Archive for the ‘Land-o-Links’ Category

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It’s been a very long time since a Land-o-Links post, so here you go:

1.  What If I Don’t Want a Big Mac? (Blog-a-Bull) - An entertaining comparison of all of the current Bulls with various McDonald’s menu items.  Truer words have never been spoken about the McRib.  On a related note, there have been some suggestions out there that the Bulls ought to go after Carlos Boozer.  Now, is Boozer a better low post player than anyone else in Chicago at this time?  Yes.  However, is it worth crushing the Bulls’ salary cap space for Boozer and give up the chance to go after either Amare Stoudemire or Chris Bosh? NO, NO, NO, NO, NOOOOOOOO!!!  (If you ask politely, I’ll tell you how I really feel.)

2.  It’s Not You, It’s Jazz and the NBA (ESPN.com) - Paul Shirley examines why some of his friends haven’t been paying attention to the NBA (as judged by a survey of his poker buddies where only 3 of 8 knew all of the teams that had made the playoffs) by presenting an interesting corrollary between pro basketball and jazz, where the improvisation involved in both the game and style of music, making them relatively abstract, might make it difficult to be appreciated by those that haven’t played either.  As someone that did spend most of the first part of my life playing both organized basketball and trombone in jazz bands, I completely understand where he’s coming from, where both forms deal with a base structure but require a lot of improv within them.  There are two problems that I have with Shirley’s argument, though.  First, Shirley implies that part of the issue is that people need to have played basketball and jazz to be fully appreciative of each, but the thing is that a whole lot more people have played basketball in America compared to football and baseball.  Case in point, when was the last time that you’ve seen a pick-up baseball game in the park?  That never happens, yet you’ll find basketball hoops on urban playgrounds, suburban driveways, and rural farmhouses – if anything, it’s the most widely played sport across socioeconomic lines by a significant margin.  Second, I think that the fact that Shirley lives in Kansas City, which doesn’t have an NBA team, has much to do with his friends’ supposed ignorance of the NBA.  If you went to Portland or Salt Lake City, the average sports fan in those places would likely be more hardpressed to name the teams that make the baseball playoffs in any given year simply because they aren’t following baseball all season without having a hometown team to follow.  Frankly, the NFL is probably the only sport where you can use a standard where you can assume that the average sports fan knows where every team might be in the standings.

If I were to apply the “abstract jazz” issue to any sport, it would definitely be hockey.  In basketball, even if a casual sports fan or someone that never watches sports at all doesn’t understand how to run a pick-and-roll or properly box out an opposing player, that person can ultimately watch LeBron James and realize that he’s able to get the ball into a basket at a higher level than the other players on the court.  However, if you watch a hockey game that involves Sidney Crosby, he will make amazing moves that no one else in the world can do yet he’ll fail to score on such moves 9 out of 10 times.  So, it’s very difficult for someone that hasn’t played hockey (please note that everything that I know about hockey moves and formations is based on the 3000 hours that I spent playing EA Sports NHL ’98 back in college) to understand why a certain move or play is impressive or not – the relative lack of scoring in hockey almost de facto makes it abstract.

3. NHL’s Story a Regional One (Sports Media Watch) – Digging a little deeper into hockey, Sports Media Watch notes what most people know already, which is that the NHL has shown an ability to draw fans within its local markets but continues to struggle on the national level.  What drives me insane about Gary Bettman and the NHL’s leadership is that they know that they face a stacked deck compared to the other sports leagues yet make decisions that compound the league’s problems.  Case in point was last Thursday night, where the NHL had two game 7s (Detroit-Anaheim and Boston-Carolina), with each of them featuring a large market Original Six team.  This should have been one of those magical nights of hockey (particularly when the Bruins-Hurricanes game went into overtime) that would have drawn in a plethora of casual fans.  However, in the infinite wisdom of the NHL, the nation would only see the Red Wings-Ducks game in its entirety on Versus and if you wanted to see all of the Bruins-Hurricanes game, you had to shell out $79 for a pay-per-view feed.  If the part of the purpose of the NHL moving to Versus was that the network had a commitment to show more hockey, WTF is the league doing scheduling two game 7s at the same time?!  Meanwhile, the NBA had two game 6s going on that same evening and those games had staggered start times so that they could be a featured doubleheader on ESPN.  Say what you will about David Stern and the NBA, but that entity knows what it’s supposed to be doing on the television front in order to maximize its audience better than anyone else in sports.  It would be great if the NHL could get someone that would take into account the lessons of the NBA… wait a second… Bettman was David Stern’s right-hand man for over a decade prior to being named NHL commissioner?  Jeez – it’s not a good sign if a league would consider Bug Selig to be an upgrade.

4.  Lost, “The Incident”: The Men Behind the Curtain (What’s Alan Watching) – I’ll be putting up a Lost season finale post eventually (since the premiere of its final season won’t be coming until January 2010, meaning there’s time to mull everything over and with all the various storylines, we may need every moment to process it all), but in the meantime, please go over to Alan Sepinwell’s Lost analysis.  It’s a shame that I only stumbled onto Sepinwall’s blog this year since it’s now the first place that I turn to after each Lost episode – he puts up extremely well-written posts even with a short time constraint while the numerous commenters are generally pretty good (which is tough to find with respect to Lost blogs, where one segment of people get way too technical on one end and the other group on the opposite end consists of complete dolts).

