Calling all bandwagons! Calling all bandwagons! Last call!

If you’re a bandwagon fan (you know who you are), now’s your last chance to make a choice. But choose wisely. You don’t want to choose to suddenly become a “longtime supporter” of one of the four remaining NFL teams only to see them stumble one game short of the Super Bowl.

If you wait until the Super Bowl, you miss out on the two-week hype-fest. If you wait until after the Super Bowl, well, that’s just pathetic. To be a bandwagon fan, you’re OK with sacrificing a lot of your loyalty and self-respect, but if you care to salvage whatever bit you have left, you have to make a choice now. So, which bandwagon should you latch on to? Here’s my guide for you, the lowly bandwagon fan. (2007 Patriots AFC Championship shirts sold separately.)

Pittsburgh Steelers
I live in Pennsylvania, so I know all about the Keystone state’s bandwagon fans. And boy do they love the Steelers, especially when they’re winning. Just let them tell you about their love of the Steelers. Or don’t ask. They’ll probably tell you anyway.

Does the prospect of cheering for someone named Big Ben excite you? If you can’t spell his last name, that’s OK. If you don’t know what college he played at, hear someone say “Miami,” and think it’d be cool to cheer for someone from The U, then Big Ben and the Steelers are a perfect bandwagon pick.

Want to cheer for someone because of their long-flowing mane? You’ve got Troy Poly-pola…oh well, you can just call all your players by their first names! Ben, Troy, Willie. Yeah, it’s like you’re all buddies hanging out together.

Plus, you play in a field named after a ketchup company. That has to whet your appetite as a bandwagon fan. And guess what? You have a receiver named Hines, too! OK, so it’s spelled differently and there’s really no correlation whatsoever, but Hines at Heinz sounds cool! Maybe you should buy his jersey at Wal-Mart!

Philadelphia Eagles
The team from the eastern part of the state is not quite as popular where I live, but do they ever have a bandwagon buy-in for you?! Beards. Playoff beards are the craze in Philadelphia. So join in the fun and stop shaving. Or, if you’re like me and unable to grow a beard on command, buy a fake beard.

Get a Santa Claus beard while you’re at it. Wait, scratch that idea. The Eagles fans once booed Santa Claus—even though their current coach is resembling him more and more by the day. But a regular beard will make you as much a part of the team as caveman Kevin Curtis. If you’ve never heard of Kevin Curtis, you’re a perfect candidate to hop aboard the Eagles bandwagon.

For what it’s worth, they’re being labeled as “this year’s Giants,” the team that won the Super Bowl last year. Of course, they could also face the fate of this year’s Giants and lose an upset to an unsuspecting bird of prey.

Arizona Cardinals
Well, I actually don’t know if the Cardinals are birds of prey. But they’re birds of pray(er) led by the religious and revived ageless Kurt Warner. You may even have hopped on his bandwagon before with the 1999 St. Louis Rams.

I’ve maintained for years now that the Cardinals have the smallest national following. As recently as a few months ago, I was asking my brother if he knew a single Cardinals fan. Neither one of us could do so. It may be the only team that I don’t know a single fan of.

Be a part of history and join the Cardinals bandwagon. Plenty of good seats are still available. As an added bonus, they’re the only team left playing in a warm-weather city. So, if you really want to go all-out as a bandwagon and move to follow them, at least you’ll be living in the warmth of Phoenix when they sink back into NFL obscurity.

Baltimore Ravens
If you have any Cleveland Browns fans as friends, I advise you to stay away from this bandwagon choice. The prospect of the Ravens winning a second Super Bowl before the Browns ever play in one is painful even for me, a diehard Raiders fan.

But if you don’t have any Cleveland tie-ins, you may want to invest in becoming a Ravens fan. Whether you’re a fan of Edgar Allen Poe, the color purple or uninventive offense, the Ravens have you covered.

