Friday, February 26, 2010

Notes on a Friday

The Olympic Winter Games will wrap up this weekend, and loads of highs and lows to be found throughout. A memorable two weeks no matter how you slice it.

The games hadn't yet begun, when tragedy struck. Georgia luger Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed during a practice run, and was killed after his body struck a metal pole. The Games honored the fallen competitor by dedicating the Opening Ceremonies to him.

So many great performances, it's hard to document them all in one blog post, but suffice to say, viewers were treated to plenty of magic in these games. There were disappointments as well-that's to be expected, yet, in the end, the events seemed to all live up to their billing.

There was just one problem I had with these games.


When the Olympics are half-a-world away, I completely understand the nature of tape-delaying things. When the games are in a U-S time zone, tape delays are just dumb. I applaud the cable networks for their coverage. Before these Olympics began, I couldn't have told you what channel assignment CNBC or MSNBC had. Now I know, thanks to the coverage of the hockey tournament, and the curling.

The tape-delay factor was rendered useless the day that Twitter went on line. I had to laugh on Thursday when American skier Lindsay Vonn tweeted "Olympic Spoiler Alert", congratulating a pair of American medal winners in nordic combined. Plenty of folks in my Twitter feed were posting results of the days action, which meant that NBC was reduced to being, as my colleague Tim Baier put it, "The Olympic Sportscenter." A highlight show. Of course, that changed with the figure skating, but for the most part, it was a highlight show. The one thing we can all count on is the post-Olympic quotes from the network proclaiming the "huge rating success," the Games were.

4 years away, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Maybe NBC will figure out how to tape delay those games as well.

One other thing about the Olympics. Can we put away the false rage over Team Canada's women's hockey team celebrating their gold medal win over the U-S? I understand the whole "represent the image of the Olympics," or whatever, bit. You can't tell me, with a straight face, that none of the people within the IOC ever had a beer before legal drinking age. You just can't. These hockey players worked as hard as any athletes in the games, and they won gold. After all that training and effort, it was Miller Time. Or in Canada, Molson Time. Relax people, let these athletes enjoy the fruits of their labor, if only for a couple of hours.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pepp's gone, what's next?

We all knew it was coming, but Panthers GM Marty Hurney made it official Tuesday. Defensive end Julius Peppers will be an unrestricted free agent, as the team won't franchise-tag him again. Peppers will be free to sign with any team, at whatever price he, and his agent Carl Carey, agree to.

It was time.

$20 million dollars for one season is just ridiculous. In fact, the $18.5 they paid him last season was fairly ludicrous as well. In fairness, they were on the hook for $16 million, but when Peppers was named a starter in the Pro Bowl, that kicked in an additional $1.5 million. Still, it all adds up to incredibly dumb.

On February 9th, Peppers was a guest on the "Mac Attack" show on WFNZ-AM 610 in Charlotte. He said in his interview that there was no communication between the Panthers, and his agent. He said that repeatedly. On Tuesday, Hurney lauded the open lines of communication between the team and the agent. Who is telling the truth?

My guess is that Hurney is. Here's why. Think back to this time a year ago. The "magic list" of teams was leaked, that Peppers only wanted to be traded to 4 teams in the league. The word in the papers and internet was all coming from the players side. The Panthers stayed out of the media with their negotiations, stayed out of the mudslinging. Fast forward to this recent stretch, and it was Carey telling media at the Pro Bowl that Peppers was going to be unrestricted, that he hadn't heard from the Panthers, etc. That side wanted to get in front of a tape recorder, or a camera, and claim they were being wronged by the team. There is something to be said for taking the high road.

In the "fish, or cut bait" world, the Panthers took out the pocketknife, and are moving on. Doing so won't be easy, as Peppers, when he wanted to be a part of the defense, was a tremendous force. Problem was, in spite of Peppers claims that "people don't know his responsibilities from play to play," he wasn't an every down kind of player. His drive, and willingness to go hard on every snap was in question back in his college days, and that reputation followed him, and stuck in the NFL.

