Sunday, January 31, 2010

Has Federer surpassed Laver?

"For [Federer] to come out and play as well as he did here just goes to show he has stuff to prove to himself, not to anybody else," said Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion. "I'm flabbergasted to understand how he remains so motivated. I certainly couldn't." (via ESPN)
Because that's the question at this point.

Rod Laver won the Grand Slam -- not the career version, but the actual, all-in-one-year kind -- in 1962 and again in 1969. Besides those eight titles, he won three other majors, plus about a squillion other tournaments.

And here's the massive footnote to his record: since he was a professional, he was not eligible to play in the majors from 1963 through the beginning of the Open Era at the French Open of 1968. Two things should stand out about this:
  1. He won 11 majors even though he was prohibited from playing in 21 consecutive majors in his prime.
  2. How do we know it was his prime? I refer you back to the years that he won the calendar-year Grand Slam . . . on either side of the enforced five-year hiatus.
Considering Laver's tournament record during those blackout years, and speaking very conservatively, his career total of wins in major could easily have reached 20. Clearly, Federer's current record of 16 wins is staggering . . . but the idea that he would need four more to reach Laver gives it more context.

Of course, the usual caveats about comparing one era to another apply here, just as they do for baseball, basketball, etc.:
  • Sports medicine and conditioning programs are better today, which means that Federer faces stronger, faster, fitter opponents on the whole.
  • Equipment -- especially rackets and shoes -- are much better today. Light-years better. Which could make Laver's performance all the more impressive. (I love my Adidas Rod Lavers and get lots of compliments on them, but I wouldn't want to play one set of tennis in them.)
  • Laver traveled by the best means available in the 1960s and early 1970s; Federer travels everywhere by private jet.
  • . . .
So, there's some context for the debate.

More than just a note on Pete Sampras: if life were perfect, Sampras and Federer would have been in their primes at the same time. It would have made for some of the greatest displays of speed, smarts, and grit ever seen on any tennis court, and we could have expected these guys to slug it out in many Grand Slam finals.

But, great though Pete was, Federer is better. Some points of comparison:
  • Sampras pulled off the incredible feat of winning major titles over a span of thirteen years. So far, Federer's up to a "mere" eight years. Advantage: Sampras.
  • There's a common theme among the tennis cognoscenti that Sampras played against more great players (Agassi, Courier, Becker, Edberg), but that Federer plays against more good players (i.e. that the average level of play is higher, in part because of better conditioning). That said, it's clear that Federer has found his Agassi in Rafael Nadal, and it's not like Murray, del Potro, Roddick, et al. are a bunch of cupcakes. Advantage: ???
  • Federer has already completed the career grand slam, which Sampras never did, but it goes beyond that: Federer has been in four straight French Open finals, and in three of them he lost to the only men's clay-court player of the past thirty years worth comparing to Bjorn Borg. By contrast, Sampras reached the semifinals of the French Open once, and never reached the finals. Advantage: Federer, by a lot.
  • Sampras won five U.S. Open titles and played in three more finals over the span of a thirteen years (1990-2002); Federer has won five in a row (2004-2008) and played in one more final. Advantage: . . . You tell me: is it more impressive to win five times over a broad span, or in a row? Maybe a slight advantage to Sampras.
  • Sampras won seven Wimbledon titles in eight years. Federer has won six Wimbledon titles in seven years -- and counting. (Recall that the one loss has been called the greatest Grand Slam final ever played.) Advantage: Sampras, but not by much.
  • Sampras won the Australian Open twice and played in one other final. Federer just won it for the fourth time, and has played in one other final (another heart-breaking five-set loss). Advantage: Federer, by plenty.
  • Sampras won two majors in a year four times -- which, when you think about it, is stone-cold awesome. Federer has won three majors in a year three times, plus two majors in a year two other times -- which is more awesome. Advantage: Federer.
  • Sampras is ten years older than Federer, to the week. After the 2000 Australian Open, Sampras had won 12 majors; at the same age, Federer has won 16. Advantage: Federer.
In my view, the overall advantage to Federer is clear -- and it's only growing.

(Thanks to Bryan for suggesting that I write this post.)


(Image via Wikipedia.)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Who are the Top 10 Pro Quarterbacks Ever?

First, read Kyle's post bidding a fond farewell to Kurt Warner, who rides off into retirement with his head held high.

Then, get serious with some barstool palaver and list your all-time top 10 pro QBs -- in order -- in the comments.

