Gathering my thoughts – Suarez, Evra, handshakes and beyond.

This blog hasn’t been update for a while and this isn’t about Detroit sports, but fuck it, I feel like gathering my thoughts on the extreme mess that has been the Luis Suarez case, and where better to do that than here? I’ve been tweeting angrily about this time after time and have engaged in several heated discussions on Twitter. But it’s hard to put together a coherent set of thoughts on a case like this on Twitter, so I’m going to present by argument and what I mean about certain issues here, in long form.

Some of you might be new to the case, others might be privy to most of the details, I’ve read extensively on the subject, including the official report on the case from FA, which I suggest everyone who is interested in this case reads, just to see how ridiculous the conclusion is. To those who know a lot about the case, sorry for starting with some background info and such, but to get my point across, I feel like I need to go through the case from the bottom and up.

Lastly, before I start this for real, I want to state that racism is not okay. It’s a big problem, it’s despicable and I don’t condone or support it in any shape or form. Neither does, to my knowledge, the majority of Liverpool fans or Liverpool FC.

Background

Let’s start by looking at the two main actors in this case. We’ll start with Luis Suarez. Luis Suarez is a 25-year old soccer striker from Uruguay. He is also, which is an important point in this case, a quarter black, he had a black grandfather. Suarez struggled a bit with partying and bad work ethic in his early teens, but reeled himself in and became one of the biggest talents in soccer. At the age of 19 he transfered to the Dutch club Groeningen and the next year he took a step up, being sold to Amsterdam’s Ajax. In his early years in Holland he struggled a bit with some bad tackles and temper taking too many yellow cards, being sent off once and once getting into an altercation with a teammate over who was supposed to take a free kick. He also showed a lot of talent and in 2009 he was named team captain. However he ended his time in the club on a ridiculously dumb and ugly note by biting an opponent in the shoulder in late 2010 (yes, you read that right, fucking idiotic thing to do). When his suspension for this had ended, he had been sold to Liverpool FC. Suarez also plays for the Uruguayan National team, where has found great success, but also a spot of controversy after a late handball to save a goal in the 2010 World Cup, however, anyone with a half a brain can see that this was a reflex, not a premeditated attempt attempt at cheating. However his comments after the game that “everyone would have done the same” were dumb and badly worded.

It’s clear that while talented, Luis Suarez is a hot head and he can be a bit of an idiot at times, however he was the captain of an Ajax team with many black players and was very well liked there, no teammate there has ever criticized him. The same goes for the Uruguayan National team, which is famous for having been the first with black players and which is still a team with many black players. In fact, the entire nation of Uruguay has supported him in this case and he’s seen as likely to be their next National team captain. It should also be noted that Suarez long before this case has been heavily involved in anti-racism work.

His career in Liverpool started well, but aside from the case itself, which I will get to soon, I promise, he’s had a couple of problems. First of all he’s been prone to falling too easily while tackled, attempting to draw fouls, however he’s gotten better and better in this regard and today that’s mostly absent from the game. The other problem was a middle finger to Fulham supporters who heckled him about this case. He seems to be very well liked by his teammates.

Patrice Evra is a French left defender who plays for Manchester United. His career has seen a few unflattering incidents, and a weird drunken video, but we’ll focus on a couple of things that say a bit about the kind of player Evra is. First of all there is the case of the 2010 World Cup. Evra was the captain of the French team and lead them in a mutiny against their own coaches, ending in scandal so bad that French ministers came home from vacation to have crisis meetings. This lead to Evra being suspended from his national team for several games. Secondly, while Evra, contrary to popular belief, has not brought up racism cases himself before, people close to him have twice accused actors associated with other teams in the Premier League of racism and both cases ended without a conviction. In one of these cases Evra was cited by the FA for being an unreliable witness who exaggerated greatly.

The case

Back in October of 2011 Liverpool and Manchester United played a 1-1 draw at Liverpool’s Anfield. During the game, Suarez and Evra were up against each other a lot and at one point they ended up in a confrontation that the referee broke in to. Suarez then seems to pat Evra on the head in some sort of reconciliation, which Evra did not react well too and the ref had to break in again. After the game, Evra and his manager Alex Ferguson went to the referee’s dressing room to report that Suarez had racially abused Evra. Suarez denied the accusations of racism and it wasn’t any video footage that showed his lips well enough to do lip-reading and there were no witnesses that had heard what was said. Still, the FA, after a long period of consideration, decided to charge Suarez and after a hearing with an independent panel (which, considering one of the three members is one of the heads of Manchester United and another claims to have saved Alex Ferguson’s career in the 80s, is a goldmine for conspiracy theories, but let’s stick to the more cut and dried parts of the case here) Suarez was suspended for 8 games. On New Years Eve (tactical release point?) the report about the case came and despite earlier promises to fight the case and despite maintaining Suarez’ innocence, Liverpool decided to not appeal the suspension.

FA’s “proof”/arguments

The independent panel found Suarez guilty based on believing Evra’s testimony that Suarez had told him that he doesn’t “talk to black people (negros)” and that he kicked him “because you are black” and that when Evra challenged him to use the word one more time and he’d hit him, Suarez alledgedly replied by saying “negro, negro, negro, negro”.  The whole conversation happened in Spanish by the way. The panel presented some reasons why they found Evra’s version to be trustworthy and here they are in all their idiotic form:

- Suarez admitted to having used the word “negro”, which is Spanish for black. However, he only admits to having said it once and claims he used it in a friendly way. I know, for us from Europe and North America, that sounds ridiculous, but the linguists the panel used in the case said that if what Suarez claims he said (Something like “relax negro” or “why negro”, with negro here meaning “pal”) was what was said, it could very well be said as a friendly/calming thing. Uruguayans in general and several linguistics experts have agreed with this. The word “negro” is often used as a term of endearment in South America. However, the panel thought the discussion was too heated for anything calming to have been said and dismissed this. However, looking at the video, it seems like Suarez was trying to calm it all down, which caused a bad reaction from Evra.

- Dirk Kuyt told the FA what Suarez had told him he had said after the game. His version and Suarez’ version were not identical word for word. Ummm, yeah, Suarez isn’t good in English, so his version was translated to English by an interpreter. However, he is fluent in Dutch, so he likely translated what he said to Dutch in his head when telling it to Kuyt, who, you guessed it, is Dutch, Kuyt then likely translated it to English for the panel. Are we really surprised their accounts weren’t word for word the same?

- Patrice Evra’s account was consistent and well presented and was consistent with the video images. Suarez’ seemed nervous and his account was not totally consistent with the video images. To this I ask? Why should Evra be nervous? Suarez was the one facing suspension and his reputation being tarnished. Evra is also way more comfortable with English than Suarez, who used and interpreter. Furthermore, aren’t lies one has practiced often easier to get consistent than what you get while trying to recall events truthfully. Last of all, the FA coached Evra since he was “their witness” and he was able to watch the video of the events before and during his statement to the panel. Suarez was not able to.

These were the main reasons they believed Evra and as I have pointed out, I don’t find either to be very convincing. There are also a few arguments to be made the other way. Things the panel did not adress.

Arguments for Suarez’ account

- First of all, Evra’s history of untruthfulness should be a warning bell here. However, since it wasn’t brought up in the case (a failure on Liverpool’s part to not bring this up), they only considered his trustworthyness based on this case. Which is just… wow… “The court knows that the witness has a history of lies and exaggerating, but seeing as the defense fucked up and didn’t bring it up, probably cause they assumed we already knew, which we did, we only considered his answers in this case and he seemed like a trustworthy enough fella up there.” (not an actual quote).

- Secondly, Evra went on French TV a couple of days after the incident and claimed he’d been called “a ‘n*gger’ more than 10 times.” He also claims he told the ref that Suarez called him a “n*gger” several times. The ref did not hear this. Later he would degrade this, as you see above to 5-6 times and the word used, suddenly became “negro” in his accusations after Suarez admitted to have used that word. So the guy can’t even get his story straight and they still believed him.

- Evra claimed that Suarez said he kicked him “because you are black”, or “Porque tu eres negro”. This is very correct Spanish like you’d learn in school, and like the very language-mighty Evra, who likes to learn the languages of foreign teammates (which is why he adressed Suarez in Spanish, which they both knew), would have learnt. However, several language experts, including those the panel used, have pointed out that no one in Latin America, and certainly not in Uruguay would have phrased the sentence like that. They say it’s highly unlikely that an Uruguayan would use that sentence as it stands.

Based on this, the rest of the report, and obviously and inclination to believe my own guy over Evra, I think that Suarez is the one telling the truth, and in the aftermath, which we’ll get to, he’s the one that has acted like he told the truth. So I, truly and honestly, believe Suarez to be innocent here and Evra to be a liar, and so does the majority of Liverpool’s fans, their coaches and the team, including his teammates.

Even if you’re not as convinced as I am, there is a second point to be made: Yes, a panel like this doesn’t require the same “proof of being guilty beyond concievable doubt” as the court of law, however, as they themselves pointed out in the report on this it should require pretty heavy proof. After all, we’re talking not only a long suspension, but also branding someone forever as a racist. The only “proof” in this case was Evra’s statement. It’s a word against word case, which in and of itself should not be enough to convict someone like this and with such flimsy arguments for Evra’s account being true and several arguments to be made against it, I found it absolutely baffling that they suspended Suarez. I, and others supporting Suarez, also suspect that this was a statement suspension to show the International football federations FIFA and UEFA that the FA takes racism more seriously than they do, after having been criticized before for not taking it seriously enough.

