A-Train's Sports Drain

16 Nov

Classy Move by Local Tampa Radio Station Leads to Hilarity & Support from Lightning Fans

By Alex Tronnes: Nov. 16, 2013 2:00 PM EST 




Thursday night we were again reminded what sets the Tampa Bay Lightning organization apart; it's fans. Despite playing in a market where hockey would seemingly be an afterthought, the franchise has continued to grow and gain support from the local community. On this particular night, the community returned some of that support.

During a day game against the Boston Bruins on Monday afternoon, Lightning fan's worst dreams become reality. In a moment that can only be described as heartbreaking, young NHL star Forward Steven Stamkos collided with a goalpost resulting in a broken tibia in his right leg. (Video below isn't too graphic but hard to watch nonetheless)



This type of loss could easily have fans questioning the future of the team. But instead, the Lightning fan-base chose a different question; "How is Stammer doing?". In a move that defines class, one of the local Tampa Bay sports radio stations, 620 WDAE , created a "Get Well Soon" card to be circulated around the Tampa Bay Times Forum during Thursday night's game against the Anaheim Ducks . What resulted is perhaps one of the coolest outpouring in fan support in recent sports memory. Fan after fan lined up to sign the giant card pictured below, demonstrating the type of rapport this community has with one of it's favorite players. (image courtesy @620wdae).


Having the opportunity to personally oversee the signing, I got the chance to read some of the messages left by the creative minds of Lightning fans. Let's just say it was a unique sampling of support, humor, and sarcasm, equaling an awesome demonstration of fan expression. Below are 10 of my favorite messages spotted throughout the card. Is yours one of them? 


10.)

I see what this fan was trying to go for on this one. I'll assume alcohol consumption had more to do with this grammar than intelligence. The fan still gets an "A" from me for properly identifying the correct bone in question... 


9.)

This signature is obviously lacking in sympathy. However based on the "Tis" and the emphasis on getting back to work, I'm pegging this fan as a possible elitist (or Monty Python fan). They just can't relate to the plight of the working man. Tis but a shame...


8.)

This message is just full of positive vibes. Although this fan may be onto something as the Lightning have gone 2-0 since Stammer's injury. If the team continues to fight through adversity this good luck may very well propel them into the Playoffs where a healthy Steven Stamkos is sure to be waiting.


7.)

This signature perhaps claimed the largest amount of real-estate on the card, but in my mind may have deserved it. For one, any subtle James Bond reference should be celebrated. But more importantly if this fan truly came all the way from Russia to lend their support to Stammer, then by all means use all the space you'd like, call it a cosmonaut.


6.)

Despite the obvious political incorrectness (calm down people), this signature encompasses the passion Stamkos evokes in both men and women alike. In related news, the only phone number left on the card was by a dude as well. Love obviously conquers all barriers.


5.)

A little redundant here but the point is clear. It will be Stammer-Time, in no time, once again. Hard to argue with that logic so I'll just nod my head in agreement. *nods head*


4.)

While I always appreciate a good NFL reference, this one is quite a graphic example. If you've never seen what this Joe Theismann shoutout refers to, go find the clip on youtube , but don't say I didn't warn you. Season ticket member "Meg A." rounds out her message by keeping a positive outlook on Stamkos playing in the upcoming Sochi Olympics, though the organization may not want to put that aggressive of timetable in place for his rehab. A surprise return for the Olympics would no doubt be an Adrian Peterson like recovery, just of the hockey variety, and would be a lift to the landscape of the entire sport.


3.)

In another great example of bro-love, "Kyle L." gets very descriptive in how he wishes he could help Stammer in his time of need. The world would no doubt be a better place with Kyle's pain reducing tears in it. Someone send Stamkos a bottle of "Kyle Tears" immediately...


2.)

As a believer in the power of positive thinking and good karma, this signature by "Cheryl P." is spot on in my opinion. No personal message, well wishes, or other references, just plain ol' miraculous healing power. Exactly what the beloved Steven Stamkos needs most right now. Touche Cheryl.


1.)

This signature is perhaps my favorite. Why? Because it reminds us that it's not just us humans that'll be missing Stammer during his recovery. If inanimate objects could communicate, I'm sure the entire Tampa Bay Times Forum would be expressing it's support of the best player that calls it home. I'd like to think that on this night "The Left Circle" was acting as the buildings official spokesperson. However I wouldn't expect the same support coming from the goal nets he abuses night in and night out...


So there you have it, the Top 10 signatures on the official "Get Well Soon" card for Steven Stamkos. I can only imagine the warmth he will feel when presented with this tangible example of the Tampa Bay community's appreciation for all he does on and off the ice. Special thanks again to 620 WDAE for this great idea, and to the Lightning organization for facilitating this awesome message of support from the fans.



-A-Train-


Join the discussion on Twitter, follow me at @SportsDrain





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1 Jun

Unbelieva-Bull?: Jordan Comeback Could Benefit Both Rose and NBA

By Alex Tronnes June 1, 2013 10:00 PM EST


Nearly four years ago, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jeffrey Jordan, stood at a podium in Springfield Massachusetts and said;

"I don't look at this moment as a defining end to my relationship with the game of basketball. It's simply a continuation of something that I started a long time ago. One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50. Oh don't laugh. Never say never. Because limits, like fears are often just an illusion. Thank you very much. Looking forward to it."

This was Jordan's well publicized closing to his acceptance speech while being enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. While many laughed off the notion of Jordan coming back and playing at 50, I can't help but to look at the situation a little deeper. If you bring a couple factors into consideration, the move makes more sense now than ever, and as the greatest ever said himself, he's looking forward to it.

No doubt one of the most frustrating sports topics this year was the Derrick Rose injury watch. The star Point Guard and 2011 NBA M.V.P. of the Chicago Bulls faced unrelenting criticism this season while coming back from a devastating knee injury suffered in last season's playoffs. On one hand, people felt that as the face of the franchise, and a young face at that (24), Rose should take as much time as possible to make his return and assure the injury was completely healed. However on the other hand, many fans and pundits believe otherwise, continually saying disparaging things about the young man while he struggled to return to the court.

