Friday, December 28, 2012

UCLA Long Ways Off From Elite Level

This is a game in which nothing is generally guaranteed, a game where a team can dominate so well all season, and then derail in a meaningful game during bowl season. In a season where UCLA pushed and shoved around everybody in the Pac-12, the Bruins had this amazing ability to make strides for an unimaginable season, a relentless run that eventually made them relevant — more relevant than crosstown rivals USC, mind you.

Thursday night’s game was a blowout no one ever imagined. Baylor pummeled UCLA 49-26 in a Holiday Bowl that was expected to be a mesmerizing event. Almost exactly a month removed from their mammoth upset against USC, the Bruins worked themselves into BCS conversations. Promises were conceivable, dreams were nearly fulfilled and winning turned into a reality. This all happened before the Bruins turned stale and unraveled on national television, in front of a national audience and disappointed UCLA fans, who were looking for answers throughout a game that left many scratching their heads in absolute shock.

“We’ve got a long ways to go,” coach Jim Mora said. “But we’re on the right path. … The team that we want to be is a national champion and tonight showed us just how far we have to go, but we’re determined to get there. We’re heading in the right direction, but we’re a long ways off.”

Bruins fans, many of which were disenchanted and lost for words, witnessed UCLA’s worst game all season. The Bruins were trounced by Baylor in the Holiday Bowl in a neutral site that felt like a homecoming with seas of blue and gold in the stands from a large UCLA turnout. The game was played in San Diego, California, where this particular bowl game is held every season, but the site of the event didn’t matter, well, at least not to Baylor.

It was one of those nights where the Bruins were flat and phlegmatic which surprisingly resulted in a no-show, lacking alertness and competitiveness we weren't accustomed to all season. It took one loss, an agonizing lapse to realize that UCLA isn’t ready to play for a national title. With a surreal ending to the Bruins season Thursday night, UCLA still needs a lot of work to be patted on the back and a national title hopeful in the upcoming years. Now that UCLA has Mora, who has proven himself the ideal coach to lead the program, the Bruins can emerge from a time when they lacked a mental capacity and couldn’t recruit the best in the country to build a national power that could dominate college football.

Let’s hear it for the Bruins … when they’ve come so far to dispel fears and inferiority, and finally can stand up to Oregon, USC, Arizona State and everybody else in Pac-12 country. Unfortunately, though, UCLA fell sound asleep on the worst night. Not even drinking and glass of milk or reading a bedtime story about “The Story of the Three Bears” would have been enough to keep these Bruins wide awake. The bottom line is that the kids never came out to play, and saw a journey of sheer dominance abruptly come to an end. At long last, they weren’t ready and encountered stronger and hungrier Bears.

It’s sad and somewhat humiliating to see what’s happened to UCLA in just one game — just as it’s lamentable to see the rebirth of a football program slip at the worst time. And aside from the Mora era, which began this season and changed the culture overnight at UCLA, nobody has been more fantastic than tailback Johnathan Franklin and quarterback Brett Hundley, who became UCLA’s first black leading passer since Jackie Robinson threw for 444 yards as a running back in 1940. It’s too bad a horrible night, a painful night — needless to say — erased a splendid season. It’s too bad an appalling night smeared the Bruins’ hopes of winning a bowl game to conclude what was a storybook season, and what was supposed to be a close, tight game they would win.

Mora, however, kept the team together and handed the ball to a 19-year-old quarterback, realizing that Hundley was already a strong leader with a sense of humility as he developed into one of college football’s top quarterbacks. He led the Bruins through Pac-12 conference play, but unfortunately losses to Stanford in the regular-season finale and the Pac-12 championship game followed by the Holiday demolition — made it clear that UCLA is not strong or fast enough to play for a BCS title, not just yet. Maybe one day the Bruins will be complete, but not at the moment, losing to a much faster and stronger team and annihilated in every facet of the game.

Entering this game, Baylor was ranked 119th on defense, and somehow, someway the Bears pressured and harassed Hundley. He was taking snaps on a frigid night in Southern California, he was trying to scramble outside the pocket and stay mobile, as he was pressured the entire game by a pesky Baylor defense that couldn’t stop anyone all season. And then, just like that, Hundley was knocked to the ground for a sack and loss of yards. This wasn’t the first time UCLA was dismal and found themselves in a hole this season — the last time it happened was against the Cal Golden Bears.

Last month, however, much of the discussion was around UCLA, considering that the season was successful after making a loud statement on a season in which the Bruins won nine games, beat USC and played for the Pac-12 championship. At one point, down 35-7 against Baylor, UCLA fans and players still believed there was plenty of time to compile points on the scoreboard for an epic comeback, but Baylor’s running game couldn’t be stopped. The public is no longer buying into the UCLA hype, followed by an unexpected blowout that sent the Bruins back to reality. Never mind that they fought hard to the end against Stanford. Never mind, although it was a huge win over a Big Ten school, that they beat Nebraska for an impressive victory. Never mind that they put together a comeback in the final minutes to win on the road at Arizona State.

Hundley was, well, stifled and couldn’t do much on offense — versatile or not, mobile or not. The night for Hundley wasn’t too kind, but he passed for 329 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers, which was pretty good considering that he was pressured and bullied worse than a harmless kid at a school bathroom. And unbelievably, he couldn’t avoid sacks and hard hits that sent him to the ground, he couldn’t make plays while under duress.

Time after time in this game, his torpid offensive line didn’t shield him, he was running for his life and rushing his passes that were mostly incomplete. As for his duel-threat partner, Franklin -- who wasn’t nearly the brawny running back he was against USC -- he had just 34 yards on 14 carries. What was clear was this offensive line let down UCLA, but that’s what can happen when two offensive linemen are bothered by injuries in the first half. From there, the night was over for the Bruins. There isn’t any other way to put it, and pain and simple, the Bruins disappeared when so much was at stake and when they could have certainly had bragging rights over USC.

Mostly though, in this game alone, the Bruins were stopped on third downs and were forced to punt, which raised Baylor’s momentum. So when the Bruins punted five times, it usually resulted in a Baylor touchdown, from the speed of Glasco Martin or Lache Seastrunk. It wasn’t long, since UCLA couldn’t disrupt anyone on the Baylor offense, before Baylor scored on three consecutive touchdowns and, just like that, the Bruins were out of the game. There was plenty for Baylor to be proud about, such was Baylor quarterback Nick Florence, who passed for more than 4,000 yards before he obliterated them. After all of this, it’s more obvious now that UCLA missed safety Tevin McDonald, who was suspended for the bowl game because of undisclosed violations.

As it turns out, Baylor had a well-constructed game plan and executed it brilliantly against UCLA, in which Mora never had a strategy or game plan of his own to protect Hundley. It was a gut-wrenching end to what was a good season, and there is no doubt the Bruins will rank in the Top 25 with hopes they can emerge into BCS elites.

They were all so close, but not close enough.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

When Nash Stays Healthy, Lakers Are Tough

Staples Center was packed Tuesday afternoon, a sellout capacity crowd in attendance to watch their beloved Lakers encounter the red hot Knicks -- who were by far LA's toughest opponent this season. One of the surest things is that the Los Angeles Lakers can in fact beat a top-notched team, as fans can suddenly stop panicking and remain every bit optimistic about a storied franchise.

And while Mike D'Antoni's Lakers were, well, lethargic, disengaged and soft, to one's understanding, D'Antoni used flimsy excuses. And maybe he was right. With the return of Steve Nash, the Lakers have improved -- faster and more potent with him on the floor as their trusty point guard. The Lakers, who have been looking for solutions and ways to dismiss woes and mediocrity, cannot win a 17th NBA title without Nash.

It's just seemingly implausible, and Nash has been called on to salvage the Lakers season before matters become worse. The Lakers, when Nash is on the floor, are more efficient and everybody knows their role it seems. For as long as we've known D'Antoni, he's needed this guy by his side, he's counted on Nash and he has run and executed his offense brilliantly. With Nash, D'Antoni has a .734 career win percentage in games. Without him, he has a .387 win percentage.

OK, it's only one tough opponent they played against when it comes to teams over .500. OK, Kobe Bryant had an efficient 34 point on 14-for-24 shooting effort against the Knicks. OK, fine, Pau Gasol finally played with heart and toughness, dishing out six assists and swooping down to the rim finishing with an empathic submarine-dunk in the final seconds for the game-clinching point. OK, Metta World Peace scored 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting off the bench, while involved in a heavyweight-wrestling match with Carmelo Anthony.

But with Nash back running the offense, the Lakers are still hopeful they can bring home a championship. After the Lakers beat the Knicks 100-94 on Christmas Day for their fifth straight win, it was heard loud and clear, it gave fans something to smile and cheer about. Entering this game, the Lakers lost three consecutive times on Dec. 25, making it anything but jolly for Bryant. Thank goodness for Nash. This time around, Mr. Grinch didn't steal Christmas from the Lakers. This time around, it was holiday redemption and the Lakers avenged their loss against the Knicks, cooling down the hottest team in the league.

For Nash, the holiday season is about giving, averaging 20 assists in his first two games since the comeback. By all rights, the Lakers should still be a heavy playoff favorite, after making a loud statement. It's now time for fans to breathe a sigh of relief, now time to feel good about something, realizing this team is built with talent and a bevy of stars who can make a playoff run based on experience and athleticism.

Fortunately for the Lakers, who were quiescent and lifeless without Nash, the time couldn't be better for his return, with the Knicks arriving for a holiday matinee and a rematch after annihilating L.A. at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago. Nash welcomed swarms of reporters, he stood there by his locker, waiting patiently to be interrogated and responded softly. In the age of NBA guards and anybody with ball-handling skills to run the floor and distribute the ball, the Lakers have been missing a critical piece on offense. If the Lakers desire winning a championship in June, then Nash must be a key component, and indeed he fits in D'Antoni's system.

Nash, by the way, directed D'Antoni's up-tempo offense for four seasons with the Phoenix Suns, and so with his familiarity and ability to facilitate and get up and down the floor, he's definitely the Lakers' way out of trouble. The Lakers, once embarrassed and frustrated, has to certainly feel more confident and glad he's back in the starting five. These Lakers, remember, were struggling and falling to substandard opponents, drawing criticism and doubts from fans. These Lakers, remember, are led by Kobe Bryant, who is well past his prime and has taken way too many shots, not realizing age has finally caught up with him.