It should also be mentioned that FA independent panels have a conviction rate of more than 99 percent, compared to 75-80 percent in the British court system. That doesn’t speak very well for their fairness.

If I was to preside over the case, I would have given the pair matching suspensions of 1 or 2 games (Evra admitted to verbally abusing Suarez too, but was not punished) for something like “hurting the game’s reputation”.

The aftermath in the press


The press jumped all over this case, not reporting the arguments for Suarez, but rather going at him like a savage bunch. Some will say dislike of Scousers and LFC are behind it (and believe me, English people in general do NOT like Scousers), but I think it’s more likely that there was one angle that would sell papers here and they went with it sensationalising the case to high heavens, attacking Suarez, attacking the club and its fans for supporting it etc. Most likely, this media pressure was what made Liverpool, who immediately after the suspension went out in all out attack mode against the FA and the panel and looked like they’d fight it through any instance they could, back off and ultimately not appeal (in addition to appeals to the FA in such cases actually not being able to change the verdict itself, only the sentencing of punishment and the fact that bringing it further than that would have been very complicated). The media has quite frankly conducted a with hunt.

It is interesting to compare this case to that of Chelsea captain and English national team player (and Captain until last week) John Terry who was caught on camera calling Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand a “fucking black cunt”. The FA, aside from stripping him of his captaincy of the National team until the case is resolved, has not gotten to the case yet, which is fair seeing as a fan decided to report it to the police and Terry is going to stand trial in the case (with a maximum punishment of a petty fine) right after this summers Euros. While I don’t want to judge anyone as guilty before they are sentenced, the fact this was caught on camera and Terry’s flimsy defense (he claims that seeing as he was obscured before and after the words “Fucking black cunt”, the camera missed that he really said “I didn’t call you a fucking black cunt.”) I find the case against him much stronger than the one against Suarez. However, one is an English national, the other is South American, and media has seen that. Suarez is mercilessly being slaughtered and alternate viewpoints are less than present in the debate. When it comes to Terry, most pieces are about “how he bravely soldiers on in the face of racism accusations.”

We also saw several anti-racism heads and the head of the Players organization PFA go out against Suarez and LFC for supporting him, clearly without understanding that LFC thought he was innocent and accepting the judgment without reading the case. Interestingly enough one of the two anti-racism spokespeople is a member of the board of the Manchester United charity foundation. The other has the same role with Chelsea, but hasn’t mentioned the Terry case at all. Witchunt.

The aftermath at Anfield

Liverpool fans were again slaughtered on Twitter and in the media as racists for their support for Suarez after booing Evra every time he touched the ball in a Liverpool 2-1 win over Manchester United at Anfield in the FA cup in January (Suarez was still suspended). Apparently, by booing him, and saying mean things about him on Twitter, like calling him a filthy liar, we condone racism. This is as far from the truth as possible. Okay, if you read this and think Suarez is guilty, try to wrap your head around this: We truly and honestly believe he is innocent. We truly believe Evra lied. It doesn’t matter if Evra is black, white, purple or orange (okay, if he looked like a cast member of Jersey Shore we might have hated him even more). We hate him because we think he is a liar and a cheater. We also hate him because he captains Manchester United. Race has nothing to do with it and opposing fans and the media are showing a shocking lack of understanding for branding us racists for supporting a player we believe is innocent and booing a guy who a) we believed lied to hurt our team and our player and b) it’s the Captain of Manchester United, which is pretty much a booable offense anyway.

This weekend’s game at Old Trafford

This Saturday, the teams met again at Old Trafford, in Manchester. This was Suarez second game after his suspension and his first from start and a lot of media built up the meeting of him and Evra and their pregame handshake as an important event. A few weeks ago, FA decided to skip handshakes between Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers based on the Terry case to avoid incidents, but seeing as time was served in this case, they most likely imagined it as a “let’s put this to rest”-moment. And in the days leading up to the game every report said that both players were set on shaking hands with each other, which would have calmed the case down, though I think the media still would have found something to pick on. That would have been nice.

However, that did not happen. Suarez seemed to ignore Evra going straight to the next player, which lead Evra to grab his arm before being pushed away by Liverpool goalie Pepe Reina. However alternate angles (like the video below)  brought up theories that Evra might have snubbed Suarez. To me, it looks like Evra hestitates, and that he could have shaken Suarez’ hand had his hand been at the same height as it was for other players, but Suarez stared staight ahead to Man U goalie De Gea, so I think he had little intention of shaking Evra’s hand. And to me, it doesn’t matter.

Yes, I know a handshake would have put this to death which would have been nice as all hell. Yes, I know some people will say it was the sporty thing to do. But again, try to imagine that I am right, the LFC fans are right, that Suarez is innocent. Would you have shaken the hand of someone who deliberately lied to get you suspended, put your career in trouble and tarnish your reputation for the whole world to see? I know I wouldn’t. Hell, if I met Patrice Evra today, I wouldn’t shake the scumbags hand even if you paid me for it. A handshake would have been nice, but I understand Suarez completely. I also think it supports his innocence, seeing as if he was guilty, he would just want the case gone, not to keep fighting it.

I actually found Evra’s actions in the handshake line worse. Suarez just ignored him. Evra reacted with a display of aggression like he wanted to start a fight.

There were other incidents in the game, that went largely unreported or at least did not get the same attention, such as Evra trying to deliver a malicious, injury-causing tackle on Suarez (video above), but luckily his own player got in the way and they collided. At half time there was an apparent altercation in the player’s tunnel, apparently started by Evra. It didn’t lead to something the ref would card and he told the FA not to take further action and we don’t know what happened, but the theory is that Evra said something to Suarez in an attempt to provoke him and some LFC players got between them. The worst one was after the game when Patrice Evra decided to jump up and down and celebrate all over the field and then deliberately right in the face of Suarez (video below), which Suarez to his credit ignored and the ref managed to stop Evra before other LFC players could get to him. Again Evra acted in a manner meant to provoke and it could easily have lead to a fight (there were reports of LFC’s Daniel Agger and Rio Ferdinand almost coming to blows in the player’s tunnel). And to me, his behaviour the whole game stroke me as smug. Not like a victim, but like someone who knows he and his club has beaten Liverpool in this case. A guy who managed to pull off a lie and make the rival club and a rival player pay.

Aftermath of all this

From Liverpool’s side, Kenny Dalglish, the manager was slightly defiant and largely unaware of the handshake incident when interviewed after the game, but after a media storm of fury against Suarez and Dalglish, they both apologized (though the apologized seemed very forced) and the club apologized too. Media still made a storm though and several talking heads, including PFA’s leader, went out and more or less called for Suarez’ head and called him a shame for Liverpool (so did Alex Ferguson, but we’ll get to that later). There were some sensible voices though, including former Manchester United player Gary Neville (a guy who has publicly stated several times that he despises both Liverpool the team and the city) saying that “if you don’t like the guy, don’t shake his hand”, Man City striker Mario Balotelli who said that if someone made up something to get him suspended for 8 games, he wouldn’t wanna shake his hand either, and former Liverpool midfielder John Barnes, a guy who endured more racism and has worked so hard and gained a ton of ground against racism and for black players in England, who said a handshake would just be fakery anyway (he has generally been supportive of his old club and Suarez in all this).

Liverpool’s mishandling of all this

In this case, Liverpool, in my opinion, had two options. The smart one would likely have been to immediately go out and say something along the lines of “Luis Suarez claims that he did not say the things he is accused of, however he admits to having used a word that is common as a friendly term in his home country, but not acceptable here and understand that it can have been misunderstood as racist. He apologizes if it upset Evra and will accept his punishment for this and has learnt that he cannot use that word on an English football field.” By laying down flat and focusing on the cultural confusion part of the case, LFC would not have been a target for the media and even for Suarez the case could have gone away fairly quitely, with likely something like a 2 game suspension. It would be going against what they believed to be right and unfair to Suarez, but likely would have brought the best results both for the club, its reputation and Suarez.

The other way is what I’d call the “right” way or the brave way. It’s the one I’d have preferred. Liverpool should have said “to hell with the FA, to hell with the media, we believe our guy is innocent and this is a miscarriage of justice and we’ll fight it all the way.” In their statement after the suspension was announced it seemed like this was the way they would go. The statement was defiant and the next day the players all warmed up in t-shirts with Suarez’ face on it (guess if they got trouble from the media over that one) to support him. I thought they’d appeal and if that didn’t work they’d take it to the courts of law and do anything to clear Luis Suarez’ reputation. Instead they buckled to the pressure of the media and didn’t appeal, even though they stated that they still believed him to be innocent.

This is the third way, neither laying down, nor fighting it. The same happened this Sunday. After first having seemed defiant about Suarez’ right to skip the handshake, everyone apologized (in a very forced manner). Most likely they felt the pressure from their main sponsor Standard Chartered and from the club’s American owners (Fenway Sports Group). This was to me, very weak.
All in all the leadership and the PR handling of the club has been atrocious in this. The club might need someone to come in and take over the PR part and also to make decisions for the club in times like this and Fenway and the club need to get on the same wavelength, so they don’t get caught in the middle like this. And I’d like Fenway to grow a fucking pair of balls. I like them, they have many good ideas, but they should have continued to let the club fight this.

