Archive for January, 2011

Arthur Blank still hasn’t recovered from Falcons’ playoff exit

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, here with general manager Thomas Dimitroff after the Falcons' playoff loss, will return from Dallas before the Super Bowl. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, here with general manager Thomas Dimitroff after the playoff loss, will return from Dallas before the Super Bowl. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@AJC.com)

A few nights after the Falcons were drop-kicked out of the playoffs, Arthur Blank and his two football lieutenants went out to dinner. There in a Midtown restaurant sat the team’s owner, the general manager (Thomas Dimitroff) and the coach (Mike Smith), emotionally facedown in their soup.

“It was just the three of us together, reflecting back,” Blank said. “It’s sort of like going to see a therapist. You go there to work through any issues you have and then you try to get ready for the future. You’re just trying to get some of the hurting out of the way so you can move on.”

For the record, that hasn’t happened yet with Blank.

He is as emotionally invested as any owner in professional sports. He admits he’s still psychologically hung over from the Falcons’ 48-21 loss in the Georgia Dome two weeks ago. He …

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Trades (Part II): Should Hawks deal Josh for point guard?

Josh Smith had two offensive fouls and missed three three-point shots in the fourth quarter Wednesday.

Josh Smith had two offensive fouls and missed three three-point shots in fourth at Milwaukee.

(It’s trade talk Thursday. For Part I on the Thrashers, click here.)

There were few secrets about the Hawks going into this season.

We knew they overpaid for Joe Johnson but management felt his scoring couldn’t be replaced. We knew Al Horford made the All-Star team as a center but he would be so much better at power forward. We knew Josh Smith could be either the most dominant player on the floor or a complete pill, depending on the week, or the game, or the moment.

Here’s what we didn’t know for certain: Could Jeff Teague be an adequate replacement at point guard, since it had become apparent that Mike Bibby’s 32-year-old legs turned to linguini last season? The answer right now is no.

New Hawks coach Larry Drew has done an admirable job this season, steering the team to a 29-17 record despite several injuries and bringing a new philosophy to the offense. But unless the Hawks have a …

Continue reading Trades (Part II): Should Hawks deal Josh for point guard? »

Trade focus (Part I): Thrashers need help but will they get it?

Rich Peverley and goalie Ondrej Pavelec celebrated a 1-0 win over Washington Wednesday, but the team needs scoring help.

Rich Peverley and goalie Ondrej Pavelec celebrated a 1-0 win over Washington, but the team needs scoring help.

With the Atlanta Spirit once again busy litigating and lying, I thought this would be a good time for the rest of us to actually focus on their teams.

The Hawks wilted in the fourth quarter in Milwaukee last night and lost. Later today, I’ll post a column on the biggest concern about the team and whether they need to make a trade (answer: yes). But this morning, we start with the Thrashers, the franchise that the Spirit/Team Pinocchio has been trying to sell since roughly five minutes after purchasing it.

On the ice, the Thrashers have been a nice little story. The personnel decisions of Rick Dudley and coaching of coach Craig Ramsay have been impressive. When the team went 19-11-5 in the first 35 games, it was stunning. Some would call it overachievement.

But recently there has been a market correction. Prior to the 1-0 win over Washington Wednesday night, the …

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Dogs’ double-overtime loss to Florida will sting for a while

Georgia's Jeremy Price shoots over Florida center Vernon Macklin in the first half.  (AP photo)

Georgia's Jeremy Price, here shooting over Florida's Vernon Macklin, thought he had sealed a win with two free throws in the first overtime.

(UPDATED at 10:45 p.m.)

ATHENS –Travis Leslie was three feet away from the shooter, but the shooter was about 30 feet from the basket. The lead looked safe.

“I didn’t think he was gonna make it,” the Georgia guard said. “But he was lucky enough to make it. I thought we had the win.”

Jeremy Price was on the bench. The center had just made two free throws to give the Bulldogs an 85-82 lead over Florida with six seconds left and was taken out for defensive purposes. He watched Florida’s Erving Walker pull up for a shot 10 feet behind the three-point line at thought the same thing as most others in the building.

“I thought the game was over,” he said. “I thought he was too deep, running, fading left. Then I saw it go in. Heartbreaker.”

Georgia’s basketball program has made terrific strides in Mark Fox’s first two seasons. That makes losses …

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Herschel has ‘no doubt’ he could play in NFL (but won’t)

Herschel ...

Doesn't everybody have abs like Herschel Walker at the age of 48?

So of all the possible ways the Falcons can improve themselves this offseason, would signing a 48-year-old running back fit into the equation?

Yes, Herschel Walker says he could still play football. Yes, he says if he ever attempted a comeback in the NFL, it would be in Atlanta. But before you add one plus one and get 37 — like some in cyberspace are doing — the answer is no: He is not pursuing a return to football.

I bring this up because a headline on an AOL/Fanhouse story Monday read: “Herschel Walker, 48, Ponders NFL Comeback.” It might as well have read, “Elvis spotted at Smyrna Waffle House.” When I informed Walker of the headline, he laughed.

However, the former Georgia and NFL star, turned MMA fighter, didn’t laugh about his potential to still perform at a high level.

