Thursday, March 31, 2011

New trick for old (under)dogs Butler and VCU

Last year it was easy.

In a Final Four field that included Duke, West Virginia and Michigan State, it was easy to root for Butler simply because the Bulldogs weren't like everyone else. Everyone loves an underdog and while Butler was a 5-seed, the same as Michigan State, the fact that the Bulldogs didn't hail from one of the traditional big six conferences made them a fan favorite.

This year, fans don't have the easy choice.

With both No. 8 Butler and No. 11 VCU in the Final Four -- playing each other no less -- it begs the question, who's the underdog?

If you go by the Las Vegas books, the underdog would be VCU. Butler opened at a -2.5 favorite and that line has held steady all week. VCU is also the lower seed, which would make it the underdog based on NCAA selection committee's decision earlier this month.

But Butler coach Brad Stevens isn't buying any of it. He knows how sneaky and misapplied the underdog label can be and he's not going to fall into the trap of undervaluing VCU simply because of the number in front of its name.

"If you re-ranked the tournament right now, they'd be a 1-seed based on how they've played," Stevens said during his in-house media day earlier this week. "They've only played one close game. In five tournament games, against five BCS schools, they've only played one close game. It's been remarkable. You talk about clicking on all cylinders, they are clicking on all cylinders."

VCU has been the giant killer of the tournament. It has beaten USC from the Pac-10, Georgetown from the Big East, Purdue form the Big Ten, Florida State from the ACC and Kansas from the Big 12 all by an average of 12 points per game. The only close game the Rams played was a 72-71 win against the Seminoles. Otherwise, the other wins have been by double digits.

Butler hasn't been nearly as lucky. The Bulldogs games have been some of the closest and most exciting of the tournament. Forward Matt Howard scored the game-winning basket as time expired against Old Dominion and hit a game-winning free throw to defeat Pitt. Butler had an easier time against Wisconsin and was the beneficiary of poor play calling and clock management at the end of the Florida game. There's no doubt that Butler's games suggest the Bulldogs are living a charmed tournament while VCU is just playing angry.

"To be honest, the confidence has been extremely high throughout the whole run," VCU coach Shaka Smart said during the Final Four teleconference. "It's not as though we only felt we could win the first game, then we needed that win to build our confidence for the second game. Our guys, no matter who we go out there against, they believe we can win, they believe we're going to win."

It's clear that both of these teams came into the NCAA tournament high on confidence and that has helped them get to the Final Four. But now they're playing each other and not knocking down the big-name teams in the tournament, will they play with the same type of energy as they have the first three weeks? Is there more pressure now to perform against a team of similar class than there was against a Pittsburgh or a Kansas?

Of course Butler has the benefit of experience after playing in the national championship game a year ago. Several of those players are back and they probably won't cave to the bright lights and pressure.

But there's no telling how VCU will respond as it continues its quest to prove the national pundits wrong and become the first 11-seed to play for a national championship.

"The term 'parity' is an interesting term in college basketball. You're comparing two different things," Stevens said during the Final Four teleconference. "You're comparing budgets and then you're comparing teams that are on the court. Only five guys play in basketball at a time. You may have 13 McDonald's All-Americans, but you can only play five at once.

"At the end of the day it's about playing. I do think there is something to this. I think VCU and Butler played with a lot of pressure in January and February. When you get into the tournament, that pressure may flip a little bit. We're playing loose, we're playing for the first time in a lot of ways in a couple months where you've already been playing basically where you feel like you can't lose. So you're already used to that. So the NCAA tournament is a welcome. I think both teams have played really, really well because of that."

Kim Kardashian China Chow Alecia Elliott Kat Von D Ana Paula Lemes

College Football 2011: 10 Starting QBs Who Should Be on the Bench

It's usually understood in football circles that a quarterback is supposed to lead his team to victory.

He is not, however, supposed to lead in bone-headed plays, dumb mistakes and foolish decisions.

If you are hoping to see Terrelle Pryor on this list, don't waste your time.

Instead, you will find starting quarterbacks who are currently in line to continue starting for their team, but really deserve to ride the pine.

They may have made this list because they have an apt replacement, or it could be they were just absolutely atrocious last season and no fan deserves to be subjected to that punishment two years in a row.

This is not a rundown of the worst QBs in the nation, but guys who have fooled us into believing they belong when their numbers tell a different tale.

So take a moment, check this out and then go back to watching Auburn players admitting they were paid to play.

Begin Slideshow

Cameron Richardson Chandra West Kasey Chambers Megan Ewing Kristanna Loken

John Terry wants to manage Chelsea, says Rooney can’t sit still

Umbro recently gave DT and a few other blogs the opportunity to ask Chelsea and newly re-named England captain John Terry a few questions as he prepares for Saturday's Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales. The following are the questions I asked along with John's answers.

When on England duty and holed up in the team hotel, which of your teammates is the most fun to have around and why?

"Obviously Wayne has always got some good banter around the changing room, and he's always buzzing around, he can't sit still! He's always looking to get involved in the banter, and he's one of the funniest."

Wayne Rooney not being able to sit still really isn't surprising at all, is it? He seems like he was one of those kids that would run around the dinner table while eating. Still, it's brave of him to be so involved in the changing room banter. There's just so much material to work with there.

Since you're working on your coaching badges, would you rather manage England or a club side one day?

"I think initially for me I'd love to manage Chelsea, whether that comes two years after I finish playing, straight away or five years away, I'd love to manage Chelsea Football Club. I've been there all my career, and I want to stay on here to the end, and I feel that I've got some knowledge to pass on, maybe to the youth team at first and then the first team. I'm doing the badges at the moment, and hopefully that'll be done sooner rather than later, and then I can look towards that."

He's said in the past that he wants to manage Chelsea as soon as he retires from playing, so seeing all these gaffers come and go over the last few years hasn't changed his mind about that. I can see the "Terry faces sack while Mourinho waits in the wings" headlines now...

Have you ever heard Rio Ferdinand call someone an "egg" or does he just do that on Twitter?

"That is one of his words, yeah! It's like a donut or something like that. Maybe it's a southern thing, but he does say that!"

See! Even Rio's international teammates don't know what it means! I knew it!

You can read the full interview here. Thanks so much to John Terry for answering our questions and confirming the fact that Rooney and Rio are hilarious.

Photo: JT wearing a selection from the Umbro Tee Shop

Michelle Trachtenberg Amanda Bynes Ana Ivanovi Jessica Cauffiel Emmanuelle Vaugier

Day 1 of Ochocinco’s Sporting KC trial: ‘I’d play for free’

Upon arrival in Kansas City on Tuesday for his four-day media frenzy/super serious MLS trial, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocino tweeted, "Headed to bed with a (humble pie) in the oven on low tempature, to be able to grace the pitch with elite futbol athletes is #Epic goodnight." And after his first training session on Wednesday, Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said the uncharacteristic trepidation implied in that message was evident when he first stepped on the practice pitch (via the AP):

"He was a little bit hesitant early on, a little bit tentative," said Vermes. "But I think now he's got a good feel for what a day goes like for us. You can see he's very coachable. I wouldn't try to make any determinations at this point."

That hasn't stopped the hordes of onlookers from trying to make snap judgments, though. There were 40 members of the media on hand for the session (four times the normal amount) and the club streamed the whole thing live on the Internet at Many viewers were quick to condemn his sub-par technical skills, though his speed is undeniable.

