Category Archives: Uncategorized

Toast to Dayton

Naturally, I couldn’t let the Flyers’ surprise run to the Sweet 16 pass without sharing something from Dayton native son Paul Laurence Dunbar, a contemporary of the Wright brothers who was one of the first nationally popular African-American writers.

Love of home, sublimest passion

That the human heart can know!

Changeless still, though fate and fashion

Rise and fall and ebb and flow,

To the glory of our nation,

To the welfare of our state,

Let us all with veneration

Every effort consecrate….

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Ohio State Football: When 24-0 becomes 24-1

So nearly a week has passed since Ohio State lost 34-24 to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game. The end of football season always comes about suddenly – like ejecting from a plane, it brings a floating feeling before landing somewhere that never feels quite as familiar as it should upon returning to ground level. Even though it was predestined to happen this week if not sooner, it still brings a shock to the system. 

I like to give life a few days to get back to normal, but then again sometimes I wonder if football season is the norm and the rest is just passing time.
What we learned last week: How hollow 24-0 can be, at least when it becomes 24-1.

Forgive me if this seems overly negative, but it is a hard conclusion to avoid when stepping back to assess the situation. 20131213-093830.jpg

The Buckeyes won all their games for two regular seasons, but they have no national championships or even Big Ten championships to show for it.

Yes, they can claim two of the three Leaders Division titles of all time (I think there’s even a trophy for that), but has anyone ever considered those anything more than consolation prizes?

The past two seasons weren’t all for naught, of course.

When Urban Meyer officially took over in January 2012, Ohio State had lost four consecutive games, after all, and the Buckeyes’ reputation was in a state of disrepair.

Many felt it wouldn’t take a miracle to fix the program, but there was certainly work to do.

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Regarding LeBron (post championship No. 2)

I found it satisfying watching LeBron James smoothly and yet somewhat subtly carry his team to victory in an NBA Finals game seven.  That is despite really not feeling comfortable watching the team he was carrying win.

I’ve always wanted to like LeBron, and most of the time that hasn’t been very hard. There are the obvious exceptions of The Decision and his reaction to the reaction to that, but overall he has done quite well rehabilitating his image since then. Amazing what a few cell phone commercials and some sympathetic magazine articles can do even in a short time.

His performance last night came after his teammates – the combination of overrated, over-the-hill and young, inconsistency that they are – bailed him out from a pair of terrible plays that for all intents and purposes should have cost his team the championship one game earlier.

The Heat were playing for this team’s legacy to a much greater extent than they were LeBron’s. He has more work to do to reach G.O.A.T. status, and that remains true today as it did yesterday. He is closer, of course, but not particularly close yet to reaching the complicated, nuanced and complete greatness of Michael Jordan. But of course the conversation has started and the path is in front of him.

He has a lot more time to get there, too, and that still would have been true if the Heat lost last night. Last night was about one chapter in his story, just like Cleveland was another.

I am not a Cavs fan, though I have nothing against them whatsoever. I have always been something of an NBA nomad, for better or for worse. My first memory of the league is vaguely understanding that Larry Bird was on his farewell tour and seeing NBC broadcast one of those games some afternoon.

After that came the Dream Team, and by then I was swept up in His Airness so I became a Bulls fan (Yes, a bandwagonning teenager, I admit, but I have no regrets). Jordan cut quite a career arc, of course, growing up with one team, becoming an individual superstar, learning the frustrations of building a team and necessity of sharing while having to overcome various obstacles (including the two-time champion Pistons) to get to the top of the heap.

Then he created (unintentionally) a whole new set of variables to conquer when he retired the first time, and when he walked away from the game in 1999 it was as an indomitable champion. He set the standard that all who come after will be measured against, and the layers of his greatness are many, varied and thick. They extend beyond his physical ability to include his will, drive and killer instinct.

I thought I would become a Cavs fan when LeBron joined the team, but it just didn’t feel right. I hadn’t been in the trenches with those folks. I liked seeing him and the team succeed, but the Wine and Gold just never took hold.

However (or perhaps thanks to that detached perspective), I always felt like the people who looked at his tenure in Cleveland as a failure were not being realistic. I thought the Plain Dealer cover noting he had no championships there was over the top, especially for a daily newspaper.

