Sunday, January 20, 2008


I had heard that hockey was "the greatest sport to watch live." I saw more than 30 games last year while writing for, and I didn't believe it until Thursday night.

Sitting in the first row of the upper deck of Arena, I witnessed forward Rick Nash score perhaps the best goal in Columbus Blue Jackets history. With 24 seconds left, Nash received the puck across the blue line and deked two Phoenix Coyotes defenders four times--four!--before popping a backhanded wrister past a totally helpless goaltender. (Click above for the highlight if you haven't seen it.) After the game, the all-star Nash told reporters that he felt like "the puck was on a string," and if so, he yo-yoed it more deftly than anyone in the NHL has so far this year. Sportscenter put the play at No. 1 on its "Top Plays" and showed it constantly on Friday. Barry Melrose called it the 'goal of the year.' With the goal, Columbus took a 4-3 lead in the back-and-forth contest and won by that score when the final horn sounded 24 seconds later. Nash's highlight-reel score made me erupt to my feet, shouting and jumping around like an exuberant six year old.

Wait a second, was I really getting this excited about the Blue Jackets? About hockey?

I spent an entire season last year watching and covering an underachieving, often dismal Blue Jackets team. Because they were terrible and because I had never really warmed up to hockey, it was easy to stay unbiased. Never once did I feel like a Blue Jackets "fan," which was crucial to staying professional. Now it's official: I am a Blue Jackets fan.

When I moved to Arizona, my allegiance to all things Ohio grew stronger. I have now seen two home state teams play in the desert (1-1), and I plan to get tickets for teams' upcoming trips, as well. As far as the Blue Jackets are concerned, I realized organization gave me a huge opportunity to write for them and that I wouldn't be where I am now without that experience and their kind references. When the season started, I decided that I might as well root for them and follow them, if for no other reason than to show support for my former co-workers.

On my holiday trip home to Ohio, though, I saw two solid Jackets wins, including a very exciting near hat trick from Nikolai Zherdev. It was obvious that this Columbus team is the not butt of hockey jokes it has been for the past seven seasons. Then, the game in the desert proved that the CBJ are laden with playmakers and hard-working defensemen. The mix they have is working quite well, and hence, they are incredibly fun to watch, even for me. They certainly were Thursday.

Their "keys" to making the playoffs are the same as any team in any sport trying to get over the hump: stay healthy, continue to win most of your home games and try to break even on the road. Though they dropped a game at Dallas last night, they are 1-1 on the trip. They have been dominant at home as of late.

Following a hometown hockey team in a playoff race? Yeah, I think I'm up for it.

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Monday, January 14, 2008


LeBron James can drive the lane faster than anyone in the league, and apparently, he can drive I-71 just as fast.

Too bad for him, in this case, the Ohio Highway Patrol were sitting in the paint ready to reject him.

The AP reports LeBron was pulled over for going 101 mph in a 65 mph zone, a notorious speed trap around Medina. The incident occurred very early in the morning right after LBJ's 23rd birthday (Dec. 30). Why we are just hearing about it now, I have no idea.

One has to wonder if 'King James' had been sipping on a few royal beverages beforehand. It was his birthday, after all. What person in their mid-20s doesn't have something with alcohol in it on a birthday? This writer certainly does. (Testimonials are not welcome.) Though he didn't get an OVI (Ohio infraction for "operating a vehicle while intoxicated") from the patrolman, it could be because that particular member of Ohio's finest was a big Cavs fan? James must appear in court in February and will likely get a reckless ops citation, unless he can argue he had a good reason to be pushing his Benz over the century mark. This, as far as we know, is James' first brush with the law.

I'm not trying to judge LeBron. Let's just say people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. But at the same time, he's a $100-million+ investment, and he stupidly risked his life and future to drive like a maniac. Has he learned nothing from Kellen Winslow?

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Monday, January 07, 2008


In the office last week, a colleague decided to start a playoff pill pool for the NFL playoffs. It works like this: 12 teams in the playoffs, 12 people in the pool. Everyone contributes $10 and draws a team from the hat. If your team wins the Super Bowl, you get $100. If your team gets to the Super Bowl, you get $20.

