Smoke Signals

On the Field

Comeback of a Lifetime – Michael Vick

Ariel Kimmok

 Sports Editor

With sixteen games in the National Football League’s regular season schedule and thirty-four teams competing for a limited number of playoff berths, countless admirable stories emerge. Three seasons ago, the breathtaking New England Patriots sought to claim an undefeated record only to fall in the Super Bowl game against the underdog New York Giants. That epic story line was followed by the Cardinals shunning doubters and reaching the Super Bowl where they pulled one of the biggest upsets as they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-23 and it was only last February when the New Orleans Saints won their first championship ring ever against the Indiana Colts. This year, with the NFL postseason quickly approaching, the intriguing story is not who works their way into the championship match; it is about previously rejected-in-public Michael Vick.

Before he was once seen as a minor backup quarterback that no one held interest for, Vick was arrested for criminal acts of dog fighting where several dogs were set to kill one another and at times he killed the canines himself; he was arrested for 19 months. Once he was the NFL’s highest-paid player, but even his own family rejected him after his legal issues and in 2008 he declared bankruptcy.

Yet Vick has spoken out against the vile practice that put him in prison. He did so by traveling throughout schools where he informed the people about his terrible crimes. Teenagers became inspired by his testimony, but skeptics wondered if his heart was truly in what he had stated. Despite all the criminal protest and hateful feelings pointed at him, his level of play rose to outstanding levels. The same Vick that was spitted upon by the public for his criminal offenses is the same Vick that has an astounding stat line of 11 touchdown passes with no interceptions. Additionally, he leads the entire NFL with a passer rating at 108.7.

As he leads the Philadelphia Eagles to a current record of 7-3, he continues to draw the public eye’s interest whether it comes through support or condemnation. People speak of being internally conflicted about watching Vick; they hate his crime and love his game. Any fan knowledgeable about the sport understands the Vick paradox: One can not look away from his beauty on the field, but at the same time can not forget about his brutality pertaining to his felonies. But whatever misfortunate episodes exist in his past, Vick lives for the future and has set his criminal records aside to focus on leading the Philadelphia Eagles to the 2011 playoffs in February.

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Playing for a Second Chance

Ariel Kimmok

Sports Editor

Everyone knew twenty year-old Gary Neal could shoot a basketball straight and accurately, but not if he could keep his own life the same way. While he was at college, he and his roommate were on trial for sexual assault; according to the Associated Press, the victim accused the two of raping her when she was “immobile” due to the use of drugs and alcohol that Neal provided at a Halloween party.

Neal’s life was sent astray after this conflict. Although he was not charged for rape, he became notorious all over the local news, school campus, and even within his own family. Basketball was his life; it gave his mind security and the court was a place to resort to when distressed. But when his own college team no longer wanted any part of him, he decided to shoot for a miracle and enter the 2008 NBA Draft.

The event was “life-changing,” but not in the positive manner. Starting with the first pick being Derick Rose from Memphis University, Neal had to wait throughout the entire three hours to hope that his name would eventually be called; after fifty-eight more names were announced, Neal sat with nerve-wrecking anxiousness. The NBA only allows sixty picks in the annual draft and with fifty-nine already chosen, his future could either take a tremendous hit or he could move to stardom. To his demise, he was not selected as the last pick of the night, but the selection was a nineteen year-old Turkish athlete who never even played in the NBA up to this day.

After realizing that no one wanted to take him, Neal traveled overseas to play professionally in the European league. After a decent year, he finally had his life working out when an NBA team reached out to him; he received a call from the San Antonio Spurs Coach, Greg Popovich. Popovich spoke to Neal in a straightforward tone; he knew Neal could shoot, understood that great shooters could make a fantastic career in the NBA, and that the San Antonio Spurs could always use another marksman.

Three months later, Neal is now leading all NBA rookies in 3-point percentage and is a key rotation member for Popovich’s Spurs. The franchise is tied for first place in the Western Conference with the breakout New Orleans Hornets with a record of 9-1, ahead of 2010 champion Los Angeles Lakers. There is no doubt that Neal turning his life around is a significant contribution to the success.

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Misconduct of the NBA World

Ariel Kimmok

Sports Editor

“Play hard, play to win, play to enjoy.” This slogan defines ideal sports. This is most commonly observed when the losers congratulate the winners for achieving a well deserved victory. Even before games begin, athletes talk, laugh, and even take pictures with each other. But this trend of lighthearted sportsmanship is becoming infected by a growing habit of off-court misconduct by both fans and players within the NBA.

In recent news, Charlie Villanueva of the Detroit Pistons accused former MVP Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics of calling Villanueva a “cancer patient.” Garnett responded by denying the claim and correcting it by stating, “I would never be insensitive to the millions of individuals who fight cancer.” Instead, Garnett only stated, “[Villanueva is] cancerous to [Detroit] and to the rest of the NBA.” The big deal of the whole verbal conflict is not the content, but how it was exposed. Although Garnett may have crossed the line in terms of trash talking (a common feature of professional athletes) while the two played each other last week, Villanueva “broke the code” in going public by putting all the claims and accusations on the ever-expanding twitter. What happens on the court should stay on the court.

