Houses of Cards: Who are the most Underwood-ian Figures in Football?

WARNING: SPOILERS FROM SEASONS 1 AND 2 AHEAD. 

I spent my weekend like many Netflix subscribers – Bingewatching Season 3 of House of Cards (and partaking in Frank Underwood’s favorite meal while doing so.) While I missed Season 1 in 2013 initially, I watched it around Christmastime of that year and instantly became hooked. I bingewatched Season 2 in just one weekend last year. It is bar none one of my favorite TV shows, I aspire to be as venomously ambitious as Francis J. Underwood. The question is, which prominent figures of America’s game resemble that of the fictional silver tongued South Carolinian politician? Here’s a shortlist of who comes to mind.

House of Crimson – Alabama Coach Nick Saban

“Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I cannot respect someone who doesn’t see the difference. – Season 1

Nick Saban and Frank Underwood share plenty in common, including the fact both may have sold their souls to the devil to attain the power and achievements they have. House of Cards Season 1 kicks off with Frank being passed over for the Secretary of State position, so in turn, he begins plotting his revenge on DC’s elite, manipulating them to his every whim. Saban got the job at ‘Bama after not living up to expectations after a two year stint in the NFL. Alabama was a sleeping giant that was down in the dumps during the decade prior to Saban’s arrival. Much like Frank Underwood, Saban was able to use his southern charm, and knowledge of his own assets and liabilities to bring the best recruits, and eventually, multiple National Championships, back to Tuscaloosa. Hence the quote above, while everyone knew Alabama was a sleeping giant, college football prognosticators were more excited about the Oregon’s, the Boise State’s, and other “McMansion”-type teams that lack the tradition of the old guard. Much like Frank’s position at the end of season two, Saban is the king of the mountain until someone can match his dominant run. Even more fittingly, Saban now has his very own Doug Stamper in Lane Kiffin. A loyal second in command, Kiffin’s reputation speaks for itself, but as the Doug to Saban’s Underwood, it’s almost as if the H.O.C writers room is also making decisions for Alabama’s football staffing…

House of Scandals – New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft

“Proximity to power deludes some into thinking they wield it. – Season 1

The man behind all of the Patriots success this millennium, Robert Kraft, has some Underwood undertones. He even dresses like a politician when not shimmying to Meek Mill at parties. While Belichick and Brady did most of the work on the field to get the Patriots to their four Super Bowl titles in 13 years, Kraft calmly watched from the luxury box, knocking his ring against an end table. Robert Kraft purchase the New England Patriots in 1994, and by 1997, coach Bill Parcells had led the team to a Super Bowl appearance in 1997. It wasn’t until Kraft hired Bill Belichick, and by fate, Tom Brady began starting, that the Patriots dynasty began their rise to power. Four Super Bowl rings later, and Kraft recognizes, much like Frank Underwood, that fame and notoriety are not power, power is keeping stability within your practices. Brady, Belichick, and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, yet the Patriots never break the bank in free agency – they draft, sign young players and mold them in “The Patriot Way.” Like any politician, there are the scandals. Kraft has always come off remarkably scott-free in these incidents. As Frank once said “Of all the things I hold in high regards, rules are not one of them.” – Sure, Spygate cost the Patriots draft picks, but the team still stayed dominant. Deflategate has turned into something making the accusers look worse than the Patriots themselves. Considering the Wells report will find nothing that will take away the shine of the Patriots latest Lombardi trophy, Kraft will rest easy knowing he runs the most successful franchise in professional football this century. Along the way, some other AFC East divisional rivals have tried to give the Pats a run for their money – the Jets won the division on a tiebreaker in 2002 and the early Rex Ryan-era teams even pulled a few upsets. The Dolphins also won the division on a tiebreaker in 2008 and the Patriots missed the playoffs. Both times however, the Patriots rebounded to win the division the following five years. As Frank said in the quote above, just because you’re near power,doesn’t mean you wield it. Robert Kraft and his house of Patriots certainly wield all the NFL power, and will continue to for the foreseeable future.

House of Twelves - Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll

The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties. – Season 2

Pete Carroll is known as one of the more positive, happy-go-lucky coaches in the NFL. He also has left a trail of terror and scorched earth in his wake prior to his arrival in Seattle. When he was fired from his job with the Patriots, he landed on his feet at USC. Much like when Frank was the Democratic Whip in the House of Representatives, Carroll was handed tasks that he was more than capable of handling while still allowing for a few devious things to happen behind the scenes. The Reggie Bush situation comes to mind – now yes, there is a chance Carroll knew nothing about it, but there also is a chance he did know, but wanted to keep his star tailback happy. Why let breaking a few NCAA rules (which ten years later in hindsight, are appearing more and more asinine) impede your success? By the end of his tenure, rumor has it Carroll may have gotten a peek at what NCAA violations were coming down the pike for USC regarding the Bush situation. Carroll, being a man of action, promptly took off for Seattle to build his new empire. Five years, two Super Bowls, and one championship later, and Carroll is highly regarded among his fellow NFL coaches. Think of the end of his USC tenure like how Frank manipulated Congressman Peter Russo in season one. Carroll got USC out of their rut, used them until they were effective, and as soon as the situation stopped benefiting him, he moved on. Flash forward to Seattle, it took Carroll and GM John Schneider a few years, but by 2012, the Seahawks became the wrecking ball of team that they are today. That was catalyzed when Carroll found his Manchurian Candidate (what, I can’t mix up my political fiction references?), I mean starting quarterback, in Russell Wilson. Wilson has a halo surrounding him as one of the nicest, most stand up guys in the NFL. That takes some of the heat off Carroll for his past transgressions. Some also blamed the coach for a lack of discipline during the PED scandal that followed the team during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, but Carroll stood by his soldiers, specifically the heart and soul of the team in Richard Sherman. Carroll uses his smile and knowledge of the game to take the Seahawks to success, when really, like Frank, behind that smile are devious thoughts of how he can squeeze the most juice out of the situation.

In Conclusion

Do you agree that these three men could sit atop the throne in Frank Underwood’s Washington D.C?

Well what do you think? I think Saban, Craft and Carroll would all make Frank Underwood proud with the success that they have achieved, even if they haven’t used the most ethical methods or routes to get there. They all have faced their lows, but risen above them to find themselves in even greater standing. Much like Frank’s ascent to the presidency by the end of season two, all three went through pitfalls before their greatest success. Saban had his middling years with the Dolphins before building Alabama into the king of the hill. The Patriots lost a Super Bowl, a franchise quarterback, two head coaches and a lot of games before their current run of success under the Brady and Belichick regime. Pete Carroll rebuilt USC, left before the hammer came down, then built the Seahawks into champions. These three men could thrive in Beau Willimon’s twisted version of Washington. For those of you who didn’t get to knock out the entire series this weekend, enjoy the ride.

