Thursday, July 16, 2015

The NFL team with the most bandwagon fans: The Arizona Cardinals?

When you see it...
In the lull of the NFL offseason, you may have noticed a recent study conducted by Emory University regarding fan tendencies in professional American football. The study came in several parts, with fans reacting strongest to the ranking of fan bases—no surprises there. 

Claiming that their ranking was based off of factors of fan behavior, such as attendances, price of tickets and revenue, the Emory team released results collected over the past three years to a pretty familiar tune, featuring the blue-bloods and heavyweights as the best fan bases of the NFL. Cowboy Nation can claim supremacy over NFL fandom. Deflate-gate has not deflated the Mass-holes' enthusiasm for their regional English team. The Giants won the battle of New York, but not by much. And surprisingly, the Ravens came in at fourth. It's not terribly surprising how the Emory crew rounded out the top of their list since the teams have enjoyed recent success, multiple Super Bowl championships, and relatively modern, large stadiums. The surprises in the list come later, featuring the Cheeseheads and Steeler Nation at seven and fourteen, respectively. I was personally surprised to find the 12th Man of the Seattle Seahawks at an alarmingly low number 26 spot on the list. Given the new Nike jerseys, Beats and Oberto beef jerky sponsorships for Richard Sherman, the loudest open-air stadium in the league, and not to mention successive trips to the Super Bowl including the SB XLVIII win, the Seahawks still find themselves in the 26 spot. The defense to this ranking was that on average, Seahawks fans relatively do not spend as much money on their team as other fans do.

I currently live in Seattle and I'll admit, I went from owning just a Marshawn Lynch jersey when he arrived in 2010 to a full wardrobe of Wilson, Sherman, Harvin and two Lynch jerseys since the team started winning the big games. But I'm not the only one. Wilson, Lynch, Sherman, Chancellor, Thomas III and now Jimmy Graham have all enjoyed extended periods of time on the NFL's top 25 selling jerseys, meaning that football fans in general are willing to spend at least $100 for one item of apparel for the Seahawks. The rise in jersey sales led me to two conclusions: A.) the true Seattle Seahawks fan base is relatively small and B.) there are most definitely Seahawks bandwagon fans, but they are not incorporated into the study, or else Seattle would be higher on this list. Perhaps this is a good thing since Emory is willing to scope out the true fan bases, but then again, not all fans can afford to go to games because of financial reasons and the stadium's natural capacity. Could this explain why the Cowboys that play in a stadium that seats 120,000 people have the "best fans" while the proud Raider Nation only comes in at number 30 because they play in the small Coliseum?

This led me to question the credibility of the Emory study regarding the aspects of fan culture that they used. Are the fan bases in the study divided between the real and bandwagon fans? And if so, did they get it right? As a former Arizonan, I didn't think much of the list cause at least it meant that Arizona Cardinals fans are better than Seattle Seahawks fans, right?

Well not necessarily. While Emory was busy ranking all of the fan bases, they also took it upon themselves to find which team has the most bandwagon fans in the NFL. According to any sports fan you talk to, a bandwagon fan is someone who starts rooting for a team that has enjoyed recent success. According to their study, Arizona Cardinals "fans are most responsive to winning percentage in the NFL based on our [Emory's] statistical model of attendance." 

Upon reading a headline by CBSsports that a "Study says Arizona Cardinals have the most bandwagon fans in the NFL," I was honestly shocked. Recently before reading the aforementioned article, I saw a video on titled "Arizona- Our State of Football." It is a pretty accurate crash course for anyone who is not familiar with the teams relatively short tenure in the desert which began in 1988, 90 years after the club's inception. Many people tend to forget that the Arizona/Phoenix Cardinals, previously the, St. Louis Cardinals, the Card-Pitt, and the Chicago Cardinals are the oldest professional football club in the NFL. But that is not why they have "bandwagon fans".

For many, the Red Birds have the feel of a team that showed up late to the dance. For example, they were the last NFL team to join twitter and as a result, they have the fewest followers (191.4K followers). The futility in the hot Tempe sun at Sun Devil Stadium in the 90's was forgettable. The new team in the desert performed in front of essentially thousands of Cowboys fans that saw a mediocre St. Louis team lose week in and week out. Because of 100+ degree heat, the Cardinals oftentimes had to resort to wearing their white uniforms, a slap in the face to the visiting Dallas Cowboys that couldn't wear their infamous white uniforms in front of masses of Cowboys fans at Sun Devil Stadium. 

Longtime Arizona Cardinals fans will always remember the playoff run that the team embarked on during the 1998 season which saw Jake "The Snake" Plummer, an ASU product, lead the team past the Dallas Cowboys in the old Cowboys stadium during the Wild-Card round of the playoffs. That's the furthest the team got into the postseason until the 2008 season. By 2008, the Cardinals were already settled into their new University of Phoenix Stadium which opened in 2006, abandoning a shabby horseshoe stadium owned by a mediocre state school that held 12 sellouts in 18 seasons for a spaceship-looking, air-conditioned modern architectural marvel that has holdout every American Football game it has hosted. In terms of sellouts, the University of Phoenix Stadium has sold out every Cardinals' regular season game with an impressive streak of 92 games in a row, beginning with the first Cardinals game hosted at the stadium. 