He didn’t get over the hump there, but he wasn’t ready to and I don’t think it was really fair to expect him to be based on his age and the fact the cast varied from bad to mismatched as the years advanced. Not only was he lacking another great talent even of the Scottie Pippen variety – the role players didn’t complement him or each other.

That said, the Heat have rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning, both for why they came together – it felt like they were cheating the system – and how they acted when they got together. So I respect nothing about the team, the franchise or its fans. It all feels fake, and the contrived storyline about hardships they have supposedly faced made me want to see them win less. Have they had to deal with a lot of negativity? Yes, but they brought that on themselves, so overcoming it doesn’t really move me at all.

And as young as LeBron is and as difficult as it looks like it’s going to be for this team to stay together for more than another year, it was not hard for me to root against the Heat while watching with ambivalence LeBron’s legacy continue to build. As I said, he has a lot more time either way.

And so he won another title, and he did most of the work even though one could argue that was one of the more subtle 37-point performances you will ever see, right up until he hit a couple of jump shot daggers in the closing minutes.

It was quite a journey with troubles he probably never considered popping up. The chapter has its pinnacle. Should be fascinating to see what happens next.

Let’s watch it with an open mind, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves either. That will make it easier to enjoy the ride, wherever it ends up.

Overheard at Ohio State Football: California Week

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State football beat… 

URBANISMS

(Recapping the Ohio State head coach’s weekly press luncheon)

They have got to get the youngsters going in the running game. He has confidence in Bri’onte Dunn if he practices well this week. He is a good runner, but he had some glaring missed assignments last week against UCF. He has to practice well, or they won’t put him in the game. That also goes for Rod Smith. 

He has no reservations with using Zach Boren as more of a runner, either.

Braxton Miller’s mechanics are coming along as a passer, but he still lets them go occasionally. It’s a thing of beauty when he gets it all lined up. He has a great release. They are pushing his maturation so he gets some of the miscues out of the way. He just needs to get more and more reps. The development of the wide receivers helps, too.

We can expect to see wide receiver Corey Brown used in more ways. They have to think outside the box about ways to use him (Isn’t that what these guys are known for?)

Asked about the pass rush’s struggles, he said they have dropped eight men into coverage a lot, and teams have done a combination of quick passing against them and using maximum protections when they do take deeper drops. They have to count on the guys who are out there doing better at winning individual matchups, and they might supplement their efforts with more blitzing. Maybe both.

It is tough to improve during the season because they only really have two days in pads and you don’t want to get people beat up in those sessions. Plus there is prep work for the opponent to do. He wonders about how to balance that a lot, maybe 20-25 percent of the time.

The preponderance of broken plays on Saturday was a result of a variety of things – people going the wrong way, people not knowing the right play or aligning wrong. If it was one thing, they wouldn’t have any trouble getting that fixed.

There was a “tough” coaches meeting this morning to discuss some of the things that need to improve.

He loves coaching the kickoff team and appreciates the efforts of the members of the squad.

They are still trying to find out exactly what they can do with Jake Stoneburner. He is listed as a wide receiver now, but it remains to be seen if he can separate from DBs down the field. He can block at the point of attack, but he is probably not the best tight end they have for that. Meyer wishes he had another year to coach Stoneburner to continue trying to utilize him best. He also said he never lost trust in Stoneburner when the senior got in trouble during the summer, but he was angry with him and disappointed in him like one would be with a son.

When they failed to pick up a fourth-and-1 early in the game, there was a mistake by a player as they tried to run the “power” play. The next time they faced that situation, they went with an inside zone play instead and it worked. (Should note they ran “power” with the quarterback out of the shotgun and ran zone out of an offset I with the QB under center.)

Some big plays other teams have hit them with have been a result of defensive backs lacking discipline. UCF converted a third-and-21 when a DB didn’t get deep enough in his zone (I believe this was Roby drifting forward). There was nothing wrong with the defensive call there. They have missed some tackles, too.

They will have to adjust the offensive scheme based on who plays tailback because not everyone can handle every part of the offense. Both young tailbacks are talented, but they still have to figure out who deserves to get the ball. That will be learned through practice this week.

