Golf needs a new poster boy

The big four sports don’t really need to have huge stars to draw in viewers and fans. US soccer manages to bring in international stars to draw some major attention. Men’s tennis has its big four of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Rodger Federer. Women’s tennis has Serena Williams. Men’s golf has…wait, I don’t really know who it has any more.

Tiger Woods
Tiger dominated golf in the 2000s, holding the title of world’s number one for a record 683 weeks total.

Golf thrived in times when it was being dominated by one man, one poster boy if you will. All throughout history, there has been one man to dominate the headlines, and the competition. It started way back in 1914, when Walter Hagen won 45 events in a 23 year span. Then in the late 30s Sam Snead he won an unprecedented number of PGA tour events with 82, a mark that still stands today. He, and later Ben Hogan, dominated golf until about the 1950s. It continued with Arnie Palmer piling up wins from the mid 50s to the mid 60s until another golf legend stole the show by the name of Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus won 18 majors during his storied career, which remains the most of any golfer ever. Nicklaus earned his last win in 1986, by which time, the golfing community was getting to know Steve Norman, who ranked as the number one golfer in the world for a then record 331 weeks during the late 80s and early 90s. There was some back and forth during the late 1990s as a couple of men fought for supremacy. Eventually, Tiger Woods emerged from the pack and simply dominated golf from the turn of the century until about 2010.

McIlory has spent time bouncing between being number one and being all but forgotten.

Since about 2010 though, golf has searched for a new king. Lee Westwood took his brief turn at the top. Luke Donaldson and Rory McIlory traded on and off for a number of years. Then it seemed like McIlroy was the true heir until a rash of injuries kept him from competing for some time. Tiger even returned for a one-year stay at the top before falling way down the rankings. The world was ready to crown Jordan Spieth it’s next hero after his clutch win at the Masters this year but he arrived at the Fed Ex Cup Playoffs and completely fell apart, relinquishing his number one ranking to McIlroy again.

So now, golf is still searching for a new face of the sport. And it is essential that it finds one. Obviously, all of the invested golf fans will continue to watch no matter what but most casual fans will not tune in unless a big name is playing. The popularity of golf in the US was through the roof when Tiger dominated the fairways. He brought the casual fan in to watch what amazing thing the best golfer in the world would do next. Since Tiger’s extreme decline following 2013, golf has tried to hang on to him as its way of keeping people interested. All coverage begins and ends with Woods because he will draw in the casual fans. But as Tiger continues to fade, that effect continues to wear off.

Golf needs a new talisman for fans to gather around and follow. I’m not saying that you need one person to win every event, even Tiger didn’t do that, but you need someone who wins a majority of them. Some of the best storylines in golf following the turn of the century occurred when someone knocked off Tiger or Woods won in spectacular fashion. It created excitement among fans and genuine interest for even the casual golf fan.

As much as sports strive for parity so that we can witness different champions come and go on a regular basis, golf simply does not follow that format. It thrives off of having a king at the top and all of the challengers attempting to knock him off. Until golf finds its new king, it could be in for a rough time.


New York Color Wars

Soccer in New York has confused just about everyone this year. As with every sport’s team in the Big Apple under intense pressure at all time, New York’s soccer teams have been no exception. For the first time, the city that never sleeps has two MLS teams. The two have spent all season competing for dominance of New York in a battle of red versus blue.

David Villa
Villa has been the captain all season for City, scoring 15 goals in the process.

 In just their first ever season, New York City FC entered with lofty expectations. Signing Spanish striker David Villa offered a lot of promise and certainly brought some excitement to the club. The signing of Frank Lampard shortly after that pushed fans’ expectations even higher than most would have thought for a first year club. US international Mix Diskerud brought even more press to the expansion team, as did youngster Patrick Mullins arriving from New England.

