Saturday, April 28, 2007

Draft Verbal Diarrhea

Brady Quinn

I am loving watching Brady Quinn sit by himself in the Green Room. OK, I'm a bad person for feeling this way, but after a summer of Quinn staring back at me from every single college football preview and a fall of Quinn getting hyped into the Heisman race despite mediocre performances, a little schadenfreude is in order. The Sugar Bowl was fun and all, but it's nice to see the people who are actually paid to know which players are good reflect that Quinn just isn't that good. And the dumbfounded reactions from ESPN's arsenal of talking heads is hilarious. They're just shocked that golden boy isn't in huge demand, even by teams starting Charlie Frye, Tarvaris Jackson, and the corpse formerly known as Daunte Culpepper under center. I'm especially disappointed in Ron Jaworski, who is normally the one rational voice in a sea of cliches. He conceded that Quinn's accuracy is inconsistent and that his deep ball flutters (not that these are important for an NFL quarterback or anything), but then babbled on about how Quinn has moxie and intangibles and blah blah blah. I expect this from Steve Young, who prattled on about Quinn being able to say nasty things to Dan Marino's statue, but not from Jaws.

Has anyone else noticed that Quinn's highlights all seem to come against Purdue and BYU?

And now, Suzy Kolber breaks in to say that Quinn has been ushered into a private room, like his relatives were on a downed airliner. Let's infantilize him a little more. This is unprecedented. This is why I watch the Draft.

Incidentally, I'm not totally sold on Ted Ginn as a pick for the Dolphins, given his route-running (or lack thereof), but at a minimum, he'll be valuable as a returner. I'd be leery of taking a guy who wasn't even the best receiver on his own college team.

Update - Cleveland works its way back to take Quinn. This is a terrible move on their part. Their #1 pick next year is almost certain to be better than #22 and trhey threw a #2 pick in to boot. They had better be right that Quinn is going to be an above-average starter. He does have a fair amount of talent around him, with Cleveland having upgraded the offensive line and Jamal Lewis, Braylon Edwards, and Kellen Winslow as skill position players. (Do I have to root for Quinn now that he's throwing to Braylon?) Romeo Crennel is going to have to earn his money by coaching the defense up because the Browns have spent their top picks on offense and they just mortgaged future picks.

And a Moment of Self-Deprecation

Michigan's streak of not placing a defensive lineman in the first round since April 1985 continues. They managed to continue the streak despite having a senior defensive end who was a top 25 recruit who produced for three years in college and a junior defensive tackle who was seen as a top ten pick when he declared early for the Draft. What the hell did Alan Branch do to fall that far? Did he push four bills at Michigan's pro day? Did he attack John Clayton with a machete? Did he announce that he would donate his bonus to the Sadr Brigade? Michigan allowed 1.8 yards per carry last year and no one from their front seven made the first round. Outstanding.


I'm quite happy with Jamaal Anderson. Assuming that LaRon Landry wasn't available, the Falcons needed to grab one of the two top defensive ends or offensive tackles. Landry, Gaines Adams, and the tackles were gone, so Anderson was the obvious pick. He's an athletic freak and was productive on the top level of college football (13.5 sacks last year). I noticed him on a regular basis when I watched Arkansas, which I could not say about Amobi Okoye. Given the unhealthy amounts of college football I watch, I'm always leery of players I never noticed. I watched Louisville several times last year and don't remember Okoye ever standing out. Let's just call this the Dwayne Robertson phenomenon. Also, what does it say that the Falcons have a need at defensive tackle in light of the fact that Grady Jackson is currently suing the team, but Okoye's college coach didn't see fit to draft him.

On other thought on Anderson: he's a good run-stopping defensive end. With John Abraham on the other side of the line and Rod Coleman as an undersized defensive tackle, upgrading the run-stopping quality of the defensive line is nice.

If I was sitting in Rich McKay's shoes, I would have taken Patrick Willis because he's more certain to be excellent at his position than Anderson. He would have made the Falcons better at two positions because they could have moved Keith Brooking to outside linebacker, which is a better spot for him. That said, Anderson is good and answers a major need, so I'm happy.

I love the Justin Blalock pick. There aren't too many four-year starters at major programs who were three-time all conference. And he also plays two positions and fits the need for bigger Petrino linemen. Say hello to a starting guard.

I also love the Chris Houston pick. The Falcons will have the fastest tandem of corners in the league when they pair Houston with DeAngelo Hall, although they also have two corners who could use improvement in their technique. This also indicates that Jimmy Williams is headed to free safety. If these guys pan out, then the Falcons are going to have an ability to match up with opposing three-wide offenses in man-to-man coverage.

Now honestly, Mr. Blank, aren't you happier to have Jamaal Anderson, Justin Blalock, and Chris Houston as opposed to Calvin Johnson? You have three starters for the same cap figure that Johnson would have merited by himself.

Random Stuff

There's little that's more amusing than mentally addled Jets fans on national TV trying to process a trade in which their team trades up and swaps picks later in the Draft.

Watching the Draft is much better now that I have the NFL Network. For one thing, their film breakdowns are half positive and half negative, so you don't get the sense that they are hyping every player who gets taken. Mike Mayock provides more substantive analysis than anyone else now that Jaws has been dumbed down ESPN Sportetainment. Rich Eisen is also a major upgrade over Chris Berman, although Joan Rivers would also be an upgrade, so what does that mean? Oh, and have I mentioned that they have Alex Flanagan?

She's not the one with the sunglasses.

Every time I see Roger Goodell, I get mad that Tagliabue wasn't replaced by a Member of the Tribe so we could have a clean sweep of the commissioner positions in the four major sports.

Dammit, I'm going to have to agree with Peter King when he fellates Scott Pioli on Monday. Brandon Meriweather is a helluva safety and will be a significant upgrade over what the Patriots have at safety right now. Of course, the pick is inconsistent with King's BS line about how the Pats only draft guys without character questions. I'd pay good money to watch the clip of Meriweather swinging his helmet at various FIU players with Peter King 12-15 times. There can be no criticism of the Patriots trading for the 49ers #1 next year, which will likely be significantly higher than the #28 pick the Pats gave up. The late first round picks are a good value because the players taken in those spots don't command huge salaries and are often only marginally less promising than the players taken earlier in the Draft, but the Cowboys and Patriots have illustrated that those picks are also valuable because they can be leveraged into even better picks as players fall down the chart and bad teams pay too much to get the falling stars.

