Why This Game Actually Means Something

As previously mentioned, my beloved alma mater will be playing for the state title Friday night in Legion Field. For the past 40 years, that has been the one thing that has eluded one of the proudest programs in the state of Alabama.

On November 29, 1968, the Russellville Golden Tigers, in the middle of a 44-game unbeaten streak, destroyed the Saks Wildcats 51-13 to win the Alabama Class 3A State Championship. Since that day, the Golden Tigers have not won a state title since. But there have been many close calls, some of which get more disgusting as time goes on…

1981 2nd round-Hartselle 20, Russellville 18. Russellville travelled to meet the defending Class 3A runners up. The Golden Tigers led throughout, but late in the game and clinging to an 18-14 lead, the Golden Tigers allowed Hartselle to hit a long pass that led to a late TD. The Golden Tigers failed to respond, and Hartselle went on to lose their 2nd straight state championship game two weeks later to Eufaula.

1987, Class 5A State Championship Game-Greenville 21, Russellville 20-Probably the most sickening near-miss of all-time. Russellville’s defense in 1987 was awesome. Russellville had given up a total of 66 points in 14 games going into the state title game, many coming against the backups. A halfback pass late in the 3rd quarter gave Russellville a 7-0 lead, and seemingly a state title. However, Greenville returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to tie the score. From there, Russellville got one shot to win it. A field goal was missed wide (although everyone that was at the game swears the ball was just inside the right upright) that would have won it for Russellville, and the game went into OT. In the 2nd overtime, a missed extra point gave Greenville all the momentum they would need. A 7-yard TD run by Cyrus Smith and the ensuing extra point gave Greenville a 21-20 win and the 1987 5A State Title.

1992 Class 5A State Championship Game-Blount 29, Russellville 15-Nobody will ever know what would have happened, but a gunshot rang out late in the 3rd quarter with the score tied at 15. After that, the Leopards jumped Russellville, outscoring the Golden Tigers 14-0 in the 4th quarter and winning Blount its second of five state titles. This game was considered one of the reasons the current Super 6 format (all the state title games played in Birmingham rather than on campus) was put in a few years later.

1993 2nd Round of the Playoffs-Oxford 19, Russellville 18-One of the forgotten games of Russellville lore, but Oxford eventually won the state title. Their closest call came in the 2nd round at Golden Tiger Stadium in Russellville. Leading 19-12 late, the Yellow Jackets were called for a personal foul that allowed Russellville to score a touchdown. Eschewing the tie, Coach Don Cox called for a 2-point play and the win. It failed, and Oxford survived en route to their state title.

1994 state semifinals-Homewood 14, Russellville 7-The first (but certainly not the last) time the Patriots show up. A loaded Golden Tiger team was the prohibitive favorite going into the game. However, a late interception gave the Patriots excellent field position and the go-ahead TD. However, the Golden Tigers fought back, and had a late 4th-and-1 inside the Homewood 20. The Patriots stopped Russellville running back Charles Hamilton just short of the first down, giving possession, the game, and the 5A North title to Homewood.

2000 state semifinals-Homewood 28, Russellville 10-The Cinderella season of Russellville ended that night. After back-to-back heartstoppers (10-7 over Cullman and 7-6 over Walker), Russellville could not make the stops when needed against Homewood, who was able to stop 3 RHS drives inside the 40. Homewood would go onto win the state championship in perhaps the best game ever played at the Super 6

2001 state semifinals-Homewood 31, Russellville 21-Uggh. Three gift TDs gives Homewood a 24-7 lead, a lead the Patriots hold onto en route to their 2nd straight state title game appearance. Give Homewood credit, they were good, but damn those 3 turnovers (one returned for a TD, one giving Homewood the ball inside the Russellville 20, the other at the Russellville 5) hurt. Homewood would go on to lose to Benjamin Russell in the state title game.

