Ryan Riffs: The Incredible Longevity of Kobe Bryant

Let me take you back to a different world for a second. Twenty years ago, for those deficient at math, was 1995, and as I teased above, the world was a very different place.

The most popular song of the year was ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ by Coolio. The most popular movies were Toy Story and Braveheart. Mel Gibson was still wildly popular and wholesome, and the members of One Direction were still wearing diapers.

Now, why am I bringing up the year 1995? Because it was the year a young kid by the name of Kobe Bryant made his NBA debut straight out of Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday night, Bryant completed his return from a scary shoulder injury to make his 2015 season debut and become the first player in NBA history to play 20 consecutive seasons with the same franchise.

I just want you guys to let that number sink in for a second. Twenty years going to work for the same employer is pretty remarkable in and of itself; but particularly in the NBA, where rosters are small and extremely competitive, money is king, and even Michael Jordan couldn’t stay with one team his whole career.

Kobe Bryant has been playing basketball at the professional level for longer than I’ve been alive. In fact, the team his Lakers played Wednesday night had two starters – Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns – who weren’t even born yet when Kobe made his debut.

And when we start diving into the legacy of Kobe Bryant, one thing really stands out to me.

There are few athletes in the world that are commonly identifiable just by their first name. LeBron James and Tiger Woods immediately come to mind, but their names aren’t nearly as universally recognizable as the name, ‘Kobe’.

Photo by Andrew Bernstein for the LA Times
Photo by Andrew Bernstein for the LA Times

Every little kid that dreams of playing in the NBA has visions of himself as Kobe Bryant at some point or another. ‘Kobe’ has just become a term that is synonymous with tireless work ethic and basketball greatness. And now, I think we should add another word to that list; loyalty.

For all the faults he does have, Kobe Bryant’s fierce loyalty should be revered and looked up to by kids everywhere. Many athletes talk about how loyal they are or how much loyalty matters to them, but none of them can really identify with it on the level Kobe can.

There has never, in 20 years, ever been serious talk of Kobe playing a single game in a jersey that didn’t say, ‘Lakers’ on the front of it. Kobe has remained true to the team that brought him into the league and gave him a chance, he has remained loyal to the hand that feeds him, and that is to be greatly admired.

So again, for all his faults and all his mistakes, Kobe Bryant is a truly special athlete that we have had the great pleasure of enjoying for these past 20 years; and one that will be remembered for far more than just the next 20 years.

…………

Following another brilliant performance at home last night by Jake Allen, the Blues goalie debate rages on. Elliott or Allen? The grizzled and proven vet or the young, talented up and comer?

Following a rough start to the season in which he gave up 3 goals in each of his first 3 starts, Allen has backed up a 27 save shutout over Tampa Bay on Tuesday night with a 23-24 performance in a win against Anaheim last night.

Meanwhile, Brian Elliott hasn’t looked particularly sterling either, sporting a mediocre 2.18 GAA and having been bailed out by a terrific offense so far this season. But with injuries to Paul Stastny, Jaden Schwartz and Kevin Shattenkirk, the Blues’ offense has significantly – and expectedly – slowed in the recent days.

So which goalie does Ken Hitchcock roll with as the primary guy in the coming weeks? Or does he even bother ‘naming’ a #1 goalie and just keeps splitting playing time like he has been?

For my two cents, Allen is the starter and the Blues need to push all their chips to the center of the table on him. He’s younger, more confident, more athletic, and, for my money, won the job down last season’s stretch run and into the playoffs.

Being an elite goalie is as much about confidence as it is about skill level. And over the course of the past 4 or 5 years, the Blues have so poorly treated Brian Elliott that I can’t help but feel his confidence is totally shot and he can never be the borderline elite goalie he once was in St. Louis.

Having Allen, and now Pheonix Copley waiting in the wings, allows the Blues to make Elliott expendable, and I think they owe it to him to give him a fresh start somewhere where he can be the de facto starter.

So put all your chips to the middle of the table with Jake Allen, give him the vote of confidence, and look to deal Elliott to a team in desperate need of good goaltending.

Allen celebrates with forward Vladimir Tarasenko after defeating the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night. Photo by Scott Rovak
Allen celebrates with forward Vladimir Tarasenko after defeating the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night. Photo by Scott Rovak

Offer him to Edmonton, a team in desperate need of a franchise goalie, and see if you can pry away a guy like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who could use a fresh start and might thrive in St. Louis.

Stop trying to please everyone with the goalie situation, there are going to be hurt feelings either way, so you might as well got a solid player back in return for them. Jake Allen should be the guy, see what Brian Elliott can fetch on the open market, and let bygones be bygones. Please and thank you.

…………..

I’ll get into this in greater detail later, but does the NSAC make sense to anyone?

Yesterday, the Nevada State Athletic Commission handed down a two year suspension to Rousimar Palhares for his repeated eye gouges and for not letting go of a submission during his welterweight title fight against Jake Shields at WSOF 22. Palhares has a history of not letting go of submissions, and being a really dirty fighter, so this suspension seems just and Palhares can deal with it.

But, where my questions come in is that this suspension comes about a month after the NSAC handed down a 5 year suspension to Nick Diaz. 5 years?! Holy crap what did he do, kill someone? 5 years is a seriously long suspension.

Nick Diaz got a 5 year suspension for testing positive for marijuana. MARIJUANA, the thing that is now legal where Nick Diaz smoked it.

Diaz is obviously just as confused as the rest of us. Photo by Joshua Hedges
Diaz is obviously just as confused as the rest of us. Photo by Joshua Hedges

I, along with the rest of the MMA community, was absolutely dumbfounded that the NSAC could do this. There was a White House petition made, fighters publicly refusing to fight in Nevada, and even UFC President Dana White called the suspension “so jarring.”

Without going into complete details, smoking weed is virtually harmless. There were no marijuana related deaths in 2014 and I have never in my life heard of marijuana fueled violent acts. Marijuana and MMA just have no connection and aren’t dangerous whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Palhares is deliberately attempting to hurt people, and has in the past. What Palhares is doing in MMA is worthy of a long suspension, and he has gotten his justice.