It wasn't working without Nash, and now that he's back, the Lakers have a legitimate shot. It can't be ignored when Nash is on the floor distributing the ball, making his teammates better, setting up open looks and creating in transition. It can't be ignored when Nash is delivering passes inside the paint, playing like an ageless point guard and orchestrating a system and new offense created by someone who is identified as an offensive guru.

There is no better way to look at it, but realistically Nash is maybe the most important player on the Lakers, and it really was evident once sidelined 24 games because of his fractured left leg. Not surprisingly, the Lakers are 2-0 with Nash in the lineup, one of the most creative and finest playmakers in the game. For those who have watched Nash for years, he puts everything in perspective and keeps everyone compose, and because of it, the offense flows and feeds on his energy and ability to create in transition. I know, I know, Nash made it possible for the Lakers, controlling the final minutes of the Christmas Day masterpiece, on a day Bryant surpassed Oscar Robertson to become the all-time scoring leader in Christmas Day games.

The matchup of the leagues top two scorers was more of the focus at the beginning, with Bryant and Anthony putting on a show, making thrilling shots and dropping 34 points each. After Bryant and Anthony were done with a thrilling shot-making contest, under six minutes left to play in the fourth, it quickly became Nash's team. As time dwindled down, Nash assisted and or scored on 12 of the Lakers' last 15 points. It was dramatic closing minutes, with Bryant hitting a jump shot and with Dwight Howard enticing the crowd following a dunk. Late in the game, Nash made a few jumpers that were critical and then Gasol was awarded free throws on a pass from Nash.

Since he's come back, the Lakers are the team to beat, from what it seems. Turns out, Nash is the perfect Christmas gift.

There is legitimacy on this Lakers team, and since everybody is touching the ball with Nash back, they are more cohesive and are playing smarter and faster.

There are championship aspirations, after all.

It came on Christmas Day, an ultimate Xmas gift.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Adrian Peterson Worthy of MVP? All Day

Man, he’s fast.

Very.

At the moment all eyes are on Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s most dynamic running back. Against his opponents on the ground, Peterson bursts through the seam and races down the field, then drives into the end zone. The beauty of the Vikings’ resurgence in the Twin Cities, a town where fans haven’t had much to be excited about, is because of Peterson’s phenomenal season. The Vikings have an idea on what the future beholds, with an indomitable running back, which is amassing superhuman numbers.

Funny thing is, however, some would argue that he’s not worthy of MVP, when he continues his assault on the single-season rushing record. Funny thing is, it’s debatable as to whether he should be named NFL’s Most Valuable Player. It should be obvious that he’s deserving of an honorable award, especially when he’s making a case that he’s arguably the best running back in the league when he’s healthy and not inactive on the sideline. In most respects, he’s the only running back to threaten and come close to Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 yards. At this point, mind you, Peterson is optimistic he can break Dickerson’s record on Sunday, with one game remaining on the schedule.

I cannot see Peterson, proving to be the finest rusher since Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith, being devoid of MVP talk. Just like that, faster than he can race for a touchdown, he’s finally revealed he’s an elite running back and even an MVP candidate, and indeed he should win the award, without much argument. There’s enough evidence to see that he’s playing like an MVP, with the Vikings in a fight for a wild-card spot as they can mathematically still make the playoffs, amid a season when Peterson is respectfully dominating in every rushing category as he cannot be denied but only contained. The strategy of handing the ball off to Peterson in a sequence of plays, since he’s racked up some ridiculous numbers, is a boon to the Vikings impressive season.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the NFL is a pass-happy league, with the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — the greatest NFL quarterbacks of the modern era. There’s no doubt Brady and Manning are top candidates, and to say they both aren’t favorites to win MVP, is just irresponsible and imprudent. No disrespect to Brady and Manning, but to be fair, Peterson is the greatest rusher of the modern era and deserves consideration.

The numbers don’t lie. For Peterson, for those who are unaware, his 1,812 yards is a league’s best — standing on the NFL Mountaintop. By far, he’s stringing together one of the most individual campaigns, and simultaneously is on pursuit to shatter a record no running back has ever broken. This season alone, Peterson has 1,313 yards in the past eight games and rushed for 150 yards or more in six games, one shy of tying NFL record in that category.

Just recently, he became the fourth player in NFL history to rush for at least 8,500 yards and 75 touchdowns over the first six seasons of an NFL career, with currently 8,564 yards and 75 touchdowns to fall in the company of Dickerson (9,915 yards and 75 touchdowns), LaDainian Tomlinson (9,176 yards and 100 touchdowns), and Smith (8,956 yards and 96 touchdowns).

It’s just the truth, no matter what people say about Peterson, refusing to acknowledge that what he’s mastered this season is beyond incredible. With his nifty footwork, his quickness and explosiveness, his firmness and ability to make defenders hesitate and make it hard to read the play, he is on the threshold of validating his place among NFL running backs. Roughly on his way to attain eminence, Peterson is looking to become the seventh tailback to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.

This, more than anything else, is the best season of his exceptional career. It’s a time when he can be placed on Mount Rushmore of running backs. The most exceptional running back is easily the most superlative performer in 2012, and has climbed the mountaintop in the National Football League. If you don’t think AD is highly commendable, you are clueless and blinded by the reality of Peterson’s dominance. There’s a great chance he will win the award — the Most Valuable Player award. Peterson, should the Vikings (8-6) make it to the playoffs, would likely earn MVP honors.

Yet he plays on an inferior team with a struggling quarterback in Christian Ponder. The Vikings also featured receiver Percy Harvin, who sustained an injury. But Peterson, meanwhile, has made defenses fret as he poses a threat. In all, judging by the standings, the Vikings can miss the postseason, and Peterson’s spectacular season would go to waste if Minnesota misses out on all the fun as individual achievements don’t matter as much as team deeds. Now it just comes down to him executing and having another 200-plus-yard effort, coming off a 212-yard performance in a 36-22 victory over the St. Louis Rams.

If that happens, needing 294 yards in his final two games to surpass Dickerson, he could set a new record as an NFL back. In a quarterback-driven league, rarely does a running back fit the description. The odds, as usual, strongly favor Manning and Brady in the age when quarterbacks are often recognized. There have been 37 quarterbacks selected, with a combined record of 470-102-4 (.819).

The world’s biggest curiosity is Peterson, no matter what history says, no matter if the league’s most valuable player has rarely not led his team to the playoffs. There’s not enough promise to confirm he’s the winner, while leading the Vikings through a storybook season. And here’s guessing Manning is favored to prevail, playing for the hottest team in the league and turning the 11-3 Denver Broncos into Super Bowl hopefuls. The downside is, Peterson’s team isn’t nearly as flawless, let alone playoff bound.

Whether or not anyone thinks he merits the honors, which usually doesn’t happen for a running back, Peterson gets my vote. This is generally not a running backs league, known for satisfying quarterbacks and forgetting about every other player on the field. It would be a great accomplishment for Peterson. In recent memory, 55 winners have won an MVP in 55 years — only two of them were on teams that didn’t make it to the postseason.

It’s worth pointing out only four running backs have won MVP while playing for a wild-card team. Sanders’ name sounds familiar and Walter Payton’s as well, two winning backs who made it happen on 9-7 teams. The last we’ve seen a running back win MVP was when Tomlinson earned it on the account of fulgurous numbers. That year, he rushed for 1,815 yards and NFL-record 31 touchdowns, 28 on the ground.

All day, he’s the man of show business, a priceless specimen who overcame medical issues, after tearing his ACL and MCL less than a year ago. All day, he’s been tearing it up in the National Football League. Chances are he still won’t win MVP, although Peterson is the most astonishing athletes in the game today, bouncing back from injuries to likely also be NFL’s comeback kid. If he doesn’t win the award, it would be an insult to Peterson, when he’s convinced us that he’s not only the fastest man directing the greatest show on turf but also the man with otherworldly talent. So at this point, Peterson’s campaign is far more amazing to be ignored.

He’s amazed us with runs and created a compelling story every time he took a handoff this season and couldn’t be stopped. Now the most appreciated player in the game by far, Peterson is carrying out the unthinkable and certainly has been far more amazing than anyone else all season, with his size, a rare combination of speed and stamina. This year, it became apparent that Peterson has stated his case after putting in the hours and working diligently to recover from his health issues, rehabilitating with physical therapists and performing painstaking exercises to rejuvenate energy and motion.

There’s no doubt that he’s in good position to win. But don’t be surprised to see two-time winner Brady or four-time winner Manning win it again. We can only imagine what will happen — worthy of MVP status — now that Peterson is closing in on a record and could potentially carry the Vikings to the postseason. The MVP is an individual award, after all, not a team award.

My vote, however, goes to Peterson. All day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Most Pro Athletes Are Given Free Pass, Like Josh Brent, For Example

On the day the Dallas Cowboys paid tribute to the fallen Jerry Brown with a No. 53 decal on the back of helmets and held a moment of silence before the game, Josh Brent was invited to join the team on the sideline Sunday as if he's done nothing wrong.

There's a side of me that just didn't feel right about him being present. There's a side of me that feels this was wrong, though Brown's mother forgives Brent, a third-year defensive tackle, who selfishly took the life of a man who was not just a teammate but a friend. There's a side of me that makes me frown and shake my head in shame after seeing him on the sideline when he was responsible for the alcohol-related, one-car accident that killed Brown. In other words, Brent should not have been on the sideline for the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. He was spending time locked up, but walked out of jail in Irving, Texas, barefooted after his release on $500,000 bond.

There's no way, just no way in hell.

Rather than honoring the fallen linebacker with Brent on the sideline as an awkward tribute and allowing him to even step foot onto the premises, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones should have mandated that he stay away from the team until further notice, until the healing process shrivel or until Brent's verdict. It's time to stop supporting those who commit crimes. And just because Brown's mother doesn't want Brent prosecuted after he was charged with intoxication manslaughter for her son's death, it's not what she or anybody else wants. It's what's right. Right is right. Wrong is wrong.

