Year in Review: 2013’s Top Posts

After the One-Year Retrospective from last week, this article is going to slow things down a bit and take you back to what has happened over the previous year. It’ll take you back through 2013 – except without the annoyances of swag and hashtag, “Bro tanks” and ear gauges, photo filters and going gluten-free.

The top posts of 2013!

5. The Derision (178 reads) – A completely fictionalized satire on two stigmatized parties in the national spotlight: LeBron James and his love for Nickelback. This Onion-esque article was for a change of pace on “Purely For Sport” and drew both raves reviews and harsh critiques of condemnation. A polarizing piece of creative writing in which the names, dates, and places are based on real names, dates, and places.

4. Mocking the Mocks (212 reads) – The absolutely absurd – and often inaccurate – practice of “mock drafts.” If you feel this way, commiserate! A look at Mel Kiper (JR, of course) and Todd McShay’s “expert analysis” that led them to brazenly say, “The number one pick is a lock, but after that, no one knows!” – They got the number pick wrong – their “lock.”

3. A Shark’s Inability to Separate (251 reads) – After the arrest of New England Patriots’ Tight End Aaron Hernandez, this piece takes a look at other famous athletes who could not escape their pasts. In most cases, the gang members friends and lifestyle of drugs and women caught up to each and every one of them. From the Bad Newz for Michael Vick, to Philly’s Southside where Allen Iverson and his crew ran – no one is safe from their high school pals even after graduation. All because a person with a 4.4 40 time cannot outrun themselves.

2. Rushing the Same Way Since 1984: Adrian Peterson and the NFL of Today (319 reads) – Only the third post on “Purely for Sport” ever and one of my favorites. An analysis of Adrian Peterson’s response when a reporter asked him what is why like to fall just seven yards shy of the rushing record and what it means. A hypothesis that if Peterson is just a microcosm of the NFL, then the League has many things to be proud of.

1. Neglect on Ice (324 reads) – This article takes a look at the travesty that is ESPN’s coverage of the NHL, especially during a hotly-contested Stanley Cup. How a tweet from Tony Parker took pre-eminent air-time away from a triple-OT thriller in the Stanley Cup Finals; how ESPN gave that insane game approximately 30 seconds of air-time and featured a one-minute expose on LeBron James. This article fights for hockey’s television rights when the biggest sports network in the world refuses to pay it notice – all because the intensity “doesn’t translate to TV.”

 

The One-Year Retrospective

It’s funny how days go by so slowly and years pass quickly. As I write this piece, it has been a year since I started “Purely For Sport.”

This blog began on Christmas Eve 2012, a product of my love for sports and writing, combined with the unfortunate circumstance of a denied Journalism class at my school. I had about two weeks off for school vacation and had been entertaining the thought of writing – something, anything – because that is what I love to do. A suggestion from a friend’s father to write about sports and a Google search revealing multiple websites that offered free blogging processers set me off, ready to begin.

I wrote in the Pilot, “Overall, my goal in setting up this blog is to make a deadline for myself. I hope to publish a story at least every Monday, hopefully more.” That was my mission statement. I had set a goal and, in my mind, the time-frame of a year seemed a perfect sample-size to see how exactly I had done in attempting to succeed in this endeavor.

I knew that my readership would begin small (thanks Mom and Dad and my grandparents!), so that eliminated any possibility of my blog being a “hard-news site” because people will not read a small blog for breaking news. Breaking news is the property of USA Today, ESPN, and Fox, they count on information that no one has heard before for readers. Therefore, I knew I had to be different; I had to work with my opinions, stating what I believed and letting others contradict me. And I love it. Arguing about how good a Quarterback truly is (whether success is attributable to solely him or his team) or if hockey should allow fighting is enjoyable for me.

So I made bold predictions. Some were grossly wrong: I blasted the offseason-signings by Ben Cherrington and predicted that the 2013 Red Sox would finish 10 games below .500 – they subsequently finished with Major League Baseball’s best record and won the World Series. I said the 2013-14 NBA season was Carmelo Anthony’s for the taking – the New York Knicks are 8-17, fourth in the Atlantic. SO MUCH WRONG!