However, even the times they tried to fight this, the club were clumsy. They didn’t argue the right points with the Independent panel, clearly didn’t coach their witnesses and Suarez well in how to face such a panel and the media handling itself was clumsy and inconsistent. Liverpool is too big a club to fail like that.

Just one more point now and I’m done.

The hypocrisy of “Sir” Alex Ferguson

Manchester United’s manager Alex Ferguson called Suarez as disgrace for Liverpool after the game. He said he could have incited fan violence (of which there was none) and that Suarez should never again play a game for Liverpool if the club had any honour. The media has largely allowed those comments to stand without looking into the hypocrisy behind them. This is enraging. He plays like he has a moral high ground, while in fact the opposite might be true. An uncredited LFC fan made this picture:

If you wonder what that picture is all about, let me enlighten you:

- In January 2005 (1 min into the vid), Man U striker Eric Cantona was sent off for a bad tackle and on the way off the field a fan yelled at him, which lead to him kung fu kicking the fan. His statement on the matter afterwards? “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.” He got 120 hours of community service and was banned for the rest of the season. But he got to play two more seasons for Man U. In 2011 he admitted that the attack felt good and that he was happy for fans to treasure it.

- In September 1997, Man U midfielder and Captain Roy Keane was involved in a duel with Man City’s Norwegian defender Alf-Inge Haaland. Nothing dirty happened, but Keane went to the ground and Haaland criticized him for faking. However Keane was actually hurt and lost almost a year. In April 2001, Keane fouled Haaland at the knee in a brutal tackle that effectively ended Haaland’s career (both situations can be seen above). He got a 3 games suspension. A couple of years later he admitted to doing it on purpose as revenge in his autobiography and got another 5 games of suspension. He captained United after both these events.

- In 2003 Man U defender Rio Ferdinand was suspended 9 months for missing a drug test. He has also been in a sex tape with other national team players and a few girls, been banned from driving 4 times due to drunk driving and speeding and in 2007 he called a radio personality “a faggott” (to his credit, he immediately apologized). He also did not shake Suarez’ hand in reaction to Suarez not shaking Evra’s. He still plays for the club.

- Last year long time Manchester winger Ryan Giggs was revealed to have been having an affair with Welsh topless model Imogen Thomas as well as an affair for 8 years with his brothers wife. YES, you fucking read that right. He still plays for the club.

- A few years ago Wayne Rooney, the club’s striker was revealed to be cheating on his young, lovely wife with prostitutes, including some of grandma-age.

And after all this, he thinks he has the high ground over a missed handshake and the press goes along with this? Shameful.

In any case, I think Suarez is innocent. But the club has now layed down, and I think they thus have to continue to do so and get this case out of the world. Contrary to media reports, team insiders who aren’t part of the sensationalistic press have reported that Suarez wants to play for Liverpool for at least 3 more years to prove people wrong, so hopefully his football can do the talking.

Man United won this debacle, both in the media and in the panel (though on the field, there’s been a win for each (both 2-1) and a tie). They have beaten us in every way in this case, despite being in the wrong/liars, but Liverpool has no way of getting it back now. Instead, hopefully the team can clinch the 4th spot (and a Champions League spot) and win the two cups they are in (they’re in the final already in one of them), so that even though Man U ends over them on the table, both teams get into the Champions League and we get 2 trophies to their 0 this year.

Sorry this was so long, and I know no one is reading this, so heeeeeeey, but I needed to get all my thoughts out here.

You’ll never walk alone.


State of the NFL: 6 Weeks In.

In case anyone was wondering, hell has definitely frozen over at this point. The final four teams in the NFL playoffs last year (Packers, Bears, Steelers, and Jets) have 2 fewer combined wins than the Lions, 49ers, Bills, and Raiders. It’s crazy to think about, but this is a huge turning point for the NFL. And the best part is, we all called this one, right?

Carson Palmer

Epic win for both teams. I’ve listened to a lot of talk radio the last few days, and it’s all about Palmer. Who won? Both teams. The Bengals got 2 picks (potentially two 1st rounders, at that) for a guy who didn’t want to play for them. As an aside, I don’t blame him. The Raiders did what they usually do, make a big huge risk in hopes that it returns something good for the organization (see also: Sebastian Janikowski). The difference of opinion I have with the majority of the radio personalities I have heard bashing the huge sacrifice is this: Carson Palmer does well with horrible receivers. Before you jump down my throat, saying that Chad Ochocinco and Housh were amazing receivers, let me know how they’re doing in New England and Seattle, respectively. If they were so great, they’d still be relevant. Palmer even made TO look legit last year. I rest my case.

The Raiders have a lot of young, speedy talent on the outsides. If I’m a QB with a gun like Palmer, I’m drooling. With the dominance in the run game, the outside guys are going to be in man coverage most of the time. I don’t see much to hate about this move, other than his absence from football for such a long time. It will be interesting to see how everything pans out in Oakland. If it works out, I hate that we have to play them this season.

Ronnie Brown to Detroit?

I would personally love to thank Jerome Harrison for sandbagging the Ronnie Brown trade. After all, his 2.9 yards per carry is a large reason we’re 5-1 right now. What would a former #2 pick in the draft do for us, anyway? Not like Eric Wright, Chris Houston, or Bobby Carpenter have ever panned out for us, right?

Okay, I’m livid. I have no idea what went wrong at his physical, but I’m pretty upset that we’re not getting a new talent to help Best out. Granted, he may be irrelevant after a year with Leshoure coming back, but he adds a new dimension to the spread-type offense we’ve been running. Maybe something will change that makes this deal possible again, but us signing James Davis does not make it a possibility in my mind. Brown is a former high draft pick, which we (like the Raiders) have success with reigniting. It would have been a treat to see something like that happen. And it’s a bummer, because I was already calling it one of the most underrated acquisitions of the season.

EDIT: Jerome Harrison has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Rather horrible timing, and we’re hoping for a speedy and full recovery.

Parallels between Detroit and the old Oakland

I heard an interesting quote the other day:

These Lions are very similar to the Raiders of old; they’ll hit you in the mouth and bully you on defense– and not care about the penalties– and then they’ll throw it by you on offense.

Pretty damn accurate, huh?

The Battle of the Jims

Who cares? That’s what I want to know. The media took the one bruise in our season so far and blew it up. Come back from down 24 against the Cowboys? Nope, it was about how bad Tony Romo played. Beating the Bears? Pity for Jay Cutler. It’s sickening, and it makes me wonder when the Lions will officially be appreciated as a true winner in this year’s NFL. Something tells me it will take 10 wins.

I will admit, though, Schwartz made an ass of himself (as pictured above), and I found the Ron Jeremy look-a-like yelling “whoa whoa whoa” as he separated the coaches pretty funny.

Speaking of the Game…

I never got to take credit for being somewhat of a prophet. I said (when the schedule came out) that the Lions-49ers would be one of the games of the year, and the game of the year for the Lions. Well, after feeling a bit iffy about that… Looks like I got it right. I also (almost creepily) alluded to drafting Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure. I also just noticed a draft I had saved, and thankfully never published, titled “Why I’m Not Buying the Cam Newton Hype.” Humbled.

I’ll try and do some more of these more often, I like mind-dumping much more than planning out articles. Stay tuned.


Lions Are 3-0. Cue the Kool Aid.

I have mixed feelings about this 3-0 record. I am skeptical, I was born a Detroit fan– what else would you expect?

On one hand, I love being tossed into the ring as an “emerging threat” in the NFL, as ESPN so graciously moved us up to #4 in their weekly Power Rankings. That ranking puts the Lions ahead of 28 other teams, among them: Jets, Eagles, Chargers, Ravens, and Steelers.

That brings me to my next issue: how good is 3-0? Yes, 3 wins against solid teams, but I’m afraid to throw everything in at once. We’ve started hot before, maybe with a different system, but it’s the Lions. Last year we saw a drastic turnaround at the end of the year, and if you’re like me and place some value on the preseason, the Lions have won their last 11 games in a row. No, I’m not ready to anoint them the next New England Patriots. Why? Because we haven’t beaten a real contender yet. Sure, last year wins over the Chiefs and Buccaneers would be two wins over 10-6 playoff teams (though, yes, the Bucs didn’t actually make the playoffs). This year, though? Chiefs will be glad to finish 4-12, and the Bucs can’t find a way to play 4 quarters and actually dominate a game. If I had to choose, week 1 was the game of the year thus far, both in terms of importance and in difficulty. And that’s what scares me.

All the media attention is great. Though it’s getting a bit repetitive to listen to everyone explain why we’re a great team, how explosive we are, and how dominant the Matt to Calvin connection is; we’ve known this for quite some time now. The scary thing, to me, is wondering how much one bad loss is going to affect us, both in media and emotionally. Are we this years’ over-hyped “new guy”? Or are we a legitimate contender? I can easily see a loss to a less-than-stellar team dropping us, say, in the Power Rankings, down to the teens. I can also see a loss ruining the psyche of a team that has intricately built confidence methodically over a small win streak. We haven’t seen the “team” tested, and we haven’t seen how well the swagger holds up after a loss. It’s the dilemma of a perennially horrible team suddenly becoming a winner. After so many years of merely flashes of hope, I’m still scared to gulp the proverbial Kool Aid by the gallon.

