Thursday, November 14, 2013

20 Years of the UFC

Let’s cut to the chase.  I am a huge fight fan.  I honestly can’t get enough.  I watch an insane amount of mixed martial arts fights, regardless of if they are in the UFC or one of the many smaller promotions that pop up.  There just isn’t a better individual competition.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the UFC and the anniversary show is stacked with great fights.  As I was thinking about it this week I started to reminisce about some of the great fights, but better than that, the great experiences I’ve had because of the UFC.  I was a sophomore in high school when the first UFC took place merely an hour from my house.  This competition, which was completely different than what it is now, had a buzz that peaked my interest.  Through the years, and in some very dark periods beautifully chronicled in a documentary recently shown on Fox Sports 1, my interest never waned.

In 2005, as the popularity began to rise, I started getting together with some great friends that were starting to get into the sport.  Over the past 9 years, those friendships grew stronger and we always look forward to those fight nights where we can all just get together.  Normal adult life tends to get in the way of frequent get-togethers from our youth, so these nights I hold very dearly; regardless of it is a relaxed time or one of those rare nights I get taunted all night.  I’m a passionate fan, as we all know, and the guys love getting me all riled up…which is fun for me too.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending a few fights live over the years and some of the memories I have are priceless.  The funny thing is the memories of those are rarely about the fights!  That’s not saying I haven’t been to memorable fights.  I’ve been honored to have watched live some of the greatest fights in the history of the UFC.  There were just so many other things that made these events special to me and I want to share those with you.

UFC 57 – February 4, 2006
Main Event: Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell vs. Randy Couture

Best Memory – “It wouldn’t have been the same without you here.”

During one of our fight nights, a group of us decided that we needed to go to Las Vegas to attend our first live event.  When the UFC announced the main event for Super Bowl weekend, we knew this was the show to go to.  I was a fan of Liddell from the first time I saw him fight Noé Hernandez at UFC 17 so there was no better fighter for me to see live.  The only problem was I didn’t have the money at that time to make it happen.  The guys that were planning it did and we were friends, but I wasn’t comfortable asking for help.  Kraig, who was orchestrating the trip, took me aside and offered to help me out and spot me (which I quickly paid back).  It was a really cool move and one I never forgot.  He helped make a dream come true for me!

We flew into Las Vegas the morning of the fights and you could feel the energy the second we walked in the Mandalay Bay Events Center.  The place was filled with fight fans, but more memorable than that, was to see the fighters walking around and so easily accessible.  If you go to an NFL or NBA game, you’re not likely to run into one of the athletes and have them take a second for a picture or autograph.  We had the pleasure of meeting Stephan Bonnar, who was only a few months removed from the fight that pushed the UFC into national consciousness.  It was just a cool environment to be a part of.

I remember standing in the arena at our seats and just soaking in the scene.  The crowd was buzzing and you just knew something special was about to happen.  I can still feel the disappointment of the fans when former heavyweight champion Frank Mir returned from a horrible motorcycle accident, only to be stopped by a much lesser opponent.  I’ll never forget Kraig leaning over to me and saying, “That was the Frank Mir you were talking about?”  I had been hyping Mir for months and it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting to see.  I’ll never forget the primal roar from the crowd when Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell walked out.  I can’t hear “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC or “Intro” by DMX without being whisked away in my mind to that moment.

My favorite memory, though, happened while standing at the merchandise stand.  Kraig and I were waiting in line and talking about the fights we’ve seen so far.  I just expressed my appreciation once again to him for helping me come along on the trip.  I don’t think I had, and maybe still to this day, expressed just how much it meant to me to come.  Some things you just can’t put into words.  I’ll never forget him looking at me and saying, “It wouldn’t have been the same without you here.”  It’s such a small statement, but one that meant so much to me.  Watching fights had been an individual event for me for so long.  There weren’t a lot of people watching, so when I finally had a group that soaked it up and enjoyed the get-togethers as much as I did, it meant something to me.  For him to help me get there and to make such a small but powerful comment to me, is something I still hold very close.

UFC 79 – December 29, 2007
Main Event: Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva; Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Hughes

Best Memory – “Ryan.  It’s Dana.”

My wife Rachel and I had been married in July of that year and had our honeymoon in Las Vegas.  A few months later, I was sitting at work when word broke that the UFC had booked Chuck Liddell against Wanderlei Silva for the end of the year event.  It’s a fight the entire MMA community had been begging to see for about 7 years.  I had to be there.  I e-mailed Rachel at work to propose the idea of going back to Vegas for the fight.  She surprisingly did not object and I booked the trip within minutes.

