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Who Do You Root For?

Jan 06, 2015 -- 3:03pm



I am fascinated by this question. Especially in a 2015 sports culture that includes individual domination in the NBA, the now mainstream fantasy leagues, both season and daily, and the ever-present traditional norm, the question, “who do you root for?” has never had a more complex answer.

The answer to that question also says a lot about you as a fan and to some extent what your values are as a person. As a member of the media in college, who attended the same university whose teams I covered simultaneously, I quickly went from student-section fan to all-too objective press box dweller. I did my utmost to separate myself from fandom. Since moving to Kansas City, I have learned, most fans, especially in this market, not only expect media to be biased, but they expect media to be just as biased as they are FOR the teams they like and ENTIRELY OBJECTIVE (by their definition) for the teams they don’t. I separate my analysis from my fandom. I have to, one is my job and the other is my entertainment. But talking about the game vs. talking about the people that play it is often a gray area.

It is true, no one can escape bias, you will eventually root for the teams or players you cover on some level. I personally have found a compromise to this dilemma. I root for people, not for teams. I have one exception, the United States Men’s National Team in World Cup soccer. I am an american… I root for the people I meet and like. They aren’t always the most talented, but they are the ones I want to see succeed.

I’ll never forget the 2012 Chiefs season, for mostly bad reasons, but the one thing I will always remember is when I had the realization, as a member of the media and as a fan of sports, I started rooting for people and not for teams. I had an opportunity to interview Brady Quinn on a weekly basis, one-on-one and through these conversations and the meetings we had off the air I got to know him as a person. So, when he gave an impassioned speech after the Chiefs beat the Carolina Panthers just a day after Jovan Belcher committed murder-suicide, I was not in the least bit surprised at his composure or compassion. I knew that was who he was. We had talked about his charity and many other notable things he was involved in. I knew the guy everyone saw give that speech after the game was a person I saw when the cameras were off. I respected that. I secretly wished Quinn was more talented and had been given a much better chance to succeed in a league that spits players out as fast as they gobble them up, because he’s the kind of guy you want to see “win.”

At the end of the day, teams are a t-shirts. T-shirts and stadiums and arenas and money and symbols. The people who wear them, build them, sustain them and give them meaning are where I’ve found the answer to that question. My desire to see Arkansas my school, even the USMNT my country, succeed is a part of my entertainment, and I enjoy it. But my passion to see the players that make them up succeed because they deserve it is where I find my fandom.

Rooting for Bill Snyder or Kim Anderson or Bill Self or Jamaal Charles or Greg Holland? There are a million reasons to do it. Real tangible reasons. But, the next time someone asks you, “who do you root for?” really think about it. Because your TEAM is only as good as the people who make it up. Try not to confuse analysis with fandom. The two don’t really go together. When it comes to fandom, I choose to enjoy sports through the people that play it, not the clothing they wear.



Nov 25, 2014 -- 10:02am
By @TJCarpenterWHB

This week is rivalry week in college football. Given how much conference realignment has taken place over the last five years however, some teams have found this week late in the year a bit more hollow. In many ways its still about what the week used to be to a lot of people as opposed to what it will be moving forward or what it currently is.

Regardless of whether this week means something to Mizzou and Arkansas on a personal level the way it has in the past, this week still has an enormous amount of meaning on a practical level. Mizzou can win the SEC East for the second consecutive season, earning respect and a shot at its first SEC Title. Arkansas can build momentum going into the bowl season, deprive Mizzou of getting back to Atlanta and create buzz around the program as Bret Bielema continues to rebuild in recruiting.

There is a lot on the line, especially for Mizzou.

The Tigers have faced a wall of disrespect in the Big 12 and now the SEC and previously the Big 8 their entire existence, basically. And for that reason, getting back to the SEC Title game for two consecutive seasons would be the ultimate face-shoving moment for a program with a chip on its shoulder. Trust me, I know there’s nothing funner than FORCING people to acknowledge how good your team is. And the Tigers are a very good, albeit inconsistent, team this season. It’s why they’re in this position. But, have they really been disrespected to the extent to which people say?

