The Jock

by Tom Weppel

We’re down to the final two teams now. They will be heading to Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII. The upstart Arizona Cardinals and the SB veteran Pittsburgh Steelers will play on February 1st down on Dale Mabry.
And so going into next week, we will begin a tremendous amount of media hype and coverage. Most of it will be certainly centered on the Steelers, as they are the more popular and well-known franchise. Let’s face it; the Cardinals are, for all intents, a virtually unknown to the majority of football fans. The Steelers, playing in the seventh Super Bowl, are the ‘sexy’ squad, with the #1 Defense in the land. They have an array of marquee names, From QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Hines Ward on Offense, to S Troy Polamalu, and LB’s James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley on Defense.
Meanwhile, Arizona is essentially an unknown quantity. Sure, we all know of QB Kurt Warner, mainly from his past exploits with the Rams, and his comeback at age 37. And we are now familiar with All-Pro WR Larry Fitzgerald and his exploits. After that, though, the Cards are a team whose main signature will be, “who are these guys?’. They are the first team that finished the regular season 9-7 to make the Super Bowl in quite a while. They play in a fairly weak Division. They didn’t fare to well on the road (3-5) and on the East Coast (0-5). The Cardinals aren’t even a rabidly popular team in their own town…they barely sold out their first playoff game a few weeks ago against the Falcons.
So, look for a ton of stories and coverage going towards Pittsburgh, while a small amount of time will be focused on ‘the other team’ from the NFC. It should get kind of quirky as we go along.

As you all know, there has been a flurry of changes within the coaching ranks of the NFL. Head Coaches have retired or been fired. They have been replaced by Assistants we’ve never heard of, some as young as 32-years old. This ‘changing of the guard’ will make things very, very interesting heading into the 2009 season for a number of teams.
What it is also doing is making things interesting for other teams who have lost those Assistants from their staff. They are having to go to various depths to fill those slots, when they might have been very happy with the group of coaches they had plying their trade.
One other aspect to all of this is in wondering what some of the veteran coaches will do. Guys like Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden have not lost their ability to coach. My guess is they will get a call to get back into action, if not this season, then certainly by next year.

The first Major Tournament of the 2009 season is in full swing Down Under, as the Australian Open is being played.
On the Mens side, Rafael Nadal is the #1 seed, going after his first Australian Open title, while #2 seed Roger Federer is back in full health, pursuing his 14th Major, which would tie the record set by Pete Sampras.
Meanwhile, the Womens side in many ways does not really have a clear cut favorite. It seem there is more parity within the ranks of the females than ever before.
One aspect of within the world of professional tennis these days is the certain lack of Americans, both in the Men’s and Women’s Tours. Andy Roddick and James Blake seem to be the only ‘names’ worthy of even slight recognition. We all know Roddick from his only Major title, that being back in 2003 at the US Open. Since then, he has had decent but not great success, and now, at age 26, seems primed to make his mark. We shall see.
Meanwhile, Blake has been on Tour for a few years now and has yet to get past the Quarterfinals of ay Major. It will be interesting to see if he can break through this year. Other than that, there are really no men from the US of note to give us something to remember.
That’s the same thing on the Womens side. Of course we all are strongly familiar with the Williams sisters. Serena and Venus have done an exceptional job throughout their career, each winning multiple Major Championships and garnering considerable notoriety. However, the field of American women within the WTA ranks is very thin.
While tennis as a sport is strongly popular around the world, it is not necessarily something youngsters are getting into in the US.