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Sports Then and Now

Waiting For The Weekend: A September Smorgasbord

Posted on September 18, 2009 by Dean Hybl
Waiting for the weekend

This is the time of the year when the sports world offers a venerable smorgasbord of opportunities for sports fans to feed their hunger for action.

Whether it is the NASCAR Chase, the playoff push in baseball or the heating up of action in college and professional football there is something for everyone. And, to add some dessert, the WNBA Playoffs are starting, the hockey exhibition season has just begun and in just a couple weeks NBA teams will be starting training camp.

The Chase for the Cup
Having grown up in Southside Virginia less than an hour from the track where Jeff and Ward Burton cut their teeth in South Boston, I have always enjoyed NASCAR.

In the days before every race was wire to wire on live TV, I remember listening to NASCAR on the radio and visioning in my mind the battles between Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker and the other great drivers of that era.

Even today, I still believe that NASCAR is more compelling to listen to than to watch as you lose the monotony of watching the drivers make continual left hand turns and instead are paying close attention so you are ready when the announcer suddenly blasts out “And we’ve got trouble in turn three.”

So, NASCAR is now starting its version of the playoffs, the 10-race “Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.”

I understand the concept and agree it is probably better than the way things were before, but I’m really not sure the NASCAR honchos completely get it.

Jimmy Johnson and the others will need to get out of Denny Hamlin's way during the NASCAR Chase for the Cup

Jimmy Johnson and the others will need to get out of Denny Hamlin's way during the NASCAR Chase for the Cup

My understanding is that they created the current system because they wanted to reward winning and not just consistency, so they created the Chase to give drivers who may win regularly, but don’t always finish well in every race a chance to still be in the hunt late in the season.

Now, at the start of the Chase they reorder the top 12 drivers with the driver with the most wins first.

You would think if they want to emphasize wins, they would really give some extra points for each win, right? Well, they give extra points, but it is a whopping 10 points per win. Sort of like praising your kids for doing a great job cleaning around the house and then giving them a nickel for their efforts.

Heck, as Kyle Busch proved last year, those extra 10 points can be blown away with just one bad break.

If NASCAR really wanted to reward drivers for wins, then each win would be an extra 100, 200 or 300 points. Then a driver who won more in the regular season could overcome a bad race or two in the Chase and still be in contention.

If they really think the current system rewards regular season wins then they are really fooling themselves.

As a fan of Jeff Burton, I don’t particularly like the concept of the Chase this year. However, I did like it the last two years when he was in the Chase and contending for the title until the last couple races, so I guess you have to take the good with the bad.

I guess I should be rooting for Mark Martin as the sentimental favorite. However, I can’t help but think of him as the Brett Favre of NASCAR as he has retired almost as many times as the old quarterback.

Instead, I’m rooting for Brian Vickers, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne. Vickers because I like seeing new people in the Chase and he is a good racer, Hamlin because, like me, he hails from Virginia and Kahne because he is funny in the commercials where he gets chased by those crazy older women.

Just as long as it isn’t one of the “Brat Pack” of Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson and Tony Stewart. I don’t think I’ve heard as much whining in my entire life as when one of those three has something go against them.

Anyway, the Chase should be fun and keep everyone engaged until the last race.

Lisa Leslie won four Olympic Gold Medals, three WNBA MVP Awards and played on two league champions.

Lisa Leslie won four Olympic Gold Medals, three WNBA MVP Awards and played on two league champions.

So Long Lisa Leslie
This may come as a total surprise to you, but the WNBA Playoffs are underway.

My wife and I really enjoyed the WNBA back when it started and there was a team in Orlando. We always went to a couple games each season and it was good basketball.

Plus, it gave a stark contrast to the NBA game in Orlando at the time as that was during the times of Penny Hardaway and Tracy McGrady who rarely gave it their full energy. There was never any doubt that the WNBA players gave it 110 percent every time they were on the floor.

I haven’t really followed the league as much since the Miracle moved to Connecticut. However, I did read this week that one of the beacons of the league, Lisa Leslie, is going to retire after this season.

She has been a great player both in the NBA and in the Olympics for a long time and will definitely be missed.

Every Game is a Home Game for The Cowboys
As I foretold in my column last week, I spent Sunday afternoon as a spotter for the Compass Media Network’s broadcast of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the Dallas Cowboys.

I have been lucky enough to go to at least one or two Buccaneers games just about every year since they started playing at Raymond James Stadium more than a decade ago.

Cowboy fans are everywhere.

Cowboy fans are everywhere.

The fans in Tampa are great and you can always count on seeing a stadium full of pewter jerseys and loud cheers every time the Bucs make a great play or need some noise while on defense.

However, I noticed something unusual on Sunday. There were an awful lot of white and blue Cowboy jerseys in the house and there was also just as much noise every time the Cowboys made a great play as when the Bucs made one.

It reminded me that like the New York Yankees in baseball, the Dallas Cowboys really are America’s Team. They have a huge fan base across the country and can always be counted on to draw a very good crowd in an opponents’ stadium.

They are a team that some people love to hate, but just like the Yankees, having them in the league is important for the entire league as they generate interest and revenue.

However, I don’t buy that just because they make more money they should be able to spend more money and basically buy a championship (as the Yankees have been doing for generations).

Jerry Jones has come out this week basically saying that the days of revenue sharing will end with the next labor contract. If that has to happen, then okay. However, if it also means that the league will forever lose the current salary cap structure, then I think that would be very bad for the NFL.

Part of the draw of the NFL is that every team has a generally equal chance over time to be successful.

Unlike Major League Baseball where I can already predict with pretty good likelihood of being accurate that the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates will finish last in their divisions in 2010, in the NFL finishing last one year doesn’t mean you are doomed to stay there forever.

Last season out of six teams the only team in the NFC Playoffs that had been in the playoffs the previous season was the New York Giants.

If Jones eventually is allowed to follow the model of the Yankees in baseball and out spend everyone else to bring in the best talent, it won’t necessarily guarantee him a championship (the Yankees haven’t won one since 2000), but it will eventually guarantee that some of the smaller market teams, like Jacksonville, Green Bay, Oakland and probably Carolina, will struggle to hold on to their best players in a time when the big boys can offer exorbitant salaries without worry of staying within a cap.

I really hope that Roger Goodell and the union leaders don’t let that happen. They may think losing the salary cap would help increase salaries, but I think what it would really do is start the deathwatch for a number of NFL franchises.

Each week we look at some current and former athletes who were born during the week.  This week I especially want to wish a Happy Birthday to my niece, Abby, who will turn 12 on September 23rd.

Here are some notable sports figures born during this week:
September 18 – Harvey Haddix (1925), Ryne Sandberg (1959), Toni Kukoc (1968), Lance Armstrong (1971)
September 19 – Al Oerter (1936), Jane Blalock (1945), Larry Brown (1947), Jim Abbott (1967)
September 20 – Red Auerbach (1917), Eric Turner (1968)
September 21 – Bruce Arena (1951), Rick Mahorn (1958), Cecil Fielder (1963), Jon Kitna (1972)
September 22 – Bob Lemon (1963), David Stern (1942), Harold Carmichael (1949), Dot Richardson (1961)
September 23 – Pete Harnisch (1966), Jeff Cirillo (1969), Eric Montross (1971)
September 24 – John Mackey (1941), Mean Joe Greene (1946), Terry Metcalf (1951)

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