Things, Stuff, Etc.

New podcast will be up this week, I will post a link under the website tab.

While we’re on a House of Cards kick, the Sesame Street parody is brilliant.

February, the slowest month of the year, is finally over! Here’s to March Madness, Cawlidge Hawkey, and a gaggle of NBA and NHL games.

Jam of the Week

I mean House of Cards is all about Power.

 

Party Like It’s 2004: Stan Van Gundy has the Pistons Charging Back to Relevance

Led by the Twin Towers of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe down low, the Pistons are zeroing in on their first playoff berth since 2009

2004 was a wild time. Usher dominated the music charts, Dave Chappelle owned the comedy world, Mean Girls was the most fetch movie of the year, and the Detroit Pistons were NBA champions. Under first year head coach Larry Brown and the (then) savvy moves of Joe Dumars, the Pistons had a titanic trade deadline day that year that springboarded them to 4-1 victory over the heavily favored Lakers in the finals, bringing the team their first championship since 1990. The Pistons shipped out plenty of spare parts – Point Guards Chucky Atkins and Lindsey Hunter, Guard Bob Sura, Center Zeljiko Rebraca and their first round pick to acquire ‘Sheed and reserve point guard Mike James. This set up the team for their dominant run of 5 straight Eastern Conference Championship appearances until 2009, when everything imploded.

‘Sheed sums up Pistons’ fans feelings about the last six seasons.

Positivity and the Pistons haven’t been words often heard in the same sentence in the last half decade plus. 5 coaches, multiple player moves and bungled free agent signings, Detroit went from being an Eastern Conference powerhouse to an irrelevant franchise in under three years. The team resorted to getting good half time acts like Vanilla Ice, Gladys Knight, M.C Hammer and plenty of others to play the Palace and try to fill seats. When some friends and I went to a Pistons game in 2012, it was more to see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook rather than actually see our hometown team. The signing of Josh Smith and the hiring/firing of Maurice Cheeks proved to be the death knell for former President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars.

Flash forward from Deadline Day 2004 to Deadline Day 2015, and the Pistons are on the brink of making the playoffs for the first time in six years. It all began when Stan Van Gundy was brought on board last summer. Instead of hiring unproven commodities like Michael Curry and John Kuester or washouts like Lawrence Frank and Maurice Cheeks, owner Tom Gores broke the bank for the best available coach. Van Gundy was named basketball czar (coach and president of basketball operations) and handed the responsibility of reshaping the team and putting the Pistons back among the Eastern Conference elites. His dual role meant he would be able to “buy the groceries and cook the meal”. We’re just past the halfway point of his first season at the helm and the Pistons have become a completely different team than they were this time one year ago.

Power Moves Only

SVG was brought in and decided that during last year’s free agency class, he would rather spend money on players that fit his team, instead of chasing after high priced free agents who may create schematic and locker room conflicts. The Pistons acquired Jodie Meeks, D.J Augustin, and Caron Butler via free agency, and used their lone draft pick (second round) on Colorado PG Spencer Dinwiddie. Predictably, the team got off to an atrocious 5-23 start and were staring into the abyss, but then, a Festivus miracle occurred. The team waived Josh Smith, one of the worst free agent acquisitions in Detroit sports history. After 105 games, shooting 42% from the floor and 26% (!) from 3 point range, Van Gundy elected to kick Smith and his albatross of a contract (4 years, $54 million) to the curb, rebuilding the team around Andre Drummond and Greg “Moose” Monroe rather than try to have them split minutes with Smith any longer. The team instantly improved, firing off a seven game win streak and playing much better basketball than they did with Smith aimlessly chucking up threes.

A New Rallying Cry

Those immortal words uttered by SVG in early January became the rallying cry around the Pistons “Waive Josh Smith” winning streak. The team ripped off seven straight wins, including one in San Antonio over the defending champion Spurs. While the streak ended January 9 to the conference leading Hawks, something had changed. 18,859 fans packed the Palace that night to watch the team lose the game 106-104. The Pistons haven’t had fan turn out like that since the heyday of Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace in the mid-2000’s. Excitement was back in the Motor City as the team began their surge to the current state – being on the cusp of a playoff berth.

Next Man Up

Unfortunately, like any good underdog story, adversity came in the form of a torn ACL for Brandon Jennings on January 25th. However, like with Bill Belichick’s coaching method that has worked so well for the New England Patriots, Van Gundy utilized the next man up strategy, inserting D.J Augustin into the lineup with great success. Augustin had been spotty off the bench, but as a starter – he did his finest Chauncey Billups impression. In games when Augustin had at least 10 assists, the Pistons went 5-0. He was playing at an All-Star level and keeping the Pistons afloat in the crowded lower half of the East. Which leads us to the next chapter in Van Gundy’s playbook.

The Great Trade Robbery?

February 19, 2015. Eleven years to the day since the Pistons acquired James and Wallace, and Van Gundy made pair of trades that could benefit the team in both the short, and long term. SVG elected to cash in on Augustin’s hot play, shipping him, Kyle Singler, and a pair of second round picks to Utah and Oklahoma City to acquire PG Reggie Jackson. Jackson had filled in admirably for Russell Westbrook during his injury spells, but became frustrated with his lack of minutes behind Westbrook in OKC. Jackson’s acquisition, according to Van Gundy, is for him to be the point guard for now, and the future. However, the team wasn’t done. They sent the Euro Duo of Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome to Boston to reacquire Tayshaun Prince. The long time Piston returned home after a two year absence and will likely finish his career here, despite recent claims suggesting he expected a buyout and would be able to join a title contender. The nostalgia vibe was enough to get fans buzzing, but Prince can be a serviceable wing defender even though his scoring numbers are far from what they used to be.

Now of course, these trades aren’t going to catapult the team to an NBA Championship this year (although with how unpredictable the East has been, maybe this team has some of the 2006-07 giant-killing Golden State Warriors in them.) but it should be enough to push the team into the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed. There are currently six teams (Charlotte, Miami, Brooklyn, Boston, Indiana, and Detroit) who all will battle it out down the stretch for those final two spots, and it really is anyone’s game. Charlotte has been somewhat unpredictable in terms of form, Miami may have lost Chris Bosh for the rest of the season, putting more pressure on Hassan Whiteside and Luol Deng in the velocirapter’s absence. Indiana could get Paul George back from injury soon, and Brooklyn/Boston are the wild cards. If the Pistons slip into the playoffs in one of those last positions, they will face the Cavaliers, Raptors or Bulls. The Cavaliers would be a difficult matchup, but a Pistons team firing on all cylinders could at least provide a challenge to Chicago or Toronto. Making the playoffs is the main objective for this team.