The Lions are the 3rd highest scoring team in the NFL– there’s no denying that. They’re also 3rd in total defense. Matt Stafford is 3rd in overall passer rating, behind Brady and Rodgers. Calvin Johnson leads the NFL in total TDs. The Lions are 10th in total offense. They’re a +6 in turnovers.Compare that to last year, and you’d think that last segment was a typo. It’s amazing what one year can do. So, you really can’t blame me for being skeptical, can you? The Lions haven’t been 3-0 in my entire lifetime, and the last time they made the playoffs, I was 10. Is it just a blip in the radar?

I’m skeptical. Prove me wrong, boys. Because the Kool Aid looks awfully tempting right now.


2011 Rugby World Cup preview part 3 – Pool B (and a rule clarification)

It feels useless to write about this stuff today. The accident in Russia makes everything seem a bit useless. But life has to go on and if I hope to be able to finish this before the RWCs start (no chance, but I’ll get them out ASAP) I have to write now, but the condolences, thoughts and prayers of both Doug and I go out to the friends and families of everyone involved in the crash. Rest in peace.

Secondly, before I get on with the preview, I have to clarify something that I omitted when writing about the rules of rugby. Unlike in football, it is not just enough to possess the ball inside the end zone/scoring era to score a try. The player needs to either put the ball to the ground or push it down on the ground for it to be a try. This means that a player can run in and put the ball down, catch a kick in the scoring era and put the ball down or also simply fall on a loose ball in the scoring area and put the ball down. Knowing this, some of you might ask why players sometimes don’t immediately put the ball down on the ground when they pass the end line, but run with it for a little before putting it down. The reason for this is the conversion kick. The conversion kick is always taken the same distance away from the end line, but its placement along this line is always on a line with where the ball was put down during the try. Thus, players will try to put the ball down as central as possible, to make the angle of the kick as easy as possible for the kicker.

Pool B

England

History: I already covered a lot of the beginning in the first post about this, but here’s a short history of the English national team. In 1871, England participated in the first international test match of rugby, losing by one try to Scotland. Over the next 30 years they almost only played Home Nations teams, but after facing a New Zealand natives team in 1889, they started playing NZ, Australia and other Southern hemisphere teams in the early 1900s, both going on tour there and hosting travelling teams. England won the inaugural Home Nations in 1883. They are the winningest team in Home/Five/Six Nations history with 26 outright wins and another 10 shared wins as well as 12 grand slams (beating every opponent) and 23 triple crowns (beating every other original Home Nations opponent). England participated in the first RWCs in 1987 and advanced to the quarterfinals after losing to Australia, but beating Japan and the US. A hilarious and (for England) surely embarassing 16-3 loss to Wales in the quarterfinals ended their tournament. In 1991, they advanced to the RWC finals, but lost 12-6 to Australia and in 1995 they ended in fourth place after getting thrashed by the All Blacks in the semis and losing to France in the bronze final. In 1999 they lost fairly badly to South Africa in the quarterfinals on home soil, but rebounded nicely by winning the first ever Six Nations in 2000 (Italy joined to make it Six). In 2003 it was finally their year. In the RWC finals against Australia, young standout fly-half Jonny Wilkinson excelled with several drop goals and kicks, winning a thriller with a drop goal in overtime to give England their first RWC title and the only one so far won by a Northern Hemisphere team. After a heavy losing streak in 2005 and 2006 and a weak Six Nations in 2007, England qualified for the quarterfinals of the RWCs despite an embarassing 36-0 loss to South Africa in the pool stage and beat Australia and France on their way to the finals. They failed to defend their championshop though, falling 15-6 to the South Africans in the finals.

The team: England’s team features a very physical group of forwards lead by huge second row-man Simon Shaw and captain Lewis Moody. The forward pack has a mix of young and old and should be physical enough to stand up to any group of opponents. At centre they feature a very exciting combination of young and old in the 32 year old veteran Mike Tindall and the 20 year old Samoan born super talented Manu Tuliagi. Their scrum-halves are inexperienced, but fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, the hero of 2003, is back for his fourth tournament. The team is ranked 5th in the world and had an outstanding Six Nations this year winning the championship. They won their first four matches, but lost their chance of a grand slam and triple crown when they were routed by Ireland at Aviva Stadium in Dublin in the last week of the tournament. In the lead up to this year’s RWCs they’ve split a home and home with Wales and beat Ireland 20-9 at Aviva.

Player to watch: Winger Chris Ashton was the hero of this year’s Six Nations, scoring 6 tries, twice as much as anyone else in the tournament. The young, dynamic winger with a past in rugby league scored four of the tries agains Wales and is among the biggest scoring threats of the RWCs.

Should you root for them? Have you lost your God damn mind? What the fuck are you asking for? Yes, I know that England and the British are charming. I love London as much as the next guy, they make outstanding comedy and brilliant music and there’s a lot to love about the English, like beer, fish and chips, the pub culture and more. But there’s also that whole imperial thing where they think they’re the leaders of the world and they think it’s their right to dominate every other fucking country and they still kinda do towards Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. This is what we focus on in international sports and especially rugby. Do you root for the charming little brothers or the fuckface, piece of shit, evil big brother? Yeah, thought so. So no, you’re not fucking allowed to root for the evil English empire. As I told you guys in the last post I have three favourite rugby squads. As mentioned before the second is NZ, the first will be discussed later in this post, but the third is whatever team is currently playing England. I fucking hate those guys so much.

Rank: Every piece of logic says they’ll win their group and probably even reach the semifinals. Every bit of my heart would love them to get knocked out of the pool stage. And their win against Scotland at Twickenham in London this year wasn’t that impressive. If Scotland hadn’t been snake bitten as fuck when it comes to scoring tries, the English might have lost, so I say that the Scottish find their try scoring form and beat the English, so they end second in the group and get trashed by New Zealand in the quarter finals.

Scotland

History: Scotland won the first ever international rugby match in 1871 against England at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh. They enjoyed lots of succes in the next 40 years, but faced several longer periods of struggle in the years after that. In 1926 they became the first Home Nation side to defeat England at Twickenham. In the post war era, they struggled, but became better in the 1960s and won the Calcutta Cup (awarded to the winner of the Home/Five/Six Nations game between them and England) for the first time since 1950 in 1964.  In the first RWCs in 1987 they fell to the eventual champions New Zealand in the quarters. In 1991 they fared better and faced England in the semifinals at home at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh. Sadly, they lost 9-6, a drop goal deciding the game. They lost the bronze final to the All Blacks. In 1995 they had a familiar story in the RWCs. A second place finish in their pool, due to a late heartbreaking loss against France lead to another beating at the hands of the All Blacks in the quarters. After winning the last ever Five Nations championship (before Italy made it Six) in 1999, history repeated itself and they lost to the All Blacks in the RWC quarters. Scotland had a weak start to the new millenium and fell easily to the Australian Wallabies in the 2003 RWC quarterfinals. They improved in the middle of the decade, but an embarassing loss to Italy in the 2007 Six Nations (first team to fall to them at home in the tournament) made things look bleak before the 2007 RWCs. They surprised by fighting through a tough group, but lost surprisingly to Argentina in the quarters. They have since struggled. Some promising matches have been followed by four disappointing Six Nations tournaments where they only won one game in each. Scotland has won the Home/Five/Six Nations outright 14 times, shared the title 8 more times and have won 3 grand slams and 10 triple crowns. Neither have come in the Six Nations era.

The team: Scotland ranks 7th on the world rankings. Former England coach Andy Robinson leads the team and under his reign they have varied between some great matches full of tries and some periods where they can’t get the ball over the end line at all. Luckily, they’ve had a good lead up to the tournament following a disappointing Six Nations where they only beat Italy with two decisive wins against Italy and Ireland. A great home win against South Africa late last year should give confidence in meeting Southern competition. Chris Patterson is the team’s most capped player with 105 tests and he is competing in his 4th RWCs. He is also a stud of a kicker. They are captained by the steady second row Alastair Kellock and while the forward group is slightly inexperienced, the backs feature a ton of very experienced players. Look for the monstrously big second row Richie Gray to excel in the tournament as one of the game’s biggest and best players. Centre Nick De Luca is another exciting player and among the game’s most underrated centers and playmakers in my opinion.

Player to watch: It’s hard to pick one seeing as I love this team with all my heart, but they also keep breaking said heart. However winger Max Evans could be a player who stands out. His career has been marred by injuries, but he had a strong comeback in the Six Nations this year and while he might not be the team’s best player, he is one who can create some standout moments, as his amazingly cheeky try against England in the Six Nations (video below) proves.

Should you root for them? Of course! Scotland are the charming underdogs. They never quite get there, but they’re extremely loveable. And everyone who have visited Scotland can attest to it being an amazingly beautiful country, full of nice, welcoming and fucking crazy people who love rugby. I’ve always been a Scotland fan and will be for the rest of my life. They’re easily my favourite rugby squad.

Rank: I’m gonna totally be a homer here and say that they find their try scoring form and manage to beat both Argentina and England and make it to the quarters as group winners. There they meet the surprising Tonga, who will be easy meat. Australia in the semis will sadly be too hard a task though.