And finally…

5.  Annals of Innovation: How David Beats Goliath (The New Yorker) –  While Paul Shirley compares basketball to jazz, Malcolm Gladwell draws a line between how lesser talented basketball teams’ use of the press provides insight into how underdogs are able to win wars.  Fascinating reading as always from Gladwell, who might be unparalleled at this time in terms of non-fiction writing, although I’ll quibble at a technical level with the long-term effectiveness of the press through an entire 48 minute game.  I understand the argument that it’s a disruptive tool that can shake the opposing team.  However, the press is by far the most tiring type of play that you can employ in the game, meaning that a team would need incredibly in-shape athletes to execute it over an entire contest.  Of course, if you had such in-shape athletes, that would mean that you’re a “Goliath” instead of a “David”, which eliminates the efficacy of using that strategy in the first place.  At the same time, once you get to the higher levels of organized basketball, any decent coach can draw up a press break that can often result in a wide-open layup on the other end of the court (since the press, which uses double-teams, will always end up leaving at least one player open).  Still, Gladwell sets forth a great game plan for how an underdog in any walk of life can beat the favorite: disrupt the opponent and take it out of its comfort zone.  The reason why not everyone does this?  Well, that disruption almost always takes a whole lot more hard work than just going through “conventional warfare”.  So, it really does come down to effort.

On tonight’s agenda: Game 2 of Hawks-Wings, Game 1 of Lakers-Nuggets, and, one of my favorite not-on-the-field sports events of the year, the NBA Draft Lottery.  Frank the Tank’s couch is definitely where amazing happens.

(Image from Cavalcade of Awesome)

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As both White Sox and Cubs fans watch their respective teams plummet, here are some links to take your mind off of Chicago baseball:

(1) Knowing is Only Half the Battle in Chicago (Wages of Wins Journal) – The always fascinating Wages of Wins Journal takes an in-depth look at why there was such a drop-off in wins for the Bulls from 2006-07 to 2007-08.  Through statistical analysis, the problem was simple to identify – offensive shooting efficiency was way down last year.  Of course, improving upon this is another matter.  As one of the commenters to the post noted and anyone who watched the Bulls regularly last season noticed, the team appeared to have a significant increase in the number of attempted jumpshots as opposed to shots in the paint.  I think this is a result of the Bulls’ previously weak-to-average post presence in P.J. Brown leaving for Boston, which left the team with no post presence whatsoever.  The key to Derrick Rose turning this team around over time is setting up those high percentage shots from the floor for his teammates.  I have been high on Rose since he was a high schooler and think that he’s up to the challenge, but Wages of Wins correctly notes that the immediate impact that he’ll have next season will be up in the air considering that you have to expect lower performance from a rookie (no matter how talented he might be).

(2) 2008-09 Illini Basketball Schedule Announced (Illini Basketball Fans Blog) – The test will be to see how the Illinois can get through the non-conference schedule in November and December without the services of Alex Legion.  For the team’s sake (but not for the sake of fan interest), the non-conference slate is a bit easier than last season.  Interesting games to note include a road game at Vanderbilt in the third game of the year on November 20th, Clemson at the Assembly Hall in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on December 2nd, Georgia at the United Center a few days later on December 6th, and the Braggin’ Rights Game against Missouri in St. Louis being moved to the Tuesday right before Christmas on December 23rd.

(3) NFL Salaries: Believe in the Blind Side (New York Times: Freakonomics Blog) – Here’s a look at the average salaries at each position in the NFL, which reinforces what well-informed football fans know already: after the quarterback, the next highest-paid position in football is the left tackle.  As the referenced Michael Lewis book “The Blind Side” noted, this makes logical sense since the left tackle protects the blind side of the right-handed quarterback (if a quarterback is left-handed like me, it’s the right tackle that becomes the key offensive lineman), so it’s essentially an insurance policy to protect the most valuable player on the team.  (By the way, Lewis is one of my favorite writers on business and sports.  His first-hand account of being a bond trader in the 1980s in “Liar’s Poker” is a classic and entertaining read regardless of whether you’re interested in finance.)  Even more interesting is how little most running backs are paid considering how much they handle the ball.  This actually makes a lot of sense to me – while there are a handful of running backs today such as LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson that are truly unique talents, the success of most RBs is almost entirely dependent on the offensive line.  Hence, teams such as Pittsburgh and Denver that have historically had strong offensive lines have been able to plug in a number of running backs over the years yet continue to get great production.

(4) Google, Tribune Co. At Odds Over Spread of United Story (Chicago Tribune) – Speaking of financial matters, United Airlines stock plunged on Monday when a report from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel came across the newswires that the company was filing for bankruptcy.  It was later discovered that the report was a copy of the original Chicago Tribune story that was posted on the Sun-Sentinel website from when UAL filed for bankruptcy back in 2002.  Drive and Dish goes through a great analysis of how all news organizations and websites need to take greater care in getting accurate facts.

More disturbing, though, is a follow-up today about a squabble between Google and the Tribune Company (which owns both the Tribune and the Sun-Sentinel), where it appears that the Google News engine put Monday’s date on the old Sun-Sentinel story.  Thus, this shock to the markets appears to have been caused by a news aggregator putting a wrong date on a link.  If you’re an investor like me, the speed with which the market reacted to what turned out to be an old news story is absolutely frightening.  It’s clear that there are journalistic standards that news organizations need to stand by in terms of getting stories accurately reported.  However, what obligation do news aggregators, who are in essence posting links from those news organizations, have in terms of ensuring that the date and time stamps to those links are correct?  The United scenario that played out on Monday has probably just opened up a whole new area of the securities litigation – shareholders that saw their stock dive as a result of wrong date and time stamps might have some ammunition against Google and other news aggregators.  Whether those shareholders could actually prove that Google and other news aggregators have some type of legal duty to the general public with respect to checking these date and time stamps, though, is another matter that can’t be answered at this time.

And finally…

(5) Black Heart Gold Pants – Once you get past the initial shock of discovering the existence of literate Iowa graduates, this college football blog devoted to the Hawkeyes and, by extension, the rest of the Big Ten will vault to the top of your must-read list.  Even the occasional/frequent thrashings of the Illini are entertaining enough that all is forgiven (and the blog’s love of all things J Leman has become legendary on the interweb).