The Ravens are great for bandwagon fans because you’re not supposed to know the names of their offensive players. They’re just there to keep the field warm for the defense. And since bandwagon fans are already a demographic that is not looked upon fondly by diehards around the league, you’ll have no problem becoming the instant rival of two fanbases—Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Bandwagon fans of the NFL, the options are there for the taking. As for me, you may have already heard my picks on the podcast earlier this week. If not, here’s who I’m taking in the championship games

Pittsburgh over Baltimore
Philadelphia over Arizona

Yes, I’m forecasting an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl. But don’t worry, you won’t find me riding either one of those bandwagons. Nope, I’m staying out of it and just hoping for close, competitive games the rest of the way.

(OK, and maybe nudging the Cardinals bandwagon just a bit to keep it’s unlikely wheels a-turnin’.

Matt’s 2009 NFL Playoff Predictions Tally
Overall: 5-3

For more information, visit

Reviewing Lakers-Spurs from 1/14/09

A moral victory. A good loss. Generally, I don’t buy into those ideas. But I really don’t know how else to classify this game. The Lakers were playing the second game of a back-to-back Texas-double-dip in San Antonio. It was the Spurs’ first game against the hated Lakers since L.A. knocked them out of the Western Conference Finals last year. And the Lakers were suiting up without Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton. Plus, the Lakers had upcoming showcase games against Orlando and Cleveland.

All the ingredients were in place for a blowout. But Kobe Bryant and company had other ideas.

After falling behind by 11 points in the fourth quarter, Bryant spearheaded a comeback effort that saw the Lakers take the lead. Josh Powell—this year’s Ronny Turiaf—even contributed in a big way, nailing three fourth quarter jumpers when Bryant was double-teamed on the pick ‘n roll.

Then, after Tim Duncan scored on a ridiculous flip shot to give the Spurs a one-point advantage, Kobe drained what appeared to be a dagger three, prompting him to break out the Sam Cassell testicle dance. Unreal.

There was still time on the clock, however. The Spurs found Roger Mason Jr. in the corner when Derek Fisher unsuccessfully gambled for a steal. Mason hit the shot and caught the body of an out-of-position Fisher, to earn a bonus free throw that put San Antonio up by one.

The Lakers brought the ball up for a final possession with 10 seconds remaining. Kobe was again double-teamed and passed to Trevor Ariza at the top of the key. As he drove, he was bumped by Manu Ginobli, who was trying to rotate to take a charge. The bump affected Ariza’s footing and he was called for a travel, effectively ending the game and securing a 112-111 win for San Antonio.

It was incredibly frustrating to watch the final play sequences as a Lakers fan, but I came away form this game feeling more encouraged than disappointed. Their were plenty of plays that, had they gone the other way, would have won the game for the Lakers, including a silly foul by Ariza at the end of the first quarter and a buzzer-beating three from Ginobli to end the third.

It was a big win for the Spurs, no doubt. But the Lakers have plenty to feel good about, too:

  • Kobe Bryant is playing the game better than ever.
    He’s not the athlete he was when he teamed with Shaq to win three titles, but this Kobe is better. He’s still a world-class athlete, but he’s also mastered the subtleties of the game in a way no one since Jordan has. He knows how to pick his spots offensively. He knows how to get his teammates involved and make them better. And he is a tireless, ferocious defender with infectious tenacity.

  • Their depth is a blessing.
    The good news about all the Lakers injuries is that they have such a capable bench. They essentially played the Spurs with just two guards—Bryant and Fisher. The versatility of players like Ariza and Lamar Odom allows them to adapt as well as any team in the NBA. This game also had to boost the confidence of Josh Powell, the new guy in the Lakers locker room this season. He’ll surely be called upon at some point in May or June, and this game will be one that gives him confidence to play those big minutes.

  • Bynum is progressing.
    He’s not Dwight Howard, but he’s not Greg Oden either. Bynum is coming back from last year’s injury-shortened season, and he’s making a difference. He went toe-to-toe with Tim Duncan for parts of this game, and the young fella held his own. He could have done more on the boards, but his defense definitely seemed to bother Duncan.