Miller’s carry total was inflated by errors on some plays. People going the wrong way or running the wrong route or missing a block. The Buckeyes need to play better around him. The coaches have to call what they have to in order to win the game, but they have to be smart, too.

Asked about the upcoming OSU Hall of Fame weekend, Meyer said he is good friends with inductee Bobby Knight, who does it the right way without cheating. Others can have their own opinions about Knight.

Meyer admires Mike Vrabel – another inductee – very much. He knows Vrabel’s high school coach well and is glad he kept him on the staff.

They do need to get more handoffs and quick throws for Miller so he can have time to compose himself during the game. Miller is a hell of a football player, better than people around the country realize. Meyer has tremendous respect for him. Figuring out the best way to use him is a good problem to have.

He hasn’t talked to AD Gene Smith much about it, but he seemed to think the nonconference scheduling philosophy of having one national game, one mid-major game and two “other” games (i.e., patsies) will continue.

Matching up against an unusual Cal defense will be interesting because the Buckeyes made a bunch of errors last week against a very conventional defense from UCF. That is a function of the transition in styles, but it must be addressed.

Cal has several draftable players, including a cornerback and a defensive tackle Meyer did not identify by name. The Bears have a deeper roster than UCF, which had a lot of studs at the top.

Asked again about the pass rush, he acknowledged that losing Mike Bennett to a groin injury throws off what they wanted to do. They would prefer to pressure with only four players, but they might have to dial up some more blitzes.

Cal saw some things Ohio State does from Nevada’s pistol offense last week. Nevada executed at a high level despite being probably outmanned a bit. The OSU coaches will look at that as well as how Cal has defended Oregon in the past.

He has not seen the OSU DBs lose any physical matchups this season. One big play was a result of Travis Howard not knowing the coverage they were in, another was the lack of depth in a drop he already mentioned. He thinks Howard will be fine, though, and missing the call is uncharacteristic of him.

When the Buckeyes have the ball, they can expect to see some “zero” coverages from Cal, meaning their corners will be in man to man with no safety help. That means OSU will need to go for some home runs even if it means a few foul balls. Still, coaches hate second-and-10 after failed deep shots. They want to be on schedule.

He is getting more comfortable with what the wide receivers can do and the passing game overall.

He said he has great respect for Cal coach Jeff Tedford, whose stuff he has studied and borrowed in the past. (Tedford is something of a quarterback/passing game guru.) Meyer spent some time with him back when Meyer was at Bowling Green putting his offense together in the first place and uses some of his passing concepts.

 

Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said Howard has done a very good job going about his business since he took the job last winter. He is among the best players Coombs has coached.

Facing 95 passes in two games has forced them to use a variety of pass coverages, and the ensuing complication has played a role in some of the miscommunication and breakdowns they have had. It also has made it harder for teams to pass the ball against them and helped lead to some of their turnovers. He expects dramatic improvement.

They can’t accept giving up any 20-plus-yard plays, especially if it is a case of coverages being blown.

Cal WR Keenan Allen is a great player who runs good routes and has speed. He will go vertical.

Most of the problems OSU has had in communication have come between the safeties and the cornerbacks. He hopes to correct them. The coverage is called from the sideline, the players identify the offensive personnel and formation then apply the coverage that’s been called. Breakdowns have occurred at each step.

Doran Grant played 22 snaps last week and did a good job. Adam Griffin is playing extremely well in practice. Freshmen Najee Murray, Armani Reeves and Tyvis Powell remain outside that top four with Murray and Reeves running ahead of Powell.

Asked if OSU should blitz more, he said there is give and take. It means fewer guys in coverage and sometimes playing more man, but his guys are good in man. The pressure does need to shorten the clock for the quarterback. He hopes the pressure and coverage can be used to enhance each other going forward.

Cal QB Zach Maynard is very athletic. He scrambles to run and to throw and makes big plays. He is a pocket passer first but can get out and do damage.

PLAYERS SAYETH: 

Wide receiver Devin Smith said how the wide receivers perform against Cal is up to them. They will have a good day if they do what they’re supposed to.

The scout team cornerbacks have been playing press all week to prepare them, and more pass plays are going in this week.

He is pumped to face one-on-one coverage. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman told him Cal’s strategy will challenge their manhood (told this later, Meyer said he was happy to hear that.)

Jordan Hall has been looking good in practice and said his foot felt fine.

