Spanning the Nation: Happy New Year Edition
Well boys, 2007 was good to us (kind of), but it's time to move on and embrace the new challenges of 2008. Where to begin...
Angelo Suozzi - Hometown: Pittsford, NY
Outside the snow was falling and tailgaiters were calling "WOO HOO!!", and it was lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with 71,000 of your closest friends or so. So naturally Buffalo hosted a hockey game in freezing temperatures, howling winds, and lake-effect snow. In a shocking development, this NYD telecast on NBC attracted a substantial audience - the highest-rated NHL regular season game in a decade. Before we trumpet hockey's return, let us pause and recognize that this highpoint is a paltry 2.6 rating. Pair that in contrast with the 7.9 rating for the stinker of a Sugar Bowl between Hawai'i and Georgia, and one could form the opinion that people would rather feed the nationwide, irrational obsession with football instead of enjoy a tightly-contested, exciting hockey game wrapped up in the memories of frozen-pond hockey from long ago. Reinforcing that in Buffalo everything but the final result matters, the Sabres lost 2-1 in a shootout decided by Sidney Crosby. Meanwhile, the Bills extended the franchise-record playoff drought to eight seasons, prompting Marv Levy to concede that, at 82 years, perhaps the game has passed him by. Angelo Suozzi is on the shortlist of potential replacements.
Thomas McCall - Hometown: Lake Charles, LA
Like Snow White's prince, someday the Saints will come. Just not this season, extending their championship drought to an impressive 40 full seasons and re-establishing their membership in the exclusive "Club of teams that have never made a Super Bowl". By the time SuperDome cleanup crews were done polishing off the field from the Sugar Bowl, the Louisiana natives were preparing to descend on the French Quarter for a week of debauchery that surely will culminate with another SEC de-pantsing committed against Ohio State. As any Michigan man could tell you, it couldn't happen to a nicer group of guys. Other McCall news of note: elder McCall statesman Bill is currently grappling with the idea of staying home to watch the National Championship game on TV, or attending in person. Any advice you may have on this subject can be passed along to the Coach courtesy of T-Mac himself.
Pat Girouard/Joe Long - Hometown: Cretin Derham Hall, MN
"The Vikings are the Bills of the NFC." Harsh words straight from the mouth of Pat Girouard. But the real question is who should be more depressed - Girouard or the Bills? It's another long winter of discontent in the North Star state, as the Vikes spectacularly flameout with a crushing loss on national TV when they had a simple "Win and In" scenario, then mounting an inspiring comeback against 6-9 Denver before falling in overtime. Tough times for Brad Childress. Luckily for America's newest 'HockeyTown', the Wild are there to ease the pain. The icers hit a rough spot around Christmas with consecutive embarrassments versus Detroit and Dallas, but won 2 of three to close out 2007 as they continue to duel with Vancouver for the Northwest division lead.
Brian Fallon - Hometown: Grand Rapids, MI
Another dominating two weeks for the Red Wings, as they nailed four straight holiday wins by a comibined score of 17-5. Even with a streak-busing loss to the Blues on New Year's Eve, the Wings still sit comfortably atop the NHL points standings with 61. Over at Ford Field, the Lions managed to go home feeling good about themselves with a "Millen-High" 8 wins this year, the first non-losing season since the Great One took control over the team. Makes you wonder though - in an NFL climate where it took the Miami Dolphins one season to dump Randy Mueller (and likely Cam Cameron in the coming days), it took the 49ers three years and a 16-32 record to take GM duties away from Mike Nolan, how can Mille appear to be more bullet-proof than ever? In summation, I have to agree with this Packer fan on behalf of all fellow NFC teams:
Kevin Braun - Hometown: Lancaster, PA
The Eagles were one of several teams that left their fans wondering what might've been, finishing 8-8 but on an upbeat note with a heroic performance in defeat against the Patriots, then a healthy Donovan McNabb chewing up the Cowboys, Saints, & Bills - which Kev would've known had he cleverly hinted to his parents that he desired Sirius Satellite Radio with its NFL package, and not XM. But without XM, how could he be prepared to keep up with the inevitable collapse of the 2008 Phillies? Here's hoping that merger between the two satellite giants pulls through, that way all Philadelphia fans across the country will be to torment themselves at will.
