In my current job, it's very rare that I get to attend a sporting event as a fan.
So when my 17-year-old son told me he'd won tickets to Wednesday's day game between the Diamondbacks and the Atlanta Braves, and he wanted me to go with him, I jumped at the chance. It represented the rare chance to bond and an even more rare chance to get out of the office. Plus, the D-backs were playing the Braves, so I'd get to gauge the fan response to Justin Upton, who was making a return to the desert after a long-talked about trade was finally consummated last January.
Admittedly, we weren't in our seats when Upton grounded out to short in the top of the first -- the Sonoran Dog was beckoning, and well, those concession lines move really slow.
But when Upton strode to the plate in the third inning to face D-backs starter Ian Kennedy, I heard it all.
There were cheers (there were a lot of Braves fans in the house) and there were boos, because Phoenix fans have developed a fondness for chorusing disapproval over the past couple seasons. Los Angeles East? How about Philadelphia West?
Anyway, among the boos, somebody in our section actually yelled to Kennedy "put one in his earhole!" That's great, you want Upton to get beaned in the head by a 90-mile-per-hour fastball because, umm...why was that again?
My two biggest takeaways from my most recent fan experience at Chase Field were one, that Sonoran Dog is really good and well worth missing the top of the first inning for, and two, D-backs' fans have what is bordering on an irrational hate for Justin Upton and I have no idea why.
Yes, Justin Upton, the same guy that played on two division championship teams, the same guy that played in over 140 games last year with an injured thumb and the same guy who represented the Diamondbacks twice in the All-Star Game and won a Silver Slugger Award and finished fourth in the NL MVP balloting just two years ago.
Oh yeah, speaking of two years ago, remember when Milwaukee's Prince Fielder didn't pick Upton to participate in the Home Run Derby during the All-Star festivities at Chase Field? You would have thought the portly first baseman had started a string of wildfires around the Valley. He was pelted with boos in the stadium (for months following the event) and pelted with a water bottle in a pre-All-Star Game parade in downtown.
But even more shameful is the fact that it's the only time I really remember D-backs fans having Upton's back during his six years with the big league club. Okay, not all fans, but the majority of them.
I didn't really understand the fans of Phoenix not elevating Upton to superstar status while he was here -- he had/has superstar talent. Maybe the fans were reticent to do so considering Upton's lack of superstar statistics. He's hit .300 only once. He's topped the 20-homer plateau twice and once went over 30. He's never driven in more than 88 runs in a season. I get all that.
But can we remember...he is STILL ONLY 25-YEARS-OLD! When Barry Bonds entered his age-25 season, he was a .256 hitter with 84 career home runs and hadn't made an All-Star team. At 25, Upton is a .278 hitter and has 121 home runs.
In the aftermath of Upton's first three-game series back in the Valley Wednesday night, I perused the Arizona Sports Facebook page to see if anyone was on-board with me on these type of thoughts. I didn't find many like thinkers. In fact, I found a lot of haters.
"J up showed the reason we traded him. No performance in big situations and a bad attitude," wrote one user.
Bad attitude? Because he got mad at himself for striking out?
"nice strike out jup. that was clutch of you to do that," shared another, making reference to Upton's strikeout in the ninth inning when his team was down two runs and nobody was on base.
Oh, there was more.
"The fact is that Az. has improved greatly and have won the west in 11 and is good enough to win it again and go to the World Series this year. Well done I say. Go Snakes. World Series or bust!!!"
We'll just ignore the fact that Upton was the main offensive cog in that 2011 division championship run, okay.
"I think Alex Cintron was more clutch than Justin Upton," shared another commenter.
Do I even have to comment on this one? Okay, I will. The three years that Cintron was a regular player in Arizona, the Diamondbacks won 43 percent of their games. Clutch.
I'm not going to sit here and debate whether or not the Diamondbacks should have traded Upton or whether or not they got enough in return from Atlanta. The trade is done and there's no going back.
I'll take a different tact. I'll say Phoenix is a Martin Prado-type of town. This city loves the guys who play with, wait for it...."grit" and are good clubhouse guys. Martin Prado is that type of player. And he's gotten a free pass from fans in this city because of it despite the fact that he's been dreadful since putting on the Sedona Red. I have no doubt that Prado will improve in the future -- his track record says he will, but facts are facts.
Upton was a good player in Arizona with the potential to be great. But was he a bad guy? Despite being handsomely paid at an incredibly early age, he never got in trouble with the law like so many other athletes do. He played through injury and produced. He was respectful, if not a little quiet, with the media.
By the end of his stay, he may have wanted a trade, but let me ask you this -- wouldn't you have wanted one? I'd like to see how you'd react if your employer tried to get rid of you in a very public fashion for three straight years. You'd probably want a change of scenery, too. And even so, Upton never employed the "scorched earth" tactics former Phoenix athletes like Charles Barkley and Simeon Rice did.
The one that always comes up is he didn't hustle. I personally don't recall any repeated occurrences of this. If anything, it's just a matter of Upton making things look easy. By the way, have you ever watched Albert Pujols on a pop-up? How about Miguel Montero on a ground ball to second? There's not a whole lot of hustle going on in those instances, either.
"He plays hard, he played hard while he was here, it was never an issue," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said earlier this week.
If his former manager who built his own playing reputation on playing all-out, all the time has no issue with Upton's work ethic, why should any D-backs fan?
So, I'll continue to ponder why a young star athlete with worlds of still untapped potential is hated by many fans of his former team.
And I'll be grateful that Atlanta only comes to town once this year. I won't have to be frustrated and confused until next season.
If you were tooling around Twitter Wednesday night when San Francisco's Brandon Belt clubbed a three-run homer off of D-backs reliever David Hernandez (or really any time in the last week or so), you'd think the world was coming to an end for Arizona baseball fans.
Okay, okay, it's been bad. The Diamondbacks' relief corps has blown 10 save opportunities in the first 28 games.
I've heard people say things "this is the worst bullpen ever." Step away from the hyperbole, people.
How quickly we forget what a true relief pitching dumpster fire looks like. Does anybody remember 2010? I know we've all tried to suppress the painful memories of that season, but let's be strong and revisit things. Let's compare the two bullpens to the same point in the season, shall we?
John married Jessica in 1993. They were soul mates. They couldn't keep their hands off each other and they couldn't imagine it being any other way.
Relationships change over time.
Twenty years and three kids later, John and Jessica are still married -- but it's different. John doesn't exercise like he did in his younger years and has developed a beer belly. He's become distant. Jessica doesn't find John attractive anymore despite the fact that she's packed on a few pounds herself. The passion is gone. Other than a peck on the cheek every morning to say goodbye as they go their separate ways, there's very little in the area of intimacy.
They love each other, but they're not in love with each other. But they're in it for the long haul and they're looking for something to spice up the relationship.
In 1993, the Valley was head over heels gaga in love with the Phoenix Suns. Fans couldn't keep their hands off the team and they couldn't imagine it being any other way.
Every night, 19,023 crazies packed into America West for what was a two-hour love fest. Those who couldn't get in packed sports bars just hoping to get a glimpse of the sexiest thing on hardwood. Fanatics painted their car windows purple and orange. City street corners and hotel ballrooms were populated by merchandise tents cashing in on Phoenix's obsession with its basketball team.
Twenty years later, the passion is gone. The Suns aren't sexy. The attraction has worn off. Suns fans love their team, but they're not in love. But they're in it for the long haul, and they're waiting for something to spice up the relationship.
Unfortunately, the Phoenix Suns can't schedule a couples counseling session, prepare a candlelit dinner for two or pick up a sexy teddy to try to start the process of putting the spark back in the relationship. No, the Suns will have to rely on what made them so irresistible all those years ago. The Suns need Charles Barkley.
While Barkley only played four years for the Suns, the team's light has never shone brighter. With Sir Charles in town, the Suns enjoyed unbelievable success. In 1993, they were a John Paxson three-pointer away from hosting Game 7 of the NBA Finals. In 1994 and 1995, they fell short in two epic playoff battles with the Houston Rockets -- who went on to win the title both years.
Lance Blanks was fired as the Suns' general manager last week after three truly forgettable years that failed to produce even one postseason appearance. In a dark and depressing pro sports landscape in Phoenix, the Suns, once the darlings of the market, are an afterthought. They're looking for a way to get sexy again.
Charles Barkley wants to be an NBA general manager. After fourteen years as an analyst for Turner Sports, he's looking for a new challenge.
Barkley says a lot of things that have been dismissed over the years -- remember his constant chatter about running for governor of Alabama?
But I believe him on this one. I believe Barkley does want to shoulder the challenge of running an NBA franchise, and what better place than Phoenix, a city he helped launch onto the NBA's radar screen two decades ago. He doesn't have GM experience, but does anybody want to doubt Barkley's basketball experience?
In times of trouble, it is wise to look to the past and mimic what worked. Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby himself sees truth in this.
"Where I think we've lost our way a little bit, candidly, is I want to make sure we're respectful of the past," he said after Blanks was fired. "I want to make sure that we acknowledge the tremendous success this organization has had, be respectful of the people who have played here to the people who have coached here."
In 1993, how many people thought it was wise for a good Suns team to trade three starters for a controversial, outspoken 6-foot-4 power forward who hadn't sniffed the postseason in two years and was better known in Phoenix for spitting on a young girl and throwing a bar patron out of a plate glass window?