Parlay picks for this weekend are coming over the next couple of days.  Until then, let’s hope that the White Sox can stem the tide of awfulness that is taking them over.

(Image from Arbiter Online)

When John Danks throws over 6 innings of no-hit ball and the White Sox still lose to the Red Sox, it’s a day when I should avoid writing about baseball. Here are some links on other issues in the sports world today:

1. The Great Conference Debate (Sports Illustrated) – While these types of rankings that sports websites tend to run during the dog days of summer often carry many flaws (please see last month’s ESPN.com rankings of the nation’s college basketball programs), the methodology used here by SI to compare the BCS football conferences is on the better end. I do believe that national title game appearances should be distinguished from other BCS games (and the lack of such distinction partially explains the Big Ten’s drop from first to fourth), but it is a relatively fair assessment overall. As SEC fans continue to bloviate about how even the worst of their teams could dominate the Big Ten (other than what happened in that pesky game last New Year’s Day where Michigan beat Florida in the Gator territory of Orlando, which has been conveniently forgotten by everyone south of the Mason-Dixon Line), it’s important to note that the SI rankings themselves show that the Big Ten was considered to be by far the strongest league during the first part of this decade. College football goes in cycles and the Big Ten is going to be a much tougher conference this year with Ohio State returning almost its entire team and improved squads at Wisconsin and Penn State (and hopefully Illinois). It’s also refreshing to see a balanced assessment of the performance of the ACC (as opposed to a lot of writers that have been very quick to pile on the conference for taking teams from the Big East five years ago while proclaiming that Rutgers is all of the sudden some type of powerhouse after its first two winning seasons since the school gave birth to college football over a century ago) – Florida State and Miami have simultaneously performed about as badly as possible over the past few years, which has masked the increased depth of the conference (while also providing the ACC much more upside if and when those schools get back on track).

2. So far, so good for NBA at Olympics (Sports Media Watch) – For those of us real Americans that don’t live in the Pacific and Mountain time zones and are able to watch many Olympics events live, we know that the most important development from NBC’s Olympic coverage is the resuscitation of John Tesh’s NBA on NBC theme song for basketball games. (If there’s one thing that you should know about me, it’s that I will find every opportunity possible to post old NBA on NBC intros from the 1990s Bulls dynasty. This golden classic from 1991, where Marv Albert speculates whether Michael Jordan would go down as one of the greatest athletes to never win a championship, with footage of Ernie Banks and, of course, O.J. Simpson in the days when he was simply a high-profile Hertz salesman, is the sole reason why YouTube was established.) At the same time, with over one billion people watching the U.S.-China basketball game on Sunday, there’s empirical evidence that Asians love basketball almost as much as they love gambling. Being half-Chinese, I can attest to that fact since every time I see a pop-a-shot machine, my hands start to tremble uncontrollably until I’m able to spend twenty bucks on the game to win 5,000 tickets (which I subsequently redeem for a couple of Tootsie Rolls or, if I’m lucky, a plastic dreidel).

The interesting thing that Sports Media Watch points out is the irony that interest in Olympic hoops in the United States has probably increased because of Team USA’s losses to other countries over the past few years. This is right on the mark – I’m truly going out of my way to watch the basketball games this year for the first time since the original 1992 Dream Team and this is speaking as someone that’s a monster hoops fan. For all of the issues that David Stern has had to deal with over the past few seasons (the Tim Donaghy scandal, the Pistons-Pacers brawl, etc.), the one thing that he’s got going for him is that the NBA is the only American professional sports league that has made legitimate inroads on the international landscape in a broad sense. Baseball has been very popular in a few Latin American countries and Japan for a number of years yet has struggled to break out of those regions, while basketball is being more widely adopted as the second major team sport after soccer on all of the continents (as shown by the fact that five countries, including Yao Ming for the host nation of China and not including the United States, chose current or former NBA players to carry in their flags in the opening ceremonies). The other sports leagues talk a lot about international expansion and may play a game here or there overseas, but the NBA is really the only one that is positioned to become a truly global league as opposed to a curiosity in other countries.

And finally…

3. The Helmet Project – This site has supposedly been in existence for quite awhile, but I just stumbled onto it today (which resulted in me canceling all of my meetings during the afternoon). The comprehensiveness of this site is astounding, as it covers the helmets from all of the various professional sports leagues since 1960 (i.e. USFL, CFL, XFL, etc.) as well as all levels of college football. (Even Minneapolis Red Sox can check out his favorite St. Norbert helmets through the years). As much as I love the Illini, the helmet designs throughout our history have been pretty lackluster – our current helmet, which has been around since 1989 with some minor color adjustments, is essentially an orange version of the New York Giants helmet from the 1980s (which they wisely scrapped a few years ago). The old “Illini” written on the side used through much of the 1970s and 1980s was never really impressive, either. An orange helmet with a blue Block I would be simple, clean-looking, and an exponential improvement, in my opinion.