Calling Ochocinco "very coachable" probably isn't something his Cincinnati Bengals head coach, Marvin Lewis, would agree with, though. When asked about Chad's Sporting KC trial, Lewis said, "What has he ever done that he's completed? What circle has he ever connected in any way?"

So what did Ochocinco, who hasn't played this version of football competitively since the 10th grade, think of his first day?

"Exactly what I expected," said the six-time Pro Bowler. "I would be a little winded being that I haven't ran at this pace or this level since the end of our season of football. It was fun. I didn't expect to come in here and be Superman."

Ochocinco plans to go through with the four-day tryout, and, if possible, join the team.

"I would play for free," he said.

And by the lockout-inducing NFL standards, he might see MLS wages as just that -- playing for free.

You can laugh, you can dismiss it as a PR stunt and you can shake your fist at the opportunity he's getting that so many young footballers would love to have, but Chad really is taking this seriously. Kind of.

When he first landed in Kansas City, he told the awaiting press, "There's an art and there's a skill to this game that I've missed over so much time, but why not? It's a lockout. A lockout means I can do whatever I want to do. It's better than getting in trouble, though, right?" I'm sure Sporting KC will certainly agree as it basks in this spectacular early season attention.

Photo: Getty Images

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Behind the Box Score, where the Mavs are getting ready

Dallas 106, Los Angeles Clippers 100

It's a shot in the face to the Clippers, but it is the truth. Dallas' win over the Staples Center tenant was a warm-up gig for their Thursday night showing against a white-hot Lakers team. And Dallas needed the tune-up. And warm-up.

Because though Eric Gordon looked out of sorts with his team's offense on his way to a 4-18 shooting night, the Clippers hung in there with Mo Williams fantastic first half, and Blake Griffin's oh-so-warming second half. Williams, we know, can play well (first half) and be incredibly emotional (second half, when he was ejected), but Griffin's work has us thirsting for more. And wondering if the league can just let the Clippers play a roundtable of four other teams on NBA TV following the regular season while the playoffs run on the more heralded networks.

Twenty-five points, 17 rebounds, four assists, three steals for Griffin. He's done this before; but watching him utilize a pivot and drop-step, or the way his elbow and four fingers were under the ball as he faced up for a long jumper? This was progress. This guy is going to have every tool in the book before long, if you'll allow for books that have tools in them, and the league is just going to have to deal with it.

In the meantime, the Mavericks have one of those guys. Dirk Nowitzki had 24 points. Ho hum.

Jose Juan Barea managed 22 points in 21 minutes, putting the Mavs over the top in the second half as Los Angeles countered with a fantastic Chris Kaman-DeAndre Jordan-Griffin frontline.


Charlotte 98, Cleveland 97

We can't give the Bobcats too much dap -- even a beat-up Bobcats squad should be taking care of a stripped-down Cavaliers team in Charlotte -- but it is great to see Charlotte playing out the string the right way. It's not likely, but that string could lead to another playoff berth, one that would be wholly earned even if the group rocks the worst record amongst the playoff bracket.

This game was slow, but every time I flipped over I saw very good ball movement from both sides, and some surprisingly good plays that started from the inside-out. Or, the inside-even-inner; you dig? Boris Diaw managed 26 points and 11 assists for Charlotte, and Kwame Brown had a series of nice finishes (6-8 shooting on the interior) on his way toward 16 points. Both teams flirted with 120 points per 100 possessions, which is a shocking amount considering the mitigating factors either squad brings to the table.

Ramon Sessions was Cleveland's dervish, finishing with 24 points, and Baron Davis has now attempted 11 threes (making four) in his return from injury. Baron, you're in pain. Mark Jackson should be your hero, now. Not 1999-era Jason Williams.


Philadelphia 108, Houston 97

So this is what happens when Houston stops making its shots.

The Sixers defending the living hell out of that ball, late. Houston put up 106.6 points per 100 possessions, a solid-enough mark, but Philly's defense in the face of what has been the best NBA offense over the last five weeks was astonishingly good. Long arms and contested shots, as the Rox managed just 15 points in the fourth quarter in Philly. Working against a D like that, on a road trip like this? I can't blame Houston.

Philly was typically active and quite good offensively, as well. Thad Young contributed 22 and nine rebounds off the bench, while Jrue Holiday overcame his five turnovers to post 24 points and 12 assists. Double-figure assists for Andre Iguodala, too, a player that is clearly hurting.


Milwaukee 104, Toronto 98

Drew Gooden gets a cookie for doing what he was supposed to do -- 22 points (hitting 6-9 jumpers from 16-23 feet) and 11 boards off the bench -- and Brandon Jennings' seven made free throws made up for his 2-6 mark from long range in this Bucks win.

Toronto couldn't close out to save its life, from what I saw. It was almost Raptor basketball at its best, as performed by Milwaukee. Nine made three-pointers and a heap of long twos, and though Ed Davis blocked three shots, there was little resistance from Toronto's end.


Indiana 111, Detroit 101

Those Pistons, and I sometimes love 'em, made things interesting late. I had to flip over as Detroit made a run and nearly made this thing too close for comfort in the fourth quarter, but the team's poor defense and Indiana's sometimes-there shooting allowed a good enough cushion for the Pacers to pull out the needed (both Charlotte and Milwaukee won, on Wednesday) win.

The second quarter was the killer for Detroit, as the Pacers leaned on Josh McRobert's five points, eight rebounds, and two assists to pull away. A.J. Price ran a great show, and Detroit (with Rodney Stuckey missing four of five shots) just couldn't hang.

In nearly 18 minutes of play, Ben Gordon missed all three of his shots from the field, and turned the ball over twice. Which hurts, because there are teams that could utilize his talents (though limited) properly.


Atlanta 85, Orlando 82

A disappointing turnout for the Magic, who had many chances to run against the Hawks, but instead chose to walk things up and attempt a predictable low post or screen and roll attack with Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard. Howard's work wasn't completely mitigated by Jason Collins' superb defense on the Magic center, but he was nearly shut down by the plucky Hawk big men, and the Orlando offense just wouldn't cope. Not "couldn't," wouldn't. To this viewer, at least.

Howard made 9-15 free throws, but he also missed nine of 13 shots, and Jason Richardson clanged six of seven looks from the field on his own. Jameer Nelson came through with 20 points on 17 shots, but I didn't like his nose for the attack, and he missed a very makeable runner to end the game.

The Hawks were superb, defensively, and Josh Smith (26 points) just seemed quicker to the rim than anyone else on the court on Wednesday night.


Miami 123, Washington 107

I'm usually an appalling optimist, but I can't give much credit to the Heat in this win. LeBron James looked like he was a varsity baller playing against the sixth graders on his way to 12-16 shooting, and Miami's defense continues in a terrible slide.

Of course, I'm whining because this is the path you create when you flex and preen in July, months before playing a game with each other. But even forgetting that, I'm sorry, a team featuring the top-heavy talent that Miami boasts should be coming through with 135 points per 100 possessions against a Washington defense that just couldn't be bothered. The problem is that Miami had its head turned for most of this game, as was the case in the loss against the Cavaliers on Tuesday. Luckily for the Heat, Washington didn't have the focus that Cleveland came through with consistently.

Save for Jordan Crawford. Holy cow: 39 points, five made threes, 10 free throws. I don't know what the NBA is going to do with this talent from here on out, but even against Miami's terrible D, this is a man who just put up 39 points in an NBA game during his rookie season. I'll hand him a laurel and hardy handshake from here.