(two of my favourite things combined)

Argentina

History: Rugby was brought to Argentina by British merchants in the 1800s and Los Pumas played their first international test match in 1910, falling to a British Isles squad. Before the second World War they only played non-American sides a few times, but in the post war era they got more visits from sides from outside the continent. Despite regularly beating up on their opponents from the Americas, they never won these matches. They got their first win against a Home Nation in 1968, defeating Scotland at home and became more competitive as the years went by. In the mid sixties they started touring and this allowed them to get much better and from the 70s to the 90s they never lost two games in a row in a home test series, not even against opponents like England and France. They even tied the All Blacks. In 1987 they competed in the inaugural RWCs, but despite an impressive win against Italy, a surprising defeat at the hands of Fiji knocked them out at the pool stage. Inexperienced sides followed in the years after and they suffered similar fates in 91 and 95. In 1999 they were much better and finished second in their group after Wales. They won the playoff against Ireland to go to the quarterfinals for the first time, where they fell to the eventual silver medalist France. In 2003 a narrow defeat to Ireland in the pool stage denied them a similar success, but in 2007 it was their time to shine. They surprisingly won the “Pool of death”, beating hosts France, Ireland, Namibia and Georgia along the way. They continued this by defeating Scotland in the quarters, but the Springboks of South Africa became too strong in the semis. However they beat France to claim the bronze. Argentina is undoubtedly the best nation of the Americas, having only lost twice to American teams, both to Canada. Next year, the Tri Nations tournament with NZ, Australia and South Africa will expand to include Argentina.

The team: Playing in maybe the toughest pool of the tournament, Argentina will have to bring their A-game to copy the success of 2007. The world’s 9th ranked team is lead by former player Santiago Phelan and captained by fly-half Felipe Contepomi. Ten players from 2007 remain in the squad, and several big names are left, but the loss of captain and star Agustin Pichot to retirement and their best player fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez to injury weakens the squad. They haven’t played a lot of meaningful games this year, so how good they are is hard to gauge, but their only lead up game was a decisive defeat to Wales in Cardiff, so although this squad could pose a threat to England and Scotland, I don’t feel like they’re anywhere near as good as they were four years ago, but who knows? They might surprise again.

Player to watch: The aforementioned captain Contepomi is a steady player, the leader of the team and a solid kicker who can also score a few tries.

Should you root for them: I have a hard time rooting for Argentina in sports, but against England you should.

Rank: Third in the group.

Georgia

History: After unsuccessful attempts to introduce the sport to Georgia, the sport finally became popular in the 60s when the Georgia Rugby Union was formed. However they didn’t get to play an international test match until 1992 due to being part of the Soviet Union. The sport grew quickly and despite failing to qualify for the 1999 world cup the team enjoyed success and won the second tier tournament the European Nations in 2001. In 2003 they competed in their first RWCs and lost all their four matches, including a surprisingly narrow loss to the Springboks and a disappointing loss to Uruguay. In 2007 they performed better, getting their first win in RWC history against Namibia and also had narrow losses to Argentina and Ireland. Since then they’ve cemented their status as Europe’s best non-Six Nations team by winning the European Nations three more times.

The team: Georgia ranks 16th in the world and is seen as Europe’s 7th best nation. They are coached by the former Scottish national team flanker Richie Dixon and has a majority of their players playing in the French leagues. I don’t know much about this team, but I guess their goal is to beat Romania to secure their spot as the best European team outside of the Six Nations and be competitive against the other teams in the group.

Player to watch: Flanker Mamuka Gorgodze is the squad’s leading try scorer and was voted foreign player of the season in France this year, so he has to be pretty good.

Should you root for them? Does anyone care?

Rank: Probably fourth, but them and Romania is kind of a toss up.

Romania

History: After having the game introduced by French students, Romania played their first international test match in 1919 against the USA. In 1924 they were one of four teams entering the Olympics (the big powers didn’t really bother with the Olympics) and took the bronze, which also was last place. After the wars, the communist regime used rugby as a propganda tool and built a team that got stronger and stronger. From the 60s and onwards they competed more often against the best nations and beat France for the first time in 1960. In the 80s they had several wins against Five Nations teams and even had a narrow and controversial loss against the All Blacks. The Five Nations drew criticism for not inviting them into the tournament and some rumours say they actually were invited but declined due to it coinciding with their yearly winter break. They competed in the first RWCs in 1987 and beat Zimbabwe, but lost to France and Scotland and were eliminated in the pool stage. The collapse of communism in 89 saw funding for the sport decline and players were lost in the revolution. The team still held strong though and won a few impressive matches against bigger powers in the early 90s. In the 1991 and 1995 RWCs they were yet again eliminated in the group stage, but they had a good win against Fiji in 91 and while they lost all games in 95 they held the eventual South African champions to just a 13-point win. Professionalism in rugby arrived after this championship though and with it came a flight of players to foreign clubs. This weakened rugby in Romania and since then both their number of clubs and players have weakened. So has the national team. Once undeniably the strongest European team outside of the six nations, they have won only four of the nine European Nations cups since the year 2000 and have seen Georgia overtake them and Portugal also challenge them. In the 1999 RWCs they managed a narrow win against the US, but fell short of expectations and the 2003 RWCs were no better, with a solitary win against Namibia, an okay loss to Ireland and blowout losses to Australia and Argentina. 2007 was a tiny bit better, seeing the team only losing narrowly to Italy and beating Portugal, before being blown out by Scotland and the All Blacks.

The team: Dunno much about them, but I’d guess they want to overtake Georgia by beating them. Ovidiu Tonita is the team’s standout and number 8 and the hooker and captain Marius Tincu is another key player. The team is ranked 17th in the world.

Player to watch: The aforemention Tonita is known as the country’s only world class player, so I’ll go with him.

Should you root for them? I find caring about small European nations very difficult, but I guess there’s a certain charm to their underdog status.

Rank: 5th in the group, but who knows, they could beat Georgia.


Rugby World Cup preview part 2 – Pool A

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of Rugby Union and how the World Cup works, it’s time to take a look at the upcoming world cup, which will take place in New Zealand. Let’s jump right to it and take a look at the teams and pools.

Pool A

New Zealand

History: New Zealand’s national team played their first match in 1884 against an Australian regional team and played their first international test match against Australia in 1903 (they won by the way). They’ve been touring regularly since 1905 and rugby is the country’s national sport. To call New Zealand successful is an understatement. Just in the intro paragraph of their Wikipedia article we learn that they are the “leading points scorers of all time and the only international rugby team with a winning record against every test nation they have ever played. The All Blacks have held the top ranking in the world for longer than all other countries combined and in over 100 years only five of the top twenty ranked test rugby nations have ever beaten New Zealand.” Since 1903 they have won 75 % of all matches they’ve played. So New Zealand are in many ways the top dogs of rugby. However, while they won the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, they have only collected a silver and two bronzes since then, so in the World Cup they’ve been a bit of a failure to be honest.

The team: If New Zealand fails to take home the Ellis trophy on home turf, it’s not gonna be due to a lack of experience. The team has a total of 1,137 test caps (international games) between them with 9 players having more than 50 caps. Five players are playing in their third RWCs and seven more are competing in their second. The team is not just old though, mixing in a group of exciting young players, such as 23 year old fullback Israel Dagg and 22 year old wing Zac Guildford. The team is strong, topping the world rankings and they’ve been winning consistently since the last RWCs. However, they stumbled slightly in the annual Tri-Nations tournament with Australia and South Africa, only managing to place second. They opened by demolishing both opponents at home, but stumbled on the road, falling to both. The team faces heavy pressure in these championships and the expectations to win it all are big. This is their year and everything but gold would be a disappointment.

Player to watch: Fullback Mils Mulihana (31) is one of two players on the team with 98 caps, most in All Blacks history. He can also play centre and wing and in his 98 tests he’s scored 33 tries and 165 points.

Should you root for them? Yes, you should. I can see how rooting for the often choking big dogs seems weird, but you have to love the All Blacks. First off, their all black uniforms (from which they got their nickname, duh!) look both cool and strikes fear into opponents. Secondly, this country cares about rugby so much and there is no doubt that the country craves a championship. Hard to root against them getting one. They also play very exciting rugby, they are often big and strong, but combines the extreme physicality with nice pass plays and great finesse rugby. Let us not forget the Haka (a video of this will be below). While this traditional Maori/Pacific Aboriginal dance is performed by many Pacific countries, New Zealand did it first and they arguably do it the best. Performed before every All Blacks match, this dance is awesome and always puts you in the mood for some great rugby. Plus, if I was an opponent I’d be pretty intimidated by it. Last, but not least, New Zealand is the home of my favourite rugby player of all time, Jonah Lomu. Some of you might already know him from the videos I posted in the first post, but I cannot talk enough about him. Lomu, born in 1975 is the youngest player to ever play for the All Blacks, making his debut at 19. At 196 cm (6’5) and 125 kg (275 lbs) he was a huge power winger who tore up the field with 185 points scored in 90 caps between 1994 and 2002. He is the RWC all time top try-scorer with 15 tries and he was Rugby’s first international superstar, widely known as the world’s best player already in 1995 at the age of 20.  And he did all this with a severe kidney disease. In 1995 he was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome and he played successfully with it, until it forced him to retire in 2003.  After enduring a period of dialysis three times per week, nerve damage and then a kidney transplant in 2004, he was back on the field in the Celtic league, in New Zealand (though he failed being signed to the top league and thus did not get more international caps) and in one off games in other places. He retired in 2007, but made another comeback in 2009, playing the number 8 position for a team in France’s top amateur league. Lomu is everything that made rugby exciting and remembering him on the All Blacks is something that makes it impossible for me not to root for New Zealand. As you’ll see throughout these posts, I have three favourite rugby national teams and New Zealand has always been number 2 on that list. I really hope they can win it all this year.

