November 29, 2005
Colts defense:
Forget Manning, Harrison and James: The real key to the Colts' breakthrough season has been the D, which held the Steelers to a stingy 197 yards.
 
 
 
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
FUTURE.  PERFECT.

At this point, how can you NOT be rooting for the Colts to go 16-0?

It would be the greatest single season achievement by any NFL team ever, and arguably by any team in sports.

There's cachet to "16-0." Perfection isn't something that the NFL is geared to produce.

In fact, the league's focus is exactly the opposite: The system is meant to grind any semblance of perfection into parity.

That's why a team which challenges that authority should be embraced, even if the uberstraightlaced Peyton Manning is playing the role of lead rebel.

And there's another factor: How many fans under the age of 35 would LOVE to see the smirk wiped off the faces of the '72 Dolphins alumni, members of the NFL's last unbeaten team.

They've gone from quaint to annoying: They're the doddering old-timers who go on about the good old days with their bony claws in a death grip on those chilling bottles of champagne like the bubbly will provide eternal youth.

Take today's poll (look right) and weigh in on whether you WANT to see the Colts go 16-0 (or 19-0, since 16-0 without a title would be the biggest choke-job in modern NFL history) or whether you'd really like to see them stumble in the next five games.

Perfection happens so rarely in sports -- particularly in the NFL -- that you can dislike Peyton Manning or have no interest in Indy and still be rooting like crazy to see the Colts reach it.

Mets Get Wagner
Upgrade as understatement:

*Blown Saves: Billy Wagner had only 3 (compared to Braden Looper's 8).

*ERA: Wagner's is less than half of Looper's (1.51 vs. 3.94).

*K-to-BB Ratio: More than triples Looper's Ks (yet with fewer BBs).

In every meaningful metric, Wagner is superior to Looper. Except age, the glaring deal point in a 4-year contract worth a record $43 mil.

So did the Mets overextend by offering Wagner that many years and making him the highest-paid reliever ever? (Who cares? They can afford it.)

Jeter to Center?
It's as if Joe Torre threw that out there just to freak fans out that he might actually move the Cap (or A-Rod) to CF.

But is it a good idea? Even with his Gold (cough) Glove (cough), moving Jeter would help the team in a market lean on CFs.

It's not as if moving A-Rod to SS would be a downgrade. And I've never been a fan of the way Jeter treats his position like he's entitled to it.

Baseball Hall Watch
As ESPN.com's resident Instant Historian, I admit bias for assigning outsized (even "Hall-ish") impact to mere phenomena. The new ballot has two interesting cases for first-time nominees:

CHECK OUT THE QUICKIE EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING!
WHO'S GOT THE MOMENTUM ...
LenDale White: USC's *other* stud RB will play vs. UCLA
Florida: Hoops team off to best start (6-0) in Donovan Era
Ronaldinho: Wins Golden Ball as Euro soccer Player of Year
... AND WHO'S GOT NO MO'
Carmelo Anthony: Sprains ankle in Nuggets' loss to Nets
Brian Brohm: Stud Louisville QB done for '05 with ACL tear
Pete Rose: Left off Hall ballot in final year of eligibility
 
Dwight Gooden: Never matched his sensational start at age 19 and 20 in '84 and '85, when he went 41-13 with 544 Ks. Plus, he was the baseball icon of the '80s (although symbolic of his Mets teams, a flameout).

If dominating your era matters, the question about Doc is whether a half-decade qualifies as an era. The best guess is that more than 25 percent of voters won't think so.

Orel Hershiser: His streak of 59 straight scoreless innings in his '88 Cy season eclipsed an otherwise solid (but not Hall-worthy) career.

(Great supplemental debate: Would you rather be a Baseball Hall of Famer or the star of one of the great underdog World Series champions?)

Lions Axe Mooch
With the first coach to get the axe this season, let's retrace the SportsNation Fan Approval Ratings for Steve Mariucci:

Perhaps he was doomed from the start, with a 77 percent approval rating after Detroit's opening-week win over Green Bay. With those expectations (and that team), he was kind of doomed to fail, no?