Back to the Emory University study, the group mentioned that they based their rankings off of data that was mostly concerned with fan attendance to the responsiveness of winning and full stadiums. Considering that the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals went 100-188 during their 18 seasons at Sun Devil Stadium with only 12 sellouts, it would be easy to draw a correlation between losing and poor attendance. However, it is important to look past the losing factor because that is not what drove Arizonans out of the stadium. Let me ask you a question: imagine that your favorite team did not play in your hometown, but a new team recently moved to town. The new team is quite mediocre and play during the same time as your favorite team in 100 degree heat in a suburb that is a pretty long drive from your home. So would you rather stay at home and watch your favorite team play on TV with your family for free or would you rather spend a whole day in the baking sun while forking over several hundred dollars to see a poor excuse of a professional team?

When the Cardinals moved to their new stadium, they had been in the greater-Phoenix area for a generation. As a result, they brought a new uniform look featuring a mean cardinal mascot to the air-conditioned, indoor grass stadium for young, lifelong Cardinals fans. In typical Cardinals fashion, they christened the new stadium with a 5-11 record in the 2006 season, leading to the firing of head coach Dennis Green. The following season, new head coach Ken Whisenhunt chose to stick with the veteran quarterback Kurt Warner instead of the Matt Leinart. The decision turned out to be a winning move as Warner led the team to records of 8-8, 9-7 and 10-6 including a run to Super Bowl XLIII and one of the greatest postseason performances against the Green Bay Packers in the Wild-Card round of the 2009 season. But then again, what else would you expect from a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback?

So how did the fans react? For starters, the rebranding of an angrier bird logo was a hit in the valley. With two iconic faces of the franchise in Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner, many Cardinals fans bought their jerseys. Both of the players are true class acts and the Cardinals were blessed to have had them play together. Who could root against the unbelievably coordinated wide receiver who happens to be a single-father that donates $1000 to breast cancer research for every catch he makes in the month of October? What conservative Arizonan would root against a quarterback who loves Jesus more than football? Of course, the post-2006 Cardinals were not always peaches and cream, which brings forward the strongest argument against the Emory study. Kurt Warner definitely reinvigorated a mediocre franchise into winners, but when he did not start for the team, the team was it's usual wreck. In 2006, the Cardinals embarrassed themselves on Monday Night Football because "The Bears are who we thought they were!!" In 2010, a blow-out home loss on Monday Night Football to the rival 49ers was met with an agitated and repetitive, "That's fine" response by signal-caller Derek Anderson to the media. Two 5-11 seasons sandwiched a 27-21 regular season stretch, but you would not know it from looking at the capacity attendance attendance streak that remained intact at an impressive 40 home games.

Without Warner, Whisenhunt struggled in his last three season with the Cardinals, going 5-11, 8-8, and 5-11 as he failed to find a suitable replacement. The losing ultimately cost him his job, making way for Bruce Arians, a longtime assistant coach that finally got his shot at the head coaching spot during an interim period with the Indianapolis Colts. Arians is no fluke as he has led the Cardinals to 10-6 and 11-5 records during his two years with the team. 

Today, the Cardinals are a team that has experienced a brief period of consistent winning, a sharp contrast from how the team played in years past. They no longer hold an element of surprise to opponents and fans alike; however, I do not believe that these winning ways provide evidence of bandwagon fans. Sure, the 100-188 record with 12 sellouts at Sun Devil Stadium is put to shame by the 71-73 record with 92 consecutive sellouts at the University of Phoenix Stadium; however, that does not take into account that the team has undergone some major changes in recent years. The Bidwell family made winning decisions by building the University of Phoenix Stadium, signing Kurt Warner, hiring and firing Coach Whisenhunt and hiring Bruce Arians and Steve Keim. These are important decisions for a Benjamin Button-esque franchise that has been around forever but is only now going through its formative years.

So to address Emory, it is important to use data to measure fan tendencies; however, it is also important to understand and appreciate what it takes to win in the NFL and what makes the NFL the greatest American show on television. The move into an air-conditioned stadium undoubtedly helped raise attendance rates for the Cardinals, which just so happened when the team improved their talent. Lacking a high level of play in a few seasons at their new home, the Cardinals still managed to sell out 24 games when the team went a meager 5-11 for three seasons at the University of Phoenix Stadium. With the Red Sea guaranteed to make a full appearance in support of a greatly improved NFL franchise, these next few years will be the true indicators of whether or not more fans jump on the Cardinals bandwagon and if they in fact have the most bandwagon fans in the NFL.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Your 2015 Arizona Diamondbacks Are Bound to Surprise

If your problem with this prediction is that it is coming five games into the season, I’m glad that you didn't scoff too hard at the headline.

So why am I sitting here on my laptop on a beautiful Sunday afternoon writing about last year’s worst team in Major League Baseball? And why am I writing this five games into the season? Cause it’s not like two series are enough to judge a team, right?