The list I shared with Kyle last night:
  1. Montana
  2. Manning
  3. Favre
  4. Unitas
  5. Elway
  6. Marino
  7. Brady
  8. Young
  9. Aikman
  10. Tarkenton
Mind you, I swapped around the order three times before I hit "send" on that tweet -- and then swapped Manning and Favre again for this post. It's a hard question to answer.

(For the record, if Manning wins next week, he goes to my top spot as the hybrid of a Montana-style winner, a Marino-style stat monster, and an Elway-style come-from-behind artist.)

By the way, I keep wondering whether I haven't slighted Warren Moon here. Hmm . . .

Anyway . . . let the arguments begin!


(Image source.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Enjoy Life Kurt Warner. Enjoy the Hall of Fame.

As you all know I have a huge amount of respect for Kurt Warner and hearing him retire today I thought back on the story I told just a few weeks ago. I hope that Kurt enjoys every minute of his retirement. The man won a Super Bowl, lost two Super Bowls and pulled in two MVPs. Hall of Fame? I say yes! And so do some other HOFers:

Troy Aikman: “I believe a player is a Hall of Fame player if you can’t tell the story of the history of the game without mentioning that player. In my opinion, no account of the NFL can be accurately given without discussing Kurt Warner’s impact on the game.”

Len Dawson: “I think he deserves it. I don’t know if I’ve seen a more accurate passer, and he generally didn’t make too many mistakes. The tag on him was he never got the opportunity. He was playing Arena Football and stuff like that. But once he got the opportunity, he took full advantage of it.”

Fran Tarkenton: “I think he’s deserving. To be a great quarterback, you have to understand the game, make adjustments by the second, by the minute, by the game. You have to take over the running of the game. And Kurt Warner has been able to do that.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Will the Real Daisuke Matsuzaka Please Stand Up?

One of the big question marks coming into the 2010 season is Dice-K... is he going to fade away or come back with a vengeance? Derek and I had a discussion last night on Twitter and we'd love your take. Derek's setting the over/under for regular season wins at 14.5.

Would you take the over or under and why?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

NFL Playoffs Week Three Picks

Since I started 0-4, then went 2-4, is there any doubt I'll go 2-2 today?

Jets 14-Indy 23

Vikings 28-Saints 29


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Big Papi on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Just in case you missed it...

Now the questions... Is it just me, or does Big Papi look lean/slim/fit in this video? What does it mean to the Red Sox lineup if he comes into 2010 like he played in the 2nd half of 2009? I'd love your observations.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's your greatest personal sports triumph?

Me, I was never much of an athlete, so I have to cling to a few playground memories.
  • Once, in a 2-on-2 pickup game in college, I went on a tear, sinking my patented (but usually terrible) running baseline hook over and over. My buddy and I beat two superior players with that shot plus hardnosed defense, and I'm still proud about it.
  • In high school, before I had even learned to shoot an open jumper, some friends schooled me -- in a good way -- about how to play serious man-to-man defense on the blacktop. Later that year, playing in a P.E. game, I caused problems for the best athlete in that class, who was running the point for the other team. (He was from the barrio and knew lots about fixing cars; I was an egghead on the school newspaper.) I knew I impressed him when, as he tried to set up a play from the top of the key, he smiled and said "You don't f--- around, do you?"
  • In fourth grade, through a combination of guile, teamwork, and simply running away, I found myself as the last surviving member of my team in flag-tag. My opponent was Billy Piper, by far the best athlete in the elementary school -- the golden boy. Though my teammates watched with dread, in the critical moment I managed a matador's subtle dodge when Billy came at me. I still remember staring at that flag in my hand. For once -- possibly for the first time in my life -- I had delivered victory for my team.
Now, surely you can do better than this. What are your greatest moments of sporting glory?

(Image source.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

NFL Playoffs Week Two Picks

Because my week one picks were SO dead on it is not surprising that so many of you have been emailing, calling and faxing for my week two picks. No worries, I may be cutting it close, but here they are:

Baltimore at Indy

Baltimore is riding heavy momentum, while Indy has had a few weeks to kick back and get fat, with a rookie coach, and they haven't won a game in the playoffs after having a first round bye since...well since they were in Baltimore. Think old school Baltimore fans want to put a hurt on the Colts, you bet they do! It is all pointing to a huge Baltimore upset. Thus that is why I'm going Indy 31-Baltimore 27.