Rank: I think they will win the pool and then the whole RWC.

France

History: Rugby was introduced to France in 1872 by the English, but although they won the rugby competition of the 1900 Olympics, they didn’t play their first official international test match until 1906. In 1910 they joined the four Home Nations and the tournament thus became the Five Nations tournament. They won the tournament for the first time in 1954 (shared with England and Wales) and won it outright for the first time in 1959. In 1968 France won their first Grand Slam of the Five Nations, defeating all the four other teams. They have 16 outright wins of the Five/Six Nations and 8 shared wins, they also have a total of 9 grand slams. The last victory and grand slam came as late as in 2010. In the inaugural RWCs in 1987, they surprised everyone by upsetting Australia in the semifinals, but fell short of New Zealand in the finals. Since then they’ve had a quarterfinal exit, a bronze, a silver medal (in 1999, including a stunning upset of NZ in the semifinal in a game remembered as one of the greatest ever) and a fourth place.

The team: Having come close to winning it all twice, and always reaching the knockout stage of the RWC, you’d think that France would be high on the list of favourites for the tournament. The team’s 4th place on the world rankings would solidify that thinking. So would the fact that they’re just a year removed from their 2010 Six nations grand slam victory. However, you just don’t fucking know with France. They seem to come out of nowhere and defeat teams that are way better to reach the finals and then, in the years when they’re favoured, they fall short. They have looked fairly good lately though, with 3 victories and 2 losses securing them a 2nd place in this year’s Six Nations and having won both games of a home and home friendly with Ireland in August. But you just can’t figure this team out. Over the last two years, since coach Marc Livremont took over, they’ve won against both NZ and Argentina in away games, but also got trashed by more than 40 points against Australia. And while winning against Ireland, Scotland and Wales and losing to England in this year’s Six Nations is acceptable, losing to the terrible Italian squad is not. The team has tons of experience with 13 players from the last RWCs in this year’s squad. However, that year’s standout on the team, Sebastien Chabal, is not on the team anymore. France has a big and physical team, with two very big three-quarters, but also possess skill especially from the halfbacks Morgan Parra and Francois Trihn-Duc and speedy wingers Vincent Clerc and Maxime Medard. This team could go all the way or they could flop. It’s impossible to say. They have all the potential in the world, but they also love to piss it away. I’m just not feelin’ it.

Player to watch: It’s tempting to choose one of the speedy little wingers or the seasoned captain Thierry Dusautoir, who has an uncanny combination of power and speed at flanker. However Imanol Harinordoquy (31) is a Basque number 8/flanker who was the only Northern Hemisphere player nominated for IRB Player of the Year in 2010. He’s a solid player, who is always a threat to score and a leader on the team with tons of experience.

Should you root for them: They’re French. Most people don’t like the French (even if they have a beautiful country, great culture, food and wine and some other redeeming features) and I assume you don’t either. Plus, they broke my heart by beating NZ in 1999, so the answer is a resounding no.

Rank: I think they’ll come close to upsetting NZ in the group stage, but fall to Tonga in a shocker and end in third place in the group. Of course, now that I’m on record with that, they’ll probably win the whole she-bang.

Tonga

History: Rugby was brought to Tonga in the early 20th century and their first international test match was played in 1924 when they beat Fiji 9-6. Early on, Tonga mainly played Fiji and other Pacific nations, but only began playing Australia and the European nations in the 70s and got their claim to fame in an incredibly dirty and brawl filled game against Wales in 1986. In the first RWCs in 1987 they lost all their games, and in 1991 they didn’t even qualify. The team only won one game in each of the 1995 and 1999 world cups. In 2003 they lost all their games yet again, but in 2007 they won two pool matches and one of their losses were a very narrow defeat against the eventual champions South Africa. They have historically been very good in home matches (including a win against France in 1999), but have struggled on the road.

The team: Tonga is ranked twelfth in the World Rankings and should thus be the one of the third-seeded teams that has the least chance to advance. But I have a feeling, just a gut feeling, cause I really don’t know much about this team, that they can build on their impressive performance from 2007 and not only match it by securing another third place and direct qualification to the next RWCs, but maybe even defeat the enigmatic French in their last pool stage game and advance to the quarter finals.

Player to watch: I have to choose captain Finau Maka, who is a flanker/number 8, really because he’s the one player I know a little about. He plays for Palmiers in the French league, but had great success playing in Tolouse where his team won several big championships.

Should you root for them: They’re a Pacific Island. Pacific Islands are charming and so are the teams from the Islands. The team is big and strong and will play powerful rugby, which is fun to watch. And they dance an awesome dance similar to that Haka, called the Sipi Tau before the games. WAR DANCE! Of course you root for them.

Rank: A surprising second in their group and a quarterfinal exit.

Japan

History: Japan had some rugby played by international workers in the late 1800s, but played their first test match as late as in 1932. They defeated Canada 9-8 in what was also Canada’s first match. They usually dominate Asian rugby and have won every Asian 5 nation, but have tended to struggle in the Pacific Nations cup with Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and at times various New Zealand junior or regional teams. However, they won the tournament this year, losing to Samoa, but beating Fiji and Tonga. Against other nations, they’ve given the bigger countries some scares now and again, but have never won a game against a big rugby power. They have participated in every RWC, but a win against Zimbabwe in 1991 and a draw against Canada in 2007 remain their only non-losses.

The team: Legendary All Blacks player John Kirwan coaches Japan and his goal is for the team to play to their strengths, which are speed and agility and in his words “playing rugby big men don’t like”. They do this fairly well and have become more and more successful in recent years. The team is 13th on the World rankings and should thus be the 4th-seeded team with the best chances of doing well in the tournament. Their team also has a great mix of youth and experience according to Kirwan and it was undeniably a confidence builder and a good experience for them to win the Pacific Nations this year. According to Kirwan their goal is to beat Canada and Tonga and be competitive against the top two. This is not impossible.

Player to watch: 30 year old winger Kosuke Endo scored an amazing try in the 2007 RWC in a blowout loss against Wales, so he’s more or less the one name I remember and he’s definitely got some entertaining big play ability.

Should you root for them: The idea of Japanese men playing rugby feels ridiculous to me, so yes. And besides, their fast approach to rugby will be very exciting to watch.

Rank: They’ll ruffle some feathers, but eventually be run over by every team not named Canada, but Canada will beat them too and they will finish 5th in the group.

Canada

History: Canada’s early rugby history mainly lead to the formation of Canadian football. The first Canadian Rugby Union became the CFL and the first rugby trophy, the Grey Cup, well, we all know what that is today. In the 1920s however rugby became more popular in Canada and in 1929 a new Rugby Union was made. In 1932 they played their first two test matches in Japan, losing both. In the post war era they established themselves as the rugby power of North America, but struggled against European competition. Only Argentina is considered to be stronger among the teams in the Americas. They were invited to the inaugural RWCs in 1987 and beat Tonga in their first match, but lost their other two to Ireland and Wales. In 1991 they managed to beat Fiji and Romania (and lost to France) in the pool stage and advanced to the quarterfinals where NZ unceremoniously trashed them. They finished third out of four in their pools in 1995 and 1999 and fourth out of five in 2003. In 2007 they didn’t collect a single win, a draw against Japan their best result, leading to a last place in the group.

The team: Coached by former All Blacks player Kieran Crowley the team only has seven professional players. However the squad is experienced and has 11 players who played in the 2007 tournament. The team has built confidence with two victories against the US before the RWCs and also won one game and lost another to two Australian clubs. They are ranked 14th in the world.

Player to watch: Really grasping for straws here, but winger D.T.H. van der Merwe has 55 points and 10 tries in 15 caps for Canada and has been playing well in the Scottish league for the Glasgow Warriors.

Should you root for them: If you are Canadian, you should.

Rank: I’m gonna be nice and give them the 4th place, but what happens between the bottom teams in this group is a total toss-up.


Preseason Week 3: Rising & Falling

What a win, eh? Preseason or not, maybe a slaughter like this will let the rest of America know that we’re no longer the laughing stock of the NFL. We weren’t last year, either, but for whatever reason, wins went unnoticed, and losses were met with “the Lions lost LOL”. Maybe mopping the floor with the Pats will show ESPN and the ever-biased media that we’re no longer chumps. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.

 

 

Maurice Stovall

Maybe not the sexy pick this week, but I can tell you that this guy is going to be a huge contributor to this team. Special teams play, and he’s done pretty well for himself the past two weeks, with 5 catches for 92 yards and a TD. He’s not blowing fans away, but I think he’s a great option to have on a roster with receivers who haven’t always been healthy the past few years. I do, however, hate that he went to Notre Dame. I’ll get over it.