Interesting statement from Peppers came from his agent last night. After all was said and done, this was what went out:
"Last night, I learned that the Carolina Panthers would not restrict my
availability during the upcoming free agency period. I feel good
about having the opportunity to visit with other teams. My goal will
be to find the right match for my skill set. I am thankful for the eight
seasons I have spent in the National Football League thus far;
and am looking forward to beginning this new phase of my career."

What's missing there? No mention of the team by name, or the owner, Jerry Richardson. Typically, when a player leaves on what they refer to as "good terms," there are plenty of thanks to go around. Not so much here.

It was time to find a new name to go on the back of jersey #90.

Mike Solarte

Monday, February 22, 2010

Your Monday Hockey Reality Check

I am a hockey fan, and former player of the game. I admit, I fell in love with the sport as a child, when my father took me to see the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers at the old Chicago Stadium when I was in 1st grade. I didn't understand the game then, but loved it. I hit the ice for real in the days after the "Miracle on Ice" USA win over the Soviet Union (which occurred 30 years ago today).

As a former player, and someone that covered the sport in both Chicago and Raleigh with the Hurricanes, I will tell you this:

Sunday's USA win over Canada was not the stuff of miracles, and it assured Team USA of absolutely zero.

I pick up the paper this morning over my coffee, and see the word "miracle," used in the headline describing Team USA's 5-3 win over Canada.

Was Canada supposedly invincible? If they were, they certainly didn't look it against Switzerland, especially when they had to go beyond the first 3 shots of a shootout to finally put the Swiss away. The Canadians are playing under the most intense pressures in sports. Imagine the pressure on Tony Romo, quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Or Joe Girardi, Manager for the NY Yankees. Those are big-time, everyday pressure packed sports jobs. Those two face the heat of a city. Team Canada is facing it from a country. Even the Quebec province.

I'm not making excuses for the Canadians. I am also not making the American's victory into something more than it is. There are nights in the NHL that a hot goaltender can be the difference in a win. Take for instance the Hurricanes recent 4-2 win over the Blackhawks in Raleigh. You remember that one, right? It was the Saturday after the statewide snow/ice blast. I was foolish enough to drive to Raleigh in that soup for a game. Ring a bell? Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward was peppered with shots. Chicago outshot the Hurricanes 41-24, but Ward made sure the Hurricanes had the support on the back end.

Ryan Miller did that for Team USA against Canada. Canada thoroughly dominated play, but Miller was the difference. Period. End of story.

Do not call it miraculous. Last I looked, both the USA and Canada rosters are populated by players that are on NHL teams. This was an NHL All Star Game, only there was defense, hitting, and passion. There was no miracle here. This was the essence of the sport. It was poetry. It was beautiful to watch.

So, as you go through your day, maybe with a little more bounce in your step, keep in mind the USA hockey team hasn't won anything yet. They are the top seed heading into the medal round, and along with Russia, Sweden and Finland, will have a bye into the quarterfinals. Team USA hasn't seen any of them yet. The road to gold is a bumpy one, and it's only beginning.

Mike Solarte

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hello, my name is Mike, and I am a curling addict.

It's true.

I've tried, and tried, and tried. I simply can not stay away from it, nor can I get enough of it.

I am addicted to curling.

There are worse things to be addicted to, mind you, but give me two teams that can draw a shot around a front guard into the 4 foot, or even the button, and my heart simply does backflips.

No doubt you have seen some of it, or overheard people talking about it. If you follow me on Twitter, you've seen me tweeting the action after the completion of an end. I may have lost some followers because of this obsession For that, I apologize.

Watching Team USA struggle so far has been gut-wrenching. USA Skip John Shuster has struggled in bringing his team into the win column. It has been a forgettable Olympics for that crew, but they will soldier on, likely to finish without a medal, but they will go through their remaining games doing what they can to earn a respectable finish.