(Image from New York Times)

Minneapolis Red Sox has my quick take on the arrival of Ken Griffey Jr. to the White Sox organization here, although I seem to be in the minority of fans of seeing this as a generally positive move. I’m planning an expanded special take on Griffey and the White Sox over the next week, but until then, here are some links to tide you over for the weekend:

(1) Junior Mint (Slate.com) – If there’s one thing that people my age (yes, I turned 30 earlier this year) will remember about Ken Griffey Jr., it’s that 1989 Upper Deck No. 1 is the iconic baseball card of our generation. This great piece from Darren Rovell is a couple of months old (I’ve been meaning to comment on it for awhile and this Griffey trade provided a perfect opening), but it brings up some interesting questions of how a baseball card that could very well be the most widely held of all-time can still command $275 in the open market. The arrival of Upper Deck was a seismic change in the sports memorabilia market, where “premium” cards became all the rage. Of course, so many of these premium cards flooded the market (and fewer mothers, who heard the horror stories from their husbands of housecleanings from yesteryear where 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle cards were thrown in the trash, got rid of them) that the boxes of baseball cards that I have stored in my basement have lost value in non-inflation-adjusted dollars over the past 15 years (much less looking at real dollars taking into account inflation). (Mental Floss recently had a nice quiz about what some prominent baseball and basketball cards are now worth according to Beckett – it turns out I would have been better off sinking everything that I had into Enron stock.) Nonetheless, buying up Upper Deck packs in the hopes of finding the Griffey rookie card back in 1989 was my childhood version of playing craps way too long at the Bellagio – I probably spent every extra penny I had on baseball cards at the time, yet I never found Upper Deck No. 1. However, if you’re interested in a stack of Todd Van Poppel rookie cards, feel free to give me a call.

(2) Illinois’ Jamar Smith Violates Probation By Drinking Again (NCAA Basketball FanHouse) - The horrific saga of Jamar Smith and the Illini has come to the end. Bruce Weber did what he had to do in kicking Smith off of the team – the fact that Smith even had a chance to come back to the team in the first place after the Brian Carlwell incident was considered to be suspect. Unfortunately, this guarantees that there’s going to be some more ugly on-the-court play for Illini basketball until Alex Legion is able to come into the mix in January. More and more, we look like an NIT-bubble team as opposed to even having a reasonable shot at the NCAA Tournament this season.

(3) Breaking Down the Preseason Top 25 (USA Today) – We are a little less than a month away from the start of college football season, but the first impression roses are already being handed out by the coaches. Illinois starts out at #19, which seems about right considering that our running game is probably going to take a step back with the loss of Zook kryptonite Rashard Mendenhall to the NFL but the defense brining back a more seasoned Martez Wilson (there’s a flash of him mowing down Chase Daniel in the EA Sports NCAA Football ’09 commercial). The Big Ten is getting the “Ohio State and everybody else” treatment again, with the Buckeyes at #3 and the next conference members being Wisconsin at #12, us at #19, Penn State at #22 and Michigan at #24. My initial feeling is that Ohio State is going to make the national title game once again with so many starters coming back again (Georgia is going down at some point), but I’ll put together a more in-depth preview in a couple of weeks.

And finally…

(4) All Favre, All The Time (Windy City Gridiron) - Normally, I’d be all over the news coming out of Bears training camp at this time of year, but I’ve been avoiding it because of stories such as this. That being said, someone did bring up this comparison to the Brett Favre situation that hit some items for me personally: what if the Bulls had told Michael Jordan that they didn’t want him back in 1995 because they were committed to Steve Kerr as their long-term solution at shooting guard? Could you have imagined the hysteria in Chicago if the Bulls organization had used that logic? Granted, I find a number of flaws in this analogy, since MJ had a lot more productive years ahead of him at that time (as shown by three more championship rings) than Favre does now and, most importantly, MJ retired the first time around in the aftermath of his father being murdered as opposed to being a d-bag for five years straight of holding an organization hostage every offseason about his retirement plans. However, the point is well-taken with respect to any reactions that might come from Packers fans (as misguided as they might be in general).

Have a great weekend and go Sox!

(Image from Mental Floss)

It’s been a long time, so let’s throw up some links:

1. The Blackhawks Game of the Century (My Tribe) - It’s nice to see the Blackhawks start getting some attention again in town, with Rocky Wirtz taking swift action in turning around a franchise that was decimated by his father’s bull-headed business practices. The biggest news for the casual fan, of course, is that the Hawks and Red Wings will be playing at Wrigley Field next New Year’s Day in the NHL Winter Classic. This will certainly be a great event for the city of Chicago in a historic venue – of course, I’ll miss it all if the Illini end up in a warmer locale for a bowl game that day. (We actually have expectations this year!!!)

That’s the dilemma here. The scheduling choice (I’m not sure if the NHL or NBC is to blame here) to put the Winter Classic on the same day as the Rose Bowl, Capital One Bowl and other major bowl games makes about as much sense as putting it opposite of the opening round of the NCAA Tournament or game 1 of the World Series – the national attention is elsewhere. Plus, this past New Year’s Day, Michigan played in the Capital One Bowl while Illinois played in the Rose Bowl right after that, which happen to be the major college football draws for the Detroit and Chicago media markets, respectively. If that type of situation happens again this coming New Year’s Day, how are Chicago and Detroit fans going to choose between the Winter Classic and their respective college home teams?

As much positive press as the NHL received for the ratings for last year’s Winter Classic, it ended up garnering a 2.6 on NBC with teams from two cities (Buffalo and Pittsburgh) that got huge local ratings since they had no local college team conflicts. In contrast, the Capital One Bowl aired directly opposite of the hockey game on cable (as opposed to network television) and received a 9.1 rating on ESPN and the Rose Bowl got a 11.1 rating on ABC. That should be clear evidence to the NHL its headliner event ought to be moved to a date with a lot less competition for eyeballs. Plus, while there will be a certain curiosity factor of watching a hockey game at Wrigley Field, any combination of Illinois, Notre Dame, Michigan and/or Michigan State playing in New Year’s Day bowl games, which has occurred every single year except for one since the turn of the millennium, would reduce the local ratings for the Winter Classic in Chicago and Detroit by a significant margin. If I were NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, I would do a whole lot of things, but first and foremost would be to move the date of the Winter Classic to the weekend in between the AFC and NFC Conference Championship Games and the Super Bowl where the game would have the full attention of the sports world. Placing the marquee regular season game of the season up against a day that has been reserved for college football for decades (with the ratings to back it up), particularly in the middle of Big Ten country, is asinine.

