Lions around the dorm

Following last week’s Kung-Fu Hustle of a Signal staff writer and assistant whose names shall be withheld, Brandon Lee has a fresh new batch of questions for this week’s contestants. Sports editor Bobby Olivier and copy editor James Queally will face off against 91.3 WTSR sports director Mike Leatherwood as they discuss whether LaDainian Tomlinson is all washed up, if anyone cares about the NHL and how fans should feel about steroid usage.

1.Not so long ago, LaDainian Tomlinson was by far the best running back in the National Football League. Since then, LT has suffered through injuries that have seemed to slow him down. Is LT’s career over?

BO: Although it has become relatively obvious over the past few weeks that pint-sized runner Darren Sproles is the new firecracker in the backfield of the San Diego Chargers, it is clearly a stretch to assume that LaDainian Tomlinson has reached the end of the road. I do agree he will never reach the dominant level of a man who broke the NFL’s touchdown record in 2006. His groin injury is the third significant injury in 12 months and an injury such as that, which does not allow him to cut and move laterally with ease, is difficult to recover from. Once he is healthy, I believe LT can still be a 1000-yard rusher, but the smoke around him is beginning to thin.

JQ: Over? Did you say . over? It’s not over, but his role will probably be changing since his body is starting to break down after eight seasons in the NFL. Tomlinson’s career will be extended thanks to the development of Sproles as a ground threat for the Chargers. The third-year quick as a hiccup running back is reminiscent of the Giants’ Derrick Ward, and I could see him sharing more of the work load for the Bolts in ’09-10 the same way the G-Men use Ward and Jacobs in tandem. LT is probably not going to have another season where he rushes for more than 20 touchdowns and 1,500 yards, but he is still an effective and battle-tested back who can be dangerous out of the slot as a receiver in third down and five situations. He won’t be on the cover of a Wheaties box anytime soon, but he can still scare the crap out of opposing defenses.

ML: I don’t believe that Tomlinson’s career is over. However, I do believe it is on the downfall. He will be turning 30 in June, which means his age isn’t helping him. I know that he was hurt the last two years which caused his decline in production (3.8 yards/carry in 2008 compared to 5.2 in 2006). But these injuries have a major impact on his game and are very tough to get over. They affect the two most important parts of Tomlinson’s game: cutback ability and breakaway speed. Without him at 100 percent like the Chargers need, Tomlinson will never become the running back he used to be.

BL: Everyone said that Tomlinson isn’t the same back he used to be, but Queally told me what to expect from him next season. Tomlinson will share more of the workload with Sproles. 3 points for Queally. Bobby points out that it’s Tomlinson’s third significant injury in 12 months and Leatherwood said that Tomlinson is hitting the big three-oh. There’s not much distinguishing them so they each get 1 point.

2. Would the NHL become more popular if events like the All-Star game and the skills competition were on national TV? Did you guys even know that the All-Star game happened last week?

JQ: Yes it would. No, I didn’t. I’d rather watch “Two Girls, One Cup” with my grandmother than be forced to sit through a Rangers-Devils game. But seriously, why do you think the NBA and MLB All-Star games are so popular? Because the league makes it a spectacle. People get hooked on the dunk contest or home run derby, and thus, they stick around and watch the games the next week. I don’t even know what skills challenges and special contests the NHL holds before its All-Star game, but if it was getting national coverage and I stumbled upon it, I’d probably hang around and check it out. I’ve been begging for hockey and its fans to give me a reason to care for years, but adding overtime losses to an already complicated standings system wasn’t the answer I was looking for. If there is something Slam Dunk Contest-ish before the All-Star game, make it a big deal, I’ll watch it, and so will other people.

BO: To answer the later question, honestly, I did not know that the NHL All-Star game happened last week and I have a feeling that the majority of the sports fans in the country did not either. To answer the former, it is ludicrous to believe that one night of network TV could change an entire sport and alter the perception of the public as they watch players they do not know play a game that they do not care about. The NHL has changed rule after rule to make the game more fan-friendly from opening up the net for more scoring to the now inevitable and mildly exciting shoot-out, but it is clear that most Americans do not care about hockey. Unless Wayne Gretzky returns to fight the Easter Bunny and Hulk Hogan every night at center ice, the NHL is doomed to mediocrity.

