The NHL is staging its final two outdoor games of the year this weekend.
Pittsburgh travels to Chicago to face the Blackhawks at Soldier Field Saturday night, and the Canucks will host the Senators at B.C. Place in Vancouver on Sunday in what is being marketed as the bi or tri-annual "Heritage Classic." These two will round out six outdoor games that the league staged in a time period from the Winter Classic on New Years Day up to this Sunday in western Canada.
Let's get this out of the way first. Everybody knows that these outdoor games have been popular. Dan Craig, the man who made a rink in Los Angeles, proved doubters wrong in January, and we had hockey at Dodgers Stadium for the first time ever. New York finally got its moment to shine with not one, but two games at Yankee Stadium and all three have gone off without any issues.
These games also generate a lot of money, which no professional league will say is a bad thing. But you know the old saying: "Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing."
Taking the game outdoors really caught on in 2008 after the Sabres and Penguins played at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The weather gave the stadium a "snowglobe effect" and Sidney Crosby scoring the game-winning goal in the shootout was the perfect ending. Since then, we've had hockey at Wrigley, Fenway and the Big House at Michigan.
It's the Winter Classic that is at risk with five more games being scheduled outside following the premiere game that has kicked off the new year since 2008.
The hype surrounding these games in Chicago and Vancouver has been small compared to the excitement in Los Angeles and the Bronx. The date in which it falls at an odd time in which the league is coming back from the Olympics. Not even three days after these teams play their first game in over two weeks, they're getting ready to play a game outside.
For example, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz's week will have consisted of playing in a gold medal game in Sochi, Russia and wraps up with an outdoor game at Soldier Field in front of 60,000 fans on Saturday. Not an easy week.
Playing so many outdoor games could take away from the novelty that is the Winter Classic. The NHL is already thinking about a game at AT&T Park in San Francisco with the Sharks being the host team. Over-saturation of these game could be avoided in the next few years if you simply cut the number of them in half.
Here is a simple blueprint.
The NHL stages a Winter Classic on New Years Day, have the Heritage Classic played by two of the seven teams in Canada and then you choose a site that many doubted would ever have an outdoor game. If they could build an ice rink in southern California and keep it frozen, what's stopping them from doing it somewhere warmer?
Either way, people in the local and major hockey markets will watch. These two games this weekend will get fantastic ratings, and the NHL will point to the sellouts and viewer numbers and say "Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
While that might be true, the National Hockey League should take a page from the NFL. That league wants to add two more playoff teams in 2015 and have a Monday night playoff game. That is an example of taking a product that is already good, and trying to stack more on top of it, hoping that it never collapses around them.
The NFL is the king of the four major sports in this country and can pull it off and get away with it. But the NHL needs to be careful. If it can pull off six outdoor games a year, than they better be aware not to saturate these type of games to the point where numbers start going down for the Winter Classic and the other games in the future.
Less is more. Especially for the National Hockey League and these events.
When the Winter Olympics wrapped up, we all thought we were done with freaky mascots like "nightmare bear" (pictured right).
So, we can return to the cute, kid friendly mascots in the pro sports team in America, right? Well...not really.
The New Orleans Pelicans already had to redesign their mascot after it resembled something you would see on a really bad trip. Now it's Mardi Gras, and it's a part in New Orleans. That's when we get to see King Cake Baby.
Now, as King Cake Baby stares into your soul, let me tell you a little bit about King Cake Baby and why the people of New Orleans, who are known for voodoo curses (which might explain the appearance of this mascot) made this a part of Mardi Gras.
In a time know as Epiphany in most sects of Christianity, king cakes are made and eaten during the Mardis Gras season leading up to Lent. A small, plastic baby figure is placed into the cake. Whoever gets the piece with the baby figure either has good luck for that year and in some cases, it might mean they'll have a baby within the next year.
Most can be reassured that the little plastic baby you find in the cake won't look like this:
So, if King Cake Baby is freaking you out, perhaps you would like Nightmare Bear to run up and give you a big hug...or not.
The annual Combine has always been the place where coaches, general managers and scouts have been able to see potential NFL players display their athletic ability front and center on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. It has received the infamous name of the "Underwear Olympics" due to the athletic wear the Under Armour outfits don when they run the 40, or do the 225 lb bench press.
This event is for the people listed above. The rest of us, we can only watch guys run slant routes and do their verticals so much in a five day span. After the first two days or so, it's like watching a high school football teams 7 on 7 drills in the summer before they are allowed to put the pads on for camp.
The creation of the NFL Network offered us a look inside at what goes on in Indianapolis during that five day span in late February. We're all football deprived for two and a half weeks following the Super Bowl and we need some football to talk about, right? That is where the Combine comes in for football junkies to get their fix.
