Saturday, April 30, 2011

DTotD: Zakuani suffers horrifc leg break, remains incredibly positive

(Warning: This is gross.)

On Friday, the Seattle Sounders' Steve Zakuani endured a nightmarish fracture of his tibia and fibula when the Colorado Rapids' Brian Mullan plowed into him and made his leg go floppy in the third minute of the Sounders' 1-0 win. On Saturday, Zakuani underwent successful to repair the damage. And on Sunday, the 23-year-old displayed an admirably positive outlook on Twitter.

Said Zakuani:

"Overwhelmed by msgs of support/encouragement. Can't change the past, but I'm gonna control my future by remaining positive! One love!

"Surgery went well and I am on the road to recovery. 'A journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.' Speak to you all soon!"

After the match, Mullan repeatedly apologized to Zakuani in an interview and probably didn't help his cause by stating that this was a tackle he has done "hundreds of times and I'd probably do it again." Seriously. He said that. Because he wants to be sure you know that he's not only reckless, but not very bright, either.

If/when the league decides on a ban for Mullan, lets hope they can only think of numbers larger than a billion.

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Alternate history, third-down gambles and a Riders' Grey Cup

As a history major during my university days, I spent plenty of years buried in such minute details as the Byzantine Empire's education system and the social importance of the invention of the printing press. One of the things that's always interested me about the past is that seemingly minor changes can produce far-reaching effects; this is where you get ideas like the butterfly effect, and it's an area that's seen plenty of impressive work (including that by Harry Turtledove, who, among other things, wrote an excellent and very historically-plausible 12-volume series based solely on the premise that the Union Army never found a Confederate order at a critical moment of the Civil War). You can apply those principles to any sporting event as well, but they're particularly useful in football, where many minor changes to any particular play can result in significantly different outcomes of a game. However, it definitely helps if you have some evidence to support your case; just saying "What if they ran up the middle instead of throwing that interception?" doesn't work entirely, as there's a chance that a run could have caused a fumble, a tackle for a loss or some other equally unfortunate outcome. That's where Rob Pettapiece comes in; the editor of The CIS Blog is also a brilliant statistician whose work should be well-known to long-time 55-Yard Line readers from his RPI/SRS calculations and third-down studies, and he's concluded after an extensive analysis of third-down gambles in the playoffs that Saskatchewan likely could have won the 2010 Grey Cup simply by making different decisions on third down.

In an e-mail interview earlier this month about Saskatchewan's decisions in that Grey Cup game (play-by-play data available here), Pettapiece told me there was one decision that was particularly bad. The one that stood out to him was in the third quarter, where Saskatchewan faced third-and-eight on the Alouettes' 38-yard line with 12:42 left and opted to punt. According to Pettapiece's extensive third-down study (based on data from the entire 2009 regular-season), punting there generates about 0.3 points (from forcing the opponent in to bad starting field position), while kicking a field goal would give you 1.9 points on average (including the chances of a made field goal, the chances of a single, the chances of a missed field goal returned and the other team's effective field position following a return or a conceded single). Thus, by expected point values, that's a loss of 1.6 points (significant, as Saskatchewan only lost the game by three points). You might modify those odds down somewhat for the Riders in that particular situation, as their kicker was the largely-untested Warren Kean (thanks to Luca Congi's mid-season injury), but considering all possible outcomes, going for a field goal would appear likely to lead to better results than opting to punt. (By the way, Eddie Johnson's punt sailed out at the 12, so while it certainly wasn't bad, it definitely didn't lead to particular success and it wasn't punting to win; Montreal went on to drive 83 yards for a field goal, tied the game and never trailed again).

There was also a questionable decision with 12:07 left in the second quarter, where Saskatchewan faced third-and-two on the Montreal 20. There, they opted to kick a field goal (the one Kean is pictured making above) instead of going for it. Pettapiece's third-down study indicates that trying a field goal there is worth 2.1 points on average (again counting the chances of a made field goal, a miss that leads to a single, a returned miss and the expected field positions resulting from each), while trying to convert a third-and-two produces 3.7 points (taking into account the chances of a successful conversion, its chances in turn of leading to a touchdown or a field goal, the chances of failure and the resulting field positions from each outcome). Thus, that's an expected loss of 2.6 points.

If you combine that swing with the 1.6 from earlier (and a 0.2 point loss from another third-down decision), Saskatchewan left 4.4 points on the board, more than enough to win the game. (The Riders did in fact make that field goal, but even if you give them a full three points for that instead of the 2.1 expected, that's still a loss of 1.7 points, and that's enough in combination with the other decisions (3.5 points overall) to give them a Grey Cup victory). As Pettapiece pointed out, though, it's impossible to say Saskatchewan definitely would have won with different decisions (as we don't for sure know what outcomes those decisions would have produced, or how Montreal would have responded); what this really indicates is that their decisions were not solid ones from a probability standpoint:

"Would the Riders have lost if they kicked a FG themselves?" Pettapiece asked. "Who knows. The idea here is that in the long run, the decision they made will work out worse for them than the decision they should have made. In the short term, it hurt them too, which makes it easier to tell a story about why they were wrong."

Pettapiece ran this kind of analysis for the entire 2010 playoffs, and the results are quite interesting. He focused on the first and third quarters, as that precludes any clock-related issues due to the end of halves (the second-quarter example above is mentioned because it came so early in the quarter that the clock wasn't a particular factor). Here's the table he came up with after analyzing every first- and third-quarter third-down decision from each 2010 playoff game and comparing the expected points value of the decisions made to the expected point values of the other options available:

The most interesting element there may be Toronto's 4.9 points lost in the East semifinal. Of course, the Argonauts went on to win the game 16-14, but it might not have been as close if they'd been a little more aggressive at times. (You can make a convincing argument that the expected points value of going for it might be lower if your quarterback is Cleo Lemon, but it's still probably worth taking shots when the probabilites are in your favour.) One particularly bad move they made there was kicking a field goal on third-and-two from the 25; it worked, but much like the Roughriders' Grey Cup move, it probably cost them several points. Jim Barker was a deserving winner of the Coach of the Year award in my mind, but his third-down decisions in this game weren't particularly great from a probability standpoint.

Here's Pettapiece's summary of how the first- and third-quarter third-down decisions broke down over the course of the standpoint:

On average, teams' wrong decisions on third down cost them 0.3 to 0.4 points per third-down. Given that there were 11.4 third-down decisions made in the first and third quarters in these playoff games, that's 4.2 points per team per playoff game. (Again, I remove the other quarters because of clock issues, and to make a more conservative guess as to how bad these teams are at third-down decisions.)