How'd that turn out?
Charles Barkley would be an incredibly risky general manager hire for Robert Sarver, Lon Babby and the Phoenix Suns.
But man, it would be the definition of a sexy hire. Immediately, the Suns become relevant locally all while accomplishing a goal of current upper management -- acknowledging the success of the past.
Obviously, the goal is to achieve more than relevancy -- it's to win championships. That goal has not been met by the Phoenix Suns in their 45-year history. But Charles Barkley brought them closer than anyone else has.
Roll the dice.
I'm also happy to report that John and Jessica have been visiting a counselor on a regular basis. They're communicating more clearly and are spending more quality time with each other.
Draft week is upon us in the National Football League. The most talked about happening in the sports world will unfold over a three-day period in New York this weekend.
Once again, the Arizona Cardinals find themselves drafting in the top ten. This year's seventh overall selection marks the 16th time in their 26 drafts that they're selecting in the top ten. And yes, if you're wondering, that's the most in the league since 1988.
There have been some forgettable top ten selections made by the Cardinals, as my colleague Dave Dulberg has pointed out. But the Cards deserve some credit as well -- they've made some pretty good top ten picks too.
Here's my list of the top 5 best Cardinals' top ten draft picks of all-time (say that five times fast!)
If you know anything about me, you know I'm not a fan of the Arizona Wildcats -- in any sport.
But also, I can recognize when something stinks, and well, after a report that surfaced Monday, I'm holding my nose.
Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports broke a story that unearthed an investigation of Pac-12 head of basketball officials Ed Rush for "targeting" Arizona head coach Sean Miller during the conference tournament in Las Vegas last month.
The article details Rush's instructions to Pac-12 officials to either eject or call technical fouls on Miller. Officials who did would be rewarded with $5,000 or a trip to Cancun, Mexico.
Which brings us to the Wildcats' Pac-12 semifinal loss to UCLA. With just over four minutes to go in the game, Miller was called for an odd technical foul after arguing a double-dribble call on Arizona guard Mark Lyons. The 'Cats were up by two at the time -- UCLA freshman Jordan Adams made both free throws to tie the score. The Bruins went on to win the game 66-64.
After the game, Miller made national news with his response at a press conference in which he explained that he never cursed, he just repeated the phrase "he touched the ball." Miller also stated during the presser that it was his first technical foul of the season. Miller was also fined by the conference for his conduct following the game.
With 4:37 left in the game at the time of the curious call, it's hard to say that those two technical free throws were the absolute difference in the game -- but you can make the argument. Arizona did lose by two, after all.
In the hours following the release of Goodman's report, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott -- a man who has done nearly everything right during his four years on the job -- released the following statement:
I can confirm that following the Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament, we received a complaint that Pac-12 Coordinator of Officials Ed Rush offered game officials inappropriate incentives for being stricter with Pac-12 coaches.
I consider the integrity of our officiating program to be of the highest importance and immediately ordered a review of the matter.
Based on the review, we have concluded that while Rush made inappropriate comments that he now regrets during internal meetings that referenced rewards, he made the comments in jest and the officials in the room realized they were not serious offers.
Following our review, we have discussed the matter with Rush, taken steps to ensure it does not happen again, and communicated our findings to all of our officials.
Sorry Larry, the slate is no longer clean.
The commissioner's response equates to "everyone calm down, he was joking." Apparently, not every official in the room realized Rush's offer wasn't serious -- otherwise, why would there be a complaint?
Michael Irving is the official that t'd Miller up. Has anyone checked his bank account? Hell, he could be on the beach in Cancun sipping a drink with an umbrella in it right now!
Scott completely dropped the ball with his response. To dismiss such a serious charge that potentially undermines the legitimacy of your conference's second-biggest money maker is foolish. How about something like "the accusation against Ed Rush is a serious charge and we are conducting an investigation to get to the bottom of what transpired in Las Vegas?"
Rush should be fired immediately. The commissioner acknowledged that Rush said the words; how they were construed by those listening is immaterial. This should be the icing on the cake -- anybody who has watched Pac-12 basketball in the last few years knows that conference officials are pretty inept at their jobs anyway (remember the end of the Colorado-Arizona game?)
The NCAA Tournament field has been reduced by 52 teams since play in this year's "Big Dance" started last Tuesday.
And for the 15th time since 1976, the Arizona Wildcats are left standing as one of the Sweet 16.
The Wildcats defeated 11th-seeded Belmont and 14th-seeded Harvard to reach their current tournament position. No, that's not exactly a who's who of college basketball (those teams are 1-9 all-time in the Big Dance), but I'm not writing this to point out the fact that Sean Miller's team hasn't been tested. They've beaten the teams that have shown up to play them in the tournament, and that's all that can be asked of them.
The reason I am writing this is in response to a couple articles that have been written on ArizonaSports.com and KTAR.com recently.
But when the Wildcats make a run our tournament watching habits evolve into something else. We become more emotionally invested. If you went to U of A you love them. If you went to ASU, you love to hate them. If you went to neither, you now have a rooting interest in the closest thing we have to a "local" team. It makes it a far more personal experience.
But this year, the University of Arizona Wildcats are considered a real contender to take the whole thing for the second time. And you know everybody would love to see that happen, that is everybody but that loud, misguided group of Devil devotees who can't imagine supporting anything south of Picacho Peak.
All due respect to both gentlemen, but as an ASU observer, student and fan of over 30 years, I can't get on board with either article. I can't think of a time that I'd ever root for a Wildcat team in any endeavor -- unless some far-fetched scenario unfolded where Sean Miller's team was the last line of Earth's defense against a swarm of alien robots trying to end the human race -- I'd support that cause. But basketball, football, academic bowl, canned food drive -- it doesn't matter, I want them to lose. Don't get that confused with rooting for injury or ill will toward the Wildcats and their fans. It's just a desire for the University of Arizona's teams to fall on their face in competition.
So, no, I don't think Arizona beating two overmatched foes to reach the Sweet 16 is good for the state, and no, I won't be rooting for the Wildcats Thursday against Ohio State because the institution happens to be in the same state that I live in. By the way, are the folks down there still threatening to secede from Arizona? That doesn't exactly scream state pride. If they don't have it, why should I?
The fact of the matter is, Wildcats dislike Sun Devils and Sun Devils dislike Wildcats. It's the way it should be. If the roles were reversed, and Arizona State was playing in the Sweet 16 (don't laugh too hard, UA fans), I wouldn't want the bandwagon support of the rival fans.
When it comes to college athletics, my two favorite teams are Arizona State and whomever is playing Arizona. Petty? Sure. But isn't that what rivalries are?
If Arizona should happen to win Thursday night and go on to cut down the nets in Atlanta in early April, good for them. Enjoy it Wildcat fans, you should.
I'm certainly not speaking for Sun Devil fans everywhere, but I sure won't.
Updating the design led to vast improvements in all three instances.
The initial reaction to the 1990 Michigan Wolverines taking the court in long, baggy shorts was near outrage. Over two decades later, those shorts are the norm on courts all over the world.
How watchable would tennis be if Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were "firing" serves at 68 miles per hour with antiquated wooden rackets?
Think Homer and Marge's storybook marriage would have lasted 24 years if they were still the crudely-drawn images that originally appeared on The Tracey Ullman Show?
Things change over time. So why, pray tell, did anyone who's ever even driven by the Tempe campus of Arizona State University seemingly freak the hell out over the change of the school's mascot, Sparky?
On the first day of March, amid a lot of pomp and circumstance, ASU introduced the face-lifted imp to the public -- and it was followed by a nearly unanimous gasp from Sun Devil faithful.
Tuesday, the university announced they were scrapping the new design for the iconic mascot which was introduced less than three weeks ago. Instead fans, alumni, students, faculty and staff will have a hand in designing Sparky's new facial features.
The over-arching question here is: did Sparky need an update? I'd say no, but then again, it wasn't me who originally had the plan to make the devil mascot more "kid friendly."
This isn't the first time Sparky has received an update. Did people freak out when the mascot's look changed from this in 1970s? I highly doubt it.
If the university really wanted to modernize Sparky's appearance, they should have done so in April of 2011 when they proudly showed off their new Nike-designed athletic uniforms that were such a hit. To have two phases of the athletic branding makeover was a mistake. If they would have done it in one fell swoop, the positivity over the uniforms would have trumped the negativity over the mascot's makeover.
Instead, ASU finds itself in damage-control mode. Again, Sparky didn't need a change. But if you're going to invest time, resources and money in working hand-in-hand with Disney to freshen things up, at least have the backbone to stick to your guns and stand by your decision.
Hell, in 1985 even Coca-Cola waited almost three months before they announced they were bringing back old Coke. They sold both products simultaneously for seven years before phasing out the "revamped" product in 1992.
Maybe that's the solution for ASU. Old Sparky and new Sparky working together. Other schools utilize different versions of their mascot.
If that happened, the Sparky purists (I can't believe I just typed that) would be satisfied and the university wouldn't appear spineless for performing an about-face on a new idea so soon.
So the Kevin Kolb era has come to an end in the Valley of the Sun -- if two injury-plagued seasons can constitute an era, that is.
