An Ode to Sidney Crosby

I hardly consider myself a poet, but today I felt like I wanted to give a special thanks to Sidney Crosby for agreeing to a 12-year deal worth $104.4 million. What was amazing about the deal wasn’t the length of the contract, but the fact that Sid agreed to never get a raise for the rest of his life. His previous deal paid him $8.7 million a year.

His new deal will pay the same amount.

He could have asked for more money and the Penguins would have given it to him. But he didn’t because he wanted to give the team the cap space to put other quality talent around him.

Sid’s primary goal is to win Stanley Cups.

He knows how it feels to win one and he will never forget how terrific that sensation is. He is a Captain, a leader and the greatest player in the world. Here’s to Sidney Crosby’s unselfish actions. Expect the key to Pittsburgh to be given to him shortly.

An Ode to Sidney Crosby

In sports there are men who come and go,

without much meaning or care.

Then there are men who always know,

the fans who want them there.

—————————————————-

They play hard and say the words,

that are right each and every time.

They carry themselves with pride and calm,

even when things aren’t fine.

—————————————————-

These are the leaders who sacrifice,

for the better good of the whole.

These are men like Sidney Crosby,

who believe that Cups are the only goal.

—————————————————-

In 2005 he came to the Burgh,

touted highly as a star.

Then he proved it with 39 goals,

his stats were right on par.

—————————————————

From then on out he was a leader,

soon getting the “C” on his chest.

But it wasn’t until 2007,

that he proved he was the best.

—————————————————

That’s when he won the Art Ross and Hart,

And was on the NHL first all-star team.

He also won the Lester Pearson,

by winning his peers’ esteem.

—————————————————

In 2009 he helped win the Cup,

in Game 7 on the road.

Becoming the youngest captain ever,

to whom Lord Stanley was bestowed.

—————————————————

But times since then have been rough,

playoffs and injuries have not been kind.

The critics questioned if he was tough,

and if he was right of mind.

—————————————————

But triumphantly he returned,

and looked like the old Sid.

His critics were quietly spurned,

and he smiled like a kid.

—————————————————

Today he signed a contract,

that makes him a Penguin for good.

He could have asked for more money,

like many thought he should.

—————————————————

But in his mind he had no doubts,

about where he wanted to play.

Consol would be his permanent home,

even for smaller pay.

—————————————————

What the future holds for this Pens star,

cannot be truly known.

But a Cup winning team can be built around him,

and a contender will be grown.

—————————————————

So with Sid and Geno and Letang and Flower,

the future is quite bright.

The Penguins currently have the power,

to put up the NHL’s best fight.

—————————————————-

So here’s to Sid’s decision,

like Mario’s before.

To keep the Pens a contender,

for now and ever more.

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Paul Martin’s Handling of Head Injury Clouded by Poor Performance

Earlier today, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Josh Yohe tweeted some disturbing information about Penguins defenseman Paul Martin:

Josh Yohe ‏@JoshYohe_Trib:

“Pens D Paul Martin just told me that he played the first three games against the Flyers with concussion-like symptoms.”

 “Martin said nothing to trainers until after Game 3. At that point, he was shut down for the rest of the series.”

 “Martin is fully recovered from the concussion and is working out every day in Minnesota.”

“Martin said the concussion took place at some point in Game 1, but he isn’t sure precisely when.”

Yohe later elaborated on Martin’s injury and prospective future with the Penguins in a story you can see here.

In Yohe’s article, he quoted Martin saying the following:

“I wasn’t feeling well during Game 1,” Martin said. “But I never said anything to the trainers. I didn’t feel well in Game 2. Then, after Schenn hit me in Game 3, I felt really bad but still finished the game. The next night, I felt worse. I talked to our trainers then, and told them about the symptoms. That was it. They shut me down.”

“The whole thing was tough,” he said. “I took a test and supposedly did fine. But with what had happened with Kris and with Sid’s (Sidney Crosby’s) problems, I think they were being overly-cautious.”

This should upset every Penguins fan.

My No. 1 criticism of the NHL the past couple of years has been the epidemic of concussion problems that has struck pretty much every team in the league. The main problem I’ve had is how the league has been inconsistent with its punishment of head shot offenders. I’ve also taken issue with the fact that players have not changed how they hit others on the ice; head shots are still happening at a high rate and both the league and its players need to make changes to make the game safer.

But in Paul Martin’s case, I’m not mad at the league nor an offending player.