Why am I addicted? I got nothing. It's 4 players, sliding on their shoes down a sheet of ice, chasing after a 42 pound stone, and helping it slide down the ice by brushing the ice to help it go further or straighter. No frilly costumes, or even luger's tights. It's golf shirts and slacks. The "every man" game. I am not about to call these men and women athletes, but I will give them credit for being able to do something very unique, and certainly not easy.

By comparison, have you ever played golf? Try hitting a putt 93 feet, and getting it to within 12 inches (or better) of your target. Players on the PGA tour can do that, sometimes. granted they aren't generally 93 feet from the cup on any green. Ever play pool? Try to take the cue ball and hit a "lag" shot:1 rail ahead, and stop it along the rail that you're standing over. Not easy.

I guess it's the science, and strategy involved that draws me into the broadcasts. This "curling fever" is nothing new for me. In my days working in Raleigh, I remember dialing up the CBC Network on one of our satellite dishes, and stumbling across the World Curling Championships. They were being played in Canada, so no doubt, it was a major deal. I threw in a tape on the games (it was the championship match between Canada and Finland I believe), and proceeded to roll off 180 minutes of tape to cut highlights from. I cut and used the highlights at the end of our Sunday show. Some thought it was a joke, others thought it was just a kicker story. For me, it was pure. It was right. It felt so good.

If being addicted to curling is wrong, I don't want to be right.

If you live in the Triangle, you can check out the The Triangle Curling Club or follow them on Twitter @trianglecurling. In Charlotte, you can check out or on Twitter @
They are having a watch party this Saturday for US-Sweden. More details at their site.

Mike Solarte

Follow me on Twitter!!!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Is Jordan the Best Option for Bobcats?

While Michael Jordan's credentials are secure as a player, his track record as an executive have been fodder for sports talk radio and print columnists alike. So in the wake of this latest buzz that Jordan is trying to put an offer together to purchase the Charlotte Bobcats from Bob Johnson, I find myself torn. On one hand there's the cache of having Jordan, he of the six championships and whom most consider the NBA's greatest player, guide what appears to be an up and coming franchise for the next decade. Not to mention having the state's native son own the team; after all, let's face it, there was never much connecting Bob Johnson with North Carolina in the first place.

However Jordan himself hasn't settled down here either. Just like his stint in Washington D.C. running the Wizards, Jordan pops in and out, keeping tabs on the team mostly via TV and cell phone calls. Then there's his history as executive. The questionable draft choices, Kwame Brown (with the Wizards), Adam Morrison. The trades for Jason Richardson and of Omeka Okafor. Still, the team seems poised to make it's first playoff appearance in franchise history. Take that for what it's worth as they don't seem to be a threat to Cleveland, Boston or Orlando. The question becomes is the team succeeding because of Jordan or in spite of him. Only time will tell.

The bottom line, Jordan will own the Bobcats if he comes up with the best deal and that's no slam dunk. For as much money as Jordan has earned in his lifetime, it's likely he'll be relying on others to come up with most of the cash. I don't purport to have intimate knowledge of the negotiations, but I listen to people who are plugged into the NBA. Sam Smith is a long time reporter who covered Jordan during his glory days with the Bulls. As a guest on a recent radio show, Smith doubted Jordan would be able to come up with a package that would net him the team. Still, anything could happen. But just because NBA Commissioner David Stern and Bobcats coach Larry Brown have given Jordan public endorsements doesn't mean ownership is a done deal. If Jordan does end up owning the franchise, it'll be his chance to prove he can just as successful an owner as he was as a player.

Jason Brown

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Wait of a Country...

Forgive me if I sound like a shill for the Winter Olympics and NBC, but I couldn't help but be mesmerized to the television Sunday night when Canada's Alexandre Bilodeau rallied to win the gold medal in Men's Moguls.

