Archive for February, 2012

Atlanta as the most miserable sports city? Guilty as charged

Been there, done that. Been there a lot, done it way too often. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Been there, done that. Been there a lot, done it way too often. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Take a bow, A-T-L. After an agonizing near-miss last year — we finished second to Seattle — we made it this time. We’re now No. 1 in Forbes magazine’s listing of America’s Most Miserable Sports Cities. Time for another ticker-tape parade down Peachtree!

Here’s the rationale of Tom Van Riper, who compiled the rankings:

Since last spring, the NHL Thrashers left town for Winnipeg, baseball’s Braves blew a near-lock playoff spot on the final day of the season and the NBA Hawks and NFL Falcons got bounced out of the postseason early yet again. That was enough to push Atlanta, always among the top finishers in Forbes’ annual ranking of America’s Most Miserable Sports Cities, back to the top spot for the first time since 2008.

And what can we say in rebuttal? All of the above is, alas, true.

The Forbes “methodology,” to invoke Van Riper’s word, concerns “misery as defined by heartbreak …

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Hoops insider: On Georgia State’s chances and UGA’s big win

The sight of Georgia outfighting his Gators galled Billy Donovan greatly. (AP photo)

The sight of Georgia outfighting his Gators galled Billy Donovan greatly. (AP photo)

Hoops Hysterics

1. Does Georgia State have a chance to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament? A chance, yes. The Panthers should handle Hofstra, seeded 11th, in the opener on Friday. Then would come No. 3 George Mason, as coached by Paul Hewitt, on Saturday. Then, assuming the seeds hold, would come No. 2 VCU on Sunday, and VCU is based in Richmond, which is the site of the event. And then No. 1 seed Drexel could await in Monday’s title tilt. I’d say that potential 3-2-1 parlay is a bit much to ask. I’d say it’s more likely Georgia State will lose in the semifinals. But I’ve been known to be wrong.

2. Georgia beat Florida on Saturday. A major shock? Yes and no. Georgia hasn’t been very good this season, but Florida is good in the way — it doesn’t defend much — that leaves it vulnerable to such upsets. You’ll recall that Tennessee, which doesn’t do anything but defend, swept the …

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Fire, rain, Tide, Twitter: Daytona was crazy like a Fox (wink)

An accident, huh? Yeah, and I've got a bridge in Brooklyn that you can have real cheap. (AP photo)

An accident, huh? Yeah, and I've got a bridge in Brooklyn you can have cheap. (AP photo)

There have been times — in 2002, when Sterling Marlin lost the Daytona 500 by doing a spot of fender repair while cars were stopped; in 2007, when Clint Bowyer crossed the finish line with his car upside down and on fire; in 2010, when one persistent pothole halted proceedings for two hours — when I’ve thought to myself: “You couldn’t make this stuff up.”

Last night, or maybe it was early this morning, I realized: “They have to be making this stuff up.”

In most things, I refuse to accept the concept of global conspiracy. Where Daytona is concerned, I’m ready to go all Roswell/UFOs/Area 51. How else could you explain the events of Sunday/Monday/Tuesday?

1. The Daytona 500 is postponed for the first time not because it’s raining all over Florida but because it just happens to be raining — pretty much all day — on Daytona Beach. That’s postponed to Monday, as opposed to delayed into prime …

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For all their success, mid-majors still face an uphill NCAA climb

If you're from the Colonial, you'd better win the Colonial tournament. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

If you're based in the CAA, you'd better win the CAA tournament. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Many of the conference tournaments that matter will have ended before the ACC tips off its annual convocation next week at Philips Arena, and here’s how we distinguish between league tournaments that do and don’t matter: Almost nobody cries real tears after losing a final in one of the big leagues. That’s because teams in the BCS Six already know their in-or-out NCAA fate.

Yes, there are exceptions, Georgia winning the 2008 SEC tournament and heading to the Big Dance being the most glaring. But conference tournaments in the big leagues are, as a rule, window dressing. For proof, we turn again to Georgia. It was believed that the Bulldogs’ Round 2 game against Alabama at the Dome last March was an in-or-out game. Nope. Georgia lost and made the NCAA field as a No. 9 seed. Alabama won and went to the NIT.

Turning to this year: Festivities in the Colonial Athletic Association — that’s …

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The Hawks end a sour stretch with a rather sweet victory

Zaza Pachulia pushes Dwight Howard out of his comfort zone. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Zaza Pachulia pushes Dwight Howard out of his comfort zone. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Before Thursday’s game, Larry Drew was asked to characterize the first half of what has been, even by the Hawks’ schizo standards, a strange season. “Given what the schedule was and our situation with injuries,” the coach said, “I have to be pleased overall.”

And you know what? He’s right. Sort of.

The Hawks hit the All-Star break third in the Southeast Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference, and if , before this truncated season began, you’d where this team might rank, third and sixth would have seemed reasonable responses. But, these being the Hawks, they didn’t track a path anyone would have predicted.

They started hot, saw Al Hoford lost to injury and somehow got hotter. On the morning of Feb. 2, no Eastern team had fewer losses than the Hawks. Then, as if on cue, this plucky bunch lost all semblance of pluck.

