After weeks of chomping on tasty Christmas hams and disposing of disgusting fruitcakes, it’s a battle of Signal staff writers versus the new assistant, as ATD veterans Mike O’ Donnell and Brandon Lee take on rookie Garrett Rasko-Martinis. These three warriors will discover the keys to success for the underdog Arizona Cardinals, discuss a possible Major League Baseball salary cap and argue who is the better sports fan – Jesus Christ or The Rock?
1. The Arizona Cardinals are seven-point underdogs heading into Super Bowl XLIII. What do the Cards need to do to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history?
MO: Two things will help the Cardinals win this game. The first is the most important: controlling the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. With the vaunted Steelers defense in full force, the Cardinals offensive line will need to provide movement and protection. If they can establish the run and open holes for Edgerrin James to run through, they will enhance the passing game. The second key is to keep up the defensive tempo. Arizona has been playing better defense in its three playoff games than it did in all 16 regular- season games. Keeping constant pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and the so-so Steelers’ offense will allow the team to keep the ball where they can use it best.
BL: The Cardinals have to protect Kurt Warner at all costs. If Warner gets hit a few times, he’ll be rattled, the passing game (offense) will be halted and the game will be in the bag. If Warner and Larry Fitzgerald are in sync, the Steelers secondary better watch out. The key to the Cardinals’ success has been their passing game and solid run defense. If Fitzgerald has a great game and the Cardinals defense shuts down Willie Parker, then the Cardinals have a shot. Another factor will be the Cardinal defense’s ability to keep Big Ben in the pocket. He’s definitely one of those quarterbacks who are extremely dangerous on the run.
GR: By scoring more points, mostly. But to expand, the Cardinals offense needs to be firing on all cylinders. Warner needs to keep throwing the ball so Fitzgerald can use his super powers to catch everything. Their offensive line needs to keep giving Warner all day, although they’ll have their biggest challenge this week against a nasty Steelers defense. James needs to do what he’s been doing throughout the playoffs – establish a good running game to keep the defense honest. They also need their defense to keep the Steelers offense off the field as much as possible. While the Steelers don’t have an explosive offense, they still have a weapon in Hines Ward (although he’s going to be playing hurt), and Big Ben has a knack for fourth quarter comebacks. If the Cardinals can keep scoring points and the game turns into a shootout, they have a chance. Ball control is going to determine the winner of this game, as it does in most football games.
BO: Brandon, I like the comment about keeping Big Ben in the pocket and keeping heavy protection on the fragile Kurt Warner. You win round one. Three points for you. Mike, good point about the offensive line and keeping up the tempo on defense. Two for you. Garrett, it is true the Cardinals will need points to win the game, but you get the 1.
2. This winter, the New York Yankees have spent roughly $400 million on pitchers C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira. The basis for them landing each of these stars was that they offered contracts that smaller market teams could not. After this showing of financial supremacy, should the MLB consider a salary cap?
MO: Absolutely. Exhibit A: the NFL. Where else can you have a team that goes 1-15 one year (Miami) and then goes on to win a seemingly untouchable division the next? That is why it is so difficult to pinpoint exact favorites in football. The Rams of 1999 were not a favorite. The Ravens of 2000 weren’t either. Ditto for the 2001 Patriots. The list goes on. Having a limit on spending allows teams to make these types of turn-arounds instead of having monopolies in Boston and New York year after year. In baseball, about half the league has a realistic shot at going to the playoffs. Any of the 32 teams in football can make a Cinderella run (i.e. the Giants of last season and the Cardinals of this season), and that is why football is the most popular sport in America today.
BL: In the past nine World Series, there have been eight different winners, so there really isn’t a dominant team in the league. Yes, teams like the Yankees and Red Sox usually outbid each other for the best players, but if a team is smart, they can compete with proper drafting and a deep farm system. Just look at the Rays. The Rays beat the Red Sox and Yankees with a payroll of $43,422,997 in 2008, while the Yankees capped at $207,108,489. The Rays had the second-lowest payroll in MLB, edging out the dirt-cheap Marlins by about $20 million.
GR: A salary cap seems like a good way to solve this “financial supremacy” issue, but honestly, if you’re going have a cap, then there should be a minimum. Say what you will about teams like the Yankees and Mets spending more money than other teams can even think about, but at least the owners are spending the money their teams make instead of just pocketing it. Owners shouldn’t hold onto the team’s money; they should put it back into the team. I do like the idea of a salary cap because it keeps a team from being too domineering, but as we’ve seen with teams like the Cowboys and the Yankees lately, money isn’t everything. I think a cap should be considered, but if there’s a maximum, there has to be a minimum.
BO: Another 3 spot for Brandon for discussing the Rays’ farm system and low payroll. The 2 goes to Garrett for commenting on the idea of a salary minimum; I agree with that. Sorry Mike, but you get the 1 because Cinderella stories happen in every sport, including baseball. The Rays and the Tigers both have small payrolls and have been in the World Series in the last three years.
3. There are countless celebrities who are also famous sports fans – i.e. Jack Nicholson with the Lakers and Bill Murray with the Cubs. If you were the owner of a pro-sports franchise, what celebrity would you want rooting for your team?
MO: The best choice to represent the fans of your team would be someone who has immense popularity, crossover appeal and lots of respect. There certainly are many choices, but one that sticks out would be Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The man has it all, including extreme popularity from his days in WWE and his successful transition into Hollywood. Although his movies have not been the greatest, he is still praised for his natural acting ability. He knows his sports, as he was a scholarship athlete who played defensive line for the 1991 National Champion Hurricanes of the University of Miami. He also donated $1 million to his alma mater’s athletics program. He has done an inordinate amount of work for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Put together the factors of athleticism, charisma, popularity, character and selflessness, and you have the perfect representation for your team’s fan base.
BL: At first, I wanted someone really cool like Denzel Washington or Will Smith, but then ideally, I would want Megan Fox to root for my team courtside. Not only is she a quality actress, she would attract tons of fans to the arena or television. She would also be a perfect spokesperson for the team and “transform” the environment in the arena. Oh yes, pun intended. Where there’s Megan Fox, there’s tons of star power and tons of guys drooling. And if I’m the Knicks owner, she would be the perfect celebrity fan because all the attention would be on her and not how much of a waste Jerome James is.
GR: If I was the owner of a pro-sports franchise, I would get Jesus to root for my team. I mean, think about it. If Jesus likes your team, you can’t possibly lose. Your team would quite literally be “God’s Team.” Think of how many people you would draw to your stadium or ball park. Every opposing team would have to forfeit. After all, who really wants to play against a team that Jesus supports? If Jesus isn’t available, then I guess William Shatner, because he’s a hilarious human being. He is the only man that can be so funny and in such an unintentional way. Then again, if he is your mascot, he’d probably want to rename the team. But hey, it’s worth it. Maybe he could get good hotel rates for the team.
BO: Bruce Lee’s long-lost cousin sweeps the legs and the game with the bitchin’ transformers reference. I agree that Shatner is a hilarious human being, so Garrett gets 2 points. Mike, I absolutely do not smell what The Rock is cookin’ (yes, I went there). You get the 1 and a piledriver for the ages.
Brandon gets the coveted first win of the semester, 9-5-4.