Return of the Honey Badger

 

Tyrann Mathieu Heisman

Better days, prior to dismissal from LSU

 

I couldn’t go anywhere last year without seeing replays of the Honey Badger plastered all over television sets.

Anytime I’m working at one of my restaurants, making drinks or talking to customers, there are TVs running nearly continuously behind my back. I am forever watching ESPN Sportscenter, the NFL channel, local sports programming, or whatever they feel like nationally televising.

And they always televised the games between LSU and Alabama.

I don’t remember all that much about the games between these two teams except they both are in the SEC conference, they both are NFL football factories, and they both play stifling, suffocating, punishing, physical defense (I distinctly remember one game where they combined to score 9 total points).

Oh and one more thing. Tyrann Mathieu, instantly recognizable from the stripe of bright blond dyed hair, aka: the Honey Badger, is a P-L-A-Y-M-A-K-E-R. With a capital P. If you love football, college or professional, then you should at least admire his awe-inspiring football instincts and ability to lay bigger, stronger, faster players out cold.

If you don’t believe me or need a refresher course, check out this highlight reel:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KBPaoS6odk

Yes that really happened, and No he doesn’t have a stunt double.

If they paid college players based solely on the number of big plays they made, the Honey Badger would be a millionaire before he got to the NFL. He’s just that much better than the next player.

It’s not everyday that a consensus All-American, Heisman finalist as a defensive player and winner of the Chuck Bednarik award gets dismissed from his team. I don’t think that’s ever happened to someone as highly decorated as him.

Fast forward to August 10th, 2012, and that’s exactly what happened.

I was looking through articles on NFL.com and Bleacher Report when a little box on the right side of my screen said something about him getting dismissed from the LSU football program. I clicked on the link and for some reason my brain refused to acknowledge this as reality.

Could one of the best defensive players in the country, on a team that came this close to winning last season’s NCAA National Championship game, really be getting the boot from Les Miles team? I read every single word on that page. Still in denial. I went to the NCAA.com page, searched for Tyrann Mathieu on Google, Yahoo, random sports blogs. I desperately needed to find something that could refute this statement.

Evidently he has a problem with drugs. ‘Technically’ the Tigers team released him for unconfirmed violations of team rules but I’m assuming, along with pretty much everyone else, that he got tossed for testing positive for marijuana on his blood and urine tests.

Here’s where it gets personal. For people on the outside of this world, living in an innocence bubble, it’s just too easy to point fingers and shake your head at others for having substance abuse problems.

Even people who are in the substance abuse-rehabilitation programs are nearly as bad. Doctors, therapists, counselors, program managers, teachers, these are people who think all kids are cured the same.

Kind of like a one size fits all program, a step-by-step program to curing the want or need for whatever substance their clients are stuck on.

You take a kid who has been hanging out with the wrong people for  a very long time, listening to them, using them as role models and aspiring to become the same type of person. Sometimes there are problems at home, domestic verbal, mental, or physical abuse. Sometimes these problems are genetically linked to the parents, or grandparents, such as documented cases of familial alcoholism.

I can’t speak for him personally, but I know that I have dealt with substance abuse issues for a long time, and no program, no speeches, no campfire atmosphere filled with drug addicts and people with mental issues is going to permanently change your way of thinking in a matter of days or months.

What it really takes to change, in my opinion, is to create an outlet, somewhere you can run to and take solace whenever the stress and fear becomes overwhelming. Drugs and alcohol offer something that nothing else can compete with, a way to forget and erase bad memories and suffering.

Friends and family members can only support you by giving you a reason to continue to live, a better option.

Personally, everyone I knew and everyone I spent any time with made it seem like it was normal behavior to go out and smoke weed, drink alcohol, do drugs. It’s not even a debate about whether my actions were right or wrong, because I figured anyone outside of my circle of friends had no idea what we were going through… what I was going through personally.

Every time I wanted someone to talk to and listen to me I was given a stern lecture about how I should know better, how it could be harmful to my body and my life. Well that’s the pont isn’t it? I never thought I would live past adulthood so that point doesn’t even make a difference. When I woke up one day, having suddenly aged into my mid twenties, I was shocked and confused that my heart was still beating and my body was still in relatively good working order.

To be perfectly honest, I was actually pretty mad at myself. I couldn’t even do a good job of destroying myself. Once again I was a failure at whatever I was trying to do, even if what I was trying to do was to kill myself before I turned 21.

I’ve given casual thought to the merits of whether drowning myself in drugs and alcohol was the same as pointing a gun to my head through one ear, blowing my brains out through the other. If the end result of both is death, and the procedure or journey doesn’t matter, then there’s no difference between them.

I’m not a psychologist, and through the use of drugs/alcohol, I’ve numbed myself to the point that I don’t possess either the required intelligence or want to give myself a definitive answer.

As for the Honey Badger, I’m not as quick to criticize him for a handful of positive drug tests as many people out there are. I don’t think he was trying to derail his blossoming career in football, I just think he didn’t really know any better. Yeah I’m sure he said all the right things when the LSU football program told him that drugs were forbidden but he probably thought he could just do it in private while covering it up with detoxification drinks or masking agents.

Luckily, he and I both found a reason to continue to battle on.

It must have been quite a wake-up call when he found himself without a job, without an education, pretty much living at home, surrounded by a number of beautiful trophies that he would never have the chance to add to. If only someone who give him a chance. Someone who would take him under his wing, give him a positive male role model without asking for anything in return. There was only a slim possibility that he would ever be able to play football competitively ever again, I mean just look at what happened to Marcus Vick.

For anyone who doesn’t know who I’m talking about, Marcus Vick is the younger brother of Michael Vick, the currently on the hot seat Philadelphia Eagles starting QB. Marcus was supposedly as gifted, if not more gifted, then his brother. He played QB just like his brother, and even starred at the same school, Virginia Tech.

His career path careened off a cliff during the last game of his college career, when he stomped on an opposing player’s hand/arm with his cleats in the nationally televised Gator Bowl. Then he got into a lot of trouble, including possession and gun charges, driving on a suspended license and finally went to jail.

Sounds familiar for anyone who has dealt with substance abuse issues, doesn’t it?

Instead of getting drafted in the top 10 like most of the media thought he would, Marcus ended up as an undrafted free-agent to the Miami Dolphins. They didn’t even bring him in as a QB, despite his game tape or prodigious skill. He got signed to the team as a wide receiver, for almost no money. Not surprisingly, he didn’t make it through one season before his once promising football career was over.

In no way, shape or form is Tyrann Mathieu as bad as Marcus Vick was. He doesn’t have a string of criminal charges attached to his resume, forcing potential employers to weigh those against any potential benefit he might add to the team. He might have gone down that path too if not for several players taking time out of their busy schedules to talk to him, to act as a big brother to a troubled yet undeniably talented youth.