I’m upset with Paul Martin.

Martin plays on a team that has been at the forefront of the concussion debate for two years. Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby spent two seasons dealing with a head injury and as the face of the league, he garnered plenty of attention for it. He was part of the reason the NHL adopted changes to Rule 48, the rule that deals with the penalization of head shots.

Not only did the Penguins have to suffer through a slow recovery from Crosby, they also faced a similar situation with star defenseman Kris Letang. Letang suffered a concussion on Nov. 26 after taking a big open ice hit from Montreal Canadians forward Max Pacioretty, but returned later in the same game. His symptoms became worse over the next few days and he ended up missing 21 games because of them. Later in the season, he dealt with concussion symptoms yet again after taking a hit to the head by Dallas Stars forward Eric Nystrom.

So the fact that Paul Martin played through the pain and tried to ignore concussion symptoms over a three-game span baffles me. He, as well as every other NHL player, is surely aware of how serious a head injury can be. If not treated properly, it can lead to permanent brain damage that may cause major problems for the rest of a players life — and eventually end it. One only has to look as far as Pat LaFontaine, Scott Stevens, Eric and Brett Lindros, Michel Goulet, Brian Bradly, Nick Kypreos, Adam Deadmarsh, Jeff Beukeboom, Matthew Barnaby, Paul Comrie, Keith Primeau and Marc Savard to understand how devastating a brain injury can be — not to mention the death of Derek Boogaard in 2011, which was caused by an accidental drug and alcohol overdose while he recovered from a concussion.

Now, I also understand why Martin didn’t tell trainers about his concussion symptoms until they were debilitating. In professional sports — particularly in hockey and football — players are taught to have tough-guy mentality. They want to go out there and prove themselves, even if it comes at their own physical peril. After all, nothing says you’re a team player more than playing injured and team players get paid and respected.

And for Paul Martin, he had even more incentive to play injured than most players. He had a terrible year, one of the worst in his career. He wasn’t playing at a level anywhere near where a $5 million-per-year player should play. Because of his let-down season, Martin felt that he needed to play, regardless of injury, to prove that he was better than his season had shown. Going into the postseason, Martin had already begun to hear rumblings from fans and media that the Penguins should trade him in the offseason.

Yohe illustrates that here:

Martin was aware of negative talk from local fans and media outlets, and admitted this may have affected his performance.

“Coming from New Jersey,” Martin said, “it isn’t a fishbowl like Pittsburgh is. All it takes is for someone to write an article and people can jump on board. It’s hard to ignore it. When you’re a player, you notice things. I take pride in my job, and when people are telling you that you aren’t doing your job well, you don’t like it.”

Here’s another telling Martin quote from Yohe’s story:

“Do I think the same team is going to be back in Pittsburgh next year? No. But I hope I’m one of the guys who is back. I want to prove to myself and to reestablish to everyone the player that I am.”

Fans, other players and team management want to see players doing everything they can to prove themselves. Unfortunately, that mindset is quite valued. This tweet from Yohe proves that point:

“Obviously Martin’s judgment can be questioned for playing with the symptoms. Can’t question his commitment to the team, though.”

Martin may have thought he was helping the team by playing injured, but he was potentially doing the exact opposite. The old saying goes “Loose lips sink ships,” but when it comes to head injuries, it’s the sealed lips that hurt the most. No team will ever benefit from a player that is unable to get back onto the ice because of a devastating head injury. It looks like Martin got lucky because he doesn’t seem to have any long-term symptoms of his head shot.

It’s tough to say whether or not Martin will be in a Penguins sweater next season. Many people agree that he should be traded, but his high price tag will make it tough for Penguins GM Ray Shero to move him after the terrible season he had. Pittsburgh has plenty of depth in the AHL that could take Martin’s place next year, but if the Penguins can’t move him and are unwilling to eat the remainder of his contract, he may be on the blue line in Pittsburgh for another year. Ultimately, that will be what saves Martin from being traded, not his ill-advised effort to play through a head injury in the post season.

If Martin is a Penguin next season, I’ll expect him to be better on the ice.

But I’ll expect more from his decisions off of it.

Pete’s Futbol Experiment Update: Group Stage Over

So all of the preliminaries are out of the way for this year’s Euro 2012 and I’m still watching. Not enthusiastically, mind you, but I’m still on board and I don’t believe I’m bailing any time soon. After all, we are approaching the exciting part of the tournament, the knockout stage.

