Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lance the Fraud

I guess I'm supposed to say I'm not surprised.

After years of vehement, adamant denials, lawsuits and fights, Lance Armstrong publicly admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he did, in fact, participate in illegal doping during ALL of his 7 Tour de France victories.  It's been a long time coming.  But it still took my breath away.

Over the last few years, I have been one of the foolish ones.  One who not only believed Lance, but DEFENDED him.  VIGOROUSLY.  TO A LOT OF PEOPLE.  And tonight, I feel betrayed. 

Call it what you will, but I tend to believe the best in people. I truly believe that while no one is perfect, most of us, at the core, are good. And for me, the best part of sports is watching people do things we NEVER thought possible. I find so much inspiration in my fellow man, and this, THIS was the ultimate.

For as long as I can remember, my father has loved the Tour de France.  He's the reason I even started watching it.  For the entire month of July, I'd hear the British voices of the commentators as they narrated the treachous climbs through mountains, while my father STOOD in front of the TV, watching in fascination at the incredible feats of these riders...and of one in particular.

Lance Armstrong was his everything.  The ultimate sports hero.  A man who had overcome adversity so great, he could inspire even the biggest cynic.  My father, a surgeon, would express his infatuation for Armstrong, telling anyone who questioned Lance's ethics--"Don't you KNOW how amazing he is?  How he survived that cancer?!  That kind of cancer, as advanced as it was, has a TWO PERCENT survival rate.  TWO PERCENT!!  If he can beat that, of COURSE he can win the TDF!" 

And I had to agree.  I watched those races with him--the Tour is underappreciated in the U.S. but don't get it twisted--that race is GRUELING.  I LOVED Lance Armstrong.  And anyone who accused him of doping got to hear about it from me. 

Surely, I thought, a man who is so passionate about this CAN'T be lying.  Look at the lengths he's going to fight it!  He's NEVER failed a drug test! He beat cancer!  How do you know those samples aren't tainted?!  These people got caught and now they want to blame him.  Publicity-seekers.  Bitter losers.  He's denied it for SO MANY YEARS!  The list went on.

Due to the nature of my job, I worked on a project with the organization that runs the TDF (a company in France called the ASO).  In doing so, I had the opportunity to spend time with many of the men and women who work for the organization and we engaged in many conversations about the topic.

"How do you feel about Lance Armstrong?" they would ask me. 
"I love him!  He's amazing!" I would respond.
"How do you feel about his doping?" they would question.
"I don't believe it!  And here's why..." I said, rattling off my laudry list of reasons. 

Looking back on those conversations, I'm surprised that my peers were so gracious during that time.  Things were always respectful and never got heated, but I can't help but think how foolish I sounded.  Can you imagine?!  DEFENDING him to people who had more information about the situation than I could ever HOPE to be privvy to. 

When Marion Jones admitted doping in the Olympics many years ago, I was shocked and saddened.  Who would have thought?!  I remember wondering.  I loved her and frankly, she was never someone I would ever even THINK about doing something like that.  (not that I knew her personally, but you know what I mean)  When that went down, some friends and I talked about it and I remember saying, "it shook me a little bit, but not as much as if it were Lance Armstrong.  If it ever turns out that he's lying, I'll be devastated."

That day was today.  One of my ultimate sports heroes, a man that I viewed as an incredible inspiration, is a fraud. 

Even though I'm almost 30, my head and my heart still believe in the power of sports.  In the power of the impossible.  And Armstrong, with his lies and his deception, stole a large piece of that belief.  After today, I'm going to be a little more skeptical.  Question a lot more.  Give everything a second glance before I commit to being impressed. 

In his interview tonight, Armstrong said the following:

“These are people that supported me, believed in me, believed me — not just believed in me, but believed what I was saying — and they have every right to feel betrayed, and it’s my fault. I will spend the rest of my life ... trying to earn back trust and apologize to people for the rest of my life.”  

Well-said, Lance.  You somehow manage to say all the right words. 

I just don't believe you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Watch What Happens 2.0

Here we go!

The season is STILL early and I'm not yet done with what I'm looking forward's my final thoughts on what I think are the most interesting storylines.

