The national media has re-discovered the Indiana Pacers. After thriving in the NBA backwater all year, the Pacers are finally getting some national publicity. I have been listening to ESPN Radio all morning, and even with the Pacers' good play, it has been as much about what the Knicks have done wrong as what the Pacers have done right.
Now granted, Indiana is far from the NBA's sexiest team. Name a starter on the Indiana roster well-known outside the Indianapolis metro area. There is no LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul-- or Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks-- on the Pacer roster. The best-known Pacer is STILL Reggie Miller-- who, ironically enough, is doing the Indiana-New York series on TNT. Another twist to the tale... wouldn't it be a fitting thing if Indiana closed this series out in five in the same building where Reggie Miller became REGGIE MILLER-- the Apple's Madison Square Garden.
No, this team is not the glamorous group that Miller headed. It is a group of talented players-- very talented, and getting better-- but hardly stars. And that is just the way Coach Frank Vogel, and the Indiana Pacers, want it. The Pacers aren't going to make many SportsCenter headlines...they just keep winning. And despite a lack of star power, winning will get you noticed...eventually.
Butler University got to two national championship games-- in 2010 and 2011...and came within three inches of winning it in 2010. But what if that half-court heave by Gordon Hayward had connected in 2010-- instead of floating just off the mark? You would have an accomplishment that mirrors what Wigan Athletic did over the weekend in the FA Cup final. The FA Cup is England's answer to the pre-1998 IHSAA tournament... everyone is welcome to compete as equals. The largest club in the land may be beaten by one of the smallest.-- and it has happened, on more than one occasion.
Which brings me to Wigan. The Latics-- as they are known-- are in the top flight of English soccer-- the Premier League-- barely. They played Manchester City over the weekend-- among England's richest, best-funded, and well-known sides. Wigan? Uhh...not as much. But the Wigan warriors scraped through several rounds, and found itself with a chance at the sacred ground of English soccer-- Wembley Stadium. One game... 90 minutes-- and a chance to write English soccer history. With a 90th minute header, they did just that. Wigan 1, Man City 0. The Latics may be relegated from the Premiership for next season-- moving down to the Championship, the second tier of English soccer. However, if they do go down, they will go down swinging-- as the reigning FA Cup champions.
So in a sense, Gordon Hayward's shot did connect-- only with a cleah header as the English say... "at the death." But the only thing to die that day was Manchester City's dreams-- and conventional wisdom about smaller clubs defeating larger ones. Wigan Athletic-- the Butler of Britain. The only difference Hayward's shot missed by inches, while Wigan's was right on target. Here's to the Latics-- in a scene that came right out of "Hoosiers."
Tiger Woods is back. That is the party line among every one seeing him, after he won yesterday's Player's Championship near Jacksonville. Tiger basically did what Tiger does-- took the lead at Sawgrass, put out his withering stare-- and melted his competition.
The man who withered most? Sergio Garcia. The island 17th green became the star again on Sunday, as it swallowed two of Garcia's tee shots. The result? A quadruple bogey 7, and out of contention. Tiger did what Tiger does-- consistent play, and yet another title-- his fourth in seven rounds this year.
But, the 800-pound elephant in the room has shown back up-- still no recent major victories for Tiger. He is 37 now-- which still isn't old in golf circles; the man he is chasing in majors-- Jack NIcklaus-- won four of them from age 37 on, including one of each-- the British at 38 in 1978, the U-S Open and PGA at 40 in 1980, and of course, famously, the Masters at 46 years of age in 1986. He even had a fifth major after 37 taken from him-- remember Tom Watson's chip-in to steal the 1982 U-S Open from Nicklaus? Sports Illustrated, and the Bear himself, called it a "1,000 to 1 shot."
The bottom line is, Tiger still has plenty of time to equal, or beat, Nicklaus' 18 majors. As it is, Tiger is probably a cinch to break Sam Snead's record of PGA Tour wins; Tiger has 78; Snead is on top with 82. The question is, can Tiger hit 100 Tour wins? Don't count him out-- and don't count out a revived run on 18 majors. Coming from a lifelong Nicklaus fan, I think it would be appropriate if they both tied at 18 majors. Simply put, Tiger means as much to this generation of golfers as Nicklaus meant to his. Both men changed the game-- for the better. They deserve equal billing.