Braxton Miller was sore after the UCF game but felt normal by midweek.

Smith would be honored to have his one-handed catch against Miami (Ohio) voted the national play of the year, especially since he is so young.

Hall looked like he could play at practice but it was up to the coaches to make the call. He gives them versatility because he can line up at running back or receiver.

Fullback Zack Boren said the running backs have looked really good in practice this week, especially the young guys.

He was coy about what role Hall might play this week but said he is encouraged by how he looked.

Boren didn’t know his own role yet. He has done a variety of things already, including play out wide against Miami and running back against UCF. It’s fun moving around in the offense and changing things up.

Hall is a playmaker who can do special and crazy things any time he gets the ball.

They haven’t done anything out of the ordinary to prepare for Cal’s unique 46 defese.

Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said if everything goes according to plan with the pass rush, they have to make the Bears pay when they reach him.

If the defensive line plays well, the defense will have a good day. They need to have more production. Hankins has done his job so far but needs to be more dominant.

He has good practice battles with Andrew Norwell, who was always a great run blocker and has gotten better in pass protection.

Mike Vrabel brings tons of energy to the defensive line group. His NFL experience gives him a lot of knowledge regarding technique. He taught them about attacking just one side of a blocker sometimes instead of always going through the middle of him. Vrabel has been harping on technique and taking it to the playing field from the practice fields.

Adolphus Washington is doing a good job, but he needs to think less.

He could see J.T. Moore or Se’Vonn Pittman helping out on the field this week.

Cornerback Bradley Roby said Cal has a good group of receivers. He is ready for whoever comes his way. He won’t be matching up with star Keenan Allen as OSU plays boundary and field corners.

He admitted to becoming disinterested at times against lesser opponents and during practices. He feels he has improved in that area. Also, Smith and Brown have improved since the spring and offer him a greater challenge now.

Roby wants to take on the best in the country and looks forward to having a “show-time matchup” with Allen.

He is tired of noon games (they will play a fourth straight next week against UAB).

The defense’s problems have been related to pretty common breakdowns in communication. They have more checks based on what the offense is doing this year.

Brown is the best trash talker among the OSU receivers, but the rest of them don’t talk a lot, anyway.

Manifest destiny: the SEC’s new TV deal

Definitely some interesting perspective regarding how the SEC’s expansion could negatively impact the league down the road. I kind of look at this in the same way I view a bigger NCAA basketball tournament. Yes, there would be more games that would bring in more total revenue, but would there be a net gain or even loss in interest if some of the fundamental things changed?

Overheard at Ohio State: Colorado Week

Cleaning out my reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State football beat… 

FICKELLISMS

Ohio State’s head coach said they are ready to move on from the loss at Miami. Everyone has to ask themselves how they can get better.

The rest of the offense is young and needs to do more to help the quarterbacks, too. The defense can help by keeping the team out of such a hole, too. 

Asked about not using any of his timeouts at the end of the game, he said they considered calling one at one point before Miami beat them to it, then they decided to save them for offense. Because they needed to score twice, he reasoned they would need all three.

He felt like the team handled adversity OK but did not make plays it needed to get out of the hole it was in. The Buckeyes seemed to keep their heads in the game and good body language and all that. However, the defense probably did not handle the second drive as well as it needed to. He suggested perhaps because the standards are so high for the defense that they put extra pressure on themselves after allowing the first score. They were shellshocked because they’re not used to allowing anything. That could be an example of their youth showing.

The team is worried more about improving every day than long-term prospects.

Asked about about the quarterback play, he said obviously turnovers were a problem and they missed some shots when they had them. Then he steered it back to being a collaborative problem, not just one with the players taking the snaps. He said neither quarterback had a lot of opportunities to make something happen. There was no single problem. And they never really thought about going to Kenny Guiton or Taylor Graham in Miami.

Regarding Braxton Miller, ball security is an issue, as is often the case with youngsters. Quarterbacks don’t really get hit in practice because you can’t afford for them to get injured, so they aren’t used to it when the game comes around. Perhaps they can make a bigger effort to strip the ball in practice to get them used to that.

Jordan Hall left the game with cramps, but he is good to go this week. That did play a factor in his playing time in the second half.