Also, if you didn't glean this from the preceding paragraphs, there was some terrible defense in this game.


New York 120, New Jersey 116

Perhaps a closer examination will prove me wrong, but I thought this was a well-played game on both sides, considering the obvious limitations of the Knicks and Nets.

Brook Lopez can be a wee bit soft, on the interior. Carmelo Anthony doesn't usually see what we (wee?) see from the above camera angle, in terms of available teammates. Chauncey Billups goes for the three-point in the new-fashioned way all the time (and, on Wednesday night, he was bailed out by bad Nets D, getting hit on a three-point attempt), and New Jersey often comes through with some pretty dodgy shot selection of its own.

But considering what we know and expect, this was a fun game, and the Knicks should be happy with this win, even if they have an ungodly amount of internal development to try to attempt.

The Knicks gave up a pathetic 68 points in the first half because they seemed to collectively decide that Anthony Morrow's initially historic turn as possibly the best three-point shooter in NBA history wasn't much of a big deal, and Lopez (26 points) had some contributions of his own to plunk down. Anthony's face-up game and Chauncey Billups' 33 points brought the Knicks back, though. New Jersey missed several makeable shots down the stretch, and a 16-5 turnover disadvantage overall didn't help New Jersey's chances.

With Charlotte, Indiana, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia all winning, New York needed this victory. Whew.


New Orleans 95, Portland 91

It isn't an excuse, but the Portland Trail Blazers looked a little tired down the stretch of this win. New Orleans earned this win, they took care of the paint while managing to contest and dismiss initial perimeter options for the Blazers (Nic Batum missed all seven of his shots from the field), but I have to point the fatigue factor out.

Chris Paul had another strange game, not looking like himself for spells, but he also had his good moments that the box score (four steals, 15 assists) reflected. Emeka Okafor's presence on either end (15 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) was absolutely integral, and this super-slow game (79 possessions) was a treat to watch.


Chicago 108, Minnesota 91

Despite all on-record indications, I don't think the Minnesota Timberwolves care much for their coach, and the Chicago Bulls (in a post you'll see tomorrow) clearly do. Even if Chicago's coach could be seen calling several angry timeouts in the late third and fourth quarter after the Bulls lead had "dwindled" to 18, down from 22. The Wolves didn't care to compete. Chicago, more than any other team in the NBA this season, does. The result was this lop-sided win, done without Joakim Noah.

Derrick Rose's 18 first half points were enough to tell both the fans watching, his teammates, and the Timberwolves that the Bulls were taking this mess seriously, and that things were going to end quickly. Carlos Boozer ended up with 24 and 14 rebounds without having anything forced to or from him, and where were the Wolves going to turn? Wesley Johnson?

Chicago's bench was brilliant, as usual.


Memphis 110, Golden State 101

The Warriors looked a little tired in the second half, and the Grizzlies looked a little better than the Warriors in the second half. The result was a 24-point advantage over the final 24 minutes, as Tony Allen's energy and Zach Randolph's ability to turn broken plays into sweet finishes gave the Grizz a huge win.

With Houston losing, Memphis is now three games up on Houston with seven to play, and though the Rockets have been terrific of late (losing to two very good teams in Miami and Philly), Memphis is showing no signs of slowing down. Even when they go slow. That's just more reason for Big Zach to take his mitts to the ball.

Twenty points, 13 rebounds, and six assists for Randolph. Sometimes, they do "get it." Keep the faith, cats and kittens.


Denver 104, Sacramento 90

Once Denver started hitting its shots -- and it was clear once the second half started that, yes, this little funk was about to end -- Sacramento didn't have a chance. It was an admirable butt-whuppin', one that even Sacramento had to bow to.

Had to admire the Kings' pluck as well, this team really worked hard on the second night of a back-to-back, in the thin Denver air, against a Nuggies team that had five days off before this game. This was designed for the Kings to fail, but they worked hard to the very end. Trust me, I had to watch it.

And to those wondering about a shortened Denver rotation in the playoffs? Well, George Karl won't run one, we suspect. Secondly, the team only played eight players double-figure minutes on Wednesday due to injury and illness, and they won quite handily. Of course, this was the Kings. Of course, I would have that laser.

In 28 minutes off the bench, Tyreke Evans (22 points, seven assists) looked fantastic. And healthy.


Oklahoma City 116, Phoenix 98

I've seen Vince Carter score points, rather effectively, since I was a teenager. So his 28-point outburst wasn't much of a surprise. I've seen him play terrible defense for over a decade as well, so that wasn't a surprise. But somehow, his terrible defense far outweighed his offense in this game, to these eyes.

Silly, right? His position doesn't mean much defensively, so give it a lick and a promise, right? Nah, watch this game. He was awful.

The Suns, overall, were just an angry team that knows its limitations and can't shoot its way out of those mitigating factors. Steve Nash often looks like his body is moving with each quadrant disagreeing with the others, and the Thunder just executed patiently and eventually pulled away.

130 points per 100 possessions for the Thunder, which is a screamingly-good number.

Thank you for reading.

Michelle Rodriguez Mena Suvari Georgina Grenville Michelle Trachtenberg Amanda Bynes

What's in a backup? For the Lions, a lot of money...

The B.C. Lions have managed to keep one of their two potential free agents, but at a cost. Backup quarterback Jarious Jackson signed a new deal with the team earlier this week, one which Lowell Ullrich reports is the league's richest for a projected second-stringer. As Ullrich wrote, though, the team ascribes more value to Jackson (pictured above in an August 2010 game) than merely providing insurance in case of injury to starter Travis Lulay:

But what the Lions bought when they agreed to a deal that will make Jackson the highest-paid backup in the league goes well beyond the $140,000, plus a signing bonus, he will make this season.

Jackson's value to the Lions is far greater to them than to any other club, and for that they paid accordingly. Buono knew what he had in Jackson and in the end, the reverse held true as well.

"I'm not sure how fans feel about him, but internally there's a tremendous amount of respect for him throughout the organization," Buono said Thursday.

"To different people he's different things. When he comes into the huddle, the guys believe him. When he's in the meeting room, the coaches have confidence in him. How do you buy that?"

From one perspective, this absolutely makes sense for the Lions. Jackson, a former Notre Dame star, has worn orange and black for six seasons now, so B.C. knows what they're getting from him. His career completion percentage of 54.7 per cent isn't what you want from a CFL starter, and neither is his 83.0 career quarterback rating, but he's proven to be a dependable backup. He may be turning 34 this season, but that's not such a bad thing in a league that favours veterans; five of the eight projected starting quarterbacks this coming season are 30 or older. Jackson knows the CFL well, and he's even more familiar with the Lions' offensive scheme; that's an important attribute, as B.C.'s backup isn't likely to get much scheduled playing time this season. If Lulay stays healthy, Jackson can contribute from the sidelines, but if there is an injury, he should be able to step in right away and at least give the Lions a chance of winning.

From another standpoint, though, this deal comes at a significant cost. The CFL is a salary-cap league, after all, and spending this amount of money on a backup quarterback does mean you'll have less to put elsewhere. Regardless of how great Jackson is as a locker-room leader or a sideline presence, he's getting an awfully large chunk of change for a guy who isn't expected to see much playing time. That's made more notable by the apparent lack of other serious suitors; Winnipeg was apparently considering him, but that never really seemed to go anywhere, and Toronto head coach Jim Barker said Friday he wasn't going to offer Jackson a contract without watching him throw (logical, considering the many injuries he's suffered over the years).