Well, I am writing to you because I almost forgot I had a blog, so here I am. I hope you all didn't miss me that much, cause your favorite homer with four different homes is making a comeback during the 2015 season of America’s Past-time. 

This would explain why I give a damn about the D-backs, cause I pretty much grew up in Arizona in case you didn't know/couldn’t tell. I’ll admit, last year was extremely disappointing. And I know that might sound a bit odd coming from a fan of a small market MLB team when there are other teams that have lofty expectations that must be met if people are going to keep their jobs.

Last year, I think that the D-backs organization changed for the better. They developed a tougher skin by season’s end. One would think that with Kirk Gibson at the helm, a team would be rougher and tougher when they have him around. Except Gibby got fired with a week left in the season, a slap to the face of sorts. I think he was a good manager and I thoroughly enjoyed his time with the team, especially during the surprise 2011 season. However, I knew that things weren't going to end well during the height of the D-backs—Dodgers rivalry, c. 2013, because this was a small team baring its fangs at a billion-dollar club, and that’s a lose-lose situation. And the D-backs did lose. They lost their grip on that division to Puig and the Dodgers, who went on a historic tear, going 40-8 in a stretch during that year. Now I have no qualms about losing out on the playoffs when a team is that hot cause there isn't a whole lot that can be done. What I do have qualms about is when a team responds poorly, which the D-backs did.

In 2014, I was pretty excited to see the D-backs get that sorely needed fresh start to the season. They were going to play the Dodgers, who must have called off by now, in Sydney for some odd reason. They lost both of those games, which was no big deal at the time, but the must have been jet-lagged or something at the start of the season, because 30 games into the season, the snakes found themselves at 8-22. The offense was anemic and the pitching staff performed much worse than anyone thought they would. The D-backs could never really recover from that and the season was over before it really even began. Because, as the old saying says, you can’t win a pennant in April, but you sure as hell can lose it.

After shutting down Goldy and shipping out some players, including the weird hick pitcher Wade Miley, the offseason finally arrived. It was crew expendable from then on with the exception of America’s First Baseman. Gibby was gone. Towers was gone. In come Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart. 

The other day, I picked up a copy of Sports Illustrated to check out the MLB preview. I’ll admit, I was pretty pissed to see Max Scherzer and his heterochromia grace the cover, cause I remember when that guy was still a Diamondback. I don't blame him for getting traded or going to DC for the money, but I do blame Sports Illustrated for jinxing him, cause they're not going to win the World Series. And the Diamondbacks aren't going to finish with a 65-97 record.

Let’s take a look at the new-look snakes. I love the addition of Chip Hale. I think that he will be a good manager. Apart from the manager, I think that the most heavily scrutinized and criticized part of the team is the pitching staff, especially the starting rotation. When I heard that Josh Collmentor was going to be the opening day starter, I slowly shook my head and put my palm to my face. He’s a solid pitcher and I’m probably one of the bigger fans of The Tomahawk, so it was good to see he would finally get to shine in a starting pitcher’s role. However, he just isn't the guy that you want as a number one pitcher. He’s had success with an average fastball and good changeup all because of his goofy wind up. I think this is why he enjoyed success in the bullpen, because hitters would be confused in the batters box during the one at bat that they'd have against The Tomahawk. In a starting role, Josh will have to face these batters at least three times a game, and that won’t suit him well. There is already some evidence to his struggles when he allowed four earned runs in 4.2 innings.

This sounds pretty hopeless. A struggling top-of-the-rotation pitcher who is probably best suited as a utility role in the bullpen or as a lumberjack. However, there is hope, because after trading Trevor Cahill, the D-backs finally brought up Archie Bradley.

I love Archie Bradley.

I cannot stress how high I am on this guy. I think he’s everything one would want in a starting pitcher. He's strong, intimidating, and dauntless. Last night, he took to the hill against reigning Cy Young Award Winner Clayton Kershaw from those damn Dodgers. And Bradley dazzled. Over six frames, the debutante only allowed one hit. His counterpart struggled, which showed that this D-backs offense might actually be above average. 

I think that as this season progresses, Bradley will assume the role as the top pitcher in the rotation. I think by the time he settles into a groove, Patrick Corbin will be fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery. That’ll put the young lefty in the second spot of the rotation, bumping Collmenltor down to three, which is where he belongs. I think that Chase Anderson, another young pitcher, will do well enough to stay in the rotation. I think that if he ends up being in the number five spot, the D-backs will actually have a better fifth man than most other rotations. That being said, either Hellickson or De La Rosa would have to be bumped out. Then they both might be bumped out for the flexible freak Bronson Arroyo. I think it’ll be Rubby first. Sorry Rubby.

So Bradley, Corbin, Collmentor, Hellickson, and Anderson is the potential rotation this team could have by summer. Basically a young right-handed David Price, an aspiring Andy Pettite, a poor-man’s Lance Lynn, a young pitcher who might return to top form or lose his grasp on his career, and a young strikeout machine. Or you could easily replace Hellickson for a veteran like Arroyo. I am totally fine with this rotation then. Maybe they won’t be that good this year, but I think that this group, especially with Bradley and Corbin at the top is a cornerstone to this franchise.