It turns out I didn’t watch as many matches as I thought I did. I missed more than I saw. Here’s what happened:

GROUP STAGE

WATCHED

Poland 1, Greece 1 – Draw

Russia 4, Czech Republic 1

Italy 1, Spain 1 – Draw

Ireland 1, Croatia 3

England 1, France 1 – Draw

Ukraine 2, Sweden 1

Germany 2, Netherlands 1

Italy 1, Croatia 1—Draw

Spain 4, Ireland 0

England 1, Ukraine 0

 

MISSED

Netherlands 0, Denmark 1

Germany 1, Portugal 0

Greece 1, Czech Republic 2

Poland 1, Russia 1 – Draw

Portugal 3, Denmark 2

Sweden 2, England 3

Ukraine 0, France 2

Czech Republic 1, Poland 0

Greece 1, Russia 0

Croatia 0, Spain 1

Portugal 2, Netherlands 1

Denmark 1, Germany 2

Italy 2, Ireland 0

Sweden 2, France 0

 

So I was able to watch 10 and missed 14. So I’m 10 for 24, so I’ve watched about 42 percent of the matches in the Group Stage. It’s not a majority, hell it’s not even half, but I think I have a decent perspective so far. Unfortunately, I wanted to see the most exciting games possible and for me, that means games that result in a team actually winning. Well, unfortunately for me, I witnessed every draw except for one. That’s right, out of the five draws, I witnessed four of them. I want winners!

 

As for the tournament pick ’em I’m in, here’s a screen shot of how poorly I’ve done with my selections, even after advice from the Montrose Super Fans.

A little too much red for my liking

 

Out of 16 people, I’m in a three-way tie for last place. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise for me, considering how little I know about soccer. But I at least figured the advice of the Super Fans would give me some sort of competitive edge. But there’s still plenty of futbol to be played, so somehow, someway, I’m still optimistic I can finish strong.

Pete’s Futbol Experiment Update: 4/6 Games Watched

I have now watched four games of this 2012 European Championships.

Poland 1, Greece 1 – Draw

Russia 4, Czech Republic 1

Italy 1, Spain 1 – Draw

Ireland 1, Croatia 3

*Missed Netherlands vs. Denmark, Germany vs. Portugal

My excitement level so far:  3

(Scale of 0-10, with zero being how excited I’d be to find a band aid stuck to the bottom of my foot and 10 being how excited I’d get to see the Pittsburgh Pirates win a World Series)

So far, I’m not overwhelmed in anyway. These games have been exciting at times, but for the most part I find myself disinterested. It’s the group stage, which means games can end in ties and no one is at risk of getting knocked out of the tournament.

I’m hoping that once we get by the group stage, the intensity will pick up, as well as the scoring. The two draws were probably the most entertaining games that I’ve watched so far, but they were still ties and at the end of the day, I can’t stand ties. I want winners.

A Few Notes

I’m guessing the three things that will continue to bug me throughout the tournament are flare-throwing fans, ties and flopping players.

Why do fans throw flares onto the pitch? It’s idiotic, makes the place smokey and it delays the game. Oh, and also it’s a FLARE. It could burn a player pretty badly. I’d compare it to the stupidity of fans in baseball or football running onto the field during the game, but it’s worse. It’s dangerous. You just don’t see that happen in American sports. At the most, morons might spill a beer on the players beneath them, but you don’t see any flaming debris being chucked onto the playing surface. Stop it. Soccer fans already have a bad enough reputation as it is.

Are soccer players really that easy to injure? Every time two players go up for a header, they both fall down and flail around like they were hit by sniper fire. Then, as the game continues, one or more players remain on the ground only to get up 30 seconds later, apparently fine. Are they really trying that hard to draw a call? It’s embarrassing to watch. You’re grown men, act like it.

Pete’s Futbol Experiment: Day One Random Commentary

DAY 1

 GAME 1- POLAND VS. GREECE

The first thing I noticed was that the commentators mentioned that the European Championships are more difficult to win than the World Cup. Wow. Had no idea, and have no idea why. They never really said.

Question 1- Why is this tournament more difficult to win than the World Cup?

Super Fan Rakesh- Bigger concentration of good teams in Euros, but still missing some outstanding teams. Group stages are more difficult.

It’s just 5 minutes in and there’s actually been a decent amount of action. Poland has had a few offensive chances.

