A-Rod: Win and You’re In

An active, elite baseball player admitted to using steroids, and SI's swimsuit issue completely snuck under the radar.

Sex or steroids? History was made in two forms last week: An active, elite baseball player admitted to using steroids, and as a result, SI's swimsuit issue completely flew under the radar.

Just when you thought it was safe to anticipate the upcoming baseball season without anymore controversy or media hysteria, The Golden Boy himself, Alex Rodriguez, turned in his pride along with his Hall of Fame accomplishments.

Pyrite, Cubic Zirconia, or “A-Fraud” after all.

So after a week of what seemed like a 24-hour A-Rod news cycle casting a shadow over the rest of the world of sports (college basketball has been GREAT, by the way) the most common question being asked is if he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame or not.

There really shouldn’t be a debate: The answer should be a grand slamming NO. You can’t honor a scofflaw, who lied on national television, a gold plaque and hang it up in the same room with the Henry Aaron’s, Willie Mays’, and Tom Seaver’s of the world.

However, A-Rod still predicts that he has another nine seasons left. If he can put up the necessary CLEAN numbers he was capable of recording before he felt the pressure to “live up” to the pressure of his $200 million dollar contract he signed with Texas, then he should get enough support to make it in.

Or will he?

Not one Hall of Fame voter who left Rickey Henderson off the ballot came out and said he neglected the greatest leadoff hitter of all time because of a suspected steroid enhanced career. Actually, those who had the audacity to speak up of their decision, claimed they didn’t like Rickey.

That cannot be good news for A-Rod, who doesn’t exactly get the kind of public endorsement that one would expect of a player of his caliber. Maybe he should see if Madonna could hook him up with an acting career. He can concentrate on obtaining an Academy Award or a star on the Walk of Fame, because the odds of getting enshrined in baseball’s mecca of a museum are looking bleaker by the day.

Besides committing to telling the truth, there’s only one remedy that could relieve the stigma surrounding his legacy. It’s the only thing Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens or anyone else couldn’t do after they were caught with their respective hands in the cookie jar: Win. And the more A-Rod could win in New York, the toughest town to earn acceptance in, the better off his Hall of Fame chances will be 15 years from now.

Of course, winning is always easier said than done. Especially in baseball, where we all know one guy, even if he is as good as A-Rod, cannot win you a tournament in October.

He said he never felt over-matched on the baseball field, so he went ahead and juiced up anyways. Some people just don’t know how to quit when they are ahead. Now he’s paying for it. If you want to write a compelling book on this guys life, then follow him around for the next 9 months. That’s one emotional roller-coaster that frightens me to even think about.

Good luck, A-Rod.

The NBA’s 2-Week Trial Offer

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Many hot-button debates have helped shape an era of pop culture over the years: Pepsi vs. Coke. Ford vs. Chevy. VH1 vs. MTV. Bush vs. Gore.

And now, there’s Kobe vs. LeBron.

In consecutive home games for the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, both superstars rose to the occasion in leading their respective teams to memorable victories because of their individual greatness on the court.

Kobe scored more than 60; LeBron equaled, if not surpassed, the reigning MVP’s performance by netting more than 50 while earning a triple double. While I understand the hype, and why we want to rush to crown one of these guys as “The Best” the NBA has to offer, it won’t guarantee smiles for Cavs or Lakers fans at the end of a season.

One basketball player does not win you championships. If you go down the line, every NBA champion has had at least a threesome of All-Star-caliber players.

Even the best of the best, Michael Jordan, had a legitimate wingman on each side. Scottie was always to his right and either Horace Grant or Dennis Rodman on his left. Before last year’s Boston Three Party assembled to win a title, Larry Bird, of course, built a Celtic dynasty with McHale and Parrish (not to mention D.J. and Ainge). Magic Johnson was the Grand Marshall of Showtime’s parade, with Kareem and Worthy as his escorts.