If I'm a Saints fan, I'm not happy with the Robert Meachem pick for two reasons. First, the secondary is in desperate need of assistance. Second, I'm a little leery of Meachem because he was a factor in the Tennessee offensive implosion in 2005. Yes, the quarterback situation was terrible and Randy Sanders was having a hard time drawing up plays with fingerpaint, but the receiver corps (Meachem included) dropped everything under the sun. I'd worry about a guy who was terrible in 2005 before looking so much better in 2006. I'm on record as saying that Sidney Rice was the best receiver in the SEC for the past two years, better than Meachem or Dwayne Bowe.

Friday, April 27, 2007

I Feel His Pain

Thursday, April 26, 2007

This Isn't How You Built Home Depot

Consistent with his apparent pattern of meddling with football decisions and misunderstanding the way to build a team, according to Don Banks, Arthur Blank has ordered Rich McKay to do everything possible to land Calvin Johnson. In the words of Yoda, this is why you fail. The Falcons have a number of holes throughout the roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball. So what is Arthur Blank's solution? Give up the picks that could be used to fill those holes for a wide receiver. Let's ignore the fact that the Falcons have already spent three first round picks in the Vick years on wide receivers. (Anyone else think that Blank's daddy complex with Vick is at work here?) Let's ignore the fact that the Falcons' big free agent signing this year was a wide receiver. Let's ignore the fact that the team is poorly constructed right now because too much of its cap space is tied up in a few players and thus, the team lacks depth. Let's ignore the fact that the team overpaid for Keith Brooking because he was local and because Blank had taken a shine to him. Let's ignore all of that to make another move that is motivated by star power as opposed to constructing a balanced, deep team that can win games. If Blank is really interested in Johnson because he wants to sell tickets, then he's misreading the market in two important ways. First, Tech's fan base is relatively small. Second, nothing excites a fan base more than winning.

Alternatively, the Falcons provided some misinformation to Banks, possibly to cause Tampa to think that there is more of a market for Detroit's #2 pick and therefore overpay for it. If that's the case and the Falcons are simply trying to screw a divisional rival that their management team actively dislikes, then I'm all for the leak. Good work, men.

And just so we're clear, I think that Calvin Johnson is a fantastic wide receiver. That said, one great receiver can be schemed out of a game by a competent defensive coordinator. (Or you can be Jim Herrmann in East Lansing in 1999, but I digress.) Additionally, with Vick's spotty accuracy, Johnson would be pearls before swine. The way for the Falcons to build, given that they are wedded to Vick because of his enormous bonus, is that they need an above-average running game and defense to compensate for average quarterback play. Vick's contract makes it harder to build a defense and running game, but that makes it doubly important that the Falcons amass a quantity of relatively high picks so they can get cheap, productive play from young players. Acquiring Johnson is inconsistent with that plan because: (1) the Falcons will have to give up the picks that would help them build the rest of the team; and (2) Johnson's big cap figure would further stratify their cap situation.

Champions League Semifinal Thoughts

Manchester United - AC Milan

Overall, it was a fantastic game. I wish that more teams had the guts that Milan and United have to attack one another in a really big game. I expected beforehand that United would play relatively defensively to make sure that their improvisational backline got plenty of protection (similar to what Barcelona did in the first leg at Benfica last year when they were forced to play Motta and Oleguer as their central defense pairing because of injuries and suspensions to Puyol, Marquez, and Edmilson). Instead, United came after Milan and the Rossonieri came right back at them, dispelling the notion that all Italian sides are boring and defensive.

That said, Milan also dispelled the notion that Italian sides know how to hold a lead. Normally, the Italians blow leads because they get too defensive and allow their opponents unlimited possession of the ball. (See: Italy-France '00 or Italy-South Korea '02.) In this instance, Milan kept coming and generated a couple good chances for Kaka in the early second half. Instead, the game swung when Rino Gattuso was hurt in minute 52. I'm of the opinion that defensive midfielders are the most underrated and necessary figures in modern football and last night's game was a textbook example. After Gattuso left the pitch, United was able to eschew the attacks down the flanks that had led to so little. Instead, they came right down the middle for the tying and winning goals. (Paolo Maldini's absence didn't hurt matters, either.) Additionally, Milan was suddenly deprived of possession because their ball-winner was gone. It was like dropping the base guitar out of a Rolling Stones song.

It was mystefying to me that Tommy Smyth kept criticizing Milan for taking their foot off the gas without once mentioning that Milan had lost two critical players to injury in a matter of minutes and were now hamstrung in defending and getting possession. With all the focus on United's injuries, it escaped Smyth's attention that Milan had problems as well. And with two of their best players off the pitch, Milan suffered because of two of their weaker players. Dida has always been on-again, off-again between the sticks and Tuesday night was no exception. On the one hand, he made an absolute world-class save on a second half shot from Darren Fletcher. On the other hand, his positioning on United's first goal was bad, as he was in no man's land, and his positioning on Wayne Rooney's winner was atrocious. And at least Dida gave his team something. At the other end of the pitch, Alberto Gilardino gave Milan absolutely nothing. Gilardino has proven time and again that he's not up to the biggest stage. If Pippo Inzaghi isn't starting for Milan next week, I'll be shocked.


As good as United-Milan was, Chelsea-Liverpool was that bad. These teams should be banned from playing one another outside of the EPL. They both play on the counter, waiting for the other team to commit too many players forward. When two teams play that way, the result is mind-numbing boredom. (France and Italy come to mind in this regard. They can play perfectly entertaining games when they play opponents that take risks, but when they play one another, nothing happens. It's no accident that their three big games in the last decade have ended 0-0, 1-1, and 1-1 after 120 minutes.) If you ask me what happened in the last five minutes of the first half, I won't be able to tell you because I fell asleep. If you ask what happened in the last ten minutes of the second half, I won't be able to tell you anything other than that Shaun Wright-Phillips shot the ball into Row Z because I got annoyed and started fast-forwarding.

In a weird way, I guess you have to credit Jose Mourinho for figuring what works best for his team - endless longballs to Didier Drogba - and basing his strategy around that. Most managers, when given all the options that Mourinho has, would try to do too much by incorporating all the different attacking options. Not Jose. Entertainment be damned, he knows that his team can grind out 1-0 results by hoisting the ball up to Drogba and then letting Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, and Andriy Shevchenko make runs off of him. You can't take anything Jose says seriously, but he does know how to win. And my appreciation for Petr Cech only increased after his outstanding save on the one chance that Liverpool generated all game.

