Que Sarah, Sarah

Monday, March 31, 2008

2008 Cubs Season Preview...

Sarah Spain’s Cubs Season Preview
This Cubs Preview Is Brought To You By The Letter "C"

Monday morning, March 31st, 25 players and a handful of coaches will walk out of the Cubs locker room and onto Wrigley Field for the first game of the 2008 season. Each one will be wearing a crisp, clean, new ball cap. A cap with one, single letter on it: C.

C for Chicago
C for Cubs
C for Century
C for Champions
This season, the 2008 Chicago Cubs will be under the largest microscope in professional sports history. The team will be followed because this year marks the one hundred year anniversary of their last World Series win. They’ll be followed because this may be the last year the name "Wrigley Field" graces the 94-year-old ballpark at 1060 West Addison. They’ll be followed (literally) because producer/director John Scheinfeld is filming a documentary about the team and this historic season. They’ll be followed because everyone in the nation wants to know if they can finally beat the curse and become legends.

They’ll also be followed because they’re a damn good team. A team that looks talented enough to live up to the hype. Strong enough to withstand the pressure of a hundred years of history and an entire city’s hopes. Deep enough to last through October. Hungry enough to win it all.

Here’s how I C it.

Carlos and Co.
Cubs pitchers have led the NL in strikeouts for 7 consecutive seasons. During that time opposing teams have been held to a league low .248 batting average. If our starting pitchers stay healthy and play up to their potential, you can count on an 8th straight year of the same. Opening day starter Carlos Zambrano is the favorite to win the Cy Young this year and now that his financial situation is settled, he’ll be focused enough to put up at least 20 wins. Z’s backed by power lefties Ted Lilly and Rich Hill and right-handers Ryan Dempster and Jason Marquis. Lilly is coming off his best season ever—I predict he’ll get 20 wins as well. If Hill can fix the control problems he was having in Mesa and Dempster can eliminate lapses in concentration, this group of pitchers will be outstanding. The fact that Lou waited until the end of Spring Training to announce both his starters and the closer points to the incredible depth of this year’s bullpen. If the injury bug hits, Jon Lieber will slide right into the rotation without so much as a hiccup.

Kerry Wood will win back the love of Cubs fans everywhere in his first season as a closer. Healthy and confident, he’ll prove to be the superstar the Cubs organization has always believed him to be. (Plus, fans everywhere will get to start wearing their "We Got Wood" t-shirts again). Back-ups Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol would be starting closers on almost any other roster and could prove to be key contributors throughout the season.

"The Riot" Ryan Theriot

Cream of the Crop
Picture this: Ryan Theriot at 3rd, Alfonso Soriano at 2nd, Derrek Lee at 1st and Aramis Ramirez at the plate. The power of this Cubs lineup is downright scary. A few bad pitches and opposing teams will find themselves down faster than you can say Fukudome. After a disappointing offensive output in his first year with the team, Soriano is due. Lee and Ramirez will be the heart and soul of this squad and if Kosuke Fukudome can adjust to MLB ball quickly enough, he’ll provide priceless protection for Ramirez in the 5 spot. Felix Pie and Geovany Soto are the question marks, but both proved they can bring it at the plate during Spring Training. Getting consistent at-bats will be key for the development of these two youngsters.

The constant changes to the lineup indicate that Lou isn’t 100% sure how to best use all this talent. Some wonder whether Theriot’s low on-base percentage will become an issue at leadoff while others think Soriano’s impatience makes him ill-suited for the second slot. Fukudome’s play early on will greatly influence the lineup, as a slow start may force Lou to bat the 30-year-old rookie 2nd, where he’s most comfortable. Of course, placing the Japanese slugger in the two slot wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing—he had a team-leading .415 on base percentage and league-leading 15 walks in Spring ball. Lou seems resigned to the fact that he’ll be tinkering with the lineup well into the beginning of the season, especially with the last-minute addition of outfielder Reed Johnson. In their final Spring Training game Lou batted Johnson at leadoff and Soriano at the five spot, a combo Lou says he’d like to make when facing left-handed pitchers. While the skipper seems much more comfortable with his team in this, his second year as manager, it seems he still has plenty to figure out.

I read an article in which one Cubs fan referred to the NL Central Division as the "Comedy Central"—and he’s not too far off. The Milwaukee Brewers will certainly pose a threat, but the division is there for the taking. MLB analysts everywhere are awarding the Cubs the NL Central title before the first pitch has even been thrown. The team would greatly benefit from starting the season off strong so they don’t need a dramatic late push like they did last year. This season, just making the playoffs would be a huge disappointment. This team is talented enough to go all the way, which leads us to our final C…

Loads of pre-season prognosticators have the Cubs in the 2008 World Series, but I haven’t seen one yet that has them winning it. Most claim that the Cubs "curse" will do them in again, this time right on Heaven’s doorstep. Blaming the "curse" is a cop-out. This year a black cat can stroll arm-in-arm with a goat right past a broken mirror underneath a ladder set-up right in Bartman’s seat for all I care. The Cubs are gonna win it all, just you wait and C…

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Super Bowl/Axe Campaign Wins Honorable Mention



Home > Events > PRWeek Awards > 2008 Awards > Promotional Event of the Year 2008

Promotional Event of the Year 2008
March 06, 2008

Manning Selvage & Lee and Procter & Gamble: Charmin Restrooms

Native New Yorkers and visitors to the Big Apple alike find out very quickly that when nature calls, finding a restroom can be a daunting task. Try asking a restaurant or coffee shop if you can use the loo. If you're not outright refused, you'll be expected to purchase half the merchandise.

Couple that nightmare with the time-sensitive nature of Christmas shopping (where 10 minutes could mean the difference between getting Johnny his favorite toy and breaking his heart) and you've got a potent mix of nature vs. nurture.

Usher in Charmin Restrooms, who developed its Times Square promotion out of its established presence at events, festivals, and street fairs, and brought convenience and relief to the millions of shoppers who pass through the square during holiday shopping season.

Procter & Gamble, Charmin's parent company, teamed up with Manning Selvage & Lee to launch a campaign that would fit with the brand and rise above the din of consumer initiatives that emerge during the holidays. Unlike porta-lavs often seen on construction sites, Charmin's portable restrooms went luxury and multi-use, with attendants servicing after every use, two baby changing stations, stroller parking, a dance floor, and seating areas.

The objective for MS&L was to generate 200 million media impressions, drive at least 250,000 consumers to use the restrooms, and increase sales, awareness, trial, and consumption for Charmin products.

To this end, the agency launched a three-phase campaign, beginning with seeding the press for early buzz before the restrooms opened, then by generating interest with the use of a celebrity spokesperson at the launch, and closing out by sustaining interest with broad media pitches and a viral video campaign through YouTube.

All of the judges were in awe of this promotion. "Excellent," "creative," and "brilliant," were some of the descriptors bandied about during the conversation. "They really captured the true brand essence," noted one judge. "They took a commodity product and made it come alive." "It got press everywhere, not just [in New York City]," said another.

Press coverage was one of the principal objectives of the restroom campaign, and the results exceeded early projections. The Charmin restrooms generated a total of 465 million media impressions, a 232% increase above the goal it had originally set for the campaign. On launch day, more than 125 million impressions were recorded in 24 hours alone, including mentions on CNN, CNBC, FOX News, Today, and Good Morning America.

Visitors to the restrooms totaled more than 428,000 from all 50 states and 100 countries, a number that nearly doubled the original aim. Sales projections for Charmin products also increased, as the company reported record shipments significantly higher than forecasted.

Honorable Mention
Edelman and Unilever and AXE: "Stealing the Super Bowl Spotlight for 1/86th the Cost of a 30-Second Commercial"

Edelman paid so much attention to online chatter that it was able to leverage one girl's plight into a fast-turnaround media frenzy in the week leading up to the 2007 Super Bowl for its client, Unilever's brand AXE. Edelman found Sarah Spain (l), an attractive Chicago Bears fan who was so desirous of Super Bowl tickets she auctioned herself off on eBay as a date for anyone going to the game. Edelman picked up on the massive offers submitted to eBay and decided to turn the tables on the story while generating brand awareness for AXE, the designer grooming products targeted to young males. AXE procured four tickets for Spain and launched an online contest where young men would vie to become her date. Five days before kickoff, Edelman had to execute a three-part program: announce and promote the contest to mostly online outlets, announce the contest winner, and launch an on-site media tour with Spain and her lucky date. Despite the fast turnaround, and the usual blitz of Super Bowl coverage, the team earned placements in 79 online media outlets, 1,500 e-mail "applications" for the date, and a huge boon in visits to AXE's Super Bowl MySpace page. The contest also reached mainstream media audiences in TV, print, and radio, including Inside Edition and the LA Times. "It was simple, but simplicity sometimes works," said one judge. "It really nailed the brand."

Finalists 2008
Carmichael Lynch Spong and PETCO Animal Supplies, Inc On Your Bark, Get Set, PETCO!
Conover Tuttle Pace and E.B Horn Jewelers The Great Diamond Hunt
Edelman and Unilever AXE - "Stealing the Super Bowl Spotlight for 1/86th the Cost of a 30-Second Commercial
Manning Selvage & Lee and Procter & Gamble Charmin Restrooms
Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and LG Electronics MobileComm USA, Inc. GNR8N TXT: LG National Texting Championship

Sponsor: Founded in 1985 and part of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE: OMC), Brodeur (www. brodeur.com) is a leading strategic communications group specializing in public relations, marketing, and corporate communications. Brodeur is headquartered in Boston, MA, and is part of the Brodeur | Pleon worldwide network with offices in nearly 50 countries.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Take Me Out To The Ballgame


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

In 1908, songwriter and vaudeville performer Jack Norworth was riding a subway train in New York when he spotted a sign that read simply: “Baseball Today — Polo Grounds.”

Inspired by the ad, he penned the lyrics to one of the most beloved songs in US history: “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”

Americans rushed out to buy the record and the sheet music and made the song the most popular tune of 1908.

On October 14 that year, as people all over the country tapped their toes and sang along to the catchy chorus of baseball’s new anthem, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Detroit Tigers to win their second consecutive World Series. They haven’t won it since.