NYC got off to a decent start to the season. They seemed like they might just meet those expectations after a solid start but then the wheels fell off. New York failed to win in 11 straight matches, including seven losses. They started winning games again at the beginning of June and climbed out of the Eastern Conference basement. Andrea Pirlo arrived from Juventus on a transfer and Lampard finally started playing for NYC. However, they have only climbed to the outskirts of the playoff picture. They are even with Montreal on total points but have played five fewer matches than the Impact leaving them in a rough position. Overall, City has been fairly disappointing with the star power they field.

BWP leads the Red Bulls with 11 goals this season.

On the other hand, cross river rival New York Red Bulls were thought to be down and out this year. There was a changing of the guard as Thierry Henry retired and Jesse Marsch replaced Mike Petke as head coach. Most figured that it would be a year of rebuilding. Instead, New York made some shrewd moves to up their talent level and find themselves in a great position to win the Eastern Conference. Sacha Kljestan, Gonzolo Veron and youngster Matt Miazga have all been great additions to the starting XI this year.

The Red Bulls have marched to the third best point total in the Eastern Conference this year but the best points per game average of any team in the east until this point. Bradley Wright-Phillips, Mike Grella, Lloyd Sam and Kljestan have accounted for the majority of the offense for New York this year, each with at least five goals. That approach differs greatly from the star powered style of NYC. The Red Bulls are a lock for the playoffs at this stage after most expected them to miss the postseason altogether. 

So far, these two clubs have met three times. Continuing the trend of surprises, the Red Bulls have beaten NYC in all three of those matches by an aggregate score of 7-2. You would think that City could at least manage a draw in one of those three. This has been the beginning of a new, intense rival in the city of New York. To this point though, New York is definitely red. 

Browns find themselves in a tough situation

The Cleveland quarterback carousel. It is a running joke at this point. The Browns have had so many quarterbacks come and go it is borderline ridiculous. Actually, scratch that, it is ridiculous. The last time Cleveland has one quarterback start all 16 games in the regular season was 2001, when Tim Couch was the quarterback. And before that it was Bernie Kosar a decade earlier. A couple of other have come close like Derek Anderson in 2007 or Branden Weeden in 2013, both of whom started 15 games. 

Brian Sipe
Sipe on the sidelines of a game in 1979.

That right there is the definition of mediocrity at the quarterback position. Since 2005, the Browns have had 16 different quarterbacks start under center for them. Even the Jaguars haven’t been that bad, having only 11 different players start in the same span. The Browns have not had true stability at quarterback since Brian Sipe started every game from 1978 to 1981. That was about 35 years ago! And over those three and a half decades, no quarterback has started every game in back-to-back seasons. That is simply mind boggling to me. How there has been no one to have enough success in Cleveland to start all 16 games two years in a row is beyond me.

Johnny Manziel
Manziel has avoided mistakes this preseason and shown flashes of his development.

However, the Browns do actually have some talent now on their roster at the quarterback position. Johnny Manziel came with a whole lot of question marks but he also oozed with untapped potential. He was an athlete with a great arm still trying to learn how to play quarterback.This offseason has been a major turning point for Manziel in his development, starting with rehab stint and continuing with his much improved play on the field. The Cleveland coaching staff got Manziel to buy in to really working on becoming a better player and so far that is very evident.

Johnny Football isn’t ready to be the starter yet in Cleveland though. If the Browns decided to throw him in week one because he looked good in the preseason, it would undo everything that they had worked on. Manziel would likely return to scrammbler he was in college and forget his coaching in an effort to make plays on a talent devoid Browns’ offense. Waiting a year for Manziel to really know the playbook and fully develop tendencies would be very wise.

McCown joins the Browns as sixth team of his career.

Unfortunately, that means that Cleveland will have veteran journeyman Josh McCown become the 17th starting quarterback for the Browns since 2005. McCown is still riding the coattails of his 2013 success in Chicago. He only made it 11 games last season before being benched in favor Mike Glennon. His stats weren’t pretty either as he posted a 56.3 completion percentage and threw 11 touchdowns to his 14 interceptions.