Brent, whose blood-alcohol level measured at 0.18 reportedly, was more than double the legal limit in Texas. So while the Cowboys are willing to stand by someone who perpetrated this senseless act, Brent could still face a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted. He's the epitome of athletes and celebrities getting away with crimes, a glaring image of what's seen so often in today's world. Money and fame defeats the court of law. Money and fame protects celebrities. Money and fame don't bring justice, but more problems within itself. At this point, it's not about ethics and moral values.

There are, for those who are unaware of our troubled society and how a biased justice system functions nowadays, no hidden agendas for famous people in the sports or entertainment industry. So of course, as a public figure and not an ordinary citizen, Brent can show his face in public and could potentially even avoid a prison sentence because of the name on the back of his jersey and because he plays for America's team. The most gruesome case was when Michael Vick bankrolled a dogfighting ring, and as a nation forgot that he viciously murdered defenseless, immaculate animals, Vick amazingly was exonerated and given the starting quarterback job in Philly, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sensed he had already paid his debts to society.

Jamal Lewis, after pleading guilty in federal court for drug trafficking, quickly made his return to drive down the field for the Baltimore Ravens. Years ago, Rafael Furcal, found guilty of his second DUI offense, returned hours later and belted a game-winning homer in Game 2 for the Atlanta Braves. It was O.J. Simpson who was found not guilty of double-murder charges, with the help of the most expensive attorney in the late Johnny Cochran. Jayson Williams, who pled guilty to assault for fatally shooting a hired limousine driver, was freed after serving eight months in jail at Rikers.

Millions of people around the world were around when NFL wide receiver Donte' Stallworth was behind the wheel drunk and tragically struck and killed 59-year-old Mario Reyes on a Miami street. It amazed me that he won over the disgraceful justice system, and only had to serve 24 days of his 30-day jail sentence.

The matter of domestic violence is fairly common today and could be tough to control, but when Chad Johnson head-butts his ex-wife, he must serve time to pay the price for his foolish behavior. When Adam "Pacman" Jones face two felony charges alleging he set off a nightclub skirmish that escalated into a shooting and left a man paralyzed, he must spend time behind bars and stare at four walls to pay the consequences for his senseless actions, quite like a typical human being would in the wake of unlawful activity.

A forgiving country, America is known to be. But sometimes it's too forgiving to be quite frank. With all the reluctance this nation has in punishing pro athletes, putting a foot down so it won't happen the next time around, some players from every league don't take their lives seriously and think they can abuse their fame at one's own discretion. Fame is powerful, which can be rather hard to handle if celebrities aren't used to recognition and publicity.

There are no boundaries for pro athletes, at least not in courtrooms where they are granted a free pass, even though they are culpable. That's not likely to change any time soon, sadly, and athletes continuously get away with misdeeds as if they are ever so perfect and mistake-free.

It's morally wrong and it sends a bad message to our troubled society, to our children and our unborn athletes. It's not only a slap in the face to those who are seeking justice, but also a slap in the face to those who have been in trouble with the law and had to serve a longer sentence for something minor or even just as bad as a disturbed pro athlete. Folks, in our prejudice society, grasp a sense that non-celebrities aren't treated equally when it comes to dealing with ethics and ghastly crimes. The point is that the actions are just as repulsive and horrifying as would be with normal people committing the same criminal offenses.

I don't care that you are the next million-dollar man. I don't care that you have megabucks to get you out of trouble. I don't care that you are this well-known doctor, attorney, celebrity or a magic chef with your own cooking TV show on Food Network.

The latest tragedy should be enough to wake up America, but apparently it's not enough to alarm a shameful, impaired civilization. The social structure of America is in so much disarray, and the recent incident that involves Brent, who faces a charge of intoxication manslaughter, is a clear illustration that the legal system is unrighteous, prejudice and disingenuous in a sense.

If you do the crime, you must do the time.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Johnny ‘Football’ To Johnny Heisman: Manziel Wins Heisman Trophy

He’s Johnny Heisman now. There is a lot to like about Johnny Manziel, and our universe has been infatuated with everything he’s done in his breakthrough season. His last name rhymes with iconic actor Denzel Washington, he was a backup quarterback and a YouTube sensation at one point.

It finally was a moment when Manziel arrived at Texas A&M, where he made a statement and cemented his Heisman status with a signature win over Alabama that swept over the nation, as it created enough buzz in college football. From there on out, he was mentioned in Heisman conversations, credited for leading the Aggies to an unthinkable victory. Unnoticed as a redshirt freshman, as people in Aggieland mispronounced his last name, Manziel ultimately revealed that he’s the finest quarterback in the nation.

The quarterback position is, without question, the toughest position of this more popular sport, which benefited in Manziel’s favor. But not to take anything away from Manziel, he was definitely well deserving of the prestigious award and had been presumed the frontrunner since the highlighted win over Alabama. It’s not all that difficult for the country to realize that he’s compiled Heisman-like numbers, it’s not all that difficult for the nation to discern that he’s the catalyst for lifting an accomplished program out of mediocrity.

The stiff-armed trophy, rightfully so, went to Manziel, a high-school hero, a household name at Texas A&M. The Heisman winner of 2012 must be a role model to a slew of kids in Texas, as well, after a high school student in Kerrville was sent home a few weeks ago for a haircut of the freshman phenom, and Manziel’s “Johnny Football” nickname with the Texas A&M logo shaved into scalp.

When Manziel was named the winner of the 78th Heisman trophy, on a historic night for college football, his mouth was agape, he was stunned and he was grinning. A night of emotion and jubilance illustrated that he’s indeed the nation’s top quarterback, and by winning an honorable prize that a bevy of players never had an opportunity to win or take the stage, he rose to national limelight. After his humble speech, he raised the trophy and kissed it, he refused to let it go. He cradled the trophy, smiling and speaking eloquently, as his father, Paul, was in tears.

A few days removed from his 20th birthday, Manziel spent Saturday night in New York and celebrated proudly with his family. What’s most important to Manziel, however, is winning games, but as gifted and sound as he was this season, he was worthy of individual accolades as well. He’s proven to the world that he’s the best athlete in college football and he’s marveled by many, specifically to those at College Station, where folks gave him the generic nickname Johnny “Football,” which he’s grown attached to over a period of time. But he is exactly what college sports should embody, and is what the game needs amid an age of greed and financial robbery that has sabotaged the significance of college athletics.

He grew up in Texas, hurling passes to his father, working hard each day to emerge into a high school star and an eventual star quarterback at a university, where he’s transcended to greatness as a freshman sensation. The hard work and imitation of idol Doug Flutie has paid off, a clear understanding to the effort he’s put in to reach a pinnacle in his lustrous career. The story of the season is Manziel, and ever since Texas A&M upset No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 10, he’s been the candidate for Heisman, captivating voters’ eyes following a victory that determined the welfare of his candidacy.

The national chatter came when he pleaded his case for the award, becoming a primary factor for the Aggies’ impressive season, in a year when it might have been the toughest decision. Heisman winners are commonplace at the quarterback position, so it’s not surprising that he won the trophy. It’s not the first time we’ve been embroiled in Heisman controversy, and certainly not the first time a quarterback has been bestowed the award. If we’ve seen Carson Palmer hoist the stiff-armed prize, Matt Leinart raise the bronze statuette, Tim Tebow lift the piece of hardware, Sam Bradford hold up the trophy, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III take indelible pictures while holding football’s most monumental award, we now can see Manziel with the trophy as well.

He’s the kind of guy everybody wants on their team and in their conference, and Manziel represents the ethics of the SEC, a conference with arguably the top players in the country. And realistically, after throwing for 24 touchdowns and running for 19, he was the most outstanding player in the nation, regardless of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o finishing the season ranked second in the country with seven interceptions, and regardless of him leading the unbeaten Irish in tackles (103), passes broken up (11) and fumble recoveries (2). My guy all along, because he was most important to Notre Dame’s monstrous defensive front, was no one other than Te’o.

It could be we simply felt for him, a man who overcame so much adversity with faith and a spiritual background. Te’o helped direct the Irish to the BCS national title game on Jan. 7, while playing with a heavy heart due to the loss of his grandmother and girlfriend to illnesses on the same day. But by the same token, we saw one of the most dramatic seasons, including a mammoth upset that centered Manziel, which makes perfect sense as to why he won the Heisman by a landslide. Even though some felt Te’o would take the stiff-armed trophy home easily, Manziel was anointed and appreciated all over the college football world.

We know it’s true because he has been by virtue a team leader for a Texas A&M program that has returned to prominence, and he piloted the year’s biggest, massive upset, maybe one of the best in ages. Granted, he’s on pace to become the game’s most dangerous dual-threat quarterback ever, throwing for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns. The numbers speak volumes, he’s a humble kid, very mature for his age, very charismatic and conducts himself as a well-behaved man who is passionate and finesse. He’s versatile, knowledgeable and fun to watch, bringing excitement and intensity to the game, with fans all over alarmed and hypnotized by the star of football these days.

The truth is, he had the best chance of winning the Heisman than Te’o and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. One can argue that Manziel was good enough to win and lock up the Heisman when the Aggies defeated the Crimson Tide. The truth is, college football is an offensive-driven sport, and with a dual-threat repertoire, it was a no-brainer that he was worthy of stepping onto the stage to accept an award for such success this season. In his role as quarterback, he was consistently spectacular and unstoppable. Dominating in the SEC, where every football program rules and builds a legitimate powerhouse to likely contend for a national title, was primarily another reason he prevailed on the biggest night of his life.

When he showed he could stand his ground against SEC competition, with magnificent numbers he tallied, Manziel right then and there proved to everyone that he was the nation’s frontrunner for the Heisman. Its no wonder the last-minute talk surrounded Manziel. Impressing everyone largely at Texas A&M, a school that has its hopes high for football each season, was Manziel’s keys to the trophy. As a freshman, with the presence of A&M coach Kevin Sumlin who is all about philosophies and tremendous effort, Manziel excelled with a new coach, a new system.

There’s plenty of potential, plenty of promise for Manziel. Nobody saw it coming. It’s not every day we witness a freshman master greatness, especially when he’s still adjusting to a new system, especially when he’s making the transition from high school to college. But something different transpired in football this year. These days, great athletes grow fast and emerge over night, just like Johnny, becoming the first freshman and fifth player ever to record a 3,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing season.

