Thursday, November 30, 2006

Random Scribblings

- Toronto FC is set to announce their newest Canadian signing tomorrow, Men's National Team keeper Greg Sutton. Sutton comes to Toronto from the Montreal Impact, where he's built enough of a reputation that numerous MLS teams were seeking his signature this off-season. He also has MLS experience, having played for the Chicago Fire early in his career.

- Another day, another signing for the Jays. The infield is now set with the Royce Clayton signing. As Steph D says in a comment from a previous post, this means Aaron Hill moves back to 2nd base to make room at shortstop for Clayton. About 15 years ago, Serge the Psycho and I were hooked on Hardball 4 for the Sega Genesis. For some reason, we decided to play a season as the San Francisco Giants who had a young infielder by the name of Royce Clayton. Hard to believe he's still around. I tell you this story to illustrate how the ageless wonder is a stop-gap solution for the Jays, who must be hoping Russ Adams makes some sort of leap in development.

- If I had a vote, I would not give it to Mark McGuire. Not this year, not ever.

- I've been noticeably silent on the Sens for a while. It's a reflection of how much this team moves me. I hope to get excited about them again sometime soon: there's only two months of football remaining.

- Roger Goodell created a stir today by name-dropping Toronto as a possible expansion location. The usual hand-wringing followed in the Canadian media concerning the future of the Canadian Football League. One question, asked by Sportsnet, was: If the NFL expands to Toronto, will it kill the CFL? 72% responded yes. I disagree. I'm no CFL fan, but the league has done a great job of promoting itself at the grass-roots level. The Toronto media must think that Stampeders fans give a rat's ass about the Argos: they don't. People in B.C. won't stop watching the Lions just because there's an NFL team in Southern Ontario. The better question might be: If the NFL expands to Toronto, will it kill the Buffalo Bills? Absolutely.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Just Kidding!!

That’s what Wednesday’s announcement that Greg Zaun was returning to the Jays amounted to, but I’m sure if we could get deep into J.P. Ricciardi’s mind we’d find something more akin to “oh how close I came to getting burned”.

J.P. played a dangerous love triangle between himself, Zaun and Rod Barajas. All indications early this week were that the Jays were ditching Zaun in favour of Rod Barajas, whose hitting prowess is more Nelson Santovenia than Joe Mauer. Then, on the eve of Barajas’ physical with the Jays he fired his agent over his unhappiness with the deal’s financials. That left J.P. having to crawl back to his scorned lover. Thankfully, Zaun has more compassion than Elizabeth Hurley (name-dropping for a great excuse to post a Hurley pic!), and welcomed J.P. with a tearful “Shut up. You had me at 6 million”.

All in all it’s good news for the Jays. They get to keep a solid catcher who is well-liked by his pitching staff and can put up above average numbers for a catcher. Whether he can stay healthy over the course of a full season remains to be seen, but that’s why they kept Jason Phillips around, isn’t it?

For now, here’s the Blue Jays line-up card if I were manager:

1. Reed Johnson LF
2. Aaron Hill SS
3. Vernon Wells CF
4. Frank Thomas DH
5. Troy Glaus 3B
6. Lyle Overbay 1B
7. Alexis Rios RF
8. Greg Zaun C
9. ?????? 2B



So we still need a second baseman and some pitching. Let's hope Adam Lind has a killer training camp and that J.P. isn't done acquiring talent.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Saha Goal

Here's that amazing Saha goal I was telling you about :

I hadn't noticed the two amazing long passes that set up Saha, on his own, in front of two Chelsea defenders. Check the replays: there was no way to better defend him - he was just going to score.

The Pimple, Week 12

Rex Grossman is standing in Chicago’s way to a Super Bowl. Although Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson proved to everyone that you don’t need a superstar quarterback to win the Big One, Rex Grossman doesn’t fall within this category. Those two guys were great examples of quarterbacks that won’t lose you a game. They just go out there, find the safe outlet, keep turnovers to a minimum and let the running game or defence be the star. Rex believes in his abilities just a little too much to join their ranks. He’s got ability, but he can’t make all the throws he thinks he can, which often end up in defenders’ hands.

It just isn’t acceptable to have as bad a game as he did in Chicago’s loss to New England, a game many Bears players had labelled their most important to date this season. Not only was he picked three times (by Asante Samuel), but how bad he looked doing it. Tom Brady was picked twice, but both were off deflections from his receivers. You only have to look at Rex’s body of work over the past 6 games to see that he’s not making life easy for his team. He’s turned the ball over 16 times in that span. He’s got a 56% completion rate for the season.

The tricky thing with Grossman is that he’s shown moments of sheer brilliance, sometimes for an entire game. I remember a young Brett Favre giving Mike Holmgren headaches in the early going. Turned out great for Favre, but I don’t think Rex has the tools to be the next #4. Like I said, he believes in himself just a little too much. If he can learn to play it safe and within his abilities, he’ll be fine. For the moment he remains the biggest road block in the Chicago Bears’ road to the Super Bowl.

Romo-mentum? As if to add credence to the notion that the NFL is as unpredictable a sport as they come, and that the quarterbacking position is for the most part a crap-shoot, Tony Romo comes out of nowhere to become the league’s newest star. This a guy who was signed to an NFL roster after Quincy Carter got busted with cocaine and was subsequently released by the Cowboys. Three years later, Antonio Ramiro Romo is shredding really good defences and making fantasy owners who took a flyer on him look real good. I really think this guy is the real deal. I’ve watched his last couple of games and he makes throws that ooze confidence. He puts the ball exactly where it needs to be while looking composed and in charge. You can see the other players reacting to him – a stark contrast from doe-eyed Drew Bledsoe. Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Matt Leinart, Vince Young: the future of the QB position looks bright!

In 1992, in a playoff game against the San Diego Chargers, Dolphins tight end Keith Jackson caught a pass from Dan Marino, turned, and found about 20 yards of open field before him. As he rumbled through a couple of Charger tackles he came to a stop, still standing. That’s when I saw the most bizarre call of my young life: Jackson hurled the ball another 10 yards up field where it was recovered by a Charger. After a conference with the officials (and my memory is murky here), they awarded the ball to the Dolphins at the spot where Jackson was tackled, minus five yards for an illegal forward pass. The Chargers went ballistic, claiming they had recovered a fumble. Even the announcers couldn’t believe it, and I was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

I was reminded of that play when San Diego rookie receiver Vincent Jackson caught a ball on Sunday, got up without being touched down and spun the ball forward in celebration, only to have it recovered by the Raiders defence. Just like 14 years earlier, the officials correctly gave the ball back to the Chargers, minus the five yards for an illegal forward pass. The Raiders went nuts and have been crying foul all week. Someone should give them the tape of that Dolphins game.