A mere 68 years later, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” became a national phenomenon again. In 1971, Chicago White Sox announcer Harry Caray began singing the tune to himself during every 7th inning stretch. On Opening Day 1976, Sox owner Bill Veeck, who had seen fans sing along over the years, snuck a microphone into the booth, allowing the whole crowd to hear Caray’s serenade. From that day forth, Caray led the fans at every home game in a rousing sing-a-long of the classic.

When he left the Sox to take on his iconic role as Chicago Cubs announcer, he brought the song with him and made it an institution, forever associated with Wrigley Field and the Cubs.

This season, to mark the 100-year anniversary of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” Major League Baseball will honor the song with a book, commemorative stamps and a contest awarding one fan the chance to sing the 7th inning stretch at this year’s All-Star Game. At last, 100 years after the song’s inception, 100 years after the Cubs’ last World Series win and 10 years after Harry Caray’s passing, the time seems more right than ever for the Cubs to finally win it all again.

The “Lovable Loser” tag given to the Cubs and their faithful says it all. Never has a team been so beloved in its futility. Never has a group of fans been so bonded together in defeat, rather than victory. When other ball clubs hit the skids they often find themselves short on fans and long on boos.

Not so for the Cubbies. The “Hundred Years of Tears” campaign has seen more than its fair share of bad luck and just plain bad baseball, but Cubs fans aren’t going anywhere. In fact, their numbers are growing.

Each year, win or lose, The Friendly Confines are packed with people looking to get a taste of what can only be described as the purest, most true baseball experience on this Earth. Out West, 1,800 miles away, the story at Hohokam Park in Mesa, Arizona is the same. Cubs fans from all over the country flock to the sunny Southwest, breaking attendance records as they get an early look at their team during Spring Training.

I was one of the many who traveled to Mesa this spring. I spent my days with 12,800-something fans just trying to soak up every swing, every catch and every pitch of this historic year.

Thursday, March 13, I joined a group of 20-somethings from Elmwood Park, Illinois as they sang “Go Cubs Go” in the parking lot before the game, lofting beanbags at a painted Cubs Cornhole board with “Packers Suck” etched on the back. I met a Mesa native who’d come to Spring Training every year as a kid, and who could point out where his father still worked, two blocks away at the local middle school.

I chatted up two college sweethearts from Crystal Lake, Illinois who were spending everyday of their Spring Break on a blanket on the left field berm. Later, I looked on as a young father rolled grounders to his little boy, who was more interested in becoming the next Joe Tinker than the game going on behind him.

As I sat at that game, surrounded by different generations of Cubs fans, all connected by a love that transcends sports, I just felt right. These thousands of people, from all over the world, shared my desire to spend hours with strangers, watching games that have no bearing on their team’s record or standings.

For some, three hours at a meaningless baseball game played by a team that hasn’t won it all in a century sounds downright mind-numbing. However, the guy next to me had it just right when he looked over, sun beating down on his face, perfectly broken-in mitt in his lap, and said: “I could do this everyday for the rest of my life.”

That afternoon, as we all stood to sing the 7th inning stretch, I felt a shared pride in more than just a baseball team, but also in a loyalty and a faith that is unmatched in professional sports.

We weren’t just going through the motions. When a Cubs fan sings “root, root, root for the Cubbies, if they don’t win it’s a shame,” it’s sung with an insistence and a passion that reflects years of unrelenting hope.

A century after those lyrics were first penned, this Chicago fan hopes fate will once again pair the most beloved song in baseball with the sport’s most beloved team. When it happens, I know somewhere Harry will be singing along.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cubs Spring Training Road Trip: Old Style & Happiness

Cubs Spring Training Road Trip
By Sarah Spain

Lugging a blue Cubs blanket, a squishy seat cushion and not a hint of a smile, a heavyset, tired-looking, middle-aged woman trudged out of the front gate of Hohokam Park, reluctantly following her husband. He paused to let her catch up and said, exasperated: "It’s an experience. Nobody ever said you were gonna have fun. I said it’s an experience."

At that moment I realized that a Cubs Spring Training game in Mesa, Arizona, wasn’t everyone’s idea of Heaven on Earth. But it was sure mine.

For a few days the second week of March I was deliriously, blissfully, totally and completely happy. It wasn’t just the baseball—I’ve been to plenty of ball games. It wasn’t all about the sunshine—I live in Los Angeles, where sunny days are a given. It wasn’t just the beer—though there is something wonderful about a cold can of Old Style delivered right to you. It wasn’t even about the people—in fact, I went to all three games by myself.

It wasn’t any one thing, it was everything.

Some people find baseball to be too slow. The stretches between hits can seem like hours and teams sometimes win by scoring just one measly run. I have a few friends that could even find a way to hate Game 7 of the World Series. Just imagine dragging one of them to a bunch of pre-season games that mean absolutely nothing. So there I was, on the right field lawn for three days straight, joined only by a bag of peanuts, a pen and paper, and the occasional Old Style. Oh yeah, and about 12,800 other people.

See, that’s the thing about baseball lovers. Instead of being bored by the meandering pace of a ball game, true fans relish it. There’s time to admire the vast stretches of lush lawn interrupted by the strict angles of dusty base paths. There’s time to smell the unique blend of hot dogs, freshly cracked peanuts and newly mown grass—a bouquet that can only be found at a ballpark or a summer picnic. There’s time to watch a young father proudly teaching his son how to score a game or catch a fly ball, all the while hoping one day he’ll share his dad’s passion for the game. There’s even time to grab the glistening knee and kiss the flushed cheek of someone special—even if she’s wearing the other team’s ball cap.

Of all baseball lovers, none are more passionate nor more tortured than Cubs fans. For them, baseball on a sunny spring day in Mesa is as pure and simple as it gets. Lawn seats are just $6, there are no ushers checking to see if you’re in the right seat and most of the games aren’t even televised. Superstars sign autographs before the game and some lucky fans on the lawn can even get the outfielders to chat it up mid-inning. Most of the players save the histrionics and showboating for the regular season, allowing fans to focus on their swings, catches, pitches and slides.

Of course, Spring Training isn’t just about gauging how the big guns look and getting to know the newbies, it’s also about soaking up the untainted hope promised by the pre-season. Before the first pitch of the season is ever thrown, before the first out or the first loss can be posted, fans can still believe that this is the year their team wins it all.

In just over a week, when the Cubs take the field at Wrigley to open up the 2008 season, Northsiders will be hesitant to pull out the ol’ standby: "there’s always next year." It just feels like the waiting is over. It feels like it’s time. To win it all again exactly one hundred years later would be the only salve for a century’s worth of heartache.

This time around, next year is this year. I know this much: it will be an experience.

The Sports Bank’s NCAA picks

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Of course I’ve got more than one bracket, so this is just ONE set of picks. : )


TSB.net NCAA Tourney Predictions Part 1
By the TSB Staff

Paul M. Banks

East Regional

Winner: UNC
Sleeper: Butler
Early Exit: Indiana.

Poor Dan Dakich…ok, I didn’t really mean that. I have no sympathy for the Devil. (Or, in Dakich’s case, protégé of the Devil) Anyone else sick of Satan, a.k.a. former IU Coach Bob Knight, as an ESPN analyst yet? They asked him to predict who would win the Minnesota-Illinois Big Ten tournament game, and he just refused to answer. What a complete prick! Later he denounced the three-point line and conference tournaments. Has there ever been a person more afraid of change in the history of humankind? Has there ever been an uglier sweater worn on television than his? (Although Bill Cosby and Mateen Cleaves have come close). The overall 1 seeded Tar Heels are peeking at just the right time and they will own this bracket.

Midwest Regional

Winner: Georgetown
Sleeper: USC
Early Exit: Wisconsin

The Badgers usually make deep tourney runs when they have a lower seed. When they have a good seed (which hasn’t happened a whole lot in the school’s history) they usually tank and get eliminated early. Georgetown has one of the best inside-outside combinations of any team in the field and I just love that Princeton Offense (more on that later). Bo Ryan’s swing offense…yawn!

South Regional

Winner: Texas
Sleeper: Mississippi St.
Early Exit: Stanford

I think Marquette is dangerous right now and might knock the Cardinal out in the second round. Memphis is complete garbage at the foul line and this is the time of year where that weakness will crawl up and bite them in the ass. Like their mascot, Stanford has a couple prominent trees up front, but I fully expect MU to chop them down in round 2.

West Regional

Winner: UCLA
Sleeper: Western Kentucky
Early Exit: Drake

To paraphrase Seinfeld, "I don’t like the Drake" and we all know that at least one 12 beats a 5 every year. This could be the region with the most upsets as this bracket’s low seeded teams are by far the strongest around. Georgia is on everyone’s mind right now, but this is not the time for the South to rise again. UCLA will be tested once or twice, but the Sons of Westwood will pass with flying yellow and powder blue colors.

National Championship Game
UCLA over Georgetown… And in "one shining moment" we’ll have a "Hollywood Love Story." Kevin Love leads the most complete and balanced team in the nation as they cut down the nets. Then in June, an NBA lottery team will show us that you can buy Love. This will not go over well in the state of Oregon, where Love is very much unloved…unless the Trail Blazers are the ones to find true love. And we’ll all get even sicker of sports media people making love puns than we are now.
Let us not speak of Illinois’ postseason plans.

MICHIGAN STATE My team’s chances (optimistically)

The warriors of ancient Sparta dedicated their entire lives to the ultimate goal of a glorious death suffered in battle. Spartan mothers told their sons "either come home with your shields, or on them." (American Civil War mothers did likewise). In East Lansing, these Spartans similarly spend all season preparing for the do-or-die tournament in March. At a school with four Final Fours in nine seasons, the rest of the year is merely a prelude to the brackets. Tom Izzo’s teams know how to take down higher seeds, advancing to the Elite Eight as a 7 seed in 2003 and to the Final Four as a 5 seed in ’05. They’ve been placed into a bracket conducive for this, as 1 Memphis is always overrated and never ever makes it to the big stage and 2 Texas was already beaten by Sparty in Detroit this season. And what about potentially meeting UCLA down the line? Back in November, State led that game for 59 minutes and 30 seconds before ultimately losing to the Bruins by one point.

