Friday, September 7, 2007

The Explosion of Fantasy Sports

Finally, pro football season has arrived. With it, comes the hectic and my case, embarrassing, fantasy football season. Each year, as the seasons approaches, men gather in basements, offices, and bars to choose their team; anticipating who will have a breakout year and who will remain the consistent stalwart of the fantasy leagues.
What is the most interesting about the last few years is not the change of players or who has been at the top of fantasy drafts, but the fantasy explosion itself. Almost every sports website carries its own version of fantasy football. ESPN, which I began using this year, has one of the best free programs out there. Not only does it have cool graphics and the awesome "da-na-na" sound when a pick is made during the draft, but it has a free fantasy stat tracker, so you can keep track of your players throughout the day. Yahoo, on the other hand, only has this feature the first few weeks. After that, they make you pay for it.
Also, not only have a multitude of sports websites hold their own programs, but every news, entertainment, and sports outlet has their own fantasy predictions, mock drafts, and updates. ESPN, for example, aired a mock draft with 12 of their announcers (Yes, I watched it, but only because it was on TV at the restaurant I was eating at) . Every newspaper I pick up has their own weekly fantasy predictions. Sports Illustrated and ESPN: The Magazine dedicate full issues every year to mock fantasy drafts. Even Verizon, who has a deal with NBC, has John Madden doing "V-Casts" of his fantasy picks and game day thoughts.
The fantasy market has not always been so flooded with fantasy information. In the early nineties, playing fantasy sports was not so easy. You could not just sign on to Yahoo and have them do all the work for you. Instead, it had to all be done by hand. Someone had to do all the number crunching, deal with point distribution, and trades. In fact, the first "rotisserie leagues" weren't even about football. They were created by baseball nerds who enjoyed calculating on-base percentages and WHIP's. If you are looking for a good description, read Moneyball by Michael Lewis.
Eventually, the phenomena has exploded into every sport imaginable. Now, the market is saturated by fantasy everything. There are fantasy leagues for every sport imaginable and, as I have heard, even fantasy Congress. I guess, in that league, you pick who gets the most bills passed or who spouts the most BS. Kind of like that guy in your league that thinks he can trick you into trading LT for Michael Vick or that dumb ass that believed SI when they said that Mark Brunell would be a good fantasy pick.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pre-season NFL

I feel that it has become a right of passage every summer that sports pundits and players need to complain about the length of pre-season football. I acknowledge that the season is too long, opens up players to injury, and the games have no meaning. However, I do feel that there are a few bright sides to the pre-season. Here are my top five:

Being a baseball fan is like being a marathon runner. You need to train for years and mentally prepare yourself for all 162 games of the regular season. However, most casual sports fans are not marathon runners. Instead, they are weekend joggers. Staying involved with baseball the whole season is a chore and many of us don't have the patients for it, especially if you are cheering for a team that is regularly out of the playoff race. So, for those who can't stand to watch another web gem or are sick of listening to an incoherent John Kruk, then pre-season football is a great diversion.

2. Remember that guy who played at that place...
Another reason to enjoy a pre-season football game is to see who is going to make the team or who is trying to come back from years of obscurity to try and play in the NFL. For example, it was rumored that former Nebraska Quarterback and Heisman Winner Eric Crouch was going to try and make a run at the NFL. Also, a few years ago, Drew Henson made his comeback to football after trying to make it in the MLB. Its great remember these guys and how they were great in college, but couldn't cut it in the NFL.

3. Fantasy Steals
Every fantasy owner is looking to get the edge on their opponents. Watching pre-season football gives owners the opportunity to look at teams who may have had up and coming players that have fallen under the radar. Maybe it's the 7th round pick or the wide receiver that has been fifth on the depth chart until now. Who knows, maybe they could be the next Marquis Coleston or Tom Brady.

4. Watching backups play
Sometimes, the backups are just as intriguing as the starters. For example, I got to see Jim Sorgi play for the Colts a few nights ago against the Bears. In case many of you aren't Badger fans, Sorgi replaced Brooks Bollinger (another awesome backup) after he won back-to-back Rose Bowls. Sorgi was not as successful (did not have Ron Dayne running behind him), but has had the sweetest backup job ever. Not only does he back up the best qb in the game, but he also got a ring for riding the bench for the last few years while getting paid $1 million per year. If you ask me, that sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

5. Who's going to make the team
As most pre-season games reach their final quarter, teams put in guys that are on the verge of being cut. This means that they will do anything to get their coaches attention and hopefully make the team, including starting fights with opponents over unnecessary incidents just to show their devotion to the team. These fights make the games a little more entertaining and make the pre-season, on a whole, a little more bearable than many people make them out to be.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Elite College Football Programs

Recently, my friend Bob (of of an article on by Stewart Mandel where he made a hierarchy of the most elite football programs in the country (see link below). In the article, he placed teams into four categories: Kings, Barons, Knights, and Peasants. The teams were divided based on how "prestigious" each of the 66 BCS teams are. He bases "prestige" based on how familiar basic fans are with these teams. For example, he puts Notre Dame as a King, Auburn as a Baron, ASU as a knight, and Cincinnati as a peasant.