New York (A) at San Diego

You know who will have zero impact in this game? LaDanian Tomlison. You know who else? Mark Sanchez. Guess what will happen. That's right, San Diego rolls, 27-10.

Arizona at New Orleans

My sentimental pick overall is Arizona. That's right, Arizona, although the fact that they are playing my other sentimental pick almost makes me cry. I rooted for the Cardinals the entire playoffs last year and for only one reason, Kurt Warner. I'm a HUGE fan of the man. Strange, seeing that my Patriots were the team that probably gave him his first concussion. The reason is actually very personal and a story that most people probably don't know.

I interviewed for a job with the Rams at the end of May, 2004, which was a blast of a process, but as I left their office buildings located at their practice facility Kurt Warner was leaving as well. He not only held the door for me but ended up chatting with me for nearly 15 minutes in the parking lot. We talked about the day in and day out difficulty of being an NFL player, the politics involved and we even talked about the Pats Super Bowl win and the famous hit he took from Willie. I've been lucky to have been on the field for three NFL games (two in D.C and one in Green Bay, stories for another post) and talked with many players. Kurt Warner was the only one who seemed like an actual human being.

Two or three days later, he was released by the Rams. The meeting he was leaving when we met was most likely his last in St. Louis, and he knew it, but he still spent all that time talking to a football fan in the parking lot. Go Cardinals! Arizona 45, New Orleans 41.

Dallas at Minnesota
5,000 Minnesota season ticket holders said no to their option to purchase playoff tickets. Sign of the times or sign of bad fans? I'm saying 50/50, either way I could not care any less about either of these teams. Favre = ugh. Jerry Jones = argh. Tony Romo = dreamy annoying. Let's just say, um...Minnesota 24, Dallas 21, setting up a week of annoying Cowboys talk here in Austin.

Remember, bet against me and you WILL win. That is the Flaherty promise!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Do you have a dog in the NFL hunt?

Now that the Patriots are playing golf, where does you rooting interest lie? Or have you moved on to Big East basketball and looking ahead to Spring Training?

Inquiring minds want to know.


(Image source.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

One and Done.

Not to be too flip about it, but it's hard to win a playoff game when
  1. The other team catches a bunch of early breaks;
  2. You play out of rhythm from the start; and
  3. The other team flat outplays you.
Did I miss anything?

Friday, January 08, 2010

NFL Playoffs Week One Picks

Because you all were wondering:

Jets at Bengals
Classic Wild Card weekend game. Rookie QB who has been shaky all year, on the road against a team that knew they wanted this match up last week to tanked it early. We might see a decent score at the half, but the Bengals run away with this one on the legs of Cedric Benson who is still upset about Colt McCoy's injury.

Jets 17 - Bengals 31

Eagles at Cowboys
Could you think of two more inept coaches to face off against each other in the first round. Wait. What? Andy Reid has actually been making all the right moves lately and Donovan McNabb has a chip on his shoulder right now? Watch out Cowboys, Eagles will peck your eyes out. Romo fumbles the snap from center for a potentially game tying FG at the end of the game and immediately breaks into a Jessica Simpson song.

Eagles 24 - Cowboys 21

Green Bay at Arizona
Can you think of another time when three of the four playoff games in one weekend were teams that faced each other just in the last week? You can? Well then you are a downright dirty liar because it has never happened before. Shame on you for lying to me. And shame on the Arizona Cardinals for having all their good players injured for this game because it won't even be competitive without a healthy Warner, Fitzgerald and more.

Green Bay 34 - Arizona 20

Baltimore at New England
I rewatched the game from October 3rd twice this week and talked it over in depth with some folks. Most people remember that the Ravens literally dropped the chance at winning the game in the final seconds, but rewatching the game it was fairly obvious that the Patriots made several mistakes around the 7-5 minute left in the game mark that could have placed the game out of reach. Each of the mistakes were made by Tom Brady. This only a few weeks after Albert Haynesworth purportedly broke three of Tom Terrific's ribs. Does Tommy make those same mistakes this week? Not a chance. Is our defense much stronger with 16 games under their young belts? Of course. This will be the best of all four games, but the Patriots will hold on to live another week.

Baltimore 21 - New England 28

Oh, and guess what I have for you:

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Another take on the Winter Classic

Panorama of Fenway Park at the Winter Classic on January 1, 2010

New England's own C.C. Chapman scored a free ticket to last week's NHL Classic at Fenway Park. In a blog post this morning, he recaps the experience and posts some of photos from his Fenway visit, including the stunning panorama above.