George Heidkamp - Hometown: Hinsdale, IL
Who needs to be America's Team as long as you've got America's Quarterback? With apologies to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, the nation remains transfixed by Brett Favre's late-career masterpiece - at 38, Favre had his best passer rating since 1996 while leading the revived Packers to a 13-3 record, also the best since 1996. And now the Pack is in the playoffs looking for their first world championship since (you guessed it) 1996. While nobody can be foolish enough to predict a Super Bowl victory or even a win against the Patriots (save perhaps the always-confident Anthony Smith and Mike Devitt), this 2007 season ought to serve as a special going-away present for all Favre fans, of which there are many. Meanwhile, the Bulls sacked Scott Skiles in the face of mounting evidence that he was well past his expiration date, got flattened by the Spurs, ripped a new one by Scottie Pippen, then promptly won 3 of 4; fellow United Center residents the Blackhawks went through similar fits and starts, winning three in a row before ringing in the new year with a flat 9-2 loss to the NHL bottom-feeding LA Kings.
Paul Jacobs - Hometown: St. Louis, MO
The Cardinals have now bid a somber but perhaps necessary farewell to David Eckstein & So Taguchi (departed for Toronto & Philadelphia, respectively) in addition to Jim Edmonds, Troy Percival, Kip Wells, Preston Wilson, and Aaron Miles. Yet the one player who can't stand the thought of being a Redbird remains stuck in his place - Scott Rolen. Kev, I think your insight is needed on this front - is there any way to please this man? And if so, please forward that method of conflict resolution to the St. Louis front-office with all appropriate haste.
Mike Devitt - Hometown: Marion, IN
Missing Dwight Freeney hurts. The Colts are so hard-up for defensive stars that they just made Bob Sanders and his listed 5'8" frame the richest safeties in NFL histor (in Bob's defense, his diminutive frame doesn't prevent him from unleashing hits with the force of a dump truck). Marvin Harrison = hobbled. The offensive line = shaky. The defensive front-seven = sans Freeney, uninspiring. Yet despite all of this, the Colts still have #18, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, & Joseph Addai, and went 14-2. If not for a frantic Patriot rally and a brief, inexplicable appearance by Scott Norwood instead of Adam Vinatieri versus the Chargers, it would be a 16-0 Indianapolis that everybody's talking about right now.
Meanwhile, Back at Headquarters...
First things first - Alex Legion picked Illinois, debunking the blogs of Kentucky beat writers everywhere but also depriving ND marketing of some slam-dunk T-shirt ideas as it pertains to the Leprechaun Legion. Oh well. The Irish rattled off three more victories during the holiday break, two with less than sterling performances. First was an 84-76 win over San Francisco which prompted the Dons' coach to remove himself for Eddie Sutton. The Irish were less forgiving a week later, dumping Brown by a 108-62 margin. On New Year's Eve, the team focused seemed to be on hitting up the wild South Bend revelry scene a bit early, as the Irish sleep-walked through a sloppy 77-58 victory. At 10-2 against a mediocre (to be kind) non-conference slate, the Irish figured to need at least 10 Big East wins to merit consideration for the NCAA Tournament. Conference play begins tomorrow with a home date against West 'By Gosh' Virginia - seriously, anybody watching that Fiesta Bowl tonight care to explain that one? - and then a primetime date with UConn on Saturday. The Irish get two shots at current #10 Marquette, but only chance versus the other ranked conference foes Villanova, Georgetown, and Pittsburgh; only the Pitt game of those three is at home. Considering who and where they'll play, 10 conference wins ought to clinch an NCAA berth for this squad, but nothing is certain when dealing with Mike Brey.