I also did what any responsible blogger does, which is to criticize. My guffaw at the poor showing of ESPN’s NFL “Draft Experts” on draft day, or a shredding annotation of Ryan Braun’s apology, or a critical analysis of ESPN’s relationship with the NHL, or even why Thursday Night Football exists. These cynical looks helped to sharpen my critical eye and me not only listen to the things I heard on TV or read in magazines – it made me evaluate the entire product with presentation, timing, note-worthiness, etc.

So I set to work; writing, editing, and publishing became a normal Monday routine. I would like to thank my Father for being my editor through these posts. He has edited articles on things such as Brian Wilson and his beard very late at night when I am sure he would have loved to be doing various other things, sleeping chiefly among them.

It was – and will continue to be hard work – as sometimes it seemed to be a down week for news or, becoming bogged down with other priorities in life, I would begin writing late. Never analyze Cam Newton and the Panthers chances of making the playoffs past ten in the evening. It’s a bad choice. But knowing that I consistently kept up with publishing stories every Monday for an entire year is a great source of pride for me and it is an accomplishment I cherish.

I also wrote in the pilot that, “The goal of this blog is to simulate a real work-style environment and prepare me for what I hope will be an illustrious and prospering career in journalism” which leads me to the value I have earned from Purely For Sport.

It started out slowly. The fall before I had announced games a local football team, and reached out to the local paper so I could write articles. I established a connection at The Fosters Daily Democrat (Dover, NH) in the sports editor-in-chief, Mike Whaley. I sent in my articles promptly after each of the Titans’ games and Whaley would respond to me with tips and constructive criticism. I started sending him some Purely for Sport posts, none of which he published at first. Then, up in Aroostook County, Maine (potato country, close to Canada for those who do not recognize the name), my Grandmother told the Editor, Joseph Cyr, about me and my love for writing. He emailed me and asked for a submission, so I sent him a copy of “In John We Trust.” He liked it. I remember vividly the day I got an email that said I had been printed in The Houlton Pioneer Times (Houlton, ME) when I was in an aquarium in Monterey on family vacation.

It may have been a small-town paper, but I was elated. I had been published and I craved more. I began sending articles biweekly and, with one newspaper on my resumé, Whaley printed a small, 200-word story that I had written about the Red Sox success.

Then May and June rolled around and I lost some of the steam I had built due to finals and an increased workload at school. By the end of June I had moved to Bailey Island, Maine for the summer (something I have done since the eighth grade) and taken on a full-time job at the Island Ice Cream store, Tiffins. I continued Purely For Sport and I remember being in the shop at work when my phone started buzzing ferociously. When my shift ended for the day, I read that the commotion was caused by Aaron Hernandez, Patriots Tight End, who was alleged to have shot and killed a 27-year old man. As brutal as the situation was, I knew it was news so I wrote a story about successful athletes who have difficulty in distancing themselves from gang-member friends they had as teens.

One week later I got an email from Jennifer Miller, a PR rep for FanDuel.com, a fantasy football web site. She had googled Aaron Hernandez news and seen Purely For Sport as a top site. She explored it and thought, “the blog’s writing and presentation are both professional quality.” So, in turn, her client would pay a nominal fee for my publication of a piece predicting the top-5 fantasy football Running Backs this coming season. I was getting paid for my blog. I was psyched, pumped, amped – whatever you want to call it.

I began to get more into blogging and followed Curt Hogg on Twitter, the 16-year old kid who had broken the Ryan Braun story about the reversal of suspension due to PEDs. Through him I found out about SportsCompass, a web-show for which I am now a panelist.

Then, in conjunction with a friend of mine, Kyle Stevens, we started a podcast and added another friend of ours, Justin Demers, to the crew. It is all about the the pigskin, called “NFL Rundown,” and is available through the iTunes store. It is uploaded every Wednesday night and gives previews and predictions of all the games on the upcoming weekend.

That built my confidence. I wanted more, so I applied at RantSports.com and got a job there, blogging about the Boston Red Sox I love so dearly. (Much thanks to Christopher Gamble and all the editors there.)

But I could not stop there. I wanted to go bigger than Rant Sports so I began calling WEEI, 93.7, a sports talk-show station, and NESN, the TV station that broadcasts Bruins and Sox games.