Well, so much for my Falcon-as-Super-Bowl-Champions prediction. I can take some solace in New England being on track and a sure-fire contender for the title. At this point, here are the teams I think have a shot to win it all (in no particular order): New England, Dallas, Indy, San Diego and Baltimore. In case you’re keeping score, that’s four AFC teams versus one NFC team. I really don’t see anyone from the blue conference beating Dallas at this point. Take that with a grain of salt, however, since my predictions almost never come true. They’re still amusing to make and give my friends a chance to criticize my otherwise flawless observations (smirk).

Giants-Titans saw a bizarre turn of events in the Oversized Mythological Figures Bowl. I feel kind of sorry for rookie defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who let Vince Young go instead of slamming him into the ground for the sack. Although it’s inexcusable to stop playing before the whistle is blown, you have to show a modicum of sympathy for the guys whose job it is to go after the quarterback. You can’t hit them high, you can’t hit them low, you can’t push them to the ground the nanosecond after they've released the ball and you can’t tackle them if they’re going into a slide. I know we need to protect the quarterbacks against these 350 pound monsters, but it borders on the ridiculous most of the time and I have no doubt that Kiwanuka had that at the back of his mind when he let Vince go. Despite everything I’ve said, though, it doesn’t forgive that he let go before he heard a whistle. His non-tackle gave Eli the opportunity he was waiting for to blow the game. Nicely done Eli. Come to think of it (apologies to my buddy Jason), Eli and Rex are one and the same: brilliant on some plays, putrid decision-making on others.

My MVP for the year is LaDainian Tomlinson. This guy is going to obliterate Shaun Alexander's record for rushing touchdowns in a season, so forget about all the other guys. Let me explain again using different words: he is going to have the best season of any running back in history. If he doesn't win, I give up. Drew Brees is having a great season. So are Peyton Manning, Brian Urlacher, Tom Brady and Frank Gore. Let's keep things in perspective, though. BEST SEASON EVAH!

Things I'm looking for in Week 13:

  • Baltimore ending Cincinnati's playoff aspirations
  • Miami doing the same to Jacksonville
  • Romo-mentum
  • The Jay Cutler Era (another post-Elway flop. I feel for you Bronco fans, we're still in the post-Marino era in Miami)
  • Vince Young v. Peyton Manning (and I'm dead serious)
  • Wishing MNF had the same flex schedule as SNF (Panthers at Eagles? Gag.)
  • 40 more fantasy points from LaDainian, ho-hum (how do you like Michael Vick now, bitches?)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Jays Off-season – So Far, So Bad

Pop quiz hotshot: what do you do when you get an extra $20 million in payroll, only have 3 starting pitchers locked up, no catchers, no 2nd baseman, you’re almost certain to lose your franchise player to either free agency in one year or trade this year, you have no catchers, a thin bullpen and an abundance of heavy hitters?

If you chose “Sign an over the hill, injury prone DH to a multi-year contract”, you and JP Ricciardi are soul mates. You also answered wrong. I have been trying to find the silver lining since the time this deal was announced, but I can’t quite grasp it. Maybe – and that’s a HUGE maybe – Frank Thomas can dip into the well one last time and hit 35 home runs, like he did this year for Oakland. Thomas was coming off a year in which he was unceremoniously dumped by his lifelong team and smeared in the press by that team’s general manager. He signed a one-year contract with Oakland where there was no doubt he was out to make his old team look bad. Mission accomplished: the White Sox missed the playoffs and he was the driving force behind Oakland’s pennant. Now what does he have to play for?

Two years, $18 million. Adam Kennedy, Mark Loretta and Tony Graffanino are available as quality 2nd basemen. It looks like Rod Barajas will be the starting catcher while Greg Zaun will walk. Frank Catalanotto is already gone. I’ve yet to hear a quality pitching free agent be associated with the Jays. What exactly is going on? High-octane teams rarely win pennants – good pitching does and defence does. Turns out we get zero defensive capabilities out of our big free agent signing.

Maybe J.P. has a huge trade in the works for Vernon Wells that will shore up the pitching situation and free up some salary. One can only hope at this point. I’m not holding my breath.

Soccer Pimp: Clash of Titans

It was with great anticipation that I sat down to watch yesterday’s titanic clash between the best two clubs in Britain: Manchester United (34 pts) and Chelsea FC (31 pts). Not only was it going to be Chelsea’s shot at climbing atop Manchester United’s perch, but I would also get to see one of my favourite player matchups in soccer: Christiano Ronaldo (right midfielder) v. Ashley Cole (left back).

It’s difficult for me to admit that I like watching these two players go after each other because I despise them both. They are both notorious divers. They whine incessantly. Ronaldo, for all his brilliance, barely ever produces goals – except for free kicks garnered for his team by flopping to the ground (pictured, right). Cole, while playing for an Arsenal team that was a perennial contender for English and European trophies, determined it wasn’t enough and held illegal meetings with Chelsea FC to jump ship (obviously, he eventually got his way). They are both the types of players I love to hate. Regardless of this, every time they go head-to-head turns into an epic battle of speed, strength and nastiness that makes for a compelling drama.

There were other reasons to watch. Manchester’s Alex Ferguson is one the most belligerent managers in the game, a fierce competitor that rarely gives opponents credit. Jose Mourinho (the self-designated “special one”) is one of the sport’s most amusing characters – he usually spends the first half of games alternating between looking unmoved and looking like daddy took his cookie. Then, in the second half, he gets more and more agitated with every passing minute. By contrast, you can watch the pressure rise in Ferguson by the colour of his cheeks, which go from pasty white to rosy to crimson to vein-popping purple, until he finally loses his mind and gives one of his players or the 4th official a tongue-lashing – most often his foul temper extends into his post-game interview. Good times.

It must be said that I don’t find much endearing in both these teams. On top of the aforementioned distasteful characters you’ve also got Roman Abramovich, the Russian oil tycoon who bought Chelsea a few years ago and proceeded to dump hundreds of millions of dollars into acquiring the best players in the world, turning Chelsea from a perennial almost-have to a have-it-all. The club went from loveable losers to despicable opportunists overnight. It has an all-star at every position, plus it could field its second team and contend for the Premiership title.

They are who Manchester United used to be. In the nineties, Man U was a dynasty with no rival. With David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel, Ryan Giggs, Dennis Irwin and Dwight Yorke, to name a few, that team won title after title including the European Champions’s League in 1999 (a year in which Man U completed the treble: Premiership, FA Cup and Champion’s League titles). Fairly or not, the overdog label has stuck to the Red Devils even as they fell on harder times at the turn of the millennium. They are now back to competing at the highest level.

It is against this backdrop that I sat down to watch these two teams face off. Within a few minutes it was clear they weren’t going to disappoint, giving poor referee Howard Webb more than he bargained for as he tried to calm everyone down. In a high-intensity match like this one it’s important for the official to lay down the law early, and he was able to do so without issuing any cards until the 21st minute, when he produced a yellow to Claude Makalélé after repeated warnings. This allowed the players to play a physical game while knowing that there were consequences to rash and violent actions. It’s a fine line only the better referees can straddle.