2. The Dark Knight Triumphs and Disturbs (Chicagoist) – I’m not a very big comic book guy at all, but even I got wrapped up in the hype around The Dark Knight and ran out to see it this past weekend. The generally glowing reviews of the film are warranted – the best thing that I can say about the late Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is that you completely forget that it’s Heath Ledger up there since he consumes himself in the role so thoroughly. Plus, the latest Batman installment spent much of last summer filming right outside of my old office building at LaSalle and Wacker, so it was a kick to see the long chase scene on Lower Wacker Drive and multiple shots on LaSalle Street up on the big screen. In contrast to Batman Begins, which filled in a shell of the Chicago skyline and street scenes with a lot digitized images, The Dark Knight displays the city of Chicago pretty much as-is, such that it’s truly fair to call this a “Chicago movie” in the same manner as The Fugitive, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Blues Brothers. Regardless, if you’re one of the five people in America that hasn’t seen the film yet, there’s no reason to wait.

3. Williams, Jazz to Play Bulls in Champaign (Pantagraph) - I wasn’t planning on going to the Illinois Homecoming game this year because it happens to fall on the same day as my law school class reunion, but now I’m really regretting it with this preseason game being added on Friday night to start off that weekend. Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Ron Zook, Rejus Benn – all my man crushes in one place and I’ll have to miss it. Uh, let’s move on.

4. Together Again Briefly, Dee Brown and Deron Williams Chart Different Courses (ESPN.com) – Speaking of the Illini and the NBA, J.A. Adande (one of the few non-schmucks left at TWWL) had this nice piece examining the juxtaposition of the situations of Dee Brown and Deron Williams in college compared to the pros. It would be nice to see Dee get a spot somewhere in the NBA – the Jazz were a much deeper team, so he may have a better shot at cracking the rotation in Washington.

5. Brett Favre, Could Cause Sickness (Windy City Gridiron) – If there’s one saving grace about the 24-hour news ticker about Brett Favre’s movements over the past week, it’s that there is finally some movement away from the monolithic media monkey love for this man that has existed for the past decade. I have always hated Favre, plain and simple, and it’s nice to see people outside of Chicago and Minnesota start realizing that he is as selfish as any other athlete out there.

6. Kevin Jones Signs With Bears (Huddle Up) – As the Bears open training camp, I’m trying to think of any athlete that has ruined my past fantasy seasons in either baseball or football more than Kevin Jones. I’ve been a victim of catastrophic injuries to Rocky Baldelli and Cris Carpenter on a number of occasions on the baseball end, but there’s nothing quite like how you get fucked when your starting running back goes down. That being said, the Bears taking a flyer on Jones isn’t a bad idea in the real football world – when the alternative is throwing in rookie Matt Forte out there after an offseason dedicated to wiring Cedric Benson bail money, you can’t afford to be picky.

7. Illini Sell Out Ohio State Game (FightingIllini.com) – The note here about the Illinois-Ohio State game selling out within an hour is a load of B.S. – I went online as soon as tickets went on sale and this game was already gone. So, if anyone out there has 2-4 tickets available for the game, shoot me a message.

And finally…

8. Baseball Hall-of-Famer Jerome Holtzman Dies (Chicago Tribune) – Most of the nation knows of Peter Gammons’ work at the Boston Globe due to ESPN, but for Chicagoans, it was Jerome Holtzman that defined baseball writing. His old column going through the all of the tidbits across the baseball world (not just the Cubs and White Sox) was always the first place I went to every week when the Sunday Chicago Tribune hit the driveway. May the Dean rest in peace.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

A few links for the weekend:

(1) The Conservative Revival (New York Times) – David Brooks has long been one of the more sensible conservative political commentators out there and this column is an example of this. Right after the 2006 midterm elections, I wrote a lengthy post about how disaffected I was with the Republican Party from the libertarian standpoint. Brooks points out that the Conservative Party in Britain is on the ascent since it’s embracing a different social agenda while still adhering to its fiscally conservative principles. The party in our country that is able to mirror what the Tories have done will get my support.

(2) Your Friday Coaching Search Update (Blog-a-Bull) – Let me just start off by saying that I could have very easily turned this blog into “Frank the Tank’s Rantings About the Bulls” for at least until the conclusion of this year’s NBA Draft and really through the free agency period (which would almost bring us right to the start of next season), but I’m trying to exercise some self-restraint. It’s good to see that we didn’t have to go down the road of Rick Carlisle with his new deal with Mark Cuban and I’ve been actually getting increasingly excited about the prospect of Mike D’Antoni on the sidelines at the United Center. While he doesn’t have the defensive philosophy that John Paxson has long preached, it’s clear that the Bulls needed a complete readjustment in attitude which is what the almost-former Suns coach would provide. Granted, the Bulls don’t have the personnel on offense to come close to the scoring proficiency of D’Antoni’s Suns teams, but we are a team that is capable of playing uptempo (which is how the Bulls took down the Heat in the playoffs last year). The one thing that I don’t want to hear about from the Bulls is how much D’Antoni might cost in terms of salary, especially with the offer that the Knicks have thrown on the table. I’ve actually been an overall defender of Jerry Reinsdorf over the years (as Ozzie Guillen “eloquently” pointed out this week, Reinsdorf is the Chicago owner with seven rings), but if the Bulls really want D’Antoni, they had better put their best efforts forward. While the White Sox might be a mid-market team that happens to be located in a large market (and I’m saying this as a huge Sox fan) which at least allows for a tenuous argument about payroll limits on their end, the Bulls are a legitimate marquee NBA franchise on pretty much every financial and media metric (on a related note, Minneapolis Red Sox and I had a back-and-forth on where the Bulls place on the Chicago sports scene a couple of weeks ago), so I don’t want to hear a peep from that organization about how much a coach of D’Antoni’s caliber might cost. Reinsdorf and Paxson just need to get this deal done.

