidable than they did in week four.

10. Week 16 vs. New York Giants. The Giants were absolutely awful at the end of last season. It’s hard to imagine them being much worse, but it’s not hard to imagine them as the odd team out in the NFC East, which means they won’t have anything to play for by Christmas. Packers fans can hope that former Badgers tight end Travis Beckum will be enjoying an impressive sophomore season.

9. Week 8 at New York Jets. The Jets, coming off a surprisingly strong 2009 season, were the most active team during last year’s offseason, signing LaDainian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes, and Antonio Cromartie, and releasing Thomas Jones, Lito Sheppard, Leon Washington, and Alan Faneca. While they haven’t assembled quite the starting lineup of the Miami Heat, the Jets have quickly become a sexy Super Bowl pick in 2010. The Packers will find out how good they are on Halloween.

8. Week 3 at Chicago. Speaking of offseason roster moves, the Bears made quite a few of their own, acquiring defensive end Julius Peppers and running back Chester Taylor and hiring offensive coordinator Mike Martz as well as former division head coaches Mike Tice and Rod Marinelli. But the team still lacks a quality wide out, and because of that, Jay Cutler will still probably throw too many interceptions. But a Monday Night Football game at Soldier Field is always a welcome sight on the schedule.

7. Week 17 vs. Chicago. In an attempt to make the last week of the regular season more relevant, the NFL has scheduled division games only in week 17. A nice idea in theory, but that still leaves several likely-to-be-irrelevant games between division bottom-feeders (Raiders/Chiefs, Jaguars/Texans). It’s doubtful that both the Packers and Bears will need to win this game, but it’s also doubtful that either Lovie Smith or Mike McCarthy will roll over against historically their biggest rival.

6. Week 11 vs. Minnesota. Like last year, the NFL has diluted the second of the Packers/Vikings matchup by scheduling them too close together (two games in five weeks, one of which is a bye week for Green Bay). But inevitably, the Packers and Vikings play hard-fought games made even more intense by the presence of the player who wears Number 4 for Minnesota. Oh, he hasn’t officially signed on for 2010? Yeah, I’m not losing any sleep over it.

5. Week 15 at New England. New England isn’t anywhere near as scary as they used to be; but unless Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker are all on the PUP list come week 15, you can’t count them out. This Sunday night nationally-televised game has shoot-out written all over it.

4. Week 5 at Washington. Everybody wants to see how much more improved the Redskins will be with the additions of head coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb, both monumental upgrades from Jim Zorn and Jason Campbell. The Packers will be one of the first teams to find out. Fortunately for Green Bay, even if the Redskins are able to match preseason expectations, this game comes immediately following the first meeting between McNabb and his old team. So it will be virtually impossible for the Redskins to match their intensity from the previous week.

3. Week 1 at Philadelphia. Like the new-look Redskins, people are eager to find out how the Eagles will do in the post-McNabb, post-Brian Westbrook, Kevin Kolb era. Unless the team can perform without going through an adjustment period – which seems highly unlikely – the Packers should expect to hear some boos directed toward the home team in week one.

2. Week 9 vs. Dallas. The two most marketable teams in the league. One of the best rivalries in the league. Two teams very likely to be fighting for divisional titles. Sunday night nationally-televised game. The final game for the Packers before their (late) bye, but something tells me they won’t have any trouble getting up for it.

1. Week 7 vs. Minnesota. Favre returns to Lambeau Field again. Can the Packers get revenge this time around?

Now that I’ve got you drooling for some NFL action, can you wait for two months?

I can’t either.

But to help me through what Tom Petty called the hardest part, I’ll be going on vacation for most of the latter half of July.

See you back here in August, when the Packers and 31 other teams will be in training camp. (Will Corey Hart and/or Prince Fielder be in different uniforms? Will the Brewers be anywhere near .500? Will Brett Favre have made any kind of official announcement regarding his 2010 plans?)

Lots to discuss. Lots to talk about. Can’t wait.

10 Biggest Sports Disappointments Of 2010
July 2, 2010

Look, I know we haven’t talked for a while. But I was a little afraid to call you.
 
I know that the last few days have been tough. I heard about you taking your kids to see Toy Story 3 and how you had to be removed from the theater because you were crying so loudly.
 
