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No More Signed Baseballs

McGwire's plan did not come together as well as he thought.

Recently, former home run champion and runner-up in the largest arms in the world contest, Mark McGwire, admitted to using steroids during his Major League career. While this should surprise no one, it is surprising any baseball or pro sports fan can come away from this unfazed.

My first inclination when pondering the Steroid Era is to completely abandon any interest in professional baseball. The game is irrevocably tainted. How do I know who has an unfair advantage? Why should I celebrate a league that may be full of cheaters?

Should you not, however, assume the game is already tainted? Who among my faithful readers remembers the 1919 Black Sox scandal? The game was damaged, assuredly, but not significantly enough for it to lose all credibility. The same thing is happening post-Steroid Era.

But why is that? Why do we give pro sports the benefit of the doubt?

The question in all of pro sports, including baseball, is no longer “can I watch a tainted game?” It is instead, “do I care if it is tainted?” Force yourself to take a second look at the old maxim “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” and you may realize cheating is inevitable.

Do you believe Vince Lombardi? Remember, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Or do you still hold hope for the Tony Dungys of the sports world?

I have a lot of questions in this article and that is by design—mostly because I have no answers. This is not simply a case of the few poisoning the many in baseball. This is an opportunity for all sports fans to question why they invest so much time into these pursuits. You need to discover for yourself.

Why do you continue to watch?

Tell us by leaving a comment below.

NFL Playoffs: All AFL Edition

Since everyone who claims to know anything about football is telling you who they think will win it all, I’m doing something different. Yes, I will tell you who I think will win, but I will first explore an exciting scenario you may not have considered.

It’s the American Football League’s 50th anniversary. Three of the original eight AFL teams, the Chargers, Jets, and Patriots, are in the playoffs, so I decided to outline an AFL-heavy tournament. Unfortunately, the AFC playoff teams are not all AFL franchises, but these matchups are compelling nonetheless. The teams that have the greatest connection to the AFL and the most engaging storylines win out, so realism takes a backseat.

Also, since no NFC team was ever in the AFL, their playoff matchups are fairly pointless, so I will instead rank the NFC playoff squads in ascending storyline potential when we get to the Super Bowl.

Let’s start.

Wildcard Round: New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals

Jets Coach Rex Ryan

This matchup pits an original AFL team against an expansion AFL team. The Jets may not be wearing the old Titans uniforms, but it’s the same team, and it has the same boastful attitude it did back in 1968 when Joe Namath predicted a Super Bowl III victory. Head coach Rex Ryan thinks his 2009 squad should be favored to win Super Bowl XLIV, so he reunites the franchise with the supreme confidence and arrogance it had in the late AFL. His father, Buddy, was the defensive line coach on that Super Bowl III team as well.

Paul Brown, founder of the Bengals, only joined the league when he was assured it would merge with the NFL. Accordingly, the Bengals are not fully invested in the rogue spirit of the AFL, particularly now that their passing game is so weak.

The Jets rout this story angle to move to the Divisional round.

Wildcard Round: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

The Ravens, though considered an expansion team in 1996, are really the old Cleveland Browns in disguise. Thus, they are precluded from any storyline where the AFL is victorious.

The Patriots, of course, are an original AFL team and the last true AFL team to win a Super Bowl (the Colts and the Steelers migrated to the AFC from the NFL in 1970).

New England moves on to play another original AFL rival, San Diego, in the Divisional round. But first…

Divisional Round: New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts

The best aspect of this game in regard to the AFL is that it’s a rematch of Super Bowl III. This year’s Colts backed into the playoffs and are not as feared as the 1968 team, but that won’t stop this game from being a grudge match to erase the memories of 14-1 from the Colts’ minds. Still, the Colts were part of the NFL and make a hasty exit in this scenario.

Jets win.

Divisional Round: New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers

In the first true original AFL battle, the depleted Patriots travel to old Jack Murphy Stadium to face the heavily favored San Diego Super Chargers. The Bolts defeated the Pats back in the 1963 AFL season to claim their only AFL title—despite playing in five of the first six AFL Championship Games. They crushed the Pats’ only shot at the title and look primed to do so again this year.

But wait!

Norv greets the Hoodie

Storyline mode kicks in and remembers the Chargers can’t beat the Pats in the playoffs and the Jets are already in the AFC Championship. New England pulls off the upset!

AFC Championship: New York Jets at New England Patriots

There’s no need explain the animosity these AFC East rivals have. Suffice to say, Rex immediately fit in with the anti-Patriots sentiment when he refused to “kiss” Belichick’s rings. How about he tries for  one of his own?

The Jets return to the Super Bowl after 41 years.

NFC Playoffs

The Saints and Eagles have no obvious connection to the AFL.

The Packers won the first two Super Bowls and Vince Lombardi said the best of the AFL could not match the best of the NFL, but there are still more compelling storylines.

The Cowboys were created to drive Lamar Hunt, founder of the AFL, out of the Dallas (when the Chiefs were the Texans) and eventually abandon the AFL.