Cole and Ronaldo didn’t disappoint either. Manchester’s strategy early on was clearly to feed the ball to Ronaldo on the right side and have him carry the ball deep into Chelsea territory. The only problem was that his nemesis was always ready to stand in his way, Cole acting as an effective obstacle that would stretch Ronaldo’s abilities as far they could take him. It was, as always with these two, a clear cut case of top players making each other better through competition. If only they were model citizens!

Manchester’s Louis Saha put the Red Devils ahead in the 28th minute with a brilliant goal. At the top left of his opponents’ 18-yard box, Saha took the ball while Chelsea’s defence looked ready to impede him. Ricardo Carvalho was shadowing him closely, but Saha made the tiniest of sidesteps to his left and unleashed a curving drive that just slipped past Carlo Cudiccini’s hands and the post. The look on Carvalho’s face was priceless, as he looked incredulous that Saha had pulled it off – in his mind, it seemed he had done everything needed to stop him. That’s the sheer brilliance of soccer – moments of genius that come out of nowhere, against all odds. Four against one, Saha had struck the opening blow to the defending league champions.

Going down a goal seemed to bring Chelsea some vitality. Watching these two star-packed sides spar was a thing of beauty. Finally, in the 69th minute, Carvalho and Saha were back in the spotlight, but at the other end of the pitch. After Michel Essien had gone deep into Manchester territory and secured a corner kick, Mourinho directed his best ball-headers into the box, including Carvalho. From the right corner flag Frank Lampard swung the ball into the box, perfectly aimed at Carvalho’s head, which he redirected towards goal. Saha, defending the left post, rose to head the ball away but instead drove the ball into the top of the mesh. It seemed like Van der Sar would have gotten his hands to it but for Saha’s intervention, although none can fault him for trying to clear his line. You could see Carvalho’s relief and exultation at having redeemed his earlier underestimation of Saha’s skill, and to do it at the Frenchman’s expense must have felt pretty sweet.

The rest of game unfolded without too much drama and ended in a 1-1 draw, so a point to both competitors. The fireworks were not over, however. In his post-game spin session, Sir Alex went on to boast that Manchester United had proved they were the best team in the Premiership. Umm, you just drew your heated rival, in your own backyard, and you’re the best team? Come again? Mourinho, not to be outdone, claimed that Man U had blown its chance to put Chelsea away and now would face the consequences. On the day,

I would say that Mourinho was victorious. He brought his team to the league leader’s home turf and came from behind to share the spoils, a huge swing in a league that awards three points for victories. Chelsea remain three points out of first, and simply have to wait until Manchester succumbs to the pressure of leading. Can’t wait for the rematch in the new year!

Soccer Pimp Notes:

- Toronto FC signed three Canadian internationals last week: Marco Reda, Adam Braz and Chris Pozniak. All three are defenders, and if they can sign a fourth Canadian defender, our National program will benefit greatly from having a back line that plays together year-round.

- Speaking of our National program, our Canadian men lost 1-0 to Hungary in a friendly last week. Not a bad result, and according to those that saw the match Hungary made like thieves in the night after being dominated by Canada throughout the match. Many of our more prominent players were missing through injury or club commitments only to be replaced with a younger generation of Canucks, so that’s promising. It’s time to hire a full-time manager, though. Want to learn more about the sport in Canada? Make sure you check out

- Toronto FC has its first potential star: forward Edson Buddle. Mo Johnston acquired Buddle from New York Red Bull by trading away defender Tim Regan, a player chosen in the expansion draft. Buddle 33 goals in 54 career starts. Buddle is an American who’s played for Team USA at every competitive level. Who the hell is Tim Regan? Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing Jimmy Brennan and Ronnie O'Brien feed Buddle the ball.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Joey Harrington: Dolphins QB

This will come as a shock to Bruce Mr. Turk, the man who, cursed with my friendship, has to sit there and take all my quirks. Why shock? Well, from the moment the Dolphins signed Joey Harrington to yesterday, I adopted a Parcells-esque manner in which to deal with with this development, namely by refusing to utter his name. That's right, from May 12th to yesterday I never referred to Joey Harrington and the Miami Dolphins in the same breath.

When Daunte Culpepper went down with an injury/suckiness, Harrington got a chance to prove everyone who ever doubted him (raising a guilty hand) wrong. At first he didn't show much, but then he didn't stink up the joint either. The Dolphins' success seems to have risen concurrently with his increasing comfort in the offence, with the culmination being the beat-down he laid on the best defence in the NFL (Chicago Bears), a performance I missed because I was sitting next to a guy yelling to a standing, overweight Packer fan to "SIT DOWN, SANTA!".

Although I've watched a few Dolphins games since Harrington took over, not until yesterday did I chart his performance à la Dr. Z. The following results aren't likely to interest anyone but hard-core Dolphins fans and fantasy junkies. What follows are the results of my study (and yes, I realize they were playing the Lions defence in an emotional return for the Joey to the place where he got labeled the Anti-Christ).

Yesterday against the Lions, Joey Harrington: Dolphins QB completed 19 of 29 passes for 213 yards. He threw 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. All of his 19 completions were thrown exactly where they needed to be - none his receivers had to make anything spectacular or adjust their route to make a catch. That is pretty amazing in and of itself.

Of his 10 incompletions, three were dropped, one was thrown out of bounds on purpose and one pass was tipped. In all, 5 of Harrington's 29 attempts were incompleted because of a lack of accuracy. It's not Brady-esque, but you can't ask much more from your QB. I was totally impressed.

Lions fans had to be shaking their heads. Was it really the team around him? Did Matt Millen mess up so bad that a good coach like Steve Mariucci totally tanked? Did Mike Martz forget how to coach an offence? Or did a light just turn on in Harrington's head in the off-season?

It's too early to answer those questions, but for the time being I will suspend my treatment of The Joey to incorporate his name into my Dolphins conversations. This will surely come as a relief to Bruce Mr. Turk. Now I will go watch Brian Pothier's Washington Capitals destroy the Buds.

The Pimple: Roadie Edition Part Two

Read Part One here...

Before I continue with the conclusion to my little road trip story I'd like to mention that the trip has, like all good road trips, cast its hue on the everyday lives of those who took part. Last week a good friend of mine, Serge the Psycho, got some unwelcome news: his in-laws were extending their stay by five days (they stay at Serge's when they're in town). For the record, Serge doesn't dislike his in-laws, but they are in-laws. It also meant that he couldn't play his Xbox 360 until they left. Yesterday when they finally left, Serge (who didn't make the Buffalo trip) fired off an email to Bruce Mr. Turk and I exclaiming in Braveheart-like fashion: "FREEDOM!"

Now for those who haven't been to the States in the past five years, or haven't bothered watching the news during that time, you wouldn't know that the word "freedom" has been hijacked by certain elements of the Establishment and used as a political tool and propaganda mechanism. As terrible as that is, this amused us to no end while we were there (in a Bill Maher kind of way). In fact, the whole drive back sounded like a right-wing radio broadcast, as if Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter were in the car. It was one of those "had to be there" moments - "Freedom" was mentioned once or twice.

