Archive | December, 2009

Steel City Blues: Baltimore’s Sad History of Losing Big Games to Pittsburgh

29 Dec

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

It was an all-too familiar scene in the living room of my mother’s home in downtown Baltimore. I was shaking my head at yet another Baltimore loss in a big game to Pittsburgh.

In Sunday’s game, the Ravens beat themselves in a cavalcade of penalities and mistakes including a dropped pass in the end zone by veteran wide reciever Derrick Mason that would have put the Ravens ahead. Two Baltimore penalties took touchdowns off the board.

To me the Ravens 23-20 loss in a game that would have ended the defending champion Steelers playoff hopes convinces me of something that I believed for a long time—since 1971—Pittsburgh sports teams have owned Baltimore.

With few exceptions, Pittsburgh, whether you’re talking about the Pirates or the Steelers have always had Baltimore’s number in the big games—whether you’re talking about the World Series with the Orioles, the Colts in the playoffs during the mid-1970s, the Ravens in the 2000s, the result always seem to be the same—Pittsburgh wins, Baltimore loses.

The “Steel City” has been like kryptonite to “Charm City” in the athletic realm. I don’t know if it’s purely physical or metaphysical. I mean you can make all kinds of arguments that Pittsburgh teams have been better than Baltimore sports teams, which has been true more often than naught. You can say Baltimore has been unlucky in some respects.

Whatever it is or whatever one chooses to call it, Pittsburgh has a long history of sticking it to Baltimore in the big games.

Over the years, you’ve had the New York Yankees owning the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, beating them in five World Series during the 1950s. It’s a rare thing for the sports teams of one city to beat another city’s teams in one particular year. Oddly enough, Baltimore was on the losing end of that one, too.

Back in the calendar year of 1969, the New York Jets beat the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in January. In the spring of 1969, the Baltimore Bullets had the best regular season record in the NBA, but got swept by the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. In October, the Mets beat an Orioles team that won 109 games in the 1969 World Series.

It was so bad that a comedian supposedly got on the Tonight Show that year and jokingly thanked Baltimore for New York’s great year in sports.

But Pittsburgh has had Baltimore’s number over time. The 1971 Orioles had the best record in baseball and four 20-game winners-Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson. The O’s were the defending World Series champions and rolled out to a 2-0 lead including an 11-3 win in game two of that series.

Unfortunately for the Birds, they just couldn’t stop the great Roberto Clemente, who hit safely in all seven games and batted .414. He hit a homerun in Game 7 that put the Pirates on top for good. After falling behind 2-0, Pittsburgh won four of the next five games, holding the Orioles to just seven runs.

Eight years later, the Baltimore Orioles came into the 1979 World Series with the best record in baseball with 102 wins under their belt. The Orioles had what looked to be an insurmountable 3-1 lead over the Pirates, but could not close the deal.

That’s because Wille Stargell batted .400 during the series with a record seven extra-base hits and because the Orioles scored just two runs over the final three games of that series with Eddie Murray going 0-for-21 during that stretch.

In Game 7, the Orioles, trailing 2-1, had the bases loaded with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning and a chance to break open the game. But Murray’s long fly ball deep to right field fell harmlessly into the glove of Dave Parker.

The Pirates and their fans, just as they did in 1971, danced on the soil of Memorial Stadium in front of stunned and disappointed Baltimore fans. Pittsburgh had gotten the best of old Charm City again.

Sandwiched between the Pirates World Series triumphs over Baltimore, the Steelers were sticking it to Baltimore as well in a pair of AFC Divisional Playoff games.

In 1975, the upstart Baltimore Colts won the AFC East, but had to face defending Super Bowl champion Steelers for a berth to the AFC title game. After the Colts took a 10-7 lead in the third quarter, the Steelers surged to a 21-10 lead. The Colts looking to make a comeback in the fourth quarter, drove the ball down to the Steelers 7.

Unfortunately for Baltimore, Steelers linebacker Jack Ham hit Colts quarterback Bert Jones from behind and jarred the ball loose. Andy Russell scooped it up for a 93-yard return for a touchdown to put the final nail in the coffin.

