Monday, December 29, 2014

Chicago Cubs: Top 10 Moves in 2014

Just a year ago, the calendar was about to turn to 2014, and the Cubs were set to begin a season with a rookie manager in Rick Renteria. The first six weeks were brutal, but after about May 16, the Cubs actually played .500 ball the rest of the way, a fairly impressive feat. Led by great play on the field from players like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, the Cubs also had an exciting year off the field, due to the leadership of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

While Rizzo, Castro, Jake Arrieta, Luis Valbuena, and others had great seasons in Chicago, there were fun things happening at every level of the organization. Following news and notes on twitter became mandatory. Listening to Iowa, Tennessee, and Daytona games online became a daily habit, as Kris Bryant and his fellow prospects continued to prosper at each level, with a few of them making their Chicago debuts. Throughout this time, fans got to experience a dramatic shift, as the Cubs went from the worst team in the league to a likely contender in only 12 months.

Below are the Top 10 moves made by the Cubs during 2014 calendar year.

10. Cubs sign Tsuyoshi Wada (March 25)

A virtual castaway from the Orioles, Wada immediately turned heads in Iowa, where he won 10 games and maintained a 2.77 ERA. Getting his first shot at pitching in the Majors, Wada finished the year in Chicago, going 4-4 with a 3.25 ERA and earning a contract for 2015. At 33 years old, Wada's left arm could be huge for the Cubs this season.

9. Cubs promote Arismendy Alcantara (July 9)

When the 2014 season began, Alcantara was barely on the radar as a Cubs prospect and didn't project to have nearly as much potential as Bryant, Baez, and others. Still, he became a perfect example of the type of player this system can produce when allowed to progress naturally across each level. Starting as a 17-year-old playing rookie ball in 2009, Alcantara was tearing up AAA by the end of June last season, hitting .307 with 25 doubles, 11 triples, 10 home runs, and 21 stolen bases. For a team with major holes in CF and at 2B, the Cubs almost had no choice but to make Alacantara the first of the new wave of young players to come to Chicago.

8. Cubs acquire Miguel Montero (December 9), sign David Ross (December 23)

The Cubs will see a major upgrade behind the plate in 2015, as the team has clearly placed an emphasis on the art of framing pitches in an effort to keep more runners off of the bases. Montero is also better offensively than Welington Castillo, although we can expect the Cubs to still get some kind of value in return when Castillo is traded in the coming weeks. Ross's veteran leadership and rapport with Jon Lester will only help.

7. Cubs sign Jason Hammel (February 13), trade Jason Hammel (July 5), and sign Jason Hammel AGAIN (December 12)

This sequence of events couldn't have been scripted any better, as Hammel helped the team win a bunch of games, secured a huge return in prospects when combined with Samardzija and traded to Oakland, and now gets to return to hopefully help those prospects win in Chicago some day soon.

6. Cubs draft Kyle Schwarber (June 5)

Originally seen as a cost-saving selection by a team that absolutely HAD to draft pitching, Schwarber amazed everyone by hitting .344 with 18 home runs and blowing through three levels of the minors in his first 72 games. His ceiling is HIGH.

5. Cubs trade Jeff Samardzija, acquire Addison Russell (July 5)

Maximizing his value, the Cubs traded Samardzija at the best time, Adding Hammel to the deal helped the Cubs get not only Russell, probably the best prospect dealt during 2014, but also outfielder Billy McKinney, who hit over .300 at A-Daytona following the trade.

4. Cubs promote Jorge Soler (August 27)

Soler's contract made it easy to bring him to Chicago once he proved he was healthy. After hitting .340 across three levels in the minors last season, Soler got to play 24 games in Chicago, hitting .292 with five homers and 20 RBIs. He is definitely ready to contribute, and it's exciting.

3. Cubs promote Javy Baez (August 5)

Although not quite as successful as Soler while ending the year in Chicago, fans finally got to see Baez face major league pitching. While it was mostly bad (.169 through 52 games), there were some great moments, including nine impressive home runs. Baez was learning a new position at 2B and looked pretty decent in the field. Most importantly, his track record shows that he has needed a significant adjustment period at every level, so the top level should be no different. Having him play more than 50 games despite the lack of production was not an accident. The struggles were expected, and hopefully this will pay off in 2015.

2. Cubs sign Joe Maddon (November 3)

Rick Renteria seems like a great dude and all, but Maddon's acquisition changed the immediate future of the franchise. Signing Jon Lester is only the first of many dominoes to fall following the hiring of an impact manager.

1. Cubs sign Jon Lester (December 13)

The Lester signing (combined with the signings/acquisitions of Hammel, Montero, Ross, etc.) just moved the timeline up by a couple of years. Instead of expecting to compete in 2017, the Cubs should now be ready to make some kind of noise in the NL Central this year.

It's going to be an exciting season, and there are still a few months left for Epstein and Hoyer to tweak the roster. Personally, I'm hoping for an all Chicago World Series in 2015. Either way, it'll be a fun summer here at GBS!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

NFL All-Halloween Team

We're settling into Fall here. Football is on television every night, and Halloween will be here soon. Football and Halloween seem to go together well, and below are the best Halloween-related names throughout NFL (and pro football) history.

Michael Myers - Luckily this guy was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and not Haddonfield, Illinois. Still, Myers piled up 212 tackles and 15.5 career sacks over 10 seasons (1998-2007) with the Cowboys, Browns, Broncos, and Bengals. He also forced four fumbles and had an interception, which is one more NFL interception than Wedge, Speedgeek, and I have combined!

Boo Williams - Although his name is scary, Williams himself probably did not frighten opposing defenses as as much as he could have. Over four seasons with New Orleans (2001-04), Williams caught 107 passes for 1,143 yards and 12 scores. A knee injury ended his career, although he signed with the Arena League's Kansas City Brigade in 2007. After that he sort of... vanished. (Sorry, I had to.)

Candy Miller - Candy is basically the best thing about Halloween, and Miller might have celebrated with a Hershey Bar after scoring his only career touchdown in 1922. The right tackle (how did he score a touchdown?) played two seasons (1922-23) with the Racine Legion and the Canton Bulldogs.

Dick Witcher - Witcher played eight seasons (1966-73) with the 49ers, catching 172 passes for 2,359 yards and 14 touchdowns. It's just a shame he never had a chance to team up with Harvey Salem, a tackle who played with Houston, Detroit, Denver, and Green Bay from 1983-92.

Death Halladay - The man's name was Death, but he surely must have looked alive while scoring his two career touchdowns. Halladay played for the Racine Legion in 1923-24, meaning he was on the same field as Candy Miller for one season.

Dave Casper - He may share his name with a friendly ghost, but Casper was mean enough to accumulate 5,216 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns on 372 career receptions. A tight end with Oakland, Houston, Minnesota, and Los Angeles, he played from 1974-84 and was All-NFL numerous times.

Cody Grimm - Don't fear the Reaper, and you really don't need to fear Grimm too much either. In three years with Tampa Bay (2010-12), he managed just two interceptions in 12 starts. He did bring one back for a touchdown in 2010. 

The following players receive honorable mention for having Halloween-, horror-, or autumn-related names: Mike Scarry, Kordell "Slash" Stewart, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Webster Slaughter, Spider Lockhart, Dick Wolf, Jim Apple, Ryan Leaf, Michael Hay, Vlad Ducasse.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fantasy Football: What's Normal?

The Grab Bag Sports bloggers all play fantasy sports. From the racing league that Speedgeek created, to hockey and basketball, we've played together in many different types of leagues. But are we wasting our time? Or are we just like everyone else? This issue was kind of addressed in the discussion Wedge and I had concerning his "return" to watching football. But after having fun watching a dumb 49ers/Rams game last night with some friends in a fantasy league (a game none of us would've ever cared to watch without hoping for a Brian Quick explosion or something similar), I really started to wonder about the real data behind fantasy football.

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association has some impressive data and research results posted. Below I will highlight some of their numbers and statistics and do my best to gauge if each applies to me or not. According to the FSTA site, the data represents all fantasy sports (and not only football).

80% of fantasy players are male.

I am currently in four football leagues. Counting co-owners, we have 47 people (42 teams), and six of them (about 13%) are female. I have two leagues where the 20% number is right on. My other two leagues, though, have one female in 22 combined owners.

The average fantasy player has played for 9.51 years.

I've played for 17 years, and many of my friends are closer to that number. But we've definitely included new players most years, so that number could be fairly accurate.

The average fantasy player spends 8.67 hours each week on fantasy sports.

I feel like I spend quite a bit of time on fantasy sports. Maybe 30 minutes each day. That's kind of a lot, right? That's still only 3.5 hours! Are any of you spending NINE HOURS setting lineups and making trades? To get my total to the average, one of you is spending 14 hours! You're ridiculous.

The average fantasy player spends 17.89 hours each week on sports in general.

Wedge and I covered this in our discussion, and I think this number is accurate enough. I have some busier weeks where I'm closer to only 10 hours of sports, but I'm sure I go over 20 hours at times as well, especially around the holidays and bowl season. During baseball season, I'm sure I hit 18 hours each week on the Cubs alone most of the time.

46.8% of leagues have fees.

I'm way under this number. I'm probably in the minority, but I hate playing fantasy sports with money involved. It takes all of the fun out of it for me. I'd say fewer than 10% of my leagues have had fees, and I've never paid more than $20.

78% of fantasy players have at least a college degree.

Taking a quick look at my current leagues, and guessing in some cases, I'd say we're closer to 60-70%. Of course, many offices have work leagues, and some of those will be at 90-100%.

