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Meet Brian Banks.

Eleven years ago, he was a 16-year-old playing the game he loved, like many of us did back in the glory days– except that Brian was good… really, really good.

A 6’2″, 225-pound beast running a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash, Banks was one of the top-rated high school linebackers in the country. All of the major college football programs recruited him tirelessly hoping he would come to their respective schools. Brian committed to play for USC, a program that would likely serve as a launchpad for his dream of playing in the NFL one day.

There he was, ready to showcase his supreme, God-given talent to the world at the collegiate level; the grass couldn’t get any greener for the high school star.

And then it happened.

No, Brian didn’t make a bonehead move and throw his future down the drain like we’ve become way too accustomed to seeing today. It was taken from him… wrongfully. He was accused of rape by a fellow student.

Brian proclaimed innocence throughout and was never linked to the crime by DNA testing. However, because of the fear of a sterner sentence if found guilty, he pled no contest on the advice of his attorney and was sentenced to five years in prison followed by five years of parole.

The former dream of playing football in the NFL had drastically shifted to simply wanting the freedom that was rightfully his.

During the latter part of his parole, his accuser contacted him via Facebook and wanted to “let bygones be bygones,” as he told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. Brian arranged a meeting at a private investigator’s office, and Wanetta Gibson was videotaped admitting that Banks had never committed any crime against her. In May 2012, Brian was finally set free– exonerated by the same judge that had sentenced him ten years earlier.

Banks said the years of parole were almost tougher than prison before Gibson came forward.

“I couldn’t live within 2,000 feet of a school or park. It was impossible to find work. I had a GPS strapped to my ankle for five years. I couldn’t leave the state or county under any circumstances.”

But now with his freedom once again a reality, Banks could focus back on his primary dream all along– playing football in the NFL.

Last season, Banks worked out for several NFL teams. While none of them offered him a contract, he remained focused on his ultimate goal and signed with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL to garner some game experience. The UFL season was cut short due to financial reasons, but one team saw enough in Banks to give him a shot.

This past week, as FOX Sports NFL Insider Jay Glazer initially reported with the tweet below, the Atlanta Falcons signed Brian Banks to a contract– making his seemingly impossible dream that much closer to fruition.

tweet

Glazer himself has an interesting relationship with Banks. Once Banks was exonerated, his agent Bruce Tollner approached Glazer, who trains athletes in mixed martial arts, about working with his hopeful client. When Glazer began working out with Banks and heard his story, he was moved and even began reaching out to NFL teams lobbying for him to get a chance.

After last season, the Falcons told Glazer they would give Banks a shot and work with him in the offseason if he wasn’t signed by a team yet. After they signed Banks this past week, Falcons coach Mike Smith told Glazer “I hope you never doubted us. We keep our promises.” In a sports world where a contract is hardly as meaningful as a napkin note, it’s refreshing to see a franchise stick to its word and give a deserving kid a chance.

For Banks, making the 53-man roster or the practice squad may still be an uphill battle, but, as he alludes to, the toughest task is well behind him.

“The biggest thing for me was to have my freedom be given back to me. Everything else is just me trying to live a life I once lost.”

With the bulk of his prime taken wrongfully from him, you can’t help but root for the 27-year-old chasing his dreams despite overwhelming odds. Whatever happens with Mr. Banks, you can be certain a little bump in the road won’t slow him down.

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Guide to Winning Your Office Pool

Philip Matthews —  Wednesday, March 20, 2013 — 3 Comments

According to DePaul mathematics professor Jeff Bergen (via Yahoo! Sports), the odds of someone in the U.S. predicting a perfect bracket if he or she knows basketball (whatever that means) is 1-in-128 billion.

How in the world he came up with this number is way beyond my realm of understanding, but it does lead me to one response: in the words of my good pal Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber, “Sooo you’re telling me there’s a chance?”

That’s right. There is a chance indeed. And who’s to say this feat isn’t attainable by one of us? Even if that’s a stretch (1-in-128 billion), winning that office pool and bragging rights for the year will definitely suffice as a consolation prize. After all you should shoot for the moon. If you miss, then you’ll still land amongst the stars.

Alas, here are just the tricks you need to bring home the coveted office trophy this year. Who knows, mix and match these tidbits correctly and you might just stumble upon something that has a 1-in-128 billion chance of happening.