Now, back to Serge the Psycho and Bruce Mr. Turk: Bruce's response to Serge's exultation had its roots firmly planted in that drive back from Buffalo: "Congrats on the Freedom Serge! Freedom rocks! You should even rename your 360 as the 'Xbox 360 Freedom Edition'. I love Freedom!"

Ah yes, "Freedom" will live on for a long time in this incarnation.

Now where were we? Oh yeah, we had gone back to the hotel for a good night's sleep (if we could get past the drunk and rowdy "Go Leafs Go" Nation). The next morning, after having settled our hotel tab, we set out for Ralph Wilson Stadium (when did it change from Rich Stadium!?!?). We had been tipped off by a colleague of Bruce's that cheap parking was to be had just off the main drag, where we could avoid paying full price on Bills' land. I don't know how much parking at Rich, err Ralph Wilson, Stadium costs, but we paid $15 USD to park in a mud-bogged field where people were tearing down trees to feed their tailgating fires - nice (picture at right).

None of us had eaten breakfast yet, since we assumed there would be plenty of culinary opportunities in and around the stadium. Well, no so much. Everyone brings their own food to the stadium and cooks it on propane grills while drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Although we kind of knew this, we still thought there would be food merchants on the grounds. If there were, we didn't find any (except for the Dad selling his kid's school chocolates - brilliant idea!). We therefore poured into the stadium once the gates opened, famished and desperate for any kind of sustenance. That's probably a good thing since I would have probably emptied a half-full stomach upon tasting these stadium offerings anyway. That's an exaggeration, but let's just say that Ambrosia this was not. One interesting menu item was a complete rip-off of Ottawa's world-famous Beaver Tails. In Buffalo they are un-inspiringly named "Fried Dough". Although you had the option of putting brown sugar on your fried dough, most people were putting icing sugar on it. One kid had so much icing sugar on his that I originally mistook it for a Studio 54 tabletop.

We arrived early enough to have the stadium pretty much to ourselves. As people slowly filed into the stadium, a buzz began to build. I recognized the buzz from the first time I saw Wayne Gretzky's New York Rangers playing at the Corel Centre, or PhillipStadion in Amsterdam when David Beckham's Manchester United were about to take the field. It's the buzz you hear when you know a superstar is about to arrive, much like crickets cranking up their chirping when they anticipate rain. Everyone was keenly aware that this was to be Brett Favre's last game in Buffalo, and the feeling was electric. We spent most of our time watching the players warm up, trying to count how many names we knew from the Bills "Ring of Honor" (O.J. Simpson!) and witnessing the rabble that was slowly surrounding us.

We seemed to be seated in a predominantly Packer-friendly part of the stadium. Nevertheless, many Bills fans were around us and tension was thick. I thought Sens fans were territorial - that's nothing compared to working-class Buffalonians. When Peter King tells his readers that he wouldn't bring young children to a football game, I can now see why. The things that were said to Green Bay fans were shocking. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing.

Finally, the teams took to the field. The manner in which they do is quite humourous. A big inflatable Bills helmet is brought out to about the 10 yard line. The players are to make their grand entrance by running through an arch in the helmet. However, everyone can see the players gathered behind the helmet, being moved along by a team rep. It makes for a very anti-climactic entrance, the exact opposite of the intended effect. And then we have the cheerleaders. Should I go on my cheerleader rant in this column? Ok why not...

Put me down as a cheerleader-hater. Yes, I am a straight male with a healthy libido. However, I can't stand cheerleaders (and no, I didn't get my heart stomped on by a cheerleader). They're very pretty, but that's about it. They look so out of place on a football sideline, it's ridiculous. For the Bills game there were 3 sets of about 10 cheerleaders. They stand with their backs to the stands until they decide it's time for a choreographed dance. Yippee. So they shake their ass and wave their pompoms, then turn their backs on the crowd again in a "I know you want me but you can't have me" manner. My goodness am I ever turned on. I think the worst part is that there's no hint on the part of these cheerleaders that they're in on the joke: they seem to take themselves so seriously. I am convinced that if you ask them, they'd tell you they contribute to the team's on-field success with their cheers. I don't doubt it for a second. They spend their entire week practicing their dance "moves", as if that's what we're judging them on. Yesterday during the Cowboys game one of the "Cowgirls" got bowled over by a player running out of bounds. I laughed and cheered. I am a very sick boy. By the ways, the Bills cheerleaders are called the "Jills" (gag).

Going into the game, I didn't have high expectations. I absolutely adore American Football of the NFL variety, which is the only reason I subject myself to the advertising barrage that is NFL programming every Sunday. I've always wondered if I'd enjoy the stop and start nature of an NFL football game live, in the flesh. Turns out I don't. Having commercials while watching it on TV allows you to either switch to another game or be otherwise entertained by another channel (Much Retro, for instance). In the stadium, you are a prisoner to your surroundings. What's worse is that you can see how absolutely pointless, in terms of the actual game, TV timeouts are. When people at home are watching commercials, the players stand around waiting. The referee stands in the middle of the field checking his watch, and when enough Budweisers and Bold Ford Moves have been hawked, he blows his whistle and everything resumes. This happens every couple of minutes. What you're left listening to is the collection of white trash and hooligans around you. On the upside, they fight a lot so there's at least that to keep you occupied staff Seriously, watching the small army of yellow-jacketed Event Staff is high entertainment! However, on the scale of spectator sports I've attended, NFL football ranks very low:

1. Soccer (White Hart Lane, Philips Stadion, Gillette Stadium, Commonwealth Stadium, Frank Clair Stadium, Richardson Stadium, U of T Stadium, Skydome)
2. Baseball (Fenway Park, Olympic Stadium, Skydome, Lynx Stadium)
3. Hockey (Scotiabank Place, Montreal Forum, Aréna Robert Guertin, Centre Bell, Civic Centre)
4. Formula 1 (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve)
5. NFL Football (Ralph Wilson Stadium, Olympic Stadium)
6. ATP Tennis (Jarry Park)

The game itself was fairly entertaining. It was close 'til the end and watching Favre have one of his patented "Either I'll win the game or lose the game by myself" displays was fantastic (this one was of the "lose" variety). The highlight came when the Packers were driving when the game was still close. The Packers were inside the 5-yard line, with Favre in the Shotgun. The snap came unexpectedly and boinked Brett in the helmet and the Bills recovered the fumble. It happened if front of the end zone where we were sitting, so it was pretty sweet (it's in the official video). In any case, the final score was 24-10 to the Jills, err Bills. I wonder if the cheerleaders took any credit in the post-game press conference?