I’m not sure if a trip could have been more perfect than this one.  While sitting in the airport, Rachel broke the news to me that she no longer wanted to wait 5 years to try for a baby, but was ready whenever I wanted to (We had Marshall 17 months later).  When we arrived to the Hotel at Mandalay Bay, the desk clerk decided to upgrade us to the suite level for no extra charge.  As we walked to the elevators, the three founds of Tapout came walking out.  They owned the room, especially the lead founder Mask, who just had a presence about him.  Once we dropped our luggage off, we quickly ran down to the arena to watch the weigh-ins.  The next few hours were a blur of cheers and encounters with fighters, who were more than gracious to take a minute to take a picture.  Most memorable was Jason “Mayhem” Miller, who was walking alone and unbothered.  I walked over with my hand outstretched to request a picture.  I’ll never forget him looking at my hand, smiling and replying “Brothers don’t shake hands.  Brothers have to hug!”  He gave me a hug, took a picture and went his way.

That night, Rachel and I had tickets to go see Joe Rogan perform standup comedy at the House of Blues.  It was printed very clearly on the tickets that cameras would be confiscated if brought to the venue.  Simply following the rules, we left the camera in the room and headed downstairs.  As we walked out of the elevator and into the hotel lobby, I glanced to the right and walking towards me was none other than “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell!  I was flabbergasted and walked over to talk for a minute.  He could not have been more cordial and polite to take a moment out of his day to talk to me.  I was disappointed, though, because the camera was upstairs and I couldn’t document that memory.  I’m not an autograph guy.  They are impersonal and something so many fans get to sell.  I prefer a picture to save that moment forever.  So not getting a picture with Chuck was kind of a black eye on the event for me.

The fights the next night were spectacular, as Liddell and Silva battled in one of the greatest fights the UFC had ever seen and the epic trilogy of GSP and Hughes came to a close.  What happened earlier in the day, though, is what I remember the most.

Rachel and I had woken up and were just hanging out in the hotel room prior to starting the day of festivities.  She decided to go down the hall and grab some ice while I sat around watching some TV, preparing for the evening.  I was a little surprised a few moments later as I heard Rachel, who is relatively shy, talking in the hallway.  My wife is ultra-sweet but it struck me as odd to hear her carrying on a conversation with a stranger…that is until she called for me by saying, “Ryan.  It’s Dana.”  There’s only one Dana of relevance while we’re in Las Vegas and that is UFC President Dana White.  I jumped out of the chair and sprinted to the door.  Low and behold, Dana White was standing outside of our hotel room.  I asked him to wait there for a moment while I grabbed a shirt, to which he responded by saying he is locked out of his room and had to wait any way.  The pure luck of a free upgrade put us right across the hall from the UFC president!  This completely made up for the lack of picture with Chuck Liddell, as I was able to get a picture with Dana and talk to him for seemingly 10 minutes.  He asked about us coming in from Iowa for the fights and then we just bantered about how excited we were for Liddell and Silva that night.  Talking to him for that brief moment seemed no different than talking to my group of friends about fights.  We shared our excitement and love of the sport.  I could see why the UFC continued to gain in popularity.  When you have a guy as passionate as he is about the sport, it is destined to succeed.  I was a fan before that, but this solidified everything I always felt about the sport and the people of the UFC.  They cared about the fights, just like the rest of us.

UFC 86 – July 5, 2008
Main Event: Forrest Griffin vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

Best Memory – Rachel’s tears

Rachel and I were preparing for our one year wedding anniversary, which she informed me that the traditional gift for this benchmark is paper.  Wait, what?  Paper?  I could not think of anything that would be significant to give her.  We were discussing it in the car one day when she mentioned that she knew what she wanted to get me, but would need my help.  She surprised me by saying she wanted to go back to Las Vegas for UFC 87.  I excitedly offered to book the trip and away we went!

Let me just interject here that Rachel is not a big fight fan.  She would occasionally watch with me and even latched on to a couple of favorite fighters, Rich Franklin and Forrest Griffin.  While that interest has waned over the years (it’s clear she was watching early in our dating to appease me, but now we’re married so she doesn’t have to any more), she really enjoyed our first trip and was excited to go again.  Plus, she would get to see Griffin fight in person, which added to the fun of the event for her.

It was a shared gift, but I still felt I needed to do something for her.  I found out that Rich Franklin was doing a personal appearance at the hotel the day of the fight, so I knew getting her to meet him was a nice bonus.  She blushed, smiled and got her picture with Rich prior to the fights and was on cloud nine.  What happened while we were at the fights couldn’t have been expected.