A soccer legend has decided to leave the game. Sir Alex Ferguson has decided the time is right... after 27 years as the undisputed, and not too far from undefeated, boss at Manchester United, Sir Alex is leaving the soccer sideline. He will continue with Man U as an ambassador and board member, but his managerial career has ended.
It is impossible to consider one man in American sports that matches up to Sir Alex. In longevity and franchise stature, he is like the Dallas Cowboys' legendary coach Tom Landry. He failed in his early years as a coach, before finding it and making it big-- a lot like the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick. He was the founder and nurturer of a dynasty-- much like the Boston Celtics' Red Auerbach or the Bulls' and Lakers' Phil Jackson. And like Jackson, he retired with his team on top.
He shepherded four generations of Man United players to greatness. He has had players from around the globe contribute to success. He also directly-- and indirectly-- had a role in the success of American goalkeeper Tim Howard. Howard was Sir Alex's number 1 in 2005 and 2006, before finding trouble in the net and was replaced by Edwin Van der Sar. But the good manager didn't give up on Howard-- he saw the talent in the American player, and loaned him to Everton. That was some loan-- seven years and counting, Howard is still Everton's Number 1 goalkeper.
The legacy of Sir Alex Ferguson will be batted around, and considered, and analyzed to death in the days to come. Suffice it to say-- his record, his trophies, and his success speak for themselves. Here's to Sir Alex, and what I hope is a successful retirement.
Today is going to be a random thoughts day. Here goes...
1. Nothing in the world beats overtime in the Stanley Cut Playoffs. If a game is tied after regulation in hockey's playoff, they keep playing it until they get a winner. Not only do they play it off, but they play 20-minute regulation periods. There have been times where they have played over two regulation games-- the regular three periods, and three overtimes... to determine a winner. A game that starts at 7:30 pm has ended in the wee hours before in the Stanley Cup playoffs. You have to love it-- one mistake... one fatigue play...or one brilliant move from nowhere... can end a game in its tracks. One of my favorite times in sports...Stanley Cup overtime...
2. Racing for a Reason in the rain. My hat is off to those driving-- and working-- in Sunday's Vincennes Grand Prix. It was cold, it was wet, and as always, it was fun. I look forward to next year's event...
3. The Pacers beat the Knicks in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semi-final at Madison Square Garden, 102-95. You have to wonder if some of the Knick fans were thinking back to Reggie Miller's performance a few years back...even though this Pacer team is more defense-minded, and not centered on one man being the superstar. That said... 25 in the 4th quarter for Reggie Miller... that is still astounding!!
4. Tim Tebow is STILL the most influential athlete in American culture, in an article by Forbes business magazine. Amazing for a backup QB who many think should not be one at all. Next move for Tebow? Probably into the broadcast booth. He would be a natural for CBS's SEC coverage-- and there is that little SEC Network starting up...
5. Just a note about a soccer team you have never heard of, possibly about the enter the second tier of English soccer. Yeovil Town-- from the tiny state of Somerset, England-- is one win away from a move to the Championship level of English soccer. The Glovers were in the fifth tier of the English league seven years ago. Their average attendance to games? Around 3,500 people. For an American example... think about a school like IUPUI winning its conference 3 years in a row, and joining the Big Ten. That is pretty close to the level which Yeovil is close to joining.
I have to admit-- I love horse racing. I have enjoyed watching these races since almost before I can remember. This love of racing came from my earliest days... I was 6 when Secretariat, in the words of the great Chic Anderson "moved like a tremendous machine" at Belmont. I was 11 in 1978 when Affirmed and Alydar had the greatest two-horse duel ever, again at Belmont. Again, Chic Anderson made the call that day, as Affirmed "got a nose out in front... at the wire!"-- and won the Triple Crown by a nose. In 1978, Affirmed won by 1 1/2 lengths, a neck, and a nose over Alydar... still the greatest 2 horse Triple Crown challenge ever.
I was no longer young when Ferdinand took the Derby in 1986. I was a college freshman, when the aged, vernable Bill Shoemaker channeled his inner Jack Nicklaus-- who made a similar run for the ages earlier that year at the Masters--and turned back the clock.