Sometimes narrative matches up with the facts, sometimes it doesn’t. (okay, a large portion of the time it doesn’t.) The narrative with Mizzou coming into the SEC FROM SEC people was, Mizzou would struggle to compete early in the league but ultimately settle in as a middle to above average program in the conference. This argument was based on a perception Mizzou, while an overachieving and well-coached program, would be unable to recruit with the big boys in the Southeastern Conference and stylistically would have to adjust to the physical style of football teams play around the league.

Let’s address the last thing first. That was a really stupid thing to say, by myself and others. Mizzou is built on three principles: Quarterback play, Pass rush, Offensive line strength.  Those are the three most important things in football in that order in the NFL and increasingly in the college game. Mizzou’s defense is predicated on pressure and turnovers and they’re really good at it under Gary Pinkel. They are “best in the league” good at it.

That brings us the second thing. Mizzou could not recruit in the SEC vs the big dogs. Mizzou was typically middle of the pack in the Big 12 in recruiting and so far have been dead last or second to last in recruiting rankings in the SEC. But as Nate Bukaty said this week, and I agree with, recruiting should be based on the players you produce and put into the NFL and not the players you get to come to campus. In general I think this is a great way to gauge the caliber of a roster. First, it’s a given that Gary Pinkel can coach, he’s not perfect, but the guy gets it. So, what we’ll look at is how Mizzou ranks in the SEC (or would have been ranked) over the last 8 seasons. This would mean 5th year seniors playing in 2012 in SEC year 1, are included as recruits coming in the year Mizzou had players drafted in 2008. (Here is the complete of NFL players by school per year)

Mizzou SEC ranking players in NFL by season:
2014: 9th - 33
2013: t9th - 29
2012: 10th - 28
(pre SEC)
2011: 12th - 20
2010: 13th - 12
2009: 13th - 8
2008: 13th - 6

2 Observations: First, wow, how awesome has Gary Pinkel been for Mizzou? He got to Mizzou in 2001. In 2001, Mizzou had fewer players in the NFL than Texas A&M-Kingsville. (That’s literally true) In 2014, the Tigers had 33 current NFL players. Second, as impressive as Gary Pinkel has been at developing NFL talent, Missouri is still 9th at best in the SEC at putting players in the NFL. This is a point for the narrative in my book. Mizzou is good at putting players into the NFL, but so is everyone else in the conference and most are better. Mizzou DOES put more players into the NFL than their recruiting rankings would suggest however, so there’s that. Players are better when they leave than when they come in under Gary Pinkel. I’ll reiterate a previous comment: Dude can coach.

Regardless of these two points overall I think we can say, in general, the results speak for themselves at this point. Getting to back to back SEC Title appearances is extremely difficult, and Mizzou is on the verge of doing it. That’s impressive by any metric. Mizzou can compete in this league, all hail Gary Pinkel, SEC East Overlord. Winning a title would go a long long way to establishing a new narrative. The old one is almost dead and deservedly so.

Onto the opponent.

This is a bad matchup for Mizzou.

Arkansas runs the football effectively, has a crushing play action passing game, the largest offensive line in all of football (college and pro) and a defense that has shut out back to back top 20 teams. The last time that happened was 1942 when the Bear Bryant-coached North Carolina Preflight did it. They, like Mizzou are well-coached and at playing great football late in the year. Arkansas will be the only school in college football history to play all of its conference games against top 20 teams. They were tied with Auburn at halftime, lost to A&M in overtime, lost to Alabama by 1, lost to Georgia but outscored the dogs in all but one quarter, and lost to then no.1 Mississippi State on a last minute TD in the 4th before defeating LSU and Ole Miss in back to back weeks.

They are better than their record would indicate.

Mizzou has excellent rush ends, but Arkansas runs the ball so much, you have to wonder how much the Tigers can get to Brandon Allen given how seldom the Hogs drop back. You also have to wonder how well Mizzou can run the football against a team that only gave up 36 yards to LSU and just 63 yards to Ole Miss. Arkansas is also +6 in turnovers the last two weeks. This means Maty Mauk has the game in his hands and limited weapons around him against a defense that also touts one of the best rush ends in the nation in Trey Flowers.

