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Richard’s Weekly Sports Round-Up

miller-article1The Fourth of July week allows for the opportunity of a scrumptious sports buffet. Not only do we get to nibble on a Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, but we also have NBA free agency, Wimbledon, the Coke Zero 400 and the AT&T National. It’s easy to stay out of the heat with entrees such as those. I would call it the Thanksgiving of summer. So, after a weekend of hot dogs, beer and running around with sparklers, delve into a slice of the Weekly Sports Round-Up pie, which makes the meal.

10. My Take: The summer heat is slowly getting to me. If there was a lotion with SPF 200, I would wear it. So, with that in mind, I plan on staying inside when the surf isn’t good (more often than not) and compiling a Top Ten Sports Movie List. Before football season starts and I’m consumed with college football, NFL and maybe even a hint of the United Football League (UFL), I want to make the most referenced Top Ten Sports Movie List. Suggestions are more than welcomed. E-mail me at Richard.miller@jaxobserver.com.

Contrary to popular belief, I read all my e-mails.

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9. American Joey Chestnut won the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest when he consumed a record 68 hot dogs in ten minutes. Chestnut has now won three consecutive Nathan’s, an eating competition that has been held since 1916. After defeating archrival Takeru Kobayashi, Chestnut raised an American flag in triumph. Kobayashi ate 64½ dogs to place second in the yearly Fourth of July eating competition. Kobayashi, a six-time Nathan’s champion, was second to Joey Chestnut last year after going into overtime with the American. Nathan’s, held in Coney Island, New York, has been televised by ESPN since 2004. According to his blog, Jacksonville native Hall “Hoover” Hunt ate 38 or 38½ hot dogs.

My Take: ESPN has hyped up the Nathan’s Contest more than anyone would have figured. For the past six years, it has become increasingly popular. Of course, the rivalry between Chestnut and Kobayashi has only fueled that. Over one million viewers watch it on television each year. It is ten minutes of gripping TV. For the record, I only consumed two hot dogs during the Fourth of July weekend. My unofficial time was 16 minutes flat.

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8. Major League Baseball announced the ballots Sunday for the 80th All-Star game. St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols led the league in votes while New York Yankee Derek Jeter led the American League. The AL has not lost an All-Star game since 1996. Whichever league wins the game will receive home-field advantage during the World Series. The starting lineups are listed below.

American League
Catcher – Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
First Base – Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
Second Base – Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
Shortstop – Derek Jeter, Yankees
Third Base – Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Outfield – Jason Bay, Red Sox
Outfield – Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
Outfield – Josh Hamilton – Texas Rangers

National League
C – Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
1B – Albert Pujols, Cardinals
2B – Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
SS – Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
3B – David Wright, New York Mets
OF – Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
OF – Raul Ibanez, Phillies
OF – Carlos Beltran, Mets

My Take: I cannot stand the fan vote for the MLB All-Star Game. I know most fans are extremely knowledgeable, but there has to be another way. And, not every team should be represented. If your stats aren’t All-Star worthy, then stay home. Let’s get to No. 7 already…

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7. NBA free agency began last Wednesday. Slowly but surely, NBA players are packing their bags and renting the U-Hauls. Former Houston Rocket Ron Artest signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. Former Laker Trevor Ariza took Artest’s place in Houston by agreeing to a contract with the Rockets. After voicing his disgust last off-season, former Chicago Bull Ben Gordon went to a city with open arms, Detroit. Gordon will team up with another Detroit Piston acquisition and former Connecticut Huskie, Charlie Villanueva. Sources are saying Orlando Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu has agreed to sign with the Toronto Raptors. As well, the Boston Celtics are completing a deal with the Pistons’ bad boy, Rasheed Wallace. And, Dallas Maverick point guard Jason Kidd has verbally committed to re-signing with the Mavs. This Wednesday is the first day teams can formally sign free agents.

My Take: This is the time of year NBA teams establish a foundation for a championship contender. Key components are necessary to win titles. Look at the Lakers’ title-winning team. It had Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol to just skim the surface. All the playoff teams are involved in crucial trades and free agent signings. This is where general managers and the front office staff earn their salaries. Playoff teams can easily become Conference Finalist teams with one star addition. Free agency keeps all fans interested because of the array of possibilities. It’s better than any reality show on television.

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6. American Serena Williams defeated her older sister and the No. 1 seeded Venus Williams in the Ladies’ Wimbledon Final. Their fourth meeting in the Final at the All-England Club ended with a score of 7-6, 6-2. Serena captured her 11th Grand Slam title. When the rankings are released today, she will be the No. 2 ranked women’s player in the world behind Russian Dinara Safina. Serena’s semifinal match was the most difficult task for her. She had to hold off Russian Elena Dementieva in a three-set marathon. Venus, the two-time defending Wimbledon champion, was overpowered by Serena’s booming first serve. Venus had previously gone 17 straight Wimbledon matches without losing a set. Serena now holds the trophy for the Australian Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon.