For all the running, jumping and drills these guys do, it still leaves many to wonder what their favorite team will do in the draft in May. Even after the Combine concluded, the Houston Texans are probably still pondering who they are going to take. For the journalists who cover the event, they need stories to fill the football sections of their local paper or website (see any story involving Clowney).
This event isn't for us. It's for the coaches, general managers and scouts. We have just been lucky enough to get a look inside the event over the past decade.
Looking at the history of the Scouting Combine, media members were prohibited from being inside during the event. That has changed since the NFL Network started showing it in 2004. We were all amazed getting all this access inside an event that nobody in the public got to see before. It was revolutionary. I had some friends and even coaches in high school who were hooked on it. But like any great show, it eventually jumps the shark. Perhaps the 30 plus hours of coverage is to blame for that.
The coverage of it is overdone, but you have to admire how much time scouts and analysts like Mike Mayock put into following these prospects and knowing so much about them. Mayock had a phone presser last week regarding the Combine that almost went three hours. All most of us can do is assume a guy is great because he runs a fast 40 or that guy is gonna be good because he reps 225lbs over 35 times.
While knowing a guy is in shape and has the strength to be a pro player, the biggest part of the Combine are the interviews. This is something we don't see, but we hear bits and pieces about them through the media and some of the odd questions teams ask these prospects.
Of course, there were some stories we got during the Combine.
The one that is topping my chart is San Diego State running back Adam Muema, who left the Combine because "God told him to." He assured everyone that the Seattle Seahawks would draft him. There's having faith, then there's that. If Muema is letting a higher power make choices for him that could affect the outcome of a game, his reliability might be questioned. As of today, nobody can contact him. He's not missing, but it's weird. But if he does go to the Seahawks, church attendance might see a slight increase. If God has a sense of humor, Muema gets drafted by the Browns.
Second, one of the main reasons we watch any coverage is the 40 yard dash. Running back Dri Archer, of Kent State, had a time of 4.26 seconds. That's an average of 1.06 seconds per every 10 yards. We all love a little "MACtion." We could see Archer in the NFL somewhere. Archer better be careful with that speed, though. He might be entering the "Danger Zone."
-For those of you who got that joke, I hope you enjoyed it.
The last thing is the two guys with that are projected high picks but have some baggage: Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney is built like an athlete. He is built for the NFL. Problem is, many continue to question his work ethic. Of course, everyone is questioning that, but that's for Clowney to prove to his future NFL team.
Oh, Johnny Football. A short quarterback with a good 40 who might have some worrying that he'll be downing one at a party when he's in the pros. Manziel is trying to prove that he is more mature than people think. Like Clowney, that media wants to paint a picture of him leading up to the NFL Draft.
To sum it all up, you probably watched to see your favorite player from your favorite college team run the 40, or the big name guys like Manziel and Clowney do it. That is all we really want.
That and also seeing the NFL Network's Rich Eisen run the 40 in a full suit and tie, with the help of some Under Armour shoes that make you run faster or something. If you didn't see it yet, Eisen did the dash in under six second (5.98 seconds, nobody is rounding up).
But don't you fret about the Combine being over. There will be plenty of local and national sports coverage leading up to the NFL Draft in May. All leading up to the big night at Radio City Music Hall.
Thus continuing football's "circle of life."
First off, to you wet blankets of the world: I know this was just a preliminary round game. It did not matter if the United States or Russia won or lost. Both will advance out of Group A and compete for the gold medal game.
Saturday's shootout victory for the United States over Russia was, from the American point-of-view, the highlight moment in the Winter Olympic Games at the halfway mark of the event.
It had everything that brings drama to a game with two hockey powerhouses.
Questionable calls, a disallowed goal, a pro-Russian crowd with Vladamir Putin looking on, and some gutsy coaching decisions. For the American team, it went from Rocky V, and soon became D2: The Mighty Ducks (if you have not seen D2: The Mighty Ducks, watch the end) when it all came down to a shootout.
For the Russian Federation, this matchup was 34 years in the making. Of course, a lot has happened since that semifinal game in Lake Placid in 1980.
The United States team is not made up of no-name college kids who are taking on a powerhouse squad like the former Soviet Union had back then. Both are made up of NHL and KHL professionals. Regardless, Russia had the American team on their soil this time and wanted to send a message going into the medal rounds. Putin said the whole two weeks, and billions of dollars spent on them, would be worth it if Russia won gold in ice hockey. Even if it was their only gold medal.
It seemed only fair that this game had a five minute overtime and eight round in the shootout to decide the winner. With player selection in Olympic shootouts being different, U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma went with St. Louis Blues center, T.J. Oshie, for the final five rounds.
