More and longer field goals

Football has a new wrinkle, thanks in part to the phenomenon of youth soccer programs:

NFL place kickers are connecting on their field goal attempts at a higher rate than ever, threatening to make even long-distance kicks nearly as automatic as extra points. . . .

NFL kickers have been successful on 86.5 percent of their field goal tries this season. That is the highest percentage at this point in a season since at least the 1987 season. NFL officials say it would be the best percentage in history over a full season with at least 100 field goal attempts if kickers are able to maintain that pace. . . .

Through seven weeks last season, NFL kickers had connected on 81.9 percent of their field goal attempts. They hit 84.4 percent of their tries through seven weeks of the 2008 season, when they finished the year at what league is thought to be the record full-season percentage of 84.5 percent. Data on the number of field goal attempts and success rates wasn’t always kept reliably throughout league history, but it is generally accepted that field goal accuracy has improved greatly in recent years. . .

“The biggest difference is the kicks from beyond 40 yards,” said Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL’s competition committee. “That’s where the improvement really is. That was the impetus behind us wanting to change the overtime format for the postseason [eliminating the possibility of a team winning with a field goal on the opening possession of overtime] because the accuracy has become so good.”

Kickers even have been accurate on field goal attempts of 50 yards or longer, making 70.7 percent of them this season. Scobee is 5 for 5 on such kicks and Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski is 5 for 6.

Several people said kickers’ skill has been improving for decades, citing everything from the quality of the young athletes who take up kicking to the sophistication of the instruction they receive.

“You’ve got guys that are starting at a younger age, taking it way more seriously, training seriously,” Akers said. “You have kicking camps. Guys are specialized, and even specialized in the way they train.”

Gary Zauner, an NFL special teams coordinator for 13 seasons with three teams, now works with individual kickers and runs development camps and combines for kickers.

“The kids who are the better soccer players, they’re coming to football to kick,” Zauner said. “In high school, they’re getting instruction. They get to college and they get instruction. In the old days, nobody was really working with guys at a higher level. When you get better instruction earlier, it pays dividends down the line.”

Zauner said the large number of kids playing soccer in the U.S. has made the quality of kicking in football better.

via NFL kickers making field goals at record pace – The Washington Post.

The World Serious

Even though the St. Louis Cardinals broke my heart by beating the Brewers in the playoffs, I find myself wanting them to win the World Series.  Not too long ago, the Cardinals were written off, 10 games back, with no hope for the wild card even.  But here they are in the World Series.  On paper, they are supposed to lose to the Texas Rangers–a team I also liked, especially last year in the series–but they have been defying whatever’s on paper with incredible clutch performances.  Chris Carpenter shutting down the Philadelphia Phillies, no less!  Albert Pujols batting close to .500!  And then the other performances all the way through the batting order!  And the manager Tony la Russa, said to be playing chess while all of the other managers are playing checkers!

What is your analysis, prognosis, and prediction?

Weekend sports

Watching baseballl playoff games is intense, especially if you have a horse in the race. I was following every pitch and, due to time zones and having to record games, staying up until 1:00 a.m. But what games they were! The Milwaukee Brewers, whose games I used to attend faithfully when we lived in Wisconsin, beat the Arizona Diamondbacks to get into the championship series and then beat the St. Louis Cardinals–who themselves heroically defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, ostensibly the best team in baseball.

And the Sooners, from one of my alma maters, just demolished our arch-rivals the Texas Longhorns, beating up on the #11 team in the country as easily as they beat Ball State the previous week.

The Sooners were rated #1 in the AP pre-season poll, as they still are in the Coaches’ poll. But now they have slipped to #3, getting based by LSU (#1) and Alabama (#2). Why? Oklahoma defeated two nationally-ranked teams. What did LSU and Alabama do that is more impressive than what Oklahoma has done?

Wisconsin’s big weekend

This was being called the biggest sports weekend in the history of Wisconsin, my former state.  And in each contest, Wisconsin was victorious.  The Milwaukee Brewers won two playoff games over the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The Wisconsin Badgers welcomed Nebraska to the Big Ten by demolishing the nationally-ranked Cornhuskers.   The Packers pounded the Denver Broncos.  And the Milwaukee Marathon was won by a guy from Marquette.

For a brief, shining moment, Wisconsin teachers and Congressmen, tea partiers and Occupy Wall Streeters will be united in a feeling of common sports euphoria.

We’re #1

My alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, is rated #1 in all four of the major preseason polls for NCAA football.  I’m realizing that I’d better brag now, before the games actually start, since, if history is a guide, the Sooners’ pre-eminence is likely to fade once they actually start to play some games.  Still, I am proud.   The four polls also agree in ranking Alabama #2.  After that, opinions differ.

Check out the polls:  2011 NCAA College Football Polls and Rankings for Week 1 – ESPN.  Where do you think the prognosticators get it right and where do they get it wrong?  And before the games actually begin is the right time for predictions:  Who do you think will end the season as th #1 team?

Prosecuting Roger Clemens

The great pitcher Roger Clemens testified before a Congressional hearing that he had not used steroids.  But then came evidence that he had.   So he was brought to trial for perjury.   The prosecution used hearsay evidence that the judge told them not to use, resulting in a mistrial.   So do you think Clemons should be retried?

Notice that steroid use was not illegal, nor was it then a violation of the rules of baseball.   I don’t see why steroid use back then should keep a Mark McGwire, a Sammy Sosa, or a Barry Bonds out of the record books, even with an asterisk.  It wasn’t cheating, since it didn’t violate any rules.  Now it does, so it’s a different story.  As my cousin Mark observed, there have been different eras in baseball–such as the dead ball era and the juiced ball era–so we just need to realize there was a steroid era.  Perhaps we should ban all of the vitamins players take these days.  Other sports such as cycling are outlawing “doping,” including practices such as injecting one’s own blood, so as to increase stamina by increasing the number of red blood cells.  And yet our whole Olympic team trains in Mark’s home of Colorado Springs at an altitude that increases red blood cells.  Yet one is OK, because labeled “natural,” and the other is banned because labeled artificial, even though the effect is the same.

Clemens was hauled before a court for lying to Congress, not for using steroids.  He was speaking out against steroids, probably also trying to protect his reputation so he could get into the Hall of Fame.  Once again, it isn’t the action but the lying, or, better yet, the hypocrisy, that gets people into trouble.

Is it worth the expense and the time of our court system to once again try to convict a baseball player?


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