Still, on the whole, this looks like a good move for B.C. It's not as if there were other clearly apparent places to spend the money, as most of the promising free agents have already been snapped up, and they already made their big splash by signing Ben Archibald. Moreover, Jackson may look overpaid at the moment, but his contract could look like a bargain if Lulay goes down; he's one of the most experienced backups out there, and he's shown in the past he can be a capable fill-in over at least the short-term. Having a CFL veteran on the bench to lead and instruct Lulay is probably a good thing, too, and Jackson has been fine in a reduced role in the past, so he's unlikely to pull a Casey Printers. The Lions got their man, and despite the cost, he may prove to be a valuable piece for them.

FSU Cowgirls Abbie Cornish Krista Allen Hayden Panettiere Jules Asner

New York Mets' Current State: Finalizing a Roster the Correct Way

Fans, media and coaches spend a lot of time during spring training debating what will be the best 25-man roster for their team. Although everyone would like to get the best 25 players in their clubhouse for the whole season, this is merely a pipe dream. Due to injuries and poor performances, there will be a long rotation of players changing lockers. In order to make the playoffs over the course of a 162-game season, you will need about 35-40 different men in uniform making positive contributions.

This is one of the many ways that the new administration for the Mets is set to do better than the last. Sandy Alderson and his associates understand this concept and they seem to be putting together the best team for now and the best team for the future.

Take the second base competition. None of the candidates had truly established themselves as the best available. However, they were not all on the same playing field. I will set aside Daniel Murphy since he would have made the team as a utility man regardless. But Brad Emaus is a Rule V pick, which means if he does not stay on the team, he must be offered back to the Toronto Blue Jays.

This should, and does make him a priority for the opening day roster. Justin Turner still has minor league options remaining, which allows him to remain under team control in Triple A and the ability to call him up to the majors at any time. Therefore, after a month or so into the season, if Emaus is batting below .200 and is not fielding well, there are still more options with the team.

The Mets seem to be making the same smart decisions with the bullpen, which as many know is a crap shoot to begin with. They are poised to keep fellow Rule V pick Pedro Beato in the majors, while sending Mike O’Connor and Ryota Igarashi to the minors as insurance policies.

So how is this different than the Omar Minaya era? Like many of the contracts he signed, the roster was not set with the future in mind. In 2009, the Mets allowed Rule V pick Darren O’Day to get away to the Texas Rangers in order to clear room for Nelson Figueroa for a spot start. O’Day went on to have a 1.84 ERA that season, followed by a 2.03 last season and a pivotal piece for an American League Championship winning team.

One season later, Figueroa was out of minor league options. Unfortunately, this did not stop the Mets from releasing him to waivers where he found a place with the rival Phillies. Between the Phillies and Astros, he's had a 3.29 ERA last season with seven victories as a spot starter and long man out of the bullpen. The Mets sure could have used that help when John Maine and Oliver Perez showed they were ineffective.

This year, the Mets also included Blaine Boyer out of the bullpen instead of Jason Isringhausen. This changed recently when the news came out that Boyer has an out of his contract before the season started. While he had really impressed the team this spring, he was unlikely to make the team because he was on a minor league contract. Although Izzy is a great story with returning home, he is too much of a risk after all of the years and all of the surgeries the 38-year-old has had.

The hope is that he stays in Port St. Lucie in extended spring training until a position opens up for him.

The bench for this team looks like this:

Scott Hairston

Willie Harris

Daniel Murphy

Chin-lung Hu

Mike Nickeas (until Ronny Paulino is able to play)

This creates much more versatility than last years bench, especially towards the end of the year. Hairston will most likely be the first right-handed hitter off of the bench, while Murphy will get the bulk of the at-bats from the left side of the plate. I also believe Murphy will get his share of starts at second base, especially in April against right-handed pitchers.

Willie Harris and Chin-ling Hu will provide very good late-inning defense, and once Paulino returns from his suspension, he will provide experience behind the plate to help the young Josh Thole.

Overall, the team is structured to provide depth for the duration of the year. The Mets are already calling upon Lucas Duda to take over left field while Jason Bay in on the disabled list. There are also plenty of other young position players to call upon if needed in Fernando Martinez, Justin Turner and Jason Pridie.

With Nick Evans, Pat Misch and Luis Hernandez all clearing waivers, the New York Mets retained even more options in the minors. Money should not play a role on deciding a roster. However, roster flexibility should, and because of that the team seems to be in better shape now than it was a year ago at this time.

Kerry Suseck FSU Cowgirls Abbie Cornish Krista Allen Hayden Panettiere

Random musings of footballers before they fall asleep…

David Villa

Hello, hello. ... Who do we have here? ... Quite a handsome gent, if I say so myself. ... Even though it looks like he hasn't washed his face in a while. ... Still, I like your soul patch, fella. ... I have one, too. ... I think that makes us "soul mates." ... Hahaha I'm just kidding with you. ... I do a lot of crossword puzzles, so I'm good with words. ... You don't say much, do you? ... What do you say we go out for tapas and a few drinks -- get to know each other better? ... Your cologne kind of smells like wax. ... It's strong, too. Very strong. ... Suddenly feeling dizzy. I think I love you...

Jogi Low


Patrice Evra

Must resist the urge to sabotage team. ... Can't organize a walkout. ... Can't argue with the fitness coach. ... Just have to keep my cool and maintain. ... Just maintain. ... Can't throw a water bottle at Yoann Gourcuff's head. ... Can't say Franck Ribery was the one who did it. ... Can't slap Laurent Blanc's glasses off his stupid mean head. ... Sigh. ... I miss Domenech...

Didier Drogba

Time for the disgraces. ... First, I've been so bored this week that I actually let Kalou sleep over at my house so we could play Xbox all night. He keeps ordering movies off the TV and then doesn't watch them. He also spit toothpaste all over my bathroom mirror. That's a horrible house guest f***ing disgrace! ... Then, everyone kept talking about the England captaincy and I don't care about the England captaincy at all. That's an overblown f***ing disgrace. ... Then, we drew Manchester United in quarterfinals of the Champions League. That's a conspiratorial f***ing disgrace. ... Then, a fan stopped me on the street and tried to get me to say "It's a f***ing disgrace" like I'm some kind of one trick pony. That's an offensive f***ing disgrace. ... Then, there were those times those two bald referees who probably eat live baby seals cheated us out of the Champions League. That...that was a...

Photos: Reuters, Getty

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Tar Heels Top Recruits Shine in McDonald's All-American Game

Power forward James McAdoo and shooting guard P.J. Hairston are both in the top three prospects in the nation at their respective positions and both have signed on with the University of North Carolina.

Their similarities continue as both All-Americans played their high school ball in Virginia, and both scored in double figures as they led the East to victory in the McDonald's All-American game. 

They will join a Carolina team in the fall that will be looking to press further into the NCAA Tournament after they lost in the Elite Eight this season.

At 6'8'', McAdoo is similar to the Tar Heels' John Henson with his ability to rebound and his strong presence as a shot blocker. He averaged 23 ppg, 8.7 rpg and 1.9 bpg last year for Norfolk Christian.