The Final Countdown

Spencer Dinwiddie dominated D-Rose in his first start vs the Bulls on Feb. 20

Going into Friday night’s game, I was a bit nervous. The Chicago Bulls are one of the league’s best road teams, and came in at 19-9. The Pistons did not feature Reggie Jackson or Tayshaun Prince, as Jackson had to complete his physical, and Prince had a travel issue from Boston. What did Detroit do? They perservered, and thanks to outscoring Chicago 32-15 in the third quarter, walked out of the Palace with a 100-91 win. Who led the team in Jackson/Jennings/Augustin’s absence? Why none other than Spencer Dinwiddie, who was supposed to be starting for the team’s D-League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive. Instead, Dinwiddie dropped 12 points to go with 3 assists in 30 minutes of play. Quite impressive opposite Derrick Rose’s 8 points and 2 assists. Both Dinwiddie and John Lucas III will man the point until Reggie Jackson makes his debut. The wild part is, if the Pistons can beat the third best team in the conference with Dinwiddie/JLIII running the offense, fans should eagerly anticipate what Jackson can do. The stretch run will be the true litmus test for such a young team. As previously stated, it’s most important that they MAKE the playoffs above all.

Summer 2015 – A Pivotal Piston Moment. 

Could Draymond Green return home to Michigan? Fans can only hope.

Looking forward, this coming summer could be what defines Van Gundy’s tenure as Czar and the current crop of Pistons. The team will have money to spend ($28 million in cap space) and is ready to, because in 2016, many more teams will have similar amounts of money. While the free agents aren’t headliners, there will be some players of note. First off the team must re-sign Greg Monroe and Reggie Jackson. They can offer Moose more money than other teams and he and Drummond seem to complement each other well with Smith gone. Jackson wasn’t acquired as a rental player, so it’s clear that he will be signed to a long-term deal.

Once Monroe and Jackson are taken care of, the team will deal Brandon Jennings. It may be difficult to trade a player coming off a torn Achilles tendon, but Jennings will be only 26 when he takes the court next fall, which means one team will take a flyer on him and send either a player or valuable draft picks in return.

The biggest free agent coup the Pistons could make is signing a restricted free agent in Michigan native and former Michigan State Spartan Draymond Green. It was reported that Green would consider signing an offer sheet with the team, and return to a state where he won two high school state championships with Saginaw, and was one of the best players Michigan State had in the last decade. If Green joins up with Monroe and Drummond, that gives the Pistons a very formidable front court, and while Green cannot shoot the 3 as well as many small forwards, the fact he is not a “chucker” like Josh Smith was, means he could fruitfully coexist with Monroe and Drummond.

If the Pistons enter 2015-16 with a starting 5 of Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Draymond Green, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, they will be contenders in the Central Division. The team also has their first round draft pick for the first time since 2013, which could provide a good developmental player to play a role as the season progresses.

In Stan Detroit Trusts.

For the first time in years (read: since the 2007-08 season) I am excited to be a Pistons fan. Under SVG’s stewardship, the team looks like they are making the right moves and acquisitions to build a team that can contend in the playoffs. While it may still be a few years until they are even remotely close to being deemed title contenders, it certainly is exciting times in the Motor City. In conclusion. allow me to quote John Mason, the team’s famed P.A Announcer.

 

Jam of the Week

It’s an article about the Pistons, of course your JOTW is going to be the team’s theme song.

 

Stuff, Things, Etc.

My personal website has been redesigned, take a look at it and my latest reel here.

The United States of Sports podcast is up and alive! We have our own podomatic page. Next week’s topic will be unpopular Detroit sports opinions and I will be bringing in our first guest, so stay tuned for that!

The T.V show that was my brainchild has been handed off to the next generation, and it’s still pretty damn funny. Check out Ultimate Sports Show season 4 on vimeo.

 

 

Live and Let ‘Em Fly: New Look Red Wings Ready to Challenge for a Stanley Cup

Like any regular human being – I bleed red, but as a Detroit-area native raised on Detroit Red Wings hockey. I. bleed. red.

I live for this building and the team that calls it home.

I live and die by my hockey team. From the highest of highs, watching the ’97, ’98, and ’02 Hall of Famer-laden squads win Cups. Then in high school, the first time they won the cup since I started watching games every chance I got in 2008. I also remember the lows, like being at a friend’s high school graduation party during the soul-crushing game 7 loss to Pittsburgh in 2009. Ever since that fateful June night nearly six years ago, the Red Wings have not even sniffed the Conference Finals.

For the last five-plus seasons, the Red Wings have been a team in transition. Under the stewardship of Pavel Datsyuk, Hank Zetterberg and Coach Mike Babcock (In his 10th season behind the boards,) the team has continued their franchise record playoff appearances streak, yet have been searching for an identity. Gone are the smash and grab teams of the early 2000’s that piled on goals early and often, and the defensive-minded 2008 squad’s blue-line reliant scheme has also gone by the wayside. This is a team that can score, and can also wear down other team’s defensively to those 1-0, 2-1 wins. Most importantly, the transition to the Eastern Conference is complete. The Wings struggled in their new division last year, but this year, they have shown immense knowledge of how to match the styles of Eastern teams. There are a few key reasons that the Wings finally look like a Cup Contender again as opposed to a team trying to scrape it’s way into the playoffs come April.

The Kids Are Alright, Actually, They’re Really Good.

Tatar (21) and Nyquist (14) are just entering their primes, and are poised to lead the next generation of Hockeytown Heroes.

Besides that splurge for future Hall of Famers Hull and Robataille, and a few other free agents, Red Wings GM Ken Holland’s modus operandi is to build the team in house – “Draft, Develop, Detroit” has been the “Red Wing Way” for about twenty years now (Holland took over in 1997). Last summer, rather than try to acquire a Top-6 forward like James Neal via trade, or splash the cash for a much needed right handed defenseman like Matt Niskanen  – Holland elected to stand pat. He believed rather than drain much needed cap flexibility or sacrifice young players, to stay the course. That has worked out this season for the best, young contributors like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are leading the team in scoring. Danny DeKeyser and Luke Glendening, both local products (Western Michigan and Michigan respectively) have played important minutes all season long. 22 year old Petr Mrazek has played so well in relief of Jimmy Howard, he has kept Jonas ‘Monster” Gustavsson in Grand Rapids for the entire season. For all the pain and suffering, and injury woes the team endured over the first half of the decade, the development process is paying off, and these young guns are the new core that will keep the Red Wings as Atlantic Division contenders for years to come.

