I hated Bud Selig for calling the 2002 MLB All-Star Game a 7-7 tie after 11 innings at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This was long before the stipulation that now rewards home field advantage in the World Series to the team that represents the winning league of the All-Star Game. As faithful consumers of the game, we completely ignored the fact that Major League Baseball’s commissioner had allowed the entire Steroid Era to slip through the cracks, because home runs and exhibitions of inhuman-like strength were exciting to watch. In fact, the night before was much more “fan-friendly.” It included the Home Run Derby, in which the runner-up, Sammy Sosa, launched five homers that each measured longer than 500 feet in distance—in the first round alone.

As a fan, I followed along, yearning to see more juicers make never-accomplished feats look easy.

In recent light of both the aftermath of baseball’s Steroid Era and observing All-Star festivities held in other sports and leagues, though, I think I finally have my spectatorial priorities straightened.

The confusion over Ryan Braun’s positive test for performance-enhancing drugs is uncertain, but it could absolutely be theorized that the MLB is again trying to sweep talks of steroids and other performance-enhancers under the rug, in order to protect the image of the league and its premiere players (Braun won last season’s Most Valuable Player award).

Over the weekend, the National Basketball Association held its annual All-Star Weekend, which includes the NBA All-Star Game (of course) and what is typically one of the most riveting displays of athleticism in all of sports in the dunk contest. Due to all of the fanfare, lights, and cameras, and the Association’s desperate attempts to recreate what once was with the game’s most spectacular athletes willingly participating in the contest, four relative no-namers attempt the same slams every year with minor unsuccessful alterations. The art of the dunk has been lost, and the exaltation of gimmick has been found. The Indiana Pacers’ Paul George (Again—who?) received positive scores for dunking in the dark. Though it can be assumed, there was no definite indication that the ball even went into the hoop!


It has become ridiculous, and the All-Star Game itself may have been even more pathetic. No fan of basketball wants to watch players let each other shoot from as far out as they want or leap from wherever they want in a dunk attempt just because they can. Both teams broke 100 points with plenty of time to spare in the third quarter. Even with it being close at the end, miscommunication led to no potential game-tying final shot being fired at the buzzer as the Eastern Conference went down without a fight. Simply put, the All-Star Game does not and should not matter.


In 2002, Bud Selig was harshly ridiculed for ending an essentially meaningless game in a tie, because neither of the opposing teams had enough pitching to go on. Yet, the night before, it was implied that every player swinging a club at the plate in the Home Run Derby was on something, and we knowingly dismissed such because it was just too much fun to watch. These recent occurrences put the comparison of the values of talent and honest talent into a clear perspective that I did not see then.

 
 
Everything in sports is “on the fly.” Every play, every breath of a broadcast, and every word of an article (usually rushed because of deadlines). In part, the spontaneity of sport is why the recent and shocking great play of the New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin is so phenomenal. Sports journalists and broadcasters have been operating on a “see it, say something about it” basis, having to almost instantly produce something for air or publication, because no one could have ever seen this coming.

As of Wednesday, despite being cut by 2 NBA teams prior to his current stint with the Knicks, Lin has recorded the most points by any player since the NBA-ABA merger in the first 6 starts of his career. A fruit of Harvard University, Lin—overlooked his entire life—ripened overnight and has emerged as the sports world’s newest craze in a matter of days.

“Linsanity” has been compared to “Tebow Mania” at a frequent rate in the past week or so, but let’s be sure to put Jeremy Lin into perspective. As of Wednesday, the Knicks’ point guard had done his part in starting and performing well in every game of a 6-game winning streak. Tim Tebow led the Denver Broncos to victory in 7 of 8 consecutive contests, with 5 of those being won by 4 points or less (3 of which were in overtime). By the numbers, Tebow’s impact is greater thus far, simply because of the shorter 16-game season of the NFL.

Lin is certainly on track to make the Knickerbockers better for the long run, though. With the return from injury of New York power forward Amar’e Stoudemire on Wednesday, the offensive-minded veteran witnessed the “Linsane” benefits of having a real point guard in the lineup. Before Wednesday, when using the pick-and-roll offense, Stoudemire averaged one shot attempt per game. Playing the Raptors on Wednesday night, he got 5 looks from the incorporation of Lin.

Even given unconventional throwing motion, it could have been predicted that Tebow would be successful in the NFL. He played in the SEC with Florida, a historically auspicious program when it comes to transferring athletes to the pros. For Lin, though, this may be the first instance in which Harvard has not been viewed as a favorable school. Prior to Tebow’s “magic” taking action in the fourth quarter this past season, he was still talked about—he won a Heisman Trophy and a couple of national championships, after all. No one knew Lin existed until 10 days ago, and now there are basketball minds predicting him as a Hall-of-Famer.