The main event was intense.  Griffin and Jackson battled for the full 25 minutes and we awaited the decision.  The Vegas crowd was on pins and needles when Bruce Buffer announced, “and…NEW UFC light heavyweight champion, Forrest Griffin!”  The entire arena erupted in cheers and applause.  It was quite the scene.  During the crowd’s reaction I looked over to Rachel to see how excited she was.  I was not expecting it, but Rachel had tears streaming down her face.  She was so happy and excited, possibly overwhelmed but the emotion in the building, that I was just blown away.  It spoke to how emotionally invested people can get into these guys.

Plus, I won $400 by betting on the heavy underdog Griffin, so I was happy too.

UFC 87 – August 9, 2008
Main Event: Georges St-Pierre vs. Jon Fitch

Best Memory – Everything before and after the event

As I look back, this event was fantastic.  We realized how good it was at the time, but looking back, the level of talent we watched was unreal.  We saw an epic five round domination by GSP.  The beast Brock Lesnar was fighting in the state of Minnesota, where he is a local legend from his collegiate wrestling days.  Plus, the UFC debut of future champion and all-time great Jon “Bones” Jones took place.  He was an unknown and raw fighter, but you could see something unique in him.  It was just a stacked event.

The joy of the experience was the trip itself, though.  Mike, Rick, Kraig and I had it all planned out.  I bought the tickets and we prepared to car pool up there.  Unfortunately, Kraig was unaware that his wife had booked a family vacation and had to pull out.  We needed to find someone to fill in, and I immediately thought of my friend Jason.  He was in a tough spot, though, as he didn’t have the funds to make it happen.  Remembering what Kraig had done for me just a couple of years earlier, I wanted to pay it forward to Jason.  He didn’t know when he could pay me back and I told him I didn’t care.  We’re going and we’re going to have a blast.

When we got up to Minneapolis, we decided to grab a drink and hang out since we were early.  We hit up a hotel bar down the street from the Target Center.  Little did we know, this was the fighter hotel!  While we hung out, we noticed a couple of referees sitting around discussing the event.  We had struck the jackpot!  We enjoyed seeing fighters come downstairs and did our best not be too eager to run over and snap a picture.  Wanderlei Silva, who is one of the most terrifying men in the cage, was one of the most polite athletes I’ve ever met.  He took time to take pictures with us and talk a little.  The language barrier was definitely present, but he tried and that’s all you can ask.  He was much more cordial than BJ Penn, who simply threw his hood on and pretended to make a phone call.

We had a great time at the event, talking to those next to us, running into my tattoo artist and enjoying the fights.  There was nothing quite like seeing Brock Lesnar throw a straight right hand into Heath Herring’s face, sending him flying backwards.  The roar of the partial crowd was awesome!  When we hit the road after the event, Mike and Rick jumped in the back to sleep on the way home.  I had a few adult beverages in me so it was up to Jason to drive us home.  We listened to some of the post-fight press conference on the radio and then spent the next 3 hours repeatedly changing music, singing, dancing and essentially driving the guys in the back crazy.  We took a pit stop at a gas station, which resulted in me staggering around the store and buying a plastic Viking helmet.  I’ll never forget the roar of laughter from the car as I came back.  Absolutely awesome.

A little over two years after this event, we suffered the loss of our friend Jason.  Whenever I watch GSP fight, I am taken back to this event and I smile.  The pictures we have and memories can never be replaced.  I’ve grown closer to the guys I watch fights with and I always cherish the memories that we have, whether it was a trip to see an event live or just a get-together at someone’s house for a big fight.

The UFC, for me, is not just about the fights but also about the friendships and experiences I’ve been blessed to have in my life because of them.  It’s only been 20 years of fights and I can’t wait for 20 more.

Friday, May 17, 2013

For my wife...Rachel


It’s the start of questions that, not only are asked of me, but asked within myself.

How did you and Rachel meet?

How did someone like you get someone so wonderful like Rachel?

To learn the story, we have to travel back eight years.  I was just emerging from an absolutely awful “relationship”.  I spent nearly two years with someone who was dishonest, disliked and disloyal.  She had cheated on me, at least with one person and I suspect more than that.  The best thing to come from that was my friendship with Mike, who experienced a similar situation with his fiancée; coincidentally who was great friends with the person I was with.  Mike and I spent quite a few nights hanging out and developing a great trust.  He was someone I could rely on and, in turn, he could rely on me.  In some dark moments, we saw each other through.

