Friday, October 9, 2009

Free Kicks: No Particular Edition (Edition)

Ravens preview to come later today, but I wanted to get back to Free Kicks this week as well. With a new football league kicking off, basketball and hockey getting warmed up, and the MLB playoffs going, it actually looks like the NFL might get unseated from its perch atop the sports consciousness for at least a couple days. Come Sunday I make no guarantees. Did y’all see Graham Gano in the UFL last night? Good for him. Let’s line up for the kick…

United Football League Great for Fans and the NFL
Call me an idiot (go ahead, you know you want to), but I will go ahead and buy into the UFL. Not, as some have suggested, because it will necessarily compete with the NFL, but because it can complement the NFL. Arena League Football was rather successful for most of its decade of existence, and came relatively close to breaking through as a long-term sustainable sport. The AFL competed with and was absorbed into the NFL to create the modern era of professional football. The USFL tried the same tactic and failed because they pushed too hard, too fast to put teams together and expand the league that their fan base couldn’t support it. And the XFL was WWE with pads. The UFL is following closer to the tactic of the USFL in drawing in marginal NFL talents and trying for real football, not gimmicky sub-sports or raw entertainment.

Unlike the USFL, the UFL isn’t moving too fast, either. With four teams spread across the country, low salaries, and with the clear goal to move players from their league to the NFL, the UFL is following the path of least resistance. They have designed the league to work with the NFL in allocating players’ rights to the AFC and NFC North, South, East, and West, depending on what team they play for. And don’t worry about the quality of play. These players have at least been in training camp before, and many were stars in college (Las Vegas quarterback J.P. Losman is better than at least half of the backup QBs in the NFL), so the product on the field should be solid. The UFL is being cautious and trying not to anger the beast that is the NFL, and it should pay dividends for the league and for fans. If this league can develop into a minor league or a feeder system for players to go to the NFL, it will be worth embracing.

MLS Would be a Boon for Baltimore
Our fair city is one of the few in the country to embrace lacrosse and soccer so completely- not of course to a level on par with football or baseball, but they are not so far down as they are in other parts of the country. People here get excited for how their soccer and lacrosse teams are doing in high school and in college. My friends at Maryland always brag about their soccer team, and I can’t usually remember how Michigan’s team is doing (apparently the men’s & women’s teams are ranked #6 and #8 in the country right now). The point is, if DC United fails to find a stadium agreement with a location close to Washington, Baltimore would be a prime location. I am not saying that the team would draw 30,000 fans a night to the stadium, but it would beat the 15K average for MLS teams (which is also about what DC United is getting right now). If this city has been able to support the Blast for 17 years, they should be able to accommodate an outdoor team.

Could Matt Holliday Be the Next Playoff Scapegoat?
The Dodgers, to my surprise, have outplayed the Cardinals in the first two games of this series, games that I thought the Cardinals would take. However, with Matt Holliday losing the ball in the lights as the Dodgers began a furious comeback, this could be another classic moment for St. Louis fans, frozen in time should they lose this series. It was one of those moments where you pause and wonder whether you have witnessed something that that fan base will be talking about for decades. ESPN would run it alongside Jeffrey Maier and Bartman, with Buckner and Don Denkinger, and profile it every time the Cards went to the playoffs. But it wouldn’t be fair and it wouldn’t be right. After Holliday’s miscue, St. Louis still had just one more out to get with a one run lead. James Loney could have just as easily gotten a double on his own; it was only chance that sent that ball straight at Matt Holliday.

Moreover, without Matt Holliday one can wonder whether this team would even be in the playoffs. He hit .353 in protection of Albert Puhols and provided the Cards with a bar when they needed it the most- and most nights he is far from a defensive liability. St. Louis was in a fight for the division when they got Matt Holliday. Since then, they buried the NL Central. Don’t blame Holliday if St. Louis is watching the playoffs from home on Sunday without giving him credit for the team being able to play yesterday.

Weekend Prediction:
I have been going out on a limb week after week, and it hasn’t treated me well. I am 1-2 so far with my lone correct prediction being about baseball. So let me try that one again. Give me St. Louis on Saturday; they will turn things around and keep this series alive.

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