Thursday, January 27, 2011

Basketball Is Just A Game, Life Isn't

I am lucky enough to have a father that will do anything at the drop of a hat and give me advice when I need it most.

No subject is off the table.  Job, women, sports.  It's all in play.

The one lesson he has preached now for 26 years that I have yet to embrace is the idea that sports are "only just a game."

When the Lions got robbed in Chicago during Week One, I immediately called him enraged that Calvin's catch wasn't.  I wasn't in front of a mirror at the time, but I image I had that crazed Mel Gibson look and sound going.

He, also a die hard Lions fan, calmly said "Don't let it ruin your day, it's only just a game."

Huh?  Come on man, give me some emotion.  Let loose a bit. Get fired up.

None of those requests were granted.  He was level headed and went about his business.  He didn't let the loss, and wouldn't have let the win (if it had happened) change his outlook.

He put his fatherly, jedi-mind tricks to work and was again teaching a lesson in patience and poise.

It must be generational, because the Michigan State basketball team is going through a similar life-lesson.

Korie Lucious' dismissal from the squad might seem like another set back for a team already labeled as the biggest disappointment of the season, but I think it should be praised.

Tom Izzo is not a calm man on the sideline.  He looks like a leprechaun on 'roids when the Spartans fail to box out or turn the ball over.  Off the court, there may not be a more level-headed coach.

In fact, he's probably a better teacher than an actual coach, which makes him so effective.

Izzo knows by giving Lucious the boot, he is hurting his team's chances at turning the season around.  Lucious is a good player even if he does give balls away more frequently then Wilt Chamberlain in a brothel.

Sparty isn't going to win the Big Ten regular season crown, the conference tournament is always a letdown, and the consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament seems in jeopardy.  Not having Lucious only makes these goals even more unattainable.

But, in an era of college basketball when player-coach relationships are less long term and more one season stands, it's refreshing to see Tom Izzo part ways with one of his best players for the right reason.

Izzo is putting winning aside in an effort to prove it's more important to be a better man than a better player.

It's a lesson I wish more coaches would teach.  Instead, we see coaches praise these 18-year-olds from the minute they step on campus.  They know the better these players play, the more they get paid.

Win a conference tournament, bonus.  Sweet 16, bonus.  Final Four, summer home bought and paid for.

None of this happens without your blue chip athlete playing well, and they will play well when they are happy, so why not tell them they are the second coming ofMJ.

It's all about winning.

Izzo takes that approach and slaps it in the face.  He is the highest paid employee at a Big Ten college, which claims that education is its number one priority.  Well, cheers to you Tom, because unlike most coaches, he truly does put education first.

He dismissed Chris Allen because Allen was a problem.  How many other coaches would have gotten rid of their best perimeter defender in a league with guys like Talor Battle and E'Twaun Moore...I'll wait?

Earlier in the season, he benched his best scorer during critical moments of a game his team needed to win because Durrell Summers wasn't giving his best effort.  Can you honestly see John Calipari sitting anyone, at any point, who averages at least 10-points a game?  I can't.

Izzo is teaching Lucious and all Spartans lessons in being men.

Will it lead to more wins? Nope.  Will it help recruit more guys that want to go one-and-done to the NBA? Nope.  But, it sets a standard of maturity, accountability, and excellence. One Michigan State fans everywhere should be proud their coach stands for above all else.

Because in the end basketball is just a game, but life is to be taken seriously.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Aaron Rodgers: A Lesson in Moving On

Sometimes your first love isn't your best love.

We've all been there.  You meet the person you think, from the minute you lay eyes on her, is perfect.  You have an instant connection and there aren't enough hours in a day to spend with each other.  She gives Celine Dion songs deeper meaning.

Then, just like that, it's over.  You don't know how you got there.  You don't know what compelled her to leave you for the meathead who probably has a six pack but know can't tell you the capital of more than five states.  This was the person you thought you'd spend the rest of your life with.  You watched crappy movies and said you loved them.  Went to events like the ballet (during the NBA playoffs) that you will never forgive yourself for and prematurely bought that ring you had to shamefully return.  (All hypothetical of course.)

You gave everything you had only to see it blow up in your face.

Sound familiar Packers fans?

Brett Favre was that first love.  He was fun-loving, energetic, and exciting to watch.  He won a Super Bowl and took the team to another.  He was everything you could want in a quarterback.