P.J. Hairston will add another shooter to Roy Williams' offense. At 6' 5'', Hairston is a pure scorer but can contribute on the boards as well. In his senior season at Hargrave Military Academy, he averaged 25.6 ppg and 9.2 rpg.

If Harrison Barnes should happen to depart to the NBA, Hairston could step in his shoes as the next offensive leader at Chapel Hill.

Overall McAdoo and Hairston are the No. 5 and No. 13 recruits respectively in ESPN's top 100.

It looks like the Tar Heels' best days are ahead of them if these two can continue what they showcased in the McDonald's All-American Game and continue their hardwood domination at the college level.


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As Japan’s nuclear crisis grows, Sharapova remembers Chernobyl

A quarter-century after the nuclear disaster at� Chernobyl forced her family to leave their native Belarus, Maria Sharapova is turning her attention to the growing nuclear crisis in Japan.

The former world No. 1 was born one year after the worst nuclear accident in history but has spent much of her career raising money and awareness for victims of the accident. As the Japanese try to recover from last week's earthquake and tsunami, Sharapova is showing solidarity, speaking of her previous relief efforts on behalf of the United Nations and wearing a shirt commemorating the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl.

She spoke to reporters about both nuclear disasters after her third round victory over Aravane Rezai on Monday an Indian Wells:

On Japan:

"Crazy, right? Can you believe one disaster 25 years ago? Now another?

[...] In terms of what's going on over there, it's crazy and something that, you know, you can't even prepare for. It happens, and you see the coverage on it and the videos, and it's really incredible that something like that can even happen in the world.

It opens your eyes, and obviously puts a lot of perspective in your life. It's a country where I have very great memories from. I started playing there when I was very young, and I always loved my experiences there. So to see it going on there to its culture and the people, it's really sad."

On how Chernobyl affected her life:

"I think, you know, in the beginning my job was raising awareness to the world really and basically getting the message across that even though something like that happened such a long time ago, it still causes many people on a daily basis, especially families that were -- you know, kids that were born and now are having kids, you know, you also find that they have something in their body that's not allowing them to live a normal life from the pollution.

I mean, some of the coverage they shot when they were doing the documentary and in the radiation area, because I have never actually been around the area. ESPN covered it. I wanted to get all the coverage and all the videos around it, because it's really unbelievable what you see. This big huge area, no one is -- it's completely deserted. No one is around it.

Everyone has complete completely fled. They took their passports and that's all. That was their only belonging that they really wanted."

Sharapova donated $100,000 to victims in 2007 and is a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Development Fund.

Last year, the former world No. 1 visited her family's hometown for the first time in a segment for ESPN's "E:60" newsmagazine.

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Video: Tyson mad at the Oscars, tells Maltin to do his homework

"Iron" Mike seems to be confused about which movies debuted in 2010. Film critic Leonard Maltin tries to set Tyson straight, but almost gets a beating (NSFW).

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Video: Bradley thinks Alexander is ready for a brawl

It's going to be a huge year for the 140-pound division. Things kick off this weekend when two of the top five fighters in the weight class clash in Detroit on HBO (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT). Devon Alexander and Timothy Bradley meet Saturday night in the Silverdome.

Bradley (26-0, 11 KOs) possesses an awesome mix of power and speed, while Alexander (21-0, 13 KOs) is more of a slick boxer. Bradley told the media that he believes Alexander is going to bail from his normal approach and go toe-to-toe. 

"I think he's going to try to press the action," Bradley said (3:20 mark). "A lot of people think he's going to try to box me. For some reason I feel it, for some I feel he's gonna come to me."

Bradley isn't about to shy away from a brawl.

"If he comes to me, I don't have to go to him," Bradley said. "It's gonna be a fight. That's the kind of fight I want. If he wants to slug it out, that's the kind of fight I want. Let's do it."  

Bradley's promoter Gary Shaw sounds even more confident. 

"Alexander cannot fight going backwards. As soon as Timmie goes forward, the fight's over," said Shaw.

Bradley is itching to get in the ring. He put in an eight-week training camp and said he's essentially been prepping for the fight for the last five months.

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Video: Roddick wins in Memphis on spectacular diving winner

Andy Roddick called it the "best shot I've ever hit in my life." Considering it was a tournament-winning, Boris Becker-style, all-out dive for a winner that gave him his 30th career title and a tense victory over an up-and-coming star, it's not just hyperbole. 

The miracle shot capped a thrilling 7-6 (5), 6-7 (11), 7-5 Roddick victory over Milos Raonic in the finals of the ATP 500 event in Memphis. If Roddick doesn't get to the ball or hit it in play, Raonic, the big-hitting 20-year-old Canadian would have been serving at deuce to get into a decisive tiebreak. But, oh, did he get to it: 

Nobody was as surprised at the end result as Roddick:

"I played a pretty good point before that. Just making the return, you get disheartened when he doesn't miss the next ball because it's tough to get a serve back. He had a great volley there. I don't really remember much else besides the fact that I went for the ball, I hit it, I didn't really think much of it. Then I heard people cheering. I was like, ‘No, there's no way that went in.' I guess it did."

Raonic was equally impressed. After the match he said he was proud to be on the receiving end of such a spectacular point and that he looked forward to seeing himself on YouTube as a result.

With bloody knees and elbows, Roddick accepted the winner's trophy in Memphis for a third time. On Monday, he withdrew from a scheduled tournament in Delray Beach. I'd say he deserves the rest. 

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J.J. Barea is dating a former Miss Universe

NBA players are usually so tall that the smallest ones -- men who in any other context would just be normal people -- are often considered to be adorable little scamps who use their minor physical gifts to stay relevant in a league of giants. Never mind that they're unbelievable athletes with physical tools that most 25-year-olds would kill for -- at the highest level of basketball, they look like the closest thing to that crafty dude that wins with his tricks at the local gym.

This is ludicrous, because these men lead lives that we could only dream of. For instance, diminutive Mavericks guard J.J. Barea has a pretty impressive girlfriend. From Jeff Caplan for

Listed graciously by the Mavs as 6-feet tall, but really pushing 5-10, Barea already has beaten the odds on the hardwood in his fifth NBA season. And now he's got a good thing going with fellow Puerto Rico native Zuleyka Rivera, who is Miss Universe 2006. For competition purposes, she's listed at 5-9.

"She has NBA League Pass now," Barea said, smiling. "She watches our games. It's pretty good, man." [...]

How does one go about contacting Miss Universe?

"Text message," said Barea, who did his own reconnaissance work to obtain her phone number. "I sent her a message to say hi, something simple like hope you're doing good."

Congratulations to Barea, who as you can see from the photo above is dating a very attractive woman. Reacting to that fact by stating, "It's pretty good, man" is perhaps the most blatant case of understatement in NBA history, even more than that one time Eddy Curry said he was pleased with the Knicks' postgame spread in the locker room.

Miss Rivera stands 5-foot-9 according to her Wikipedia page, so in high heels she is presumably several inches taller than Barea. This would be a source of embarrassment for the guard, except that he's used to being dwarfed in his professional life and probably doesn't have to deal with the shame of dating a taller woman when she is Miss Universe. When she's on his arm, there is very little reason to feel like he's not measuring up.

Everyone at BDL wishes the best of luck to the happy couple. For Rivera's sake, we can only hope that Mark Cuban does not hang out around her awkwardly at home games.