The game only increased my contempt for the current iteration of Liverpool. Their strategy appeared to be to funnel the ball down the left wing to Boudewijn Zenden, who hasn't been good since the Third Place Game in the '98 World Cup. Predictably, that led to a series of crosses that Paolo Ferreira blocked easily. Additionally, the ball remained on the side opposite from where Steven Gerrard was playing, which makes perfect sense since most teams like to keep the ball away from their best player. When the ball wasn't being wasted on the left wing, Craig Bellamy was busy being the biggest prick on grass and Dirk Kujt was busy causing me to long for the days when the Dutch produced good players.

And like an idiot, I'm sure I'll watch the second leg between two teams I can't stand as they do their best to rival Norway-Ireland '94 for the most boring game in the history of football.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Good Stuff from the AJC's Blogs Today

Steve Wyche has a nice summary of where the Falcons stand on a position-by-position basis. A couple thoughts:

1. I'm loathe to consider the notion that the Falcons should spend one of their second round picks on a running back, since they are stocked at the position and have holes elsewhere, but what about taking Michael Bush at that spot, letting him fully heal this year, and then having him and Norwood as a thunder and lightning combo starting in 2008? If Bush is still hanging around in the third round, he would be even more tempting.

2. OT and DE seem like the most likely spots for the Falcons to take a player with the #8 pick. A lot of the talk surrounds LaRon Landry and I like him as a safety, but a great DE or OT is more valuable than a great safety and it's almost certain that one of the top two defensive ends (Gaines Adams and Jammal Anderson) or top two offensive tackles (Joe Thomas and Levi Brown) will be available at #8. Plus, Reggie Nelson could be around in the second round (although that's unlikely) and he was a better college player than Landry. I also would be happy if the team took Alan Branch, who was consistently excellent in college. I'm a believer in the notion that a college team's fans are usually a good indicator as to whether a player is good (if you can filter out the yutzes who think that every one of their team's players are of the highest quality) and Michigan fans are almost universally big fans of Branch. (Leon Hall? Not as much. Ditto for Chad Henne. Keep this in mind if Henne shoots up the charts next spring because of his measurables.)

Meanwhile, David O'Brien has a typically good piece, not so much at the start where he describes how the Braves are learning to win in spite of their stats not matching their record, but at the end when he suggests that Cliff Floyd would be a perfect fit for the team, especially if he can platoon with Matt Diaz (and thus not wear down). This is a reason why I'm not overly worried about the left field production; it's not an especially hard position to fill through a trade. What concerns me more is that Kyle Davies has been shelled in his last two starts, which means that the Braves have three reliable starters right now. Acquiring a quality starter is a very tough task and just about every contender will be looking to do so in the summer.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Atlanta: Champions League Hotbed?

According to Friday's Wall Street Journal($), Atlanta trails only New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC in terms of its contribution to ESPN's audience for Champions League games:

This stat truly surprised me, as I thought that a city with a heavy ethnic population like Chicago would out-strip Atlanta. And since we've been told by the national media for years that Atlanta is the worst sports city in recorded human history (although Michael Wilbon did carve out an exception for 14th century Florence, which was far too caught up in that Renaissance BS to go to games), I'm doubly shocked that Atlantans do anything sports-related.

On the other hand, maybe I have a Nielsen device and I've been single-handedly skewing the results. Gol TV, this might be a good time to renegotiate with your advertisers.

My Sports Teams Giveth...

Great win for the Braves yesterday over the Mets, wrapping up an opening stretch of the season in which they took four of six from the most talented team in the NL. The Braves are getting great production from the top of their order right now, which is off-setting the lack of production from left field and first base. A few disjointed thoughts on the game and the season so far:

1. I might be dragged kicking and screaming into this "Jeff Francoeur is clutch" school of thought before the end of the year. Yesterday, he came up in a 1-1 game, mired in a typical slump, and promptly stroked a two-run single with a nice piece of hitting, staying back on an inside pitch and driving it up the middle.

2. Three true outcomes update: the Braves lead the NL in homers and only four teams have allowed fewer homers. The Braves have drawn more walks than any team other than the Phillies. On the negative side, only two teams have issued more walks and only one team has struck out more.

3. If you haven't seen Smoltz's play on Glavine's swinging bunt yesterday, you owe it to all that is good in the world to see the highlight. In a nutshell, Glavine hit a dribbler down the third base line. Smoltz sprinted over to the ball, cutting off the lumbering Chipper Jones in the process, and in one motion fielded the ball and threw a strike to first while falling away. That said, Smoltz and Glavine both clearly tired in the middle innings yesterday, most likely because it's early in the season and it was a hot day at Shea. Both were outstanding for about five innings and then came unglued.

4. I heart Kelly Johnson.

5. It would surprise me if the Braves can stay with the Mets all season. You can see what an extra $30M in payroll buys you when you can trot out Shawn Green (whom I'm probably overrating because of his ability to kill the Braves and no one else) and Moises Alou towards the bottom of your order. The Mets are a half-game behind the Braves, but their run differential is significantly better. I'm also a tad concerned about the Braves' bullpen, which has allowed a ton of runners so far this year and has been flirting with disaster. It's time for the Pittsburgh Mike Gonzalez to appear.

5a. It's interesting to me that the Mets and Yankees spend more than anyone else in baseball (as well as that team in Boston) and yet they have questionable pitching. To me, that just illustrates the difficulty in determining that any pitcher is a sure thing. Position players are more durable and their performances are more consistent on a yearly basis. Thus, the Gotham investments in players like Carlos Beltran or Johnny Damon are fairly predictable, but their investments in Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, or...just about every pitcher the Yankees have signed in recent memory are risky. I don't know that there is a solution. Rather, this is another random element that makes baseball unpredictable.

6. And speaking of variant pitching performances, Tim Hudson was unhittable on Friday night. He bears no resemblance to the guy who was so poor last year. The Mets have a terrific lineup and they were reduced to a series of weak dribblers on the infield. I'm just waiting for the oblique injury that ruins everything.

...and my Sports Teams Taketh Away

Barca were positively craptastic yesterday at El Madrigal against Villarreal. The Blaugrana dominated for much of the first half, but Ronaldinho and Eto'o missed a series of chances, such that the game was 0-0 at the half. In the second stanza, Villarreal took the lead and never looked back. The game illustrated two flaws that have felled Barca all year:

1. The lack of a good defensive midfielder. With Motta and Edmilson having fallen out of favor with Frank Rijkaard, Barca's first-choice three-man midfield this year has been Xavi, Deco, and Iniesta. All three are great players, but none of them can be described as a Makelele-type ball-winner. As a result, the team struggles defensively, especially on the counter, because they lack a screen for the central defense. I'm inclined to think that Xavi's injury last year was a blessing in disguise, as it forced Barca to play Edmilson or Motta behind Deco and Iniesta or van Bommel.