In 1976, the Colts finished 11-3 and had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. More importantly, the young Colts had a year of playoff experience under their belt and the Steelers, who had to win their last nine games of the season to get into the playoffs after a 1-4 start, appeared to be a team on the decline.

With all the psychological advantages of revenge and the fact that they were playing at home in Baltimore, the Colts were still given a severe beat down by the Steelers in a 40-14 loss. The most enduring image of that loss was when airplane crashed into the upper deck of Memorial Stadium shortly after the game ended and the crowd had left the ball park.

In 2000, the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl and brought Charm City its first world championship since 1970. In 2001, the team that ended the Ravens championship reign in the AFC Divisional Playoffs—the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 27-10 win.

And then there was last season, the Steelers inexorable march to the Super Bowl included a pair of close wins over the Ravens -an overtime loss in Pittsburgh and a last second loss in Baltimore. The Ravens would see their season end with another loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Ravens and the Colts, when they were in Baltimore, have beaten the Steelers over the years in some meaningless regular season games here and there. But when a playoff berth or a championship is on the line, Pittsburgh has come out on top every time.

Last Sunday’s debacle in Pittsburgh in which Baltimore committed 11 penalities for 113 yards was the latest in what has become a never ending saga in which the Steel City comes out on top of the “City by the Bay.”

To quote the Talking Heads: “Same as it ever was.”

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Once and For all, there needs to be a playoff in FBS (Div. 1-A) college football

24 Dec

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Now that we are in the midst of what ESPN calls its most wonderful time of the year–the  slate of relatively meaningless Bowl games or college football’s version of the NIT,  I often wonder about how great this week really would be if we actually had a playoff for the national championship.

Quite frankly, I am fed up with the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) in its present form and the fact that only two contestants for the national championship game are selected based on some elaborate computerized or media concocted system. Are unbeaten Alabama and Texas really the best teams in the nation—what about unbeaten Boise State or TCU?

And what of Florida—should one loss in the Southeastern Conference Championship game totally eliminate from title contention? No, it shouldn’t.

That’s why I say for the umpteenth time, let’s scrap the BCS in its current form and just have a 16-team playoff just like Div. I Football Championship Subdivision. If the NCAA, the TV networks, and the Bowl organizers were smart, they could make a lot of money and it would be as big as March Madness is to college basketball.

Why have a Bowl Championship Series without a true series? Why limit it to just two teams? Let’s  go all the way and have a playoff.

Team selection

Since there are 11 conferences in what is known as the Div. I Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Div. 1-A), the champions of those conferences would receive automatic bids to the playoffs. This would give the Boise State’s and the TCUs the opportunity to show how they really stack up against the bigger conferences. The other five at large spots would go to the highest ranked teams according to their ranking in the final BCS standings .

Ultimately, this would mean that teams will strive harder to win their conference titles and it will convince the powerhouse teams to schedule harder non-conference opponents instead of the usual cupcakes. Instead of Florida playing McNeese State or Florida Atlantic, they might take on Southern Cal or even intrastate rival Miami.

According to the final 2009 BCS standings the highest ranked non-conference champions are No. 5 Florida, No. 10 Iowa, No. 11 Virginia Tech, No. 12 LSU, and No. 13 Penn. State—those teams would receive at-large bids.

For example , if we were to have a 2009 FBS playoffs and using the current BCS standings as a guide. Your No. 1 seed would be Alabama, who would face No. 16-seed Troy-champions of the Sunbelt Conference in the first round. No. 2-seed Texas would face No. 15 seed and Mid-American Conference champion Central Michigan. Big East Champion Cincinnati, as the No. 3 seed, would take on Conference USA winner and No. 14 seed East Carolina.

No. 4 seed TCU would play No. 13 seeded Penn State. In a classic 5 versus 12 match up, Florida would play SEC rival LSU. No. 6 Boise State would play against no. 11 Virginia Tech.

You would have a heck of first-round match up in the 7-10 match up between Pac-10 Champion Oregon and Big 10 runnerup Iowa. No. 8  seed Ohio State would play Atlantic Coast Conference champion Georgia Tech who would come in as the No. 9 seed.