The next week (a miserable loss to Chicago -- at the time, who knew the Bears would be so dominant?) saw his rating drop to 27 percent, and he never really recovered.

His final approval was 38 percent, which may work for presidents, but not for NFL coaches. (Notably, he was still ahead of 5 others: Sherman, Mularkey, Billick, Turner, Capers. You're all on notice, Colbert-style!)

(Final note: The Lions wanted Mariucci SO badly that they were willing to simply ignore the NFL's newly minted guidelines about giving minorities even a smidgen of a chance within the hiring process. Karma payback? Hmm.)

Irvin's Troubles
Do you believe Michael Irvin? More importantly, do Hall of Fame voters? He missed the cut last year, and this incident won't exactly enhance his résumé.

(Of course, if the mere insinuation of personal impropriety factored into Hall selection, half the HOF could be wiped out. And those voters wouldn't fare much better.)

Irvin implied on Dan Patrick's radio show that he'd be willing to take a drug test, which doesn't sound like the talking points of the guilty-minded. He is unquestionably guilty of one thing: Extremely poor judgment.

Big Ten/ACC Hoops
Illinois (12) at UNC: Tonight's rematch of the '05 national title game almost seems unfair eight months later as a headliner of the three-night royal rumble between the conferences (9, ESPN).

The Illini are led by the experienced big-small combo of James Augustine (15.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and Dee Brown (14.2 ppg, 4.0 apg); the defending-champ Heels are rebuilding, albeit behind superfrosh Tyler Hansbrough (18.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg).

But that's not nearly as fun as playing "Where Are They Now?" with the SIX players from last year's title game who went on to become NBA first-round draft picks (listed by draft order, along with '04-05 stats):

Marvin Williams
Then: 11.3 ppg, 7 rpg, 22 mpg
Now: 5.5 ppg, 4 rpg, 23 mpg

Deron Williams
Then: 12.5 ppg, 7 apg, 34 mpg
Now: 13.6 ppg, 5 apg, 31 mpg

Raymond Felton
Then: 12.9 ppg, 7 apg, 32 mpg
Now: 7.7 ppg, 4 apg, 20 mpg

Sean May
Then: 18 ppg, 11 rpg, 27 mpg
Now: 9.2 ppg, 5 rpg, 19 mpg

Rashad McCants
Then: 16 ppg, 3 rpg, 26 mpg
Now: 5.2 ppg, .8 rpg, 12 mpg

Luther Head
Then: 15.9 ppg, 4 apg, 33 mpg
Now: 9.8 ppg, 2 apg, 27 mpg

So for the record:
UNC NBA avg: 7 ppg, 19 mpg
Illinois avg: 12 ppg, 29 mpg

If you answered "Luther Head" for "Which other Illini guard would have a better start to his pro career than any of the UNC players?" treat yourself to an extra cup of coffee.

Larry Nemmers:
NFL confirms to Seahawks that this ref got not one but TWO touchdown calls wrong during Sunday's win over the Giants.
 
 
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Page 2 Index
Poll: Hot Stove
 
MLB's Best Closers
Mo Rivera
Still the best: 1.38 ERA
 
Brad Lidge
Despite playoff problems
 
Frankie Rodriguez
Youth gets an edge
 
Billy Wagner
Worth 5-10 extra Ws?
 
Chad Cordero
MVP of the Nats (1.82 ERA)
 

Konerko Watch: Even with new recruiter Jim Thome making phone calls, watch the Angels, who offered him 4Y/$50M. Paul likes the West Coast.

Heat crush Knicks: A lesson in the difference between being a contender and not. Zo ties a career-best with 9 blocks and Wade had 33 points.

More MLB Stove: Does Billy Beane know something about Esteban Loaiza the rest of us don't? (Maybe he's eyeing his 3-1 K/BB ratio or sub-3.80 ERA.)

John Clayton has a must-read on the possible candidates to replace Mariucci in Detroit, including the current head coaches on hot seats.

Will USA Hoops be playing zone? Coach K picks up Jim Boeheim as an assistant, along with Suns Eurohoops guru Mike D'Antoni and Portland's Nate Mac.

As far as fans running onto a field goes, there are a lot worse things than doing it to dump your late mom's ashes there.



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