MICHIGAN STATE My team’s chances (realistically)

This team isn’t just hot and cold; they’re utterly bipolar. They scored 42 points against Wisconsin in February and then 103 against Indiana in the very next game. Raymar Morgan and Goran Suton have been anything but dependable lately, so they’ll go as far as the three guards: Drew Neitzel, Travis Walton and Kalin Lucas will carry them. All three finished in the top 5 in conference in assists. Walton was 2nd (4.4), Neitzel 4th (4.2), Kalin Lucas 5th (3.9) Unfortunately, the team’s assist to turnover ratio is nothing to text message home about. MSU is also very turnover prone, and often at the most inopportune times. The Jekyll & Hyde-like persona of the ’08 Spartans is due to their inconsistent ball-handling. When all three guards are on the court at the same time, you’ll often see the entire troika touch the ball (sometimes even multiple times) before the ball even crosses the half-court line—even at times when their opponents are not pressing. Not sure what that’s all about, but who am I to question H to tha Izzo’s strategy?

Lucas embarrassed himself twice in the final minute of the Big Ten semifinal game against Wisconsin, pretty much giving them the game in two of the last three offensive possessions. And of course, every year the MSU student body riots on the night that State is eliminated, so I would guess that on the first night of the tourney’s second weekend, you can apply this quote from Scorcese’s "Gangs of New York:" "get ready, this town’s gonna burn."

On Monday, a quote from Paul M. Banks lead off the fan article in the MyFox National 2008 March Madness Preview.

(Name links to The Sports Bank.net)

David K.

East Regional

Winner: UNC
Sleeper: Washington State
Early Exit: Oklahoma

When Wazzu forces teams to play their style of half-court ball, they can hang with most teams in the country. It’s just too bad they get matched up with North Carolina in a potential Sweet 16 game. Still, Tony Bennett’s boys can reach the Final Four if they knock off the Tar Heels. Louisville will likely come out of the bottom of the bracket. A lot of people seem to be sleeping on Tennessee.

Midwest Regional

Winner: Georgetown
Sleeper: Clemson
Early Exit: Vanderbilt

In my opinion, this is the toughest regional. A great opening round game between USC and Kansas State, featuring two of the best freshmen in the nation, should be fun to watch. Georgetown is very tough all-around, and they have proven that they can win even when Roy Hibbert is ineffective. Plus, this group has been there before—they made it to the Final Four last year.

South Regional

Winner: Stanford
Sleeper: Oregon
Early Exit: Miami (FL)

Yes, I have the Cardinal beating my beloved Golden Eagles (see yesterday’s article.) I love what the Lopez twins do inside, causing havoc for opposing teams in the paint. Beating Texas in Houston will be a chore in the Elite Eight. Watch out for the Ducks. They nearly pulled off a Final Four run with the same core (minus Aaron Brooks), and could send Memphis home early.

West Regional

Winner: UCLA
Sleeper: West Virginia
Early Exit: Duke

I’m really intrigued by the West Virginia/Arizona first round match-up and think the winner of that one can and will knock off Duke. Joe Alexander was deadly in the Big East Tournament and when the Mountaineers are hitting their outside shots, they are nearly unbeatable. I would not be surprised to see them in the Elite Eight. UCLA was my pre-season pick to win it all and I’m sticking with them to go to the Final Four.

National Championship Game

UCLA over Georgetown… I had this Final Four before even seeing Paul’s, I promise. I think Georgetown has the size and toughness to knock off North Carolina, while UCLA beats Stanford for a fourth time this season. Like I said, I picked the Bruins at the beginning of the season, and I’m sticking to my guns.

Andy Weise

East Regional

Winner: UNC
Sleeper: Winthrop
Early Exit: Indiana

Remember when Indiana was one of the best teams in the country? Now they are a seven-seed! If they can somehow pull it together and get by Arkansas, they’ll get blown out by UNC in the second round. Watch out for Winthrop again – yes I picked them to the sweet 16 last year and I am not afraid to do the same again this year.

Midwest Regional

Winner: Kansas
Sleeper: Davidson
Early Exit: Georgetown and Wisconsin

Remember this now – you heard it here first (how many times do we hear that one this week) USC versus Davidson in the sweet 16. Ok, not very likely to happen but I just see Wisconsin and Georgetown as teams that definitely will stumble. Plus, Dell Curry’s son Stephen Curry is a stud for the Wildcats. Oh and Kansas is too powerful to lose. That’s two No. 1’s for me so far.

South Regional

Winner: Memphis
Sleeper: St. Mary’s
Early Exit: Kentucky

Memphis is a powerhouse with the backcourt of Rose and CDR. I feel like Rose is just starting to dominate too (Oden was doing the same thing last year). St. Mary’s is my sleeper – I have a feeling they could catch Texas off guard and upset the Longhorns in the second round. Why was Kentucky actually invited to the tournament? To put it simply – it’s B.S.

West Regional

Winner: UCLA
Sleeper: Xavier
Early Exit: Drake

Ok, one would ask, "how is Xavier a sleeper – they are a three seed!?" Who is picking Xavier over UCLA or Duke? Probably not too many people, but that’s why they’re my sleeper. If Duke or UCLA happen to slip up, Xavier could jump into a nice position and make a run for the Final Four. This bracket is wide open after the top two seeds. Drake loses to UConn in the second round – once they see Hasheem Thabeet, they will run!

National Championship Game

Memphis over UNC – in the last few years, I’ve predicted UNC over Illinois and Florida over Ohio State. My point? Nothing wrong with picking 1 seeds into the finals. I’ve heard the knocks on the free-throw shooting (58.7%) but like I said earlier, Rose is blooming (no pun intended) at the right time and can control the outcome of the game. Dorsey is a beast underneath and Chris Douglas-Roberts is a deadly scorer.

DUKE (The team I generally cheer for… after the Gophers of course) My team’s chances:
After the Minnesota Gophers, I’ve always had a soft spot for Duke. I generally stay quiet when people complain about Duke constantly, but I fell in love with Coach K and the Dukies back in ’92 when Laettner hit the buzzer beater against Kentucky (I was 8 and still remember watching the shot live in my basement). I think the Blue Devils can definitely reach the elite 8 but I don’t think they get to the Final Four unless UCLA gets knocked off by someone else. Duke has lost four times in the past nine games so they are vulnerable right now. I think a fair number of people have them going out in the second round to Bob Huggins and his West Virginia Mountaineers. If the Blue Devils get to the sweet 16, Purdue or Xavier would both be very tough opponents. We’ll see how it goes.
Minnesota will be in the NCAA tournament next year! Mark my words!!


Sarah Spain

East Regional

Winner: UNC
Sleeper: Butler
Early Exit: Oklahoma
Gotta go with my future husband Michael Jordan’s alma mater. Tyler Hansbrough will play like a beast and the team will thrive in front of what’s sure to be a fiery home crowd at Bobcats Arena. Oklahoma got worked by Texas in the Big 12 tourney—they’ll fall to a St. Joseph’s squad that’s shooting lights out.

Midwest Regional

Winner: Kansas
Sleeper: Davidson
Early Exit: USC
The Jayhawks might be the most athletic team in the tourney and they’ll run the rest of the region right out off the court. Expect high scoring and a balanced attack. Davidson played outstanding ball against tough nonconference teams this season and they’ll step it up when it counts. Michael Beasley and K State (incorrectly ranked 11, in my opinion) are gonna shock USC.

South Regional

Winner: Texas
Sleeper: Michigan St
Early Exit: Stanford

Yeah I’m a homer. Ivy League athletes gotta stick together. Since being edged out by Duke, the Big Red have won 16 straight—the second longest streak in the country. They’ll take that confidence and momentum right past the Lopez twins. Texas will benefit from a Houston crowd and surge past a strong Memphis team.

West Regional

Winner: UCLA
Sleeper: Drake
Early Exit: Xavier

You gotta love the "walk-ons turned stars" story line at Drake. They’ll surprise a lot of people with their patience and mistake-free ball. UCLA has the easiest road to the Final Four of any top seed, they’ll coast to the top. Georgia’s improbable run will continue.

National Championship Game
UCLA over UNC.

CORNELL My team’s chances (optimistically)

The battle of the brains (and lame mascots) pits the Stanford Cardinal against the Cornell Big Red. The Lopez twins are big bodies and definitely give Stanford a size advantage over Cornell. However, a recent Sports Illustrated article detailed the twins’ shared obsession with Disney movies and Michael Jackson. Something tells me two guys inspired by cartoon mice and an effeminate freak show won’t have the onions to bring their "A" game to the tourney. Cornell’s point guard Louis Dale has sick handles and the Big Red has a squadron of three point shooters who can drop three-bombs all day. Sophomore stud Randy Wittman, son of T’Wolves head coach Ryan Wittman, has a basketball mind and outstanding accuracy. If the Stanford team walks in expecting an easy win, they’ll have the (hardwood) rug pulled right out from under them.

CORNELL My team’s chances (realistically)

Besides their 7 foot transfer, Jeff Foote, the Big Red are, well, not so big. If Stanford works an inside-out game they’ll dominate. Foote can’t get into foul trouble or Cornell’s smaller guys will be no match for the Lopez’s. If Cornell’s shooting game isn’t there, they haven’t got a chance. Realistically, too many things need to go right in order for the Big Red to advance to Saturday.

Love It or Hate It: Mayo v. Beasley


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

O.J. Mayo vs. Michael Beasley.

Two of the best freshmen in the country will meet Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

While there’s little doubt these two future NBA lottery picks will be one-and-done as far as their college careers go, the tourney bracket has ensured that one guy will be one-and-done in the postseason as well.

K-State hasn’t made the tourney in 12 years, but Beasley, averaging 26.5 points and 12.4 rebounds per game, has the people of Manhattan, Kansas putting on their dancing shoes. A beast of a man, "Beast"ley is one of those players that defies the concept of basketball as a team sport. That’s not to say he’s a selfish player (he is in fact, quite the opposite), but rather that if he’s hot, he can win a game single-handedly.

The No. 11 seed in the Midwest regional, the Wildcats are a scary first-round matchup for the Trojans. While they’ve faltered as of late, K-State proved during the season they’ve got what it takes to play with the big boys. In late January, they took down then-No. 2 Kansas during a streak that saw them win 12 of 14 games. While some had worried they might miss the tourney altogether, others now argue their No. 11 seed belies their potential.