There is a lot on the line, including the near future of this “Battle Line” rivalry. Perhaps in the short term, the rivalry itself will take a back seat, but if this first game is as close as I believe it will be, it means great things for the game moving forward. Close games make for great rivalries. This is going to be a close game. Hopefully the two schools most synonymous with the chip on the shoulder and the underdog role, constantly trying to change what they are, will make for good bedfellows.

26-20 Arkansas


Happy Thanksgiving.

Let This Be The Royals Moment

Oct 08, 2014 -- 4:16pm


I've long tried to understand why baseball fans are so defensive of their teams. Much more so than other fans in other sports. All fans are defensive on some level, but it’s just different in baseball.

In the NFL, criticism is not only welcome, it’s often expected from the media and fans. Fans want wins, plain and simple. In college sports, fans are defensive, allegiance is a huge part of the fan culture, lines are drawn, but at the end of the day, most fan bases know their roles in the hierarchy of what college sports are. Kansas State relishes being disrespected, Mizzou fans expect things to go wrong in the big moments, Kansas fans, walk around in their own little world of Jayhawk supremacy.

Baseball is different. It isn’t about allegiance, it isn’t about popularity or hierarchy or even wins. It’s a local, cultural, familial bond. The one thing baseball has that no other sport has, is the exclusive attention of fans every day for 4 months out of the year. To fall in love, you need prolonged intense contact. Baseball has that with its fans, and it creates this bond with a team that is more familial than any in sports.

If you have children or siblings, you understand this: no one is allowed to take shots at your family, but you. When your kids are on the big stage, they can do no wrong, we all have soft spots for our own. If your little ‘Charlie’ misspells ‘balloon’ at the spelling bee, its not him, it’s the system, “they didn’t go over that in class! How is he supposed to know that word!”

We protect our own. The Royals… the Royals are Kansas City’s own. The Chiefs aren’t playing games everyday for four straight months. When I criticized Mike Moustakas for being a poor hitter earlier this season, you’d have thought I said Kansas City’s child was a bad speller. Let’s forget his slash line this season was .212/.271/.361, “that’s my player! It’s not his fault!” was the reaction.

There is something myopic and nonsensical about defending players blindly because of the color jersey a player wears. But there’s also often myopic and nonsensical about love. Kansas City is in love with the Royals. They’ve stuck by them for 30 years. I can finally say, “I get it.”

It’s why when I hear people say, “It’s a great time to be a sports fan in Kansas City,” which I’ve heard a lot on our post game shows the last few weeks. My response is this: Yes it is, but let’s not lose sight of what this is really all about. The Chiefs are doing great, Sporting KC has done so well recently and K-State, Mizzou and KU all have things to be happy about recently, but lets not lose sight of what the Royals are doing. This time is about the ROYALS. It’s a great time to be a Royals fan. What’s happening with them is uniquely “Royal” and uniquely Kansas City.

You can have great passionate relationships with any team, but with the Royals it is different for so many reasons, not just the bond, but what that bond represents because of 30 years of losing, because of turmoil, because of the constant reminder their failure is your burden as a fan, because you never left.

It is a great time to be a sports fan in Kansas City, but this about the Royals. Let this be THEIR moment. Let it be yours.

Wizard & Genius: Malzahn takes on the master

Sep 18, 2014 -- 9:50am

By  @TJCarpenterWHB

It’s not hyperbole – long before the HUNH offense, Bill Snyder revolutionized the way undersized programs recruit, scheme and attack traditional powerhouses.

He turned upsets into expectations. He did it with unique strategies and a new way of thinking. After 30 years, opposing coaches still can’t figure out him and his Kansas State Wildcats.  Which is what makes this Thursday night’s game against Auburn so much more intriguing.

Similarly, Tigers’ coach Gus Malzahn marches to the beat of his own drummer. He’s often called an offensive “genius”. Is it hyperbole?

I don’t know, but it’s hard to argue with the results.

What I do know is Auburn at Kansas State will be the best coaching match-up of the 2014 college football season.

Perhaps Malzhan’s most valuable coaching attribute is that he has no tendencies as a play-caller. He is unique in this regard.

Everyone has tendencies … but not Malzahn.  His system allows plays that acutely attack the weakness of each specific defense.