It’s the classic “zero to hero” story that we, as a society, love so much. Jeremy Lin is perseverance personified. What he’s done is truly inspirational. It is also safe to say that nearly everyone is rooting for him—a commodity Tebow was not so fortunate to have, for a number of reasons (including his faith).

No one knows how long Lin will ride this high. Perhaps he will be an all-time great when it’s said and done, or maybe he’ll fall back into irrelevance and never play a game past this season. We’ll keep watching, either way, because that’s what is so intriguing about these anomalies: we have no idea what comes next or why.

 
 
“You can’t spell ELITE without ELI!”

I’ve heard my brother say it for the past two months, and the once outrageous claim has finally culminated into an intriguing crescendo that is sure to spark debate in the already agitated argument of older brother Peyton’s dominance, especially following the New York Giants’ victory over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Sunday. It was the second time in four years Eli Manning and the Big Blue have taken the Lombardi Trophy, with both wins coming over the Pats on fourth quarter comebacks.

A rebellious and adamant Giants fan in a household supportive of “America’s Team”—where the first child was actually dubbed “Dallas,” for the Cowboys—my twin brother Aaron never made a statement that carried too much weight at the dining room table prior to Manning and the G-Men halting New England’s undefeated campaign in February of ’08. In fact, he didn’t always believe in the Ole Miss product either. Before Eli’s first Super Bowl win, Aaron had seriously contemplated customizing a Giants jersey with Manning’s placard being replaced by a rather mucked up moniker.

Until suffering a neck injury and undergoing multiple surgeries, Peyton has been widely considered as at least a strong candidate to be the best quarterback in all of football. In a swift rescinding, though, the past year or so has resulted in Eli finding his place among the Manning family’s dinner discourse.

What a turnaround. April, 2004:  Eli Manning was selected as the first overall pick in the NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers. His father and former professional QB, Archie Manning, though, proxy’ed Eli into demanding a trade to play in New York, because he was evidently too good for a mid-level team in a mid-sized market on the West Coast. With Archie’s wish being granted, Eli was dealt to the Giants, and garnered the reputation of a spoon-fed daddy’s boy by no fault of his own. Later that year, his older brother Peyton would lead the NFL in passing TDs and passer rating on his way to picking up his second of 4 career Most Valuable Player awards. Peyton’s Colts also made the playoffs and required a loss to the eventual Super Bowl-winning Patriots in order to be eliminated.

Present day:  After missing a football game due to injury for the first time in his career (and missing an entire season, at that), Peyton Manning has just been cleared to play football again, but his eminent dismissal awaits in Indianapolis. Peyton will have trouble finding a spot as a starting QB, but surely he’ll have an opportunity based on reputation alone, somewhere, if he is 100 percent.

Meanwhile, baby brother Eli just surpassed his sibling by winning his second championship (Peyton only has one), setting an NFL record for most 4th-quarter passing TDs in a season, and forcefully steering his once abominable eminence into the direction of a Hall-of-Famer’s.

The strings have been cut. Once a puppet to his vicarial-intentioned father, Eli Manning is now a real NFL quarterback.

 
 
Numbered are the days in which people will watch the Super Bowl solely to view the wildly creative advertisements that accompany the most popular sporting event in the country. With the integration of media onto the Internet, most of the good stuff will begin to leak days before the big game.

For some of you, it has always been about the contest, and you didn’t necessarily tune in for the commercials. As if you needed more bonus material than your binging, Dorito-excessive evening of social gathering had already given to you, the ads created pleasant, cackle-ridden breaks in the action and have become customary on Super Bowl Sunday.

With the occasion approaching, this week’s column will provide just that--a bubbly aside, if you will--to diverge from the typically cold sober sportswriting that fills this space. I give you (according to my memory) the greatest Super Bowl ads of my lifetime.

10 Reebok, Terry Tate:  Office Linebacker (2003) - I realize that I am probably going to catch some flack for not ranking this higher. I often favor the sports-themed Super Bowl spots, because that’s just knowing your market. Though it’s funny, it’s a pretty simplified type of humor, though. It was definitely in the top ten and in no danger of not making this write-up.

9 Bud Light, “Magic Fridge” (2006) - The selection of this particular ad may surprise some of you, but the fact that Bud Light is up here should not. They’ve been pumping out great advertising for years. The “Magic Fridge” always seems to make its way into conversation at the Vaught household every Super Bowl Sunday since ’06.