Palhares held onto an ankle lock on Jake Shields after the referee had told him to stop. Photo by Joshua Hedges
Palhares held onto an ankle lock on Jake Shields after the referee had told him to stop. Photo by Joshua Hedges

But 5 years and a $150,000 fine to Diaz vs 2 years and community service for Palhares just makes absolutely no sense.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my rant on the NSAC, but for now I just ask them to take a long, hard look in the mirror and realize what they’ve done; because it literally makes no sense to anyone and has the look of a vigilante group more than a governing body for sporting events in Nevada.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

           

Editor’s note: I apologize for my absence yesterday. At the end of the day I am still a high school student with a lot of other responsibilities, and unfortunately my homework and college applications have to take precedence over my outside writing. So I apologize for my absence yesterday and I will try to be better at balancing my work in the future. Thank you for your unwavering support of me because you are truly the reason that I write. Thank you always for reading me.

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Ryan Riffs: The Incredible Longevity of Kobe Bryant

Colton Parayko: The Blues’ Next Franchise Defenseman

It was a rainy summer day this past July when my dad and I decided to head down to the St. Louis Mills Mall to check out the St. Louis Blues’ open prospects camp. As it was a prospect camp, I knew few of the guys going in; Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev were really the only names that I knew by heart going in.

But as soon as I got there and took my seat in the bleachers, my eyes were immediately attracted to a monstrous looking defenseman, wearing #55, gliding through drills like nothing I’d ever seen before. He was tall, strong, had a bomb of a slapshot and was gliding around on skates. Who in the hell was this graceful beast and why did I not know him?

Parayko going to work at the Blues' prospect camp. Photo by St. Louis Blues
Parayko going to work at the Blues’ prospect camp. Photo by St. Louis Blues

The crowd was given access to a few of the rookies after the game, and this #55 was one of them. His crowd was sparse, but I was drawn to him. I walked up to his autograph table with nothing to autograph and simply asked for his name.

”Colton Parayko” he firmly and comfortably answered, before briefly telling me about his long and winding journey to get to where he is today.

I left that day with the name ‘Colton Parayko’ firmly planted in my subconscious, and he had gained a new fan that day in me. Besides being an incredible talent on the ice, Parayko’s easygoing, down-to-earth, genuinely friendly demeanor off of it gained my respect and admiration. There was no way this kid wasn’t going to be special someday.

Well guess who made the Blues opening night roster and started on the third defense pairing against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday October 13th. That’s right, Colton Parayko was going to get his shot.

I expect that Parayko’s story will be released in far greater detail in the coming weeks as he gains more popularity and garners a greater following and respect among the hockey community, but for now here’s Ryan’s cliff notes version.

Parayko’s journey to St. Louis began with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. That’s not quite Siberia, but when I looked up Fort McMurray on Google Maps it was so far north in Canada I had to scroll almost all the way up to the North Pole to find it. Suffice to say, it’s not on a lot of hockey scouts’ typical Canadian travel list.

But a Blues scout stumbled upon Parayko slicing up the Alberta Junior Hockey League, and quickly notified the rest of the Blues scouting department. As Bill Armstrong, Blues director of amateur scouting said, “We sneaked in to see him at odd times because we didn’t want to give away who we were watching.”

Parayko became the Blues biggest scouting secret, and the Blues eventually drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2012 NHL Draft, and their secret became relatively official.

He continued playing for his college team at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and continuing a trend of playing high level hockey in really obscure places.

Parayko going to work for the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Photo by uscho.com
Parayko going to work for the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Photo by uscho.com

In his junior season for the Nanooks, Parayko put up 6 goals and 17 assists in 23 games before reporting to the Blues AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, to finish up the year.

Coming into training camp, Parayko was viewed by many Blues pundits as a camp defenseman who would gain good experience and be ready to push for a job prior to the 2016-17 season. But nobody told that to him, and he came in with all intentions of winning a job.

And win a job he did, which circles us back to our starting point on Opening Night 2015, with Colton Parayko suited up for the St. Louis Blues.

Parayko going to work against the Oilers on Opening Night 2015. Photo by Getty Images
Parayko going to work against the Oilers on Opening Night 2015. Photo by Getty Images

9 games into the season, the 6’5” 226 lb. – did I yet mention how big this dude is? Because if I didn’t, my bad – defenseman is already delivering upon his promise. He’s produced 6 points, 3 goals and 3 assists, to go with a +6 rating in an average of 19:44 minutes on ice every night. He’s producing at a very high level while playing top tier minutes for a defenseman. And he’s only been around for 9 games.

From Barclay Plager and Al MacInnis to Barret Jackman, Alex Pietrangelo and another tall, imposing fellow named Chris Pronger; the Blues have had some exceptional defensemen in their franchise history. Get ready to add Colton Parayko’s name to that list in short order.

As advanced statistics are still in their primal stage in hockey, I’m not really able to throw a bunch of numbers at you to show just how great Parayko has been in his first taste of the league. But I can tell you that if you want to appreciate his greatness, just watch him, (kind of funny how that works, huh?).

The same smooth skating defenseman that I saw in the Mills that rainy day in July is the same guy that anchors the blue line for the Blues every night.

He plays big minutes on both the power play and penalty kill, showing that he’s already earned the trust of Coach Ken Hitchcock. But don’t get me wrong, he deserves those minutes. Parayko runs a smooth power play from the point and has an absolute bomb of a shot that he already has a tremendous feel for and shoots at impeccable times – see: the shot that lead to Scott Gomez’s goal yesterday against Tampa Bay.

Parayko celebrating his first NHL goal against the Calgary Flames. Photo by Scott Rovak for Getty Images
Parayko celebrating his first NHL goal against the Calgary Flames. Photo by Scott Rovak for Getty Images

On the penalty kill, he’s a strong net front presence that can cut off space with his tremendous size and plays a really smart game. And as much as his size and physicality can jump out at you, don’t you dare go around thinking Parayko’s just a big brute back there with little to no offensive skill.