In a different way, Snyder has been equally as effective; there is no better coach at finding and exploiting the tendencies/weaknesses of an opponents. Malzahn the master of surprise, Snyder the master of attack.

Thursday isn’t Ali and Liston … it’s Byrne and Fischer.  (HERE - [hperlink - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Game_of_the_Century_(chess)], let me help you!)

For a football junkie, this the match-up you dream about.  One you circle on the calendar and remember forever – all the more so given Snyder’s age.

He’s one of the best coaches in college football history in part because he turned a perennial doormat into a champion out of nothing but cunning and guile.  And he did it twice!

Malzahn is perhaps the hottest young coach in the game today – the star of the hour.  Not simply because he’s been successful everywhere he’s parked his bus on every level in every way, although he has.

Rather, it is because he’s done it without a noticeable blueprint.

He sees situations, assesses them, finds the solution, and then coaches up his players on who to execute it.

Both Malzahn and Snyder are remarkably good at solving problems and adapting to adverse circumstances, and both win at an elite level.  So, which one wins on Thursday … the young upstart wizard or the crafty master?

One thing’s for certain – I wouldn’t miss this for anything.

Chiefs Training Camp Report, 8/12/2014

Aug 12, 2014 -- 1:56pm
- Eric Berry was kept out as a precaution as his tendonitis flamed up today
- Mike Catapano continues to battle a virus, I don't know what kind, but it's kept him out of camp for nearly the entire duration.
- Andy Reid said the 1st team quarterback (Alex Smith) will likely get the first half.
- Demetrius Harris, after struggling early in training camp displaying the same athleticism and consistency he did in OTAs and minicamp has now started to the same ability again. He had several big "go up and get it" plays today over the middle.
- Albert Wilson and Dwayne Bowe both had very bad drops today in practice. Plenty of space, both hands on the ball, just dropped it.
- Frankie Hammond has disappeared.
- In 11 on 11 drills with Alex Smith throwing the ball he worked in tandem with two different skill position groups that rotated in and out: 1st: Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Junior Hemingway - Jamaal Charles, Anthony Sherman/Anthony Fasano and 2nd: AJ Jenkins, Kyle Williams, Albert Wilson - Knile Davis, Travis Kelce/Demetrius Harris. (my personal prediction is that this is as close to a 2-deep as you will see to start the season barring injury)
- Defensively, Ron Parker and Sean Smith appear to be the 1st team corners to this point in practice. They really like Ron Parker with that first unit.
- Hussein Abdullah had a nice snag interception off an AJ Jenkins tipped pass in coverage. 
- Cairo Santos did not miss a kick today. Ryan Succop continues to sit out, not even working outside until the final special teams period, which he watches.

Chiefs Training Camp Report, 8/11/2014

Aug 11, 2014 -- 12:52pm
- Sean Smith had high highs and low lows today in practice. He got a couple INTs and then was flat out dominated off the ball a couple times by Donnie Avery
- Ron Parker and Sean Smith were put in with the first team defense on a number of 11 on 11 drills today
- Chase Daniel continues to struggle at camp throwing interceptions, but that is not unlike his performance from TC last year.
- Frank Zombo may be the odd man out in LB corps, Dezman Moses injury may change that, but as it stands right now, Outside Linebacker group consists of Hali, Houson - Ford, Martin - and then if Zombo were to make the team, he would be the 5th OLB on the 53.
- Albert Wilson continues to play well, I still believe Frankie Hammond will make the team over Wilson, but camp is long and right now Wilson looks like the more productive of the two. Kyle Williams also continues with strong performances at camp.
- Albert Wilson also may prove to be a better WR option next season than DeAnthony Thomas, who has smaller hands and less weight on his frame. 
- DAT is clearly the fastest football player in pads they have at camp. I asked Adam Teicher about how Thomas compares to Dante Hall, who has the same height and about 10-pounds heavier. Teicher said Hall was a stockier player than Thomas, but wasn't nearly as fast as DAT is. Whether he plays on offense much remains to be seen, but I think he'll be a gamer on special teams.
- DAT also worked on kickoff drills today as the catch man on several "Music City Miracle" drills. They did a shorter version of the play as well that involved Knile Davis as the catch man.
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