You see, Canada, this year's host country for the Winter Games, had never had an athlete win gold on home soil. A stretch that covered the 1976 Summer Olympics and the 1988 Winter Games. Before you say "big deal," remember that sports like hockey, curling, skiing and ice skating are some of Canada's most popular. Now think about this, in our current era of media hype, how big a deal would the U.S. press have made about a streak in which it had been America that had never won gold on its homeland?

What made Bilodeau's victory more compelling is he beat the defending gold medalist Dale Begg-Smith, a native Canadian who moved to Australia when he was 15 and skis for the Aussies. Just before Bilodeau's final run, Begg-Smith had blitzed the course and taken over first place.

Now that Bilodeau has finally broken through with gold and allowed a nation to exhale, perhaps it will open the door for Canada to follow through with it's vow to "own the podium" at these Vancouver Games. If not, well at least they got a huge monkey of its collective back.


A quick thought on Apolo Anton Ohno. If and when he does become the most decorated speed skater in U.S. history, remember that it doesn't necessarily make him the greatest. So far Ohno has six medals, tied with American Bonnie Blair. However Blair has five golds to Ohno's two, one of which is steeped in controversy after Ohno was given the gold after finishing second in the 1500 meter final at the Salt Lake Games because South Korean Kim Dong-Sung was disqualifed for blocking Ohno. Then Saturday at this year's 1500 meter final, fate smiled on Ohno again. He was fourth on the final lap; out of medal contention when two Koreans--who were second and third at the time--took each other out. It opened the door for Ohno to capture silver and his record tying sixth medal. I'm not saying Ohno isn't a great skater, or a terrific dancer for that matter, but he has not dominated this sport the way Blair did.

Jason Brown

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Jamie McMurray wins Daytona 500

Not-so-random thoughts on the Daytona 500.
  • There will be much criticism of NASCAR, Daytona International Speedway and the road crew for the handling, first botched repair, of "the hole." Some of it will be deserved. Let's keep some things in mind. This is a surface that is old, when compared to other race tracks on the NASCAR schedule. The last time the place was repaved was over 30 years ago. Repaving it will take away some of the characteristics of the racing surface. What do you do? The track officials claimed the recent rains caused the surface to break up in spots, and then the colder weather was to blame for the failed first patch. I can't offer up a solution, but I can say they worked diligently on it, and according to some of the media on hand, the road crew actually used bondo to plug the thing up (on the 2nd attempt), and that seemed to work. Whatever the case may be, some tough decisions need to be made for that track, if it wishes to continue to use the "World Center of Racing" handle. On Sunday it was the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago--more road work than actual moving cars--and that's bad for a race track.
  • A 2nd place finish does not a season make, BUT if you are a fan of Dale Earnhadrt Jr,. you have to be, pardon the sponsor pun, amped for his 2nd place finish. Sure it wasn't a win, but given the fact he went from 10th to 2nd over the final 2 laps, there is reason to be optimistic. Dale Jr. was slicing through cars the way his father did. Rub off some paint? So. We can repaint it on Monday. Hurt someone's feelings by driving over them? So. I can call them Monday to apologize if I want to. This is Daytona. Nice to see him doing that, and making no excuses. He was bummed about his runner-up finish. Trust me, that's a VERY good thing. Some classify him in the "hungry" category. That post-race reaction indicates he is "starving" for success. Patience, Little E. It's coming,
  • Jamie McMurray. 2010 Daytona 500 Champion. No doubt that has a nice ring to it for him. His car didn't appear to be as strong as Kevin Harvick's, but at Daytona, it's about having a good enough car and being in position. It certainly didn't hurt that Greg Biffle gave him the huge bump that shot him to the front. Best past about all of it, for me, was the unbridled joy McMurray showed after winning NASCAR's biggest event. He was crying on his cool-down lap. He couldn't get through the Victory Lane interview without tears. He was crying in the media center afterwards. Heck, he might be crying if he's reading this. When you win the Daytona 500, you can do whatever you want to celebrate, within the limits of the law, of course. Crying is not a crime. Not a misdemeanor, nor felony. Good to see that kind of passion on display. I was lucky enough to cover his first win, when he filled in for Sterling Marlin at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and won the fall race there in his 2nd Cup start. Now, he is a part of NASCAR history and lore. Forever. In Victory lane, when he could speak, he told the story of how, after his Talladega win, he and his wife went to McDonald's afterwards, and that he might have a Big Mac Sunday night top celebrate. Here's hoping he had 2 of them. He earned them.

