Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Super Bowl XLVII Cheat Sheet

Well, it's that time again! Yep, break out the chicken wings, pizza, and beer. For those of you who like Beyonce (who may or may not lip synch) and those multi-million dollar commercials, there is a football game going on in between all that. Maybe you've missed most of the season or haven't had the time or interest to follow the NFL, but you've been invited to a big Super Bowl party. Here is a guide that will help you participate in conversations instead of pretending that you can't share your opinion because the buffalo wings are just too delicious. This is for guys who have been too busy with work to know what the sports experts (I mean actual experts and am most certainly not including myself in this category) are discussing. Girls who want to impress that really cute guy they like or surprise their boyfriend with some sports knowledge can read this and add a couple of zingers. Maybe you're stuck going to an office Super Bowl party and have no idea what to say. Read this and you might be able to join a conversation or at least nod or shake your head and not just because it seems to be the appropriate social gesture.

The Basics
Let's start with the basics. The Super Bowl is always on Sunday, hence the name Super Bowl Sunday. It might surprise some people, but I have met people who didn't know that football, in general, took place on Sunday. (Of course, there are games on Mondays, as in Monday Night Football, and sometimes on Thursdays and Saturdays, but you don't have to know this for the Super Bowl cheat sheet.) This year the game is taking place in New Orleans at the Merecedes-Benz SuperDome (a dome so indoor football), home of the New Orleans Saints. Although the location of the Super Bowl is selected about four year in advance, no team has ever played in its home stadium. In other words, no team has had home field advantage, though it is a possibility. So in case you were wondering, no the Saints are not playing in the Super Bowl. Rather, the San Francisco 49ers will be playing the Baltimore Ravens.

The HarBowl, Super Baugh, and Bro Bowl
The biggest story circling this particular Super Bowl is that this is the first time in NFL history that two brothers have coached the two competing teams. John Harbaugh is the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, and younger brother Jim Harbaugh is the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. This has ensued such nicknames as the HarBowl, Super Baugh, and Bro Bowl, so if you have heard these terms before but weren't sure what they meant, now you know. There will probably be a lot of talk about the brothers throughout the broadcast of the game, and you should also know that their father, Jack, was also a NFL head coach. Their mother's name is Jackie, so I guess they really love "J" names.

3 Things to Know about the 49ers
1. Colin Kaepernick (#7): Although Alex Smith began the 2012-2013 season as the number one quarterback, he was sidelined after a concussion sustained in Week 10 against the St. Louis Rams. It was then that Jim Harbaugh decided to put in Colin Kaepernick and never looked back. Since then, the offense has been making plays that it probably would not have been attempting with Smith at the helm. If you want to read a bit more about the controversial switch at quarterback, you can read my previous blog: (Like how I self-promote? :) Without getting into too much detail, you can agree that it sucks for Smith to have brought the team to this point only to be injured and no longer a vital part of the team (let's face at this point he's a high-priced bench warmer). You should also know that no is outraged at the switch because the Kaepernick era has been amazing (they are in the Super Bowl), and he is so popular that his jerseys have outsold any other jersey in the entire NFL.

2. The Defense
The 49ers have one of the best defenses in the league. Until Harbaugh, the organization had a defensive-minded coach to help groom this into the beast it has become. Watch for these players to sack Joe Flacco (the quarterback of the Ravens), force fumbles and interceptions, and stop the Ravens offense in their tracks. This is something good to chime in on because a lot of people will be talking about the 49ers offense. You can say something like, "Don't forget that the offense can't do anything without that shutdown defense." It's okay that you don't totally know what it means, but others will be impressed or at least seriously consider your input.

3. David Akers (#2): David Akers had been one of the top kickers in the NFL in the 2011-2012 season, but he had a bit of a drop-off this past season. Before the post-season, the 49ers brought in another kicker, Billy Cundiff, to possibly replace Akers. From time to time, at least on local Bay Area radio, there has been controversy at kicker. If you hear this, just angrily state, "You know they're KICKERS, right?" Then walk off in dramatic fashion. This is such a non-story. Yes, the Super Bowl could come down to a field goal, but the truth is the game should never have to come down to that. If you're going to win a game, you should do it outright. The Stanley Cup is not won in a shootout, so the Super Bowl should not be won by a field goal.

3 People to Know on the Baltimore Ravens
1. Ray Lewis (#52): Ray Lewis is perhaps one of the best linebackers of all time and almost assuredly a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Before the post-season, Lewis announced to his team and to the world that he would be retiring at the end of this season. The timing of his declaration could not have come at a better time. Lewis had been sidelined for the majority of the season due to injury, and the team squeaked into the playoffs. When he made his retirement known, the team rallied around behind him to make sure he would be playing in what will be his last Super Bowl. This has been a great motivator for the team to give it their all for their teammate who has meant so much to not only the organization but also to the sport of football.

However, the latest story to break during Super Bowl media week, is a controversial one. Sports Illustrated reported that Ray Lewis had been linked to using deer-antler spray, a performance-enhancing drug (PED), that is banned by the NFL among other pro sports organizations. Apparently there is a particular type of deer that has antlers that grows faster than anything else on earth (okay, slight exaggeration), and it carries a hormone that allows for this growth. Scientists have extracted the hormone to put it in a spray for athletes to use to advance healing and increase strength. It's okay if you don't understand the whole story because it is completely bizarre. All you really need to know is that Lewis has been accused of using a strange PED which he denies having used.

2. Ray Rice (#27): It will not be hard to spot Ray Rice on the field because he is a small running back. In fact, during the season Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt was heard taunting, "I've had burritos bigger than you." I'm not really sure where Watt gets his burritos, but I would think Chipotle or some chain is getting that in ad campaign. Rice may be the smallest guy on the field, but he is FAST!!! He is one of the best running backs in the league and knows how to use his stature to his advantage. The 49ers defense are going to have to concentrate on shutting this guy down to win.