This is not a pool, like the weekly pick 'em, that demands any kind of football accumen; rather, it's a game of chance. Essentially, it was a 1 in 12 chance of picking New England and winning $100. I figured why not? With the Browns left out of the playoffs, I had a quickly waning interest in the playoffs. When the Browns were terrible, fantasy football was the only reason I cared at all. So, I opted in.

And drew Dallas.

Next to New England, this is probably the best option in the bunch. After all, the Cowboys went 13-3 and earned the first seed in the NFC. They might have gone 14-2, but they sat most of their regulars in Week 17's loss to the Washington Redskins, who after this weekend, are no longer in the playoffs. They have Tony Romo and Terrell Owens, who should be healthy for their game next week with the N.Y. Giants. They might be one of two or three teams who could give New England a game, and they're in the NFC, which is pretty much wide open and leaves the $20 second prize as a consolation.

But it's Dallas. I have to root for Dallas.

To emphasize how conflicted I am ... I HAVE TO ROOT FOR DALLAS! I have hated the Cowboys since the days of Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. I think that the worst policy decision the United States ever made was to fight Mexico to acquire Teaxs, and I fully support the Lonestar State's secession from the union. Dallas is the home of big oil and twang. George W. Bush owned the Texas Rangers in nearby Fort Worth.

But with $20 up for grabs, I...will...root for Dallas.

It could be worse. I could have drawn Pittsburgh.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008


It’s only fitting that in a year dubbed Ohio’s “year of almosts” that another near-miss would cap 2007, just as it started.

Yesterday, the Tennessee Titans prevailed over the backup-laden Indianapolis Colts 16-10, snubbing the Cleveland Browns, who finished 10-6, from the playoffs. The Browns methodically disposed of the San Francisco 49ers at home, 20-7, earlier in the day, in a game they hoped was a playoff tune-up. But luck, as it always does, stayed away from the most tortured sports city in the country.

This year, Ohio might be the most tortured state.

Let’s start with Jan. 3. Ohio State’s football team dominated its way to a 12-0 season before being outplayed and outcoached by Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators in my new digs, Glendale, Ariz., during the national title game. In the spring, the Buckeyes mens basketball team earned a shot at redemption, before losing to those same Gators in the national title game. The Cavaliers, behind the godlike play of LeBron James, reached their first ever NBA Finals before being swept by San Antonio. The Columbus Destroyers, though of little significance to many, played their way out mediocrity by advancing to the Arena Bowl, before losing there. The Cleveland Indians blew a 3-1 series lead in the ALCS to the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox. OSU made it all the way to the NCAA finals in mens soccer and then lost. Then yesterday…the Browns.

However, saying the Browns lost their playoff hopes yesterday ignores all of their other missed opportunities. Yes, I wanted to punch Tony Dungee in the goatee for playing his junior varsity, even when the game could have gone his way, and for not managing the clock at game’s end. Clearly, he wanted Tennessee in the playoffs over the Browns (and I don’t blame him.) But the Browns left the playoffs on the shelf when they laid an egg in Cincinnati a week ago, when they committed four turnovers in Arizona and when they played down to the Raiders—and lost the game on a timeout-induced botched field goal. Granted, the Browns pulled out a couple of close ones, but the end story is all too familiar: close, but no cigar.

Fellow sports writers and friends are reflecting on 2007 and calling it a “Season of Dreams.” Given my recap above, I fail to see what’s so dreamy about it. I’m often accused of being a pessimist, but 2007 for the Ohio sports fan has been about as pleasurable as getting hot and heavy with someone before the other person whispers they have an STI. It’s been the year of fool’s gold, where as soon as the thought creeps into your head that “this could be the year,” a twist of fate chokes those dreams around the neck.

You implore, “But John? What about all of the good memories? LeBron’s 48 points? Bugs attack Joba Chamberlain at the Jake? Browns egde Bills in the snow bowl? Hey, I never said the year wasn’t entertaining or lacked good times. As it stacks up with other years, I suppose 2007 has been a pretty good one. But never, never have I, a Cleveland/Ohio sports fan, been inside of so many different championship panties just to get shooed out of them.

As we turn the page to 2008, the Buckeye footballers can silence all of the doubters with a win over LSU. Will the coming year be the year of finishing? Or can we expect more of the same?

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