Category Archives: American Sport

Greatest Sporting Moments of 2012: Longlist

Football: 

Chelsea vs. Barcelona in the Nou Camp; Man City winning the league in the last minute of the season; Spain perfecting football in the Euro 2012 final…

Tennis:

Murray vs. Djokovic (Australian Open s/f); Djokovic vs. Nadal (Australian Open final); Nadal vs. Rosol (Wimbledon 2nd Round); Murray vs. Tsonga (Wimbledon s/f); Federer vs. Del Potro (Olympic s/f); Murray vs. Djokovic (US Open final); Federer vs. Djokovic (WTF @ O2 final)…

Golf: 

Bubba Watson’s shot on the 1st playoff hole at the Masters; Tiger Woods’ chip-in on the 16th at the Memorial; Ernie Els coming from nowhere to win the Open; Europe’s remarkable finalday comeback at the Ryder Cup…

Athletics: 

Mo Farah winning the 10,000 metres; Jessica Ennis’ dominating the Olympic heptathlon; the US women and Jamaican men breaking the 4x100m world records; Farah winning the 5,000 metres; David Rudisha obliterating the 800m world record; Usain Bolt answering his doubters in the 100m final…

Cycling: 

Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France; Wiggins winning the Olympic Time Trial; Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes smash the world record in the Men’s Team Sprint final…

Swimming:

France hunting down the USA in the men’s 4x100m freestyle; Chad Le Clos beating Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly; Ye Shiwen destroying the world record in the 400m IM…

Cricket: 

Kevin Pietersen’s breathtaking 149 against South Africa at Headingley…

NFL: 

Tim Tebow beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on an 85 yard pass to Demaryius Thomas in OT; Giants shocking the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI…

Darts: 

Adrian Lewis coming from 5-1 down to beat James Wade 6-5 in the World Championship semi-final…

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Super Bowl XLVI: New York Giants v New England Patriots

Background

The overarching storyline for this game is the rematch element. 4 years ago, the Giants knocked off an undefeated New England in Super Bowl XLII at Arizona, preventing the Patriots from being the first 19-0 team in history and denying Brady and Belichick their 4th – and Montana and Walsh equalling – Super Bowl titles.

Unlike Glendale, when the game was a surprising defensive struggle for the first three quarters – 7-3 New England entering the 4th quarter – there is the potential for an offensive explosion in Indianapolis on Sunday night. The Patriots were ranked 3rd in scoring and 2nd in total yardage; the Giants 9th in scoring and 8th in yardage. Additionally, both franchises were in the top 5 for passing yardage but in the bottom 6 for total defense – the Patriots giving up a quite ludicrous 411 yards per game. All signs therefore – especially indoors on the Lucas Oil stadium fast track – point towards an offensive shootout.

Where the game will be won and lost

In 2008 the New York Giants were able to slow the juggernaut Patriot offense by getting consistent, quick pressure on Brady. The New England quarterback was sacked 5 times and hit or hurried countless more. The defensive line comprising Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora caused havoc in the New England backfield that day.

After a difficult regular season, with the nadir a 49 point shellacking in the Superdome against New Orleans, the Giants defense has again stepped up during the playoffs. Tuck and Umenyiora remain from that dominant front four but this time the Giants defensive front has the additional bonus of the freakishly talented Jason Pierre-Paul. With 16 ½ sacks during the regular season, Pierre-Paul is one of the most dominant edge rushers in the league. A key component of the matchup between the Patriots offense and the Giants defense will be whether Left Tackle Matt Light can slow down the relentless Pierre-Paul and stop him getting to Brady for the whole game.

Brady must get rid of the ball quickly to blunt the impact of the Giants front four, but unlike in 2008 his offense lacks the deep threat – Randy Moss – to keep the defense honest. Wes Welker and Deion Branch will catch everything thrown to them but they lack the ability to stretch the field. New England’s best weapons this season have been their Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But with record-breaking Gronkowski (90 receptions; 1327 yards; 17 TDs) questionable with a high ankle sprain suffered against Baltimore in the AFC Championship game, it is difficult to see how Brady can back the pressure off without ‘The Gronk’ to stretch the field down the middle.

Despite these limitations Brady will get his; as one of the greatest of all time he always does. But whether that will be enough to protect his porous defense is another question entirely.

On the other side of the ball, the Giants offense figures to have a field day with that leaky Patriots defense. Eli Manning, unquestionably an elite quarterback, will look to get the ball out early and often to Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, confident in the knowledge that they have the pure speed to beat the Patriots secondary over the top and the sure hands to move the chains at every opportunity. It is difficult to see how Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and the various other  members of Belichick’s patchwork secondary can live with the Giants receiving corps.