Our return home was to begin straight after the game, but first we had to get out of the parking lot/farmer's field. It was quite funny to watch all the SUVs get stuck in the mud, while lighter cars easily pulled out (Too Smart To Be Categorized, and to negotiate tricky Buffalo mud). On the way to the car, Karl the Rabble-Rouser decided to make our Escape From Buffalo interesting, and so decided to speak French to strangers around us and scornfully pretended he didn't speak English - I even activated the child-lock on the windows. Karl has a lot of pent up anger for a socialist. As all this was happening, I was keeping a close eye on the gas gauge on my car, which was getting dangerously close to the "E". Since we weren't moving, I decided to kill the ignition. Just as I did, an old woman in a 1991 Zubaz Bills jacket walks up to our car. She was selling wonderfully ugly Bills t-shirts. Scott the Wing Man yells out to her that he wants one. We all start giggling, but it turns out he was serious and couldn't resist the unbelievable eyesore that was the tye-died Bills t-shirt (I wish we had taken a picture). Finally, and to my relief, we got out of there.

My relief was short-lived. The orange light on my gas gauge came on, and there didn't seem to be a gas station anywhere in the vicinity. I have a terrible record when it comes to keeping the gas tank filled during road trips (remember the Toronto trip, Steph?), and flashbacks to flagging down cars at 4:30 am from the side of the 417 and the sound of duelling banjos haunted my thoughts. Finally, on a whim, I took an exit and thankfully there was a gas station right there.

The trip home was a collection of "Freedom" jokes and "had to be there" moments while listening to the Pats-Colts game on the radio. Needless to say, the highlight of the trip for me was the voyage there and back again. At the Canada-U.S.A. border crossing, we had a scary moment. Bruce had packed some of his leftover rum, but the guys in the backseat didn't know this so when the border agent asked us whether we were carrying alcohol, all he got from us was a garbled cacophony of "yes-no-yes we do-no we don't". He looked me up and down and asked: "Well? Is it yes or is it no?" I turned to him and said "Yes, we do. It's in the trunk." He then looked at our passports again and inquired: "You're French? At least three of you?" to which I replied "Oui, 3 d'entre nous". In my head I was thinking "Ah shit, we've got a bigoted border guard". Quickly he says in perfect Québec slang: "Quossé vous faites avec l'angla?" (Lost in translation: Watcha doin' with the Anglo?" ). We erupted in laughter and he waved us through.

When we got home, Karl tried to unlock his car with his keyless remote. Nothing. "Strange, the remote's battery must be dead." He unlocks his car using the key and turns the ignition and - nothing. The car's battery was completely dead. A call to CAA and half an hour later, I was stepping into my apartment.

I don't know that I'd make the Buffalo trip again. If I do make another football trip, I'll get better seats in a better stadium in a better city. The camaraderie always makes or breaks these road trips, and in this case it saved it. Next road trip will most likely be a Blue Jays-Toronto FC double-bill in the spring, followed by (hopefully) Yankee Stadium in the summer. I bet you Yankees fans love freedom!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Calling All Ottawa-Area 360 Gamers

Hey everyone!

If you play on XBox Live and live the in Ottawa area, I invite you to email to get added to this website. It's a really cool site to keep track of what fellow gamers in the city are up to. Once Bucketo adds you, you don't have to do anything - your achievements are pumped into the system automatically.

Having said that, if you're looking for a quick pickup game of NHL or FIFA or whatever, get in touch with me. Another idea floating around in my brain, if this call picks up any traction, would be to host an NHL or FIFA tournament. Don't hesitate to get in touch with me!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Appetite for Destruction

In honour of Axl showing up in Ottawa and rocking out (according to the Ottawa Citizen), here is a review of Appetite for Destruction I wrote a few years ago.

Appetite For Destruction

We knew we were listening to something…different. My friends and I (average age 11 y/o at the time) were sitting around listening to the radio, when all of a sudden a hellish guitar riff flooded the airwave. It was Welcome to the Jungle, by Guns n’ Roses. GnR hit the rock scene like a tonne of bricks in 1987 with the release of Appetite For Destruction. Absent from these rockers were the makeup, the blow-dried hair, the on-stage acrobatics or the fake street cred. These fellas were for real, and were as in your face about it as you could get.

My close friends often have to suffer my diatribes about how Izzy is the soul of GnR. I honestly believe that without him, there was no band. Proof is in the pudding, and upon Izzy Stradlin’s departure from the band, GnR failed to record any original material as a band ever again. Sure, Slash’s genius cannot be denied, Duff’s bass lines were crafty and Axl provided the necessary rocker angst, but it was Izzy who was the backbone with his hook, line and sinkerish rhythm guitar riffs. I’ll expand a little more on this in the specific songs, but you only need to focus your ear on the rhythms of Paradise City or Mr. Browstone to realize that Izzy Stradlin is a rock God.

Welcome to the Jungle

Everyone knows the opening guitar riff to Welcome to the Jungle. Heard regularly in many formats, from sports stadiums to Jim Rome’s theme song, Jungle is an anthem to youth, sex, and survival to which many people relate. The song’s lyrics were written by Axl, and chronicle his difficult transition from small town Indiana to the bright lights of Sunset Boulevard. For me, it was an introduction to the seedier aspects of life, a portal into post-teendom that every pubescent adolescent aspires to. Axl empowered me to rebellion, Izzy created a backbeat that added a distinctive strut to my gait, and Slash made me want to wear top hats (ok, he did more than that, but I’ve got to keep stuff for the other songs! Haha)

It’s So Easy

In case Jungle wasn’t badass enough, the boys from Hollywood hit us with a song about sexual domination, and the objectification of women, born out of Axl’s disgust with the smuttiness of L.A. women. The song has grown on me over the years, as I’ve learned to appreciate Axl’s sleaziness, and the equally degradatory guitar licks that support it. Here’s a telling lyrical sample from Axl’s philosophy towards women (which would change over time):

"Turn around bitch I got a use for you
Besides you ain't got nothin' better to do...and I'm bored"

You’ll notice a pronounced change to Axl’s view of women in the Illusions albums, a reflection of falling in love HARD with Stephanie Seymour (who hasn't?).

Night Train

Axl chooses Night Train to introduce himself to the populace, and to tell us all what a badass he is. A night creature, Axl was a self-conscious and uncertain country kid looking to make a mark under the big city lights. Night Train reads like a mini mission statement, letting everyone know that he’s arrived and the road better be cleared for him.

"Said I'm a mean machine
Been drinkin' gasoline
And honey you can make my motor hum
Well I got one chance left
I'm a nine live cat

I got a dog eat dog sly smile
I got a Molotov cocktail with a match to go
I smoke my cigarette with style
An I can tell you honey
You can make my money tonight"

Out Ta Get Me

This one is another “Me v. the World” ditty that exposes the punk world’s influence on the band. This song earned the newly-minted “Explicit Lyrics” sticker for the cover.

Mr. Brownstone

An ode to heroin, I related to this song not for the drug undertones (I had no idea this song was about drugs when I was 11), but because of its procrastinating nature:

"I get up around seven
Get outta bed around nine
And I don't worry about
nothin' no
'Cause worrin's a waste of my... time"
…my teenage years in a nutshell, that. Steven Adler’s drum performance in this song is one of his best. He just keeps the song rolling along, as Slash and Izzy interlock in a beautiful rhythm/lead tandem.