As it happens, one point per game in the CFL is worth about 3% of a win, so we have about an eighth of a win lost every season by the average team in making poor decisions. That's not a lot, but remember it's a conservative estimate; if you face more third downs in a game, and do what these teams did, you'd lose even more points. Plus we're only counting half the quarters.

Also, considering how low the costs are (print out my "when to go for it" chart and affix it to the back of the Argos' OC's clipboard), the benefits don't seem so shabby in comparison.

On the whole, I think this study fits in the general trend of alternate-history scenarios. We can't definitively state that borrowing Doc Brown's DeLorean, going back and changing the third-down decisions on these specific plays would lead to the expected swing in game outcome, but we can still learn a substantial amount about both the past and the present from considering how different things might have been after a couple of small changes. Perhaps even more importantly, those past decisions give us new information to consider in future when evaluating third-down decisions. Each call on its own may seem small and inconsequential, but when viewed in a larger context, those decisions may alter who winds up hoisting the Grey Cup.

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Video: Manu Ginobili nails the 50-foot desperation heave

Grabbing the rebound, crashing through bodies, from 50 feet away, to keep the San Antonio Spurs within two possessions in an elimination Game 6 in which they've struggled to hit even 40 percent of their field goals against some tough, tough Memphis Grizzlies defense. As Internet basketball omnipresence Matt Moore tweeted, "I mean, there's no reason for that to go in." No reason but history, and the favor of the gods, and the cosmic need for stories to have arcs, even if it means arcing 3-point prayers.

Despite Ginobili's second miraculous shot in as many games, the Grizzlies prevailed by a 99-91 score to become just the second eighth seed in NBA history to take down a top seed in a seven-game series.

Original video via Ben Golliver.

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Puck Headlines: Crosby suffers setback; Russia shocked at worlds

Here are your Puck Headlines: a glorious collection of news and views collected from the greatest blogosphere in sports and the few, the proud, the mainstream hockey media.

? Germany shocks Russia at the IIHF World Championships, 2-0, having gone 32 games at Worlds without a win against them. Among the Russians on that squad: Ilya Kovalchuk. Boy, when it rains ... [Y! Sports]

? Sidney Crosby tells reporters that he suffered a concussion symptom-related setback in his comeback, but that he's optimistic about playing next season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Frustrating news, to be sure. [Post Gazette]

? selling Stamkos as a surrogate for Sidney in battle with Alex Ovechkin. []

? Tampa Bay Lightning Coach Guy Boucher on the Washington Capitals: "I know that if they lose this, for them it's a huge failure." [Capitals Insider]

? In praise of the Detroit Red Wings grinders, including the soon-to-be-40 Kris Draper. [NY Times]

? Mark Purdy makes his pick: "In the first round against L.A., the Sharks could also give up a four-goal lead and still come from behind to win. Against the Red Wings in a series of No-Houdini Hockey, that will not work. It'll be the Sharks in seven. But with a very nervous rabbit inside the hat." [Mercury News]

? Jesse Spector on Sean Avery's season with the New York Rangers: "If Avery is back with the Rangers next season — Tortorella said on breakup day, 'I don't know where it sits with Sean' — he has to be himself, because this season, he wasn't, and while he still trod a regular path to the penalty box, he did not validate those sin bin sessions with contributions on the ice." [NYDN]

? Recapping the Buffalo Sabres press conference today, including Lindy Ruff's contract extension for multiple years. [Die By The Blade]

? Tom Gaglardi is in talks to buy the Dallas Stars. GM Joe Nieuwendyk is in a holding pattern. Brad Richards goes UFA on July 1. The waiting is the hardest part. [Dallas Morning News]

? Your next Dallas Stars head coach: Kirk Muller, according to Pat Hickey. "Gauthier ducked a question about assistant coach Kirk Muller, but he'll be moving to the Dallas Stars. His appointment as head coach is on hold while the team awaits a new group of owners" [Gazette, via Defending Big D]

? Extortion? Check. Hookers? Check. An unnamed employee of an American hockey team at the heart of the scandal? Check. [Calgary Herald]

? Spector on the Montreal Canadiens and what could be wholesale changes for their blue line. [THN]

? Scott Gomez: "I feel I have let my teammates down." Not-so-much his accountant. [QMI]

? Wondering what happened to Patrick Kane this season? He said he returned from an ankle injury too soon in December. [Chicago Tribune]

? Steven Ovadia on the Philadelphia Flyers: "Last year, the Flyers often felt like a playoff team that couldn't be stopped, Chicago Blackhawks excluded.� One round into the playoffs, and once again winning in spite of serious goaltending issues, the Flyers have that unstoppable vibe once again. And this time, there are no Blackhawks around to stop them." [Puck Update]

? Peter Laviolette on Chris Pronger for Round 2: "It was pretty darn good and having him back out there was just…he calms things down. He makes little plays. He agitates a little bit and irritates a little bit. He helps on the power play and does so many good things for us to get him back in there. He's only going to get stronger now as time moves on." [Sports Radio Interviews]

? We're in awe of this, and secretly wish it was Jyrki Lumme.

? How Barry Trotz's Round 1 victory with the Nashville Predators changed his reputation for the better. [Kennedy]

? "Police in Saskatoon confirm that a man accused of an on-ice assault in an adult hockey game is a 15-year veteran of the force." Ouch. [CTV]

? A nearly line-for-line rebuttal of Blades of Teal's Los Angeles Kings Eulogy. [Jewels From The Crown]

? How a stockbroker can better enjoy the Stanley Cup Playoffs. [Benzinga]

? NHL stars attend the Royal Wedding in Photoshop form. [Houses Of The Hockey]

? Finally, this was the scene after Game 7 against the Blackhawks in Vancouver. Not the Olympics post-gold medal, but same sort of vibe:

Canucks 2011 Cup Run from Kenan Hafi on Vimeo.

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Pique and Shakira are making out at Barcelona matches now

Gerard Pique kisses Shakira while keeping an eye out for a jealous and enraged Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

First we saw that Shakira reacts to watching Gerard Pique play for Barcelona in a losing effort like someone passing a large kidney stone. Now we see that she reacts to watching Barcelona win by his side by attacking him with public displays of affection.

The mix between Pique and Shakira's relationship and football clearly produces manic swings in the singer's emotions and this was once again on show during Barcelona's 2-0 win over Osasuna on Saturday. While an unselected Pique sat between his ladyfriend and Carles Puyol in the stands, the two celebrated Barca's rediscovered dominance by sucking face like they weren't surrounded by old men in suits. Pique and Shakira, I mean. Not Pique and Puyol. At least, not on this day.

Here's some video for you seedy voyeurs to ogle...

