Winter Classic is a hit
The NHL's Winter Classic was, once again, a smashing success, and it's clear it should be an annual event. A year ago, it seemed like a good idea to move the game away from Jan. 1 because of conflicts with bowl games and, perhaps, use the All-Star Game as the outdoor vehicle. But after we watched the rival Blackhawks and Red Wings go at it, the outdoor game is too good of an idea to waste on the watered-down All-Star Game, which is becoming more irrelevant each year. And Jan. 1 now seems like a good fit for the outdoor game because the BCS system has changed the landscape of college football on New Year's Day.
NBC football co-host Dan Patrick didn't hold back in his interview Saturday with former Lions head honcho Matt Millen. Patrick asked him how responsible Millen was for the Lions' 0-16 season, whether Millen would have fired himself and whether Millen was even qualified for the job. To Millen's credit, he took full responsibility for the mess in Detroit. "Completely responsible,'' Millen said. "When you're head of football operations, you throw it back on me. You can say something about coaching, say something about the players, but inevitably, I'm responsible for them, so I'm completely responsible for it in my mind.''
Millen had a pretty good career going in broadcasting before taking the Lions job in 2001 and would be an honest and refreshing addition to anyone’s broadcast booth or studio next season.
Les Miles' LSU Tigers were up 35 points in the fourth quarter and ran a fake punt (and made the first down) in a 38-3 win over Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Not only does it show a lack of class, but it's stupid. What goes around tends to come around.
Put USC quarterback Mark Sanchez in the cool book. Even after he had one of the best games in Rose Bowl history with four touchdowns and a career-high 413 yards, Sanchez did not talk about his day until he mentioned what an honor it was to play against Penn State and legendary coach Joe Paterno. Maybe it was noteworthy because too many players spend so much time beating their own chests that they're too tired to show respect for the game and their opponents.
ESPN's Howard Bryant, on Sunday’s Sports Reporters: "I'm a big believer in karma, so the Oklahoma City Thunder's abysmal 4-30 record might be some cosmic payback for the way they walked out on the loyal fans of Seattle.''
Number of the weekend
600. Former Lightning star Brad Richards, now with the Dallas Stars, played his 600th NHL game Saturday night. Speaking of Richards, his contributions on and off the ice are still missed in Tampa Bay, but all in all, the trade that sent Richards to Dallas has turned out to be a good one so far for the Lightning. Goalie Mike Smith has been the Lightning's best player this season and its first reliable goalie since Nikolai Khabibulin. On top of that, goalie Johan Holmqvist, who was traded with Richards to Dallas, is now playing in Sweden, while Jeff Halpern and Jussi Jokinen are still with the Lightning and both contribute, especially Halpern now that he’s healthy again.
Is Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin a dirty player? No. Was he trying to hurt the Lightning's Jamie Heward with his hit into the boards on New Year's Day? No. Should Ovechkin have been suspended for the hit from behind that gave Heward a concussion? Absolutely.
Heward, a former teammate of Ovechkin, had no problem with the hit because he says he knows Ovechkin isn't a dirty player. But, quite frankly, Heward didn't see the hit because he had his back turned. (That was the problem!) Lightning goalie Mike Smith, who had a perfect view, put it best when he said Ovechkin never let up even though he could plainly see Heward was vulnerable. The NHL needs to crack down on these types of hits, and suspending Ovechkin for a game would have sent a good message. And there's this: If the Lightning's Evgeny Artyukhin had done the same thing to Ovechkin, would he have been suspended? You can bet on it.
Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher reportedly will not return to coaching next season. Who reported that? Bill Cowher. On Sunday's NFL on CBS pregame show, Cowher said, "It's a privilege and an honor to be a head coach in the National Football League. And I have been flattered about the attention, but the timing right now is not right. I don't plan on coaching next year.''
When asked by host James Brown if he would ever return to coaching, Cowher said, "I am taking it year to year.'' NBC's Jerome Bettis, who played for Cowher in Pittsburgh, said Cowher eventually will return but will wait for a team that has a stud at quarterback.
During the first quarter of Saturday night's Colts-Chargers playoff game, NBC's Al Michaels and John Madden mentioned several times how the officiating crew working the game calls more penalties than any crew in the NFL. Those words had real impact when the Chargers picked up three first downs, including one on an iffy call, during their winning drive in overtime.
You have to wonder if Colts fans are growing as frustrated with Tony Dungy and the failure of his teams in the postseason as the Bucs were before Dungy was fired after the 2001 season. He has made the postseason 10 straight seasons but has only one title to show for it, and he has had more than one team good enough to win it all. His postseason record is 9-10, and that includes the 4-0 run his Colts went on in the '06 championship season. This is the third time in four seasons that his Colts have been knocked out in their first playoff game and the sixth time in Dungy's 10 postseasons that his team was eliminated in its first game. The question now is whether he will return next season. In an interview with NBC's Al Michaels before Saturday's game, Dungy said he would take a week after the Colts' final game to decide. Michaels said after the game that his guess was "54-46'' that Dungy would retire.
Best available coach
Anyone else still shocked that the Broncos canned coach Mike Shanahan? Speaking on the NFL Network on Sunday, Shanahan said, "I will definitely coach again.''
Three things that popped into my head
1. Just because Utah beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to finish off a perfect season doesn't mean the Utes should get No. 1 votes in the polls. Just like Boise State a couple of years ago, it's one thing to pull off a big victory or two in your season, and it's another to go through a brutal conference that offers hurdles each and every week such as the Big 12 or SEC or Pac-10.
2. After blasting No. 11 Georgetown on its own court, No. 3 Pitt (14-0) looks like an early Final Four team.
3. Atlanta is kind of a football town, isn't it? So why schedule a Lightning-Thrashers hockey game Sunday at the same time as an NFL playoff game?