2002 Class 5A State Championship Game-Homewood 31, Russellville 28-Not much to say here. Jake Tompkins still holds the Super 6 record for passing yards, completions, percentage, and TDs in a state title game. And it didn’t mean anything, because we couldn’t stop them when need be, and they had a kicker that could hit a 50-yard field goal, and we didn’t. Another sickening loss, because the ’02 team is probably the best team in Russellville history. The offense certainly was.

2003 Class 5A State Championship Game-Briarwood Christian 31, Russellville 7-Maurice McCulloch broke the first play of the game for an 83-yard TD run and gave Russellville a 7-0 lead. It all went downhill from there. Russellville could not get Briarwood off the field, and could not make the plays needed. Briarwood simply outclassed us that night, and would have any other night. This one really doesn’t hurt as most of the ones above.

2004 Class 5A State Championship Game-Homewood 35, Russellville 21-We had chances early, but didn’t take advantage. Unfortunately for us, Homewood woke up sometime in the 2nd quarter, and from there it was academic. The effort was there that night, but much like the year before, we ran into the better team. No real hurt there.

2005 Class 5A State Semifinals-Buckhorn 17, Russellville 13-A scant two years earlier, Buckhorn had been the laughingstock of class 5A. Two years later, they went to the State Championship (where they got absolutely destroyed). En route to that, former Russellville standout and assistant coach Michael Jackson got one of his sweetest wins, a 17-13 upset over his alma mater. The game was a physical domination, with Russellville’s offense being completely bottled up. Still, the Golden Tigers drove inside the Bucks 10 with under a minute left. However, an interception on 2nd-and-goal ended Russellville’s hopes.

2006 Class 5A State Quarterfinals-J.O. Johnson 19, Russellville 14-UGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHH. The entire state was down that year, including us. Still, Russellville won the best region in the state that year, 5A Region 8 and had homefield throughout the playoffs. However, a key injury to defensive tackle Casey Morgan (who had been the undisputed MVP of the game against the Jags in Huntsville that year) limited our defense, and Jag quarterback David Isabelle was able to scramble almost at will. Still, Russellville held a 14-13 lead late, and looked to be en route to another state runner-up finish. Then, an out-of-bounds kickoff and a 35-yard scramble gave the Jags all the momentum they’d need. Johnson scored to go up 19-14, and held Russellville on downs to clinch a semifinal appearance. A game they’d lose to Athens 21-18 despite having the ball three times inside the 20. Athens, a team Russellville beat 32-19 in the regular season and who hasn’t beaten Russellville since 2000, won the damn thing.

As you can see, Russellville has been on the cusp of either the state title or state championship game TWELVE times since the last state title. And hasn’t won one yet. THAT is why this game means something. Well, that, and some #13 guy for Russellville.

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Nobody who reads this cares

But I don’t care. My beloved alma mater, the Russellville Golden Tigers, have reached the state championship game against the Vigor Wolves (the only Alabama school ever to win any press agency’s national title in football, back in ’88). Sure, it’s cheesy, but what the hell

More to come later this week. Go Tigers!

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The Woonsocket Rocket

The Tampa Bay Rays, who for years were an absolute abomination of God within the confines of Major League Baseball, just won the American League pennant, surviving a blown 7-run lead in Game 5 (7 outs away from winning the whole shebang) and a bases loaded situation in the 8th in Game 7. While there are some very likable guys on the team, such as Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, and Cliff Floyd, as well as extremely talented young guys like Longoria, BJ Upton (who OPSed a Bondsian 1.192 in the ALCS), Crawford, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine, 2008 ALCS MVP Matt Garza, and David Price, my favorite story of this Rays team is Rocco Baldelli.