This is all getting to be a bit too much and obviously something that young Bojan should not be witnessing. If Barcelona defeat Real Madrid in the Champions League, there's a very good chance this will get X-rated. In fact, Dimitar Berbatov is already writing erotic fiction to that effect.

Photo: Getty Images

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Cecil Shorts to the Jacksonville Jaguars: 2011 NFL Draft Scouting Report

Cecil Shorts is a 6'0", 205-pound wide receiver out of Mount Union, a Division III school (the same school that produced Indianapolis Colts WR Pierre Garcon).

Shorts' 2010 numbers were outstanding—he caught 63 passes for 1,106 yards, his third straight 1,000 yard season. He's also a threat in the return game—Shorts averaged 16.1 yards per punt return, 22.8 yard per kick return, and tallied three special teams touchdowns.

In many ways, Shorts is very similar to Pierre Garcon—speedy, shifty, and sure-handed. Although there is one glaring difference—Shorts was originally recruited as a quarterback and has proven to be more than capable of running the wildcat. He rushed for over 100 yards in each of his seasons at Mount Union.

While Shorts is quick (4.5 40-yard dash) and strong for his position (21 reps of 225 bench press), he gets bumped off of routes easily by big, physical corners. He also didn't really play against elite competition at Mount Union. But I'm sure people said the exact same thing about Pierre Garcon, and he's done pretty well for himself in the NFL.


"Strengths: Very good quickness off the line and elusiveness in the open field after the catch. Lines up outside, in motion and in the slot. Makes the tough catch look easy and turns the routine grab into long gains. Eats up cushion in a hurry."

"Weaknesses: Must prove he can get off the line and stay in-bounds against physical pro corners if lined up outside. Defenders can knock the ball out of his hands too easily. Lacks great strength to block veteran defensive backs."

Shorts versatility makes this a solid pick for the Jags. He will be able to stretch the defense for Garrard or Gabbert and provide the Jags the option of running the wildcat.  Shorts will probably get on the field first as a kick returner   

Amy Smart Sarah Wynter Jaime Pressly Ashanti Jennie Finch

What Indian Wells means for the top men’s players in the world

Patrick Mouratoglou (right) is a world-renowned tennis coach who has worked with Marcos Baghdatis and Aravane Rezai. His French tennis academy is considered one of the top in the world. He is a frequent contributor to Busted Racquet.

The first Masters 1000 of the season began this week in California. The Grand Slams may be the biggest showcase for the top players, but tournaments like Indian Wells can tell us a lot about them as well.

Rafael Nadal -- He's the indisputable No. 1 in the world and is dominating his sport like few could ever boast. He won three of the last four Grand Slams and when he's not winning it's often due to an injury. Rafa always gives 100 percent and never plays with the brakes on.

Right now, he's most impressive because for every major event he succeeds in finding technical and tactical answers in order to win. For example, long rallies, outstanding defense and topspin help him win the French Open. A better serve, shorter points and more flat shots earned him a US Open title. He believes in the culture of winning.

In my opinion, Rafa is the player with the strongest mind in tennis history. But his body may betray him. It's both his strength and his weakness because he's constantly made it suffer by always asking it more and more. Indian Wells is his first tournament since the Australian Open. Can he stay healthy?

Novak Djokovic -- In the past eight months he's taken his game to new heights. He was a a finalist at the US Open, hoisted the Davis Cup (where he was amazing at every level by winning by playing great despite the huge pressure of a whole country on his shoulders) won the Australian Open and then capped it off in Dubai by crushing Roger Federer in the final. It's no stretch to say he could be the next No. 1. There is still that little matter of Mr. Nadal though, so the time isn't coming quite yet. Indian Wells will tell us where he stands now and it'll be thrilling to see those two players in the battle. Djokovic is getting closer to Nadal on the game level but he'll have to be more efficient in order to win on these hard courts.

Roger Federer -- Roger, we have a problem. Even if it's tough to admit for a champion of this caliber, and even if we want to still see him at his best level, he has clearly on his downswing. It's enough to look objectively at his last results to be convinced. Beyond his recent lack of efficient play, his whole game is lacking consistency. During his matches, he can display the best and then the worst and seems to suffer from big focusing issues. He could soon lose his No. 2 ranking to Djokovic and that could hurt his confidence. Whether he can hold off the Serb is why Indian Wells and Miami will be of great interest.

Andy Murray -- Andy Murray is a mystery for many of us. Amazingly gifted, he reached three Grand Slam finals without being able to even win a set. Then he comes out and loses to Donald Young this weekend. In 2010, after his loss against Federer in Melbourne, he went totally down mentally for months before getting himself together at Wimbledon. Born in 1987, Andy is a young player, talented and with the future ahead of him. I hope he still believes he can win a major. He'll have to work even harder now and keep his motivation going on the long run if he really wants to get one of these Grand Slam. Will 2011 is any different from 2010? Will the Scotsman find the strength to overcome his Australian disappointment? I'm worried for him. I hope I'm wrong.

Two players to watch

Juan Martin Del Potro -- Away from competition for a year because of a right wrist tendonitis, which ended in a bone edema and had to be solved with a surgery, he's really making his come back since the start of the season. We can see him improving day after day and because of it he won in Delray Beach. His level is rising slowly, but surely. Indian Wells and Miami will be new steps in order to see where he's standing regarding the top players.

Milos Raonic -- The Canadian is the youngster to watch at the moment. Since the start of 2011, he's on a great streak of good results and he's becoming a terror of the courts (the good kind). With a huge serve as a weapon, as much on his first than his second serve, he's also playing without any inhibition. Brimming with confidence, he can display some impressive sequences on his first serve followed by some powerful forehands and even a fairly efficient net game. His next step will be battling with the top players in order to evaluate the path he still has to go before reaching the top level. These 1000 events could be the next big steps.

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Serena Williams: ‘I was definitely depressed’ after suffering injuries

Serena Williams said she was depressed after her second foot operation last year and cried incessantly in the wake of her continued health problems.

In a revealing interview with USA Today, the former world No. 1 spoke about her recent health troubles, her plans for returning and what she's been doing with herself without tennis. Douglas Robson writes that Serena was "subdued" during the talk at her Bel Air mansion, but showed a "few glimpses of the bubbly personality" for which she's known.

The whole interview is worth a read. A few of the highlights:

? Serena said that doctors told her that part of her lung "died" after she suffered a pulmonary embolism.

? She admits that she hasn't been happy since a foot injury forced her off the WTA after Wimbledon. "I was definitely depressed," she told USA Today. "I cried all the time. I was miserable to be around."

? After spending 20 weeks in a cast or boot following the foot surgery, Serena was forced to walk around with a drainage bag for a week after surgery earlier this month to remove a hematoma. "I hated him," she said of the bag, which she named Grover.