Other interesting numbers:

  • The average fantasy player spends $111 per year (league fees, transactions, web hosting, etc). 65% pay under $50 in entry fees each year, while 9% spend more than $300. (Obviously, not me.)
  • 74% of fantasy players research fantasy data from at least four different sports news websites. (I'm in the other 26% here. Maybe some years at draft time, I might have hit four different sites. But I usually stick with a couple of favorites.)
  • In the United States, 19% of all males (and 8% of all females) play fantasy sports.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Skipping Football: One Year Later

Regular readers may remember that last fall Wedge declared he was taking a year off. Like John Grisham's story that inspired "Christmas With the Kranks," Wedge was indeed Skipping Football. As a new dad with increasing home and work responsibilities, he decided it would be a great experiment that, at the very least, would free up some of his time throughout the week, which is perfectly understandable. But now the experiment is over, and he is free to watch again. Wanting to know his thoughts now that he's had time to reflect and get back into watching games, I did a quick interview with Wedge.

Mike: So first, what are your initial thoughts about "returning" to football? Was there a sense of elation? Or was it really not a huge deal mentally?

Wedge: Honestly it wasn’t a big surge of elation or celebration.  More than anything, it was relief. Because it was so hard to do. I don’t mean via my willpower. I mean it’s incredibly hard to avoid football in this country without abandoning mediums altogether. I don’t know how to explain it to anyone other than telling them to try it; you get a real sense for how much market saturation football has.

People might say there are always alternatives, and sure there are, but how many quality alternatives are there for a sports fan in the US? Especially on weekends when football takes over 90% of the primary TV, radio, and social media landscapes.

Mike: What are some things you realized that you'd missed the most? Coaches' challenges, right?!

Wedge: Certainly not coaches challenges. In fact, dedicating yourself to watching other sports makes you realize how terrible the NFL (and NCAA) are at doing play review. Its a simple concept really: have a person dedicated to reviews, when one is needed do it fast and do it accurately. In cases where it can be automated via artificial intelligence, do it now (see: tennis). If you can’t make a decision after watching two replays, then it’s too indecisive to change anything. With modern technology there’s no reason that takes more than one minute tops. I’m a fan of getting calls right, but too often the challenge function is abused to get a free timeout or out of spite and, in both cases, that’s when they should be able to decide quickly that it’s a waste of time and to move on, just like in tennis.

But back to your question, I definitely missed some things. Mostly I missed the game of football and the variety. Football is so spread and there are so many games that it lends itself to easily finding exciting competition. I’m even more convinced that the announcers and media covering football are by far the worst in football. However there’s one exception. I missed being able to wake up early on Saturday mornings with my son and being able to turn College GameDay on in the background. That show is the fandom appreciation show that every other sport tries to copy and the NFL wishes it had. Those guys do good analysis and back stories, but more importantly the stars are the fans in the back constantly getting face time, and they spread their wealth visiting all kinds of different schools. If it were MLB they’d only be at Yankee Stadium and Fenway every week.

The last thing I’d say I missed is football’s willingness to change and make adjustments. Many of the other sports I watched (rugby, soccer, baseball, hockey, motorsports etc.) have some severe issues with their rules/procedures and the only thing stopping them from being fixed are the sporting bodies' unwillingness to make changes. Football by comparison isn’t even the same sport it was 10 or 20 years ago because it makes so many changes, but no one has complained to go back on the competition changes. And even while they fall very short on some things they at least acknowledge the issues. FIFA on the other hand, I watched them completely ignore three different times this/last year when a player was knocked 100% unconscious for 10+ seconds and then the team left them in the game once they came to. Or Formula 1 and their lax safety rules that led to the Jules bianchi incident. Even the NFL doesn’t have the balls to defend that kind of stupidity.

Mike: What are your thoughts on fantasy football, concerning watching or not watching NFL games?

Wedge: It's funny because this was where most people told me this was a terrible idea, because there’s no way I’d be able to do well in Fantasy Football by not watching the games, and I just don’t get it. People forget that its purely statistics and chance.

A prime example: T.Y. Hilton just ripped off a massive game on Thursday night. No amount of watching football games would have helped you predict that was going to happen. If anything watching games can have a negative effect on fantasy because it’s like watching the memory line at a roulette table where you convince yourself you see something instead of remembering statistics and probability and trends.

All that said when I wasn’t watching football I didn’t win either league I played in, but I also didn’t come in last either. According to Yahoo, in your league I set the record for strongest strength of schedule. Again, I’m not sure how watching football would change my ability to do anything about that. This year I’m off to a good start but not because of watching anything because for the last 10 years all my picks are based on statistics and Yahoo/CBS rankings.

Mike: I watch the Saints, try to watch the Broncos, and try to watch at least some of the prime-time games if I can (Thursday, Sunday, Monday night). Throw in LSU and parts of random college games, and I'm probably at about 15 hours per week. Obviously there are some who would be closer to 20-25 hours per week or more, so at least I'm not as obsessed as some. I also get a lot of work done (or play with kids) while watching football. If it isn't the Saints or LSU, I'm never just sitting idle and watching. What about you? How much time do you think you're spending? Do you feel like it's a waste of time, or can it just be a healthy hobby comparable to something like fishing or golfing?

Wedge: Hobby is the most important word you mention there. Yes it most certainly can be a healthy hobby and something on in the background during other activities, and that’s what I’m doing most of the time. But the issue I was testing for, and one I think a majority of the country has, is that it’s not a healthy hobby for many people. I am addicted to competition/sports. Just watch me on twitter: I go all in on anything I watch. You’re talking to a guy who once watched the final table of the World Series of Poker live for three hours. But with most other sports you can do ebbs and flows and it doesn’t take over your life. With football I feel like this country has crossed over the line for “healthy.”

At the end of the day all sports are entertainment, they are an escape from normal everyday life, but when it becomes more important than that, when you neglect life for entertainment, then it’s crossing the line. I wouldn’t say I was there, but I know many people who are, and I’m sure I was at least in the area where I could have been doing more productive things with my time or expanding my horizon of what information I was taking in, listening to music, other sports, documentaries, whatever.

Before this experiment I probably dabbled with the 25+ hour mark because I will take live sports over syndicated television any day, so when I’m lying in bed, working in my garage, cutting grass or running on the treadmill, etc. I’d put whatever NFL or college football game was on. But sometimes you get sucked in and suddenly you are up at 12:30am because you need to see how the North Southern Midwest Central Florida vs. El Paso Dakota State game is going to end. And for many people it sometimes evolves into all the time. But I’d still say I’m not a typical American in that aspect.

If you ever need evidence of how unhealthy the relationship has gotten with football, watch ESPN in the football offseason. More than half the shows and SportsCenter coverage time is still dedicated to football. They don’t do it because they are that obsessed, they do it because the viewers are. That’s unhealthy, by a lot. So too is the way it takes over, not just NFL, but college, and high school, and the draft, and people just talking about it, and people talking about the people who talked. There are so many other quality sports out there people can watch, and its better than 70% of the football content that’s broadcast; the boycott was more about that large majority of football junk rather than the minority of really good games.

People leave public gatherings where they were having a good time to go home and watch a football game of non-importance. There are others who can’t fathom trying anything else. But you could easily replace the word “football” with any other activity and make many cases for other things. Football is just more common.

Like you said, it should be a hobby, and people should have many healthy hobbies. Don’t be the guy that only hunts, or only plays golf; instead, be a person who has tried out anything there is to try. Have a favorite beer, but make sure you try out some other beers to see if you like anything else.

Mike: After taking a year off, how do you feel about the current schedule, where there is basically football on TV nearly every night? Would you like to see it scaled back or expanded? For example, Thursday night football is fun and all, but it's also part of what made Thanksgiving football so special. 

Wedge: As you can tell from the last question, this is one of my biggest pain points about football is over-saturation. It doesn’t know when to stop itself. I attended the University of Southern Mississippi when the concept of playing college games on a Thursday night was invented. It seemed crazy. USM announced we were going to play on a Thursday, we stopped classes at lunch time so people could tailgate, and the university had to rent extra lights to make sure the field was bright enough for TV. But they did it because it meant they finally would get some primetime air because the big conferences dominated TV on Saturday. It was new territory for colleges and ESPN.

Only “problem” was it worked so well that the big conferences stole it from the small ones. And now the Boise States of the world have had to move to playing their games on Wednesday and Friday nights, screwing over high schools that traditionally played on Friday. And the NFL is now taking the Thursday slice from the big college conferences and playing games on Saturdays by the end of the year. To my knowledge, Tuesday night is the only night of a week that does not regularly have a football game on TV during the regular season.

No longer are any of these night games special because everyone plays them every night. There’s 2-3 games every night of the week instead of one matchup getting accolades for a night after a few days off allowing you to build up to it. Same thing for Thanksgiving, I’m totally with you there; tradition stampeded on.

Forget the fans though, lost in all of this is the HUGE negative physical effects weekday football has on players with much less time to recover and rest; or in college, less time to attend classes and study, which is supposed to be their primary purpose of being in college (or at least that’s what the NCAA still claims). The NFL keeps pretending like they care about the player safety so much, yet they added Thursday night games full season, play London games every year, and proposed adding two more weeks to the schedule, all to the detriment of players' bodies.

Mike: I gave up soda this year, and honestly it wasn't that hard. (Shout out to seltzer for making it possible!) You know how much I loved Coke, but it really didn't phase me after a couple of weeks. I just don't know if I could completely give up football though. I'd say, aside from necessities and things like spending time with family,  my top five most difficult things to give up would be (in order): music, horror movies, baseball, football, pizza. What is your top five?

Wedge: Man, just like you mention seltzer making it possible for you, frankly sports made it possible for me. Giving up football was only possible when I could still get sports fixes with baseball, hockey, tennis, rugby, soccer, IndyCar, Sports Car racing, Formula 1, UFC, Olympics etc.

Excluding family and necessities, the five most difficult things for me to give up now I think would be: Music, the internet, going out to eat, travel for leisure, and streaming documentaries/movies.

Mike: Any final thoughts?