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Behind the Box Score, where the Heat were too cool

Cleveland 102, Miami 90

I suppose it's in poor form to get angry on someone else's behalf. To become upset when that person has no interest in gritting their own teeth. To burn with frustration, when that person doesn't seem to give a rip.

For all I know, the Miami Heat care. They'll get angry behind the scenes and put in untold hours perfecting their form, working on that unreliable (if, overall, quite good) offense, and divining ways to help defensively. In the end, though, when pressed all I see is a Heat team that relies almost exclusively on bad habits to get themselves out of jams, despite the zero percent success rate this season. The long shot when a drive is needed, the overdribbling when movement and passing are due. A turned head, when Anthony Parker is wide open in the corner.

Make no mistake -- the Cleveland Cavaliers earned this game due to the team's brilliant defense, and fantastic effort. They came out with a spark, never stopped moving, never stopped looking to move the ball, and the results speak for themselves. The NBA's least-talented team took down one of its most talented, and quite handily. There was never a let up in this fantastic win for Cleveland, only bouts of offensive ineptitude mainly caused by the fact that, let's be honest, the NBA's 29th-ranked offense just isn't all that good.

But the Heat once again showed that they don't care about themselves, this game, their fans, or casual fans of NBA basketball. If this team can't see the obvious, lame storyline that comes with taking on the still-angry Cleveland Cavaliers in Cleveland, with Baron Davis returning to the fold, then what hope do they have? Did they think that the Cavs, with nothing to play for all year, would fold in their last chances to play spoiler, to earn revenge? Did they not see this coming?

There are your Heat, though. Too oblivious to care behind the scenes. Living up to every terrible stereotype they've created when the pressure is highest. Unless they're playing the Lakers, I suppose.

How so? With Dwyane Wade bailing a dragging Baron Davis out with a long three-pointer, even with that left baseline cleared. LeBron James playing a passive fourth quarter (27 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists; nice, but three points didn't count and two came with the game decided … where was the impact?), Chris Bosh looking impotent on the glass and scared in the paint. The rest of the team stinking, terribly.

The Cavs stink. But on Tuesday night, the Cavs cared. And the Cavaliers didn't mind that the "of course they'll beat LeBron" storyline was too hackneyed, they wanted to work hard and pass the ball and cut with abandon and beat LeBron. Anthony Parker shrugged off a terrible shooting slump to drop 20 points. Ryan Hollins would not stop moving on either end, finishing with 13 points and three blocks, and J.J. Hickson managed 21 points and 12 rebounds. Cleveland completely earned this win, and it would be a terrible basketball shame if Miami had backed into a win on Tuesday night.

And it will be a shame if, playing this way, they backed into a championship this June. Because in continuing to play this way, that will be the only way they'll win that ring.


Houston 112, New Jersey 87

Things are coming into place for Houston. They've boasted the best statistical offense in the NBA over the last five weeks, and while they didn't exactly remind of the 1989 Pistons on Tuesday night, they did hold the hapless New Jersey Nets to a pitiful 92 points per 100 possessions in this win.

Houston was probably due for it, considering that New Jersey was without Deron Williams, and the Nets had to rely on too many middling long jumpers from Johan Petro and Jordan Farmar, with a couple of chippies that wouldn't go down for Kris Humphries. On the other end, good movement from the Rockets guards and wings (Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Courtney Lee) led to white hot offense, and as a result the Rockets are back to being just two games down on the Memphis Grizzlies with eight to play. Tough, but do-able.

30 assists on 46 field goals for Houston, and that was in a road performance.


Sacramento 116, Phoenix 113

Essentially playing out the string, the Suns cannot stop anyone, and the Sacramento Kings fed off a good home crowd and 1-9 combined fourth quarter shooting from Steve Nash, Channing Frye, and Aaron Brooks to pull out the win.

He still doesn't guard anyone, either, but Marcus Thornton came through with 24 points and 11 rebounds in the win, gunning for five quick points in the final three minutes after Kings coach Paul Westphal went big and played Omri Casspi in his place for the first nine minutes of the final frame (can't argue with the outcome, or Westphal's reluctance to put Tyreke Evans on the wing, though I would like that as a lineup moving forward). I also liked DeMarcus Cousins' defensive rotations, and Sacto's quick decision-making throughout.

The Suns just have too many players that cannot be relied upon, be it for a full game or short term down the stretch of an eventual loss.


Oklahoma City 115, Golden State 114 (OT)

A tough loss for Golden State.

The game was close throughout, and you just got the feeling from beginning to end that if Monta Ellis had just approximated his typical totals and percentages, then the Warriors would have an easy-ish win. And with the game going into overtime (on an Ellis three-pointer, it should be noted) and being decided by just one-point, you can't help but look to Ellis' 9-30 shooting in the face of Thabo Sefolosha's fantastic defense. He had 11 assists to just one turnover, but just couldn't consistently overcome Thabo's long arms, and as a result forced a few too many to these eyes.

Stephen Curry had no such issues, dropping 35 points on 23 shots, but he turned it over six times. Kevin Durant got his 39, and was integral down the stretch in OT, but Russell Westbrook also turned it over six times while missing 11 of 15 shots. A fast, fun game throughout, but both teams were just a little above the league average in offensive efficiency, with the high score coming as a result of the game's 111 possessions in 53 minutes.

It was quite the watch, though. Kendrick Perkins was doing Kendrick Perkins things, sticking out his rear end, scoring zero points but pulling in 13 rebounds. Serge Ibaka is getting more and more comfortable with his jumper on his way to an 18-point, nine-rebound, three-block performance. Epke Udoh had some nice recoveries defensively, David Lee is getting back to enjoying the game, and Reggie Williams popped off the Warrior bench for a needed 10 points.

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DTotD: Little kid uses face-punchy defensive technique

It's been a while since we last saw a DTotD from the next generation of footballers. Maybe today's youth simply aren't as violent on the pitch as the professionals of the world? Maybe the future of football will be kinder and gentler? I mean, this clip starts out nice enough. The kid in green takes the ball off the kid in red with ease. And just when it appears green is about to pass the ball -- BAM! -- the kid in red hauls off and punches him the face from behind.

That's not a foul, that's an assault. Seriously, that kid should be in jail right now. Nigel De Jong watched this clip, gasped at the horror of it, then vomited all over himself.

So what does the future of football look like? Ultraviolent. No one is safe.

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Could Halifax stadium spark a battle of the Atlantic provinces?

Much of the recent talk around potential Atlantic expansion of the CFL has revolved around a franchise in Moncton, thanks to the success of the first Touchdown Atlantic game there and the plans for a second one this year. However, Halifax was originally the first option most talked about for Atlantic expansion, and the city came very close to actually landing a CFL team in the 1980s; the city was given a conditional franchise called the Atlantic Schooners (which many Atlantic fans still remember, like those carrying the Schooners banner at last year's Touchdown Atlantic game), but they weren't able to get a stadium built quickly enough and never played a down.

Even just a few years ago, there was still more discussion of Halifax's CFL potential than Moncton. That discussion quickly moved to the backburner when the Moncton series of games began, but it may gain new life thanks to Halifax's plans to build a new, large stadium that could potentially be used for the CFL. Those plans certainly aren't in any finished form yet, but the comments from Halifax mayor Peter Kelly in the above CP story are quite interesting:

Mayor Peter Kelly has already staked out his position.