My Take: Serena Williams is playing some of the best tennis I’ve seen her play. Her 11 Grand Slams is amazingly impressive. When she didn’t have an appearance in a Grand Slam final from the 2005 French Open to the 2006 U.S. Open, I thought she would not get back to her Serena-slam form during 2002 into 2003. Her pure strength and mental toughness are greater than every player on the women’s tour. The sky is the limit to how many Grand Slams she can obtain. The 27-year-old Serena is the immediate favorite for the U.S. Open in August.

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5. Tiger Woods won the AT&T National at Congressional, his own tournament, for the first time with a winning score of 13-under par. Woods finished one stroke ahead of fellow American, Hunter Mahan. Securing his third victory of the year, Woods shot a 3-under 67 in the final round. Mahan, recording his best finish of the year, shot a course record of 62 Sunday. It ties the record set by American Anthony Kim, which was shot on Thursday. Woods clinched the victory with a 20-foot birdie putt at the 16th hole. Kim, last year’s victor, was paired with Woods on Sunday and finished all alone in third place at 9-under. In two weeks, Woods will attempt to carry this momentum into the British Open at Turnberry.

My Take: Nobody is truly pleased unless Tiger Woods is winning major tournaments. Witnessing the best golfer ever is not nearly enough anymore. He didn’t wow me on Sunday, but he still won a PGA Tour event. And, it’s his 68th career Tour victory. This season, he has made every cut of the nine tournaments he has entered, and placed in the top ten in eight of them. Not to mention, with the AT&T win, he is the leader of the FedEx Cup Standings and on the money list. I don’t think U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover has any of those credentials.

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4. Tony Stewart, in a tight race to the finish line over Kyle Busch, won the Coke Zero 400 Saturday night at the Daytona International Speedway. Stewart, who led 86 of the 160 laps at Daytona, tapped the back of Busch’s car on the final lap and sent him spinning.

Stewart, who started in the No. 1 pole position, said he was sorry if he did anything wrong to send Busch into the wall. After the wreck, Busch, who was in a four-car heat throughout a quarter of the race, finished 14th. Kyle Busch told his brother Kurt he was uninjured, but would not talk to the media. Jimmie Johnson came in second in his Lowe’s-sponsored Chevrolet. Tony Stewart currently is No. 1 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Standings with 2,719 points. Now halfway through the NASCAR season, Stewart leads Jeff Gordon by 180 points.

My Take: I was in Daytona for the weekend experiencing my first NASCAR race. My Thursday column will be all about it!

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3. Authorities have declared the death of former Tennessee Titan quarterback Steve McNair a homicide. Police say the 36-year-old McNair was shot twice in the chest and two more times in the head. The woman McNair was with, Sahel Kazemi, died from a gunshot wound to the head. The semiautomatic pistol used in the murders was found underneath Kazemi’s body. According to sources, the two had been in a “dating relationship” for a few months. Their bodies were found Saturday afternoon in a Nashville condominium rented by McNair and a friend. According to reports, two days earlier, McNair and Kazemi were pulled over in a Cadillac Escalade. Kazemi was charged with a DUI and McNair was sent home in a taxi. He later bailed her out of jail. McNair played college football at Alcorn State, where he became a Heisman Trophy contender. He played 11 seasons with the Houston/Tennessee Oilers and Tennessee Titans. During the 2003 season, he was named the NFL MVP along with quarterback Peyton Manning. McNair was a three-time Pro Bowler in 2000, 2003 and 2005.

Steve McNair is survived by his wife Mechelle and four sons.

My Take: This is a very depressing story. McNair was an extremely familiar face to Jacksonville Jaguar fans. McNair was the ultimate competitor on the field. He put his body on the line every week to entertain NFL fans. His death seems to be easy to piece together. However, McNair should be remembered as one of the greats during his career to play the quarterback position. His arm and feet could make something out of nothing. And, his football smarts would add the “Air” to Steve McNair.

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2. Reports are that Houston Rocket center Yao Ming’s left foot injury could eventually be career threatening. The 7-foot-6 Chinese superstar broke his foot last month playing against the Los Angeles Lakers. The 28-year-old center is one of the most recognizable worldwide superstars playing in the NBA. Yao could eventually miss next season because of the foot injury. After the break, initial reports were that Yao would be out eight to 12 weeks, but after a CT scan it looks like the recovery time could be much longer. The bone does not seem to be healing properly. Yao has suffered multiple foot injuries over the past three seasons. Last season, he started 77 games while averaging 19.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. According to team doctors, Yao has not been suffering any symptoms from the broken bone.

