The Joy of Super Bowl Sunday

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Sports fans have often said that there’s nothing better than hearing these two words: “Game 7.” It’s a statement that has rang true with series deciding games in baseball, basketball and hockey all producing amazing drama and garnering lots of attention. I love a great Game 7 as much as the next sports fan but there are two words that get me even more excited: “Super Bowl.” Lucky for me, we’re just three days away from this year’s national holiday that is Super Bowl Sunday.

There’s no doubt that the Super Bowl is the premier sporting event in the country. Everyone watches, whether you’re a fan or not, because it has become so much larger than a football game. It’s an entertainment show centered around a football game.  Celebrities, fans and media flood the host city to celebrate, attend parties and participate in the fanfare that surrounds the biggest game of the year. It’s not just the sports media either. CNN, Fox News, Accesss Hollywood and the music industry are all in attendance. It really is the grand daddy of them all (to borrow a phrase from college football).

If you’re not trekking to the host city, then you’re probably planning a Super Bowl party. With an abundance of food and drinks, your gathering will most likely be littered with hardcore NFL fan, casual observers and of course those there just for the halftime show or commercials. The one certainty is that no one is going to miss it.

For 3 straight years, the Super Bowl has set the record as the most viewed event in television history. Last year, 111 million people watched the Giants take down the Patriots, or maybe they watched Madonna, LMFAO, MIA and Cee-Lo Green perform at halftime or maybe just for the E-trade baby. No matter what they tuned in for, they watched because it’s the Super Bowl. It’s a spectacle that brilliantly blends sports and entertainment, thus attracting the largest possible audience.

Listening to the radio this morning, I heard morning show hosts discussing the Super Bowl. They all agreed that they did not care at all about the game, joking they didn’t even know who was playing. One person said he wanted to the Ravens to win because he liked animals. Another was discussing his plans, complaining that he was going to all of this trouble for something he couldn’t care less about. A third host echoed those sentiments but said she wouldn’t dare miss it because she feared not being able to discuss the commercials at Monday’s “water cooler” conversation.

This radio segment summed up everything about the Super Bowl for me. I love it for completely different reasons than the morning show hosts but at the same time I love it for all of the same reasons as them. I care about the football but I also love the fact that it’s a national event that everyone can share. The NFL has created the ultimate show – something that people are afraid to miss whether they’re interested or not.

I’ve always joked that if the NFL can make us tune in only for the commercials, then they can literally make us do anything. There are even hour long shows airing the best Super Bowl commercials. (I watched one last night). So that’s a 42 minute show of commercials with 18 minutes of commercials mixed in. What other event can produce something so ridiculous and still receive ratings?

Over the years, the Super Bowl has seemed to get bigger and bigger. The media coverage, advent of social media, unprecedented access to players and accompanying scandals along with controversial halftime moments and closely contested games have all helped elevate the Super Bowl into the stratosphere. It’s unlike any other event in the world (soccer fans may disagree) and it’s only going to get bigger.

Sunday will be a fun for a lot of reasons. The day is an excuse to get together with friends and family and watch the football season come to an extraordinary end. The coolest thing about it all though is that you know everyone else will be doing the exact same thing. Just like you, everyone will be in front of a television at 6:30 PM ET on Sunday night watching the same thing that you are. It’s rare that an event takes over the country like the Super Bowl does every year. For all of these reasons, the two words that get the sports fan in me the most excited remain “Super Bowl.”

What I’m Listening To

Back with another installment of “What I’m Listening To,” where I say what I’m listening to in an effort to share this good music with others. Today it’s Madness by Muse.

Muse has been around a while (since 1994) and this is by far my favorite track they have ever released. Coldplay’s lead singer Chris Martin shares the same sentiment.

“Having been their opening act 13 years ago I’m proud to say that I think this is Muse’s best song ever.” – Chris Martin.

Wow, Muse started so long ago that Coldplay, one of the world’s biggest acts today, used to open for them. Good for Muse for putting out their best work and continuing to be relevant almost 20 years later.

The song itself has a real unique sound, highlighted by the electronic riff that’s being played on what looks like a Guitar Hero guitar. The vocals also standout along with the memorable guitar solo that helps the song build to an intense finish.  A real solid track all around and I hope Muse has more like it in the future.

Braves Trade for Justin Upton

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With their Super Bowl dreams coming to an end on Sunday, Atlanta fans have probably turned their attention to baseball. Well, the Braves gave them something to get excited about and help ease the pain. Atlanta acquired Justin Upton and Chris Johnson from the Diamondbacks today in exchange for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and three prospects.

