Olympics, Golf, and the Ravens

August 11, 2008 | Ed Frankovic

Spanning the Sports World

With hockey news at a minimum these days I obviously haven’t had much to blog about lately but there are several things going on in the sports world recently that I feel compelled to blog about tonight:

First, I’ll start with one of the greatest races I’ve ever seen in my life. The American Men’s swim team victory over the French team in the 400M relay has to be one of the best wins ever, especially given the fact that France’s relay anchor and 100M record holder Alain Bernard was quoted with the following before the race “The Americans? We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for.”  France was a heavy favorite going into this race and now Bernard is really eating his words. It was Bernard who blew the lead as American swimmer Jason Lezak posted a record time of 46 seconds flat for his closing 100M to lift the Americans to the gold medal. The win was Michael Phelps second gold medal of the Olympics and keeps his chances of winning 8 gold medals in the Olympics alive. This race reminded me of the 1989 Preakness Stakes where Sunday Silence and Easy Goer traded the lead from the third turn on only to see Sunday Silence nip Easy Goer at the wire. An American win is always great, especially with our local guy Phelps involved, but it tastes even better when you beat a loud mouthed French team! Will the French ever learn to keep their mouths shut??!!

Second, the PGA Tour is really struggling as a news maker without Tiger Woods. I am an avid golfer and follower of the tour but I have to admit without Tiger I have lost some of my desire to tune in. Fortunately though I did manage to catch some of the final day today at the PGA Championship and Padraig Harrington turned in an incredible performance to win by one-putting the last three holes and once again prevent Sergio Garcia from winning his first major. Harrington’s feat of one putting the last three holes reminded me of the 1999 US Open at Pinehurst when Payne Stewart one putted the last three holes to edge Phil Mickelson. This is Harrington’s third major out of the last six held and that is “Tiger-like” as Ben Curtis called it today. For Garcia, he is reminding me more and more of Greg Norman as he continues to find ways to not close the deal in golf tourneys. Garcia, who has worked hard on improving his putting, also continues to come up with excuses after losing and blame his losses on “not getting the breaks while the other guys did.” I have a hard time with this because Garcia has only himself to blame thanks to the pitiful shot he hit into the water on 16 and his missed six footer for birdie on 17 after Harrington drained his birdie putt from 10 feet. Garcia makes himself really easy to dislike with his comments after his losses. Be a man Sergio and just admit you made some mistakes while the other guy played better.

Third, the US Men’s Olympic basketball team put on a show today in knocking off China 101-70. The “Redeem Team” used their speed and athletic ability to pull away from the host nation. I sure hope these guys keep it up because it would be nice to regain our dominance in hoops here in the US. As fellow blogger Vince Fidducia wrote earlier the team needs to improve in three-point and free throw shooting. As much as we Marylanders may dislike the fact that Duke’s Coach K is running this team, I have to admit he is the right guy for the job to return the gold medal to the US.

Fourth, anybody catch the interview between Bob Costas and President George Bush tonight? Like or dislike Costas and/or Bush you have to admit that was several “can’t miss” minutes of TV as Costas didn’t hold back on the tough questions and W didn’t dodge them either. This country needs more honest dialogue between politicians and the media like those two displayed tonight.

Finally, our home football team is back on the field and played their first pre-season game under new head Coach John Harbaugh on Thursday night. I don’t put much stock into pre-season but it does seem like the team is energized. Unfortunately, as much as I love our home town team, I just can’t see this squad being very good this year (winning five games against this schedule seems challenging). The offensive line is a HUGE question mark, especially at tackle. Adam Terry and Jared Gaither, two pretty much unknowns at the NFL level, are both hurt. Then add to the equation the quarterback issues and the weaknesses at the wide receiver position (Derrick Mason is the only proven guy) and things aren’t looking up.

I am pretty much sick of hearing and talking about Kyle Boller and Troy Smith. Let’s be honest, neither of these guys is someone who likely can lead this team to the playoffs let alone a Super Bowl so why is so much energy being wasted on that topic? Personally, I see Boller and Smith serving one purpose: to play this year while Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron build an offensive line for 1st round pick Joe Flacco to play behind next season. I don’t want Flacco to hit the field this year. If Carson Palmer, who was the #1 pick in the draft in 2003 out of USC, didn’t play a down his first season than why should a mid first round pick from Delaware such as Flacco play as a rookie? The NFL game is fast and furious so the last thing the Ravens need is for Flacco to get hurt or get into bad habits on his fundamentals playing with an inadequate supporting cast on offense. Offensively, I’d also like to see Mark Clayton return to the form we saw at the end of 2005 but he just can’t seem to stay healthy.

One thing I did like the other night was the play of cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Frank Walker. Last year this team was absolutely killed on defense by the injuries to Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle (see the Derrick Martin show) so maybe Rex Ryan’s crew can avoid being exposed like they were last season.

It seems that since tackle Harry Swayne tailed off in 2001 the Ravens have been looking for a right tackle with the one exception being the 2006 season when Tony Pashos anchored that side in a 13-3 Ravens season. Unfortunately for Baltimore, Pashos received a ridiculous amount of money to go play in Jacksonville before last season and then Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden couldn’t recover from his toe injury and is now retired. The losses of Ogden and Pashos combined with the sudden aging of QB Steve McNair really helps explain how the Ravens went from 13-3 to 5-11 last season. Those positions are just as unsettled and undefined as they were last season so given that situation alone I am pretty much prepared for a tough year. However, my hope is that the team improves as the season goes on and Cameron can develop the two guys who will play tackle for the Ravens in 2009. If he can find that to go along with Jason Brown, Ben Grubbs, and Marshall Yanda in the middle then the Ravens may finally have a dominant offensive line for years to come. So like several fans here in town, I’m lowering my expectations for the purple and black in what I see as a major rebuilding season.