3. Joe Flacco (#5): Joe Flacco is the quarterback of the Ravens. He's not the impressive quarterback in the league, and many thought he was ludicrous to make salary demands a year or two ago. His agent was stating that Flacco was a top five quarterback, but almost any NFL expert would disagree. However, if Flacco wins this Super Bowl, he may be getting that huge pay day he has been wanting. Further, he may change how he is viewed in the league. I would argue that rings do not automatically make a quarterback better, especially because the Ravens also have one of the best defenses in the league and could very well win the game not by what Flacco does as much as what the defense does. I'm not saying that I would dismiss Flacco, but I'm skeptical that he would all of a sudden be so much better after a Super Bowl win. If you see someone who gets high on Flacco, you can always remind them that David Carr has a ring and Dan Marino doesn't.

So here is your cheat sheet to the Super Bowl! San Francisco 49ers are taking on the Baltimore Ravens down in New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz SuperDome. The Harbaughs are the first brothers to be coaching opposing teams in the championship game. You got to know a bit of each team. Just remember what's really important, hockey is back! Sorry, I couldn't resist. So print this out and pass them around to your friends. Have fun everyone! If you have more questions or want to share your stories of success, you can always tweet me @SportingAJenda or email me at

Friday, January 25, 2013

San Jose Sharks: the Quest for the Cup

For the home opener for the San Jose Sharks (January 24, 2013 because I'm going to forget the date months from now), my favorite local sports radio station, 95.7 the Game, sent the fantastic duo of Chris Townsend and Ric Bucher to do their afternoon show from the Tank. During their interviews with some of the Sharks media, they posed a very interesting question: "Is the window for the Sharks to win the Stanley Cup closing?" At first, I felt like yelling, "Absolutely, yes!" However, I was wearing my headphones and within listening distance of other people, so I refrained. As I listened to play-by-play man Randy Hahn and radio broadcaster Dan Rusanowski, I realized that it was a little more complex.

I believe the answer to the query is both yes and no. Hahn and Rusanowski both felt that the window of opportunity to win the Cup was not closing because the Sharks have a new core of young players emerging. This is precisely true. Youngsters like Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, and Antti Niemi are the players who will keep that window open. All of these players have proven talent and will most likely be the veteran core of the future. As Hahn and Rusanowski pointed out, it would be counter-productive to rebuild the team. The Sharks have not exhausted their options through free agency and do not have collect first-round draft picks the way Belichick hoards cut-off hoodies the way the Oilers did. They have a future already put in place. The best part is that the goaltender is young and has won a Stanley Cup. He knows how to step up his game and live up to the moment. Not to mention both offense and defense has rising stars. Unlike the Detroit Red Wings who lost Lidstrom, Rafalski, and Stuart within the last few years (not to mention Holmstrom on offense), the Sharks have Pickles and Chewbacca on Ice ( who will be able to step up when it comes time for Boyle to retire. The Sharks have positioned themselves well in order to extend the window of opportunity to bring Sir Stanley's Cup to San Jose for the first time.

However, I do believe that the Sharks organization is hoping to close in on that elusive prize in the near future. When San Jose refrained from any big, splashy free agents during the 2012 offseason (besides their pursuit of Rick Nash, which was a no-go since the asking price was Logan Couture), they acquired Adam Burish from the Dallas Stars. While he is more of a third or fourth line skater, he brings a more aggressive game, which seems to be the trend in the NHL and especially in the Pacific Division. When Vancouver was pompous enough to trade Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian of the Buffalo Sabres, this sent a clear message. The Canucks, sitting on top of the league, was trading a young, talented goalscorer for a gritty player with heart. The team with the best record felt that the way to keep winning is to get more pesty. Buffalo later added Steve Ott to the team, another pesty player who can find the back of the net. Looking at the Western Conference Finals between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings, both in the Pacific Division, proved that scoring and a shut-down defense were not enough to win it all. Teams needed to have that nasty edge, that aggressive play to win. There doesn't need to be more fights, but a team has to show a physical dominance, not allowing the opposition to push it around. Dustin Brown, the captain of the Los Angeles Kings, contributes on offense but does not rank in the elite goal scorers, but he often leads the leagues in hits. Ryane Clowe is that type of a player for the Sharks. He can score and is not afraid to get in the other team's face. Adam Burish is a great acquisition for San Jose because outside of Clowe and Douglas Murray, they didn't have a lot of players with an edge. More recently, the signing of Scott Gomez is further proof that the Sharks are serious about making those changes in the third and fourth line to make a run at the Cup. Adding these physical players may give them more of an edge when they meet rivals like the LA Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, or Vancouver Canucks.

While these acquisitions are more like the icing on the cake to make a serious run at the Cup, what really helps the Sharks is that they are able to keep that core. Consistency within the top lines and key players has been part of the formula of their success. They have been able to keep Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Dan Boyle. These are stellar players who have tremendous talent and know how to play together. Unlike the Flyers or Rangers who seem to continue to make rather large changes to their roster in an effort to improve the team (which does and does not pay off at times or at least to the extent they project it will), the Sharks use that familiarity among the top scorers to their advantage. By keeping these key players together, San Jose creates this great synergy that translates into usually long runs in the playoffs.

Because the Sharks are addressing short-term and long-term needs in their quest for the Cup, fans should be proud their organization is one of the few in the NHL making solid decisions on both fronts. San Jose has been furthering their efforts to attain the Cup within the next few years, but they are not sacrificing their ability to contend for years to come.