Justin Upton joins his brother B.J. Upton in the Braves outfield, who Atlanta dished out some serious money (5-year, $75M deal) to earlier this offseason. If nothing else, trading for Justin Upton proves the Braves are not ready to hand over a second straight division title to the Nats.

Justin is the younger Upton who boasts more power than the speedy B.J but both have pop and will be threats no matter where they are placed in that already young and talented lineup. Acquiring Chris Johnson is also important to fill the void at third base left by Chipper Jones. No one is saying that Chris Johnson will produce like Chipper, but at least he’s better than their previous replacements.

It must be a thrill for the two brothers to get to play on the same team again – like in little league, except for a lot more money and visibility. The acquisition of Upton definitely seems worth giving up Prado, Delgado and three unproven prospects. Atlanta wants to win now and I’m sure their exit in the inaugural NL Wild Card game on a controversial infield fly call only fuels that desire.

There’s no doubt that the Nationals and Braves are the cream of the crop in the division. After that there is a steep fall off to the Phillies, who just don’t stack up to the Braves and Nats with their lineup or rotation. There’s still plenty of talent in Philly but they can’t seem to stay healthy anymore and they will need everyone to be 100% to compete against Atlanta and Washington.

Unfortunately, then there is an even steeper fall to my favorite team the Mets. Their only free-agent signing this offseason occurred today by giving Shaun Marcum a 1-year deal. We can definitely use an above-average right-hander in the rotation but this is not comparable with trading for Justin Upton. Apparently the Mets have serious interest in free agent Michael Bourn. That’s interesting and he would be a very worthy signing, giving us a much needed outfielder and a productive leadoff man. Atlanta’s crowded, Upton-filled outfield means a return to Atlanta for Bourn is out of the question. He is costly though and the Mets are not exactly rolling in it. Ultimately, a Michael Bourn signing would go a long way for the Mets but they’re still only the 4th best team in their division entering Spring Training, which is discouraging.

I’ll still be optimistic on opening day, as I always am. (Maybe the Mets will be this year’s A’s or maybe it will all click or maybe some of the role players will turn into reliable stars). But realistically, given what has gone on within the division  this offseason, it feels like we’re still at least 1 or 2 seasons away from being serious contenders again. There’s a lot of holes to fill and questions to answer and Sandy and company are taking their time in doing so.

I trust Sandy to make the right decision. If he feels that this free agent class is especially weak and not worth the inflated salaries they are demanding, then that’s fine. At least we didn’t spend hundreds of millions before opening our new stadium, fail to win, give up, dump everyone and basically have a minor league roster like the Marlins.

Overall, Justin Upton to the Braves is definitely a win for Atlanta. The NL East will be competitive to say the least. Right now most feel that competition will be probably be between the Braves, Nats and maybe Phillies. They still have to play the games though. Anything can happen on the field. 18 days until pitchers and catchers.

Welcome to the Future: Google Glass

I may be a little behind on this but I just found about Google’s Project Glass and I’m completely blown away. Essentially, the idea is that you will have all of the capabilities of your phone visible through your glasses. Without lifting a finger you can search the Internet. Looking outside will tell you the temperature and you can get turn by turn directions all while receiving real time updates and messages. Of course you also have the capability to take pictures and video and apparently even video chat.

I don’t know how far off this technology is but it’s truly amazing. Technology is moving so rapidly now and I know I shouldn’t be surprised by the latest advancement but this just seems so cool. Right now we have all of technology available at our fingertips with our smart phones. With Google Glass, we will have that same access without having to physically hold anything. It may tough to envision a future where everyone is talking to their glasses, but this is exciting and I’m anxiously waiting for this to hit the market.

One of the benefits of being one of the co-founders of Google is that you don’t have to wait. Sergey Brin was spotted wearing – or presumably testing – his prototype on the subway in New York City.

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Wow! Given the capabilities of these glasses, I was expecting something a lot more bulky. Those just look like normal glasses. Sign me up.

Te’o Story Just Plain Bizarre

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I found out about this story the same way I find about pretty much everything these days – via twitter. That’s fitting because this is the most modern scandal/hoax to ever hit the sports world. This simply could not have happened twenty years ago because social networking barely existed and you couldn’t have a “girlfriend” that you never actually met in person without being certifiably insane. But it’s 2013 and anything goes.

There’s obviously a lot more to come on this story and everyone is anxiously awaiting answers. Based on what is known now though, it’s difficult (for me at least) to believe that Te’o was the victim of a hoax. Let’s say that he was in no way complicit in creating Lennay Kekua, as he is suggesting, and that he essentially got catfished.

It’s possible but wouldn’t any normal person begin to get a little skeptical after a couple attempted meet-ups fell through? For all of the communicating that can take place online or over the phone, wouldn’t you at least try to skype or have some sort of face-to-face interaction (even if it’s through a computer) with the person that you are developing such strong feelings for?