This preseason has underlined his inconsistency as well. In his first game against Washington, McCown completed all five of his passes and tossed a touchdown. Then last week facing Buffalo, he proceeded to complete seven of ten passes, but threw two of the ten to the other team. Part of McCown’s struggles are definitely due to the lack of talent around him. In fact, no Cleveland receiver has more than three receptions in either of the Browns’ two losses. That being said, if McCown has another poor performance tomorrow in Tampa against his former team, fans could be looking for the Browns to start someone else at quarterback.

Johnny_ManzielThe problem is, there really isn’t anyone else to start. As I have already mentioned, starting Manziel would be a mistake this early on in his development. Outside of McCown and Manziel, the other quarterbacks on Cleveland’s roster are Thad Lewis, Connor Shaw and Pat Delvin, who combined have won two NFL games, both by Lewis. With the news that Connor Shaw could miss the whole season after thumb surgery, the selection is even more limited.

The Brown really have put themselves in a tough position here. It is pretty much a no-win scenario. Either the team suffers through an up and down season with McCown at quarterback, maybe winning six games or Manziel takes over, exciting fans, but potentially ruining all the progress he has made.  

So once again, the Browns have a big hole at quarterback. It should be interesting how they proceed. I think Brett Farve has a pretty free schedule this fall…

NFL Power Rankings: Preseason Week 3

1. Indianapolis Colts (Last week: 2)
Things seem to be finally falling into place around Andrew Luck. If the defense can be even average this season, Indy should win a lot of games.

2. Green Bay Packers (Last week: 1)
I mentioned last week that they avoided injuries. That didn’t happen this week as the Pack lost Jordy Nelson for the season. Green Bay has to be very happy it didn’t let Randall Cobb walk during the offseason.

3. Seattle Seahawks (Last week: 3)
The offense struggled again failing to score a touchdown against the Chiefs. The defense managed to score though. Seattle probably can’t count on that happening every week though, no matter how good that defense is.

4. New England Patriots (Last week: 6)
Pats fans had to be nervous after the first week of the preseason based on Jimmy Garappalo’s performance. He quieted some of the critics with a much more successful night this week.

5. Denver Broncos (Last week: 5)
Who will Peyton be targeting this season outside of Demarius Thomas. With Wes Welker injured and Julius Thomas in Jacksonville, Denver is going to need someone else to step up in the offense. Cody Latimer is rumored to fill the Welker-like role, but only time will tell.

6. Dallas Cowboys (Last week: 4)
We finally got to see Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle in game action. Neither looked amazing but Randle looked a lot better than McFadden. The defense looked good too but that before losing Orlando Scandrick for the whole season. That could really hurt Dallas’ chances at a deep playoff run.

7. Arizona Cardinals (Last week: 8)
This team didn’t lose many of the pieces from it’s 12-4 season a year ago. Assuming one of the Arizona quarterbacks can stay healthy, the Cardinals could end up as the team to beat in the NFC.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (Last week: 7)
Ben Roethlisberger led the league in passing yards a season ago and LeVeon Bell finished second in yards from scrimmage. It will be hard for either of those players to repeat that success with Maurkice Pouncey in a walking boot.

9. Kansas City Chiefs (Last week: 10)
Alex Smith finally threw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. Now let’s see if he can do it when it counts. The Chiefs offense on the whole didn’t look great but the defense held the Seattle offense under 250 total yards.

10. Philadelphia Eagles (Last week: 11)
It might only be preseason but the Eagles notched their second big win in as many weeks. Sam Bradford took some shots in his first game action and seemed to hold up just fine. Kenjon Barner displayed once again why the Eagles brought him in this offseason with another ridiculous return.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (Last week: 9)
Andy Dalton finished his preseason appearance against Tampa with two interceptions, including a pick six, and only 46 yards passing. Jeremey Hill lost the ball on one of his four carries. The fact that Bengals can play that poorly, against a team that was the worst in the league a season ago, is terrifying for Cincy fans.

12. Minnesota Vikings (Last week: 13)
Another sharp outing for Teddy Bridgewater as he finished 10 for 14 with 89 yards and a touchdown. Charles Johnson had a good night as well with four catches for 40 yards and he was on the receiving end of Bridgewater’s touchdown pass. That could be a good combination for Minnesota this season.