Give the Arizona Cardinals credit, though. Knowing they had to bring in a franchise quarterback on the heels of a disastrous 2010 season that saw Derek Anderson and Max Hall stink up the joint, they targeted Kolb, traded for him and signed him to a fat five-year, $63 million deal.
And from the minute the ink dried on the contract, Kolb's mere presence divided the Cardinal fan base. Supporters of the team split like a group of teenage girls waiting in line to see the latest Twilight Movie. "Team Kolb" and "Team Skelton" became keywords for the next two seasons of Cardinals football.
Hell, Kolb got booed in a mini-camp practice. By his own team's fans!
Many who denounced Kolb while he was here will relish the opportunity to sum up his Cardinal tenure in two words -- "Kolb sucked."
Here we go again.
Kevin Kolb didn't "suck" as the quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. In games that he started, Arizona went 6-8. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was a respectable 17-to-11. His passer rating was 83.2 -- again, very respectable. In fact, of the 40 NFL quarterbacks who have started ten or more games over the last two seasons, Kolb is 21st in quarterback rating. That's a figure better than Chicago's Jay Cutler, Philadelphia's Michael Vick, Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman, St. Louis' Sam Bradford and Minnesota's Christian Ponder, just to name a few.
What did "suck" was his luck. Turf toe injuries, like the one that sidelined Kolb for four weeks in 2011, happen. Freak concussions, like the one he suffered when the back of his head was struck by San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks' knee, don't happen often.
Another freakish injury -- this one to his ribs -- ended a once-promising 2012 season for him and his team. The Cardinals were 4-1 at the time of the injury and finished 5-11.
I certainly don't believe Kolb "sucked" while he wore Cardinal red, but there's still a lot of mystery surrounding his future in the league. The above numbers do indicate that when he's healthy, Kolb is more than serviceable. And that's all the Cardinals really needed to win games in 2012 -- a serviceable signal caller who wouldn't cripple the team with turnovers and mistakes. After his injury, the Cardinals were saddled with John Skelton and Ryan Lindley, who crippled the team with turnovers and mistakes.
Kolb is, in a lot of ways, Matt Leinart Part II.
Leinart, of course, was the Cardinals' quarterback of the future when he was drafted back in 2006 and enjoyed a pretty solid rookie campaign on a bad football team. He struggled to maintain control of the starting position -- but then again, Kurt Warner was on the roster.
The former USC Heisman Trophy winner was cut following Warner's retirement in 2010 by then-head coach Ken Whisenhunt despite completing 78.6 percent of his passes and posting a quarterback rating of 104.61 in four preseason games.
Leinart wasn't Whisenhunt's guy. It was former head coach Dennis Green who was instrumental in nabbing the quarterback with the 10th overall selection of the 2006 NFL Draft. Whisenhunt had a built-in excuse not to choose Leinart as his starter, and ultimately cut him.
Kolb is not Bruce Arians' guy, so he too has a built-in excuse to jettison the quarterback. Plus, Kolb's salary cap figure made it a lot easier to cut him. The Cardinals offered a revamped deal, but Kolb balked.
And like Leinart, Kolb will leave Arizona with question marks surrounding just who he really is as a quarterback. The reasons are different -- Leinart was never granted an opportunity while Kolb was often injured -- but the result is the same. The Arizona Cardinals still need a quarterback.
Step on up, Drew Stanton. Bring your four career starts in five seasons and see if you can be the answer to the question that has puzzled the Cardinals organization for three years and counting.
Breaking news out of New York (although it really shouldn't qualify as breaking news at this point)...Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire is out at least six weeks because he needs more surgery on his right knee.
Stoudemire had been playing well for New York off the bench, averaging 14.2 points per game while shooting almost 58 percent from the field. His loss is a big blow for the Knicks, who are in second place in the Eastern Conference with just about 20 games left.
Of course, the latest in a long line of injuries to Stoudemire's knees adds fuel to the argument that Suns' owner Robert Sarver made the right decision to not sign the five-time All-Star to a max deal back in 2010. Sarver, as we all now know, had concerns about Stoudemire's future health and was only willing to guarantee three years of a five-year max deal. The Knicks didn't have any qualms about ponying up for two more years. They gave Stoudemire $100 million guaranteed over five years and the rest is history.
Sure, right now, the Suns are at least inwardly saying "told you so" when it comes to Stoudemire's deal. The Knicks are on the hook for two more seasons and more than $45 million with the distinct possibility the majority of that time will see STAT decked out in really expensive suits and sitting behind the New York bench.
I'm not going to lie, I agree with the decision the Suns made on Stoudemire back in 2010 --although it should have been coupled with the departure of Steve Nash and Grant Hill, but I digress. And as Doug Franz pointed out, the Suns countered the Stoudemire decision by handing out ridiculous long-term deals to (mostly) undeserving players. How'd that work out?
But lets sit back and ask the fundamental question in sports -- what is the competitive objective of a sports team? The objective is to win championships, plain and simple. The existence of that question can lead me to play devil's advocate on this topic.
Lets go back to 2010. What if the Suns would have buckled and given Stoudemire the extra guaranteed two seasons? Yes, they'd likely be in the same predicament that the Knicks are in right now.
Let's remember what else happened in that season. The Dallas Mavericks, a three-seed that won 57 games, got hot and won the NBA Championship by beating the Miami Heat in six games in the NBA Finals.
Let's also remember that in the previous season, the Suns were one of four teams left standing in the conference finals. If Jason Richardson had blocked out Ron Artest (he hadn't changed to his goofy current name yet) in Game 5 against the Lakers, the game goes to overtime and the Suns could have been returning to Phoenix with a 3-2 lead.
Instead, Artest banked in a shot at the buzzer, the Lakers won, then took the series with an eight-point win in Game 6. They'd go on to beat the Celtics for the NBA crown.
The point is, the Suns were right there on the cusp of a championship, yet made the determination that $40 million over two seasons was too much to pay to pursue a ring in the 2010-11 season.
Stoudemire went to New York and stayed healthy that next season. He missed only four games and averaged 25 points and eight rebounds per contest -- the only player in the league to do so. I believe in my heart of hearts that the 2010-11 version of Stoudemire in Phoenix paired with Nash, Hill, Richardson and company would have made another serious run at a title that season.
And in the end, a championship ring heals all.
In 2001, the Arizona Diamondbacks won a World Series ring with a roster filled with high-priced veteran talent. The D-backs chose to defer a lot of those payments -- in fact they just got done paying off some of the contracts from that championship team 12 seasons ago.
Does that change how you look at that team? It was a magical season punctuated with unbelievable individual performances from the likes of Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Luis Gonzalez. Did it matter that Jerry Colangelo "got creative" with his payroll? The fact that Bernard Gilkey still goes to his mailbox once a month and opens an envelope with the D-backs logo on it doesn't put an asterisk next to Arizona's first professional sports championship in my eyes.
Colangelo's plan also didn't prevent the Diamondbacks from fielding competitive teams over the next decade, as they won two NL West championships in that time frame. I know there's no salary cap in Major League Baseball, but the D-backs' won their division titles with pretty modest payrolls in 2007 and 2011.
The popular stance among Suns fans is that signing Stoudemire to a five-year max deal would have crippled the franchise's future plans.
As I write this, the Suns are 22-42 and in 13th place in the Western Conference. Their roster is devoid of anything resembling star power, which we all know, is a necessary ingredient to win championships in the NBA. Many have doubts on the front office's long-term plan to fix the franchise. Only time will tell if the ship gets righted.
But if the Suns would have signed Stoudemire to the max deal, they very well could have a championship banner hanging from the rafters of US Airways Center right now. Even if they didn't win it, they would have been relevant for another season.
As things changed with the new NBA collective bargaining agreement instituted in December of 2011, the Suns also could have had the option to use the amnesty clause on Stoudemire if injuries derailed his career. They'd still have to pay him of course, but the salary wouldn't count against the cap.
Instead, they'll miss the playoffs for the third straight season -- something that hasn't happened since the late 80s.
I've watched sports intently for 35 years and worked in sports media for the last 17. I've never seen a fan tooling around town with a t-shirt reading "My team is financially responsible."
I highly doubt I ever will.
And I have no earthly idea when the Suns will be that close to a championship again.
It sounds strange to refer to Adrian Wilson as a former Cardinals safety, but after 12 seasons, he's just that. The team and Wilson parted ways last Friday and now, like many great Cardinals before him, he'll finish his career in another uniform.
Wilson's résumé is impressive, but it got me to thinking. Now that the Cardinals have been in the Valley for over a quarter-century, where does he rank on the list of the greats?
I present to you my top five Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals...
So the Phoenix Suns have reunited the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, making them only the second set of twins to play on the same team at the same time in NBA history. The other? The Van Arsdales -- Dick and Tom -- played their final season in the league together in Suns uniforms in 1976-77.
Seriously, between the Van Arsdales, the Morrises, and the other half of twin combos Phoenix has had in the last few seasons (Robin Lopez and Jarron Collins), the Valley of the Sun is more like the Valley of the Twins. Seriously, the folks in Minnesota are getting a tad bit jealous.
I thought it would be a great way to kick off our new blog, The Five, counting down my choices for the best sets of twins in sports history. And if you're even thinking Kate Upton will be on this list, I'll be sure to shoot you a stern stare (and likely a secretive high five). Alright, let's get to it.