I said a lot already, but I think the biggest sports related epiphanies I had during this football layoff were watching other sports and seeing things I wish football would adopt. For example:

#1 – From rugby, the best thing football could adopt is the extra point procedure. Only one of the players on the field during the touchdown would be allowed to attempt the extra point. Instant revolution in the NFL. Fantasy gets a whole lot more interesting, and we stop wasting a roster spot on kickers.

#2 The America’s Cup. I already wrote about it on GBS, but I’m still amazed and love that the champion gets to choose the rules by which they defend their crown. I really wish they could do this in other modern sports to some effect and let the games evolve each year. That’s what modern day sports are missing. That was the biggest thing people kept telling me throughout this whole thing. They kept trying to tell me how I was missing all these games, but at the end of the day I was missing the same old thing, a footnote in the history books in a way.

Imagine if this was the year the champion said all teams can only field 7 players and that no punts were allowed… and I missed that!? Then yeah, then I’m missing out. The best players would be the ones who excelled no matter the rule sets. You could tell stories about the different years and the different rule sets that had to be followed. It would add so much more significance to everything.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tecmo Super Bowl Fun

If you've been reading our blog for any amount of time, you're likely aware of my feelings about Tecmo Super Bowl and wouldn't be surprised to know that I probably play it more now than most of us did back when it was the raddest game available. In fact, there are so many fun quirks to this game that I am either remembering after all these years or realizing for the first time.

We all remember Bo Jackson and Christian Okoye completely annihilating our players and running with super turbo speed, particularly late in season mode. But there is so much more. Below are just a few of the ways that Tecmo keeps us on our toes, even in 2014.

  • Quarterback season stats have a cap of 63 passing touchdowns. I didn't remember this one and was pretty upset when I had to go count all of my players' receiving touchdowns the other day during my late-season surge toward 100 passing scores. Why was there a cap? Did they assume we must've been cheating if we got that high? Why 63? Not 60 or 65?
  • The same guy coaches every team. Seriously. Whenever they announce a division winner during season mode, the players are all celebrating with the same exact coach. Laughing white guy with a hat. Every time.

  • When you tackle the computer's player in the endzone for a safety, he gets up and keeps running. It's like he's completely ignoring reality while acting like an All-Pro player who is eluding all tacklers. Sorry, Johnny Hector. We're on the bench celebrating our two points already. Can you please bring that ball back so your team can kick it to us now?
  • The computer does not care how many of your players are injured. I recently had three of my four running backs out, forcing me to play a receiver in the backfield for two games. No free agent signings.

  • Fumbles void all stats. If you complete a 90-yard pass and then fumble, you will not get the stats for that play. This even counts if you make the computer fumble following a touchdown.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Thoughts of a (Crazy) Person in Four Fantasy Football Leagues

I've played in four fantasy leagues in one season before. But in those other years, at least one of the leagues was a joke. For a while we had a stupid league with hilarious scoring settings, like negative bonuses and 100-point field goals. Obviously, I wasn't stressing much about that league.

But this year I'm in four leagues, and I'd like to win all four of them. And it kind of sucks. The four leagues cover different facets of my life: family, friends, podcasters, and work. Who wouldn't want to win all of those leagues?

After a weekend where I went 4-0, bringing my overall record to 16-4 across all leagues through five weeks, here are some thoughts, both for anyone considering doing this in the future and to remind myself of this insanity for next year.

  • I own or play against every important player every week. Often both at the same time. "Go, Demaryius, go! No wait! Don't go THAT much! Wait, yes. Go! Score on this defense!" This is not uncommon in my house this year. My kids think I'm nuts. And I am.
  • I've never had so much riding on a Redskins/Seahawks game. Yet last night, there I was with three leagues depending on different outcomes in the Monday night contest. I basically needed Niles Paul to be terrible (he was), Seattle's defense to be unimpressive (they were), and Marshawn Lynch to score a touchdown (he did, at the very end). In a way, yes, this makes it fun to watch football. But on the other hand, I miss just watching the Redskins and the Seahawks (or other random teams) without caring much about what happens.
  • The work league is the worst one. Playing friends and family members is fun. You'll win and you'll lose, and everyone will have fun talking trash via the league site, social media, etc. It makes the holidays fun, but you don't interact in person with most friends or relatives on a daily basis. The work league is the opposite. Everyone sees each other every day throughout the entire day. I'm currently 4-1 and in third place (12 team league), but I'm definitely worried about slipping up here. It's pretty brutal. (Of course, in the meantime, I'm letting the nine losers below me in the standings know I'm awesome.)
  • It's best to own good players across all leagues. I was worried about this at first because of injury concerns and the possibility of hitting four different waiver wires when a star goes down. But I secured Reggie Wayne in all leagues at great draft value, and it's good to know he'll never beat me. Unless I'm playing against Andrew Luck, of course. Other players I own in multiple leagues include: Peyton Manning, Jimmy Graham, Desean Jackson, and the New England defense. If I'm dumb enough to play in this many leagues again, I'll try to make this happen more often.

Upcoming football content: I'll be interviewing Wedge about his return to watching football this season and will be live-blogging while watching the 1988 football flick Johnny Be Good for another edition of GBS at the Movies.

Monday, September 8, 2014

I Sing the Formula Electric (Mostly)

It's occurred to me just today that after months and months of hearing about Formula E, the FIA's new electric formula car racing series, we are now just mere days away from the first event. Testing has taken place, the teams have (mostly) named their drivers, and as far as all the pre-event publicity goes, it sounds like things are actually going to go down in Beijing this weekend. As I tend to do with most new things, I haven't jumped onto the bandwagon with both feet (I hardly think this is going to replace F1, as I've seen in some suggest, though I could see the September through June calendar making it a de-facto latter day A1GP during the normal racing offseason months), but I am very, very curious to see how things go.

I've been spurred into writing a little something before the Beijing debut by a columnist that I usually enjoy, Peter M. De Lorenzo, who seems to have eaten a giant bowl of grumpy flakes over the weekend, or possibly a mostly silent electric car ran over his foot recently. Whatever the case, PMD not only isn't bullish about Formula E, he basically seems to be rooting for it to fail all together, which seems awfully mean spirited and unnecessary, if you ask me.

(A word of full disclosure right here: one of the major backers of the Formula E series is Renault, who is providing the powertrain for the Formula E cars, along with most of the technical support for the cars. I work for Nissan, who is a corporate allied partner with Renault. So, yes, while I suppose I probably hope that Formula E succeeding means that Nissan might sell an extra Leaf electric vehicle or two, I've yet to have a single conversation with anybody at my workplace about Formula E. I sort of suspect that 99.9% of the people at my office don't even know that it exists, and don't care about it one way or the other. Believe you me, this is coming from a standpoint of "I like racing" much, much more than a standpoint of "I hope somebody makes money". I'm certain that there are far more effective ways for a company to make money than by supporting/advertising in a burgeoning, mostly unknown racing series. I just like racing.)

A criticism that I've heard, and that PMD somewhat addresses by pointing out the billed "sustainability" of Formula E, is that this is some sort of future "replacement" for Formula 1. Oh, my. Um, no way. First of all, Formula 1 has worked on its own "sustainability" this year by introducing the hybrid-turbocharged-V6 formula for this year (which has been pretty darned effective, in my opinion, producing similar lap times to last year, at about 30-35% less fuel use...this is a whole other topic, though). If F1 is positioning itself for the future, then why would the FIA feel the need to position Formula E to "take over" at some point in the distant future? Secondly, motor/battery technology in this type of application (high power/low weight/semi-reasonable endurance) is basically in its infancy. The cars are going to be a fraction as quick as Formula 1, though to my eyeball, they don't look all THAT slow to me.

No, Formula E is going to be its own thing, not replacing any other existing thing. Really, the argument here is: "something new" or "no new thing"? I'll take the "something new", personally. It gives me something to watch in the off-season. So, what we're getting is a slew of recognizable name drivers (Bruno Senna, Nicolas Prost, Sebastien Buemi, Jarno Trulli, Nick Heidfeld, Stephane Sarrazin, Jaime Alguersuari, Sam Bird, Karun Chandhok, Oriol Servia, Nelson Piquet Jr., Lucas di Grassi, Katherine Legge, Franck Montagny, and others) for teams that many of us have already seen elsewhere (Andretti Autosport and Dragon/Virgin Racing, to name a couple), using cars of a sort that we've never really seen before, using what's more or less new technology. And they're going to be run in the middle of large cities, many of which have never had racing on their streets or even anywhere nearby (Beijing, Buenos Aires, Berlin and London, to name a few, though I suppose F1 did run near Buenos Aires years and years ago). Putting racing in these locales near large concentrations of people who have never had first-person contact with racing has the potential to not just attract new fans to Formula E, but new fans to all of motorsport. Can somebody outline for me how exactly THAT is a bad thing?

Are there downsides here? Of course. The battery capacities are not to the point where they can run a full race distance, so each driver will have to hop out of their car and hop into a totally different car around halfway. That's admittedly pretty dorky, and I do hope that the technology improves over the course of the coming seasons in order to eliminate this. And for reasons I can't quite make out, the FIA has decided to introduce the ludicrous "Fan Boost", where people can log into the Formula E website and vote for their favorite driver, who will then get a Mario Kart-esque five second boost of roughly 40 HP. That is ridiculously gimmicky, but at least a five second boost is probably only good for one pass, so the effect should be fairly small.