While it was true that team doctors gave Rose the green light to return near the end of this latest season, he felt the mental side of his game, namely the confidence in his new knee, wasn't close enough to where he could help the team. In this day of speedy recoveries (thanks Adrian Peterson), the pressure to return from injury for players has risen to nearly unfair levels of expectation. The only thing that kept some fans from turning against Rose was the fact that the Bulls were surprisingly winning without him. You would think this would buy the star point-guard more time to heal, but that sentiment ended once the Bulls progressed to the second round of the playoffs and ran into the powerhouse Miami Heat.

Let's get something straight. Rose hadn't played a single game all season. To expect him to lace up his shoes and step on the court, in a potential seven game series against the regular season's best team would be ridiculous. Not to mention the success the Bulls were having to that point represented a comfort level and chemistry the current lineup had built without him. That surely would've been stirred up with Rose's return, for better or for worse. At the end of the day it may end up being the best decision of his young career to wait for next season to return.

But what happens when he does come back? The anticipation to return to his original form is going to be greater than ever. The attention surrounding him and the Bulls at the beginning of the 2013-14 season will garner endless media attention and countless pundits sharing their commentary on his progress back. If only there was something else for the Chicago and National media to cover while Rose gets readjusted...

Enter Michael Jordan stage left.

Now before you blow off this notion as a complete pipe-dream, let's look at some of the indicators this is even possible. First, there's obviously Jordan's comments during his Hall of Fame speech. Claiming we may see him play at 50 years old it only takes a quick peak at a calender to realize Jordan will still be 50 when the 2013-14 season starts at the end of October. When is Jordan's 51st birthday you may be asking? February 17th, or in basketball terms the day after the 2013-14 NBA All-Star weekend comes to a close.

This bold proclamation by Jordan not only aligns with the beginning of this season, but also leaves him with a perfect exit strategy in case 51 year-old Jordan decides playing an entire season may be out of the question. But if he were to join the Bulls, the first half of the season may be all they need from him. The media and cynical fans alike would all but forget about Rose's return and allow him the time to regain his form as Jordan collects the spotlight. This surreal situation could then come to an end during a final farewell ceremony at the All-Star game, maybe even having Jordan participating as a "Legend" in my Slam Dunk Contest format. (See article on my dunk contest brainchild )

The next question we'd have to answer to complete this dream scenario is if the retired icon could even physically keep up in today's NBA. But I'd challenge you to tell him he can't. In perhaps the best piece about Jordan I've ever read, "Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building ", the author Wright Thompson discusses how Jordan lost 13 pounds in nine days after a vacation. He also believes he won't stop at 248 pounds, instead aiming for 218; his old playing weight. 

There's also the story about Jordan playing one-on-one with a player on the Charlotte Bobcats, the team Jordan currently owns and chairs. While it was a mystery for awhile, it was finally revealed that the player was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist , the second overall pick for the Bobcats in the 2012 NBA Draft. That's right, the projected second best player coming out of college couldn't beat Jordan in a pick up game. That either indicates that the Bobcats are continuing their trend of bad play, or that the fiery Jordan still has something left in the tank, even at 50. 

This monumental comeback would not just help Chicago in terms of publicity and viewership, but rather the entire league. At a time where the league is fielding more talented teams than in recent memory, the 2013-14 season may have already been in for historic numbers. Add the return of the games greatest player of all time to the mix and David Stern will be giving the fans all they can ask for in his last season as NBA Commissioner. 

Now will any of this actually happen? In all likelihood, no. But as passionate fans often are, I'm a dreamer. Whether this dream was brought on by sleep or pipe, I think it would be an incredible event in the history of sports. Derrick Rose gets the pressure taken off him, fans get a story to tell their grand kids, David Stern leaves the league on a high note, and Jordan gets the closure of knowing he backed up his once laughed at proposition. Those who think this isn't possible, I'll leave you with another quote from the g.o.a.t. himself;

"I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying."  -MJ

-A-Train-

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30 May

Gettin' Rowdie: Tampa Bay Shocks Sounders in U.S. Open Cup Match

By Alex Tronnes May 30, 2013 02:00 PM EST


Wednesday night marked an important step in my insertion into the Tampa Bay sports scene. After living in the area for nearly three years now, I finally made it over to Al Lang Stadium in beautiful St. Petersburg to watch the Tampa Bay Rowdies defend the Bay. I could not have picked a better game to be my first. In a third round match up for this year's U.S. Open Cup, the Rowdies, who currently play in the North American Soccer League, met one of Major League Soccer's best teams in the Seattle Sounders. The game represented a great chance for the Rowdies to not only test their skills against a true competitor, but also get the opportunity to garner national attention in the chance they could pull off a victory. Needless to say, "Ralph's Mob" and the Rowdies showed up ready for a fight.

Walking up to the box office on this cool May night, my anticipation for a great match was quickly building. Echoing throughout the area surrounding Al Lang Stadium was the sound of beating drums and chanting fans. I would soon learn that Ralph's Mob, the teams faithful followers, were responsible for the spirited ambiance. Watching a soccer match with the sound of passionate fans adding a chorus of support in the background adds an unmeasurable energy to the game, and no doubt gives the on-field action a heartbeat.

The Mob was even good for some comic relief when their chants began targeting the section of Seattle fans in attendance (about 15 or so). Included in their songbook was my personal favorite; "To hell, to hell with Seattle, To hell, to hell with Seattle, To hell, to hell with Seattle, the cesspool of the West!".

The living soundtrack of the stadium was just the beginning of Al Lang's unique atmosphere. Behind the stands you can see the masts of boats docked at the bay, and the image of them swaying in the evening breeze provides the stadium a unique waterfront location. This succeeds in giving a field full of intensity, a relaxing backdrop that encompasses the essence of St. Pete.

This style is also evident at the opposite corner of the stadium where there is a grassy area surrounded with some of Florida's trademark palm trees. The area was filled with children playing the night away, realizing little that they may be the future of the teams fan base.