Eventually I scheduled job shadows with Joe Zarbano of WEEI and Sara Giannandrea at NESN. My unending gratitude goes out to them for helping me get my foot in the proverbial door.

At NESN, I was surprised to see their studios sharing a building with a chemical supply company in Watertown. I spent a few hours with Zack Cox, a staff writer there, and Steve Perrault, a video editor. The most startling thing was the huge, yellow statue of a bull they had in the middle of the workspace with Bobby Orr’s famous headlong, post-goal dive along with his signature. In a production meeting for NESN “Sports Tonight” – their SportsCenter – to hear them discuss time allocations for segments like, “Why the hell are we giving Joe Torre ten seconds, should be five!” and the raucous cheer of approval when it was decided they would lead the show with Bill Mueller, old Fenway favorite for his Dirt Dog play, and his new job as Chicago Cubs hitting coach. Perrault especially showed me the subtle nuances to video-editing and it was a rewarding experience to be in such an environment where people were as passionate about sports as I am.

At WEEI I shadowed Kirk Minihane on the Dennis and Callahan morning commute show. The show starts at six AM. All involved with the show had to be there at five AM. I live two hours away. Up at 2:30 and out of the house by three in the morning was not ideal, but I knew I had to do what was necessary to show I wanted to do this job. Chris Curtis, the producer, had me sit in the sound booth with him during the show.

At one point, Gerry Callahan, a host, could not find a hitting spray-chart for Curtis Granderson, an Outfielder the Sox were rumored to have interest in. From looking up things of that nature for Purely For Sport I knew exactly where to go – a hit-tracking web site that shows all homeruns from a players previous seasons. I photoshopped an overlay of the Fenway Park dimensions to show if that short porch in Right Field was helping Granderson have better numbers than his ability warrants and gave it to Gerry. He loved it. Chris was impressed by the ability to “think on my feet.”

Click here for the audio clip.

If you skip to about 1:20 in the above audio segment, Kirk comes back into the studio from when he and I went down to breakfast. At the end of the segment, Chris mentions having me in for the summer. He did that, turned to me, and offered. I was stunned.

So for two days per week this upcoming summer, I am very excited to announce that I will work on the Dennis and Callahan Show as an intern.

John Dennis Tweet

Working on the show that day was incredible. Gerry Callahan, John Dennis, Kirk Minihane, Stich, and Chris Curtis were great people to work alongside. The entertaining badgering between the production and on-air talent made the environment a place I cannot wait to return to. John Dennis even had some kind words for me on Twitter after I left:

So this is what Purely For Sport has lead me to. I have an internship this summer with a morning radio station I have listened to since Freshman year, a place where I go daily to listen to sports opinions and relax and enjoy myself.

While the experiences themselves were unique to me and my pursuits, I believe blogging helps to give a person a mode through which they can talk about what they are passionate about. It creates an outlet for drawing people who have similar interests and allows you to engage in interaction with people who are equally as passionate. It has helped me, and it has helped others, as well. Another student at my school, Andrew Lang, saw what I did and started his own political blog as a device to discuss Senate races, and possible future President-elects.

Whether it is fashion or politics; film or cooking – writing and articulating things you like helps. It is truly an incredible feeling when you can argue about something you enjoy with someone you do not really know, but that is interested in a similar field. It makes me feel better and it has, as evidenced above, focused me and fed my ambition and drive.

Lastly, I want to say thank you. Thank you to anyone who has ever read Purely For Sport, it means a great deal to me that you would take time out of your busy day to read my opinion on something that happened in the sports-world. As of two weeks ago, this blog passed 4,000 views for the year, which is exponentially higher than I ever expected – and you helped make that happen. So once again, thank you, I appreciate your time.

Purely For Sport has led me to all this. Here is to hoping it will lead to even more.

The Least of the East

To preface this article, here are some things you should know about the Dallas Cowboys:

Futile facts: since 1997 the Dallas Cowboys are 135-135. Jason Garrett, who has been the Head Coach since 2011, owns a record of 23-23. In the NFL, if you are not making the playoffs or you are not at the top of the draft, the season is a failure. Especially, if you are a team with a megalomaniac for an owner who just dropped $1.1 billion on your stadium and high expectations come from everywhere. The Cowboys are 5-22 against teams with winning records since 2011. Tony Romo: 13-21 in December/January starts (including postseason) in his career.