Arizona corner back Patrick Peterson, and famous former All-World cornerback Deion Sanders have both taken an interest in helping Tyrann find his way back to the light. For months, they have been tutoring him, talking to him, and most importantly, listening to his problems, relating to him in a way that doesn’t push him into a corner.

For all the problems he has caused, and all the people he negatively impacted by getting himself kicked off his former team, he remains one of the most exciting and interesting players I have ever seen in at least the past decade. Because he is so short (5’8″) and so small (185 lbs), and just so captivating as a character on the football field, it seems that I’m not the only one in his corner.

It’s exactly because he’s so normal in stature that I want to see him do well in the NFL.

As of yesterday or the day before, the Honey Badger was drafted in the 2nd round, 69th overall by, of all teams, the Arizona Cardinals. The same team that Patrick Peterson plays for.

The return of the Honey Badger to prime time television is good for the sport, good for us, the viewers at home, and good for him, his friends and his family. His personality and penchant for making big plays at the most opportune times will make any game he’s in more exciting.

The doors of opportunity opened slightly once again, all he has to do is not mess up and end up like Rolando McClain.

http://www.baltimoreravens.com/news/article-1/Newsome-Rolando-McClain-Still-Part-Of-Football-Team/646ecc31-8826-47fa-8331-29337b3695ab

Rolando McClain

Rolando McClain 3

Kyarnboy.Wordpress.Com

Wong_83@Hotmail.Com

 

Advertisements

Congratulations Baltimore, the newly minted 2012 World Champions!

This is my shout-out to the 2012 World Champion Baltimore Ravens, the best team in the NFL. Finally you did it! Against all odds, you got to the mountain top, taking the hardest possible route through the playoffs to boot. All I can say is WOW. You did it for us, you did it for Ray Lewis, and you did it for Ed Reed. This is just a list of thoughts I’ve been gathering for such an occasion, I figured there’s no better time to share them with y’all than right now, while the memories are still fresh and the celebration is still rampaging through Maryland. In CatonsvilleArbutusBaltimore CityReisterstown, Columbia, Ellicott City, Turf Valley, Glen Burnie, Pasadena, Clarksville, Silver SpringWhite Marsh, Bel Air, and everywhere in between, the streets filled with Purple & Black flags, streamers, hoodies, jerseys, hats and anything else that the team can put their stamp on. So what should we remember from this historic trip through the playoffs? Here’s 10 things I took away from our romp through the playoffs.

1. Can anyone else in the modern era say they went through Tom Brady & Peyton Manning to get to the Super Bowl? That’s a combined 7 Super Bowl appearances, 4 Super Bowls, 3 Super Bowl MVP awards, and 6 Regular Season MVP awards between them.

2. Nobody can deny Joe Flacco his Elite-status any longer. 11 Touchdowns, 0 Interceptions in 4 Postseason games. I think that speaks for itself.

3. Baltimore’s defense, the same defense that struggled the entire regular season, was also the main reason we just won the championship. It still wasn’t as dominant as it’s been in past seasons but came up big on numerous occasions against Indianapolis, against Denver in overtime, definitely against New England, and even at the end of the Super Bowl against San Francisco. The Last Stand of Ray Lewis indeed.

4. I’m still not convinced the power outage right after halftime in the Super Bowl wasn’t some insidious plot hatched by a vindictive 49ers fan. According to Entergy Corp., the company in charge of providing and maintaining power for Mercedes-Benz Superdome Stadium, an electrical device installed expressly to prevent such power outages was the source of the Super Bowl Blackout. HELL NO, that’s the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard plenty of lame excuses. Mainly coming from me in a vain attempt to not go to school.

I imagine a rabid 49ers fan, dripping with red & gold apparel, creeping through the labyrinth of stadium corridors while gripping a chainsaw. Maniacally. He had plenty of time to plan his terrorist plot considering his team hadn’t scored but a pair of field goals the entire 1st half. Watching the game on his smartphone, the score becoming more and more lopsided by the minute, his frustration and necessity to help his team growing by the minute, the Jacoby Jones kickoff-return for a touchdown was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Two things, my family always tells me I’ve got the most vivid imagination, and hell, I would’ve done the same thing if my team was down 28-6 in the Super Bowl. The NFL was just happy to have a more competitive game, so they kept the whole thing hushed-up and made up some random “device failure”-excuse instead.

5. Speaking of Jacoby Jones, I sure hope we have enough Cap-space next season. Can you imagine the Baltimore Ravens without Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Anquan Boldin, Paul Kruger, or Matt Birk? I mean Birk’s getting kinda old but still. The same thing happened the last time we won the Super Bowl, in 2000. That time we figured out ways to keep most of our team intact, at the expense of forfeiting the 2002 team. A balance must be struck between paying players what they’re due for years of faithful service, and cutthroat business tactics to ensure continuity, like the New England Patriots. They don’t really pay anybody, especially not homegrown talent. Look at WR Randy Moss or WR Wes Welker, WR David Patten, and TE Benjamin Watson. Rather I should say they don’t pay anyone what they’re worth.

6. I’ve said this before but Joe Flacco deserves every penny of a 100+ million dollar contract. He’s not worth more than say Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but pretty close to it. Look at it this way, if we don’t pay him 17+ million dollars a year, with most of the money back-loaded and an enormous signing bonus, we’re still going to have to use the franchise tag on him or chance him skipping town to a team starving for decent quarterback play. The franchise tag would still cost almost 16 million in pure, guaranteed money, and that way we wouldn’t be able to use the tag on someone else extremely important to the continued success of the Ravens.

Someone like one of the players I listed in the previous paragraph.

7.  I know Terrell Suggs has been playing with his arm nearly falling off for over half a season, and Haloti Ngata has been more banged up than a hooker by the Slap-Chop guy, but can we please get some pressure on the opposing QB? Paul Kruger led the team with 9 sacks in the regular season, and 2.5 in the postseason. To put this in perspective, Broncos LB Von Miller  had 18.5 sacks in the regular season, 49ers LB Aldon Smith had 19.5, Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware had 11.5, which is an off-year for him, and Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil had 11. If we’re not going to pay Paul Kruger, I’m pretty sure we won’t, somebody is going to have to take his place.

8. Oh and another thing about Joe Flacco. Did anyone else see him sleeping on the sideline during the power outage? What’s that about? I was probably the only person on Earth screaming at the TV-screen when I saw him lounging around, cool as a cucumber. No wonder our offense was so slow out the gate during the 2nd half. If not for the defense stepping up, especially Jimmy Smith, everything could have gone so terribly wrong. I know I’m nitpicking but still.