In the end, what we're getting here is this: a different kind of racing with some very capable drivers, in some different areas where we've never seen racing, using some technology that we've never really seen in race cars before. It's not going to replace F1 or NASCAR or anything else. It's something extra to follow, and maybe even attend, should you feel the urge (though unless you live in or near one of the site cities, I can't really imagine justifying a special trip for a one-day event). If you're half the racing junkie that I am, it's probably worth a look. It's going to be on Fox Sports 1, starting early this Saturday morning (with color commentary from retired IndyCar legend, Dario Franchitti!) at 3:30 AM Eastern, so you may want set your DVR. Will it be a great show or a fiascotastrophe? It's anybody's guess, at this point, but I'll be watching to find out.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Brewers and Matt Garza Get an Early Look at the Cubs' Future

A few months ago I posted about Matt Garza's dumb comments to Jeff Samardzija, who he essentially told to "pitch his way out of Chicago." For a minute let's put these two things aside: I hate the Brewers, and I believe pitchers will wish they were pitching in the Chicago Cubs lineup in the very near future. Instead, let's focus on the facts.

Last night, Matt Garza took the ball for the Milwaukee Brewers with a chance to get his team back into the top of the division. The Cubs, yes the very team Garza suggested Samardzija should abandon, had knocked the Brewers out of first place the night before; however, Garza sees himself as an ace and was set to face a 2014 Cubs lineup without Anthony Rizzo or Starlin Castro. This should've been an easy win over a team Garza openly disrespected despite being treated like nothing less than a star pitcher during his time there.

Of course, the Cubs prevailed and did so easily. Garza was severely outpitched by rookie Kyle Hendricks, the NL's Rookie of the Month in August. The victory completed a sweep for the Cubs, who are looking more and more like the team fans have been waiting to see, even with their two current best players out with injury. While Garza fell to 7-8 in another injury-plagued season, Hendricks moved to 6-1 and now owns an ERA (2.02) that is about half of Garza's (3.87).

Hendricks is just one of a few options the Cubs seem to have ready to replace recent higher priced pitchers like Garza, Samardzija, and others. Perhaps most importantly, he's healthy, something Garza could rarely claim during his Chicago stint.

The point here is that I believe the change is finally in sight. For now, it's fun enough to watch my Cubs sweep the Brewers right out of a September division lead. But starting in 2015, players like Garza should finally be trying to pitch their way IN to Chicago. Milwaukee can keep Garza. I'll take the kids who beat him.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Is Jeff Samardzija pitching his way out of Chicago?

Earlier this season, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Matt Garza told Chicago Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija to pitch his way out of Chicago. Garza, who played for the Cubs the last three seasons, has also trashed the organization in a few different interviews. As a Cubs fan, I do believe Garza has a point. Looking back, I certainly wish that we had used Edwin Jackson's money to sign Garza instead (assuming that money was going to be spent, as opposed to saving it or investing further in development). His Brewers are in first place, 11.5 games ahead of the Cubs. And, yes, I also love watching Samardzija pitch and all that he brings to the team.

That being said, I would still like to see Samardzija "pitch his way out" of Chicago at some point over the next five or six weeks, because it will undoubtedly mean another great return for Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and the Cubs organization.

The haul that the Cubs got in return for trading Garza last season is rapidly making the deal work out in Chicago's favor, even with C.J. Edwards, potentially the trade's best player, sitting on the injured list for AA Tennessee. Consider the following:

  • Third baseman Mike Olt is struggling to keep his average above .150, but he does continue to lead all National League rookies in home runs and RBI, showing the potential to be a middle-of-the-order contributor. (He could be used to bolster another trade this year or in the offseason, as the Cubs have Kris Bryant completely dominating AA and seemingly nowhere to send him without hindering Christian Villanueva's progress at AAA Iowa. Having "too many third basemen" could be a great "problem" and may leave Olt as the odd man out while further adding to the return for Garza.)
  • Reliever Justin Grimm has posted a 2.77 ERA in 42 appearances for the Cubs, helping to make the club's bullpen a strength this year.
  • Neil Ramirez looks even better as he has managed to temporarily slide into the closer's role with a 1.06 ERA in 19 outings. Also, the team could decide to insert Ramirez into the rotation after dealing Jason Hammel and possibly Samardzija. (Of course, Ramirez's immediate fate may be directly tied to Hector Rondon's current injury/soreness.)
  • Finally, Edwards is likely at least a year away from reaching Chicago, but he has star potential. His minor league stats (1.81 ERA, .737 winning percentage, and 260 Ks with only 74 walks in 204 innings) are certainly impressive. He should return from injury soon and can hopefully progress to Iowa later this summer.

Seriously. This is what the Cubs managed to get for giving up two months of Matt Garza, who made just 60 starts during his time in Chicago, compared to 94 in the previous three seasons for Tampa Bay. (Adding the 13 starts with Texas at the end of last season still puts him more than 20 below what he was able to do with the Rays over the same amount of time.) Yes, when Garza was healthy enough to pitch for the Cubs, he was pretty good. But we fans do not miss his horrid fielding abilities, his terrible attitude, or his trips to the DL. (As for being just generally weird, I was totally OK with that. I liked Garza a lot when he was healthy and keeping his mouth closed.)

Honestly, right now Samardzija is better than Garza. And with an extra year of team control on his contract, Cubs fans remember the Garza deal and are hoping for a similar (if not better) return when Samardzija is traded.

Samardzija is not interested in any kind of extension, and he really wants to hit the free agent market. So why waste a great trade chip on this Cubs roster? And even if he would consider an extension right now to avoid a trade, think about the money it would take. At least, what, $18-20 million per season? So with a four- or five-year extension, how many seasons will be wasted waiting for the prospects to reach the majors and help the team compete? Even if the answer is only two (which I doubt), that's $40 million that could be saved and spent later on top talent anyway. If the team is ready to compete in 2016, spend the money then.

The current front office has been solid in almost all of its moves. The Edwin Jackson contract kills me, but that's really the only thing I can question. No one could've predicted the Kyuji Fujikawa injury, while many other free agent deals have worked out tremendously. Paul Maholm brought back prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who is now healthy and rising through the minors. Scott Feldman was flipped for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. And now Hammel is sure to demand at least a prospect or two.

Still, a Samardzija deal could be the biggest one yet. And since this team is not ready to compete yet, as a Cubs fan, I'm hoping he does "pitch his way out."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Beers and Baseball Cards

Both were available at today's Porter Flea in Nashville. The card was courtesy of Mitchell Bat Company. The beer is from our local Jackalope Brewery. Both are awesome.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Beers and Baseball Cards 03

Mike and Brett play a game of baseball card battle with a couple of packs of 1991 Score. It was a close game, decided on the last battle. Highlights include top prospect Tom Nevers and his tiny bat in addition to a heated standoff between John Olerud and Rondell White. You'll also get a math lesson as we calculate the WHIP of two pitchers to decide on a winner.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Why the New Orleans Grand Prix is a great idea

A lot of people are questioning this decision by IndyCar thinking maybe N.O. isn't ready for this, the infrastructure
isn't there, or parking is missing etc. But this is THE one place that Mike and I can serve as experts as we are both from New Orleans and visit often, we're experts here.

So what can we tell you?

- The track is literally next door to the TPC of N.O. golf course that holds a PGA event every year; If needed I could see them sharing parking with shuttles to transport people back and forth if needed (likely won't be needed, but its an easy plan b).

- The track is also 100% flat, as is all of N.O. but it is a very nice track, all it needs is grandstands... the flatness however may actually be the reason they are asking for June. March tendas to be quite rainy/cold (don't think temperature, think 40mph winds) but if they got a week of rain the track could get completely flooded.

That being said I wish they'd get March/April race and just try that date out, I don't think conflicting with Mardi Gras seaosn is really an issue so long as they stay off the big weekend preceeding Mardi Gras.

- They definitely don't want to do anything July-October, #1 July-Aug insane heat, Aug-October is tempting the hurricane gods.

- For folks not from N.O. the city is a half century long veteran of temporary grandstands, concession stands and porta potties for Mardi Gras, thats no issue

many think Mardi Gras = Bourbon street, but actually parades take place over the course of a month almost every night in about 20 different parts of the metro area.

- The Kart track next to North course is awesome; imagine what they could do for kids using that during race weekend, its what many tarcks are missing, let the kids try their hands at racing and get them hooke

- Honestly more than anything, the #1 reason you'll want to go to this race is for the tailgating; I trust in Louisianaians to show off why they are easily the best in the world at this

- As far as people saying there's no market/they can't support it... between N.O. and Baton Rouge there are multiple drag strips that hold regular events, 2 club race tracks (plenty race culture), one of the biggest car shows in the country held at SuperDome, multiple kart tracks: the city supports many large events (Mardi Gras, month long party with 50+ parades/bals), NFL team, NBA team, Triple A baseball team, power boat racing, PGA tour event, Final Fours, Super Bowls, sugar Bowl, the city is essentially built to hold annual big events.

- Speaking to that point again, N.O. is a lot like Baltimore/Barber in terms of how this race will be received. N.O. has a "we want nice things" attitude; they will embrace the event because they want to be seen on TV, they want to be a destination, the city is known for thowing big events, some of the biggest conferences ever, there won't be issues getting it embraced as an event. Especially one they can tailgate at.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Beers and Baseball Cards 02

Mike and Brett sort through packs of 1990 Upper Deck Collector's Choice and 1992 Fleer. Bonus packs include Desert Storm and Sports Stackers. Thanks for listening!

Accompanying visuals:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why I Am OK With Darren Sproles Leaving the New Orleans Saints

I was recently accused of "hating" Darren Sproles in the aftermath of the news that he would be released by the New Orleans Saints. Because I, a Saints fan, defended the move on social media, it somehow was translated into a situation where I did not like Sproles and did not appreciate his contributions.

Now, before I explain myself, I think it's important to note that none of this has anything to do with whether or not I "like" Sproles. In fact, I like him a lot! Am I going to miss him? Of course. Do I wish salaries were not a concern and that he could stay with the Saints in some capacity? Absolutely. Look, Sproles is a great player and he will contribute to the next team that is fortunate to have him, which I am hoping is far, far away in the AFC. (Denver Broncos… give this man a call!) So, guys, I love Darren Sproles, and I would marry him if I could. OK?

So why am I fine with his departure? Well, there are few reasons.

