Well, a month ago I didn't think we would be at this point. An optimistic summer gave Pittsburgh PIrate fans the feeling that it was the year the Pirates would have a winning season. 82 wins seemed to be a reality, maybe even 90 at a point near the end of July into August. As quickly as we assured ourselves that nothing terrible could happen this season, the worst scenario happened.
The Pirates made it 20 straight years of losing seasons after blowing a ninth inning lead, losing to the Cincinnati Reds 4-3 in true Pirates fashion. So...all the hype, the hope, the Zoltan and other moments that happened this season mean nothing. It hurts this year. Not just because it was the two decade mark of mediocrity, but because it was the first time since 1992 that Pittsburgh looked like a team that could win 82 games. The pitching was keeping the squad in close games and despite an offense lacking run support at times, they found ways to get runs.
After the All Star Break, it changed. James McDonald, who everyone felt was snubbed for the mid-summer classic in Kansas City, fell apart and dissipated into the late summer. Wandy Rodriquez was acquired in a trade from the lowly Houston Astros and provided little to no help. Andrew McCutchen, although still in the race for the batting title, saw a decline in his hitting in the second half of the season.
The coaching staff and front office deserves its share of criticism. People have been critical of owner Bob Nutting and General Manager Neal Huntington. Huntington went for the bargain bin during the trade deadline. The Pirates were only in a division race, but why take a chance right? I mean, you never know when the Bucs will compete again.
Manager Clint Hurdle deserves blame as well. Hurdle has been one of the better managers since Jim Leyland's departure, but the decision making was lacking. The teams motto "Finish" is as laughable as the "We Will" campaign in a year where the Pirates almost lost 100 games. The number of times we cringed when Hurdle signaled for a batter to bunt were one too many.
You can't blame the fans for not showing up in September. People in the media criticizing fans for not coming out to support the Pirates. It's hard to imagine people wanting to spend money to watch a team that doesn't believe in itself. It returned to the normal "night out at the ballpark because of the ballpark" for many. In Pittsburgh that means free T-shirt Fridays, fireworks and Lifehouse. That night out pads Nutting's wallet with more cash while he spend like a miser at the trade deadline. As long as you have enough food in your gut in the "All You Can Eat" seats and you're happy, that's all that matters.
Over the last two decades, it's been easier to stomach a losing year. This season, it's nauseating. To the point where you want to throw up. To think at this point back in August, we thought this Reds series and upcoming Braves series would mean something. Perhaps a chance to clinch one of the wild card spots on the last day of the season. Instead, we watched the Pirates crash and burn late in the game and clinch an historic mark that is hard to accomplish.
So for 2013, how about adopting the late Al Davis' slogan and mix in a little of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" lyrics and making next years slogan "Just Win Maybe?"
Most people can detect a poor investment. For some, they feel spending more money on the Pirates this year unlike previous years was worth it, but not today. Fireworks and washed up music groups only work so much Nutting. How the Pirates still have people coming to the games is a head scratcher for some. Those who see me and others wonder why we stick with this team after all these years. It's hard to explain, but we still do. Don't know why exactly, but we just do.
Photo courtesy of USA Today
"Talking about Notre Dame again Gallagher?" Yes. Yes I am.
The Irish are 4-0 this season, their best start in 10 years. Week one opened with a trip to Dublin, Ireland where the Irish swabbed the deck of the Midshipmen 50-10. What some can call jet lag and the young, freshman quarterback Everett Golson needing Tommy Rees to lead the offense down the field to set up a game winning field goal in a 20-17 win over Purdue. A game in East Lansing where the Irish kept Michigan State running back Le'veon Bell out of the endzone, only giving up a field goal. Last nights second annual under the lights game in South Bend saw the Irish defense create six turnovers on the Michigan offense in a close 13-6 victory.
They're not pretty wins. If you are a fan of Notre Dame, or you are one of the many who watch, hoping the Irish crash and burn, you're used to seeing it. Sure the Irish offense is in a situation where a bye week will consist of talk of a quarterback controversy between Golson and Rees. While every writer, analyst and blogger will focus on that, how about giving some props to the Notre Dame defense.
The Irish defense, who has held opponents to an average of 9 points per game through their first four games, has played a big role in the last two victories for Notre Dame. Stopping the Spartans and then holding down the fort while Golson and the offense struggled against Michigan, the Irish defense has made noise this season that has not been heard in a long time.
