Anthrocide

Anthrocide.net is the official website for D.L. Hamilton, author of several Christian novels and essays.

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Wow, What a (Sports) Weekend!

Who’d a-thunk it? By the end of the weekend, all my favorite sports teams had come through!

Saturday:

NCAAF – MIZZOU 31, Texas Tech 27. MIZZOU WINS a nail-biter and is bowl eligible!
NHL – Sharks 4, Dallas 1. San Jose WINS!

Sunday:

NFL – 49ers 23, Arizona 7. SF WINS (now 9-1)!
NHL – Sharks 4, Colorado 1. San Jose WINS and moves into 1st place!

Monday:

NCAAB – MIZZOU 87, Notre Dame 58. MIZZOU WINS what was supposed to be a close game!

Wonder which team will be the first to break the streak…

Other random sports thoughts:

I hear tell that MIZZOU basketball, which had garnered a pretty solid following during the Mike Anderson era, is having trouble attracting fans. The Frank Haith (a) hiring–since he has no exciting track record–and (b) NCAA investigation made me reluctant to get too excited. Then add that one of their best players–and one of their few big men–Laurence Bowers, is out for the season with an injury, and my interest was tepid. But I watched the game noted above and was mightily impressed! This is a tenacious, quick, scrappy team that, at least against Notre Dame, was fun to watch. How far can a 4-guard team go? Dunno, but they’re interesting and worth a look.

Q: Why aren’t the 49ers–with the second-best record in the NFL–getting any press?
A: The obvious answer would be east-coast media bias which, no doubt, plays a part. But the main issue is the lack of a “name” player. The media always wants an individual they can tout as “you should watch this team because of so-and-so if for no other reason.” Hence, it’s always “watch Eli Manning and the NY Giants take on Ray Lewis and the hard-hitting Ravens,” etc. But the 49ers have no marquee player. Certainly “Alex Smith and the 49ers” would not gain many viewers. And, although they have plenty of quality players who, together, are a formidable team, there are no true superstars. Patrick Willis? O-kay. Frank Gore? Yawn. Novarro Bowman? Who? The only “name” they have is the coach, Jim Harbaugh. Not much of a promo to say, “See the 49ers play Baltimore and watch Harbaugh’s post-game handshake!” So, face it, no matter how well they do, even in the playoffs, this blue-collar team of no-names is never going to garner much press.

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Odds and Ends…

First, a follow-up to the America’s Got Talent story.

So, Eeyore won. My pick, Barbara Padilla was runner-up. Interestingly, both had problems with their final performances. Barbara made a tactical error by reprising an operatic solo she had previously done. She needed to show that she could use her thrilling voice to sing something in English for us “just plain folks.” Even an old show tune like “Some Enchanted Evening” would have been a much better idea. Kevin Skinner’s performance was vocally poor; he was flat and off-key in parts. Seriously, now that the story of the sniveling chicken farmer has run its course, only the most hard-core and tin-eared CW fans would pay Las Vegas prices to sit through an hour-plus of listening to him. Better invest that $1 million wisely, Eeyore…

ON THE SPORTS FRONT, time for a quick recap of what’s happening with my teams:

  • SF Giants: Well, it was a nice run while it lasted. I guess you’ve got to give them props for making it interesting through the bulk of the season. Given their unimpressive offense it was amazing they were ever even in the race. But as it stands they have only gone from perennial bottom-feeders to perennial “almosts.” That is, “almost” as in almost a wild-card team. Winning the division is not even a consideration. Which, again, makes one scratch one’s head. Suppose SF managed to squeak into the playoffs and somehow won the two short NLCS series necessary to go to the world series. They are clearly not the best team in the NL by a long shot, so that would make no sense. Playoffs are sometimes of dubious value.
  • MIZZOU Football Tigers: However, the one place an 8-team playoff would make sense is in College Football. So, of course, that’s the one place in sports where it doesn’t happen. Anyway, as for the 3-0 MU Tigers, it has been said that their next 4 games will define their season. However, the next one against Nevada is significant only if they fail to win since they are heavily favored. Assuming they win, beating Nebraska will be huge, and vital. But whether they are just a decent team this year or something really special will be determined by how they play against OK State and Texas the following weeks.
  • SJ Sharks: Speaking of playoffs… No team in all of sports is as Jekyll and Hyde between regular season and playoffs as the Sharks. Last season, with a new coach, a new attitude, a new style of play, and a rip-roaring start I was really hyped about them. After their playoff debacle I’m struggling to generate more than tepid interest this year. Maybe if the Heatly-Thornton-Setoguchi line catches fire I might perk up but for now it’s not there.
  • SF 49ers: Still speaking of playoffs, for a brief shining moment we can mention playoffs and 49ers in the same breath. If they could play .500 for the rest of the season it’s a possibility. Of course, these lofty speculations are due for a sudden collapse after the Vikings in all likelihood rough them up this coming Sunday. Plus, if they should somehow reach the playoffs, they’ll be a really boring team to watch since their offense pretty much consists of a steady stream of 3-and-outs until a couple of times a game they manage to sustain a drive for a score or break Gore loose. I yearn for the Walsh-Montana-Young days when a 3-and-out offensive series was almost unheard of. But, anemic offense or no, Singletary’s got the defense making believers out of opponents week-by-week.
  • But… Why not root for Missouri’s pro football teams, you ask? Actually it’s not for the obvious reason that they’re both terrible. St. Louis is the Rams. C’mon now, no one who is or ever was a 49er fan can root for the Rams. Not even if they gave me a luxury box. As for Kansas City, I actually considered adopting the Chiefs as my AFC team until I heard that nausea-inducing noise that put them permanently on my black list: The tomahawk chant (or chop). This originated with the Florida State Seminoles although it is not some long-standing tradition – they only started it in 1984. It’s irritating to hear FSU do it, hideously repulsive to hear the Atlanta Braves fans do it, and pathetically plageristic for the Chiefs. Nope, sorry, not going to happen. I would not, could not root for any team whose fans do that lame, fingernails-on-a-chalkboard chant.
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    On Coaches…

    The position of head coach (“manager” in baseball) for a sports team is a peculiar one. No matter how good the coach, the team must have talented players but a coach can make a significant difference. It has been said that a great manager in baseball will maybe win a half-dozen games for a team over a 162 game schedule and a bad one lose about that many. However, I think a truly incompetent manager can have a greater negative impact than that because the aura of losing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nevertheless, the impact of the head guy in baseball is not as significant as it may be in the other sports, specifically football where the right or wrong approach to the game and/or playbook can make a team of just above-average players either champions or underachieving losers. In general, though, for the four major sports, coaches are generally responsible for:

      A. Team Chemistry. The coach must create team cohesiveness that enables a group of individuals to work together as a unit. This is a bit less significant in baseball since there is frequently only one player from the team on offense involved at one time. But in sports like basketball and hockey, team chemistry is essential.

      B. Work and Discipline. The coach must establish when and how much the team will practice, make sure the players maintain conditioning and their focus, and handle problems with and among the players. He establishes how stringent or lax the rules are and whether or not star players get special treatment. He may also be a teacher, although this is less true in the Pro’s.

      C. Philosophy. Will this team focus primarily on offense or defense? Will it look for the quick strike, run-and-gun, or use a patient, opportunistic approach. How much are the players expected to decide on their own and how much will the coach control from the bench?

      D. Motivation. Players need someone in charge who can build a fire under them, help them recharge their batteries over a long season, and calm them down when things are too tense. While locker-room leadership from players is important, this falls primarily to the coach.

      E. Strategy. In football and basketball these are the plays the team has in its playbook on offense and the defensive coverages that they plan to use. In hockey there is a basic method of play the coach establishes and there may be nuances based on the opponent’s personnel and mode of play. In baseball it would involve how they plan to pitch to each opposing player, what each batter can expect from the opponent’s pitcher, and the positioning of fielders. In all cases it involves who starts and who gets how much playing time.

      F. Tactics or “Game Management.” Finally, the coach determines what happens while the game unfolds. Substitutions, what play to call or pitch to throw, time management, and what adjustments to make to offset what the opposition is doing are all parts of game tactics.

    Having established these, let me assess the coaches of my favorite teams. They are:

    MLB – SF Giants, Bruce Bochy
    NCAA Basketball – MIZZOU Tigers, Mike Anderson
    NCAA Football – MIZZOU Tigers, Gary Pinkel
    NFL – SF 49ers, Mike Singletary
    NHL – San Jose Sharks, Todd McLellan
    And I just can’t generate much of a rooting interest in the NBA.

    Below, these teams’ coaches are ranked in order of quality–in my view anyway.