There was one more moment in which I knew I'd be coming to another Rowdies game soon. Upon first entering the stadium and walking past the concession stand I saw something that instantly made me feel classier being a fan of soccer. Import beer being sold. Not just the watered-down domestic trash that every other sporting venue is complacent in serving. Not sure if it's the foreign demographic soccer tends to draw that prompted this beautiful offering of beverages, or if the distributors are just trying to keep up with the hipster soccer fan, but either way I like it.

The game itself continued the theme of an all around great experience. Although the forecast called for rain in the Bay area, it stayed dry, and the Rowdies proved capable of weathering the storm anyway. The first half was mostly uneventful besides what seemed like 30 whistles in the last 30 seconds of the half but something tells me the Rowdies were more than happy with the first 45 minutes of play and subsequent 0-0 score. As the players headed back to the locker room the sound of "Sweet Caroline" came over the speakers along with a few drunken renditions from the crowd, marking the close of the first half.

The first real excitement came around the 56th minute when the Sounders put together an attack that looked promising until a Seattle forward fired a shot at the goal that sailed at least 20 feet too high and almost careened into the children playing in the grassy area. Perhaps it was seeing their future fans in danger that finally woke the Rowdies up as the intensity of the game seemed to rise significantly thereafter.

Only a couple minutes after that misguided shot, the Sounders again strung together an impressive attack which caused the Rowdies Goalkeeper Diego Restrepo to come off his line and make a challenge on an attacker that had entered the box. After being clearly shaken up after the collision and resulting  save, Restrepo rose to his feet and provided another great save on the following corner.

This strong defensive series gave way to the offense attempting to match this effort. In the 66th minute Rowdies Midfielder and 2-time NASL Champion, Luke Mulholland, made a series of great moves into the Sounders box and delivered a near perfect cross in front of goal, sadly without a teammate there to put the ball in the net. Although a letdown, this play clearly showed the momentum building in the Rowdies favor, and Mulholland surely wasn't finished.

The scoreless streak would end in the 75th minute. In an example of near perfect touches, Luke Mulholland fielded a pass in front of him in the Sounders box and took a running right-footed shot on goal. Seattle Goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann was able to get a finger on the laser shot that would've been enough to redirect the ball an inch outside of the far post if it wasn't for Rowdies Forward Georgi Hristov being in the right place to accurately deflect the ball into the back of the net. Once that goal was scored I began to agree with the chorus Ralph's Mob was chanting; "I believe that we will win".  


The climax of the action came in the 84th minute when heart-rates throughout the stands spiked. On a Sounders corner kick, the ball found it's way past the Rowdies Goalkeeper. However no goal was scored. Rowdies Midfielder Jordan Gafa was positioned behind Diego Restrepo on the goal line and in a split second decision, with the ball well on it's way into the net, Gafa managed to punch it off the line and out of harms way. Receiving a red card for this handball, Gafa in essence gave himself up to save a goal. This scenario of losing a player in exchange for a goal would only prove successful if Restrepo could save the impeding penalty kick.

Up to the line stepped Obafemi Martins , a Nigerian footballer new to the Sounders, equipped with experience playing professionally in both the English and Russian Premier Leagues. In other words, the last person the Rowdies wanted taking the penalty kick. In the second round of the U.S. Open Cup, Goalkeeper Diego Restrepo saved a penalty kick that ended up being vital in the Rowdies 2-1 upset over crosstown rivals VSI Tampa Bay . Here he would be asked to make perhaps another game saving stop.

As Martins approached the ball for his shot, Restrepo started leaning right. He also managed to guess right. Martins blasted a low flying shot that Restrepo dove correctly towards and strongly deflected it out behind the goal. The stands erupted in the loudest applause of the evening, knowing that Gafa's decision to stop the Sounders goal, even at the cost of leaving the game, was worth it. Restrepo survived a couple more corners and the seemingly never ending five minutes of stoppage time to finish the game as the hero for the second round in a row.

This win will propel Tampa Bay into the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup where they will meet yet another MLS team from the upper Northwest in the Portland Timbers . If they can record another win, the Rowdies may be well on their way back to their glory days. Victories like this are vital to a team playing in a smaller league such as the NASL. The Rowdies have a rich history in the Tampa Bay area and having a successful team back in existence can be a real draw in the community. If the Rowdies can keep providing upsets when matched against "better" opponents, they'll no doubt put Tampa on the map of possible MLS expansion locations right alongside Miami and Orlando.

I would give my first Tampa Bay Rowdies experience an A+ for sure. Everything from the play on the field, to Al Lang Stadium's phenomenal presentation, made for a great evening and a great soccer game. I'll leave you with my favorite Ralph's Mob chant of the night; "Tampa Bay we are here, Gettin' Rowdie, drinkn' beer!" Music to this new Rowdies fan's ears...




-A-Train-

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23 May

Let's All Just Relax and Have Some Chicken: Tiger/Sergio Feud Takes Tasty Turn

By Alex Tronnes May 23, 2013 02:00 PM EST


Where's Dave Chappelle when you need him? If you answered Africa, you may be right. But if you think that comment had anything to do with race, you either aren't familiar with the career of comedian Dave Chappelle, or you stand to benefit the most from reading this article.

Let me start by setting the scene for what has become this week's hot topic in sports. It's no secret that PGA Tour golfers Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia do not like each other. There have been several instances in the past involving slight barbs between the two, but the feud finally spilled over onto the course at this year's Players Championship . During the second hole of the third round, while paired with Woods, Garcia claims he was distracted during his back swing by the crowd reacting to Woods pulling a club from his bag.

     

Now as someone who actively tries to come up with funny ways to distract golfing partners in their back swing, I can't roll my eyes enough over Garcia's accusation. Having said that, even if Tiger can't be held responsible for the crowds reaction, this is the PGA Tour, and the highest level of competitive integrity is vital.