The winner of that 8-9 game would have a potential matchup against 1-16 winner, which would probably be Alabama. What a second round matchup that would be?

If you had a playoff this year with my format, you would have a compelling first round, especially from No. 5 on down. You might have some upsets here when you think about some of those matches.

Where would they play and what about those Bowl sponsors

With about 34 bowl games under the current situation, you can take about 16 of those locations and convert them into first round playoff sites. To please those Bowl sponsors and their need for making money, keep their names as sponsors—BCS First-Round presented by Eagle Bank or BCS First -Round sponsored by MAACO.   Similar to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, you can do it by region. Another possibility would be to play the first round games at home field of the higher seeded team.  Personally, I prefer playing all the games at a neutral site in several cities that host bowl games.

Your quarter final games could be played at places that typically host the non-BCS New Years Bowl along with one of the BCS sites.  For example, one quarterfinal game could played be at the Outback Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, or The Florida Citrus Bowl. The one BCS site that would host a quarter final game would be the site that hosted the championship game the previous year. Since the Orange Bowl hosted the championship last season, it would host one of the quarterfinal games—one scenario would be the game involving the top seed.

College football’s version of the National Semi-Finals would be played at two BCS sites with the championship game being played at another BCS site. For example, the Fiesta Bowl and the Sugar Bowl could host the two semi final games while the Rose Bowl would still host your championship game. You can play with how you would rotate the sites, but you would still include all those bowl sponsors and their big money.

By the way, the ranked teams that don’t make it to football’s version of the Big Dance, can still play  in a bowl game. I’m sure ESPN, FOX and all the other sports networks will have enough air space to put the games on for your hardcore college football fans. After all, there is still the NIT in college basketball—It would be something to reward a team that’s gone from 5-7 to 7-5.

Timing

For all those who have traditionally said that a playoff would interfere with the student athletes final exams.. Here’s a solution. The playoffs could start the week before Christmas when most universities are finishing up or are done with their finals.  Opening round games being played on Friday and Saturday before Christmas.

If you start the tournament the week of Christmas, you would have one heck of a New Year’s Day with the quarterfinal games. If you  do start  the playoffs the week before Christmas, your semifinals would fall on New Years Day. For example, you could start the Rose Bowl semifinal game at 5: 00 and your Orange Bowl (or Fiesta Bowl and Sugar Bowl) as the next game 8:45 p.m.

The national championship game, of course, would be a week after New Years Day—the way it is now.

And by the way, you can start the day with those other Bowls like the Capital One or the Outback Bowl just the way it is now and people will come out and watch because that’s what football fans do on New Year’s Day anyway.

You gotta better solution. Okay, cool.

I’m sure there are about 10,001 flaws in my idea or we can’t do this because of money, school presidents, politics. For example, I know the supporters of the BCS conferences aren’t going to like the idea that we let the smaller, non-BCS conferences like the Sun Belt, the Mid-America Conference, the WAC, the Mountain West or Conference USA get automatic bids for doing something like winning their conferences.

Let’s face it, we’re dealing with the mentality from the big conferences that has a problem with Boise State (who beat the PAC-10 champion earlier this year) and TCU playing in a BCS game because they believe their third place team is better than either of those teams (Yeah, SEC I’m talking about you in particular).

But to hell with their arrogance. I think my idea would be fair. If the WAC champion is taking on the second or third place team in the SEC, let’s prove it on the field in a playoff. To quote Parliament Funkadelic’s George Clinton, “let’s take it to the stage.”

The bottom line a national championship should be decided on the field and not by the media or the coach’s poll. If you got something better, I’d love to hear it. If you can modify what I’ve got, cool.

Still Going: 44-year-old Bernard Hopkins Not Ready to Hang up the Gloves

7 Dec

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

As much as 44-year-old Bernard Hopkins dominated an overmatched opponent in Enrique Ornelas, effectively counter-punching every time the younger fighter charged in after him, I was hoping against hope that his recent fight at the Liacouras Center on Temple’s campus in North Philadelphia would be the last of an outstanding career.