Announcers are reiterating what I was told about this group from the Montrose Super Fans, Group A is “soft” and “weak.”  That brings me to my next question.

Question 2- How is each group decided? I know there aren’t seedings because it’s a round-robin format, but there has to be a way those four teams in each group are decided right?

Super Fan Rakesh- Random draws.

Fourteen minutes in we have our first “injury.” Ludovic Obraniak from Poland. Didn’t seem to be that big of a collision. Player is back up and back to normal after lying on the ground for 20 seconds. That annoys me. Was he injured? No. He was hurt. Shake it off and don’t waste our time watching you pretend you have some sort of injury.

16:47 And in just over a quarter in real football (15:00) Poland scores off a header. Pretty cool centering play and headed in by Robert Lewandowski. Now that’s a polish name! #Pride It was only a matter of time (I’m assuming) Poland has been putting pressure on Greece for the majority of the game.

Aaaaaand another injury. They’ve taken his shoe and sock off and spraying him with the magic spray. You know what my next question will be.

Question 3- What is that spray? What does it do? Is it like Icy Hot?

Super Fan Rakesh- Pain relieving spray, like Icy Hot.

Greece is playing with 10 players while the injured fella is being attended to. If the remedy for the player’s injury is a bit of spray then it doesn’t seem worth putting his team down a man for any amount of time. Walk it off?

After a collision between a Polish player and a Greek player, both go down and throw arms up into the air. Looked like a pair of dives to me, but what do I know?

Stadium is packed full of Polish fans. They whistle every time the Greeks get possession. It’s nearly as annoying as Vuvuzelas.  I’m guessing it’s supposed to get the Greeks off their game. But really, I think it’s just annoying.

 Question 4- How long is the grass on these fields? It doesn’t seem to be as short as golf greens, but maybe the fringe?

The net seems so damn big. How do these guys miss from in close? I’m guessing it’s harder than it looks, certainly under pressure.

It’s nearly half way through the match and Greece hasn’t had any legit scoring chances. They look incredibly inept.

First red card at 43 minutes. ENTIRE Greek team is pleading with ref to change the call. Did look like a crap call, I don’t know what he did to deserve the ejection.

Greece is mobbing the referee and getting a yellow card. They are arguing an alleged hand ball. Not getting the call. Maybe they should play better and score rather than arguing everything. That’s a sign of a really struggling team. Frustrated by its own limitations.

So we are now at the half and the score is 1-0. Poland was entertaining for a few minutes, Greece is a bunch of whiners and so far, this game is not turning me into a soccer fan.

So the ref that gave the red card apparently does that a lot in “La Leaga” whatever that is. Gotta be careful around ticky-tacky refs.

So if you lose the opening game, apparently it’s basically impossible to qualify for next round. Is that BS? I guess Greece can’t afford to lose one game in the group stage.

But scoring one goal seems like an insurmountable task for Greece at this point, so they should probably give up.

And at 50 minutes, Greece scores, making my previous comment…not…good.

Now we have a ball game! Can this end in a tie? That would irritate me.

 American Soccer Fan Charlie Ash’s Commentary- Yes. Tie’s in the group stage. The top two from each group advance to the knockout rounds. Once knock out rounds start then there are no ties.

In the group stage:

3pts for a win

1pt for a draw

0pts for a loss

WOW goalie gets a red card and there’s a penalty kick! This game is starting to interest me. Poland has been in control basically the whole game and now, Greece can take the lead. This is karma from that earlier phantom red card to Greece.

SAVE! WOW I don’t know what’s crazy in soccer, but this is now crazy.

That offsides call prevented a goal. I’m guessing there’s no replay in soccer? The call was actually correct, but the situation reminds me of a certain Briere goal in the Pens/Flyers series that should have been called offsides.

Since the game was tied, there hasn’t been much action. I guess both teams are playing for the tie? That’s no fun, whatsoever.

Game ends in a 1-1 tie. It was exciting at times, but ultimately I can’t stand ties. In competition, there should be a winner and a loser. Period.

 

GAME 2 CZECH REPUBLIC VS. RUSSIA

First 10 minutes are done and I haven’t seen anything to note so far. My only question is why is the Czech goalie wearing wrestling head gear?

GOAL RUSSIA AT 14:29. A centering ball gets headed into the post and the rebound is pounded in. 1-0 blowout so far. Yes that was sarcasm.

