Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lions, Irish and Zips, Oh My!

Syracuse released their 2008 football schedule today and among the big names making the trip to Central New York this year are the Penn State Nitanny Lions and the Akron Zips. I'll be happy just splitting those games because later on down the road, the brain trust at SU decided it would be a good idea to visit Notre Dame. I know they sucked last year, but so did we. Should be quite the ratings spike for NBC.

Here is the complete run-down:

August 30 at Northwestern
September 6 AKRON
September 13 PENN STATE
September 27 PITTSBURGH
October 4 Open
October 11 at West Virginia
October 18 at South Florida
October 25 Open
November 8 at Rutgers
November 22 at Notre Dame 2:30 p.m. NBC
November 29 at Cincinnati

With 12 games, I suppose we have a chance at becoming bowl eligible, but other than Akron and Northeastern, I'm not sure where we'll find those wins. At least opening day is on my birthday. Let's go Orange!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Climbing the Mountain

72. 1174. 12. 4.59.

The numbers above belong to former Michigan wide receiver Mario Manningham. The first three were amassed during his junior year as a Wolverine: 72 catches, 1,174 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. An All-Big Ten season that would seem to propel him straight to the top of the 2008 NFL Draft. But wait, there’s one more number to consider. The smallest stat on the list, 4.59, is also the most important. That’s because the 4.59 seconds it took him to run the 40-yard dash on Sunday was slower then some expected. What does it mean? Could twelve one hundredths of a second (a 4.47 would put him in the top ten amongst wide outs) really negate twelve touchdowns?

Now I might be over simplifying the process. Scouts, coaches and talent evaluators around the league are paid to do more than just review the numbers posted by the 300 prospects who are being poked and prodded by the NFL in Indianapolis this weekend. Game film, all-star games, interviews and even further work out sessions held at individual colleges and universities around the country will all be entered into the equation. But the NFL Combine has become a measuring stick by which all other evaluations are compared to. The event is now televised on the NFL Network (allowing this blogger to do his job from the comfort of his own couch) and every year, players’ stocks rise and fall based on how fast they finish the 40.

Sometimes, the BMOCs (Big Men On Campus) become the BMAC’s (Big Men At the Combine). One such superstar that apparently lived up to the hype this weekend was Arkansas’ Darren McFadden. The two-time Heisman runner-up paired his prolific college career with the second fastest 40-time among running backs with a 4.33. Not to be outdone, another projected first round runner, Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart, finished among the top ten RBs in not just the 40, but the bench press, vertical jump and broad jump, solidifying his star potential. But what about Carl Stewart? No, he’s not Jonathan’s brother and although he attended a big-time University (Auburn) he was a relative unknown heading into the weekend. But that’s why they play the game; rather, that’s why they participate at the Combine.

C. Stewart led all running backs with 30 bench press reps of 225 lbs, a 39” vertical jump and an 11’2” broad jump. Now I don’t remember many moments in which Willis McGahee or Jamal Lewis broad jumped into the end zone, but with those skills, a coach can find a way to utilize your talents. I would imagine being able to leap from the 10-yard line to the goal line would be useful.

Now Carl Stewart may have been relatively unknown, but a few Sunday participants actually were unknown just a few months ago. But after impressing scouts during the all-star games held after bowl season, they were invited to the Combine and can now begin considering what to wear on draft day. After all, those big and tall suits take time to tailor.

One such prospect should actually come as no surprise considering the shocker his team pulled against Mario’s Michigan Wolverines way back in September. Dexter Jackson of Appalachian State, who scored two touchdowns in the Mountaineers triumphant upset, triumphed once again in the 40-yard dash, posting a 4.37 on Sunday. The speed placed him at the top of the wide-out list alongside high profile pass catchers like DeSean Jackson of Cal and Andre Caldwell of Florida. As the NFL Network crew alluded to during their coverage, that kind of speed should earn Jackson the nickname ‘The Yodeler’ after the Price is Right game in which a mountain man climbs the board towards greater glory. Yodel on Dex.

As the Mountaineer climbed the mountain, two passing prospects from the FCS (formerly 1-AA) were building their own buzz. A deep sleeper from San Diego, Josh Johnson threw for 43 touchdowns and just 1 interception in 2007. As Rich Eisen and Co. pointed out, that’s hard to do in your backyard, let alone in competitive collegiate football. But his stats are just the beginning as JJ posted the fastest 40-yard time for a quarterback (4.55) and the highest vertical jump (33.5”) to back up his big numbers. And for those who probably didn’t have the luxury of taking a trip to USD last fall, Johnson’s performance at the Combine will most likely encourage GMs and coaches to review some game tape of the 6’3” signal caller. Here’s a word of advice, take a look at the devastation he delivered to Davidson: 32 of 36, 428 passing yards, 6 touchdowns and 79 yards rushing. I know the Wildcats of Davidson don’t quite measure up to the Wildcats of a Kentucky or Arizona, but those are some cool numbers to comb over.