In more recent times, Smarty Jones-- a low pedigree horse-- shocked the world by winning the Derby and Preakness. And I remember the disappointment when Big Brown took the first 2 legs, and completely pooped out at the Belmont-- which was supposed to be his strongest race. And who can forget John Henry? Possibly the greatest horse of all time-- winning race after race when other horses his age were already grandfathers. He was another horse of undistinguished pedigree who became a super-horse.
These horses-- and more-- have made a great impact on me. The other impact-- the men calling the races. My favorites are in this order...
1. Dave Johnson. Still the best TV horse racing announcer ever in my opinion. His pace, style, and verbage were a perfect fit for TV...and I miss him not being there. He called the Affirmed-Alydar Kentucky Derby match in 1978-- his first time on the main TV stage. He was also the voice of the Triple Crown for ABC for many years through the 1980's and into the 1990's.
2. Chic Anderson. Called both the 1973 Triple Crown, and 1978 Belmont for CBS. In my view, he is slightly behind Johnson, but not by much... Was more laid-back than the excitable Johnson, but in his own way, did a great job of conveying the emotion of the moment. His call of the Affirmed-Alydar virtual match race at Belmont was perfect. He died way too early-- of a heart attack in 1979.
3. Tom Durkin. Long-time legendary track announcer, and until this year, the lead announcer for NBC's covereage of the Triple Crown and Breeder's Cup. Not quite on the level of Johnson and Anderson in my opinion, but not that far away either.
These are the horses-- and voices-- that take me back through my history. The only thing missing? Another Triple Crown winner. There hasn't been one since Affirmed in 1978. I thought Big Brown would be next-- but that didn't happen. Will there be another? It's tougher now than it used to be... but it is still the goal. It has now been 35 years... and I hope another super-horse can get it done. Good luck Orb-- you are the next contestant.
One of the stranger loves in my life is hockey. I have never lived near an ice rink-- I did more roller skating as a kid than ice skating. The nearest one to my home growing up with the Goggin ice rink, 30 minutes away in Oxford, Ohio-- but the first time I went there was for a youth activity as a high school junior.
However, I picked up a love of hockey from an early age. . I remember Peter Puck from the old NBC broadcasts of hockey from the 70's. I enjoyed watching the Edmonton Oiler dynasties of the '80's on ESPN. And I became-- and remain-- a St. Louis Blues fan from listening to Dan Kelly doing the radio games from 1984 on. I have also been a huge fan of the New Year's Day Winter Classic-- where an outdoor stadium hosts a hockey game once a year. It is a must-view... if for any other reason than to see these huge, venerable stadiums filled with fans for outdoor hockey. Now, it is different. Starting next year, the NHL will host a series of outdoor games, including a game at Soldier Field in Chicago on March first. Other places will also host games-- including Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, and Vancouver's BC Place. I have two minds on this issue. One is it may take some luster from the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. The other is... get me tickets... March first, 2014 at 8 pm at Soldier Field in Chicago. I want to go!! Yes, it will take some allure away from hockey's biggest regular season day-- the Winter Classic on New Year's-- but in the end, it will bring new fans to the NHL... which is never a bad thing.
It's May Day-- and it is also mayday for Tim Tebow. For the first time in his life, he is without football. HIgh school legend from his hometown of Jacksonville; Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida... and winning quarterback at Denver. Unfortunately, it looks like Tim Tebow's year was 2011-- when Tebow Time became winning time in Denver.
How many of us make wrong decisions-- especially in our early 20's? Against just about every expert opinion, Tebow made what turned out to be a fatal career move-- heading the the New York Jets, instead of waiting for a more fitting offer-- perhaps from his home team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. If you can make it there,. you can make it anywhere-- but if you can't, you never hear the end of it. Unfortunately, the latter happened to Tim Tebow.
So, what's next? An indoor league team-- the Omaha Beef-- have offered him a job (read: publicity for a team no one... probably even in Omaha... has heard of). The CFL is still a possibility; the Montreal Alouettes own his rights, and has offered a possiblity fo compete for a backup spot on the roster.
A recent poll showed 68 percent of respondents want Tebow to move positions, to stay in the NFL Will he do that? We shall see... The options are rather limited-- but remember this... Tim Tebow has spent his whole life beating the odds. Tebow Time may be no more-- maybe-- but Tebow's time as a football player may not be.