Kraig, Mike and I
Mike was part of a co-ed softball team filled with employees from Mercy hospital in the Des Moines area.  The first season, he invited me to sub in from time to time.  By the second season, I was a full blown member of the team.  The turnover in co-ed softball is relatively high as players shuffle in and out of the league, so going into year three we were looking for more players.  Mike invited a girl fresh from college to join our team…Rachel.  Without the sour of my previous relationship, I never would have experienced the sweet of my future.  My ex brought me to Mike who brought me to Rachel.  Funny how the world works, isn’t it?

I was attracted to Rachel the moment I saw her.  She has, as my great friend Jason once said, “a natural beauty”.  She played second base and I was at first, so we developed a nice chemistry on the field.  Although, it was hard to get to know her because she is extremely quiet.  I like to think of it as a lovely innocence; someone who can’t be brought down by anything.  I, on the other hand, was a very dominating personality…especially on the softball field.  I was loud, cocky, boisterous and never afraid to get into it with opposing teams.  I always prided myself on being a positive and great teammate, but would fly off the handle if I played poorly.  It was probably very unsettling to be my teammate during that time, let alone my friend.

Rachel and I after we
got engaged
The biggest problem was that I still was dating my ex when we first met.  I was on the cusp of ending it, and when I finally did, I felt liberated.  It was a great feeling.  The day after I kicked her out, I started thinking about dating.  Now I’ve never been the type to date around.  I’m a committed person; someone who looks for a relationship.  I knew that coming out of the relationship that I did, I was mentally damaged.  It was going to take time and patience for me to mentally heal.  I could not simply jump into a relationship because it would be doomed from the start.  I went on a couple of dates.  Met some new people and enjoyed myself, but I would most look forward to Sunday nights when it was time to go to softball.

It was early July in 2005 when I decided that I was going to ask Rachel for her number and see if she wanted to go out.  The day I planned to ask her, funny enough, I was supposed to go on a date prior to the game with someone else.  As luck would have it, I got stood up.  I was hurt, but it was no big deal.  It was someone I took to dinner and didn’t really click with, so it wasn’t awful.  The embarrassment of being stood up was a blow to the ego, though.  I was in an off mood when arriving to the fields because of it, but was ready to shake it off and talk to Rachel.  In a cruel twist of fate, the girl who stood me up came to our game to babysit the coach’s kids.  Seriously.  That happened.  I saw her and acted as if it wasn’t a big deal as she apologized with some nonsensical excuse.  Truth be told, I was completely rattled.  It’s one thing to be stood up, but it’s another to continue the embarrassment later!

Needless to say, I didn’t have the greatest game of my playing life.  I struck out during my first at bat.  Yep, struck out at slow pitch softball.  As a guy who is the model of consistency at the plate, I was clearly distracted and angry.  Right after whiffing at the last pitch, I angrily threw the bat towards the dugout and watched it careen towards the on deck circle.  It landed at the feet of a teammate getting ready to bat.  Who would that teammate have been?  You guessed it!  Rachel.  To recap, my Sunday so far had the following events: get stood up for a date, embarrassed in front of my teammates when the girl showed to babysit my coach’s kids, strike out and throw a bat in the direction of the girl I hoped to ask out that day…definitely not one of my better days.  However, Mike came up to me in the dugout and hilariously said, “I’m guessing you’re not asking for her number tonight.”

The great thing about Mike is that he knows when to step in.  He e-mailed me at work the next day and asked if I minded if he asked for Rachel’s number for me.  I thought that was perfect.  That completely takes the pressure off of me!  I’ve never been smooth when approaching a woman, so the less I had to do to hook it up, the better.  He e-mailed back a little while later with her number.  As he told me, he walked in to the area she was in and said, “You know who would make a cute couple?  You and Cuddles (my softball nickname).”  She blushed, laughed and gave the number.  I tried calling her later that night, but my call would not go through.  I tried a couple of times with no luck and laughed that she gave him a fake number.  I met up with Mike at our friend Kraig’s house later that night and told him about it.  Not believing me, I gave him the number and he immediately called.  A few seconds later he tossed me the phone and told me to leave her a message.  Like a deer in headlights, I stuttered and stumbled my way through the message.  “Hey it’s, uh, Cuddles from softball.  Do you, um, want to maybe, uh, go out sometime?  Yeah, um, maybe call me if you want.  Yeah, um, bye.”  Like I said…smooth.  Amazingly she called Mike’s phone back a few moments later.  She mentioned that her number was not from the Des Moines area and needed the 515 area code entered in to connect.  Darn landlines!  It made me think I was getting blown off twice in a week.