? The 13-time Grand Slam champion said she doesn't know what a realistic timetable is for her return. She says she'll be faster, better, smarter and wiser when she does. As for talk of retirement, the 29-year-old Williams says she has the mentality of a 15-year-old and hopes that will sustain her career in a sport where 30 is often considered over the hill.

? What has she been doing with her time off?� "I've developed a karaoke habit," she says. "I've become a crooner." Her favorites: Rihanna, Celine Dion and Bryan Adams.

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Video analysis: What's next for Donaire? 'JuanMa' says stay away from 126

Before this weekend's fight, Nonito Donaire was highly regarded at 118 pounds, but after a second-round knockout of Fernando Montiel, the Filipino-American has vaulted to the top of the class. Now there's talk of Donaire jumping to 122 or 126.

Juan Manuel Lopez is the top dog at featherweight. He says Donaire better be careful before jumping eight pounds.

"I think that at 118, he should dominate without any problems and perhaps he can do the same at 122 pounds, but at 126 I think right now it’s a little too much for him," Lopez told "Not only against me, but against [Yuriorkis] Gamboa and against Orlando Salido. So far he’s never felt a blow from a man at 126 pounds. It is not the same. [Donaire] is not a fight I would dismiss. It would be a good fight, but at the right time. Right now, I think he’s not ready [to be at featherweight]."

Yahoo! Sports' lead boxing writer Kevin Iole joined us to talk about the Donaire victory over Montiel and agrees with JuanMa, the hot shot should gradually move to 126.

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Wenger blames himself, continues to look incredibly depressed

Last week, we compiled a series of photographs that depicted the whirlpool of depression and disbelief that has sucked the life out of Arsene Wenger of late. Now we have more.

A 90th minute goal from Tamir Cohen gave Bolton a shock 2-1 win over Arsenal on Sunday, ending their title hopes (like, for real this time...probably) and plunging Wenger deeper into a pit of depression that keeps finding a new bottom. And now, he's even piling all the blame for Arsenal's failures on himself.

From the Guardian:

"I feel the players had an outstanding attitude all season and are not to blame," Wenger said. "If someone is to blame, it is me. I pick the team, I choose the players.

"It's very unsatisfactory because we have had one of our easiest run-ins for a long, long time and we didn't take our chances. That is frustrating because I feel the potential is there but we still lack something — maturity and experience and calm in important situations."

Hmm, if only there was a way one could swap money for players that possess maturity, experience and calm in important situations. Maybe during a designated period twice a year. This period could be called a "sale door" and clubs in need of players they don't have could acquire them, then go on to win trophies. Hahaha but that's all just nonsense talk.

Jokes aside, I'm getting worried about Arsene. This simply is not the body language of a man who is in a healthy frame of mind...

Someone needs to buy this guy a puppy.

Photos: Reuters, Getty

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UBC staying could be good for both CIS and the CFL

This week's news that the University of British Columbia opted to continue playing against Canadian universities in CIS competition instead of joining the NCAA's Division II could have some interesting implications for the quality of both CIS and CFL football in years to come. It's a bit of an open debate whether the football in Division II is better quality than what's played in the CIS, but it's worth noting that 36 of the 47 players selected in last year's CFL draft came from CIS schools, while just two came from the Division II ranks. Part of that is obviously down to sample size (more Canadian players play in CIS than in NCAA Division II, so more of them are available for selection), but the quality of CIS football has been notably rising over the last few years. With UBC still in the ranks, there's a chance it could rise even further.

To be clear, that's not to say that the American system struggles to develop talent. Kent Ridley estimated last year that it's generally about 30-35 Canadians who head south to play American post-secondary football at any level (NCAA, NAIA or junior college) per year, so that system producing 11 of the 47 overall draft picks in 2010 is pretty good rate of return. It's worth noting the sharp divide in where that talent is drawn from, though; eight of those eleven players came from Division I FBS, while one came from Division I FCS (the old Division I-AA) and two came from Division II schools. I don't have hard data on how many Canadians played Division II football and were eligible for the draft, but the league certainly doesn't seem to be a guaranteed path to the top. That doesn't mean that CIS is necessarily better than Division II, but it's hard to conclude that Canadian prospects are definitively better going the Division II route (especially as they'd then have to adjust from American rules to Canadian rules to break into the CFL). Plenty of players from UBC have made the CFL under the current system, including Montreal linebacker Shea Emry (pictured above drinking from the Grey Cup last November: he actually switched to UBC to play a season of CIS football after spending three years at Division I FCS Eastern Washington University), so the current system has worked out pretty decently for many football Thunderbirds.

Another advantage from UBC remaining in CIS is that B.C. football prospects (and those wanting to come to B.C.) now have a choice of leagues, though. Burnaby's Simon Fraser University joined Division II last season, and all other B.C. CIS schools (the University of Victoria, Thompson Rivers University. The University of the Fraser Valley and UBC-Okanagan) don't currently play football. The Canada West conference currently has six football teams, including UBC. If UBC had left, CIS football would likely have had a much tougher time recruiting prospects from B.C., and given the strength of high-school programs in the province, that could have been a substantial loss for the league. The decision to stay means prospects in B.C. won't be forced to move out-of-province to play Canadian football, and that seems like a good thing from this corner.

It's also worth noting that UBC's decision is likely a significant win for CIS from a marketing standpoint. The organization keeps one of its founding (and most successful) members, and it retains a football presence in the Vancouver area, Western Canada's biggest market. UBC's press release on the decision also hinted at potential future CIS measures that could boost the league's profile, including expanding athletic scholarships. Perhaps most notably from a marketing perspective, CIS has a local school that can fly the flag at the Vanier Cup/Grey Cup pairing in Vancouver this year. Without a school involved in football locally, that could have been an awkward moment for CIS (and it might have led to poor attendance at the Vanier game, which certainly wouldn't help the league long-term).

UBC leaving certainly would have been a loss for CIS, but it's arguable that it would have been a loss for the CFL too. One less big school playing Canadian football hurts the prestige of the CIS game, and CIS and the CFL have been working together more closely lately. CIS football also helps promote the sport at the high school and community levels, and it provides a useful way to promote getting more kids involved in football (picking up fans for the CFL game in the process). Moreover, CIS serves as an effective conduit to the CFL for Canadian players, who don't have to relearn the three-down game in the pros. Some UBC players definitely still would have made the CFL if they'd gone to Division II, but the loss of CIS football in B.C. could have had negative impacts on everything from the grassroots to CIS as a whole. Thus, from this standpoint, it's probably a good thing for Canadian football that UBC's chosen to keep playing it.