More impressively, Manziel amassed 4,600 of the Aggies’ 6,628 yards of total offense — to be more specific 69.4 percent. He’s had more of a stronger impact on the game than Te’o. There’s no doubt in our minds that he is the paradigm of the modern-era, versatile quarterback. He can run, he can throw, he’s mobile and fearless, a typical quarterback in today’s game. All season long, he was durable and potent in Sumlin’s high-octane offense. All season long, he was a surefire Heisman winner, when nobody ever came close to snatching it away. He was not, however, perfect early in the season, and like everybody else he struggled against Florida and LSU elite defenses, which were understandable when the Gators led the nation in pass efficiency defense and when the Tigers ranked in the Top 10.

That still wasn’t stopping Manziel from becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman, not when he manhandled and steamrolled No. 1 ‘Bama for 345 yards of offense and threw two touchdowns with no interceptions, in what was the best game of his football career. For the record, he received 474 first-place votes, 153 more than Te’o. As for the Notre Dame senior, he finished runner up.

Johnny Football was remarkable. He was at the top of my Heisman Trophy ballot. If he weren’t the best story of college football this season, then I don’t know what was the feel-good story.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

College Hoops Lost So Much In Rick Majerus

We've lost the heart and soul of college hoops. We've also lost a basketball legend. There's no doubt Rick Majerus stood for everything college sports signifies. If grandparents were to reminisce with their grandchildren about a selfless and generous person, or talk about wisdom in sports, the man who comes to mind is the late Majerus.

Parents didn't mind welcoming Majerus into their homes and didn't have an issue sending their kids off to Utah. When he died Saturday of heart failure, America reflected on the strongest and kindest coach to teach kids, to shape their lives, to prepare them for the real world, and lastly, inspire children. Nobody adored basketball more than Rick, and no other coach has ever taught or disciplined young players like Rick. Everybody loves a winner, and wherever Rick coached in his wondrous career, he definitely was a winner and had an influence on kids’ lives.

Amazing, isn't it, how Majerus has left the face of the earth?

Majerus, 64 years young, recently left Saint Louis University, where he coached for the last five seasons, for health issues. His death happened so soon, although there's no such thing as premature death, although he had been fighting heart problems for quite some time. Majerus was unhealthy, his health was always an issue with a history of weight and heart problems, his leg also wasn't ever the same since cutting it in a collision with players a year ago, when he nearly had to have it amputated.

For so long, he's had a myriad of heart bypasses, he's walked slowly and struggled to breathe, as it became very problematic. Flashing back to the good times, and ignoring a bevy of health issues, Majerus prominently cements a legacy forever, one nobody can ever erase. It's a real shame he's deceased, but Majerus' death is not surprising when he wasn't feeling well, when he had been suffering quietly and couldn't any longer coach at Saint Louis, where he had recent success last March.

For a long time, he desperately desired to return to the Final Four -- he was always dedicated and attached to a game he truly savored more than anyone else in college hoops. Majerus, a fiery teacher of the game, has studied, coached and led some of the game's most successful college programs for 25 seasons. From Ball State to Marquette to Utah to Saint Louis, he was an incredible 517-216, winning more than 70 percent of his games with 12 NCAA appearances.

We'll eventually move on and succumb to reality, but for the time being, we'll mourn the death of the most jovial college basketball coach. As with all deaths, comes memories and things we hardly ever forget about a particular person, and so nobody will ever fail to mention that Majerus led Utah to the 1998 NCAA final when the Utes lost to Kentucky. More than anything, Majerus had only one losing season in 25 years with four schools, and three of his players at Utah were NBA draft picks. After the 98 Utes team advanced to the national title, Keith Van Horn was selected as the No. 2 overall pick.

Relatively speaking, Van Horn, Michael Doleac and Alex Jensen, among former Utah stars, paid visits to Majerus' home and spoke with their former coach. That's right, after having an influence and touching so many lives, he was a likable man, and someone who many looked up to as a father figure and someone who wanted to see his players succeed. The last we've seen Majerus was back in March, following a win over Memphis and a loss to Michigan State. From what I recall, Majerus broke down in the midst of a postgame press conference in the aftermath of an emotional loss in the NCAA tournament.

The last we've seen Majerus he was also in good spirits, always smiling and giving his heart to people. But his heart had finally stopped given, when he lived a complete and prosperous life. For all of his great runs and success at four different schools, he's taken 12 teams to the NCAA tournament with two 30-win seasons and 15 20-win seasons. The climax of Majerus' career took place at Utah, where he built a foundation with the landscape of stars and parity, and as a result of it, he complied a record of 323-95 from 1989 to 2004.

Majerus, ladies and gentlemen, was one helluva coach. He's got a Hall of Fame resume, he's created a legacy that cannot ever be touched, and now he's an angel flying high in the heavens. It's only kind to speak nicely and respectfully of Majerus, with all he's done to the landscape of college basketball, with all he's done to help change lives and teach kids. Majerus was a character of college basketball, an all-time custodian everywhere he coached, in every locker room he stood in and to everyone's heart he touched and brought to life with his hilarious, animated and intellectual basketball mind.

This time, unfortunately, he couldn't overcome his health problems and needed a heart transplant, but had trouble receiving one because of his age. There were times when Majerus joked about his weight and his diet as if he was one of those fat kids from the old movie Heavyweights. Not once did his weight or Ben Stiller bother him. It should come as no surprise that Majerus spent much of the summer at a Los Angeles hospital due to his ailing heart. Not long ago, Saint Louis University announced he'd be stepping down because of his health, and then recently released another statement that he wouldn't be returning to coach the Billikens at any point.

Which brings me to why he was so emotional when Saint Louis was eliminated from the tournament. He realized that time was running short on his career, that his health issues were going to unexpectedly end his accomplished career. The ultimate feeling is that he knew when nobody else knew. So amazingly, though, he was fighting off the pain and still enthusiastic enough to hang in there as long as possible.

With a shot as Saint Louis head coach, Majerus took the Billikens to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000. The temptation of too much food would always take over after the game, for a guy who lived in his hotel room and for a guy who normally ordered a postgame pizza. It wasn't just a one-time thing, but a ritual to pig out on food and watch film of the next opponent. He was a funny character, a man who was savvy when it came to knowing the top restaurants in nearly every city, and knew what every menu had to offer. There weren't too many nights when he didn't go out for dinner at one of the finest joints in town. The man had an obsession for food and hotel vending machines, with candy bars to sneak out of his room for a midnight snack.

Clearly a demanding coach, Majerus was always up for the challenge and expected much from his players and assistant coaches. And as his condition worsened, he saw and spoke to a lot of his kids, who came to visit the ailing coach. And now Majerus is an angel above.

As an angel, he can speak and touch another angel's heart now. There wasn't ever a need for a heart transplant.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lane Kiffin Deflates Air Out of USC

If the late Al Davis were alive today, he’d feel vindicated and like he’s the world’s smartest person. The more it’s brought to our attention, the more fans learn the truth about Lane Kiffin, the second-year coach at USC, whose bizarre play calling and methods have smudged the Trojans’ national title aspirations.

With five losses this season, it’s hard to trust Kiffin, and his father, Monte, who is USC defensive coordinator. Whether they are athletic director Pat Haden’s guys or not, the Kiffins don’t deserve merit or applause for sabotaging the beauty of a prestigious and distinguished program that a multitude of Southern Californians marvel for its history of triumph, names and Heisman trophy winners. The Kiffins aren’t the centerpieces of the USC culture, just a step backwards, which could very well turn into a dilemma.

It was conceived that Lane and Monte are unfitted for demanding coaching jobs, a more notable and respected athletic program, where expectations are immense. The perception of the Trojans suddenly fading into the background is real, with no standards like before when USC used to be the powerhouses of college football, and weren’t vulnerable or substandard. Fact is, the Trojans are standing by someone who has proven he cannot coach an elite program, which is now on decline. This is something USC fans, students, faculty and alumni are not all too familiar with, but in the post-Carroll era, the Men of Troy are hurting without a first-rate coach who has an acute understanding on how to groom an attractive program inured to triumph and accumulating bowl titles.

Haden is absolutely serious about Kiffin returning next season. But what about your program, Haden? What about protecting the school, and not someone who had familiarity with the university under the tutelage of Pete Carroll from 2001-2006? What about keeping a winning team intact, and not caring so much about Kiffin’s recruiting brilliance, needing Ed Orgeron by his side to lure a top recruiting class?

Through it all, Haden assures Kiffin that he will return regardless of the Trojans (No. 18 BCS, No. 21 AP) finishing 7-5, after entering the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. For so long, the Trojans have been on top of the mountain. The tale of this storied program is something many would prefer not to tell when USC lost to Stanford, Arizona, Oregon and UCLA, three of those losses in the past month. Of course, no one ever saw this coming, since the Trojans were projected to contend for a national title, with all their talent, athleticism and depth. Unlike UCLA or Notre Dame, USC was devoid of Rose Bowl consideration, after an embarrassing loss to UCLA, which sent the Bruins to the Pac-12 title game Nov. 30.

The man who was hired to clean up the mess and purge all of the scummy violations is counting on Kiffin to change the culture and guide the Trojans to the promise land, failing to realize that he’s deflating just as fast as a football, quickly exposing himself to unfavorable judgment. The man who was brought on board to clean house is allowing Kiffin to demolish USC, and ride another season of hell and torture. The truth of the matter is, Haden is smarter than that, and should know better, who was once a Rhodes scholar and is a retired NFL quarterback. The bottom line is, Kiffin is a cheater and failure on so many levels.

In all seriousness, Kiffin wasn’t ever coaching material, although he worked in the shadows of one of the greats in NCAA history. And the longer he’s in Los Angeles, the faster the program will submerge under his watch. Bad as his past is, bad as his reputation is, Kiffin cannot be trusted, not anytime soon, not ever. If USC looks to move forward, they’ll have to divorce Kiffin and both parties would have to go their separate ways.