 

 

Aaron Brown

Another non-sexy pick. But like Stovall, he’s someone who I’ve seen some solid play from the past two weeks– and there’s nothing wrong with steady. Brown is, in essence, another speedy-back, just like the other two we have on our roster. I’m okay with that, especially as a team that passed the 3rd-most in the NFL last year. We need guys like this on the roster. Brown has been taking snaps in the slot, and tonight caught a TD from the spread. He may not be a between-the-tackles kind of guy, but he’s a spark plug. Even if it’s one or two plays on the field a game… Those plays could wind up being TDs.

 

 

Cliff Avril

I think maybe now is a good time to say this: I feel bad for Cliff Avril. I love his play, and I think he’s arguably one of our most explosive, game-changing players. The thing that sucks for Cliff is that he plays next to Suh, Fairley, and KVB– not exactly the cast you want to be around if you want to be noticed. I think he’s a humble guy, so it’s not a big deal. He had a huge season last year, and no one noticed. Maybe that will help him succeed throughout his career– because they “forget” about him. Anyway, tonight was a great night for the front four, and Avril had 2 sacks. And against the Pats? Avril is ready to blow some stuff up this year.

 

 

Ian Johnson

Might be a case of ‘too little, too late’, but Ian Johnson has been getting a lot of carries for a guy who is fighting for a job. And honestly, he’s been a bit flat. Nothing too fancy, nothing worth noting. He’s averaging like 3 yards a carry, and that’s not going to cut it. If you’re handed the keys to fight for a job on a team that has arguably no running game? Drive for your life. You may notice the Vikings jersey in his photo. I can almost say with certainty that this will not be updated with a Lions uniform come the start of the season.

 

 

Nick Harris

He’s in my doghouse again this week. Punting for fewer net yards than the rook is not going to guarantee you a starting job, especially when you’ve always been fairly mediocre to begin with. I’m actually cheering for Ryan Donahue now, because I like the idea of having a consistent punter (or anything but Harris). It’s oft-overlooked, but the punting game (if it’s bad enough, like we saw last week) can give the other team points.

 

 

Jerome Harrison

Maybe I should file this one under “frustratingly stagnant”. Harrison showed us what he could do this week– but that’s the first and only time we’ve seen something so flashy from him. Again, as I said earlier, he’s a spark plug too. And in a heavy-passing offense, that will work. But what about when we need to actually run the ball? Who’s going to take it? Harrison hasn’t shown anything to make me love nor hate him, and thus he’s in the ‘same’ category this week.

 

Game ball this week goes to Matt Stafford for posting an 85.7% completion rating and a 158.3 passer rating. 200 yards, 2 TDs, no picks, and no dumb plays. That’s what we need from Matt every week, and he’s shown his ability this year in the preseason. Food for thought: Matt has posted 78% completions this preseason (that’s 7 incompletions in 31 attempts)– looks like the accuracy issues have been worked on.


2011 Rugby World Cup preview part 1 – An explanation

The Rugby World Cup is coming up and will last from September 9th to October 23rd. It will be held in New Zealand. I am very excited for this and hope to be able to write a few posts about it during the games. Rugby is a great sport and a sport more people should follow, so I’ll do a two-part preview. Part one, which you are reading right now is an intoduction to rugby itself, its rules and the World Cup. Hopefully you’ll know a little more about the sport when you’ve read this and maybe you’ll even consider not switching the channel if rugby pops up on Universal Sports/NBC during the World Cup. There might be terminology that is hard to understand here and there in the post, but usually, I will explain that later on in the post. At the end of the piece are some cool videos of rugby.

A very brief history of Rugby

Rugby is said to originate from an incident during a school soccer game at Rugby School in Warwickshire, England in 1823. A student named William Webb-Ellis alledgedly decided to pick up the ball during gameplay and started running with it. How much of this is fact and how much is myth is unclear, but rugby did originate at Rugby School and the World Cup trophy is named after Ellis. In the early days, different schools had different rules, some of them even written up, but in 1871, the Rugby Football Union was formed and the code of Rugby Football was created. In 1895 however a schism occured and a breakout rugby federation formed in England. Soon after, similar schisms happened in Australia and New Zealand. The original federations kept their rules and their version of rugby came to be known as Rugby Union.  The breakout groups called their version Rugby League. Initially the rules were more or less the same, but soon Rugby League changed several rules. They allowed professionalism almost 100 years before Rugby Union did, they play with 13 men per team instead of 15 and they instituted other changes to make gameplay faster. Rugby League is the biggest version of rugby in Australia, and also has some of the more successful rugby leagues due to allowing professionalism earlier, but Rugby Union remains by far the biggest version of Rugby and Rugby League can frankly sod off and fuck themselves cause the World Cup is Rugby Union and well, Rugby League just sucks. So hah!

In 1871 England lost to Scotland in the first international rugby match. The other countries on the British Isles soon fielded their own teams and in 1883, the Home Nations Championships, the first international rugby tournament was started. At the time it consisted of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. France entered the tournament in 1940, while Italy joined in 2000. The tournament is still played yearly under the name Six Nations. England is the current reigning champion and also the winningest team with 26 wins.

In 1888 the first overseas competition happened when a British Isles team visited Australia and New Zealand and a New Zealand team visited the British Isles. In the early 1900s both New Zealand, Australia and South Africa sent touring teams to Britain, a tradition which remains today. The 1905 tour of New Zealand actually instituted something that is still part of many major sports. New Zealand performed the traditional maori dance/chant  The Haka before every game (something they still do) and it was suggested that Wales answered before their home game against them by their captain leading the team in singing the Welsh National Anthem. The crowd decided to sing along, which made it the first time a national anthem had been performed before a sporting event. So, the next time you, like me, curse the habit of singing national anthems before every damn game, blame the Welsh!

Rugby was part of the Olympics in the early 1900s and a seven man version of the sport, called Rugby Sevens will be included in the 2016 Olympics. In 1987 the first Rugby World Cup was held in New Zealand and Australia with New Zealand winning. The game was finally opened for professionalism in 1995.

Rugby Union positions

Each rugby team has 15 players on the field and they all play on both offense and defense. The players are divided into two groups (with smaller subgroups). There are eight forwards on each team. These are the biggest players. They partake in scrums and lineouts and their main responsibility is to gain possession of the ball and help their team retain it. The seven backs are smaller and their role is creating offense and scoring.

The forwards are divided into three subgroups. The front row are the three players that make up the front row of the scrum (I’ll get to that later), where the Hooker is in charge of winning the ball back to his team. The Props support him during this and they also support the locks when they jump during lineouts. The front row are also important for power during power struggles for the ball, such as mauls and rucks.

The second row has the two Locks. The Locks are the ones to jump for the ball during lineouts and they also form the second row of a scrum. The back row has two Flankers who make up the final row in a scrum and Number 8, whose job is to take the ball once the scrum has won it and sent it back to him.

The backs are also divided into three subgroups. The Half-backs have two distinct positions. The Scrum-half recieves the ball from the Number 8 after a scrum and he is also the one his team tried to win the ball to in a lineout. He thus serves as the link between the forwards and the backs. The Fly-half is usually the person the Scrum-half then passes the ball to. He starts the offense and also serves as his team’s place kicker.

The Three quarters have two center positions and two wings. The centers direct much of the offense and are responsible for distributing the ball. The Wings serve more like football running backs. They are small and fast (or sometimes like football power running backs) and their main role is to finnish off attacks and score tries. The Three quarters are usually also strong kickers.

The Fullback is the team’s last line of defense. He serves behind the other players and needs to be good at catching the ball and kicking it forward before opposition can get to him.

Laws

Yes, rugby doesn’t have rules, it has laws. Fucking awesome!

Scoring: The main method of scoring in rugby is called a try. You score a try by running the ball into the in-goal area, which is similar to the end zone in football. This is worth 5 points and you get a conversion kick that gives another 2 points. Penalty kicks and drop kicks during game play gives 3 points.

Game time: Each half is started by a drop kick to the other team. The halves are 40 minutes long, but if the time expires when the ball is in play, play continues until the ball is dead.

Moving the ball: Players can only throw the ball laterally or backwards. Thus, the ball must be run or kicked forward. If a ball is accidentally passed or knocked forward, the ball is dead and play is restarded with a scrum.

Tackling: Only the ball carrier might be tackled in rugby, blocking is not allowed. You can not tackle a player above his shoulders and you have to try to wrap your arms completely around the player, so a push or charge is not allowed. You can not trip a player with your legs, but you can use your hands. For a tackle to be complete, the ball carrier must be on the ground and be held by the tackler. If he is not held at that point, he can get up and continue running or pass. When a tackle is complete, the tackled player must release the ball and the tackler must release him. Any player that is on his feet and approaching the tackled players from the side of his own goal-line might now try to take the ball. The two parts of the tackle might also try to take the ball as soon as they are back on their feet.

Ruck: A ruck happens if a player from each team lock themselves onto each other with the ball on the ground between them, this often happens after a tackle. Other teammates may then lock onto them from behind (yes, this sounds sexual, I know) and help them push. Players in a ruck must attempt to stay on their feet and if they fall, they must leave the ruck as soon as possible. You can not touch the ball with your hands in a ruck, so the goal is to push the other team backwards and kick the ball back to your teammates. If this happens, the ruck is over. If the ball becomes locked in a ruck, a scrum is awarded to the team moving forward.