    1. Todd McLellan, Sharks, hockey

  • Team Chemistry – This team truly clicks on the ice. No off-ice issues either.
  • Work/Discipline – The Sharks win as much because of their hard work as their talent.
  • Philosophy – Todd’s system is both a proven winner (Detroit) and fits his personnel.
  • Motivation – They’re not up 100% of the time but rarely coast thru full games.
  • Strategy – Again, the game strategy works and so do his line combos.
  • Tactics – The Sharks do a good job of adjusting between periods.
  • Overall coaching grade: A. Could be A+ or A- depending on playoff outcome.
  • 2. Mike Anderson, MU Tigers, basketball

  • Team Chemistry – A few off-court issues but minor compared to Quin Snyder. The team clicks.
  • Work/Discipline – Mike’s system only works if the players outwork the opponent. They do.
  • Philosophy – His defense-first pressure system is called “40 min. of hell.” It works.
  • Motivation – They beat KU because at halftime he laughed and told them to just calm down!
  • Strategy – After Snyder’s stand-around offense, Mike’s strategy is exciting.
  • Tactics – Mike doesn’t get out-coached during games; he pulls the right strings.
  • Overall coaching grade: B+. Could be A, A-, or B, B- depending on play in tourneys.
  • 3. Gary Pinkel, MU Tigers, football

  • Team Chemistry – Gary fosters good chemistry. A few off-field issues but he handles them.
  • Work/Discipline – Good work habits overall. Defensive mental lapses were too common though.
  • Philosophy – Offense: Spread works very well. Defense: Glad Eberflus is gone!
  • Motivation – Good overall but nerves often seemed to be a problem in big games.
  • Strategy – Playbook is very good when not too cute. Blitzes too predictable & often failed.
  • Tactics – Improved greatly over the past few years; they even won some in the 2nd half.
  • Overall coaching grade: B-. 2009, a reloading year, will reveal much about his true grade.
  • 4. Mike Singletary, SF 49ers, football

  • Team Chemistry – Greatly improved since Mike took over, but he needs to settle the QB issue.
  • Work/Discipline – Probably Mike’s strongest asset. It’s team-first or ride the pine.
  • Philosophy – “Smash-mouth” is cause for concern. I prefer scheme-derived success.
  • Motivation – Another of Mike’s main assets. Even players in his doghouse love him.
  • Strategy – I expect his defense will get the most from his players. Offense? We’ll see…
  • Tactics – The 49ers came back to win some, but the Arizona game-end fiasco was worrisome.
  • Overall coaching grade: C. But to be fair, he has yet to do it all HIS way for a season.
  • 5. Bruce Bochy, SF Giants, baseball

  • Team Chemistry – Doesn’t seem to be any discontent; revolving door of players doesn’t help.
  • Work/Discipline – Having so many old players beside rookies keeps things in line.
  • Philosophy – Limited talent limits options, e.g. can’t play long ball w/o power hitters.
  • Motivation – Team generally appears a tad listless as if fated to finish near the bottom.
  • Strategy – Here again limited talent limits roster, batting order, and bullpen options.
  • Tactics – Bruce seems to do an OK job pulling the strings for what he has to work with.
  • Overall coaching grade: D. But he needs a team with more talent to assess him fairly.
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    More Team Name Stuff–Just for Fun!

    College Team Names

    Okay, since my sons (Paul and Scott) and I are on the good/bad/marginal team name kick, I thought I’d take a shot at College team names. The rules for quality team names still apply the same as for the NFL/MLB/NHL/NBA names except that these are of course not sport-specific. Here we will just have to use the idea of ferocity, speed, agility, courage, or, if all else fails, something with a valid local connection as long as it does not run directly counter to the above attributes, is not offensive, and is not hopelessly lame—local connection notwithstanding.

    I’d like to suggest that we each choose various regional conferences’ teams to examine. Since I’m located in the middle of the country I’ll start off with some middle of the country colleges: the Big 12 and the Big 10. Since the teams making up these conferences might not come readily to mind, here is a list of them for starters:
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    NFL Team Names

    Team names should have one of two characteristics. Either they should be evocative of something that would be an asset in football (courage, power, ferocity, speed, etc.) or something unique to the area in which they reside, so long as that unique entity is not a liability in football. For example, the California State University, Santa Cruz has as their team name the “banana slugs.” Banana slugs are, indeed, native to the Santa Cruz area but are one of the dorkiest team names ever since nothing about the repulsive banana slug is in any way an asset to any sports endeavor. That is, unless at some point they come up with a competition for disintegrating into a mucous glob when salt is poured on you.

    Meeting the first criteria, a name suggesting ferocity, for example, generally negates the second. In other words, for Detroit to use the name Lions is fine given the characteristics of a lion, regardless of the fact that there have never been any actual lions in Detroit (unless in a zoo or circus).

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