The call was short and sweet.  We made plans to meet up that Friday night at the Olive Garden and go from there.  I was excited and told the group of guys hanging out with the plan.  They proceeded to laugh at and mock me for meeting up with her instead of picking her up.  To continue with the theme here…smooth.  That Friday I was genuinely excited.  I had been on a couple of dates since my break up and none of them gave me the rush, a shot of adrenaline, that this one did.  There are times in your life where you know that you’re turning a corner; almost like you sense something monumental is happening.  That is what was felt as I drove to the Olive Garden.

The rush wore off quickly and was overtaken by awkward attempts at conversation.  Remember how I mentioned earlier that Rachel was quiet?  It wasn’t just on the softball field.  We sat at dinner as I continued to talk and ask questions.  My questions were met with short answers and a shyness I wasn’t expecting.  I figured since we got along well at softball, it would translate over to a date.  I was not feeling that during dinner.  She hardly ate or spoke, just politely and sweetly listened in an awkward way.  Sensing that I was failing miserably, I asked her if she wanted to go hang out at a bar or something after dinner.  It was only about eight o’clock, and she decided that was a little too early.  I mentioned that I had beer at my place and we could go hang out for a bit before going out.  She agreed and we drove, separately, to my place.

As it turns out, the best way to get Rachel talking is to get a few drinks in her.  After a couple of beers, she loosened up.  We were finally having fun conversations!  We hung out for a couple of hours, getting to know each other and throwing a few back.  When we ran out of beer, we made a quick run to Hy-Vee for more.  On the way home, she started singing along with a song on the radio.  The super quiet girl from dinner just started rapping word for word with 50 Cent on the track Candy Shop.  The shyness had finally slipped away and I was starting to see new sides to her!  The rest of the night was filled with drinks, laughs and late night watching of shows like Elimidate.  By the end of the night we were definitely tipsy and knew that she could not drive.  I gave her some clothes to sleep in and gave her my bed as I slept elsewhere.

Rachel was on call at the hospital early the next morning and had to get home.  She left with a smile and a hug.  I hoped to see her again soon, but at least I knew Sunday for sure.  As she was heading home, my phone rang.  She called to tell me that she had “forgotten to grab her leftovers from Olive Garden” and wondered if I would bring them to her for lunch.  She claims it was an accident, but I like to think that she is just smoother than I am.  It’s clearly not difficult.  I said I would and would be happy to hang out with her if she wanted.  We haven’t been apart since.

I don’t know how things clicked.  They just did.  That’s the great thing about real love.  It can’t be forced.  You can’t go looking for it.  It will find you, if you’re paying attention.  Sometimes it’s right in front of your face, or 10 feet to your right playing second base.  It’s a gift ready to be opened.

Marshall - Our greatest gift together
Rachel gave me the two greatest gifts I could have ever received; our son Marshall, who means more to me than anything I can possibly imagine, and unconditional love.  She loves me for who I am, despite my faults, which is not an easy thing to do.  So as our 6 year wedding anniversary approaches this July, I want the world to know how I feel.  I love my wife, Rachel, more today than I have at any other time, and it will continue to grow each and every year.  I’m not an easy person to be with, and I know that I haven’t been the greatest husband the world has ever known.  I’m trying, though.  I do know that I will never measure up to the standard Rachel has set in our home.  I just hope that she knows and understands that everything I am and want to be is because she is part of my life.  I could not be happier with anyone else.  She is the yin to my yang.  I am whole because I have her.

Ain’t love grand?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Wait…I Thought Sports Were Fun





The Fab Five
I am finding the words above to be more defining of my sports experience than ever before.  Whatever happed to the joy, excitement…the fun?  I don’t remember the last time I had zero interest in the NFL Draft.  Yet, I was there last week not paying attention to or watching the first round of the draft.  The only thing I cared about during March Madness was the potential reunion of players from the Fab Five, a team that hasn’t shared a court together since 1993.  I live for the NBA, and I can’t bear to watch my beloved Nuggets as their playoff exit is imminent.  It isn’t sour grapes about the loss.  It’s the fact that I am dreading what follows…but I’m getting ahead of myself.


Kenneth Faried with Athlete Ally
I’ll be the first to admit that my frustrations in sports can be really quite odd.  I get frustrated when my team doesn’t play well, which is obvious as that is normal for every fan.  I’ve found myself more frustrated by the media and social networks coverage of sports.  We know too much in this 24/7 news cycle, but at the same time not enough.  I know what Kobe Bryant is tweeting about because it is scrolled all over ABC and ESPN.  At the same time, I have to dig to find out that Kenneth Faried is involved with the Special Olympics and Athlete Ally.  I fully understand that Bryant is a superstar, but why is there coverage on what movies he is watching while injured over another player working hard in his community?  In this day and age, the “larger market” argument is worthless.  Thanks to mobile devices and the online community, coverage is everywhere for everyone.  It’s simply what is being chosen to cover that frustrates me.  The Lakers were a mediocre team all year, as were the Houston Rockets, yet we were forced to hear about the Lakers every day.  I just don’t get it.