Yes, I know. Andy saying goodbye to Woody, Buzz, and the rest of his beloved toys – and symbolically, to his childhood – was an emotional punch in the throat that resonated with many grown men struggling with the responsibilities of adulthood. But come on, get a grip.
 
Then, just days later, the United States men’s national soccer team lost to Ghana 2-1 in the opening round of the World Cup’s so-called “knockout stage.” I heard you hadn’t been so despondent since Beavis and Butthead was cancelled.
 
While I can empathize with your disappointment that the United States team didn’t make it farther in the World Cup, I must admit to some surprise at how hard you took the defeat.
 
Aren’t you sort of hardened to this sort of thing by now? After all, the first half of 2010 has been full of crushing letdowns for Wisconsin sports fans.
 
Let’s look at just ten of the biggest sports disappointments in 2010:
 
10. Lady Badgers Make Quick Exit. Yes, it was a successful season for the lady Badgers. Yes, Lisa Stone guided the team to one of their better seasons in quite some time, as they finished third in the Big Ten and won 21 games overall. But it was that type of season that made you think that their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002 was going to last a little longer. Instead the seventh-seeded Badgers were the victims of one of the few upsets in the stultifying predictable women’s tournament – really, most infomercials have more stunning developments – as they fell 64-55 to the tenth-seeded Vermont Catamounts of the America East conference.
 
9. Andrew Bogut Gets Hurt. The Milwaukee Bucks have long been a team that has had to deal with injuries. But often the team has been so bad that injury problems were an annoyance that distracted from bigger problems, like a bad photo on a Barry Manilow album cover. Yet in 2009-2010, something happened to the Milwaukee Bucks. Scott Skiles and John Hammond put together a team, led by rookie guard Brandon Jennings and midseason acquisition John Salmons, that won games, even after Michael Redd predictably went down in January with yet another knee injury. Not to be overlooked was the play of center Andrew Bogut, who was having a breakout season to the tune of 15.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game when he incurred an elbow and hand injury in April, just as the Bucks had secured a playoff spot. Without Bogut, the Bucks lost to the Hawks in the playoff’s opening round in seven games. With Bogut, they likely go deeper and should go deeper next year.
 
8.  The Brewers’ Lousy Home Cooking.  I’m hesitant to dump too much on the Brewers on this list due to their recent turnaround (winning eight of their last eleven games as of this writing). However, the fact remains that as we approach the All-Star Break, only Baltimore, Cleveland, and Houston (all with 16 wins) have won fewer games at home than the Milwaukee Brewers (17 wins). For a team with as solid and loyal a following as Milwaukee, that’s simply inexcusable and incomprehensible. And no, I don’t buy the team’s complaints about the shadows during day games at Miller Park anymore than I would buy complaints about the brand of peanuts sold at the concession stands. Last I checked, both the visiting and home teams play under the same conditions.
 
7. Aaron Kampman a Jaguar? It shouldn’t have ended like this. Heading into the 2009-2010 season, defensive end Aaron Kampman was one of the most well-liked and productive players on the Packers. In the three seasons spanning 2006-2009, Kampman totaled 215 tackles and 37 sacks. Then new defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his hairpiece instituted the 3-4, Kampman moved to outside linebacker, where he looked about as comfortable as my father at a Bone Thugs-n-Harmony concert, and a great player was suddenly nullified. Given his lack of production in 2009 (just 3.5 sacks before going down with a knee injury on November 22), it might not have been that crushing of a blow to the team when it was announced in March that the free agent had signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but it was undoubtedly a disappointing end to what was shaping up to be one of the greatest careers ever by a Packer defensive player.
 
6. Wisconsin Women’s Hockey Comes Back To Earth. What a difference a year makes. In March of 2009, the Badger women were celebrating their third national championship in four years. In winning the title (again), they amassed a gaudy 34-2-5 record and won a remarkable 23 games by at least four goals. In February of 2010, the Badger women, sans head coach Mark Johnson (on a year sabbatical to coach the U.S. women’s hockey team in Vancouver) and sans eight players lost to graduation, finished with a 18-15-3 record while missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. Given the huge losses, such a downfall was perhaps not entirely surprising, but given the high expectations for success that the women’s hockey program has raised, still very disappointing.
 