2. Bad play in second halves. Whether the team is out of shape as a result of complacency after conquering Europe last year or the team's tactics are crap as games go on as a result of Johan Neeskens failing to replace Henk Ten Cate, Barca routinely plays worse in the second half this year, especially in 2007. Want some evidence:

Valencia - 0-0 at half becomes a 2-1 loss.

Sevilla - 1-1 at half becomes a 2-1 loss.

Liverpool (first leg) - 1-1 at half becomes a 2-1 loss.

Real Zaragoza - 0-0 at half becomes a 1-0 loss.

Villarreal - 0-0 at half becomes a 2-0 loss.

The team's home form and overall talent might be enough to win the Primera and Copa del Rey, which would be a successful season, but there is something wrong with this side and the question is how it will be addressed in the off-season. Do they sell Ronnie to Milan or Eto'o to Chelsea and use the proceeds to buy a replacement winger/striker, a defensive midfielder, a third central defender, and a left back? (Incidentally, Sylvinho was atrocious yesterday. I haven't seen such inaccurate crossing since Cristiano Ronaldo's first year in Manchester.) What do they do with Rafa Marquez, who was excellent last year and terrible this year? Do they keep him and make him the solution to the defensive midfield spot? Are they going to keep Zambrotta or is he headed back to Juve? Do the dos Santos brothers figure into the team's plans for next year?

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Or, if you prefer the return of the Yah Saddam! guy:

Suddenly, the "Ronaldinho to Milan!" and "Ronaldinho has mono!" rumors aren't so much of a bother to me.

By the way, it occurred to me watching the diminutive Deco cross to the diminutive Messi that the shrimpy quality of the Barca players are another reason for a 5'10 blogger to root for the team.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Mix of English Restraint and Greek Efficiency

I thoroughly enjoyed this piece of "the end is nigh!" caterwauling from The Guardian:

Athens on alert amid fears of all-English final

Fears are growing that an all-English Champions League final, and in particular one that thrusts together Liverpool and Manchester United, would see European football's showpiece event in Athens marred by serious crowd violence, with one security source claiming the tie would represent Uefa's "nightmare scenario". [SO IT'S NOT JUST ME THAT VIEWS AN ALL-EPL FINAL AS A DREADFUL PROSPECT.]

The likelihood of two Premiership clubs playing at the Olympic Stadium next month grew with three English teams this week reaching the semi-finals, though it is the prospect of an exodus of fans from Merseyside and Manchester for the game that has prompted most consternation. [I'M STILL PERPLEXED WHY ANYONE WHO LIVES IN LIVERPOOL OR MANCHESTER WOULD EVER WANT TO LEAVE.] Uefa insisted publicly that there was "no apprehension" last night but real concerns have been raised behind the scenes with [b]the Greek authorities already preparing an unprecedented security operation[/b]. [WORDS THAT WILL SURELY COMFORT THE REST OF EUROPE - THE GREEKS ARE ON THE CASE.]

Neither club may make it through the semi-finals against Milan and Chelsea but worries have already been expressed at United and Liverpool over the logistics of supporters travelling to Athens, with [b]airports in the North-west aware that they will be unable to prevent rival fans taking the same flights to Greece.[/b] [THIS IS A HILARIOUS IMAGE TO ME. SOME POOR BUSINESSMAN FROM LEEDS IS GOING TO BE DUCKING FLYING BOTTLES AND ABORTED FETUSES ON A FLIGHT FROM MANCHESTER TO ATHENS. BRITISH AIR IS GOING TO HAVE LINES OF FLOURESCENT-JACKETED STEWARDS LINING THE AISLES OF THEIR FLIGHTS FOR A FULL WEEK.]

"Fans, many of whom will not have tickets, will be mixing on their journeys, at airports, on planes and when they arrive in Athens," said the source. "This is a nightmare scenario as far as security is concerned and a recipe for serious crowd trouble." [THIS IS WHY I LOVE EUROPEAN FOOTBALL: THERE ARE FEARS ABOUT THE FANS MIXING ANYWHERE.]

The clubs involved in the final will be allocated 17,000 tickets each, roughly the same number given to Liverpool for the final in Istanbul in 2005. On that occasion, nearer 35,000 fans from Merseyside travelled to and attended the game with United likely to generate a similar following. Uefa have a 9,000 allocation but some 7,000 tickets will be made available to the Greek authorities, fuelling concerns that many of those could flood the black market and wreck attempts at segregation. [I LIKE HOW THE ASSUMPTION IS THAT THE GREEKS WILL SELL THEIR TICKETS, BUT THE UEFA INDIVIDUALS WILL NOT. THIS IS SIMPLY A MATTER OF INTENSITY OF PREFERENCE. SOME HEINEKEN EXEC WHO GETS SPONSORS TICKETS ISN'T GOING TO VALUE HIS TICKET TO THE FINAL THE SAME WAY THAT JIMMY FIVE-BELLIES MARINER, A SCOUSER FROM HUYTON-WITH-ROBY, IS.]

The Greek prime minister, Costas Karamanlis, met cabinet ministers yesterday to discuss how to approach the gamewith the issue of sports-related violence prominent in Greece following the death of a 25-year-old fan in clashes between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos supporters outside a women's volleyball game last month. [NOW THAT'S COMMITMENT. LET THE ENGLISH RIOT OVER FOOTBALL; THE GREEKS WILL SEE YOUR FOOTBALL RIOT AND RAISE YOU A WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL RIOT. CHECK MATE, BITCHES.] A series of preliminary measures have been outlined for the final, including the deployment of riot police some 48 hours before the game on May 23, and improvements to surveillance equipment at and around the arena.

A special department has been set up to collect and exchange information on hooligans and especially those from the UK. The chief superintendent Dave Lewis of Merseyside Police confirmed they would "support the policing operation of the hosts" should Liverpool reach the final. [THE ROMAN POLICE HAVE ALSO OFFERED TO LEND A HELPING HAND.]

"If it's an all-English match, then we'll need advice from the British police," said William Gaillard, Uefa's chief spokesman. "But we're not apprehensive. We had thousands of Liverpool fans in Istanbul and it was difficult in terms of logistics, getting them to and from the airport. But we do not have such a loaded situation in Athens because facilities are easy to get to."