I’m angered by knowing the Denver Nuggets season is about to conclude unceremoniously.  It’s not that they will lose and not advance in the playoffs that angers me.  In truth, I could not be more proud of this team.  They are filled with good players that work hard and are easy to cheer for.  Just because the media doesn’t call them superstars, it doesn’t mean they aren’t.  Ty Lawson is a beast.  Kenneth Faried is fantastic.  Danilo Gallinari, prior to his injury, was becoming a go-to player in the fourth quarter.  I’m angered knowing that the “talking heads” in the sports media will continue their collective assault on what the Nuggets stand for; TEAM basketball.

Names on paper doesn't win games
I am so sick of hearing the nonsense that you can’t win without a superstar on the team.  The Nuggets won 57 games in the regular season and were the 4th best team in the league!  I understand it is the regular season and it didn’t translate to the playoffs.  They ran into a team in Golden State that matches up well.  That’s just basketball.  Don’t tell me, though, that a team can’t be good without a star because that is ridiculous.  Stars don’t equal wins.  Teams equal wins.  The Miami Heat, while star studded, are the best TEAM in the league.  The Lakers, while star studded, were more of a punch line this season.  Dirk Nowitzki didn’t reach the playoffs.  Kevin Love gets star treatment, yet he’s never seen the playoffs.  “Superstars” mean nothing in a team game, unless they are transcendent talent.  Let’s be honest, we’re only talking a few guys here.  The “must have” a superstar mentality will continue to be beaten by the media and the Nuggets will continue to be disrespected.  Can we all just admit, though, that guys like that are legitimately few and far between?

Additionally, I am tired of hearing about “small market” teams.  Seriously, it doesn’t make sense to me.  Is Green Bay a big market?  Absolutely not, but the NFL does a great job of marketing it.  Heck, Denver is a great market for the NFL.  Why can’t it be for the NBA?  I hate to answer a rhetorical question, but the reason that it isn’t for the NBA is because they don’t want it to be.  The Nuggets had “superstar” Carmelo Anthony for seven seasons, yet didn’t get near the publicity he has since being traded to New York.  That’s the NBA’s fault.  In the technology age we’re in, market size is irrelevant.


I discussed my conflictions previously, but it is a much deeper issue than just that one moment.  I’ve never been a fan of Peyton Manning.  I never will be.  I give the guy all the respect in the world, as he is an all-time great talent, but I just have a hard time cheering for him.  We all know someone who is a little too passionate (apparently I am the pot calling the kettle black here) about a team or player.  Sometimes that can cause those around them to cheer against them.  That’s what Peyton Manning started out as with me.

The 1997 Heisman Finalists
During Manning’s senior season at Tennessee, he was the clear favorite to win the Heisman trophy.  However, Michigan star Charles Woodson stormed the regular season and led the Wolverines to a National Championship.  Woodson won the Heisman, which I agreed with.  Unfortunately my older brother strongly disagreed and was a tremendous supporter of Manning.  He was such a fan that the day after Manning lost to Woodson, he walked around our college campus with a black arm band out of respect for Manning’s lost Heisman.  This moment was the seed that grew into my distaste for Peyton Manning.

The underappreciated Jake Plummer
As his career progressed, Manning routinely embarrassed my beloved Denver Broncos and my distaste grew.  I would nitpick anything and everything Manning did; whether it was him throwing his teammates under the bus or any other little thing I found, I really could not like the guy.  Without question, the moment Manning signed with the Broncos, I was crushed.  While a great player was joining the team, it was someone I have cheered against for 15 years.  I’m not wired to just change because you put on a different jersey.

I’ll admit to buying in wholeheartedly to Tebowmania.  I was excited to see where it would go and how an offseason training with John Elway would help Tebow develop.  When the rug got pulled out for Manning, I really didn’t know how to react.  I had gone through something similar when Jake Plummer (personal favorite) was benched in favor of Jay Cutler despite a 7-4 record, but this had a different layer.  Tebow was replaced by a player I refused to cheer for.  Yet here Manning is; dressed in the orange and blue I love so much.

How do you cheer for your team when the face of them is one you want to boo?