5. Randy and Jason Sklar - I know what you're thinking. "Vince, you moron, these guys aren't athletes." No, they're not. But they are twins and they hosted one of the funniest sports television shows ever -- ESPN's Cheap Seats. That show should have been a much bigger hit than it was. If you don't believe me, just watch their "commentary" on the 1997 National Spelling Bee. And I really didn't want to have to put Jose and Ozzie Canseco on this list, so there's that.
4. Horace and Harvey Grant - Oddly enough, the Grant brothers went to college together at Clemson, but Harvey transferred to Oklahoma to finish his career. Because of this, despite being born only nine minutes apart, they were in different draft classes. In all, they combined to score 20,777 NBA points and four championship rings -- even though all the jewelry belongs to Horace. Sorry, Harvey.
3. Phil and Steve Mahre - The twins from Yakima, Washington competed in a combined six Winter Olympic games, with Phil winning the gold medal in the slalom at the 1984 Games in Sarajevo and Steve taking the silver. Two brothers winning medals in the same event in the same Olympics? In the immortal words of the fake Miley Cyrus, "that's pretty cool!"
2. Daniel and Henrik Sedin - I realize I'm ranking the Sedin twins second at the risk of starting massive riots on the streets of Vancouver. Those crazy British Columbians don't enjoy second place, as we found out a few summers ago. Anyway, since joining the Canucks in 2000, the brothers have combined for 456 goals, 1,039 assists and 1,495 points and have been key cogs for a franchise that has made the playoffs in nine of their 11 seasons on the roster. And they've both won the Art Ross Trophy, which is given to the league's leading scorer, making them the only brothers to do so.
1. Ronde and Tiki Barber - I know we're talking about twins here, but it's kinda creepy just how much these two look like each other, right? Ronde is not only one of the most durable players in league history -- he's started every game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the last 13 seasons -- he's also still really good. He's intercepted 47 passes in his career and has scored 12 defensive touchdowns on his way to five Pro Bowl appearances. You could say his brother Tiki was, umm...unlikeable for a good portion of his career, but you can't deny the results he generated for the Giants over his 10-year career. In his last season (2006), Barber ran for 1,662 yards and the year prior, he became the only player in NFL history to run for more than 1,800 yards past the age of 30. And they each played in a Super Bowl…and they starred in this commercial together.
There are several questions concerning the future of the Arizona Cardinals, who are coming off an entirely forgettable 5-11 season.
But there are two things we know: one, they have the seventh overall pick in the NFL Draft this April and two, they need a quarterback. Badly.
Conventional thinking says "hey, the Cardinals should draft a quarterback in the first round -- they've got a need there and there are a lot of quarterbacks in this year's class."
This is true, at least the part about the abundance of quarterbacks in the class. There's West Virginia's Geno Smith, whom is considered by most to be the best prospect of this year's signal-calling crop. There's Matt Barkley of USC, the closest thing this group has to a household name entering the draft. Others include Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, Ryan Nassib of Syracuse, Mike Glennon of North Carolina State and EJ Manuel of Florida State.
I know I'm not alone in recognizing the aching need the Cardinals have to get a quarterback that can solidify the position for years to come, but let me be vocal in my suggestion to the team. DON'T PICK ANY OF THESE GUYS!
There is so much discussion in football circles in what makes a pro quarterback elite. Is it their statistics? Is it their win-loss record or how many Super Bowl rings they have? Everyone seems to have their own definition -- thus all the discussion -- but certainly the above ingredients play a huge part in an individual's ruling.
For argument's sake, here's who I consider "elite" at the QB position:
• Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
• Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
• Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
• Tom Brady, New England Patriots
• Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
• Eli Manning, New York Giants
And there's another group of quarterbacks who are well on their way to being "elite" in the future:
• Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
• Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
• Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
• Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
• Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
There is one thing that all of the above quarterbacks has in common: they all excelled at the college level. They all did special things on the football field during games as collegians. Not all of them were first round, blue chip prospects coming into the NFL, but they were all "special".
Aaron Rodgers, while playing under the radar at Cal, led the Golden Bears to a 10-2 record in his junior season, threw 43 touchdown passes against only 13 picks in two seasons and finished ninth in the 2004 Heisman voting.
Peyton Manning finished his college career at Tennessee with a 40-9 record, was a consensus All-American in 1997 and finished in the top eight in the Heisman voting three times.
Brees? He finished in the Heisman top four twice and threw for over 11,000 yards and 88 touchdowns in three seasons at Purdue.
Ben Roethlisberger put up huge numbers at Miami of Ohio, throwing for 84 touchdowns and only 34 picks in three seasons, leading the team to a 13-1 record and a final ranking of 10th in the 2003 AP Poll.
Eli Manning threw 84 touchdown passes and only 35 picks in three years as a starter at Mississippi while finishing third in the Heisman voting in his senior season.
Russell Wilson led the nation in passer rating as a senior at Wisconsin with an almost unheard of mark of 191.8. He threw 33 touchdown passes and only four picks while completing an obscene 72.8 percent of his passes.
Colin Kaepernick threw for over 10,000 yards with 82 touchdowns and only 24 picks while also running for over 4,000 in four years at Nevada.
Joe Flacco, even though it was at Division I-AA Delaware, threw for 4,263 yards while leading the Blue Hens to the 2007 FCS Championship Game.
I don't need to mention the collegiate accolades of Luck and RGIII, do I?
You're probably thinking "what about Tom Brady? He wasn't so special in college." There's some truth to that, but despite not putting up "special" numbers, Michigan went 20-5 in Brady's two years as the starter. Plus, his touchdown-to-interception ratio in 1999 was a very respectable 20-to-6. But Brady's really the exception. Hell, he's the ultimate exception -- future sixth round picks who show up at the NFL Scouting Combine completely devoid of muscle tone don't go on to win three Super Bowls and marry supermodels -- so throw him out.
Now let's focus on this year's class.
Geno Smith put up gaudy numbers for West Virginia, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio was an eye popping 42-to-6, but Smith wasn't able to carry the Mountaineers to more than a 7-6 record as a senior. Many picked Smith as an overwhelming favorite to win the 2012 Heisman, he sputtered in the second half of the season and didn't finish in the top ten.
Ryan Nassib, who one NFL Draft expert surprisingly has rated as the best overall player in the draft, had very average numbers for a very average eight-win Syracuse team.
Mike Glennon threw 62 touchdowns for North Carolina State over the last two years, but also threw 29 picks, including an NCAA-worst 17 as a senior in 2012. The Wolfpack were a ho-hum 15-11 in the ho-hum ACC with Glennon as a starter.
Tyler Wilson of Arkansas went back to school for his senior season and saw his production decrease for a 4-8 Razorbacks team that fell off the national stage under one-year stop-gap "head coach" John L. Smith.
The only candidate in this year's class who did anything resembling "special" in college was Barkley. As a junior at USC, Barkley threw 39 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions for a Trojans squad that had been slapped with sanctions and had really nothing to play for. But as a senior, Barkley took a big step back for a team that was picked by many to win the BCS Championship and instead went 7-6. Yes, having Lane Kiffin as a head coach is a lot to overcome, but come on.
And if the Cardinals were to pick another quarterback named Matt from USC who stunted his own draft stock by going back to college for his senior season, Big Red fans might stage a full-on mutiny.
If the temptation is there for the Cardinals to select a QB with their first round pick, recent history will prove my "don't pick anybody who wasn't special in college" theory. Go back to 2011 when the Tennessee Titans (Jake Locker at #8) , Jacksonville Jaguars (Blaine Gabbert at #10) and Minnesota Vikings (Christian Ponder at #12) all reached for quarterbacks in the first round. Two years later, none of those teams is convinced that they have their quarterback of the future. Two are drafting in the top ten again and the Vikings aren't only because of a Herculean season by running back Adrian Peterson.
The Cardinals, with new head coach Bruce Arians at the helm, need to "settle" for a quarterback who can manage a game and take care of the football in 2013. Rely on your strength -- the defense. We all saw a four-game preview of what that looks like in 2012 when Kevin Kolb did just enough (and I mean just enough) to guide the Cardinals to a 4-0 record before the wheels fell off the wagon.
Resist the temptation and look for your franchise quarterback in the future. You'll be better off for it.
Alas, the 4,830-square foot abode is listed at almost $1.6 million, or more accurately, way out of my price range, so I'll just admire the photos and keep buying Powerball tickets.
On a much smaller scale, I also really could use a new Macbook Pro. Yes, I'm an Apple guy and the laptop I've been using the hell out of for the last five years is worn. It still works, but it's running an outdated operating system and is probably on its last legs. But a new one, even a smaller version than the 17-inch that I have now, would run a minimum of $1,199 plus tax. I just don't know if now is the right time to pull the trigger on such a purchase while my old computer is still operational.
It's my way of being financially responsible, I guess. If only that applied to prospective hockey franchise owners.
Apparently Greg Jamison has always wanted to own a hockey franchise. The former CEO of the San Jose Sharks has been in negotiations to buy the Phoenix Coyotes franchise for the better part of a year. Despite being able to negotiate what many called a "sweetheart" of a lease agreement with the city of Glendale that would pay him $308 million over 20 years to operate Jobing.com Arena, Jamison couldn't meet the purchase deadline of 11:59 p.m. Thursday night. The reason? There were probably many, but one was that Jamison, due to difficulty with his investors, couldn't wrangle up enough capital to complete the sale.
