Friday, December 30, 2011

Oregon’s James Faster, Scarier Than Life

LOS ANGELES — There’s a portrait of a notably horrified tailback LaMichael James trying the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland on Tuesday, an eternally lifelong image that went viral when teammate Kenjon Bamer hastily posted it on Twitter for the world to see.

Funny he revealed another side of himself, an all-encompassing athlete recently known as the fastest runner on the planet, well, at least in Oregon at Nike University. For one afternoon, a day he spent at the happiest place on earth with his teammates, touring the popular surroundings of Southern California, a star running back suddenly looked frightened.


He was seen having fun with his entourage, and when he steps on to the Rose Bowl turf Monday, James will overcome his fears. Because – trust me on this – he’s a fearless star player at his position anchoring what is a high-flying offense, maybe even the best in the nation as long as he is carrying the ball and gaining chunks of yards. Losing to Auburn in the BCS title game was painful a year ago. That alone left a bitter, fiery taste in his mouth, ready to finally stand the test of time and prevail in a BCS bowl game.

Never to celebrate a victory in a BCS bowl game, and until he finally hoists a trophy – which might be real soon, no later than Monday night — James can sleep well in his bed at nights. If he plays efficiently, as the most valuable asset in such a paramount event, the Oregon Ducks likely can demoralize Wisconsin. Then, when the time comes, he can dazzle in his signature game and reduce the painful memories of last year’s national championship game, a gut-wrenching 22-19 loss once Auburn kicked a field goal on the final play of the game.

Situations like these, of course, he’s partly a cornerstone – except when, as it is from other perspectives, he’s the necessary component to set the tone early and lead the Ducks to new heights. He is a terror on the field in each game against any opponent, leaving the impression that he’s truly the best running back in the nation, when it’s almost certain he’ll be projected the highest among running backs for the 2012 NFL Draft.

It’s reasonable to think so, especially when he has filed paperwork with the NFL for a draft evaluation and announced that he will declare for the NFL Draft. It’s really about James’ competitive drive that separates him from average stars on the collegiate level, ready to take on new challenges and contend as the Oregon star strikes our curiosity much. It’s not unusual that he’s the more watchable player, in other words.

The thinking behind it, mind you, is quite simple as James is an electric playmaker and has defied the art of explosion and quickness. The irony is particularly gratifying, and not once is there a dull moment when James puts on his racing shoes and finishes the night with a stylish performance, capping the nicest moment as Oregon’s offensive specialist.

The beauty of speed is Oregon’s nature, so mostly James is far more superior in this well-anticipated meeting – loudly creating plenty of buzz as Oregon’s speed versus Wisconsin’s strength. And he’s far more infallible to judge on the field. With that in mind, it’s not surprising he’s a political discussion, starting a national craze, where even chatter still swirled around James when he was injured and missed two games with a dislocated elbow early in the season.

As in a multitude of well-equipped running backs, James is an instrumental piece in Oregon’s explosive rush attack, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound junior tailback from Texarkana, Texas. The result is here — he essentially owns every rushing record in school history, including career rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. It would take clearly a poor performance by James to imperil his draft stock, a completely 180 degree turnaround but it seems logic to believe that won’t happen, as good as he is advertised with Oregon a win away from ecstasy.

This week alone, the yapping has been everlasting and annoying. For what it is, in three full seasons at the helm, Oregon coach Chip Kelly has taken a program into national spotlight. The downside of this is he hasn’t won a bowl game, although he’s a two-time Pac 12 coach of the year, although he’s groomed James and the rest of his powerful offense and although he’s led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl twice since 1995.

There’s nothing like, aside from the misfortunes in previous bowl appearances, having James run the fastest in a high-flying offense – the blistering, sizzling quickness within the West Coast’s dominant program, scarier than James riding a roller coaster.

Ah yes, it’s that scary.

Kelly prefers to make adjustments if his tactics are unsuccessful, but opponents usually have ample time to prepare a game-plan to neutralize Oregon’s high-flying offense, so he hasn’t employed a forceful offensive attack during bowl season. Known as a mastermind, the schemes have backfired in his face in games of huge ramifications, with the Ducks now 0-2 in bowl games since he became head coach.

If the Ducks are worried about the sturdy Wisconsin offense, they have every reason to panic a bit, realizing the Badgers are built with offensive toughness. And, believe it or not, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, a counterpart in the marquee tailback duel, can finally earn respect. If the Badgers upset the Ducks, he and the school as Rose Bowl champs can merit prestige, national regards and more recruits in the future.

He’s not alone, and it’s not like he’s playing all by himself as it takes a total team effort. But he’s accompanied by quarterback Russell Wilson, a senior and transfer from NC State who finished ninth in Heisman voting, which forms a dangerous tandem and the toughest assignment for the Ducks.

It is, however, about chasing down James more than anything, even though Wilson and Ball assembles a bottomless nucleus. For at least this game, as logic tells us, even if he lacks size and the body mass, that James is extremely dangerous on the field and has the speed to blast into the open, finding all the holes and short cuts to run by the tacklers and sprint to the end zone.

So let’s see what happens. It will be interesting. The battle is for roses, and for what it’s worth, James doesn’t want to leave Pasadena empty handed.

Those cleats and bizarre uniforms are hanging at his visitor’s locker. The honeymoon he relished when he arrived to Southern California wasn’t nearly as scary.

But his speed?

That’s enough to frighten you.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Montee Ball Can Plead Case If Wisconsin Prevails

LOS ANGELES – We’re pretty grateful of tailbacks these days, thrilled and ecstatic to watch Montee Ball cut right across the field, sprint through a seam and break into open field by lowering his pads. Even as he’s hit and bullied by tacklers, whether he has a knee-jerk reaction or can’t avoid the collision of the rush, he gains large chunks of yards.

Although he finished fourth in the voting, as one of the five finalists for the Heisman Trophy, he is simply the best running back in the B1G, working behind one of college football’s relentless offensive line. One can argue that he is the fastest running back in the nation, even when he’s not credited, even when he’s not eyeballed in this country but leads the league in yards per game and has scored nine more touchdowns than any other player in the conference.

He’s not exactly dignified of greatness, you see. The truth is, the Wisconsin Badgers are not a one-dimensional attack with quarterback Russell Wilson racking up the most effective passing season in college football history, and while Ball is capping a monster season, Oregon’s LaMichael James is one of the most explosive tailbacks in the nation as well.

For such urge, some believe James is better suited than Ball. The point is, James was never denied, come to think about it, as the best running back in the nation – a junior not only smart in the classroom but on the field as well – an exceptional tailback to highlight the showdown of the deepest offensive powerhouse.

If he’d like to earn more respect for his record-breaking season, Ball can prove he’s a touchdown machine, like a robot of some sort, like a fast bumper car driving down a football field. He’s good but he’s hardly like James – and either way – he has been a star in Wisconsin, greater than the name Anne Pickett, the gal who established the state’s first cottage cheese factory.

The season came and he began to see his carries descend, which he wasn’t getting enough touches, demoted to third-string waiting in the wings of John Clay and Zach Brown. That’s when he realized he had definitely been cut loose at tailback, and painfully watched from the sideline in Wisconsin’s 31-18 win over Ohio State early in the season, a contest he did not play but was eager to have a chance to step onto the field.

There would seem to be compulsion surrounding the issue that forever bothered Ball until he finally was given another chance to shine and reclaim the running back duties, and had stopped pointing the fingers at his coaches for doing what was best for the team. Rather oddly, he pondered and almost switched his positions at linebacker, considering that he has the upper body strength and has put in effort of all his hard work.

There’s no doubt he absolutely has the body of a strong-bodied linebacker, plenty of speed and size to run around the offensive line to harass the opposing quarterback. Whatever we believe in regards to his mental and physical capacity, which only renders from his body language, Ball has strength like a heavyweight boxer and has been extremely versatile. This wasn’t what anybody foresaw, Ball having far-reaching conversations with his parents and quickly becoming focused.

As was his way, fortunately, to insert himself back into the lineup, Ball suddenly took advantage of the opportunity and played efficient in the second half of the Iowa game, and replaced the injured Clay. He scored proficiently, in what was his signature game with his game-winning touchdown on an 8-yard run with over a minute left in regulation. And ever since then, a star was born in Madison, WI.– this time on a redemptive journey, again, living the moment of BCS fun.

Probably the most exciting player in the nation, if not the quickest runner on the field come New Years Day, he is nationally projected the best running back in the Granddaddy of them all. The best news coming out of this is that he earned the nod over a slew of running backs at Wisconsin, and he’s the primary tailback gaining a significant amount of carries.

It was arguably disrespectful when, all season, he’s led the nation in rushing with 1,759 yards and has 38 touchdowns, the most in a single season for any major college player except for Barry Sanders, owner of 39 for Oklahoma State when he won the Heisman in 1988. If he really wanted to punish his opponent, the moment would come in the Rose Bowl Game, to redeem Wisconsin after a failed attempt last year by falling short to TCU.

The last time the Big Ten has won the Rose Bowl was when Wisconsin defeated Stanford in the 2000 contest. Guess what? Barry Alvarez was Badgers head coach at the time. So it was no problem to identify Wisconsin as the greatest football program in NCAA football for generations. The view from afar was evidently clear that he was the only coach in Big Ten history to win back-to-back Rose Bowls, celebrate with a solid class each season and happily inspire his players while holding roses following remarkable victories under his tenure.