9.  Statistics my ass. Everyone and everybody is using their considerable brainpower to come up with new analytical statistics in a vain attempt to predict the future of football. “This quarterback or that one is elite because of his true QBR or true yards per attempt.” If we used even a portion of that computing power on say, Cancer research, we’d all be immortal by now. “Turnovers are divided into different categories of harm. Some can even be beneficial.” I read that in ESPN Insider a couple of weeks ago. All I can say is REALLY? Maybe NFL teams should turn the ball over on purpose sometimes. Yeah right.

10. I leave you with this final thought… for now. Does any team have better fans than Baltimore? The people who run M&T Bank Stadium projected 25-30,000 people max to show up for the free-admission fan celebration on Tuesday. Do you have any idea how many people showed up at the stadium alone, not to mention the parade route?

200,000 people packed the stadium and its immediate surroundings. Police acted as crowd control since the stadium authority couldn’t handle all the crazed fanatics climbing over the entrance gates. Hundreds of thousands more called out of work sick *cough cough*, just to see Ed Reed walking down the street with a camera strapped to his Django-style hairdo. Every window of every building along the parade route was open and filled with screaming fans, including the church. Everyone sure loves the Baltimore Ravens, even if many of them are just bandwagon fans.

Either way, we gladly embrace all football fans who want to convert. Just make sure you keep your purple & black jerseys on, regardless of whether we do well next season.

The Cost of Violence.

Like a lot of people in our country, I’m a big proponent of watching football on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays, and even Thursdays. The first NFL game I ever watched just happened to be the first Super Bowl played between America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys… and that team from Buffalo. Not to make it sound like I favored the Cowboys, it’s just at the time I didn’t know I was supposed to hate them.

Just like I hate the Patriots. Not to mention the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s taken a lot of time, patience, studying and stat-watching to figure out the ways of professional football. It was like a shining light when I finally could watch games and understand nearly everything that’s going on. A moment of clarity in a world filled with uncertainties. I could tell the difference between a horse-collar tackle, unsportsmanlike conduct, a clean hit, and a reasonably assumed penalty for helmet-to-helmet contact.

I thought I knew what’s legal and what’s not. I was badly mistaken.

As you already well know if you read this blog on a regular basis, I am a big fan of the Baltimore Ravens. I’m guilty of being biased as much as any other REAL fan of another team, so it’s not like I am promising neutrality or anything. Anyone who watches games in our division, the AFC North, knows that we play big boy football. Physical, grinding football, as much as that is possible in today’s turbulent, changing times.

We aren’t talking about the jewels of North America here, like New York City, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, or anywhere else you’d think of when taking your next vacation. You go to Baltimore if you want to eat crabs (or get crabs), buy drugs or squat in abandoned row-housing. You go to Cincinnati if you are lost and it’s the closest city with a hotel, or you are a locally born-raised Ohio native (who thinks Cincy is considered a big city). You go to Pittsburgh if you like Primanti Bros. sandwiches (big ass sandwiches stuffed w/ fries & coleslaw), if you just got here to America (like my parents did.) or if you still somehow earn a living making American steel. As for Cleveland, I can’t really think of too many reasons to go there unless your European ancestors settled the area. These cities are called ‘The Rust Belt’ for a reason.

All jokes aside, the main reason people come to my lovely city is either they’re stuck here because of work or family, and because of serious football. Ask any real Ravens fan who they’re favorite player is and I guarantee they’ll be able to tell you his jersey number, what position he plays, his first AND last name, and his stats this season. None of that bandwagon bullshit (“I’m from West Virginia but my friend likes the Cowboys so I like the Cowboys! Go Toby Romo!”). Here in Baltimore, there’s a common saying we use. ‘Ain’t shit to do around here so let’s get fucked up.’ Sad but true. That’s why our football is so important to us, and why we don’t care much for these fancy new rules changing our sport. At least I don’t.

Fancy new rules, what’s he talking about? If you watch football, anyone and their non-NFL watching mother can tell you that shit has changed over the past few years. Just a few days ago, the world watched as the AFC/NFC Divisional games set a record for most points scored in a single weekend. Denver and Baltimore combined to score 10 touchdowns and 73 total points. Houston and New England scored 69 total points. None of that happened because of luck or coincidence. Defense’s are being flagged for anything and everything. Quarterbacks and Kickers are nearly untouchable. Entire jobs are being erased that have been in the game since the very beginning. Something has to be done before this game is ruined forever (Then what am I going to do, watch hockey? pfft).

Ed Reed is a prime example of these changes. As a safety, Reed’s job since the day he was drafted was to provide deep coverage, almost like an outfielder in baseball. Anyone throwing the ball down the field knows that he will be waiting for them, either with a big hit or an interception. His job description is to stifle opposing offenses with fear, forcing them to rethink their game plan. If your a Ravens fan, you already know all the crap he’s had to deal with, including a number of legal hits that were penalized regardless. He’s not the only one guilty of laying the law down in Baltimore. Bernard Pollard, Ray Lewis, and a number of our defensive backs have all been flagged or fined for [hitting defenseless receivers]. Let’s explore this little rule, shall we?

There is NO SUCH THING as a defenseless receiver. That may not be 100% true, but it’s closer than you think, maybe 98 or 97% true. Before this ridiculous rule was implemented (or enforced), wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs were defending themselves just fine. Quarterbacks are taught not to put the ball where it will get their receiver killed, like up high over the middle when a linebacker is charging from 10 years away. With the change in rules/enforcement, all of a sudden QBs are putting the ball wherever they want too, possibly hoping to draw a flag. Ed Reed is good at hitting people like a ton of bricks without using his helmet. So if it’s considered a legal hit, and the receiver he just blew up purposefully left himself defenseless, why is he the one getting flagged. Enough with the flopping, ok?

This is not the only problem, and definitely not an isolated incident. Offenses are pushing off, hand-fighting, chop blocking and anything else they can get away with. If both the receiver and defensive back are pushing/holding each other, 75% of the time the defensive player gets called for pass interference. How is that interference when both players have an equal right to the football? These flags are bad enough to change the course of a game, especially when 3rd or 4th downs are turning into 5/15 yards and a 1st down, completely at the mercy of biased officials. I ask myself all the time how league officials could allow this travesty to occur.

After careful consideration, this is what I have come up with:

1. Offenses, especially passing touchdowns, bring more fans to the stadium. This means more tickets sold, more direct TV packages, more concessions, etc.

2. The commissioner, Roger Goodell, and his cronies are in cahoots with the large market teams. Pittsburgh, Dallas, New York, San Francisco, these are teams that have fans across the country. If these teams do well, more people will watch. This means higher ratings, which in turn, leads to more lucrative TV contracts, advertisement money, etc.

3. Nothing in the world will remove the looming danger of concussions from the game of football. To actually limit dangerous activities to the point where players can’t get concussions would mean changing the sport until it’s unrecognizable. Why don’t they have players sign liability/injury waivers, and let them go back to their barbaric ways of yore.