Although Jamison remains steadfast (whatever that means) in his quest to buy the team and Glendale mayor Jerry Weiers says he's confident the team will stay, the reality of the situation is that this process is no further along than it was three-and-a-half years ago. The last nine months or so have been nothing but a big tease to hockey fans in the desert.
In May of 2009 I worked for a fledgling, locally-based sports website that planned a 'Save the Coyotes' rally at an establishment across the street from Jobing.com Arena. At the time, Blackberry magnate Jim Balsillie was trying to buy the team and move them to Ontario. Read the first sentence of this paragraph again. People were in 'save the team' mode four years ago!
For fans of a franchise that hasn't had the most solid ownership history, the story was tiring then. Now, almost 1,400 days later, it's crossed over into laughable territory.
Say what you will about NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. He's not exactly the most popular guy among puckheads on this continent, but he's shown the patience of Job in his desire to keep hockey in Glendale.
Say what you want about the city of Glendale. No, they haven't been the easiest group for prospective owners to work with in this process, but they've already shelled out $75 million over the last three years to keep the team in town and are were willing to spend another $308 million over the next two decades to have Jamison manage Jobing.com Arena.
I had a little fun earlier with Jamison and his inability to scare up financing to close the deal. The reality is Greg Jamison could buy and sell me a million times over -- he's a powerful man who is respected in hockey circles. But whether it was Jamison or Jerry Reinsdorf or Matthew Hulsizer or the Ice Edge group or, I don't know, Bill Friggin' Gates -- anybody who bought this team was going to be faced with a huge challenge: getting 18,000 fans in the place for home games on weeknights.
Last Monday, the Coyotes dismantled the Nashville Predators 4-0 in front of a crowd that was listed at 8,581, but appeared to be much less than that. It was only the fourth home game of an abbreviated season for a team coming off their best playoff run in franchise history, yet the arena was less than half-full. In the past, I scoffed at fans who would use the "I'm not driving from Chandler to Glendale on a school or work night to watch a hockey game" excuse.
I no longer scoff, because there is nearly a decade of data that backs it up.
I don't want the Phoenix Coyotes to leave the Valley, for a number of reasons. First, I've called Phoenix home for 33 years, I grew up a fan of the teams, and their success (and existence) obviously benefits me professionally. Secondly, I know a lot of fans that live and die with this team and I've seen the pain that fans of the Seattle Supersonics, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Cardinals felt. It's not fun.
But the stark reality is that if there was an astute business person who felt professional hockey was a viable money-making option in Glendale, Arizona, don't you think they would have stepped forward and closed this deal by now? And after four years of this merry-go-round, they could have gotten it for a song, relatively speaking.
There have been some great memories over the last 17 years -- memories that can't ever be taken away from the diehard fans who have endured this seemingly endless ownership roller coaster ride. But even those fans have got to be spent at this point.
I fear that this is the last hurrah for the Phoenix Coyotes, and I'm okay with it.
To his credit, Herb Sendek did something few coaches in Arizona State history have ever done, especially in the last 20 years: He made the Sun Devils nationally relevant. Still, James Harden's 2008-09 All-American campaign was the first and only time Sendek has taken ASU to an NCAA tournament, and following last season's 12-19 finish, his program desperately needed a step back toward the light. Instead, things have only worsened. Touted freshman Jahii Carson never suited up after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA, and halfway through an already bad season, leading scorer Kaela (sic) King was suspended and eventually dismissed for a variety of reasons, most of them to do with attitude. As such, the Sun Devils are 8-17 overall and 4-9 in one of the worst editions of the Pac-12 we've seen in decades. They sport losses to Pepperdine, Northern Arizona, Fresno State and a 64-43 drubbing at the hands of Utah (it's true). Sendek was always underappreciated at NC State, but if the fans in Tempe start to become restless, well, they have their reasons.
What a difference nearly a year makes, huh?
After last Saturday's 78-60 drubbing of a UCLA team that had been 12-1 in its previous 13 games, Sendek's Sun Devils are creating some buzz around the nation.
Jahii Carson is garnering attention as a possible Freshman of the Year, and Dickie V himself proclaimed ASU center Jordan Bachynski a star after he ran roughshod over UCLA with 22 points, 15 boards and six blocked shots.
A STAR IS BORN- ask Ben Howland about 7'ft Canadian Jordan BACHYNSKI-dominated UCLA 22 -15 reb 6 b/s 4 ASU - Herb Sendek 16-4 @dshulman_espn
The man at the center of the turnaround isn't Felix, or Bachynski or Carson -- sure they've all helped.
Remember the nearly collective groan from Tempe when soon-to-be former athletic director Lisa Love gave Sendek a contract extension last December when the Sun Devils were 3-5 with losses to Pepperdine, Fairfield and DePaul already on their ledger?
Remember the criticism of Sendek's seemingly vanilla coaching style after another losing campaign was punctuated with the departures of a handful of players from the 2011-12 squad including team leader Trent Lockett and starting forward Kyle Cain (not to mention King)?
Remember how late in the offseason Sendek filled out his coaching staff with former NBA assistants Eric Musselman and Larry Greer? It was September.
Pac-12 media members thought the losing would continue in Tempe, as they picked the Sun Devils to finish 11th in the conference in their annual preseason poll.
Consider the success ASU has had to this point, and it leads to one conclusion: Herb Sendek and his staff are coaching their rear ends off. And a big part of that has to do with the flexibility Sendek has shown in changing his style. For years, you knew what you were going to get when you watched ASU play -- a tough, matchup zone defense and a deliberate offense that struggled without elite talent.
With Carson in the fold, Sendek promised an uptempo style of offense, and his team has delivered. Last season, the Sun Devils' 61 points per game ranked 304th in the nation. This season, despite a severe lack of depth, the Devils are averaging 73.3 points per game -- good for 50th in the nation.
On the defensive end, the switch to a man-to-man defense should not only quiet critics who say elite high school players who want to get to the NBA won't consider ASU because nobody plays a matchup zone at the pro level.
Having two coaches with NBA experience on their résumés doesn't hurt things, either.
This is not a proclamation that Arizona State will win the Pac-12 or that they're definitely an NCAA Tournament squad -- there is a lot of basketball left to be played.
But flexibility has led to a competitive and entertaining style of basketball which has Arizona State on the road to relevance -- somewhere they haven't been for quite some time.
At the midway point of the 2012-13 season, the Phoenix Suns are 13-28, bad enough to be the worst team in the Western Conference.
You know the old adage -- you can't fire all the players, so Friday, head coach Alvin Gentry was made the scapegoat for the team's failings and was fired.
Let's face reality, though. Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson or Pat Riley wouldn't win with the collection of players the Suns have on this roster.
Phoenix's front office of president of basketball operations Lon Babby and general manager Lance Blanks tried to put together a roster of players to keep the Suns competitive for a playoff spot. But bringing in free agents Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Jermaine O'Neal, trading for Wes Johnson and drafting Kendall Marshall has failed to pay any dividends in the standings.
The writing on the wall for Gentry's firing was etched in 2010 when, coming off a trip to the Western Conference Finals, they opted not to re-sign Amar'e Stoudemire, instead working out a sign-and-trade deal with the New York Knicks. That wasn't the wrong move. What followed was wrong.
Phoenix held on to veteran fan favorites Steve Nash and Grant Hill for two more seasons, hoping to stay competitive. The team missed the playoffs both seasons and a much-needed facelift started at least two years late.
Last offseason, the lingering Shakesperean question around the organization was "to tank, or not tank". The thought behind tanking was that to be a really good NBA team, you'd have to stink out loud for two years to gain high draft picks, like the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder were able to do. That organization missed the playoffs for four straight seasons from 2005 to 2009 but is now one of the premier franchises in the league thanks to hitting home runs on high draft picks Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka.
Suns brass shuddered at the thought of being irrelevant for a span of 24 months and assembled a roster they thought would keep them mediocre, err, I mean in contention for a playoff spot. The only problem is they forgot to add a player to the roster who can actually score the basketball.
Currently, the Suns leading scorer is Goran Dragic, who is averaging a meager 14.0 points per game -- by far the lowest figure by a team leader in the entire league. There is no go-to option for the Suns, and that has translated to a lot of close losses.
Phoenix is 2-13 in its last 15 games. In 11 of those losses, the Suns had opportunities to win in the fourth quarter. In fact, Phoenix lost 10 of them by single digits; five by five points or less.
Gentry summed the situation up perfectly following his last game as the Suns' bench boss -- a 98-94 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday night at US Airways Center.
"We got the game to the point where we should have won. You are up 10 and you are at home, you got to find a way to win the game. That's been the story of the whole season. We have not been able to do it."
And that has almost nothing to do with Gentry. It's hard to make an omelette when all you have is a fork, a lighter and some egg shells.
News has swirled that the Suns will go to a youth movement. Whomever the next head coach of the team is -- Lindsey Hunter or Elston Turner or Dan Majerle -- expect to see a steady diet of Marshall, Markieff Morris and Luke Zeller on the floor.
And expect an even steadier diet of more losing.