Over the past several years, and under several different head coaches, the defense always took a back seat to the offensive mindsets of Tyrone Willingham and especially Charlie Weis. Under Weis, The Irish gave up an average of 24.6 points per game is shorter than expected tenure at Notre Dame. Since Brian Kelly has come in, Notre has shown some improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Last season, they gave up an average of 20.7 points per game and gave up 33 touchdowns. This season, only 3 through the first four games.
How has Notre Dame been able to play better defense? Well, you have to give credit to senior linebacker Manti Te'o. Te'o has played exceptionally well during the first four weeks of the season. Week three was met with tragedy when Te'o's grandmother passed away and hours later, his girlfriend passed after battling leukemia leading up to the matchup at Michigan State. Te'o played one of his best games in his college football career and then topped it with two interceptions against Denard Robinson and Michigan.
The Irish front seven deserves our recognition as well. Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nixx, who wear numbers that don't normally match their positions on the line (they're #7 and #9 respectably), have helped contribute to a stronger run defense. Bennett Jackson has three of the eight Irish interceptions this year.
OK, now about the Achilles heel of the defense, the secondary. They haven't been challenged as much to start the season. Despite that, they have held their own and Jackson has a few picks to provide some credentials. Tougher tests from Stanford, Oklahoma and USC will come about, so they will get their turn.
"Summer lovin, had me a blast.
Summer lovin, happened so fast.
I met a fan, crazy for me.
Met a team, they're as great as can be."
The 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates season was a true summer romance. The team represented that special someone you met at summer camp. You hung out with them and found yourself falling in love with them. You never thought it would end. Well, summer turns slowly to fall and you both leave to go back to school, and the Pirates went back to being, well...the Pirates.
It seemed to follow a pattern like last year. The only difference this season was it lasted longer. Perhaps the Pirates learned to take it slow and weren't trying too hard to get to first base (cue the rimshot drum sound), but still found a way to mess things up before the romance fizzled into the cooler nights of early September. The Pirates kept you entertained by teaching you the "Zoltan," telling the you the story of the legend of Drew Sutton and Brock Holt, and giving you the notion that they were going all the way this year (rimshot drum sound).
It was the second straight year that you got back together with the Pirates at Camp PNC. You found them appealing and intriguing during the summer. All those summer nights of raising the jolly roger, flashing the Zoltan and always believing that the sun would shine everyday. But in the end, it was just a summer romance that went on a little longer than usual. Usually in the past, you decided to stay friends as early as late July. Perhaps there will come a time when you and the Pirates will hit it off and get it right. Until then, the Steelers, your other crush, is waiting across the street at Camp Heinz.
The best thing you can do is look back at the good times you've had with the Pirates this year. You two will meet again next summer. Maybe they'll get it right in 2013.
It seems like yesterday we heard the NHL was entering another lockout. OK, it was yesterday. Think back further, like eight years ago, when the entire 2004-2005 NHL season was cancelled due to a lockout. Of course that lockout saved a lot of struggling franchises (except Atlanta), and established a salary cap, thus saving the future of the league.
Now it's 2012 and the league is almost 24 hours into its third lockout in 17 years. The battle over billions of dollars of revenue is on between billionaire owners and players making multimillion dollar contracts and those making the lower six figure salaries. Gotta love capitalism, labor unions and everything our great countries offer. While the high figure salary sides have their staring contest, hoping the other one will blink first, what about the fans?
Oh right, the fans. Hard to break this news to you folks, especially to the diehards (who I respect a lot, I am one) and ones who invest a lot of time and a lot of money into their clubs, but hockey "fans" are a different breed when comparing them to the fans of the three other big sports leagues in North America.
You got your die hard fans, and the season ticket holders who get excited for camps and count down to that second week in October. You invest a lot of your time and income into the NHL. Attempting to make 41 home games and as many 16 playoff games from October to June. I feel for you. Hockey isn't a cheap game.
For the other demographic. When the NFL season winds down, the weather turns cold and there's nothing else to watch on television in the dead of winter, you'll start watching. You'll watch especially when your team is playing well and is in a playoff race. It's like that with many sports fans. Fair-weather hockey fans are just easier to spot, especially when you're buying team gear in March.
For each side of the fan spectrum, no matter how many YouTube videos you make, no matter how many hateful tweets you may send out about Commissioner Gary Bettman, your voices are a faint whimper when it comes to the talks happening in New York City. The NHL is like any other business and league. Much like the NFL officials lockout, all we can do is sit back and deal with a lousy situation that could be dealt with in a perfect world.