Tuesday night against Tampa Bay, in the middle of the second period, Parayko took a pass from Jori Lehtera at his own blue line and sensed the Lightning taking a change. He put his head down and turned on the jets. Victor Hedman started out skating in front of him and Parayko – all 6’5” 226 lbs. of him might I add – went flying by down the right wing to generate a terrific 1 on 1 scoring chance against Ben Bishop.

Veteran NBC announcer Mike Emrick was absolutely in awe of the speed demonstrated by Parayko, stating that “normally we see guys like Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel skating like that, but Colton Parayko just did it.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I say declare that Colton Parayko will become the Blues next great franchise defenseman.

He has absolutely everything you could want in a defenseman. Size, physicality, durability, tenacity, shot blocking ability, offensive skill, tremendous skating ability and athleticism, a high hockey IQ, and the ability to play big time minutes every night. If you were creating a defenseman from scratch, his body type and skillset would be a really good start.

But, seeing as how it’s only been 9 games, Parayko definitely needs to keep up his exceptional play level for him to truly deliver on the promise of becoming what I just prophesied him of becoming.

Earlier today I implored you to enjoy the Blues while you can, well the same goes for Parayko. Great defensemen like him are rare gems, and the Blues have mined one out of the middle of nowhere.

My dad always tells me that Chris Pronger is the greatest hockey player he’s ever seen, and that there won’t be another player quite like him for a long time. Well dad, I think we may have found the next Chris Pronger-level defenseman.

And we barely even had to wait 10 years.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

Colton Parayko: The Blues’ Next Franchise Defenseman

Ryan Riffs: How Seth Russell’s Injury Affects the College Football Playoff

Back in August, as the college football season was starting, I set my College Football Playoff field to Ohio State, TCU, LSU and Baylor, (yes, I had two Big 12 teams don’t judge me). I had Ohio State winning it all, and felt pretty confident in that prediction.

Fast forward about three weeks of Ohio State struggling and Baylor dominating and my National Champion pick had switched over to Baylor. An breathtakingly dominant offense combined with a more than adequate defense, and Baylor had me sold.

Photo for Associated Press
Photo for Associated Press

Entering week 7 my pick hadn’t changed. Baylor’s offense looked dominant once again in the first half against Iowa State before I turned the channel away to focus my attention on a more exciting game. Well, while I turned away something happened that is going to change my National Championship again.

First off, I want to wish Seth Russell a quick and speedy recovery from a scary neck injury that will keep him out for the rest of the 2015 season. His health is the thing that matters most and I wish him all the best in his recovery.

The unfortunate hit that put Seth Russell out for the season (pt. 1). Photo by Ron Aydelotte for Waco Tribune
The unfortunate hit that put Seth Russell out for the season (pt. 1). Photo by Ron Aydelotte for Waco Tribune
The unfortunate hit that put Seth Russell out for the season (pt. 2). Photo by Ashley Landis for Associated Press
The unfortunate hit that put Seth Russell out for the season (pt. 2). Photo by Ashley Landis for Associated Press

But holy smokes does it shake up the Playoff picture.

Baylor’s offense has been just stupid good so far with Russell, averaging 686 yards and 61.1 points per game. That is absolute insanity and you couldn’t even put up those type of numbers in a video game because you’d get too bored with scoring so much.

Russell has been leading the charge, throwing for 2,109 yards with 26(!) touchdowns to only 6 interceptions, and adding 402 yards and 6 more touchdowns on the ground. He’s up at the top with Leonard Fournette in the Heisman picture and is just insanely talented.

Without him? No one knows what to expect from the Baylor offense.

Art Briles insists that the team is “in good hands” with back up Jared Stidham, but consider me skeptical. The Baylor offense has always relied on really good quarterback play – read: Robert Griffin III, Bryce Petty, Nick Florence – and without Russell I don’t know what kind of team Baylor will be.

Baylor has looked way better than TCU so far this season, but does Russell’s injury open the door up for TCU to snatch up the Big 12 and secure a spot in the playoff barring another bad loss? Can Oklahoma State possibly even slip in and surprise some people?

Russell’s injury completely shuffles up the Big 12 picture, as well as the Playoff picture, and now I have to make a pick a new national champion. So who is it? Stay tuned.

………….

I don’t talk about the NBA much because I think their product is a bit of an insult to basketball. It’s just dunks and three pointers and there’s barely any quality defense played. But for the first time in at least 10 years, I can honestly say I’m excited for the NBA season to begin.

In the past, the NBA’s been predictable. It’s been LeBron and Kobe and Durant and some boring team – like the Heat or the Lakers or the Spurs or something – was basically guaranteed to win the championship. But this year? This year is different.

The NBA had some refreshing variety in the 2014-15 season, and it actually pulled me in as a fan. Instead of all of the typical mundane things I talked about above, the league was fairly unpredictable.

The Warriors were the best team around, Anthony Davis emerged as an MVP candidate, James Harden played exceptional basketball, Kevin Durant wasn’t even the best player on his own team, the Hawks and the Raptors were two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and a Derrick Rose-less Bulls team actually thrived. The NBA was actually exciting.

The Warriors won their first title since 1975 and have a good chance of repeating in 2016. Photo by Getty Images
The Warriors won their first title since 1975 and have a good chance of repeating in 2016. Photo by Getty Images

And this year? I really have no idea what’s going to happen. The Cavaliers might finally win a title, the MVP is a total crapshoot, there’s a good crop of exciting rookies, and young upstart teams – like the Timberwolves – have a chance to make some noise in the playoffs this year.

Unpredictability is the spice of life, and the NBA has it in spades this year. Hopefully the league can deliver on the promised excitement, but suffice it to say I’ll be paying close attention this year for the first time in as long as I can remember, and that’s a new and exciting endeavor for me.

…………..

After having my heart ripped straight out of my chest for the fourth consecutive year last April, I’m really trying to keep my emotions about the St. Louis Blues in check this season.