Needless to say, by the end of the day both golfers had seen plenty of each other, and had plenty to comment about on the incident, which would only provide more fuel for their rivalry's fire. The sports media quickly took sides in this argument and seemingly every angle of this story was dissected. That was until this past Tuesday night, when the hostility reached a controversial level. While at a dinner banquet for the European Tour players, Garcia was asked if he would invite Woods to dinner during the U.S. Open . His response was poorly thought-out to say the least.

"We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken." -Sergio Garcia

This simple statement has energized ESPN over the past couple of days, leading to every "talking-head" at the network commenting on how outrageously malicious and racially insensitive the remarks were. While I agree Garcia knew exactly what he was implying, I also think the reaction to the quote in some ways empowers it and makes it worse.

Let's break this down. Garcia said he'd serve Tiger Woods fried chicken. For some reason liking fried chicken has become a racial stereotype attributed to African Americans in this culture. Therefore the media has deemed Garcia's remarks as borderline racist. But let's go further down this rabbit hole.

What makes this a stereotype? Is fried chicken just intrinsically linked to the black community? Or is the stereotype still present because it keeps getting reaffirmed in the public's mind by situations like this. Giving this much attention to an idiot's remarks only builds upon the negativity he was trying to articulate.

Dave Chappelle would be the ultimate interview regarding this story. In more than one of his stand-up specials Chappelle tackles the idea that chicken is a racially charged food. After seeing this clip I'm left to wonder if Sergio Garcia has ever waited tables in Mississippi. He sure displays the proper ignorance for the job.


So let's play this situation off as it is. An ignorant statement, by an ignorant individual. Anything more attributed to Garcia's remarks is not only a waste of time, but also just serves to strengthen a stereotype that never made sense in the first place.

Now that we've condemned Garcia, let's turn our attention to the folks reacting. Tiger was quick to respond over Twitter saying;

"The comment that was made wasn't silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate..." -Tiger Woods

There's no doubt in my mind that the comments Garcia made were wrong and clearly inappropriate. But for some reason I have a problem with Tiger calling the comments "hurtful". Let's remember, even though Garcia may have been making a racial reference in his comment, it was a stereotype about liking a certain (delicious) food. To call the stereotype about fried chicken hurtful, would be like a white guy saying it's hurtful to be told he couldn't dance. Some stereotypes are more innocent than others, and liking a food, or lacking in dance moves both would fall under that category for me.

So Tiger, stop it. You weren't "hurt" by the comments. If anything you probably smiled bigger than anyone else when hearing them. After all, in today's hyper sensitive media, these comments will no doubt follow Garcia around for a long time and Tiger will come out on top as the sympathetic figure. I would've been more impressed if Tiger had responded with suggesting a popular Spanish food for dinner instead. But then of course we would've been arguing more about a dinner menu than race, and a debate over race will always have more viewers tuning in. 

At the end of the day what do we take from this story? Do we become more divided and talk about how fried chicken is creating racial tension. Or do we discuss how stupid or obnoxious a stereotype is, in the hopes of robbing it of it's power. I'm hoping for the latter. In the meantime let's all grab some fried chicken for dinner, it's pretty good; and that's coming from a white guy.


Alex -A-Train- Tronnes

Follow on Twitter @SportsDrain

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9 May

As Playoff Intensity Grows, NBA Officials Should Follow NHL's Example

By Alex Tronnes May 09, 2013 02:00 PM EST


After watching the Chicago Bulls get dismantled in their Game 2 match-up against the Miami Heat last night, I was left with one underlining thought regarding the officiating; let the boys play ref. No matter the sport, officiating is often questioned by fans and media members alike, especially once playoff time rolls around. But after last night's excessive display of "disciplinary" action, as a fan I'm feeling as though I'm the one being punished.

Wednesday night's clash ended with nine technical fouls being handed out along with two ejections. Most of which were given out on plays where "playoff intensity" could surely be the culprit for the physical playing style. This was the largest amount of technical fouls in a NBA playoff game since 1995, but in an ironic twist most of these calls probably wouldn't have been made during that era. 

Perhaps this tightly called game is an example of the league protecting it's image. Afterall, David Stern was one of the first major sports Commissioners to mandate a league dress code, theoretically to move away from the "thug" image that many had of the NBA following the Malice in the Palace . But to rob the game of the competitive nature that took the sport to the level it is now would be a mistake.

Arguably one of the best ESPN "30 for 30" films displays the point I'm trying to make. "Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks" reminds us what it means to be a true trash-talker. Sports can be broken down into two levels; mental and physical. Reggie Miller was a perfect example of a player that was talented in both areas. Whether it was through physical play or mental cage-rattling, Miller would find an advantage over his competitors, and keep fans entertained in the process. No matter what image the league is looking for, fans appreciate intensity, and last time I checked fans fill the seats.

There are countless examples of classic playoff series in the past where intensity levels were tested, but referees ultimately would refrain from interrupting the pure display of competitive emotion fans love. What the viewer is left with is a chippy, hard fought game where the winner would not only be the best physically but also have the strongest mental fortitude to resist the temptation to act out and potentially hinder his team. By calling a technical foul as often as the officiating group did last night, you're robbing the players of the chance to play the mental game along with the physical.

So where can we see this type of intensity allowed? Look no further than the NHL Playoffs. 

As a casual hockey fan I tune into the occasional game and relish the speed and physical style in which the sport is played (displayed above). Watching a playoff game the other night however showed why the NHL is a different monster once the race for the cup begins. Hit after hit, I would wait to hear a referees whistle blow, and to my delight it seldom did. This would leave the fans in the arena jumping to their feet and getting more emotionally involved in the game after every blow. If NHL playoff games were called as tightly as last nights Bulls/Heat game, hockey would surely lose the type of genuine intensity that has kept it one of the most exciting post-seasons in sports. 

Now obviously I understand that it's important for an official to keep control of a game and that sometimes means calling fouls in an attempt to defuse rough play. But at some point we have to let the "professional" athlete be responsible enough to make the right decision during a heated exchange or physical interaction. Not only will the flow of the game not be interrupted by calling a reactionary foul call, but also the players will be able to play loose and more passionately knowing a "tech" won't be handed out when a little contact is given in the lane after some jawing led to it.