First of all, some generalities:

Trust your instincts. If you want to do research, then do it. But don’t do too much. Over-thinking and over-analyzing is your enemy. If you’re feeling a particular upset, then go for it. If it proves true, it’ll give you a deep sense of satisfaction that will help heal the wound if you happen to lose your pool. There’s nothing worse than picking a correct Cinderella and chickening out at the last second. Yes, I’ve done this more than I like to remember.

Ignore the past. I’m not saying Davidson, Butler, or VCU won’t make deep runs in this year’s tournament, but I’m not saying they will either. These are completely different teams than those whom were made famous in past tourneys and should be analyzed as such.

4 < Winner < 1. Pick more than one number one-seeded team to be in the Final Four, but less than four. All four number one-seeded teams have only made the Final Four once in 2008. Meanwhile, all number one-seeded teams have failed to make the Final Four just 3 times: 1980, 2006, and 2011. So pick your two or three favorite #1 seeds, and roll with them making it to Atlanta.

Work backwards. Sure the bulk of the fun lies in the madness of the first two rounds, but the vast majority of the pools will be won as the games gain importance. Focus on your Final Four teams, then work backwards and choose your upsets wisely. You won’t win your pool in the first two rounds, but you sure can lose it.

Let’s look at some numbers and see if we can’t work through this equation together.

  • A top three seeded team has won 18 of the past 21 titles. One title has been won by a number four, six, and eighth-seeded team. We’ll play the percentages, so seeds 4 through 16 are out. Good start; we’re down to 12 possible teams cutting down the nets.
  • Jerseys matter. Maybe there is some method to the madness of your sister’s bracket based on her favorite uniforms always beating yours based on basketball expertise. 14 of the last 16 national champs, and 54 of the last 60 final four teams have worn either Nike or Jordan uniforms. This includes Georgetown, Gonzaga, Marquette, Miami, New Mexico, Ohio State, Florida, Duke, and Mich. State. This means top seeds Kansas, Louisville, and Indiana are out. Let’s just hope this isn’t Adidas’ year– a risk we’re willing to take. This puts our number of possible champions at nine.
  • Experience matters. Coaches with past Final Four experience have won 12 of the past 13 national championships and 22 of the past 27 titles. This excludes Mark Few of Gonzaga, Steve Alford of New Mexico, and Buzz Williams of Marquette. We’re down to six– Georgetown, Miami, OSU, Florida, Duke, and Michigan State.
  • Champs go streaking. Wait what? Every Final Four team of the past six years had a winning streak of at least eight games prior to the NCAA tournament. Marquette and Michigan State are the only top 4 seeded teams without such a streak this season; in other words, see ya Tom Izzo and Sparty.
  • Avoid one and done’s in conference tournaments. Since 1985, no team has ever won the title after going one and done in their conference tournament. Duke and Marquette did the latter this season. Duke’s out.
  • Champions play offense and defense. We know defense wins championships, but offense helps a little as well. The past 10 champions have finished in the top 20 of kenpom.com’s offense and defense efficiency ratings. This includes Louisville, Gonzaga, Indiana, Florida, Ohio State, and Pitt this season. So Georgetown and Miami’s chances are done.

 

This narrows down the National Champions to be either the Ohio State Buckeyes or the Florida Gators. At this point, you’ve probably already won your bracket pool, but let’s not settle. I would say the Gators because surely they would eat a Buckeye (a tree, or leaf, or whatever), but further research shows that Gators are indeed carnivores and eat meat, so that rules out that possibility.

In conclusion, it seems best to either let your Aunt Brenda pick the winner or flip a coin– you can’t go wrong with either.

Now that you have your champion, continue to peruse through these tidbits of stats and wisdom and fill in your bracket until your sixth sense tells you it’s perfect. Or just blindly fill out your bracket, listen to no advice whatsoever, and use no common sense, and you’ll be just as likely to win your pool or scratch perfection.

Welcome to March. Let the Madness begin.

NCAA Tournament Bracket

Philip Matthews —  Monday, March 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

Here’s Sports Righting’s printable NCAA Tournament bracket.  Print it out.  Fill it out.  Erase, revise, and repeat.  You only have a few days.  Get to it!  Also, be sure to enter the Sports Righting group on the ESPN Tournament Challenge for a chance to win a $100 gift card to Dicks Sporting Goods.  Good Luck!