Every year I tell myself that “this team is different this year, and this is gonna be the year they finally do it.” And every year I’m sorely disappointed. So this year I’m just trying to enjoy what the Bluenote puts out on the ice and not get too emotionally attached.

But I’ll be damned if I’m not incredibly impressed with the team already this year.

For years the Blues have been an extremely disciplined defensive team with not a lot of offensive flair. You had to really enjoy the grit and grind of hockey to enjoy watching the Blues play. But with Vladimir Tarasenko putting on a breathtaking show every night and the emergence of Robby Fabbri, the Blues have a lot of excitement and flash now.

The Tarasenk-show in full effect. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Tarasenk-show in full effect. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch

They have guys that excite a fan base, that can sell tickets. Every night I find myself looking forward to watching the Blues, because with the Tarasenk-show and Fabbri doing their thing every night, you never know what could happen.

Robby Fabbri reacts after scoring the game winning goal against the Oilers on opening night. Photo by Scott Rovak for Getty Images
Robby Fabbri reacts after scoring the game winning goal against the Oilers on opening night. Photo by Scott Rovak for Getty Images

And on top of that, the team has weathered a crazy storm of injuries beautifully so far. Kevin Shattenkirk, Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund and Paul Stastny have all bitten the injury bug so far, which has been absolutely brutal to watch.

But seeing guys like Colton Parayko and Scottie Upshall step up their games to fill in those voids has been amazing. The team hasn’t really missed a beat without 4 of their best players, and that’s a testament to the outstanding depth and mentality this team has.

It’s okay to be excited about the Blues, because oh my gosh they are so fun to watch, but don’t be sold yet. When mid-May rolls around and these Blues are still playing, that’s the time to believe.

But like I said about the Rams the other day, enjoy what the Blues have going. Tarasenko is a once in a lifetime talent who would be considered the best player in the NHL if he didn’t play in St. Louis. And Fabbri has a chance to be that special as well.

There was a long period of Blues futility, where winning hockey was as foreign to the city of St. Louis as winning football is nowadays. But these days are not those days, and winning hockey is customary and expected. Don’t take it for granted and enjoy this team while they’re good.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images

The Blues are a unique gift, featuring an owner that actually cares about his fan base – very deeply so – and an on-ice product that’s on par with any team in the league. So watch it, enjoy it, wear your blue proudly, but make them earn your belief and respect in April and May.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

Ryan Riffs: How Seth Russell’s Injury Affects the College Football Playoff

Ryan’s Rants: The NFL’s Culture of Ignorance in Favor of Talent

Sunday afternoon, my dad and I were watching the Cowboys-Giants game. Following a sterling Dallas victory, the Fox postgame show came on. After the highlights, host Curt Menafee harmlessly urged the rest of his panel, “Guys, let’s talk about Greg Hardy for a second.”

I immediately switched the channel to Formula 1 racing, much to the surprise of my dad. He looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face, silently asking me, “What was that for?” I explained, my exact emotions regarding Greg Hardy.

“I don’t even want to hear them talk about Greg Hardy”

Every time I hear his name or watch a Dallas Cowboys game, I find myself asking these questions constantly. There aren’t a lot of human beings on this earth that I’m just totally and completely disgusted by. Greg Hardy is one of these human beings.

What the hell is Greg Hardy even still doing in this godforsaken league? Why is he still allowed to play football under the tag of one of the biggest and most powerful organizations in the free world?

Look, we all have qualities about us that we’re not proud of and would love to change. None of us are perfect, but I’ll be damned if I’ve ever met anyone as half-hearted and genuinely awful as Greg Hardy.

My first contact with Greg Hardy came from an October, 2013 version of Sports Illustrated, in which he was profiled by Greg Bedard, (I believe, don’t quote me on that).

The article was written during Hardy’s 15 sack breakout campaign in 2013, while he was in Carolina.

Hardy sporting his trademark eyeblack for the Panthers. Photo by Chuck Burton for AP
Hardy sporting his trademark eyeblack for the Panthers. Photo by Chuck Burton for AP

The on-field brilliance was well documented – and don’t get me wrong, Hardy is an extremely talented pass rusher. But, briefly mentioned was something that really got my attention and raised some red flags for me.

While at Ole Miss, Hardy was frequently late to practice and meetings, and had a tendency to mix it up at practice a little bit; but would still produce on the field. When he got to Carolina, those things persisted.

The line that really got me was this. Paraphrasing, Hardy was described as being “brilliant when he wanted to be.” Basically, if Hardy didn’t feel like playing hard or giving his best, he flat out wouldn’t.

Does that just sound disgustingly selfish to anyone else?

I know that in any sport I play I’m always getting on guys that I don’t feel are giving 100% effort. I’ve got your back, I fully expect you to have mine. And particularly in football – an already tough game where teamwork is absolutely imperative – the thought of someone not going to war for you because they don’t feel like it just repulses me.

So red flags were going up all over the place for me. I usually like to give the benefit of the doubt to athletes because I know, contrary to popular belief, their jobs are quite difficult. But with Greg Hardy, who I hadn’t even known until this article, I had already taken that liberty away from him.

Fast forward about a year. The article had come and gone; Hardy had been brilliant on the field in 2013, but suddenly his 2014 season was abruptly halted by a bit of a shocking revolution.

A report came out last September that Hardy was being accused of domestically assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Considering the recent escapades of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, domestic violence and the NFL were going together like peanut butter and jelly. And the Hardy news only contributed to the epidemic.

Was I particularly surprised? Considering my opinion of Hardy, absolutely not. But when further details were released that a part of Hardy’s assault was allegedly throwing his girlfriend down violently on a couch full of assault rifles, I was shocked.

How can one human being treat another this badly? Especially when that human being is the one that you’ve given your heart and soul to? It just hurt my heart to think about, and made me angry as well. But the psyche behind domestic violence is a totally different subject for a different day.

Anyway, following the allegations – which Hardy was acquitted of, but never publicly denied – Roger Goodell did his typical Roger Goodell thing and waited around on making a decision. Why? Because Greg Hardy’s a good football player that sells jerseys and tickets and makes Goodell a lot of money, so Goodell won’t immediately suspend him even if his actions are absolutely despicable.

