Archive for December, 2010

The best thing I saw: J-Hey on Opening Day, Cam in the Dome

The moment: Jason Heyward watches what he'd just wrought. (AP photo)

The monumental moment: Jason Heyward watches the wonder he'd wrought. (AP photo)

The great British music magazine Mojo has a holiday feature in which prominent music folks share The Best Thing They’ve Heard All Year. (This year’s installment offers Jeff Beck touting Trombone Shorty, Brian Eno lauding MGMT and Gene Simmons singing the praises of Lady Gaga.)

In the spirit of Christmas, er, borrowing, last year I identified Josh Nesbitt’s snatch of a recovered Georgia Tech fumble from Florida State linebacker Nigel Carr that wild night in Tallahassee as The Best Thing I’d Seen In 2009, at least sports-wise. (Only later would the Tech quarterback change his official designation to “Joshua Nesbitt.”) For this year’s BTIS, we rewind to …

April 5, 2010: Turner Field is packed for the Braves’ opener, which isn’t always the case. The masses have come to see the ballyhooed rookie Jason Heyward, who spent spring training demolishing vehicles parked behind the right-field wall at …

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The Hawks keep standing pat, while the Magic dare to change

Dwight Howard smiles and wonders, "Who are these guys?" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Dwight Howard smiles and wonders, "Who are these guys?" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Don’t look now, but the Hawks have nosed ahead of their nemesis. They lead Orlando 2-1 on the season and by half a game in the standings. Only trouble is, the Magic just told the world they care nothing about the regular season or the standings or anything except the playoffs.

On display Monday at Philips Arena were philosophies of polar opposition: With the exception of their head coach, the Hawks are pretty much the same team they’ve been; with the exceptions of Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, the Magic aren’t the team they were last week.

The Magic made two stunning trades Saturday, dumping four of their top eight players, importing four new ones and perhaps destroying the precise inside-out blend that carried them to the 2009 NBA finals and to 59 victories last season. But credit the Magic for this: They’re going to win a title or fall to pieces — no half-stepping thoughts of …

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Live from Philips Arena: Should the Hawks try a Magic trick?

Joe Johnson: Still a Hawk. Vince Carter: No longer Magic. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Vince Carter: No longer Magic. Joe Johnson: Still a Hawk. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Hawks spent the past two seasons trying to get past Orlando, trying and failing. A check of the standings shows that Atlanta is again gazing up at the Magic, though the Magic team that will appear tonight at Philips Arena has been rendered unrecognizable. Because we saw over the weekend how much the Magic valued simply finishing ahead of the Hawks.

With two trades, the Magic dumped everyone of note except Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. Vince Carter, gone. Rashard Lewis, gone. Mickael Pietrus, gone. Marcin Gortat, gone. For those keeping score at home, that marks an offloading of two starters and two rotational subs.

The Magic wound up with Hedo Turkoglu, who used to play for Orlando but left as a free agent, plus Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark. That’s a major December overhaul for any team, especially one that holds fourth place in the NBA East. (The Hawks are …

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The Falcons are the class of the NFC, but a familiar face looms

Matt Ryan, feeling frankly fearless in Seattle. (AP photo)

Feeling fearless in Seattle: Another three-touchdown game for Matt Ryan. (AP photo)

They’re in the playoffs, and they’re as close to having the No. 1 seed throughout the NFC bracket as you can get without clinching. They’ve got two games to go, both of them here. Win once more — here we note that the Falcons meet the NFL’s worst team, Carolina, in the regular-season finale Jan. 2 — and they won’t play anywhere but here until February.

And that’s the way it ought to be. If you’re looking for the NFL’s best overall team, it’s Atlanta. (And if you’re wondering when last we could say that about the Falcons with any conviction, the answer would be, “Um … never.”)

The Patriots have a fabulous offense, but their defense entered the weekend as the league’s fifth-worst. Maybe Tom Brady is good enough to override that failing, but at some point a championship team has to stop somebody. (Doesn’t it?) The Ravens are stout, but the Falcons have beaten them. The Falcons lost to …

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Is this the best Falcons team ever? It’s definitely in the hunt

Those dirty, dirty Birds: Jamal Anderson and Dan Reeves celebrate. (AJC file photo)

Oh, those dirty, dirty Birds: Jamal Anderson and Dan Reeves dance in the Metrdome. (AJC file photo)

Jeff Van Note arrived as a Falcon three years after the Falcons came into being. As a player (All-Pro center) and an announcer (color commentator on the team’s radio broadcasts), he has seen every Falcons team worth seeing and many more that were not. And if you ask the grizzled Van Note if the 2010 installment is the best team this franchise, in its 45th season of operation, has ever known, he says:

“I think that would be correct.”

For all the losing seasons this club has endured, there was one shining moment in January 1999 when play-by-play man Jeff Hullinger could intone, without fear of contraction, “The Falcons are going to the Super Bowl!” And sitting beside Hullinger that day in the Minneapolis Metrodome was one Jeff Van Note, who could be heard yelling over the call as Morten Andersen’s overtime field goal sailed true.