And then, he left.  And not only did he leave, he left for your biggest rival.  The pain must have been brutal.  The cheesehead faithful were undoubtedly putting together break up mixtapes filled with the Tony Rich Project and N*SYNC.

...That's when you know you are in bad shape.

To make it worse, Favre had arguably the best season of his career with the Vikings last year.  The Packers first love had moved on and moved on well.  That's grounds for defriending because the hurt of seeing your 'one' with a better life than what you could offer is unbearable.

Favre and the Vikings got to the NFC title game while the Packers suffered a mind boggling loss in a thriller against Arizona.  Packers fans had to be thinking, "what if we and Favre were still together?"  "Can I live without him?"

Like all relationships, when they first end, you think about the good times.  How much you laughed at stupid stuff, the cute thing she did with her nose, and those jokes only you two will ever understand.  But, as time goes by, you start remembering more of the bad.  That fight that she picked just because, those things she made you do that you despised, and how she never wanted to do what you wanted.

When Favre bolted for Minnesota, it was easy to forget he wasn't perfect in Green Bay.  He threw an awful interception in the NFC title game against the Giants.  He often put the ball up in the air for grabs and with as much personal success that he had, his teams often made early exits from the playoffs.

Like the pain of losing the 'one' to a Jersey Shore outcast, time slowly but surely starts to mend the wounds.

For the Green Bay Packers, it's almost time to rip off the band-aid for good.

Favre is now the butt of every joke and his team is gearing up for the draft.  He's left the Vikings' future dim.

He's the girl at the high school reunion who used to be hot, but is now bagging groceries with a beer gut Peter Griffin would be jealous of.

Favre's old team, the Packers, are the former nobodies who pull up to the reunion in a Bentley with two Victoria's Secret models on his arms.

The man responsible for the transformation is Aaron Rodgers.  What Green Bay's current quarterback is doing for the Green and Yellow is making Packers fans forget about "the one" who up and left.

Rodgers has his team closing in on an NFC title and is doing so with gaudy numbers.

He took Green Bay into Philadelphia and tossed three TD's against a team that was a sexy pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl just two weeks ago. Not only did he get the win, but he totally outplayed the conference's most dynamic quarterback, Mike Vick.

An encore performance seemed almost impossible.  Someone forgot to tell Rodgers.

A week later in Atlanta, he threw three more touchdowns and ran for a score, capped off most impressively by his 'Title Belt' celebration, in the Packers 48-21 beat down of the Falcons, who almost never lose at home.

Football is the ultimate team sport, but this has to feel like sweet personal revenge for Rodgers.

For the past three seasons he has been compared to Favre, who was for years the Loved One of Lambeau.

Whenever there was a Rodgers highlight it was followed by one of Favre.  Rodgers goes down because of a concussion, people question if Favre would have sat out that game.  It had to be frustrating.

Rodgers has persevered.  He hasn't let the cloud of Number Four rain on his career. And he soon may have Packers fans remembering Favre more as the h'orderve that led to the main course of Rodgers.

In Green Bay, there may never be that initial spark like their first love, but what they've found since moving on may ultimately be best for the team's long term happiness.

Favre may be the "one who got away," but Rodgers is taking over as "THE ONE"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

LeBron: Smackin' More Than He's Packin'

There are few sayings that I think have more merit than "If you have to brag, you probably can't shag."  Ladies, do you follow me on this one?

Guys that toot the loudest horn often hit the wrong note when it matters most and LeBron James just played an E-flat when he should have played a G.

The Miami Heat superstar took an unnecessary jab at his former team last night, after the Cavaliers 55-point embarrassing loss to the Lakers.

James tweeted, "Crazy. Karma is a b****. Gets you every time. It's not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!"

The hypocrisy of the statements is ludicrous! He was sending his own ill will by basically  saying "F you Cleveland. F you Dan Gilbert. Look at how bad you are without me.  Look at how good I am."

We get it LeBron, you are a great player.  You were the reason the Cavs won the most games in the regular season the last two years and we know they are now the worst team in the league.

It's these "mine is bigger than yours" type comments that will forever keep James out of the ranks of the game's greatest, despite his tremendous talents.

I learned at a young age that having class trumps having skill.