"It's not a matter of if, but when this will be built. We need to move forward," said Kelly. "But we have to be clear on size, seating and potential operational uses. It has to be multi-use."

Kelly goes on to say that the stadium proposal isn't contingent on picking up a CFL team, and it's designed to be used by a variety of stakeholders. However, it's tough to think of much else that would require around 25,000 seats; sure, they could probably attract a few big concerts, but even events like the PanAm Games or Canada Summer or Winter Games (none of which happen all that frequently) don't need something of that size. Community uses are all well and good, but a building of that size is generally intended for a primary professional tenant, and the CFL is about the only feasible one. Halifax isn't getting a MLS team any time soon, and even if they did land a Division II soccer franchise, 25,000 seats would be vast overkill for that. That seems to leave the CFL.

Of course, having a stadium alone doesn't guarantee you'll get a CFL franchise, as you also need a pile of money, a committed owner and the approval of the league. Moreover, at this point, the chances that both Moncton and Halifax could get CFL franchises seem extremely low; Atlantic expansion of some sort seems reasonably probable (if still a ways off), but all the discussion to date has been about how an Atlantic franchise would need to attract fans and corporate sponsorship from across the entire region, not just whichever city it's in. At the moment, it seems quite possible that there's enough fan and business interest to support one Atlantic team, but very unlikely there's enough for two.

That could lead to a battle between Halifax and Moncton for a CFL franchise, and that might be unfortunate. For one thing, if there is a drawn-out public slugfest to see which city walks away with the team, that could significantly alienate fan and business interest in whichever city doesn't get the franchise (and has the potential to turn the new team into a Halifax or Moncton team, rather than a truly Atlantic franchise). However, competition isn't necessarily a bad thing, and Halifax's entrance into the game might motivate Moncton to make a serious bid for a CFL franchise sooner than they might if left to their own devices; Moncton's progress with the Touchdown Atlantic events might also motivate Halifax to get something done more quickly than they would otherwise. We'll see how things turn out, but Halifax's stadium talks certainly should add some fuel to the Atlantic expansion debate.

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Rios shows star power in blasting out Acosta

That's the way to explode onto the national stage. Top Rank had big plans for Brandon Rios, but none of that could happen without the young Mexican-American beating a very good champion in Miguel Acosta. Rios did exactly that, scoring a 10th round knockout, after what was nine-plus rounds of rock'em, sock'em between the hard-hitting lightweights on Showtime.

Rios, 24, fell behind 4-0 on two of the judges' scorecards before storming back to knock down Acosta in the sixth, eighth and 10th rounds. The victory gives him his first world title. The new WBA lightweight champ is now 27-0-1 with 19 KO's.

"Like [promoter] Bob Arum said, I'm a late bloomer coming to the game. As rounds go, I get stronger," Rios told Showtime's Jim Gray. "I just go back and listen to my corner. He kept telling me, 'fight a smart fight, keep close, keep close. Don’t let him get your distance because when you do, he gets his power shots.' He’s very powerfull. I just kept putting on pressure."

Acosta (28-4-2) started quickly. His combination of movement and power punching had Rios on his heels. The Kansan, now living in California, ate some monster shots in the first and third rounds.

"Now I can say I have a pretty good chin," Rios said. "He caught me with some pretty good shots. Shots that really hurt."

Rios kept pushing forward and began to change things in the fifth. Acosta got suckered into fighting along the ropes and in the corners. The Venezuelan got drilled to the body, then neck and finally by a short left jab that floored him in the sixth with 2:14 left. He wasn't seriously hurt and brawled with Rios the rest of the round. In the eighth, Rios got him down again with a left hook that sent an off-balance Acosta stumbling to his left.

The pace wore down Acosta and he became way too stationary in the ninth. He fought off the ropes for most of the round. It may have been the rouind of the fight, as they pelted one another with heavy shots.

Acosta was gassed in the tenth. Rios pushed him into a corner and landed three chopping rights that put Acosta down for good. His corner was so concerned, they laid on top of the downed fighter to ensure the stoppage.

Rios outlanded Acosta 190-156, with 182 of those shot labeled power punches. All three judges had Rios ahead on the cards 86-83. This writer had Rios up 85-84. 

This was a crowning moment for Rios, a kid who in the past has struggle with his behavior and discipline.

"[Winning the title] means a lot. It means a lot to a kid like me," Rios said. "Always in and out of trouble. Almost had his career taken away. To come back and do an awesome performance, become a world champion, anybody out there can do it. Just stick to your dreams."

Arum, his promoter, suggested big things are on the horizon for Rios.

"A star was born tonight," Arum said. "Miguel Acosta is standing there, he was a helluva champion. This young man is going to be a superstar. Right now we’re looking for some of the bigger names in boxing to put Brandon with."

The possibilities are endless for Rios. Lightweight and 140 pounds are filled with star fighters like Juan Manuel Marquez, Amir Khan, Humberto Soto, Marcos Maidana, Marco Antonio Barrera, Timothy Bradley, Robert Guerrero, Devon Alexander, Victor Ortiz, Michael Katisidis and Andreas Kotelnik.

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Stampeders' fan forum could set a valuable precedent

The Calgary Stampeders took an interesting step Monday evening, holding their first-ever fan forum at Calgary's Red and White Club. The team executed the concept brilliantly; many organizations have held expensive dinners or meet-and-greets restricted to season-ticket holders only, but the Stampeders instead decided to do a free event for any fans who wanted to come. That's an important move, as teams can no longer afford to only focus on season-ticket holders; in fact, it may be more crucial to attract those who are undecided if they'll attend CFL games this coming year, or haven't yet chosen how many games they'll go to. Reaching out to all their fans instead of just a selected few is an excellent move on the part of the Stampeders, and it's one that could potentially pay significant dividends for them down the road.

The other critical thing Calgary did right at this forum was bringing important people and giving them free reign to talk. In general, too many sports teams are concerned with controlling the message, keeping as much secret as possible and only releasing information on a need-to-know basis. That means many of these forums often don't include high-level team officials, or if they do, the officials involved deliver little other than clichéd responses. The Stampeders didn't do that; speakers at the forum included team president Lyle Bauer and head coach/general manager John Hufnagel (seen above right at a June press conference), and they both got into specifics about interesting issues. Bauer confirmed that Stampeders' season-ticket holders will have a chance to buy Touchdown Atlantic tickets for Calgary's Sept. 25 game in Moncton against Hamilton, while Hufnagel offered plenty of interesting commentary on what the team needs to improve, why they made the offseason personnel moves they did and why they didn't make some other moves. Here's the choicest excerpt fromThe Calgary Herald's Allen Cameron's post on the event:

John Hufnagel brought the house down at one point as he addressed the burning issue of finding a way to beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the playoffs after two straight post-season losses.

"First of all," said Hufnagel, "Have a home playoff game, where everybody is wearing red.

"Second of all, score one more point than they do."

"And third (here's the big finish), if there's a loose ball in the end zone and there are five red jerseys and one green jersey, let a (bleep-bleep) red jersey recover the ball."

It's nice to see Hufnagel talking candidly to fans, even about last year's painful West Final loss to Saskatchewan. What's even more interesting is the specific information on players Hufnagel delivered, though; he mentioned that fullback Jesse Lumsden likely won't be back on the field until September after suffering a torn ACL last November, defensive end Mike Labinjo (who was traded to Montreal, but had that trade revoked after failing a physical examination)'s future as a Stampeder is "hanging by a thin thread" (and likely dependent on the shape he shows up to camp in), cornerback Dwight Anderson left for Montreal in free agency more thanks to differences in the contract structure the teams offered (Montreal's had more money up front) than total dollar figures, slotback P.K. Sam is expected to be ready for training camp and 2009 draft pick Spencer Armstrong may yet suit up for the Stampeders if his NFL opportunities fall through.

