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Twining’s Take on the week in sports: NFL Preseason, PGA Championship, Jurgen Klinsmann

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If you are a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates then I owe you an apology. First, if you didn’t already notice, I missed an installment of Twining’s Take last week. Second, ever since I wrote about the Curse of Barry Bonds, the Pirates have been in a tailspin. At one point leading the National League Central, the Pirates have been losing games faster than a Biggest Loser contestant sheds pounds.

Since the Pittsburgh All-Star break, the Pirates are 9-20 and now reside in third place in the NL Central, 13 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers and seven games under .500. During a 10-game losing streak that closed July and opened August, the Pirates were swept by the Cubs in four games in Pittsburgh, the first time that’s happened in 52 years, and were then swept by the cellar-dwelling San Diego Padres at home as well. What once looked to be a promising season has quickly become the opposite.

Although not much could cheer up a Pirates fan right now, I figured I might as well give it a shot. Here we go with another installment of Twining’s Take on the week in sports.

NFL Preseason

At one point it seemed like the NFL preseason would never arrive. We were stuck in a perpetual lockout – some days it felt like the end was imminent, but on other days it seemed the impasse between the NFL owners and the NFL Players Association was too great to overcome.

Alas, we made it.

Now that the preseason is underway and fantasy leagues around the world are holding their drafts, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the most important position on the field, both fantasy and real-life: the quarterback.

Over the years, it seems that the trendy thing for teams to do is draft the “franchise” quarterback. We never hear talk about a franchise running back, or the franchise defensive lineman or even the franchise kicker – although if you ask Al Davis he might tell you otherwise.

In the fantasy world, the drop-off from the top-tier quarterbacks to the second-tier quarterbacks is significant; so much so that not having a decent quarterback immediately hinders your chances of winning it all. In real life, however, the franchise quarterback does not always equal success.

Much like in baseball, where the team with the highest payroll rarely wins the World Series, rarely does a team win a Super Bowl after drafting a quarterback for that specific goal. Sure, last season the sit-Aaron-Rogers-for-four-years-behind-Brett-Favre experiment paid off. But how often is that the case?

Miami has had nine different quarterbacks since Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino retired. Those nine quarterbacks, combined, have won as many Super Bowls as Marino – none. Sure, when the Indianapolis Colts drafted Peyton Manning it was with the goal to eventually win a Super Bowl. Manning was 3-13 his rookie year and although he is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL he has one Super Bowl victory,the same number of Super Bowls at Brett Favre, but numerous playoff disappointments.

Tim Tebow

There is a long list of first round quarterbacks who were drafted with the goal of winning Super Bowls but never found success in the NFL. If you look at Super Bowl winning quarterbacks during the past 15 years you’ll find names like Trent Dilfer, Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson listed as many times as Manning or Favre. Clearly this idea of the “franchise” quarterback is more myth than fact.

It’s because of this “myth” that guys like Tim Tebow get a bad rap. He’s a born leader and he’s a gamer. As a former football player, let me tell you that I’ve seen some amazing in-game athletes who are horrible in practice. Most of all, Tim Tebow is a hard worker who strives to get better. Why must everyone in the media bash on his apparent lack of skills like he walks around boasting about being a first-round pick. Since it’s clear the franchise-quarterback-equals-success equation rarely holds up in the long-run, cut Tebow some slack and give him time. Nobody expected Manning to win right away.

PGA Championship

Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2011 PGA Championship winner: Keegan Bradley – wait, I mean Jason Dufner. Or was it Steve Stricker? Tiger Woods? Ha, Yea right.

The winner of this year’s PGA Championship was, in fact, Keegan Bradley. Actually, from what I’ve heard, it was quite the exciting finish, yet with so many no-namers atop the leaderboard I chose not to watch – I simply wasn’t interested.

Golf fans have seen a number of famous final round meltdowns. From Rory McIlroy’s disastrous final round at Augusta earlier this year to Phil Mickelson’s unravelling at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open to Greg Norman’s baffling loss back in the 1996 Masters.

At least those guys had other successes to help them cope. Entering the final round Sunday, Dufner was 0-for-148 in professional tournaments. Holding a five-shot lead with four holes remaining, the only thing standing in the way of Dufner’s first victory was Dufner himself.