Until then, the Trojans won’t succeed with Kiffin on the sideline calling ill-advised plays and exploiting weird schemes, which gives him and his father bad names, as the vast majority are impatient and outraged hoping to run the Kiffins out of town. The most hated person in college football, undoubtedly, is easily Kiffin. From Knoxville to Los Angeles, Kiffin has encountered a tremendous amount of hatred and seems unwanted at every institution in the US of A. The spotlight placed on Lame Kiffin, the most scorned person at USC, is too much — and not once this season did Kiffin take responsibility for this team’s suffering, long suffering – to be exact.

He is not a hero in the sense of reviving a program, but a saboteur of some sort and a con artist whom we’d like to see disappear into the darkened clouds of his own allegations from the past, and never step foot on campus ever again. It’s utterly repugnant that he ignored NCAA rules at Tennessee, where Kiffin was cited by the NCAA for his involvement in coaches and student hostesses making improper contacts with recruits. For a long time, he was in people’s heads, beating and abusing the system, just what he had in mind. As a scumbag with no morals and no sense of integrity for the game, Kiffin violated the rules as if he was above the law, arrogant and reckless during the NCAA investigations, which led to another boneheaded action.

That was when he forayed into the Tennessee Titans and hired running backs coach Kennedy Pola as his offensive coordinator, without getting permission from Titans then-head coach Jeff Fisher. For much of his coaching career, Kiffin has been a sneaky, untrustworthy person who’s out to create mishap and play loose with the rules that enables him to behave impolitely and wrongly, which usually results in infractions. What we can take away from Kiffin’s arrogance and self-indulgence, along with his lack of awareness and concern about an institution, is the fact that he refuses to consult the rulebook and just go about it his way.

Kiffin, from the first day, was never the guy for USC when, in fact, he was hired by ex-athletic director, Mike Garrett, another former Trojan football legend, leaving USC in an absolute mess and tarnishing his legacy with a reputation as the worst sham in college athletics. The humiliating 22-13 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday night marked the first time since 1995 that the Trojans were swept by their rivals. So now there’s blame on Kiffin, which seems accurate with his play calling in critical situations.

The criticism of Kiffin is understandable, after failing to call timeouts after two runs were stopped in the Notre Dame game and after he didn’t signal for a timeout in a goal-line situation early in the game, which might’ve taken away a touchdown pass. Kiffin, who has more enemies than friends, is blamed for the Trojans disappointing season because of his dumb mistakes and clock management issues. This is something the Trojans don’t need, because the fall from grace has been horrendous, particularly when they could and should have beaten the unbeaten Irish Saturday.

While USC could have smeared No. 1 Notre Dame from playing for its first national championship in 24 years, the Irish celebrated on the field in Los Angeles and finally had bragging rights over USC, with the versatility of Everett Golson, championship-building guru Brian Kelly and senior linebacker Manti Te’o. The Trojans talent was unlimited, with Marqise Lee and Robert Woods of a lethal USC receiving core, along with Matt Barkley, who the Trojans missed on Saturday night. The injured quarterback was replaced by redshirt freshman Max Wittek, who had a solid debut. He completed 14 of 23 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions, but it certainly wasn’t good enough to end the Irish’s hopes.

And so the Trojans lacks leadership and have a lethargic, futile and flawed defense. But the bigger issue here is Kiffin, folks. It won’t get any better for USC, until Haden realizes that he’s essentially not made to be a coach. For his career, he is a staggering 37-32 as a head coach with the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Volunteers and USC. It sounds like Kiffin can only beat unranked opponents, and loses to top-ranked opponents. That’s become his trait, and it’s a bad trait.

As long as Haden calls Kiffin his guy, well, then, expect the worst.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Miami Marlins: Crooked Jeffrey Loria Destroys Another Franchise

Never did I perceive Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria as a crook. But now, today, I have a different outlook on Loria and can't stomach his sins, which are embarrassing and negligent. He drops his head in shame with a sorrowful gaze in his eyes, watching his reputation smear, seeing his image fall from grace these days when he deceived, hoodwinked, misled and lied to millions of people in South Florida.

Loria, a dishonest, immoral, deceitful criminal, stole $509 million of taxpayer dollars to build a colossal palace, Marlins Park, and needs to be arrested, prosecuted and spend time behind bars. Along those lines, Loria’s con artistry and absolute crime is morally wrong, just like years ago when he was an owner in Montreal. The fact he's responsible and forever guilty of destroying the once pride and joy of major league baseball describes Loria's character.

By now, he's not the most likable guy, particularly in South Florida, where the folks can run him out of town for his dirtiness and deceptiveness. It's clear Marlins president, David Samson, and Loria lied about their finances, foolishly stabbed fans and taxpayers in the back to build a $634 million ballpark right across from a Walgreens - a team that was supposed to contend in October and maybe even for the fall classic after a rebuilding project. The Marlins, who were expected to make the postseason with an all-star team, couldn't reach expectations and prematurely exposed themselves to criticism by fading out of contention and underachieving, regardless of having a solid ball club.

Still, while he was committing fraud, and failed to run his business flawlessly, fans should have known something fishy was happening. Years removed from his prior affair in Montreal, Loria wasn't ever to be trusted. When he brought the Expos in 1999, he promised to remodel and turn the franchise into a winner. Perhaps most of all, dating back to those days, he assured that he’d build a new stadium or else move the team elsewhere. As time went on, during his ownership of the Expos, Loria dumped so much talent and fans angrily disconnected from a downcast, broken franchise. So before his arrival to Miami, Loria destroyed the Expos.

People in Montreal were lied to as well, as Loria promised to rebuild the franchise and bring a championship, but it was one of his conniving misdeeds. But winning a championship wasn't ever his priority, either. This isn't to say he wasn't a winner or that he never cared about constructing a triumphant ball club.

But there is a sense that he's only in the business to embezzle millions of dollars while running a scam, and ruin the integrity of a game that is already in shambles because of the performance-enhancing drug crisis and other deficiencies that have materialized under inept MLB commissioner, Bud Selig's watch. Granted, Loria lied to taxpayers of Miami Dade County, who are now irate over a hoax that leaves thousands of South Florida residents pledging to boycott the team. The monstrosity for a sordid owner, when Loria swindled taxpayers out of millions just to buy office furniture, expensive drapes and fabric for pillow covers, has sadly sabotaged his reputation and also placed the Marlins franchise in the middle of turmoil.

There is, no doubt, people hoping to file a lawsuit against Loria at this point, enraged and disgusted over the fact that he swindled fans again. It's almost mind-boggling how Loria hasn't learned the first time, committing similar crimes twice, still set in his narrow-minded, deplorable ways. The most troubling part of all of this, throughout the SEC investigation, is that Miami taxpayers will owe more than $2.4 billion once payments on the stadium balloons. He's more of criminal for pocketing revenue-sharing dollars, for claiming the team couldn't afford to erect the park themselves and for building a stadium on counterfeit money, thanks to baffled, misguided taxpayers who made it possible for the new ballpark, a venue with a bevy of empty seats last season.

This is a public outrage, to say the least, a franchise foundering and deteriorating on its deathbed. Selig couldn't stop Loria and Samson from destroying another baseball market, and a high-market team on the top of it. At least a couple times, perhaps more, Loria has done something to hurt and affect his persona. As he undermines the sport, he is, as usual, brilliant in a sense -- and sadly -- is brilliant enough to influence people to believe he's a shrewd businessman who will follow through on his promises.

The most powerful man in baseball, using his business acumen to become richer and bolder, happens to be a fraud, a phony, and a two-timing swindler. But no matter how one understands it, no matter how much no one wants to think about it, Loria and Samson are partners in crime, and this is a slap in the face to those who actually appreciates the game. After the most bizarre scene in Montreal, after allowing the team to hit rock bottom, Loria sold the Expos for $120 million to a partnership comprising of 29 other major league baseball clubs and he was given a $38.5 million interest-free loan. In return, he brought the Marlins for $158.5 million.

This made it possible for then-Marlins owner John Henry to purchase the Boston Red Sox. Of all things he's done, the Marlins team won the 2003 World Series. Amazingly enough he was the owner, he was the man who celebrated in triumph, but destroyed plenty of lives before and after. But because of an arbitration panel ruled in favor of Loria, Samson and Selig, claiming the plaintiffs' "sense of betrayal, even if justified, doesn't amount to fraud." At the end of the 2004 season, Selig declared the Expos would relocate to Washington, D.C.

All along, Selig know they were lying and refused to confront Loria and Samson. In other words, he condoned this behavior, he allowed them both to get away with these senseless actions. There wasn't a year that Selig didn't see the Marlins finances, but as always he's covering up for Loria and Samson to protect his legacy, the dispirited league and those two frauds' reputations. It's obvious Loria will be allowed a free ride, without serving a suspension or being hit with an expensive fine. In the meantime, though, he broke his promise that he and Samson vowed to competitiveness. Turns out he reneged on his word.

There's a problem in Miami, in the recent fallout of a trade frenzy, dumping $181 million in salary by sending Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers before the 2012 trade deadline. The next move sending Heath Bell to Arizona shortly after the season ended. But the Marlins weren't done. Bye bye, Jose Reyes. See you later, Mark Buehrle. Farewell, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio. In other news, the Toronto Blue Jays -- just like that -- are AL East contenders, pulling off a 12-player trade, which is deemed as a major overhaul for the Blue Jays. And suddenly, even throughout the offseason, Toronto benefits in the latest fire sale for a Marlins team that's in tremendous disarray.

"Alright, I'm pissed off!!! Plain & Simple," slugger Giancarlo Stanton tweeted.

The Marlins owe $19.6 million to their four players past arbitrations, when they entered last season with a $101.6 million payroll. There's a very slight chance Stanton will re-sign and commit to a long-term deal with the Marlins. With all this lost talent, it only makes the Marlins richer, as the value increases to an estimate of $450 million, according to Forbes.

This is what sports have become in Miami, unfortunately, where a shenanigan is committing fraud and robbing fans of currency.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Andy Reid’s Days Are Numbered In Philly

A long time ago, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie should have parted ways with embattled coach Andy Reid. A long time ago, the Eagles should have moved in another direction for the betterment of their team. The level of tension and criticism, which coaches and pro athletes commonly tolerates on the east coast, is anything but respectful and kind to Mr. Reid.

That might be east coast bias? Um, no east coast bias here.