Although I do see where Mandel is coming from, I wonder what makes the college prestigious. Is it the success of a team? The coach? The former players? The mascot?
From reading Mandel's article, it seems that he is basing it on the familiarity of the major symbols of the university. He uses Joe Paterno and the Michigan Helmet as examples.
If I were do to do the same thing, I would base it not on just on the major icons of the program, but also the success that the program has had for an extended amount of time. This means that I would not put Virginia Tech so high on the list because the program has only been good for the last 15 years or so.

This means that, for the most part, I would keep his Kings the same. All of the programs that he has there are elite programs and have been so for an extended amount of time. In terms of his Barons, I would be willing to move my beloved Badgers down only because of they have only been successful since the Alverez era began in 1992-1993. Before then, they were known to win only one or two games per year. In fact according to my father, during his four years at Wisconsin, the Badgers won 7 games the whole time he was there.

There are a few teams in the Knights category that I believe should be moved up. One of these programs is Iowa. Longtime head coach Hayden Frye brought the team back to glory and was the mainstay at the helm of the Hawkeyes for almost 20 years. He won three Big Ten titles, went the three Rose Bowls, and achieved a #1 ranking in the AP Poll. Also, he was the mentor to several coaches, such as Alverez, Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, and current Hawkeye coach, Kirk Ferentz.

Another program that I feel should be moved up is Northwestern. Although they are usually doormats of the Big Ten, they have produced some decent pros, had a Rose Bowl birth in the mid-Nineties, and they always seem to upset one of the major schools every year. Also, if we were going on just recognition, as Mandel did, I feel that if we were to hold up the iconic purple helmet with the white "N" on it, i would say 85/100 people would recognize it.

The Website-

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Top Ten Movie Appearances By Athletes

So, I was flipping through the channels last night and saw that Blue Chips with Shaq was on. This got me thinking what the top movie appearances by athletes are. Here is my list:

10.Gheorghe Mureson- My Giant
A forgettable movie about Billy Crystal go to some old eastern block country to find a really tall guy. Apparently everyone taller than Billy Crystal was already working on something better, or in other words, no one wanted to make the movie.

9. Brett Favre in There's Something About Mary
In this movie, Brett plays another one of Mary's ex-boyfriends. We find out in the middle of the movie that she had a long term relationship with some guy named Brett. Would would have never thought that Mr. Packer himself would be that Brett and would eventually lose Mary's heart to a wimpy, whiny Ben Stiller

8. Kazaam with Shaq
Worst. Movie. Ever. Shaq plays a genie who has the ability to make it rain junk food. It was great as a kid, but I bet my parents were poking their eyes out when they took me to see it.

7. Dennis Rodman in Double Team
Stars alongside Jean Claude Van Dame in a crazy, beat the crap out of everyone action movie. He also had hair that was so bright that it stood out in front of the explosions.

6. Ken Griffy Jr. and Randy Johnson in Little Big League
Movie about a kid that becomes the owner and manager of the Minnesota Twins after his grandpa dies. He brings the team from obscurity to going to the playoffs. However, his team's hopes are dashed when Jr. makes a leaping grab on the wall to prevent a walk off home run. Griffy and Johnson had no lines, but it was great to watch two of the greatest players of the nineties in a movie.

5. Lance Armstrong in Dodgeball
This is a great spot for Lance. Meets Vince Vaughn's character in an airport bar and convinces him that you should never give up. Made me feel really warm and fuzzy inside.

4. Dan Marino in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
LACES OUT DAN!" will always be part of every pickup game of football for all time. Great movie. Memorable lines. Role was classic.

3. OJ Simpson in The Naked Gun series
Stars alongside Leslie Neilson in three of the funniest movies ever. Although Simpson had no memorable lines, the movie still comes to mind before that whole killing thing a few years back.

2. Michael Jordan in Space Jam
This movie was awesome as a kid for several reasons. Other than having all of the Looney Tunes in it, it also starred some of the best basketball players of the mid-1990's. It had Mugsey Boges, Larry Johnson, Shawn Bradly, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing being transformed into aliens that wanted to capture MJ and have him as a freak show on another planet. Also had Bill Murray and the guy that played Newman on Seinfeld. Another great thing about the movie was that it blatantly made fun of how bad MJ was at baseball.