1.) The return of UCLA:  Ben Howland hasn't had a whole lot of fun the past couple of years.  Injuries, early departures to the NBA and "questionable" players in terms of character have clouded the school's incredible history.  However, with a strong recruiting class and some big names, everyone is saying the Bruins are back.  A lot hinges on whether Shabazz Muhammad gets cleared to play, but UCLA should have enough talent to get some wins.  But WILL THEY?

2.) Kentucky's Nerlens Noel:  This one is really just because he's so highly touted and that always interests me.  I'll be watching his early play, his development and just in general want to see how good he is on the NCAA stage.  I can't say I'm a fan of the Kid N'Play haircut, but I DO admire his commitment to getting UK shaved into the back of his head. 

3.) Ohio State without Sullinger:  OSU still has talent, so I know they'll be in the hunt for a Big Ten championship, but how will the loss of Sullinger impact the team?  Also, will there be less whining to the refs now that he's gone? 

4.) Coaching stars:  Who's the next "smallish" conference or young coach that makes a splash?  Two years ago it was Shaka Smart, last year it was Ohio's John Groce.  Next?

5.) Michigan: Really a top 5 team?  Not trying to be a hater, but that seems a LITTLE high.  I know I should automatically hate them because I'm a State fan, but I actually really like watching Michigan play.  Trey Burke is special, Tim Hardaway, Jr. is extremely talented and John Beilen is a great coach (and a really good guy).  But is that enough?  Who else will step up?  And in other news, I'm SO GLAD Zack Novak finally graduated--Huzzah!  If he were on my team, I'd love the guy.  But he's not....and he irritated me for 4 long years.  SEE YA!

6.) Big Ten-ACC Challenge: The last couple of years, the Big Ten has stepped up and won the overall challenge, finally quieting the talk of how the almighty ACC is SOOO superior.  On paper, that should hold this year.  But WILL IT? 

7.) Teams that I find enjoyable to watch in general and make me tune in: UConn, Mizzou, Duke, Louisville, Syracuse.  With the exception of UConn, all had huge years last year and lots of hype headed into this season--how will they do? 

That's about it for now...but let me know what YOU want to see--and if this early set of games has lived up to your expectations!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Watch What Happens

The second set of topics I'm most looking forward to is, unsurprisingly, centered around the Big Ten.

Over the last few years, it's been the toughest conference in the country--tons of talent, loads of great coaches, lots of competition.  This year looks like much of the same. 

I'm really, really interested to see how the conference race shapes up.  Understandably, Indiana is the favorite, given that they're all preseason #1 right now, but that will absolutely be threatened in conference play.  I see Michigan, Ohio State, MSU and even potentially Wisconsin  The key (I think) will be 2 things:

1.) Who maintains their homecourt advantage and 2.) Who can snag the most wins on the road (a near-impossible feat in Big Ten play). 

In the past years, the champs or co-champs have had about 3 or 4 losses in conference play--and it may be similar....which brings me to other teams I'm interested in...

Indiana:  TONS of hype around this team, mostly because of the tree that is Cody Zeller.  However, what I didn't realize at first is how many OTHER key players are coming back as well--Jordan Hulls provides a long-range scoring threat, Christian Watford is tough and strong and is a threat from anywhere on the floor, Victor Oladipo can score AND rebound--eek!  Add in a top 10 recruiting class and they're pretty much stacked.  I'm a Tom Crean fan, and not just because he's a former Izzo assistant.  He's intense, he knows how to interact with the fans, he respects the tradition of IU, he can recruit and his teams always play hard.  If MSU isn't winning the conference, I'd be good with IU taking it all. 

I'm really curious to see how they live up to expectations and how long they can maintain that top rank.  If they do lose in the uber-competitive Big Ten, how harshly will they be punished for it?  Can everyone stay healthy?  Will the guys that were virutally unknown at this time last year handle their stardom or buckle under the pressure?  Stay tuned!!  


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We're BAAACCK!!!

It's that time again folks!

College basketball season is FINALLY upon us! 

The disappointing performance of my Spartan football team has somewhat increased my levels of enthusiasm (it's a new offense, they will get there, I still love them!), but there are WAY more reasons I'm looking forward to 2012-2013. 

Instead of writing a preview of the Top 25, over the next few entries, I'd just like to share some of the storylines I'm eager to watch unfold.  Full disclosure:  I try to be somewhat objective, but since this is my blog, I don't get paid for it and I can write what I want, I refuse to hide my love of Michigan State.  GO GREEN!

