Kentucky vs. South Carolina: Can You Believe It?

January 27, 2010

No one was giving South Carolina a chance to beat #1 Kentucky on Tuesday night. Not the media, many fans, the general public, and even the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Surprise.

The Gamecocks caught the sports world off-guard Tuesday night, defeating the Wildcats, the lone unbeaten team in the country, 68-62.

The makings of an upset were all there in the Colonial Life Arena last night. A sell-out crowd, screaming their heads off, and a nationally televised audience on ESPN with Super Tuesday. The 9 pm game is typically the marquee game of the night.

Devan Downey, for the second ime in less than a week, established himself as the front-runner for SEC player of the year by never backing down to the bigger, more athletic Wildcats. Downey scored 30 points.

The Gamecocks, who have struggled to find a complement to Downey since the injury to Dominique Archie, was helped with 17 points from Brandis Raley-Ross. This comes after everyone not named Downey combined for 20 points in a last second loss to Florida.

The key point in the game came with 11:45 to go in the 2nd half. Kentucky had the appearance of getting on one of their patented runs, only to be stopped by Darrin Horn with a time-out. From there, the Gamecocks never looked back.

Leaving the ball in the hands of Downey, the Gamecocks regained the lead and never looked back. The strategy was to keep the ball in the hands of the senior, and run down the clock when at all possible.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said that this tactic changed the game from a 40 minute to a 30 minute game.

The Garnet Army also came to play for the Gamecocks. The sixth man, student section never abandoned the team when it looked like the Wildcats were taking control. They created one of the loudest environments Kentucky has played in this season, and the Gamecocks rewarded them with a huge win.

Downey, seen often pumping the crowd up, apparently told a security guard not to stop the fans from rushing the court as it became apparent the Gamecocks would pull of the upset. The senior guard joked that the university would have plenty of money to pay the fine that the SEC may impose on South Carolina.

Was it just a case the Wildcats were not prepared for the dribble drive of Devan Downey? Maybe the Gamecocks just have Kentucky’s number, as Horn has defeated them all three times they have faced off in Horn’s career at South Carolina. Or perhaps it was just destiny?

Whatever the case may be, a season ravaged by injuries and the dismissal of a key player just seems a little brighter now. The fans are re-energized, the students are re-energized, and the players are re-energized. And most of it came from the hands of the smallest guy on the court.

It comes down to who wants it more. In those final 5 minutes of the game, Downey and the Gamecocks had more heart and everything to gain. The Wildcats played like they had everything to lose.

And it showed it the outcome.

Can you believe it?

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Kiffin Not Deserving of Being a Head Coach

January 14, 2010

Following Tuesday afternoon’s airing of “Section 26 Sports,” one of the biggest news stories of the young year broke out of Knoxville, Tennessee: Lane Kiffin is the new head coach at the University of Southern California.

Wait a second, lets change that…Kiffin decides Tennessee is not good enough for him.

Maybe Oakland Raiders’ owner Al Davis is not so crazy after all. Davis fired Kiffin amidst allegations of lying and like many of past Oakland coaches, not doing what Al Davis tells them to.

Tennessee Athletics Director Mike Hamilton then took a chance on Lane Kiffin, a young coach who many believed was wronged in Oakland by Davis.

Fourteen months later, Lane Kiffin, after convincing Volunteer Nation that he was going to right the ship in Tennessee, Kiffin stood in front of reporters telling them that there would only be one job that would cause him to leave Tennessee, a return to USC.

Kiffin, continue being the control freak he is, originally was not going to allow cameras in the room at all, that changed as the statement was released moments after it occured.

Through that, I have lost all respect for Lane Kiffin, as he has left the team he signed to coach only three weeks before National Signing Day.

Kiffin embarrassed himself, the Volunteers, and the Trojans through his decision. It is no wonder that the students at Tennessee reacted the way they did. (I do not however condone the actions of the students at UT under any circumstances. They were trying to make a statement, but there are more peaceful ways of doing so.)

They placed faith in a man who revolutionized how everybody thought about football in Knoxville. No longer was it the same expectations year after year. Now the Vol Nation believed that this program could be taken to the next level under the young hot shot.

Now Kiffin leaves the Volunteers with multiple NCAA violations, an investigation into what happened with a group of students who aided in recruiting, and a football program led by a guy who was only signed a month ago, Kippy Brown.

Kiffin leaves Tennessee to go to Southern Cal, where Pete Carroll left the school to coach in the NFL, with a meeting next month about major violations by the program involving star athletes such as Reggie Bush, Joe McKnight, and others. Some believe that USC could be facing major sanctions from the NCAA, which could limit their future bowl involvment as well as forcing them to vacate wins.

In the end, the people that are forgotten about and who lose the most are the student-athletes. Some of those that initially committed to Tennessee have been contacted by Ed Orgeron, who followed Kiffin, to encourage them to now go to Southern Cal,

Whether or not those are violations of NCAA rules is another story, but telling students not to attend class to prevent themselves from using up eligibility at Tennessee is ridiculous.

Now the job status of Hamilton is unknown. He fired long-time coach Phil Fulmer after the program not taking any leaps since the National Championship. Rumors now are swirling that Fulmer could end up as the next coach or even the next Athletics Director.

Kiffin’s actions is a complete embarassment for the sport of college football. I will never cheer for a person who changes jobs as often as he does (3 jobs in 2 years, and he is only in his mid-30s), or makes statements, demands, and demonstrates the morals that Kiffin does. I though his father, Monte, who also ditched Tennessee to go to Southern Cal, raised a better person than that.

So now Knoxville has to pick up the pieces, and I never root for a person to fail, but I truly hope Kiffin struggles at Southern Cal.