Mike Solarte

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Haven't we seen this before?

So the Carolina Panthers-Julius Peppers saga drags into the 2010 off-season. Anyone that didn't see this coming was blind.

Apparently, Peppers and his agent Carl Carey are among the visually impaired.

Yes, Peppers had a fine Pro Bowl worthy season in 2009, and yes, he did so while playing under the franchise tag.

By the way, that franchise tag means he's got the biggest one-year contract on the football team, and since it was a one-year deal, it amounted to him playing in another contract year. He put up very good numbers, and save from a few games early, was a force throughout much of the season.

Peppers was a guest on WFNZ's morning show on Tuesday, and apparently, his season was worthy of Carolina racing to his door the day after the season, and present him with a new offer. Well, that didn't happen. Nor did it happen the day after. Or the day after that, and so on. According to Peppers, there has been no contact between the team and his camp in regards to a new deal, and since "the silence says a lot," he's thinking about playing elsewhere next season.

I would just like to remind Peppers that there may be more to the Panthers silence than his perception that they just aren't that into him.

There is this little matter of a looming work stoppage in 2011, and with all that uncertainty, very few, and I mean VERY FEW teams are looking at doing long term contract with even their biggest stars. Colts QB Peyton Manning and Saints QB Drew Brees are the most talked about exceptions at this point. Interesting that the guys in line for long term deals are quarterbacks. You know, the guy that touches the ball on 99% of the plays in which he is on the field.

As the title of this blog suggests, we have been down this road before with Peppers and the Panthers. 12 months ago, in fact. You remember the script, right? The Panthers say little, if anything, about how they plan to spend their money. Peppers agent starts vocalized his thoughts in the media. The Panthers say little, if anything in return. The fan base gets cranky, and in the end, Peppers gets tagged, and plays for big bucks under a one-year deal.

The script is the same right now, only the outcome may be very different. Peppers could be in a different NFL city this summer for training camp. I wonder if Carolina is simply done with shelling out 8-figure, one-year deals to him.

Most revealing about the Panthers radio interview from Tuesday was this nugget. Peppers says the Panthers offered him a long term deal in the 2008 off-season. Panther fans remember the Houdini-esque season of big number 90. 2.5 sacks highlighting his 2008 greatest (non) hits. AFTER THAT SEASON, the Panthers STILL offered him a long-term deal that would have made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league, albeit slightly, according to Peppers. Peppers said that he didn't feel the offer was sincere, and I can only guess it's because they didn't make him far and away the highest paid guy. Then Peppers said he couldn't take that deal, because of the performance he put out in 2008.

So, the Panthers made an insincere offer to make him the highest paid defensive player in the league after a 2.5 sack season, and he refused it because he didn't feel right about taking that kind of money?

No team makes "insincere" offers to make people the highest paid anything, ESPECIALLY after they go through a 16 game season with 2.5 sacks.

If Carolina let's Peppers walk as an unrestricted free agent, it will be a call made by Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. Fans will be angry that Carolina didn't trade him to get something in return, and that's fine. It won't be because GM Marty Hurney didn't try to move him. It will simply be because Richardson is tired of this whole situation, and will just move on.

I sincerely hope all sides are happy when this is finished. Sincerely.