And boy did he get in his own way.

Bradley triple-bogeyed hole 15, a score that would usually eliminate a competitor from contention that late in the tournament. But, while Bradley turned it around and birdied 16 and 17, not letting the triple-bogey define his tournament, Dufner did the opposite. His tee shot on 15 landed in the water, which resulted in a bogey. He then bogeyed 16 and 17 and needed a par on 18 just to force a three-hole playoff. At that point it was obvious Dufner was headed for 0-for-149.

Usually, with this much excitement so late in the final round of a Major, I’m tuned in and watching. But with 13 different Major winners in the past 13 Majors, and two straight winners who rank outside the top-100, I find my interest in golf waning. I used to love Tiger Woods and still long for his return to the top. But the question is, did I like Tiger Woods or did I like the fact that there was one dominant figure in golf who everybody tried to beat?

Now, when I tune in to any professional golf event there are too many people capable of winning. Sure, that might be exciting for some, but when there is never a clear-cut favorite week-in and week-out that can’t be good for the ratings. I watched Thursday and Friday primarily because Tiger Woods was involved. I tuned out Saturday and Sunday more because there was nobody atop the leaderboard worth cheering for.

Awesome, a 25-year-old won his first Major while playing in his first Major. That’s the feel-good story of the year – but then again so was Darren Clarke’s victory in The Open Championship or Charl Schwartzel’s victory in the Masters. And don’t forget about Rory McIlroy winning his first Major in a record-setting performance at the U.S. Open. I’m an avid sports fan, but this lack of a dominant golfer is causing me to lose interest in the sport.

Tiger Woods, please get your act together. Golf clearly needs you back on top.

US Soccer

On Wednesday, the United States Men’s National Team tied Mexico 1-1 in an international friendly. That outcome was much better than our last game against Mexico.

When the United States Men’s Soccer team lost to Mexico 4-2 in the Gold Cup Final a couple months ago I picked up the phone and called my brother. I was so frustrated with the outcome that I needed to vent. Once again, under Bradley’s tutelage, the US had blown a 2-0 lead in a championship final.

First, the 2009 Confederations Cup where we jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead on Brazil only to watch them methodically pick us apart and come back to win 3-2. Two years later and what do you know – another final, another 2-0 lead, and another heart-wrenching come-from-ahead defeat.

What I’ve noticed during these past couple years is that the US simply cannot compete with the European and South American soccer powerhouses. Bottom line, our style of play is not conducive to succeeding on the international level. You can say all you want about how, in the U.S., our best athletes chose not to play soccer and instead focus on football, basketball or baseball, but that’s beside the point. We’ve seen that even with our talent we have the ability to score goals, take leads and, sometimes win games against the top teams. But when you are unable to hold a one or two goal lead lead that is when losses becomes disconcerting.

The first thing I told my brother: Bradley has got to go. Any coach in any other sport who has had as little success as Bradley with as much embarrassment is destined to be fired. Second thing I told him: we cannot have another American as our coach, we need a foreigner. What we need to succeed is someone who has played at an elite level outside the United States, someone who knows what it takes to succeed in the World Cup, and someone who is willing to transform the entire U.S. soccer system to compete with the big guys.

Finally, the U.S. found their savior: Jurgen Klinsmann.

Jurgen Klinsmann

A lot of soccer fans probably have no idea who Klinsmann is. Heck, I didn’t even know much about him when I first learned he was hired. But, when I found out that he wasn’t American I knew it was the right hire.

Klinsmann is a former World Cup champion as a player for the West German team in 1990, he was a striker for the German team that won the 1996 UEFA European Championship, he scored goals in all six major international tournaments he participated, from Euro 1988 to 1998 World Cup, and he even coached the 2006 German World Cup team to a third-place finish.

After twice turning down offers to coach the Americans, Klinsmann, who resides in Southern California, finally relented and took the reigns. Hopefully, it’s only a matter of time before he gets the U.S to the top.

Photos courtesy Daveynin and Jeffrey Beall via Flickr and Unknown via Wikimedia Commons.

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