For Alvin Gentry, this is a blessing. He gets a reprieve from an untenable situation.
In July of 2012, the Phoenix Suns continued the process of giving their roster a facelift and signed enigmatic forward Michael Beasley to a three-year, $18 million contract.
The move was met with mixed reaction. Many (myself included) applauded the deal, as the Suns needed a star player. While Beasley's four-year NBA résumé proved that he was not a star, he at least still possessed the potential to be that type of player.
Others thought the deal was preposterous and felt giving $18 million to a player with well-chronicled focus and drug issues was far from the answer the Suns needed. If he's got so much potential, why had both the Miami Heat and Minnesota Timberwolves already given up on him before his first pro contract had expired?
Well, we're 36 games into the "Beasley era" in Phoenix, and so far, the move has been an unmitigated disaster. Beasley is averaging under 10 points and just 3.6 rebounds per game -- both by far the lowest totals in his career.
But more importantly, Beasley has completely fallen out of head coach Alvin Gentry's rotation. The former Kansas State All-American has played a total of 74 minutes in the Suns' last ten games, in which they've posted a 1-9 record. He's showed up in the box score as a "DNP - Coach's Decision" four times since December 23.
I'll fully admit that I'm not privy to the daily goings-on in the Suns' locker room. For all I know, Beasley could be a total head-case. Hey, it's been suggested by some. In December, longtime NBA writer Shaun Powell cited a Suns source in labeling Beasley as "toxic".
Be that as it may, Beasley is still on the Suns roster and is still the most talented player on the team. Which begs the question, why is he not playing? Rumored toxicity aside, it's not like putting Beasley on the bench and making an example out of him is leading to Suns' wins. In games where Beasley has scored 15 points or more, the Suns are 4-3. When Beasley has played 10 or fewer minutes or failed to get on the court, they're 2-6.
Let me reiterate, Beasley is the most talented player on the team. Has he played well this year? Absolutely not. Neither has a good portion of the roster. If you don't believe that, just look at the Pacific Division standings. The management team of general manager Lance Blanks and president of basketball operations Lon Babby knew they were taking a risk on a player whom many had given up on. They believed that they were the organization to finally untap Beasley's intriguing potential.
To pay Beasley pretty handsomely and then not play him doesn't make sense, especially for a team that craves a consistent go-to scorer. Beasley has ten 30-point games in his career -- the second-highest total on the Suns team. Jermaine O'Neal has 42, but his last one came when George W. Bush was still calling the White House home and Justin Bieber was still posting his homemade videos on YouTube. Beasley's really the only Suns player with the potential to become a go-to scorer in this league
I know what you're thinking. "Vince, when Beasley played, he wasn't consistent."
I can't fight that. Just as you can't fight the fact that it's really hard for a player to help his team while he's wearing sweats on the bench.
Beasley, even considering the frustrating nature of his play to this point, should be given the opportunity to play his way out of the funk that landed him on the bench in the first place.
I needed Bilal Powell of the New York Jets to amass 74 fantasy points Monday night against the Tennessee Titans to win my Fantasy Football league semifinal. That would roughly be 380 yards rushing/receiving and six touchdowns. He fell 352 yards and six touchdowns short.
I knew that wasn't going to happen, and my season has come to an end. Merril Hoge's Tie Knot (my team) will fail to win a championship and I will retire from Fantasy Football without winning that "elusive" league title.
That's right, I'm announcing my Fantasy career is over. Please refrain from sadness. It's time.
But it wasn't my lack of championships over the course of a decade-plus that brought me to this decision. It wasn't the hundreds of dollars invested in league registration costs that went unrecovered or the fact that Adrian Peterson's Monday Night Football fumble in overtime of a Week 16 loss to Chicago in 2009 cost me that elusive title by a fraction of a point that pushed me into this decision.
Want to know what did? I realized Fantasy Football is dumb.
"But Vince, why did you do something you thought was dumb for ten years," you may ask.
Well, I didn't fully realize it was dumb until this season. Sometimes you learn as you go. Hell, I was married for seven years, too.
I played Fantasy Football for the camaraderie, the fun of getting together and drafting a team while tipping back a few and playfully trash-talking others in the league. Competition was very low on the list of reasons I played. For the most part it was fun; a little frustrating at times (especially when one guy in your league dedicated his entire existence to roster moves -- every league has that guy), but fun.
So maybe calling it dumb isn't entirely accurate. The way most people react Fantasy Football shoots right past dumb and lands somewhere in the ridiculously stupid category.
Something I read Monday really pushed me over the edge though.
Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens struggled Sunday in a loss to the Denver Broncos, carrying 12 times for 38 yards and catching three passes for three yards. For owners with Rice on their rosters, that wasn't good enough and many let the running back know it.
After the loss, Rice tweeted the following, which is a sentiment that I'm sure other NFL players and countless other Americans felt Sunday:
Life is real people after the game was over today all I could think about was the families and victims in Newtown Connecticut.
This isn't an isolated example, it's just one that is more visible because Rice mentioned the unspeakable horror that unfolded last Friday in Connecticut and expressed genuine human emotion about it. Every week, morons with Twitter muscles feel like they have the right to admonish athletes who "failed them" on Sunday.
It makes me wonder why any athlete is on Twitter. And it's the final factor in me giving up Fantasy Football forever.
As I watched (mostly through my fingers) the Arizona Cardinals lose their eighth straight game -- this one a 7-6 offensive debacle at the hands of the woeful New York Jets, a certain phrase kept rattling through my head.
It was something about playing the quarterback who gives the Cardinals the best chance to win.
The reason why it was rattling around the noggin is because over the last three football seasons, I've seemingly heard it a million times. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt has repeated it ad nauseum since Kurt Warner announced he was retiring at the end of the 2009 season. Whether that quarterback was Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton or Kevin Kolb, one thing has been constant -- none have given the Cardinals a very good chance of winning. Arizona is 17-27 since that fateful January day almost four years ago and have had losing streaks of seven, six and eight games.
The Cardinals' offense, led by rookie Ryan Lindley in his second career start, was in a word -- offensive. The Cardinals managed just 137 yards of offense, and 40 of that total came on a fourth-down fake punt run by Rashad Johnson. Arizona went 0-for-15 on third downs in the game. Lindley completed 10-of-31 passes on the day.
Those who know me or have followed what I've written on ArizonaSports.com or said on Arizona Sports 620 know that I'm not a believer in John Skelton as an effective NFL quarterback. But if Coach Whisenhunt truly believes in playing the quarterback who gives his team the best chance to win, then Skelton should have been in the game.
Lindley is a sixth-round pick who has been abominable on the field this season, but it's not all his fault. The simple fact is he's not ready to play at this level. Whisenhunt pulled a quick hook on Skelton after he missed a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the first quarter during a loss at Atlanta -- a game they were leading at the time.
So why this show of patience with Lindley? Between Whisenhunt and Jets' coach Rex Ryan, whose quarterback, Mark Sanchez, was equally ineffective, Sunday's game became a bizarre contest of pride.
It's almost like Whisenhunt and Rex Ryan are playing a game of starting QB chicken, and neither will flinch.
Ryan finally relented, benched Sanchez and inserted Greg McElroy. The former Alabama star and seventh-round pick led the Jets on the only touchdown drive of the game while Lindley continued to struggle.
Whisenhunt was asked by sideline reporter Paul Calvisi after the game whether he considered making a change at the QB position, and that familiar response surfaced again.
"We talked about it, we talk about everything," Whisenhunt answered. "You're trying to put your team in a position to win and you consider everything -- that's the job that you're faced with.
"You consider all those things and ultimately you go with what gives you the best chance to win."
If Ryan Lindley is indeed the quarterback that gives you the "best chance to win", two thoughts come to mind. First, your team's chances of winning are nil. Lindley has been blessed with a bushel of turnovers (nine in all against Atlanta and New York) and couldn't take advantage of the miscues and turn them into points.
And secondly, maybe the guy making the decision on who gives the team the best chance to win isn't that good a judge of quarterback talent. Three months ago, Whisenhunt anointed Skelton as the starter after a less-than-inspiring preseason battle with Kolb. Three months later, he can't step on the field to unseat a rookie who is struggling mightily.
And I know there's that faction of people who say "let's play the kid and see what we've got -- maybe he's another Tom Brady-like diamond in the rough."
Can we please, please, please stop holding out hope of catching lightning in a bottle with a sixth-round pick or an undrafted journeyman like Warner? Brady is the very definition of an anomaly and has had the benefit of playing under arguably the greatest coach in the league's history and there is a good reason why they'll be making Warner's life story into a movie in the very near future -- it's because longshots like that don't pan out.
The majority of quarterbacks who succeed in the league are high draft picks. Yes, teams miss all the time on first-round QBs, but the vast majority of successful quarterbacks in the NFL are first rounders.
Maybe that can be the basis of future decisions on which QB gives the Cardinals the "best chance to win."
Not that we have any historical basis to fall back on, but you'd think an NFL team that won its first four games and then proceeded to lose their next seven would have an unbelievable shift in statistics.
In the case of the 2012 Arizona Cardinals, the only team ever to fall into this category, that is not true.
When comparing the numbers between Arizona's four-game winning streak and their current seven-game skid, the numbers, strangely enough, look very similar in most categories.