Of course the big name throwers were in attendance as well with Colt Brennan, Brian Brohm and Chade Henne all showing that they can heave the ball and throw it with heat; but one quarterback that literally stood out among them (he is 6’6”) was Delaware’s Joe Flacco. If Flacco had stuck it out at Pittsburgh, where he was originally enrolled, his story may not be such a story; but as a Blue Hen, his rise up the charts may be the most buzz-worthy of all. According to most scouts, Flacco had the strongest arm at the Combine and according to NFL.com’s Mike Mayock, is now among the top-5 rated quarterbacks in the draft and is expected to go higher than Brennan. Even more impressive, unlike any of the other top QB’s, including the potential number one overall pick in the draft, Matt Ryan, his name is also his website – www.joeflacco.com. The page could use some work, but when you come from a small school, the World Wide Web is a valuable tool.

As the combine continues with the defensive stand-outs ready to take center stage on Monday and Tuesday, all eyes will be on ‘The Son of Howie’ (Chris Long of Virginia, son of NFL veteran Howie Long) but as Flacco, Johnson and Jackson have shown, it’s not always the most notable names that force coaches and scouts to take the most notes. As the last sporting event ever to be held at the RCA Dome concludes, watch out for the superstars, rising stars, falling stars and yodelers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Coffee at the Track (a.k.a. Bud Light in the Bleachers)

Daytona Beach, FL -- 2/17/08.

I miss football. I'm sure you do to, but after spending a week in the heart of NASCAR Nation, I'm ready to return to the field and get away from the fumes.

The reason for my trip to the 50th Anniversary of The Great American Race was to once again promote safety at railroad crossings for my client, CSX Transportation. CSX brought me to Talladega last April and returned to the track last week along with our spokesman, Bobby Allison.

For those of you who are not familiar with the famous racing family, Bobby Allison is one of the all-time great drivers and won at Daytona 3 times. This year marked two anniversaries for Allison - the 30th anniversary of his 1st Daytona 500 win ('78) and the 20th anniversary of his 1-2 finish with his son, Davey ('88). The timing of our promotion worked out perfectly as news stations across the country were eager to talk to Bobby about his past, the present state of NASCAR, and of course, the message he was trying to impart on behalf of CSX and the Keep on Living campaign. We were up at the crack of dawn last Wednesday to begin a barage of interviews with Allison with news anchors across the country. My personal favorite (big surprise) was his conversation with Jay Crawford on ESPN's First Take:

After more than 25 interviews and a press conference later in the afternoon, Exit10 was ready to reach out to the fans of NASCAR at our promotional tent located between Chevy and Crocs (unfortunately we did not walk away with a free car or even a free pair of sandals). Four days later, we had handed out tens of thousands of promotional items promoting Keep on Living, with the biggest draw (other than Bobby Allison autographs) being our bright orange floppy hats.

Normally you would think a fluorescent orange hat would be frowned upon in public, but in the sea of logos making their way around the display area, they fit right in. It still amazes me that millions of fans flaunt corporate marks as if they were the Ravens or Redskins logos. Home Depot, Lowe's and the new kid on the block, Amp Energy Drink, dominate the wardrobes of fans and followers. And after four long days of fun in the sun, and not a whole lot of fun in the bleachers (even in person, the cars just go around in circles for 3 hours) I was ready to leave car-country and return to RavensNation. It's good to be home and back to the grind, er, gridiron. The NFL Combine starts tomorrow.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Games Galore

Paula Abdul performed during the pre-game. Richard Simmons was almost run over. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers rocked the halftime. Shaq rode a horse to victory. Ray Lewis led the Under Armour revolution. And Gisele joined Jessica in the loser’s circle. But none of these storylines became headlines on Monday because the spotlight stayed on the field up until the last play of the game during Super Bowl XLII on Sunday.

In what will be called the greatest game of all time this week, one of the greatest games ever played during the off-season, and eventually settle in as perhaps the best Super Bowl battle we’ve ever seen, the Giants finally took care of those damn Patriots, 17-14. I know that doesn’t sound objective, probably because it’s not, but watching the clock run out on the undefeated season was a site for sore eyes. Or at least eyes that were witness to any of their previous 18 victories in person, such as, say, their nail biting win in Baltimore.

As a New Jersey native, I had many friends rooting for the Giants. I even spent the weekend in the shadow of the Meadowlands as I attended the wedding of my friend Jason who has known me long enough to appear in my Bar Mitzvah pictures (seriously, he’s in the photos, and he was taller and blonder than everyone else back then too). The moral of my trip down memory lane is that I had plenty of incentive to root for the G-Men, but the biggest of all was the burn left by New England on their way out of town that Monday Night in early December. I remember standing in the cold, listening to Rodney Harrison joke with Emmitt Smith and Steve Young about the ‘kiss’ he blew Brian Billick. And just like the rest of NFL-nation that night, who for a few hours were rooting for the men in purple, I had committed myself to cheering for the Pats opponent until they finally lost.