1. Trust

I trust this front office and all they have done. It's a hard thing to earn, but they've done it. Even in the rare 7-9 or 8-8 seasons (which are still light years better than the 3-13 teams I grew up suffering through), we can see a clear focus on the immediate future and a plan to stockpile affordable weapons around Drew Brees.

Reggie Bush was a great player. I've posted on this site in the past about how ridiculous it is to call him a "draft bust" when he contributed to a Super Bowl victory for our city. I wasn't thrilled to see him leave, but his immediate replacement, Sproles, was a great move by the execs.

Sproles replaced Bush, and someone else will replace Sproles. Maybe it's Khiry Robinson, a rookie (drafted or undrafted), or a free agent. Anything is possible, and you can't really doubt a front office that has hit home runs over and over again.

There are salary implications here, and that's what this really comes down to. No one is saying that Sproles is terrible and he needs to go. That's absurd. But with millions of dollars committed to him, we need to decide if there is a wiser way to spend.

2. Production

Now this is where I have my critics. "Sproles is amazing!" "Sproles turns one-yard catches into long touchdowns!" "Sproles is the best pass-catching running back in the league!" This is all true to some extent and at certain times, I agree.

But now, try to forget all the highlights you've seen. Those memories we have of Sproles are outstanding, obviously. We've all seen it. And you haven't seen Sproles do something in a Saints uniform that I haven't seen.

But look at last year. First of all, his rushing and receiving numbers were all down. After scoring 17 offensive touchdowns in his first two seasons (nine in 2011 and eight in 2012), he managed just four scores last season. As a running back who turned 30 years old in 2013, that isn't very surprising.

Furthermore, Sproles had been a key factor on our special teams during his first two seasons, but he struggled there as well in 2013. His 21.3 yards per kick return was the lowest of his career, and more than five yards lower than his previous average in New Orleans. Similarly, his punt return average of 6.7 yards was the lowest since his rookie season. Not helping matters is the fact that he became the fair catch master at some point along the way.

So maybe season totals don't tell the whole story. But individual games surely do, and Sproles didn't have many impressive performances last year. Playing on a playoff team that won 10 games, I count three times that Sproles matched his expectations. In game one he totaled 110 yards to help the Saints get a big win over Atlanta. His best game of the year came in game four against the Miami Dolphins, when he had 114 receiving yards and two touchdowns and the team moved to 4-0. Five games later he scored twice again on seven catches for 76 yards, this time against the Dallas Cowboys. All four touchdowns came in two games, and did not score again after November 10th, including the postseason.

And how about the postseason? Sproles totaled 60 yards in a win over Philadelphia and gained only 34 in a loss against Seattle. He ended the season failing to reach 70 total yards in eight consecutive games.

3. Replacement Possibilities

As production declined for Darren Sproles, the team started to utilize other players. Defenses began to key on tight end Jimmy Graham and also managed to mostly take away the short passing game. Consequently, running backs Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson stepped up to produce.

Robinson gained 152 yards on 33 carries in the last three games. Ingram was even more impressive, rushing for 146 yards in the two playoff games alone. The Saints were a different team down the stretch, playing Seattle much better than when Sproles caught seven passes in a 34-7 blowout a month earlier. Outlet passes to a running back obviously were not the answer to winning the NFC.

So running back production could be replaced by players currently on the roster, only running the ball instead of using screen passes. Add in a (hopefully healthy) Pierre Thomas who pulled in 77 receptions last year, and the team will still have the option to throw to a back when needed. Meanwhile, Travaris Cadet, who had only one fewer receiving score than Sproles last year, could be a huge surprise in 2014.

Those are four names currently on the roster and do not even take into account the draft, free agency, or trades.

As for his return production, I assume the team will look for a receiver to step in and fill that void, ideally replacing Lance Moore at receiver and Sproles on special teams. Again, this could come in the draft, free agency, or elsewhere.

Darren Sproles is a great player, and he will be missed. It has nothing to do with how much he will produce next year. But in the end, I am OK with this move, and I trust that the front office will replace him adequately and have this team ready to compete again.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Beers and Baseball Cards 01

In our debut episode of Beers and Baseball Cards, Mike and Brett open packs of 1988 Fleer and 1991 Score, discovering Hall of Famers and controversial home run hitters. Also discussed: error cards and Baseball's Greatest Grossouts. Feedback and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for listening!

Some visuals to accompany this episode:

Ray Searage... OR... Ron Swanson??

Why is he holding a surfboard??

Thursday, February 27, 2014

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics: Recap Podcast

Three episodes in one year! Like a real podcast! It's February Madness, guys...

Share it and hit up Wedge on Twitter @AllenWedge.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Americans love the Olympic medal counts

So things got busy for me over the last week of the Olympics, and even though I watched many hours of coverage, I still was pretty lost. But that's not surprising. It's a lot to keep up with. Tonight we are recording a podcast episode to discuss some of our thoughts, and we'll have that posted ASAP.

But one thing I thought was funny was the constant medal count. I know this is nothing new, for Americans to keep a running tally of the medals our athletes have won and to compare ourselves to the other countries. Of course we want to "win" the medal count and the mythological Olympic title that comes with it.

But do you think other countries do this? Like, do you think the media in Kazakhstan or Croatia were constantly reminding citizens of their medal totals compared to USA and Russia? (Each of those countries won one medal, by the way.) I seriously doubt it! That has to be an American thing. It's not enough for us to win a bunch of medals. We want to win the MOST medals! If we had our way, we'd actually like to win ALL of the medals, I suppose.

I was talking to a friend last week, and she is from Poland. I was joking around and trying to talk a little trash about the Olympics, honestly not knowing how many medals Poland had claimed. Well, she immediately started telling me about a couple of golds they had won already and was very proud to be discussing it. It wasn't about the total (I think it was two or three at the time, and Poland ended with six). But she was very happy that some of her country's athletes performed well enough to medal in the games, and she was ready to discuss each individual performance.

The idea of winning the medal count is clearly a matter of cultural perspective, much like the Dutch speedskating coach who called Americans "foolish" for playing football, a subject we'll definitely be discussing in tonight's podcast. But I feel like, if we're going to make up some contest, we should at least do it correctly. Shouldn't we be rewarding gold medals over silvers and bronzes?

The final total kind of came down to the wire, with Russia eventually edging us out at 33-28 in total medals. But what if we used a point system, where golds got three points, silvers got two, and bronzes only one? Using that system, which seems like a more accurate scoring method to me, Russia would've blown us away with a score of 70-53. Furthermore, Canada would've outscored us with 55 points, while Norway would've matched our 53. It's hard for us to accept, I know, but I think if I were really trying to win a medal total, I'd be happier with the double-digit golds captured by Canada and Norway.

Either way, it was definitely a fun two weeks, and we have a lot to discuss tonight. But I'd love to see more Americans get to a point where they can just appreciate all of the athletes and focus on the individual medal winners instead of the total medals won by each country.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nashville's Adventure Science Center: Science of the Winter Olympic Games

Nashville's Adventure Science Center is a great place for kids to learn about the science behind every day activities. My kids love this place, and our family membership allows us to stop in and check out all of the special programs they host. Every month or so, there is something new. In October, for example, they sometimes showcase the science of Halloween, where you can hold creepy insects or attend a special effects workshop. The recent Maker Fair was fun as well, with all kinds of makers and builders displaying their inventions and products.

Well, yesterday's event focused on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. This time the Science Center simply set up various stations, allowing the kids to play and experience fun versions of Olympic sports. There was also a celebration of Russia itself, with local native Russians teaching us about their culture. It was a great experience, with some of the highlights illustrated below.

The temperature outside was in the low-20s and was perfect for curling! There was an actual curling stone to hold, and then blocks of ice to slide toward the targets. Unfortunately, we had left our coats in the car and didn't complete even the first end.

Inside, we were met by the sound of Russian music. Tables displayed information about Russia, with everything from children's toys and games to clothing and even Russian food.

The kids then tried some hockey and downhill skiing (in the form of a large, inflatable slide). Or maybe that was the luge?

But the highlight for my kids was the ski jumping. Here they were allowed to use the Science Center's new Tinker Garage, which is filled with a wide array of donated tools and supplies. They had to build a "skier" out of any parts and pieces they could find. There were balloons and sand available, as well as cutout ski figures to attach.

After a good 90 minutes of cutting, gluing, taping, filling, and measuring, the skiers were ready for their big jumps. The creations were dropped down a slope of approximately 20 feet, ultimately crashing to the floor (and often shattering to pieces). Thanks to the sand balloons, though, most landed on their skis.

Overall, it was a great day, and my kids had a lot of fun celebrating the Olympics outside of our house.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Quick Olympic Thoughts

As we wrap up the first week, here are a few things I've noticed.

1. Bob Costas is rapidly fading from medal contention and, at this rate, may not even finish in the Top Three at his position.

2. The Gold Zone option on the NBC Olympics site is great. However, sometimes when they switch sports, they say, "Riveting stuff..." If that stuff was so riveting, then why are we switching to something else?

3. Who knew there was so much drama in women's skeleton?! I don't know if they know this or not, but essentially you lie on your stomach and hope you win. To paraphrase Seinfeld, you could probably win a medal against your will in this sport.

Another week to go! Our post-Olympic podcast will truly be riveting stuff.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Maybe curling just isn't for us?

Every morning I wake up to watch curling. Or, I should say… Every morning I wake up to watch Team USA lose a curling match! It's getting old quickly. These games come on pretty early, and by the time I take a shower and start getting ready for work, the game is half way over and Team USA is trying to find some way to keep the opponent from stretching an established lead. Watching curling when one team is simply attempting to limit the other side to a lesser victory is not very exciting!

The men seem to be 1-3 with a handful of matches remaining. The women, who dropped their first four, just pulled out a victory in a match that I somehow got to watch at a more reasonable hour of, like, noon. But it looks like they'd need to win their final four to have a chance of advancing.

