2008 Year-End Sports Review: What We Think Might Happen

It’s time to look ahead to 2009 and play a little Nostradamus.

Last year, we predicted that God would anoint the “Devil-free” Rays World Series Champions (ding!), that Brett Favre would play another year or two (ding! – sort of), that Isiah Thomas would be canned (ding!), and that Kobe would be playing for a new team by the trade deadline…

Granted, that last one didn’t come true, but how were we supposed to know that the Grizzlies would trade Pau Gasol to the Lakers for an unproven rookie and a bag of peanuts? Our occasional inaccuracy isn’t going to keep us from rolling out another set of predictions – some serious and some farcical – for 2009 and beyond, including President Obama’s plan for a college football playoff, Donovan McNabb’s new home and the baseball club most likely to be 2009’s version of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Read on, and in a year, we guarantee* you’ll be amazed.

*This is not an actual guarantee, mind you.

Don’t miss the other two parts of our 2008 Year-End Sports Review: “What We Learned” and “What We Already Knew.”

Michael Vick will play for the Oakland Raiders next season.

Once NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell allows suspended quarterback Michael Vick to re-enter the league, let’s be honest, there’s really only one team that will take a shot on the convict: the Oakland Raiders. Sure, the Raiders would have to possibly give up a draft pick because Vick will still technically be property of the Falcons, but with Matt Ryan on board, Atlanta would probably be willing to give Mikey up for a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos…snack size. With Vick on board, JaMarcus Russell could shift to tight end or full back or offensive tackle or something. Or, Vick could play wide receiver! Or running back! Think of the possibilities! The Oakland Raiders will be the most unstoppable team in the league! That is, of course, until Vick gets the itch for his old hobby. – Anthony Stalter

The Nationals and Pirates become the official AAAA teams of their respective divisions.

After finishing at or near the bottom of the division since the franchise’s move from Montreal, Major League Baseball executives analyze the entire Washington Nationals player system and conclude that they have no chance of fielding a competitive team in the near future. In the boldest decision of his tenure, Commissioner Bud Selig demotes the team’s Major League roster to AAAA status, a phrase long used by baseball personnel to describe players that are too good for the minors but not good enough for the majors. In an added twist, Selig designates that the team’s assets are fair game for all four remaining teams in the National League East, as a means of creating parity. In order to keep the number of teams even in each league, Selig also downgrades the Pittsburgh Pirates, losers of 94 or more games since 2005, to AAAA status as well. It will be six weeks into the regular season before an NL East team claims any of these former Pirates or Nationals. – David Medsker

Barack Obama will have a plan in place for a college football playoff by 2016.

He has already spoken out twice in favor of an eight-team playoff format for college football. Granted, there are more pressing concerns for the President-elect – the economy, the war in Iraq and a forward-thinking energy policy, just to name a few – but there’s no reason that Obama can’t appoint a “Playoff Czar” to get the conference presidents and the bowl organizers together to hash out a system that works for everyone. Are the bowls worried about losing money? Rotate the semifinals and the final amongst the four bowl cities. Are the conferences worried about losing money? They shouldn’t be – the ratings for an eight-team playoff would dwarf the ratings the current system is getting. And better ratings means more money. This is something that 85%-90% of the population can agree on, and that doesn’t happen often. Mark our words – President Obama will make it happen, especially if he gets a second term. – John Paulsen

Read the rest after the jump...

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Will James Blake ever win a Grand Slam?

A recent Deuce Magazine article takes a close look at the career of James Blake. He’s been America’s second-ranked male tennis player for the past seven years. However, he’s yet to win a Grand Slam. In the piece, Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal critique Blake’s game, as well as offer insight as to why he hasn’t taken it to the next level.