Of course that ‘L’ was proving quite elusive and I did not think that Eli Manning and David Tyree (Syracuse class of ’02 just like this blogger) were going to be the ones to hang the first loss of the season on Brady and Moss. But did you see the catch Tyree made? No, not the touchdown toss, but the latter end of the Manning scramble that will live on in Secaucus for years to come. It was a thing of beauty; especially since Harrison was the DB he ‘beat’ on the play. And in case you missed it, turn on ESPNEWS right now and I’m sure the replay will come on before the next break. They’re calling it the greatest catch in Super Bowl history. Who am I to argue?

I won’t begin to try to recap the game. There were 4,500 credentialed press at media day in Arizona and I’m sure the wire reports will have the play-by-play covered. But after seeing those “18-1” shirts pop-up behind the ESPN crew during their post-game reports (do you think the New York Post is making a commission already?), I thought I’d comment on the commercial game played on Sunday as well.

The Coffeeonthe50 Super Bowl Advertising Report

Favorite Commercials of Super Bowl XLII

1. Diet Pepsi Max – “What is Love”
We’ve all had our heads snap back to life in the middle of a 3-hour biology class or a Monday morning lecture. This spot not only used a real-life reference with the head-bobbing routine, but a pop-culture reference in the choice of music (“What is Love?”) and celebrity (Chris Kattan), both courtesy (sort of) of A Night at the Roxbury. Not to mention the sound strategy tie-in. Not too hard to figure out; Diet Pepsi Max will keep you awake. Ta-da!

2. Coke – “It’s Mine”
This one was Lauryn’s favorite, or at least the only one she could remember. Stewie is always good for a smile and seeing Charlie Brown get the girl, er, Coke made everyone happy.

3. Tide to Go – “Talking Stain”
Here comes the ad nerd in me, but it was just a smart way to tell an old story. Stains divert attention and make you look bad, like if you were in an interview. The stain ‘talks over you’. Like I said, smart.

4. NFL – “Mr. Oboe”
The contest didn’t receive a great deal of attention, but turning an NFL player’s personal story into a Super Bowl spot seemed like a great idea. The winner was Ephraim Salaam of the Houston Texans who told the tale of Chester Pitts, whom Salaam convinced to put down his oboe and try the game of football, only to end up teammates in Houston (where Pitts was drafted ahead of Salaam!). For those wondering, I voted for Matt Hasselbeck’s story about receiving his first piece of fan mail while a back-up in Green Bay, only to find out that the fan was asking for his help in obtaining an autograph of Brett Favre.

5. Bud Light/Semi-Pro – “Suck One”
As you’ll see below, I’m usually mystified at the purpose behind most Bud Light Super Bowl spots, but add Will Ferrell to the mix and you’ve got magic in a bottle (get It?). David Tyree may have made the catch of the night, but Ferrell delivered the best line as he only he can – “Bud Light. Suck one.”

Honorable Mention for Technical Skill - The scene from Angelina Jolie’s new movie, Wanted, in which a sharpshooter bends a bullet around someone standing in front of them to hit the target behind them. Very Matrix-y. Very cool.

Least Favorite Commercials of Super Bowl XLII

1. Planters Peanuts – “Perfume”
First, even if I buy the fact that men can’t resist the peanut smell, even on an unattractive woman, the viewing audience at home can’t smell a thing. So we’re stuck looking at this uni-brow for what seemed like an eternity. And wait, there’s no way I’m buying the fact that men can’t resist the smell of peanuts. Women shouldn’t smell like the snack bowls at the bar. Wrong and weird.

2. Sales Genie – “Panda Bear”
It was more believable that these commercials were suppose to run during a later time on a less important show than thinking that someone approved these to run during the biggest television event of the year. At least they spent some money on production this year.

3. Bud Light – “Cavemen”
Cavemen? Again? No one cares.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Future is Baltimore's

Ray Lewis at linebacker, Vernon Davis at tight end and Kimmie Meissner split to the right? A Baltimore sports spectacular made its debut during Super Bowl XLII in the form of the latest commercial from Charm City's own wonder-company, Under Armour.

Syracuse Grad Grabs Historic Catch

Before I begin my post Super Bowl blog, I wanted to pour a little praise on the only Orange alum to play in Super Bowl XLII. You didn't know his name before, but I bet you know it now...he's David Tyree (Class of '02, as is this blogger - thanks to Shermtank for the reminder).

Here's a look at his historic catch:

Patent Pending

There are now three reasons to root against the Patriots (for me):

1. The Ravens woulda-coulda-shoulda ended the undefeated talk on December 1st.

2. I'm a Jersey Boy, but I don't root for the G-Men. The reason I'm rooting for Big Blue this weekend? The Red Sox. Now being referred to as simply "The Nation" the arrogance from Beantown is brimming with Sawx fans, the very same sports fans that claim to have cared about the Pats prior to the arrival of Bill Parcells. I don't buy it and I don't wait to see Brady being Brady any more than I wanted to see Manny be Manny.

3. News started circulating yesterday that the Patriots had applied for a trademark on the term "19-0". Disgusting, I know. But the best part of the story is that the New York Post has countered with an attempt to trademark the term "18-1" According to the post, "“Our application, No. 77385477, is pending.”