Paradise City

One of the songs of the 80’s. A seven minute epic in a time where albums were over-produced to give us neat little 3 minute radio-friendly verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/chorus formulas. It starts out with a beautiful strumming intro by Slash, only to be railroaded (in a good way) by a heavy rhythm turn by Izzy. We get a glimpse into Axl’s soft core in this one, because the song is a tale of homesickness.

The final third of this song absolutely kicks ass. Played incredibly up-tempo and for a long while, it must have exhausted the boys in the band. Having seen this song performed live, I can attest that it grabs you out of your seat (if you have the gall to be sitting at a GnR show) and moves you every which way. There is no feeling like handing over total control of your body to a song (or a girl).

My Michelle

My Michelle is titled to give us the impression it’s another cute little ballad, but it’s actually a song about a bad girl gone good (and I’m not sure Axl approves). This one never really grabbed me in any way. Musically and lyrically it’s good, but just never stuck to me.

Think About You

Another one of those songs that slips under my radar. I quite enjoy the rolling rhythm guitar, and the hook of the chorus.

Sweet Child O’ Mine

"Her hair reminds me of a warm, safe place
Where as a child I’d hide. "

The song kicks off with one of the most unmistakable guitar hooks in music history. I wonder sometimes about the day Slash first unleashed this baby on the boys in the band, and what their reactions were. Did they know they had struck gold? You’d have to think so. The beauty of it is that the boys didn’t sit on the riff and ride it to glory – Sweet Child contains 4 guitar solos, impeccable rhythm guitar, forceful drum beats, a wonderful break-down ("Where do we go, Where do we go now?"), and lyrics to make any girl’s knees go weak. I really admire the guts it took to get away from the simplistic rock-ballad formula they could have stuck to and been guaranteed a top 10 hit. It worked out for them, but in doing so they broke the mold that was strangling rock n’ roll.

For me the song represents the youthful innocence with which you are filled every time you become infatuated with someone. It is also a reminder of how fragile we are when confronted with beauty. This song makes me want to run my fingers through her hair, leave a nail mark in her side and nibble on her neck. Mmmm…

You’re Crazy

This one has recently come to signify a part of my life. Isn’t it great when a song you’ve listened to your whole life suddenly morphs into a metaphor for a life situation, and you suddenly feel a bond with the singer? Well, in this case I have to remove the obvious anger Axl feels toward the girl he’s singing about. For me, saying “you’re crazy”, or in fact being told so, is a fun little teasing thing.
"I've been lookin' for a trace
Lookin' for a heart,
Lookin' for a lover
in a world that's much too dark
Because you don't want my love, no, no
You want satisfaction"

Damn straight, Axl.

Anything Goes

Just pure sex.

"My way, your way, anything goes tonight."

How could I possibly have anything to add to this?

Rocket Queen

This has come to be my favorite song on this album, if not my favorite GnR song. Rocket Queen has everything I love about GnR; sex, aggressiveness, vulnerability, great guitar hooks and tempo variations. Musicianship at its best. Just do yourself a favor one of these days and block out all other aspects of the song except Izzy’s rhythm guitar. It’s a mesmerizing performance, one in which Slash comes in and out, with Duff’s bass providing the skeleton. The meat is all Izzy, though.

I see you standing
Standing on your own
It's such a lonely place for you, for you to be
If you need a shoulder
Or if you need a friend
I'll be here standing
Until the bitter end

No one needs the sorrow
No one needs the pain
I hate to see you walking out there
Out in the rain

So don't chastise me
Or think I, I mean you harm
Of those that take you
Leave you strung out much too far

Don't ever leave me
Say you'll always be there
All I ever wanted
Was for you to know that I care

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Pimple: Roadie Edition

A few weeks ago I mentioned I was going to Buffalo to see my first NFL football game. I promised to try and write a travelogue, and this is the ensuing attempt. It’s probably written more for those who were on the trip or who know someone who was on the trip, so I apologize to those that find this incredibly mundane.

The trip was to be made with seven other (ahem) gentlemen, in two cars. I drove my car with three gentlemen in tow: Bruce Mr. Turk, Karl the Rabble-Rouser and Scott the Wing Man. What follows is a breakdown of the low-lites.

Saturday, 10am:

Ottawa South

We set out in my car. I had picked up Bruce earlier in the morning while Karl drove Scott to my place and parked his car in my spot. Bruce was the navigator, as he always is on these roadtrips, with Karl and Scott in the back of my Mazda 3. Before I go on I should give you a small biography of the principle players:

Bruce Mr. Turk: works for a police agency, very knowledgeable when it comes to sports. Known him since I was eight, college roommate and a no-nonsense type. As you may already know, a huge Niners fan who loves to remind me our NFL teams suck.

Karl the Rabble-Rouser: plays a prominent role in a major political party. Funniest guy on the trip, but not in a hijinx kind of way. Sharp wit which turned out to be a little dangerous in northern New York. “You know, a drink can also…”

Scott the Wing Man: one of Karl’s colleagues in the aforementioned political party. Exactly what you would think of when you imagine a pol. He’s the guy in that Toyota road-trip (Fits Four…Friends) commercial who gets his Blackberry thrown out of the truck. The overtly intellectual of the group.

The other party included Matt, who seemed to be in both groups at once, and the other three who had their own road-trip going (no one’s fault, that. It’s bound to happen with such a big group). They ended up producing a kick-ass video of the roadie.

Saturday, 12:30

1000 Islands Border Crossing/Duty Free Shop

A few days before, Matt had sent us this email reminder: “Guys, make sure you stop at a smoke shop/variety store/gun shop on the way to Buffalo to get beer, since our hotel is in the middle of a war zone”. We decided to heed this message and stock up booze at the Duty Free. We wanted to be able drink good beer instead of getting stuck with Genesee or some similarly awful excuse for a beverage. It was beer for me, beer and rum for Bruce Mr. Turk while Karl and Scott loaded up on beer and gin. Looking at our loot from the Duty-Free, that’s where I started to get worried about the next 36 hours.

We get back in the car and get queue up for the border crossing. Bruce entices Karl: “I’ll give you 20 bucks if you get out of the car and RUN across the border”. Fortunately Karl wasn’t drunk yet. No worries, though, as Bruce got very creative in finding means of parting with his money.

After a few minutes of the boys harassing me about picking the wrong queue, we got to the crossing. We hand over our passports and the US border agent begins the questioning:

USBA: So you boyz going to the Bills game?

Ottawa Sports Guy: Umm, yeah. (my god, he’s psychic!)

USBA: You boyz got any alcohol in there?

OSG: Yes sir, in the trunk.

USBA: Alright, pop the trunk.

USBA proceeds to go through our stuff in the trunk and returns our passports.

USBA: Alright, you boyz are good to go…

OSG: What? You don’t care that we’re here to rape and pillage?

Fortunately the filter caught that last bit.

