Lions vs. Brothers

It’s the battle for Francis Hall domination and bragging rights, intramural volleyball style. It’s the Brothers of the Eternal Song vs. Lion of Judah in AA action.

The starters:

For BES: Ryan ‘Hansel’ Rousseau trades in his usual sweater vests for sneakers and his game face. Next to him playing center front is sweet singing Sean Bartnick of The Beatitudes fame. He’s tall, he has red-hair, and his name his Nick Cundiff, playing right front. A real-life brother duo roam the backcourts, as the Norton brothers Andy and Joe take the court. Rounding out the starters is Colin Pugh.

For LOJ: Sean Norris changes out of his reffing zebra stripes to play. Famous soccer player Steve Duran suits up playing center, with Elliot Foley on his right. Austin Ashcraft, a Disciple of the Word, defect from his infamously A-team household to play at the next level. Freshmen duo Chris Pagano and Jonathan Dupree are playing back with sand-volleyball champion Tim Glemkowski filling in the final spot.

The Benchwarmers:

LOJ: Jason Theobald’s powerful serve will be a big weapon for the Lions. Karl Horwath and Josh Florence are also ready to play. BES has no bench.

Game 1: Back and forth battle. Biggest lead was LOJ 12-6, but the Brothers quickly rallied to even up the score. No team lead by more than two from there on out. Nick Cundiff served phenomenally for the Brothers, but it wasn’t enough as Andy Norton’s double-hit gave the Lions a 25-23 victory.

Game 2: Lions dominated completely. Game was tied 5-5 when Duran started serving for the Lions. The Lions outscored the Brothers 18-3 in a ridiculous display of athleticism. There serving was stellar, with ten aces. The final score: 25-11.

Highlight of the night: At a timeout a fan from the crowd, hoping to rouse his sleeping Brothers, broke out into “The Phantom of the Opera” theme song from the Andrew Lloyd Weber production of the same name. Unfortunately this didn’t seem to inspire them enough to victory, but it provided for some nice entertainment.

For Love of the Game

So I spent Monday night sitting next to a San Diego native, who watched with a crushing reaction as his Chargers blew the Monday Night Football game against the undefeated Denver Broncos and then throw his hands up in despair to catch a walk-off Phillies victory over his Dodgers.

“Write about how much sports suck,” he said. “I don’t know why I love them!”

 We’ve all been there. Ask any Sooners fan. Or Red Sox. Or Detroit Lions. Anyone that lost a heartbreaker. Anyone whose postseason dreams ended way too fast, or anyone who knows his team will never make the postseason in this millenium. Sports crush us to a pulp, make us feel lower than dirt.

And yet there are still seats that are filled at Ford Field every Sunday. Fenway Park will be sold out in April for the seventeenth gazillion game in a row (actually it’s the 554th, but technicalities). The point is, even after they hurt us, we come crawling back like sad puppies who don’t know any better. And why?

For love of the game

We love the game. No matter the specific sport or team, we love the game. The game means more to us then scores and stats. Sports hold a much deeper meaning. Yes, it’s entertainment. No, it’s not life-or-death. We all know that, but sports holds a deeper value that subconsciously draws people in.

Look at the heroes created in sports. The Kobe Bryants and the Michael Phelpses accomplish feats and reach heights untouched before. The Derek Jeters and the Tim Duncans play with class and quiet strength and win at the highest levels. We deep down aspire to be like that.

Yes, there is corruption, as with anything. Cynics say that the scandals, the steroids, the shootings, the cheating, the lies, the money, and the showboats have turned sports into a hole of deceit, not a haven of values.

But if that were the case, why would any self-respecting parent allow their kids to suit up for that first day of soccer at age 5? Or buy them their first glove for Little League baseball? Why would (most, anyway), coaches of young kids emphasize sportsmanship and teamwork above all else?

For love of the game.

The game is meant to be revered, no matter what level it is played at, or by whom it is played by. Be it 26-year olds make seven figures or six-year-olds wanting ice cream after the game, we demand that they treat the sport with respect and that they play with everything they have.