It was typical Goodell, and just completely follows suit with the NFL’s culture of ignorance in favor of talent.

Hardy didn’t play another down in 2014 and didn’t play another down for the Panthers, and rightly so. I began to think that maybe the NFL was making a change for the better and actually taking a stand against domestic violence.

I was wrong.

I was in a hotel room in Tampa Bay this past March when I flipped on SportsCenter to discover some news that I wasn’t at all happy about. Greg Hardy had been activated from the NFL’s restricted list and had been signed by the Dallas Cowboys.

You’ve got to be kidding me. We’re really going to pull this shit again NFL? Greg Hardy is just too talented and makes too much money for the league for us to really care about the fact that he showed no remorse for allegedly, (I have to say allegedly because he was acquitted only because of a lack of evidence I might add), committing one of the worst crimes I know of.

In staying true with their typical policy, the NFL suspended Hardy for the first four games of 2015, because they have to at least pretend they care, right?

Photo by Associated Press
Photo by Associated Press

So, for the most part, we all forgot about Hardy. We all went on worrying about bigger and better things. But, when Hardy was activated before week 5, he re-entered all of our minds in the worst way possible.

In his first access to the media, Hardy was asked how he would play. His response? “I’m gonna come out guns blazing.” He then proceeded to make misplaced and disrespectful comments about Tom Brady’s wife, Gisele.

After coming back from an incident in which he was accused of throwing his girlfriend down on a couch full of assault rifles, the first words out of Greg Hardy’s mouth were “guns blazing.”

At this point, we’ve crossed the line between poor media comments and just genuinely being an absolutely awful human being.

Greg Hardy had to pretend to respect women and be sorry for what he did for 12 minutes. TWELVE MINUTES. And he couldn’t even do that. But what did the NFL do about it? Absolutely nothing. No fines, no suspension, no public comments, nothing. And the Cowboys? All they did was “talk sternly” with Hardy to let him know that this wasn’t okay.

What are we, in pre-school? Talk sternly? Are we going to put him in timeout next? Come the hell on, this is the NFL, Greg Hardy is a fully grown man, you really think he’s going to positively respond to a stern talk? Once again, Hardy is given a pass by his employers because his talent is just so immense that the significant issues he brings are effectively ignored.

And then a new chapter was written in the Greg Hardy this past Sunday. It was normal football stuff, with Hardy getting into a shouting match on his own sideline with the special teams coach and anyone who would listen to him. How bad was it? Dez Bryant played the role of peacemaker; that’s right, Dez Bryant.

And after the game, as Hardy was talking to the media again, he interrupted every question with “no comment, next question.” So instead of handling the issue and addressing it like a man, Hardy simply acted like a little kid and avoided all questions.

But I’ve written enough words to give you an accurate impression of how awful Hardy is, let’s move on to the other side of the issue.

As reporters asked Cowboys owner Jerry Jones about Hardy, he responded with, “He’s one of the real leaders on the team and he earns it. That’s the kind of thing that inspires.”

Holy shit you can’t be serious with me right now.

You’re telling me that throwing a massive sideline tantrum earns you the tag of being a leader and inspires your teammates? As the kids these days would say, I can’t even.

When they initially signed Hardy, the Cowboys – and specifically Jones – emphasized that they’d “done their homework” on him and that there would be no more problems. Well guess what, there are still freaking problems guys.

Hardy’s actions are awful, and he clearly has no place in this league, but he really isn’t the real issue here. It’s everyone that gives him a damn job and lets him be an awful person in the limelight.

The NFL’s culture of ignoring big time issues because a player is immensely talented has to change. The fact that Greg Hardy continues to be enabled by Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett and Roger Goodell is unacceptable. After all he’s done he has never paid a single dollar in fines to the NFL for reasons off the field, and the worst thing that’s ever happened to him is a stern talking to.

That is not okay at all. But nonetheless, as Jones’ comments showed, Hardy will continued to be mollycoddled, endorsed and enabled because he’s good at sacking the quarterback. And further, Jerry Jones came out today and said that the Cowboys hope to work out an extension for Hardy, which means he’ll potentially be guaranteed a spot in this league for even longer.

There aren’t enough words for me to accurately express just how hurt and angry this makes me as a man.

NFL, you do enough awful things as is, and with your bullshit breast cancer “Crucial catch” campaign every October you even pretend to give a rat’s ass about women and how they view your league. So do them another favor and stop enabling a man who gives shows less respect toward them than few people I’ve ever seen.

Fire him and keep him far away. He has no place in your league and you need to realize that. You will make plenty of money without Greg Hardy, I promise. I say that because I know that’s the only thing you greedy blowhards care about.

His talent should not even matter when you stop to consider the things that he has done. Overlook it and remove him from your brand.

If you continue to enable Greg Hardy, you will continue to lose fans like me, and we’ll all look like one of the reporters listening to Jerry Jones’ mind-bogglingly insensitive tirade.

Hardy 1
Did you really just say that Jerry?

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

Ryan’s Rants: The NFL’s Culture of Ignorance in Favor of Talent

Oscar Taveras: 1 Year Later

One year ago today, Oscar Taveras woke up for the final time
One year ago today, Oscar Taveras woke up for the final time

3:30 AM on Saturday May 31st, 2014, I sit in Santo Domingo International Airport with Wi-Fi for the first time since entering the Dominican Republic 6 days ago. I power my phone up for the first time in those 6 days and a lone Bleacher Report push notification appears.

Cardinals call up #1 prospect Oscar Taveras, in lineup Saturday vs. Giants batting 6th.

My pulse jumped and my heart raced. In the lineup Saturday? Today?! Oscar Taveras is going to make his debut today?! I jumped up, suddenly invigorated with energy, and punched the air in celebration. What a day this was going to be.

For years, I’d only heard about Taveras’ hitting prowess, how he was the second coming of Albert Pujols; but I’d never actually been able to experience his greatness. There were stories of him hitting bottle caps as a child in his native Dominican Republic, stories of him winning batting titles at every minor league level he played at, stories of his infectious smile and spirit. Suffice it to say, we had been expecting him for a long, long time.