It will take a lone win, one at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, for Wisconsin to feel the Alvarez days again. It will take the durability, versatility and quickness of Ball to survive against Oregon’s high-efficient offense. The sun is bright in Southern California, even when Wisconsin has lost three of its last four bowl games. And so it should, with a pair of the most prolific tailbacks in the nation, be a high-scoring event and rather interesting, a fun afternoon of dramatic football.

It’s hard, in spite that Ball is not so fascinating for many as there are more skeptics than there are believers but instead enamored with James’ resilience and toughness, not to imagine otherwise when James led the FBS level in average yards rushing per game as his counterpart Ball led the nation in total yards rushing.

By now, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is thinking of his basic formula for winning games, which is hold onto the football, exhaust opposing defenses and exploit the ground attack through the speedy Ball, one of the Doak Walker Award finalists. It’s irrational not to think, as they seemingly had the best team in the league, that the Badgers can’t pull off the upset over the Ducks in the 98th Rose Bowl.

If this is one game of redemption, for what happened in the Rose Bowl a year ago, then we can suspect that the Badgers will try to have a Ball.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

For All the Doubts, Brees Carried Weight on His Shoulders

If he weren’t one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks, which his tactical style on the field is designed as a military scheme, he’d probably be a general in the military to provide structure and discipline. Drew Brees is from Dallas, Texas, a visible advocate of the military and takes great pride in U.S. service men and women.

To him, it’s an honor, a tribute to reminisce about the stories that both his grandparents fought in World War II, with Brees paying his overall respect for the armed forces each time he energizes his teammates during his military-style pregame warm-ups and takes the huddle on the field. His affinity for the military inspired millions of believers around the NFL – including his teammates after he had proven that he was an elite quarterback and propelled the Saints to their first NFC title game, and then eventually to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.

And now, in the mardi gras-jiving, Cajun-eating, cool-jazzing, voodoo-practicing culture, if not the most festive city in America, Brees is a symbol for a once disheartened community, a remedy in a town that was devastated by the tragedy of destructive tropical storm. While he continues to bring such joy to New Orleans, as we really should rank him among the elites – a gracious public figure for his craft, a humanitarian who has had a major impact on rebuilding a severely damaged city in the time of catastrophic floods, the jazzy, celebratory folks are waiting for Mardi Gras to wave proudly at Brees on one of those festive floats. For those folks, it’s understandable to honor the acclaimed passer when he broke the NFL record set in 1984 for passing yards in a single season on Monday night, surpassing the great Dan Marino.

But he doesn’t care about individual achievements, so he feels it’s trivial to worry about honors – and instead of accepting the credit – he’s more concerned about taking care of business as a team effort and winning games. The doubt toward Brees was publicly argued across the country when he underwent surgery on his shoulder as to whether he’d ever play again, but if disbelievers truly had faith, they would have visualized one of the touching comebacks, and then they’d have had supported the humbled role model.

There was a sense, a great sense – once he visited Dr. James Andrews (Dr. Doom), that he wasn’t ever going to return to usual form and be healthy enough following his recovery of arthroscopic surgery, but he rehabbed and returned almost in good condition. Any evidence this offered the kind of quandary as precisely as bitter fans, sitting in the stands wearing paper bag mask over their heads, bullied and protested angrily when the Saints were known as the Aints is now laughably irrelevant. When he became a free agent, as the San Diego Chargers thought he’d be done and promised the future to Philip Rivers, the franchise chose not to re-sign him – an unwise decision as Brees tested the market.

This was partly because of Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, and as of right now, his job security remains in limbo. So now he’s in seclusion and blamed for awful draft picks, and jettisoning veteran stars, like linebacker Shawne Merriman and star running back LaDainian Tomlinson, then he stunningly fired former coach Marty Schottenheimer after an NFL-best 14-2 season that sadly ended in a playoff loss to New England. It wasn’t long after, despite that he’s never been a consistent coach but efficient as an assistant, that he and Chargers team president Dean Spanos hired Norv Turner, one of the worst coaches in the NFL.

The Saints, in desperate need of someone with charisma and leadership, knew it was a gamble but signed and named Brees their franchise quarterback. Dr. Andrews, who performed his surgery, wasn’t sure he’d ever play again but had hope. There was Brees, standing in the Orthopaedic center in Birmingham, Alabama where he visited the doctor, fighting back tears, wondering if he’d ever resume his career in the National Football League. Sure enough, he played again and his injury was not career-threatening.

What? Yes, now I see. The Chargers also dispatched Brees, and doubted a miraculous comeback, assuming that his injury was career-threatening. It comes to our attention, after bringing life to a franchise that experienced 43 years of misery, he’s better than ever, shattering NFL-passing records and growing into a legend before our very eyes as one of the gifted quarterbacks to deliver a Super Bowl in a city once devoid of tasting greatness.

The great ones, meanwhile, normally establish a home and indeed he found home sweet home in New Orleans. The folks even made him feel welcomed, a little Southern hospitality, not knowing what to expect from a sore-armed quarterback healing from surgery. No one ever thought he’d break Marino’s record of 5,084 yards with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles on Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons, right? No one ever thought he’d pass for 300 yards or more 12 times this season for an NFL-record, right?

This is not a phantasm. This is not imagination. This is real.

He has accomplished more than the average quarterback, although he had to recover from a shoulder operation for the most heartfelt story in football. Now in his prime, Brees earns his place in history, when with all the adversity, he was unwanted after the injury as one damaged shoulder nearly ended a bright career. But he’s helped the resurgence, valued as the viable player in town where he’s a godsend, by leading his troops like he really is a military sergeant and becoming the likable athlete. Nobody in general knew he’d be accurate as a quarterback. Nobody truly knew he’d emerge into a big-game player. More to the point, he was not recognized, and apparently he’d never be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

The day eventually came when Brees had a team again.

Wake Up Busses: Harsh Reality Is, Lakers’ Era No More

Much as I try to respect the Buss family, for assembling star power and consistent winners in the past to own the well-known, beloved pro sports franchise in town, Jim Buss – the son of self-serving owner Jerry Buss – recently perceived as one of the inept co-chairmen in the NBA, is destroying the personality of his franchise.

It seems as if the Los Angeles Lakers, once a smart-minded organization primarily because the Busses opened their wallets to spend wisely and lavished star players, are turning into egomaniacs and dummies who are foolish enough to withdraw the effects of ascendancy for the foreseeable future.

From now on, it’s about revamping and hopes in returning to prominence, and even if the Lakers era unquestionably has come to an end, the storied franchise won’t ever win another championship with the current roster. If you expect the Lakers to win it all, shimmer under the bright lights on center stage in Hollywood, please realize that the team needs to acquire another skilled player or invest in supplementary pieces to dismiss the misfortunes and restore an engaged roster by surrounding Kobe Bryant with a dimensional supporting cast.

Until then, while sitting around waiting for the Lakers to conduct business by their considerable diplomacy in maybe pulling off a blockbuster deal for Dwight Howard –Orlando’s kryptonite center — they won’t have a profound foundation of winners. For one dreary afternoon at Staples Center, another Christmas Day that wasn’t so merry or cheerful in Los Angeles, a dispirited crowd seated in the building suddenly worried about the flaws seen after the Lakers had blown an 11-point lead in a loss to the Chicago Bulls.

The wasted opportunity, frighteningly enough, besieged what almost capped the nicest moment and the finest victory. And maybe now the Lakers became conscious of the missing pieces to reform an optimal team. There’s no joy in the City of Angels, a fear of failures and long-suffering droughts with expectations and pressure because of bloated egos, because the team arguably has the best closer in the game and, well, because the Lakers are widely considered one of the world-famous franchises in NBA history. The demise of the Lakers, suppressed by the mediocrity and infirmity, is oddly sweeping over purple and gold, and then evokes plenty of horror.

Bryant, playing with a torn ligament in his right wrist, is unhappy that his bosses traded Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for a 2012 first-round draft pick. The loss of Odom, probably the best sixth man in the NBA, sends off a bad vibe as the Lakers are weaker and not favorites to win another championship, falling behind the Clippers in a town where they’ve rained on their neighbor’s parade – the in-town rivals in purple and gold.

Given that he’s a clutch performer of this generation, it’s bad not to surround, maybe the best entertainer in basketball, with a reliable supporter, such as those tough ballplayers on the streets – which would be physically built men with bruises and scratches to their faces and maybe even a Band-Aid seen on their forehead. This isn’t a team that plays aggressive like the rough boys from And1 mixtapes — but suddenly soft and passive, so the Lakers are not even close to being destined to winning a championship.

His challenge just became harder, and the circumstances of uncertainty have visited L.A.’s beloved sports team, as the burdens of mental toughness and urgency lies on the shoulders of Kobe, not yet requesting for a trade to play elsewhere when he is maligned by the front office boneheaded moves. Last time this happened, Bryant, unsatisfied and livid with the direction the team was headed, demanded a trade because the Lakers weren’t seeking to hire Jerry West as general manager, the former team executive who traded for Kobe in 1996.

It’s not surprising that he reportedly requested a trade out of Los Angeles and whined bitterly, after the front office’s aggressive pursuit of Chris Paul was a failed attempt to halt much promise in a deal that would have sent Pau Gasol to Houston and Odom to New Orleans. Having seen this episode before, I know the fluctuations of his mind: Satisfy Kobe “Bean” Bryant as much as possible. The Lakers, the most enigmatic, culture-riddled NBA team this season, barely seem like they are positioned to dominate in a condensed season, much less a franchise that can bring in a star player to share the ball with Bryant.