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Warren Moon, Cam Newton and the CFL's land of opportunity

Former NFL and CFL quarterback Warren Moon is back in the spotlight this week, thanks to comments he made to CBS Sports' Mike Freeman about perceived racial bias affecting the way NFL draft prospect Cam Newton (pictured at left above with Moon during a Feb. 10 workout) has been viewed. In particular, Moon appeared to be referencing this report by Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki, which caused quite the stir when it came out, thanks to comments like "Very disingenuous - has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law - does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room." (For the record, Nawrocki has adamantly denied that race was a factor in his report.) Moon's comments will undoubtedly prove quite polarizing, and as Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel writes, they may make things more difficult for Newton as well.

It's worth keeping in mind where Moon's coming from on this issue, though. South of the border, Moon's mostly remembered for his very successful 17-year NFL career, but he didn't have the smoothest path to the NFL. He started his college career at West Los Angeles College, as most bigger schools wanted to convert him to another position. Even after he turned in a great performance there, the University of Washington was one of the only four-year schools willing to take a legitimate look at him as a quarterback. He repaid their faith in spades, leading the Huskies to a 27-20 win over Michigan in the 1978 Rose Bowl, but went undrafted by the NFL that year (possibly because he refused to switch positions) and headed north to Canada, where team executives were more concerned about ability than colour.

Moon fit in perfectly in the CFL, sharing quarterback duties with Tom Wilkinson on the legendary Edmonton Eskimos team that won five straight Grey Cups; he also picked up plenty of individual hardware up north, including Grey Cup MVP nods in 1980 and 1982 and the league's Most Outstanding Player award in 1983. That led to his transition back to the NFL, where he became a dominant presence in the Houston Oilers' run-and-shoot offence. He then found various degrees of success in Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City, but finished his career with 49,325 passing yards, nine Pro Bowl nods, three All-Pro selections and an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (making him the first and thus far the only man to be selected to both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame). It would be difficult to make a case that race wasn't a factor in the way Moon was initially overlooked by the NFL, and if it wasn't for the CFL being more welcoming, he likely wouldn't have a bust in Canton today.

Moon's far from the only black quarterback who was overlooked by the NFL, too. Perhaps the most notable case is that of Damon Allen, who started his CFL career in Edmonton in 1985, just two years after Moon left for the NFL. Allen also went to a less well-known school for the chance to play quarterback, but turned in a series of very impressive performances for Cal State Fullerton. Unlike his brother Marcus (who went on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career as a running back with the Raiders and Chiefs), though, Damon was completely overlooked in the 1984 NFL draft (and was passed up by the fledging USFL too). He was drafted that year, but as a baseball player in the seventh round of the MLB draft by Detroit. Allen elected to pursue his dream of a career as a quarterback and headed up to the CFL, where he would go on to rewrite the league's record book in a career that spanned 22 years (and one that's likely to see him inducted into the Hall of Fame next year). Unlike Moon, Allen never got an NFL shot, but much like him, he found an environment in the CFL where he could survive and thrive.

Another prime example is that of Condredge Holloway, the grandson of a slave. Holloway was actually drafted fourth overall in the 1971 MLB draft by the Montreal Expos at the age of 17, but his mother Dorothy (NASA's first black employee) refused to sign the contract (Holloway was too young under Alabama law to sign for himself at this point) and sent him off to school. Holloway chose the University of Tennessee, where he became the first black quarterback to ever start in the SEC. He took the Volunteers to three straight bowls, but was only selected in the 12th round of the 1975 NFL draft by New England and didn't seem likely to get much of a chance to play quarterback for them. Instead, he headed north of the border and became a dominant CFL player with the Ottawa Rough Riders and Toronto Argonauts, picking up the league's Most Outstanding Player award in 1982 and leading the Argonauts to a thrilling 18-17 Grey Cup victory over B.C.

*As a note for those who appreciate CFL history, that game was in B.C. Place's first year, and it featured a wide variety of prominent CFL names, including current Hamilton GM Bob O'Billovich (Toronto's coach at the time), 2011 Hall of Fame inductee Don Matthews (in his first year as a head coach with B.C.), renowned kicker Lui Passaglia (who was just beginning his long B.C. career), legendary punter and kicker Hank Ilesic (who was playing in his seventh straight Grey Cup, as he came to Toronto from the Edmonton dynasty), memorable former Argonauts' coach Leo Cahill (perhaps best known for his "Act of God" quote, but serving as a TV announcer in this case) and legendary quarterback/general manager Ron Lancaster (also serving as a TV announcer).

Much like Allen, Holloway never really got a shot to prove what he could do in the NFL. Still, he had an incredible college and CFL career, and he was deservingly inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1999. ESPN's produced a documentary on him called "The Color Orange: The Condredge Holloway Story", which is airing on TSN2 at midnight this coming Tuesday. There's a very interesting quote in there from O'Billovich, which gets right to the heart of this issue: "The NFL was well known for not wanting to use black quarterbacks. I think there was a stigma attached, that they were more athletic and they ran too much and that kind of thing."

Whether racial issues like that are still coming into play with the evaluation of Newton or not is a matter of debate. Keep in mind that Newton is still widely projected to go in the top half of the first round, including Yahoo!'s Doug Farrar's prediction that the Buffalo Bills will take Newton third overall, so it's not like he's going to be completely ignored the way Allen and Moon were. There also has been plenty of often-personal bashing of another confident national-champion quarterback who came out of a spread offence, and that one happens to be white. Still, as much as many of us would love to live in a world where no one is judged by the colour of their skin, that's not our current world, so we can't necessarily just write Moon's comments off, especially considering the experience he has with this particular issue.

Moon (pictured at right carrying the ball for Edmonton in the 1982 Grey Cup), Allen, Holloway and others all were overlooked by the NFL, and most observers would probably agree with O'Billovich that their skin was a factor in that. They all found plenty of success north of the border, but that doesn't necessarily mean the CFL has always been perfect on racial issues either; the story of Cookie Gilchrist is just one example where there was at least perceived racism (and quite possibly actual racism) in the early days of the league.

However, on the whole, the CFL has provided some great chances for those overlooked by the NFL for a variety of reasons to still make a significant impact on the gridiron. Race is one of the most notable factors that's come into play over the years, and the CFL should generally be proud of providing opportunities for players like Moon, Allen and Holloway that the NFL initially passed up. It's not just race, though; there have also been plenty of great players who didn't initially get an NFL shot because of their height (see Doug Flutie), size (see Cam Wake) or other reasons (I'm still not entirely sure why the NFL never bothered to look at Anthony Calvillo), though.