While playing football with my grandfather in the front yard one day when I was about six-years-old, I scored a touchdown and immediately hit the Deion Sanders.  It looked fresh.  A 3'6, mini-afro'ed Sam, going side-to-side like Primetime.  If that were 20-years later, I'd be a youtube sensation.  But instead, I was an embarrassment.

My grandpa gave me one of the sternest looks I've ever seen, followed by this gem, "Why do you need to celebrate? Act like you've been there before."

That was his way of saying "Have some class, you look like a jackass."

You gain respect by respecting your opponent and trying to show people up does nothing but sour your own achievements.

It's almost cliche to say 'I hate LeBron not because he left Cleveland, but because of how he left.'  Yes, 'The Decision' was insanely stupid.  That mini-concert introducing he, Bosh, and Wade in Miami took over-the-top to new extremes. And the dancing and winks he did in his return game to Cleveland were beyond annoying.

But his recent social media tirade may be his worst move yet.

LeBron is going out of his way to gain added attention.  He said after the game, "I've kind of accepted this villain role everyone has placed on me. I'm OK with it."

He's OK with it because he's too lazy to try to make amends.  It would take a real man to stand up and say "Yea, the Decision was awful, I wish Cleveland the best, and am now focused on working with my current teammates."

But that would require him to swallow some of his pride and show some humility, which requires effort.  LeBron doesn't want to put forth effort, he wants success to be handed to him.

He jumped ship to Miami because it would be easier to win a title there than Cleveland.   He refuses to acknowledge his poor decisions because its easier to stay the same than take a good, hard look in the mirror and try to change. He bashes his former teammates because its more glorifying to take all the credit for the player he is today than commend those that helped him get there.

I can't see Michael Jordan tweeting about the Lakers after they lost to the Celtics.  Or Magic talking about an off shooting night for Bird, because their sole focus was on winning a title.  What others did had no effect on their team.  For them, it was all about winning championships, all the time.

LeBron's concern is less about that title he claims to be chasing in Miami and more about proving his individual value.

He TELLS us he's a winner, but hasn't SHOWN it either on or off the court.

So LeBron, keep tweeting about how good you are and how bad life is without you, but just know until you start accumulating a few Larry O'Brien trophies you are still just the guy who says he's packin', while those who see your true colors are around the corner laughin'.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

inCAMparable: Cam Newton Caps-Off Remarkable Season

12:02 AM - 1/11/11  - Remember the date and time, because that is when maybe the greatest individual season in college football officially came to an end.

That was the moment Auburn kicker Wes Byrum split the uprights to give the Tigers a 22-19 win over Oregon in the National Championship game.  Immediately the camera turned toward the team's beat up and battered quarterback.  But, even after season filled with hits both on and off the field, there was Cam Newton, smiling.

A fitting end to an unbelievable five months for Auburn's redshirt junior.

Be honest, when you made your preseason predictions, unless you live in Auburn, Alabama, you did not think the Tigers would be playing in tonight's game and even the truest college football nerds may have known Cam Newton only as "the guy who got kicked out of Florida, right?" 

Today, he is the most talked about player in college football.  But, after the year he had, it should be because of what he accomplished as a player and nothing else.

The Heisman Trophy winner's season was soured by the pay-to-play scheme put together by his father Cecil.  Cam was cleared of any wrongdoing because the NCAA said it found no evidence he knew of his dad's plan to have him sign with the school that paid the most for his talents.

Do I believe that entirely, probably not.  Will some always say he should have been suspended, probably.  One fact can't be argued, every time Cam Newton stepped on the field during the 2010-2011 college football season, he was above and beyond the best player.

This isn't a Danny Almonte-type case.  Cam wasn't some 25-year-old dominating a middle school league.  He was young man who made some missteps early in his career, but matured into a poised, determined, unflappable winner.

The NCAA has no business going any further with the Newton investigation.   They forfeited that right last week when they allowed Terrelle Pryor and his fellow pawn stars to suit up for the Sugar Bowl.  The Association made it clear that punishing "student"-athletes is acceptable, unless it effects their profits.

They are cashing in on Newton, too.  I have a good feeling a healthy portion of Americans were tuned in to the BCS title game Monday night and it wasn't to sit through the TV car wash, also known as Lou Holtz's lisp.