I certainly would and I’m not a public figure. If I were Manti Te’o and I was getting ready for my senior season at Notre Dame, I would be extra careful with who I associated myself with, especially online. As he will probably soon find out, one misstep can seriously hinder his earnings potential in the NFL.

Clearly none of these thoughts ever crossed Te’o’s mind and that leads any logical person to believe that he had a hand in the deception. Re-watching the interviews is even stranger given what we do now. He continued to play up the tragedy of the story as he and his undefeated team gained more and more national attention.

Even after he found out that Kekua did not exist (in December according to his timeline), he continued to tell the story on the largest of stages leading up to the national championship game. Again, if I was duped I would be embarrassed but I certainly wouldn’t perpetuate the lie for the sake of avoiding shame. I’m sure he’s feeling plenty of shame now and the continuation of the story even after he and the school knew she wasn’t a real person makes me think it was a lie from the beginning.

But as soon as I’ve convinced myself that Te’o set this up from the beginning, I think about the other side. What motivation would Te’o have to create this fake sick/dying/dead girlfriend? Would the publicity garnered by this tragic story be enough to propel him into the national spotlight and Heisman consideration even if his team was not undefeated? It’s possible that this was his thought process and it’s also possible that he did not think he would get caught and/or it would not be as a big of deal as it has if he did get caught.

Still, it seems like that is just too big of a risk for a very little and undefined reward. You would have to be really stupid to try and orchestrate a stunt like this – attempting to fool literally everyone. Te’o had everything going for him as a star linebacker entering his senior season. His play on the field paired with his story about his grandma was interesting and relatable enough that he certainly did not need another tragedy to capture media attention.

There are so many layers to this story as those aren’t the only two possible outcomes. A common theory is that he was duped but continued on with the story – not openly denying it and benefiting from the untruths that had fallen upon him. Of course he never thought it would get this far or blow up in his face the way it has.

Alternatively, he could be a closeted athlete who created a fake girlfriend to throw everyone off the scent. If this is the case, by admitting that he is gay, the story changes drastically. Te’o then becomes a sympathetic figure who was a victim of society’s pressures and the stereotypical traits that a star football player at a Catholic Institution (also the highest profile college football school in the country) should have. If this is the truth, then he can be a trailblazer and become the first openly gay pro athlete.

If Te’o really had nothing to do with this, then I feel very sorry for him and I think he was extremely naive and stupid. If he didn’t create her but continued along, then that was also incredibly stupid and shortsighted. If he is gay, then he becomes the poster child of the gay community and inspires others to be themselves and avoid the measures that he went to hide his true identity. If he created the entire thing for publicity, he goes down as one of the worst “sports villains” of all-time, even though no one was injured or harmed by his actions.

This is really such a bizarre story in which any of the many possible outcomes will be believable at this point. Add this saga to the list of questionable moral and ethical decisions that have come out of college football recently. It’s unfortunately another example of the sports culture we currently reside in – one filled with lies, shortcuts and cheaters.

Some people have come down hard on the media for not fact-checking this initially. The media ran with a good personal story and I can’t fault them for that. From now on reporters will fact-check and get first-hand accounts about player’s relationships if it is the subject of a noteworthy story (like Te’o’s ostensibly was). Before this story though there was no reason to do that. You live and you learn.

Chuck Klosterman and Malcolm Gladwell posted their email exchange regarding the story and it’s definitely worth a read. Two very smart men can point out a lot of things you did not realize and make you think even if they’re just conversing between themselves, never thinking their correspondence would be published.

If nothing else, this story has been extremely interesting to follow because it is unprecedented. I am anxiously awaiting answers and I’ve been tuned into ESPN’s 24/7 coverage since Wednesday night. How it all plays out is anyone’s guess but in the mean time I’ve also enjoyed Twitter’s snark regarding the hoax and the humor in the situation brought to light by many sports blogs. That should be enough to keep everyone entertained until the complete story comes out.

Syracuse Again Dealing with issues off the court

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Jim Boeheim has already achieved two significant coaching milestones this season. On December 17th, he earned his 900th career win. 900 of anything is a lot. 900 wins is almost inconceivable. That type of milestone takes a lot of talent and a lot of time. 37 seasons to be exact and in that time Boeheim has become an institution – the face of the entire city.

Two weeks later, Boeheim made history again with his 903rd career win, passing Bob Knight and moving into 2nd place on the all-time Division I men’s coaches list. Now he trails only Coach K, who of course is still coaching and racking up wins himself. Syracuse basketball is a perennial contender thanks to Boeheim, his track record and the types of recruits he is able to attract. The only knock on him is the fact that he has only won one National Championship (in 2003).