Rocco Baldelli, in his younger and healthier days
Rocco Baldelli was born and raised in the town of Woonsocket, Rhode Island and was a 3-sport star at a Catholic high school in nearby Warwick.  A star pupil as well, Baldelli caught the eye of scout Al LaMacchia, who noted Baldelli’s ability, number (5), and Italian American heritage and called him “Joe [DiMaggio]’s twin.” Although Baldelli struggled some at the plate his rookie and 2nd years, he showed enough power to be considered one of the rising stars in the majors, and he was considered by many to be the best defensive centerfielder in the game (his range factor of 3.03 in 2004 led the Majors). Baldelli was clearly the bright spot for an absolutely dismal franchise. Then while playing baseball with his younger brother during the offseason, Baldelli tore his ACL in his knee. Baldelli rehabbed hard to get back on the field by the All-Star Break, but hurt his arm and had to have Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss the 2005 season. Baldelli came back in 2006, and although he didn’t start until June 7 in Anaheim, he did end up hitting 16 homers, raising his OPS from the two previous years, and seemed to be on his way back. Meanwhile, the Rays were still horrible, but thanks to the development of players like Carl Crawford and BJ Upton, the Rays seemed to be on the right track. The 2007 season, however, saw disappointment for both the Rays and Baldelli. The Rays finished 66-96, the worst in the Majors…again. Baldelli, meanwhile, injured his hamstring early in the year, then re-aggravated it while on a rehab assignment in the minor leagues. He had become a punchline to baseball people: yeah, he was good…when he was healthy. And that seemed to be never. When Baldelli struggled during the early part of Spring Training, everyone assumed one of Baldelli’s nagging injuries was coming back. Heck, at first there were some rumors going on that his problems were possibly due to steroid abuse. This time, however, it was more serious than that. Baldelli called a press conference on March 12, telling reporters that he would go on the DL and that he wasn’t sure if he would ever play again. The doctors had not figured out what exactly it was that was causing his problems, but the mitochondria (the “powerhouse” of cells) in his leg muscles were not working, which caused him extreme fatigue and pain in his legs. The doctors weren’t sure if he’d ever be able to put the strain on his legs that playing outfield or even running the bases would bring. Baldelli vowed to try and come back, but the Rays, weary of his injury history and the possibility that he could never come back and play, decided to decline his 2009 option, making him a free agent after the season. Many people (including former Ray and current Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo) were saddened for him, and wished him well in his comeback attempt. One who did not, however, was Fox Sports’ Kevin Hench. Hench, a Bostonian and one of Bill Simmons’ closest friends, blasted Baldelli in an article posted two days after Baldelli’s press conference. While FoxSports.com took the story down (probably recently, I know it was up as recently as August 4), the article contained such classics as
His latest DL-inducing “injury” is exhaustion.
Who does he think he is, Mariah Carey?
And what is he exhausted from, the off-season?
The guys at FireJoeMorgan.com blasted Hench, saying he owed him an apology, for at BEST being a lazy writer and not knowing that Baldelli had his condition. While FoxSports.com has apparently taken it down, there has not, as far as I can tell, been an apology forthcoming from Hench. Baldelli did, however, make an effort to come back, starting out in Vera Beach, moving up to Montgomery (where, on a July 28 game in Huntsville, he went 1-2 with a solid single and made a couple of nice plays in center behind eventual ALCS hero David Price) and Durham before finally rejoining the team in August after an injury to Crawford. Baldelli ended up playing 28 games for the Rays, hitting 4 homers, driving in 13, and OPSing .819 down the stretch to help the Rays stave off the Red Sox and win the American League East.
After struggling in the ALDS against Chicago, Baldelli was benched until Game 3 of the ALCS against Boston. He went 1 for 3 in the game, the one hit being a titanic 3-run homer over the Green Monster at Fenway Park to give the Rays an 8-1 lead and ice it away. He also went 1-3 in Game 7 of the ALCS. The hit he got in this game was just a tad bigger than the one he got in Game 3, if not as long

In a story, that in my opinion isn’t getting enough play in the awesomeness that was Game 7, Rocco Baldelli, got the biggest hit of the game in the biggest game in Tampa Bay Rays history. The same Rocco who almost everyone thought was done in March. The same Rocco who was crucified in a mean-spirited article by a Red Sox “fan” writing for a national audience for a large sports website. Somehow, in this unlikeliest of years for the Rays (seriously, the ’91 Braves are the only other team in the history of the Big 4 professional sports to go from worst record in a league to playing for the championship in the next season), it just seems appropriate.