8 E*trade Baby (2006) - Simply stated, this is brilliant. The talking baby trick has been tried before, but never with such grace. This wasn’t a full-length motion picture, as most attempts have been in the past. Furthermore, this is not a baby doing simple, day-to-day adult tasks like driving cars and opening doors, but this infant is trading stocks!

7 Sprint, “Crime Deterrent” (2006) - Was ’06 a great year for Super Bowl commercials, or what? Sure, fans had to stomach a grueling half-hour of a geriatric Mick Jagger, but it was proven well worth the sacrifice, as is evident by these three ads and the game-winning Santonio Holmes TD catch.

6 Old Spice, “The Man Your Man Could Be” (2010) - To be so new, I shocked myself ranking this off-the-cuff hilarity so high. Not bad to be the youngest ad in here, and Isaiah Mustafa (the actor that delivers the rampant soliloquies) gained brownie points with his background in football. Mustafa played for the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans), Oakland Raiders, and Cleveland Browns.

5 Budweiser, “WASSUUUUP!” (2000) - I actually tried my best to plant this one in the middle of the rankings, hoping to avoid some sort of reverberation that would send this sloppy phrase back into the light of day.

4 Taco Bell, Chihuahua (1997) - A tiny, adorable dog says “I want some Taco Bell” in Spanish after traveling a great distance and passing up on his chance at some hot puppy love. Duh.

3 Snickers, Kansas City “Chefs” (1996) - “Great googly moogly.” I’m the type of guy that Twitpics errors on signs and billboards, so this is right up my alley. Also, this one’s football-themed, as well.

2 Budweiser, Frogs & Lizards (1996-’97) - This is the greatest continued saga of commercials in the history of television advertising. Nothing else needs to be said of this.

1 7-Up, “Make 7... Up Yours!” (1999) - A very individualized favorite, Orlando Jones and the lemon-lime soda ads emerge victorious because of their outrageous shock factor. Not to mention, this gig catapulted the guy’s acting career, most notably landing him a spot in “The Replacements”--a football movie. Fancy that.

 
 
Political activism is at an all-time high in the United States, but let’s be honest:  the Average Joes of the Tea Party aren’t half as influential as professional athletes, especially a goalie fresh off of winning both a Most Valuable Player Award and a Stanley Cup Championship. When the Boston Bruins’ Tim Thomas boycotted the team’s visit with President Obama earlier this week, because he believes the federal government is “out of control,” he took a lot of heat from political commentators and sports fans around the nation, as well as some of his own teammates.

The arguments against his protest include how he took the attention away from his team on their emblematic day of triumph, and that plenty of championship team members have accepted the President’s invitation in the past, even despite their defiant opinions.

Perhaps you don’t keep up with hockey, though. After all, this is Emory & Henry’s school newspaper, and E&H is located in southwestern Virginia, right? Well, allow me to make this a more relatable topic.

Following his first NBA Finals championship, Michael Jordan--that’s right; the most iconic of professional athletes--did not attend the ceremonial White House function with the rest of his Chicago Bulls teammates.

Surely, he was too busy standing his ground in a picket line for an honorable cause. M. J. was probably protesting in front of the Los Angeles Police Department for the malicious beating of a black motorist, Rodney King, which would eventually lead to rioting that killed over 50 people and caused about $1 billion in damages. Maybe “His Airness” was assisting in a Presidential campaign, or using his popular dominion to inform and speak about the Gulf War in the Middle East.

There is no way he could of played hooky to hit up the links and was never criticized for it. He is Michael Jordan, though, and he was playing golf.

For the first time in history, being “Un-Like Mike,” as Tim Thomas was this past week, is a good thing. Personally, I would rather have seen Thomas exercise his rights, as given to all of us in the First Amendment, and set an example for the millions of people that witnessed his actions via ESPN, the Internet, etc. than trying to improve his handicap.

 
 
There’s no such thing as a peaceful exit anymore. With the most recent of collegiate coaching scandals, Penn State head football coach and living legend Joe Paterno announced his intent to retire at the season’s end, and was fired shortly afterward, indicating that clean breaks are far and few between. The departure of “Joe Pa” was eminent (Paterno is in his 46th year as coach of the Nittany Lions) but was obviously catalyzed by tragedy, in a question of character following a lone instance. Character, however, is easily cross-examined.

                The millions of tremendous and courageous acts performed by coaches are quickly celebrated and only deemed necessary to the job. These deeds are never as glorified as their seldom lapses in judgment, often thrown under a magnifying glass, leaving the most intelligible and sincere of the sports world’s masters and commanders to burn away like ants.