Always crucial, the ability of the New England defensive front to get pressure on Manning will be absolutely paramount on Sunday in order to protect the secondary. However, the Giants offensive line is solid and the Patriots lack the powerful pass-rush that the Giants possess so this will be difficult. If it comes down to the final couple of minutes, Manning will have full faith in his clutch ability to deliver the big play at the biggest moment – Super Bowl XLII and a regular season defeat of the Patriots in 2011 the prime examples of this supernatural aura.

On special teams, the two ballclubs match up fairly evenly. The game may come down to the kicking abilities of Stephen Gostkowski for New England and Lawrence Tynes of New York. Gostkowski is one of the most accurate kickers in league history and Tynes has two NFC Championship (2008 & 2012) winning field goals on his resume so neither should be fazed by the pressure on Sunday night.

Halftime Show

Madonna. Madonna! Dear oh dear. After Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, The Who, Prince and Paul McCartney in recent years the less said about this the better.

Betting

As a non-gambler (take following advice with severe caution!) my one value tip for the game would be Jason Pierre-Paul for MVP. No defensive player has won the award since safety Dexter Jackson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII but Pierre-Paul has the outrageous talent and burning desire necessary to take over this game. Ultimately an offensive explosion will see one of the QBs win the MVP but at 50-1 Pierre-Paul – with his potential to record 3 sacks and force a couple of fumbles – certainly represents good value.

Prediction

I look at every part of this game – offense, defense and special teams – and see a more balanced and ultimately better football team in the New York Giants. The Patriots can never be discounted because they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick but unless Gronkowski is fully fit I struggle to see how they can compensate for their atrocious defense and the carnage that Manning, Cruz and Nicks will undoubtedly cause. Without The Gronk, New England severely lack explosion, leaving Brady vulnerable to the ferocious pass rush that Tuck, Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul will bring all night.

Giants 41-28 Patriots

Why Eli Manning is the Most Clutch QB in the NFL

Amid all the enormous hype generated by Tim Tebow’s miracle on Wild Card Weekend; then Alex Smith’s Joe Montana impersonation and Tom Brady’s Tour de Force on Saturday night of Divisional Weekend, one quarterback continued to fly under the radar despite acting as the catalyst for the biggest shock of the NFL season, and possibly the biggest shock since the 18-0 New England Patriots were defeated in Super Bowl XLII. The Green Bay Packers, led by the peerless Aaron Rodgers – NFL MVP to be – were throttled 37-20 at home. Coincidentally, or rather not in my opinion, both upsets were perpetrated by the New York Giants and engineered by Eli Manning.

Manning has been a top-5 quarterback for 4 years now, yet he has consistently been denied of the credit due for his achievements. Bar the 2010 season, when he threw an inexplicable 25 interceptions for the year as the Giants collapsed down the stretch, Manning has steadily improved to the undoubtedly elite level he now inhabits. However, despite the great numbers, Manning’s greatest characteristic is his intangible ability to be clutch at the crucial moments.

Watching the complete video of the game winning drive against New England in the Super Bowl it is obvious that he was lucky on a couple of occasions; the prime examples: Asante Samuel’s infamous dropped interception and a less-heralded pass to David Tyree which Brandon Meriweather was in close proximity to. However, despite this modicum of good fortune, it was undoubtedly one of the most impressive, clutch drives in NFL history complete with vital third down completions, miraculous plays and an ice-cold strike to decide the game.

Sure, the defense remains a huge part of any New York success. The defensive front comprising Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul might be even more intimidating than the Michael Strahan-led group that shut down the record-setting Patriots offense in 2008. Pressuring the quarterback with the minimum number of rushers is of paramount importance in the modern game and the Giants achieve this better than anyone in football. Indeed their defensive prowess makes the 49 point meltdown against New Orleans in November all the more inexplicable.

But ultimately, during this passing era in the NFL the burden of meeting triumph and disaster while treating them just the same rests with the quarterback. And at this stage of the season the pressure on the signal caller intensifies exponentially. And it is under this most enormous stress that Eli Manning seems to thrive. I’d go so far as to suggest there is no-one in football you’d rather have leading a game-deciding two minute drill in the playoffs than Eli Manning. Possibly Brady, possibly Roethlisberger; for my money: Eli.

The best quarterbacks of this season, Drew Brees and Rodgers both have the arm-strength, accuracy, touch on the deep ball, athletic ability and pocket presence; as well as a previous Super Bowl ring each and numerous gaudy passing statistics, but neither has the intangible ability to inspire absolute certainty of success under asphyxiating pressure that Eli Manning does. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Only a few athletes and teams in the world share this superhuman ability; Tiger Woods at the peak of his powers was the best example. You just knew he would hole the crucial putts on the back 9 on Sunday at a Major. More recently, Novak Djokovic has carried an aura of relentless inevitability into Grand Slam finals, and Barcelona into football matches against their greatest rivals.