The Trojans were under the shadow of crosstown rivals UCLA all season, but that didn’t stop Mayo from grabbing a little of the SoCal spotlight for himself. The 6-foot-5 rookie averaged 20.8 points per game and shot 40.8 percent from behind the arc in his freshman campaign, leading USC to some big wins, including a January victory over the Bruins. He even has his own fan site, http://www.OJMayonnaise.com.

Mayo and Beasley used to play each other in AAU leagues in high school, and now they’ll meet again on college’s biggest stage. The Midwest regional is in Omaha — not exactly home court for either team, but certainly a much shorter plane ride for K-State — a fact not lost on USC supporters. The Trojan fans at my office gasped during the selection show when they saw the dangerous Wildcats slide into the No. 11 slot.

While many are excited to see Beasley and Mayo face off head-to-head, others are wondering if it’s a matchup worthy of a later round. While there are certainly no guaranteed wins in the Big Dance, pitting the two stars against each other does guarantee one will be unceremoniously dumped in the first round.

The media loves this kind of marquis matchup. The pregame stories will be more like the coverage of a boxing match than a basketball game — a battle between two men, not two teams. The hype will be overwhelming.

ESPN and CBS announcers will sheepishly admit to having man-crushes as new heights of hyperbole spill out of them like so many gallons of Gatorade. Vegas bookies will work overtime and NCAA officials will watch the advertising money roll in. Once the game is over, though, one of the most exciting players in college basketball will be out of the tourney and, most likely, done playing college ball.

True, the game will most likely be outstanding, but I hate the idea of one of these guys going home in the first round. What about you?

Are you loving or hating O.J. Mayo vs. Michael Beasley in the first round?

Love It Or Hate It - Guarantees...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

Guarantee - (guar·an·tee)

--noun: 1. assurance: something that assures a specific outcome
--verb: 1. give assurance of something: to promise something, or make something certain

Seems these days a lot of athletes don’t quite get the meaning of the word "guarantee."

Take Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano. During Spring Training last year, Z "guaranteed" not only that he would win the Cy Young award, but that the Cubs would win the 2007 World Series, too.

Chicago fans are still waiting. For both.

Last December, Steelers defensive back Anthony Smith "guaranteed" a win against the then-undefeated Patriots. New England won the game 34-13 and Smith got burned by the long ball on the Pats’ first two scores of the day.

Just this past February, Toronto Raptors small forward Jamario Moon "guaranteed" a victory in the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest. Moon was eliminated after the first round and watched from the sidelines as Magic star Dwight Howard donned a cape and cemented his place in Slam Dunk history.

A lot of fans are starting to hate the false promises athletes are throwing around. The press blows a story way out of proportion and rarely, if ever, does a guy’s winning pledge come true.

These days, a guarantee is nothing more than billboard material for opposing teams and fodder for the media. All sound and no fury. All bark and no bite. If bettors made such empty guarantees to bookies and husbands made ’em to their wives, there’d be hell to pay.

But that’s just the thing. Athletes aren’t actually guaranteeing anything tangible when they make predictions. If he wins, a player’s prophecy looks heroic - the stuff legends are made of.

Who didn’t love it when Joe Namath guaranteed victory over the heavily-favored Colts in ’69? Who can forget Babe Ruth’s called shot homer high into the center field stands? What would America do without the CEO of Men’s Wearhouse assuring prospective customers: "You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it."

On the other hand, if things don’t go his way, a guy’s got nothing to lose but his pride.

Until now.

Brett Bouchy, managing partner of the Arena Football League’s Arizona Rattlers, has made the kind of promise only auto shops and pizza delivery guys can make: a 100% money-back guarantee.

If the Rattlers don’t make the playoffs this year, Bouchy has pledged to refund every single cent season ticket holders spent on their seats.

Twelve of the league’s 17 teams make the playoffs, so the call isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds. However, nothing’s certain in the world of pro sports.

Just ask the 2007 Miami Dolphins. What if the team’s execs had made a similar guarantee, promising at least two wins last season? Or if the Michigan Wolverines had promised a full refund to boosters in the event of a loss to Appalachian State?

Last season, the Rattlers went 4-12, missing the playoffs while posting some of the worst attendance records in franchise history. Bouchy’s move, while risky, will no doubt result in elevated ticket sales and increased publicity for the squad. More hype = more money = more fans.

Now the team just has to perform. And isn’t that what sports are all about anyway?

Right now Heat fans are forced to watch their 11-51 squad "compete" for lottery picks while Dwyane Wade rides the pine and Pat Riley disappears on scouting trips. Can you really expect Heat season ticket holders to pay for the privilege of watching an 11-win season? Should fans have to pay to see their team intentionally lose for the sake of a chance at Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose?

No. And that’s why I’m loving Bouchy’s guarantee.

What say you? Sports guarantees: Do you Love ’Em or Hate ’Em?

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Shoutout To HoHoKam


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

About 1,800 miles west of Wrigley Field stands the other home of the Chicago Cubs: HoHoKam Park.

The stadium has opened its gates to the team and its fans for the last 12 seasons, and the city of Mesa, Arizona's been welcoming them for even longer. For 30 consecutive years, and 44 altogether, the pride of the North Side has been holding Spring Training in Mesa, smack dab in the middle of Arizona's beautiful Valley Of The Sun.

When Midwesterners simply can't stand the bitter chill of a Chicago winter any longer, they hop a flight to a place where the sun is always shining and hope for a World Series championship always springs eternal.

Millions of people descend upon Arizona each year for what is often a sort of "Spring Break" for the middle aged. The 12 major league teams in the Cactus League compete in seven stadiums within a 35-mile radius in the Phoenix area and two more in Tucson, less than two hours away. The close proximity of the teams and stadiums turns central Arizona into a baseball Mecca for the month of March.

HoHoKam, which has a capacity of 12,623 and sits on 48.45 acres of land, is one of the largest Cactus League venues, which suits the rabid Cubs fans just fine, as they hold every Spring Training attendance record in the book.

In 2005, the team broke its own record with a total spring home attendance of 193,993 — an average of 12,125 people per game. Last March, when the team faced the crosstown rivals White Sox, the turnstile clicked for 12,906 patrons — a new single-game record.

In response to the ever-growing numbers of fans, in 2007 HoHoKam added lights to the concourse and upgraded its souvenir shops and concessions. While some diehard fans sit right up front, carefully marking their scorecards and analyzing the swings of each young prospect, others view the ballpark as a open-air beer garden of sorts. The outfield lawn is always filled with 20-somethings who work on their tans and their buzzes while occasionally checking in on the game at hand.

Sprinkled amongst them are parents teaching tiny tots about the magic of baseball and the most beloved team in America, the Chicago Cubs. Before each game, the P.A. announcer cheerily declares the game temperature in Mesa, followed by the temperature in Chicago. It's no wonder the seats at HoHoKam are always full.

Everyone knows there's no better place to fall in love with baseball than Wrigley Field, but when the temperatures dip below zero and the Friendly Confines are covered in snow, HoHoKam is a welcome home away from home. The intimate and relaxed nature of Spring Training makes it the best time for fans to see their favorite players up close. Regulars know where to stand before and after games to get autographs and chat with their heroes or meet new guys, like Kosuke Fukudome, who end up making a big splash in the majors.

For Cubs fans, Spring Training is the clean slate, fresh start, new beginning that beckons from the distance at the end of every disappointing season. Before the first regular season pitch is thrown, and before the first blue "L" flag ever has a chance to mar the skyline over Wrigley, fans get to be hopeful yet again. In Mesa, for Cubs fans, it doesn't ever have to be about "next year."

Love It Or Hate It: MMA Goes Mainstream

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

It's just your typical story of a high school football standout turned pornography company bodyguard turned street fighter turned major network star.

We here at The Love of Sports have given love to Kimbo Slice before (http://www.theloveofsports.com/index.php/site/comments/kimbo_slice_already_a_legend/), but in a few short months, his legend will grow even more.

Slice, née Kevin Ferguson, has turned a life of underground bullying into a career as a mainstream "athlete". The 6-foot-1, 230-pound 34-year-old, who looks a bit like Mr. T with a healthy dose of hobo mixed in, is the face of Mixed Martial Arts organization EliteXC.

Last week, CBS announced a deal had been brokered to bring Slice and his fellow brawlers to primetime television. Some fans wish the larger, more popular organization, UFC, had been the one to sign with the network, since EliteXC has far fewer recognizable stars and Slice hasn't yet proven himself against established MMA fighters.

Nevertheless, the move is a big one for a sport that's been kept mostly in the periphery. CBS plans to air bouts in four Saturday night specials a year, most likely in the 9:00pm to 11:00pm Eastern time slot. A quick glance at TV listings for the next two weeks shows that a repeat of "Criminal Minds" and a new "48 Hours Mystery" currently fill the two-hour spot. Not exactly family television, but certainly less controversial than airing the real-life violence of an MMA bout.

Most sports fans love the thrill of a fight. Whether it's hockey fisticuffs the refs let play out or a spontaneous brawl during an NBA game, nothing gathers a crowd around a TV faster than a good ol' fashioned beatdown. While most viewers would rather ride a seat-less bicycle on a cobbled street than step into the ring with Slice, they're more than happy to watch some other schmuck get pummeled for a couple thousand bucks. But while these fans keep tuning in, others are asking: "Does MMA take competitive fighting too far?"

Wearing nothing but spandex shorts and gloves, MMA competitors punch, kick, knee, choke and wrestle until someone is knocked out or cries uncle. A lot of critics hate the idea of this brutal, dangerous sport entering millions of American homes on one of the Big Four networks. While anyone with a computer can access MMA videos on YouTube, introducing the sport to the very traditional medium of mainstream television validates it in a way viral video and cable shows cannot.

Detractors think putting a spotlight on what is essentially no holds barred cage fighting will glorify savagery and promote violence amongst viewers. Others wonder whether kids will hear about Slice's rise to fame and fortune and think they'll have the same success soliciting fights in back alleys and empty parking lots. Without proper training or a complete understanding of the rules and regulations upheld in the octagon, a wanna-be fighter is destined to suffer more than just the bruises and bumps earned in a backyard football game.