4. The players union claims that many retired players should get royalties, free insurance, a pension fund, etc. The minimum salary for a rookie is $405,000 this season (as of 2013). The average salary for any NFL player is OVER $1.9 million(as of 2011). You give me either amount of money and I guarantee I will be able to pay my own insurance/start my own retirement fund. It’s the players own own fault if they can’t invest their huge incomes wisely.

5.  Only real fans of football could watch a theoretical game with a final score of 6-3. I’m not talking about two inept teams that are just unable to score points. I’m talking about two teams filled with brutish, violent ogres on defense. Can you imagine the physical battle, blood-stained jerseys and a test of sheer willpower. Dominating your opponents with a gap-toothed smile, rain and mud flying as bodies slam into each other and the ground like bulging sacks of meat. If you can’t envision, or enjoy, this spectacle in your imagination, real football isn’t for you.

So go back to your Banana Daiquiri, sipping it delicately through a twisty straw. Perhaps you should watch figure skating, or gymnastic floor routines. It’s not like I have anything against watching men spinning around in spandex on ice skates, or Gabby Douglas  flying around like a tiny squirrel across a floor mat.. it just isn’t football. If your jersey is clean, either your opponents aren’t very good, or more likely you ain’t doin’ it right. That’s what I think about finesse football.

The best example of what could happen to professional football is probably Arena Football. It’s kind of like NFL or NCAA football except the field is only 50 yards, it’s always indoors, and there are padded walls instead of boundary lines on each side. If you haven’t seen it yet, Arena Football is very exciting to watch. There’s a ton of offense, and very little defense. Players often hit the padded boundary lines, jumping or getting tackled into the bleachers. A lot of people who didn’t make it in the NFL or can’t play professionally anymore end up in the AFL, like Terrell Owens. Nobody bets on AFL games, there’s no high drama, it’s kinda like a pick-up game except that they get paid and they have fans. There is no draft, and I doubt many people even know when their championship is played.

This is the future I foresee for the NFL if it doesn’t shape up quickly. The reason the game is so successful is because the rules are enforced, the stage doesn’t get any bigger, statistics are carefully kept and tradition/history is honored. There is no bigger sport in the world. From Vince Lombardi to Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman to Tom Brady, heroes are immortalized for all eternity. The more we change the sport, from taking away kickoffs to changing the rules, adding games or changing playoff format, the farther away we move from the original, unadulterated version of football.

 

 

Not Such a Happy New Year for Baltimore.

Baltimore Ravens

 

If you’re a Baltimore Ravens fan like I am, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Our team is a reasonably acceptable 10-6, especially when compared to any number of other quarterback-hungry teams in the NFL. Unless you consider that we are 1-4 in the last 5 games, including two divisional losses to the Steelers and Bengals respectively. Not a great way to end the regular season by any measure.

Usually around this time of the year, I’d be giving thanks to the football gods, whether or not they exist, for helping my team continue as one of the NFL’s elite when it comes to making the playoffs year in and year out. Only teams like the Philadelphia Eagles under Andy Reid(before this season), the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick, New Orleans and Indianapolis Colts(with Peyton Manning) could claim as many consecutive playoff appearances. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still giving thanks for not being a fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars or Carolina Panthers. Thanks for not having Kyle Boller as my starting QB, and thanks for having Justin Tucker instead of Billy Cundiff as our kicker. I don’t want to seem ungrateful but something just feels different this season. Kind of like having a dozen snakes crawling around in my stomach, telling me something is wrong with the greatest team to ever play professional football.

I know that sounds biased but since I don’t really care about any other team than my Ravens, I don’t really care. Taking a look at some of the other teams that are joining us in the playoffs, especially troubling are the Denver Broncos and the Patriots. We got beaten down like a red-headed stepchild a few weeks ago by Peyton Manning and Co., and it doesn’t look like our defense has figured anything out since then. Princess Brady is throwing like an MVP candidate again this season, and if we couldn’t seal the deal last year when our defense wasn’t ranked in the bottom half of the league, I don’t see how we will this year.

Sure could use a miracle right about now, God.

Until the past couple weeks, Houston and its brutish manchild at defensive end, J.J. Watt, looked like they could beat the snot out of  the rest of the NFL. They sure did when they played us earlier this season. They plain embarrassed us, winning by only around 30 points. Big deal, right? WRONG. For all the faith and bravado I usually have in my team, all the blustering in the world isn’t going to change the fact that we are having trouble on both sides of the ball. Even if we take a Mulligan on this week’s game at Cincinnati, I mean we did sit our starters, we still went 1-3, losing all 3 by a combined 12 points. I don’t feel like there’s a single easy win available on our playoff schedule. Especially not on the AFC side. At times like this, you really gotta dig down deep and ask yourself the following question: “If the Ravens play their absolute best on Sunday, will it be enough to win if __(Insert Team Here)__ plays their absolute best as well?” By now your probably getting that wiggly feeling in your stomach as well… if you didn’t already have it before and were just ignoring it.

I guess the only thing we can do this year is remember the good times we had over the past couple years. Especially last year. Both the Baltimore Orioles and the Ravens were amazing success stories in 2012. The Orioles performed way beyond my wildest dreams, even going so far as to crush those irritating Texas Rangers in the wildcard round. The Ravens came a Billy Cundiff untied shoelace away from possibly going to the Super Bowl. I know, I know, anything can happen on any given Sunday.

So do you really believe this team has a real chance to win a championship this season?

Here are a few final questions and thoughts:

Can Flacco not give up too many Saccos? (Note: That’s such a terrible line, yet it’s so catchy and everyone says it around here.)

Can Torrey Smith be consistently good for 4 straight games?

Can Michael Oher do anything other than beat up drug dealers in a movie based loosely on his life? (Zing!) Can Terrell Suggs regain his form that got him a defensive MVP award ?

Are Ray Lewis & Ed Reed too old to play solid Ravens football?

Can Justin Tucker, as amazing as he’s been in the regular season, keep his cool in the playoffs?

Can new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell run an effective offense with two weeks under his belt?

Read, React, Response and Comment. Oh, and ENJOY!

~Michael, WONG_83@HOTMAIL.com

What were you thinking?!

It’s about time I explain my title.

I know it’s catchy and all but here’s the deal. I’m rationally insane. I have ADHD, meaning I live in a constant state of confusion and distractions. So I understand when people ask why my ideas, opinions and direction are all over the place.

My name is Michael, and I’m your average Chinese-American living on the Eastern Seaboard of the beautiful United States of America. I make jewelry for fun and for a living, whenever I’m not busy studying or running one of my family’s numerous restaurants/bars.

I’m an avid fan of professional sports, primarily Pro Football and Pro Basketball but also including Major League Baseball and even Soccer or Hockey on occasion. My favorite teams are as follows:

(NFL) 1. AFC Baltimore Ravens/ 2. NFC Philadelphia Eagles.