In fact, in their last seven contests, the Cardinals are averaging more rushing yards and more passing yard per game on offense. On defense, they're allowing fewer passing yards and total yards per game.
Their turnover margin is even during the losing streak.
The overall stat sheet shows opponents are scoring more points against the Cardinals during the losing streak, but let's keep in mind that Arizona's last seven opponents have combined for four defensive touchdowns and a safety.
The Cardinals' inability to get the ball to All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald more has been magnified because of their recent losing. But in actuality, Fitzgerald's production is only down less than a catch and seven yards per game in losses.
Sacks? Opponents sacked Arizona quarterbacks 3.5 times per game in wins, and 4.5 times in losses, so the difference is negligible.
The Cardinals have been abysmal at both times in converting third downs -- 30.9% in wins and 27.1% in losses.
So what is the big difference? Why has a seemingly promising season been derailed in a fashion that has many bellowing "ah, it's the same ol' Cardinals."
The answer is simple. Quarterback play.
Paul Calvisi suggested as much in a column he penned for ArizonaSports.com, and he's absolutely right. The difference for the Arizona Cardinals in wins and losses comes down to quarterback play.
Kevin Kolb is by no means a franchise quarterback, but his rib injury has absolutely crippled the Cardinals' chances of winning football games. Kolb did just enough in four contests to help Arizona win football games, including his stint in relief of John Skelton in the season opener against Seattle in which he completed six passes for 66 yards and a touchdown in the 20-16 win.
His passer rating of 86.1 won't wow anybody, but it still ranks eighth in the NFC and is ahead of the likes of Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, and Jay Cutler.
Oh, and it's much better than the figures of Skelton (64.4) and rookie Ryan Lindley (47.0), who have yet to lead the Cardinals to a win in Kolb's absence.
Over 26% of the possessions Kolb engineered ended in points, while only 24.8% of Skelton's and 16.7% of Lindley's have.
It's hard to believe, especially considering how a lot of fans thought of him after training camp, but Kevin Kolb is the most important player for the Arizona Cardinals this season.
Unfortunately, for the last seven weeks, he's been wearing a ball cap and a gray hoodie and hasn't been able to help his team on the field.
You want to know the difference between a 4-0 start and an 0-7 stretch? There's your answer right there.
The Arizona State Sun Devils' 38-17 loss to the 19th-ranked USC Trojans really shouldn't have come as a surprise. After all, it was the Devils' seventh straight loss at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
And after seeing the Devils come crashing down to Earth following a 5-1 start, many are comparing this season to last -- when Arizona State stormed to a 6-2 start and sat in the driver's seat in the Pac-12 South before dropping their final four regular season games to finish 6-6.
I disagree; this campaign is beginning to look a lot like every season since 2008.
That's right -- the Sun Devils, in each of the last five seasons, have had a losing streak of at least three games.
Let's relive the pain, shall we?
2008 - After starting the year 2-0, the Sun Devils were stunned 23-20 in overtime by a bad UNLV team. That set the stage for subsequent losses to Georgia, California, Oregon and Oregon State. Six-game skid. Final record 5-7.
2009 - Remember Danny Sullivan's 50-yard touchdown pass to Chris McGaha with :05 left that shocked Washington? That win pushed the Devils' record to 4-2. That would be the last time they'd win. Six straight defeats later, ASU finished 4-8.
2010 - Arizona State got off to a 2-0 start with back-to-back wins over Big Sky foes Portland State and Northern Arizona, but that was followed by consecutive losses to Wisconsin, Oregon and Oregon State. Final record: 6-6.
2011 - After a 48-14 homecoming win over Colorado, the Sun Devils were 6-2. Then defense, discipline and accountability disappeared and the Devils lost five straight, including an embarrassing 56-24 loss to Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. Final record: 6-7.
Yup, that's five straight years with a losing streak of three or more games. The only other teams in the conference (not counting Utah and Colorado) that can be saddled with that "distinction" are Washington and Washington State, and that's not the company ASU should be keeping.
That brings us to the present. The Sun Devils looked like a completely different football team over the first six weeks of the season. They played hard, clean, disciplined football. Only a slow start and some failed execution near the goal line late in the Missouri game stood between Arizona State and a perfect record heading into the much-anticipated matchup with Oregon on October 18.
But since then, the Sun Devils have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot. No, they still don't commit a lot of penalties. The difference is the penalties they've committed during this skid have been killers. In the first quarter of the UCLA game alone, ASU committed two defensive penalties on third and fourth down plays that they had stopped. Both extended drives that ended in Bruins touchdowns. In the second quarter, a holding penalty nullified a Taylor Kelly touchdown pass and ASU had to settle for a field goal. Yes, they got on the board, but that four-point swing was a killer. ASU lost by two.
Late in the second quarter of the Oregon State game the Sun Devil defense had seemingly forced a stop on a third down, but Brandon Magee was flagged for roughing the passer, extending the drive. Seven plays later, Oregon State's Trevor Romaine kicked a 45-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half to tie the score at 19-19.
In the second quarter of the USC game, a pass interference call on, you guessed it -- a third down -- extended a Trojans drive that ended in a Matt Barkley to Xavier Grimble touchdown pass that tied the score at 14-14.
The defense, which was such a strong point early in the season, has been victimized during the losing streak -- mostly in the rushing category. The ASU defense has allowed an average of exactly 250 yards per game on the ground and Oregon's Kenjon Barner and Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, Oregon State's Terron Ward and USC's Curtis McNeal all ran for 135 yards or more against them.
Big plays have been an issue for the defense as well. During the streak, the Devils have allowed seven touchdowns of 49 yards or longer, and at least one each game.
And the offense isn't getting off the hook here, either. In their last six quarters, the Sun Devils have mustered only 408 total yards, scored just 17 points and committed four turnovers (and another on special teams).
Play calling? Don't get me started. From the end zone pass that was intercepted right before halftime against UCLA to the third-and-two pass out of the backfield from a backup quarterback to a defensive end (yes, you read that right) against USC, it's been curious to say the least.
With two games remaining, the Sun Devils and their fans just want to remember what a victory feels like.
"We've come up four games in a row, and we've got to go get a win," ASU coach Todd Graham said Monday during his weekly press conference.
With a 2-8 Washington State team coming to town, it's entirely possible that the Sun Devils will get one. A win would give ASU bowl eligibility and a shot at a winning record all while washing most of the taste of a four-game losing streak out of the mouths of its fans.
A loss would...never mind, let's not think about what another loss would do.
GLENDALE -- How does a team who hadn't started a season with four straight wins since 1977 start 4-0 only to follow it up by losing their next four games?
That's one of the myriad questions rattling around my brain in the aftermath of the San Francisco 49ers' dominating 24-3 win over the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium Monday night.
Want some more? Here you go:
What the hell do you have to do to get a perfect quarterback rating?
For some reason, a perfect mark on the QB rating scale is 158.3 -- because that makes sense.
Anyway, Alex Smith of the 49ers was the closest thing to perfect that I've ever seen on the football field Monday (and if you caught that lyrical reference to an obscure Jermaine Jackson soundtrack offering from a 1985 John Travolta-Jamie Lee Curtis flick, get help.)
Smith completed 18-of-19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdown passes. His only incompletion was a drop by tight end Delanie Walker. He broke a 31-year-old record for completion percentage in a game by hitting on 94.7% of his passes. Yet his quarterback rating was only 157.13. You figure it out.
Is John Skelton an NFL quarterback?
OK, this one may seem a little bit harsh, but like I said, these are the things I'm thinking about.
Skelton's numbers look alright on paper -- 32-of-52 for 290 yards and an interception, which came on a Hail Mary pass on the last play of the first half.
But further examination paints a different picture. The numbers look presentable because the Cardinals were forced to throw on virtually every play in the second half.
But where is the aggression? Skelton threw a lot, but very few of those attempts were thrown down the field. The Cardinals' longest play from scrimmage was a 27-yarder to tight end Jeff King. His 5.58 yards per attempt in this game would rank last in the NFL among starters' season numbers. For reference, Peyton Manning of Denver leads in that category at 8.22 yards per attempt.
To Skelton's defense, it's got to be hard to throw with this version of the Cardinals' offensive line blocking for you.
"When you're not running the football and you're not doing some of the things you're supposed to do offensively to give (Skelton) help, it's going to be tough for anybody," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said following the game.
To refute that, one could point to the Week 7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in which the Cardinals ran for 126 yards but mustered only 14 points on offense.
What can they do about the offensive line?
Look, nobody counted on injuries to Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges that necessitated the insertion of journeyman D'Anthony Batiste and rookie Bobby Massie at the tackle positions. But it happened.
And now, after four more sacks Monday, the Cardinals offensive line has yielded 39 sacks in eight games. Quick math tells me that's a pace of 78 for the season and quick analysis tells me that ain't good.
But yet, there has been very little effort made to improve the bookends. Sure, the Cardinals brought in free agent Pat McQuistan to back up Batiste, but he has yet to play substantial time at the tackle position.
Whisenhunt talked repeatedly Monday about just "getting better" at the position. That's great in theory, but after being beaten consistently on a weekly basis, the confidence of Massie and Batiste has to be shaken, right? I mean it's human nature. And improvement has got to be more difficult when your confidence not at optimal level.
Is this the worst Cardinals offense ever?