Maul: A maul happens if a standing ball carrier is held by opponents and one or more of his teammates then bind onto him. Other people can join the maul, but must do so from their own side. The ball carrier will then try to hand the ball off back through his side of the maul, so the drive can be restarted, usually in a different direction. This tactic is also a common way of powering the ball forward. If the mall stops and the ball cannot be played the team that didn’t have the ball at the start of the maul get a scrum. There are some seriously complicated rules here too, but never mind them.

Scrum: A scrum happens after accidental offsides, minor infringements, if the ball is knocked or passed forward or after a ruck or maul that breaks down. A scrum forms with three lines of players from each team, as discussed above. The Front rows engage and the Scrum-half then throws the ball into the tunnel between the two front rows. Each team’s hooker will then attempt to kick the ball back, so his team may gain possession, while his team will try to push the scrum forward. Scrums are the most dangerous play in rugby, seeing as you can be buried in a pile if it breaks down. This happened to my father once, which lead to a seriously complicated breach of his collar bone.

Line out: A line out happens when the ball goes out of play. Usually the team that did not touch the ball last gets the line in. The player throwing the line in has to throw it directly along a line and each team lines up on each side of this line. However, only the throwing team knows how far he intends to throw the ball. Players might jump or be lifted to win the ball back to their team.

Offsides: This is complicated, but generally you are offside if you are in front of the teammate that last touched the ball or in front of the hindermost leg of the player in the farthest back of a ruck or a maul. Being offside is not illegal as long as you not participate in play. If you accidentally become part of the play while offside, the opposition gets a scrum, while if you intentionally join the play while offside a penalty kick is given.

The Rugby World Cup

The Rugby World cup has been held every fourth year since 1987.  20 teams participate each year. In the group stage they are divided into four pools. The top four nations on the world rankings are automatically qualified and are placed in pools A to D. Then, the nations ranked 5 through 8 are randomly drawn into the same pools, one to each pool. The remaining spots in each pool are filled by qualification rounds. Each nation plays every other nation in its pool once and the top two teams in each pool advance to the quarter finals. From there on out the games are single game-elimination.

Here is a list of the past World Cups:

1987 – in Australia and New Zealand – New Zealand won the final 29-9 against France. Wales took the bronze over Australia.
1991 – in England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – Australia won the final 12-6 against England. New Zealand took the bronze over Scotland.
1995 – in South Africa – South Africa won the final 15-12 in overtime against New Zealand and countless movies were made. France took the bronze over England.
1999 – in Wales – Australia won the final 35-12 against France. South Africa took the bronze over New Zealand.
2003 – in Australia – England won the final 20-17 in overtime against Australia. New Zealand took the bronze over France.
2007 – in France – South Africa won the final 15-6 against England. Argentina took the bronze over France.

Now, since you’ve all been so patient in reading this heavy stuff, or at least scrolled past it. Here are some videos. First of some gameplay situations that were mentioned above, then of some awesome plays.

Here are some hard tackles (not all of the legal though):

Here’s a video about the ruck:

And one about the maul:

Here’s a scrum:

And a lineout:

And here are some awesome videos you should watch:


Preseason Week 2: Rising & Falling

I’m going to make this a weekly thing. It’s short, to the point, and a lot less work than my previous blog tirades– now that I have a full-time job, it’s scary how much time I never realized I had. Right, so it’s self-explanatory; I break down who I think is rising, falling, or staying the same, and why that’s standing out to me. I’ll test it out for the next few weeks of preseason, and then expand or contract it from there. For now, it’s going to be 4 players: 3 up, 3 down. Anyone who is inexpicably stagnant will also be addressed on an as-needed basis. I’ll also give out a game ball at the very end.

 

Nate Burleson

Nate has actually impressed me a lot so far. Two beautiful toe-drags in the endzone, and I honestly think he’s overshadowing Calvin at this point– not a bad thing. If you’re worried about that being an issue, don’t. We all know Matt and Calvin have a great connection on the field, I would almost chalk this up as Matt and Nate working on their connection. If this continues, having two speedsters with big play abilities on the outside would be deadly. And something Stafford probably dreams about. Nate’s stock is on the rise for his borderline-unexpected dominance this preseason thus far. Nate is this week’s game ball recipient.

Amari Spievey

If there was one player I wanted to see do well last year from our draft class, it was Spievey. That’s right, not Suh, not Best (I knew they’d be good)– Spievey. He’s one of those underdog players that we draft– not highly touted coming out of college, we draft them, everyone rolls their eyes, and then they have to prove themselves on our team. Next thing you know, they’re knocking your cleats off. (See also: Levy, DeAndre & Delmas, Louis). Spievey is really playing like he wants the other safety spot next to Delmas. I’m not going to lie, I’ve had to listen to both games thus far on the radio (damned rush hour), but Spievey more often than not is making the big hits. I like that.

Matthew Stafford

Yes, it’s the preseason, and things are a little lax. We also have yet to see Stafford come out of a preseason raring to go, and actually get to play a full game (thanks again, Jeff). It’s the next year, and he’s doing it again. Making smart throws, some risky (but smart) throws, and he’s completing them. I think Matt has come a hell of a long way since last year, and he’s poised to have a huge season this year. The fact that people are picking on him to have a big season tells me something: …he’s going to have a big season. I like where this offense is headed with Matt at the helm.

 

Mike Bell

Wow, I would have never pinned Bell as someone who would completely fail in short yardage, but in the preseason? He can’t get over 3 yards a carry. I know Schwartz and Stafford have both publicly stated that they aren’t worried about the running game… But I am. When Ian Johnson (who is actually impressing me so far) is your leading rusher, there are issues. Granted, Best was out after the fumble, but still. We brought in Bell to be a bruiser, and he’s been far from it.

Nick Harris

Nick Harris is one of those guys who has been able to consistently play poorly and maintain a career in Detroit– because so much was focused on the offensive and defensive issues. I think this is the first year in some time that Harris will have to sweat the small stuff. We brought in Donahue, which is your first clue that Harris is on the hot seat. Then, one play specifically sticks out in my mind from tonight: a 22 net yard punt to give the Browns the ball deep in our territory. Now, he’s not entirely responsible for the return that cut into his net, but he is responsible for the horrific 36 yarder that landed in the return man’s hands.

Derrick Williams

Derrick Williams is on a roster that is overloaded at WR. He also had 3 drops in 5 quarters of football after the first quarter tonight. The drops are not going to get you a spot on the team, buddy. Dropping them in the endzone is another story. Then taking too long to get onto the field on the punt play that almost cost us the (meaningless, luckily) game? I don’t know, maybe he had a bad night. But when your job is to catch the ball and run with it– you better do it. Williams has a long way to go, and he’s been in the league for 3 years. Time to shit or get off the pot.


Two Nights In: So What’s With the Kickoffs?

I have heard quite a bit of moaning and groaning about the kickoff rule change. More commonly, I’ve heard expressions like “why even have a kick off?” Ignorance aside, kickoffs are still important to the game– because there is room for human error. Sure, more guys are going to get the touchbacks than an actual return, but there are variables. What if your kicker is inaccurate? Kickoff out of bounds penalty. What if the return man is a moron? You stop them at the 15. Sure, we’ll see quite a few touchbacks this year off kickoffs, but it’s a necessary evil. Just because it’s easier to get a touchback out of the endzone doesn’t mean that there will be no more returns– but it sure makes me worry a lot less about Hester. No more kickoffs means no more onside kicks– where’s the fun in that?

And really, it’s just because of the aforementioned factors; it’s about injury. Yes, the special teams guys are usually what the casual, unobservant fan would call ‘useless’ or ‘replaceable’. Take a step outside the egomania, and you’ll see something humbling: a human life. Sure, football isn’t seen as a life or death kind of activity, but I think fans are becoming less aware of the perils of this game as time goes on. Safety came to a peak, and has steadily been declining over the course of my lifetime. The only player that is essentially safe on the field now is the QB, and even that is arguable.

Back to the topic, though, and we see that the kickoff move was not something to aggravate and disappoint fans, nor was it “taking away the best play in the game” as I’ve seen several times (and if you think that is the most exciting play in the game, time to have your head examined). It’s for the health of the players. And as we’re learning more and more now, life expectancy after football is dropping, and the brain injuries are at an all time high in terms of awareness. Yes, they are athletes, but they are also people.

Yes, they get paid millions, and yes, some of them act like prima donnas. But really, the fans complaining about this rule change are acting like ignorant buffoons. Shockingly enough, the sports world does not revolve around your opinion. The move was made to stop people from crashing into one another at full speed– and I don’t care if I’m in the minority on this one– I’m glad we’ll have healthier players in the long run.


An irrelevant guide to the 2011 NFL season – playoff edition

For those of you who missed them, here are my AFC and NFC previews.

Well, now that we’ve figured out who’s making the playoffs from each conference, let’s take a look at how the playoffs are going to play out. As we all know, in the playoffs, the teams need all they have in the regular season, and more. So for each playoff round, I will add two more categories to judge each team from. I will also hand out 5 points to the team that has the home field advantage in each round. So.. Let’s go!

Wild card round:

The two new categories here are:

Cheerleaders: How great does the team’s cheerleading squad look? A scale from 1-10 points. (As with the WAGS, these points are on cheerleader beauty, not regular beauty, so a 1 is still kinda hot)
History: How long has this team been in the NFL? 1 point per 5 years. A maximum of 10 points.

Follow after the jump to see how it all will play out…

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