(NBA) 1. Miami Heat 2. Oklahoma City Thunder 3. Washington Wizards

(Soccer) 1. Barcelona(Vern Massey!) 2. MLS Baltimore Blast

(MLB) 1. Baltimore Orioles 2. Anything not from Pittsburgh(like the Steelers/Pirates/Penguins/Panthers, BLEHHK!)

(NHL) Washington Capitols

When I’m not writing about these topics, I often go on strange voyages/tangents into the unknown. I’m constantly reading and writing, drawing and using internet search engines to find obscure yet interesting data. I believe that curiosity and a sense of wonder lead to a life of fulfillment. Plus you never know when that tiny snippet of information will bring you fortune or save your life!

I also watch a lot of movies & television shows. I especially enjoy watching japanese animation or reading manga, such as Naruto Shippuden, Rouroni Kenshin(Samurai X) or Full-Metal Alchemist. There are tons of obscure, well-drawn, well-animated shows on the internet, just waiting to be dusted off and enjoyed.

One of the great inventions in the history of mankind is free, shared, downloadable torrents. At least in my opinion. As long as your not sharing it and/or charging people money for your movies/tv shows, you should be fine.

Other things I talk about from time to time include my family, stupid ignorant people that can’t mind their business, cocktails and jewelry fabrication & repair. Well that should do it. There’s a small look into what this blog is about, just in case your wondering. Maybe you’ll find what I write amusing and witty, and then again, maybe you won’t.

I encourage you to check it out for yourself. What I have to say may not be as linear or to the point as you might like, but it’s usually pretty thorough on whatever subject matter I’m currently thinking about.

Michael

PS: I also write a lot about food I really enjoy, cooking techniques, idiots, fast food nation, the fucked up things people are willing to put up with instead of cook it themselves, stuff like that.

Who REALLY Gives a Damn About Concussions?

How much do you really care about someone getting a bump on the head?

I never thought that concussions were a big deal. When I was growing up, you could get a concussion from something as stupid as falling out of your chair after leaning back too far. I could have gotten concussions while playing basketball, driving ATVs, throwing snowballs or power-bombing my neighbor into a basement floor.  After reading about them in every sports magazine and obscure website for the last year or so, I have come to a new realization.

I still don’t care about whether or not some NFL player has a concussion. I think it’s pointless to blame the NFL or the owners for hiding the truth about whether or not their players have a concussion because if you think about it carefully, the players are usually the ones who are willing to risk life and limb to stay on the playing field. Who am I to tell them they shouldn’t?

If these larger than average human beings were working in any other field, we would never hear anything about this subject. At this very moment, there are people out there doing things way more dangerous than repeatedly bumping into each other from opposite sides of the field. Let’s tell it like it is: Football is and never will be the most dangerous profession in the world. The list of things that humans will do for a few hundred dollars is enormous.

Have you ever watched Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel? It’s basically a show about men fishing for crabs in the middle of the extremely dangerous Bering Sea. The title of the show comes from a US Census report that had Alaskan crab-fishermen rated as the most dangerous job in the entire country. After watching the show for a few years, I can see why. These guys must be borderline crazy to do the things they do, at least on the show. Imagine handling heavy equipment and heaving 6 foot square metal crab pots over the railing while gale-force wind, rain and snow causes 25 foot waves to careen into the side of the boat. The water is so cold that you will freeze to death in under 3 minutes if you fall in without a protective suit. All of this while sleeping barely 4 hours a night at best. Getting a concussion is the least of their worries.

Gold-mining by hand in the Amazon Jungle is one of the MOST dangerous jobs in the world, let alone the US. These workers face environmental waste, poisonous plants, snakes, spiders, frogs, highly corrosive chemicals and collapsing tunnels, all while working barefoot without protective suits or even masks. Do you think anyone’s going to step in and prevent them from working because of a little concussion? I’m positive they would lie through their teeth if asked whether they needed some time off. I know I would if my family was in dire need of money to pay the rent, money to pay the bills and money to put my kid in school.

So what I really want to know is where this public outcry against playing through concussions came from. All of a sudden, players are not allowed to play in a game after getting a concussion. Scientists and doctors have done countless clinical trials showing how a brain becomes riddled with holes and dead matter after taking a beating. They “might” have trouble sleeping, or have nightmares after their career is over.

Let me get this straight, you DIDN’T know there would be some side-effects from having your brain tossed around like a waffle for most of your adult life? Anyone who claims they didn’t know their were consequences for all those repeated blows is lying and definitely does not deserve my respect. The brain is no different from any other part of your body in that it will eventually wear down if you don’t take care of it. Does this mean that football is dangerous? Yes, but that doesn’t mean people should stop playing it.

Without this threat of injury, football would be meaningless. Tell me you don’t feel a child-like sense of wonder when your favorite players come back from injury. It almost feels like they are different from you and me, god-like, in some aspects. If you  tore up all the ligaments in your shoulder, like I did, you would probably feel a sense of satisfaction if and when you finally could move your shoulder nearly as well as before the injury.

One of the things that makes football so exciting is knowing that the players are putting their bodies on the line for a chance at immortality. A chance to win a Super Bowl. We remember when players fight through pain and suffering to play in the biggest game of the year. Terrell Owens played for the Eagles with one ankle still held together with screws, and Terrell Davis played for the Broncos even though he was temporarily blind. A concussion is no different, and in my opinion, it’s a player’s right to choose. Every player should have a chance to decide his own destiny, regardless of what the independent or team doctor says.

For all those players who are now retired and filing lawsuits against the NFL for “pressuring” them to play through repeated concussions, I say that’s bullshit. That’s the nicest possible way I can say it. You ALWAYS had a choice, nobody forced you to play football. If you didn’t like it, you could have quit, or asked for a trade, or sat out, or just said no. Anything besides playing through a concussion. The reason you did, even though you might not admit it now, is because you wanted to show you were tough enough to play through pain & adversity, show that you were worthy of all that fame and wealth.

A starting NFL player typically specializes in either offense or defense today. That means they play a little less than half the game. The average regular season game lasts around 3 and a half hours, so a starter plays for roughly 1.7 hours a week. Multiple that by 16 and you get 27.2 hours played through the entire season. Add in 4 postseason games if they make it to the Super Bowl and you arrive at 33.6. that’s 33 hours and 36 minutes worth of actual game time for an entire year.  The NFL minimum salary for a rookie in 2012 is $390,000.

That’s $11,607.14 PER HOUR. Do I feel bad because they didn’t save their money wisely and now they’re trying to get more from the NFL for, boo hoo, getting a few concussions?

Not really.

 

Wong_83@hotmail.com

Who’s “Running” the Show in Baltimore???

Something stinks in Baltimore, Maryland.