But now, as we often see the Kobe Lakeshow, an extravaganza on center stage that absorbs the spotlight in Hollywood, Bryant is worried about what direction the team is headed. What’s fascinating about a well-known L.A. spectacle, which happens at a lively venue, is that his show on the court entertains and entices the audience enough to awe true fans sitting courtside, including Lakers’ mascot Jack Nicholson. Seems he and his team, with sudden mortality, watches an era come to an end as common L.A. folks regularly scheduled program has been canceled for the time being.

Sure NBA commissioner David Stern, acting as the powerful owner of the Hornets, if not the mighty god of the NBA, blocked a megatrade for the all-star point guard. But what I dislike about Jim, the witless and dumbfounded co-owner of the Lakers, is that he’s dismantled the franchise to the point where it has become the least polished and interesting team in pro basketball. The first sign that the Lakers’ woes are far from over was a bit startling in recent weeks. It would be appropriate to realize that the Lakers had set their sights on acquiring Howard from Orlando and were in prime position to trade for him, but the Magic abruptly pulled the marketable sensation off the trade market.

There’s a feeling as of now, in contrary to the Buss family sending Odom to Dallas when he pouted and asked for a trade, that they are proposing a deal to trade both Andrew Bynum and Gasol. Mad with the world, turning an overblown situation into a soap opera, Odom boycotted the Lakers’ practice facility where he was a no-show on the first day of practice and asked for a trade. It isn’t the most satisfying moment for a high-market franchise with much tradition, wins and championships. Nor is life glamorous in Lakerland.

It’s always nice to have the best player in the game if this generation, if not on the planet in the midst of a foreign period for the Lakers. The distractions, in a town commonly badgered by the Hollywood drama and celebrity gossip, are swirling around Bryant in the aftermath of his wife Vanessa Bryant filing for divorce from the Lakers star player. The world was as shock as they are now, seeing the Lakers take a 0-2 skid to begin the season.

Is it time to panic in L.A.? Is this the time when Dr. Jerry Buss takes a few shots of Whiskey? Is this the time Kobe will request a trade out of town? Is this the time Kobe pisses off Jim and is foolishly granted his wish?

One has to wonder, not too sure what direction the Lakers are headed, as the front office made a few head-scratching moves. Not much in life, unless the Buss family conducts business by making poor alterations as the franchise become worse, upsets the minds of Lakers’ supporters. He prayed that he’d still lead the Lakers, knowing that he has enough in him, even if he’s getting old. Each time, Bryant is exhausted by a grueling shooting spectacle, hogging the ball to save his team from itself, to rescue the Lakers from hell. Such was his ability, finesse to score at will one night, when he compiled 81 points in a historic performance at Staples Center, or when he promoted the “Where Amazing Happens” NBA theme and wore the most intimidating expression. This was Bryant nearly three years ago, when he startled the world with his scowl game face.

While his eyes were possessed and focused heavily on his prey, as if he was a vampire ready to devour anyone’s blood, Kobe scored 40 points and single-handedly pummeled Orlando 100-75 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. But the Lakers right now are nearing the end of an era, and indelible moments are not logical in duplicating at this point. If you care about the Lakers, a share of your soul is gone begging for the franchise to end a turbulent relationship and dump Gasol, even when he contributed to the team’s two recent titles, even when he was an x-factor in playoff games in the past.

And now, after two seasons with the Lakers where he’s been a four-time All-Star and entrenched as one of the star players, his reign in a purple and gold uniform has come to an end, washed up, useless, like an old dishrag. When it comes time to play, Gasol is a fearless, harmless tall lanky guy with a reputation of being lazy and soft, and has taken much criticism. Sorry, if he doesn’t have “Toughness” anywhere in his name, because in reality he’s softer than a marshmallow and will probably be on the trading block real soon.

His softness shows on the court, and opposing players have called him soft in the past, maybe the softest player in the NBA. At 37-years-old – or 37-years-young – for some who believe he’s still ageless, Derek Fisher is far from ageless but the oldest player on the court, certainly in the starting lineup – mind you. It sounds like he should be close to signing his retirement documents, too slow to keep his feet in front of younger point guards in the game and losing his lateral quickness for which he can’t defend.

The car flags’ are probably lowered at half-mast on many vehicles, and as much as life is dreary from Orange County to Santa Monica, it feels almost like the Lakers perished.

The challenge, meanwhile, is larger and more compelling. It’s time that the Buss family wake up and surround Bryant with a reliable supporting cast. And, just show you know, the Lakers have been to 32 NBA Finals and won 16 championships, but triumph has sadly culminated in a dying era. And a long the way, the Lakers are about to embark on a sizable rebuilding project -- at least that’s what is needed if they want to stay on top in the west and return to championship form. We now know for certain that the Lakers era ended, and it’s time to declare that triumph is over for Team Hollywood, one franchise that leaves us guessing and wondering strongly about any future plans.

When NBA legend Phil Jackson retired, the winningest coach in NBA history, it was a new tale for Jim and the Busses and at level of understanding the significance of replacing a legend – he brought in new Lakers head coach Mike Brown to begin a new coaching regime. When the front office failed to trade for two prime targets -- such as Howard -- general manager Mitch Kupchak, who is suffering from headaches amid potentially a lengthy transition period, the team couldn't rebuild talent, aura and reliance with all the agonizing pitfalls to become a below-average franchise.

But mainly, the pedigree and aspirations are lost, and the result is that the Lakers are a long ways from being a consistent winner, as vulnerable to losing against any team. The franchise has failed to retool, missing on big-name players once available on the trade market. That’s what happens with bad personnel decisions, the Lakers never had an opportunity to revamp. Ask Magic Johnson. Even he knows this current team doesn’t have enough to win a championship.

Are the Lakers the Colts of the NBA? You often wonder.

Kobe can’t do it alone. And Buss doesn’t realize it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Lakers Fail to Give Fans Holiday Cheer

As a flurry of games were on the slate to begin the NBA season on Christmas Day, ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the city, die-hard, cheery fans were excited and the streets were quite festive near Staples Center – the house that Kobe built.

The lights were bright in the building for the city’s regularly scheduled program, and the Kobe Lakeshow absorbed much publicity from a torn ligament in Kobe Bryant’s right wrist that would require the star guard to undergo surgery, but he opted to play through the injury. The fans awaited the season opener, though the Los Angeles Lakers were hit by misfortunes.

The truth is, however, the Lakers need an instrumental piece. Primarily because the Lakers are on a mission to contend for another title, and yet again raise another championship banner to the rafters at Staples Center.

Considering that the Lakers are a long ways from returning to prominence without a reliable star that could fittingly play alongside Bryant, only validates what direction the franchise is headed.

But here’s hoping the Lakers aren’t in ruins, especially when dumbfounded Jim Buss, the man responsible for dismantling a championship-caliber team, says the Lakers have the pieces to be crowned world champions – without trading for Dwight Howard or after sending Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for nothing and a trade exception from a dizzying turning point of recent events.

Known as the Slam Dunk King early in his career, one of the most decorated players of his generation, Bryant is definitely the star of the Lakers as the burdens lie heavily on his shoulders.

The fact is, it seems he and his team are getting older, slower and more sluggish, incapable of playing a full 48 minutes without showing signs of tiredness in the first game of a shortened 66-game season.

So what we have is a pro basketball franchise harder to understand than a jigsaw puzzle, equivalent to the mystic of connecting dots on dot-to-dot puzzles, the team of all riddles that have the Lakers in much uncertainty.

If I were the Buss Family about now, I’d be propounding a deal that sends Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to Orlando in exchange for Howard. The expiration date on the Lakers' triumphant days are on the verge of a gloomy ending to what was a glamorous Hollywood script. But now the Lakers are a melting mess, all while they are close to returning to playoff form if they acquire a fixture and get rid of soft and feeble-minded players.

As he settled for 28 points, despite his eight turnovers from his poor ball-handling -- in a grueling, nail-biting, tight, heartbreaking 88-87 loss to the Chicago Bulls – Bryant’s scoring masterpiece wasn’t enough. The game never had a dull moment, and Bryant never slowed down.

Not once in the game did he grimace in pain, not once was he weary. As seen so often, watching the Kobe Lakeshow under the bright lights in Hollywood, the Lakers heard swish after the swish, and Bryant was the hottest shooter on the floor.

For Bryant, a five-time world champion, a future Hall of Famer, he drove right, drew three defenders and had his shot blocked by Luol Deng. The ending was so heart-shattering, so gut-wrenching that the game’s best closer boldly attacked the rim and tried to finish on a game-winning layup.

But while he was double teamed near mid-court after an inbounds pass and after trying to distribute the ball, generally a play the Lakers execute brilliantly, Deng was pesky and stepped in the way of an errant pass.

It was a pass intended for Gasol, a play created to score easily in the paint, but Deng stole the ball and delivered it to Derrick Rose that set up the game-winner.

The moment finally arrived that Rose drove the lane and heaved a floating shot, scoring 22 points and helping the Bulls rally from an 11-point deficit late in the fourth quarter.

You can say the Lakers gave this one away. You can say they blew it. You can say, yet they lost it in the final minutes, that the Lakers are a team to be reckoned with, but only a fool would believe they are dominant.