No one is kidding when they say the Philadelphia Eagles are an absolute mess, amid a publicity outcry as ineptitude and struggles from quarterback Mike Vick creates a ruckus in the City of Brotherly Love. It’s anything but lovely in Philly, and more than ever, it’s becoming hell on earth every week for a team that seems to be in a state of confusion, not sure which direction to take to resolve these repeated letdowns. The endless uproar of a quarterback controversy is taking away from what could and should have been an efficient season, with the entire Eagles’ ingredients, possessing the qualities of presumably a Super Bowl team.

Turns out the Eagles aren’t a legitimate threat as everyone had made them out to be, but an utter disappointment, leaving fans wondering and thinking about what direction this team needs to take to heal the wounds. Reid and Vick’s careers are in absolute uncertainty — a rational sentiment that inevitably comes to one’s mind. The Eagles, who are just 3-4 this season, haven’t stood up to expectations. This team was supposed to be the self-proclaimed “Dream Team,” an overhyped team operated by an inept Reid, whose coaching tenure is numbered.

Fourteen years now, and Reid is finally hit with more scrutiny, clearly ridiculed and loathed for his stubbornness and inflexibly. Philly fans are unhappy – not content with Reid. With time winding down, disgruntled Philly fans had enough of Andy Reid, and people locally have called in to sports talk radio ripping and venting their anger toward him. Early in the season, Lurie addressed the team with his unambiguous statement and said that another 8-8 season would not be tolerated. In clarity, Reid’s coaching job could be on the line, even though Lurie has been loyal and given his coach more elbowroom than most coaches in a risky business.

The final days of a reign looms for Reid and even he knows that himself, but not worried about his job status and is just taking it day by day to avoid unnecessary stress, while dealing with heavy burdens and criticism for sticking with Vick and not giving the starting nod to backup Nick Foles. This would be a good time to experiment and explore other options. This would be a good time, though some fans are satisfied and prefer to see Vick engineer the offense, to bench him in favor of the rookie quarterback and see what he can produce for the second half of the season. Vick, who has nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, lacks a sense of awareness and has been too clumsy.

The struggles that have haunted the Eagles through the first six weeks are Vick’s ball security issues and Reid’s decision to not demote him and not make a drastic change for the sake of the franchise, as Reid desperately should be trying anything to save his job. But it’s a bit too late. Nothing can save Reid’s job, not even Foles, not even a hapless defense, not even team executives. The firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo during bye week and awarding Todd Bowles a challenging role, the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator, certainly wasn’t enough.

No matter what Reid does at this point, no matter what direction he takes, he’s on his way out of Philly by the holiday season and should be dismissed. He’s the longest-tenure NFL head coach, and the most polarizing coach ever — it would be the end of his coaching era in Philly. It doesn’t matter what kind of relationship Reid and Lurie built over the years, just doesn’t seem relevant. Lurie is running a business, not having a family reunion. He is trying to put the best product and coaching staff on the field and, at the end of the day, it’s all about winning if nothing else.

It was Reid’s idea to give Vick the starting job and replace the veteran quarterback with a beleaguered Donovan McNabb, who was wrongly blamed and then ran out of town by bitter and ungrateful Philly fans. If nobody else had confidence in Vick, following a dogfighting scandal that killed his credibility and reflected on his image in a negative way as he had fallen from grace, Reid did and gave Vick a second chance after paying his debts to society. When he bankrolled a dogfighting ring, which was perceived as Bad Newz Kennels, he was portrayed as a criminal and now he’s a scapegoat on the field, sputtering badly after three straight losses. For one, Vick’s offensive line is horrendous and cannot protect him from taking a brutal beating that usually results in a fumble or either an interception, as he’s forced to get rid of the ball to avoid a boisterous pass-rush.

It’s becoming a weekly trait, as Eagles defense, under Bowles, continues to struggle collectively. They’ve got a lot of major problems defensively – missing too many tackles, bad penalties and few stops on third downs. So, it’s not only fair to blame Vick, but the quarterbacks do take 90 percent of the blame when something goes wrong during the regular season as it has in Philly. Vick isn’t getting it done, but Reid insists that he’s his guy. That’s where Reid is making his mistake and where he will cost himself a job as Eagles head coach, especially if this team misses the postseason, which they probably will at the rate the Eagles are playing.

Stop being the Eaglets.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize it is time for a new regime in Philly, time to cut ties with Reid and ride the coaching carousel during the offseason. A lot of the blame in recent memory, particularly after a humiliating 30-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday, has been placed on Reid and Vick. Frustrated and disillusioned, fans showed up at Lincoln Financial Field, booing and jeering Reid. They were chanting “Fire Andy,” in a game that the Birds were outplayed and outcoached.

I’ve tried defending Andy for many years. I cannot much longer. It’s time for a change and he won’t be coaching the Eagles much longer. Barring a change of culture, Reid’s theory of doing a better job is getting old and Vick should be benched. If he’s not athletic or accurate, maybe it’s a sign that this team now requires a change … or else no success for a non-talented, broken and underachieving franchise, unable to make strides and dominate the NFC East – with LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek. There’s no question, after his gruesome crime off the field and recent struggles, that Vick has turned into the most polarizing figure in the NFL, if not in sports.

Vick is either loved or hated but Reid is scorned completely, with profoundly uncheerful fans that can’t wait to celebrate his demise to erase the long-suffering of losses and endless woes. This gives a person every right to be skeptical and unsure about Vick. But it’s rational to assume that Vick is gone if Reid is fired at the end of this season, when he was the one coach who gambled and recruited the troubled star player, and then made him a starter. This late in Vick’s career, he’s not an elite quarterback, although at one point he was a prodigious athlete before sent to prison for his dogfighting scandal. The more he throws, the more likely he will throw the ball to the opposite team for an interception. The more he holds on to the ball, the more likely he fumbles. By the end of every game this season, when he’s turned over the ball 50,000 times, we think of his poor accuracy, his apathy and his lack of maturity.

Meanwhile, if he can’t win eight games at the most, Reid is definitely hitting the road and won’t ever be appreciated by unsympathetic fans.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Whose Fault Now, Cowboys? Tony Romo, No Doubt

A person can only give Tony Romo the benefit of the doubt for so long. By now, we are long past extending our sympathy to an unskilled player who is not reaching standards with a demanding, heavy scrutinized franchise, as we should be with a man who continues to make the same mistakes and not learn from his boo-boos.

Romo is playing for the wrong team, an organization not committed to failure and instead perfection. But we never see perfection from Romo, and if Cowboys’ fans happen to witness a paragon of excellence, it’s never during a critical time in the game. That’s usually when he blows it. Late in the game.

When he’s under pressure and needs to make a statement, Romo chokes on damn applesauce. The worst he’s ever choked on was Gerber’s baby food. Over the past few seasons, as Romo quarterbacked the Dallas Cowboys to early postseason exits or horrifying collapses, which usually comes no later than December, he’s rarely been blamed or vilified following embarrassing losses that were a disgrace to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who spent top-dollar to assemble the best product.

Maybe Romo can pioneer the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory, but he’d have to minimize the number of turnovers, cease making poor decisions with the ball and stop being so careless and play with more assertiveness. Sometimes watching Romo makes me cringe. Sometimes watching Romo makes me less interested in watching the Cowboys. It’s the same old routine, the same tired absurdity each week and Romo is so predictable, that fans don’t have to even watch to get the 411.

Be consistent and protect the ball. That’s all we ever ask of Antonio Ramiro Romo, the choking quarterback who is overpraised and defended by his peers, fans and bosses. For almost six years, Romo wasn’t keeping up with the Joneses, not then, not ever. It’s well established that Romo, who threw four interceptions on Sunday in a disastrous 29-24 loss to the New York Giants, is not the next elite quarterback. He’s not even close to what Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach were. It’s troubling enough that Romo, whose inability to complete and deliver a pass to his wide receivers, cannot ever advance further than the first round or even escape the first round with a postseason victory. And if he’s not mistake-free and persists on blundering week in and week out, Romo will always be victimized by a defensive back and will have the ball picked.

One day, eventually, Jones will come to his senses and replace him with another quarterback. No one in pro football, after having an awful performance, has been appreciated more than Romo. He thinks he’s one who should be anchoring the Cowboys. And, of course, just by his body language and frantic looks, which has become old news lately for Cowboys fans, Romo does not take accountability for his team’s failures. Like so many tortured fans, mad with the world and disappointed at the organization, they surely could run Romo out of town, burn his expensive jerseys and stage a funeral outside of Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

It’s hard to believe in a guy when each week he repeatedly turns over the ball to cost the Cowboys and his teammates a victory. It’s hard to believe in a guy who is frequently shaky and vulnerable for attack every time he takes a snap. It has become common to watch Romo gag each week, like a man gagging on a T-bone steak. The Heinrich maneuver could in all probability save that man’s life, whereas for Romo, not even an emergency rescue procedure could rescue him from hell. In fairness, Romo is likely less blameless, with a team that consist of an aging core, with a team that lacks an offensive line. It doesn’t help that Jason Garrett is on the sideline as Cowboys head coach, as his bad clock management and unsuccessful play calling could have an unwanted effect on Romo.

If people would just look at the offense, they’d see an aging group of players who were recruited by Bill Parcells – Miles Austin and Jason Witten. As they approach the end of their careers, DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff are only getting older and cannot run as hard as they once did to rush the opposing quarterback. But before the Cowboys are described as a mediocre team for the next few years, which makes sense if Romo is still quarterbacking the team, let’s not forget that Dez Bryant is the star of the future. And, in fact, he should be the only player worthy of wearing the star logo helmet, after making what appeared to be a spectacular game-winning catch Sunday.

Sadly enough, the Cowboys are a staggering 3-4 and are in tremendous disarray, with another season in jeopardy of nothing more but a waste. If Jones doesn’t care much, then apparently no one else cares much, either, when in fact all of his players are paid and overly pampered. This is a huge problem for the Cowboys and Romo, about as worst as it can get for a famous team that has failed to reach expectations and is bothered by fiascoes, which has crippled Jones’ ‘Boys for years. What should have been an eye opener a long time ago was Romo, who was given more than enough time to correct his throwing mechanics, his weak spots and find ways to eliminate costly mistakes that normally results in an intercepted pass. Romo can’t breathe, nor can he dodge the scrutiny, after throwing to men wearing blue uniforms instead of those wearing white. What I know is, and you should know this as well, is that the Cowboys won’t ever again see triumph until Jones part ways with a fluctuant quarterback.