The other cornerstone to this franchise is Paul Goldschmidt. I think he is one of the most complete hitters from a power position because he has shown great strength to all parts of the field, which is rare from a first baseman. He’s also a great defender who has some wheels—he can swipe a bag every now and then. The one question that people had about him was whether or not he’d be as strong after breaking his hand. This is why I needed a few games to answer this question for myself, even though I didn't have much doubt that Goldy would regain his form. So far, he has hit two home runs. So what. The significance of the two was that he was able to hit a homer to the swimming pool in Chase Field, showing us that he does have that opposite field power. If he can hit homers to right field, he can hit homers to anywhere in Chase Field.

Now for the rest of the team, I like Pollock in the leadoff spot, he has great speed and he is more than just a contact hitter. The rest of the outfield contains some combination of Inciarte, Trumbo, or Peralta. That’s a crowded outfield, but I think that having an extra bat out there is always a good problem as long as the manager can use the combination of the group to the best of their abilities. Inciarte is pretty intriguing and he has shown good contact and speed so far. Trumbo is going to have a productive season on offense because simply put, he’s one of the better power hitters out there and he’s bound to get a hold of a few pitches in the hitter-friendly Chase Field. Now that brings us to Peralta. I think he is one of the better young hitters out there. He has a certain swagger in the batters box that I like to see, plus he’s a strong left-handed hitter, so that’s always nice to have.

The infield looks pretty interchangeable. I think Chris Owings is a very solid defender who can work on either side of the middle infield. Aaron Hill is your typical aging veteran, but he does offer considerable power from the second base position. I haven’t seen enough of Nick Ahmed to judge him, but I’m sure the organization knows what they're doing by putting him out there. As for Jake Lamb, I think he is a solid young hitter. Maybe he’ll relish in the third-base position with Yasmany Tomas breathing down his neck. Regardless, the winner of that competition will provide the D-backs with decent power. I don’t care who wins out, but it’d be nice to see Tomas eventually contribute, or else the D-backs would look pretty stupid for throwing $68.5 million at a glorified bench warmer. And then there’s Tuffy at catcher. I think he’s a hard worker who definitely won't bitch as much as Miggy did.

Now of course, everyone can say “what about injuries?” Of course, I never wish to see a player get injured, but I think that for every group, except for starting pitching, this team has depth. The relief pitchers of Chafin, Perez, Ziegler, and Reed looks like it will be decent. I think Daniel Hudson is the new Josh Collmentor as the workhorse in extra-inning affairs. 

Ultimately, I know that the division is loaded with talent. My money would be on the Dodgers to win the division and the Padres (yes, I think the Padres will be a good team) to win a wild-card spot. But after that, I truly believe that this Diamondbacks team could manage to finish third in the NL West. I think that will be around 75-81 wins, which would be great for a team that is technically in a rebuilding phase. I think that through the process, they'll overcome an incomplete San Fransisco Giants squad that can always get hot at the right time. And then I think the Rockies are bound to give up either Tulo or CarGo at some point. I just can't stand it when young talent is not put in a winning position. Regardless, I don't think the D-backs are going to waste their young talent anytime soon. These young guns will win games for Arizona. But as always, this is just my opinion.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Four Year Bandwagon

What a sight: behold hundreds of American soccer fans promoting their national team during the tournament that makes the world hold its breath every four years. This is not to say that soccer, or football, isn't passionately observed other than during this month-long tournament. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world because it is simple and only requires a stretch of land, markings, two nets and a ball. Simplicity is key, but Americans are spoiled with excess because we always want more, which is why our relationship with the sport is complex: soccer is another one of those sports we can all gather around, but it is also too simple for our tastes.

If you mention football to any American, we'd be thinking of a sport that involves ball movement via hands for the most part. This physical sport has become America's present obsession, a modern day gladiatorial event if you will. However, if you observe what you are actually watching as you tune into Monday Night Football, you may realize that you are not watching too much action at all. For a sport with so much action, there is in reality just about 11 minutes of true actual playing time. Does that mean Americans prefer sports with less movement and action? Not necessarily, but it does mean that the sport is easier to follow. For example, in American football, the ball is so very easy to follow as you know it will go from center to quarterback to offensive specialist or sometimes defensive specialist or harmlessly to the ground. Simple. The sport was built for television because after each play, they can show a replay, fans in the stands, or an attractive cheerleader with a smile on her face even though she is getting paid less than minimum wage. This is because the rules permit the display of extra footage. Pair that with a sport that requires maximum focus to follow a ball shot across the field for two nonstop 45 minute periods and you have two sports whose only common denominator is a green field.

When I was watching a recap of the USA Men's Teams dramatic 2-2 draw with Portugal, former Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy commented that the support the team had was outstanding and that it is great that so many Americans are supporting their soccer team. If this is the image that American fans are giving to the rest of the world, the world will soon realize our bandwagon nature. After winning the opening match against Ghana in dramatic fashion, the USA team had loads of momentum as well as tons of its countrymen willing and able to jump onboard the bandwagon. The next opponent was perfect: Portugal. The team that is headlined by the one players everyone knows: Cristiano Ronaldo. Every guys favorite player to hate because every girl loves him. After the US got off to a horrid start that saw them down a goal, they found their magic in the second half by scoring the equalizer and getting the go ahead goal. The finish line was less than a minute away when Ronaldo got the ball in stoppage time and delivered a beautiful volley that was headed into the net for the equalizing final play of the game. Americans were dumbfounded.