Crease Consistency

Petr Mrazek has performed admirably in spot starts and as an injury replacement for Jimmy Howard

Jimmy Howard has been polarizing to say the least since he took over the goaltending reigns from Chris Osgood permanently in 2009-10 season. Howard was a model of consistency in his first two years, starting 63 games and collecting 37 wins in each. After dealing with a few injury riddled campaigns, Howard is now showing that he can be one of the best goalies in hockey(in regulation that is.) Howard is 0-7 in shootouts this season after Saturday’s loss to Winnipeg. While that is a frustrating statistic for fans and the coaching staff, the Red Wings still earn a point for each game that goes to a shootout, and playoff games aren’t decided by them. If it were this time last year, I would have more gripes with Howard shootout woes, but the fact the team is comfortably in a playoff position lessens the blow. When Howard missed five weeks in January and into February with a groin injury, Mrazek began to perform his best Dominik Hasek impression. He emulated his elder countryman this year with a 13-5-1 record and has looked stellar in net during many games. Now of course, he has had some poor performances, but that comes with the territory of being a young 23 year old net-minder. As the season kicks into high gear with just under thirty games left to play, the Howard/Mrazek combination gives the Wings the most stable pair of goalies they’ve had since Osgood and Hasek backstopped the team to that 2008 Stanley Cup victory.

The Grand Rapids Factor – The Golden Griffins

Teemu Pulkinnen has looked like a young Teemu Selanne, scoring at will for the Griffins

Did you know that the Grand Rapids Griffins were AHL Champions during the 2012-13 season? One of the most competitive clubs in the AHL is also where Detroit is storing some of their younger talent that isn’t quite ready for the bright lights of Joe Louis Arena. One such player is the Red Wings best prospect – Finnish forward Teemu Pulkinnen. Pulkinnen leads the AHL in goals and points this season (27 goals, 53 points, in just 41 games) and while he is not ready to play every night in a Red Wing uniform, (he has a powerful shot but struggles to find and create the space needed for it) He certainly has the look of a Top 6 forward with 40 goal/season potential. He just turned 23, so there is a chance he may be in Detroit permanently next year if he can refine his game. Defensively, the X-Man, Xavier Ouellet, has split his season as a Griffin and a Red Wing – playing 20+ games with each squad. What’s important is his boss in Detroit likes him” “Good player,” coach Mike Babcock said. “He knows how to play and he competes hard. He moves the puck and has good hockey sense.” Ouellet has a chance to join Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser as a young, permanent fixture along the blue line if he can perform consistently at the level he has. Players like Pulkinnen and Ouellet are not only great as injury fill-ins, but make it easier for Holland to allow players to walk in free agency or when older players retire – readymade replacements are waiting in Grand Rapids.

tumblr_inline_miqtpdgw9s1qz4rgp

With these three factors put together, there is no reason to think the Red Wings won’t wrap up this season as they started it – playing good, consistent (for the most part) team hockey. If the season were to end today, the Wings would face the Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. Is that a difficult matchup? Certainly, considering the Bolts ran roughshod over Detroit during their last meeting on January 29th. However, unlike last year, when the Wings eked their way into the postseason and were wiped out quickly by Boston; This year, the team will put up a fight against whoever their opponent is. Unlike years past since the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, I could see this Wings team gel and be consistent enough to grind their way to a few playoff series wins. There’s a new team in Hockeytown, and they are looking to create some happy memories for fans before the Joe is retired within the next few years and the team moves to the new Olympia Stadium project. The road to the postseason is coming, and Hockeytown is ready for their 24th straight postseason appearance. It’s gonna be one hell of a ride. LGRW.

Jam of the Week

Surviving February: Three Things to Look Forward to During the Slowest Month of the Sports Calendar

Your first question may be: what are you talking about? – Hockey, NBA, College Basketball, there is plenty to watch!

Lies. All Lies.

Football is over, it’s cold out. That little rodent in Pennsylvania saw his shadow, which means those of us in colder climes get to freeze until St. Patrick’s Day, (then freeze a little longer for good measure.) The NBA is in the dog days of its regular season (although this past Friday night would say otherwise), as is the NHL (I personally believe both leagues could have higher quality of play with 60 games instead of 82.) Sure, the games matter, but playoff positioning doesn’t become relevant until March. College Basketball is in the midst of the regular season, but other than a few big conference games, they all kind of blend together into one big mishmash of conference tournament and March Madness preparations.

With that, we sports fans are left to spend these cold winter nights indoors, bingewatching Friends on Netflix while weeping that football doesn’t come back for seven months. HOWEVER, there is some hope! Here are three big events worth looking forward to during the shortest month of the year before March comes to save us from this frozen hellscape.

NBA All Star Weekend: Feb 13th-15th

The NBA All Star Game: Where Defense is Optional

The NBA All Star Game: Where Defense is Optional

While I think that All-Star games in general are a massive joke that allows the players, picked by fans, to bloviate for a long weekend, NBA All-Star weekend shenanigans hold a special place in my heart. This season the game takes place in New York City and Brooklyn, meaning the league will stump up the pomp & circumstance even more for the fans. The Celebrity Game, The Rising Stars Game, The Skills competition, Dunk Contest, and 3 Point Contest all provide entertainment even in years when they don’t necessarily feature the best participants. FWIW, this year’s field consists of Giannis Antetokounempo (The Greek Freak!) Victor Oladipo, Zach LaVine and Mason Plumlee. After fiddling with the format for a few years, the league went young this year and returned to the traditional format. Oladipo and Greek Freak should provide some entertainment. The 3 Point Contest consists of the Splash Brothers (Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson) the Hawks Kyle Korver, and former Duke and current Clips marksman J.J Redick. Both these events should give you at least a night’s escape from missing football. More importantly, if you’re chronically single like myself, you can distract yourself with the Dunk and 3 Point Contests from the fact it’s Valentines Day! HOORAY SPORTS!

Return of the FIFA Champions League – Feb 17 & 18

The biggest, most watched tournament on the planet returns after a long winter’s nap, and the fixtures above are enough to make any footy fan froth at the mouth. The last time the world’s best clubs took the pitch in the biggest club competition on the planet, it was December 10. Two months and plenty of league play later, the teams ready to retake the pitch, marching down the road to Berlin, where this year’s final will be contested on June 6, 2015. Some of the highlights of the upcoming round of 16 include: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s PSG vs EPL-leading Chelsea. Manchester City taking on Barcelona for the second consecutive year, as well as a gaggle of other good matchups on paper like Juve vs Dortmund, Arsenal vs Monaco, and Schalke vs Real Madrid. The two-legged ties may be played 3 weeks apart, but this is when the cream begins to rise to the top. The triumph, the downfall, and everything in between are all captured in the UEFA Champions League. If you haven’t been watching this season, the Tuesday after President’s Day is the perfect time to start. (Also, if listening to the hymn below doesn’t get you excited as hell, wake up.)