Even the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II recognized the impact of sports in a homily given at the Jubilee of Sports (a celebration he instituted) on Oct. 29, 2000.

“Sports contribute to the love of life,” he said. “Teaches sacrifice, respect and responsibility, leading to the full development of every human person.”

The pope, the Chargers fan, the Little League coach, and Kevin Costner Billy Chapel all have the same thing in common. They love the game. They love it enough to create Jubilees for it. They love it enough to come back even after a blown-lead on primetime. Enough to put up with six-year-olds picking daisies in the outfield. Enough to walk away when they know they have nothing left to give.

So when you feel like getting cynical about sports. When you are tired of the showboating, of the cheating, of the lying. When you are  pre=”are “>exahusted with watching your team lose time after time. When you need  a recharge to your sports battery life, go watch a bunch of kids in a sandlot. Read a sermon or a quote by the Pope. YouTube Michael Jordan’s flu game against the Jazz. Go watch a Kevin Costner movie (ok, so that’s a stretch).

Remind yourself, yes it’s a game.

And yes, it’s worth loving.

Wake up the Echoes!

Once upon a time, there were two warring nations called the Trojans and the Fighting Irish. These two teams, uh, nations, would fight on a long, grassy field with a funny-shaped ball. The winner would receive a jeweled “shilelagh” (an Irish-walking stick for the uncultured readers) along with good old-fashioned bragging rights.

On Saturday, the battle resumes for the 81st time, Notre Dame will take on USC.

Ever since Pete Carroll moved to Los Angeles, it hasn’t been much of a game. Carroll lost his first match to Notre Dame, and hasn’t lost in the seven years since. And for the most part, it hasn’t been close. Five times were by at least 20 points. The last two were 38-0 and 38-3. Only the Reggie Bush fiasco of 2005, which makes Irish fans nauseous to this day, spared this rivalry for television viewers and the casual fan.

But the recent past should not interfere with the magnitude of this rivalry. It is arguably one of the biggest non-conference rivalries left in college football. Historically this matchup provides more national championships, Heisman trophy winners, and professional Hall-of-Famers than any other. That’s no side note. Despite recent blowouts, this is still a marquee matchup.

Now if only Notre Dame could win it.

I’m an unashamed, unrepentant, die-hard Notre Dame fan. Going back to being a kid and coming in from Saturday bike rides to watch the game before Saturday night Mass. It was the one sports loyalty that both my parents passed on to me, passed on to them from both their fathers (both straight-up Irish Catholics, so it was a no-brainer for them). So looking at this game with the objective analysis of  a sports reporter is like asking Rudy Ruttiger to give the pep-talk in the USC locker room before the game.

 So in short, a list of reasons why Notre Dame will win:

– Two words: Jimmy Clausen. Never thought I’d actually say I was glad to have the guy at the helm for us. I like my quarterbacks old-school, hardworking, gee-whiz-who-me, team first players. Brady Quinn was like that, Tim Tebow is like that, but Jimmy Clausen never will be. He came in colky and ready to conquer. He’s gone through a baptism of fire, with two rough seasons under his belt, the Southern California native has wisened up in his own right. Right now he leads the nation in pass-efficency and has 12 touchdowns and only two picks. That’s impressive. He’s also shown coolness under pressure in the final minutes, rallying in the fourth quarter to victories in three of the last four games. Not Cool Joe Montana, but cool nonetheless.

-The Irish are ranked for the first time since 2006 going into this matchup. Yes, no. 25, but still ranked. And in both polls.

-There’s no place like home. Yes two years ago the Irish were wiped out 38-0. But that’s when Clausen was still green and a little wet behind the ears, which in turn is what Matt Barkley is right now. Barkley is surrounded by an immense amount of amazing talent, no one recruits like Carroll. But he only has three touchdowns on the season. And, with all due respect to Ohio State, the Ohio State University, this is going to be by far the most hostile environment he will face.

-Bye week. In their history, the Irish are 62-14-4 (.808) in games following a bye (since 1900).

-The Irish lead the all-time series believe it or not, 43-33-5.

-Luck, Notre Dame’s the Irish, right?