The reality is, after losing in the closing minutes and blowing a lead, the Lakers have no fighting chance, committing costly mistakes and missing half of their jump shots. The fact that Kobe is surrounded by players with many personalities plays a critical role as well.

Looking more like a confused nut -- especially if you change your birth name to some peculiar name – Metta World Peace has a few marbles missing in his brain cells, he can’t shoot the ball effectively and is expendable for the $22 million price tag remaining on his deal over the next three years. It’s time, it really is, that we come to our senses and understand that Gasol is soft, maybe even the softest player in the league.

For the presence of Steve Blake, he has bricked more threes than he has made them. Matt Barnes doesn’t have that firepower or mental toughness he once had when he played in Orlando. Where it stands with Derek Fisher is that he’s not quick enough to keep pace with the younger and speedy legs as an aging point guard. Without Odom, the Lakers are weaker, missing arguably the best sixth man in the NBA.

At the age 33, Bryant is still the Lakers superstar, as painful as it is to perform efficiently with an injured right wrist. But the Lakers gave away a game they could have won, losing to the vintage Bulls. The Lakers, wearing their Sunday white jerseys and playing in front of a national audience, squandered an opportunity to prevail on center stage and appease L.A. sports fans.

The dreaded lockout is over, at last, and folks in town witnessed the No. 1 pro franchise in Los Angeles. This was supposed to be the prefect Christmas gift, but more than anything it was a heartbreaker. It was as if Mr. Grinch had stolen Christmas from the Lakers, as if Old St. Nick had marked them on his naughty list, as if you were reading a Charles Dickens tale.

It’s quite easy to figure out where the Lakers stand at this point, blowing an 11-point lead that eclipsed new head coach Mike Brown's debut and crushed the team's momentum. Among all things, the Lakers would miss free throws, commit clumsy turnovers and fouls with a few blown defensive assignments.

After all, it was never pretty. The Lakers never played well. They played much like no one expected, because of all their disadvantages on a Sunday afternoon at home.

What a stunning turn of events at Staples Center, where a disillusioned sellout crowd left early. If the Lakers had handled business by reconfiguring a deal for Chris Paul, after the deal was hopeful two weeks ago that they had agreed to send Gasol to Houston and Odom to New Orleans in exchange for Paul until NBA commissioner David Stern vetoed the deal, Paul would have joined forces with Kobe and maybe even Howard to keep the franchise on top in the future.

The flirtation with Paul was the talk of the town, and now everyone is chatting about the final seconds of the first game that the Lakers gave away, after solely relying on Bryant and turning complacent and lackadaisical in critical moments.

The best player of this generation, if not on the planet – held the ball to take the final shot and clinch the game-winner, but he was shut down, trapped and smothered tightly.

The growth of the kids Devin Ebanks and Andrew Goudelock was impressive, a pair of young players shooting a combined six for eight. The inside presence of Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy was astonishing, two new players combining for 16 rebounds and three blocked shots.

But late in the game, as they were weary and lazy, the Lakers unraveled and lost touch. And then, Gasol and McRoberts each missed two free throws as the Bulls scored to cut the deficit to one.

If the Christmas Day opener told us something, it told us that the Lakers need to address any team flaws. It all starts by making one more move, which would be a trade for a quality star.

I hope it’s a New Year’s resolution.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Nothing Stops Regularly Scheduled Kobe Lakeshow

He knows all about playing through illnesses, once weakened by the flu-like symptoms and managed to score 20 points in a losing cause. He knows all about playing through food poisoning when the fiercest scorer on earth, fatigued and sluggish, ate his bacon cheeseburger and slice of cheesecake after a callous Kings fan bribed a room-service chef to whip up his dinner with laxatives that left him dehydrated?

Nervous, shall we?

If Kobe Bryant, a gusty, foolhardy ballplayer, wrenched and writhed through pain with lower-back spasms that flared up on him in Game 4 of the playoffs and played in Game 5 against the Utah Jazz, although he felt tightness and stiffness, then he’ll likely play in the season-opener on Christmas Day. Everyone knows Bryant will play. There’s no mystery he’s injured and limited, fighting a torn ligament in his right wrist and listed day-to-day by the team.

There’s no uncertainty, though, as we all know Bryant by now — well enough to speculate that he plans to play and endure the discomfort of a torn ligament that he suffered in an exhibition game last week. The worrywarts, as if there had not been enough drama in Hollywood, can never stop wondering about Bryant’s health whenever he sustains an injury that could force him to miss action. This is one of the greatest ballplayers of the generation, as we know.

The city is merely a purple and gold region, where fans drive around town with Lakers’ car flags and where Magic Johnson is the son of the city. It’s not too difficult to realize that Johnson was an all-star and is now a public figure in which he can buy every Starbucks to order a grande latte, buy all Fatburgers, bid for T.G.I Fridays and movie theaters, just as Bryant can stand as the superstar of the entertainment capital.

That won’t change real soon, particularly in a community profoundly enamored with anything Lakers, and it will probably last eternally in a basketball town dating back to the peak of the Showtime in the ‘80s. As it often does in sports, the Lakers lay the claim to represent this town for the immeasurable championship banners that hang in the rafters at Staples Center.

By now, as the fabric of society that brings life to the city, the Lakers have so much tradition with victories and championships, just as much as Bryant has endured injuries. It turns out, after missing almost the entire preseason, that his wrist is in pain and sore but that he’ll figure out a way to play, refusing to opt for surgery.

Had he opted for surgery, he would’ve missed about four months and could’ve doomed the Lakers, but instead of undergoing surgery to repair his torn ligament — he expects to play in the Lakers’ season-opener Sunday against Chicago.

It should come as no surprise that he smiles confidently and said his right wrist “should be fine.” As if he can’t miss a game, as if he has to entertain fans with his Kobe Lakeshow, like David Letterman hosts his late night television talk show to give us hilarity and laughter, he tries to play through injuries and carry the burden of mental toughness as the global superstar.

It would be very surprising if he misses the season-opener, well, because Kobe is obviously the instrumental piece to the Lakers, and meanwhile on another journey to reclaim supremacy after an embarrassing loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs last season that sent the team home early.

On the eve of the first game in the regular season, Bryant walked into the team’s facility Saturday and downplayed the pain in his right wrist. That’s exactly what happened on Christmas Eve, and he seemingly declined to answer any questions about the injury, mum as usual staying focus on his first challenge on Christmas Day.

The reality, of course, is we don’t know exactly if he’ll be efficient to perform at the highest level. But knowing Kobe, he’ll compile enticing numbers on the scoreboard if he plays, ailing or not ailing – becoming his own unique player.

“I’m fine,” Bryant said. “I’m not talking about my injury.”

Kobe is a gifted guard, injured or not injured, and can defy the odds of magical things to turn dreams into a reality, seemingly doing so overnight it seems. It’s ultimately clear he makes the game look so easy to play, as if shooting a basketball is the easiest attempt in the world, but in truth, he emerged over the years – no longer a spoiled brat, no longer a delusional, self-centered, self-aggrandizing jerk.

It’s NBA season finally – and more precisely, he’s tired of asking questions about his health – for an update on his potential game-time decision – when he already cleared himself to play. How amusing, in many ways, to believe Kobe may not play Sunday. It’s anybody’s guess. But if you know Kobe, then you realize he’ll be on the court for the first game, emotionally pumped and eager to lead the Lakers to their first win of the season.

These over-hyped, repeated questions that were concocted by the local media here in L.A. to seek answers peeved Bryant, and he responded with a petulant gaze on his face as if he was ready to explode had another reporter asked him to elaborate about his torn ligament. The scare reminds people of what could have been worse – for an injury that was expected to debilitate and sideline him 3-4 weeks, a medical prognosis that wasn’t so surprising to Lakers guard Derek Fisher.

“It’s not a surprise that he’s going to play tomorrow, I called it a few days ago,” Fisher said. “I don’t know if it’s as much about his physical ability to play through pain as it is his mentality capacity and strength. Your ability to focus has to be at an all-time high to push through certain levels of pain and still be effective and still be the kind of player that he’s going to be.”

But hey, he’s Kobe Bryant. If he is still wondering what direction the Lakers are headed, after the failed attempt to acquire Chris Paul in a blockbuster deal, it’s only normal when the team had foolishly traded Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for nothing and when Andrew Bynum was handed a four-game suspension for his classless flagrant foul in the playoffs last season. It makes it seem possible that he’s concerned about the future and what it beholds for the Lakers, but Bryant certainly is not worried about his health.

Why not just expect him to play? He’ll play anyway. The name of the game is “fight”. And he indeed fights his way through injuries, jumping hurdles he never jumped before just remarkably to win games for the Lakers.

Go for it, Kobe.

Get ready for the Late Kobe Lakeshow.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Matt Barkley Knows Staying in School Is Cool for USC

Yet, even as we grow attach to Matt Barkley – chanting, simply pleading for him to return next season as a senior – we now realize that he’s not a mercenary but feels there is unfinished business. The prestigious football institution is widely appreciated and nurtures the welfare of pedigree, remarkable dynasties, idealism and great pride at USC that has a strong influence on many student-athletes.

Such was Barkley, a three-year starting quarterback and team captain who led USC to a 10-2 record this season. It’s the beginning to a new tale — more precisely, as Barkley announced Thursday that he will return for a final college season. It began, like any other nerve-racking announcement, with a brief news conference and then he made the announcement standing at the podium in front of a Christmas tree surrounded by six Heisman trophies.