Saturday, 1:30 pm

Fort Drum, NY

The first thing that struck me about northern New York is the difference in advertising. It shouldn’t feel all that different, because we get most of the same ads in Canada. “It’s the little differences”, as Vincent Vega would say. This gigantic roadside billboard, for example: “Cigarettes: Lowest Prices Allowed Under the Law!!”or “ABORTION is MURDER!” You just know you’re not in Canada anymore.

We begin musing over lunch, and the decision was basically left to me. Choosing a restaurant for a group of people is one of my biggest pet peeves, but no one would bring forth any preferences. So I made an executive decision and decided to follow one of those “Fork and Knife” roadway signs (how assertive of me). Fifteen miles off the main highway later, we’re in Fort Drum (home the 10th Mountain Division) and there are two choices for fast food; McDonald’s and Arby’s (both located next to Freedom Plaza, the local mall – I wonder if you can park there without a “Support the Troops” magnet on your car?). Bruce and I had never had Arby’s so we decided to venture into a new culinary experience. Any of you who’ve ever been to an Arby’s are probably chuckling right now. I decided to play it safe and have a chicken sandwich, Bruce mirroring that choice. I don’t remember what Scott had, but I do remember Karl’s penny-saving decision: the special was four beef melts for $5, and Karl never met a deal on beef melts he didn’t like. This, however, was not the highlight of our stay in Fort Drum - on Karl’s soft-drink cup was an advertisement for Arby’s Jamocha Shake (I’m paraphrasing here because I must have heard it 50 times over the next 36 hours):

"You know, a drink can be both a drink and a dessert at the same time. Take our signature Jamocha Shake. Between bites it's a drink. After the meal, or on its own, it's dessert.
Way to go, Jamocha."

On the surface, that’s not very funny. But throw in Karl’s Québécois accent and the fact that soldiers from the 10th Mountain are in the restaurant, and he’s reading it so pretty much everyone can hear him, and we’re sinking into our chairs, desperately trying to mentally figure out how quick we can get out of here and if a Mazda 3 can outrun an Army Jeep: well, that’s high comedy (once you get home safely).

Saturday, 4:00 pm

Adam’s Mark Hotel, Buffalo, NY

After beating a hasty retreat from Fort Drum, our afternoon went by without further incident, except for Karl who would occasionally go into his “Way to go Jamocha” spiel. After parking the car in the hotel parking lot, we got into the elevator carrying our bags and beer cases, where we were joined by two mothers and their 6-7 year old daughters. They were obviously in a cheerleading troupe, their team jackets a dead giveaway. For some reason I couldn’t quite figure out which button to press to get to the hotel lobby, which led us on an elevator tour of the various parking garage floors. This lead to the mothers cracking jokes at my expense and, forgetting that there were young girls in the elevator, defending my actions by saying “Don’t worry, we’re just drunk”. Everyone started laughing except the little girls, whose panicked eyes brought me back to reality and an even more fervent “no, no, look, we haven’t had any yet!” while I pointed to the unopened beer case. Now everyone in the elevator is cracking up; my friends because they were embarrassed with nowhere to run, and the mothers out of fear because there was nowhere to run. I felt like such a dunce.

We finally get to the lobby and find it to be buzzing with activity. Apparently the Bills game was only one of many events in Buffalo that weekend; the Leafs were in town for a Hockey Night in Canada tilt against the Sabres, and the rowdy “Go Leafs Go” chants made me think I was at Scotiabank Place during the playoffs, there a Cheerleading competition for little girls, the Marines had a gala event for young recruits being sent off to war and Packers fans were everywhere with their “Favre #4” jerseys. We even spotted Pierre Lebrun of the Canadian Press (I resisted the temptation to approach him and ask him whether people ask him if he’s my twin) and Al Strachan of the Toronto Sun. It was a rather hectic scene. We finally got our room keys and headed up to our road trip HQ.

A few hours later the second group arrived and we all gathered in our room for a game of poker. I had never played poker for real money before, and I made it out of there in good shape, doubling my original ante. Copious amounts of alcohol were being consumed in the meantime, and some Leafs fans were getting rowdy in the hallways. Karl the Rabble-Rouser, now fully lubed up with gin, decided to confront them. Having warned him that we didn’t have his back if he got himself into trouble, he ventured out there – this was to be a running theme throughout the evening. Turns out the gang was from Brockville, and he ended up making some friends in the hallway after some initial tense moments where both sides were sizing each other up.

Saturday, 11 pm

Downtown Buffalo

One of the members of the second group had been talking about this “awesome” bar in downtown Buffalo, hyping it up by telling us it was like nothing else in Ottawa. Turns out it was a dud (for me and Bruce, anyway – a dance club type place with 18 year-olds running around). However it got me out into downtown Buffalo. What shocked me was the beautiful architecture and the feeling of being in a historical setting. This was at night-time, which it turns out created its own set of optical illusions (take the photo of Buffalo City Hall on the left, for example. Seen at night and lit by strategically placed spotlights, it is stunning. When you see it during the day, it looks like it’s about to fall apart.) Bruce Mr. Turk and I decided to turn in early to get a good night’s rest. However, the Leafs had soundly beaten the best team in the NHL, and Buffalo became Toronto 2 for a night, with Leafs fans everywhere chanting “Go Leafs Go”. It was nice to see that they don’t reserve their annoying chanting for Ottawa. So much for a quiet night in Buffalo. That wouldn’t dampen our spirits, though: Our first NFL game was right around the corner!

Part 2 tomorrow…

Thursday, November 16, 2006


No, I didn’t get killed in Buffalo, although my buddy Karl did his damnedest to get us in trouble with the Amerkans (Way to go, Jamocha!).

I’m finding blogging regularly very challenging when big things are happening to me and the sports world takes a back seat. I wonder how the better amateur bloggers do it, like Neate over at Out of Left Field?

Anyway, the toughest thing to do when you’ve been away from your blog for an extended period is to figure out where to get started again. I suppose I’ll go with a story that really caught my attention this morning: the Evgeni Malkin court ruling.

Yesterday, a U.S. district court ruled in favour of the NHL against Russian hockey clubs that wanted to bar some of its players from playing in NHL games until a decision is made over compensation for those players. I imagine most NHL fans welcomed the news with a shrug of the shoulders and a “way to stick it to the Russians!”.

As is my nature, this turn of events has me wondering, especially on the heels of the Matsuzaka sweepstakes in baseball. The two cases are similar at their core: a bigger league covets a superstar in the making from a smaller league. This happens all the time in soccer, where one team will compensate the other with a “transfer fee”, usually in the millions of dollars (depending on the player, of course). This appears to be modus operandi for the Boston Red Sox, who have offered $51 million to the Seibu Lions should they succeed in signing their star pitcher.

Meanwhile, in what seems like another world, the Pittsburgh Penguins practically smuggled Evgeni Malkin away from Metallurg Magnitogorsk without compensation. This is a player that was under contract to the Russian club, and the Penguins were able to sign him to a contract and have him play.