It was all about Cam, all the time.  He meant big ratings and big bucks.  So even if he did take $200,000, he made the NCAA, ESPN, Tostitos, and the rest of college football's big wigs that times ten.

What is probably most impressive is that Newton didn't let this thousand pound weight of controversy hold him down on the field.

His statistics, remarkable.

Newton became just the third player in NCAA FBS history with 20-rushing and 20-passing touchdowns in a single season.  He threw for more than 2,000 yards and ran for more than 1,000. That's never been done in the history-rich SEC.  Newton rallied his team from 24-points down to beat arch-rival Alabama.  He tossed a career-best six touchdowns in the SEC title game.  And to top it all off, he torched Oregon for more than 300-total yards and two-touchdowns in the National Championship.

Think of the best players over the last 15-years in college football and none of them have had a season like Newton's.  Not Tebow, Ingram, Bradford, Bush, Leinart, Young, Ricky Williams, Woodson, Manning, or everyone's favorite senior citizen Chris Weinke.

Not only was Newton a stat machine, but also the unquestioned leader of the best team in the sport.  It's rare that you see a 21-year-old command the attention of his teammates like he did.  In the huddle, all eyes were on Number 2.  Drop a pass, he's going to get on you, then get you the ball on the next play.  Newton challenged himself and his teammates to be great and in the process they became champions.

The next step for Cam Newton is a legal payday in the NFL.  He's obviously tremendously skilled and appears to have the mental fortitude to make it at the next level, but that remains to be seen.

What he accomplished this season is something we may never see again.

Both on and off the field, every time Newton was knocked down, he got back up.  When odds were against him, he dug deep and found a way to get it done.  He turned every obstacle into opportunity, so it seems only right that Newton was the last man standing, and of course, smiling.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ilitch the Best Bet for Pistons

I love Michigan State University with all my heart.  I am an unapologetic slappy for my alma mater.   I proudly display my degree in my apartment, speak of Tom Izzo as if he were Zeus, am a proud owner of a Spartan snuggie, and despise anything that combines the colors Maize and Blue.  (Just call it yellow, you're not impressing anyone with your technical terms.)

Tom Gores
So when I heard the next potential owner of the Detroit Pistons is a Green and White grad, I was pretty pumped up.  Tom Gores is expected to finalize the deal sometime this week for about $400-million, pocket change for the insanely wealthy financier.

What could be better; a self-made billionaire, from my school, owning my favorite team!  Yahtzee!

I envisioned a mega mascot that combines Hooper and Sparty.  Maybe like one of those mythical characters that's half-human, half-horse.  I don't care what kind of greatness the Phoenix Suns Gorilla pulls out on All-Star weekend, Spooper or Harty would be ten times greater.  Although, combining the names probably needs to be reconsidered.

While sitting on cloud nine thinking about this Spartan-Piston fantasy team, reality started to set in.  Is this really the best move for my team?  Is it good for the fans?  Most importantly, is it right for the state of Michigan?  Sadly, the answer is no.

Gores is a native of Flint but now lives among the stars in California.   I picture him as a blend of Ari Gold and Hank Moody, part ruthless entrepreneur, part playboy (not a bad mascot if Vegas ever gets a team).   I have no idea if this is true, but to some extent isn't that every California Billionaire?

That lifestyle and personality may be good for a reality show, but it's not right for an NBA owner.  See Mark Cuban.  Immensely entertaining, zero Rings. 

I want my owner a little disheveled, yet poised. Living in Michigan.  And above all else, experienced in winning.

It's likely Gores sees the Pistons as another investment.  A way to rub elbows with some of the world's best athletes, maybe get an occasional appearance on PTI, and cash in down the road.

The Pistons are way more than another line on someones financial portfolio.  They are a night out for the family, a head-nod and smile while commuting down Woodward when you see another driver with the team flag latched to the rear-window, and the Bad Boys persona that identifies perfectly with its rugged, working class fans.

There is only one person who has consistently proven he understands building Detroit teams based on that identity.  Mike Ilitch.

He is a hometown boy.  He went to Cooley, played minor league ball for the Tigers, and is the genius behind the greatest food deal ever, the Little Caesars $5 Hot-N-Ready.

Detroit is in Ilitch's blood.

He's also been a pivotal figure in trying to rejuvenate the struggling downtown.  His renovation of the Fox Theater helped spark life into an otherwise downtrodden area.