Whether or not the Americans advance further on into the tournament, they don't have what it takes to be a world class opponent in a very, very long time. In fact, they probably won't ever come close to winning the World Cup. This is because Americans are not true soccer fans. Sure, I can understand that a team isn't supported when they are doing poorly, but it is annoying when supporters start randomly appearing when a team does well. Especially after only one game. That's all it took. A win against Ghana and everyone was suddenly sold on the team. Ghana's FIFA ranking entering the World Cup was 37, so I don't see what the big deal is. Instead, after the 2-2 result, Americans were all distraught by the heartbreaker. Their words, not mine. Entering the World Cup, I thought that against Portugal, all the US could do was hope for a draw. I was wrong because in reality, the USA gave a winning effort that was wasted by an incredible late volley. Looking at this game though, three points would have been great, but one point is not something to be ashamed of. Instead of being satisfied with a position of controlling their own destiny, the Americans are upset and quickly jumping off the bandwagon because we can't settle with a draw. In a match that the USA should've lost, leaving with a point should be a huge result that Americans should be proud of. Instead, we were left wanting more.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Best. Throwbacks. Ever.

The Throwback Jersey is an item that should, and oftentimes are, brought back for marketing value in professional sports. The idea of selling a jersey that is old and outdated may seem like a money-pinching strategy; however, there are times when the original jersey and logo should never have been tampered with or replaced. When these old jerseys are brought back, it's right of any fan to purchase this old merchandise chock full of joy, tears, nostalgia, and tons of memories. This blogpost is about the jerseys that I think hold a certain place in the hearts of original, die-hard fans and should be celebrated with the appropriate throwback sporting event.

The Toronto Raptors are a relatively young franchise established in 1995. While they received flack for their raptor logo with its cheesy design, comedic appearance, lack of ferocity and inspiration from the 1994 movie Jurassic Park, the purple jersey the team featured was as good as they get. The front was a royal purple accented by a red highlight around the characters on the front and back of the jersey. What truly added some flavor to this jersey was the black back to the shirt. While the Raptors enjoyed a 2014 Atlantic Division Championship, the team has little history, so a restoration of purple in Toronto would not be a terrible, criticized idea or action.

The funny thing about certain throwback jerseys is that certain ones have been used on a regular basis within a franchise during a time when that team enjoyed the talents of a current day, all-time great. Through this decision of apparel, these jerseys, namely the San Diego Chargers baby blue throwbacks and the New England Patriots red throwbacks have become associated with all-time franchise greats such as LaDanian Tomlinson and Tom Brady, respectively. Though this may not be the intent by Reebok, Nike or the team, fans are slowly and sadly beginning to forget about the other all-time greats who graced these classy shirts as a younger generation has begun to build associations between these jerseys and players they are more familiar with.

The Chicago White Sox current uniform is actually above average as it holds many themes that other franchises with strong traditions possess. They have pinstripes and a logo that looks like it belongs in the original World Series newspaper; however, all of these themes are borrowed. They aren't original, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, but the Sox had there own thing going on not too long ago. The red, white, and blue jersey is sort of goofy; however, it has an endearing look to it. The uniform held promise.

One of the best throwback promotions in all of professional sports is the NHL Winter Classic. While this New Year's Day game is oftentimes overshadowed by the Rose Bowl, fans of the teams involved in the Classic are willing to fork over several hundreds of dollars to pick up an outdoor ticket in a baseball or football stadium and a throwback jersey. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks jerseys have proven to be the most successful from a marketing standpoint as many fans from each franchise have one.

The Philadelphia Phillies' throwback hat for their baby blue uniforms was the first fitted New Era 59Fifty hat I ever purchased. It now has sweat stains, foundation on the band from when I let a girl where it (dumb decision), and a sun bleached look to the brim, but it will always hold a special place on my shelf. One of the best features of MLB throwbacks is that they also feature a hat. If you know anything about me, I'm a hathead, so I appreciate any piece of headwear. One of the best features of these throwbacks in my opinion is the cap. Back in the day, hats were more "goofy" for a lack of better words, as they featured more simplistic designs. The intimidation factor of the logo was not evident yet, which is why the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Angels could don these seemingly childish hats. Whether or not they should continue to wear these hats is a different debate, but it's always nice to see a young fan wear an age appropriate hat while avoiding the obvious anachronism.

The tragic part of looking back at these throwback uniforms is that you realize the the sense of the adage: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Though the franchise may have needed a reboot of sorts by having an excuse of selling more merchandise, the decision itself damages the history the team had. The Arizona Diamondbacks won the 2001 World Series, only four years after they were introduced as an expansion team. Not too long afterwards, the franchise decided to switch to a sedona red while keeping the same logo for the most part. The St. Louis Rams had a rough go for a majority of the 90's; however, they did win Super Bowl XXXIV thanks to Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. Unfortunately, the greatest show on turf was quick to do away with their uniforms as they went for a navy, gold approach. While the throwbacks may have needed some slight touch ups, they were classy and they did not have to be entirely scrapped.

