Monday, March 29, 2010

Weekend Sports Roundup

Ok, I'm going to level with you. I had a fairly busy weekend and last night in the semifinals of my office fantasy hockey league I suffered the most painful fantasy sports loss of my life, so.....

Yeah, I don't have a story prepared for you.

I know. I know. You're not sure how you're going to procrastinate at work today, but I'm going to ramble a little and perhaps you'll be able to find some solace that way. Maybe. I have a hunch that won't be the case right away since, for me, the most exciting sports moment of the weekend came when I checked my twitter feed at the Brooklyn Brunch Experiment and found that Southampton FC had won the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.

Some of you might recall from my earlier posts that I follow a soccer team in England called Southampton FC, known as the Saints, the result of a sparsely maintained friendship I formed with a Brit named Scott Pestell eight years ago while working as a summer camp counselor. Since I started following the Saints, after an early brush with Premier League prominence -- the club rose as high as fifth in the table of England's top flight -- it has been a rough period for the team. Southampton has been relegated twice in the past eight years, the results of financial constraints, injuries and being put into administration. The Saints did nearly pull back into the Premier League before losing a play-off match to Derby County on PKs a few years ago, but since then it's been nothing but bad news.

Well, the red and white stripes got some good news on Sunday.

No, the Johnstone's Paint Trophy isn't exactly the U.K. equivalent of winning the Super Bowl. In fact, the Wikipedia page for the tournament says it, "is not considered a priority by many clubs, with some opting to field below-strength teams, particularly in the earlier rounds". But it's still the first piece of hardware for the club in 34 years since its triumph over Manchester United (Surely, you've heard of them at least) in the 1976 F.A. Cup Final.

So, while this may not particularly excite you, it certainly excited me. Following this team through the internet for nearly a decade has only reinforced to me that, well, maybe I didn't make the most fortuitous selection in my European soccer clubs. But perhaps with this accomplishment, a push towards promotion to the Championship League and then finally on to the Premier League might be in the cards.

Ok. The section on sports you don't care about is over now. Just be happy I didn't dedicate several paragraphs to Gary Ablett's public declaration that people need to stop bugging him about a potential move to Gold Coast for the AFL's 2011 season.

Now, if you want to hear about something you've heard of before, this NCAA Basketball Tournament thing is starting to wind down to its final stages. Baylor missed out on a golden opportunity to make this the most peculiar and interesting Final Four I've ever seen when it blew a late lead to Duke last night, and with the Final Four now sitting at Butler, Michigan State, West Virginia and Duke -- raise your hand if you had that one -- well, it looks to me like the Blue Devils have pretty much an open path to a championship after they were gifted the weakest region in the bracket.

What this essentially means is that after one of the greatest tournaments ever, we may very well wind up with Kyle Singler and Mike Krzyzewski cutting down the nets next Monday, and that is a conclusion that will be incredibly unsatisfying to just about everyone. With any hope, the Mountaineers of West Virginia can throw Duke off the pace Saturday night and still give us hope of that West Virginia-Butler National Championship Game we've all been hoping for. The only problem I have with this is that West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is, you know, despicable, but at the very least his alma mater, should it triumph, can probably count on having its name spelled correctly on the t-shirts this time.

Of course, if the other established program still alive, Michigan State, should take the title, it will be slightly more palatable because they wear my favorite color and they're not quite as nationally reviled, but as an alum of another Big Ten school I have difficulty cheering for Sparty. I will say, however, that this may have solidified Tom Izzo's reputation as the best basketball coach of his generation -- at all levels. Yes, Phil Jackson is really, really good, but the best player to come through Michigan State in Izzo's tenure that I can think of is Mateen Cleaves, who, unlike Jackson's charges of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Scottie Pippen, hasn't exactly made the right kinds of headlines lately. And yet, Izzo, who has a National Championship to his credit, is in his second consecutive Final Four and sixth in the last 12 years. Oh yeah, and he's doing it without his best player.

Mighty impressive indeed.

Lastly, I leave you all on a sentimental note. If you've never seen the movie Slap Shot, you might do well to stop everything you're doing and pop it in immediately. The craziness of Paul Newman and the Hanson Brothers as they play for a minor league team known as the Charlestown Chiefs is a classic bit of cinematic fare for not just hockey fans, but comedy fans alike. The film was an homage to the Johnstown Jets of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which had folded prior to filming, but a new team, named the Chiefs has played there for 20 years after being inspired by the movie. Well, according to, the team, faced with financial troubles yet again, will be moving south.

I've never been to the city, and it always bugs me when some jackass wears a Charlestown Chiefs jersey at NHL games (without fail there is always at least one), but something about this just seems sad to me.

Perhaps I'll mourn the loss by popping it in the DVD player.

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