ML: I actually did watch the NHL All-Star Game last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, it seemed like I was the only one who watched it. This is because the NHL and its Public Relations department have done a terrible job of marketing the sport and making it readily available to its fans. First of all, fans have no idea where to find the big NHL games on TV because they have no idea that Versus exists. The NHL needs to get back on national TV regularly in order to get more fans. Also, it seems to be unaffordable for most people to go to a hockey game. Ticket prices are so high for halfway-decent seats, which explains why attendance is down. Bottom line is that the NHL needs an entire public relations makeover, let alone a new TV deal.

BL: The name of the game is marketing and PR, so someone in the NHL should get fired. And maybe Leatherwood and Queally should be hired! But I’ll have to give Queally the edge on this one. 3 points for Queally for saying that the NHL should make a spectacle of the All-Star game and skills challenge. It would attract not-so-big fans of hockey right away. Leatherwood barely misses the 3 points, but availability is only half the battle. 2 points for Leatherwood. Bobby, it’s not only having one night of national television, but also televising more events and games in general. Although, watching Gretzky fighting the Easter Bunny and Hulk Hogan would be great to see, but substitute Sean Avery with Gretzky. Until that happens, 1 point for you.

3. Former MLB players Dwight Gooden and David Justice are being accused by former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski of using performance-enhancing drugs. Do you think this is true or just another scam that will eventually pass over, like the Mitchell report?

JQ: I don’t think the Mitchell Report “passed over,” it just assimilated into the huge, Barry Bonds-shaped cloud that will hang over baseball as long as media outlets are using the term “steroid scandal.” As for these two: Gooden is a career car wreck who has been in legal trouble for (takes deep breath): cocaine use, driving while intoxicated, beating the tar out of his girlfriend, more drug use and fighting with Tampa Bay cops. His career was in decline more than it was on an upswing. It’s not a far stretch to think he may have used performance-enhancing drugs to try and stop the bleeding. David Justice? For the most part he’s got a clean history, but he did suffer some pretty bad shoulder injuries, and for a power hitter, HGH may have been the only way to lengthen his career. But him, I give the benefit of the doubt. Gooden yes, Justice no.

BO: A brilliant man named Fred Durst once said, “It’s all about the he said, she said bullshit.” I truly believe that he was a baseball fan (red Yankees cap and all) and knew this kind of lunacy would happen some day. In my opinion, it is getting to the point that fans are beginning to simply accept that many players in the ’90’s juiced up and hit the ball ridiculously far as an era of baseball and just want to move on. I believe this will pass like everything else and people will forget about it when the next allegation arises. I almost wish it would leak that everyone was on steroids in the ’90s so we could declare the decade as the “fun years” because that is what they were, fun. Gooden and Justice were both fantastic players in their prime and it will probably never be proven anyway so just like a kidney stone, lets let this pass, scream for a little while and forget about it.

ML: Like most of the recent steroid stories involving Kirk Radomski and/or Brian McNamee, this most recent one will blow over. Fans are sick of hearing mid-tier players being accused of steroids. Unless their names are Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro or Bonds, fans just don’t care anymore. Also as Radomski starts naming more and more players, his story becomes less and less believable. Fans just want the entire steroid scandal to go away and become a thing of the past, which it should have been a long time ago. Mr. Radomski: Please shut up and let these players live in peace. People don’t care anymore.

BL: Leatherwood gets the 3 points for saying that the fans are tired of the entire steroid scandal. Bobby, 2 points for you, but wishing that everyone in the ’90s on steroids kept you from getting full cred. Queally, I just went on foxsports.com, espn.com and si.com, and I can’t find any headlines about Gooden and Justice. I haven’t even heard much about the situation being reported further. Just like all the not so superstars on the Mitchell Report, this will pass over. 1 point for Queally.

Queally gets the big win, 7-6-4