Everything above has led me to this.  I still get excited for events, such as Jon Jones’ fight this past weekend or the NBA playoffs, but the fun isn’t there.  The events I always got excited for have seemingly lost their luster because shows like ESPN’s First Take have to take all joy out of them.  The constant dissection and ridiculous hyperbole of these shows take what’s best about sports out of the games.  We take them seriously because we’re fanatical, but at some point the media needs to dial it down a notch.  I just sit here in a place that I’m shocked at.  I never thought I would put a game on and simply not care.  I love watching Champ Bailey play, but his face and name aren’t on the marquee.  He’s not the face of the franchise I’ve always loved.  Instead, it’s a guy I can’t cheer for.  Manning’s presence in a Broncos jersey takes my joy away and makes me simply not care.  The media’s constant star-obsessed coverage of the NBA makes me not care as much.  There are no words that can accurately express this feeling.  I just know that it isn’t as fun as it used to be.

The downfall of sports journalism...

Maybe I am crazy.  Maybe I am too passionate.  Maybe I just care too much.  I just want to enjoy the games, the fights and not have such a visceral reaction to it all.  I just want to have the relaxation and “escape” sports can provide.  I wish I could figure this internal struggle out.  I wish that sports weren’t such a lightning rod within me and were just, you know, fun.  Alas, I will continue to tune in and hope the new feeling of apathy starts to dissipate.



Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me at:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

NBA Playoffs: Round One…The Second Season Begins

The NBA Playoffs first round match ups are finally set after a spectacular regular season.  Now that we know the brackets, let’s dive into round one and examine the likely winners of each series.

Western Conference

#1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs # 8 Houston Rockets
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 games

Be prepared to hear a week’s worth of “James Harden returns to show the Thunder what they are missing” stories.  In truth, this series is not likely to be close.  While Houston has improved offensively, this team is legitimately bad on the defensive end.  In the 3 regular season games against each other, the Thunder averaged a whopping 121 points per game.  You simply can’t be that bad on the defensive end of the court and win a series against the Thunder.  Westbrook will have no issue with Jeremy Lin and Kevin Durant will, well, he’ll be Kevin Durant.  Houston is bound to steal one on their home court but don’t look for this series to go too long.

#2 San Antonio Spurs vs # 7 Los Angeles Lakers
Prediction: San Antonio Spurs in 6 games

There’s a lot to be concerned about if you are a Spurs fan.  They are stumbling into the playoffs, coming off of a 3-6 month of April.  The injury bug has not been kind to them, with it biting Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, at the worst time.  They are both expected to play but their effectiveness is yet to be seen.  Don’t forget, they also just signed an “insurance policy” named Tracy McGrady.  Does he insure them in case Ginobili goes down or does he insure them a first round exit?

The Lakers are also playing better since the injury to Kobe Bryant.  This isn’t to say they are better without him but let’s not pretend this team isn’t loaded with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers.  The loss of Bryant allows the other players to play more their style, which has paid off so far.  The problem is they’ve only played at home since the injury.  Once they hit the road, bench players seemingly don’t play as well and this is what will be the Lakers’ downfall.  The games will be close, but San Antonio is a machine that seemingly steps up whenever you need them to.

#3 Denver Nuggets vs #6 Golden State Warriors
Prediction: Denver Nuggets in 5 games

Of all the first round match-ups, this is the one that can be looked at as a possible upset.  Golden State has been playing well the last month of the season and, with sharpshooter Stephen Curry playing well, the Warriors could pose problems in the first round.  The only problem is they are matching up against a Nuggets team that is arguably one of the hottest teams coming into the playoffs.  Over their last 26 games, the Nuggets are 23-3.  That is an absolutely insane run.  Add in that they have not lost in Pepsi Center since January 18th, and you have a team poised to make a run.

The question with the Nuggets is health.  Leading scorer Danilo Gallinari is out due to a torn ACL.  Leading rebounder Kenneth Faried is coming off of a sprained ankle that could hinder his energy and effectiveness.  Ty Lawson is working through a torn plantar fascia, but has looked excellent since returning for the final three games.  Despite these woes, the Nuggets have received boosts from the deepest bench in the league by getting extended minutes for Wilson Chandler and rookie Evan Fournier.

The keys to this series will be the pace and points in the paint.  While both play at a high pace, Denver averaged 20.3 fast break points and 56.5 points in the paint against Golden State this season.  If the Warriors can’t slow down Denver, this one could get out of hand fast.  If the Warriors get the 3 ball dropping; we’ll have ourselves a series.

#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs #5 Memphis Grizzlies
Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers in 7 games

In a rematch of last season’s classic, this one is destined for another seven game series.  There haven’t been many notable changes in personnel, minus the scoring of Rudy Gay for Memphis.  There are role players gone for both teams, but the absence of Gay is likely to loom large at some point during the series.