You survived the 2004 lockout. What makes you think you can't make it through this one? There will be a season. It will just be a little shorter. You can hope for a start time around Christmas, or maybe start the season with the annual Winter Classic in its sixth year with the Red Wings hosting the Maple Leafs in an Original Six rivalry at Michigan Stadium in front of 110,000 plus fans on New Years Day.
Take in your local high school hockey teams, support your junior and minor league clubs as well. Pro hockey will return soon enough.
START THE VIDEO AND THEN READ THE FIRST PARAGRAPH
"Picture if you will, a baseball franchise that has disenchanted its fanbase for almost two decades, began to show signs of winning that had not be seen for years. Along with strong pitching to start, and a few gimmicks, which included making a "Z" with the left hand on top, this scrappy bunch began to roll off wins during the hot, crazy summer. But a rough second half has left them with over-managing, lighter crowds, and fans impersonating the Ric Flair "woo" in an annoying and incorrect way. Are things turning back to normal, or did the Pittsburgh Pirates just happen to enter...The Twilight Zone."
A little over-dramatic? Yeah. But let's face it, this has been a crazy year for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After falling apart last season in late July, the Bucs found themselves in the same position as last summer. The only difference this year, the Pirates are taking their relevance into September. For almost two decades, most Pittsburgh sports fans were gearing up for the Steelers season as camp opened in July.
The Pirates were in contention for the National League Central division and in a pennant race. They technically are still in it, but it looks bleak. Pittsburgh is now four game above .500 and three games out of the last wild card spot (3.5 pending what St. Louis does tonight against the Dodgers). The first winning year since 1992 is slowly disappearing as the days pass.
Despite the sudden collapse, the Pirates have enjoyed larger crowds, more love from the fans and optimism that had not been seen in years this season. The stupid gimmicks like the "Zoltan" and now the dumb Rick Flair "woo" had made its way into PNC Park and Great American Ballpark over the past week. A little out of the ordinary, but it sold t-shirts and foam Zoltans, didn't it? Fans from other teams looked at Pirate fans like they were from another planet. Some bought in, others didn't. That's where the "Twilight Zone" genre plays its part.
With the season in a tailspin and the optimism turning to pessimism as summer turns to fall, it seems that the normal sense of normalcy has returned (for Pittsburgh sports fans anyway). If the "Ric Flair" woo should continue and the Zoltan is still flashed until October, this may keep the Pirates stuck in....The Twilight Zone.
Week one is soon to wrap up in college football. We saw a few good matchups and a lot of lopsided scores in week one, which is typical and expected. FCS schools (formerly Division 1-AA) are the sacrificial lambs to the larger FBS schools. Usually you see the lopsided scores where you're thankful they didn't post 100 points on them, and sometimes you get a shocker (see Appalachian State vs. Michigan in 2007). Good news, we got both in this first week of college football. Let's take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of these games that can be called a "glorified scrimmage."
This wasn't an Appalachian State shocker at the Big House. But Youngstown State, out of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, ran Pittsburgh's defense up and down the field all night, shocking the Panthers in Paul Chryst's debut as head coach 31-17 at Heinz Field. Hard to believe that this was a game that you couldn't put the blame on Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri. The Penguins go back to their FCS schedule, but not after sending Pitt students back to Oakland after singing "Sweet Caroline." It might be a long year for the Panthers if their defense can't make a stop on an opposing team.
This award could go to Pitt, but we're looking at the bad of the FCS, not FBS. The bad goes to Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference. Murray State played No. 7 Florida State and lost 63-9. The Racers don't have to suffer anymore FBS beatings. The winner of the ugly award can't say the same.
Ladies and gentleman, let me introduce you to Savannah State. You had to be one of the millions asking "Who the heck is Savannah State?" last night. Savannah State plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference out of Georgia. The Tigers are a great example of FCS schools who step into the Colosseum's of Divsion I-A and attempt to fight the beasts of the Big XII and ACC. The Tigers were destroyed by No. 19 Oklahoma State 84-0. These Tigers don't have much time to lick their wounds. They travel to Tallahassee to face No. 7 Florida State. Savannah State will walk out of both beatings with two fat checks for showing up. The 2012 Tigers will be remembered as the squad who were routed Cowboys and Seminoles, but received money to build a new academic/athletic building as a parting gift. Hopefully, Florida State calls of the dogs after the first quarter.
In the end, most FCS schools take on their bigger counterparts for a nice payday for the university. There are moments like Appalachian Sate and Youngstown State shocking their opponents, but most of the time it results in a good butt-whooping that is expected even before they get on the bus to the stadium.
At least their seasons aren't over like in the FBS. They have a playoff system currently that outshines the future Four-Team Playoff.