My Take: The Houston Rockets and the NBA need Yao Ming. He is one of the NBA’s global superstars. He is the reason most of China tunes into NBA games. It is common knowledge that big men (centers) are threatened by ankle, knee and foot injuries. But, I believe this might be a report of something being blown completely out of proportion. It is obvious that Yao loves the game of basketball and will rehabilitate his foot to get the Rockets back to the playoffs. If he isn’t fully healthy, he will still be bringing home the bacon. That bacon is an estimated $16 million. Yao’ll be back (Terminator voice).

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1. Roger Federer won his 15th career Grand Slam title over American Andy Roddick in a five-set match for the ages, 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14. The 30-game fifth set almost made viewers forget about last year’s epic Federer/Rafael Nadal Wimbledon Final. Federer, who will take over the world No. 1 ranking today from Spaniard Nadal, served a career-high 50 aces and hit 107 winners. The title match lasted an incredible 4 hours and 16 minutes. Roddick showed signs of fatigue in the fifth set, whereas Federer, as always, looked calm and collected. Roddick had not lost a game on his serve until the final game of the match. Tennis legends Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver and Pete Sampras were in attendance in case Federer broke the record of 14 career Grand Slam titles, previously held by American Sampras. After losing three Grand Slam finals to the powerful Nadal, Federer was thought to be on the downturn of his career. After back-to-back major wins at the French Open and Wimbledon, Federer has proved the naysayers wrong.

My Take: I wasn’t around when Borg and Laver were dominating the courts, but I’ve followed both Sampras and Federer. And, between those two, I consider Federer to be the greatest men’s player of all time. His footwork and picturesque groundstrokes combined with his court smarts and tournament experience make Federer the best. He is classy and knows and respects the history of the game. The 27-year-old, if he stays injury-free, can play world-class tennis for another three years. It’s scary to think that if Nadal had not been in Federer’s path that 15 titles could easily be 20. Also, I am by no means an Andy Roddick supporter. His game is too high-risk, high-reward for my liking. But, on Sunday, he played the way everyone thought he would during his entire career. His serve and precise forehand were his keys to success. Roddick has lost to Federer in four Grand Slam Finals matches. In my opinion, that was Roddick’s last chance at a Grand Slam title. At least the United States had a male representative in a major tennis final.

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Looking Ahead

5. The Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour makes its fifth stop of the year at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa. The 10-event ASP Tour begins in late February and lasts until December. After winning the first two events, Australian Joel Parkinson leads the point standings. Coverage at J-Bay can be viewed at www.billabongpro.com. Give men’s professional surfing a chance. I guarantee that after watching them rip that you will immediately want to jump in the Atlantic Ocean and catch some waves.

4. Beginning Thursday, the Jacksonville Suns are home for a four-game series against the Carolina Mudcats. It’s the perfect opportunity to see the Suns’ All-Stars. The club will send six players: pitchers Kasey Olenberger, Matt Peterson and Graham Taylor; catcher Brad Davis; outfielder Lorenzo Scott; and, shortstop Chris De La Cruz. If you attend a Suns game this week, be sure to stay hydrated because temperatures will be in the low 90s. Hydrated with water, not beer!

3. The World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) comes to Jacksonville this week. From Tuesday to Sunday, the world’s best Frisbee players display their talents at the Arlington-located Ed Austin Park. Competitions ranging from freestyle, accuracy, disc golf and distance throwing will be held. Admission is free.

2. The Tour de France began Saturday, July 4. The 96th edition of the race will end in less than three weeks on Sunday, July 26. Since American Lance Armstrong’s seven consecutive Tour de France titles (1999-2005), three different Spaniard cyclists have won cycling’s most recognizable race. As of Sunday, after two stages, Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara is the leader.

1. This Wednesday is the launch of The Jacksonville Observer Radio Show on ABC 1320 WBOB. Fellow Observer columnist Tom Patton will be the host of the show, which will air every Wednesday from 5-6 p.m. This week’s guest will be Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton. The call-in show will cover a range of topics from Jacksonville events to regional and national politics. Tune in to AM 1320 this Wednesday!

3 Responses »

  1. Great top ten. You had a lot to work with. Looking forward to the new radio show.
    Good luck.

  2. Fantastic roundup. Looking forward to hearing details about the race weekend in your Thursday column. I agree that the McNair story is sad and disheartening. Other successful NFL athletes can learn from his story. McNair had it made and it's just such a shame his success and retirement had to end so tragically.

  3. McNair made the mistake of looking for greener pastures, rather than being satisfied with his achievements and "Keeping His Life Simple"!