Concerns have also been expressed about United's semi-final second leg in Milan on May 2, coming only 28 days after their supporters clashed with Italian police and opposing supporters in Rome. "But it is a different club, a different city and different circumstances," said Gaillard. "I think people have learned the lessons." The sides met two years ago without any problems.

A delegation from United visited Milan yesterday to begin their preparations while the match commander of Greater Manchester Police, chief superintendent Janette McCormick, was also in the Italian city speaking to the police force. "We are not expecting trouble," said a spokesman for Milan police. "With the collaboration of all parties involved, everything will run smoothly."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Blast from the Past

I had no idea that this little gem was still floating around. Aside from being embarrassed that I referred to Claudio Ranieri as an "innovator" and Glen Hoddle as a "rising star," the column holds up OK. The one other thing I notices was all the "correct me if I'm wrong" caveats. Those were the combination of thin skin and the fact that I got e-mails in response to every column.

Bill Simmons at his Unhinged Best

It will come as no surprise that the following idea offered up by Bill Simmons for improving the NBA in his latest column irked me:

1. Contract the league to 27 teams and dump Memphis, Charlotte and Atlanta, three cities that can't support NBA basketball and never could. Then we'll have a league-wide lottery to determine positioning for the dispersal draft of players from those three teams. (Note: We've already sedated Chad Ford just in case this happens.) And if a contender like Chicago happens to end up with Pau Gasol ... I think we'll manage.

Simmons obviously doesn't think that the NBA has much of a place in the South, but on what basis does he decide that Memphis, Charlotte, and Atlanta can't support NBA teams? All three cities have brand new arenas and would rightfully feel a little screwed if the NBA pulled the plug after such significant investment in professional basketball. Let's look at them individually.

Charlotte had a franchise that was well-supported in the Alozo Mourning-Larry Johnson era, but lost it because: (1) Charlotte had an arena with no luxury boxes; and (2) the Hornets destroyed their local goodwill because of an a-hole owner who simultaneously banged on the Bible and was accused of sexually harassing his employees. When Cleveland lost its NFL team because of an outdated stadium and an a-hole owner, they got a team back within a matter of years. When Charlotte lost its team for the same reason, Simmons decides that Charlotte cannot support an NBA team. (I am assuming that the Hornets' illogical move from Charlotte to New Orleans is the basis for Simmons's argument.) And gee, do you think that the fact that the Bobcats aren't good had something to do with low attendance this year?

Ditto for Memphis, a franchise that has never won a single playoff game, but which drew just fine when the team was competent. Shockingly, they have had attendance problems this year when they're the worst team in the NBA and their star demanded a trade. In truth, a better argument can be made for contracting Memphis because of the size of the market relative to Charlotte and Atlanta and the relative lack of corporate dollars there, but with a new arena and reasonable fan support when the team was hauling in #8 seeds, they aren't an obvious contraction target.

And as for Atlanta, Simmons is constitutionally incapable of saying anything nice about any of the sports teams in this city and makes the same old tired jokes about Atlanta sports fans. He wants the NBA to abandon Atlanta as a market, despite the fact that this is the ninth-largest market in the United States and has grown like kudzu to five million people. He wants the NBA to abandon Atlanta as a market despite the fact that the NBA gets better TV ratings here for the playoffs than just about any other market (other than the markets with teams still competing, which is never a problem for us). He wants the NBA to abandon a market nicknamed "Black Hollywood," which makes perfect sense since the NBA obviously would have no interest in developing a market replete with affluent African-Americans. (Bill assumes that it's better to follow the Boston model: white crowds cheering for black athletes.) He wants the NBA to abandon Atlanta despite the fact that there are a number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered here (maybe Bill has heard of Coca-Cola, Delta, or Home Depot) and thus, this is an ideal market for the NBA in terms of corporate dollars that will chase a good opportunity.

The biggest problem I have with Simmons's statement is that he wants to penalize markets for not supporting bad teams. Is it a coincidence that he wants to contract teams with the 24th, 26th, and 30th best records in the NBA? What rational fan base is going to turn out in droves to watch a bad team? That's not how a market is supposed to function. What consumer is supposed to keep buying a sub-par product? Doesn't that destroy the incentive for the producer of the product to provide a better widget? Should we contract the 76ers, who had lower attendance than the Hawks and Bobcats this year despite having a better record? And how the hell does Simmons know that Atlanta wouldn't support a good Hawks team? The Omni was regularly full when the team was good in the late 80s. Simmons no doubt would have made the same arguments about the Braves in the 80s, before they started winning and drawing three million fans several times, or the Falcons in the 90s, before Mike Vick arrived and the team has subsequently sold every ticket for the past four seasons.

And then there are other problems with Simmons's arguments:

On the flip side, when the Lakers, Celtics, Sixers and Pistons were battling for control of the 1980s, did anyone care that the Clips, Cavaliers, Warriors and Kings were dreadful? Was it a coincidence that the NBA peaked from 1987 to 1993, with a lopsided league of quality teams and crummy teams? Call it the 600/400 Rule: More teams finishing above .600 (50 wins or more) and under .400 (50 losses or more) makes for a more entertaining league. During the glorious '88 season, my choice for the greatest ever, there were eight plus-.600 teams and six sub-.400 teams in a 23-team league.

Of course, the NBA was much better when your team was good and it hasn't been any good since. I look forward to your next piece on how Major League Baseball has been crap since 2004. And where's the explanation for the fact that the NFL's popularity has exploded in a parity era, but the same would not be true for the NBA?

Personally, I don't see the NBA's problem as being a lack of great teams, as there are three outstanding teams in the league this year: Dallas, Phoenix, and San Antonio. Moreover, two of the teams play highly attractive basketball. The problems are two-fold:

1. None of the teams are in major markets and, gasp, they're all in the Sunbelt. As a result, the mainstream media isn't interested in them.

2. None of the teams have marketable stars (Dirk and Nash are foreigners and Duncan is quiet) for the mainstream media to completely overhype.

But I blame the lottery for foisting modified parity on us. Ever since Orlando went back-to-back, top picks have gone to lousy teams every spring, creating a vicious circle in which the lottery replenishes weak teams with blue-chippers who aren't ready to carry weak teams.

I must have missed the Bulls drafting fourth last year after coming off of a playoff run. Or Dallas drafting fifth in 2004. Or Detroit drafting second in 2003.

More generally, Simmons ignores the fact that a number of franchises have pulled themselves out of the losing cycle by using their top picks smartly and pairing their young stars with good supporting casts. I'm thinking of Utah and Toronto here, both of which are going to win division titles because the lottery gave them Chris Bosh and Deron Williams and their GMs made smart decisions in accumulating talent.