It will be interesting to see how the referees call Game 3 of the Bulls/Heat series Friday night, but one things for sure; intensity is not a bad thing for playoff basketball. The sooner the NBA and their officials realize that, the sooner their playoff games will tap the type of competitive force that's commonplace in the NHL playoffs.


-A-Train-


@SportsDrain

   






23 Mar

FGCU Eagles Build Up Reputation While Slamming Down Dunks

By Alex Tronnes March 23, 2013 02:00 PM EST

"Dear Alex,
It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been admitted to Florida Gulf Coast University."

That was the opening to my college acceptance letter I received from Florida Gulf Coast University almost seven years ago. After the Eagles upset victory in the NCAA Tournament last night over the Georgetown Hoyas , it's safe to say many students may be hoping to receive that same letter next semester. Potentially more than ever before. 

The Georgetown Hoyas, being in the perennial powerhouse Big East Conference , saw more than their share of talented opponents all season and still managed an impressive 24-5 record while finishing second place in their conference. FGCU meanwhile had to win the Atlantic Sun's Conference tournament to hope to get an automatic bid to the big dance. They managed to do just that.  

Not many basketball fans thought twice when filling out their March Madness brackets when it came to picking a winner between the 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast and 2 seed Georgetown. According to ESPN.com's figures only 3% of online brackets selected the virtual unknown to move on. Despite the lack of faith around the country the boys from the 239 didn't plan on backing down.

So here we were last night given a chance to see what the Atlantic Sun Conference's Player of the Year, Sherwood Brown , could do when the lights were brightest. He only responded by leading the team in points and rebounds en route to one of the biggest tournament upsets in recent memory. What's even more impressive is the fashion in which FGCU got the job done. During the game the Eagles' players showed off an array of awe inspiring dunks and alley-oops that would convince even Wesley Snipes that white men can indeed jump.  

Their performance has taken a young school, having held it's first classes in 1997, and put it dead smack in the middle of the national media spotlight. What was a feel good story about even making the tournament has now turned into the single most important week in the University's entire existence. Between the fashion in which they won, and the historic ramifications of the upset, media outlets everywhere are focusing on the potential Cinderella team. The type of publicity the school will get over the next 24 hours is going to be exactly what the college needs to build it's name nationally and in turn build it's student body even further.

Much of recruiting is based on a schools reputation and past success. If you're a talented basketball player from say New York, who's looking at smaller school's to attend, would you not take a peak at the team showing up on all these highlights and boasting stories of beach front dormitories? This idea is also extended to the student body in general. It will be interesting to see if enrollment in the college spikes this upcoming semester, but if it does I think it's fair to say we know why. 

In this year's NCAA Tournament field any team can get hot and make a run. After last night's pseudo dunk contest, it may not be crazy to think that team could be Florida Gulf Coast. But even if the boys in blue slip up tomorrow and lose, the college as a whole has already won. Every program needs a launching point before it can become great. If you watched the game yesterday you may have just witnessed that launch. Tune in to TBS tomorrow night at 7:10 to see if the Eagles will keep soaring.... 

                                  

                                                                                                      -A-Train-

Flow with the drain on Twitter @SportsDrain



17 Mar

St. Patricks Day Special: Top 10 Athletes with the Luck of the Irish

By Alex Tronnes March 17, 2013 02:00 PM EST


In honor of St. Patrick's Day I thought I'd make a list of 10 athletes that have a little Irish inspiration to them. So if you're not too drunk off green beer yet, check out the list below and let me know who I may have left off.


Jeff "Green" - Boston Celtics

Figured I'd start with an obvious choice, by name and team. Playing in his sixth NBA season, Forward Jeff Green has been instrumental in the Boston Celtic's success since Rajon Rondo went down with an injury. Boston has won seven of it's last nine games and are making a push for a playoff spot partly thanks to Green's high level of play. But if the Celtics hope to make noise in the postseason, they're going to need that shamrock logo to be luckier than ever.

Danica "Patrick" - NASCAR Driver

This may be the most Irish name of the entire list. For those not familiar with Danica Patrick, you should check out this other piece I wrote. Patrick has been blazing the trail for female athletes everywhere. Earlier this year she became the first woman ever to start on the pole at the Daytona 500 and also became the first woman to lead a lap in the race, all while posting the highest finish for a female ever at eighth.

"Patrick" Kane - Chicago Blackhawks

If luck is a theme of St. Patrick's Day, than this other Patrick fits right in on this list. The NHL's Chicago Blackhawks are off to an outstanding 23-2-3 record and Kane has a lot to do with their historic start. He leads the team in both Goals (15) and Assists (19) and has quickly become one of hockey's most electric young players. Pretty soon Chicago fans will be calling him Saint Patrick.

A.J. "Green" - Cincinnati Bengals

Get to know this name NFL fans. Adriel Jeremiah Green will easily be one of the premier wide receivers in the NFL for the next 10 years. He may not get the attention he deserves playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, but his trips to the Pro Bowl his first two seasons show he isn't going unnoticed. Green's size/speed combination gives him an exciting skill set to watch, unless of course you're an NFL defensive back. If Calvin Johnson is nicknamed "Megatron", A.J. Green may very well deserve to be called "Optimus Prime". 

Tyler Eifert - Notre Dame Football

I couldn't make this list without featuring a Notre Dame football player. Having decided to pick someone that would appear in April's NFL Draft I did you all the favor to not feature Manti Te'o again (Although if you'd like to read my thoughts on him, here's the article ). Instead let's look at the best Tight End in this years class. As a Junior at Notre Dame, the 6'6'' Eifert broke school records for both receptions and receiving yards for a Tight End. Somewhere an NFL GM is salivating at the thought of adding the talented weapon to their offense. Don't be surprised to see the once fighting Irishman sneak into the first round of April's draft.