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The Twins, the playoffs, and you

I decided to call my friend, March ElGringoLoco, to discuss this year’s baseball playoffs.

Me: How’s it going. You know, the Twins won 88 games this year.
MEGL: 88, huh? Probably good for 3rd in the AL Central.

Me: Not really, actually, the Twins went 88-75
MEGL: 75? That means they played a one-game playoff? Lemme guess, they lost to the Mariners in the one-game shot for the Wild Card?

Me: No. The Mariners actually lost 100 games
MEGL: OK, Cleveland. Sabathia has pwn3d us the last few years.

Me: Well, Sabathia could win the Cy Young, but no, it wasn’t Cleveland, and it wasn’t for the Wild Card
MEGL: Again? Damn, I thought he would fall back to earth…and if it wasn’t for the Wild Card, it had to be for the Central. I guess the Tigers’ offense was just a little too much.

Me: No, actually, the Tigers finished in last.
MEGL: So we lost to the freaking Royals?

Me: Well, 2 of the last 3 at the Dome, but it was actually the White Sox. They ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs.
MEGL: Ha. Who’d they lose to? The Red Sox? The Yanks?

Me: Actually, the Rays.
MEGL: HAHAHAHAHA, no seriously.

Me: Yes, the Rayz. They won the East by 2 games over Boston.
MEGL: You mean the Yanks, right?

Me: No, Tampa Bay.
MEGL: So, you’re telling me that the Tigers finished in last, and the Rays finished in first? Whatcha gonna tell me next, Cliff Lee is the front-runner for the Cy Young?

Me: Well, actually—
MEGL: You’re kidding, right. I thought Sabathia was the Cleveland lefty that would win it.

Me: Sabathia may win the Cy Young. The NL Cy Young.
MEGL: Ah, he got traded. Probably to the Cubs, they needed some more pitching. Ryan Dempster as a starter? I bet that didn’t work out so well.

Me: Dempster was actually very good. Actually, Sabathia went to the Brewers.
AEGL: Sonofa—-

Me: Easy, easy, this is a G-rated blog.
AEGL: Fine, fine. How did Johan do?

Me: Very well. Led the league in ERA, even pitched a complete-game shutout on the next-to-last-day of the season.
AEGL: Guess it makes sense, the Mets probably wouldn’t start the playoffs until Thurs—

Me: Actually, the Mets didn’t make the playoffs. They blew another lead down the stretch.
AEGL: Willie Randolph should be fired.

Me. He was. In June. He was replaced by Jerry Manuel.
AEGL: HAHAHAHAHA. No wonder, his Zen bullcrap never did work with the White Sox.

Me: Actually, Manuel led the Mets to the 3rd best record in the majors down the stretch. He even referred to Johan as “gangsta.”
AEGL: Well, I’ll be damned. So, I’m guessing the Cubs are fixing to win the World Series now. It’s been 100 years.

Me: Actually, they were swept by the Dodgers. James Loney hit a grand slam in Game 1 that really turned momentum, and Manny hit 2 absolute bombs in the first two games at Wrigley.
AEGL: Manny? Is that your nickname for Andre Ethier or something?

Me: Actually, Manny Ramirez got traded to the Dodgers in a 3-way deal that sent Jason Bay to Boston.
AEGL: So…the Red Sox traded Manny for Jason Bay? I bet that cost them.

Me: Actually, Boston had a better winning percentage with Bay than Ramirez. Heck, Bay even hit 2 homers against the Angels in the first round of the playoffs and scored the Series clinching run.
AEGL: Wait…you’re telling me the Cubs got eliminated and the Red Sox beat the Angels in the playoffs? I guess some things never do change.

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It’s over

My beloved Twins have played MUCH better than I thought they would. 82 wins is 4 more than last year, with the Left Arm of God and 2nd Coming of Willie Mays playing for los Twinks. The fact the Twins are within a game of the White Sox at this point is a bonus for me.

