Let's go... er... red, white, and blue.
Northwestern-Indiana: Nationwide! Well, not really. But the Big Ten has renegotiated its television contract with ABC/ESPN/Disney/Satan. It's essentially more of the same save for one bit of information that should greatly please fans in outlying areas:
All regional afternoon football games aired on ABC will be aired by ESPN/ESPN2 in outer-markets, making these games nationally available.
Hopefully something reciprocal can be worked out with the Big 12 and Pac-10 so I can see Texas-Oklahoma before I die. And foofy no-D Pac-10 matchups, I guess.
Also, the rumored Big Ten Channel is official. Coming next summer, it will feature:
- 35-plus football games, with each school having at least two games aired (at least one of which will be a conference game);
- At least 105 regular-season men's basketball games;
- At least 55 regular-season women's basketball games;
- Big Ten championships and tournaments;
- 170 Olympic sporting events; and,
- Coverage from the conference's vast library of historic sporting events, including bowl games.
Ian wets himself in anticipation! In addition, "each school will have the right to provide 60 hours of its own content annually." Michigan's sixty hours: twenty editions of OSU-Michigan '97. OSU's sixty hours: twenty editions of OSU-Michigan '02.
The football games on the channel will likely be the dregs of the schedule, the kind of stuff previously relegated to ESPN+ syndication. That's good news for Michigan fans, as useless MSU games against Kent State will no longer obliterate national ABC games on Channel 7.
One disappointing omission: no hockey. It's a bit tricky since there is no actual Big Ten hockey conference -- the teams are spread across the CCHA and WCHA -- but since this channel is a Fox production and the current channels that actually broadcast college hockey are all regional Fox networks, you'd think they could work something out. Lord knows it would be appreciated more than crew or whatever.
Speaking of Pac-10 foof, Nike's assault on your eyesight continues apace with the new Oregon uniforms, which really must be seen to be disbelieved. Apparently inspired by truck beds and acid, I link indirectly in case there are any children or seizure-prone individuals in the audience.
You have been warned.
Vijay has a camp update up worth your time that summarizes everything publicly available: Mallet is Robocop, Danny "Boom" Herron has acquired an offer, so has awesome-burning-unquenchable- hatred-of-ND guy Dave Molk, and more!
Dujkovic said he rated the United States but was confident of beating them.
"I don't have a message for the U.S. team. They have to worry and they will suffer," he said. "The Ghana team is young and tough ... and played some of the best football in the World Cup so far."
He also has more pessimism about their suspended players and a report on another that may miss the match, defender Samuel Kuffour:
Ghana's Serb coach Ratomir Dujkovic said it would be difficult to replace either [suspended] player. He also announced that veteran defender Samuel Kuffour had a "high temperature" but gave no other details.
"It's very difficult to find another Sulley Muntari. He's exceptional. He defends, attacks and creates chances. We have to find someone who can play a role close to Sulley," the coach said.
Kuffour's mysterious fever should be regarded with some suspicion, as the second Italian goal in Ghana's opening 2-0 loss was caused by a horrendous Kuffour backpass. In any case, he's by far their most experienced defender and seems likely to remain on the bench.
The most unintentionally hilarious moment of the tournament came during the England-Trinidad & Tobago game when Dwight Yorke was violently rochambeaued by a missile shot from some England player or another. Yorke, temporarily stripped of all decorum by an intense personal pain, spent a good five minutes writhing on the field, hand down his shorts. Having experienced this intense personal pain, I am absolutely sure that Yorke was gingerly touching the abused area, desperately hoping that it had not fallen off or something equally tragic. I mean this five minutes thing literally.
Despite it being painfully clear to all what had happened, the intolerable Marcelo Balboa was mercifully silent on the subject for two of the five minutes of ball-handling before limping in with this after a replay that conclusively showed Yorke's manhood under seige:
Those stomach... lower stomach injuries can be very painful... knock the wind out of you.
This conclusively proves that the only time ESPN will acknowledge a penis on air is when Jason Whitlock is on the Sports Reporters. (ZING!)
