This week’s take on some hot-topic sports issues
by Staff Writer
I’ll admit I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world. The thing is: Sometimes people actually pretend as if they care what I think about what’s going on in the world of sports.
(Usually, that changes once they hear my answers.)
Recently, a few people posed some questions to me about local and national sports topics. Here’s a sampling:
Is North Mecklenburg High’s Sarah Mooney the greatest softball player in state history?
OK, I cheated a little bit on this. No one really asked me this question, but after Mooney recently earned her second consecutive All-America honor, it’s an issue worth addressing.
The short answer is: I haven’t personally seen anyone better.
I’ve seen girls who’ve won more All-American awards. I’ve seen girls who were more heavily recruited (Mooney has signed with James Madison University), and I’ve seen girls who played on more successful high school teams (Mooney never won a state championship).
But as far as pure talent goes, I just can’t think of a player that I could say, unequivocally, had more than Mooney.
Last week, Mooney was named to the Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America team for the second year in a row. This after tying a state record with 19 home runs and setting a state single-season mark with a .779 batting average.
As Herald Weekly Sports Editor Cliff Mehrtens pointed out in his July 1 story on Mooney, she had 60 hits in 77 at-bats.
Are you kidding me? That’s insane.
If a baseball player had done something similar to that, many folks would be hailing him as the next Babe Ruth.
Mooney’s versatile, too. After her freshman season at North Meck, she was named to our newspaper’s Super Team – as a pitcher. In subsequent years, she’s played catcher and had just as much of an impact on games.
Mooney is a Lake Norman-area sports treasure. And if she’s not the best player in state history, she certainly deserves to be in the argument.
Is it a given that Mallard Creek will win the I-MECK 4A conference’s football championship this fall?
In a word: Yep.
My apologies to all the Hopewell, Hough and North Meck fans out there, but Mallard Creek is just that good. The Mavericks are the one Mecklenburg County team that will challenge Butler High for the Class 4AA state title.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t expect great things from the Titans, Huskies and Vikings.
Hopewell has a chance to be good instantly under energy-filled new coach David Johnson. I love the fastbreak brand of football he’s going to bring to the school with his Spread offense, and the Titans have the athletic talent to execute it.
In its second year of play, coach Bobby Collins’ Hough squad will be better, although the Huskies have a tough schedule that will make it difficult for them to improve on their two-win total from a year ago.
And I absolutely expect coach Mike Bradley’s North Meck Vikings to build on the three wins they earned last year during a rebuilding time.
Can you tell I’m already excited about high school football? It’s mid-July, and in just a few weeks, teams will be hitting the field for the first official day of practice. That means it’s almost time for out annual football preview section, which this year is titled “Football Night on the Lake 2011.”
In “Football Night on the Lake 2011,” which we’ll unveil on Aug. 12, we’ll have full coverage on local public- and private-school squads, including team previews, player features and our preseason “Super 7” rankings. Of course, by now, you already know who I predict to win the I-MECK. But as many of you know, I’ve been wrong before.
The good thing is: It’s almost time to find out exactly how the 2011 season will unfold.
Will the fans come back to football once the NFL lockout officially ends?
No, people won’t come back to the NFL – they’ll flock back. And it’s not just about seeing their favorite teams pursue a Super Bowl title or watching a franchise player do his end-zone dance.
It comes down to two words: fantasy football.
Fantasy football has changed the world. It’s especially changed the way the masses watch football on Sundays and Mondays.
Example: When most people watch their favorite team play, they still scream like mad for the home squad to win. But if they have a fantasy running back on the opposing team, they’ll also cheer for him to rack up at least 100 yards and two or three touchdowns in defeat.
Could you imagine such things happening 10 years ago, before darn near everyone had joined a fantasy league?
Fantasy football is the advantage the NFL has over the NBA as the basketball league endures a lockout of its own. Sure, there are NBA fantasy leagues, but they don’t approach the popularity and ease of fantasy football; NBA fantasy isn’t something fans feel they must have.
NFL fantasy is like sweet tea to Southerners – we have to have it.
Sure, once the NFL lockout ends, some fans will be a little turned off by the senseless fighting over how to split $9 billion, and stadiums might have smaller crowds early on. But the television ratings will be there as people try to keep up with what their fantasy players are doing, and that’s going to get more interested fans in the stadiums eventually.
What did you think of the U.S. soccer team’s come-from-behind win over Brazil this week?
I’ll readily admit that while I’m totally devoted to covering high school soccer in our area, I don’t usually tune in to the sport when it’s on television. Not even for the World Cup, men’s or women’s. But I’m glad I got to witness the last half of the United States’ quarterfinal win over Brazil this week.
Simply put, Abby Wambach’s late goal in the second extra-time period is tied for the third-most-spectacular late-game score that I’ve ever seen.
No. 1 on my list is Lorenzo Charles’ slam dunk to clinch the NCAA basketball championship for N.C. State in 1983, and No. 2 is Michael Jordan’s title-winning jumper after shoving Utah’s Byron Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. And my first No. 3 is Christian Laettner’s cold-blooded turnaround jumper that lifted Duke over Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA East Regional final.
But Wambach’s goal is tied with Laettner’s. It was magical. A perfectly placed, left-footed pass from Megan Rapinoe? A high-flying header by Wambach with the USA’s World Cup life on the line?
I haven’t seen many things like it in all my years watching sports. It deserves a special place in American sports lore.
Were you shocked to see Michael Irvin shirtless on the cover of the gay magazine “Out” this week?
To say the least, it’s interesting. But I can’t say I’m surprised.
It’s become common to see professional athletes speak out about gay rights – after their careers are over. Then, and usually only then, we see athletes stepping to the forefront to mention how they would’ve supported a homosexual teammate.
I’m not picking on Irvin or any of the other ex-stars who wait years to address the issue of homosexuality in sports. Hey, any time you feel you’re stepping up in defense of someone being alienated by society is better than not doing it at all. It just would’ve carried much more weight if Irvin had taken his stance back when he was winning Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys.
According to “Out,” Irvin’s late brother, who died of stomach cancer, was gay. The Hall of Fame receiver said he attributes much of the womanizing he did during his playing days to the belief that he was trying to prove to people the he wasn’t like his brother.
Irvin also talked about how he’d feel about a professional athlete admitting he was gay.
“If anyone comes out in those top four major sports, I will absolutely support him,” the magazine quoted him as saying. “When a guy steps up and says, ‘This is who I am,’ I guarantee you I’ll give him 100 percent support.
“I believe, if a teammate had said he’s gay, we would have integrated him and kept moving because of the closeness,” Irvin also told the magazine.
Good for Irvin for having the audacity to say what he truly believes. But if Irvin and so many others truly believe in speaking out publicly of their acceptance of a prospective gay teammate, I’d love to see them do it in their heydays, when it definitely would’ve brought attention to the matter.
But the silence of the active players – and the almost-certainty of a gay athlete being ostracized in the locker room and beyond – is exactly why we probably won’t ever see a professional athlete come out while his career is thriving.