However, the depletion of the bullpen, the sudden struggles of one Joe Nathan (I blame myself), and the real lack of offense outside of the Canadian Pujols is really going to kill us. Viva los White Sox.

(This is my last resort)

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You know, this K-Rod thing is getting a tad ridiculous

Before I post this, I want to make it perfectly clear that I think Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez is a great closer, and that he is certainly in the discussion of the top 5 closers in the game. However, a few people (John Kruk, for one) have insisted that K-Rod should win the Cy Young, because he is on pace to have 64 saves, which would shatter the previous record of 57 set by Bobby Thigpen in 1990. That, however, doesn’t tell the whole story.

Pitcher A has a 1.84 ERA, 62 K in 53.2 IP, a 0.86 WHIP, with 4 blown saves

Pitcher B has a 1.64 ERA, 64 K in 55 IP, a 0.75 WHIP, with 1 blown save

Pitcher C has a 0.98 ERA, 61 K in 55 IP, a 0.89 WHIP, with 3 blown saves

Pitcher D has a 2.70 ERA, 58 K in 53.2 IP, a 1.28 WHIP, with 5 blown saves

Pitchers A, B, and C are having phenomenal seasons, while Pitcher D, while having a nice season, is clearly a notch below those three.

Pitcher A is Red Sox closer Jonathon Papelbon. Pitcher B is Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Pitcher C is Twins closer Joe Nathan. Pitcher D…you guessed it, Francisco Rodriguez. This is not to take away from the guy, but he’s clearly not even the best closer in the American League, certainly not the best pitcher, and most definitely not the Most Valuable Player of the American League, either.

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I am not a fan of the Favre.

If you’ve been living under a rock lately, you may not have heard about the Brett Favre saga, which finally, mercifully, ended Thursday with a trade to the Jets. This has led many ESPN experts Favre butt-kissers to claim the Jets are now a playoff team. Before we start talking about this, let’s clear the air. Favre in the 1990s (except 1991, his rookie year with the Falcons) was a damn good quarterback. However, by the turn of the century, he started slipping, as quarterbacks who play nearly 150 straight games will do. This did not cause the national media to jump on him like they have other quarterbacks (Dan Marino comes to mind). Instead, Favre became a “gunslinger,” who was just a good ol’ boy wanting to have fun. Even after Favre put together some absolute atrocities of playoff games, the Favre love still came down. His inspiring effort on Monday Night Football after his father passed away  was great, and I even felt a little dust around El Casa del Gringo that night. However, after that game, he was pretty mediocre. He had a decent ’04 campaign, but finished in horrible style, throwing 4 picks in a home wild-card playoff loss to the Vikings.  After an abyssmal 2005 campaign, which saw Favre throw 20 TDs against 33 INTs, for a QB rating of 70.9 and a slightly better 2006 campaign, where he threw 18 TDs against 18 TDs for a QB rating of 72.7, he experienced a career renaissance in 2007, leading the Pack to a 12-4 record, an NFC North title, and a trip to the NFC Championship Game against the upstart New York Giants. In blindingly cold weather in Green Bay, Favre threw a crippling INT in overtime, setting the stage for Lawrence Tynes’ 47-yard field goal that sent the Giants to the Super Bowl. After that game, he retired, claiming he didn’t have the desire anymore. Of course, not 2 weeks after that, he said he’d be willing to come back if the Packers needed him. Then he unretired, Roger Goodell reinstated him, and forced the Packers hand. The Pack responded by sending him away. Now, he’s going to the Jets, and everyone is beside themselves with anticipation. Me? I think he’s gonna struggle. The Patriots and Chargers are his week 2 and 3 opponents, and they are already on another stratosphere as the Jets are even with Favre. I hope he ends up struggling, the Jets decide to put in Kellen Clemons, who does lead the Jets to the playoffs, while Aaron Rodgers leads the Pack to a 14-2 record and the NFC Championship

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