The swarms of reporters packed Heritage Hall, and when he conveyed that he will forgo entering the NFL draft and return for his senior season, he was cheered by spectators and then serenaded by the school band. He’s like the god of the city – a humbled icon in a town that canonize college football, where the folks are deprived of a pro football franchise.

And when he announced that he’ll come back next season – and thus favorites to win the national championship – Barkley delivered an early Christmas present to every Trojans fan. He walked onto campus and into Heritage Hall wearing a smile on Thursday, well-groomed and proud to acknowledge that he’ll be back next season to possibly lead the Trojans to a BCS bowl game.

If nothing else, USC is certainly more exciting and in prime contention as one of the top football programs in the nation, after the Trojans were in the second year of a two-year postseason ban for NCAA violations from Reggie Bush accepting improper benefits.

What the program retained was an NFL-ready quarterback, as well as a collegiate star on a mission to finish on top for what has the makings of a legendary tale, especially if he leads USC in its first year off probation and direct the well-respected team into national triumph. It comes as no surprise that he returned for the gratitude of USC fans, and more than ever, to compete for the crystal football.

“I know in my heart I have not yet finished my journey as a Trojan football player,” Barkley said. “The 2012 team has some serious unfinished business to attend to and I intend to play in it.”

The letters started arriving early in the mail on most mornings. The letter of recommendations were mailed and delivered to his house for signs of encouragement to coax Barkley in verbally committing and attending a university that expressed the deepest interest in the most decorated high school football player in Orange County history during four seasons at quarterback for Mater Dei.

He waited for his dream to turn into reality, and indeed, mastered an ultimate goal with his signed letter of intent. The ink was drying slowly, his signature was glowing brightly and he had chosen to exemplify the recent installment of much promise at USC. Before his commitment to the university where he has excelled to the fullest, he had attended commencement at Mater Dei. His graduation tassel was proudly beside him.

Barkley recalled as he entered as a non-redshirt freshman – and he felt honor and delighted when he earned the nod to be No. 4 Southern California’s starting quarterback in his first game. Embraced as the nation’s most coveted high school prospect, he’d believe he had the intangibles and worked out on campus. Barkley, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, and more importantly, has a chance to play for the championship. By now, it’s a clear explanation as to why he returned. And we now know that he turned down millions in NFL riches – for now, as he had been encouraged to go for money. But in the end, he stayed for pride and education.

The USC doors by all accounts were open and Barkley could have ventured to fulfill his lifelong dream in playing at the highest level. It’s good that he’s not money-hungry, all about fame and apparently not buying into the hype of being a top draftee in April. It’s good that he’s staying to fulfill his ambition on the collegiate level realizing top-dollars will be available next year, particularly if he can elevate his draft status next season.

Barkley, an unflappable kid and true leader poised for the moment, probably can lead USC to a national championship next season. The world is dominated with talk about Barkley, and now there’ll be plenty more Trojan Walks, in which he’ll stroll through a walkway of fans on his way to the Coliseum.

It’s exciting but he’s taking a risk by staying in school for another year, a dicey move if he sustains a career-threatening injury and devalues his chances in being picked as top player in the draft. While he’s not the first and only player to pass on an opportunity to turn pro, he’s at high risk of suffering a severe injury. He’s the most recent – and thus he’ll become the best quarterback arguably in the nation next season.

If he suffers an ailment, then he’d lower his draft status even with an unpredictable NFL draft class. There’s a strong chance the Southern California native and son of a former water polo star – a blonde with blue eyes, a devout Christian, can possibly win a 2012 national championship. There’s a strong chance he is a possible 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.

The most popular player, probably in the country now, is forever growing as a well-rounded athlete and has quarterbacked one of the highest-profile programs in the land. This is Hollywood, where so many athletic stars are treated like celebrities, in which they are in a sense, particularly Barkley.

He’s in a place of stars and where they blossom – he’s the star of a university and fits in perfectly with the crowd. Based on his blonde hair, white teeth and his emergence to stardom, he is one of the likable athletes in Southern California. It wasn’t long ago when a saddened Barkley called USC head coach Lane Kiffin to come to his house with his wife to meet him and his family to talk about his decision Wednesday evening.

So maybe it’s what came from everyone’s encouragement that helped Barkley make his choice, listening to all advice and now he’s staying. He asked Kiffin and USC athletic director Pat Haden for advice, making his decision a few days prior to the announcement.

It’s not easy turning down bundles of NFL money, but Barkley’s heart is with the Trojans and community, ready for his first and final opportunity – mind you – to lead USC to its first conference title and 12th national championship. Whether there is some good or bad to his decision, Barkley’s presence is felt and he can guide USC in one of the most historic moments in school history.

Ever thought?

“Our USC football team has been through some tough times, and we have preserved, but the 2012 team has some serious unfinished business to attend to, and I intend to play a part of it,” Barkley announced in his sentimental, eloquent speech. “So yes, I’ve firmly decided to forgo the NFL draft in 2012 and finish this exceptional and unique journey that I’ve had here at USC.”

This was even a proud moment for Kiffin, stepping onto the podium to share his kind words as the endless cheers and screams finally stopped. The point is, in what may have been his toughest decision ever, Barkley turned down high-draft pick money in guaranteed for an opportunity to fulfill his memorable journey at USC. Although a serious injury could permanently cripple the dream to play in the NFL and risk money, he’s on the verge of being regarded as one of the finest USC legends.

“I am prepared to play quarterback in the NFL, it is my dream to play quarterback in the NFL, and I intend to make that dream a reality,” Barkley said. “But I also know that I came to USC to compete and have a rare journey as a USC football player, earn a degree from this exceptional university and forge lifelong bonds with the Trojan family.”

The negative side is, he can turn out like former Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart. Years ago, he returned to school, lost the national title in a heartbreaking upset to Texas and lowered his draft stock, turning into an absolute bust.

For Barkley, this was a tough decision, very tough, a choice many student-athletes would not have chosen. This season, he threw for 3,528 yards, with 39 touchdown passes and just six interceptions.

“I love being a USC student-athlete, it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I am not postponing my dream and objective of playing in the NFL for one year so that I can just have one more year of college life,” Barkley said. “I’m staying because I want to finish what I started … finish alongside the most dedicated and courageous teammates I could ever have, and know for a few short years, I dedicated myself fully to achieving all that I can as a USC football player.”

With the heavy expectations, Barkley told his coach he was staying by giving Kiffin a Christmas ornament and had him turn it over. It was his sweet way of saying he was staying for one more year. The back of the ornament read, “One more year.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Where’s Double Standard? Ohio State Sanctions Lenient

The folly finally unfolded on the day the NCAA deliberated and reached its final verdict against the Ohio State infractions perpetuated to inflame another brouhaha, considering all that has swirled around the much-publicized scandal in college sports.

Most of the ghastly, rugged penalties puts the university in a complicated situation as the NCAA hit Ohio State with a one-year bowl ban and other sanctions on Tuesday for violating NCAA rules that included eight players accepting $14,000 in cash and tattoos in exchange for Buckeyes memorabilia. The severity of penalties was once imposed at USC and caused more havoc as the Trojans were placed on two-year probation, banned from earning any bowl-game appearances and stripped of all wins after former star Reggie Bush accepted improper benefits from prospective agents.

The harsher sanctions – including the Heisman Trust stripping Bush of the prestigious award he won in 2005 and leaving the trophy vacant — rattled Southern California harder than an earthquake. It’s inconceivable, after a lengthy investigation had found that eight players received cash payments and preferential treatment from the owner of a tattoo parlor in Columbus, Ohio, that the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions handed down lighter punishments and would be pigheaded in dropping the hammer justly on any university for wrongdoings.

The purpose of the committee is simply to react properly and inflict harsher, not lenient penalties for violation of the rules — even to forsake defiance and any mockery to academia. The NCAA figured the Buckeyes would not produce more revenue, signify the beauty of the Big Ten, a conference unworthy of its own television network, or increasingly see a growth in TV ratings from a far more prominent university and even go on successive bowl runs had it taken heavier disciplinary actions.

The Buckeyes weren’t hit with a Blackeye. Rename them the Blackeyes had the NCAA imposed the double standard after it harshly handed down sanctions at USC as fans reacted angrily and vented their disillusionment. Yet the NCAA people ruled that Ohio State, a well-known school particularly for its staunch football program, wasn’t as repulsive, severe or contemptible, the reality is the violations were worse than the incidents that materialized in Southern California. With the latest news in full force, it doesn’t make sense that Ohio State wasn’t spanked severely and won’t have to pay the consequences for its sins.

What the NCAA is teaching us is the lack of institutional control and fairness it exercises in handling a horrific situation, regarding a hideous scandal that elicits much humiliation for collegiate sports which is in tremendous disarray, not having its priorities straightened out. The recent outrage, put simply, is the epitome for one of the worst cases in college football and became an issue at Ohio State, following a systemic breakdown and cover up by former head coach Jim Tressel. It was, without a doubt, a far worst scandal than USC.

“We are surprised and disappointed with the NCAA’s decision,”Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in his statement. “However, we have decided not to appeal the decision because we need to move forward as institution.”