NCAA Tournament Bracket

I know you’ve had those days when you’re head is aching beyond belief and nothing else seems to matter. We all know the reason for this… It’s because you’re too smart. That’s exactly right. If doctors tell you it’s because of other reasons, they’re lying. So go ahead, tell you’re friends your pain is due to the massive amounts of brain activity going on up there, which your skull simply can’t contain. However, if today is one of those days, I know you’re not looking for a pat on the back, you need a solution. I have it. A quick and easy remedy in less than 5 minutes. Guaranteed or your money back. Watch this quick clip of Richard Sherman on ESPN’s First Take, your IQ will take an immediate decline, and the headache will be no more. I can’t believe no one thought of this sooner.

If you waited until the end of football to tune into this college basketball season, or if you have yet to pay attention, shame on you. Secondly, boy have you missed a lot. We’ve learned to expect the unexpected more than ever up until this point in this season.

Being an SEC guy through and through, it kills me to say this, but the Big Ten is the cream of the crop in college basketball this year. The SEC has Florida. The ACC– Duke and Miami. The Big 12– Kansas and Kansas State. The Big East has the best argument outside of the Big Ten with six teams quietly (due to the obsession with the Big 10 this year) in the top 25, but up until this point in the season the ceiling of potential success for the Big 10 (with Indiana, OSU, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Mich. State) looks to be higher.

With that said, it looks as though there’s not an elite team that’s above the rest like, say, a Kentucky last year. Maybe it’s simply parody. Maybe it’s due to the one-and-done rule that’s being revisited with Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel’s recent ACL injury. Maybe the level of play is lower than in years past, including more teams in the fun, but whatever the reason, it’s just that… fun. And lots of it. Oh, and the best part is, it’s only February.

In case you’re just tuning in or just want some reminders, here are a few lists that will hopefully spark some interest in the rest of the college basketball season for you… or not, whichever you choose, but that’ll be your own fault.

Top games thus far this season: (in no particular order)

#3 Michigan 62 vs. Wisconsin 65– Tied late in regulation, Wisconsin elects not to use an extra foul on Tim Hardaway Jr., and he promptly steps up and drills a three with under 4 seconds left to put the Wolverines up by 3. Game over right? Wrong. Wisconsin inbounds the ball and Ben Brust races up the floor and heaves a 40-footer, and, you guessed it, nails it to send it into overtime. Brust later hit the game winning 3-pointer with 40 seconds left in overtime.

#25 Notre Dame 104 vs. #11 Louisville 101– The 5-overtime game. Not the most well-played game and definitely not the prettiest, but the most entertaining up until this point. As the game progressed, it became almost laughable as it seemed Louisville would ultimately find a way to win countless times, but somehow Notre Dame hung around and extended the game… again, again, again, and again. Louisville’s sideline was tense and enduring Pitino’s tirades in between overtime, and even catching his clipboard he’d launched, while the Irish sideline and Coach Mike Brey were all smiles and having fun as he said afterward. This is probably due to in large part that Louisville, namely Russ Smith, had a shot to win the first four overtimes and a chance to tie the last one, and he obviously failed on all such attempts.

Illinois 74 vs. #1 Indiana 72– Indiana dominated the game for the first 35 minutes or so of game action, and then seemingly on the verge of becoming the elite team of college basketball, they began to crumble. The great Illini comeback was capped off by an incredible backdoor cut on an inbounds play, leading to a wide-open, game-winning layup as time expired.

Both Michigan vs. Ohio State games– In the first meeting on January 13th, Trey Burke’s stepback jumper to tie the game with 17 seconds left went down, then came out, leaving Michigan on the wrong side of the 56-53 decision at the hands of then #15 OSU. Then on February 5th, Michigan got the upper hand 76-74, as guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. caught fire in the second half. The game ended somewhat controversially as OSU point guard Aaron Craft drove the basket for what would have been a tying basket, but it was rejected by Tim Hardaway Jr. amidst some contact.

A few players to keep an eye on:

Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)– Most likely the favorite at this point in the Player of the Year race, the Sophomore is averaging 18.2 points per contest and 7 assists per game. He’s the leader of one of the best teams, explosive with the ball in his hands, and just has a knack for getting the ball through the net.

Victor Oladipo (G, Indiana)– Probably my new favorite player in the game. A highlight dunk waiting to happen. A former 3-star recruit coming out of high school, this freakishly athletic guard has transformed himself into one of the premier explosive players in the college game. Most importantly, he’s been at his best in big games for the Hoosiers averaging 20 PPG when his team has played a ranked opponent.