Congrats to Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace for being selected to the 2010-2012 USA Basketball National Team Program. The 2012 Olympic team will come from the 27 players named on Wednesday. It may be a longshot for Wallace to be on that squad, as 9 members of the 2008 gold medal winning team are coming back, too. Still, he's just 1 of 27 players selected to this camp, quite an honor for sure.


Charlotte Checkers will become the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday, and that relationship will begin in the 2010-2011 season. Changes abound, but this deal is a good one for hockey in the state. The NHL team and its top minor league affiliate will now be separated by just 2.5 hours by car, and significantly less by plane. Hopefully, this move will bring more fans out to see this franchise play. Being a former hockey player myself, I know this will be a good thing for the sports scene. I can only tell you how good it is--you'll have to see it for yourself.

More on all of these items on Sports Night at 10!

Mike Solarte

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday Musings

Congrats to the New Orleans Saints, winners of Super Bowl 44. Crazy game, and full marks to Sean Payton for the onsides kick to open the 2nd half. Gutsy call, and even if it had failed, he still would deserve credit for doing that. Turns out the Saints had the better night, and they turned in the games only big play, the interception return for a touchdown. Really, just one big play in the entire game. One mistake. That's how well both teams played, but the Saints were better. Again, congrats.


Danica-Mania will enjoy a 2nd week in Daytona--she will race the Nationwide Series event this Saturday, after her debut in the ARCA-ReMax series went so well. She finished 6th, after a slide through the grass saw her drop to the rear of the field. She learned plenty in that race, and she will learn even more this weekend. No fewer than 9 Sprint Cup regulars will be in that field. If she finishes top 15 in the Nationwide race, that will be something. Forget about what it would be if she wins it.

Overall, I was impressed by her run in the ARCA race. Now, mind you, these are not the best drivers out there. Still, they all had far more stock car experience than Patrick. She didn't appear to be intimidated. She seemed confused at times, a byproduct of her lack of knowledge of NASCAR or ARCA races, but in all, she showed she can simply drive. In the end, hype, commercials, marketing aside, being able to get it done its what matters most.


ACC Basketball quick hit: UNC is horribly young, Duke is decent, but not great (Beat BC by 3? Really?), NC State is still missing key elements, and Wake is about 2 horses short of a very good team. Hard to imagine the Heels being 2-6 at the mid-point of the conference season. Still, plenty of time left for them to turn it around, and it may take one of their leaders to call a players-only meeting. Close the door, say "this is where it ends," and get to business. Tired of hearing Roy Williams say how dumb he is, or how bad of a coach he is. Really, Roy. You have a couple of national championships, you have churned out great NBA players as well as fine citizens. A bad season doesn't make you stupid, we all know you don't mean it, but to hear you say it is aggravating. Your players are young, and they are getting thumped by the gauntlet known as the Atlantic Coast Conference. Some days you're the bug, and some day's your the windshield.


Pitchers and catchers report in 10 days. To commemorate this historic event, White Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves will be a guest on Sports Night on Monday night, so make sure you check it out!

Mike Solarte

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Wow! What a game! No I'm NOT talking about the Super Bowl. Like many championship heavyweight fights, the best bout was during the under card.

While maligned in the main for its lack of mass appeal and low TV ratings, the National Hockey League provided the most thrilling and memorable contest on Super Bowl Sunday. The Verizon Center in Washington D.C. had a playoff atmosphere. While I'm sure some of that can be attributed to the Washingtonians who were just excited to be out of the house after enduring over two feet of snow; the main reason for the electricity in the air was because of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin. Combined, the pair has accounted for a Stanley Cup, three MVPs, two scoring titles and a rookie of the year award.

If you'll recall, I wrote last spring how their 7-game playoff series (won by the Penguins) was nothing short of brilliant to watch. Why? Because the top two players in hockey continually live up to their billing; and Sunday was no different. Crosby got the Penguins off to a quick start scoring the game's first two goals. Ovechkin got his team on the board in the second with his league-leading 40th goal of the season. Then the Penguins seemingly took control of the game as they mounted a 4-1 lead in the second period. The Capitals seemed to lose their composure as things got chippy between both clubs. It has truly become a heated rivalry.