To coach is to be selfless. Coaches stand up for an ostracized player by speaking out and sacrificing their own dignity. They give chances that are never given in any other walk of life. What other profession sees leaders offering their cumulative knowledge, everything they know, without competition or fear of dethroning themselves by feeding potential successors with the resources to do such? The sports realm is the only place in which opportunities are granted for no logical reasons. In business, it is rare that an employee with less production but more heart is benefitted. Coaches spend hours upon hours away from their own families in order to build much larger families—teams, communities, and schools, glued together by the poignant hustle and determination of a small group of young men or women.

                Rarely do these acts serve as a life’s label, though. Sure, they are specially noted as they occur, but the common fan is a grudging beast. Athletes are often hated by fans because of one moment; a solitary action. Individuals in sport once beloved—or even indifferently tolerated—will undoubtedly, at some point, become loathed and despised for a lonely mistake. It is how the fan operates. Animalistic instincts deter forgiveness, whether at our own fault or natural law.

 
 
    Thankfully, the countdown is nearly over. It’s the most heavily anticipated game of this college football season. Southeastern Conference rivals Louisiana State University (#1) and the University of Alabama (#2) have been guaranteed to play for the nation’s top spot for two weeks now, since neither team was scheduled to play last weekend, and they will meet this Saturday in Tuscaloosa. Despite the hype surrounding this game, though, it leaves much to be desired.

    Typically, with these sorts of matchups, there is much more star-power involved. Yes, LSU may have eleven starters on defense that will all start in the NFL very soon, but what casual fan knows anything about any of them, other than perhaps sophomore Tyrann Mathieu’s school record of 5 forced fumbles in his career? That’s even a stretch, though. Both teams have quarterback issues. LSU is using a two-QB system since Jordan Jefferson was suspended, and Alabama first-year starter A. J. McCarron was more so given the job after preseason competition with Phillip Sims when neither amazed.

                The SEC is easily the most glorified football conference in all of the NCAA. Credit is due, though, as an SEC team has taken 9 of the last 19 national championships, and the conference has been represented in the championship game 11 of those 19.

The system’s adoration of the SEC, though—plus the fact that these two teams are so good—can only sum up to a near guarantee that the Crimson Tide and Bayou Bengals will see each other again before season’s end. Obviously, this depends on whether or not projected results for the remainder of the regular season come to fruition.

    There are several teams with legitimate chances to jump up to #2, but none with greater likelihood than the loser of Saturday’s colossal contest. Oklahoma has already lost a game, and Oklahoma State is unlikely to remain undefeated, facing Kansas State this weekend and rounding out the season against the Sooners. It has taken a lot for Andrew Luck and his 8-0 Stanford Cardinal to finally get enough votes to break into the top 5 of the rankings, and it is still yet to be seen if an undefeated Boise State squad would be given a chance ahead of a one-loss SEC contender.

    Many will watch, and most will be very interested in the game’s outcome, but few will “ooh” or “ah” over what comes in between the highly touted game’s opening kickoff and the final buzzer.

 
 
The general distaste for Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback Tim Tebow is derived from a place far outside of the sidelines and end zone. Tebow is hated for reasons stemming from the threshold at which the terms “role model” and “professional athlete” muddle up. Oh, and religion is involved, but no one gets upset about that, right?

Most who dislike Tebow do not think it is necessary for the Heisman Trophy winner to so openly express his spiritual affiliations. His actions have even penciled his name into the routines of stand-up comedians, but that will never stop Tebow from being honest.

In the most notable of examples, Tebow has been seen with “John 3:16” written on his eye black, as well as in a
pro-life television PSA, in which his mother discusses the decision to birth Tim.

Just four months prior, though, running back Reggie Bush (who also won a Heisman) slapped “619,” his home area code, on his eye black strips, though his creativity witnessed a different response. Players all over the country displayed their area codes in trendy fashion. Disarm Tebow’s issue with the weight of religion, and the two cases similarly involve pledging certain allegiances.

The commercial became a bigger issue than imaginable, because it played during the 2010 Super Bowl. Fans did not want a product to preach to them, but at least Tebow represented something in which he believes. Colts QB Peyton Manning has a long-standing endorsement deal with MasterCard, but he just received a 5-year/$90 million contract extension, so it is safe to say he won’t need to charge anything for quite some time. Therefore, it is hard to say if Manning even believes his advertisements’ messages.

As a player, Tebow has been criticized by all, at some point or another. He is an unconventional QB, and it has almost become “cool” to expect inevitable failure for Tebow as a starter. However, he has done an exceptional job so far.