Speaking of, let's start in East Lansing, shall we?

Last year's Spartans only lost 2 players from the squad--but what losses they were!  I think the main question mark behind this team is "What do they do without Draymond Green?"  (For those of you playing along at home, this would be a GREAT sidegame during any MSU broadcast--keep track of how many times DayDay is mentioned). 

It's a completely valid question.  Green led the team last year physically, emotionally and mentally--what he brought to the floor in terms of intangibles can't be summed up in words. 

That said, this year's team certainly has the TALENT to be amazing--and their #14 preseason ranking suggests I'm not the only one who thinks so.  They have experience in guards (Keith Appling, Travis Trice) AND down low (Derrick Nix, Adrien Payne), some solid role players with room to grow (Russell Byrd, Brandan Kearney) and some great, fresh talent (Gary Harris).  There's also some guy named Branden Dawson who's coming back from an injury and is supposed to be pretty good.  Dawson, for me, is one of the keys to the season.  If he's strong, he adds an athleticism, depth and a scoring threat the Spartans don't have anywhere else. 

From my perspective, the Spartan season will go one of two ways:

1.) One (or more) of the starting five picks up where Green left off--setting the example for the others, keeping the team unified, stepping up in clutch situations and MSU is a presence in the Top 25, fighting Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan and possibly Wisconsin for the Big Ten title.  This season would also include a nice tournament run as well. 

The other situation is scenario #2, where no one knows what to do without DayDay and everything is a kind of a big mess.

I'm VERY interested to watch how this goes because frankly, I'm just not sure.  With Izzo at the helm, I feel as though chances are that scenario #1 or some variation of it is what we can reasonably expect--but Izzo can't be on the court FOR these guys and to some extent, it's going to be left in their hands. 

Since they play their first game on FRIDAY (who's excited!?!?!) we get a bit of a peek at what they'll look like then. 

And one final note:  Regardless of what happens at the beginning of this year, it is important to remember the following things about MSU: 

1.) They always play an extremely tough schedule in the beginning of the year
2.) They ALWAYS get better as the year goes on.  How they look in November is NOT how they'll look at the end of February. 

That's it for now--but in the meantime, any additional thoughts regarding the Spartans? 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reactions from the weekend...

That sound you just heard was my bracket exploding into a million tiny pieces.  After the first weekend.  Which has NEVER happened to me.  With all the basketball I watch and read about, I'm usually slightly more accurate (at least until the 2nd weekend).  I mostly blame Mizzou and Florida State for totally falling short of expectations. 

But in spite of all that, this tournament has already been everything I dreamed it would be.

We started Sunday with 68 teams and within 1 week, the field is cut to 16.  It's how it's always been, but when you really stop to think about it, it always blows my mind.  The days of games seem to take forever and yet when they're over, I always find myself thinking, "that's it?"  Since I'm not going to analyze every game, here are some general thoughts:

~There were absolutely NO buzzer beaters.  Not a single one.  There were a couple of last-second shots TAKEN, but zero made.  One of the writers I follow pointed that out and at first I said, "wait, what?!?"  BUT IT'S TRUE!  Hard to believe that in all the excitement of the weekend it never happened, but there you go. 

~WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT DUKE!?!?  To be fair, I never expected them to go out in the first round, but I KNEW they were getting bounced early! 
~Baylor's uniforms:  I keep reading all these things about how the team uniforms are a "fashion statement" and "bold"...But I think they're hideous (the uniforms, not the team).  I can feel my retnas burning every time I look at them.  I'm all for taking risks, but yuck.
~THE BIG TEN!  At this time of the year, I usually root for the entire conference to do well--it validates the fact that there was a 3-way tie for the conference title and also why there were so many teams in the middle of the pack.  We pretty much just beat up on each other for 2-3 months.  To be real, the only team I DIDN'T think would get out of the first round was Purdue and it turned out to be Michigan.  I know I'm supposed to laugh maniacally about that, because of the whole UM-MSU thing, but I honestly do wish they had won.  Here's hoping the teams survive another game (or two).  And speaking of Purdue...