The Univision Goal Guy is as advertised, but the best part of the whole thing comes before the little pulsating GOL! graphic or the actual GOOOOOOOOOOOOOL! call itself. It comes in the moment between the actual call and the increasingly fevered response to the buildup, as soon as the ball brushes the back of the net: a simple, matter-of-fact "gol." It cracks me up every time. Por ejemplo:
El portero salta... no puede aggararlo!
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOL! GOOOOL PARA SALAMANCA!
I think my attempt to convey this has probably failed, but if you catch a game on Univision, listen for it.
Ghana is minus both goalscorers from their game against the Czechs due to yellow card accumulation; the US is down both Eddie Pope and Pablo Mastroeni after the Italy referee's hair trigger. Advantage? I don't know. Without Cory Gibbs on the team, Jimmy Conrad is the next central defender in line. He is "likely" to replace Pope according to ESPN2. He has little international experience but couldn't possibly play worse than Pope did against Italy.
Mastroeni's situation is trickier. Arena did bring along a second midfield bulldog-type in Ben Olsen, a man who looks two months into a playoff beard at all times, but knowing a tie is guaranteed death Arena might pull Reyna back into a defensive midfielder role and bring Eddie Johnson in up top for a more offensive posture. The problem is that the Ghana's obvious strength is in midfielders Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah and a midfield featuring Bobby Convey, Claudio Reyna, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey is a lot like throwing five forwards out in hockey. One guy you probably won't see, at least at the start, is John O'Brien:
Arena hinted that MF John O'Brien isn't available to start. "I don't think John has felt comfortable over the last week or two," he said.
A note of hope form Grant Wahl's interview with the US assistant coach assigned to scouting Ghana:
In the African Nations Cup they didn't have their full team. Muntari, Essien and Gyan weren't even at the tournament. And you could see it. Ghana, in my opinion, when they have their starting 11, their top 11 are pretty darn good. But once they have to get into their bench, all of a sudden there's a drop-off. That's the case for a lot of teams. We feel that they've lost two players, we've lost two players. I tend to believe our roster is overall, 1 through 23, better than the Ghanaian roster. So they're going to be really hurt by those two guys who are suspended.
I expect a cross, corner, and set-piece heavy day from the US, as Ghana's goalie has come out and flapped uselessly at about every other dangerous ball sent into the box in their first two games, so I would expect DMB on the bench with Convey and Dempsey on the wings. Another possibility on the left, either at defense or in the midfield, is Eddie Lewis. All he does is cross.
9/19/2006 - Oilers 1-3 Carolina - Carolina wins Cup 4-3
Once again: damn. Hockey is a game that seems deliberately obtuse at times and last night was one of them. Stripped of the vim and vigor that obliteratd the 'Canes in game six, the Oilers floundered to a 3-1 loss that wasn't as close as the score line. In the first minute they were stunned by a goal by Aaron Ward of all people. Aaron, don't you know I run the finest Michigan blog west of the Pecos River? How could you? The alumni organization is going to hear of this.
But I'll refrain from quoting some despondent Smiths song as is my wont. The Oilers went beyond even the expectations of the wild-eye society rejects on Internet message boards about four games into the second round. There is indeed no shame in falling at the final hurdle.
Still, today I'm going to shave the playoff beard and I will not be putting it in a plastic baggie carefully labeled Playoff Beard 2006(!) WOO! GOILERS! WOO! In times of stress I will not remove the baggie from its secure location, gingerly open it, and stroke the hairs therein as Michigan plays Notre Dame or my sixth wife says she wants to divorce me because I watch too much football or someone close to me is gravely ill or Michigan plays Ohio State. I suppose the chances of that were remote in any case, but now they are zero. This is considered a loss.
I don't think this will happen again any time soon without something approximating the divine intervention that got the Oilers to this point in '06. An honest assessment of the team finds it with a bevy of good players but only one great one -- Pronger -- and a lot of decisions to make in free agency this offseason, starting with hometown favorite and leading scorer in the playoffs Fernando Pisani. With competent goaltending the Oilers are no longer a team that hovers around the 7-10 spots in the Western conference, but they aren't likely to be a destroy-all-comers team like Ottawa or Detroit -- and how many cups have they acquired recently?