The Grizzlies are going to make this ugly and a grind.  It’s what they do best.  The pressure defense they play and slow down offense will take the Clippers out of their comfort zone.  However, the veteran presence of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups will come into play at some point.  The front courts of both teams are so close that I think the difference will be in the back court.  While Conley Jr has been playing at a high level, he just isn’t ready to take Memphis to the next level.  The bench of LA is also deeper, which will likely get them a game or two in LA.

Eastern Conference

#1 Miami Heat vs #8 Milwaukee Bucks
Prediction: Miami Heat in 4

While Ellis and Jennings can get hot for a game, they just don’t have the firepower to challenge the defending champions.  We all “witnessed” the elite level LeBron James stepped up in the playoffs last year and it is hard to imagine the Heat stumbling out of the gate.  The only thing that can beat Miami in this series is if they start to believe that this will be easy and look to the second round before finishing business.  I simply don’t see that happening, though.  This one will get ugly…and be done fast.

#2 New York Knicks vs #7 Boston Celtics
Prediction: New York Knicks in 7 games

This is the hardest pick to make in round one.  I said it a few weeks ago that I believed the Celtics were “resting” players in an attempt to get to the seventh seed to face New York.  I think they know how well they match up with the Knicks.  Additionally, the Celtics know how to rattle the Knicks mentally.  This should be an absolute battle.

For the Knicks, the health of Tyson Chandler is imperative to their defense.  If he’s not at least eighty percent, they could be in trouble.  They also need to rely on JR Smith, who has shown immense improvement this season, but is always on the verge of shooting a team out of a game.

For the Celtics, this series is huge for Jeff Green.  If he can continue to step up and play well, as he has over the last couple of months, the Celtics become very dangerous.  Avery Bradley is one of the top on ball defenders in the league and could seriously disrupt the Knicks’ offense.  Paul Pierce is a big game player and, even at his age, can step up and put up massive numbers on any given night.

The home court advantage is non-existent in this series.  Both teams can go on the road and win.  This series is going to come down to who executes in crunch time.  There is not a player in the league that I want taking more fourth quarter shots than Carmelo Anthony.  He is a pure scorer that, no matter how he has shot all game, can get buckets when needed most.  He’s going to be the difference and the reason the Knicks advance.

#3 Indiana Pacers vs #6 Atlanta Hawks
Prediction: Indiana Pacers in 6 games

The Pacers have looked inconsistent and bad the last couple of weeks.  If anything will cure that, it’s a series against the Atlanta Hawks.  Atlanta has established themselves as the ultimate fringe team over the past few seasons.  They are good enough to be a mid-seed in the playoffs and not do much once they are there.  They stay just good enough to avoid the lottery.  Unfortunately that puts a ton of pressure on their management to scout properly and bring in the right talent.  Given their lack of progress over the past few seasons, they haven’t done enough.

This series is Indiana’s to lose.  It’s that simple.  They are flat out better at every aspect of the game, with personnel that fits what they want to do.  Frank Vogel has a young and talented team, with the emerging Paul George leading the way.  This series will be heavy on home court advantage, but the Pacers will find a way to put the Hawks away in Atlanta in game six.  Then we’ll watch as Josh Smith leaves Atlanta and they may just finally take a step…backwards.

#4 Brooklyn Nets vs #5 Chicago Bulls
Prediction: Chicago Bulls in 6 games

If your playoff hopes hinge on Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, I’m betting on the other team.  Johnson, in his first season with Brooklyn, was part of the mediocrity that is the Atlanta Hawks.  While he can occasionally shine, consistency is not his strength.  I’ve seen too many games this year that he is just not present, and that does not bode well for the Nets.  Williams has playoff experience, and is seemingly stepping his game up lately, could help push the Nets in the right direction.  However, Chicago’s defense is spectacular and should be able to contain him.

Chicago, despite Derrick Rose’s absence, should be able to squeak some wins out behind the erratic Nate Robinson and underappreciated Luol Deng.  The “X” factor in the series could come in the paint.  On paper, the match-up of Joakim Noah/Carlos Boozer should beat Brook Lopez/Reggie Evans.  The problem facing Chicago is the health of Noah.  If he is not able to bring his usual energy and hustle, they could be in trouble as Reggie Evans is a nuisance.  Evans could be the key to Brooklyn’s chances, much the way he was against Memphis last season when he was a Clipper.  This series will not be pretty, and that’s exactly what Chicago thrives in.

There you have it.  The NBA playoffs will feature the best of the best and storylines to captivate us all.  Is it time to tip off yet?



Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me at: or hit me up on Twitter: @wahly22