Not to mention what he has done with the Wings and Tigers.  The Red Wings were an afterthought when he bought them in the early '80s, now, its arguably the most respected franchise in the NHL.

The Wings have been to the postseason 19-straight years and have won four Stanley Cups since he took over. 

What Ilitch has done with the Tigers is equally impressive.  The old english D stood for Disaster for years.  The team made the bottom of the standings its annual home.  And their actual home, Tigers Stadium, was a literal representation of a crumbling city.

Mr. Ilitch took intiative.  He spent $350-million to build Comerica Park, which is widely considered one of the best baseball stadiums in the league.  He was able to attract the MLB All-Star game and after 13-straight losing seasons, fought and clawed to put a contending team on the field.

There is not a Tigers fan on earth who doesn't remember where they were at the exact moment when Magglio Ordonez drilled the walk-off home run in the 2006 ALCS.  That play and entire Tigers season united a city with Mike Ilitch as the architect to success.

Detroit needs Ilitch to play Noah one more time and construct an arc that will keep the team and city afloat.

Karen Davidson, the Pistons current owner, needs to realize this quickly.  Apparently the two sides had a falling out and couldn't agree on a price tag, which opened the door for Gores.  Davidson's late husband, William, was as good of an owner as there was in the NBA before he passed away.  He put the team and fans first.  His widow needs to take a page out of his book and think about more than just money.

Ilitch said he wants to build a dual stadium downtown for the Pistons and Red Wings.  That's nothing but good news. 

Joe Louis Arena is in desperate need of an upgrade and moving the Pistons from Auburn Hills would put all four sports teams in Detroit.  That would make the area even more attractive.  A revitalized Detroit, results in a revitalized Michigan.

Bringing the Pistons downtown, means another at least 41-nights a year that 22-thousand-plus have a reason to head to the city.  More people means more business.  More business means increased revenue, which is exactly what is needed for a comeback for the D.

The Pistons also are one of the most profitable teams in the NBA when they put together a roster that doesn't consists of 11-shooting guards.  Fans will come out and support them.

From a purely sports perspective, let's be honest, the Pistons stink right now.  Ilitch is 2-0 on turning terrible franchises around.   There is no reason to believe he can't go 3-0.

Maybe Gores can do it, too.  Spartans are winners, so maybe.  But in a time when the Pistons and Motor City need something to get revved up about, I want a sure thing.

Ilitch is the safest bet.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I Want What I Should Have!

This weekend's NFL playoff games signified a much needed return to football that mattered.  For the past month, my TV has been bombarded with the "Justin Bieber Hairspray Bowl," and "John Boehner Spray Tan Bowl."  I simply can not handle the pointless, insignificant college football 'postseason.'

I need a college playoff system and I need it now.

Don't get me wrong, I think Monday's National Championship game between Auburn and Oregon is going to be tremendous, but part of me will always wonder what TCU could have done against those teams.  Same goes for Boise State last year and Auburn in 2004.  We'll never know.

I am one of the people who supports the argument that part of the reason college football is so great is because every game counts.  Every week is a school's shot at a National Title.  Slip up one week, kiss that crystal ball goodbye.  Slip up twice, tell mom you'll be home for New Years because you are playing in the " Bowl."

The NFL, while by no means perfect, has the best playoff system.

Think about it.  The 7-9 Seahawks, who won the worst division in the history of the league, beat the defending Super Bowl champion Saints who were double digit favorites.  With that said, Seattle had no business hosting the game, but true champions find a way to win no matter what the circumstances.

Rex 'sexy feet' Ryan took his big mouth and three chins into Indy and knocked off the team that was one bad throw away from beating the Saints in last year's title game.

Queue Kevin Garnett, 'Anything is possible!'...and why? Because it celebrates the competitiveness of the sport by giving teams a fair(er) shake.

College football owes it to fans and players to implement a playoff.  Hiding behind arguments that the system would make seasons too long and take players away from class is a total fraud.

That's greed talking.  If you are so concerned with kids playing too many games, take that Prairie View A&M game off your early season schedule.  Oh wait, that means schools won't get the revenue of 75,000 people packing their stadiums, eating their popcorn, and buying jerseys (one players can't sell though, but that's for another day).

6'9 Power Forward
And the day that most athletes start thinking about their calculus class ahead of gameday is the day I am a 6'9 power forward in the NBA. 