None of that information's earth-shattering, but there are plenty of fans who are interested in the minutiae of the CFL as well as the highlights. Reaching out to them with events like this and actually discussing the team's roster and personnel decisions is a notable step, and it's one many other CFL teams would do well to emulate. Of course, all the CFL franchises are active in their communities in their own ways, and they all do a lot of great things (the Argonauts' anti-bullying initiative stands out as a particularly notable recent contribution), but the success of the Stampeders' forum demonstrates several critical elements other teams could learn from and adapt for their own purposes. From this corner, it looks like teams would do well to target fans beyond just season-ticket holders. Moreover, there are plenty of fans who are interested in the details of the CFL as well as the overarching themes, and allowing key personnel to speak directly to the public about those details can be a very positive thing.

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Khan outlasts Maidana in Fight of the Year candidate

Entering a 140-pound showdown in Las Vegas, Amir Khan was on the verge of super-stardom, but he needed to exorcise his one demon - a first round knockout he suffered back in 2008. The Brit did much to quiet the critics by showing a granite chin and guts galore. He took the best shots from Marcos Maidana, the nastiest power puncher in the junior welterweight division, and landed plenty of his own.

It was far from easy, but Khan edged Maidana via unanimous decision, 114-111, 114-111 and 113-112 to retain his WBA 140-pound strap and answer a lot of questions about his ability to take a punch.

It's tough to find a fight this year that can match the power punching output that came from sides in this one.

"What a great fight it was, man," Khan said, before heading for a CAT scan. "I'm sure HBO are happy. I'm sure Sky are happy. This is boxing, and you have to fight the best. You can't take any shortcuts. Most people said to me, 'You've got no chin'. Well I've proved them wrong."

Khan was in control for much of the fight, but was always on the edge of eating that one big Maidana bomb. Towards the end of the fight, he did and it almost lost him the fight.

Khan (24-1, 17 KOs) tried to make it a short night. He floored Maidana with 29 seconds left in the first round, with a pair of vicious body shots. Maidana was in such pain on the ground, it prompted HBO announcer Jim Lampley, to say "he's not getting up" before recanting the statement.

Maidana (29-2, 27 KOs) fought hard and stalked Khan, but was outclassed badly over seven of the next eight rounds. Khan was comfortably in the lead and then the fight changed in the tenth.

With 1:50 left in the round, the Argentinian bomber cracked Khan with an overhand right that stopped the Brit in his tracks. He was on wobbly legs and Maidana poured it on.

It looked like there was no way Khan could survive, but he did. He took some hellacious shots, 23 in all and they all seemed like power shots.

"He was strong. I hit him with some big shots. And there were times in the fight when I got caught, but took it," Khan said. "I made a few mistakes that I won't make again. Sometimes I fight with my heart too much. But I'm young. I'm still learning."

Khan stayed clear of Maidana down the stretch and may have lost both rounds, but it was just enough to get by with the close decision.

It was a rough fight throughout. Referee Joe Cortez had trouble managing the fight. As Cortez stepped in to separate the fighters, Maidana often hit on the break.

He even had to take a point away in the fourth round when Maidana threw a back elbow as the fighters were being separated. The elbow hit a target, but not Khan. It actually caught Cortez in the shoulder.

Maidana showed off an amazing chin. Through six rounds, he was outlanded 161-60. Khan made good on 48 percent of his punches to that point. That included 135 to Maidana's head. Rounds seven and eight weren't much better.

Maidana looked tired in the ninth and appeared to go down. Cortes ruled it a slip. The replay showed the combination of Maidana falling forward along with getting nailed by a right uppercut and a left to the body, made for a real knockdown. Khan wasn't given credit.

Maidana's body language was terrible at the end of the round. He stood in place, looking dazed from exhaustion and actually took a few steps towards Khan's corner.

He looked even worse coming out for tenth, which is why the barrage he unleashed on Khan was such a shocker.

There should definitely be a rematch in future. Golden Boy has big plans for Khan, so don't count on Maidana on getting a second chance anytime soon.

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Qatar stole its artificial cloud idea from The Simpsons

The head of mechanical and industrial engineering at Qatar University announced plans this week to develop an "artificial cloud" that will be positioned in the sky to provide shade and help reduce the heat in stadiums for the 2022 World Cup. The incredible plan has made news around the world with many wondering how Qatar University could come up with such a fantastical concept. Well, it didn't. The Simpsons did.

In the legendary two-part 1995 episode entitled "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" nefarious power plant owner C. Montgomery Burns devises a plan to create a giant shield that will block the sun and keep Springfield in perpetual darkness. Springfield's wacky residents soon turn on Mr. Burns and the mystery of his shooting ensues. So, as Globoesporte points out, while Qatar may have added their own twist by making the artificial cloud remote controlled, the core idea is clearly ripped from a 16-year-old cartoon.

Even the idea of ripping off this idea isn't original, though. In 2002, South Park did an entire episode called "The Simpsons Already Did It" where Butters a.k.a. Professor Chaos plots to build a large structure to block out the sun (video clip here). But even Butters realizes the it isn't worth building once he's told that The Simpsons already did it. Apparently Qatar hasn't gotten that far yet.

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Hatton wants to take out emerging 'rock star' Alvarez

Matthew Hatton knows he's a means to an end. He's a willing participant in Saul "Canelo" Alvarez's quest for a title, but he's not going to lay down and hand the WBC belt the young Mexican star.

Alvarez, just 20, could take the first step to superstardom with a 154-pound (catchweight of 150) win over the less famous Hatton in Anaheim on Saturday night.

"Obviously, Saul is very popular in Mexico. Obviously, in LA, it's like fighting in his backyard. It's obviously going to be Saul who is going to have the bulk of the support and rightly so, but no, it's not something where I'm concerning myself," Hatton said. "I'm going to put on one hell of a show. I hope the people will respect that."

Ricky Hatton's younger bro thinks Canelo (35-0-1, 26 KOs) has been spoonfed to this point in his career.

"I think in his fights so far, he's had a lot of things his own way," Hatton said. "I've had fights in my career in the past where I've had to dig deep and come through rough patches in fights. I don't think he's had those experiences yet so far."

Oscar De La Hoya knows what it's like to be a huge star. He had much of the Mexican fanbase behind him during his brilliant career. It sounds he believes, Canelo can be even bigger in Mexico.

"I've been down with him in Mexico many times. He does have that rock star-like following from the grandmothers to the teenagers. It is truly incredible. I haven't seen something like that, obviously, since I've been fighting," said De La Hoya.

"This fighter is not only charismatic and is a good-looking kid, but he can fight. I've been witness to that, up close and personal. We feel that Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez can be the biggest thing that has hailed from Mexico inside that square circle."

The fight is the headliner on an HBO card (10 p.m.ET/7 p.m. ET). The lead-in is expected to be a good super featherweight scrap between veteran Daniel Ponce de Leon (41-2, 34 KOs) and young 20-year-old Cincinnati star Adrien Broner (19-0, 16 KOs).

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