But if you or I ,for that matter, thought that this was going some sort of memory book moment frozen in time, we were most definitely mistaken.

In fact, Hopkins will be back in the ring in 2010 for another big pay-day against some of the sports up and coming younger fighters like unbeaten Chad Dawson (29-0, 17 KOs), unbeaten middleweight Paul Williams (37-1, 27 KOs), International Boxing Federation super middleweight champion Lucien Bute (25-0, 20 KO) or even World Boxing Association champion David Haye (23-1, 21 KOs).

Richard Schaeffer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, said shortly after Hopkins win that the list of people wanting to fight is actually growing.

“The list for Bernard didn’t get shorter, it actually got longer,” Schaeffer said. “Paul Williams camp reached out to us. They’re interested in a Bernard Hopkins fight. Don King reached out to us. I had conversations with Lucien Bute’s promoter today because I think a showdown between these two guys at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal would seat like 60, 000people and would be historic and I’m sure that fight would be sold out.

“Gary Shaw from Chad Dawson, they reached out to us that Chad Dawson would be interested. Kathy Duva with Tomasz Adamek threw her hat in the sweepstakes, too.”

Schaeffer said Hopkins is looking for a match of “historic significance.” He said another possibility was a fight between Hopkins and Haye, who holds one of the heavyweight titles.

Hopkins next fight was going to be against former middleweight champion Roy Jones, Jr. But that fight was apparently taken off the table when the 40-year-old Jones was knocked out by Danny Green in the first round of their International Boxing Organization bout in Australia 12 hours before Hopkins stepped into the ring against Ornelas.

Oddly enough, Schaeffer said while Jones has fallen from the top of the list of people Hopkins would fight, he has not been completely eliminated. Considering the way Jones was stopped in the first round, maybe he ought to be.

Even with the growing list of possibilities, Hopkins, who turns 45 in February,often deals with the old question of when will he retire from the sport. On numerous occasions throughout his 40s, Hopkins has said on the record this fight or that fight would be his last.

But wins over younger fighters like Antonio Tarver and Kelly Pavlik have convinced Hopkins that he’s not leaving the sport anytime soon. After the win over Ornelas, Hopkins said he will know when he’s done with boxing.

“The ring will let you know when it’s time for you to go and normally you can win and the ring can still tell you that you won, but it’s time to pack it in,” Hopkins said. “And the ring hasn’t spoke to me in any shape or form. When you start looking for things to happen, it’s going to happen. And so I feel like why I still can get up and train and have it in my heart to do what I do then why not?

“I never sit back and think about I’m 44, why I’m doing this, I know I can’t move and duck, have my reflexes. If you start thinking about that, then you start being gun shy.”

The bottom line for Hopkins is that whoever he jumps into the ring against the money has to be right and it has to be what he calls some sort of historical significance. For Hopkins, that could mean going after Haye’s WBA heavyweight title. If he’s successful, he would join Bob Fitzsimmons and Roy Jones Jr. as former middleweight champions who won heavyweight titles.

“I can’t fight just to be fighting, there has to be a meaning for who I fight,” Hopkins said. “We’ve got a lot of pieces on the table. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but Richard said he got about eight calls …That’s not a bad thing, but what that tells you is that Bernard Hopkins will be fighting next year. I don’t know who?

“Right now it is about dollars and cents. Right now, I think I’ve learned a long time ago, especially now to not take for granted what I’m doing and fight just to be fighting. If it ain’t right, you won’t see me.”

According to the boxing executives at HBO and HBO Pay-per-View, Hopkins is still a marketable, money-making commodity in boxing. Mark Taffet, senior vice president for HBO Pay-Per-View, said Hopkins has at least four or five fights that boxing fans would want to see.

“Once he focuses on where he wants to go, he’s going to have the support of television,” Taffet said. “Bernard Hopkins is one of the few pound for pound fighters in the sport of boxing period. He just happens to be 44-years-old. He is one of the top fighters in the sport today and we are always in business of televising fights with top fighters in the sport.”