And that's why the lottery sucks: Not only does it render the occasional Duncan/ Robinson pairing nearly impossible, not only does it reward poorly run clubs like the Hawks (103 games under .500 since the 1998-99 season), it encourages also-rans to bottom out once they suffer some bad luck because they know it's their best chance to eventually contend.

This makes no sense at all. How does the lottery benefit the Hawks if the Hawks waste their picks on Marvin and Shelden Williams? That just leaves Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Brandon Roy for other teams. If a team is mismanaged (and I'm not conceding that Billy Knight mismanages the Hawks, although I'm not pleased with where our last two lottery picks are right now), then it will screw up its picks regardless of where in the Draft it makes them.

As for Simmons' solution that the lottery should be unweighted, doesn't that create an even more perverse incentive for teams to tank? If you're the Clippers, wouldn't it make more sense to get a one in seven chance at Durant or Oden as opposed to gunning for the 8th seed in the West so you can be wiped off the map by Dallas? Is it better to have decent teams tanking as opposed to bad teams? And let's note the obvious self-interest apparent in Simmons's argument. He's a Clippers season-ticket holder and an unweighted lottery would benefit the Clips more than any other team, since they have the best record of any of the current teams on the outside of the playoff race looking in.

In an effort to say something nice about a writer whom I criticize all the time, but I read everything he writes (save for his book), I'll say that this idea is excellent and would create an NCAA Tournament-type element to the NBA post-season:

Shorten the regular season by four games, guarantee the top six seeds in each conference, then have a double-elimination tourney for the seventh and eighth seeds between the remaining 15 teams.

It's too bad that the 9th-largest metro area in the country has no business participating.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

SAT Analogy Time

Given my rooting interests, a Champions League Final Four including Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool is akin to:

a. The 1998 college football season, which ended with Tennessee and Florida State contesting the national title and Ohio State on the outside looking in.

b. The 1999 Final Four, which included Duke, Ohio State, and Michigan State.

c. A hypothetical pair of League Championship Series with the Yankees and Red Sox on one side and the Mets on the other (otherwise known as the Orgasmotron 9000 in Bristol).

d. The 2004 Presidential Election.

The correct answer, in case you're wondering, is answer "a" because of the added element that in 1998, I felt that karma was punishing me for the glory that was the 1997 college football season by heaping onto me a season in which all the odious teams in college football were at the top of the rankings. This year, karma is punishing me for Barca's glorious 2006 Champions League triumph by serving up a bevy of EPL teams that are showing themselves to be something other than overhyped. I'm going to be left to root for AC Milan, which I'll do in a pinch but produces no great feelings of warmth and happiness, or Bayern Munich, which I'll do happily since I'm the Jew who loves Munich and because Bayern gets much of their offense from two Dutchmen (Mark van Bommel and Roy Makaay).

A few other thoughts on last night's series of unfortunate events:

1. Chelsea's winner was the least-surprising injury time winner ever. Aside from the Blues' tendency to score late, they completely dominated the game after Valencia's fantastic five-minute spell late in the first half when Los Che scored once and nearly scored two more. Valencia couldn't get a sniff of Cech's net in the second half. The only chance they got was blazed over by Angulo. Meanwhile, Chelsea were repeatedly generating corners and they forced two great saves from Canizares. Chelsea's second goal was almost inevitable, given the way the game was going. Chelsea were completely dominating in the midfield for the entire second half; Albelda and Albiol deserve some significant criticism for the fact that they seemed to be spectators in the game. The Blues were also winning every single ball in the air. In fact, they were often unchallenged as Valencia's players simply didn't seem to want to challenge them physically. Chelsea got their heads to just about every corner for a significant stretch of time. I always thought that Barca were lousy at defending set pieces, but maybe this is an issue throughout La Liga.

2. Michael Essien sent in the long ball for Chelsea's first goal and hit a near-post screamer for the second. One wonders why Mourinho doesn't play Essien at right back as his first choice option, as that solves two problems: (1) the team's lack of a right-back; and (2) the team's excess of central midfielders. He put Essien there in the second halves against ManUtd and Arsenal when Chelsea came from behind to force draws. Essien is a terrific player. He makes it harder to root against Chelsea because I generally like African players and I specifically like Essien because he has such a well-rounded game.

3. Canizares made two great saves yesterday, but he had a series of dreadful clearances in the first half and his positioning was poor on Essien's winner. (His positioning wasn't as bad as Doni's inexplicable placement on United's opener, but it was suspect nonetheless.) I stand by my conclusion that Santiago isn't the player he used to be.

4. I had forgotten how much of a bitch Ashley Cole is. I doubt that Chelsea fans really like a mercenary who spent years at Arsenal. I know that Arsenal fans can't stand him and I can't imagine that much of the rest of the world can stand a guy who complains for 90 minutes. In sum, no one likes Ashley Cole. OK, maybe one person:

Totally heinous.

5. I fast-forwarded through the Roma match after they fell behind 3-0, figuring that I might as well check out the Valencia match since it had to be more competitive. From what I saw, Michael Carrick is worth every penny that Alex Ferguson lavished onto him, Cristiano Ronaldo is indeed the best player in the world, and Ryan Giggs still has it, despite his shambolic performance in Rome. After the team looked disjointed in the first leg, Manchester United looked perfect last night. Their passing and movement were exceptional, as they embarrassed the static Roma defense time and again. Christian Chivu and Phillipe Mexes are good players and they were made to look abysmal by the Red Devils. Each goal was a team move. In sum, there is a reason why United are on top of the EPL right now.

Monday, April 09, 2007

And Now, for Something Completely Different

I highly recommend this article from Sunday's Washington Post. Although it takes a while to get through it, the article is well worth your time as a commentary on modern life, or at least on modern commuting. Maybe it resonated deeply with me because I can absolutely see myself leaving a subway station and ignoring a musician playing for spare change, even if that musician is one of the most accomplished violinists in the world. Five year of living in Midtown conditioned me to ignore anyone who might be begging for money and I don't think that's a good thing. Maybe the article resonated because I get zoned into my own little world when I'm commuting to work, as I focus on the road, the latest fire I have to put out at work, and my Teaching Company lectures. (I just finished World War I, so if you find me likening the Thrashers' defense to the French resistance at Verdun or a Bobby Cox decision as worse than the German decision to start unrestricted submarine warfare, now you know why.) Maybe the article resonated with me because I went grocery shopping yesterday with my iPod and wouldn't have known if Charlotte Church was singing in Aisle 6 next to the whole wheat pasta.