This is a tough one. Since the Cardinals moved to the Valley in 1988, they've had some shoddy offenses. The 2003 team that went 4-12 ranked dead last in total offense and was held under 20 points 13 times and under 10 points four times.
This year's Cardinals team has been held under 20 points in four straight games -- and one of those was against a Buffalo defense which set records for futility in the weeks leading up to the Cardinals matchup.
In two prime-time games this season (against division opponents, mind you), the Cardinals have scored a grand total of six points. That doesn't exactly leave a good taste in the mouths of the national audience that was tuned in Monday evening.
When will this team win again?
Umm...good question. Looking at their upcoming schedule, with games at Green Bay and Atlanta on the horizon, Arizona could be looking at a six-game losing streak when they host the St. Louis Rams in Glendale on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Considering that the Rams have already humbled the Cardinals once this year, that is no gimme. The remaining schedule after that is an absolute killer. At the Jets, at Seattle, home versus Detroit and Chicago and they close the season at San Francisco.
It's safe to assume the Cardinals may only be favored in one of their final eight games unless things turn around quickly.
TEMPE -- The transformation that the Arizona State football team has undergone in 2012 has been remarkable.
Sure the record looks a lot like it did just one year ago, but the team's effort and discipline have improved leaps and bounds over where they were a year ago.
But it's hard to maintain that razor-sharp focus and discipline over the course of a 12-game schedule, and it was deficiency in those two areas that led to UCLA's 45-43 win over Arizona State in front of 55,672 at Sun Devil Stadium Saturday.
There were plenty of plays that doomed the Sun Devils, but the biggest happened with 1:12 remaining in the first half. After a 50-yard punt by UCLA's Jeff Locke pinned the Sun Devils at their own four-yard line, ASU took over and with a three-point lead in their possession, many expected a conservative approach to close the half.
Those people would be wrong.
On first down, ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly took a deep drop into his own end zone, and while trying to avoid a sack and a safety, threw the ball over the middle. It was picked off by Bruins' safety Dalton Hilliard. One play later, Johnathan Franklin punched it in on a five-yard touchdown run to give UCLA a 21-17 lead and completely suck the enthusiasm out of the Tempe crowd.
The strange thing was that due to a coin-flip gaffe (yes, you read that right) by Locke, ASU would get the ball to start the second half. So, you run up the middle, punt and go into the half with a lead and a chance to build on it in the fourth quarter.
So, what happened?
"The turnover before the half, that was critical today," ASU head coach Todd Graham said following the game. "We turned the ball over with a minute and 12 seconds left on the clock. To go in at halftime -- and we're getting the ball back. That was a bad mistake."
So where did the blame lie? Was it the play call by offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, or was it the decision to try and avoid the safety and force the ball over the middle by Kelly?
"Obviously, we've got to be smart in that situation, (Kelly) told me he was trying to throw the ball away. Somebody came clean on a blitz, I haven't looked at it on the tape," Graham said. "If you take a chance in that situation, you'd probably like to have that one back.
"I wasn't very happy with that, but when the plays work, I'm happy; when the plays don't work, I'm not very happy. Obviously, that was a very costly and bad play for us today."
It was, but that play wasn't alone. Late in the first quarter, ASU had seemingly forced a UCLA punt when Brett Hundley's pass to Damien Thigpen fell incomplete. But a roughing the passer call on Junior Onyeali extended the drive and UCLA tied the game four plays later when Hundley hit Devin Fuller on a 15-yard touchdown pass.
In the second quarter, Kelly hit Kevin Ozier on what looked like an 11-yard touchdown pass. But a holding call on Brice Schwab nullified the score and ASU had to settle for a 36-yard field goal attempt by Jon Mora -- what amounted to a four-point swing.
In all, ASU committed just four penalties for 36 yards, but for the first time all year, those miscues hurt them. And with injuries to defensive standouts Will Sutton (who didn't play with a knee injury) and Onyeali (who left the game with a shoulder injury), the Sun Devils simply aren't good enough to withstand self-inflicted wounds and win football games.
Many people will focus on the game-winning drive that ended when UCLA's Ka'imi Fairbairn booted a 33-yard field goal with zeroes showing on the clock. After all, ASU just needed to stop UCLA for 93 seconds after Kelly found D.J. Foster in the end zone from seven yards out to give the Sun Devils a 43-42 lead.
But alas, this game was lost in the first half by uncharacteristically sloppy play by the Sun Devils. For the first time in 2012, we saw the team with the pitchforks on their helmets beat themselves.
Arizona State had a chance on the big stage -- one shot, one opportunity -- and they ended up with a sweater full of mom's spaghetti.
The well-oiled, chrome-helmeted machine that is Oregon acted like a 325-pound bouncer fiercely guarding the velvet ropes of the elite group of Pac-12 teams. After falling behind 7-0 just three plays into the game, the Ducks simply brushed themselves off and reeled off 43 straight points before halftime on their way to an easy 43-21 win in front of 71,004 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham called this the biggest game he's ever coached in. And it was. It was an opportunity for the Sun Devils to crash the national relevance party way ahead of schedule. Nobody expected the Sun Devils, who imploded after a 6-2 start in 2011, to be in the conversation for the Pac-12 South crown.
Oregon didn't want to participate in ASU's coronation. They proved once again that they are the elite team in the conference and one of the best in the country.
While Arizona State fell on their face on national television, I'm here to remind you, it's okay. The fact of the matter is that this is one loss, and Graham still has the program headed in the right direction. I know that's hard to believe in the aftermath of a 22-point beatdown (thanks for that, Mark May).
But keep in mind, Graham has guided this Sun Devil team to a 5-2 mark and a 3-1 conference record with many of the same players that were complicit in throwing in the towel during the "Great Meltdown of 2011" -- at least that's how I remember it.
Let's remember, this was also a statement game for Oregon. Many around the country doubted the Ducks' accomplishments against an easy schedule with five home games and a neutral-site game in Duck-friendly Seattle. Many thought that redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota would struggle against a good team on the road in his first true test in a hostile environment. He didn't.
Oregon made their statement, while ASU's eluded them. The key is how this team responds. In nine days, the Devils will host a beatable UCLA team in Tempe. A win would push them to 4-1 in conference play and would make them bowl eligible. From what has been on display from this year's Sun Devil squad, adverse effects from a humbling loss like this one to Oregon are hard to picture. Graham, his staff and his players have come too far to roll off the rails.
This is when the buy-in to Graham's teachings truly get a test from the players with the pitchforks on their helmets.
Todd Graham has some catch phrases he likes to lean on when talking to the media.
"Left lane, hammer down"
They're all part of Graham's vernacular. Another, more recent entry, has been "it's hard to handle adversity, but it's harder to handle success."
On Thursday night in Boulder, the Sun Devils experienced both ends of that maxim.
In the first thirty minutes of the contest, Arizona State looked very much like a team who was having trouble handling success. The 4-1 Sun Devils came into the contest as a 22-point favorite against a floundering Colorado team whose four losses had come by an average of 22.5 points. ASU was generous and unfocused and went to their locker room at Folsom Field up by just three points.
ESPN analysts hinted at a Colorado upset. Mark May said he'd much rather be in the Buffaloes' shoes in the second half as they were the team with the momentum. CU had scored 10 points in the last 24 seconds of the half to shrink ASU's lead to 20-17.
At halftime, the Devils got a chance to reflect and to deal with adversity.
What followed was a nearly-perfect thirty minutes of football. Rashad Ross set the tone by returning the second half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
The stingy ASU defense allowed Colorado to gain just 89 yards on 33 second half offensive plays. Meanwhile, the offense rolled up 290 yards and scored points on five of their eight possessions. It spelled a 31-0 half that propelled the Sun Devils to an easy 51-17 win, which pushed their record to 5-1 and 3-0 in Pac-12 play.
More importantly, under adversity, ASU came out and played a clean half. Zero penalties. One turnover, early in the fourth quarter with ASU already up 17 points.
"I'm really proud of our guys -- we faced a lot of adversity right there before the half," Graham said following the game. "You've got to give Colorado a lot of credit, they came out with their home crowd and really had a lot of intensity. Our guys responded with great poise and great character. We came out and shut them out in the second half."
Whatever Graham told his team at halftime obviously worked. But it's more than that. Thursday night's second half was further proof of the transformation that's gone on with the Sun Devils' program.
Don't believe me? Let's revisit the ugly five-game skid that ended the Dennis Erickson era. ASU committed 34 penalties for 335 yards, turned the ball over ten times, allowed opponents to gain an average of 498 yards per game and yielded the most points ever in a five-game stretch in school history.
Graham didn't have a culture change to install -- he had an exorcism to perform.
But before "this house is clean", the Sun Devils must apply what they've learned in the first six weeks of the season to the next six, because things get a lot tougher from here on out. Based on the current Jeff Sagarin ratings, the Sun Devils' first six opponents had an average rank of 80.2. The next six have an average rank of 35.5 and there are two teams in the top ten (Oregon and USC).
I'm not going to sit here and say that Arizona State is a great football team -- they don't have victories against quality teams that would put them in that category.
But thanks to what Todd Graham and his coaching staff have instilled in half a season, along with the players applying themselves to these teachings, ASU is conducting itself like a great football team -- and that might be a good chunk of the battle right there.