Each year it certainly feels like this could be the year that Boeheim and the Orange add another. As a number one seed in the tournament two out of the last three years, fans had reason to be excited. 2012-2013 is no exception and all was well until Saturday when news broke that leading scorer and senior James Southerland was out indefinitely due to an eligibility issue. What was supposed to be a promising season highlighted by Boeheim’s milestones is now in jeopardy thanks to an off the court issue. Unfortunately this is becoming all too familiar of a situation.

Just last season, Boeheim was leading one of the deepest teams that he has ever coached. The 6th man on the team (Dion Waiters) would go on to be the number three pick in the NBA draft. All signs pointed to the Final Four as the Orange rolled through the regular season schedule, losing only one game. Then an off-the-court issue brought everything to a screeching halt.

Fab Melo missed three regular season games due to an academic issue and then was ruled ineligible for the NCAA tournament. Melo was a huge part of S-U’s success last season and helped the team earn it’s #1 seed. When the Orange fell to Ohio State (with big man Jared Sullinger) in the elite 8, it had every Syracuse fan thinking of what could have been. “Melo would have shut down Sullinger and Cuse wins that game easily,” was the general consensus and the whole season (which should have been special) left a very sour taste.

Once again, Syracuse is off to a good start and ranked in the top 10 this season. I certainly was looking forward to another great year that would ultimately end with the Orange living up to its full potential without the threat of eligibility issues. Then the Southerland news broke and every S-U fan had the same thought. “Not again!”

At least this issue came up a lot earlier in the season and Southerland will hopefully return for the home stretch. The timing of this setback is not ideal though. Syracuse is gearing up for a conference road game against Lousiville, the top-ranked team in the country. There’s no doubt that Southerland will be missed during this game. A victory could even propel the Orange to to #1 in the nation, especially with second-ranked Indiana losing at home to Wisconsin on Tuesday.

The bottom line is that it sucks that Southerland isn’t going to play on Saturday and it sucks that the this is becoming a recurring problem. The school did not release what the exact eligibility issue was related to but many surmise it has something to do with grades. Whatever the reason, I just hope this is the last eligibility issue in central New York for years. This team can do great things and Boeheim can certainly lead a team as talented as this year’s to a Championship – that is if they can all stay on the court.

When is Enough Enough?

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The gray area in our sports culture is getting larger and larger. The most recent culprit of the “you’re not who we thought you were” trend is Lance Armstrong. His story has been coming out little by little now for years with 60 Minutes Sports giving the most updated version last week. Months earlier, one of Armstrong’s teammates went on 60 Minutes to reveal the USPS teams’ doping, including that of Armstrong.

Meanwhile, the 7-time Tour de France winner vehemently denied any wrong doing. Finally, he decided to stop protesting (while still maintaining his innocence) and he was stripped of all of his titles. Yesterday, news broke that Armstrong plans to admit to doping in an exclusive interview with Oprah – confirming what we essentially already knew. Lance Armstrong was not who we originally thought he was.

Once the evidence became more and more clear that Lance’s titles were far from clean, I started to get that feeling that I’ve become too accustomed to getting recently. That “oh man, it was all a lie” realization. Everything that I saw and got so excited about was not real. And to be honest, I’m sick of it.

Steroids in baseball helped shatter every sacred record while creating an era that we now need to differentiate from the rest of the game’s storied history. Steroids forced former Olympic champions like Ben Johnson and Marion Jones to resign in disgrace. Now cycling has been hit hard with its own scandal – one that goes so far to the top that it accuses the Cycling Union of giving information to Armstrong on how to beat the drug tests. Just like baseball turned a blind eye to steroids because the extra offense peaked fan interest.

I’m just sick of being lied to. I love sports and I love being a fan but I’m tired of being taken for a fool. I understand that in something as competitive as professional sports, the players are always going to be looking for an edge. Players moral compasses should be better but it’s on the leagues to ensure the integrity of their games. No matter what the upside is to looking the other way, it can’t outweigh the costs to your game when you get caught. And you will get caught – even if it takes decades for the general public to become wise.

I don’t think that I’m asking too much. Players should want to compete in a clean environment and commissioners should care about the integrity of their respective sports. Money drives all but as a fan that’s not a good enough excuse. I’m sure cheating has been going on since the beginning of time but I can see a sports world where we can look at extraordinary accomplishments and celebrate them – without first questioning whether those accomplishments are legitimate. Maybe I’m crazy but I’m optimistic. I’ll never stop being a sports fan but please make it easier for me to care and clean it all up now. So that feeling of fraud stays away and the competition can be enjoyed the way it was intended.