What I liked best about the article was that it provoked definite feelings for me. It made me want to download some of Joshua Bell's work, as well as Bach's "Chaconne." (Yes, I appreciate the irony that I want to download the music so I can draw myself off into my own world and listen to it, thus defeating the point of the article.) It made me want to pay more attention to what I see every day. (Cue Lester Burnham's "there's beauty all around us" speech from American Beauty.) And yes, it made me want to Google images of Greta Scacchi. So, as your reward for putting up with this rumination...

We're in First Place! End the Season Now!

After last year's pitching debacle, the last two days have been extremely rewarding for Braves fans. Holding the Mets' lineup to five runs in two games might be a function of cold, windy weather, but I'd like to also think that getting two quality starts and then having three reliable relievers had something to do with it. Mike Gonzalez looks far from dominant and Bob Wickman was VERY lucky on Saturday when Shawn Green laced a ball right at Craig Wilson with the tying run on second in the 9th, but last year's pen would have imploded in both instances. (What Wickman was doing walking Carlos Delgado in the 9th with a two-run lead, one out, and no one on base is a mystery to me, but gift horses and mouths and blah blah blah.)

Kyle Davies's start yesterday was extremely encouraging, as he held the Mets to two runs in almost seven innings while striking out eight. The only downside for him was allowing two homers. Davies was locating his pitches much better than he did last year, so this new delivery might have solved his problems. If Davies can continue to pitch at a high level, then the Braves will be in great shape in terms of starting pitching as they'll only need to find one decent starter out of Mike Hampton, Lance Cormier, and Mark Redman.

The major caveat that needs to be mentioned is that the Braves managed six hits in each of the three games and, as a result of the pounding they took on Friday night, have a dead-even run differential. In six games, the Braves have won a blowout, lost a blowout, and then won all four close games. I'd like to think that a team with three reliable relievers will win more than its share of close games, but 4-0 in close games indicates that the Braves are not as good as their record. (Insert standard caveat about the fact that we're only six games into the season and there isn't that much to be concluded at this point anyway.)

One other note from yesterday: Jeff Francoeur did nothing to detract from his image as a guy you want up at the plate in late and close situations with a game-winning, opposite field double that plated Brayan Pena. (I wasn't wild about Bobby's decision to life the team's best hitter [Brian McCann] for his marginally faster back-up, but it dodn't end up mattering.) Francoeur is, not surprisingly, walkless on the year and his .292 OBP through six games looks suspiciously like his .293 OBP last year, but he is doing a better job of hitting to all fields this season.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Genius that is Tim McCarver

As if it isn't bad enough that the Skip/Joe/Don/Pete foursome no longer calls Braves games on TV (OK, they're an acquired taste, but just indulge me here), yesterday we were subjected to over three hours of Tim McCarver because Fox deigned to show a game not involving the Yankees or Red Sox. (Fortunately, Fox will correct their mistake over the next four Saturdays, as their games will be the following: Red Sox-Angels, Red Sox-Yankees, Yankees-Red Sox, and Yankees-Mariners. I think my "I'll enjoy baseball so much more if I just ignore ESPN" resolution might need a signing statement. I digress.) McCarver's absence from Braves games in recent years has mercifully deprived me of the chance to chronicle his every ill-reasoned attempt at commentary, but yesterday was a nice return to the good old days. And by good old days, I mean this:

The one occasion on which I was actually sympathetic to McCarver.

McCarver showed off his Billy Packer-ish ability to sound authoritative while being completely and utterly wrong during the Braves three-run sixth yesterday. Here's the situation: bases loaded and one out in a 2-2 game. Matt Diaz drives a pitch to the right-center field gap. Shawn Green gets under the fly ball, but then gives the Braves a Passover offering by dropping the ball. (Why is this inning different from all other innings? Non-Jewish readers, just smile and imagine that I've said something witty.) Andruw Jones comes in from third, while Jeff Francoeur, who was on second, advances to third, but doesn't score because he had retreated to tag up. McCarver proceeds to declare that this is bad baserunning and that Francoeur should have scored after being one-third of the way to third when Green dropped the ball.

In what world does McCarver's pronouncement make sense? Green dropped a ball that he and just about any other major league rightfielder would catch 90% of the time. If Francoeur doesn't tag up, then he's still at second base with two outs. On the rare event that Green drops the ball, Francoeur ends up on third with one out and can score on a sacrifice fly, which is exactly what happened when the next batter, Chris Woodward, flew out down the rightfield line. Nonetheless, McCarver was absolutely certain that Francoeur had made a mistake. There are so many good reasons to criticize Jeff's performance and McCarver managed to pick one that made no sense at all.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

OK, So We Aren't Going Unbeaten this Year

Want to know what the top of the 8th inning was like last night at the Ted as the Mets turned a 5-1 lead into an 11-1 boil on the ass of Bravedom as the windchill dropped into the 30s? Here are the topics that were bantered back and forth between me and my friends Billy (the only Padres fan I know) and Victor (the only Reds fan I know and the sole commenter for this site who complains in German):

1. The guy in Section 119 wearing a full ski mask who caught a foul ball as it ricocheted off of the facing of the second deck was either an escaped convict or a second-tier WWF wrestler from 1986 named "El Matador."

2. Billy and Victor traded "coldest games at Candlestick" stories as trash blew all over the field. I was tempted to break out the story of the '95 Michigan 5 Purdue 0 thriller played in windchill below zero and alternating snow, sleet, and hail, but I fell like I talk about that game all the time.

3. "This is like the first 30 minutes of Major League." This remark became especially prophetic when Chipper missed a routine foul pop (to the extent that any foul pop is routine in 30 mph winds) that would have mercifully ended the inning and collapsed to the ground, Willie Mays Hays style. (OK, I made that last part up.) I decided after the game that the Braves should have some fun with BRAVESVISION!!! and make plays like that as the defensive play of the game to give the team incentives not to play like poo.

4. A lengthy discussion on Macay McBride's go-to order at Taco Bell.

5. The first "McDowell Raus!" of the year. (Keep in mind that we're coming off of a three-game sweep of the Phillies in which the Braves allowed seven runs in three games.)

6. A "favorite sequence from a soccer game" discussion. Like a stuck record, I went with the Ariel Ortega dive-headbutt-red card followed by the Bergkamp Wondergoal. Obligatory YouTube clip:

Victor went with Mark Hughes's seven-minute double in his first game for Bayern Munich against Werder Bremen during Octoberfest, followed by running into the entire Bayern backline, including the immortal Roland Wohlfahrth, coming out of the Paulaner tent.