How can two situations that seem so similar at their core produce such differing results? Imagine this scenario: have Sidney Crosby signed by, say, Spartak Moscow. For whatever reason, Crosby decides this is the right career move and leaves the Penguins for Russia while the Pens get nothing in return – like the NHL wouldn’t go all the way to the Supreme Court over something like this.

It’s been mentioned that it’s the Russian Federation’s fault for not signing an agreement with the NHL, which would have capped the amount of compensation given to Russian clubs at $200,000 per player. Can we blame them? 200 grand when the Penguins will make millions off this deal? There’s a certain hypocrisy from the NHL wanting to globalize the game, yet when rival leagues try to hold on to their talent (or get fair compensation for being pillaged), the NHL tries to kick them back into the backwater. It’s only a matter of time before the Russian league will be able to hold
its own against the NHL. Bettman and company need to embrace the fact that they’re succeeding in making the game a global success, and everything that comes with it, including successful leagues in foreign countries. It’s not because a bunch of NHL execs get together in a room once a year and decide who gets what (the NHL draft) that the rest of the world have to abide by these terms, as if we were back at Versailles in 1919.

I’ll say it again: North American sports leagues need to look at soccer for guidance on how to go global. The systems are mostly in place when it comes to soccer, and all the NHL needs to do is model themselves after them. Baseball seems to be getting the message, and the NHL, as usual, is lagging behind.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Random Scribbles

- Nothing drives me higher up the wall than media hacks that try to create the news, which is exactly what some reporters are trying to accomplish with all this Alfie trade-talk. Alfie is the icon of this franchise, and should retire a Senator. I know that may sound a little idealistic considering the current sports climate, but if Stevie Y can do it, so can Alfie. Remember, trade rumours swirled constantly around Yzerman just before the Red Wings went on a run of league domination, both regular season and playoffs.

- I’m going to Buffalo this weekend to see my first meaningful NFL game (although dubbing a Packers-Bills game “meaningful” might be a stretch). When I was a kid (10 years old?), I saw an American Bowl game at the Big O between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The only thing I remember is that we were seated far from the action and that Bubby Brister was the Steelers QB. I’m also a little worried: I don't consider Buffalo a vacation destination - by showing up we'll remind them what people with real teeth look like. But you know, I feel a little bit Bono-esque with this voyage: it's important to visit third world countries and remind yourself just how lucky you are. Who knows, maybe I'll adopt a child from Cheektowaga (save the hate mail, Buffalo peeps. I’m a Dolphins fan, it’s my duty to rag on your city). I’m going to try and provide a travelogue upon my return, but I’m not sure if I can pull it off. Stay tuned…

- Congratulations to Vernon Wells on winning his third consecutive Gold Glove award. Hopefully he is sincere when he talks of signing a new contract with the Blue Jays. I’d hate to see anyone else patrol centre field for the Jays.

- NHL television ratings are down a little bit (9%), and this has given a kind of liquid courage to those who love to criticize the clampdown on interference and stick-related fouls. First of all, the ratings are down and this was expected: when you come back from missing an entire season of hockey, people are naturally going to watch more because they missed the product. Expecting to maintain those numbers was never plausible. Secondly, consider the whiners and their agenda:

1. Bill Waters: The clampdown has seriously affected his beloved Maple Leafs. Theirs was a team cynically built in the “old” NHL to slow down the opposition through clutching and grabbing. The rules have hurt the teams that have been unable to adapt, like the Leafs and the Flyers. Smarter GM’s have evolved with the times, like Lou Lamoriello in New Jersey.

2. Nick Kypreos: Try and follow the logic: the salary cap has created higher player turnaround, so the players don’t know their teammates as well, so they are forced to clutch and grab, which increases penalties, therefore the clampdown is hurting the NHL. That pretty much sums up this guy’s thinking. Kypreos and Glenn Healy whine and moan constantly – they are the player’s mouthpieces on network television. It’s no surprise he’s constantly bashing the salary cap. He will obviously reach for any argument, sane or not, to illustrate the evils of a system that prevents teams from giving the Bobby Holik’s of the world $10 million per season.

3. Don Cherry & Ron McLean: Yes, it has reached the point where I lump them in together. Cherry has finally broken McLean down. These two have a lofty perch from which to sermonize, and unfortunately they use it irresponsibly, such as when McLean endlessly criticizes referees. It isn’t too difficult to imagine where Cherry is coming from in his hate of the new enforcement of the old rules. Cherry is a macho man’s man who will stop at nothing to see a return to the 70’s style of brawling hockey. Sad (as in pathetic) thing is, he’ll never live to see it. He’s simply a bitter old curmudgeon at this point, and his ramblings constantly border on senility. Agree with him at your own peril.

Furthermore, if you look into the numbers a little deeper, there is good news. The demographic every advertiser lusts after, 18 to 34 year old males, is showing an astounding 40 per cent increase in NHL viewership. Ergo, the next generation loves the “new” NHL, and the rules changes are here to stay (if we can trust the governors to use sound judgment – never a gimme).

- Everton are making a case that they belong near the top of the Premiership table. Their draw at Arsenal on Saturday was an eye-opener, and the hope is that they can finish in the top four in order to earn a Champions League berth. I just picked up FIFA 07 for the 360 this week, and have played until my thumbs hurt. There’s nothing like video games to build an intimate knowledge of the players on your favourite teams, especially with the accuracy EA Sports pours in to individual attributes. In soccer that is especially true, as watching Everton play on TV doesn’t give you nearly the amount of depth that playing them with FIFA provides. Joseph Yobo and Arteta have never looked so good. Many of you have vowed to follow soccer more closely after last summer's World Cup: there's no better way to get attached to a club than through the FIFA series.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Soccer Pimp: A Great Decision

You won't see these words written very often in this space, but today CONCACAF have announced a great decision (CONCACAF is the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football - UEFA's North American cousin). They've decided that the Gold Cup (Concacaf's version of the European Championships, or Euro)will no longer have "invitation" teams. What this means is that only teams from our Confederation will be allowed to play in our Championship. Having "invitation" teams was akin to having a European club team participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs because it was deemed that the 16th team wasn't strong enough to compete. It was a complete insult to the region, a slap in the face considering only 12 teams play in the Gold Cup.

Are there 12 world class teams in CONCACAF? No. Only Mexico and USA deserve that designation. However, why deny Nicaragua or Haiti the chance to play with the big boys in our regional championship? Latvia played in the last Euro, for crying out loud! We all know anything can happen in soccer, and Latvia proved that by drawing Germany in the group stage. Would you deny them that opportunity in favour of inviting South Korea or Ecuador? UEFA would never demean itself in such a way, and I'm glad to see CONCACAF come to their senses.

For the record, Canada won the Gold cup in 2000 and was 3rd in 2002. Yes, the championship is played every two years. This is the next battleground in the war between CONCACAF and Common Sense: let's have the championship played every four years, in the same year as the Euro. At the same time we can add four teams to bring it up to 16. In this way the Championship will gain credibility and cachet.