And finally, he had arrived. And I’d learned of the news while in his native homeland, no less. I marked the time and day down on my phone so as to always be able to remember where I was when I got the news.

A transfer flight to Miami, a 2 hour layover, and another takeoff later I’m in the air somewhere above central Georgia around the time of first pitch. American Airlines has blessed me with in-flight Wi-Fi and you’d better believe I was taking full advantage of it. Most of that midday flight was lost in sleep, but not me. The Cardinals, and Taveras, had my full attention from 30,000 feet in the air.

Everything that didn’t involve Taveras just dragged. I wished he could have every Cardinal at-bat that day, as he just seemed to be the only thing that mattered to me. Hell, the whole game just dragged, a 0-0 contest through 4.1 innings was barely holding my interest. And then time stood still.

A 1-0 backdoor slider from Yusmiero Petit was the pitch. It stayed up over the outside corner of the plate and Taveras launched into that beautiful, majestic, iconic swing.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images

The audio that had been struggling to come through all game long was suddenly crystal clear, and I can still hear Rick Horton belting out, “The 1-0…HIT HARD…DEEP TO RIGHT…IT’S A LONG ONE…AND IT IS GONE. HOME RUN, OSCAR TAVERAS.”

I loud out an unintentionally loud scream of elation, I high-fived the stranger next to me and punched the sky with both fists. Oscar Taveras had just hit a home run in his second career at bat. It was almost too good to be true. And my only thought was, “The first of many, this kid is special.”

Immediately after hitting his home run and taking a chill-inducing curtain call, the St. Louis skies opened and rain began falling in sheets. Oscar Taveras had literally opened up the skies with his majestic blast; you couldn’t even write this type of script for a movie. The moment was too perfect.

The Taveras curtain call through a driving rain. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Taveras curtain call through a driving rain. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Five months later he was gone.

I was sitting at home when, once again, a single Bleacher Report push notification appeared on my phone.

Cardinals 22 year old OF Oscar Taveras has died in a single car crash in the Dominican Republic.

It hit me like a punch straight to the chest. I felt the wind get knocked out of me and I couldn’t believe it. I showed it to my Dad to verify that I had indeed read it correctly. His shoulders slumped and he just nodded quietly and gave me a pat on the back before walking away.

I stared at the wall in complete and utter disbelief. My heart hurt, and I was in shock. Just as his home run had been too good to be true, this was just too awful to be true. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. He was supposed to become the greatest Cardinal since Musial, the next Pujols, and the greatest hitter of our generation. That iconic swing that launched his first career home run would someday be immortalized in bronze outside Busch Stadium. But instead, he was dead at 22, also having taken the life of his 18 year old girlfriend with him.

The course of history had been as damaged and altered as the wrecked body of his cherry red Corvette, smashed into a tree along a rain slickened roadside in the Dominican Republic.                                                                                                                                                                              Taveras 4

The same rain that his majestic first home run had brought was now one of the causing factors in his tragic demise.

The very skies that Taveras had opened up on that afternoon in May had opened up for him once again, but this time they would not be returning him to us.

There are two parts to every death, the victim of the death, and the people left behind. In the wake of the tragedy, it brought strength to many grieving souls to witness the way the Cardinals, as a team, came together to honor the memory of their fallen comrade. They became less of a team and more of a family; and at the center of all of the love and support was Carlos Martinez, Taveras’ childhood friend who understandably took his death extremely hard.

Taveras' moving funeral in his native Puerto Plata. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Taveras’ moving funeral in his native Puerto Plata. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch

And among the other people left behind that should not be neglected, Taveras’ now two year old son, Oscar Yadier Taveras – who not only lost his dad, but also lost his acting mother and Taveras’ 18 year old girlfriend, Edelia Arvelo. And his middle name alone should tell you what kind of family the Cardinals are and what kind of impact that had on Taveras.

But for as unexpected and tragic as this was, the situation got a hell of a lot more complicated just about two weeks later. Once again, Bleacher Report did the honors, delivering the push notification that created said complication.

Dominican police reports show Cardinals’ OF Oscar Taveras’ blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit at time of fatal crash.

My heart sank in my chest. I didn’t want to believe it was true. I wanted to think that it was just a rain-slickened road accident, and nothing more. Somehow that made his death easier to swallow.

But now, things were convoluted.

When I began driving, one of the things that my Mom told me that has stuck with me was, “Every time you get behind the wheel, you hold a lot of lives in your hands, and every decision you make can end any given number of those lives.”

As I briefly mentioned earlier, not only did Taveras essentially rob the world of his own life by strapping in behind the wheel that afternoon while heavily inebriated, the life of his 18 year old girlfriend, Edelia Arvelo, was lost.

The problem is not nearly as simple as, Taveras made a really stupid choice and now we’re all dearly paying for it. First off, public transportation in the Dominican Republic is not easily accessible. Taveras couldn’t really have just called up an Uber, or called a cab or taken a bus. It isn’t that simple down there. And second off, the quality of the roads in the Dominican Republic is absolutely atrocious, which also contributed to his loss of control over the car. So beyond the idea of not driving drunk, those are two other issues that can be solved to potentially save lives.

But, at the same time, the problem can be as simple as just not driving drunk. And, I’ll expand that to distracted driving of any kind. And I’ve been a victim of this in my own experience.

Last summer, I suffered an extremely painful concussion and broken wrist in a 2 car accident on the highway, caused when our car was hit from behind by a driver going 40 MPH who was too buried in his phone too look up and stop in time. Our car was effectively crumpled, and my head and arm were both smashed off the dashboard.

I still feel pain from this experience to this day, and I take distracted or impaired driving of any kind very seriously. The driver of the car that hit ours stepped out to talk to us and admitted that he was on his phone at the time of the accident. And he didn’t even seem apologetic about it, in fact he didn’t even seem to care, and that completely disgusted me.