Ovechkin came to the rescue. Trailing by two in the third period, he scored twice; tying the game and collecting his 9th career hat trick in the process. It should come as little surprise he assisted on the game-winner in overtime as Mike Knuble poked in the rebound after Ovechkin's shot went off the goal post. Ovechkin's four point effort keyed the Capitals 5-4 victory, its 14th in a row.

This burgeoning rivalry between the two teams and the two stars could be just what the NHL needs. Not since the days of Gordie Howe vs Maurice "The Rocket" Richard in the mid 1940s have two superstars battled each other with so much on the line.

Why didn't I include Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux? For one, Gretzky was already established and winning championships long before Lemieux entered the league. Second, they played on opposite coasts, meaning they only faced each other once a year during the regular season. Finally, by the time Super Mario was winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in '91 & '92, The Great One was done winning championships.

Whether Crosby vs Ovechkin lives up the historic battles Howe's Red Wings had with Richard's Canadiens remains to be seen. But it should make for some compelling theater.

Jason Brown

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Super Bowl and Daytona

Super Bowl 44 in Miami will be won by Indianapolis. The Colts should take the title but 6 points over New Orleans. Just a feeling, but this one should be a wild ballgame. Rains could be a factor, both of these offenses like to put points up, the defense will be put to a stern test. Could be a game with a total of 60-70 points. Will have to wait and see on that, but this will be a game that I will be glad to settle in and watch.

As for Daytona, I am fired up to see the NASCAR season get back underway. The off-season is far too short, but once they fire the cars up, I get amped. Watching Bud Shootout practice on Thursday was fairly interesting, just to see if the "relaxing of the rules" would actually occur. Of course, it was just practice, so it was unlikely to see anything transpire. We did see a couple of wrecks, though. Jamie McMurray go caught up in the mess made by Denny Hamlin and Mark Martin. One of those racing deals, no one really at fault, just a load of banged up sheet metal. Kurt Busch got tapped by Juan Pablo Montoya in the 2nd practice on Thursday. The blue deuce suffering right side damage as a result.

Carl Edwards drew the pole for the Shootout (there are no time trials for the event), so he's up front when they drop the rag on Saturday night. Before that, Danica Patrick makes her stock car debut in the ARCA race, and Daytona 500 pole qualifying will take place as well.

Racing. It's what's on tv on Saturday.

Charlotte Bobcats are back home after their 6 game road trip, and they face New Orleans on Saturday night. Hornets without Chris Paul, following knee surgery, but they should have Emeka Okafor in the lineup. Okafor missed the exhibition game between the two, but he will face his old team Saturday night. Should be neat to see that. Bobcats playing some good basketball, and are close to getting Tyson Chandler back into the lineup. Cats have played well in his absence, so here's hoping his return doesn't upset the balance, but enhances it.

Gonna run for now, have a great weekend!

Mike Solarte

Monday, February 1, 2010

6:51 pm tonight, ESPN did it.

It is Super Bowl week. As my partner in crime, Jason Brown alluded to in the day's earlier post, it's time to crank up the hype machine.

Tonight, at 6:51 pm, ESPN's Sportscenter ran the first of what will likely be many stories of how important this particular Super Bowl is to the city of New Orleans.

Look, I get it, ok? I understand that Hurricane Katrina changed that city and its residents forever. I understand that New Orleans went through the most devastating natural disaster ever. We all saw the images from the news coverage. People stranded on rooftops. The markings on the buildings showing inhabitants, and the deceased. It was horrible. We saw the looting. The lawlessness.