Pitchers and Catchers Report – Starting Feb. 18 – Feb. 25

I am a fair-weather baseball fan, but not in that way. I have supported the Detroit Tigers my entire life, even through the tragicomedy of the 43-119 season when I was in middle school. By fair-weather, I mean I watch baseball the most when the weather is starting to get nice. But then, when the weather is too nice, the last thing I do is stay inside and watch baseball when I can be enjoying my time outside. With that, pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training is a promising sign that warmer times are on the way. Sure, in Detroit, it can be a cold baseball season until mid-may, but just the sign of hope that opening day, and in turn, Spring, are growing nearer, is enough to excite any Tiger fan. That plus David Price and Justin Verlander will be starting their first full season as Detroit’s 1-2 punch. Now of course, we’ll all be wanting anything BUT baseball when it’s the only sport on in the dead of summer, but the renewed hope of a new season, and the snow finally melting, is enough to rouse any sports fan from their February hibernation.

Go read a book or start a new hobby, I don’t know.

Yeah I’m talking to you, when you gave up on your New Year’s Resolution on January 8th, why not use this Football-Free period of the calendar to better yourself? Take up knitting or something, if you ain’t gettin’ better, you’re gettin’ worse.

Things, Stuff, Etc.

As I have mentioned before, I’m hoping to expand Sark’s Barks in 2015 by starting off a bi-weekly (as in every two weeks) podcast. I have the equipment and hope to record my first episode this week and drop it sometime next week. Much like the blog, it’ll focus on sports, pop culture, life, and everything in between. I’ll take any and all feedback you have for me – if you love it – Great! If you don’t – I’m still gonna keep doing it!

Jam of the Week

 

Super Narrative Bowl: Patriots, Seahawks, Share Plenty in Common

SuperBowl-2015-NFL

The weekend has finally arrived, Super Bowl XLIX is upon us! This is the matchup die-hard NFL fans have been waiting for, and while this may have been a subpar NFL season (Ray Rice incident, Adrian Peterson, Redskins naming controversy, Roger Goodell doing Roger Goodell things, and now Ballghazi) – this is the perfect ending in terms of storyline- both New England and Seattle share a remarkable amount of similarities as team’s in their current and past incarnations.

Star Quarterbacks – 10 Years Apart

Brady vs Wilson is a matchup all fans wish they could see more than once every four years.

It doesn’t matter if he is lying about Ballghazi or not, Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the NFL today. He evolved from a glorified, ball-protecting game manager in Super Bowl 36 to an all-world passing machine by the time the Patriots reached Super Bowl 42. The stats speak for themselves. He is up against another young quarterback who came into the league in a vaguely similar situation to his own. Russell Wilson was drafted by the Seahawks originally with the intent of being developed over time. Seattle had just signed now-human victory cigar Matt Flynn to a three year contract with $10 million guaranteed. That changed quickly during the preseason, Pete Carroll inserted Wilson as the starter from Day 1 of his rookie year. In a draft class that was supposed to have some of the best young QBs in a decade, Wilson now stands alone as the best. Not because his stats are perfect (Andrew Luck doesn’t have a ring yet), but because he knows how to win. His 3 year record as a starter (36-12) is the best among any signal caller in his first three years. Like Brady, he has Big Ten ties (Wisconsin by way of NC State) and not much was expected of him early on, but like a young Brady, Wilson knows HOW to win games. Whether by his feet or his arm, Wilson wins. The NFC Championship was a fine example of this – Wilson threw four interceptions, but bounced back to throw the game winning TD in overtime. Wilson is also 10-0 vs. Super Bowl winning quarterbacks [Brady, Brees, Peyton (2x) Eli (2x) Rodgers (3x)] including 3-0 in the playoffs. That is the stuff legend is made of. If Wilson tops Brady, there is no reason that he should be doubted as the king of the mountain.

Enigmatic Running Backs

Do I need to say anything more about BeastMode? He’s made crotch grabbing en vogue for the first time since the Miami Hurricanes of the 1980’s. He is pretty damn good at moving the football on the ground. He also is only there so he won’t get fined (if only I had that excuse for when I showed up to class in college.) Opposite him is LeGarrette Blount, who has his own set of “unique” traits.

In his career, Blount has:

  • Punched an opposing player in the mouth and was suspended for most of his senior year of

    Blount’s pro career hasn’t been all smiles and laughter.

    college at Oregon in 2009.

  • Went undrafted in 2010, was cut by the Titans for fighting a teammate during training camp (unofficial reason, but seems likely based on the situation).
  • Rushed for 1,007 yards after being picked up by Tampa Bay that same year, becoming only the second undrafted RB to gain 1,000 yards his rookie year (Dominic Rhodes in 2001 was the other)
  • Went to New England in 2013, set the team record for all purpose yards in a game (334) vs Buffalo during Week 14, 2013
  • Rushed for 4 TD’s, a team playoff record, during the Patriots 2013-14 divisional playoff win over the Colts
  • Joined the Steelers for 2014, was cited for Marijuana possession in August, left the Titans game early in November, was cut by the team shortly after.
  • Re-signs with New England in November, sets the franchise all time playoff rush TD record with 3 scores vs the Colts in the AFC Championship to give him 7 playoff TDs with New England.

That’s Blount’s long strange journey to the Super Bowl. He may very well have had the most unlikely journey of the 106 players who are in Arizona for the game. He makes good fodder to be opposite Lynch, but unlike Lynch, Blount’s actions speak louder than his words in the wrong ways. He seems to have found something right with “The Patriot Way” as Bill Belichick does love a good reclamation project. It will be interesting to watch two of the league’s most inscrutable tailbacks face off.

No-Name Reciever Cores

Quick, name that wideout!

QUICK, name me a reciever on either team without looking at a roster, and no, Gronk doesn’t count. Both teams feature recieving cores with guys who most teams didn’t even give a first, let alone a second thought to.

Patriots: Julian Edelman & Brandon LaFell

Continuing Tom Brady’s tradition of winning with plug and play guys at receiver, this duo has been reliable for the Pats this year. Edelman led the team with 92 catches, 972 yards and 4 TDs. Not bad for a guy who played QB in college at Kent State. He had an even better 105-1,072-6 stat line in 2013. He has impressively stepped up with Wes Welker having taken off for Denver. LaFell was picked up from the Panthers when they had their post-2013 fire-sale. LaFell never exceeded 50 catches in Carolina even with Cam Newton airing it out. As a Patriot, he set new career highs with 74-953-7 with Brady slinging the rock. The Patriots won Super Bowls in the early 2000’s with the likes of Troy Brown, David Patten and David Givens catching a majority of Touchdown Tawm’s passes. Whereas when Brady had Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth and plenty of other top tier talent, the Pats cruelly lost two Super Bowls. Funny how that works isn’t it?

Seahawks: Doug Baldwin & Jermaine Kearse.

Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse went from undrafted free agents to Super Bowl Champions in 3 years.

If you can name me a Seahawks receiver not only currently on the roster, but anyone from the past fifteen years (who wasn’t Percy Harvin), I will be impressed. The Seahawks always have managed to swing and miss when drafting high round reciever talent ever since they traded Joey Galloway to Dallas 15 years ago. This led to the likes of guys like Joe Jurevicius and Bobby Engram helping the team to their first Super Bowl appearance in 2005. Deion Branch, T.J Houshmandzedah, Sidney Rice and dozens of guys later, the bluebirds have settled onto their current crop of youngsters. Baldwin went undrafted in 2011 after playing for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. After being signed by Pete Carroll and groomed he is now Wilson’s default #1 option with Golden Tate departing to Detroit before this season. He had career high numbers in catches and yards this year with a 66-825-3 line. Opposite Baldwin is the homegrown Jermaine Kearse (He attended University of Washington and is from Lakewood). Kearse has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He caught the broken-play TD pass that won the Seahawks the 2013 NFC Championship vs the 49ers, he caught the game winning TD pass in this year vs the Packers also. Kearse only has 63 total career regular season catches over 3 years, but his 11 catches and 4 touchdowns in the postseason have been critical to the Seahawks’ success the past two post-seasons.

These unsung heroes at receiver could play a major difference Sunday night in the desert. Not only in terms of catching the ball, but in facing some of the best defensive backs in all of football opposite them.

Fun Fat Guys

Everyone loves when the team’s biggest players on the scale are the biggest cartoon characters. For the Seahawks, with belly-dancing Brandon Mebane out for the season, that onus has fallen to defensive line-mate Michael Bennett. Bennett sealed his name in playoff lore after the NFC Championship when he acquired a police officer’s bike and began riding around the field in celebration of the team’s win. He also had a legendary Super Bowl Media Day where he commented on having a beard “Like Ghengis Khan and Jesus did” in addition to how his wife’s booty is his favorite booty. On the offensive side, tackle Russell Okung’s celebration dance is the only celebration GIF you need this year. For the Patriots, 11th year Defensive Tackle Vince Wilfork has always been one of the more fun people to watch in the NFL over the last decade. Wilfork, weighing 325 pounds, has a known affinity for food, and a very unique way of consuming poultry.

vincenom

Bewildering Bill vs Cheatin’ Pete

Bill-Bellichek-StareAsk any NFL fan who doesn’t support either team, and they will have their own, usually negative opinions about head coaches Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll. Belichick has always been given flack for his candor (or lack thereof), and since 2008, for Spygate. He is an unlikable guy, but the proof is in the pudding – he’s a winner. When the smoke clears at the end of his career, he will be enshrined in Canton alongside Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi as one of the greatest coaches of all time (despite the fact he wore mandals at SB Media Day). He comes under even more scrutiny due to the times we live in, but his successes, and the reach of his coaching tree are undeniable.

198af2kcuq5fwgifOn the opposite sideline, people love to hate Pete Carroll because of the way he made his great escape from USC up the coast to Seattle. Since he has been with the Seahawks, Carroll and GM John Schneider have built a winning team in their own way – building from the draft and young players with a few superstars scattered in to balance the squad. Maybe it’s my bias as a Seahawks supporter, but how can people hold hatred for Carroll during his Seahawks tenure? He has brought dizzying levels of success to a franchise that had become accustomed to falling *just* short for their 35 years of existence before his arrival.

Carroll brought unrivaled levels of enthusiasm to Foxboro, but that couldn’t save his record from declining each year he was in charge (10-6, 9-7, 8-8)

These two men are two of the smartest minds in professional football. Adding another layer of intrigue is that when Carroll was fired by the Patriots in 1999, he was replaced one season later by none other than Bill Belichick, and the rest is history. These two men have only faced off in the NFL once, the aforementioned 2012 regular season matchup. The X’s and O’s of this game are going to be incredible, and all fans including myself are salivating at seeing these two minds play a game of football chess against one another.

PED-hawks vs Ballghazi

Like any winning team in the NFL, both haven’t been without their fair share of controversy.

#PEDHawks was pretty common on Twitter throughout the controversy.

The Seahawks came under fire during the past few seasons for players testing positive for PED’s, including members of the Legion of Boom – Richard Sherman and former Seahawk, now Patriot corner, Brandon Browner, testing positive for Adderall. Sherman won an appeal, but the list of guilty Seahawks includes Browner, who missed 4 games in 2012 and the Super Bowl run in 2013. Former players S Winston Guy, OL’s John Moffitt and Allen Barbre, and LB and 2012 first round pick Bruce Irvin all were suspended by the league within the last three years. This year the team faced no such issues, but it is still a gray cloud that non-Sehawk fans like to throw out in discussion. Even if you were trapped in a cave over the last two weeks, you definitely heard about Ballghazi – the Patriots scandal about playing with deflated balls in the AFC Championship. The 24-hour media cycle has perpetuated the idea that this may forever tarnish the legacies of Brady and Belichick. Things certainly went overboard when people were demanding the Colts and Ravens play a rematched AFC title game after the Pro Bowl and ESPN analyst Mark Brunell was almost crying on screen because he thought Brady was lying. This writer believes the public outcry is because “it’s the Patriots” and people love to hate winners. I personally don’t care if the balls were slightly deflated or not, even fully inflated football wouldn’t have helped the Colts win that game. The question is how will this sway neutral supporters for the Super Bowl? Will people think the Pats are despicable and jump onto the Seahawks growing bandwagon? Or embrace the “heel” tendencies of the Pats and root them on to victory?

When Decades Collide

Last but certainly not least, these teams are near mirror images of each other ten years apart. A ball-control offense with a stout defense is what led the Patriots to wins in Super Bowls 36, 38 and 39. The Seahawks rode that formula to the Lombardi Trophy last year, and intend to do the same this year. I have strong doubts the game will be a blowout like last year’s massacre in the Meadowlands, but the winner of this game truly deserves the crown of best team in the NFL. If the Patriots take it, Brady and Belichick will be entrenched as the greatest Coach/QB pair of all time. If the Seahawks win, they will be crowned as the new dynasty, having been the first team to win two Super Bowls in a row since New England did ten years ago. The best part? Both these teams are built, and prepared to be challenged for Super Bowls in the next few years as well.

There you have it. These teams share plenty in common currently as well as the Patriots teams of the early aught’s and the current Seahawks team. I think it’s going to be a great game, and I’m really in a no-lose situation from a fan perspective. While I cheer on Seattle as my second team, I cannot be upset if Tom Brady wins another Super Bowl. Having no stakes means I can pig out at the Super Bowl watch party I’m attending and enjoy the game with friends. I hope you all do the same. GO FOOTBALL!