~ROBBIE HUMMEL.  Homeboy almost SINGLE-HANDEDLY beat Kansas.  I'm sure all the aforementioned Big Ten teams were watching and thinking, "welcome to our world, Jayhawks."  That loss was heartbreaking for the Boilers, so I'd like to offer 2 totally different perspectives when it comes to this young man:

1.) As a fan of basketball, he will be missed.  Good kid, hard worker, came back from incredible adversity, great player, etc.  He's everything you would want in a collegiate player and he can leave knowing he left a positive mark on the program, the fans and the sport in general.  I'm sure Purdue will celebrate him for years to come.  

2.) As a person who's watched him light up her team a million times, I say...PEACE OUT!  Good luck, good riddance, LEAVE US ALONE!  There are a select group of players I was THRILLED to see graduate after 4 years:  Dee Brown at Illinois, Tyler Hansborough at UNC, J.J. Reddick at Duke and Dallas Lauderdale at Ohio State (the last one not so much because he torched my team or was constantly discussed by the media, but because I SWEAR he was there for like 7 years and no one EVER MENTIONED IT.  Also, I'm pretty sure he was 43 years old.  I never did see a birth certificate....But I disgress).  Robbie Hummel is on that list. 

~Jae Crowder is a beast.  That's pretty much all I have to say about that.

~I picked Witchita State over VCU in the first round.  Total mistake.  We should all know by now not to pick against the almight SHAKA!  But I will say I'm proud of the Hoosiers for coming back and winning that second round game.  Well done!

~My father laughed at me when I told him to pick Colorado over UNLV.  My thinking was that UNLV was on a 5-game losing streak and not playing well, while Colorado had a solid record and just won the Pac-12 tournament.  We debated this for awhile and he thought I was nuts.  WHO'S LAUGHING NOW?!?! 

~Unfortunately, my father and I ALSO spent a great deal of time discussing my choice to pick Belmont over Georgetown and THEN to put Belmont in the Sweet 16.  He also thought that was crazy...but it turned out he listened to me.  And I was REALLY wrong.  Sorry, Dad.  :(

~SPARTANS!!!!!  Of course I was going to mention it.  DRAYMOND GREEN'S TRIPLE-DOUBLE!  A GRINDING WIN OVER ST. LOUIS!  A MATCH-UP WITH LOUISVILLE!  I'm excited and terrified and stressed out all at once.  And really, that's all I can say for now. 


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The West Region---aka Lindsay's Region of Doom!

My totally biased opinion is that this region is by far the toughest.  Maybe that's because my beloved Spartans are the #1 seed here, but even if they were to get knocked out, I STILL think every game will be a fight. 

Some thoughts:

1.) I heard several of my favorite experts pick MSU to lose early or not to make the Final Four.  Naturally, I was all set to launch into a long-winded diatribe about how silly it is that all the analysts say "don't count out Izzo in March" yet they were ALL counting out Izzo in March!  But then I checked out ESPN and realized I missed a crucial Bracketology conversation in which several experts (even DIGGER) picked the I can no longer rant on that one.  I'm not saying MSU is a lock for the Final Four--this is, of course, the tournament and as we see every year, literally anything can happen.  And who knows how the loss of Branden Dawson will affect MSU down the stretch.  But they played really well in the BTT and I don't think it's totally out of the question.  It's just nice to see the media have some faith. 

2.) I'm totally bummed that my second-favorite team, the Missouri Tigers, are in our region.  I have mixed emotions on this one.  On the one hand, I don't want to have to play them and be forced to root against them (because of course, I would be rooting for my own team).  But on the other hand, if we DO have to play them, it would be great because it means BOTH teams would have done well enough to have a shot at the Final Four.  And if MSU gets to the Elite Eight, I'll be extremely happy and proud.  Of course, a Final Four and/or a national championship is better, but I'm trying to keep things in perspective.  :) 

3.) The match-up that baffles me:  Louisville vs. Davidson.  I just don't know which way to go here.  Yes, Davidson beat Kansas...but that was so long ago!  And yes, Louisville has had some issues this year...but they're playing really well right now and just won the Big East tournament, so they're coming into this tournament with some momentum.  Additionally, I just love Rick Pitino as a coach.  I think his teams always play hard and I usually really enjoy watching them.  But then back in my sports TV days, I went down to Davidson to do a feature on Steph Curry and absolutely loved the school, the fans and their coach, Bob much so that I now own a Davidson basketball t-shirt.  WHAT TO DO!?!? 