I don’t care that he becomes the first ever Cowboys quarterback to throw for 500 yards in a game. I don’t care that he’s signed through 2013. I don’t care that Bill Polian, a former Panthers and Colts executive, advised the Cowboys to stick with him. And I certainly don’t care that Romo wasn’t the center of attention or even blamed for most of the team’s misfortune, during a time in his life when he was dating starlet Jessica Simpson and jetted off to a romantic trip to Mexico before a playoff game. I don’t even care whether or not Terrell Owens was a detriment to the team and divided his teammates. That’s all irrelevant now. Talk about what’s relevant.

Romo has won only one playoff game in his six seasons as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback. Romo, sad to say the least, is really not much of a difference from Ryan Leaf, Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde or Drew Bledsoe. This season alone, he has nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. As we are midway through the NFL season, Romo is declining, retrograding and deteriorating. Where he stands now is far from elite. Where he stands now is far from a Super Bowl winner. If they could, the Cowboys would snatch Aikman from the broadcasting booth and sign him to a deal to take snaps on Sundays. If you think this is a joke, it’s really not a joke, it’s not a laughing matter. It’s a disgrace to a well-respected franchise, which is now America’s most scrutinized franchise, as Romo and company makes a damn mockery out of a team built of champions, good character and grace.

If Romo is their guy, ‘Boys won’t be ‘Boys.

Truth is, he’s not a franchise quarterback, he’s a franchise disgrace, but Jones doesn’t see it. Then again, maybe he does and just doesn’t want change and rather continue to head down the wrong direction, delaying success and keeping an impatient Dallas fan base waiting for different results.

If the Cowboys are to escape misery and win a Super Bowl title, Jones must get rid of Romo.

No other solution.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

2012 London Olympics: LeBron James’ Heroics Delivers Gold to U.S.

A nation shared its proudness and appreciation Sunday. Basketball was MADE IN THE USA, after all. LeBron James, among all players, was the man of red, white and blue, representing the United States with a sense of pride and grace and led the U.S. to back-to-back Olympic gold medals. He, among all players, jumped for joy in celebration near the bench, wearing a widened smile as if he was a kid who opened a brand new Spalding basketball with MJ’s signature on it. As he led the Americans in the gold-medal game, he was entitled to jubilate with his U.S. teammates, he was entitled to laugh and crack jokes with the youngest one on the team, Anthony Davis.

The man who is the most polarizing figure is suddenly an American hero for restoring hope in U.S. basketball, for reducing the embarrassment of falling from grace in a game we originated, dominated, popularized, and then produced NBA’s finest studs to showcase a new era of talented stars. The man who is the most loathed player is suddenly a savior, a humble and unselfish human being. You don’t have to like him, no, but what he’s done for U.S. basketball is beyond incredible — it’s athletic brilliance and staying power. Maybe after he searched for U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski on the sideline and greeted him with a hug, you perceive him differently. Maybe after he stood on the podium, aglow with pride, fighting back tears as the Star Spangled Banner belted out of the loudspeaker, you have gained more respect for James. Lauded in these games, he wrapped the American flag around his shoulders and sprinted a victory lap around the court, and then celebrated with the guys proudly and happily.

He didn’t just make the country proud — he escaped hatred, anger and antipathy as one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. It marked the first time, since the megalomaniacal spectacle he televised to announce that he would be signing with the Miami Heat, that he’s pleased millions nationwide. It marked the first time, since he departed Cleveland abruptly to outrage most of the town, that he’s beautifully appreciated for an unpaid effort to compete for our country and be honored for healing America’s basketball woes. The dominance of the United States men’s basketball team, mainly because of James’ leadership and humility, has been profoundly crafty and unbeatable. With James on the U.S. side, the basketball program has risen to the top of the world again, built with NBA stars from a number of franchises that came together and contended against world-class athletes as the game is globalized. You may not love LeBron, but he loves you, willing to sacrifice his vacation months to represent this country in a respectful manner. That’s what he did this summer — unselfishly and willingly — and didn’t mind playing for his country. Before they partied in London, with gold medals hanging from their necks, James poured in 19 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had a team-high four assists, all while he was in foul trouble.

So he finally smiled, breathed a sigh of relief, realizing he had just done something good for America, where he’s despised and demonized because of jealousy or bitterness. But now, we can only send our thanks and bow to the King after his excellent performances throughout the tournament. There’s no doubt, just no doubt, that James would have been named the MVP in the Olympics, if such an honorable award existed. But in America, he’s clearly our Most Valuable Player, the global superstar we are impressed by and call our superhero. For James, the reigning NBA champion after winning his first title for the Miami Heat, he’s the iconic face of American sports, particularly for what he’s accomplished in these Olympics. And by no means were Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant underachievers in London, as the team almost featured a different star on a nightly basis.

Durant, meanwhile, scored 30 points and collected nine rebounds and Bryant scored 17 points. This time, respectfully so, the United States needed James in the fourth quarter. As time dwindled down in the final period — like he did last spring for the Heat — he came through when it counted the most to prove to the world that he’s a clutch performer. He carried Team USA on his shoulders, just as he carried the flag proudly when it all came to an end on the last day of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, a chance for the players to get to know one another as they came together as respected teammates. But most of all, even if you hate James, he did this for you, he did this for America, and he did this for me.

It’s about America, not LeBron. The absence of King James could have smudged Team USA’s gold-medal ambitions, but, of course, Krzyzewski lobbied for him to join Team USA and restore a winning personality internationally. We can make better sense of it, when perhaps James had the best fourth-quarter performance of the afternoon, silencing haters and doubters. It looks a lot like James isn’t selfish and egocentric, but a competitor who opted for a change of scenery and seized the opportunity to venture elsewhere to win a championship. The chosen one, the man of the fourth performed to hold off Spain late in the closing minutes. James basically rebranded U.S. basketball and repaired his bad-boy image. The nail-biting scare was when James took over, as the Americans coasted to a 107-100 victory.

The Spaniards tried to cut into a lead the U.S. owned, but down the stretch Chris Paul made a couple of baskets that extended the lead. The signature play happened when James drove to the lane for a dunk that gave the U.S. a 99-91 lead and put the icing on the cake. When Spain pulled within six points, LeBron was still playing aggressive, although he had four fouls, and responded by hitting a three-pointer that gave Team USA an eight-point advantage. At age 33, entering his 16th season, Bryant is still the best closer but isn’t as dominant. There’s the notion that Team USA could have taken home silver, if not for James, as the U.S. beat Spain by 11 points. In today’s game, LeBron is gradually stepping into the closer role in his prime, and four years from now in Rio, he’ll definitely be the star all eyes will be on.

The Americans are back to take back what was theirs at the Summer Olympics with the likes of Bryant, Paul, Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Deron Williams and James Harden, doing it without the presence of Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade.

But it’s about the USA and thanking James.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

2012 London Games: Nobody Can Catch Usain Bolt

The first thing I should note, as I couldn’t keep track of the Jamaicans smoking the U.S., is that Usain Bolt is really the greatest track showman. He’s a showboat, a demigod and a natural-born athlete, the sprinting sensation of the world, which affirms he’s The World’s Fastest Man. Nobody can keep up with Bolt, let alone the Americans, an amazing talent running the greatest footraces of these London Games.

Lightning Bolt is the hero of the Olympics, a new theme of track and field. It’s the greatest show in the world by a man who is merely described as the fastest man alive, born with a gift to run for his life and break world records as we become crazy about the Usain Bolt Show. His countryman, Yohan Blake, the 100 and 200-meter silver medalist, handed over the baton and, man, Bolt pulled away in the final leg to blaze across the finish line with a time of 36.84 seconds. I was impressed by him and dropped my jaw Saturday night, as always, when Bolt anchored Jamaica’s world-record performance in the 4×100 relay, breaking its own record in its gold-medal medal victory.

Walt Disney released a film called “Cool Runnings” years ago. The movie was based on a true story about a Jamaican bobsled team that raced at the Winter Olympics. The folks at Disney — as Bolt has been entertaining and electrifying to characterize the nature of track and field events in these games — should choose to make a sequel to “Cool Runnings” and call it Lightning Bolt. The motion picture, after all, would be a seller and top the movie’s box office as one of the greatest sports films of all-time.

It was, after all, the prelude to an Olympic dream, and Bolt cemented his place as one of the greatest runners of all time. There’s no denying it — we are watching Bolt blossom into a legend of these London Games before our very eyes, after sustaining excellence of defending three championships. He is hailed as the Michael Jordan of track stars, captivating 80,000 in Olympic Stadium, with his incredible feet, agility and will to win during his prime as millions across the world respects him rightfully so. The night for Great Britain was filled with euphoria, as well, when Mo Farah beat Ethiopia’s Dejen Gebremeskel in the men’s 5,000-meter final to go with his 10,000 gold, perhaps more impressive than watching Bolt and Bailey in the final leg that concluded with a dramatic finish. Bolt is the most coveted of all Olympians and pulled away from American Ryan Bailey, an impressive run in the final leg of the race, while a rambunctious crowd erupted in cheers and wildly screamed.

My eyes, however, were glued to Bolt the entire time, and no one else. He is, without argument, an Olympic legend, no matter what IOC president Jacques Rogge thinks about his legacy, saying Bolt is not yet there. The rest of the world thinks he wasn’t only the star of the sport, but feels he took another step toward moving into the company of all-time great Carl Lewis, who Bolt ripped earlier this week. If not now, eventually we’ll have no choice but to call him a legend, surpassing Lewis as the most decorated sprinter in Olympic history. Most of all, however, he’s wore the Jamaican flag around his shoulders and gold medals around his neck three times. It’s no fluke that Bolt dominated the 100 and 200-meter with his God-given speed when, rather amazingly, he’s the most relentless athlete the world has ever seen and embraced.