Surprised, really? Surprised? In a sense, we should be a bit surprised at the fact Ohio State wasn’t punished hard enough. Move forward? Yes, moving forward is a good decision. The standard here is an insult to USC, if anything. It makes no sense whatsoever, but Ohio State got away with wrongdoings and was treated like it has never done anything quite shocking and horrifying. This is a shame, because the justifications for such harsh penalties are ridiculous, flat out ridiculous when the Ohio State violations are contrasted to the USC mess. It must be said, to sound politically correct, that USC was in a quandary but it was never that damn nefarious. It’s your right to feel sorry for the Trojans, and Ohio State, too.

But it’s your right to feel even more sorry for the Trojans when all Bush did was receive cash and gifts from a sordid agent, while Tressel covered up the truth in Columbus as eight of his players were receiving cash and tattoos in exchange for autographed jerseys, rings and other memorabilia. To be frank, it was a worst crime than Bush pocketing money and earning rent-free housing. The disparity of the two scandals is that USC, which was defiant and arrogant of the allegations, wasn't compliant during the investigation when Ohio State cooperated but Tressel lied in his conversations with the NCAA, covering up the dirtiness to try and protect the university’s name. You could easily argue, and maybe it’s a possibility, that Smith’s job is in jeopardy.

The university’s first priority is recovering from the NCAA sanctions, along with the self-imposed penalties. It certainly wasn’t right and, just as USC felt the pain, Ohio State can relate even if the punishment isn’t all so bad. The guess is the school will recover quickly from the sanctions and won’t be affected by it as the newly hired coach Urban Meyer will change the culture in Columbus, Ohio, by recruiting brilliantly, although the stripping of scholarships may have an effect on persuading many of the top-level recruits. The lost of three scholarships a year for the next three years will slow down the process in adding to the depth, but the Buckeyes may still win the Big Ten title and earn the right to play in a BCS bowl.

So maybe former USC coach Peter Carroll, who often said the punishment was too harsh and he would not return, fled because of the mess and accepted the Seattle Seahawks coaching job. So maybe ex-USC athletic director Mike Garrett had a point when he was critical of the NCAA and said at an alumni gathering after the penalties were imposed that the NCAA was jealous of the Trojans. It’s almost ironic that Smith remains the Buckeyes AD despite the stain at Ohio State, while Pat Haden was hired to purge all traces of ruination and clean house. When the sanctions were announced, he repeated that the university had not agreed with the rulings

“We had our two shots,” Haden said. “We were disappointed with the results, but we have gotten beyond that and are moving forward.”

If the school really want to seek revenge or fight for rights, USC could sue the NCAA and maybe have the sanctions reversed, but it would cost the university about $5 million.

It almost feels as if collegiate sports are politics, prompting largely a debate around the nation, as the folks locally are questioning and ripping the NCAA for inequality and slapping the Buckeyes on the wrist. This is a school under scrutiny, but apparently not as much as USC dealt with the shame of a bloated, formidable scandal. As it turns out, the Trojans weren’t made the men of Troy but the poster boys. Wrong as it is, Alex Holmes – a former Trojan and teammate with Bush – blasted the NCAA irate about the sanctions involving Ohio State via Twitter Tuesday morning.

“I just don’t get it,” Holmes said after reading that the Buckeyes will be docked nine scholarships and only banned for one postseason. “I don’t understand the NCAA’s logic.”

Yeah, I don’t think no one does.

Beyond all, he was unhappy and confused mainly that USC was docked 30 scholarships over the next three years for one player’s bad actions, while Ohio State was stripped of nine scholarships over a similar span for breaking rules with Tressel having full knowledge of the misdeeds. You can bet the NCAA justice system won’t revisit harshness, after the Trojans were treated unfairly and the Buckeyes were treated like the gods.

Seems unfair, right?

The justice system is deceiving in its own way and has never been a respectable or an impartial scheme but dreary over the years. Because there are no written orders all through an investigation, it leaves out important details that could be helpful if no eyewitnesses talk to provide information for a better understanding on the allegations.

But if you want a school to pay the price, punish every collegiate program fairly. It’s called the double standard.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tebow Couldn’t Pass Hardest Test: Uncertainty In Future?

The swarms of Tim Tebow critics looking for any flaws and shortcomings have every reason to criticize and call him a martyr in any transparency believed during the Tebowmania drama.

In truth, he’s not ready for the challenge to emerge into an elite passer, a public figure – a holy man of faith and strength, leading his team to a 7-1 record since taking over as starting quarterback before the Patriots clinched the AFC East with a 41-23 rout over the flawed Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High late Sunday afternoon.

He can build a children’s hospital in the Philippines, where the star quarterback was born and spent time doing plenty of missionary work for poverty-stricken children. He can visit inmates incarcerated in prisons with his bible and lift downed spirits – become a motivational speaker for those in need of guidance or inspiration to alleviate one’s soul. He can kneel on the sideline, close his eyes in his usual prayer stance and point skyward after completing a touchdown as a polarizing figure based on his evangelism and Christianity. And, nonetheless, bigots and sports atheists continue to debate if his gestures are really genuine, a religious act known as “Tebowing.”

The doubters believe Tebow won’t ever be an elite passer, so help me God – rooting for him to fail rather than achieve in the National Football League, not sold on his potential in developing into a consistent deliverer in the most important role of a team sport. The fact that ESPN analyst Merril Hoge criticized Tebow via Twitter and doesn’t think very highly of his ability to establish himself as a competent NFL quarterback, known as a devout Christian more than he is as an iconic star in Denver, Tebow has silenced non-believers in recent weeks and had the best passing game in his career. Except one can argue that Tebow, who is ridiculed because of his public faith, has not improved his arm strength, footwork and precision.

The ultimate perception is that he finally looked like a passer with sheer accuracy on mid-range slants and sideline patterns and, as a result, he finished 11-of-22 for 194 yards and even gained 93 yards rushing on 12 carries. The guy, I have to mention, rarely gets a breather from the media coverage he receives each week, absorbing the national spotlight from all the publicity of his Christian beliefs. There’d be no comebacks, no miracles, not even a last-second prayer in what might have been a signature game had he carried the Broncos to a statement win over the Patriots.

“I feel like we’ve gotten better throwing the ball,” Tebow said. “We were able to do some good things but then we got behind and started pressing a little bit.”

It’s so much as if the Broncos can’t pull tricks out of Tebow’s helmet. It’s so much as if no magic is left in a storybook season. But even though the Broncos were no match for the Patriots, a team of NFL royalty capping one of the greatest dynasties in sports, they are on the verge of earning their first playoff appearance in six years. Entering the game with a six-game winning streak, Tebow finally had his real test, and after he led the hottest team in football, he convinced national television viewers to believe in a miraculous run.

This one draws further debate, more attention in the wave of insanity, questioning his abilities to perform as a top quarterback in the league. He has become an exalted icon or a polarizing athlete in which he is either loved or loathed and led his team to new heights, with good character and humility, a modest son – a patron saint teased by doubt but strong with his faith.

It feels like a miracle if he rallies the Broncos to a victory, all because he competes with heart, mental toughness, work ethic and character, a trend many fans became accustomed to every week. The bashing is unfairly, as far as we know, targeted at Tebow simply for the fact that he is the starting quarterback and bears a tremendous amount of pressure as much hype swirls around him.

Unfair as it is, realizing that Tebowmania is killing off the Bieber Fever, he is treated as if he’s the football god or even a public enemy. For those who believe prematurely, without any evidence whether his future in Denver is certain, he’s not fully developed and still needs growth to eliminate flaws in his game. Yes, he has the potential, just not right now, looking like a beat up rag doll. The Patriots, one of the winningest franchises of this generation, physically harassed and knocked Tebow down. He was sacked four times and was hit frequently while in the pocket, unsuccessful scrambling and breaking away from the pressure of a lethargic and atrocious defense.

It was absolutely painful to watch, but we've witnessed the real Tebow and seen the Patriots crafty defensive performance, the best they’ve had all season. The Patriots, as it turns out, were prepared to stop Tebow in the spread option and delayed the emergence of a football star, a pious figure who is the cure to humanity of a political, mentally disturbed, angry, economic-battered society. This game started nicely for Tebow early. It happened in the first quarter when he raised momentum and when New England had almost sacked him for a 3-yard loss, but he broke loose and bulled to the end zone from 9 yards out, storming in.

As anyone familiar with his athleticism, Broncos head coach John Fox runs the spread, a formation that is highly unusual in the pros. But the system fits Tebow’s style, simply for his versatility and speed – including Denver’s committed rush attack. This was anybody’s game from the start and there was a possibility that the Broncos could have beaten New England and its lousy defense. For a while there, he was running through the holes, running all over the Patriots but of course head coach Bill Belichick had his players spend last week watching film and preparing rigidly for Tebow and the Broncos old school offense.

By the end of the first-quarter, in what was the most rushing yards the Broncos have had in the first quarter in over two decades, Denver had 157 rushing yards and a 13-7 lead. The talk couldn’t hush about Tebow, the most controversial athlete in America, but then Patriots veteran quarterback Tom Brady shouted and fiercely spiked the ball in front of the stands where spectators looked on and carried his team. The extremism follows Tebow wherever he goes. A star was born, and although he’s an ultimate competitor, the Patriots were winners by reading his ball fakes and by putting hard hits on him.

For much of this one, he was forced to throw more as the Patriots made the running routes difficult and life miserable for Tebow, in which he gradually was better in the passing game. That defensive game plan was useful and wisely thought of and Tebow danced in the pocket, running wildly and confused. Late in the game, it was already a blowout when Tebow dropped back into his own end zone. It was Pats' defenders rushing and harassing him, and he lost the football, only to retrieve the ball and throw it away to avoid the safety.