“I was asked [on a conference call earlier Monday] if I thought I could still play football, and my answer is yes,” Walker said by phone. …

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Super Bowl will be old school: Packers vs. Steelers

You've got to like a football game when one of the game's biggest stars is a nose tackle. B.J. Raji's interception and touchdown return was the difference for Green Bay.

You've got to like a football game when one of the game's biggest stars is a nose tackle. B.J. Raji's interception and touchdown return was the difference for Green Bay.

In an era of dizzying X-and-O game plans, climate-controlled stadiums and pyrotechnic halftime shows, what could be better than this?

Packers vs. Steelers. Two franchises that conjure images of bruised bodies and blue toes. Two franchises that are like running, banging, grunting history books, one born in 1919, the other in 1933.

One franchise is owned by the Rooney family, the other by 111,968 stockholders. Together, they’ve combined for 18 league championships, 44 Hall of Famers and two fan bases that unofficially hold all records for beer consumption.

Cue the grainy film and the voice of John Facenda. Green Bay and Pittsburgh will play in the Super Bowl in two weeks. The only unfortunate thing is it will take place in Dallas at Jerry Jones’  $1.3 billion Football Stadium and Go-Go Club, which has a …

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Atlanta Spirit lied to us about Thrashers? Go figure

Three of the Thrashers' caretakers (left to right): Ed Peskowitz, Michael Gearon and Bruce Levenson. (Curtis Compton)

Three of the Thrashers' caretakers (left to right): Ed Peskowitz, Michael Gearon and Bruce Levenson. (Curtis Compton)

They told you they cared. They lied.

They told you their biggest concern was putting out the best product for you, the fans. They lied.

They told you not to pay attention to any of those rumors of the Thrashers being for sale, although they eventually admitted begrudgingly that, yes, they were looking for “investors.” They lied.

The Atlanta Spirit is not looking for investors. They’re looking to sell the Thrashers. They’ve been looking to sell them for — ready for this? –six years.

Six . . . years.

Those are the caretakers of your franchise. Those are the ones who’ve pleaded with you since 2005 to support a mostly inferior product — and now they can’t figure out how they’ve burned so many bridges in this town why fans still feel too angry or worn down to show up for a pretty decent team. Reality never has been their strong suit.

Team Pinocchio (a.k.a. the

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NCAA has lost sight of mission, needs to end ‘oversigning’

Nobody questions Nick Saban's ability to recruit and coach but he's notorious for "oversigning."

Nobody questions Nick Saban's ability to recruit and coach but he's notorious for "oversigning."

Grant Teaff calls this a “complicated issue.” I guess that’s the problem with the concept of amateur athletics. Dollars complicate the issue.

Dollars tell college football officials it’s fine to start games at 9 p.m and play for the national title on Jan. 10 (37 days after the regular season). It’s OK to preach academics in one news conference and approve 12-game schedules in another.

Apparently, it’s also OK for a coach to extend 20-something scholarship offers to players when the numbers scream he only has room for 12 – just as long as he can make the math work out by bed check in July (wink wink, nudge nudge).

This “complicated issue” is called oversigning. It occurs when a college football program extends more scholarship offers than it has room for. The NCAA allows teams to enroll up to 25 scholarship players per year and have 85 at one time. Obviously, with most …

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A word about ‘oversigning’ (and revisiting Saban’s dance)

The numbers show Nick Saban has learned creative ways to say goodbye to some players.

The numbers show Alabama coach Nick Saban has learned creative ways to say goodbye to some players. (AP photo)

It’s the home stretch of recruiting season, which generally isn’t my favorite time of the year, partly because I find the whole concept of obsessing over where an 18-year-old goes to school as, I dunno, a little creepy.

But here’s one of my biggest issues with recruiting: The practice of “oversigning.” It’s exactly what the term says. NCAA rules mandate a football program can’t give out more than 25 scholarships in one class and have more than 85 scholarship athletes on the roster at one time. Often, the math doesn’t work.

A team may have only 18 spots open but it gives out 25 scholarships. This is “oversigning.” It’s a gray area in the rulebook. Coaches get away with it by rationalizing than some players don’t qualify. So the players are stashed at prep schools or junior colleges, while others are convinced to take medical scholarships. Others are pressured into …

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Time to mock! Kiper, McShay say Falcons take . . .

Kiper says Falcons will take Maryland receiver Torrey Smith.

Kiper: Falcons take Maryland receiver Torrey Smith.

McShay: Justin Houston will go from Dogs to Falcons.

McShay: Justin Houston goes from Dogs to Birds.

It’s that time of the year again: Football darts!

Yes, NFL mock drafts officially shifted into full gear with ESPN’s two major draftniks, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay (seeming mortal enemies), both releasing their projections.

Not surprisingly, both agree on little beyond the fact that the other is an idiot. Also, the Washington Redskins are going to draft Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the 10th overall selection.

Below, I’ve listed the mock drafts of each. They’re available only to ESPN “Insider” subscribers. But I’m a man of the people so I’m giving it to you.  Besides, I figure if ESPN threatens me with violence for giving away this high-level information for free, I’ll at least get about 17 mocking blogs out of it. So I’m pretty sure they’ll leave me alone.

Here are the other picks I’ve highlighted (with Kiper’s and McShay’s analysis):

– Kiper has Georgia wide receiver A.J. …

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