Friday, January 30, 2009

Free Kicks

With those burdening previews and ensuing vacation out of the way, Free Kicks is back! So far I have wavered on whether to make Free Kicks all about national issues or whether to keep the focus on the Maryland area sports world, but I think I will keep it focusing on whatever strikes my interest that week, Maryland or not. I know some of you might be expecting a brief Super Bowl preview, but I couldn’t possibly put one together- for one, I am not nearly unbiased enough to write one fairly. I want Kurt Warner to win so badly, and I just hate the Steelers. Either way, let’s line up for the kick…

King of the Hill
I love the idea of the Orioles going after the Cubs’ Rich Hill, especially if they can get him for a “player to be named later”. This is a win-win. If he succeeds, the O’s may give up a mid-level prospect but they get a solid starting pitcher in return, which as we know the Orioles desperately need. If he flames out, they dish out some cash to the Cubs and say “so long” to the enigmatic right hander. This team cannot have too many potential starters- as we saw last year, the bare minimum won’t cut it. Anyone concerned about the young pitchers not getting a chance should take a look at the number of starters who went down or just plain stunk last season. I don’t want to hand the ball off to Radhames Liz unless I have to- no harm intended, but the man just isn’t ready yet. I would rather trade or waive a veteran pitcher in July or August to make room for a young starter who is burning through the minors than bring up a young guy in May because we have to. Rich Hill could be a long-term answer for this rotation. Or he could stink. Either way, it is a low-risk, high-reward move by an increasingly active front office.

Stand by Me
I am having trouble with this Gary Williams situation. For one, I simply cannot take the side of the athletic department- by nature, they are beancounters, concerned with how much it would cost to replace Williams more than whether he is a good coach. Secondly, it isn’t as though Gary is a new man than he was 20 years ago. Sure, perhaps he is a bit more grumpy than he was when he was winning titles, but he is still the same man. This conflict erupted when Kathy Worthington emailed the papers to challenge what Williams had said to the press. Yes, what Gary said was wrong- but as Head Coach, it isn’t his job to always be politically correct or watch out for his boss. Ms. Worthington was downright unprofessional when she chose to go over Coach Williams’ head to criticize him. Her statements were not made in the heat of a devastating loss; she sat down and had time to think it through. Have Williams’ teams been competitive over the last few years? Not particularly, but I have a tough time forcing him out, even after this season.

It reminds me quite a bit of Lloyd Carr, the former head football coach at Michigan. He had lost 5 straight times to Ohio State, hadn’t won a bowl game in years, and had just lost to Appalachian State (I’m sure you remember that part). The fans were tired of him, and they wanted his head. No mention of how he was a beloved coach who traced his roots to the glory days of Michigan football under Bo Schembechler, and no mention of his National Championship from 1997. When he was criticized for being “behind the times” or being “too old school for today’s recruits”, the athletic department stood by him. That way, when he did leave at the end of that season, he left with dignity and respect, honored by the fans and the school that booed him during the blowout loss to Oregon. If Gary leaves after this season, more eyes will be on Kathy Worthington and Debbie Yow than Coach Williams, and suspicion will reign. That is not the way he deserves to go.

Obligatory Super Bowl Thoughts
Okay, so I talked to Windsor and apparently I should say something about the Super Bowl beyond who I am rooting for. This looks to be a relatively high scoring game in my opinion, as the Steelers will be able to put up 24 or more against the Cardinals defense. Their defense hasn’t done a great job of pressuring the quarterback without a significant blitz, and Pittsburgh is just too creative not to have ideas of how to score on them- the Cards D has come through great in the postseason, but I still don’t buy it. The key in this game will be whether the Cardinals can keep a threat of a running game going- they had just enough against the Eagles and Panthers, but the Steelers are whole other story. I don’t think they will give James and Hightower any room to operate, and it will fall on the offensive line to protect Warner enough to let him find Steve Breaston in the slot- mark my words, Breaston is the wild card in this game. Fitzgerald will be doubled, and they will have tight coverage on Boldin as well. Breaston will be one-on-one and have to make plays against the linebackers they will foolishly line him up against. I believe this game will end with a combined score in the 50’s. Who will win? I want to say Cardinals, but this is the perfect moment for the Steelers to crush the nation’s collective Cinderella story.

The nod goes to the Steelers, 31-27

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