So after moving forward from the initial grief of the Taveras tragedy, we move into what we can learn from the incident. Plain and simple, impaired and distracted driving are unacceptable, and must be avoided at all costs.

As my dear Mother made clear to me, driving is dangerous enough as is. Driving while inebriated or while bothered with something that takes your eyes off the road just increases that danger astronomically. And as innocent as it seems, it can have incredibly dire consequences, as we so tragically learned from Oscar Taveras.

So, on the one year anniversary of two completely unnecessary and unexpected deaths, I implore you, dear reader; put down your phone, call a cab, call an Uber, call your friends, do whatever you have to do. Just don’t drive while distracted or impaired. Life is precious, and not to be tempted unnecessarily.

And for all of the special gifts that Oscar Taveras blessed the world with, he robbed himself, and one other person of the greatest gift of all.

The gift of life.

Thanks for reading…

– Ryan

Oscar Taveras: 1 Year Later

Todd Gurley and Enjoying the Rams While They’re Here

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images

When Roger Goodell announced Todd Gurley as the Rams’ 1st round draft pick this past April, my initial reaction was, “Really? A first round running back? With Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham already on the roster? Literally, why?” I knew Gurley was an outstanding player, but coming off a November ACL tear, suffice it to say that I had a lot of questions.

And I wasn’t alone. CBS’ Pete Prisco questioned it as well, saying, “Drafting a running back in the top 10 is always risky, but it’s also a luxury for teams and I am not sure the Rams can afford that.” ESPN’s Mel Kiper echoed that sentiment, adding, “Todd Gurley is a special talent…but I’ve said a 1,000 times I don’t think taking RB’s in Round 1 is a good strategy.”

But, as Kiper did mention, there was a silver lining among all of the questions. And that silver lining is the fact that “Todd Gurley is a special talent.”

I don’t think anyone doubted Gurley’s talent, and he showcased how special he was at the University of Georgia. In his freshman season he racked up 1,502 yards from scrimmage with 17 total touchdowns in 13 games. And the season after he racked up 1,430 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns in only 10 games. And the November ACL tear in his junior season ruined another sparkling campaign.

So unless you hadn’t watched him, there was absolutely no denying the talent. As the late Stuart Scott once tweeted:

Stuart Scott Tweet

But Todd Gurley as a pro? Nobody knew what to expect. Would we even see him in 2015? How much of the formerly dazzling Todd Gurley player could we expect? Would he just be a hurt shell of the player he once was?

Todd Gurley has heard all of our questions and is having none of it.

After missing the first two weeks of the season, and only seeing limited action in week 3 against Pittsburgh, Gurley has exploded onto the NFL scene during the past three weeks. Following impressive 146 and 159 yard games against stout Arizona and Green Bay defenses, Gurley shredded the Cleveland defense this afternoon to the tune of 128 yards on 19 carries with a pair of trips to the Promised Land.

I could throw all of the stats I want at you. I could tell you that Gurley was 12 yards away from being the first running back since Eric Dickerson to rush for 140 yards in his first three NFL starts. But I’m sure you already know all of that. And I’m really not here to spew out endless numbers on how great Todd Gurley is. You want to know how great he is?

Just watch him.

That’s all you need to do. All it takes is your attention to realize the rare greatness that is evident every single time he graces the field. As Mel Kiper said, he truly is a “special talent.” He runs with a grace, power, and ferociousness reminiscent of a young Adrian Peterson and even, dare I say it, Walter Payton.

Gurley does absolutely everything that elite running backs do. And he does it exceptionally well. Running the ball? Big check. Catching the ball out of the backfield? Yup. Picking up blitzes? With authority. And as he showed at Georgia, he can even return some kickoffs for you.

We really haven’t seen this kind of pure talent at running back in St. Louis since Marshall Faulk. Steven Jackson was good, but not this good. And Gurley might even be better than the immortal number 28.

Which gets me to my bigger point. With all of this shady Stan Kroenke relocation talk/speculation bullshit, we don’t know how much longer the Rams will be here in St. Louis. Which means that we don’t know how much longer we’ll get to enjoy the rare talents that the Rams currently employ; Gurley being one of them.

When I turn on my television to watch the Rams, I’m often maddened and frustrated by the inconsistency and the inability to ‘get over the hump’, if you will. But there are players that I do not take for granted that find a way to shine through all of the stuff that drives me crazy.

Robert Quinn two years ago was such a spectacle to watch week in and week out. Aaron Donald’s weekly breathtaking brilliance. The playmaking emergence of Alec Ogletree this season before his ankle injury robbed us of him for presumably the rest of the season. And now Todd Gurley’s name can be added to that list of things that I so enjoy about the Rams.

So on the one year anniversary of Oscar Taveras’ tragic death I say this, nothing is guaranteed. As cliché as that is, it’s beyond true. And these Rams are most definitely not guaranteed to us. So while they’re here, enjoy them. Watch them, cheer for them. Don’t act like you’re too good to be a Rams fan, because when this team finally ‘gets over the hump’ and starts making big time noise nobody’s going to be too good for this team.

Todd Gurley, I thank you for helping me enjoy the Rams again; keep shining. And to the rest of you I say this, enjoy the Rams while they are here, because someday Todd Gurley won’t be ours and when that day comes it’ll be a damn shame. But until then, turn your television on and enjoy his brilliance. We may never see anything like it ever again.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

Todd Gurley and Enjoying the Rams While They’re Here

CFP Selection Committee: Doubling Down on Double Standards

Let’s talk about college football, shall we? First off, having watched college football for as long as I can remember, and particularly in recent weeks, I have absolutely no issues saying that it’s product is unquestionably more exciting than the NFL. Not to mention cleaner, more pure, and without Roger Goodell’s weekly nonsensical hogwash, to put it lightly.

Every week, something new, thrilling, and important happens. In case you’ve been living under a rock and have deprived yourself of the pleasure of watching college football’s weekly insanity, you would have missed Michigan State’s last second botched-punt-fumble-return-touchdown to defeat bitter rival Michigan. You would have missed BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum’s last second Hail Mary to defeat Nebraska, and then the very next week to defeat Boise State.