Curling looks fun, with all the sliding and the yelling and the shaking hands. Like a game that would be played in a bar. But more polite. So like a game you'd play at church. If the church were frozen.

Either way, I'm starting to think Team USA just might not be cut out for this sport. I'm hoping somewhere there are small American children who are living, eating, and breathing curling right now. Then maybe in 2026, when the GBS writers' kids are blogging about sports and covering the Winter Games, they will not have to suffer through all of these terrible defeats that are basically decided by the fifth end.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An Olympic medal decided by something called a 'YOLO Flip'?

I'm sure the Ancient Greeks would be so proud to learn that the "YOLO Flip" helped Iouri Podladtchikov win a gold medal in snowboarding yesterday. It's like that old story about Hercules doing the YOLO Flip, a feat that will be forever portrayed by the famous "Hercules Says YOLO!" constellation.

But just like the headline of this article/video suggests (in addition to links from Yahoo and other places), many are failing to recognize the fact that Shaun White was not defeated by this one trick. I know it sounds cooler to say this one move did him in, but you don't fail to medal because one guy did one flip.

Believe it or not, there were also silver and bronze medals awarded in this sport! Fifteen-year-old Ayumu Hirano (Japan) took second, while Taku Hiraoka (also from Japan) finished third. Unfortunately, you'd never know it based on many of the reports coming out of Sochi yesterday.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Olympic Anagrams!

Looking for a quick way to kill time between Olympic events? Here are a few anagrams based on the names of some Team USA athletes. The first one to tweet @AllenWedge with the answers (or about how stupid this is) will get a shout out on the next podcast!

1. Red Cola Gig

2. Seen In Major Ad

3. Devils Army

4. Dumpy Ray

5. Gun Gear Baskets

6. Elm Hair Inn

7. Chili Weather

8. He Saw I Hunt

9. Sea Hen Tank

10. Ransacked His Horn

11. We Lay Hangers

12. Usual Jam Icon

Olympic Dinner Part Two

Baked sole with a radish salad. While the sour cream sauce doesn't look perfect, it tasted great!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Top New Orleans NBA All-Stars Through History: Pelicans, Hornets, Jazz

With Anthony Davis receiving his first NBA All-Star bid, it'll feel great to have a New Orleans player back at the game in 2014. New Orleans NBA teams have not really offered tons of All-Stars in the past, but perhaps Davis can change this trend and get the Pelicans back on the right track. Davis, who is averaging around 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, becomes the 8th All-Star to represent a New Orleans team.

Below are the past New Orleans All-Stars, ranked by their performances in the big games.

7. Baron Davis

Davis's one All-Star appearance in a New Orleans Hornets uniform was fairly representative of the overall disappointment of his New Orleans tenure. In the 2004 game, he came off of the bench to score seven points, making only one of his six three-point attempts.

6. Truck Robinson

Robinson represented the New Orleans Jazz in the 1978 game, coming off of the bench to help the East win by scoring seven points and adding six rebounds.

5. Jamal Mashburn

Unfortunately, Mashburn was never fully healthy when playing for New Orleans. But he was a great player and scored 10 points in the 2003 All-Star game, marking the first player to represent the city in the game since 1979.

4. Jamaal Migloire

Migloire did not start the 2004 All-Star game, but he led the East in scoring with 19 points and added eight rebounds.

3. David West

West was a fan favorite in New Orleans and represented the team twice in All-Star competition. In back-to-back years (2008-09), West totaled 12 points and seven rebounds as his West squad split the decisions.

2. Pete Maravich

My favorite basketball player of all time hobbled up and down the court in a New Orleans Jazz uniform for six seasons. During this time, he was named an All-Star three times, although he missed the 1978 game with an injury. He became the first New Orleans All-Star when he started the 1977 contest, scoring 10 points and adding four assists and four steals. Two years later he scored 10 points as an East starter again.

1. Chris Paul

Paul was a great player to have around during the city's rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. In 2008, during his first All-Star appearance, he came off of the bench to lead all players with 14 assists. He also had 16 points, four steals, and three rebounds in his All-Star debut. In 2009 he was named a starter, the first for New Orleans in 30 years; amazingly, he repeated his 14 assists and contributed 14 points, seven rebounds, and three steals in the West's win. After sitting out the 2010 game with an injury, he made one last All-Star start in a Hornets uniform, grabbing 10 points, seven assists, and five steals in a 2011 West victory.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Five Olympic Sports That Could Move From Summer to Winter

So apparently the IOC believes that the Winter Olympics should only include sports that involve ice or snow. Consequently, we end up with approximately three times as many sports during the summer games. While I have more than enough contests to entertain me over the next two weeks, I was a bit overwhelmed during the London games, and I would like to see a little more balance between the two.

So which sports could be moved from the summer to the winter? Below are my top five summer options that I think could make the switch.

5. Gymnastics

Although I think it could easily move to the winter, I realize gymnastics would be too much of a direct competitor to figure skating for primetime broadcasts.

4. Swimming

Sure, we all associate swimming with the summer season, but it's an indoor sport and could easily switch. Of course, again, it's become a huge primetime draw and is therefore too "big" of a sport to be any higher on my list.

3. Fencing

Does it really matter if there is snow on the ground outside while guys are fighting with swords inside?

2. Table Tennis

This makes sense, as we could watch the real tennis outdoors in the summer, and then we'd have the table tennis inside during the winter.

1. Cycling Track

Maybe it's just that this has become one of my favorite sports and that I'd love to see it at both Olympics, but it's another indoor contest that could also easily be moved. For now I'll just have to settle for the speed skating in the winter.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

"Dude, let's boycott the Olympics!"

I keep hearing this. From people on my Facebook feed, various blogs and sites, and random people in public. They want to boycott! They want to tell our athletes who have worked each day for four years that they cannot go compete in the Sochi Winter Olympics.

I think if you're one of the people saying this, you were probably also the kid organizing the petition to get the teacher fired, right? You know. The teacher gave a test, everyone failed, and someone's approaching the principal's office with 17 signatures on a sheet of looseleaf. But that's what kids do. Instead of talking about issues, working out problems, and reaching some form of appropriate compromise, they resort to immature plans like this.

Also similar is the teenager quitting his job. Your boss at McDonald's wouldn't give you a cigarette break, so you threw your apron on the counter and "walked out." Of course, McDonald's didn't close because you quit, not even for five minutes. The company didn't lose one penny and, in fact, saved the $27 they would've paid you for the rest of your shift. And the dudes you joked around with at work every night? They couldn't even remember your name within 48 hours.

Neither of these scenarios ever accomplished anything, but we all knew kids who did them consistently. So let me ask you: What did the 1980 boycott accomplish? Aren't we back in Russia 34 years later, awkwardly threatening (if these critics had their say) to do the same thing? Are we still talking about how much we let our athletes down that year? (Hint: The answer is yes.)

I hate arguing politics, and I don't want to be preachy, but surely most people have to buy into the idea of reflecting on history and learning from past successes and failures. Right? Then why am I still seeing blogs like this one saying things like this:

"Besides the alarming problems on the women's downhill skiing and men's slopestyle snowboarding courses, threats of avalanches and potential terrorism and widespread complaints from journalists about dubious plumbing, the political and moral underpinnings of the games are falling apart."

When I read and hear you post and say things like that, I have no choice but to believe one of the following is true:

1. You are truly sincere in your efforts and are just misguided.

Maybe you really believe you will make a difference. I don't know, but I'm willing to give some of you the benefit of the doubt. Just do yourself a favor and research past boycotts. I think you'll find that continued dialogue and respectful compromise can usually be just as effective. Also, realize that "sticking to your guns" means that hundreds of athletes do not get a chance to compete at the Olympic level, something many of these Americans have dreamed of accomplishing for years.

2. You are selfish.

Similar to number one, except here your efforts aren't sincere at all. You just want what you want, and you don't care who else is affected. Maybe you have a gay friend, so you're going to show everyone just how much you believe in gay rights. Maybe you hate Obama and just want to criticize anything and everything that takes place during his terms. I don't know. But some of you sound like you only have your own interests in mind when you say these things. Just imagine that some day, your son or daughter may be on his or her way to the Olympics, and there will be a group of people attempting to minimize this achievement due to some political agenda.

3. You are crazy.

Maybe you really think you can fix everything. But here's the thing: You can't fix everything!

See, I believe that we should mainly focus on getting things correct here in America before we go fixing everyone else. You know, America. Where we live. Where it may soon be legal to buy marijuana in more states than it is to have a gay marriage. Our country isn't even on the same page, yet you want to "fix" other countries.

Did you see your Facebook feed during the Super Bowl Coca Cola commercial? "A gay couple!" "Those people are singing OUR song!" Yeah, we really need to focus on Russia right now.

What about all of the racism that still exists? What the homeless people sleeping on the streets this winter? Healthcare? Education?

In the end, we're talking about people competing in sports. There are much larger issues to address here at home before I'm ever going to worry about correcting another nation's problems in relation to the Olympics.

Did you watch the interview Bob Costas did with the President last night? There's a working relationship between the two leaders. I think that's actually pretty positive. It isn't really our job to correct everything.

And finally, I'm so sick of all the Americans talking about the awful hotel situation. If you aren't in Russia this week, I don't want to hear you comment on the plumbing in Sochi! Just shut up about it already.

4. You are lazy.

Look, I get it. Doing the Olympics is hard! Like many people, I'm just your average baseball- and football-loving American. I might be able to name 15 Sochi athletes total as we just get going here. And there is just so much other stuff going on, right?

As a kid in 1984, I had an Olympics board game. I watched on TV, I read about it in the newspaper. It was sort of hard to avoid, I guess. We talked about it in school, and I talked about it with my family.