Don’t say ever, but he’s not there yet. Tebow still needs to develop, if he ever wants to be an elite quarterback. He has potential, but he just doesn't have it now and it showed on a day that tested his toughness and ability.

He’s not Tebowing just yet.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Chris Paul Trade Lifts Clippers Out of Lakers’ Shadows

It seems like everyone here in Los Angeles is talking about the Clippers, the other pro basketball franchise in town – the team in the shadows of purple and gold. The eugenicists in town are the people in the Clippers front office for building around superstar Blake Griffin to form a contender in the west as stars align in Hollywood under the shiny lights at Staples Center.

“I’m excited to be here in L.A. with this unbelievable franchise with so much history behind it,” Paul said. “Every one knows Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan signed his deal and my big brother, Chauncey Billups, who I’m excited to be playing alongside of. This is going to be an unbelievable experience.”

He’s a splashy acquisition, Chris Paul, and perhaps a ticket-seller for a franchise in competition with the town rival Lakers, who were in discussion to acquire the floor general. The folks, that is, except the diminutive Clippers faithful, were exasperated and vented on local radio stations to criticize commissioner David Stern. The owners were vindictive, stubborn and envy, and complained all night until Stern vetoed a deal that would have sent Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a draft pick to the Hornets, and Pau Gasol to Houston.

If the NBA had not owned the Hornets, during trade talks that were handled on behalf of the league, then the deal would’ve never happened. Denied once, the co-chairman Jim Buss is making all the personnel decisions it seems, and rather than discuss a potential deal with the Magic that could have sent Andrew Bynum and Gasol to Orlando for Dwight Howard, he and general manager Mitch Kupchak pulled out of the Paul sweepstakes.

The other day, after the NBA had blocked the trade – snatching back an early Christmas present – the trade speculations veered on the Clippers side, essentially Lakers were blocked as the owners and league should be embarrassed and regretful, realizing that the people running the business screwed the high-market franchise in the entertainment capital. It was a poor choice that ruined the integrity of the game, not to mention the Lakers chances in retooling as a dominant force in the West, the favorites in a town where purple and gold is highly exalted. He is a star point guard, and had desired to contend for a championship with any team in contention.

The trade, in conjunction with a vow to solely bring a championship to Los Angeles in a Clippers uniform alongside the big man Griffin, was satisfying and the change of scenery that Paul needed to finally play for a title. With the Lakers’ failed attempt to land Paul and their much-publicized trade that sent Odom packing to Dallas, there’s no telling what direction the Lakers are going. This is a startling team, more terrifying than vampires and scary movies that give people the chills, or scarier than reading author Stephen King. The red carpet is rolled out in front of Staples Center as the Clippers have stolen the spotlight in L.A. by assembling a bona fide tandem with Griffin and now Paul on board.

“This is not my day, by the way. This is the Clippers’ day,” Paul said to a swarm of reporters. “This is a humbling experience, and I’m so grateful and thankful to be here.”

The sleepless nights, for a man who rarely had any sleep in the craziest week, have long past after the Clippers acquired Paul Wednesday in a blockbuster deal with a high price. This extreme Hollywood makeover outbid their in-town rivals, but it was a gamble dealing rising star guard Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 first-round draft pick to the Hornets. It’s all part of what should be an intriguing season for the Clippers. This is enough to have Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant, who recently was upset over his team’s decision to trade Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for a first-round draft pick in 2012 and an $8.9 million trade exception, speak publicly and be petrified not sure which direction the franchise is headed right now.

Then again, he likely won’t be satisfied unless the Lakers pursue in trading for Howard but all talks are that he’ll stay in Orlando. It’s considered a gamble, but the Clippers are aiming to win NOW and they see a bright future with lobbed passes to Griffin from Paul, who contributed in the Hornets turnaround. The Clippers, a team that was in need of significant star power this offseason, finally built a team of ferocity and promise, a renewed rivalry with their neighbor’s in purple and gold.

He walked to the podium with his agent, Leon Rose, who contributed in completing the unforeseen deal, dressed in his black suit, crimson tie and matching socks at his introductory news conference in the Clippers practice facility Thursday. Odd as it sounds, the Clippers acquired Paul in a four-player trade with the Hornets, outsmarting and outmaneuvering the Lakers and other suitors involved in trade rumors.

“I believe in this organization,” Paul said. “I believe in the players here, and I want to win. I want to win now. I’m so tired of doing everything else. I want to play.”

So when the Clippers announced Wednesday evening that they had landed an All-Star player, greatly considered the NBA’s best point guard, the folks in parts of the town jumped on board and journeyed on a joyride to Clipper Nation, a campaign that swept the Southland not long ago. If there’s a believer and loyalty felt in a town, where fans of the most ridiculed franchise in basketball are minorities, it would be Darrell Bailey. The arrival of a priceless point guard purges the doom that separated the Clippers from the rest of the franchises, releases the misfortune and curses that flirted with the sentiment of torture.

This team was never worth an argument or in conversations to evenly contend or compared to the other L.A. team, out of one’s mind and neglected in a town that root like hell for purple and gold. No one screamed loud for the Clippers, unless you were Billy Crystal or Clipper Darrell. Make no mistake, this is a Lakers town. The deal, as the Clippers were suitors after bidding on a superstar when potential bidders were rejected of a proposed three-way trade, is a way for them to fight for supremacy against their crosstown rivals. The one argument which can be publicized at this point is that many of the bleak faces can turn into smiles as the Clippers are on verge of perhaps a promising future.

As in the dreadful past for many of ill-spirited fans that has had to bear with the circumstances of humiliating losses, ill-advised draft picks which became busts and the lawsuit filed by former longtime executive Elgin Baylor, the Clippers cleansed any turmoil that torn down the team’s image. The quirky owner Donald Sterling has suffered from the wrath of embarrassment by the way he ran his mismanaged business. But now, by moving aggressively in pursuing Paul, he looks like the smartest businessman as the Busses behave like egomaniacs. In other words, the Clippers are the winners, as the Lakers are losers.

The season looms in Southern California and the Lakers’ car flags on vehicles proudly waves, but Clipper Darrell is a die-hard Clippers fan and cruise the streets with his custom painted car in the team’s colors. This offseason, despite that the Clippers are the minorities in a basketball town, they are not only sharing the same building with the Lakers but they are battling for bragging rights and domination. Because the Clippers brought in an All-Star in his prime, arguably the league’s best floor general, fans of the most unsettled franchise in sports can attend every home game and witness awe-inspiring hoops from Griffin and Paul, a pair of NBA stars that changes the landscape.

He, like many players without a profound supporting cast, had planned to leave New Orleans after next season but it wasn’t certain to whether he’d be playing in a Clippers uniform, particularly when Paul wasn’t ecstatic about the league shooting down the proposed three-way deal that would have sent him to the Lakers. So the team that no one ever imagined made the biggest splash at the expense of the Lakers, the most undaunted move since the Clippers relocated to their crosstown antagonist’s backyard in 1985. The buzz is still prevalent, as few wondered after Paul and Clippers general manager Neil Olshey announced that he had made a long-term commitment to the team.

“Why did I make a long-term commitment? Because I believe in this organization,” Paul said.”

Welcome the newest member, CP3, to L.A., where he’ll be playing in the same town of two superstars Kobe and Griffin.

“He’s not here to jump on a lily pad for two seasons,” Olshey added. “He’s coming here to be a part of the future of the franchise. He wanted to know there were pieces in place that would be with him long-term and that was a part of this deal. … It gave me the confidence to know that if we get this guy here and continue to do the right things, they’re all going to be here for the future and long-term.”

The Lakers-Clippers rivalry is good for the NBA, as the Clippers might be the most exciting team in the NBA this season, an epic theater for a sport that almost lost an entire season during a chaotic lockout. The reality is, although it seems strange that the Clippers assembled vastly the most entertaining and deepest squad, they were lucky to obtain Paul when the league’s boneheaded decision to veto the trade stopped the Lakers. The first word that came out of Griffin’s mouth when Paul arrived was “Lob City!” he said excitedly, stunned as he walked off the bus on his cellphone after spending much of the afternoon touring Los Angeles.

Now the Lakers, by virtue of trading the most valuable player on the market to Dallas for nothing in return, are in need of a big-man and a point guard to retool their aging, sluggish franchise. For once, the Clippers are on the rise, ready to take the throne away from the Lakers. This team is younger, hungrier and deeper as the other team in L.A. is on decline. So, as Howard was floating in trade rumors, the Lakers failed attempt could doom a team of perplexing riddles in the end.

With little guarantee of the Clippers possibly shifting into playoff mode since Paul arrived, fans are excited and believe in red and blue. The home of the Lakers has also become the home of the Clippers. Ah, yes, they gave up their youth and future with the mentality that winning now is their intention, and were willing to send the young assassin Gordon on a one-way ticket out of town. Right now the Clippers are winners. But really, what is evident is that the Clippers have not gave away a lottery pick since trading Baron Davis to Cleveland in exchange for Mo Williams and cleared cap space.

The best argument we can think of is that the Clippers were trying to clear salary cap space again, and knew they couldn’t afford to pay Griffin, Paul and Gordon, whose rookie contract expires after the season and he will become an unrestricted free agent. And let’s face it, he would have even tested the market and signed for a long-term elsewhere had he still been with the Clippers.