A few franchises realized the travesties they committed once they got rid of their classic throwback uniforms. In an attempt to fix what didn't need fixing again, they restored the throwback uniform with a more modern feel. The ability in which they were able to execute this decision has varied, but overall, it is a nobel move by the franchise that also brings in loads of revenue as the franchise has an excuse to sell the original jersey, the mistake, and then the newer version of the throwback.
The Toronto Blue Jays were able to restore their jerseys to back to the retro feel of the old throwbacks. On the other hand, the Phoenix Suns' newer jerseys show an attempt at restoring what once worked, but to a lesser effect.

One of the best throwbacks in my opinion belongs to the Baltimore Orioles. The cap tells the story with a goofy looking bird sporting a baseball cap… on a baseball cap. The best part about the entire uniform is that the Orioles decided to bring the uniform back. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it's awesome in all of it's oldies goofiness, don't fix it. Or bring it back. Throwback.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What's Old Is New: The Case for the 2014 New York Jets

The 2014 offseason in the NFL featured a number of changes in scenery for notable players. These offseason moves have most notably bolstered the outlook of the upcoming Broncos and Patriots upcoming seasons as well as dramatically improving the Buccaneers chances of a going over .500. Even the Browns look as though they'll have a ferocious defense, matching the prowess of their AFC North rivals. However, as much fun as all that is, this post is not about the aforementioned teams. It's about the two biggest moves of the entire postseason to the brightest lights of America. That's right, what's old is new: Michael Vick and Chris Johnson are headed to New York and the Jets are headed back to the postseason.

Now if you follow football, you may think one of two things: no, you're stupid or no, those two guys used to be good and aren't anymore. I think all of that is fair; however, one could easily make the case that even if Geno Smith was under center, the Jets have a chance at clinching a wild card berth. He's not the best of quarterbacks, but he improved quite a bit along the way in his rookie campaign, leading the Jets to an 8-8 record and second place in the AFC East. Writing this post, I'm assuming that the 2014 Jets will have an improvement at the quarterback position, whether it's with Smith or Vick at the helm.

Michael Vick, who will be 34 at the start of the season, is far past his prime. Defenses have been rattled by him during his years with the Falcons and at the start of his tenure with the Eagles. However, teams now know what to do with Vick: pressure. The former Hokie has never faired well under blitzes and pressure packages while in the pocket, but Vick's true weapon is escaping containment and gaining yards on the ground. Vick's speed and escapability brings about another concern: injuries. With a year of sitting on the bench, the dual threat quarterback should have relatively fresh legs, but I don't think he'll survive the season. By the time he's forced out, he'll already have the Jets in playoff position. When he finally is demoted and Smith is promoted to the starting job, Geno will have had the time on the bench to truly grasp and learn the game.

So why would I be writing this post if I don't think Vick, the quarterback hauled in by the Jets, won't even survive a season? The truth is, he's not what makes the Jets dangerous. The defense is stout, but the true addition will line up five yards behind Vick.

The best acquisition of the New York Jets offseason is Chris Johnson. Simply put, he is most everything you'd want in a running back. Consistency. Speed. Physicality. Elusiveness. Strength. Chris Johnson is all of that. The former Eastern Carolina University running back has rushed over 1,000 yards in each if his first six seasons in the league. I personally don't think that there's a whole lot more you can ask from any player in the backfield. Surely, he didn't carry himself well with the media and New York has the biggest media exposure in America, but if he can be productive without becoming the main feature of the team, Chris Johnson will flourish. The defense already has to worry about Vick running on them, which will place a linebacker in containment, providing plenty of room for Johnson to have cutbacks and big plays.

So is there reason for optimism in the Big Apple? Most certainly. Can the Jets make something out of a berth to the postseason? That remains to be seen. To put it into perspective, Mark Sanchez managed to get the Jets to the AFC Championship game in his dirt two seasons. The defense was much better; however, it is still a quarterback driven league is what Sanchez did was impressive. Ultimately, Vick is better that Sanchez and Geno Smith has potential. The true difference maker for the 2014 Jets will be the explosiveness of Chris Johnson. It should be an interesting season.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Milwaukee, You're Better Than This

Opening Day is unlike any other. Its festivities hold hope and promise for the new season. Anything can happen. The Chicago Cubs can capture their first World Series since 1908. The Boston Red Sox can win their fifth title in a decade, brushing aside a history of futility. The New York Yankees can once again prove that money wins championships by capturing their 28th World Series. Bottom line, anything can happen.

While the sun on the Opening Day of Major League Baseball can wash away so many memories by offering promise, certain demons cannot simply be forgotten after an offseason. The Los Angeles Angels have yet to return to the postseason despite having an absolutely loaded roster. The Toronto Blue Jays followed offseason hype with a terrible and dissapointing season. And Ryan Braun is still Ryan Braun.