(UPDATE:  Apparently, D’Antoni has now taken the Knicks job because the Bulls wouldn’t match their offer.  I’m seriously THIS close to making Frank the Tank’s Rantings About the Bulls into an entirely separate blog since there’s so much material to be mined.  This is what we get from the third most valuable and second most profitable franchise in the NBA.)

(3) Law Firms and Layoffs: Who Are the Most Vulnerable? (Wall Street Journal Law Blog) – There’s always a question as to whether law firms provide more steady employment for lawyers than being in other environments (i.e. corporations, government, etc.). In the end, like most other work environments, it’s the people in the middle that get squeezed.

And finally…

(4) Hyping Sidney Crosby Won’t Help the NHL Win Over New Fans (Slate) - There’s been little movement from my modest proposal to save the NHL from a couple of years ago, although the Blackhawks have finally figured out that VHF exists.

I know the posts have been sparse, especially considering that we’re in the middle of March Madness, but I promise you that this blog will be coming out of its once-a-month-or-so rut very soon. Anyway, the Illini basketball team ended the season with their best impression of the 1999 club in the Big Ten Tournament on the heels of my previous post. Maybe next year won’t be so bad with the return of Jamar Smith and the addition of Alex Legion, right? Here are some links to tide you over in anticipation of the Final Four, baseball opening day and the Masters:

(1) Stuff White People Like – I’m sure that if you’re interweb-savvy that you’ve seen this blog already, but those that haven’t would be remiss not to check out the daily postings here. As many others have observed, it’s really Stuff Liberal White Yuppies and Hipsters Like, but of course that type of title would not lead to people passing around the link to this blog. My favorite gems are how white people like dinner parties, knowing what’s best for poor people, hating corporations (other than corporations that make stuff that white people like, such as Apple and Target), public radio, gifted children, and, of course, Wrigley Field. The only thing is that despite being a half-Asian libertarian Republican, this blog really hammers home how I’m pretty much a pasty white liberal yuppie on paper outside of the anti-capitalist undertones.

(Edit: In my long overdue review of everyone on my blogroll, I’ll note that Kenny pointed this blog out a couple of weeks ago.)

(2) The Republican Resurrection (The New York Times) – I don’t agree with Frank Rich very often (although my link history does show that I’m an avid New York Times reader), but he nailed the political analysis on the spot here. The Democratic Party somehow is grasping defeat from the jaws of victory yet again with a prolonged and increasingly nasty nomination battle. I’ll be upfront that I’ve always been a John McCain fan, but realistically, I’ve thought that he could only win in the general election if Hillary Clinton somehow grabbed the Democratic nomination at the last moment. That would mean that the Democrats would be putting up a politically polarizing candidate AND the party base would be less than enthusiastic in the general election. As unlikely as that may happen, the Clinton family sway over the Democratic superdelegates at least makes that a real possibility. I’m also simply amazed that there are still Democratic primary voters who sincerely believe that Hillary would do better than Barack Obama in the general election. Believe me – every Republican alive that has any knowledge whatsoever about the tempermant of the general electorate would rather face Hillary than Obama in November. This seems to be pretty obvious to everyone other than a blindly loyal subset of Clinton supporters.

(3) Fighting Illini Announce 2008 Spring Games (FightingIllini.com) – Given the state of the White Sox and Bulls, I’m being dead serious when I say that Illinois spring football is what I’m looking forward to the most in April sports-wise (other than the Masters).

(4) Playoffs or Lottery for Bulls? (Hoopsworld) – Speaking of the Bulls, I really hate being in this predicament as a fan. The team is 15 games under .500, yet the Eastern Conference is so horrible that they are still within 3 games of a playoff spot. So, what is better for the club in the long term – squeaking by into the #8-seed, where they would most likely be swept by the Celtics or Pistons in the first round, or taking its chances in the NBA Draft lottery with the hope that everything comes up Milhouse to be in position to get Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose (where either one would probably make the team a true championship contender next season)? I hate the notion of cheering against your own team from a bad karma perspective, but I have to disagree with the Hoopsworld writer and say that the Bulls would be better off heading to the lottery. Unlike football or baseball, where moving up draft positions is almost never worth the thought of losing more games, the NBA, as I’ve noted many times before, is a boom-or-bust environment where you need a superstar to have a reasonable chance to win it all. Not only are those superstars almost universally lottery picks, but they are disproportionately drafted with one of the top three picks. I’m not one of those chumps that wants a “nice Bulls team” that gets to the playoffs regularly but never gets over the hump – I was admittedly spoiled growing up with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, so I want to see the team be in position to win more championships. As a result, I’d rather see the Bulls wait for some ping-pong balls in May than watch them get crushed by KG or Chauncey Billups in four straight games. This all could have been prevented by John Paxson last year, but that’s another rant for another time.

And finally…

(5) American League Preview 2008 (Siberian Baseball) – Minneapolis Red Sox is starting up his annual baseball previews and I’m sure he’ll have the National League shortly. He has charitably put the White Sox in third place in the AL Central (actually, I think that’s about right – I don’t know how some crack smokers think that the Sox will be worse than either the Twins or Royals this season, but the South Siders are clearly way behind Detroit and Cleveland as we stand today).

Enjoy the rest of the NCAA Tournament and have a great day!

adrian-peterson-vikings-bears.jpg 

After having a beautiful double revenge of the FIBs over the Badgers and Packers last week, it was followed up with one of the worst football weekends in the Frank the Tank household in awhile with the Illini and Bears both losing games that were more than winnable.