This year the Cowboys are 7-7 and have lost to Chicago and Green Bay the last two weeks and, en route, have lost their divisional lead to the upstart Philadelphia Eagles (8-6). To be clear: this is a divisional win or no playoffs for either team as the atrocious NFC East is the only berth either team could compete for.

Beginning yesterday, their schedule contained three very winnable games: hosting Green Bay, at Washington, and hosting Philadelphia. Those three teams have one thing in common: each are starting Quarterbacks who began the season as clipboard-holders. Matt Flynn, Kirk Cousins, and Nick Foles; that is all the 32nd-ranked Cowboys Defense has had to get by.

Coughing up a 23-point lead at halftime yesterday to Green Bay didn’t help and two fourth-quarter INTs by Romo helped push the narrative even further. It was the first time in Dallas franchise history they lost a game in which they led by 20 or more points at the half. Jerry Jones characterized the loss as ‘bitter’ – and refused to comment further.

At the same time, you want to say, “Jerry! Get a hold of yourself man! You can fix this!” He is doing it to himself! He gave Tony Romo, he of the 24-27 record over the last four years, a 6-year $108 million contract in March. Jones assured Garrett he would be back in 2014 no matter how he finished the 2013 season. Jones, who has always had a large presence in football decisions, has built the worst defense the NFL has seen since the 1940s. (Really though, the Dallas defense let the New Orleans Saints set an NFL-record 40 first downs AND a franchise-record with 625 yards of offense.)

The week before, against Da Bears from Chicago, they failed to force a punt in the whole game. They became the second team since 1940 to fail to force a punt twice in one year.

And yet, winning their next game, which is not too tall of an order against 3-11 Washington, would set up a home contest against Philly where. Then, if they were to win, they would make the playoffs. If they do not achieve that goal, and history tells us they won’t, the Cowboys will continue their season middling in mediocrity.

With a Quarterback who makes over $17million and a Head Coach who has proven mediocre himself, how much longer can Jerry Jones let this stand? He is the one causing these problems by putting confidence in the wrong guys. He can fix this, but as of yet, he refuses to.

Jerry’s legacy in Dallas, a franchise rich in successful history, will be defined by what he does in the coming months. Win and all is forgiven, but lose, and maybe the fans in Dallas will be ready for Jerry World to become someone else’s home.

Blazing Stove Notes

Usually the proper method to starting a fire is to turn the nozzle to release propane and then use a lighter to catch a flame in the stove. This year, however, Major League baseball decided to instead make a large bonfire and throw a whole can of propane on top. They did not even wait for the Winter Meetings, which are this week.

Here are thoughts on the five most impactful signings from last week:

1. Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners (10 years/$240 million)

  • The first thing to point out is that Cano will make $24 million when he is 41 years old. Forget that no Second Baseman in history has hit over .290 or slugged more than 24 round-trippers after their season at 37-years old. Forget that and forget a bunch of other bad statistics about players after 37 and realize that Cano, a lover of the spotlight, passed up the Empire State for rainy Seattle. In what seemed to be a New York State of Mind move by hiring Jay-Z turned out to be not so. From a baseball perspective this upcoming season, the Mariners drastically improved their lineup as Cano will protect Justin Smoak or Jesus Montero (whichever bats 3rd or 4th) and can hit for average as well as power. Also, this means a now-permanent shift to Center Field for Dustin Ackley, the M’s former Second Baseman. Furthermore, to hear the rumors that Seattle has the bankroll of prospects in order to make a serious push for David Price at the Winter Meetings is intriguing. The AL West will become the most exciting division in baseball (yes, even over the NL Central) if that deal goes down. To get back to Robinson: even though it seems like he was going to say CaNO, he didn’t and will provide a lot of pop in the middle of the M’s lineup.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees (7 years/$153 million)