The Hawks reported for work Thursday having lost eight of their past …

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Here’s what the Falcons will – and won’t – do this offseason

Here's proof that Sam Baker has occasionally held his own. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

We offer proof that Sam Baker has occasionally held his own. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The NFL scouting combine commences this weekend. Free agency begins next month. April brings the draft. Before the cutting and pasting begins, we offer semi-educated guesses as to what the Falcons will/won’t do.

They will keep Sam Baker. The website Pro Football Focus rated Baker the second-worst tackle in the NFL last season, but he wasn’t always so hapless. A lot of things had to go wrong to render a serviceable left tackle so ineffective, and a back injury was only part of it. The Falcons fired line coach Paul Boudreau, who had lost faith in Baker, and will give Pat Hill, hired as a replacement, every chance to rebuild Baker’s self-esteem.

They will rely on Hill to set a tone, and not just with Baker. Hill hasn’t worked in the NFL since 1996, but his aggressive approach as head coach — he dared to play Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime — put Fresno State on the map. This O-line could stand …

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Could Savannah State save the Big Dance for Georgia teams?

Could last year's darling be shut out of the 2012 NCAA tournament? (AP photo)

Could last year's darling really be shut out of the 2012 NCAA tournament? Er, yes. (AP photo)

Hoops Hysterics

1. Which upper-tier ACC and SEC teams are in the greatest danger of missing the Big Dance? North Carolina State is tied for fourth in the ACC with Virginia and Miami but has slipped to 60th in ESPN Insider’s Daily RPI and is listed in Joe Lunardi’s latest ESPN Bracketology as the first team out of the NCAA tournament grid. Lunardi has Mississippi State in as a No. 9 seed, but the Bulldogs are 56th in RPI and have lost three in a row. Not helping either case: N.C. State carries a home loss against Georgia Tech, which is 173rd in RPI, and Mississippi State has a home loss against Georgia, which is 115th.

2. Is it possible the highly regarded Colonial Athletic Association — that’s Georgia State’s conference — could wangle only one NCAA bid? Yes. Both Lunardi and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports place only one CAA team in the field, and that constitutes a surprise. Three Colonial …

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Are the do-nothing Braves in dire divisional peril? Probably not

The bat and the gloves are Chipper Jones'. I assume the tattoo is, too. (AP photo)

The bat and the gloves belong to Chipper Jones. I assume the tattoo does, too. (AP photo)

Two reasons the Braves’ subdued offseason has been poorly received by many locals: The 2011 season didn’t end well, and other members of the National League East have made bigger personnel noise. (It would, we can agree, be hard to make less noise than simply paying Derek Lowe to go away.)

Conventional wisdom holds that the Braves have been content to sit idle while the rest of the division moves onward and upward, but conventional wisdom can sometimes be less than wise. As pitchers and catchers set to work at Lake Buena Vista — if you can call what transpires in spring training “work” — let’s eyeball the Eastern bloc:

Philadelphia Phillies  (finished 102-60 last season, 13 games ahead of the Braves): Lost closer Ryan Madson but added closer Jonathan Papelbon; lost left fielder Raul Ibanez and starting pitcher Roy Oswalt; will be without first baseman Ryan Howard, who tore his Achilles …

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A college football playoff? UGA prez Adams blazed that trail

Regarding a football playoff, Michael Adams used his bully pulpit. (AP photo)

Regarding a playoff, Michael Adams used his bully pulpit. (AP photo)

Michael Adams was four years ahead of the game. In January 2008 the Georgia president offered a detailed plan for an eight-team college football playoff, and he believed his proposal would draw enough support to prompt discussion in the right places. Alas, his idea was hooted down at the NCAA convention later that month.

Flash forward to January 2012: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and NCAA president Mark Emmert conceded there might be a place for a playoff in the only sport that has resisted one, and the concept seen as fanciful in 2008 has taken on the look of a fait accompli. Obvious question: Why now if not then?

Said Adams: “I think three things have happened: The Big Ten and what’s now the Pac-12 have gotten on board; conference realignment has forced everyone to take a fresh look, and — much as I hate to give you guys [meaning the media] credit — the drumbeat from you and from the public has been …

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Are Dimitroff, Smitty and Matty Ice still right for the Falcons?

The general manager, the coach and the quarterback. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The general manager, the coach and the quarterback. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

More than just a giddy ride, the Falcons’ 2008 ascent from oblivion constituted a watershed: A franchise that had gotten a zillion things wrong got three major things right. In one offseason, the Falcons had found the right general manager, the right coach and the right quarterback. Could world domination be far behind?

Here it is 2012, and we’ve seen the Falcons fashion four consecutive winning seasons — this from an operation that had never known two in a row — and three playoff appearances. But there has been no Super Bowl surge, not even a postseason victory. And now we ask the chilling question: What if Thomas Dimitroff, Mike Smith and Matt Ryan weren’t the right guys after all?

Touting Thomas: The GM had a bravura beginning, landing Michael Turner in free agency and drafting a starting quarterback (Ryan), a starting left tackle (Sam Baker) and a starting middle linebacker (Curtis Lofton). …

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