I will give David Stern and the rest of his NBA executives a respective bow for the timing of all this. Because all this prize fight-like attention really is the NBA building up an audience. In this month between the end of waving goodbye to the battles on the gridiron and waiting forever for March Madness to begin, the NBA is hoping to snag some more fans.

In theory, when March Madness has cut its last net down and Luther Vandross’ signature theme song “One Shining Moment” has cued for the exiting credits to roll, we will have Kobe, LeBron, and oh yeah, that defending NBA Championship team out of Boston to turn to. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, all three are intriguing to watch.

And as far as baseball is concerned, there’s really no need to invest your free time trying to figure out starting rotations in February or March. It’s a 162-game season! With pitching, the cream always rises to the top in time for your team to make its run. Unless you actually go to Florida or Arizona for spring training, don’t waste your time.

I’ll be rooting for Kobe and LeBron to meet up in the Finals this year. But I wouldn’t bet my lunch money on it, because LeBron will not win a championship with a journeyman-like supporting cast in Cleveland.

And as far as Kobe is concerned, he will fail to do the same unless Andrew Bynum is on the court and playing to his potential. Pau Gasol is a nice sidekick for Kobe, but he lacks in the physicality department that any big man needs to have in the playoffs.

Would you want Pau Gasol in a foxhole with you? Though his skills are advanced, he’s still fits that classic European stereotype as a fundamental/finesse player (see Darko Milicic). And Lamar Odom is best served off the bench.

Having to deal with the burden of following football and March Madness, whether or not the NBA can ever catch the same level of attention and exceptional all-around game play it once had in the Jordan, Magic and Bird era is highly unlikely. But with LeBron, Kobe, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and the Celtics leading the way, the Association is once again producing above-average sporting entertainment.

Now if only the New York Knicks could catch up.

America’s Team

If last year’s Super Bowl outcome marked the revolution in pro football’s rise as this country’s sport of choice, then last night’s spectacle may have posed as the inauguration party in crowing the First Franchise.

Thanks to the resourceful and at times mystical play of their 26-year-old quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers scored the go-ahead touchdown with under a minute left to play, defeating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23, in Super Bowl XLIII.

The win gave the Steeler franchise an NFL record sixth Super Bowl Championship, leaving many to wonder if they now should replace the Dallas Cowboys as owners of the highly respected public label, “America’s Team.”

Yes, the Cowboys may have written a Pulitzer-worthy historic memoir over the last four decades-the glitzy uniforms, the quintessential logo, the glamorous wide receivers, the nicknames (“Primetime”, “The Playmaker”), the hawkish owner, Hall of Fame quarterbacks and running backs, legendary coaches, breathtaking cheerleaders, even a unique stadium-that may all prove to be an impossible resume to deny.

Cue the music. The Pittsburgh Steelers are now America's Team.

Cue the music. The Pittsburgh Steelers are now America's Team.

But after years of Cowboy playoff futility, a new Sheriff came into town last night, registered gun and all. The Steelers legitimately became the sovereign franchise of the NFL. All that matters this day and age is winning.

By winning the most Super Bowls, you could now say the Steelers are now the Yankees of the NFL. Or if you prefer, the Yankees are now the Steelers of baseball.

So why did this take so long for this to happen? After all, the Cowboys haven’t WON a playoff game in 12 years! The Steelers have won nine-and that’s just during the Ben Roethlisberger era.

Primarily, look no further than the face of any franchise, the starting quarterback position. Thanks to Roethlisberger’s heroics last night, the Steelers have now joined the Colts (Manning, Unitas), the Packers (Starr, Favre), the 49ers (Montana, Young) and the Cowboys (Staubach, Aikman) as the only franchises to breed two elite, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.

Secondly, take a look at the ownership behind the Steelers and Cowboys, beginning with the Rooney family. The Rooney’s show their face on television, well, about as often as Mr. T did during the ‘90s.

Then there’s the Cowboys omnipresent, backseat driving owner in Jerry Jones, who scared Jimmy Johnson away from coaching football all together. Trust: It’s no longer a fad!