Part of the deal with the quarterback battle is getting their best 11 on the field (This might be the first time I’ve heard them reference this on that side of the ball. It’s a regular theme on defense. I wonder if that might mean their “power” personnel is better than their “spread” personnel but Miller is better in the spread at this point in time. Curious…).

He confirmed the offensive line was good against the Hurricanes both in terms of run blocking and pass protection, although Miami was not blitzing like crazy or anything. They played more coverage.

The coaches need to make sure they instill confidence in the players this week.

He did not see Joe Bauserman laughing at the end of the game but did receive an email about it. He hadn’t talked to the quarterback at that point but sometimes looks can be deceiving. He is confident Bauserman was hurting inside just like everyone else on the team, but he tells the guys nothing goes unnoticed and that is not something he wants to see. He’s sure Bauserman is 100 percent with the team.

To be more ready at the start of games the defense just has to concentrate on being sound and to have confidence in what it is doing. He puts the slow starts on himself. The defense still needs to develop leadership. Some guys need to step up.

Asked about Colorado, he said they have athletes and ability. They look like they are well-led, energetic and confident.

Johnny Simon has been great. He has done a lot of things for them.

The suspended guys have been great in practice and a positive influence on the rest of the team.

Someone asked if he believes there are times players can learn more by watching and he said not in college football. They need to play. He has not seen guys’ development hurt by playing early.

Colorado will challenge the OSU defensive backs because the Buffs will sling the ball around.

He identified safety and linebacker as positions that need more rotation. They have used enough players on the defensive line but not at DB and LB.

He is not going to focus on boos if they come from the Ohio State faithful this weekend. People pay their money and do what they feel like they have to do. He hopes it does not hurt his players’ confidence.

PLAYERS SAYETH: 

Johnathan Hankins said he wishes he could play Leo defensive end so he could drop into coverage and get an interception, but he conceded that probably won’t happen (Hank seems like a fun guy when we talk to him).

He said the team’s mood was good and it seems as if the page has been turned. Hopefully the win will help the team learn to stick together.

He expects a lot of passing from Colorado and looks for them to try to get the ball into running back Rodney Stewart’s hands often.

The struggle of the offense inspire the defense to work harder.

He identified Orhian Johnson, Tyler Moeller and John Simon as leaders so far on the defense but said the leadership is still developing.

The coaches harped on tackling in the film room but not so much in practice Tuesday. They had to clean up fundamentals: stay low, hold leverage and keep a good base (these are all kind of the same thing, haha).

Simon is amazing because he never seems to get tired. He plays hard every play and makes the rest of the linemen want to be like him.

Asked about the possibility some OSU fans are doubting the team, he said the fans are great and he doesn’t listen to the doubters.

The coaches acted the same this week as earlier in the season.

The defense doesn’t change much with Simon playing Leo instead of Williams. Simon still drops into coverage some. He was getting more double-teams with Simon playing exclusively outside.

He played the whole game against Miami and felt good. He attributes his increased stamina to concentrating more on working out and eating right. He has gone from eating two big meals a day to six small ones.

Mike Brewster said the players don’t care who plays quarterback. They just want to win.

He thinks the young wide receivers will improve and then they’ll get back DeVier Posey and Philly Brown and be in good shape.

He’s anxious to get back on the field but believes Saturday will be here quickly.

The offensive line had a good game against Miami. He believes if they give the QBs time to operate, they will improve.

Bauserman seemed the same at practice as he always does.

They will miss Adam Homan in the short-yardage packages, but David Durham has been coming along since he moved over from Leo. It helps they have three tight ends who can contribute, too. (TEs and FBs are sometimes used interchangeably)

Corey Linsley’s season debut went well, and he gives them a sixth guy who can function in the starting lineup.

C.J. Barnett said he doesn’t pay attention to the rankings so he didn’t know their streak ended. He’s taking it one game at a time.

Christian Bryant is a playmaker who makes things happen whenever he is in there. The rotation at safety did not change during practice.

J.B. Shugarts was asked what he would say to fans who might be concerned about where the team is headed and he said, “Have faith. We are Ohio State.” That’s how fans are, but Buckeye Nation is loyal.

ASSISTANTS ADDED: 

Co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Paul Haynes said guys are ready to go. They were ready to go by the next day.