Didn't every German player look like this in the 80s?

7. A review of the 1860 Munich roster to see if Gregg Berhalter and Josh Wolff are getting any playing time, followed by five minutes of mocking Landon Donovan with a number of statements starting with "The 2002 World Cup excluded,..."

8. Assorted obscenities directed at Jose Reyes for celebrating like a Duke point guard after his single extended the Mets' lead to 7-1.

9. I didn't share this, but the top of the 8th gave me major flashbacks to last year. Specifically, the last game I attended in 2006 was an August businessman's special where the bullpen contrived to turn a 3-1 lead against the Phillies in the 7th into a 9-3 deficit. McBride, Tyler Yates, and Oscar RoyalHouse are all holdovers from last year's dreadful pen and for one night (we pray), they reverted to their 2006 form.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I Could Get Used to This

The stats for the new and improved bullpen after two games: eight innings pitched, one earned run, six hits, six walks, six strikeouts, two wins, and two for two in save opportunities. The sample size is tiny and the WHIP and K/BB numbers aren't great, but is there any doubt that the Braves would have lost one or both games last year? Between the bullpen starting strong and Tim Hudson looking great last night (remember his craptastic start on Opening Day in Los Angeles last year?), this season is off to a good start.

The million dollar question for today is whether Chuck James can keep the ball in the ballpark, given the Phillies' strong lineup and the short dimensions at...whatever the hell the Phils' new stadium is called. James was excellent against the Phillies in two starts last year, but a flyball pitcher in these circumstances could be dangerous.

Random Thoughts on the Champions League Quarters

1. Alex Ferguson, still a total schmuck. You have to have watched the first 35 minutes of the Roma-ManUnited game last night to realize how foolish Sir Alex's complaints about Paul Scholes's sending off are. Scholes was hacking at the ankles of Roma's players from the word "go" in the match. When he was finally booked about 25 minutes in, he had already committed several fouls and his first yellow was an awful, two-footed challenge. Mere minutes later, he body-checked Francesco Totti on the break, giving the referee no choice but to send him off. Scholes almost seemed as if he wanted to be red carded last night. Either that or he was hopelessly overmatched by an opponent that passes the ball so well and his only response was to kick the mess out of the crimson and orange players as they ghosted by.

1a. Maybe this is the Barca fan in me speaking, but why is it that every Champions League tie involving an English side inevitably entails a player from the English side getting sent off for totally legitimate reasons, followed by "controversy" as his manager complains in the media about how Drogba/Del Horno/Lehmann should have stayed on the pitch after lunging at the keeper while on a yellow/jumping into Leo Messi feet-first with the ball already gone/bringing down a striker as the last man?

2. This is definitely the Barca fan in me talking: Roma are a terrific side to watch. They have a reasonable amount of talent, although I'm not a huge Totti fan, but what makes them so fun to watch is a system that allows the players to exceed the sum of their parts. Full marks to Luciano Spalletti, who, in addition to having a great name and standard Italian hand gestures after every miss by his team, is really on to something in terms of his approach to the game. Roma don't play with a true striker, but they have five midfielders who are constantly moving back and forth between attacking positions and midfield spots. They use one another brilliantly. United were flummoxed by this movement and teamwork and their attacks seemed to solely consist of runs from Cristiano Ronaldo. The game reminded me a little of the Fiesta Bowl: a great system that maximizes its talent against a great individual. (OK, that analogy would work better if Adrian Peterson would have had a 250-yard game, but you get the point.)

Anyway, I'm regretting not having watched Roma more this year. Serie A games have generally been disappointing because of the lack of drama in the league, the lower number of top-notch teams as a result of the Calciopoly scandal, and the meager crowds (probably a function of the desire of sane people not to have firecrackers thrown in their faces). That said, I should have made an exception for Roma. Last night, with a packed Stadio Olimpico rocking from the opening whistle and Manchester United providing the opposition, Roma were highly entertaining. I really hope they off United in the second leg.

3. Another reason to love European football: "Indiscriminate Beatings." I'm of two minds on this story. On the one hand, it cannot be a coincidence that fans of Premiership teams seem to find this trouble everywhere they go on the continent. United's fans were the "victims" of abusive policing in their last Champions League away match at Lille, so they have something of a streak going here. (Lord help them if they ever play a big match against the LA Galaxy.) On the other hand, the Italian police do have a reputation for excessively aggressive policing and they did pay much more attention to the charging United fans instead of the charging Roma fans, so maybe United have something of a point.

You! The fat, bald, pasty guy! You look like a troublemaker!

I'm still bitter about the treatment I received from a police officer on my one trip to the Stadio Olimpico in 1997 for a Lazio-Verona match. My friend Ken and I were dumb enough to take our backpacks with us to the game and an officer proceeded to comb through our possessions with a fine-toothed comb on the way in, confiscating, among other things, my tiny pebble from Dachau, the cap of my water bottle, and the black plastic cylinder containing my camera film. Fortunately, the officer was also incompetent, as he missed the camera itself or else I wouldn't have gone in. Ken whimpered for the first 45 minutes because he hates soccer and the officer had confiscated his Dad's Swiss Army knife, but his attitude turned around watching the skinhead in front of us make out with his girlfriend after each Lazio goal (and there were four that afternoon). The most perverse element of the zealous security that we experienced is that the police had no problem with ten-year olds throwing smoke bombs indiscriminately.

Much safer than a plastic water bottle cap.

4. If I need to illustrate why I like the Spanish Primera over the English Premiership, I can always use the two goals from the Valencia-Chelsea game. Valencia scored from a cracking David Silva drive from about 28 meters out on the left wing. Chelsea scored from a hit-and-hope long ball that evaded the Valencia defense after it bounced in the box and was nodded in by Didier Drogba. I've made this complaint before, but for all of Chelsea's spending, their efforts to score when pressed seem to consist of nothing more than hopeful, route one balls to their tallest players. Niall Quinn would be so proud. This strategy worked against Valencia because...

5. Santiago Canizares is a shell of his former self. When Valencia was going to two straight Champions League finals, Canizares was untouchable. Last night, he was waving at every long ball sent his way. His form would give me optimism if I were a Chelsea fan.

6. Does Miguel Angulo have the largest nose in sports?

7. I hesitate to criticize ESPN now that they are showing two games on each match day such that I can watch all four quarterfinal matches if I can carve out the time, but would it kill them to not show the scores from the other games going on on the Bottom Line? And while I'm into media criticism, is it me or were Derek Rae and Tommy Smyth openly rooting for Manchester United last night?