  • Free-agency is not efficient and Ellsbury’s monster contract is the largest indicator of that. While all teams must overpay because of competition in the free agency market, the New York Yankees went far overboard in pursuit of the former Red Sox Center Fielder. Ellsbury is 29 years old and should be in the prime of his career, but he has been perpetually side-tracked by injuries. He averaged 96 games in last four full seasons with the Red Sox (18, 158, 74, 134) which is concerning. Also, Ellsbury’s game is extremely reliant on speed and base-swiping and, with the exception of Lou Brock and Ricky Henderson (all-time greats) baseball has proved that speed does not age well. Ellsbury seems to be a better Brett Gardner and Gardner, two years older than Ellsbury, seems to be him as the Yankees shifted him to left because of his defensive liabilities (weak arm, failing speed). They left themselves no flexibility in the Outfield as Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki are no longer reliable everyday outfielders. Suzuki, 37, shows specifically that speed does not age well.

3. Curtis Granderson, New York Mets (4 years, $60 million)

  • This signing may seem the least significant of all, but it’s interesting to say that Granderson will stay in New York and his production will dramatically drop. The picture feature is currently not working on WordPress, but here’s the link to Curtis Granderson’s home run spray chart from his 43 round-tripper season circa 2012. Every single homerun is to right field. Then, select the Citi Field (home of the Mets) overlay and realize that Granderson is a product of that incredibly short porch in right field of Yankee stadium. Granderson would hit 17 less dingers in the confines of Citi Field, so look for his power to drop and him not to produce up to his 43 dinger season. A plus for the Mets could be that a “power hitter” that’s left-handed complements right-hander David Wright well. Granderson does not hit for average (.232 and .229 in his last two season) so the Mets have definitely over-overpaid for a Center Fielder that is merely adequate defensively.

4. AJ Pierzynski, Boston Red Sox (1 year, $8.25 million)

  • The Sox remained static defensively as Salty wasn’t great and AJ isn’t either. However, a sentiment echoed around the league is that Pierzynski is a superior game-caller and watches a lot of film. Obviously potential is lost as AJ is 36 and Salty’s 28. Salty wanted a lot because he had a career year last year (.804 OPS). Pierzynski and Salty are roughly the same offensively, but Salty has more opposite field power (40 doubles) to Pierzynski (24), but AJ hits it out of the yard more. The biggest downside is that Pierzynski doesn’t work counts and draw walks (11 in 520 PA) like Salty (44 in 470) The biggest reason this signing went down is because Pierzynski at the dish does not do something that Salty does: strikeout. Pierzynski strikes out half as much in 50 more plate appearances. Since he doesn’t walk, it’s evident he makes productive outs. With a lineup of power bats that tend to swing and miss (i.e. David Ortiz and especially Mike Napoli) you can’t have a third bat that swings and misses too often – there must be a guy that can make that productive out, that ground ball to second to score the guy from third, rather than swing and miss and evidently the Sox think Pierzynski is that guy. Still tough to think of how much production you can get out of a 36-year old Catcher. Evidently the Sox think Pierzynski is their bridge guy who can be productive this year and allow other Catchers in the system to mature for another year. My one problem with the signal-callers in the minors is that Lavarnway has been a year away for about three years now. Maybe they’ve decided to finally move past Lavarnway and get to either Christian Velasquez or Blake Swihart (their 8th ranked prospect in the system). The main thought is that the Sox could not give out multiple years (Salty got 3 years for $21million from the Miami Marlins) to a strikeout hitter when they have promising prospects in the system.

5. Ricky Nolasco, Minnesota Twins (4 years/$49 million)

  • The Minnesota Twins made a major improvement to their rotation that was one of the worst in the league last season. Nolasco, who has thrown 185+ innings five of the last six seasons, is a horse who will bring relief to the bullpen. He also has decreased his ERA every year since 2009. While again the team overpaid, getting Nolasco is big for the Twins to pair with another recent addition – Phil Hughes – at the top of the rotation. Nolasco gives even more stability to the top of the rotation as he does not walk anyone, but strikeouts many batters at a great rate. (His career K:BB average is 10:3) Nolasco will look to win more than 15 games for the first time in his career this coming spring – and the Minnesota Twins give him a good chance.

 

Why the Heisman Does Not Matter Anymore

With Florida State’s 37-7 demolition of the Florida Gators on Saturday, Jameis Winston wrapped up the Heisman vote just in time for the holidays and he didn’t even need it gift-packaged in the store. Winston did to his Heisman competitors what he’s done to teams inside and out of the ACC this year: demolished them.