13. San Diego Chargers (Last week: 12)
23 carries for 46 yards against Arizona isn’t exactly confidence instilling. Granted Melvin Gordon did not play but that has to fall somewhat on the offensive line. Not time to panic yet but the Chargers need to run the ball to take all the pressure off Phillip Rivers.

14. Miami Dolphins (Last week: 14)
Mixed result for Miami as Ryan Tannehill looked fantastic while Lamar Miller sputtered. The next step for Miami is getting the offense to click all at once. The revamped defense continued to impress, as the first team only allowed nine points.

15. Detroit Lions (Last week: 15)
I thought Detroit was in trouble when Ndumakong Suh and Nick Fairley left but the first team defense hit Robert Griffin III on six of his eight dropbacks and knocked him out of the game. If that is the kind of pressure Detroit can produce this season, they might not even realize though other guys are gone.

16. Baltimore Ravens (Last week: 16)
Cincy showed this week that it can still falter at any time which gives the Ravens hope. However, Joe Flacco looked even worse than Andy Dalton did this week, toss two interceptions on only seven passes. Could be a rough season in Baltimore.

17. Houston Texans (Last week: 20)
Naming Brian Hoyer quarterback is a step in the right direction but it is merely a stop gap solution. Hoyer is already 29 and is not exactly a franchise quarterback. Houston are going to need to find a real long term solution soon.

18. Buffalo Bills (Last week: 18)
Tyrod Taylor faired well in his start against Cleveland. It wasn’t anything eye popping. Rumors are that Rex Ryan wants to start Taylor but the rest of the coaching staff isn’t on board. Should be interesting how that pans out.

19. Atlanta Falcons (Last week: 20)
Atlanta might have lost this week but Matt Ryan came out firing and the Falcons first team offense put up 14 points in the first quarter. The Falcons need to find a way to get their defense to hold up though through the whole 60 minutes.

20. New Orleans Saints (Last week: 21)
The Saints ruled the first half of their game with New England, which was all that really mattered. Drew Brees threw two touchdowns and the Saints offensive line didn’t allow a sack the whole game. The defense didn’t generate any sacks though either so that has to count for something.

21. New York Jets (Last week: 22)
The Jets’ offense showed some signs of life. Take it with a grain of salt though as they started slow once again and the Falcons did have the worst statistical defense in football last year. The defense looked good, but is still getting killed by big plays.

22. New York Giants (Last week: 19)
Yet another Giants safety went down with an injury this week in Bennett Jackson. That makes three in two weeks. Even more concerning, Odell Beckham Jr. doesn’t have a reception through two preseason games. Slightly worrying but not cause to panic just yet.

23. Cleveland Browns (Last week: 27)
Another strong outing from Johnny Manziel paired with a really poor one from Josh McCown makes you wonder how much longer Manziel will play with the second team. He is playing decently well with zero talent at the wide receiver position. Go back and watch the game film to see what I’m talking about.

24. St. Louis Rams (Last week: 24)
Nick Foles looked dreadful against Tennessee this week. He completed 3 of 7 passes for 18 yards and threw a pick. Tre Mason carried the ball for six yards on three carries. St. Louis, like Carolina, needs to find their offense.

25. Carolina Panthers (Last week: 23)
Life without Kelvin Benjamin began for Cam Newton and it didn’t look pretty. Newton finished four for ten with an interception against Miami. Carolina needs to find some source of offense to have any hopes of repeating as division champs.

26. San Francisco 49ers (Last week: 26)
Jarryd Haynes did it again this week, picking up 138 all-purpose yards. He might be the spark that this San Francisco team needs because otherwise, the cupboard is pretty bare in terms of talent.

27. Chicago Bears (Last week: 27)
Jay Cutler had a good outing against Indy this week. However, the Bears offense still failed to score a touchdown in the first half. Chicago won’t win too many games by just kicking field goals.