Aaaaaand someone throws a flare onto the field. Yes, a flare. A. How does someone get that into the stadium? B. Why the hell would you throw a flare onto the field? Are all soccer fans mindless idiots?

RUSSIA SCORES AGAIN IN THE 23RD MINUTE. Great through ball/centering pass and a quick kick past the goalie. 2-0 and the rout is on.

Czechs better do something. They are just getting out played…I think.

After seeing these giant stadiums filled to the brim, it’s hard not to give “futbol” some credit. This kind of popularity is unrivaled, even in American college football. People just love this stuff.

And the Czechs are back in the game, netting a GOAL in the 51st minute. A great move by the Czech player to get around the goalie and tuck it home. I’m pleased that both teams have scored in both games I’ve watched so far. Nothing turns me off about soccer worse than goose eggs on the board.

Small collision just occurred. Both players fell, then immediately got up and said nothing. THAT’S what I want to see. Play the sport, don’t run your mouth, don’t complain for penalties and don’t act as if you were taken down by sniper fire.

Another thing I have to give soccer, there are some smoking hot females at these matches and the camera operators aren’t afraid to show them. Kinda like watching an NBA game.

Noticed that I haven’t written nearly as much during this game as the first. Am I paying less attention? Maybe. But I also think that I’m starting to get used to the many things that initially caused me to pause.

Also, this game hasn’t been quite as interesting, I think?

RUSSIA EXTENDS THE LEAD TO TWO. Some player whose name I can’t pronounce or spell has his second of the game. He DRILLED it right past the goal keeper and with 10 minutes left, it doesn’t look like the Czechs can do much now.

RUSSIA PUTS THE NAIL IN THE COFFIN. Only minutes after the previous goal, the Russians strike again. Great ball handling and a superb individual effort to fire the ball past the goalie. Keeper got a hand on the ball, but it wasn’t enough to keep it out of the net. Out of the four teams I’ve watched today, the Russians seem to be the most dominant.

The Czechs play Greece in their next game. I anticipate that to be…ugly? Not very fun to watch? I’d take Greece over them right now, just based on the surge they were able to generate late in their game against Poland.

Game over. Russia takes it 4-1. Once they went up big, I lost a lot of interest, just like the 4-0 Kings win in the Stanley Cup final. Blowouts are boring once they happen and this one didn’t happen until late. Generally, was a pretty entertaining game. The more goals, the better as far as I’m concerned. But there weren’t any red cards in this game and the penalty shot in the Greece/Poland game added extra drama. Poland/Greece wins the day.

 

My Overall Take After Day One

Unfortunately, this just doesn’t feel as dramatic as the World Cup, and that was to be expected. But I feel that I was able to sit here and watch soccer without complaining for the most part. I still hate seeing players pretend they’re hurt and ties infuriate me. There was some drama in the first game with a penalty save and some strange calls, so I was pretty entertained. The Russia/Czech game wasn’t as good because it was one-sided, but still interesting. I like goals. The more the better. I don’t know how I’ll feel as I continue to watch group play, but I’m guessing that once the teams emerge from the groups, the soccer will be far more entertaining.

Pete’s Futbol Experiement: Watching the 2012 European Soccer Championships

I’ve never been a soccer fan. I played youth ball when I was a little kid, but beyond that I never gained much interest in the sport. In fact, I’ve come to criticize a lot about it – from the cheesy flopping to the annoying vuvuzelas to the injuries that seem to happen every two minutes.

But I can’t argue against the popularity of soccer abroad. There still isn’t much of a market for it here in the States, but it seems like the rest of the world is perpetually compelled by the sport. So, in the spirit of keeping an open mind and having nothing else to do during the day, I’ve decided to watch as many Euro matches as I can and give my own personal commentary.

I’m trying to understand the draw to this sport. I really do want to give it a chance, so that means I’ll have to watch it enough to know what’s going on in front of me. It may not prove to be all that much fun – I doubt I’ll come out of this experience as a soccer fan – but if nothing else, I’m broadening my horizons and learning another sport. In the quest to be a true sports writer someday, it certainly couldn’t hurt to know a bit about the world’s most popular game.

To help me get a little more into these matches, I’ve entered a pool with some folks that I’ve played fantasy football with. Some of them are die hard soccer fans and they follow the Premier League closely during the season. It might seem like I’m in over my head when it comes to picking winners against these guys, but I have a little trick up my sleeve.