No, this thing that happened seems like a one-off event more akin to Calgary's run to the final. I don't think they'll be back this way again. Even favorites in the NHL have a tough time getting through.
They should put it out hours before the game, on the center ice dot, and just let it sit there through warmups and rawkin' video montages and anthems and starting lineups. Then there should be a pregnant pause -- the puck should drop ten seconds late -- before its white-gloved keepers retrieve it and stow it away for three hours or so, until one team or the other earns the right to take it and lift it as high as their arms allow.
Whatever hockey's popularity- destroying deficiencies happen to be, the Cup is not one of them. It is unchallenged as the best totem in sport. You do not touch it unless you have won it. Your name goes on it if you do, writ small next to the legends of the game. Once your name is on it you get a day with it to do what you please -- fish, perhaps. What would be the point of fishing with a basketball on a little pedestal or a messy plethora of flags? After one of the Red Wing championships, ex-Wolverines Aaron Ward and Mike Knuble brought it to a Michigan football game to the delight of all in attendance. Even from far away it was strangely awesome in person, in the Old Testament sense of the word. I briefly considered whether or not prostrating myself was appropriate.
They make new MLB/NBA/NFL championship trophies every year. Are there two Little Brown Jugs? How can a thing that has existed for less than a year be precious? They are just pretty metal. The Stanely Cup breathes.
While the Oilers have already brought my personal Year of Infinite Pain to its merciful conclusion with their magnifcient run (that of the Detroit area at large continues on, ironically due in no small part to these same Oilers), the stakes tonight are greater than even that provided by the Cup.
Let's review: Edmonton, a city of long-remembered glories now past, a small market team that bounced around the fringes of the playoffs for the past ten years without ever looking like doing anything much, slips into the playoffs largely due to the overriding incompetence of the Vancouver Canucks. In the first round they face juggernaut Detroit, all magnificent Swedes and billions of points. Owing largely to the incredible heroics of playoff-deadline pickup Dwayne Roloson, they squeak by the Wings despite being largely outplayed. Edmonton goes insane.
(Note: wherever you go in Canada, you are within 50 feet of a Tim Horton's.)
In the second round, San Jose -- possessing both the Rocket Richard winner and Joe Thornton -- batters the Oilers into goo in the first two games. Their crushing forecheck stakes them to a 2-0 lead and Edmonton looks dead in the water. Game three is the third-longest game in Oilers history. Midway through the second... well, Colby Cosh already said this better than I ever could:
For those of you who weren't watching, Chris Pronger tried to fire the puck off the glass and clear the Oilers' zone about halfway through the second period; Smyth, in particular Smyth's face, got in the way. He crumpled to the ice for a few seconds, got up after the play was whistled dead, and skated to the bench with a slightly crazed look in his eye as the fans chanted his name. Shortly thereafter, CBC's cameras cut to a closeup of a lake of blood and ivory, holding the shot as the linesman retrieved the broken dentition and Rexall Place staff moved in to scrape up the gory mess. Across the country, HDTV owners were suddenly realizing that new technology can be a mixed blessing. But Smyth returned to the game, having traded three teeth for a mouthful of stitches and the promise of six hours of dental surgery. At 12:40 a.m. local time, he created the overtime winner, wrapping around the net and bouncing a shot off Toskala's pads onto Shawn Horcoff's stick.
In game four, Edmonton was down 3-1 halfway through the second period before running off five straight goals. It was over in six. Bagpipers take to the streets.
Seemingly unstoppable after that five goal thirty minutes, Edmonton strangles the Ducks in the first two games of the conference finals, goes up 4-0 against Anahiem in game three and wins 5-4, and closes the Ducks out in five. Edmonton burns stuff and sings O Canada.
In the first game of the finals, Edmonton manages to blow a 3-0 lead, go down 4-3, and tie it. Diminutive defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron gets caught out of position and shoves a 'Cane into the goal... and talismanic goalie Roloson. Roloson is injured and out for the series. In comes much-reviled (former Black Bear!) Ty Conklin, who wanders out of the net and plays a puck off a defenseman's skate onto the waiting stick of Rod Brind'amour. Edmonton loses. Bagpipers notably absent from the street. Edmonton goes down 3-1 in the series, one of those games a shameful 5-0 stomping at the hands of the Canes. Game five goes to overtime. Steve Staios takes a penalty; the Canes have already scored three powerplay goals; doom, doom, go the drums of Mordor.