28. Oakland Raiders (Last week: 28)
Latavius Murray is primed for a breakout season. This young core of Murray, Derek Carr and Amari Cooper could be a lot of fun to watch this year in Oakland. They might not win a ton of games, but they will definitely compete in more of them.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (Last week: 30)
Allen Robinson might be the best player on the Jaguars team. Jacksonville needs to find some other players to step up and start moving this team in a positive direction.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last week: 31)
The Bucs defense balled out on Monday night against Cincy. This Tampa group forced 3 turnovers and didn’t allow the Bengals to score a touchdown until the fourth quarter. Jameis Winston looked solid as well as he scored his first professional touchdown. Good signs for the Bucs’ future.

31. Washington (Last week: 29)
A concussion for Robert Griffin III likely means the end of his time in Washington. He will be out for a several week most likely and the Redskins will probably just leave in someone else even after he returns. Washington is in for a long season.

32. Tennessee Titans (Last week: 32)
The Titans looked good this week against St. Louis and if any of that success carries over to the regular season, don’t be surprised if Tennessee finally climbs out of the NFL cellar.

Falling stars

Football is a brutal sport. You know that going into it. It is still demoralizing to have your season cut short by injury nonetheless. It is even more so when that injury occurs in a game that counts for absolutely nothing. The season ends before it ever really begins.

Jordy Nelson Already this year, we have seen stars get hit hard by preseason injuries. Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin have both torn their ACL. Robert Griffin III is out with a concussion. And those are just some of the bigger name stars that have gone out due to injury. There are dozens of other players who already have seen their season’s cut short or put on hold.

The problem is that the NFL doesn’t really have a solution to this. You play preseason games as an attempt to develop chemistry or give guys fighting for a roster spot an opportunity to play in a game like setting where the coaches don’t have to worry about the outcome. They are essential to team development and preparation. No one has yet to come up with an alternative to these games. The NFL also isn’t the only one who plays preseason games but that doesn’t make these injuries much easier to stomach for fans.

However, these injuries could provide new opportunities for other players. In Green Bay, Davante Adams showed flashes of his ability particularly in the team’s playoff win against Dallas. Now, he has an opportunity to show what he can do as a main target.

RG3For Washington, this could spell the end of the RG3 era if the concussion is serious. That could be a good thing though for both sides. Griffin probably needs a fresh start away from Washington and the team definitely needs to wipe its hands clean of the franchise altering trade and move on.

Down in Charlotte, Cam Newton might have to showcase his running abilities once again with Benjamin out and this could be a chance for other young receivers like Corey Brown and Devin Fuchness to display their skills in a much bigger role. 

This is an optimistic approach to these terrible situations. It is not easy for teams to rebound from monumental injuries. Very few teams in NFL history are built to. And yes, it sucks that these guys were hurt in completely meaningless games.

Kelvin_BenjaminAt the same time though, they still should be playing. I know it’s easy to just say that starters should play in the preseason but that is just foolish. These few games allow players to work on timing, new plays, cohesion with new players. Without any of that, it is very likely that the first two or three weeks of the regular season would be fairly rough and probably even sloppy. Realistically, as a fan, would you be able to simply look on and say, “Oh, my team’s star player suffered a season ending injury. Well at least it was in a meaningful game,” and actually mean that? No. There is no way you could. Whether these injuries happen in week 3 or the preseason or week 13 of the regular season, they are going to be crushing either way.

My point is that this should not be a cause for every starter to sit out the entire preseason. Maybe there are ways to be more cautious when these players are in but overall, the whole point of preseason is to put players in a game environment and see how they react. This grace period before everything starts to count is vital to the development of players in the league, especially rookies.

Can you imagine if Marcus Mariota had turned the ball over on the first two series of his career in a regular season game? That wouldn’t exactly be a confidence booster. There would be no chances for the coaches to say, “OK, don’t worry about the score, just try to learn from those mistakes.” The NFL is a win now league. Teams always want to win as soon as possible. There is simply no room for complacency.

Preseason helps avoid those situations and gives players a chance to grow. In the end, it makes for much better games to watch once the regular season rolls around because now these guys are warmed up and ready for the long haul.