The 27 missed tackles at Miami are by far the most he could remember at OSU, and those drive a coach crazy. Coaches always go back to fundamentals after a loss. Falling behind raised the sense of urgency maybe too high and some guys lost their technique as a result of too much effort. They have to stay sound. There were guys out of position and guys taking bad angles.

He is not concerned about the talent level, just playing better.

They have to learn not to panic, to react to adversity with poise. The defense is good enough to win games for this team if it has to go the conservative route on offense.

They must avoid giving up big plays. They can even handle the 10- or 12-yard gains here and there, but not the 50-yarders. He said that first run by Miami would have only been an 8- or 12-yard gain if they had made a tackle when they had the chance.

He compared Simon’s leadership to A.J. Hawk. Both are big effort guys who don’t say a lot but people know they are leaders and follow them. He brings energy to everything he does all the time and has been a positive since he has been on campus.

He expects Bryant to get more playing time moving forward and rotate more with Orhian Johnson and C.J. Barnett because those guys also play a lot of special teams and the staff doesn’t want them to wear down (I’m a bit skeptical of that explanation). Bryant is coming on, though. He is a playmaker who brings some flash to the defense, some spunk. And the players respect him for that.

Wide receivers coach Stan Drayton said being in the film room was not a fun experience for anyone after the Miami game. His guys need to execute better, but their effort and toughness were good.

They are young, still growing, but that is not an excuse he will let them use.

The game produced some good lessons, and it’s unfortunate they had to come along with a loss. They need to play faster and adjust to what they’re seeing better. It’s tough for young guys because they are not only learning what the coverages are, they are then having to deal with recognizing them as teams throw them variations (although Miami did not do anything too exotic to them).

He hasn’t seen many guys perform like they’ve been there before when they are young.

He works with Miller on the sidelines because the wide receivers and the quarterbacks often need to hear the same things. Anything that quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano needs to communicate to Miller goes through Drayton and Miller knows that.

Asked about the quarterbacks this week in practice, he said Fickell has competitions every day between the teams and makes guys earn spots. Both Bauserman and Miller have been working hard to be the guy this week.

Miller is a competitive kid, and football means a lot to him. He’s emotional, and they need to make sure he learns to use that energy the right way.

Speaking about the receivers again, he said they did not make a lot of mistakes throughout  the game, but they failed to make plays when they had opportunities.

Asked if the rotating quarterbacks could mess up the receivers at all, he said he would not accept that as an explanation if one of his guys tried to tell him it did. They need to adjust, go up and get the ball no matter what.

He said Verlon Reed made no excuses for the pass he dropped Saturday night. He has great hands but did not snatch the ball at that time. But Reed has put in good prep this week and he is happy with what he’s seen from him. He ached after the Miami game because of that play.

Similarly, he was asked what happened on a deep ball that ended up going well over Devin Smith’s head and he said Smith did not react very well to contact on the play. He let a collision with the defender bother him too much and needs to play through that.

He was asked if going to more multi-WR formations could help the wide receivers, and he said it can make it harder for the defense to disguise coverages, but it can be a problem if the defense has superior guys to put out there in space against your guys.

The staff right now is challenged to figure out what is best from a matchup standpoint every week for this team. Then he pointed out how well the running backs and offensive line have played lately. (Is that a hint to what they are working on for the offense moving forward? We’ll see…)
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Talk and Reality (via Joe Posnanski)

This might seem like a dangerous secret to reveal to the masses, but we may as well admit its veracity and move on because I’m confident I and those in my profession will live to write another day. And we will still have readers because when you get right down to it, most of the time we – yes, we – read about sports for the same reason we watch sports: to pass the time, as a diversion.

The contents might not exactly be important some of the time, but it’s fun, and after all who wants to be serious too much of the time anyway?

I’m actually wondering if Mr. Posnanski’s point could even leave a positive legacy – perhaps those who remember it will save a few blood pressure points the next time they read something with the potential to rub them the wrong way.

Talk and Reality You've noticed this, no doubt, but there really are many, many things that we talk and write about in sports that have nothing whatsoever to do with reality. Think about how much talk there was this off-season about Cliff Lee pitching for the New York Yankees. There was discussion about it, and c … Read More

via Joe Posnanski