There’s no one as fast as Bolt, a near-perfectionist and the greatest sprinter, running all the way to claim his third gold medal of these London Games and sixth in two summer games. There’s no one who runs harder than Bolt, not right now at least. There’s nothing more breathtaking and wonderful in sports than Bolt. You were delighted, thrilled, essentially falling out of your seat, wondering how the heck he runs so quick. The most athletic runner in London is Bolt. This is a guy who once, with a straight face, said he’s the best of all-time and he’s right about it.

That’s no lie.

But what about the United States? From the moment American Tyson Gay was handed the baton, he had trouble keeping up with Blake, who outran him to give Bolt a huge lead. The handoff from Gay to Justin Gatlin was anything but perfect. But if we’ve learned anything, besides understanding that Bolt is by far the greatest, it’s that Bailey can somehow stay with the fastest man in history. This is not to say, mind you, that he can edge Bolt in a race, because it’s not seemingly possible and won’t ever happen. As time progressed during the race, Bolt had to run all the way and beat Bailey to the finish. There’s no doubt Bailey, 23, is an emerging U.S. track star, not intimidated to compete and endure a challenging footrace against Bolt.

Short of the finish — as Jamaica dominated again — a common trait of the Jamaican culture, the Americans finished second in a time of 37.04 and captured silver. As for Bailey, he’s the emerging U.S track star for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, where he looks to compete and avenge a gold-medal loss against Bolt, who had to run at full speed. This time, Bolt had to actually give it his best effort, like having to accelerate and run all the way until he reached the finish line, just enough to hold off the Americans. Bolt couldn’t slow down and celebrate prematurely, but when he delivered a signature performance, he performed gold-medal winner Farah’s famous salute.

The Jamaicans were running for one purpose, and indeed they brought home the gold, as defending three titles was Bolt’s stated goal. The Jamaicans are celebrating, and among all sprinters, Bolt is partying the most. But as long as Bolt is around, he will be the man to beat. With him around, Jamaica has sustained historic achievements.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dwight Howard To Hollywood: Lakers Soar Into Prime Contention

The Buss family, especially Jim, the son of Jerry who is running an operation out of Los Angeles, negotiated and somehow landed Dwight Howard in Hollywood. The Los Angeles Lakers, whose recipe for success is constant rebuilding with blockbuster moves, satisfied their star guard Kobe Bryant, surrounding him with star power and plenty of talent to suddenly emerge as favorites in the West.

It’s a no-brainer, after a four-team trade sent Howard to L.A. and after the Lakers super-sized their roster to regain strength and aspiration — as always — that the Lakers are in contention for an NBA championship. The embarrassment the Lakers sustained the last two seasons impetuously drove the Busses to revamp and make certain they stay at the top to contend in the postseason. The Dwightmare is finally over, and folks all over can breathe a sigh of relief, particularly fans donning purple and gold attire who are lucky to have D12 arrive at Hollywood, where he fits in rather perfectly. After all, he’s an entertainer, a solid performer when he chooses to be and earned the “Superman” moniker from his days in Orlando.

Put aside all the rumors. Put aside all the speculations and tired trade sagas. Willingly and merrily, he’s leaving the Sunshine State to relocate to a new address in Los Angeles — off Figueroa Street and Chick Hearn Court — and respectfully steps into the spotlight, welcomed to his new home immediately with a chance to contend for a title with a team demanding to continue a winning tradition. Not surprising, however, that the Lakers acquired Howard from Orlando to make Thursday’s headlines, when he’s been seen around Los Angeles. It’s evident he enjoys the glamour of five-star restaurants and luxury hotels in a town where he’s now famously known as the Lakers’ seven-foot center, or rather remarkably, a superhero who is already idolized, although L.A. fans booed Howard during a ballgame at Dodger Stadium when the Jumbotron showed him standing outside of a stadium suite. And then he was also spotted walking out of a Beverly Hills hotel.

Like Randy Newman and most celebrities, Howard LOVES L.A., realizing he’s joined the Lakers, an assembled team with a nucleus of talent. After adding Howard to the roster, the magnitude of L.A. pro sports centers around the Lakers, whose starting lineup features NBA’s finest studs in Bryant, Metta World Peace and Steve Nash. Pau Gasol, who is also an elite megastar for the Lakers, was ecstatic and relieved he wasn’t traded elsewhere when he’s been floating in trade rumors for months and likely was one of the players to be moved as part of a blockbuster deal. Meanwhile, Howard is, at long last, out of Orlando. He is, at long last, glad to be putting on a Lakers uniform. He is not, at long last, disgruntled or unhappy with a change of scenery, coming to an established team destined to make a strong championship push.

The Lakers, suddenly, are very interesting. The offseason was, for the most part, chaotic and tumult with a lingering saga hijacking the summer as 24/7 coverage on Howard annoyed fans. When he demanded to be traded — with all indications that he wanted to call Brooklyn home — the Lakers, as they should have, phoned the Orlando Magic organization and listened to offers. It was frustrating for months, as the Magic and Howard weren’t sure what their intentions were as to whether or not the self-proclaimed Superman desired staying in Orlando until he became a free agent after next season. It was telling the Lakers were old and stagnant, and were in dire need of younger and fresher legs to keep up with teams like the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder in the open floor. Having said that, the Lakers continue to bring in the missing pieces to blend in well alongside Bryant, who still wants to be bestowed a championship ring, as they are now in position to win a championship.

Before Nash and Howard joined the company of Bryant and the gang, the Lakers were devoid of athleticism with an aging Kobe well past his prime. As he continues to age, Bryant can’t score as much as he used to nor can he play as hard as he used to when he was well in his prime. The folks in the front office knew they had to sooner than later be proactive and build around one of the greatest scorers in the game, as a way to put a smile on Kobe’s face to avoid any feuding. Remember, years ago he demanded a trade and essentially — if you believe everything you read and hear — was supposed to end up finishing his fantastic career in the Windy City, where he’d have played in the shadows of Michael Jordan and would’ve had tremendous pressure to fill the shoes of a legend. Had it not been for Kobe’s pouting and whining, which may have been a brilliant strategy that forced the Lakers to head into a new direction, they wouldn’t have pursued in a deal to acquire Gasol from Memphis.

Right now, though, the newest Laker is Howard. The deal is officially done, and the Lakers look forward to raising a 17th championship banner into the rafters at Staples Center with a celebration on their minds. In many ways — that is — we simply understand the Lakers’ motives and philosophies. The thing is, if there is a talked-about big man available who is dominant to prolong excellence in the modern era, the Lakers don’t hesitate and finds a way to get him. Quite often, as we’ve seen for decades, the Lakers have turned sizable big men into legends, relying on a dominant inside presence and high-profile centers — Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Mikan and Shaquille O’Neal.

Truth be told, the Lakers were aggressive and refused to pass on a lifetime offer that could benefit the team in the long run. It’s tough to be in Mitch Kupchak’s position, but the Lakers general manager wasn’t letting Howard get away and amazingly pulled of another steal, certainly in conversations to be named NBA Executive of the Year. It wasn’t long ago, when he blundered on botched maneuvers and dismantled the team briefly, that he was a puppet on strings unable to have a word in the personnel decisions, as Buss dictated the direction of his franchise. They both needed a wake up call, which occurred when the Lakers were dispatched in the second round for the second straight year with a five-game loss to the Thunder last season.

The reality of it all was that the Lakers couldn’t win with their current roster, badly and seriously needing an overhaul to revitalize a broken team in the City of Angels. The reality of it all was that the Lakers couldn’t survive after embarrassing losses that resulted in early playoff exits. The Lakers wasted no time to rectify the problem, and wisely addressed their top priority by strengthening the point guard position, bringing in two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash to considerably form a scintillating backcourt combination. This is what happens when a team is humiliated in the postseason and continues to fall victim to blowouts, a prominent franchise that upgraded its team to make a run at the championship.

It was nice of the rival Phoenix Suns to reach an agreement on a sign-and-trade that sent Nash to Los Angeles. The only solution, then, was for the Lakers to trade center Andrew Bynum for Howard. They had conversations over the phone, trying hard to whisper sweet things in Rob Hennigan’s ears, Orlando’s newly minted GM. It took a four-team, eight-player deal to get it done, and while the Lakers have improved overnight it seems, the 76ers ended up with Bynum and will now have a low-post presence to create shooting opportunities for Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday. The other team involved was Denver and they picked up Andre Iguodala, a swingman whose presence can sharpen the Nuggets’ perimeter defense.

On the day the Lakers welcomed home Howard, it was a day the Lakers waved goodbye to Bynum, as his services were no longer needed. Either he was consistent or inconsistent. Either he was lousy or effective. And with Howard, as the team’s next big man, the Lakers think they can actually succeed with him in the lineup — they are doing whatever it takes to win. That explains why they have a multitude of NBA titles, why they are either loved or loathed and why Lakers’ games are national televised regularly. This is what happens when an NBA team consists of an array of stars. We are infatuated with stars and love our superstars, as many Americans revere these idols, madly obsessed with the Bryants, the Howards, the Nashes and other attractive figures who are marketable and winners.

As for the Lakers, they make moves to win NOW. The Lakers, as usual, are eyeing a gleaming trophy. It’s all about winning championships, and each year L.A. is normally in contention, rarely missing the postseason. If the Lakers do miss the postseason, they aren’t down very long and eventually return to the playoffs and makes a deep run to be a menace in the West, like they will now. The Lakers, ladies and gentlemen, are back and could have a 70-plus-win season, especially with Kobe and Nash’s veteran leadership. It’s their 17th season in the league, but they both can still play at a high level as the new 30 and older is the new 20 and younger. The gravity of an NBA championship is within reach, and with the Howard acquisition, anything can happen. It’s still surreal that Howard will make Hollywood his home, when becoming a Laker didn’t ever seem feasible, until three days ago. And before then, he was flirting with the Nets and the Rockets, without the Lakers even being on his list. But now that he’s with the Lakers, he doesn’t regret it and appears to be in high spirits.

Howard will be a free agent at the end of next season, and said he’s testing the market. There’s nothing wrong with exploring options, but he won’t be going anywhere after next season if the Lakers have a deep playoff run and wins a championship. He realizes that he can win multiple titles in L.A. and celebrate alongside Bryant, who is by far the best player of this generation. If Howard is playing for championship rings, then he knows L.A. is the right place.