I’m not talking about the discarded crab shells, Domino sugar factories, or boarded-up row houses. The Baltimore Raven’s defense reeks of something terrible this year. This is the Baltimore defense, for god’s sake. The heart and soul of our team, the cause and reason for our lone Super Bowl win, the one thing we could always count on. Through all the years with Vinny Testaverde, Chris Redman, and especially Kyle Boller at QB, we always knew one thing. Our defense would bail them out, or at least keep the score respectable so we didn’t have to hang our heads in shame. Even after we drafted Joe Flacco, our defense was as good as advertised, helping the rookie QB guide our team to the AFC Championship Game. So what exactly changed this year?

I mean it’s not like Ray Lewis isn’t roaming from sideline to sideline, pounding running-backs into the dirt. Ed Reed is relatively healthy, still destroying wide receivers too stupid to stay off his side of the field. Haloti Ngata‘s still smacking offensive linemen left and right, while Lardarius Webb is blanketing receivers and pressuring the quarterback. So why is our defense, perennially ranked in the NFL’s top ten, suddenly ranked 22nd out of 32 teams?

Sure we’ve had a few players leave during the free-agency period or get injured, but every team has the same problems. Losing Terrell Suggs, the reigning defensive MVP, definitely hurt our defensive front. We’re also still trying to replace a couple of our more talented defensive backs. S Haruki Nakamura and S Tom Zbikowski were unsung heroes in our aggressive 3-4 defense. So was our slot-corner Chris Carr. Cary Williams doesn’t get physical enough and our 1st-round pick CB Jimmy Smith seems a little lost sometimes.

Playing solid defense depends on knowing the plays, recognizing offensive formations and reacting instinctively, all in the span of a few seconds. Our defense has been so successful over the years for being more physical and by playing sound, fundamental football. You just can’t do that when your always thinking about what position to be in, or whether or not you have  coverage help down field.

Just as an example, MLB Ray Lewis has been with Baltimore for 17 years now. Most players have retired by this age, spending most of their time doing guest-appearances on ESPN, or making commercials for a charity fund. When a player gets to his age, the cumulative effects of a football career start to take their toll. Joints hurt, old injuries throb, ligaments, muscles and tendons become worn down. Memory fades, the result of years of concussions and helmet to helmet tackles. A nearly 40-year old football player shouldn’t be able to keep up with players barely half their age. What it comes down to is a form of premonition, otherwise known as being able to see into the future.

I’m not talking about magic or psychics here. Combining a knack for play-recognition with superior instincts and muscle memory makes it seem like Ray-Ray knows where the ball is going and how long it will take to get there. This allows him to make split-second decisions, moving and utilizing his considerable strength to blow up the opponent’s play before it even has time to develop. To a true football believer such as myself, seeing these moments are what we live for.

Getting back  to the point, I believe our major deficiencies lie solely upon the Raven’s defensive players stopping the run. Since we can’t seem to stop anyone from running on us this year, offenses aren’t making nearly as many mistakes as normal. Usually our defense forces teams into 3rd and long situations, which is a lot easier to handle than 3rd and 2. Our single loss this year, to Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, happened because our defense allowed Vick to run and pass his way straight down the field. At the end of the game and under 2 minutes no less.

Against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, we nearly lost again due to defensive issues. The problem was not the replacement officials. When the defense gives up 31 points, you’re gonna have a hard time winning games, unless your Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. I don’t think the Ravens will give up that many points on a regular basis but you never know.

Luckily our offense is holding up it’s side of the bargain for once in like, ever. Maybe that’s the problem with our D, they aren’t playing as hard now that they think it’s no longer necessary. A man can only hope that’s all we have to worry about. Then our season wouldn’t depend on Paul Kruger, Sergio “My Mind is Somewhere in Texas” Kindle, Courtney “Things were Easier in Alabama” Upshaw,  Pernell Mcphee, etc.

~MSW, WONG_83@HOTMAIL.COM

The author has written articles on the Baltimore Ravens, Baltimore Orioles, and Philadelphia Eagles for Bleacherreport.com. He also scribbles sporadically, either on WordPress.com, or on Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace(note: a long time ago).

Dear NFL: Can you please, please bring back the Refs?

On so many occasions in the past, I, like other casual fans of football, found myself screaming at the television screen until I lost my voice. I yelled and screamed, kicked over furniture, drank heavily to console myself, sobbed, pleaded and ultimately made a complete fool of myself. How could they miss the call?! It’s not like they’re staring at the play through a flickering, freezing TV screen like I am, I mean they’re right on the field with the players! Are you BLIND?! Everyone in the room, including the completely hammered unconscious man sitting in the recliner that I’ve never met before, can see that it was the other team who started pushing and throwing punches and whatnot, but somehow your throwing a yellow flag at the guy on my team? I don’t know how old the man in the corner is, what he does for a living or whether he’s a child molester or a serial killer, but I’m 110% certain that he’d do a much better job calling the game then the zebras on the playing field.

Or at least that’s what I used to think. Like one of those bedtime stories my parents used to tell me, it seems there’s a moral to the story, karma has come back with a brutal vengeance to bite me in the rear. Those idiots who couldn’t possibly call a game any worse have been replaced by a group of shopping mall employees, or perhaps rag-wearing drug abusing vagabonds. Yes, you heard me correctly, vagabonds, the guys wearing filthy ripped rags, shuffling slowly across the street from their dumpster homes to the street corner they beg from. Instead of reading the rules handbook they were given on their first day of employment, these faceless drifters must have ripped out the pages and used them in a trashcan fire to help them stay warm.

Maybe they aren’t actual vagabonds. These “replacement officials” are probably trying to officiate these games as best they can. They probably aren’t out there trying to destroy the game I love and yet, that’s exactly what they’re doing. It’s not their fault that they haven’t been educated in the strange and complex language of the NFL rulebook, they were just the bottom of the officiating barrel, what was leftover after the team owners decided they would rather line their pockets with even more money than to give the real officiating crews a pay raise. As a fan of the game, someone who has nothing but time and interest invested, it seems to me that the team owners have more than enough money. If it takes a couple hundred thousand dollars or even a couple million dollars to settle this ridiculous negotiation, so be it.

Let me put it this way, the contract for even a mediocre player on an average team would cost at least as much, not to mention it would be paid for by a single team under a salary cap.

Any pay raise or benefits package for the officiating crews would be paid for by the combined might of all 32 team owners, each of who has a net worth over a billion dollars. Are you fucking kidding me? Jerry Jones and Dan Synder, owners of the Dallas Cowboys & the Washington Redskins respectively, have the 1st and 2nd highest net worth of any sports team in the world. THE WORLD! Under the circumstances, when the officiating has begun to affect the product put on the field, it wouldn’t be out of the question to pay the referees anything they asked for, new cars, private airplanes, millions of dollars, you name it.