Ken "Shamrock" - MMA Fighter

There's no way I could leave the former MMA fighter and UFC Hall of Famer off this list with a name like that. Shamrock is looked at as one of the founding fathers of MMA and his contributions to the sport have no doubt helped get the UFC where it is today. He boasts an all-time fight record of 28-15-2, that includes Championship belts in several different MMA leagues showing his wide influence throughout the mixed martial arts landscape. After a career like his, it's easy to see how he'd be considered a lucky Shamrock.

"Patrick" Willis - San Fransisco 49ers

Willis sure could've used more luck in the Super Bowl a month ago, but his career has still seen plenty of good fortune. Patrick has made every Pro Bowl and has been named to every All-Pro list since entering the NFL in 2007. Now that Ray Lewis has officially hung up his cleats, I believe Willis is poised to take his place as this generations greatest linebacker as you won't find a more humble and hardworking defensive player in the league. Hopefully if the 49ers make a return to the Super Bowl this year, Willis will have a little more luck on his side. There are few in the NFL that deserve it more.

Jack Cooley - Notre Dame Basketball

Being Selection Sunday and all, I figured I better put a Notre Dame basketball player here as well, as to stretch the St. Patrick's Day spirit into March Madness. If #24 Notre Dame hopes to make some noise in the Big Dance this year, they're going to need a healthy contribution from Mr. Cooley. Second on the team in Points, first in Blocks, and leading the team in Rebounds by nearly 200 boards, the 6'9'' Power Forward is a key to the fighting Irish's paint presence. Notre Dame will need the luck of the Irish to go deep in the NCAA bracket, but they may need Jack Cooley even more.

"Patrick" Peterson - Arizona Cardinals

Another NFL player that has made the Pro Bowl every year of his career is the Cardinals Patrick Peterson. He may be the closest thing today's NFL has to a shutdown corner. Combine that with his return ability, and visions of Deion Sanders will start to dance in your head. Peterson returned four punt returns for touchdowns while setting a new record for punt return yards as a rookie and doesn't look like he's slowing down anytime soon. Let Patrick Peterson cover A.J. Green and you may have the best 1-on-1 St. Patrick's Day match-up in the entire NFL.

Kroy Biermann - Atlanta Falcons

Let's get it out of the way, the only reason Kroy is on this list is because his name is pronounced "Beer-Man"...seemed pretty appropriate for a St. Patricks Day article. The fifth year player out of Montana has had a solid career with the Falcons registering nearly 200 tackles and 17 sacks since he drafted in 2008. The multi-talented Biermann even filled in at placekicker for the team after an injury to Matt Bryant back in 2009. But to be honest, his biggest contribution to the team may be in jersey sales. For today I shall rename him, "Green Biermann".

So there you have it folks. The Top 10 athletes that may have a little luck of the Irish with them. Each has had successful seasons or careers and on this St. Patrick's Day deserve to crack open a few green beers. May the luck of the Irish be with you too today!

                                                                                                      -A-Train-

Climb aboard the train on Twitter @SportsDrain



 


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12 Mar

NFL Offseason Reactions Part 1: Big Name Trades Lead the Way for Free Agency

By Alex Tronnes March. 12, 2013 02:00 PM EST


Over the next couple weeks I will be doing updates and reactions on key NFL free agent signings and trades as they happen. This was going to start later this afternoon once the NFL year officially kicks off at 4pm eastern. However there were a few franchises that couldn't wait to make their moves, so let's take a look at the two trades that will potentially be a sign of things to come this offseason.

Percy Harvin to Seattle Seahawks

It was a foregone conclusion that Percy Harvin's future with the Minnesota Vikings was coming to a quick end. After an injury riddled beginning to 2012, and a sideline outburst at Coach Leslie Frazier, the talented wide receiver found himself on the Injured Reserved list missing the last seven games of the season. After that transpired it was no surprise when the trade rumors started heating up. Adding to the fire was the rumor that Harvin would be seeking a Calvin Johnson sized contract. No franchise with any intention of building its' roster would dish out that kind of money to a player with that many injury/character concerns. 

Knowing the Vikings had all but given up on the young playmaker, the chance of getting anything in return for the electric Harvin would be difficult to say the least. Enter the Seattle Seahawks. You better believe Seahawk's Head Coach Pete Carroll had recruited a young Harvin while at USC and surely is familiar with his skill set. Couple that with the fact that Harvin's first Offensive Coordinator in the NFL, Darrell Bevell, is currently in the same position with the Seahawks, and the interest from the Pacific North West makes even more sense. Let's also keep in mind that a potential cure to Harvin's "chronic migraines" just became legal in Washington state. Add all these factors together and Seattle seems like the perfect landing spot for Harvin's services. In 2009 it was Brett Farve throwing to Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin under Bevell's offense. Now it'll be another quarterback with a Wisconsin connection delivering them the ball. If 2009 taught us anything, Fantasy Football players might want to keep an eye on Russel Wilson this year....

So how did the Vikings make out in this deal? Simply put, beautifully. General Manager Rick Spielman has been impressive with his success working the draft the last few seasons for the Vikings and with some added ammunition after this trade will be looking to continue that trend. In exchange for Harvin the Vikings will be receiving the Seahawk's 25th overall pick and seventh rounder this year, as well as a mid-round pick next year. With those selections the Vikings can add a potential blue-chip player in the first round while using the additional picks to make any necessary moves to secure a targeted player later in the draft. We will have to wait and see what the draft picks eventually produce, but for now let's call this trade a win-win for both teams.

Anquan Boldin to San Fransisco 49ers

This trade came as more of a surprise than the Harvin one, but is also quite understandable looking at the situation. An offseason trade between teams that just met in the Super Bowl seems odd but apparently the Harbaugh brothers grew up playing nice. The Baltimore Ravens, having just made Joe Flacco the highest paid quarterback in the history of the NFL, wanted Anquan Boldin to take a pay cut to give the team some cap room or risk being cut. Boldin being a prideful, blue collar player, stood strong in his stance not to be payed less after being such a pivotal part of the Raven's run to a Super Bowl title. So what did John Harbaugh do? Called his wide receiver-needy brother in San Fransisco and said let's make a deal.  