(Side note, you can make a nice chunk of cash in college writing papers for lazy athletes, so if players do actually want a decent grade, it can be profitable for other students.)

Adding an eight team playoff doesn't mean you still can't have the "Enzyte Big Guys Bowl."  You can reward 6-6 teams with a postseason appearance, but let those that have earned it get more out of their 11-1 season than just a bag of swag and a trip to Orlando.

Plus, companies can still get their piece of the pie by sponsoring playoff games as if it were a bowl.  Who wouldn't be excited about the "Wendy's Frosty Round Two Playoff Bowl."  Sign Me UP!

The fans want it, most players seem to want it, heck, even President Obama said he wants to look into the issue.

College basketball's tournament in March is so loved because every tream truly has a chance to put on that slipper and be Cinderella for a few weeks.

It's a shame schools like TCU will continue to be step-daughter peasants.

It's time College Football start looking at it's big brother, the NFL, to get it right.

Mr. Smith Goes Downtown

Big Ten defenses are going to have to ask officials if they can play with six men when they face Purdue.  Five is already not enough to guard E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson.

Now, even more defenders are needed to handle Ryne Smith, who is becoming the tenth-ranked Boilermakers secret weapon.

“If you are going to double JaJuan Johnson or kind of shade E’Twaun Moore when he comes off of screens or gets in transition, somebody is going to be open,” said Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter.  “When you have breakdowns doing that, Ryne’s made them pay.”

Smith lit up Iowa, Sunday, for 18-points including a career-high six buckets from behind the arc to give Purdue its tenth consecutive win.

It’s the third time in the last four games that the junior guard has hit at least five-three pointers.  

“The guys have done a great job finding me and I’ve just been finding openings and getting them to fall,” said Smith.  “The team is just doing a great job of finding me when I’m open and knowing that if I get hot to find me.”

The Boilermakers have started 15-1, but the most difficult part of their schedule is still ahead.

Purdue hits the road for its next two at 21st-ranked Minnesota and then to West Virginia, before returning home to face a pesky Penn State team and 19th-ranked Michigan State.

After that four game slate, they get the pleasure of traveling to Columbus to take on second ranked Ohio State.

If Matt Painter’s team hopes to stay afloat during that gauntlet of a stretch, they are going to need Smith to continue to be a long ball assassin.

“I think we’ve done a better job as a team looking for [Smith],” said Painter.  “He’s got it going and right now he is playing with a swagger.  Just playing with a lot of confidence.”

Johnson and Moore
Not only is Smith’s shooting drawing more attention his way, but it’s leaving other players open as well.  And when you have the nation’s third highest scoring duo  - Moore and Johnson – that leaves defenses almost helpless.

“It’s not just us, it’s a team thing,” said Moore.  “That’s something that we’ve tried to work on throughout this whole year and playing well as a team and getting everyone on the same page.  We’re doing a good job of that.”

Purdue’s page was a bit wrinkled early in the season.  All-Big ten forward Robbie Hummel blew out his ACL on the second day of practice and guard John Hart, the team’s third leading scorer, is out for a few more weeks with a fractured foot.  

Smith has fully embraced his new role.  He is averaging more than 16-points per game in Big Ten play, up from his sub-one-point average in his first two years.

“It’s a team thing when Rob went down.  When you lose a guy like that, you have to have a group of guys that come in and take over what he did for us,” said Smith.  “I knew that I’d have to be aggressive and take my open shots.”

If Smith continues his recent production, fans in West Lafayette may again have a Big Three poised to make a run at the Final Four.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mike Vick, American As Apple Pie

The Green Bay Packers are one of America's teams, and rightfully so. They are publicly owned, have a tremendous tradition including arguably America's greatest coach, Vince Lombardi, and for the most part have been a controversy-free franchise.

However, when they take the field Sunday in Philadelphia, Americans outside of the state of Wisconsin should be rooting for the Eagles.

Why? Because their quarterback Mike Vick represents a little piece of each one of us.

Three years ago, Vick was the most vilified man in sports and depending on the day, maybe the country.  His dog-fighting ring was deplorable and for some, an act so egregious he will never regain their respect. (Yikes)!

But, not giving Vick a second chance is hypocritical.  Because we, as a nation, are in the process of getting a second chance of our own.