In 1992, I remember the Red, White, and Blue pay-per-view channels. We didn't pay for it, but I listened to the Dream Team's games on these channels, trying to figure out which of the scrambled video images were Michael Jordan.

Now we have it all at our fingertips. Television coverage of some kind will be available at almost every hour, day or night. Live streams of most sports can be found on our computers, phones, and other devices. (I'm watching live speed skating right now as I type at 7:00 a.m.) And yet many of us will not watch one second of this year's games.

There is so much to do, so much to watch. We have American Idol, and CSI, and whatever else people watch. We have hundreds of channels and dozens of devices streaming Netflix and other services.

Where do we start? Who are the big names? Which are the best sports? It's a lot to dive into. But it's really fun.

Just this week, I learned so much. On Tuesday, I did a couple of hours of research and setup the Live NBC Sports app on my phone before recording our preview podcast with Wedge that night. I don't really know much, but the podcast gave me a chance to at least discuss some things with Allen and to learn a bunch as we talked.

On Wednesday I spent 45 minutes making a TV schedule for myself, using the Central time zone, and noting all Olympic programming on the five channels offering coverage (NBC, NBC Sports, MSNBC, USA, CNBC). My kids have already gone through it and marked some things they would like to watch, and they have the exact time and channel listed for them right there by the TV.

We watched as much of the NBC coverage as we could this week, we read a little bit about Russia, and my wife planned a few "Russian" meals to cook during the Olympics. My kids are learning a little bit and are having some fun.

To me, the most telling sign of freedom is that we can allow our athletes to make their own decisions. Even if we disagree with the way things are in other countries, our athletes are ultimately free, and we aren't going to stop them from following their dreams. They've trained for years and have decided to compete in these games. For two weeks we can watch, we can support them, and we can have fun along the way.

(Check out this post from the Tipsy Geekette blog for more sane reasoning.)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Olympic Cauldron Lighting - What Does Sochi Have to Live Up To?

I think this might be a first, as I’d like to take moment at Grab Bag Sports for once to reflect on something that technically isn’t sports. But very much sports related. The opening ceremony for the Sochi Olympics is just over 12 hours away (live) and 24 hours from U.S. broadcast, and even though it’s all about aesthetics, throwing a party, art, history and theater, it’s something that I think the large majority of sports fans have grown to love.

However I’m not really going to go into the ceremony itself, but cover something that has always intrigued me specifically on “opening” night. The lighting of the Olympic Cauldron that signifies the beginning of the games. It’s a monumental moment, and I really can’t wait to see what Sochi has in store for us, can they truly raise the bar or do their own unique thing?

In order to properly judge this, I feel like GBS should take you through the very interesting history of the Olympic Torch: why we have war and conflict to thank for what it has become, and the ceremony and now surprise of lighting of the cauldron.

The Ancient Games
As per Wikipedia:
“In the time of the original games within the boundaries of Olympia, the altar of the sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Hera maintained a continuous flame. For the ancient Greeks, fire had divine connotations—it was thought to have been stolen from the gods by Prometheus. Therefore, fire was also present at many of the sanctuaries in Olympia, Greece.”

The Modern Olympics Begin - No Flames, Just Games

In the early years there was only a Summer Olympics (first Winter games were 1924) and actually there was no flame at all.

1896 – Athens, Greece
1900 – Paris, France
1904 - St. Louis, United States
1908 – London, England
1912 – Stockholm, Sweden

1916 - Not held - Due to World War I – Was Scheduled for Berlin, Germany
1920 – Antwerp, Belgium
1924 - Chamonix, France
1924 – Paris, France
1928 - St. Moritz, Switzerland

Interesting that the first ever Winter Olympic Games went to France along with Summer Games in the same year. In fact, this dual hosting repeats itself in 1932 with the U.S.A. and in 1936 with Germany; it was scheduled again that way in 1940 for Japan, but those games were never held (see below).

A Flame is Simply Lit as Commemoration

1928 – Amsterdam, Netherlands   


In 1928, for the first time they decided to have a continuous flame buring during the games in Amsterdam, and it stuck, but it wasn’t the ceremony it is now of deciding who got to light it and making it a big deal as evidenced by this historical footnote: “An employee of the Electric Utility of Amsterdam lit the first Olympic flame in the Marathon Tower of the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam.”

That’s right, the first modern Olympic flame was lit by a guy, because it was his job…
It actually switched over to being famous people or famous athletes in time giving us the “who will light the cauldron?” suspense, but here’s what some of the lightings looked like.

1932 - Lake Placid, N.Y., United States
1932 - Los Angeles, United States 

1936 - Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

War Brings an Everlasting Tradition - The Torch Relay Begins From Olympia, Greece

In the previous 4 Olympics, the cauldron was simply lit up. Believe it or not, the tradition of lighting the torches from the lasting flame in Olympia, Greece and transporting it to the host site came from somewhat terrible reasons, and definitely terrible people. Who is to thank for the torch relaying? The Nazis. In 1936 the Germans were hosting the Summer games in hope of showing their Aryan theory of superiority. Hitler specifically thought lighting the flame from Greece was a way of connecting Aryan Nation to gods as that’s where the flame came from, but the Nazis had a second agenda that lasts to this day, they just did it for the wrong reasons.

The Nazis knew they were getting closer to war, and in an attempt to sway public opinion, they secondarily devised the relay as a way to make many countries feel included in their Olympic games by running the torch through their country on the way to Germany. The Olympic flame was lit by a concave mirror in Olympia, Greece and transported over 3,187 kilometers by 3,331 runners in twelve days and eleven nights from Greece to Berlin, but not entirely as planned as there were protests in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia on the way.

So the Nazis gave us the torch relay, but when it comes to the actual lighting of the torch during the opening ceremony, all is the same, person runs up and lights that cauldron.

1936 – Berlin, Germany

So while the new addition to the ceremony signifying the beginning of the games was nice, Jessie Owens kicked some ass and Hitler got mad and started a terrible war because Hilter was stupid, and thus...

1940 - Not held - Due to World War II  - Was Scheduled for Sapporo, Japan
1940 - Not held - Due to World War II – Was Scheduled for Tokyo, Japan
1944 - Not held - Due to World War II  - Was Scheduled for Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
1944 - Not held - Due to World War II – Was Scheduled for London, United Kingdom

So while the Nazis may have had war charged intentions behind the torch relay, their “bringing everyone together” via the torch relay remained even after World War II, even if that’s not what they actually intended. The lighting of the cauldron was still 100% of the time an athlete running into the stadium, sometimes doing a lap of the track and then running up the steps to the top of one end of the stadium or a stand and lighting a standard cauldron wherever it was, usually within basic reach of height.

1948 - St. Moritz, Switzerland

1948 – London, England

1952 - Oslo, Norway

1952 – Helsinki, Finland

1956 - Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy

1956 – Melbourne, Australia

1960 - Squaw Valley, California, United States

1960 – Rome, Italy

The First Winter Relay from Olympia, Greece

1964 - Innsbruck, Austria  

While Innsbruck wasn't a change in the standard running up and lighting of a basic cauldron with a flame from Greece, it was just the first Winter Olympics to do so. Does that mean the previous Winter Olympics had no flame relay... why certainly not, the previous Winter Olympics had quite an interesting history:
“1952 and 1960 had torch relays starting in the fireplace of skiing pioneer Sondre Norheim, and one (1956) had a relay starting in Rome. The 1984 Winter Games were preceded by two torch relays, one from Norheim's fireplace, and the other from Olympia. The plan had been to mingle the two flames, lighting the cauldron with the combination, but this was disallowed; instead, only the Greek flame was used.” 
Yeah thats right, the flame came from some dude's fireplace!!! Understandably they put an end to that short lived tradition.

1964 – Tokyo, Japan

1968 - Grenoble, France

Innovating Socially

1968 - Mexico City, Mexico

Give it up to Mexico to break a huge barrier as Enriqueta Basilio became the first woman to light the Olympic Cauldron

1972 - Sapporo, Japan

1972 – Munich, West Germany

1976 - Innsbruck, Austria

1976 – Montreal, Canada

War and Conflict Ups the Gamesmanship of the Cauldrons and Lightings

So after World War II, the lighting of the cauldron runs largely on tradition, a torch relay from Greece where a surprise athlete from the host country does the final leg into the stadium and lights the basic cauldron. Leave it to conflict and the threat of war to once again push the way into torch/cauldron innovation. Going into the late 70s and early 80s the Cold War happened. With it brought a giant pissing contest between the Soviet Union and the United States in the forms of the Space Race, technology advancement, communications and encryption advancements, economic advancements and failures, nuclear advancements and lastly… Olympic Cauldron lighting advancements.

To really fully set the stage you start with the athletes for competing right? But why stop there? Then comes the perfect storm in 1980 at the height of the Cold War, with the U.S. hosting the Winter Games and the Soviet Union was hosting the Summer Games later that year. The  U.S. had the standard lighting of the Cauldron or so everyone thought. Charles Morgan Kerr, A doctor from Arizona who had been elected from all 52 torch bearers to run the final leg, he wasn't even an athlete, barely even important in retrospect.

He was able to walk up steps to light the cauldron, but it was no ordinary Olympic Cauldron, it was the first ever movable Cauldron in Olympic history, so after it was lit it raised high, very freaking high, above everyone, higher than any flame ever before as if the U.S. was saying we have the best cauldron that has ever been done, no one else could do this.

1980 – Lake Placid, United States
Cauldron lighter: Charles Morgan Kerr
The Surprise: Whoa look how high that cauldron goes!!
The Cauldron: ditto to above
The Lasting Memory: Literally the cauldron itself amidst all the athletes rising up above everyone. The cauldron was amazing and having it go up too, but the person lighting it is somewhat forgettable. By the days standards though it was amazing on cauldron alone.

Its On!!!

So that pretty much set the stage, how could everyone, namely the Soviets, one up each other, and the modern history of things has been entertaining to say the least. The U.S. went on to boycott the Soviet Union for summer but it didn't stop people from watching and seeing how the Soviet Union would reply to that?