5. Brewers’ Pitching Stinks Again (But . . . ). When the 2010 season began, it seemed as if the Brewers couldn’t help but improve on their disappointing 80-82 2009 campaign. After all, Milwaukee just missed a winning record despite having the second-worst pitching staff in the National League. Unfortunately, so far in 2010, the pitching has been statistically just as bad, highlighted by the complete collapse of closer Trevor Hoffman and the less-than-tremendous start by newcomer Randy Wolf. However, the club appears to be on the upswing, and improvements in the pitching is (not surprisingly) a big reason: Hoffman’s ERA has dropped over three points since June, Randy Wolf has won three of his last four starts, there’s no more Jeff Suppan – his firing being the most welcome personnel move since Bruce Springsteen reunited with the E Street Band – and John Axford has emerged out of nowhere to not only bring back the handlebar mustache but also to bring back a dominant closer (five straight save conversions) to the Brewers. So, reasons for optimism following a pretty awful first half of 2010 for Brewers pitching.
 
4. The Penalty That Never Was. Just as Mick Jagger is in no hurry to return to Altamont Speedway, most Packers fans are in no hurry to return to thoughts of January’s NFC Wildcard game against the Arizona Cardinals. And most reticence fans feel likely stems from the final play of the game: Third-and-six on their own 24-yard line. In the process of having the football stripped, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers clearly gets his face mask pulled by Arizona’s Michael Adams. Karlos Dansby returns the fumble for a touchdown that seemed sure to be wiped away in favor of a facemask or illegal hands to the face penalty on Adams. Except no call was ever made, and a game that the Packers had been in control of since midway through the third quarter – not to mention a largely positive season – was suddenly over. Hey, NFL officials. Jim Joyce apologized for blowing that perfect game call. Isn’t it time you apologized for this gaffe?
 
3. Badgers Overpowered By Eagles. The bigger the game, the bigger the disappointment. Unlike the women’s team, the Badger men’s hockey team had a fantastic 2009-2010 season, going 28-11-4 and making an impressive run through the NCAA tournament field. But in a rematch of the 2006 NCAA championship game (which the Badgers won 2-1), the red-hot scoring Badgers were completely shut down by Boston College 5-0. However, the Badgers were in it until the third period, when the Eagles exploded for four goals and ended any chance Wisconsin had of winning its seventh NCAA championship. What’s worse for the Badgers is the fact that the 5-0 drubbing was the final game for seven seniors.
 
2. Defensive Collapse I. After a tremendous regular season (24-9, highlighted by three wins over top-five teams, including eventual champion Duke) that featured standout play from Jon Leuer (despite missing nine games with a wrist injury), Jason Bohannon, and Trevon Hughes, the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team was awarded a gaudy No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. Much of what secured the Badgers that high seed was a remarkably stingy defense that stifled its opponents while allowing less than 55 points a game. Bo Ryan’s team was clearly not designed for an up-and-down offensive shootout, but that’s what they found themselves in when they played No. 12 seeded Cornell of the Ivy League in the second round. The Badgers were no match for the hot-shooting Big Red, as Cornell shot 61 percent from the field and 53 percent from beyond the arc. What was clearly one of Wisconsin’s best teams in several years bowed out of the tournament in the opening weekend for the fourth time in five years. 
 
1. Defensive Collapse II.  Despite minimizing the talents of Aaron Kampman (see above), new Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers’s new 3-4 defense was clearly a success in its first year. Although the team stumbled against Minnesota (twice) and Pittsburgh, the team finished the 2009 regular season seventh in points allowed per game, second in yards allowed per game, and first in rushing yards allowed per game. Heading into the NFC Wildcard game against Arizona, a trip to the NFC Divisional Round seemed assured, especially since Green Bay had throttled Arizona 33-7 just the week before, as the defense only allowed the Cardinals 187 total yards from scrimmage. No one could have foreseen that the Cardinals would completely have their way with the Packers defense during the second meeting, scoring 31 points by the midway point of the third quarter en route to a 51-45 overtime win. It was the most points the Packers had ever allowed in their long and illustrious playoff history.

Just thinking about those 531 yards the Packers surrendered on January 10 is enough to make any Packer fan reach for their kids’ Woody or Buzz Lightyear doll for a little solace.

Here’s hoping for a better end to 2010.