Ryan Braun is the star player for the Milwaukee Brewers. Braun, a former NL Rookie of the Year and NL MVP, has slugged the Brew Crew into the postseason in 2011, but the team hasn't been able to duplicate its success. The outfielder was welcomed by a warm, standing ovation after he took to Miller Park for the first time since an ugly suspension that ended his 2013 season early. Shame on Ryan Braun and shame on any Brewers fan who put their hands together for Braun. 

Now, why the harsh stance? You may recall Braun has been associated with a scandal involving Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) and a Biogenisis Clinic. When asked about his involvement with PEDs after the 2011 Postseason, Braun strongly denied that he ever used PEDs. He added that he was willing to bet his life that the substances never entered his body.

Well, if his word was any good, Ryan Braun would be a dead man.

As it turns out, Braun is a pathological liar since he actually used PEDs a number of times. What gave Braun such confidence to say he never used the drugs was because the sample that was initially used to test him was mishandled to a degree. However, the truth (the actual truth, not Ryan Braun's version of the truth) is that the outfield slugger is and always will be a cheater. He even managed to cheat the system by choosing to drop his appeal for a ban for the rest of the season after the Brewers' season turned out to be a lost cause. 

Enter Opening Day, 2014. While the rest of Major League Baseball is ready to boo and jeer at number 8 when he steps into their batter's box, Milwaukee gave him a hero's welcome. Why? Do they not have any sports coverage in Wisconsin? Well, obviously because they are convinced that Green Bay, WI is Titletown, USA; that you can win a college basketball championship with just white players; and that Ryan Braun is returning from the Heroes' Journey. That's got to be it. Joseph Campbell couldn't have created a better story to fit his frame of the generic hero: Ryan Braun, the Messiah of Milwaukee. The Brewers' hero is great, but hardships present a change and he must leave. While in exile and paying his penance in the land of Florida, the hero discovers something, the elixir to great power and strength. Upon his return, he becomes an even greater hero with his newfound strength, willing the Milwaukee Brewers to the promise land. That must be why Milwaukee fans are so excited to see him again.

Well, here's the thing Milwaukee: I know that recently this fan base came close to tasting the ripe fruit that is a National League Pennant, but do not stoop to the level of a crook, a villain, a liar. Ryan Braun can hit with the best of them. Great. He wants to improve. Good for him. He took PEDs to improve. That happens, people do that. If that was the end of the story to this point, perhaps Braun could be forgiven and everything would soon be forgotten. However, that's not what happened. Through this whole fiasco, we have all learned a little bit about Braun himself. In fact, we have learned a lot. Here is a man who blatantly lies to his fans as well as himself. He could probably convince himself that the Brewers are better than the Cardinals. Anyhow, the Braun situation has told us all too much about his true character. We were all here to see the story unravel, and for that, shame on you Milwaukee. You should be better than this. Just know that the face of your franchise would lie to you, right in your face. Keep that in mind next time you down a Miller Lite to wash away the sadness of yet another Brewers' loss.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Requiem for the 2013-14 Air-Zona Wildcats

It's always difficult to stomach a tough loss. One could resort to blaming the referees or they could just man up and say that it wasn't their night. The pain seeps in more when you look back on all of the memorable highlights and wins of the season, only to come up short in a game. For the Arizona Wildcats, that loss came in the single-game elimination NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.  All of the alley-oops and dunks couldn't lead the team to their ultimate goal: a National Title. It couldn't even lead them to a Final Four berth as they came up short in 45 minutes at the Honda Center. However, the beauty and retraction of the annual NCAA Tournament is that one loss and you're done. On the flip side of that coin, you only need six wins to take home the championship (unless if you are the 2011 VCU squad that went 5-1 only to fall to Butler in the national semifinal). This is a requiem for the 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats' Men's Basketball Team's season. Try saying that three times fast. Anyway, as a University of Arizona Athletics supporter, I have followed this team for a number of years. Sean Miller has done a superb job in recruiting athletes to get this team back to where it belongs: the National spotlight. However, Coach Miller has also followed up on the tradition of coming up short in the tournament setting. If you follow Arizona basketball, you might question me on this statement by saying, "Did this guy even see Arizona throttle a No. 1 seeded Duke team in 2011?" Why, yes, I did see Arizona eviscerate an overrated Duke squad by a score of 91-77. The tables turned when Lamont "Momo" Jones pulled up for a transition basket to put Arizona ahead and Jamelle Horne posterized Kyle Singler while Derrick Williams posterized the entire Duke defense. But I digress, because both Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne each missed three point attempts that would have sent the Cats to Houston. That was the last shot that the Wildcats had a high enough caliber team to scratch the surface of tournament success. Under Miller, the Wildcats have lost the Conference Tournament at the buzzer three times in five years and still advent won one since 2002. However, given the animal that is collegiate basketball and the leviathan that is professional basketball, there is that lure that pulls athletes away from the college game oh so early. This creates a rebuilding project every time a season ends, especially for the superior teams, which challenges every coach.