Suffice to say, college football has provided consistent mayhem and excitement that we all revel in on a weekly basis. And, much to the credit of the NCAA, the recently installed College Football Playoff has only increased the excitement and thrills.

But, as perfect as this system could seem, it has flaws; flaws that have reared their ugly head lately. The biggest flaw that the system has can be summed up in two words.

Double. Standards.

Double standards? Where in the world are there double standards in the College Football Playoff? Well, what I’m going to focus on is the idea of dropping certain teams in the polls, but not other teams. It sounds vague and complicated but we’ll dive into it, I promise.

Now, before we get into the main event this evening I want to say this. If last year’s Playoff taught us anything, the polls before the finals poll are just feigns designed to get us talking and arguing…I think. So we’re going to do exactly what those polls are designed to get us to do; talk and argue.

For the sake of this article, we’ll be using the AP poll as our source of rankings, so any ranking that I reference will be from that poll.

Anyway, let’s rewind to the preseason rankings, which had Ohio State at #1, TCU at #2, Baylor at #4, and Utah unranked. So far, Ohio State’s ranking as the top team in the nation has not budged, but all of those other teams have been thrown in a bucket and jumbled around like nobody’s business.

Ohio State has looked nothing like the #1 team in the country. Argue all you want, but the team that’s 39th in total offense in the FBS and 19th in total defense, with an average margin of victory of about 17 points, is just not the #1 team in a stacked field. Not to mention, all of this coming against 7 unranked teams, none of them appearing particularly formidable.

Yet, as I touched on earlier, Ohio State’s ranking as the top team in the country hasn’t budged. Now, granted, the only thing that matters at the end of the season is the win column, and Ohio State has not faltered and has seven of those said wins. But when I say the only thing that matters is the win column, whoever produces the rankings seems to disagree with me. Baylor is 7-0, TCU is 7-0, Utah is 6-0, Michigan State is 8-0; yet all of these teams have been shuffled around almost nonsensically from week to week.

So, my question is, why do all of those teams – among others – get shuffled around from week to week, yet Ohio State’s ranking never changes? What do you, as a committee, value?

Let’s look at Michigan State and Ohio State specifically here.

Michigan State and Ohio State's meeting later this season will settle a lot of the quips in this article. But until then.....
Michigan State and Ohio State’s meeting later this season will settle a lot of the quips in this article. But until then…..

Both have played Indiana, and both have beaten Indiana. But, both have struggled mightily in defeating the Hoosiers. Indiana is 4-4 and not considered a top team, so it is a bit of a cause for concern that both teams struggled with the Hoosiers.

Ohio State only won by seven points, and anyone watching that game knows that Indiana really should have won, but the Buckeyes eked it out. Michigan State struggled for three quarters before a 24 point fourth quarter pulled theme away and gave them a 52-26 win.

Now in the past, Michigan State has been dropped in the polls for struggling to beat teams they were favored to beat. The Spartans only defeated Purdue by three points, and were dropped two spots in the polls following the victory. While, that very same week, Ohio State should have lost to Indiana, yet didn’t, and was not moved from their perch atop the polls.

And the week after, Ohio State struggled against 2-5 Maryland – winning by 14 points – while Michigan State slogged to a 7 point victory over Rutgers. You can probably guess what happened next, as the Spartans were dropped three spots in the polls, yet the Buckeyes remained atop the polls.

A 7-0 Michigan State team, that had been ranked #2 just two weeks earlier and has beaten two top 15 teams, was now ranked #7. While a 7-0 Ohio State team that had mostly struggled against unranked cupcakes was still ranked #1.

Am I the only one that’s questioning this?

Meanwhile, during all of this, just about the same thing is happening in the Big 12 with Baylor and TCU.

In the preseason poll, TCU was slotted at #2, and Baylor sat at #4. As we stand today, both teams are 7-0. TCU’s average margin of victory is about 24 points against the 26th hardest schedule in the country. Baylor’s average margin of victory is 36 points against the 38th hardest schedule in the country. Baylor currently sits at #2, while TCU sits at #4.

Again, why?

One last argument here. Let’s take a look at the high-rising surprises of this season. The Iowa Hawkeyes and the Utah Utes. Utah is 6-0, and Iowa is 7-0, and both were unranked at the start of the season. Utah now sits at #3 in the country, and Iowa currently sits at #17.

Utah has defeated a now highly ranked Michigan team, but looking back on their schedule, that’s their only really quality win. They struggled at home against Utah State and Arizona State, and their 42 point road throttling of Oregon currently looks way less impressive than it did at the time of victory considering the Ducks’ freefall to a poor 4-3 record.

Iowa has defeated a ranked Pittsburgh team, and has road wins at ranked Wisconsin and a 30 point throttling of ranked Northwestern. They’ve looked extremely impressive in the formidable BIG 10.

Yet, Utah sits at #3 and is right in the thick of Playoff talk, and Iowa sits at #17 and the biggest compliment you’ll hear about them is that they are, “an upstart.”

I can’t be the only one confused at all of this. So, to the committee, I ask, what matters to you? How do you make your rankings? What do Ohio State, Utah, and Baylor have that Michigan State, Iowa, and TCU don’t have? Why are you dropping certain teams in the rankings while not dropping other teams?

Now, as I mentioned earlier and as we learned last year, these rankings really carry no weight. They are just the committee’s loose representation of the current standing of college football. But still, why can’t there be a double standard for all teams? Why do some teams get untouchable special treatment while others are so heavily scrutinized and punished when they make simple mistakes or slog to a victory?

The only thing we count at the end of the season is wins, so shouldn’t those be the only things that matter? After all, as the immortal Ricky Bobby said, “If you’re not first, you’re last.” I don’t think Ricky Bobby cared about his margin of victory or how many running yards he had.

And, right now, neither should any of us. A win is a win, and it should be counted that way. We can get nit-picky later. All I’m calling for is consistency right now, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

CFP Selection Committee: Doubling Down on Double Standards