With Randy Moss potentially retiring and last year's first round pick A.J. Jenkins the subject of "bust" discussions, the only reliable wide receiver on the 49ers roster is budding star Michael Crabtree. Adding Boldin to the mix gives the 49ers the type of physical presence on offense that they already have established on the defensive side of the ball. Boldin can help exponentially in run blocking for Frank Gore and will no doubt provide Colin Kaepernick a solid option underneath to dump the ball to and let Boldin do the rest. With this trade the Super Bowl runner-ups substantially upgrade one of their only weak positions, and are poised to have an offense conducive to making another championship run. 

For the Ravens this trade was a bit of a head-scratcher. You managed to find the money to pay your Super Bowl winning quarterback, but in doing so decided you don't have the money you already owe to the receiver that bailed Flacco out several times in big playoff moments. All this while big name quarterbacks around the league are taking pay cuts in order to keep/get help at other positions for their respected teams. Getting a sixth round pick in return for Boldin could always yield a player that is just as successful as Boldin has been, but then again you could end up with a player that doesn't even make the team. We'll give this trade a "to be continued" tag, but from the outset it looks as though the 49ers are winners in this deal.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Sports Drain's NFL Offseason Reactions, as this afternoons activity will surely stir up a few more talking points....

                                                                                           -A-Train-

Climb aboard the train on Twitter @SportsDrain




9 Mar

Top 10 Under the Radar NFL Free Agents

By Alex Tronnes March. 09, 2013 12:01 PM EST


The NFL's free agency period is just a few days away and like most years there should be a flurry of activity once it gets underway. Many players will be signing with new teams in search of a fresh start, a run at a championship, or in some cases a fat payday. Every season a few blue chip players end up leaving their teams and hitting the open market creating bidding wars for their services. These players inevitably end up being a tease for hopeful fans praying they'll sign with their team. However you don't always have to spend the big dollars on the big names to find value for your team. Here are 10 under the radar free agents that if given the right opportunity could be key pieces on their new teams, and for a good price.

10.) Greg Jones , Fullback - Jacksonville Jaguars

You might be scratching your head wondering how a fullback made this list. Just ask Adrian Peterson how valuable picking up a talented free agent fullback can be. After the Minnesota Vikings signed Jerome Felton last offseason he made the Pro-Bowl and was key in blocking for what ended up being the second highest rushing total in NFL history. Greg Jones has had similar success helping give Jacksonville a potent running game during his time there including being the lead-blocker for Maurice Jones-Drew's 2011 rushing title. The former second round pick out of Florida State may be 31 years-old but if put in a power running scheme he can surely contribute to a teams success on the ground for a few solid seasons.

9.) LaRon Landry , Safety - New York Jets

Going into free agency last season, Landry was widely considered to be a bit of a risk because of his injury situation. After signing a one year "prove it" deal with the New York Jets he rewarded them with perhaps the best season of his career, providing a physical presence in their secondary that opposing teams had to respect. Landry was named to his first Pro-Bowl after the season and is now carrying that momentum potentially to a new team. If the Jets decide not to resign the 28 year-old Landry he'll have the chance to add his vicious style to a new defense. There's no doubt he will leave a mark on his new team, and any opposing receivers who come across his middle.  

8.) Rashard Mendenhall , Running Back - Pittsburgh Steelers

Mendenhall has a few things going against him including injuries and a fumbling problem, to the point of ending up in Coach Mike Tomlin's doghouse in Pittsburgh. However the former first round pick is still young and there's no doubt the guy has talent. As recently as 2010 he rushed for over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns. If a team can get anywhere close to that kind of production out of him he'll be the steal of this free agency class. A team should be able to sign him to a very reasonable deal and could end up feeling very good about taking a risk on him.

7.) Antoine Cason , Corner - San Diego Chargers

Cason's career epitomizes the term under the radar. After being selected 27th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers, Cason has gone on to be an effective starter opposite Quinton Jammer for the west coast team. At 6'1'' and 195 lbs. Cason possesses the type of size/speed combination that coaches want out of an outside corner. In today's pass heavy league, some team will be very happy adding the talented defensive back to their secondary.

6.) Louis Vasquez , Guard - San Diego Chargers

The Chargers may be at risk to lose two solid young players. At the 2009 NFL Combine Louis Vasquez registered the most reps in the benchpress of any player, and continued throwing around his muscle displacing the starter in San Diego his rookie season. He's a massive guard at 6'5'' 325lbs and hasn't missed a single game since he first stepped on the field as a rookie. A team in need of an upgrade on their offensive line would be wise to avoid some more pricey options and go with the former third rounder.

5.) Brandon Myers , Tight End - Oakland Raiders

Just ask fantasy football players how productive Brandon Myers can be. This past season Myers caught 79 passes for 806 yards and 4 touchdowns, all of which were career highs for the 27 year-old. In today's NFL more and more teams are finding ways to utilize multiple tight end formations, and the New England Patriots have shown what an offense can do with pass catchers at the position. Although he's coming off his best year as a pro, Myers shouldn't command too big of a contract. Some team with dreams of replicating the Patriots success will offer Myers a payday he's happy with and they should be very happy with what they get in return.

4.) Glenn Dorsey , Defensive Tackle/Defensive End - Kansas City Chiefs

For the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft, Dorsey has never really played like it. However over the last four seasons the Chiefs have drafted two other under-achieving defensive lineman in Tyson Jackson (third overall 2009) and Dontari Poe (eleventh overall 2012) who haven't yet panned out either. At some point you have to question the scheme/coaching in Kansas City. If Dorsey is given the chance to move back to his natural position of defensive tackle with a new team, we could see him finally play like the top 5 pick he was. 

3.) Sam Baker , Offensive Tackle - Atlanta Falcons

The former three-time All-American out of USC is an interesting study. Not often do teams let talented young tackles hit the free agent market, but here we have a 27 year-old former first round draft pick potentially hitting free agency. Since 2008 Baker has been helping give Matt Ryan a clean pocket in Atlanta and teams will surely take notice. With Jake Long and Andre Smith commanding the big bucks, Baker could prove to be a bargain for a team in need of line help.