-The grass hasn’t been cut for a week.

Ok, so maybe it’s grasping at straws. But the Irish are due. Way past due. It is going to happen, one of these Saturdays. They can’t keep losing forever. And why not end it now? Rally all your sons, get ready to shake down the thunder and wake up the echoes. Old Notre Dame is going to roll onward to victory.

Where the Wild Things Are

It’s probably a good thing that they don’t give out hardware for being the Wild Card. Boston would have to build a bigger trophy case. 

For the fifth time in seven years, Boston has won the Wild Card. Not the only thing that seems like deja-vu.  The Red Sox won 95 games, for the third in the past seven years (their average has been 94.3 wins in that time span). They are headed to the postseason for the sixth time in seven years. . They are also the only team to win more than one World Series in this past decade.

As far as consistency, there is no one that can touch the BoSox.

Even their opponents in October are consistent. Going back to 1990, Boston has played the Indians four times, the Yankees and the Angels 3 times, the A’s twice, and the Rays and White Sox once a piece. Three out of their last four playoff appearances they have played their opening round against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (or just the Anaheim Angels, or just the Los Angeles Angels, or the Hell’s Angels, whatever they are now). And all three of those times the Sox have moved on to the league championship series.

So what does that mean? Will karma finally come around for the Angels,who haven’t made it past the first round since winning it all in 2002? Or will the Sox ride the wave all the way to primetime on Fox Sports?

The previous success of Boston is largely due to their pitching. In the past two postseasons, they held the Angels to just 17 runs in 7 games. And when you are facing an offense like Boston’s, that’s always a problem.

Led by the likes of Bobby Abreu and Kendry Morales, this is probably the best offense that LA has put forth in a very long time. Top to bottom they look sharp, with no easy outs. Of course their primary weapon, and what has been for the entirity of Mike Scoscia’s administration in Los Angeles, is the running game. Aggression is the number one key to this West Coast style offense, leading them to third in the American League in stolen bases, second in runs scored, and third in OBP. No one was better for the Halos than Chone Figgins, who led them with 42 thefts and on OBP of .392.

On the flipside, on paper the Boston pitching looks good. That’s been a staple of the Theo Epstein era. Look at the one season the Red Sox didn’t have  a strong rotation or bullpen: 2006, no October baseball. Result? Go out and overload the staff. Terry Francona had a decision that most managers would kill to get: for Game 1 start the seasoned veteran with two World Series under his belt and a stellar regular season or start the hottest young southpaw in the game of baseball.

Francona opted with the latter, slating Jon Lester for action in Game 1. Since he’s been the man for Boston, going 12-3 with a .231 ERA. He had 225 strikeouts this season, more than any other lefty. In 2008, he pitched 14 shutout innings against the Angels in the ALDS. Couple that with Beckett in Game 2, the Red Sox should get two quality starts before questions start to arise. Clay Buccholz has great stuff, but never pitched in October. And while Daisuke as made drastic improvements since coming off what felt like the entire season on the DL, he’s only made four starts since returning. But those questions can be answered by the bullpen, which boasts Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, and Daniel Bard. Never heard of Bard? Learn the name now. He’s a 24 year-old whose fast ball clocks out at 99-100 mph. Every time. If he can maintain control, there will be a lot of Angels caught looking.

The offense for Boston is, well, the offense for Boston. The resurgence of Big Papi David Ortiz has made Red Sox Nation smile a bit more these days, and the addition of Victor Martinez has made them flat-out giddy. And while the Angels may be known for their running game, the leader in Major League Baseball for stolen bases resides in Boston. Jacoby Ellsbury had 70 thefts in his second full season in the majors. That’s 70 stolen bases in a guy that has only played for two years. Scares you a little to think about it. That is if your an Angels fan.

The mental game is never to be underestimated, and what sport is more mental than baseball? Who wasn’t told as a little leaguer that baseball is “99% concentration?” That being said, for Boston to have success, they need to do what the always do. Aces pitch well, bullpen bails out when needed, sluggers hit, and runners run. Do this and all these things will be added unto them.

And maybe they will have to build a bigger trophy case after all.