While Russia went with Datsyuk and Kovalchuk alternating in the extra round, Bylsma's gutsy call sending out the same guy every time to face Bobrovsky worked out. Imagine if the U.S. lost in the shootout. Bylsma would be facing a lot of criticism from the media and fans back home. Talk about being cool under pressure.
Some people were complaining about the lack of America's performance in events like Alpine Skiing, Speed Skating and figure skating, and gold medals coming from the X Games style events like slopestyle and halfpipe, that are new or have only been around since the 2006 games in Turin. With another week of action starting Sunday, those complaints could go away, especially if the men's hockey team makes a run for gold like they did in Vancouver four years ago.
Buckle up, America. It's only the beginning for hockey. It should be a good one. Especially with the talent your country put together for this tournament.
Most people did not know who Marcus Smart was until Saturday night's Oklahoma State-Texas Tech game in Lubbock. Other than the Texas Tech faithful, nobody knew Jeff Orr, either.
Jeff Orr is not the only middle-aged guy acting like this at a sporting event. There are Jeff Orr's in every arena, stadium and field in America. I witnessed it this weekend at the Peterson Event Center during the Pittsburgh-Virginia Tech game Saturday afternoon.
Wednesday was National Signing Day. The day when 17 and 18-year old high school football players put the pen to paper and make their school of choice official and then fax it off to that school's football offices.
Yep, a fax in 2014.
If you don't know what a fax or fax machine is, ask your parents or older sibling...then keep reading.
While many have said that it should be faded out within the next few years, they might reconsider when they see what happened inside the football offices of the Shippensburg Red Raiders in Pennsylvania in the video below.
The excitement as head coach Mark "Mac" Maciejewski walks into the room with the fax machine (and a microwave?), walks out and announces the name on the letter on intent with jubilation from his staff. I also liked the first shot being a snow-covered field at Seth Grove Stadium at dawn.
And just think, spring football will be here before you know it.
Video courtesy of the Shippensburg Athletic Department
I am also an alumnus of Shippensburg. Don't hold that against me, fax machine haters.
On Super Bowl Sunday, 111.5 million people tuned in.
While it was the most-watched Super Bowl ever, it did not live up to the hype that was built up over two weeks. Other parts of the game that did not take place on the field also fell short of the viewers' expectations.
First off, the game.
The Seahawks had the best defense coming into the game. The Broncos had the best offense. When the final gun sounded, the Seahawks looked like the team with the best unit on both sides of the ball.
Peyton Manning's third go-around in the Super Bowl started off in the worst way possible when a cadence error resulted in a bad snap and a safety on the first play. Manning could not do anything against Seattle's defense. Malcolm Smith's pick six of Peyton blew the game open before Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the field for halftime, or Harvin's return for a touchdown to start the second half convinced you that a comeback was impossible.
Second, the Commercials.
If you are like myself, you adjusted your food runs and bathroom breaks so you could see the commercials. The Budweiser "Best Buds" commercial had many feeling that they were in for 30-60 seconds of great entertainment after seeing it earlier this week.
Too bad most of the commercials fell flat with television audiences. If Budweiser waited until the game to show it, they would've ran away with best commercial of the night.
There were a few that stood out.
Thanks to some hateful tweets and comments, the song, "America the Beautiful," looked more like "America the Bigoted" which was featured in the Coca-Cola ad. It featured the patriotic tune being sung in English and several other languages. The commercial, which displayed our history of being a "land of immigrants" and one of different cultures, rubbed conservatives the wrong way and lead to the old "Speak English!" and hashtags such as #F***Coke. America didn't look beautiful in some comment sections.
Side Note: The "Star Spangled Banner" is our national anthem.
Radio Shack's "The 80s called. They want their store back" ad was brilliant. Have you been in one of their stores in the past few years? It really does feel like an electronics store from the era.
Bringing back 80s icons like ALF, Hulk Hogan, and Boston's favorite mailman, Cliff Clavin, made it memorable. Also, check out their other videos on YouTube. They include individual commercials with the different characters. Ever imagine Cliff covered in EL Wire? Well, there's an interesting fact.
Another ad that stood out was Tim Tebow with T-Mobile. Making light that no NFL team will sign him to a contract, it fit into the mobile company's "No Contract" campaign. I would expect him to be the one to find Bigfoot and take a selfie with him.
It also gave you another reason to roll your eyes at Skip Bayless, who didn't like that his favorite segment filler did the commercials.
In the end, it was Bruno Mars' halftime show that featured a little bit of everything and gave everyone 12 minutes of entertainment that beat out 4 hours of football.
Sure the Red Hot Chili Peppers instruments were not plugged in, but at least they can actually play their instruments (unlike The Monkees). There's a group the older crowd knows about.
Despite the game being a blowout and the commercials giving us little to nothing to remember for years to come, the Super Bowl will always attract a large audience. Even if the product stinks, we all will still tune in.