Then there’s the “other guys.” From “Mean” Joe Green, to Hines Ward, the Steelers have always had likable, overachieving, team-first players who impress fans with their physical, tireless efforts. In contrast, T.O. and the Cowboys choose to get by with their seemingly effortless talents that will grab attention on the highlight reels but don’t guarantee championships.

As much as the game itself has evolved (from running friendly offenses to passing friendly ones) as demonstrated by a combined total of 93 yards on the ground last night, the Steelers just  don’t win pretty. The Steelers winning philosophy, though many would label as “boring”, has never changed.

Maybe that’s why it took so long for NFL fans to give them the “America’s Team” label it deserves: low profile stars and ownership and a “fall asleep on the couch midway through the first quarter” playing style.

A disciplined, unselfish, detail-oriented, “boring” style of play earns postseason games and championships. Flashy, sexy and charming sells jerseys, tabloids, and Monday Night Football games.

Then again, maybe Dallas still is “America’s Team.”

Nothing All-Madden About ‘The Journal’

If you want dumb down your paper and cover pro football, send a seasoned reporter, as opposed to an outstanding writer.

Rupert: If you want dumb down your paper and cover pro football, send a seasoned reporter, as opposed to an outstanding writer.

John Madden used to patrol the Oakland Raider sidelines wearing his signature Carolina Blue-colored rayon pants while exhibiting a liberal head of parted hair that has since been made infamous by former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

In 1969, Raider owner Al Davis promoted his linebacker coach, the 32-year-old Madden to the title of head coach. The veteran Raider players, however, didn’t share Davis’ optimism, even going as far as referring to their newest boss in training camp as, “this guy who looks more like a bowling alley manager than a head football coach.”

It wasn’t long before Madden proved his critics wrong then, by eventually becoming the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl. This Sunday, Madden will co-announce the Super Bowl for the 11th time. Yet, almost forty years after leading his team to a victory on one of sports’ grandest stages, Madden is still dealing with critics despite his iconic status as an ambassador for a sport that has arguably become more popular in this country than casual sex itself.

In a recent issue, The Wall Street Journal, one of the most respected newspapers in the country, clearly went out of its comfort zone by blowing whistles at Madden’s job performance that simply left me scratching my head.
While I must praise the reporter for employing textbook patterns of objectivity throughout the article, I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that this topic wasn’t up The Journal’s alley, and that they simply had to reach in criticizing Madden.

For instance, I felt like the reporter exposed himself for his lack of present day football knowledge when he cited that, “his grasp of the game isn’t so strong,” and backed that statement up with Madden’s characterization of San Diego as a “passing team”. Finally, the reporter delivered his opposing punchline with “clever” statistical analysis: “In fact, San Diego called running plays this season about 5% more often than the average NFL team.”

Forget about the Darren Sproles coming out party in week 18. Because anyone who watched any other highlight reel of a San Diego Charger win this season knows that quarterback Philip Rivers was the engine that drove that offense, and not All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

There was one more bit of criticism that I simply had to sneer at due to the reporter’s clear lack of football intuition:

“Mr. Madden said the Giants had planned to run the ball at an undersized Carolina defensive lineman, Tyler Brayton, and also that in recent games, Giants quarterback Eli Manning had automatically audibled, or switched, from run plays to pass plays whenever he counted eight defenders on the line of scrimmage. After the game, Giants players said neither statement was true.”

I’m reminded of an old Bill Parcells creed that he pounds into the heads of his players’ and assistant coaches: “We’re in the business of collecting information. We’re not in the business of exchanging information.” Under no circumstances will players-especially ones who are coached by disciples of the Parcells tree (like Tom Coughlin or Bill Belichek)-reveal game plan information or tendencies.

If this is all the muck we as journalists can rake up on John Madden, then keep the turduken’s, outrageous outtakes, and customized telestrator x’s and o’s coming, because I can’t get enough of the legend. The only thing that bothers me concerning Madden, the voice of the NFL, is that he can’t be heard during this special Sunday every season.