Good officiating is part of the package we the fans are paying to see. When the officiating is actually causing serious reverberations across the country, such as in the Green Bay/Seattle game last night, it should send up a serious red flag to the owners and league offices. Now it’s affecting the product they are selling by causing us to have serious doubts over the validity of the win-loss columns. Maybe it will or maybe it won’t change the playoff fortunes of the two teams involved last night, either way I’m completely sure this isn’t the last time we hear about it. If my team failed to reach the playoffs due to a single horribly called game, I would probably riot, running through the night with a blazing torch and a glittering machete screaming like a maniac. [Note: For legal purposes, none of this would actually happen.]

So please, please, pay those damn referees! Am I going to boycott football games like certain television personalities say I should? Probably not. Will I still buy tickets and watch certain must-see games at the stadium? Absolutely. Is the NFL still more entertaining than watching professional baseball or hockey? Yes. How about basketball? Maybe. Either way, the owners can afford it, the referees deserve it, and the fans expect it. When the rules are enforced correctly, or at least more correctly, we as fans should not be able to point out how blatantly wrong the referees are.

Privately, we might question whether it was fair for them to throw a flag on our team when the play before that someone on the other team had done exactly the same thing, but at least we should feel reasonably comfortable that the referees aren’t taking bribes from the mob to throw the game [Note: Over a billion dollars in sports betting changed hands last night]. Just a couple of weeks ago, the NFL almost let a Seahawks fan officiate a regular season Seahawks game! Think about that for a second. Do you really believe that you could be impartial if asked to call a game for your favorite team? What if you were nearly bankrupt and had to take care of your wife and children?

It makes me suddenly grateful that someone else has to make the calls on the field. Well, most of the time. Hopefully the owners and the referees will soon shake hands, sing Kumbaya around the campfire and get back to making difficult rulings that are only tempered by the failings and limitations of being human. Otherwise, someone far more unstable than me is going to make this decision for them real soon.

Michael, Wong_83@hotmail.com

Teams Michael identifies with: The Baltimore Ravens (NFL), Baltimore Orioles (MLB), Miami Heat (NBA), Washington Capitals (NHL), Maryland Terrapins (NCAA) and sometimes the Philadelphia Eagles (NFL).  

How about a Little Noise for the Baltimore Orioles!!

I am, when compared to an average fan, a bleeds orange, die hard Orioles fan. I have loved them ever since I was a toddler, even before I knew about Cal Ripken Jr. and his record-setting career. I don’t even think it was a choice, seeing as how I was born at Johns Hopkins, like all of 5 blocks away from Camden Yards. If your not from the area, which I’ll generously set as somewhere in the state of Maryland, you probably have no idea how fiercely we protect anything about our city. This goes double for our sports teams, the Orioles, the Ravens and heck, even the Blast. There is not a person in this world that I wouldn’t humiliate, destroy, insult or shank if it meant one more win for one of my beloved teams.

Ok, Maybe that’s going a little too far. Just as a disclaimer for legal purposes, ignore the words, “destroy” and “shank.” Damn right I’m passionate, it’s been 15 years since our last winning season and every year it’s been the same old thing. Either a). They start off the season going something like 15-3 and end up being 21 games out of a playoff spot by the end of the year, or b). They stink up South Baltimore until right around the All-Star break and then all of a sudden play over .500 baseball the rest of the way. This has the dual-effect of causing us to wonder WHY we couldn’t do that through an entire season and basically tossing us a shriveled tasteless bone to chew on. We’d say, “At least the latter-half of the season looked promising, hopefully next year.,,”

Well No Longer! Somehow someway we have for the most part put together a season of dreams. As of tonight, 9/7/12, after shelling the New York Yankees(77-60), ie: our most hated rival, with 6, count ’em, 6 home-runs, not only are we 17 games over .500 but the Orioles are also tied with the Yankees for the best record  in the AL East! Now how about we actually make some noise??

To the people in the national media, our beloved Orioles are nothing but an aberrant statistic. They point to their fancy run differentials and the fact that our team as a whole is hitting only .247, tied for 21st in the league. How many times have I read articles about the Pirates, Angels or especially Tampa Bay(75-62) stating how well positioned these teams were to earn a playoff spot based on their expensive free-agents and strong starting pitching?

All I’ve heard about the hard-charging Orioles is that our team won’t last and that we’re just getting lucky in close ball games. Everyone knows about our record in games decided by 1 run but look at our record in games decided by 2 runs, which is still a respectable 46-20. Our main hitters, as in Mark Reynolds, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Weiters, have all posted superior numbers over the past 32 or so games. Even some of our supplementary players, such as Ryan Flaherty, Chris Davis, JJ Hardy and star rookie 3rd baseman Manny Machado are all currently hitting near .280. You want run differential? Over the past month, the Orioles are +45 and are averaging 4.88 runs/game while giving up only 3.47runs/game. Those numbers only get better if you look at the past two months. Reynolds alone has 7 HR in the past 2 weeks while tonight Jones hit his 28th HR of year.

To get this kind of production and this many wins out of this piecemeal band of brothers, Manager Buck Showalter must have sold his soul to the Devil or turned into a Bokor, otherwise known as an evil practitioner of Voodoo. All jokes aside, even if we don’t win the AL East he still has my vote for Manager of the Year, if only for taking 50 different mismatched players and turning them into a team that’s currently 18 games over .500.

With the best record in all of baseball over the month of August, this gritty Orioles team has already exceeded all expectations and have quieted all critics and doubters. Quietly outplaying teams that spend twice as much money as the Orioles, our team has managed to continue to stack wins by getting solid run support behind dependable if not great starting pitching. The bullpen has been for the most part sensational and somehow we have managed to play well against everyone. Well, everyone except for the Texans.

Most of these statistics you can find on every Tom, Dick and Harry’s blog or sports website. What seems to be missing is the pulse of excitement running through the veins of every Orioles fan in a 100 mile radius of Baltimore. It’s been so long since the Orioles last winning season that an entire generation of kids and teenagers have never been to a playoff game. For the first time since the mid 90s, the coming of Autumn foretells possible playoff victory… and not just for the Baltimore Ravens.

The only thing even close to bringing home the Lombardi Trophy to Baltimore would be to win the World Series. It’s funny how my expectations have changed over the season, from having a .500 season to having a winning season, to earning a wildcard spot to becoming first in the division and finally winning some playoff games. What’s to say this already magical season can’t end with a World Series victory? I know, I know, it seems far fetched but there are some solid statistics behind that line of reasoning.

