Saturday, January 31, 2009

Effort is not enough

Once again, playing hard won't do it. The Hoosiers fall to Ohio State 93-81 in a game that was as frustrating as the entire season.

An 9-11 three-point performance by Matt Roth goes wasted because the Hoosiers could not sustain any momentum. Whether that is a testament to the Buckeyes' greatness is debatable.

It wasn't that the Hoosiers made mistakes. It was they made mistakes in bunches and at the worst times. Late in the second half with a chance to win, the Hoosiers turned the ball over several times, leading to Ohio State points. Two four-point plays allowed as well as a three-point shooter fouled -- he made all three free throws -- did not help either.

What is probably most frustrating is Ohio State played error-free for most of the game. They shot lights out in the second half, 63 percent for the game, when IU was trying to make a run and made almost all their free-throws. And the officials seemed to give them every major call in the game as well.

How much longer must IU wait for a break?

Another Steeler in the Hall of Fame

Fort Wayne native Rod Woodson, one of the best cornerbacks and safeties of all time, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the NFL announced today.

While Woodson ended his career with the primarily the Ravens and Raiders, he spent his first 10 seasons in the league with the Steelers. He played in Super Bowl XXX while with the Steelers and won Super Bowl XXXV with the Ravens.

Woodson was one of the few players that distinguished himself at two defensive positions, corner and safety. He also was a quality return man. He was named an All-Pro at all three spots.

A highlight video is here. Congrats to Mr. Woodson. Your Fort Wayne fans are proud of you.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A milestone

I am proud to announce that this is post No. 300 since the creation of The Illinois Hoosier in July 22, 2007.

I also have surpassed 1,000 unique visitors since being registered with SiteMeter. The blog existed for several months before I began tracking visitors.

The stats are not impressive, but I'm slowing building a fan base. Thank you to the elite few who read my stuff. I appreciate it.

Super Bowl things to think about

The Super Bowl is a little more than two days away and the players are making their final adjustments.

It seems everyone has broken down every angle in this game over the last two weeks, but I'm going to offer something else to think about. My thought was about the regular season schedule, because it can predict how the team will respond to big, high-pressure games.

The Steelers were written-off at the beginning of the season because they had such a tough schedule. The team played six teams in this year's playoffs, winning 3 (Ravens twice and Chargers). The losses came against the Eagles, Titans and Giants.

There also were highly hyped games against the Cowboys (a Steelers win) and Patriots (win). That's eight games out of 16 regular season games that were covered like a playoff game.

The Cardinals played five of this year's playoff teams and won only one, against Miami in week two. The four losses came against the Eagles, Giants, Vikings and Panthers. Other "big" games came against the Cowboys (a win) and Patriots (a loss).

There is no game bigger than the Super Bowl, but experience playing in high-pressure situations is a big deal. The Cardinals did not perform well under those conditions in the regular season, 2-5, while the Steelers played much better, 5-3.

Something else to consider when thinking about the Cardinals. This year's playoff performance has been impressive, but Larry Fitzgerald has not always played well in big games.

During the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl, his last college game at the University of Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald had five catches for 77 yards and no touchdowns. It broke his 18-game streak scoring a touchdown. Virginia beat Pitt by rushing the passer and limiting the number of throws at Fitzgerald. The game also was the first since he was runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting.

By the way, the same year was Ben Roethlisberger's last year at Miami (Ohio). He torched Louisville in his final game, the GMAC Bowl, for 376 yards and four touchdowns.

More recently, Fitzgerald scored all three of his touchdowns in the first half of the NFC Championship game. He had three catches in the second half, all on one drive in the fourth quarter. That happened to be the drive that led to the game-winning score. My point is receivers can disappear during a game. The Eagles figured it out in the second half of that game.

The Steelers also have stopped offenses headed into the game on a roll. Remember the San Diego Chargers? There were several pundits who picked the Chargers because their offense was on fire coming into the game. The Steelers gave up 308 yards and three TD passes to Philip Rivers, but two of those came in the fourth quarter when the game was over. And many of those passing yards came because the Chargers only could rush for 15 yards.

Be careful listening to all this talk about the Cardinals offense and how it will beat the Steelers. Remember, defense still wins championships.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Understand me a little better

If you read this blog, you know I'm a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I became a fan in part because I was born into it and watched my father root for the team. But even though I also embraced the Chicago Bears during my years living in the Chicago suburbs, I remained a citizen of Steeler Nation.

With Super Bowl XLIII on the horizon, more focus is on the Steeler Nation. has stories on the "Steeler bars" around the world as well as the origin of the Terrible Towel. The video interview with towel creator Myron Cope is classic, by the way.

Full disclosure: Fort Wayne has four Steeler bars, including Wrigley Field Bar & Grill. And I do have a Terrible Towel, pictured here. It was a gift from my grandfather, who was as loyal a fan as they come.

Three more days ...

In need of a break

I don't know what's worse, the fact that IU men's basketball team lost a game to Northwestern that it easily could have won or that the team lost despite its maximum effort.

At first I was angry when the losses began piling up. Now that I see the team improving and staying competitive, I feel for the players because all the work has not paid off. The last two games, Wednesday's game and a Jan. 25 loss to Minnesota, were miles ahead of where the team was in December, when it last won a game.

Alas, there was plenty of blame to go around for this loss. Devan Dumes committing a foul with 6 second left that allowed Northwestern to take the lead, Verdell Jones committing seven turnovers and the 25 points given up off the team's 22 turnovers. And of course the blown in-bounds play with 5 seconds left.

That game was probably the most complete game I have seen the team play in a long time. They refused to give up, even when down 11 points in the second half, even when Wildcats star Kevin Colbe made unbelievable shots. I just wish the Hoosiers could get a break.

Looking forward, a win could come as early as next week. Saturday's game against Ohio State is probably a loss. But the streak could end Feb. 4 when Iowa comes to Assembly Hall. The Hawkeyes are 2-5 in the conference and IU only lost by 5 in Iowa City. After that game, there may be only one more chance, Feb. 25 against Northwestern.

I just hope they can get a break. If they continue to play hard, they should be able to make a few breaks. I feel like this team has earned a couple wins already. I hope they get what they deserve.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Would'a, should'a

Once again, the IU men's basketball team could not get it done down the stretch. With under a minute to go and down three, all they could muster was a bad three-point shot. It wasn't even close and losing streak continued.

This was the second Big Ten game the Hoosiers should have won. The other was the blown blow-out of Michigan that ended in an overtime loss.

The Hoosiers were able to play well in stretches, but every time they had a chance to take the lead or tie, it ended in a turnover or missed shot. IU also missed 10 free throws, which probably was the biggest obstacle to victory today. Minnesota did not play like the 20th-ranked team in the country.

More and more, these Hoosiers remind me a lot of Northwestern. The Wildcats have landed some talent over the last 10 to 15 years, but have not managed to beat too many Big Ten opponents. I watched, and attended, several IU-Northwestern games where the Hoosiers played downright awful. They would be down 10 points in the second half and I would be thinking it was over. But somehow, IU would pull the game out.

Is that superior talent winning in the end or is it an opponent not knowing how to close? IU would play 30 bad minutes, but manage 10 good minutes and pull out a victory.

This year's IU team appears similar to those Wildcats. It is going to take a super-human effort for an entire game to get a win. We've seen even a few bad minutes are enough to lose a game.

The Hoosiers travel to Northwestern on Jan. 28 looking for that first conference win. The effort may be there again, but will that be enough?