The CFL's historically been a land of opportunity for the passed-up, and it's inspired changes in the NFL in the process; it's thanks to the trailblazing efforts of players like Moon, Allen and Holloway that Newton will likely be chosen in the first round this year, something that would have been unthinkable back when those guys came out of college themselves. That's not to say we should ignore Moon's thoughts and assume that everything's fine now; it's not all that long since Rush Limbaugh's infamous comments on black quarterbacks, after all, and it's certainly not inconceivable that race is affecting some evaluations of Newton. Newton is going to be selected high in the draft and have a legitimate chance to play quarterback in the NFL, though, and for that, he owes a lot to Warren Moon and the CFL.

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Serena returns to the tennis court wearing skintight, pink bodysuit

Serena Williams is back on the tennis court for the first time since a health scare sidelined her two months ago. And, in typical Serena fashion, she did so in style:

What, you expected the woman who once wore this to a US Open to practice in a tennis skirt and sweater vest? If Serena is coming back, it's going to be with some gusto.

The 13-time Grand Slam champion had been hinting at a return to the court for the past few days on her Twitter account. Cryptic messages like "my life starts today" and "back on the shakes" foreshadowed Tuesday's practice session, which was announced in the third-person and later confirmed by her agent.

The outfit, however, was a complete surprise. It's not like Serena had given any warnings that she had recently watched Molly Ringwald in "Pretty In Pink" or was reading "Catwoman" comic books.

There's no word as of yet on when Serena will return to competitive play. It'll come in time. For now, just seeing her on the court with a racquet in her hand is good news enough.

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Did Cookie Gilchrist really turn down the Hall of Fame?

Former CFL and AFL legend Cookie Gilchrist (pictured at right during his time with the Denver Broncos in 1965) left behind a complex legacy when he passed away in January; he was fondly remembered by many on both sides of the border (and even further afield) for both his outstanding play and his leadership on civil rights issues, but he thought he was treated poorly by management in both Canada and the U.S. He still took the time to connect with some of his former teams, including speaking to the current Tiger-Cats after a practice two seasons ago, but it was widely reported that he'd turned down induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a protest against then-commissioner Jake Gaudaur.

However, the true story may not be that simple. The Waterloo Region Record just posted a fascinating piece on Gilchrist Friday (link via Drew Edwards), written by Kitchener resident Larry Scholtis, whose family Gilchrist boarded with during his time playing for the semipro Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen. Scholtis was a young kid at the time, but he has many powerful memories of growing up around Gilchrist, and they kept in touch for decades afterwards. The whole piece is well worth a read, but the most interesting part of it is what Gilchrist told Scholtis about the Hall of Fame controversy:

It has been reported Cookie turned down induction to the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame in Hamilton. But he told me he never actually said no to being inducted.

John Agro, then counsel for Canadian Football League Players Association, had informed Cookie about his nomination to the hall, then told him to be nice to Jake Gaudar [sic], then commissioner of the league. Cookie said he would take it "under advisement" because of his strained relationship with Gaudar [sic]. Today, the hall of fame is missing one of game's greatest players and continues to embarrass itself by not inducting him.

Thus, according to that piece, Gilchrist never rejected the Hall of Fame. Instead, he told the CFLPA he would take being nice to Gaudaur (who he clashed with when Gaudaur was the Tiger-Cats' president and GM) "under advisement," and that was enough to keep him from being inducted? Obviously, that's quite the story, and there are many who would take it with a grain of salt; Scholtis may have misremembered some crucial detail, or Gilchrist may not have told him the complete story. Upon a further reading of Earl McRae's excellent piece on Gilchrist, though, it looks like there's some support for this. Here's part of what Gilchrist e-mailed McRae in 2010:

"My throat cancer is in remission, my weight is the same. Tell Kaye Vaughan and the crew those days were the greatest in my life. I have great respect for every Canadian Football Player who played with and against me.

"I loved Canada and the Canadian people. However Canada does not love Cookie Gilchrist. And I never turned down the Hall Of Fame. When John Agro told me to be nice to Jake Gaudaur, when he told me I was nominated to be inducted, I told Jake I would take that under advisement, and he or they made a lie out of it. Adolf Hitler said the truth when he said the bigger the lie, the more people believe it.

"What is my crime? I never robbed, raped, stolen, lied, cheated, sold drugs, beat my wife or children. So. Why did the country treat me as a persona non grata from 1956 to 2010? But it's okay, I know how to deal with all the players now. It will all come out in the production of my life story once all the T's are crossed and the I's dotted.

On its own, that isn't the clearest statement, but when read in combination with Scholtis' piece, it fits right in. Gilchrist's comments to both Scholtis and McRae present a clear version of the story, from his perspective, and it's one that doesn't include him rejecting the Hall. What the other side of the story is may be more difficult to uncover, as Gaudaur passed away in 2007 and John Agro has also passed on (his name lives on in the CFL's outstanding special teams player award, though). Still, regardless of if Gilchrist's version is the complete story of how the Hall of Fame situation went down or not, it's an important side of the story to have. At the very least, Gilchrist clearly was open to the Hall of Fame in his later years; at most, he was always open to the Hall of Fame but was kept out by political machinations and/or misinterpretations.

The Hall could fix a past mistake by inducting Gilchrist this coming year. Yes, his name isn't listed among the group of eligible players, but they're still taking nominations to round that list out. I believe Gilchrist would need to be nominated by the veterans' subcommittee, as he played over 25 years ago, but that hasn't prevented players like 2011 inductee Ken Lehmann from getting in. Gilchrist was clearly considered worthy when he was up for induction the first time, and his CFL resume (five all-star nods in six seasons, plus a key role on Hamilton's 1957 Grey Cup-winning team) certainly seems to hold up over time. Now that it's become clear that he was at the least open to induction later in his life (and perhaps unfairly barred from it earlier), is there any reason he shouldn't be in the Hall?

Gilchrist's story is a complicated one that doesn't entirely reflect well on the CFL, but that makes it perhaps all the more important. The league's history is a crucial part of its continuing appeal, but we need to recognize that that history wasn't all positive for everyone involved. Yes, the CFL offered tremendous opportunities for players like Warren Moon and Damon Allen who were initially passed over south of the border thanks to their skin colour, but it's worth remembering that there were other black players like Gilchrist who weren't happy with the way the league treated them. This was reflected in an excellent history project on "Race in the CFL" I saw at a competition I helped judge a few weeks ago; it included the typical examples like Moon and Allen, but it also talked about Gilchrist and the complications his story presents. Including Gilchrist strengthened that project substantially, and the same can be said for the Hall of Fame. Yes, his story isn't entirely positive for Canadian football, but it's better to include it and discuss it than ignore it. Gilchrist had a Hall of Fame career, and by his own account was certainly open to induction later in life; the Hall voters should right an ancient wrong and send him in with the 2012 class.