Obvious question: These Falcons are …

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Would you pay $60 million to keep Uggla? The Braves might

New manager Fredi Gonzalez asks Dan Uggla for a loan. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

New manager Fredi Gonzalez asks Dan Uggla for a loan. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Dan Uggla brings a reliable bat to a team lacking reliable bats. But he’s a lousy fielder — the 2010 Braves weren’t very good at catching the ball, either — and he turns 31 in March. So now I ask: Is this the guy you want to re-up for $60 million over five seasons?

Nick Cafardo, the fine baseball writer for the Boston Globe, just Tweeted that “Atlanta sources tell me Dan Uggla closing in on a five-year, $60-$61 million extension.” If this is true, I say …

That’s almost Chipper Jones money. For a guy who demonstrably isn’t Chipper Jones.

You can argue that Uggla is a better hitter at 30 than Chipper is at 38 — and Uggla isn’t coming off knee surgery — but still: Twelve million a year for a guy who has driven in 100 runs once in his career and who has never hit .300 and who’s surely going to have to find a new position soon? That’s a lot of money.

If you’re a fan, you wouldn’t mind such an …

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The Falcons’ biggest remaining game? Well, it ain’t the Saints

It’s a mismatch on paper. It should be a mismatch on the field. But this is the NFL, and this will be just another given Sunday, and we all know what that means.

The Falcons’ biggest remaining regular-season game isn’t the ballyhooed one against the Saints here two nights after Christmas. The biggest remaining game comes Sunday in Seattle. Provided the Falcons beat the Seahawks, they would have only to handle Carolina, which is the NFL’s worst team and has won on only one given Sunday, here on Jan. 2 to claim both the NFC South title and the conference’s No. 1 seed.

The Falcons can lose to the Saints and still finish No. 1 in their division and the NFC. (It would come down to the common-opponent tiebreaker, which the Saints would lose because they lost to the Browns, whom the Falcons beat on the strength of Kroy Biermann’s bat-and-grab.) The Falcons cannot lose to both the Seahawks and the Saints and be assured of even a first-round bye.

The Seahawks, working in Year 1 under …

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The Falcons’ partnership that never was: Vick and Petrino

Not exactly what he had in mind: Petrino coaches Joey Harrington. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Not exactly what he had in mind: Petrino eyes Joey Harrington. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

It’s a great Atlanta sports imponderable, occupying the same shelf as, “What if the Braves had signed Barry Bonds in 1992?” and “What if the Hawks had drafted a point guard instead of a guy named Marvin?” This one is especially excruciating because the principals were actually in place. But reality, as we know, interceded.

In January 2007 the Falcons hired Bobby Petrino as coach. Chief among Petrino’s reasons for leaving Louisville, which he had just directed to an Orange Bowl victory, was his desire to coach a player who, after six NFL seasons, was still the essence of talent untapped. In a conversation his first week in Flowery Branch, Petrino recalled how he and Dom Capers would sit together on team flights when both were Jacksonville assistants and say, “What would you do with Michael Vick?”

And now Petrino would have his chance. Or so he thought.

The first time the new coach met …

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The debate: Does Philly’s rotation trump Braves of the ’90s?

The comparison is so inviting that even a world-class dunce like yours truly has made it: With Cliff Lee, the Phillies would seem to have a rotation capable of challenging the best ever, and I’m of the opinion the best rotation ever worked here in the ’90s. Yes, there’s a major caveat: The Braves of the ‘9os went out and did it, while the Phillies must go out and do it. That said …

Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. Roy Oswalt and now Cliff Lee. On paper, that’s pretty stinkin’ good. (Apologies to Mark Richt for borrowing his line.)

And it’s not just this world-class dunce who thinks so. All the smart guys who crunch baseball numbers are saying so, too.

From Dan Szymborski of ESPN Insider (link requires registration): “The 2011 Philadelphia Phillies rotation isn’t meant to just win; it’s meant to demolish other teams The Phillies’ new rotation could be the best one we’ve seen in more than 40 years — and beating out staffs with [Tom] Seaver, [Bob] Gibson, [Steve] Carlton, …

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With Lee again a Phil, are the Braves playing for the wild card?

Those were the days, my friend. We thought they'd never end. (AJC file photo)

Those were the days, my friends. We thought they'd never end. (AJC file photo)

Whenever Bobby Cox was asked last winter about the Phillies’ acquisition of Roy Halladay, he had the same answer: “At least they don’t have [Cliff] Lee.”

Your attention, please: Now they do. And this would seem a propitious moment not to be managing a team that has to play the Phillies 18 times a season. Which means Cox timed his retirement pretty doggone well.

The Phillies rocked the ol’ world Monday night, coming from far off the pace to land the biggest prize of this free-agent class. Lee was supposed to be bound for the Bronx, where every big-ticket ballplayer eventually lands, or back to Texas, scene of his most recent success. Instead he’s going to the Phillies, which not so long ago shipped him to Seattle because they couldn’t afford both Halladay and Lee.

Now they’ve got Halladay and Lee. And Cole Hamels. And Roy Oswalt.

This isn’t just the finest rotation in contemporary baseball;  it’s the …

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