Meanwhile, MMA lovers hope the CBS deal is a breakthrough that'll further legitimize the potentially billion-dollar industry. Their response to critics is that mainstream sports like football and boxing are just as brutal and dangerous, if not more so. Professional football players hurtle into each other at high speeds, sometimes resulting in serious spinal injuries and countless broken bones. Traditional boxing matches see far more blows to the head and serious injuries (or death) than MMA contests. Boxers are encouraged to recover from major hits and keep fighting, while contestants in the octagon are often seeing tapping out in just a few minutes if serious danger seems imminent.

Fans of the combat sport need not worry that execs will try to tone down the violence for network television, either. CBS reps say no rule alterations will be made.

Love it or hate it, MMA is the fastest-growing sport in America. The demographic most coveted by television execs (men 18-34) is the very same one propelling MMA to ever-greater heights of popularity. Put the two together and you've got what CBS hopes will be ratings gold.

As TV execs try to keep up with the ever-changing demands of American audiences, new programs will continue to push the boundaries of censorship. I've always been of the opinion that watching violent movies and TV shows doesn't cause violence amongst kids — absent or indifferent parents are the real culprits. If the ratings are there and the fans keep asking for more, MMA is gonna stay on the air for years to come. If you're not into two greased-up dudes in shiny tighty whities trying to execute the devastating rear naked choke, go ahead and tap out (i.e. change the channel).

What's your take? Slice and Co. on CBS. Do you "Love It or Hate It?"

Love It Or Hate It: Rexstacy/Train Rex Edition

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

Rex Grossman knows a thing or two about love and hate.

The inconsistency of the much-maligned Bears QB has caused him to be cheered and jeered with equal aplomb during his tenure with the team.

On Saturday, Grossman was awarded a one-year contract with a base salary of $3 million and up to $2 million in incentives. The deal is modest as far as starting QBs go, but then who's to say whether he'll even be the starter come September?

The former Florida standout's pro career has been riddled with injuries and defined by extreme highs and lows. He's been seriously injured in three of his four years with the Bears, and when he does play, the results are staggeringly inconsistent. Even now, in the offseason, Chicagoans are tortured by their love-hate relationship with him.

In 2004, after being named the starter by new head coach Lovie Smith, Grossman tore his ACL in the third game and missed the rest of the season. His knee was rehabbed and ready in time for training camp in 2005, but he broke his ankle in a preseason game and missed most of that season as well. He returned to play in the last two regular season games, victories against the Falcons and the Packers, that sent the Bears to the playoffs.

He was awarded the starting job for that first round playoff game, but the Panthers capitalized on his inexperience, beating the Bears 29-21. After just seven career NFL starts, Grossman's tendency towards injury and penchant for throwing interceptions were already creating a stir in Chicago.

Despite starting every game and leading the Bears to their first Super Bowl in over 20 years, Grossman became an even more polarizing figure in 2006. "Good Rex," as the Chicago papers dubbed him, had a passer rating of at least 100 in seven games, which was the highest in the league.

Meanwhile, "Bad Rex" also led the league with his mark of five games at a QB rating of 37.0 or below. Included in that bunch was a New Year's Eve game which saw Rex throw three passes to Green Bay and just two to his own team. That equaled a passer rating of 0.0. Throughout the playoffs and the Super Bowl, Chicago fans cautiously supported the embattled signal caller while nervously watching every snap and every pass, praying for the best.

Last season, Lovie once again put his faith in Grossman, naming him the starting QB again. Three games, six interceptions, a passer rating of 45.2 and roughly 200 Lovie Smith repetitions of "Rex Grossman is our quarterback" later, Train Rex was benched in favor of journeyman backup Brian Griese.

The former Michigan QB didn't last long, though. Grossman was back on the field November 11 after a shoulder injury sidelined Griese late in the first half. After fumbling on his first snap back, Rexstacy went 7-of-14 for 142 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. The score, a 59-yard pass to Bernard Berrian, gave the Bears the lead and resulted in an ecstatic Grossman leaping into his teammates' arms.

Thrust back into the starting role, he seemed more poised and more thoughtful on the field. After his hiatus on the pine, Grossman returned for five games and threw for 913 yards with three touchdowns and a pick, for an average passer rating of 80.2. Unfortunately, Good Rex's return was brief.

On December 6, Grossman was knocked out of the Bears' contest with the Redskins after suffering another knee injury. The sprain wasn't serious, but it did end his year and put Kyle Orton (a 10-game winner in 2005) back into the starting spot for the remainder of the season.

And so the Bears' management is left with another offseason full of questions.

In the last week, the team's re-signed both Grossman and Orton to one-year deals. Grossman's decision-making is questionable and his size is a factor, but overall he has more physical skill than most of the QBs in the league. Orton's a decent game manager, but his record as a starter is inflated by a 2005 defense that carried him to most of his victories.

Neither QB has the faith and trust of the organization or its fans, but of the many doubters, no one's come up with a better plan. Some want the team to go after Donovan McNabb. Others (who apparently aren't aware of the team's offensive line issues) want to see the first round pick go toward Kentucky's Andre Woodson. A surprising number of Chicago fans see Orton, he of the neckbeard, as the future of the team. Those who support Grossman do so quietly and cautiously.

Rex Grossman truly is the Jekyll and Hyde of today's NFL. Just when it seems Bad Rex has sealed his fate as backup, Good Rex shows glimpses of greatness. Then, when the fans begin to support him again, Bad Rex returns to lose their faith with fumbles and picks.

Some outsiders wonder how anyone in Chicago could support the re-signing of such a controversial player. The sad truth is, Chicagoans have had it much, much worse. A quick look at the recent history of Bears QBs says it all.

Rather than re-hash the horror that was, oh, 1993 to 2004, I'll direct you to this article that does just that for me - http://proxy.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=fleming/050914.

If you've been driving a Pinto for long enough, even a Saturn can start to look like a Benz. That's why I'm resigned to loving the re-signing of Rex Grossman, but I reserve the right to hate it within mere moments of the 2008 season opener.

So, how 'bout it? Are you lovin' or hatin' Rex Grossman getting another chance with the Bears?

Dancing With The (All) Stars

By Sarah Spain
Originally published on 2/25/08 on TheLoveOfSports.com

The new cast of Dancing With The Stars has been revealed, and once again the show will feature some of the best athletes in the world.

In the past, boxers, hoops stars, drivers, Olympians and NFL legends have all donned the spandex and danced the samba. Not only have the pros competed, they've dominated.

This year's crop of would-be waltzers includes Grand Slam tennis champ (and former stab-wound victim) Monica Seles, Olympic figure skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi and the Dolphins dashing defensive end, Jason Taylor.

Seles and Yamaguchi are the first contestants from their respective sports, while Taylor is the first active NFL player to participate (assuming you still consider Miami an NFL team after last season's 1-15 debacle). The show runs from March through May, so even if Taylor takes the top prize, he'll still be back in time for training camp. No word yet on whether Bill Parcells considers plies and jazz hands appropriate off-season conditioning.

While the NFL's schedule allows players like Taylor to heat up the dance floor, pros in most other leagues won't get the chance to compete until after retirement. So, which current athletes will the DWTS people be scrambling for when their time on the playing field is through?

10. Joakim Noah

While the sorry record of the stumbling Bulls hasn't given this rookie much to dance about, the frizzy-haired forward showed his cha-cha-cha-ing chops back when he was a Gator. I'm sure you all remember the Funky Chicken-like, shoutout to epilepsy Noah "performed" after his team won their second straight NCAA championship. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvQbQUv9qBw)

9. Miguel Cabrera

December 5, 2007: the day the music died? When Cabrera was traded from the Marlins to the Tigers late last year, the MLB broke up a dance partnership that rivaled Rogers and Astaire. Cabrera and BFF Alfredo Amezaga were known to cut a mean rug in the Florida dugout after big-time plays. Without the Grey to his Swayze, the Larry to his Balki, the Thurman to his Travolta, will Cabrera still have the heart to dance like no one's watching? Only time (and perhaps the rhythm of Placido Polanco) will tell.

8. Ronaldinho

By now, even the most avid soccer-haters know who Ronaldinho is. They may not have watched the man compete, but they've at least seen his most famous Nike commercial. The ad, which debuted in '06, features footage of the soccer star today mixed in with old home video of him as young phenom. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VB-ss8hz-dU) Straight up, the guy's got hands on his feet. Take that incredible footwork, combine it with a Brazilian accent and a smile that makes Julia Roberts' yap look proportionate? Pure DWTS gold.

7. Pacman Jones

Who knows whether the troubled Titans cornerback will ever suit up for another NFL game. If Roger Goodell puts the kibosh on his career, he may decide to play for another league, like pot-smoker Ricky Williams, who hit the grass North of the border, or gun-toter Jayson Williams, who took his shots to the CBA. One thing's for certain: Pacman Jones knows him some dancin'. When you spend the amount of quality time he has in the front row at Crazy Girls, you start to pick up a few things. And really, who wouldn't wanna hear Celine Dion and the DWTS band cover "Make It Rain?" Team Jones up with blondie Julianne Hough and watch the sparks fly! (Not literally, I hope).

6. Jeremy Roenick

When Roenick was still with the L.A. Kings, they played the Frozen Fury 8 game against the Colorado Avalanche at the MGM Grand in Vegas. When one of the glass panels broke, the players had to kill time while waiting for maintenance to repair it. Rather than join his teammates on the bench, Roenick took his cue from the song playing over the loudspeaker: the BeeGees "You Should Be Dancing." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mes053P3TU) If he can move like that on ice, in skates, surely he could wow the judges with a pedestrian paso doble. Goodness knows the NHL could use all the publicity it can get.

5. Jonathan Papelbon

Whoever said white men can't dance has never seen Papelbon move. After his Red Sox won the AL East last year, the sprightly pitcher took the mound for the most unusual of celebrations. His Lord of the Dance routine swept the nation, causing even Yankees fans to let out a chuckle. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uu43lbTrvOQ) The only catch? The wardrobe people might have trouble with the hurler, who prefers to do his dancing in boxer briefs and goggles.