1980 – Moscow, Soviet Union
Cauldron lighter: Sergey Belov (4-time olympic medalist in basketball, including gold in 1972)
The Surprise: How in the world is anyone going to get up to that cauldron, its behind all the people in the stadium!? Whoa where in the hell did that floating pathway come from!?
The Cauldron: Very tall and very large above the stadium
The Lasting Memory: Watching Belov run atop the crowd as the colors change in his wake then the magic pathway disappeared after he was done running on it.

1984 –  Sarajevo, Yugoslavia
Cauldron lighter: Sanda Dubravcic (Yugoslavia's champion figure skater)
The Surprise: The torch arrives via cross country skiers
The Cauldron: Like Moscow and many before it, its tall and atop the end of the stadium seemingly out of reach
The Lasting Memory: Dubravcic running through the performers and up an incredibly steep incline that is actually disappearing behind her

1984 – Los Angeles, United States
Cauldron lighter: Rafer Johnson (Winner of the 1960 decathalon) also the first black person to light the caldron
The Surprise: How in the hell is anyone getting up there to light that thing!?
The Cauldron: It was standard, but it was atop the arch of the rose bowl but seemingly, inaccessible to anyone
The Lasting Memory: It went a little like this, 1) we see the cauldron but no one can get up there.. 2) ok that's a staircase, that gets him higher but it is a stairway to nothing... 3) whoa the whole Olympic symbol is on fire!

Imagine if they did it at night.

1988 – Calgary, Canada
Cauldron lighter: Robyn Perry (12 year old figure skater)
The Surprise: Leave it to Canada to go "eh, just lighting this thing is still good enough for us"
The Cauldron: Big copper/bronze color and it kept rising up after lit
The Lasting Memory: Honestly just seeing the lit cauldron between the intersecting spires

1988 – Seoul, South Korea
Cauldron lighters: Track and field and dancing athletes Chung Sun-Man, Sohn Mi-Chung, and Kim Won-Tak
The Surprise: There is no way in hell anyone can get to that cauldron!
The Cauldron: read above, it was this incredibly tall stem maybe 20+ stories high
The Lasting Memory: Seeing the torch bearers get on the platform and be elevated up the entire stem so they could light the torch. Also hoping the birds would get off the cauldron so they don't get fried. And if that wasn't enough a perfectly timed flyby just as it was lit.

1992 – Albertville, France
Cauldron lighter: Michel Platini and Fran├žois-Cyrille Grange (a footballer and a 9 year old who remains the youngest cauldron lighter in history)
The Surprise: This was the first time we got to see a fireball (fire on a guide rope) that Grange lit and it then flew into the cauldron.
The Cauldron: like a giant musical instrument honestly
The Lasting Memory: It was the first night time ceremony which allowed them to do the fireball

1992 – Barcelona, Spain
Cauldron lighter: Antonio Rebollo (paralympic archer)
The Surprise: He shot a freaking flaming arrow into the cauldron!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Cauldron: It was tall, and high above the stadium, overseeing it, and inaccessible to anyone but that did matter because...
The Lasting Memory: He just shot a flaming arrow into the cauldron to light it!!!  I really like to think this will forever remain one of, if not the, coolest lighting ever. It took a massive amount of skill to pull this off and that's what made it so damn impressive. I really like to think this was the pivotal moment that took us from really cool, to pushing the envelope.

1994 – Lillehammer, Norway
Cauldron lighter: Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway
The Surprise: He just ski jumped in with the flame in hand!!!!
The Cauldron: It was just a white cylinder, not even that remarkable, it was all about the delivery on this one.
The Lasting Memory: Its silly to lay the importance to Prince of Norway who lit the cauldron because no one cares about that, you can barely even find that part on YouTube, the part people care about was Stein Gruben ski jumping with the flame in hand to deliver it to the games. The insane part is that he wasn't even supposed to do it, he was just the understudy that filled in due to injury.

1996 – Atlanta, United States
Cauldron lighter: Muhammad Ali
The Surprise: Muhammad Ali
The Cauldron: A Large french fries from McDonalds??? Seriously, that's what it looked like
The Lasting Memory: For many people it was obviously Ali holding the flame and then lighting a little fireball the shot up to the very odd, McDonalds french fry holder looking shape. The anticipation of "who will it be" was so great on this one, I remember people visibly trying to figre out who was last in the line.

1998 – Nagano, Japan
Cauldron lighter: Midori Ito (1992 silver medalist)
The Surprise: Chris Moon (a mine explosion survivor) delivers the torch into the stadium and eventually it goes up but then its Ito in gorgeous Japanese traditional outfit from under the stage who does the lighting, not the one who delivered it up there
The Cauldron: Actually very unique with the colors and the way it had a bunch of spurs of sorts
The Lasting Memory: A basic but perfect lighting, proving that you don't always have to be in a running suit, you can look elaborately elegant

2000 – Sydney, Australia
Cauldron lighter: Cathy Freeman (Winner of Olympic silver in 1996 and went o to win in Sydney too, the only person ever to light a cauldron and win a gold medal in the same games.)
The Surprise: the Australians built a freaking waterfall into their stadium but forgot to build a cauldron!!! Where is the flame going to go!!!?
The Cauldron: A hidden from view saucer under a waterfall that rose up and connected to its stem.
The Lasting Memory: My personal favorite cauldron to date, it was completely hidden, yet perfectly in view, the entire time hidden under the water so that final torchbearer Cathy Freeman literally set water on fire. Think about that for a second. She set water on fire, then the flame arose around her, made its way up to the top where it got attached to a stem and rose even higher, its just awesome.

2002 – Salt Lake City, United States
Cauldron lighter: The Whole 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team
The Surprise: Mike Eruzione recreates the famous 1980 medal ceremony with the entire 1980 hockey team
The Cauldron: A beautiful swirling spire very high above everything
The Lasting Memory: Many people remember the torch being skated around the rink, but it seemed silly when you noticed they were just doing circles. But then it got really cool, for Americans at least, when the final torch bearer was captain of the 1980 hockey team, Mike Eruzione. What made it awesome was that he recreated, to the detail, the exact scene of the 1980 medal ceremony, because back then only captains were awarded the medal but in 1980 he waved up the entire team, and did the same with the torch setting the record for the most ever cauldron lighters.

2004 – Athens, Greece
Cauldron lighter: Nikolaos Kaklamanakis (Sailing gold medalist, and won silver in these games)
The Surprise: the flying torch bearers
The Cauldron: I'm sure its not what they were going for but it looked like a giant joint until it was made vertical.
The Lasting Memory: not only did a bunch of torch bearers fly out from the crowd, but Kaklamanakis ran over to what looked like the biggest doobie ever and lit up. The torche then made a 120ish angle turn upward to soar over.

2006 – Torino, Italy
Cauldron lighter: Stefania Belmondo (cross country skier, one of Italy's most decorated olympians with 10 medals)
The Surprise: The whole freaking stadium lights up!?
The Cauldron: Uhh technically the whole stadium got lit up, the cauldron looked like it exploded, but if we're talking just the cauldron it was a cool set of spiraling pipes high above everything.
The Lasting Memory: Ok so far I've talked about just torch lighting, but did you see them have an F1 car do donuts in the middle of the stadium!? Seriously just go to the 1:42:00 mark. (I think that satisfies our racing talk quota of this blog)

On second thought if it were China, the donuts would have made a perfect Olympic rings on the ground... speaking of...

2008 – Bejing, China
Cauldron lighter: Li Ning (China's most decorated athlete, gymnastics, with six medals)
The Surprise: What the hell is going on, are the chinese even human, this whole thing looks like a science fiction thriller, people are flying, the torch is gigantic but it was literally not there 2 seconds ago!!!
The Cauldron: an amazing paper spiral look, but crazier is that it literally wasn't there until it was time for the lighting.
The Lasting Memory: The memory everyone in the world had was spending the next 2 weeks trying to pick their jaw up off the floor from the opening ceremony, the dancing, the drumming, the blocks, the largest led screens ever, the projected videos, the dancing calligraphy, and to top it off their torch lighter was suspended and ran the entire length of the stadium's rim sideways, and then lit a cauldron that appears out of freaking nowhere.

2010 – Vancouver, Canada
Cauldron lighter: Catriona Le May Doan, Steve Nash, Nancy Greene and Wayne Gretzky...ish
The Surprise: Soo... I guess only 3 torch lighters needed?
The Cauldron: It was supposed to be, and eventually was, 4 leaning towers around a master cauldron, but one of them got stuck so eventually they gave in and just lit the 3 that were up. After wards they fixed the 4th and got it done.
The Lasting Memory: Sadly all video of this ceremony is being pulled off youTube, and the collage below doesn't fully show the awkward million hours everyone stood around waiting to see if the 4th tower would show up. It was awesome of Canada though to have the idea of having 4 towers leading up to a master cauldron.

2012 – London, England
Cauldron lighter: Seven unknown aspiring young athletes
The Surprise: After high stakes gambling, worldwide speculation, the Britians turn to 7 unknown young athletes to light the numerous cauldrons, rather than a single one.
The Cauldron: One mini cauldron for every country participating in the Olympics
The Lasting Memory: London did what they do, they saw what China did and knew they couldn't compete with the scale so they brought their ingenuity. Rather than a famous athlete they sent their youth to do the lighting, and rather than one big cauldron, the made a ring of small ones that each country was able to take home. Innovation in spades those Brits.

2014 – Sochi, Russia
Cauldron lighter:  ????
The Surprise:  ?????
The Cauldron: ?????
The Lasting Memory:  ????

What do you have in store for us Russia??? Or for that matter how will you raise the bar for the future:

2014 – Rio, Brazil
2018 - Pyeongchang, South Korea
2020 – Tokyo, Japan