The bottom-line, Kiffin, at some point, will earn what he deserves.


The Top 5 Stories that Changed Sports this Decade

January 2, 2010

While I was bored sitting around in my hotel room in Birmingham, Alabama in advance of the PapaJohns.com Bowl between South Carolina and Connecticut, I was trying to figure out something interesting to write about.

After some inspiration from a segment I saw on a remotely popular sports show, I came up with the idea of a story about the top 5 stories that changed sports in this decade.

So here it is, the presumably last entry in my top 5 stories, the top 5 stories that changed the world of sports as we know it in the 2000s.

#5 – Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500; February 18th, 2001.

Sports heroes are not supposed to be killed suddenly in a sport they love. However, it does happen. On Sunday, February 18th, 2001, on the final lap in NASCAR’s season-opener, the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt slammed the outside retaining wall in turn 4. As the field passed by, Earnhardt’s car slid to the infield, as the car he owned driven by Michael Waltrip won the Daytona 500. Rescue workers rushed to Earnhardt’s car, where he was airlifted to a local hospital, and later pronounced dead.

Sometimes it takes tragedy to find a fault in a sport. Following the incident, NASCAR took many steps to ensure driver safety. They began the mandated use of the HANS device, a head-and-neck restraint system. Just recently, the new Car of Tomorrow was introduced to make the car safer.

Unfortunately, it often takes tragedy to show that change is necessary.

#4 – 2008 Summer Olympics – Michael Phelps triumph in Beijing.

The main story entering the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing was Michael Phelps trying for eight gold medals in swimming competition. Phelps won all eight competitions he was entered in, including the closest finish in Olympic history. For one of the first times in a while, the United States had someone to full out support in the celebrated games.

Phelps rose to glory as he won each gold medal, including winning by 1/100th of a second over Milorad Cavic in the 100 meter butterfly. Phelps would go onto to easily claim his eighth medal, passing Mark Spitz record.

Phelps became the poster boy for everything there was to be positive about Olympic competitions, something that was stuggling popularity in the United States. However, his ability to ‘survive’ the pressure came to the front page of newspapers as the photo of him allegedly inhaling into a bong at the University of South Carolina was released.

#3 – Super Bowl XXXVI; St. Louis Rams vs. New England Patriots; February 3rd, 2002.

In a time when the definition of hero was being fixed, the underdog becoming the favorite, and everyone joining together, it was the best time for a new team to jump into the fray in the NFL. Enter the New England Patriots, coached by Bill Belichick, who mostly had been a .500 coach in his career, and Tom Brady, a young quarterback who no one had heard of until the franchise’s long-time quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, suffered a major injury. Oh by the way, they were 14 point underdogs to the mighty Rams. What does that recipe create? A dynasty.

The St. Louis Rams were well on their way to a second Super Bowl, when the Patriots went against the game’s tradition, and chose to be introduced as a team. This was unheard of, as players used this opportunity to realize a dream. The Patriots were not interested in just playing by the rules. They were the new team on the block, and it worked.

So what has it lead to, three Super Bowl titles, becoming the team of the decade, and at the same time becoming the most hated team in football. My opinion, this Belichick coached Patriots’ team with Tom Brady’s impeccable leadership abilities is one of the best teams to ever step on a football field.

#2 – Barry Bonds Breaks the Home Run Record

Hank Aaron set what many thought to be a unbreakable record, hitting 755 home runs in his career. That career mark is something Aaron was very proud of.

Barry Bonds was a great doubles hitter his entire career. Early on in his career, he would easily hit .300, 30 home runs, and 100 runs batted in. He had spent his career with both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Francisco Giants.

However, in 2001, Bonds’ body morphed into that of a power hitter. He hit 73 home runs, the most by any player in a single season, and by far the most in his career. Quickly came the questions of his steroid use. Vehemently denying any use of performance-enhancing drugs, Bonds quickly began to close in on Aaron’s record. On August 7, 2007, Bonds broke Aaron’s home-run record.

Aaron did congratulate Bonds’ in a pre-taped video that played over the videoboard, but it was known that Aaron did not support Bonds’ feat due to the alleged steroid use.

Bonds in the end will go down as a player who may have used performance-enhancing drugs to set all of the records he did. My argument always is, steroids do not help you hit the ball, that is a natural ability. Steroids only help you hit the ball farther.

#1 – The Attacks of September 11th, 2001

This is probably the number one story of the decade, not just for sports, but for the entire world. For the first time in about ten years, the United States was on the wrong side of an attack. We were not the aggressor in a violent situation.

Weather often postpones or prohibits a game in many sports, but never had their been a situation where every sport in America was shut down for about an entire week. There was no baseball, no weekend football games, no NASCAR races. This was a time when people needed to reorganize their priorities.

As the country tried to pick up the pieces following a challenge to the fundamental rights of freedom in this country, as well as getting the trust back that it is safe to go out, the time seemed right for the athletes to return to the playing field.

After a brief layoff, the sports world returned. Each and every stadium had ceremonies honoring and remembering the events that occured on that Tuesday. The touching part is that to see athletes that we often see as objects of entertainment, were now people again too. Athletes losing control of emotions during these ceremonies, that were unseen in sports.

But what did these events do, it brought the American people back together, sometimes through sports. After 9/11, one of the greatest Super Bowls were played and the most entertaining World Series in recent memory was played.

No doubt that the events of 9/11, while it was brief, brought a feeling, an emotional attachment to them that had not been seen in some time.

It was a great decade for sports, and hopefully in the 2010s, more great moments that capture the sports world will continue to wow us for the next ten years.

Happy New Year Everybody!!!