Not so fast, my friend:
One dominating 4-0 victory later, and the Oilers -- minus Smyth's teeth -- are poised on the cusp of one of the most remarkable runs in the history of the league -- of any league. The last time a team came back from 3-1 down, World War II was three years from completion. No eight seed has even reached the final before. As recently as two months ago the Oilers were the same as they ever were: pushing for that last playoff spot, waiting for their inevitable execution at the hands of faster, bigger, more skilled players. There's no shame in falling at the final hurdle.
But... Smytty's teeth! The sudden interest in ABBA in Edmonton! The hurling of Fine Alberta Beef onto the ice at Joe Louis! The incredibly super awesome Oiler blogosphere! Could fate really be so cruel as to give us all these things and then leave us at the very brink?
Yes, yes, yes. But maybe no.
There's a new Michigan blog to bring to your attention: Michigan Football Saturdays. Check out MFS blow-by-blow account of the annual Michigan Car Wash. Alan Branch is in grave danger due to suds, but comes through dancing. Uplifting!
Chances of regaining the Jug: steadily rising. Projected Gopher starter Gary Russell's academic problems have become terminal. The Gophers have a seemingly endless supply of intimidating running backs with roman numerals in their names, but losing both Maroney and Russell in one offseason is pretty harsh. Junior Amir Pinnix steps into the starting lineup.
Gopher safety Brandon Owens will also miss the '06 season with nerve damage in his shoulder -- the exact same injury that kept Michigan safety Ryan Mundy out for all of '05.
In other opponent news: Irish's Samardzija signs with Cubs. I assume this isn't going to affect his football eligiblity since BGS hasn't posted something at least mildly panicky.
The Wolverine has much, much more on Michigan's new hockey commitments via Research On Ice's Paul Shaheen:
"He really developed into one of our league's elite goaltenders by the end of the year," says Lincoln head coach/GM Steve Johnson, who helped introduce us to Hogan back in March (Hogan's Hero, ROI March 23, 2006). "As the year went on, he understood the pace better, he got stronger, more confident, and we relied on him very heavily. He did an outstanding job."
For now, Hogan's commitment is for the fall of '07, but he may defer until 2008.
Langlais is a confirmed commit now and sounds, well, only slightly like Eric Werner:
Though not dominant offensively, Langlais can help in that regard, all the while making defense his top priority.
Which is nice -- defense is good from a defenseman coughRICHMONDcough -- but I still miss the little buccaneer and would thoroughly enjoy a totally-insane-but-effective replacement.
Aaaaaaargh? Kevin Allen's latest USA Today column goes into some detail about a potential 'Canes-Penguins trade involving one Jack Johnson and the Penguins' first round pick. I have no idea whether that would make him more or less likely to flee before the season, but we aren't out of the woods yet. Hockey Night In Canada's Satellite Hotstove made ominous noises about the Canes making a further push to sign Johnson in any case, as every 'Canes defenseman is ancient, a free agent, both, or Mike Commodore.
Enjoy some fried ice cream, Brian McBride.
Feliz Cumpleanos a BRIAN MCBRIDE!!! ...says the man on Univision at halftime of the Saudi Arabia-Ukrainski game. Photo used: the one from the Italy game where McBride looks like he's twenty minutes into a cage match, natch. McBride has just turned 800. Many thanks to Kanu for turning me on to the Univision coverage of the World Cup, which is much more fun than the ESPN/ABC coverage despite -- perhaps because of -- my inability to understand much aside from "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOL".
Etc.: EDSBS reveals the top 25 madlibs sportswriters undertake every year. NC State blogpoller and 'Canes fan Steven from Section Six has a freakin' ticket to freakin' game freakin' seven. I am intensely jealous. Braves & Birds has done something I considered doing myself by lifting Victors poster AdamantiumBlue's thoughts on soccer for a post of his own. Everything you wanted to know about USA-Italy.