I noted last week that the road trip to Iowa City for Illinois was going to be a proverbial trap game since Kirk Ferentz just seems to have our number and that proved to be more than correct in an ugly 10-6 loss. The Hawkeyes kept our running game in check while we had virtually no passing attack until Eddie McGee came in to close out the game. Despite the fact that McGee threw a poor interception in the red zone on the final Illini drive that probably would have turned the outcome of the game the other way, his passing skills to even get Illinois into that position (as well as a gem of a throw to Joe Morgan – who has always thought that Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar could never hold a candle to him as second basemen – for an 82-yard touchdown that was called back on account of an illegal formation penalty) is forcing Ron Zook to start out all of his press conferences with a “Juice is our quarterback” speech.

Speaking of the Zooker, the recipient of a new contract extension from Ron Guenther made a few calls that must have had Florida Gators fans giggling by choosing to accept penalties on third down as opposed to declining them to force fourth downs not once, but twice. The first time backfired into the only touchdown by either team in the game, while the second time resulted in an Iowa first down conversion. This made me flashback to last year’s game against Indiana when Zook decided to go for a 2-point conversion on the first touchdown in the first quarter of the game for absolutely no reason at all, which we subsequently failed on (and we of course lost the game by 1 point). Now, I love that Ron Zook has brought Illinois back to football respectability way ahead of schedule, but these calls are just simply off-the-wall – it isn’t even about overall technical game strategy, but rather plain-old common sense. Anyway, the Illini are still in line to get to a pretty good bowl, but in order to make the Rose Bowl now, we’re going to have to win out for the rest of the season (which means beating Michigan in a monster prime time game next week and #1 Ohio State in Columbus). The fact that this is still a possibility shows how far Illini football has come over the course of the year, yet it’s still tough to stomach that we lost a very winnable game on Saturday.

The Bears, of course, couldn’t help but to pile onto that frustration on Sunday. Ever since the Vikings selected Adrian Peterson in the NFL Draft last spring, I’ve been telling everyone that would listen to me that Minnesota is the team that scares me the most in the NFC North since he’s such a special player. Well, he backed my thoughts up and then some by just shredding the Bears’ defensive and special teams units.  Honestly, I believe that Peterson is better situated to become an NFL superstar than even Reggie Bush since the former Sooner has the size and strength to pound the ball inside as an every down back as well as having breakaway speed to the outside and past the line of scrimmage.  I have no clue as to why Minnesota is still having him split carries with Chester Taylor.  While Devin Hester did everything he could to keep the Bears in the game with yet another touchdown return and finally getting an offensive pass play call for him that worked perfectly for another touchdown (I’m pretty sure that the Bears can just have Hester sprint down the field all day and he’ll burn anyone that’s on him), the rest of the team just couldn’t contain Peterson.  This season just has a bad feeling to it – the Bears  improbably stormed back with two touchdowns against the Vikings in four minutes to tie the game only to blow it within the final minute and a half.  Can the Bears go 8-2 the rest of the way to get to the 10-6 level that will probably be required to make the playoffs?  Unfortunately, I don’t have much faith in that (and even more unfortunately, I’ll continue to watch since I’m a glutton for punishment).

Let’s get off of the depressing news with some links:

(1) And Simpson Makes Four! (Mark Tupper Weblog) - After a year of continuously grim recruiting news for Bruce Weber and Illini basketball, this past weekend saw oral commitments to Champaign from four high-profile recruits.  Will this answer all of the concerns about Weber’s recruiting skills?  Let’s hope so.

(2) Indiana Punishes Sampson Over Recruiting Calls (ESPN.com) - Speaking of old oral commitments from recruits to Weber, have I ever told you how much I hate Satan’s Spawn?

(3) Local Recruits Infuse Illinois with ‘Swagger’ (Washington Post) – The Washington Post takes a look at how D.C. recruits have catapulted the Illini football program.

And finally…

(4) Can Anyone Explain Dane Cook to Me? (Freakonomics Blog – New York Times) – If University of Chicago economists can’t figure this out, there’s no hope for the rest of us.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

I apologize for the radio silence over the past few weeks.  Here are a bunch of links to tide you over:

(1) 3 Large Drops of Sweat (Chicago Tribune) – If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, you know what I think of preseason football, particularly in its ability (or lack thereof) to predict outcomes in the regular season.  That being said, it looks like we’re finding out how Rex Grossman is avoiding throwing interceptions downfield into triple coverage – he’s just going to lay the ball right on the ground.

(2) Yes, Deep-Fried Oreos, but Not in Trans Fats (New York Times) - For my money, the deep-fried Snickers bar is the carnie filet mignon – it’s like melting the candy bar and stuffing it inside a Krispy Kreme doughnut.  It’s good to know that this delicacy can re-enter my diet without guilt along with a bucket of trans fat-free KFC.

(3) Did Hawk Invent the Batting Glove? (South Side Sox) - Hawk Harrelson also invented a way to blow smoke up your ass every single inning of baseball broadcasts every single night.  Who knew that we had baseball’s Enrico Fermi in the booth, White Sox fans?

(4) Brought Down By Arrogance (Washington Post) - There’s been an overload of banter about the Michael Vick dogfighting case and his plea bargain, so I’ll just point you to this Michael Wilbon column that largely encapsulates all of my personal feelings on the matter.

(5) 2007-08 Illinois Men’s Basketball Schedule Released (fightingillini.com) – This is definitely not an easy non-conference tilt for the Illini (something tells me that the bulk of this schedule was put together when we still though Eric Gordon was headed to Champaign to play prior to Satan’s Spawn luring him away).  I’m really looking forward to the Maui Classic right before Thanksgiving (one of my favorite college basketball events every year regardless of who’s participating), particularly with the prospect of playing Duke (assuming that we can advance after the opener with Arizona State).

