MANTI MADNESS, LAMESTRONG?, COACHING CAROUSEL & SUPER PICKS

January 18, 2013

Well…. Hello 2013 ,we were just getting to know you?? Nobody can label you a procrastinator as you haven’t wasted any time dishing out some earth shaking headlines. Some aren’t so shocking—others well, we’ll get to that in a minute. Part of a week like we’ve never seen.Its getting tougher to trust those in the limelight and its the reason I think many are skeptical of somebody like Tim Tebow who appears in many ways to be perfect–let’s face it nobody is.  This week we had two intriguing examples….

MANTI MADNESS: OK you have heard the jokes and there are many. You have heard surprisingly from Notre Dame the very night the story broke, but we haven’t heard much from the Manti in the Middle? You know the story by now —Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te’o’s girlfriend who supposedly died of leukemia during the season was apparently not his girlfriend—she was well, not anyone—the story was bogus. Yeah the most emotional storyline in college football this past fall was a certified fake.

My first thoughts were its Deadspin and this a joke right? Well the joke seems to be on the rest of the media world, many whom looked down on Deadspin as lacking credibility. Pretty ironic that this so called shaky source is the only media outlet to at least check on the facts of this story. I know, how many of us would doubt that a player would lie that his girlfriend died of leukemia, this is certainly unchartered waters —but the fallout will certainly change the way we all cover stories in the future.

Many wondered why Notre Dame wouldn’t report the story when they found out about it before the BCS Championship game? This one to me is easier to figure out. The last thing the Irish wanted was for Te’o to be distraction leading up to the program’s first National Title run since the 80’s. Can you imagine the fallout if Te”o would have released this breaking news on South Beach? It would have been a mess, a mess they wanted no part of.

Who knows how this will effect Manti’s pro stock but that is certainly secondary. What is a shame is Te’o was supposed to be the reason we all love college football—he embodied class on and off the football field—now that reputation is in question. I’m not willing to fully discredit Te’o until he explains his story, there are certainly many questions and holes to be filled ,but until he does its tough to nail down what is going on here. Johnny Football, your Heisman Trophy winner over Te’o was recently reprimanded for putting pictures of himself in a casino and at a bar on Twitter—-that seems pretty petty now huh? To that end—i’m thankful they didn’t have camera phones when I was in college—how many of us can say that?

LAME-STRONG? Christmas sure came late for Lance Armstrong. As the world braced for his Oprah-thon, Manti Te’o gift wrapped a belated sideshow as his news seemingly did the impossible-it trumped one of the biggest confessionals in American History. I saw the interview and surprisingly walked away with a worse impression of the seven time Tour De France winner that I had before.

I’ll give Lance this—he ironically came clean about not being clean and didn’t dodge many questions from Winfrey whom I thought was outstanding. The problem I had was his lack of emotion or contrition. He was doing this because he had to certainly not because he wanted to make amends. For years, he was a bully, a liar and sued people intentionally that he knew were telling the truth while he wasn’t and didn’t seem to have much guilt about it. He even said he is still surprised at the attention he has received from cheating his sport and those close to him—boy does this guy live in a bubble?

Are we really surprised? Unfortunately I wasn’t. In a sport unlike baseball where not a few superstars were using performance enhancers—in the world of cycling everybody was doing it. It doesn’t make it right and certainly doesn’t exonerate Armstrong but it takes away the shock factor for me. I kept thinking through the years after each denial–what will it be like when he’s finally caught—well now we know. Lance admitted there were times he thought he would never be and could bike off into the sunset—those days are thankfully over.

What makes this different of course is the impact Lance had on cancer victims as his success spurred the founding and the inspiration for Livestrong. Lance may have lied repeatedly, intimidated many who tried to force his hand and step on numerous others but you can’t ignore the impact his story had on those who needed his inspiration. Unlike A-Rod, McGwire or Barry Bonds, Armstrong’s story doesn’t begin and end with doping allegations—this has many more layers.

Hopefully those who wore the bracelets and let Armstrong’s words and feats inspire them will accentuate the positive. Its one thing for Lance to explain his story to Oprah, its yet another for him to have to confront those cancer victims who believed in his story and his message in the coming weeks and years—that may be his biggest challenge.

COACHING CAROUSEL: So all eight NFL coaching jobs have been filled and guess what no Jon Gruden–we did have a Jay Gruden. No Bill Cowher, not even a Lovie Smith or a Mike Holmgren? Nope with the exception of Chip Kelly in Philly, these picks weren’t sexy or safe. The likes of Jacksonville, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Arizona, Kansas City and San Diego aimed for high risk high reward candidates. I like it—-enough of the retreads (see Norv Turner) there are so many talented coaches around who constantly get overlooked, . All you have to do is look at the recent NFL Final Four. Besides Bill Belichick, you have three coaches who are still in their first NFL Head Coaching jobs. Jim Harbaugh has tore down the stereotype of college coaches not succeeding at the next level. Atlanta’s Mike Smith and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh were assistants for years before getting their big break much like this year’s coaching class. All of them likely won’t find success but it will be interesting to see how many will.

I LIKE MIKE: The Browns gain is the media world’s loss. Cleveland hires in my opinion the most insightful insider on television as its General Manager in Mike Lombardi. The former NFL Network analyst to me was the most credible voice out there. He provided a unique perspective not only on Bounty gate the past year but always had a different and in my mind more accurate take on the inner workings of the league from player evaluations to game planning. I will miss his takes and it will be interesting to see how the time away will help him in his second tour of duty with the Browns. Remember his first run was with Bill Belichick, Mike can only hope his comeback is as successful as his mentos.

SUPER BOWL PICKS: OK thanks to the Denver secondary (I gotta blame somebody??!!) my first shot at predicting on this blog should have ended with a 3-1 mark but thanks to the Broncos breakdowns—I end up at 500 in last week’s great NFL playoff weekend. The Patriots and Falcons came though but the Broncos and Packers didn’t. OK–looking forward to covering Super Bowl week in New Orleans–here’s who I think will be there:

FALCONS > NINERS: My gut says go with San Francisco. Covering the Saints, they have been the most impressive team I’ve seen in person the past few years with their mix of physicality on defense and explosiveness on offense. First time starter Colin Kaepernick has made his coach look like Einstein and has done some damage on the road this year winning at New England and in his first road test in New Orleans, where I personally saw him play well when the Superdome crowd was trying its best to intimidate him. Oh Kaepernick make some plays in another Dome this time around but there is something about this Atlanta team that I can’t pick against. Having its first playoff win behind him, I feel Matt Ryan will have a big game–it just seems like his time. He has made several “you got to be kidding me” moments like his Hail Mary out of the endzone that helped beat the Panthers earlier this season—I think he shines again and the Falcons get to play its second Super Bowl much to the dismay of Saints fans in the Big Easy.

RAVENS > PATRIOTS: Every instinct says Patriots. They have been the most impressive team in the playoffs but this Ravens team always plays them well and should have beaten them in last year’s playoffs. Sure they are inspired by Ray Lewis but the key for Baltimore will be the play of Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. I think this is the game of the weekend where kicker Justin Tucker might be your hero in sending the Ravens to its second Super Bowl in team history. Its Championship Weekend but I predict it will be Underdog weekend!

EXTRA POINT: Remember when Notre Dame’s biggest Heisman controversy was Joe Theisman changing the pronunciation of his name?

UNTIL NEXT BLOG,
Mike.

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