4.) Sleeper team in the region: New Mexico.  I think because they aren't on TV and not in a power conference, people can overlook them.  Sweet 16?

5.) Another favorite team: Marquette.  Jae Crowder is a total beast.  Buzz Williams is totally underrated as a coach...and I find him hilarious.  This team is tough, physical and ready to win.  I would LOVE to see them vs. Mizzou.

6.) Teams I know pretty much nothing about that scare me:  St. Louis and Memphis.  I'm already nervous about LIU-Brooklyn.  No one wants to be the first 1 seed to lose to a 16.  So there's that.  And then, if MSU wins their first game, I hear lots about Memphis that turns my stomach.  I'm more worried about getting past them than anyone else in the bracket, probably because I know more about the other teams and can think about how MSU matches up with their players and strengths and weaknesses.

So that's the West.  President Obama likes Mizzou...who do YOU have?

Monday, March 12, 2012


Given my state of mind for the last entry in this blog, I would like to begin here by addressing the awesomeness of the Big Ten Tournament, particularly the FANTASTIC performance by my very own Spartans!!!!!!!! 

I was really, really excited to see how they re-grouped after the Ohio State loss.  They were focused and ready to play.  Not only that, but I thought their defense was terrific and I loved how various guys stepped up each game.  Everyone gives Draymond Green a lot of credit (and they should) but MSU has a lot of guys that do a lot of things well.  I LOVED that Ohio State game.  It was intense, physical and you could really tell that winning that tournament title meant a lot to both clubs....and even I felt intense--my palms were sweaty, my heart was racing and I had to physically remind myself to BREATHE.  I was so happy they won and even though I wouldn't have cared if they'd gotten a 2 seed, it was pretty awesome to see them get a 1.


How excited are you for this tournament?  If the conference tournaments were any indication, this is going to be one crazy ride.  Instead of doing all kinds of game by game analysis (because let's be real, I'm not ACTUALLY qualified to do that), I'm just going to give my thoughts on some matchups and teams in general. 


All the "experts" are all about Kentucky here and I don't blame them.  Please understand I think Kentucky is a VERY, VERY good team.  They have incredible talent and a coach that knows what he's doing and can get the best out of his guys.  BUT.  I'm not totally enamored of them, I have to say.  With the exception of a couple of teams (Florida, Vandy), I think the SEC is pretty weak and I don't think UK has had many challenges or faced too much adversity.  I also think that all the youth on that team can really be a factor in the tournament.  The pressure and the expectations are a lot to handle--not to mention the sheer SCOPE of the tourney--the atmosphere, the schedule, the fact that most people are rooting against you because you have a 1 in front of your name.  I think Kentucky is really good, but I don't think they're invincible.  If they go up against an athletic team with a lot of size and experience, they could be in trouble.

The match-up in this region that's really giving me pause is Notre Dame and Xavier.  ND had a rocky start and lost their best player to injury...but somehow managed to regroup and make a run through the Big East.  Xavier had an amazing start to the season until that horrible brawl against Cincy and then it all seemed to go downhill.  They seemed to figure something out though on the way to the A10 championship game--but have they figured out enough?  I love Xavier, and when they were on, they looked like a Final Four team early this year.  I can see them viewing the tournament as a fresh start and playing with a lot of drive and emotion.  But I can also see ND just being a little too much for them.  The Big East is a tough conference and ND has certainly been battle-tested.  The jury's out on this one...I still can't decide. 

I also can't decide about Baylor.  I've seen them do really well....and seen them choke in big games.   I want to think they can make a deep run but I can also see them, as well as Duke, getting bounced early.  Duke to me is super vulnerable.  They have some athleticism in the Plumlees, but that's about it.  And if Ryan Kelly doesn't come back or isn't at full strength, they're even more depleted.  They're also a team that lives and dies by the 3.  If they meet a really fast, strong, athletic team, and the 3s aren't falling, they're toast.  I also don't respect their defense--or should I say, lack thereof.  Of course, Duke will ALWAYS have the advantage of one of the best coaches in the game in Coach K.  And their players, while not necessarily "athletic" are both intelligent and skilled.  I could see them getting far, but I could also see them losing to the ND/Xavier winner. 

More tomorrow on a different region--let me know what you think about the South!