Jam(s) of the Week

In honor of the SB participants being from Seattle and New England, here’s a double-barreled JOTW.

New England: The Pixies

Seattle: Alice in Chains

The Top 10 Things You Can Buy Before Watching Super Bowl XLIX

Well, it’s been a month since Christmas now. You probably forgot about that sweater that your aunt gave you, and those new jeans from Santa are now firmly apart of your weekly wardrobe. Time to fire up your wallet’s because it’s time to buy stuff again! The country built on capitalism is charging towards it’s biggest sporting day of the year (both in terms of sports and economically) –  The Super Bowl. The 49th edition of Super Sunday will have a major economic impact on not only host city Glendale, AZ, but the United States as a whole – as people will buy food, alcohol, and souvenirs across the country as the Seahawks and Patriots do battle one week from today. For fun, here are the best items, no matter which team you cheer for, you can buy before going to your Super Bowl party.

Richard Sherman You Mad Bro Ballcap

The quote that started it all. Seahawks corner Richard Sherman explained on Fox Football Daily last year that Tom Brady had been talking trash during the teams 2012 matchup in Seattle – he allegedly called Sherman, Earl Thomas and the rest of the Seahawks defense a bunch of “nobodies.” Brady would eat those words, as the Seahawks claimed a 24-23 victory, and Sherman yelled those famous words at Brady during the post-game handshakes. This hat can immortalize not only your feelings about Sherman and the LOB taking on the Patriots passing attack,  but you can also just start repeating the phrase to your friends to aggravate the hell out of them as they get angrier each time you say it.

Patriots Hoodie

thumbFor those of you who prefer a color that’s a bit less neon, I offer up this Patriots hoodie. Now to be a proper Pats supporter – you will have to cut the sleeves off yourself to emulate coach Belichick. You’ll also need to wear a sneer of total disregard for the rules and anyone outside of Foxborough on your face. In a matchup between teams that both wear primarily navy blue and silver/white uniforms, you will certainly catch attention in this red number. With the sleeves cut off, it will lose some of it’s warming capabilities. However, after the Super Bowl, just wear it to the gym and channel your inner Gronk by spiking a kettlebell into the floor and flirting with that cute personal trainer.

Marshawn Lynch About That Action Tee

Seahawks running back Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch does NOT like talking to the media. He is far more content to shell out tens of thousands of dollars in fines than be friendly with reporter-types. He spent most of Super Bowl media day last year in New Jersey ignoring the flurry of journalists and cameras. When he did grant a few, brief words to Deion Sanders of the NFL Network, this famous exchange occured

SANDERS: You camera-shy? You just don’t want to talk, really.

LYNCH: I’m just about that action, boss.

SANDERS: You about to go get it. You just like to do.

LYNCH: That’s what it is. I ain’t never seen no talking winning nothing. Been like that since I was little. I was raised like that.

You too can be “All About That Action” in this t-shirt availible on Lynch’s personal website. Why use words to communicate when an appropriately timed crotch-grab is just as efficient?

“They Hate Us Cause They Aint Us” Tee   

As a Michigan grad, and a man who enjoys the cruder things in life, I am a devoted follower of Barstool Sports blog. El Pres (a Michigan alum) and his Boston-based crew of writers are primarily Patriots fans, which leads to some great off the cuff offerings. This t-shirt just launched last week after the ‘Ballghazi’ incident involving deflated balls vs the Colts. Combine a clever James Franco quote from The Interview and you get a fanaastic F.U of a shirt to prove your loyal to Brady, Belichick, and the Patriot Way, whether your balls are properly inflated or not!

GOAT Tee

Another offering from the guys at Barstool. This appeared in an email last week and even I, being a Brady fan, picked it up on impulse. If Brady leads the Pats to that elusive fourth Super Bowl win, he will have as many rings as Joe Montana. The debate will gain more traction as to who is the Greatest Of All Time. You can show your support with this shirt from Brady’s infamous 2005 GQ photoshoot that inexplicably took place on a goat farm. Not only is it an oddly clever shoutout for Brady, it’ll be one hell of a conversation starter as you meet your buddy’s co-worker when you are both awkwardly standing around the snack table waiting for the party host to refill the queso dip.

HALF TIME: In honor of this year’s halftime entertainment

 

Seahawks Bucket Hat or Patriots Beanie

hwlNot everyone has fantastic hair, and you may be more of a hat person. Both squads have you covered on that one. For the Seahawks, this camo bucket hat will not only make you stand out, it also proves you’re ready for the ‘Hawks to go to war and be named a dynasty while facing the dynasty of the last decade. It’s odd but neon green and camo oddly work well together (I’d know – I was given the exact hat by a friend for Christmas.) Once the Super Bowl is over, you’ll also fit right into the background of a ScHoolboy Q music video. The Patriots on the other hand, play in Boston, where it is freezing for about six months out of the year. You’d get more than your fair share of odd stares in a bucket hat in Boston, but that’s where this Patriots knit works even better. Stay warm with Pat Patriot protecting your dome from the elements, or, if the Patriots are losing, flying objects being thrown by your overzealous friend who is a Boston sports fan.

Jon Ryan Jersey

thumb (2)Did you watch the Seahawks game last week? If you did, you’ll remember the Seahawks first score of the day came from their punter throwing a touchdown to a backup offensive tackle to cut the Packers lead to 12. He had this terrified look on his face and capped off the sequence with an Aaron Rodgers “Discount Double Check” belt celebration. That is a LOT of cult hero points earned in the course of about 30 seconds.  “Boomer Jon” as he is sometimes known, hails from Regina, Saskatchewan. Yes, the punter for the team in the pacific northwest is Canadian, and also has red hair. Jon Ryan belongs in the punter Hall of Fame, so be that guy, get the punter’s jersey. Show everyone that it’s your world and they are all just living in it, as you discount double check your way to the fridge for another cold Molson, singing O Canada, and wondering what time the Maple Leafs game starts.

Vince Wilfork Super Bowl Jersey

thumb (1)The best thing about watching the Super Bowl is it’s a great excuse to shove aside that fancy new year’s diet you’ve been trying to keep as your resolution. Buffalo Wings, Pizza, Some form of warmed or fried cheese, potato chips, beer – you’re going to be eating ALL of it because this is America, where you do what you damn well please. Why not do so wearing the jersey of the biggest dude on the field? Pats DT Vince Wilfork is in his 11th season and tips the scales at a hefty 325 pounds. Now there is no chance you’ll weigh that much after the big game, but if your order the jersey a size up, you can hide your food baby comfortably behind swaddles of Nike Dri-Fit fabric. Also, VW75 is better at eating chicken than you are.