4. Hines Ward

In October of 2005, the Steelers wide receiver followed his third quarter touchdown against the Bengals with a Running Man-like Riverdance of his own. Of course, Ward was merely copying the jig fellow receiver Chad Johnson debuted against the Bears earlier that season. In their next match-up, Ward copycatted again, busting out an old Cincy favorite: The Ickey Shuffle. Truth is, you can polish an old turd, but it's still an old turd. Ward deserves a shot at creating his own dancing legacy.

3. LeBron James

After last year's ESPYs, the Cavs superstar has solidified his position amongst the NBA's dancing elite. The 6-foot-8 small forward shimmied his way into the hearts of America, singing his own version of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tv-5PgP8T94) Wearing Hammer pants and a cropped leather jacket, LeBron proved to any doubters he can pull off the sequins and spandex required by the hit show (plus that ESPN/ABC connection doesn't hurt). Some might even say he's got a better chance of getting a DWTS championship than an NBA ring!

2. Chris Berman

Alright, he's not at athlete, but you can bet he's on the DWTS shortlist. Following in the footsteps of fellow ESPN anchor, Kenny Mayne, Berman will let DWTS bring his, um, boisterous personality right into America's living room. The intense cardio workout the show requires would be a welcome change for the Swami, who's stuck behind a desk all day. The 6-foot-5 hunk (literally) of a man has been married since 1983, but even an ol' married guy (that never, ever hits on young co-eds) wants to look his best. Expect his partner, Karina "Thank you, I'll have another" Smirnoff, to be clad in all-leather, natch.

1. Roger Clemens

DWTS execs see a golden opportunity with this one. Anyone who can dance around questions from Congress that effortlessly deserves a chance to give the real thing a whirl, right? Well, to quote George Michael: "… guilty feet have got no rhythm."

Love It or Hate It - Athletes Stripping Down...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

Last week saw the release of the 2008 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, a publication that consistently elicits heated debate amongst media outlets everywhere.

Usually those individuals opposed to the flesh-filled issue argue that scantily clad models don't belong in a magazine that claims to be about sports. The mag's supporters, on the other hand, argue that sex and sports are inexorably linked — that is, if they can pull their eyes from the pages long enough to comment.

I'll let the (typically hormone-filled) supporters and (often morally-rigid) opponents battle over the issue's relevancy, while I tackle a different aspect of the mag's oft-polarizing make-up: the inclusion of female athletes as models.

In this year's edition, several pages are dedicated to Indy Car standout Danica Patrick and prominent Budweiser ads featuring bikini-clad female Olympians are scattered throughout as well. The question is: are these athletes being exploited or celebrated?

Do you love or hate female athletes who pose as models?

Some might argue that Patrick, soccer star Heather Mitts, swimmer Amanda Beard, sprinter/jumper Brianna Glenn and softballer Lovie Jung are bad for women's sports. By seeking recognition for their looks, the women are implying that their athletic achievements are less admirable or attractive. Many critics claim women who draw attention to their accomplishments on the field through photo shoots and suggestive ads are, in fact, de-emphasizing their skill as athletes.

Most magazines feature photos of male athletes performing the very acts that have made them famous: home run swings, back-breaking tackles and tomahawk jams. These stereotypically masculine activities directly relate to the focus of the articles and the men being profiled. Tight portraits of sluggers and linebackers show them as tough, angry and unfeeling.

Exceptions to the rule — a certain photo of Tom Brady-as-cowboy holding a goat comes to mind — often become topics of ridicule amongst athletes and the media alike.

Women athletes are rarely shown as gritty or intimidating. Inevitably, a photo of a soccer star scoring a goal will be accompanied by a glamour shot of that same powerhouse player looking feminine and alluring off the field. But do most women, athletes included, want to appear tough and hard? Truth is, most want to be respected for their skill while still appreciated for their softness.

Women like Beard or Jennie Finch, who dominate the sports they compete in, promote the idea that a woman can be both strong and sexy. The Budweiser ads showing Olympians in fire-red bikinis and heavy makeup may be a bit over the top, but they also position healthy, strong, toned women in place of the usual stick-figure models. Girls who grow up wanting to compete, but fearing they'll be viewed as tomboys, can look up to today's female athletes to see that feminism and athleticism can co-exist. Strong, dominant females can be sex symbols without sacrificing their success or skill.

Women athletes make much less money and garner much less attention than their male counterparts, despite working just as hard. If Ben Roethlisberger can make money doing embarrassing American Idol promos, Patrick and Beard can use their sex appeal in GoDaddy ads. If David Beckham can pose in his undies then so, too, can a crop of Olympic hopefuls.

If more men follow women's swimming because they like the looks of the women in the swimsuits, why not embrace a bigger fanbase rather than resenting the motives for their interest.

I fully admit I'm more interested in so-called fringe sports if the men competing are good looking. I tuned in to the World Cup after the U.S. was eliminated almost entirely due to a calendar someone sent me of the Italian team (the eventual winners). The men were hot, and it made watching the games more enjoyable for me. Plain and simple. Will a bikini spread in SI make Indy Car ignoramuses begin to tune in to see Patrick suited up and racing?

Yeah, probably.

So, what's better: not knowing or appreciating a female athlete at all, or only knowing of her because of a nearly-nude photo shoot?

Will young girls think the only way to succeed is through their appearance, or will they be inspired to let their femininity co-exist with their competitive side?

Female athletes in the Swimsuit Edition - Do you "Love It or Hate It?"

Cubs Basewars: Fukudome Fever

Monday, February 18, 2008


By SportsBank.net writers David K. & Sarah Spain

I think you will agree with me that the Cubs are a good team, as evident by their brief trip to the playoffs last season. What they are not is a great team, which is why their off-season moves, or lack thereof, are quite baffling. I like that they dumped some dead weight in Mark Prior, Will Ohman, Jacque Jones, Cliff Floyd and Craig Monroe. But while other good National League teams were acquiring big name pitchers (the D-Backs getting Dan Haren, the Mets stealing Johan Santana), the Cubs sat on their hands.

GM Jim Hendry called the signing of Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukodome his plan A and plan B this off-season. Granted I have never seen Fukodome play outside of the quick clips I have seen on Sportscenter and YouTube, but I have a hard time seeing this acquisition taking the Cubs to the next level. So Sarah, let me ask you this: do you have Fukodome Fever? - Dave

Well I have to admit the 12-year-old in me is pretty excited to see the headlines, signs and t-shirts that will result from Fukudome Fever taking over Chicago. Something tells me drunken men all over Wrigleyville will be stumbling out of bars incorporating the slugger's name into their pick-up lines. Truly, what lady can resist being cursed at and then ordered into bed, all in four syllables? Like you, I haven't seen the guy play much, but I'm really excited to see what he has to offer the team. I hope he can make a smooth transition to the US and not put on too many pounds snarfing down Chicago-style pizza---although I wouldn't blame him if he did. Sure do miss it out here in Cali...

I imagine one reason Hendry hasn't made too many off-season moves is the sick amount of dough the Cubs dropped last year. To go from dead last to first took some serious cash and this year's squad will only be better now that those new guys have settled in. Last year's late rally had much to do with Lou Piniella finally getting a good understanding of his players and his lineup. This season Sweet Lou won't have to waste nearly as much time bouncing men from plate to plate and right field to left. We may not have the big names that Detroit does, but I think the "100 years of tears" campaign might finally be put to rest. - Sarah

How did I not think of all the tomfoolery that will certainly result from Fukodome Fever? Hopefully, it's not contagious and can be cleared up with an over-the-counter ointment, though.

The boys from Wrigley did shell out some major dough in contracts last season and with Alfonso Soriano not living up to his huge deal, I can see how they might be hesitant to cough up more cash. Still, they could have done something whether it was via trade or just try to sure up the bullpen. I wasn't expecting to land Johan or Haren or even Andruw Jones, but relying on Ryan Dempster to turn into our number five starter doesn't exactly help me sleep more soundly at night nor does turning over the center field position to Felix Pie when that experiment didn't go so smoothly last season.

I hope when you mentioned the "100 years of tears" campaign being put to rest, you weren't referring to the Cubs making the World Series... I'm as big of a proponent of the "Wait 'til next year" slogan as the next Cub fan, but I just do not see it happening this year, unless the Cubs make a major move during the season. The pitching staff scares me most, especially the pen. We are assuming Kerry Wood will stay healthy which is as smart a decision as letting Britney Spears baby-sit your kids. Unless Carlos Marmol can throw every single day, I see more middle relief struggles. What do you think Mitch Williams is doing these days besides listening to "Wild Thing" on repeat while watching old 1989 Cubs videos? - Dave

..> I have to admit I'm a positive person. I remember back in the good ol' days when I was an athlete, we were told to imagine ONLY positive scenarios, never letting negativity enter our pre-game visualizations. I treat my teams the same way, even when the logical side of me tries to take over and ruin all the fun. During Spring Training the Cubs are like a new boyfriend--any flaws and failings are overshadowed by the hope and excitement promised by a fresh start. I look at it this way: if I can have faith in the Cubs after a hundred years of disappointment, I can have faith in men after 27. Yes, men can be stubborn, cocky and uncommunicative. They've got nice strong arms and a knack for fixing things, though. Sure, the Cubs' middle infield is weak, Ryan Dempster's risky and Kerry Wood's got his surgeon on speed-dial. At least I've got another year to wear my "We Got Wood" shirt. Despite the team's apparent shortcomings, I want to--and until they prove me otherwise I will--believe. I believe Alfonso Soriano will be the guy we paid for. I believe Derrek Lee will make another run at the Triple Crown. And I believe Carlos Marmol is the next great closer in baseball.