The emergence is near. Paul is a Clipper. The current state of this franchise is scarier and maybe the greatest point guard/center combo in L.A. since Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabber.

Finally, Sterling can smile proudly from his Malibu home.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Time to Jump On Board for Tebowmania

With the faith of Tim Tebow comebacks, the strength of his leadership that has brought the Broncos together and his maturity, the Tebowmania buzz of the NFL has swept the nation. The buzz is felt throughout the league, a wave of humanity across not only Denver but the country as fans either glorify or denounce him – raving about his recent fruition or failures.

The finest story in professional sports is Tebow, and debates are buzzing everywhere whether he’s a useful piece in the Broncos’ future. He now qualifies as the most endearing/disdained athlete in sports, a man who once traveled to the Philippines during spring break and summer vacations to help circumcise forlorn children, a man who visited prisons with his bible to share the word and lift the spirits of inmates. He heard the criticism from skeptics, ignored it, took it as motivation and has responded to the negativity each week, leading the Broncos to a 7-1 record since taking over as the starting quarterback.

It almost feels like a surprise, a mirage we never had in mind, refusing to give Tebow the benefit of the doubt. And to think it was supposed to be a disaster in Denver this season, a moment that he proved non-elite among quarterbacks, he has been flawless, a public figure bringing a sense of happiness and charm. It’s been a spectacular coming out party for Tebow, engineering the Broncos to first place in the AFC West following a 1-4 start. It’s a marriage of humility and sheer resiliency. Denver needs him, and they love him in their town, greeting the gracious athlete with idolatry as he gives back to a football-obsessed town that long awaited a playoff-caliber team.

This is what sports needs, a modest public figure, a likable role model whose vows to children are touching in our tangled, cuckoo society. If only we can throw Tebow into a clone machine, multiple Tebows would act as the cure to humanity, strengthen humankind and heal the corruption in this troubled world. This is what sports needs, a kindhearted celebrity whose love is contiguous at Denver and around the country to rid the negativity that sports has become, from the steroid crisis in baseball to the benches-clearing brawls in college hoops to problematic jailbirds in pro football.

It’s time we, in America, come to our senses and jump on board of the Tebow bandwagon and go places we’ve never been before, because each week it seems he conducts a magical comeback to lead the Broncos. In case you’ve missed it, although it has been heavy talk in recent weeks, he’s improved greatly as a starter and has become the bard of comebacks, which is unprecedented and unique in a sense. Quarterbacking Denver in its improbable run, he has become the first quarterback in NFL history with six fourth-quarter comebacks in his first 11 starts, and just the second quarterback with four straight fourth-quarter wins since Peyton Manning had set the incredible plateau in 2009.

If you believe and have faith, like Tebow, then life is more than just an illusion but reality. If you have trust, like Tebow, then optimism leads to greatness. His faith gives him a competitive edge and — as a devout Christian — he is credited more as the most evangelistic figure, just as much as he is polarized for publicly expressing his religious views. The criticism was even slightly amiable, though a majority still questions his performance and doubt that he will ever amount to excellence and evolve into an elite passer. This season, as the Broncos are in their quest to advance past the season and clinch a playoff berth, Tebow has stolen the limelight and become a political debate in sports, absorbing all the attention even though Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady are having record-breaking seasons.

The journey has been far more bizarre for Tebow anointed by his worshippers and essentially standing as the religious attribute in sports. But his non-believers have articulated that he doesn’t have the intangibles, not amazed by his arm strength, precision or footwork and not even his religious beliefs – among them – is Broncos former quarterback Jake Plummer, who recently shared his thoughts on Tebow’s success.

“Regardless of whether I wish he’d just shut up after a game and go hug his teammates, I think he a winner,” Plummer said. “I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ, then I think I’ll like him a little better.”

The time to like him a little better is now. Just because he deeply praises Jesus Christ, doesn’t mean you have to disdain Tebow, even if he publicizes his Christianity. He begins his postgame interviews by thanking “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” When he finishes his postgame interviews, he tells the reporter, “God Bless.”

And so Tebow’s faith with his overzealous religion, a holy man loved or loathed, is partly why we root for him.

HOW can you simply not root for Tebow?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Eli Manning Leads Giant Comeback, Not as Bad As You Think

He may have been a bit erratic in his ability to lead the New York Giants within an unsystematic division. In criticizing Eli Manning’s quarterback misery in a town where the media is critical with underperforming athletes, unafraid to boldly mock and taunt a player in a tabloid piece, he has silent his detractors by piloting the Giants to beat the Dallas Cowboys 37-34 Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium.

It is unfair that he dutifully takes much burden of the blame for his teammate’s failures when the Giants underachieve. Only hours after he carried the Giants to victory in a crucial must-have, Manning was praised. It’s not a joke. He was remarkably on the road at a hostile environment, and more specifically, at football’s colossal palace, performing at will as one of the league’s elite quarterbacks when he began to contribute to the Giants’ comeback late in the game.

He wasn’t clumsy and couldn’t turn it over, steadily scrambling in the pocket to avoid sacks and pass rushes. The awareness in his eyes was serious, a determined expression that advertised a vintage team leader as Manning was mistake-free under pressure situations to quiet the untamed folks in Arlington, Texas. The extolled hero conducted a rally from 12 down in the final six minutes, and before we even belt out the name, expectations are on the rise as many anticipate that he will manage to drive the Giants to the playoffs, all while New Yorkers nod in gratitude.

One can argue that he’s now a likable but not a polarizing figure after saving the Giants’ season. The truth is, the Giants are alive, still healthy within a division that is volatile and tight heading down the stretch, sitting atop the NFC East standings at 7-6, tied for first with the Cowboys. It’s a good thing the Giants are not on life support, on pace to win their division title and earn a playoff spot in a race that might be decided on the last day of the season. It was yet an excellent performance in essentially a critical game that Manning was better, and probably had his best game this season.

The perception might be that he can very well lead the Giants after losing four straight against steadfast opponents. If and when Manning becomes dynamic, gauging his persona to increasingly help his growth as a team leader and try channeling his brother, Peyton, on the playing field, he’ll measure up to greatness. The heavyweight fight Sunday night in the Big D told us something right there.

It told us that he’s not as awful as people portray him and can really engineer a beautiful comeback, like the one against the Cowboys in which he carried the Giants to two touchdowns in less than three minutes and he finally was relieved by his supporting cast. They played like contenders Sunday, while Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan stood around on the sideline furious, watching Eli propel his team to an eight play, 80-yard drive in 2:27. He keeps proving he’s only human, in reality and as a star quarterback, which tells us he’s Eli at his best, enduring the challenge as the athlete.

It’s beyond any miracle to think, Manning, nearly four years removed from his lone Super Bowl title, is a horrible quarterback erasing a 34-22 fourth-quarter deficit with 15 unanswered points in the closing minutes of the game and launching the come-from-behind fourth quarter. In these distressed times, fighting for survival each week, he finished with 400 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception. When he saw his intended wide receiver, Mario Manningham, he tossed the ball in his direction but unfortunately he dropped it, blundering on a play that would have given the Giants a go-ahead touchdown. The clue here is that Manning is a clutch performer and has 14 fourth-quarter touchdown passes this season.

He is, standing alone in this category, the only quarterback to have more touchdown passes in the final quarter, tied atop the list with Johnny Unitas and his brother, Peyton. The likable Manning brothers, enduring the fuss of a cordial sibling rivalry on the verge of captivating ones attention, only if Peyton recovers from his neck injury to return healthy by the time next season begins, are the all-encompassing athletes of the league. Imagine if he weren’t in the shadows of his brother? If he weren’t a Manning, in relations to Peyton Manning, would we perceive him differently?


What’s easy to point out is that he now has 4,105 passing yards and 25 touchdowns. The hottest athlete in the league is no one other than Manning, mainly because he is known for his comebacks, a knack that better describes his ability to lead his team from behind. If we were paying more attention, we’d recall the moment he drove the Giants in the Super Bowl during the 2007-08 season in the upset of the New England Patriots.

For the sixth time this season, coming in a game that Jason Pierre-Paul blocked Dan Bailey’s 47-yard field goal attempt, in a game that the quarterback connected with tight end Jake Ballard for an 8-yard touchdown pass and in a game that Brandon Jacobs stormed into the end zone for the winning score on a 1-yard run, Manning has brought the Giants back from behind to win in the fourth quarter. The defense was the Giants only flaw and as every defender, from Corey Webster to Justin Tuck to Antrel Rolle stared forlorn, head coach Tom Coughlin was moments away from a five-game losing streak and maybe even being unemployed.

With the crazy coach benching Ahmad Bradshaw for the first half for violating team rules, the challenge from the Cowboys was largely a stiffer task but the Giant lifesaver was Manning for the G-Men. This was the night when the Cowboys blundered after Romo missed a wide-open Miles Austin on a third-down, the night when Eli proved his skeptics otherwise and knew the importance of getting the win.

If he’s not perfect, he’s surely resilient and poise, saving the Giants from brutality. In months, he’s improved his play, and in most cases as of now, there’s no need to worry to death about his lack of ball security when he has not fumbled or lost the ball by foolish turnovers. In this season, when we pay more attention to Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady amazed by their record-breaking plateaus, Manning sits in the shadows not even in conversations for MVP honors.

The claim has already been made and, in clarity, it seems he is one of the league’s elite passers, just like his brother a few seasons ago.