Looking at this 2013-14 squad, I was excited because I thought there was no way they would not win a National title. I was looking forward to a new design on the 2014-15 Arizona Wildcat's jersey that had two stars on the top, one with '97 and one with '14. They were no doubt going to win the 'ship in North Texas. That was almost true, as the Wildcats featured a dominant frontline of seasoned sophomores Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski while also welcoming one of the nation's top recruits in Aaron Gordon. The back court featured juniors Nick Johnson and newcomer by way of Dusquene, TJ McConnell. A knock down shooting sophomore Gabe York waited to come off of the bench while an extremely talented and athletic Chester, PA native, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson would come off the bench with him. There was no way they couldn't win. No way. Except for injury.

The first game Arizona lost was a 60-58 nail-biting loss at the hands of the California Golden Bears at Haas Pavilion. A close, regular season loss in the midst of a "Gold-Out" is nothing to hang your head for, but Arizona lost there strength in their front court as Brandon Ashley went down with a foot injury. After the loss, things just weren't the same as the Cats barely beat Oregon at the McKale Center and later lost at ASU. In my opinion, losing to Arizona State deems your football or basketball season as a failure, so I personally wasn't too optimistic at that point. However, Sean Miller managed to change my mindset as the Wildcats demolished the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder by a score of 88-61. They followed up the win by dominating both Cal and Stanford at home, but the fast pace blowouts couldn't keep up. The Wildcats finished their regular season with a loss in Eugene to the Ducks. The Wildcats couldn't turn the tables in the PAC 12 Conference Tournament as they fell to UCLA. Onto the NCAA Tournament.

Despite four losses, the Cats managed to convince the committee that they were worthy of the second overall seed, hence the No. 1 seed for the West Region. After playing an uninspired game against the Weber State Wildcats, I wasn't terribly confident in having them win the whole thing. However, they were fortunate when they placed against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, a fundamentally sound yet unathletic team. The Wildcats toyed with the Bulldogs as they advanced to the Sweet 16, set up for a rematch with the San Diego State Aztecs. In what proved to be a much more physical affair than their first game, the two teams played with drive and emotion with the Wildcats emerging victorious. Arizona would then be set up for a date with the Wisconsin Badgers, a team notorious for having four "white" starters. Again, fundamentals. The Badgers team that I saw was not more athletic. They didn't have a single dunk. I don't remember the last time Arizona did not dunk in a game. However, I digress. The Wisconsin players knew how to play, despite their lack of athleticism. They would have to shoot their arms off because they can't drive well, pass as much as possible because they can't set up their own shot, scoot their pivot feet around just enough so it wasn't a blatant travel, and make good decisions. They did all of that and in turn, beat the two most athletics teams in the tournaments field, Baylor and Arizona. It's tough to accept that.

So, now that the books are shut on this past season, the question begs: what now? After LaQuinton Ross drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer that put a nail in the 2012-13 team's coffin, I was quite upset yet optimistic. I realized that championships can't be won with even the most talented freshman class because those players lack experience. Next year (this year), the team would be much better though. They'd have a nice combination of Grant Jerrett, Angelo Chol, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in their front court. Wait a minute, Jerrett and Chol didn't play for Arizona this year. No, Jerrett was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder and is currently in the D-League and Chol was crying on the bench after Arizona knocked out SDSU from the tournament. Realizing this, I can't help but wonder: What if?

This is what we as fans and spectators of collegiate basketball need to realize. There are so many what if's that dreaming will leave you dwelling on the past. To hardly even play in college as a freshman and then get drafted has become far too easy. To simply transfer and develop for a year on the bench has become far too easy. The counterargument is that the traditional powerhouse programs can just as easily reload with a talented recruiting class. The Wildcats have arguably one of the better recruiting classes in the nation as they will welcome Stanley Johnson, Craig Victor, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Tyler Dorsey, Dusan Ristic, and JUCO talent Kadeem Allen on campus this fall. So obviously, next year's team is going to win the National Title, right? Gordon will be replaced by Dorsey. Stanley Johnson will replace Nick Johnson and score more points. Even if Tarczewski leaves, an ambidextrous Ristic will take his role. Even if either Ashley or Hollis-Jefferson choose to leave for the NBA, they'll be replaced by the Victor-Allen tandem. So all is not lost, the 2014-15 squad still has a great chance at achieving what this year's team didn't accomplish. However, if college basketball has taught me anything, it is that senior leadership and superb guard play is what wins games in March. The Cats won't have that leadership unless players stay. Which they won't. They'll have the alley-oops and highlight dunks again, but they won't hold onto one of their better players long enough to season him into a leader. The players who become the senior leaders are the players who weren't talented enough to be drafted earlier in their collegiate career. If I have learned anything, the vicious cycle will continue. History will repeat itself when Stanley Johnson declares for the draft after he hangs up his custom Arizona-Jordan basketball shoes for the final time when the Cats fall short of the 2015 National Title, just as Aaron Gordon couldn't deliver this year. I'm sorry Sean Miller. It's the way basketball is played in the desert and you'll have to coach with the players' best well-being in mind. Perhaps Miller will capture that elusive Final Four berth and National Title when he replaces Mike Krzyzewski as Duke's next head basketball coach.

May the 2013-14 Wildcat's season rest in peace.