(6) Only Single Tickets Remain for Illinois-Michigan Football Match-Up (fightingillini.com) – On the other side of the Illini sports world, the buzz for the upcoming football season has gotten so irrationally exuberant that people are actually spending their hard-earned dollars to buy up game tickets.  I know that I would have been going to this game (nationally-televised prime time game = 12 hours of tailgating and 80,000 variations on Ann Arbor’s promiscuity) if not for the fact that a certain someone has a wedding on this date.  (He’s not an Illini, so I guess it’s somewhat excusable for the prospect of this happening not being the very first thing that he would think about, but with college football schedules published years in advance, scheduling conflicts should be the primary cross-check if you have a disproportionate number of people going to your wedding that went to a particular school.  That’s why I had a June wedding.)  On another note, my annual college football preview will be coming very soon.  (Preview of the preview: I like how Illinois is set up this year.  Obviously, I know that shocks you all.)
And finally…

(7) The Singing Bee – Filling in the Blanks (TV Blend) - Lord only knows that I initially wanted to see any Joey Fatone-fueled television vehicle enter the trash bin of bad couch potato ideas along with “The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage” and Tim McCarver calling baseball games.  Yet, when I ended up flipping on to “The Singing Bee” a few weeks ago, it was as hypnotic as a Lou Pearlman production: brainless, empty-caloried, yet strangely satisfying.  Sure, it’s the equivalent of televising karaoke night at your local bar (I mean, the next thing you know and they’ll be televising guys sitting around playing poker and bass fishing), but the fact of the matter is that if you watch the show, it’s almost impossible not to start playing along.  Once that happens, you’re basically hooked on TV’s crystal meth, only the drug won’t kill nearly as many brain cells after a half-hour.  There’s no hope for me, so please save yourselves!

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney caused a stir last week by mentioning that conference expansion might be on the table for a school other than the usual suspect of Notre Dame. Last year, I argued for Syracuse as being the best choice other than the Fighting Irish for a 12th team and I still stand by that. Rutgers has a great location near New York City, but it’s going to take a whole lot more than one good football season to make them a viable candidate. The always entertaining mgoblog, even though it supports the enemy, had an intriguing comprehensive write-up on the potential additions. That being said, I disagree with his analysis. If the Big Ten goes in a direction other than Notre Dame, I believe that it’s got to be toward the East Coast as opposed to adding onto the fringes of the Midwest. We need to look to expand our boundaries instead of looking inward. Anyway, here are some links:

(1) Certain Degrees Now Cost More at Public Universities (New York Times) - A number of public universities, including the University of Illinois, are starting to charge more for engineering and business programs compared to the rest of school. I’m glad I got in and out when there was still flat pricing.

(2) Celtics, Wolves Closing in on Deal (ESPN.com) – This was exactly what I was worried about: Kevin Garnett coming to the Eastern Conference to a team other than the Bulls. Even though Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are on the downsides of their careers, adding KG to Boston will catapult that team from the doghouse to the upper echelon of the East. Do I have confidence that the Bulls would be able to shut that team down in a head-to-head playoff series? Nope. Joe Smith is a decent power forward, but it’s not as if though he’s leaps and bounds better than P.J. Brown. Assuming Dwyane Wade are healthy next year, I would put the Heat (don’t read too much into the Bulls’ sweep with Wade at half-strength), Cavs, Celtics, and Pistons ahead of the Bulls next year. I know I’m beating the proverbial dead horse here, but this is what happens when you don’t have a superstar – other teams pass you by pretty quickly (i.e. the Cleveland Cavaliers of the early-90s). This Garnett deal isn’t set in stone yet, so maybe the Bulls can make one last run at him, yet it’s extremely disappointing that they haven’t tried already.

(3) How Do Cats Like Rabbits? Very Much, And Preferably Raw (Wall Street Journal) – In response to the pet foot contamination scare from earlier this year, raw rabbit has all of the sudden become a hot commodity among cat owners. This might be something my cat would go for, but he’s already ridiculously spoiled. I honestly think that he believes my wife and I are his pets, considering that he’s the one that’s fed on demand and gets his poop picked up everyday.

(4) A Dark – But Not So Secret – ‘Knight’ For Sequel (Chicago Tribune) – Since my office is right by some entrances to Lower Wacker Drive, I’ve been seeing props for the new ‘Batman’ movie all over the place, including a Gotham City police car and paddywagon. Other than that, though, the filmmakers seem to be keeping the shooting under tight security.

(5) It’s Official: The Cubs Are Awesome (Goat Riders of the Apocalypse) – Don’t get too cocky, guys. Meanwhile, I’ll just go back to seeing who will be left on the South Side by the end of the day.

(6) Briggs Signs (Da’ Bears Blog) - Despite an offseason of Drew Rosenhaus-fueled acrimony, Lance Briggs will back in Chicago for one more season. Only a month until football season – I’m getting all tingly inside.

And finally…

To my horror when I went out to lunch today, the Chinese chicken place (it was one of those places that just had two neon signs that said “Teriyaki” – despite having little in the way of Japanese food offerings – and “Chicken”, kind of like a roadside restaurant that is identified by only an “Eat” sign or the “Hot” pancake syrup at IHOP) at the Citigroup Center food court in the Loop has been shutdown. If you’ve ever been in that food court, you know exactly what I’m talking about: $6.05 after tax for a heap of fried rice plus two different types of fried MSG of your choice. With the cheapest lunch in the Loop outside of McDonald’s pushing towards $10, the Chinese chicken place was an oasis of full and inexpensive goodness. I have no idea why it has closed since it has always had the longest line in that food court. The obvious thought would be health code violations, but normally there would be notices with respect to that and there none visible. Anyway, this has been such a terrible blow to me (I’m seriously getting the shakes just thinking of the Cashew Chicken/Sesame Chicken combo that I’d always get) that I just had to get it out. R.I.P., Chinese chicken place.