Should Hendry have made some more off-season moves? Probably. Will this team have enough firepower to make a mark in the postseason? Doesn't seem likely. We can't say for sure, though, until the last out of the season. During Spring Training last year, no one had the Rockies in the World Series, but there they were, battling the Sawx in late October. That's why they play the game. While the Tigers and Yankees look to be as stacked as a Hefner Playmate, sometimes the most loaded teams are the most likely to blow up. Superstars will always show up. A-Rod will get his homers, Suzuki will get his hits. It's the maybe-guys that make or break a team, and the Cubs have a lot of 'em. Guys like the impossibly versatile Mark DeRosa, the promising but unproven Geovany Soto and the big-hearted but not big-bodied Ryan Theriot. How do you see these guys panning out in 2008? And what do you think of Sweet Lou's plan to bat Fukudome 5th on Opening Day? - Sarah

Sarah, I admire your optimism. I really do. I once had that same positive outlook on the Cubs until the 2003 post-season ending ripped my heart out like the action scene in a gruesome kung-fu film. I also respect Ryan Dempster for making the bold claim that he thinks the Cubs will win the World Series. Why not show some confidence heading into Spring Training? By the way, men are not stubborn and uncommunicative, but I really don't want to talk about it, now or ever.

I think the five spot is fitting for Fukudome. It will be nice having someone bat behind D-Lee and A-Ram who won't do the Sammy Sosa/Jeromy Burnitz/Cliff Floyd/Jacque Jones thing of striking out 150 times in a season. From what I have heard about Fukudome, he hits for average more than power which should be a welcome addition to the middle of the line-up. Let's hope Soriano returns to his old self and can provide a boost at the top of the order. I think the Cubs still have the leg up in what should be another weak NL Central Division race. That is, if the starting pitching can hold up and the bullpen doesn't leak like a siev. What I have a hard time believing is that the Cubs can compete with the Mets or D-Backs in the NL, let alone take down the Red Sox or Tigers in a seven-game series. I agree the x-factor will be the "other guys" like DeRosa, Theriot, and Soto. I keep hearing rumors of Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts coming to the north side before the season starts which would definitely make our everyday line-up more dangerous and consistent.

I'll follow your example for now and believe. But don't be surprised if my sanity is more up and down than Carlos Zambrano's this season. I will promise that I won't attack you in the dugout if we disagree on how to pitch to a certain batter though. - Dave

I'm excited to see if Fukudome can excel in the 5 spot. Last year the Cubs' No. 5 batters only combined for 75 RBIs, which was last in the National League. They also ranked 11th in hitting and on-base percentage from the No. 5 position, so Fukudome will make a difference quickly and easily even if he starts out just average. As of Valentine's Day, reports said Hendry was still sweet on Brian Roberts, so that deal is far from off the table. The Cubs need another good lefty so adding a switch-hitter like Roberts into the mix with the unproven Fukudome and the inconsistent Pie would help the lineup enormously.

I'll be at Spring Training for a few days in March, so I'll get the inside scoop on Pie's development, Zambrano's state of mind, Piniella's shrinking waistline and the fast-spreading Fukudome Fever. Let's hope by then Roberts is in Cubbie blue, Wood is still off the DL and Mark DeRosa is divorced..er, what? Wishful thinking...sigh. Eamus Catuli AC000000! - Sarah

Love It Or Hate It - Best In Show Edition...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

Monday night, the Super Bowl of dog shows kicked off at Madison Square Garden.

No, not Animal Planet's "Puppy Bowl" — the Westminster Dog Show.

For two days every year, the finest dogs in the world gather to compete for prizes, including the most coveted honor: Best In Show. From bulldogs to beagles and dachshunds to dalmatians, canines of all shapes and sizes will be groomed, fluffed and paraded about in front of a surprisingly vocal and animated crowd. Lazy-legged bulldogs draw laughter and cheers, while every move of the tiny terriers prompts a chorus of coos.

During the "Hound" group competition Monday, I watched a judge scowl at a competitor, looking for disproportionate haunches, unusual coloring or an uneven gait. I was reminded a bit of children's beauty pageants. The competitor — in this case, an adorable beagle named Lil' Ed — is the one poked and prodded and paraded about, but the one who feels the glory of victory or the sting of defeat is someone else entirely: his owner.

Of course, unlike six-year-old girls, these dogs won't grow up with shattered self-esteem or an unhealthy body image. Enduring a daily bubble bath and a few laps around an arena isn't too much to ask of these pampered pups.

While some people view their pets as just that, others consider their canines to be as much a part of their family as any human could be. The owners of show dogs invest time, love and money — lots of it — in their prized pooches.

While my love for dogs would never lead me to a show ring, I will admit I see them as more than just something to be walked, fed and then left in a corner. I'll never dress a dog up in a tutu or a cardigan, but I would definitely throw a Bears jersey on a pup for game day.

Of course, my affection for dogs can't compare with that of the extreme owners I see walking around L.A. You know those people - the ones who spend thousands of dollars serving their dogs bottled water and boarding them in private rooms equipped with televisions and king-sized beds. I'm sorry, but that's taking it too far.

I'll admit I had to watch the show for work, but I honestly enjoyed learning about all the different breeds and watching the pageantry of the competition. And some of the names bestowed upon the competitors were hilarious.

A Finnish Spitz named "Sir Barksalot." A Miniature Schnauzer dubbed "Ugly From The Front." Even cat-lovers have to admit the show is truly a spectacle.

For people like me, some of the scenes backstage at MSG are pure comedy. Silky-haired terriers getting their manes blow-dried, poodle owners putting the final touches on their dogs' hairless hindquarters and carefully coiffed 'dos. If someone had slipped a few scenes from Christopher Guest's hit mockumentary, "Best In Show," into my coverage, I may never have noticed. For the owners who spend months perfecting their pooches, a berth in this two-day event is an incredible honor, so no expense is spared, no detail overlooked.

But in the end, is the Westminster Dog Show worth all the hype? Are some of these owners borderline kooks with too much time on their hands? Should people pay more attention to the thousands of homeless dogs stuck in shelters, rather than a select few who have been bred for competition?

Of course, but there's still something to be gained by shining a light on the best of the best. Many of the dogs competing this week spend their "offseason" as therapy dogs, bringing joy and healing to sick or disabled people.

Seeing these beautiful dogs reminds people everywhere of the loyalty and courage of man's best friend. That's why I'm lovin' the Westminster Dog Show.

But how 'bout you? Do you Love It or Hate It?

Love It Or Hate It - Super Tuesday Style


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

Early in January, Dan Steinberg of DC Sports Bog posted a comprehensive list of famous athletes who have openly supported and donated to the campaigns of this year's presidential hopefuls.

A quick breakdown of the top candidates shows Barack Obama leading in All-Star votes, getting contributions from the likes of Grant Hill, Stephon Marbury, Roy Williams, Desmond Howard and Derrek Lee.

Hillary Clinton's supporters tend to be behind a desk, rather than behind the plate. She boasts fans like David Stern, Eagles team president Joe Banner, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and Red Sox president Larry Lucchino.

Surprisingly, "Mitt" Romney didn't reel in too many baseballers! (C'mon, who doesn't love puns?) However, he did grab a couple NFL guys like Todd Heap, Ryan Denney and Eagles coach Andy Reid.

John McCain's list is short, but it's about quality, not quantity. He's got backers like ESPN president George W. Bodenheimer, Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones and Leonsis again, (guess he's hedging his bets).

In honor of Fat/Super Tuesday — a big night for both bead-throwers and poll-goers alike — I ask the question: should professional athletes voice their political opinions publicly?

With all the corruption and greed running rampant in professional sports, it's not surprising to find athletes mingling with politicians. Both groups of people are in positions of great power, celebrity and influence. Both athletes and politicians succeed because of a carefully created and balanced support system of cronies who will do or say anything to back their friend/meal-ticket.

While no one can deny athletes their right to vote or to support their chosen candidates, many wonder whether Americans should be influenced by the opinions of people who earn a living on the playing field.

Will Cubs fans who idolize Derrek Lee vote Obama without knowing his stance on the war? Should fans of David Stern's handling of "ref-gate" side with Clinton despite not understanding her health care proposal? Would Fred Thompson's campaign still be afloat had more NFL supporters known about his ties to Peyton Manning?

Let's be honest, a lot of athletes never make it through college. Heck, some barely graduate high school. While life lessons can be just as important, if not more important, than what is to be learned in a classroom, there's still some merit in questioning a ballplayer's knowledge of the ins-and-outs of politics.

Americans who blindly copy the voting moves of their favorite QB as closely as his moves on the field are doing the country and themselves a disservice. They're the reason many people hate when politicians flaunt their celebrity endorsers.

On the other hand, something must be done about the large number of Americans who sit back and watch as the rest of the country decides their fate. Many people adopt an apathetic view of the election because they're just not that interested in politics. Then, one day, their childhood hero pops up on the news at a political rally and suddenly they want to know why this millionaire superstar cares enough to show his support.

If Alonzo Mourning gets one misogynistic jerk to take another look at the benefits of a female president, that's fantastic. If pseudo-athlete Chuck Norris makes a 22-year-old college kid jump on his computer to learn about Mike Huckabee, that's awesome too.

One can only hope a sports fan's interest in a candidate eventually becomes about the issues and not his or her allegiance to a team or player. If athletes, celebrities and musicians can help more Americans of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds get to the polls and vote, then I encourage them to continue voicing their opinions. That's why I'm lovin' athletes who voice their political opinion.

Which candidate's backers would win on the field, though? Well, that's a whole 'nother story …

How about you? Political endorsements by your favorite sports figures. Do you "Love It or Hate It?"

Hate Mail From A Hooker....

Monday, February 04, 2008

Wow. Just wow. I wrote a couple correspondence pieces about the Super Bowl for the Chicago Tribune Red Eye this past weekend. I've received a few emails from people who tracked me down following links from my website or searching the web for my name. All have been nice, simple notes from people saying they'd enjoyed my writing or in a few cases, people wondering where I got the Bears shirt I wore for the articles. One email, however, quickly caught my attention.

I inserted [sic] wherever necessary, so you're aware that the mistakes are hers and not transcription errors.

RE: You
From: lora lee (loralee.1@hotmail.com)
Sent: Sat 2/02/08 8:20 PM


I came across your page while googling for information regarding football and then also went to your MySpace page. I was rather disgusted by the way you portray women who are avid sports fans and also women that work in the sports industry as myself [sic]. Do you really expect to come off as a serious journalist with the way you poster yourself up on your websites like a wannabe playmate. [sic] It's not cute.

You come of [sic] as a slutty sports groupie who is trying so hard be noticed.