The Cardinals were up for sale in 1958 and Hunt was the most interested buyer, but the team refused to sell, and after NFL commissioner Bert Bell told him the league would not expand, Hunt decided to form the AFL itself. The Cardinals’ contributions to the AFL, however, were passive, and not as intimate as…

The Vikings, who were part of the AFL, before they backed out of their agreement and instead joined the NFL. Hunt exacted revenge on Minnesota in Super Bowl IV when his Chiefs dominated, but don’t forget about Brett Favre fake retiring to hang with his boy, Chilly.

Is this a feel good story for the AFL and New York or Brett’s final hurrah?

The Legend

Super Bowl XLIV: Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Jets

When you think of the AFL, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it Lamar Hunt, and his dream of competing with the NFL? Is it the wide open offenses? Is it Hank Stram and “65 Toss Power Trap”?

Of course not.

It’s Joe (Willy) Namath and the New York Jets defeating the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III! It’s the foundational storyline of the modern NFL. How can anyone pick against the Jets in a playoff scenario of AFL glory, particularly when Rex Ryan is as brash as Namath himself?

The Jets can only win the Super Bowl when it’s a great storyline, and ending the AFL’s 50th Anniversary with a Super Bowl victory caps the season perfectly.

Share some victory hot dogs with coach after the game, Mark.

And as a bonus for reading all that, here are my 2009 NFL playoff predictions:

Wildcard Round
Jets over Bengals
Cowboys over Eagles
Patriots over Ravens
Packers over Cardinals

Divisional Round
Colts over Jets (you didn’t think I actually think they’ll win, do you?)
Vikings over Cowboys
Patriots over Chargers
Saints over Packers

Conference Championships
Patriots over Colts
Saints over Vikings

Super Bowl XLIV
Patriots over Saints, 49-48 (no defenses!)

Explanation: Yes, this is highly unlikely given the last few weeks, but this is my preseason Super Bowl prediction, and I have to stick with it. The preseason prediction I have the  most confidence in, however, is Favre breaking down in the NFC title game.

This is the first time in five years both of my Super Bowl teams have made the playoffs so I am excited in that regard. I thought the Pats would be better in ’09 than ’07, though, so take that for what it’s worth.

What do you think? Is my AFL scenario crazy? Do you think the Pats can win without Welker?

Why the Buffalo Bills should move to Toronto (or anywhere else)

Toronto Trent

Join the Toronto Pterodactyl bandwagon.

Everybody’s saying the Buffalo Bills are going to leave Buffalo, except for owner Ralph Wilson.

For many Bills fans, this sounds the death knell for their fandom. Many say that they will never follow the franchise if they move nearby to Toronto or far away to Los Angeles. They make claims of betrayal and disloyalty to the Buffalo community. I am here to tell you, my long-suffering brethren, that it is you, not the Bills, who will betray the team by not following them wherever they land.

Let’s look at the situation now.

  • The Bills play in an economically depressed area (Bass Pro still not here yet?)
  • No one wants to play or coach for the Bills except as a last resort (see Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan, and Terrell Owens).
  • They don’t spend money to pay good players they already have (Jason Peters, Takeo Spikes, Jabari Greer).
  • Are in the midst of a decade long playoff drought (upended week 17 by second string Steelers in 2004).
  • And the front office clearly has no idea how to make football decisions (poor drafting, poor free agent deals, poor game day decisions).

This team is going nowhere in Buffalo.

Face it, Bills fans: this franchise will never win a Super Bowl in this city. Do you really need more confirmation than four consecutive Super Bowl losses, Wide Right, The Music City Miracle, ten years out of the playoffs, and endlessly creative ways to lose? It’s like one big carnival of failure. We might as well throw in No Goal while we’re at it.

Let’s look at the situation for the Toronto Bills.

  • Toronto is in an economically vibrant city with a growing population.
  • This would attract players and coaches who may have not considered Buffalo.
  • They will have more money to work with to obtain and retain great players.
  • And best of all, western New Yorkers would still be in their television market.

Toronto gives this franchise a better chance to win than Buffalo. (Actually, the same argument is possible for San Antonio, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and even Oklahoma City.)

Toronto Pterodactyls!

Picture Billy Buffalo as a pterodactyl from now on.

The biggest question facing an NFL team in Toronto is fan support. The two regular season games the Bills played in Toronto failed to generate anything besides cash in Ralph’s pockets. Whether CFL fans are getting territorial or if the city needs its own team is a question only Torontonians can answer.

That said, how does staying in Buffalo make this team more competitive? The resources available up north are much more conducive to winning. Russ Brandon can only keep shining up this turd for so long.

The only thing Buffalo has over Toronto are fans loyal to a fault.

Yes, with the right front office, the right coach, and excellent drafting the Bills could be successful in Buffalo. But do you believe that this 91-year old owner knows or even cares how to get the job done? Wilson struck gold with Bill Polian, but even then he only promoted the guy because his former GM died in the middle of the offseason. It’s been downhill ever since he fired the now-legendary Indianapolis Colts president.

Buddy Nix? Get real.

The best case scenario is for a new ownership group to buy the team and keep them in Buffalo. Former players like Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas have expressed interest in buying the team, but it’s been mostly talk.

Listen. I want the Buffalo Bills to win a Super Bowl as badly as you. It’s just not going to happen. Why hold the franchise back in Buffalo, knowing they will lose and lose and lose (and lose)? Don’t stifle the Bills. Let them spread those Buffalo wings and move on to greener pastures.