Eli might not be the prettiest quarterback to watch, he’ll never shatter passing records or throw 50 touchdowns but for inspiring confidence when a game is at its crisis point there is no-one greater in the National Football League. “Manning…lobs it…Burress…alone…TOUCHDOWN NEW YORK!” In that moment, at the denouement of Super Bowl XLII, Manning’s reputation should have been sealed.

But despite the Super Bowl heroics it has been a continued battle for Manning to prove himself to a still sceptical NFL media. In 2009 – a year and a half after the Giants’ victory in Glendale, and coming off the best statistical season of his career – Sports Illustrated’s Peter King conducted a QB Poll with NFL experts Brian Billick, Mike Shananhan, Rich Gannon, Phil Savage and Mike Mayock. Of the 10 categories the quarterbacks were judged on, Eli did not make it into any top 5. Indeed, King himself noted in the article, with apparent surprise:”…(Eli) was not named on any ballot on any category.”

Surely, victory on Sunday night in San Francisco against the favoured 49ers and a potential repeat triumph over Brady’s Patriots on February 5th would ensure his legacy as the greatest big-game player since Joe Montana. Despite his placid demeanour, Manning certainly comes laced with steel in his veins and this unquenchable self-belief and assurance of triumph he possesses even in the greatest adversity, is a much more powerful weapon than any surgically diagnosed defense or perfectly thrown spiral.

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In The Zone: Aaron Rodgers

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article on the comparatively few sporting moments of genius that we’ve witnessed in 2011. However, the piece contained an unforgiveable error – it omitted any reference to the most incandescent sportsman of the moment, the Green Bay Packers quarterback: Aaron Rodgers. An athlete who produced an entire night of glowing, luminous sporting genius and has continued on the path trodden by immortals ever since.

Across a year of scalding brilliance, including a Super Bowl MVP performance, Rodgers most astonishing masterpiece came not in the Super Bowl – despite his 304 yards and 3 TDs – but in the Georgia Dome in January’s NFC Divisional Round. That night against the Atlanta Falcons he finally stopped being Brett Favre’s successor and began crafting a legacy that should surpass all that Number 4 ever achieved in Green Bay.

In the domed theatre, Rodgers illuminated the stage with the most perfect performance of quarterbacking you could ever wish to see. Rodgers’ final stats showed 31 of 36 for 366 and 3 TDs; plus a rushing touchdown. Even those blinding figures don’t tell a fraction of the story. That night, Rodgers transcended statistics – one of those mythical performances where you knew, just knew, that every time he dropped back to pass something electrifying would happen. Not might; would. Strike after strike arrowed into receivers’ paths, time and again tacklers were eluded as Rodgers swaggered out of Favre’s eternal shadow and into his own spotlight.

Watching Rodgers carve up the San Diego Chargers defense last night as the Packers’ moved to 8-0 one was reminded of that night against Atlanta. Whether in the pocket, flushed from the pocket, chased from the pocket at a full sprint; no matter – he just doesn’t miss. 4TDs; only 5 Incompletions and it appeared so simple. Back shoulder Touchdown throws to Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings were particular things of beauty.

It occurred that Lionel Messi of Barcelona might be the only other sportsman who makes genius look this easy. And he is surrounded by other all-time greats to assist his excellence: Xavi, Iniesta and Villa would be shoe-ins for a hypothetical soccer Hall of Fame.

Brady had Moss, Manning had Harrison and Wayne; Montana had Rice, Bradshaw had Swann. No disrespect to Nelson, Jennings, Donald Driver et al. but they are not in the same class as the afore-mentioned wideouts. Only John Elway, among the all-time greats, did as much with so comparatively little. Obviously Rodgers must continue this purple patch for an enhanced period of time to challenge the greatest signal callers ever but that possibility increases with each passing week.

Rodgers still has a penchant for hanging onto the ball a touch too long, but it is a minor failing in the grand scheme of greatness. If the MVP was decided right now, his victory would be unanimous. He is currently on pace to obliterate the single-season records for Completion Percentage: .725 (Drew Brees, 2009: .706), Passing Yardage: 5,238 (Dan Marino, 1984: 5,084) and Passer Rating: 129.1 (Peyton Manning, 2004: 121.4).

Unfortunately, it must end sometime, as all periods of sporting excellence are doomed to die. Whether by an, admittedly unlikely, loss of form or shocking injury it will cease at some point. However, for now it is better to bask in the glow of an athlete performing at the pinnacle of their game.

“I felt like I was in the zone.” said Rodgers after the game against Atlanta. The Zone is a mythical place, spoken of in hushed tones, unvisited by mere mortals and where even the greatest rarely linger. Aaron Rodgers entered The Zone that night in January and hasn’t left since.

Alabama v LSU

Tonight in Tuscaloosa the No.2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide host the No. 1 ranked Louisiana State University Tigers. Should be a great one! Join me by clicking Click Here at Midnight for a live text commentary of College Football’s latest Game Of The Century™.

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