Doug McDermott (F, Creighton)– This guy is no stranger to the avid college basketball fan, but could unfortunately go under the radar to the casual fan because of the lack of media exposure. He averages over 23 points and 7 boards per game and has an outside shot at Player of the Year honors. Look for McDermott to become more of a household name in March.

Mason Plumlee (F, Duke)– Finally, this Senior has played himself into Player of the Year talk by putting up gaudy numbers (18 points and almost 11 boards a game).

Other Notes of Interest:

The “U” is for real. And yes, we’re still talking about basketball. Miami is ranked 2nd in the AP Poll this week–the highest ranking in school history. If beating the then top-ranked Duke Blue Devils by 27 doesn’t get your attention, I’m not sure what will. Also, like any historically good Miami team, this team has swagger. Lots of it. They play hard-nosed, floor-slapping defense, and they’re shoes can be louder than the fans at times. Heck, Lebron James and Dwayne Wade even sat courtside at a recent game. Some thought after his cinderella run at George Mason that Jim Laranega took the Miami job to cruise into retirement, but he’s done a marvelous job with this team and they mean business. It’ll be exciting to see what they can do come tourney time. And keep on eye on Shane Larkin (Yes, Barry Larkin’s son).

Nerlens Noel out for the season. Unfortunately, the worst fear of Big Blue Nation were confirmed this week as explosive shot-blocker Nerlins Noel received news that he tore his ACL Tuesday while blocking a shot against Florida. You hate to see this happen to any player, especially one of his caliber and potential–one who could undoubtedly be playing for a salary this year if it wasn’t for the NBA age limit rule.

Curse of #1 and March Madness coming early. As alluded to earlier, each of the past five weeks, the top ranked team in the nation has gone down. This makes for excitement, as no team is head and shoulders above the rest. This should make March all the more interesting, as the NCAA Tournament generally depends on which team is hot at the right time, but it looks like the field is much more wide open this year. Florida’s Billy Donovan says 30 teams have a shot to make the Final Four. Butler’s Brad Stevens says everyone that gets in has a shot this year. Should be fun.

In conclusion, if you’ve yet to dive into this college basketball season physically and emotionally, yes you’ve missed a lot, but it’s not too late. I’m not sure how the games and story-lines can get much better, but I know they will. March Madness doesn’t disappoint.

**Feel free to agree, disagree, or comment other input as you please. I’m sure I left some top news, info, etc. out.

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By: Philip Matthews

As tradition has it, by winning the MVP of the Super Bowl, Joe Flacco spent Monday– or at least part of it– in Disney World parading through the Magic Kingdom and conducting an interview here and there. So that got me thinking… where in the world did this tradition start and why Disney World?

Believe it or not, the first use of the phrase “we’re going to Disney World,” (plural in this case) was Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager in 1987.  In December 1986, these two had piloted the first aircraft to fly around the world without stopping or refueling. The two were in Disneyland for the grand opening of the new Star Tours attraction and were eating with CEO Michael Eisner and his wife Jane when they were asked what they were going to next. They responded with the now famous phrase, which set off a lightbulb in the head of Jane Eisner.

A few short weeks later, Disney launched the campaign following Super Bowl XXI with a commercial starring New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms saying the celebratory phrase. Simms was reportedly paid $75,000 for his role in the advertisement. This was considered a groundbreaking concept at the time– producing a commercial involving a current event and airing it hours after its conclusion.

After MVP honors this past weekend, Flacco became the newest poster child of the 26th Super Bowl commercial that Disney has aired with the coined phrase. And although he might not have the most “Disney” personality, (even his dad called him boring) he participated in the festivities and paraded down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom on Monday.

In light of this, here are a few things Mr. Flacco undoubtedly wishes he would have known for his tenure in the happiest place on earth:

1. Stay on the float, or car.  Two areas of concern here, and if you’ve been to Disney you know what I’m getting at. (1) The massive crowds. (2) The scooters– they’re everywhere and seem to constantly be in attack mode. Some people really need them for enjoyment of the parks, don’t get me wrong, but some people, well, just don’t want to walk that much, which can somewhat be understood. Flacco just thought he had it rough avoiding the 49ers rush on Sunday. Now this day would have been much more suitable for the speedy Colin Kaepernick had the job description been to mix and mingle among the masses. However, a float, or nice car, is provided to sit on, so use it to your advantage.