What’s always been tricky in that department is Blake’s playing style. Blake’s A-game is a sizzling set of big forehands, aggressive returns, extraordinary movement and enough shotmaking for tons of highlight reels. Few players in the past 20 years have better personified the notion of a dangerous player. Watch Blake versus the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and you’ll see a man extremely capable of going toe-to-toe with giants. As Nadal said earlier this year after earning his first win over Blake in four tries at the ATP Masters Series event in Indian Wells, “He’s a very difficult player for me to play against… very aggressive player all the time.”

Though Blake is pleased with the consistency of his play in 2008 – he’s maintained a Top 10 ranking all year – there have also been some beguiling losses, including a five-setter in the second round of Wimbledon versus Rainer Schuettler and defeats in finals to first-time winners Kei Nishikori and Marcel Granollers. “This year’s been a little strange,” says Blake. “I’ve had some ups and downs.”

It’s astonishing that Blake used to dominate Nadal a few years back. He also beat Federer in Beijing before a heart-breaking loss to Fernando Gonzalez, which would have at least guaranteed him a bronze medal. At 29 years-old, Blake’s years are numbered on the ATP Tour. Hopefully both he and Andy Roddick will be prepared for the Australian Open in January. As another year goes by without a dominant male American player, one begins to wonder if legends such as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Pete Sampras were just Europeans with really good Yankee accents.

Reign Man: Federer beats Murray for 5th straight U.S. Open title

No matter what was said or written about his recent play, Roger Federer knew he had one more chance to salvage a disappointing season. After missed opportunities in the French Open and Wimbledon finals, Federer easily defeated Andy Murray 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 on Monday evening to win his fifth consecutive U.S. Open Championship.

Murray didn’t feel fatigue contributed to his straight set defeat. Instead, he felt his defense stance behind the baseline was no match for Federer’s offensive game. And the final numbers do not lie about his dominance in every facet of this final. Federer accumulated a 36-16 advantage in winning shots, a 7-2 lead in service breaks, and winning a point on 31 of 44 trips to the net.

Murray had less than 24 hours to prepare for the men’s finals after defeating the World’s #1 player Rafael Nadal in a rain-interrupted semifinal that concluded late Sunday afternoon.

Federer became the first man since Bill Tilden in the 1920’s to win this tournament five times in a row. He also upped his Grand Slam tally to 13, which puts Federer one behind the men’s record holder Pete Sampras.

Where have all the great American male tennis players gone?

It’s no great revelation that America’s top male players are not really considered a threat to win any of the Grand Slams. When it comes to tournament play, quality U.S. players are a dying breed, and the numbers do not lie. With no American in the U.S. Open men’s semi-finals this weekend, it will be the 16th straight Grand Slam event without a U.S. men’s winner.

Andy Roddick has become the poster boy of U.S. tennis in the post-Sampras and Agassi era. Is he bitter? Hardly, Roddick has found some solace in trying to lead the Americans with his meat and potatoes power game against the sophisticated style that has dominated tennis for years. And he holds the claim of being the last U.S. winner of a Grand Slam event; he won the 2003 U.S. Open final.

James Blake has been somewhat of a disappointment on the men’s tour. He is often noted for his athleticism, which many believe should enable him to win a Grand Slam. Instead, he plants himself on the end line and tries to become a straight-ahead basher, which just negates his speed.

It’s not only that the U.S. contenders have retired or currently slumping, but the pipeline of potential tennis stars is as thin as ever. A quick glance at the top ten players at the 16-17 years old level and you will not see an American name on the list.

There was a time when pro tennis players came from one of three global regions, Australia, Western Europe, or the United States. Today, the top two men’s singles players are a Spaniard (Rafael Nadal) and a Swiss (Roger Federer).

Tennis has grown everywhere else on the globe except in the United States. Many in tennis feel youngsters have shied away from the sport due to the popularity of action sports (skateboarding or other X Game-style events) in American culture. Tennis fans anticipated the drop-off of American players in the sport because of the lack of depth produced by the U.S. tennis academies. If the U.S. hopes to produce more male champions, that’s where it’s going to happen.

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