Also your writings are not up to par, that may explain why you haven't really done much with your career. Frankly you are too think [sic] in the mid section [sic] & nowadays every women [sic] has big breasts so you displaying them in every shot is not anything special.

I sincerely think that you went into this business for the wrong reasons. So you know a lot about the Bears...big deal. It's not hard to get information you need online.

I get numerous offers to pose for magazines but I decline because I want to be taken serious [sic] not as some drunk partying wannabe sports groupie.

You set a horrible example to young girls and women in general.

Think about it.

I dealt with a fair amount of backlash during last year's Super Bowl craziness, so I've got a pretty thick skin about this kind of thing. I'm certainly not going to worry about insults to my writing if they're coming from someone who can't write a simple e-mail without misspellings, grammatical errors and punctuation problems. I'm fine with the face that some people are going to dislike anyone who has the confidence to put herself out there and be love or hated by the public. I'm also well aware that some people are offended by my completely natural, but frequently displayed chest. People who don't know me might misread my sense of humor or the pictures on my MySpace. The truth is, I always lead with my brain, not my looks, and, when given the choice, I've always chosen being funny over being sexy. You can't please everyone and, to be honest, I wouldn't want to try.

Sometimes when I get letters like this, I'll take a minute and see if the author is who he/she claims to be and if he/she has a MySpace or a personal website. In this case I wanted to see if this "Lora" woman was actually involved in the sports industry, as she claims. A quick Google and MySpace search of her name provided far too many results, so I thought I'd try her e-mail address. What I discovered was so perfect it was as if the story had been penned by a Hollywood screenwriter (a non-striking one, of course). See below:

Now I understand. Lora, it turns out, is a sports professional--or as the oldtimers call it, a "sporting girl." To read more about Lora and her "sporty" friends, go to FindALay.com or click here:


If you'd like to contact her directly, you'll notice that her phone number and email address (aha!) are listed at the bottom. Perhaps you'd like to take her to a game or--even better--why not take her to a night class for people learning English as a second language. She might be able to get some much-needed help with her writing. Lord knows she'll need it if she wants to succeed in the fast-paced, competitive world of whoring sports.

The Love Of Sports Parties It Up!


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

Friday night, after a six and a half hour drive on our RV, affectionately dubbed "The Hoss," I was ready to stretch out my legs and flex my tolerance.

I met up with a friend and headed to the ESPN The Magazine party at the Scottsdale Civic Center. When I arrived, Ludacris and Ciara were laying down beats and rhymes to a full house, most of whom were packed into a tented area with a huge center bar. Up a small grassy hill were several cabanas, each with its own bar and a pack of people mingling and networking.

The scene was very employee-heavy — lots of ESPN talent, producers and writers. I got the chance to talk blogs vs. the printed word with Rick Reilly, L.A. bars and live music joints with Bill Simmons and Frank-Caliendo-doing-Jim-Rome with Rome Is Burning producer Michael Mandt.

I scoped out the dance floor with FOX Sports' Andrew Siciiiano, chatted fantasy with The Talented Mr. Roto, Matthew Berry, and got the scoop on being a rookie in the league from Titans' first-year safety Michael Griffin.

I even got the chance to meet one of the new American Gladiators, Wolf, who said he got his name from making the ladies "hooooowl."

The booze was flowing, the music was pumping and no one wanted to head home when the party finally shut down. So, a short drive later, I found myself at a hotel bar "after hours" with a motley crue of Simmons, Kyle Brandt (of Real World and Days Of Our Lives fame) and John Walsh, ESPN pioneer.

Then, just as the bar was kicking everyone out, in strolled Michael Irvin for a last-minute cameo. Just another fourth quarter score for The Playmaker.

Feeling Minnesota

Thursday, January 31, 2008


The Bulls managed to pull off a win against the surging Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night, using a strong 2nd half to propel them to a 96-85 victory. The 'Wolves have been a league-wide joke for most of the season, but they've pulled off some upsets as of late, mainly due to the outstanding play of Al Jefferson.

Coming into Tuesday night, Minnesota had won 3 of their last 4 games, a streak highlighted by upsets of the Suns, Warriors, and Nets. Their one loss came Friday; a heartbreaking one-point defeat at the hands of the Celtics. Meanwhile, the Bulls were headed in the opposite direction, having lost 3 of their last 4 while shooting a dismal 39% from the field.

While Minnesota's recent successes hardly make them a top contender, a win is a win, especially when the Bulls are as beat up as they are. Not only was Chicago without Luol Deng and Ben Gordon for the 4th straight game, they also played without the services of Chris Duhon (sprained knee) and Joe Smith (flu). To fully understand the situation, take a peek at these game facts: Joakim Noah started, Adrian Griffin played almost 25 minutes and Viktor Khryapa appeared from the far side of the pine to put up 11 points.

Keeping in mind that the 'Wolves are an inconsistent bunch with a 9-36 record, what does this win tell us about the Bulls? Not a whole lot. (Especially since they would go on to lose to the TimberPups the next night)

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether the absence of Gordon and Deng is all that important; with everyone healthy, the team is still no more consistent in its successes or failures.

I'd love to give some "expert analysis" on the Bulls' woes, but every theory I have tends to play out for one week, but not the next. In Monday's game, the team might shoot the lights out but get torched on defense then by Wednesday they're shutting down the opposing team but can't hit the broadside of a barn on offense.

I feel sorry for the beat writers covering this team day in and day out. The squad has no real identity and the players don't posses any real sense of accountability. No one guy has established himself as the unequivocal team leader and therefore, no one is entirely to blame when he underperforms. Which brings me to my current theory (who knows how long this one will last).

The Bulls' "team first," "share the wealth" philosophy looks great on paper but is preventing the team from succeeding. Last year, on any given night, Deng, Gordon, Hinrich or Noc could blow up. Opposing coaches were pulling out their hair trying to figure out how to stop a team with 3 or 4 legitimate lights-out shooters. The sharing of the spotlight made the team hard to prep for and hard to defend.

This year that philosophy clearly isn't working. For whatever reason--maybe the pressure of contract and/or trade talks--the presence of other scorers isn't causing anyone to assert himself, but rather causing all of them to hover in mediocrity together. Look at the last four games. With Deng and Gordon sitting out, Hinrich has more than doubled his scoring average. With the weight of the team on his shoulders and neither of the other big three scorers available, he's stepped up to become the leader that they need. The truth is, while a Kobe Bryant-type dictatorship clearly isn't successful, neither is a team full of also-rans.

While the Bulls' 18-27 record is pitiful, to be sure, thankfully, they've got company. Chicago is currently in 10th place in the East, but just a half game out of the last playoff spot due to the equally spotty play of their conference counterparts. If they can string together a bunch of wins--with or without Deng and Gordon--they'll have a shot at the playoffs. How they'll fare against teams like the Celtics and the Pistons, however, is another story entirely...

Flashback to Super Bowl XLI...more of the BEST!


Flashback to Super Bowl XLI...

Less than 5 minutes after the Bears defeated the Saints in last year's NFC Championship, I had already booked my flight to Miami for the Super Bowl. I had nowhere to stay and no ticket, but my friends and I had all vowed to find a way to get to the big game. Unfortunately, in the ensuing week, all my friends bailed. Some cited monetary reasons, others claimed they couldn't miss work, and a few more wanted to stay in (or go back home to) Chicago for the game instead. Tickets were going for at least $4,000 apiece and every hotel I checked was booked up. So there I was, a week and a half from showtime and, if I didn't act fast, I'd be alone in Miami, watching the game at a bar with strangers.

So, I got creative. At 11pm two Thursdays before the game, I placed an ad on Ebay "selling" myself as a date to the Super Bowl. I posted a picture of myself in a Bears cheerleading costume I'd made for Halloween the year before and warned any potential bidders that I was NOT an escort and I DIDN'T want money, I was simply trying to find a way to get to the game. Having worked in PR for several years, I figured I might get the attention of a radio station holding a contest or maybe charm someone into offering up a seat in their company box.

The next morning, I woke up to over 800 emails. To make a long story short: it worked. The story got picked up by newspapers, blogs, radio stations and TV shows. Less than 48 hours after my initial Ebay posting, I got a call from the PR people for Axe male grooming products. They wanted to give me 4 tickets to the game--three for me and two girlfriends and one for a lucky contest winner. I had less than a week to hold an online contest and pick one guy from across the nation to come to the game and party with us in Miami.

Needless to say, the reactions to my scheme and the responses to my contest were extreme. Some praised my ingenuity and PR-savvy, others labeled me an attention-seeking whore. In honor of the fast-approaching 2008 Super Bowl, I thought I'd share pieces of some* of the BEST emails I received from potential Super Bowl suitors--

*To protect those who may not want to be seen, I included only written submissions, but some people sent in great videos and pictures!!

Hi Sarah,

Rather than bore you with a longwinded diatribe, I thought I would tell you about my life as a loyal Bears fan through verse.

I grew up in "The Region"
And like clockwork every fall
I would watch Sweetness
The greatest Bear of them all

I joined the Army
After receiving my high school scroll
Had to watch Super Bowl XX
On a Monday morning in Seoul

Came back to the world
And I moved to Indy
Right in the middle
Of Colts country

Despite my locale
I stayed tried and true
Hey, these veins bleeding nothing
But Orange and Blue

Every Sunday I'd search
For quite a while
To find a bar that showed the Bears
And served Old Style

For Monday Night games
I'd go out with a friend
and watch the Bears lose
It was a terrible trend

Sweet Home Chicago
I now call my home
Where I see my Bears play
Thankfully, not in a dome

I've traveled near and far
To watch the Bears play
Been heckled in Jacksonville
Gave 'em hell in Tampa Bay

Whenever I can
I go see the Bears fight
That rainy game against the Giants
Was a helluva night

The Bears in the Super Bowl
Is a dream come true
I think we would have fun
If I was to spend it with you


It's 1190 miles to Miami, I've got a full tank of gas,
half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark and I'm wearing
sunglasses. The Bears are in the Super Bowl and I--m on
a mission from God. You see I was already planning on
going to the Super Bowl but I ran out of gas. I, I had
a flat tire. I didn't have enough money for cab fare.
My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old
friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car.
There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts. It
wasn't my fault, I swear to God. You're my last