2. Bring a handkerchief for “wishes.” This is the amazing and touching fireworks show at night at the Magic Kingdom over Cinderella’s castle. I know you’re as cool as they come Mr. Flacco, but Ray Lewis’ tears could be contagious. Better safe than sorry.

3. Be on the lookout for any wayward Mickey Mouse hands. They could belong to an innocent child, Anquan Boldin going for your MVP trophy, or Ray Lewis seeking your spotlight. Keep your head on a swivel.

4(a). Don’t shy away from the light up toys. You can’t miss the vendors. They’re sold all up and down Main Street as soon as dusk hits. Never know when they could come in handy.

4(b). Ride Space Mountain as much as possible. It’ll help your eyes get adjusted to darkness just in case.

5. Bring teammate Jimmy Smith along for the ride on the car. He would be ideal for holding your trophy, holding your phone, or maybe even holding some popcorn during your cruise. I’m not really sure why, but I heard he’s good at holding things.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

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By: Philip Matthews

Ray Lewis: The Man

Philip Matthews —  Wednesday, January 9, 2013 — 2 Comments

He waits.

You can imagine the anticipation gazing through a tunnel of smoke with 71,379 people ready to erupt upon your arrival.

And then it happens.

“13-time Pro-Bowler. Two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Linebacker #52 Ray Lewis.” The P.A. announcer exclaims as Ray Lewis shoots through the haze, accompanied by Nelly’s “Hot in Here,” and performs his renown “squirrel” dance to perfection–even with a torn right triceps.

It was an average game for the legend, as the Ravens defeated the Colts to prolong Ray’s “last ride,” as he put it. But nonetheless, it was an unforgettable day for all those lucky ones in attendance–fans, players, and coaches alike.

Greatest of all time? This is a very weighty phrase that if thrown around lightly can instantly kill the credibility of the one saying or writing it.

It can easily be argued that Ray is the greatest middle linebacker of all time. Along with Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary, there’s no question #52 has a case to be at the top of this list. His numbers and accolades carry a reputation of their own: 13 Pro Bowls, 10-time AP All-Pro, two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl MVP, and easily a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

However, for a second, let’s focus on the growth of Ray Lewis the man, not so much the football player. I believe it can also be argued that over the course of his 17-year NFL career, Ray Lewis has had one of the greatest maturations of all time.

What’s interesting in all of this publicity surrounding the career and last ride of Lewis, and deservedly so, lies the fact that we don’t hear anything about the past. No, we don’t see the images of him in an orange jumpsuit in Georgia before he agreed to a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice after being initially indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges from an Atlanta homicide in 2000. These charges were all acquitted, and the incident seemed to quickly recede, as Ray proclaimed his innocence and eventually won back his reputation via the court of public opinion. We don’t hear about his struggles with women, or his six kids of four different mothers.

No, these images are distantly in the rearview mirror, due in large part to the change that has taken place inside of Ray. A change that has propelled him to vow to be a better example and father figure, as well as mobilized him to take part in countless community-building and charity actions, including one in Ethiopia to help create a sports program for land mine victims.

So just why do we love Ray Lewis? I think some of it is definitely the dominance on the field, the captivating dance, and the exhilarating speeches that could make any red-blooded human ready for war.

All of these certainly make Ray Lewis the fascinating figure he is, but I believe that in addition to these captivating aspects, we love him because we can relate to Ray Lewis off the field. Is he perfect? By no means. But, then again, neither are we. I’m not even saying he is the best role model. But, we live in an imperfect world in dire need of grace from above daily, and I think somewhere along the line of his storied career, Ray has begun to grasp that and live it out.

Unless he’s talking about being blessed and fortunate for the opportunity, his press conferences have shifted from being about #52 to being about his gratitude towards the fans, teammates, coaches, and the organization. Most importantly, he’s shifted his focus towards his family and being the father that he never really had to his sons. He speaks more of God and his goodness than the trials and adversity he’s been through. After the Ravens defeated the Colts in Lewis’ final game in Baltimore, he paraded around the field in a shirt with “Psalms 91″ on the front, which points to God being our refuge and fortress in time of need.

And as we eagerly watch this last ride of #52 patrolling the middle of the field this postseason, we’re already rehearsing what we can tell our kids and grandkids about him. We can only hope that Ray Lewis III, who is now starting his career at the University of Miami, makes our memory of his father a bit clearer and continues to learn from his father’s mistakes, as he grows in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.

Because we know his father, Ray Lewis, will be there every step of the way.

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By: Philip Matthews