I’m aware that, at least logically, the playoffs in professional baseball aren’t quite as random as in professional football. As in professional basketball, MLB playoff format is in a “best of” series format. Instead of having to win one game to advance, you have to win 2 of 3 or even 3 of 5 games. Even so, the playoffs aren’t about who had the best regular season record, it’s about who becomes hot at the right time, exactly like the other American professional sports. The Texas Rangers(82-55) had the best regular season record last season but we’re defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals(74-63), by the skin of their teeth. Even so, there are only 4 other teams in baseball with a better record than the Orioles, only one being in the American League. Add in the fact that the Washington Nationals, with the best record in baseball THIS season, are shutting down their ace in the hole pitcher Stephen Strasburg this Friday and the Orioles probably have as good a shot as anyone to make it to the World Series!

I mean think about it for a second. The usually dangerous Boston Red Sox(63-75) are close to firing their manager, The Yankees are 20-26 since July 18th as injuries and weak hitting have conspired to leave our hated rival to the North nearly impotent. If EVER there was a chance for the Orioles to make a play for the AL East pennant it would be right now.

Despite the 13th lowest payroll in MLB, despite the fact that our team is primarily made up of misfits, washed-up free agents and home-grown talent, despite every critic, talking head and newspaper outside of Baltimore writing us off, we have continued to out-think and out-play teams with far more resources and more recognizable players. We aren’t looking for hand-outs and slowly but surely our fans have trickled back into Camden Yards(43,000+ showed up tonight!). If we continue to take care of business by winning the games we’re supposed to win, the national media will be forced to take us seriously. Until then, how about all of us who live in Maryland or Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia, make as much noise as possible. Already they hear us in New York.

~Michael, Wong_83@hotmail.com

Michael and most of his friends have been tailgating and going to games at both Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium since before the current Camden Yards was built. There was a time when it seemed his group of friends were the only ones sitting in the bleachers, drinking foamy beer and eating cheap hot dogs while cheering every time a Yankee or Red Sox player got injured.

Andy Roddick is BACK in the ’09 Wimbledon Finals

Do you have any idea how long I have been waiting for Andy Roddick to make it to the Wimbledon Finals?

Do you have any idea how many times he has disappointed me? Probably not I suppose but just try to look at it from my point of view…

My infatuation with Andy Roddick began back in my high-school days, way back when Brontosaurus and Tyrannosaurus-Rex were roaming the Earth. I had been playing tennis, both for pleasure and in competition, since the 3rd grade. I guess it has at least a little to do with the fact that I was born Asian, we just happen to love the game of tennis.

At least in America we do.

For some reason, just like Soccer, Cricket and Rugby, Tennis is a sport that’s a huge deal for just about every other country besides the United States. The Russians absolutely SWEAR by tennis, especially their women, which can be seen in such famous players as Martina Navratilova, Anna Kournikova and  Maria Sharapova. I only mentioned the latter two because they are smoking hot and their influence extends beyond just the sport they play. As for Martina, well, she’s just one of the best women to have ever played the game, hand’s down.

The majority of Asia, Europe and even the Middle East/Africa play tennis at a high level as well, tennis games are a big deal throughout the year in these countries, rather then just when the grand-slam tournaments are on.

In America, sure there are a lot of players, especially in high-school or at rich, uppity country clubs, but for the most part America has not consistently ranked very high at the professional level…with only a few exceptions. The major difference is that when you look at the top 25 players in the world, both men and women, over the past couple decades it seems to have been primarily comprised of Russian and Eastern European names.

So basically, since a very young age, I had very few American role-models to look up too in terms of Tennis.I can basically count all of them on one hand and I’m talking both sexes combined.

The Williams sisters, who I believe are monstrous, brutal and perhaps the perfect specimens from which elite tennis playing females should be cloned. Have you seen their sheer muscle definition or the power in their serves? This duo of destruction has rampaged through the professional tennis-scene for over a decade now.

John McEnroe, who probably wouldn’t be a role-model for most other people but because of my own short fuse and natural god-given talent for tennis, was the first professional tennis player I ever heard of. He’s also one of the most evil people on the planet in my opinion and as far as I’m concerned, a great man.

Andre Agassi, with or without hair, had the most will-power and heart I have ever seen in tennis, at any playing level. He won sets and tournaments that he probably had no right to win, against players in their prime much younger and stronger then him. Throughout the ’90s and even past the turn of the century, Agassi proved that wisdom and heart will always be a match for strength and speed. Oh yeah, he was also married to one of the most beautiful white women I have ever seen…Brooke Shields.

Well, when she was younger at least. Now she had all that plastic surgery and her head is bigger and her features all blunt and blocky…Blechkkk.

Pete Sampras, classic and distinguished throughout his career, he foiled my other favorite player, Andre Agassi, on numerous occasions. Until Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis player currently ranked number one, overtakes him, Sampras is the holder of the record for most majors won in men’s singles with 14. It’s only coincidental that this article is being written at the same time that Federer is attempting to win his 15th major…Against Andy Roddick.

Fnally there’s Andy Roddick. Lean, muscular, American as can be and the owner of the most powerful first serve ever to be clocked in Tennis, at around 155mph. He’s not quite as old as my other favorite American players, nor has he won as many tournaments. He’s currently ranked number six on the ATP list and is the highest ranked American player(yay!). In the past, he has been ranked number one in the world.

The reasons I have always rooted for the sometimes-underdog are pretty simple. He plays fast, aggressive and has a punishing serve. He was born and raised in the heartland of America (Omaha, Nebraska) so basically he bleeds red, white and blue. He is known as the “other A-Rod” and unlike a lot of other pro athletes, he doesn’t splurge and go out to bars and clubs excessively. Also, he’s married to the pretty ridiculous Sports Illustrated model, Brooklyn Decker.

Even though he has made it to 27 career finals matches, he is still often considered an underdog for one unfair and obvious reason: He has a career head-to-head record of 2-18 when facing Roger Federer. Now personally, I don’t think that’s so bad in and of itself. Federer is not a typical professional Tennis player. He is pretty much a lock to make it into the Tennis Hall of Fame and arguably THE BEST MALE TENNIS PLAYER OF ALL TIME. For Roddick to have even been ranked in the top 3, during a time-period that includes both Raphael Nadal AND Federer is remarkable.

Luckily, this year’s edition of Wimbledon did not feature Nadal- the Spanish defending champion made a surprising withdraw due to a case of tendonitis in his knee-leaving the playing field at the All England Club a little easier then it typically would have been. Early this morning, #2 Roger Federer defeated #24 Tommy Haas and #6 Andy Roddick defeated #3  Andy Murray in the semifinals.

So I guess what it comes down to is the Twenty First showdown between Roddick and Federer that is set to take place over the next couple days. This is the third time they will battle in the finals on the lush grass of Centre Court. Andy is better coached, better versed, stronger and more versatile than he has been in years…hopefully that and a good bit of luck will help swing things his way this time. Federer will always remain a dangerous opponent but this time I believe, I must believe, that Roddick has the confidence and stamina necessary to keep the sets close, jump the net and neutralize and respond to Federer’s potent offense.

Mikey, Wong_83@hotmail.com