1. Kareem Abdul Jabar in AIRPLANE!
This is the most classic cameo of all time. Kareem is dead on when he tells the kid in the cockpit about how he busts his "rear end" up and down the court every night. This is one athletes role that I will never forget.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

We have now entered BAB or Baseball After Bonds

In case everyone has been living under a rock, Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run last night, breaking Hammerin' Hank's record. Other than the basic steroid controversy that surrounds Bonds and his record, I have many other questions about what baseball will be like after Bonds.

1. What will Pedro Gomez do?
Since Bonds neared the home run record, Pedro Gomez of ESPN has been covering every aspect of Bonds's career. During spring training, there was a daily report from the Giants facility talking about when and how Barry was working out. When the Giants were on the road, Gomez was there to let sports fans know that Barry went 0-3 with two walks and shunned the media again. Whenever there is a new development in the BALCO case, Gomez shows up on our screens to tell us that Bonds and his lawyers have no comment. Now, since Barry broke the record, Pedro may have to move on.

2. Home Run memory
My generation will always remember Aaron, Ruth, and McGuire as the home run kings. When we were little, we learned at a very young age that Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth were the two greatest home run hitters of all time. This was a stalwart fact in baseball memory for the last two generations. Also, since the 1998 home run race happened when I was at a young age, I will always remember that McGuire, not Bonds, was one of the greatest hitters of all time.
Since so many of the home run records have been broken within the last 5 years, it will take some effort for my generation and those older than me to adjust our memories. We will have to remember that Bonds, not Aaron, is the new home run king. We will have to remember that, unlike Aaron, he was surrounded by controversy. Also, because of the accusations of steroid use, every time we see a great new power hitter, we will question if his game is pure or if he has used performance enhancing substances. We now know that our past time is not a pure game, but is surrounded by people that partake in activities that give them an unfair advantage.

3. The memory of Hammerin' Hank
During his time on the field, Hank Aaron was more than just a great player. He also stood for what was right. As has been reported on TV and wrote about in several books, Aaron wanted to pick up where Jackie Robinson left off after his death. He contacted other great African American players, such as Ernie Banks, to help him. But, they saw the treatment that Hank was receiving as he neared Ruth's record, and they and wanted to stay out of the limelight. However, Hank stood fast and did not give in to the racial tensions that surrounded his pursuit of the home run record.
To me, Hank stands for two things: For a pure game that is now lost and for standing up for what is right. I hope that he is not forgotten now that his record has been past and that his accomplishments stand as a model for what pro athletes should become.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Fans Comming out of the wood work

Today's Chicago Tribune reported that last night's Cub's game drew a "season high 6.9 rating" on the Nielson Scale. This meant that the game reached about 240,000 households in the Chicago-land area and achieved the highest rating for a game this year.
Of course these ratings come the day after the Cubs claim their spot on top of the National League Central. Although this is something that half of the Chicago baseballs fans have been waiting for all season (of course, being dreaded by fans of that team on the South Side). However, the recent success of the Cubs has lead to the emergence of my least favorite sports fans: "Fair Weather Fans".
This is a phenomena that happens every time a a mediocre team begins to do well and puts itself in the middle of the playoff chase. It occurs in every sport and in every city across the country. A great example is the crowed that showed up at Golden State Warriors' games at the end of the NBA season. The Warriors could barely fill half their stadium during the season, but, as the playoffs came, the Warriors began playing for a full house donned in "We Believe" t-shirts.
The same thing happened in 2003 as the Cubs came within 5 outs of the World Series. As the Cubs won their division, it seemed like everyone was wearing a hat that had the iconic red and white "C". Even girls bought "cute" hats that had the "C" or had the throwback logo of a bear carrying a bat.
Although it was nice to see so many females at Cubs games that summer, it bothered me that so many fans suddenly jumped on the band wagon. I consider myself a pretty hard-core fan that followed the team from opening day until September. I survived the ups, the downs, and the pains that come with following a team that plays 162 games per year. So, it naturally bothered me that there were so many people that claimed their were "fans", even though their hat still had the tags on it.
So, to the few baseball fans that read this blog, I ask you to pick a team and stay with it. I feel like the more you follow your favorite club, the more enjoyable it becomes to cheer for them. You learn the history of the team and the little nuances of the sport that you can tell your friends when the go to games with you. It makes the sports community, with so many teams and so many people seems a little big foreboding, become a little closer as you know that you are one of only a handful of fans that really know what is like to live and die by your favorite team. This summer, all of you Brewers fans, Padres fans, and even White Sox fans, stick with your team. Ride it out until the end. And, as they say, there is always next year.