At about the same time he was getting fitted for an orange jump suit, America was on the verge of free falling into one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression.

Vick was out of work and lost more than $100-million.  Americans were soon out of work and lost hundred of BILLIONS.

Fast forward to today.  Vick is again the NFL's most exciting player, a Pro Bowl starter, and has his team in position to reach the Super Bowl.

The United States is making a recovery of its own.  Unemployment continues to drop, slowly but surely.  Retail sales are starting to rise, and Congress just capped off one of the most productive "lame-duck" sessions in history.

My point - America loves a comeback.

But its not the comeback that's the headline, it's the lessons learned along the way that will ensure long term success  for both the nation and Vick.

Michael Vick came out of prison a different man.  He was obviously humbled by the experience.  No longer was he the apple of everyone's eye, his career was up in the air, and not to mention he forfeited one of the richest contracts in league history.

Carrying that  humbleness sparked his turnaround.   Vick has admitted to being more committed in the film room and focused on team success above his personal achievements. Off the field, he's received praise from groups like the Humane Society for his anti-dog fighting efforts.

America also had to swallow a big piece of humble pie. 

Wall Street greed and people purchasing homes they had no business buying left the nation in turmoil.  Bailouts were necessary, congressional leadership changed in 2008 and in 2010, and a re-evaluation of how to create jobs became a main concern.

The United States suddenly didn't have that cocky swagger it had carried for so long.  Very Vickesque

The nation, like Vick, now seems determined on refocusing its priorities.  Neither are where they once were and both have a long way to go before truly turning the corner, but there are signs of progress.

Vick's success may be more contingent on what he does off the field and America's progress will be judged on continued growth.

It may be tough for many to see him back on top again.  But no one's perfect.  We all fall. 

Vick should at least be respected for learning from his mistakes and developing into a more mature, humble, and better athlete and more importantly, a better man.

It's the American way.

That's what the LUCK I'm Talking About

The real world is a brutal place.  I officially started my journalism career three-and-a-half years ago, and now define a good day as having no bills in my mailbox or finding a dollar worth of quarters that someone dropped in the laundry room,  that makes cleaning my clothes just a little less expensive.

It's nothing like college.

I long for the days when I could roll out of bed around noon, grab a pair of sweatpants, throw on my Tigers hat and  head to class for, at most, 90-minutes.  That was productive.  It was my "day at the office."

Weekends started Wednesday night at Ricks.  Meetings consisted of compiling strategies for beer pong and flip cup and the most heated debates were over "blonde or brunette".

I reminisce on my favorite four years to say, Andrew Luck..."well done."

The Stanford redshirt sophomore, who just lit up Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, was considered the concensus Number One pick in April's NFL draft.

However, he passed on the chance to cash in on millions in favor of enjoying another year in college.

I'll admit, when I first read Luck was going back to Palo Alto my reaction was, "this guy is a moron.  That's a lot of money!"

But, if I've learned anything since graduating from Michigan State in 2007 (besides re-racking with four cups is usually a waste), it's that no paycheck can replace your collegiate years.

I recently went home for Christmas and New Years and had the chance to meet up with some of my best friends, most of whom I met at MSU.

Pretty much every conversation started with "remember that time when...," or "I can't believe we did..."  And we tell the same stories every time we hangout as if they just happened.  And probably will for the rest of our lives.

In a time when college athletes care more about their draft stock and less about the fact that they have a chance to get a top-tier education, it's refreshing to see a decision like Luck's.

He said his primary reason for going back to Stanford was to finish his degree in architectural design.  Good for him.  Even if he has other motives like winning a Heisman, not wanting to play for the Panthers, or even just the co-eds, Luck is taking full advantage of a period in his life he can never duplicate no matter how much he has in his bank account.

College sports has been polluted by pay-to-play scandals, boosters with pockets as deep as the ocean, and conference commissioners concerned more about TV contracts than graduation rates.

I'm not condemning players who decide to leave early and make the jump to the pro's.  I would too.  Even with the NFL implementing a rookie pay scale, Luck is likely passing up on at least a five-year $20-million contract.  He's going to have to be a hell of an architect to make that kind of cash.

For Luck, this is what felt right.

He is already regarded as one of the best players in college football, but from here on out, Luck should be commended for being one of the most genuine athletes above all else.