We then saw New Orleans come back from all that. The first game played inside the refurbished Super Dome. The Saints beat Atlanta. It sent chills up my own spine. That game was bigger for New Orleans than what will transpire in Miami on Sunday night. This game isn't for the city now. This game is for the city's fans. The city has shown more fortitude, and guts than anyone could have imagined when the aftermath of Katrina was still unfolding.

We need to remember how the people of New Orleans survived, and overcame that back then. This Saints team, with all due respect to the good folks of New Orleans, is trying to win this game for the franchise. Yes, it's a celebration that will be like none other, should the Saints win, of course. I personally would love to be on Bourbon Street Sunday night after a Saints win. Still, this game isn't about Katrina. It's not about the rebuilding that has taken place. That was taken care of when the Dome reopened. I'm not trying to be cold here, but let's move on, folks.

Elsewhere in the world, Peppers Watch 2010 is back on, in full force. Julius Peppers' agent says he is convinced Peppers will play elsewhere next season, citing a communication gap between the Panthers and his client.

The only reason this is news, is because the agent broke the silence in the media. The Panthers never play the game in the press. N-E-V-E-R. Carl Carey saying things to the media at the Pro Bowl, and wrapping up his comments with a thank you to Peppers' supportive fans has an odor to it. A similar odor to 2009. Make comments to the media, hope the Panthers bite, player gets paid. Carey is trying to force the hand. Newsflash, the Panthers don't have to do anything until Feb 11. And they have 2 weeks in which to do something from then. All this is going to do, in my opinion, is make some folks unhappy about the situation. We'll watch this unfold, and given the uncertain nature of the 2010 season (capped or uncapped), it's anybody's guess how it will all play out.

Tar Heel fans, I may have more faith in your team than you. Thing is, you may be right. I am not a fan, but an observer, and I was stunned to see the Heels get smoked by Virginia on Sunday night. Admittedly, I didn't watch the game start to finish, but I was still stunned by what I saw. Carolina isn't playing it's best ball right now, and there is concern that their best may not be good enough to get them into the NCAA tournament. This is a young team, and they will get better. They may run out of time to get into the dance, though. Again, time will tell.

Went to Raleigh on Saturday and checked out the Carolina Hurricanes game as they hosted the Chicago Blackhawks. Yes, I had a rooting interest, so I went as a fan. Wonderful hockey game, Hurricanes won 4-2. Chicago looked tired at the end of their 16 day road trip. Afterwards, I was able to catch up with members of the Hurricanes staff, players and coaches, plus I met several of the Blackhawk players as well. Only drawback to the evening was the drive through the Snowpocalypse.

Feels like I'm rambling, so I'll shut this one down. More during the week as we approach kickoff to the final NFL game of the playoffs.

Mike Solarte

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And it begins...

As sports fans know, this is no ordinary Monday. Today begins the Super Bowl XLIV hype as both the Colts and the Saints arrive in Miami. (Pro Bowl players from each team arrived a day early as the NFL forced them to make an appearance at Sunday's Pro Bowl game, but that's a topic for a different day). No, starting today news organizations will inundate viewers with a mountain of stories, some interesting, others not so much. Analysts will break down the game all week, although how they have anything left to talk about come Sunday afternoon is beyond me.

Although the game itself lately has provided high drama, i.e--Giants/Patriots & Cardinals/Steelers--for the most part it has felt like the game was secondary to everything else going on. The halftime show, the pre-game show, the commercials, etc. I'm sure you older readers remember when it was just about the game. Which is probably why I prefer the drama of baseball's World Series or hockey's Stanley Cup to the pomp and circumstance of the Super Bowl. It's always about the game.

Don't get me wrong, I'll be watching at a Super Bowl party just like everyone else Sunday. However, forgive me if I didn't pay attention to the latest Budweiser commercial or remember The Who's playlist. I'm more interested in whether Peyton Manning can put an exclamation point on his already Hall of Fame career, or if the Saints can lift the spirits of an entire city to the pinnacle of excellence in the NFL.

Catch 'ya later.
Jason Brown