2.) Mike Jenkins , Corner - Dallas Cowboys

Jenkins may have fallen out of favor in Dallas, but let's get one thing straight, the man can play. The former first round pick that ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine is a talented playmaking corner that still has productive years in front of him. Jenkins is easily a number two corner for most teams in the league and with some bigger names commanding more attention on the market, he may come cheap. In 2009 Jenkins made his first Pro Bowl and if he ends up in the right situation I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him return to Hawaii in 2013.

1.) Aqib Talib , Corner - New England Patriots

Talib has a troubled past to say the least, but after spending a season in New England we see what a good coaching staff and support system can do for a player. There's no doubting Talib's ability but a team that signs him is taking a risk that he won't return to his old ways. Because of his questioned past, an interested team should be able to sign him to a reasonable incentive-laden contract. There is of course the chance a team is so enamored with his Pro Bowl potential that they pay him a healthy salary. If that's the case we might be in store to see his infamous victory dance again.....


Once free agency gets underway we should see a lot more celebratory dances around the league. March 12th will kick off what will no doubt be an exciting offseason. There will be some big name players moving and some big time contracts being signed. But if your favorite team is looking for value with potential upside, this list should give you a pretty good idea of who to hope for. Who would you want you team to target? Let's get a discussion going in the comment section below....


                                                                                                -A-Train-

Climb aboard the train on Twitter @SportsDrain



6 Mar

Listen to the Legend: Rodman Sparks Meaningful Dialogue on World Stage

By Alex Tronnes March. 06, 2013 10:00 PM EST


Rarely do sports and politics collide in the same story. Leave it to controversial NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman to flip that script.

Recently Rodman took a trip to the secretive country of North Korea with a film crew from HBO and three of the Harlem Globetrotters (who's name has never made more sense). Their visit was to film a "basketball diplomacy" piece in which the Globetrotters played in a exhibition basketball game representing the United States against opponents from the host country. The story takes a wild turn when dictator Kim Jong-un showed up to the game making Rodman and company potentially the first Americans to meet the young leader. Images of the meeting show Kim Jong-un and Rodman paling around while watching the game, clearly enjoying eachother's company, showing a captivating connection between the two eccentric individuals. The trip included visits to a skating rink, an aquarium and concluded with a large banquet where the dictator was able to wine and dine one of his favorite ex-NBA stars. 

It didn't take long for the American media to decide this type of interaction was not ok. Upon his return to the states Rodman sat down with George Stephanopoulos for an interview on ABC News' "This Week". First of all, why Rodman's people allowed him to be grilled by an experienced member of the media regarding foreign affairs is a mystery to me. Clearly Rodman wasn't prepared to answer the types of questions he was being asked. As a result we got to hear Dennis ramble and stubble through the exchange, hardly articulating the points he was attempting to make. Interestingly enough however if you listen closely to what he's trying to say, there may actually be a bit of sense behind it.

Let me just preface the rest of this article by saying I'm in no way being an apologist for the dictator or condone the decisions he makes, as Rodman himself also points out. But I would like to look at some of these issues from a different angle like I think the NBA legend was trying to do. Often our country's media takes a very ethnocentric view on foreign affairs and seldom thinks from an outside perspective, so that's what I plan to do.

During the interview Stephanopoulos questions Rodman on how he can refer to Kim Jung-un as a great man while he's putting 200,000 people in prison camps. Rodman begins to point out that we do the same thing in our country only to stray off topic before a valid argument can be made. What I think Dennis was trying to refer to is our country's current legal system. Some people are quick to point out that we have draconian drug laws in the United States that unproportionately target minorities and puts them into overpopulated jails right alongside the most violent of offenders. Other cultures may very well look at that and say we have "prison camps" as well. When using terms like these we must try and remember that perception is often key.

There's another example during the beginning of this interview that had me thinking about how other cultures may be perceiving the topic touched on. While Stephanopoulos is doing the voice over for the intro, he refers to Kim Jong-un allowing millions of his people to starve. To this point I would ask Mr. Stephanopoulos if he's aware that the U.S. has been instrumental in sanctions against multiple countries in the Middle East, that leave many women and children hungry and without proper medical supplies. That may be a difficult comparison to accept but I believe in calling a spade a spade.

Perhaps the most significant piece of this interview however was when Dennis says Kim Jong-un has a message for President Barack Obama , a known NBA fan himself. He just wants him to call. As Rodman pointed out;

"He loves basketball, I said Obama loves basketball. Let's start there"

This could be the most important point Rodman makes the entire interview. It's no secret North Korea is one of America's most dangerous foes on the global stage, and Kim Jong-un, having recently succeeded his father as dictator, represents the leader of that threat. Any attempt at eventual peace with North Korea seems unlikely, but if it was possible it would have to start somewhere. Rodman is simply giving the President a place to start that conversation. Who knows, a tiny bit of common ground, in this case the love of basketball, could end up going a long way to making the world a better place. 

Was Rodman as good at being a diplomat as he was at pulling down rebounds? Not a chance. But he at least got an important conversation going regarding a world issue. The majority of the response to this ABC interview could be described as a brush-off at best. Secretary of State John Kerry even chimed in on the story saying;

"Dennis Rodman was a great basketball player. And as a diplomat, he is a great basketball player. And that's where we'll leave it." 

Kerry should be careful not to get on Rodman's bad side. He may one day take a diplomatic trip to meet Kim Jong-un himself, and who better to take with to help break the ice than the dictator's new best friend, Dennis Rodman. In a career that was widely surrounded with strange storylines, this may end up topping them all....


                                                                                                  -A-Train-


Climb aboard the train on Twitter @SportsDrain



Read more: Dennis Rodman Goes To North Korea, Everyone Is Kind Of Confused · NYU Local http://nyulocal.com/national/2013/03/04/dennis-rodman-goes-to-north-korea-everyone-looks-at-each-other-kinda-confused/#ixzz2Moaon7YW
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