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Swampland Sports Six-Pack for the week ending 7/8/07

Posted: Jul 09, 2007

1. Ed Hinton nails it again. His piece on the fans of racing and their connection with “real race drivers” speaks to a growing concern we have addressed recently - NASCAR can’t afford to lose touch with its core fans. The sport needs rivalries more than it needs new tracks in ‘non-traditional’ markets or tweaks to ‘The Chase’. NASCAR’s popularity was built by men who wanted to win at all costs and who weren’t just concerned with getting a certain number of points each week. The Pearson/Petty rivalry is probably the best the sport has ever seen. With Dale Earnhardt Jr. joining the same team as rival Jeff Gordon next season, it’s hard to see where another heated competition among elite drivers will develop. 

2. Grant Hill is leaving Orlando and is headed to play for the upper-tier Suns in Phoenix. Mike Bianchi of the Sentinel doesn’t blame Hill for chasing a ring, but finds it hard to support him as he leaves the franchise that stood by Hill for so long. The Magic paid Hill royally through many rehabs, and now that the franchise finally made the Playoffs again, he’s headed out of town to a better team. Hill’s decision highlights the NBA's difficulties in the Swampland footprint.  Despite the team's willingness to pay him rather than forcing him to retire, Hill put his own interests ahead of the Orlando fans that supported him as the face of the franchise, both good and bad.  Now, the Magic can only hope that two young, quiet kids (Dwight Howard from Georgia and Rashard Lewis from Texas) can create a Spurs-like connection with this mid-market team desperately in need of a new arena.

3. Mark Cuban seems desperate. As Randy Galloway points out, has any coach ever facing his old team not used his “inside knowledge” to his new team’s advantage? Was Jon Gruden not supposed to use his familiarity of the Raiders to help his Bucs win the Super Bowl? Cuban’s stress signals what a huge offseason/year this will be for his Mavericks. While the Spurs celebrate and the Suns add Grant Hill (see above), the Mavs are left with a bitter taste of two straight postseason flops. Cuban may see some of the momentum he built up with the team and the fans beginning to erode. He did a wonderful job in creating a winning environment in the once moribund Mavs’ organization. Maybe Cuban is just realizing that the Dallas market is as much about "buzz" as it is about winning.  (At this point, "buzz" may be a lot easier to deliver than wins to the Dallas faithful as the rest of the West catches up to the Mavs.)

4. You’ve just got to love the South. We’re just a few days past July 4th, and the debate over who will be better in football is already hot and heavy in Georgia. Athlon’s Preseason Annual picked Georgia Tech #14 and Georgia #16, but the AJC’s Mark Bradley likes the Dawgs better. This mid-summer argument is just another reminder of something we preach here at Swampland: Southern College Football is never out of season. While we love baseball, NASCAR, etc., a good ole backyard football rivalry can be discussed any day of the year. 

5. Speaking of college football debates in the middle of summer, LSU coach Les Miles sounded like an SEC fan last week when he ‘called out’ the Pac-10. Responding to many preseason prognostications that have his Tigers meeting USC in the National Title Game, Miles said his team will have a much tougher road to that game than the Trojans. While I agree the SEC is stronger across the board than the Pac-10, USC has beaten Auburn and Arkansas four times in the last five years. Miles’ team has lost September games the last two seasons (Tennessee-’05, Auburn-’06) that they definitely shouldn't have. With the old LSU coach Nick Saban now at Alabama, Miles should concentrate more on his early season matchup with Virginia Tech than trying to excite his fans with anti-Pac 10 talk.  All it may end up doing is exciting them into calling for his head if LSU falls short once again.

6. We mentioned last week about the formation of a new professional football league that will try to capitalize on the rivalries and passion for college football. CBS’ Dennis Dodd seems fairly skeptical since many of the past pro football adventures have not worked. While he admits there is a huge fervor for football in the proposed AAFL markets, the question of whether or not those cities would support “Triple-A” ball is a good one. The fans that so richly fill the stadiums of Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida on Saturday afternoons come from all over those states. Those fans aren’t just in the particular cities of Knoxville, Tuscaloosa, or Gainesville.  The AAFL is a calculated risk that won't make sense to anyone in New York or LA, but it will say a lot about Southern sports fans if it succeeds.

- Patrick Snow

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