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DTotD: Fabio Rochemback gets his face stepped on

Gremio's Fabio Rochemback didn't have the greatest Tuesday night ever. Not only did his side lose their Copa Libertadores round of 16 match to Universidad Catolica by a score of 2-1, but he also had Tomas Costa stand on his chest and kick him in the face like he was some kind of human door mat.

Costa was shown a yellow card in the match (though it's unclear from the clip if it was for this) and former Barcelona and Middlesbrough man Rochemback was able to play the full 90 minutes. Still, Universidad Catolica have the edge for the second leg and Rochemback probably has stud marks all over his upper body.

Video via 101gg

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BlogGate: CFL investigates impersonation of Ticats' staffer

One of the most bizarre stories of the CFL offseason emerged today over at Drew Edwards' Hamilton Spectator blog, The Scratching Post. Edwards wrote an interesting analysis of the potential impact the trade of Steven Jyles (pictured, right) could have on Hamilton yesterday, but the really notable part came this morning, and it came thanks to a comment. Edwards received a comment on that post signed by "Scott McNaughton" (for those who don't know, McNaughton is the Tiger-Cats' director of communications), but which had plenty of indications it wasn't what it claimed to be. Here's the comment in full:

Your third and fourth point sort of contradict each other... First you say Joe Mack could end up blowing his two picks and even if he does draft well, they won't help right away...(fair point) Then you say, Toronto is in tight cuz they needed that draft pick to help their canadian content - especially since the draft is always top heavy...but if its top heavy, then Winnipeg having two picks in the top four is great, and - as you eluded to - they need help with their canadian contingent.

First off, it's tough to rationalize anyone with a public-relations job displaying this kind of awful grammar (and if you read the Tiger-Cats' press releases and blogs, you know they aren't like this). There are plenty of indications this isn't from someone who particularly cares about their words (see "cuz", "canadian", "eluded" instead of "alluded", and all the misused commas, ellipses and dashes). Second, most public-relations professionals aren't really going to start publicly commenting on beat writers' blogs, and particularly not on entries that are only tangentially related to the team. Third, it's reasonably rare to see someone in one CFL team's PR department directly commenting publicly on the moves of other teams. Add those up, and it's pretty clear this comment probably didn't come from McNaughton.

If the story ended there, it wouldn't really be a story; plenty of impersonations happen on the web, and when they're as bad and as easily picked apart as this one, there's no real issue there. However, the real story is where this particular comment appears to have originated. Edwards used IP address tracking software to pinpoint the comment's origin, and found that not only was it from Winnipeg, Manitoba, but that IP is associated with "". Yep, that's the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' official website, and it would seem logical that anyone whose IP is connected to that works for the team in some capacity.

Edwards did some follow-up work on this and found that the league and the Bombers are both investigating the incident, which is notable. He adds that someone with the same IP address has commented on his blog before about Jyles (in February). Given the sometimes-contentious history between the Bombers and the Tiger-Cats, this could draw some attention.

It's worth pointing out that this isn't exactly a crisis even if the comment was made by someone who works for Winnipeg. As remarked above, the ruse was so easily dispelled that few would take it seriously, so if it was an attempt to hurt McNaughton's reputation, it certainly wasn't a particularly successful one. The lack of sophistication involved would also suggest that this was hardly a well-thought-out plan, and probably not one approved by anyone with any sort of significant standing in the Bombers' organization; there really isn't much for the team to gain from any planned actions along these lines, and there's a lot to lose.

However, it's still probably a good thing that both the Bombers and the CFL are trying to get to the bottom of this, and hopefully they'll make it clear that impersonating other teams' employees is out of bounds; that could help head off similar actions in the future. This particular instance doesn't appear to have caused any significant damage, but impersonations by team personnel are very bush-league and have the potential to hurt the reputation of both the club and the league. In this case, the situation's mostly just worth a chuckle, but that doesn't mean the issue should be ignored.

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Game Point: Breaking down Petkovic’s upset of Wozniacki

Game Point is Busted Racquet's roundup of fact, figures and links from around the web.

Love -- Andrea Petkovic pulled a three-set, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 upset over world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki on Monday in Miami. The German, ranked No. 23, ran Wozniacki all around the court, getting her out of her baseline comfort zone and forcing the top-seed to alter her gameplan early in the match.

15 -- Speaking to reporters after the match, Petkovic gave the recipe to beat Wozniacki:

Yeah, well, as I� said already on the on court interview, most of the players think they can overpower Caroline. I think that's the wrong approach, because that's where she's most comfortable, when she can run and bring the most balls back. Then once you lose your concentration for once on your shot, she goes for it. It's not like she's and, you know, some like to say that she's pushing, but it's not like the balls are slow and not short, you know. They are quite deep, so you cannot really attack them.

What I try to do is mix it up and to make her play, and then when I had the short ball to go for it. Because if you try to hit every single shot with full power, full power, full power, she just gets more comfortable, more comfortable, and eventually you're gonna miss. She's not gonna miss the last one. So this is what I tried to do, just be patient and wait for the short ball, and until then try to mix it up and also give her the initiative to try to play.

If any other tennis player went out and beat the world No. 1 using a new strategy, they'd keep that under wraps like nuclear missile launch codes. Petkovic goes on and boasts about it (at length) during her post-match press conference. In other news, I ? Andrea.

30 -- But let's not get too crazy here. A letdown was to be expected from Wozniacki. She was playing her 25th match of the year and was coming off a win at another Premier event in Indian Wells. Petkovic makes some great points about how to beat Caro but there may not be the larger meaning that she believes. Sometimes a loss is just a loss.

40 -- As intrepid tennis blogger "Forty" chronicled Monday on her blog, Petkovic and doubles partner Ana Ivanovic have an elaborate on-court bounty system for aces, return winners and other various important shots. As the photographs of Petkovic pulling out her wallet during a changeover demonstrate, payment must come immediately.

Game -- No Petkovic victory would be complete without her patented Petkovic dance:

Enjoy it while you can. Petkovic insists this tournament will be the dance's swansong. "Then I'm moving on to something else," she said.

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Pele says Pele is still the best, refers to himself as Pele

Though he's been retired for 34 years, ask just about anyone (outside of Argentina) who the greatest footballer of all time is and they'll most likely say, "Pele." Including Pele.

But the 70-year-old honorary president of the New York Cosmos isn't just a footballing legend. He's also a world-class third-person speaker, with skills in that field that are about to blow your mind. From Soccernet:

"Nobody did what Pele did," the former striker told CNN. "Being champion of the world at 17-years-old, won three World Cups, scored more than 1,208 goals, only him."