It just so happens that I live with a pair of huge soccer fans — Conor and Rakesh. Since we live on Montrose Avenue, I’m going to refer to them as the Montrose Super Fans. Conor is from Dublin, Ireland and has lived with us for about a year now. He’s a staunch supporter of the Liverpool Premier team. Rakesh is from Chennai, India and he supports Arsenal.

Both of these guys know what they’re talking about when it comes to soccer. They get up early on the weekends and watch matches, commonly waking me up. But instead of annoying me during the Euros, they’re helping me to first place in the pool and also helping me understand the sport and culture I know so little about. Last night, we had a group discussion about who will escape their groups and who will eventually win the Euro Cup.

The following are the basics that I took away from the discussion. I asked only for a brief breakdown of the two teams my roommates believed would emerge from each group. I want winners and I don’t want to get my head fogged up with the details of the supposedly weaker teams. Based on their explanations, I’m trying to compare the teams and groups to American sports teams that I am familiar with. I may be correct in these comparisons, or I may be way off. It’s not science, just opinion based on a small amount of information. This is my breakdown of the Euro 2012 field.

 GROUP A

CZECH REPUBLIC

GREECE

POLAND

RUSSIA

When discussing this group, the words “weak” and “wild card group” came up quite a bit. So I easily deemed this the weakest group of the tournament. It contains Poland, one of the host nations. As one would guess, host nations usually do well in tournaments like this. The local support helps their team on the pitch. But apparently, Poland is a pretty weak host nation. The Super Fans did pick the Polish to advance out of the group, but only because the group itself is extremely weak and it’s basically a crap shoot.

TOP TWO TEAMS TO ADVANCE

1. Russia– They are the favorites to advance from the group. The Super Fans tell me that they consistently deliver in major tournaments. There are no outright stars on this team, but the team itself is organized and they work well as a cohesive unit. There are no huge stars, but they’re good enough to get out of a bad group. I’m comparing this team to the Phoenix Coyotes. No huge stars, but good cohesive play that helped them advance in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

2. Poland– Like I mentioned before, the Super Fans picked Poland to advance because they are a host nation and host nations usually over perform. With the help of their home crowd, Poland is hoping to intimidate their opponents enough to earn the right to advance past the group stage. I don’t know how much home field advantage plays into soccer, but I’m going to compare this team to the Seattle Seahawks. Not a great team overall, but Quest Field certainly is a loud and difficult stadium to play in.

 GROUP B

DENMARK

GERMANY

NETHERLANDS

PORTUGAL

This group generated the most lively conversation out of any of them. This was described to me as the “Dream Group.” Apparently, every team in this group is pretty good. Ultimately, Denmark gets screwed because they have a good club, but everyone else is better. It’s difficult to look past Germany and Holland.

 TOP TWO TEAMS TO ADVANCE

1. Germany– They are a hot team right now. They’re a well-oiled machine and they have star power. The Germans are considered the second-best team in this tournament by the Super Fans. They have young stars that are maturing from the 2010 World Cup. Their players play for outstanding Premier teams. They should be fun to watch. I’m comparing them to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

2. Holland– This is another hot team. They made the last World Cup final but lost to Spain. They have a pair of super stars and they play a sound, technical game. This team plays by the book and is damn good at it. I’m comparing them to the Detroit Redwings.

GROUP C

CROATIA

IRELAND

ITALY

SPAIN

This group is arguable the second strongest in the tournament. They should challenge the best group and their group winner should lay claim to runner-up for the tournament. This group contains the previous World Cup winners, Spain. And according to the Super Fans, the Spaniards are the favorites to advance as the best team from the group. Aside from Spain, the second team to advance from this group is tough to call, it’ll be a struggle.

 TOP TWO TEAMS TO ADVANCE

1. Spain– The Super Fans say that Spain “plays soccer the way it is supposed to be played.” They teach lessons on the field. They have the best goalie and the best centermen in the group and maybe in the entire tournament. This team has both style and substance and they are the favorites for the tournament. Everyone else will have to go through Spain to win the cup because they have the stars of the Spanish Premier Division backing them up. I’m going to compare the Spanish team to the Miami Heat.

2. Ireland– Super Fan Conor may be hurting me with this pick by being a homer, but I figured I’d give it to him. The Irish have an average team,  but they play with heart and passion. They are tough to break down. They play a defensive-style game and they are good at winning tight matches. They reach deep down for their efforts and have a terrific coach behind the bench. I’m going to compare them to the San Antonio Spurs, good coach, they get the job done but are boring to watch.