The Classic is truly evolving as one of those events we just can't stop talking about. No doubt the NHL is thrilled.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Redsox and Yankees in 2010: Who you got?

Following the announcement of the Red Sox signing Adrian Beltre last night, a discussion broke out on Twitter about whether this was a good or bad thing. We bantered a bit about whether a one year contract or a move to the friendly confines of Fenway Park might be a good thing or a bad thing. Then my good friend (and fellow Big Papelbon conspirator), Tim Walker, dropped the bomb on us...
@adamcohen @jimstorer @aaronstrout @peplau @DougH Bigger picture: the #redsox will not contend for the division this year, and that's that.

Whoa! If Tim wasn't a fellow Red Sox fan, I'd consider those fighten' words. Of course Tim has a point and that isn't that the Red Sox don't have a chance in 2010. Just that they don't stack up well against the men in pinstripes. So this got me thinking. For one, if you look at the Red Sox starting rotation, I'm pretty confident that we have an edge over the Yanks, particularly in numbers 3-5 (I'll give the Yankees a "push" on Sabathia and Burnett vs. Beckett and Lester). Yes, the Yankees did sign Javier Vazquez but he wasn't that impressive with the Yanks back in '04 (arguably one of their better years minus their ALCS performance). But the Sox have Lackey, Wakefield, Dice K, and Buchholz with up and comers Michael Bowden and Boof Bonser to boot.

Tim was willing to concede to my point about the pitching but correctly asserted that the Sox lineup wouldn't hold a candle to the "murderer's row" that the Yanks have assembled. While I don't think that there is as much of a disparity as Tim points out (Youk, Pedroia, Scutaro, Drew and VMart are all pretty decent hitters in their own right), I can't in good conscience try and argue that the Sox have a leg up on the Yanks. However, I will make the point that other than last year, the team with the best offense in the majors over the last decade has NOT been the World Series winner. In fact, teams like the '01 Arizona Cardinals, '03 Florida Marlins and '08 Philadelphia Phillies all won with a combo of good defense, great pitching and some timely hitting.

To back up my claim, I've listed the World Series winner and then the top run producer (my take on offensive dominance) in the column next to it. While I know there are a 1,000 different other stats/measurements like RBIs, OBP, OPS, etc., I think this is a fair measurment:
  • Year ----------------- Won WS ----------------- Best Offense (by runs)
  • 2009 -----------------Yankees ----------------- Yankees (915)*
  • 2008 ----------------- Phillies ----------------- Rangers (901)**
  • 2007  ----------------- Red Sox ----------------- Yankees (968)***
  • 2006 ----------------- Cardinals ----------------- Yankees (930)****
  • 2005 ----------------- White Sox ----------------- Red Sox (910)*****
  • 2004 ----------------- Red Sox ----------------- Red Sox (949)
  • 2003  ----------------- Marlins  ----------------- Red Sox (961)
  • 2002 ----------------- Angels ----------------- Yankees (897)
  • 2001  ----------------- DBacks  ----------------- Seattle (927)*******
  • 2000 ----------------- Yankees -----------------White Sox (978)********
*Red Sox were 3rd in runs w/ 872 in spite of losing in 1st round of playoffs

**WS winner, Philadelphia, was 8th in runs scored with 799

***WS winner, Boston, was 4th in runs scored with 867
****WS winner, St. Louis, was 14th in runs scored with 781
*****WS winner, Chicago (AL), was 13th in runs scored with 741
******WS winner, Florida, was 17th in runs scored with 751
*******WS winner, Arizona, was 7th with 818
********WS winner, NY (AL), was 10th with 871

At the end of the day, this is why we play the games, right?

Image credit: MLB

Sunday, January 03, 2010

NHL Winter Classic Re-Cap

NOTE: When playing each video, best to click 'play', then 'pause' and let a buffer build up before clicking 'play' again so playback isn't choppy.

Here's a fan's-eye view of the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway in three parts. (Some of this stuff didn't make it onto the network broadcast).


Part 1: Madness in Twins & interviews with some interesting fans.
Part 2: A brush w/ a Red Sox front office big wig and an great fife & drum corp segment.
Part 3: The game-winning goal & crowd reaction.

And it bears mentioning that my Whalers toque got about 25-30 positive comments at the game. 20 years ago, I'd probably have been posting this from the hospital for wearing it.