OK. Pele referring to himself as "him" just gave me a nosebleed.

"Then until now nobody did this, to me, Pele is the best. You can mention players that played for 10 years, for example [Franz] Beckenbauer, [Michel] Platini, [Eric] Cantona, Bobby Charlton, George Best, then come [Diego] Maradona, Zico.

"Those players used to play a long time. Now the players they play one year, two years, then disappear."

Yes, remember that one year that Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo played? Whatever happened to those guys? FIFA needs to launch an investigation into this phenomenon of disappearing players. There could be alien forces at work here.

Photo: Getty Images

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Video: Former firefighter drafted by Eagles, gets standing ovation

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Danny Watkins, the Baylor offensive lineman who was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 23rd pick in the NFL draft, is:

a. The oldest player taken in the first round.

b. Only the fourth Canadian ever selected in the opening round.

c. Without his two front teeth, the product of an old hockey injury (he has replacements).

d. Someone who didn't play football in high school.

e. A former volunteer firefighter.

f. The most compelling story of the 2011 NFL draft.

When his name was read at the draft, Watkins received a standing ovation from a group of his fellow firefighters from the West Kelowna Fire Department in British Columbia. Watkins joined the department as a volunteer at age 16:

When it was time to go to college, Watkins chose a California junior college to pursue his firefighting education. He hadn't played a down of organized football in his life. As you'd expect, it didn't take long for a 6-4, 260-pound guy with size 19 feet to get noticed on campus, and soon Watkins was on the football team, slowly acclimating himself to the game.

Related: Draft pundits weigh in on first round's winners/losers

First he made the Juco All-American team. Two years later he was an All-Big 12 selection at Baylor. Now he'll be tasked with keeping Michael Vick off the turf.

Judging by his past, Danny Watkins shouldn't have too much trouble in protection.

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The Return of Superman, and other CFL contract news

Star B.C. slotback Geroy Simon  has been one of the most iconic Lions over the last decade, and he should be wearing the black and orange for at least another year after signing a contract extension today that will take him through the 2012 season. Simon, affectionately known as "Superman" to many Lions' fans, has been a crucial player for the club since joining them in 2001; he's been their top receiver for most of that period and helped them to the 2006 Grey Cup.

Simon (seen above showing off the Lions' retro jerseys at Empire Field last July) is 35 and has played 13 CFL seasons (11 with B.C. after spending his first two years in Winnipeg). He's currently B.C.'s all-time leading receiver and fifth on the league's all-time list with 13,737 career yards, but he isn't showing his age yet; he racked up his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard-plus season in 2010, picking up 1,190 yards and six touchdowns on 78 catches. As I've written before, there are plenty of older players who survive and thrive in the CFL, and all signs would suggest that Simon's likely to continue to be one of them.

In other recent contract news around the league:

— Drew Edwards reports that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have apparently agreed to a contract extension (one year plus an option) with quarterback Kevin Glenn. The deal isn't official yet, but should be soon.

— The Tiger-Cats also signed quarterback Quinton Porter to a two-year extension last week. There isn't expected to be any quarterback controversy there, though, as Glenn has clearly established himself as the top option in Hamilton, and should be paid accordingly; Arash Madani mentions that Glenn's contract could be worth up to $300,000 with incentives. According to Sportnet's Perry Lefko, receiver Arland Bruce III is also expected to sign an extension with Hamilton. The Tiger-Cats had one of the most dominant pass-and-catch combinations in the league with Glenn and Bruce, and they should continue to form an effective partnership for years to come.

— Meanwhile, in addition to signing Kitwana Jones as a free agent, Montreal has extended the contract of long-time backup quarterback Adrian McPherson through 2012. McPherson should provide veteran experience if Anthony Calvillo is hurt, and he could potentially compete for the starting job in 2012 if Calvillo retires after this season (that's far from a sure thing, though).

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Five winners and losers from Indian Wells

Busted Racquet selects five winners and losers from the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.

Five winners

1. Novak Djokovic -- The new world No. 2 hasn't lost in his last 20 matches, a winning streak which includes a Grand Slam title, a Davis Cup, three wins over Roger Federer and a comeback victory Sunday against Rafael Nadal. He's the hottest tennis player in the world and could make in-roads to a year-end No. 1 ranking if he can hang with Rafa at the French Open.

2. Caroline Wozniacki -- With her 14th title (and fifth Premier championship), Wozniacki put more distance between her and No. 2 Kim Clijsters. She's such a commanding No. 1 that the press will be forced to stop asking whether she deserves the lofty ranking without a major. (The question will be re-framed to, "can you win a Grand Slam?")

3. Marion Bartoli -- Though she lost to Wozniacki, the Frenchwoman came back to force a third set and moved into the top 10 with her run at the tournament. She was gracious and eloquent in defeat, something you'd expect from somebody with an IQ of 175.

4. ABC/ESPN -- Tennis returned to the broadcast network for the first time since 2003 and the matchups couldn't have been better: a super Saturday with Djokovic, Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro and Roger Federer and a Sunday with an emerging women's star and the two top men's players in the world.

5. Ryan Harrison -- Milos who? Harrison, an 18-year-old American, defeated tennis' rising star en route to a fourth-round run at Indian Wells. His three wins were the first ATP victories of his year and he rose to a career-high of No. 130 on Monday.

Five losers

1. Roger Federer -- Any mystique and aura Federer still had vanished during his third set collapse against Djokovic. Granted, Nadal did the same thing a day later, but Federer's continued inconsistency (how many backhands is he going to miss hit) and delusion (you weren't close to winning that match, Roger) is a red flag.

2. Maria Sharapova -- Masha didn't just lose to Caroline Wozniacki, she got worked, losing 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals. Advancing to the semifinals could have been the start of something good for the former world No. 1, but the setback against Wozniacki raised all the same questions about whether she'll ever get back to her old form.

3. Ivan Ljubicic -- The 32-year-old Croat was the defending champion at Indian Wells but couldn't get past Juan Martin del Potro in a first round (it was wasn't the friendliest draw, but still). As a result, Ljubicic dropped 22 spots in the rankings to No. 38.

4. Andy Roddick -- When you're No. 9 in the world, there's not that many opportunities to beat a player ranked ahead of you in the rankings. But when you're No. 9 in the world and keep losing to players ranked below you, there's never an opportunity. Roddick threw another temper tantrum and flamed out to Richard Gasquet.

5. Key Biscayne -- With the best men in the world performing so well in California, it wouldn't be stunning to see some early exits from next week's 1000 tournament in Miami.

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