One caveat is that many cry Winston won’t win because it may be impossible to verify that Winston qualifies under the “moral” section of the ballot. The announcement will come on December 14th and Winston’s case about his alleged sexual assault will likely not come to a resolution until after that.

But let Winston bask in his future glory of winning the Heisman now. Let him indulge today because tomorrow (or whenever he goes to the NFL Draft, but the metaphor fits) he might not sustain success. That’s because, no matter who wins the Heisman on any given year, they seem to be in a load of trouble. Here’s a table of Heisman trophy winners over the past 13 college football seasons:

Year

Player

School

Position

2012

Johnny Manziel

Texas A&M

QB

2011

Robert Griffin III

Baylor

QB

2010

Cam Newton

Auburn

QB

2009

Mark Ingram

Alabama

RB

2008

Sam Bradford

Oklahoma

QB

2007

Tim Tebow

Florida

QB

2006

Troy Smith

Ohio State

QB

2005

Reggie Bush

USC

RB

2004

Matt Leinart

USC

QB

2003

Jason White

Oklahoma

QB

2002

Carson Palmer

USC

QB

2001

Eric Crouch

Nebraska

QB

2000

Chris Weinke

Florida State

QB

 

Evidently the Heisman association has gotten QB happy in the last decade as 10 of the last 12 winners have been signal-callers. The essence of the Heisman is that it rewards the best college football player in the country. Often times that prowess at the college level has many fans and scouts salivating at the thought of drafting that player, but that success does not always translate to the NFL. In fact, succeeding in the NFL seems to be an exception rather than the rule as Cam Newton is the only one who has led his team to anything from that list above.

Of the Quarterbacks on the above table, seven played in the NFL, Jason White went undrafted, Johnny Manziel is still in school and Eric Crouch played in Europe because NFL teams thought him too diminutive. Of those seven, their record stands at 134-175 (.433 winning percentage). The only one of those quarterbacks with a winning-record as a starting QB? Tim Tebow, who went (past tense? Should I still consider him relevant?) 8-6 in his career. A further stat: in the past 25 years, 16 Quarterbacks have won the Heisman. Of those 16 QBs, only one has won a playoff game. Who was the one? Tim Tebow.

So it’s evident that Quarterbacks struggle in the NFL after winning the Heisman, but why exactly.? Those troubles could be attributed to several reasons. Pure and simple laziness could be one factor. While JaMarcus Russell (LSU) didn’t winner a Heisman – he was the runner-up – he assumed the mindset of a natural-born athlete and established the disposition that he was better than everyone and didn’t need to practice at all. Russell was famously reamed out on ESPN’s First Take by Stephen A. Smith for “not giving a speck of effort.”

Another reason could be the early development, similar to USC’s Matt Leinart. Under Pete Carroll in 2004 Leinart was superb, winning the Heisman. His frame (6’5” 230lbs) was the envy of scouts and he seemed poised to continue his dominance at the next level. However, unexposed at the college level was his less-than-stellar arm strength, the reason he failed as an NFL Quarterback. Defensive Backs weren’t fast enough to uncover the deficiency in his game at the collegiate level, but they sure were in the NFL.

Lastly, and this one is a huge problem, preparing for two or more years in a system not conducive to the NFL. Yes, there were shades of glory with Ronnie Brown in Miami with the Wildcat, but akin to that formation, the spread is going the same way. Zone reads and spread option offenses work so well in college, but not so in the NFL as Quarterbacks often-times must be strong in their ability to pocket-pass and drop back – they cannot rely solely on athleticism like in college. It affected THE Ohio State University product Troy Smith from the above list and for non-Heisman winner’s names such as Denard Robinson and Vince Young. But primarily ill-preparation has affected Tim Tebow who ran the spread almost exclusively in college. He was unable to adapt to the NFL system, despite “improved throwing mechanics,” and therefore his career, like the Darwinian thought on inadaptable species, died.

So while the field dimensions remain the same from collegiate to NFL, the gridiron in The League is a lot harder to fill with glory. Even for a Heisman.