Furthermore, the fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers have completely insulted two-time MVP winner Lebron James of the Miami Heat with a disrespectful video*. James played seven seasons with the Cavaliers (team that drafted him originally in 2003) and he failed to bring the city its first sports championship. This past summer, he left the franchise to join another one, the Miami Heat. For the last four months, fans and even the owner of the Cavaliers sent bitter remarks and photos which often included his old jerseys being burned. The video that has been recently aired contains clips of an original Nike commercial that featured James, with scenes of angry fans contributing their own distasteful opinion.

What strikes me the most pertaining to this terrible behavior is that the NBA is only seven games into their season with the last being number eighty-two; thus we can assure that the current bitterness we see today would not be the last. Is this what the world of the NBA has come down to; players releasing their negative comments toward each other to the public and fans announcing their hatred towards a superstar that simply wanted to win? The NBA world has begun to transform to a drama channel where people are becoming more interested in the intensity of the conflicts and trifles rather than the actual beauty of the sport itself.

*http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvgD9HNTMkM&feature=player_embedded#!

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Turning Back the Clock
Ariel Kimmok

Sports Editor

Every professional athlete dreams of obtaining the goal of a championship. For the NFL, otherwise known as the National Football League, that dream is to win on the ultimate stage called the Super Bowl. Americans today tend to look at the NFL purely as a rough contact sport. Despite the immense level of physical brutality, athletes find the strength to get back up and continue competing. Such is the case for Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Brett Favre. Entering his 20th season of his career, Favre is the only grandfather within the entire association at 41-years old.

Nonetheless Favre fought the urge to retire last season following a disappointing postseason finish as his love for the game kept him around. Despite holding several outstanding records such as most career wins, most touchdown passes, and even the most yards passed, Favre has only won one Super Bowl in 1997. With the desire to repeat the emotions of ecstasy thirteen years ago, Favre leads the Vikings through another rigorous season.

However, the journey to earn a ticket into the next Super Bowl is not a simple breeze. Dealing with new teammates as trades occurred through the first six weeks, an arguing coaching staff with mixed clashing emotions, investigations by the NFL regarding sexual harassment, and the limitations that an aging body yields is not easy for Favre. Add in a subpar record of 3-5 with eight more games to play and the Vikings find themselves where the window of opportunity continues to shrink.

But not all hope is lost. With ten more games in the regular season with much of them against division opponents, the Vikings have a realistic chance to reach the postseason. Yet in order to do so, they would have to overcome several obstacles. In Favre’s case, he would have to bypass both physical and mental roadblocks. Following a controversial lost where Favre made several costly decisions on October 24th against the Packers; Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress stated that he would consider benching the star quarterback. In other words, Favre would not play in crucial game-changing moments.

With all the drama building up to this moment, the last two months is projected to be nothing less of an exciting finish. An aging lone grandfather in the NFL trying to make a final grand accomplishment, a bickering staff that seems to be against their greatest chance of entering the postseason, legal issues that continue to perplex and cause disruptions, and the burden of carrying an entire team along for the journey; this is the life of Quarterback Brett Favre. Surely one of the greatest sports stories of our generation, hopefully Favre would shock doubters and lead his team to his second Super Bowl championship. The next ten weeks and the postseason would determine all of this.

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Ariel Kimmok

Sports Editor

The National Basketball Association, otherwise known as the NBA, is home to the most prestigious tradition of basketball throughout the world. Mixed with a blend of aging fathers and youthful children fresh out of college, the NBA is the third most watched sport within America; within the popularity, an ongoing debate continues to unfold: who is the greatest NBA athlete ever to live?

Arguably the most unparalleled active performer is Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. His journey to stardom began when he came out of high school and into the NBA during the summer of 1996. 14 years later, Bryant is now regarded as the top player ever to play the game besides icon and retired legend Michael Jordan.

In order to pursue the title to overtake Jordan, Bryant would have to match or surpass Jordan’s six championships. Currently, he is approaching the twilight years of his career at 32 years-old and obtaining his goal would be no simple feat.

Coincidentally, he and Jordan share nearly-identical characteristics. Both are similar heights with Jordan being an inch taller, they share the same position of shooting guard, and they won all their championships under the same coach. Jordan has been known to be unsurpassed at offense and defense in his generation; Bryant is no different. He holds the title to the 2nd highest single scoring output ever by scoring 81 points, only behind a 100 point outing set almost five decades earlier.

Bryant’s quest to distinction did not come with ease. Two years ago in July of 2008, the Boston Celtics humiliated Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers by beating them in the last game of the NBA Finals by 39 stunning points. Starting the 08-09 season as the undisputed leader and voice of the franchise, Bryant and his Lakers used the embarrassing defeat as a motivating fuel. At the season’s end, he led his team to victory over the Orlando Magic in the Finals to claim his fourth championship ring.

Even with a fiery spirit and determined mind, Bryant’s next year was no walk in the park. After almost losing in the first round of the playoffs, he faced great adversity from his Western Conference rivals in the semifinals. After defeating them, he and the entire staff would meet the exact foes that crushed him in 2008, the Boston Celtics. Following an intense 7-game series against the Eastern Conference victors, the Lakers emerged victorious and Bryant earned his 5th NBA crown as well as his second Finals MVP award.

As the beginning of the next NBA season arrives with the opening night on October 26th, Bryant’s gaze for his 6th ring draws near. Surely as he approaches having one more ring than his right hand can wear, Jordan continues to bite his nails in nerve-wrecking worry as Bryant moves closer to assume the title of the greatest ever to wear a uniform.

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