Ugg Boots

Furthering the idea that Tom Brady truly has it all, his endorsements run far and wide throughout the advertising world. Most notably, Brady signed with Uggs (yes, those ugly moon boots your sister/girlfriend wears during fall and winter) to help expand their men’s branding efforts in 2011. This led to some good natured ribbing by teammates and the media, which was answered resolutely by Brady when he gave his lineman each a pair (I can only imagine what size Uggs an NFL offensive lineman would wear…) Regardless, be the envy of everyone at the party when your feet are warm and toasty in sheepskin lined boots – that or be told to take them off at the door and you can hide the fact that you own a pair of Ugg boots.

Seahawks Christmas Sweater

Christmas occurred just over a month ago, which means it’s time to restart this country’s year long preparation for everyone’s favorite holiday! This list started off with something neon green and is going to end the same way. With this Seahawks “ugly” Christmas sweater, you not only will catch attention, you probably can get a side job guiding planes at your local airport and not need one of those hi-vis yellow vests for safety.  Show how much you love Christmas, the Seahawks, and tackiness with this absurdly priced sweater.

Super Bowl week is one of the best weeks of the year. It leads up the biggest stage of America’s biggest sport, so do your duty as an American, excercise your right to spend liquid income and BUY! BUY! BUY! (the stuff on this list that is.)

Jam Of The Week

Close The (Alti)-Dore: What Jozy’s Return Says About the Future of U.S Nationals Abroad

Altidore’s Sunderland stint was an abject failure.

Jozy Altidore is coming back home to Major League Soccer. Good news for him, not great for the U.S Men’s National Team.

Jozy Altidore joins USMNT teammates Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu and a handful of other Americans who tried their hand in Europe’s top leagues (Premier League and Serie A in the case of these three) but decided to come back home to Major League Soccer. There are two groups we can sort these players into

A. American players returning to ply their trade in their home nation to help boost the significance of the beautiful game in America.

B. They came back to MLS because they found themselves floundering in Europe

Only Bradley qualifies as a player who fit into Group A.

Dempsey still had some fuel left in the tank but elected to come home to Seattle rather than find a new club in England

Dempsey, Altidore, Edu, and a few others fall into Group B. Dempsey may be a hero for Sounders F.C, but only after sitting on the bench at Tottenham for a year after relative success with Fulham. Edu never really caught on at Stoke. Bradley was part of a good midfield with AS Roma, but decided to return and play for Toronto F.C. However, before Roma, Bradley failed to impress at Aston Villa in a short loan spell in the Premier League before a return to form with Italian side Chievo Verona. Except for a two year stay with AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eresdivise (Where U.S striker Aron Johannsson currently plays) when he banged in 39 goals in 67 matches, Altidore scored 4 goals in 91 appearances over the course of four and a half seasons with Villareal (Spanish La Liga),Hull City (Premier League), Bursaspor (Turkish League) and Sunderland. Ironically, while he was scoring at will for AZ, he endured a nearly two year goal drought for the national team from 2011 – mid 2013. Altidore is a difficult case-study, but proves that Jurgen Klinsmann’s comments are correct. Between the spring-fall schedule (March – November) as opposed to the traditional Fall – Spring (August – May) and a level of competition that cannot match the best leagues, the USMNT will struggle on the world’s biggest stages until it’s best players are playing in Europe’s top leagues.

DeAndre Yedlin is the latest American to take his talents to Europe, will he have success?

Perhaps it’s not MLS’ fault – perhaps it’s this current generation of older USMNT members (Let’s say 25 and older) just aren’t cut from the proper cloth to have major success abroad. There are few players left who are still playing in Europe’s best leagues – Geoff Cameron at Stoke City and DeAndre Yedlin at Tottenham in the Premier League. Along with goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan at Everton and Aston Villa respectively. The German-born defensive triumvirate of Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach) Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt) and John Anthony Brooks (Hertha Berlin) all play in the Bundesliga while representing the United States. Alejandro Bedoya starts for Nantes in France, and the previously mentioned Aron Johannsson is a very solid striker for AZ in the Dutch league. That’s it – those are the recent call-ups from the USMNT playing in Europe’s top leagues – nothing to write home about, but perhaps, with a whopping three and a half years until the next World Cup – it is the next generation we should focus on. Could youth be the answer to solving the eternal question of why Americans can’t succeed playing in Europe?

The Golden Generation?

Julian Green, the pride of Tampa Bay, is the most exciting US prospect since Landon Donovan before the 2002 World Cup.

There is good news, younger, U.S born and bred players are representing the nation at the highest level abroad – winger Julian Green is currently on loan at Hamburg from FC Bayern Munich – the best club in Germany and one of the top five in the world. Midfielder Emerson Hyndman, age 18, was signed to Fulham FC’s youth academy in 2011, and now plays for the senior team in the English Championship (second-tier.) While born in Berlin, Gedion Zelalem moved to Maryland at age 9 and decided he will represent the U.S. this past fall. Zelalem turns 18 on January 26th, and is already apart of Arsenal F.C’s senior squad. While only teenagers, these three will be entering the early part of their primes in 2018 for Russia. If they are developed properly by their European clubs, it provides a real hope for the United States. Looking even further down the line, an 11 year old from Los Altos, California made history in 2013. Joshua Pynadath, at only age 11, was signed by the legendary Real Madrid Castilla, the club’s youth academy. Pynadath became the first American to join the youth ranks, and hopefully he will be the trailblazer for other young Americans to be picked up by powerhouse European academies. While it would be great for America and MLS to develop the best home grown talent, it is not feasible just yet.

emerson-hyndman-fulham_thumb

USMNT fans should be optimistic that more situations akin to Emerson Hyndman’s will emerge.

 

I don’t blame Dempsey, Bradley or Altidore for returning to MLS. It was a career decision they each felt was for the better, and it aids the exposure of soccer in America to be able to watch national team stars play in front of American fans. It also doesn’t hurt that they are universally beloved in America rather than be treated somewhat tersely by foreign fans. However, I hope that marks the end of stars returning home in their prime. MLS is a fine league, but in order to be taken seriously on the global stage, steps must be taken to improve the quality on and off the field. A switch to the global soccer calendar (while difficult) could be a start, heavy investment in the youth academies will also help groom the next crop of American soccer stars. If the next generation of potential USMNT stars like Green and Zelalem can impress on the biggest stages in Europe, the future for United States soccer is very bright. Most importantly, the belief that we can win will be more than just optimism, it will be fact.

Jam of the Week

In honor of that ABSURD Seahawks win yesterday, how about a little grunge to fire up the 12th Man?

 

Moment of Bruhhhh

I’ve written on this blog about my affection for Highly Questionable on ESPN2. They set the bar even higher when rap duo Rae Sremmurd stopped by last week. The interview is arguably the best 8 minutes in the show’s history.

 

vWl584