On Sunday, Tebow was off to a shaky start, down 18 points with minutes left in the game, but he put throws where they needed to be down the stretch. I don’t believe in “bad passes” that result in first and goal to potentially tie the game in the fourth quarter.

Following Sunday’s dramatic 18-15 overtime win, Tebow (through 4 starts with Denver) had conducted two 13-point comebacks in the fourth quarter. Broncos executive John Elway is the greatest QB In the team’s history.  In his 15-year career, Elway could only muster two 13-point fourth quarter comebacks of his own.

Additionally (and obscurely), Tebow is also not a bad fantasy football pick. In four career starts, he has put up at least 24 fantasy points in each under standard fantasy scoring.
 
 
Insane. Improbable.
There is no disputing the fact that the Emory & Henry football team’s 33-30 loss and the lateral-keyed punt return touchdown as time expired to win it for UVA-Wise combine to offer one of the most interesting Saturdays in Wasps history. The game was significant in so many ways. The Highland Cavaliers had never defeated the Wasps before, and—in addition to being played under the lights of Carl Smith Stadium—the “Southwest Virginia Bowl” may never be played again. The schools have not agreed to play one another in future seasons, and it is not likely, because playing an NAIA school cannot technically benefit Emory & Henry.

Risky. Idiotic.
With twelve seconds on the clock and a three-point lead, Emory & Henry called upon its all-conference punter, T. J. Frazier, to send it away from his own red zone with a seemingly wrapped-up win in the hands of the Wasps. According to the post-mortem that has been carried out by E&H students, alumni, and community members, the better decision would have been to have Frazier receive the long-snap and simply run around—possibly even out of the back of the end zone—for most or all of the final seconds of the game.

Unfair. Blatant.
No penalty flags were released after Frazier hit the ground, as his base foot met a sliding UVA-Wise defender upon its landing. In an attempt to block the kick, another Cav flew into the scene and made little or no contact while missing the punt by a second or two.

Lucky. Fluky.
UVA-Wise’s Marcus Bratton returned the punt down the right sideline, reversed the field and, as he was falling to the ground after being hit, pitched the football to teammate Josh Wright, who scooted to the end zone for the win.

Inside their own end zone, there were too many risks involved to ask a punter, who (no offense to Frazier) should not be expected to carry the ball and scurry from eleven opposing players. The referees made the correct call. The only contact on the play was incidental and, therefore, not a penalty. More importantly, Bratton made a great play. Credit him for not giving up, as well as Wright for putting himself in a position to come through for the Highland Cavaliers.

Crazy. Unfortunate.
You may even resort to phrases such as “That’s football,” or “Things happen.” Call it what you will; just don’t call it a mistake.
 
 
MLB Most Valuable Player:  My "Pitch"

Virginia native and Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander is having the best season of any player in Major League Baseball. However, due to the unexplainable notion that pitchers should not be eligible to win their respective leagues’ Most Valuable Player awards, the former Old Dominion University Monarch has not been dubbed a “shoe-in” for the distinction, as he should be.

Many of the award’s voters would argue that the pitchers “have their own award” in the Cy Young Award. Of the eighteen pitchers to ever receive Major League Baseball’s coveted ‘Most Valuable Player’ award, half of them have been given the honor since the Cy Young Award’s presence began in 1956. The most recent, Dennis Eckersley in 1992, was a relief pitcher and is, therefore, not very comparable to Verlander. However, in 1986, a young Roger Clemens snagged the American League MVP while representing the Boston Red Sox.

Through the span of Clemens’s season, the bulky right-hander tossed to a 24-4 record, a 2.48 earned run average, 238 strikeouts, and 67 walks. Entering Tuesday’s contest, with 22 wins and just 5 losses on the season, Verlander had also earned a win in each of his ten previous starts. His ERA of 2.44, two shutout performances, and strikeout-to-walk ratio of 232-to-51 would best the ’86 version of Clemens, had the season ended then. Let’s not forget Verlander’s second career no-hitter thrown on May 5 of this season, as well. Clemens never threw a no-no throughout his Hall-of-Fame career of 24 years.

Verlander’s Tigers also entered Tuesday on a 10-game win streak of their own, strangling the American League Central with an 11.5-game lead over both the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians. If Verlander’s record (22-5) was replaced with the average record of every MLB team’s presumed “ace” (12-9) proportioned to Verlander’s number of decisions (27), then the Tigers would be 15-12 in those games and only lead their division by 4.5 games. Imagine how gaudy that number was before Detroit’s recent winning streak. If that’s not valuable, I’m not sure what is.