GROUP D

ENGLAND

FRANCE

SWEDEN

UKRAINE

This is the second weakest group in the tournament. There are a lot of questions regarding these teams, so it’ll be tough to tell who emerges. One note that is worth mentioning: The Super Fans disagreed on the second team to advance in this group. Rakesh picked England and Conor picked Sweden. I picked Sweden ultimately because Conor’s argument was more convincing. According to Conor, England is over-hyped and has underachieved.

TOP TWO TEAMS TO ADVANCE

1. France– This team gets results.  They are reemerging after a miserable in World Cup. That team didn’t gel because of their coach. But things are a little different now. This talent will gel and come together better. They have a good mix of younger and veteran players. The French may even have an outside shot at the finals. I’m comparing this team to the Los Angeles Kings (but don’t expect France to dominate like the Kings have.)

2. Sweden– This is the controversial pick in the apartment, but I feel good taking Sweden. They might not be a better team than England, but there is less pressure on them to perform compared to the English. According to Conor, “England promises more than they should.” I’m comparing this team to the Nashville Predators — a good, solid team that people like, but not expected to escape a tough division.

Will Centre County Locals Doom Sandusky?

Today, the final jurors were picked for the Jerry Sandusky sexual misconduct trial. The 12 jurors and four alternates were decided today and yesterday for the trial that’s set to begin on Monday, June 11.

More than 600 jury duty summonses were sent out to residents in Centre County, where Penn State University is located. The judge said before jury selection that people with Penn State connections would not automatically disqualify potential jurors, just as they could pledge to be impartial. So it came as no surprise that many of the jurors have Penn State ties.

According to reports from various media outlets, at least four of the first nine jurors selected had some kind of direct Penn State connection and all four of the jurors selected today said they had ties to the school. One is a full professor at Penn State. Another is an administrative assistant and a dance teacher at the continuing education program at the school.

The jury also includes a Penn State senior, a man with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the school and a woman who has been a football season ticket holder since the 1970s. One of the alternate jurors selected is a woman in her 30s who graduated from Penn State in 2007 with a degree in human development. There are also a handful of people who claim to have no ties to Penn State or Sandusky.

For a detailed breakdown of all the jurors, here’s a great place.

My initial gut reaction told me that I don’t trust Centre County residents to have the ability to be completely impartial in this case. I believed that anyone who lives or works in Centre County probably has a strong, negative opinion regarding Jerry Sandusky.  I thought a jury made up of locals would help the prosecution in the end. It even seemed reasonable to think that any one of these jurors could have lied about being impartial for the chance to lock up Sandusky for life.

After all, Penn State is the life-blood and driving force behind the population in Centre County. Anything that negatively affects Penn State negatively affects Centre County. Penn State has a bigger alumni association than any other school and many of them reside in that region. And even if you live there and don’t have a direct connection with the university, odds are good you are a fan of the football program and its late coach Joe Paterno.

Paterno, one of the most prominent and respected people in the history of Penn State, was fired because of the Sandusky allegations. He died of cancer shortly after and some believe it was because he lost the will to fight his disease with football no longer in his life. If you’re old enough to be a juror for this trial, you’re old enough to know how much Joe Paterno meant to the university and the surrounding area. Even if you agreed with Paterno’s firing, it’s difficult to ignore that Sandusky was the root of it.

BUT…

Just because Centre County has such a huge contingent of Penn State and Joe Paterno fans doesn’t mean people there can’t be impartial. The defense wanted to keep the jury limited to locals for a reason. It wanted Centre County residents because they would have a better understanding of the case and because Centre County has a greater population of well-educated individuals than other rural, central Pennsylvania regions. The defense decided it would benefit Sandusky more to have more educated people with Penn State pride than less educated ones without it.

That strategy may pay off for Sandusky.

Even if there are people on the jury who lied about their impartiality, could it be possible that all of them did? Maybe, but it’s unlikely.

The fact is, it takes only one person to hang a jury. If Sandusky’s defense can convince just one person on that panel that he’s innocent, he might have a chance. But can Sandusky’s defense convince every juror he’s innocent on all 52 counts?

I highly doubt it, even if there is a lack of physical evidence.

The odds are stacked against Sandusky that he’ll get off scot-free. But if by some unlikely turn of events he comes out of this trial as a free man, move over Lou Gehrig. Sandusky will be latest ‘luckiest man of the face of the earth.’

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