  • They showed some heart.
    With everything stacked against them, it would have been easy for the Lakers to have mailed this one in after they fell behind in the fourth quarter with both Bryant and Pau Gasol on the bench. Instead, they mounted an impressive comeback with textbook offensive execution and some timely stops on defense. That sort of fourth quarter execution sans the final two plays is what will win games in the playoffs.

I cannot say with absolute certainty that the Lakers are the best team in the league, but they are in the conversation. I do believe they have the most talented roster. And if they’re able to give this effort in the playoffs, watch out.

At full strength, it’s hard to imagine them not winning this game. So, congratulations to the Spurs for winning what I would call the most entertaining game of the NBA season so far. Getting Fisher on the losing-end of a close call in San Antonio was probably poetic justice. But the Spurs are still chasing the Lakers in the standings, and I like L.A.’s chances of remaining the best in the West this season.

For more information, visit

AFC West Sound Off Response

With the Chargers’ loss on Sunday, the season is over for the AFC West. But Bill Williamson’s AFC West blog forges ahead. As always, Bill had a “Sound Off” question of the week. This time he asked if the Denver Broncos made the right hire by naming Josh McDaniels head coach. To read my thoughts and the responses of others, check out the full post on

For more information, visit

Finally, Something Good Comes From the BCS

This year’s college football season got off to a bad start for me when Michigan lost its home opener to Utah. Of course, I had no idea back then that Utah would finish the season undefeated and Michigan would win just three games. Fortunately for me, there was a good ending to the season, in part thanks to Utah.

In Erie Times-News columnist Duane Rankin’s BCS challenge, I correctly predicted Utah would defeat Alabama. I also picked USC, Texas, Virginia Tech and Florida to give me a 5-0 mark and the win.

Rankin wrote a column about my “historic” undefeated run through the BCS, which ran today in the sports section of the Erie Times-News and on

Here’s some of what Rankin wrote:

Matt Hubert made history.

He’s the first to go 5-0 in my Bowl Championship Series bowl contest.

Considering he’s a Michigan fan, this was likely the best news he had all college football season, but you have to give the 24-year-old Erie resident credit.

Out of the 35 contest entrants, Hubert and Jeff Taylor, 49, of Millcreek Township, entered the BCS title game with 4-0 records.

Hubert picked Florida. Taylor went with Oklahoma.

Florida won 24-14.

Taylor figured Oklahoma was done when it failed to score twice from the goal line in the first half.

As for Hubert, Tim Tebow is why he picked the Gators.

Hubert should send Tebow a thank-you card. The Florida junior quarterback threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 109 yards.

So for making history, Hubert won a Michigan T-shirt, a calendar that plays the school’s fight song and a 2007 Michigan-Penn State game program from when the Wolverines beat the Nittany Lions in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Congratulations, Matt.

Thanks, Duane. Now I’m just hoping Michigan can get back to its winning ways in ’09 so my bowl-picking success isn’t the highlight of another college football season.

For more information, visit

AFC West Story of the Week

It’s a busy time of year in the sports world, and you can tell it’s rubbing off on me. Three posts in one night! The hat trick comes, once again, by virtue of my thoughts being included on Bill Williamson’s AFC West blog. This time I’m weighing in on the AFC West story of the week, which I believe was the Chargers playoff win over the Colts.

For more information, visit

2009 NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview

I didn’t write a column with last weekend’s wild card round picks. It was right after the holidays. I was in a time crunch. Blah blah blah. Anyway, I didn’t write a column, but I posted my usual playoff picks, and I went 3-1.

By not thinking (and writing) too much, I didn’t talk myself into any bad picks. The only game I missed was the Chargers-Colts battle, and that game was the closest of them all, eventually being settled in overtime in favor of San Diego thanks to career nights for backup running back Darren Sproies and punter Mike Scifres.

So, after the silent treatment was successful, I’m doing the obvious—completely abandoning that winning strategy and writing a picks column for the divisional round. I’m feeling good after winning Erie Times-News sports columnist Duane Rankin’s BCS challenge with a clean sweep, 5-0, of the big college bowl games. Now it’s time for me to go pro with the picks for this weekend.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Tennessee Titans
The first team to 10 may very well win this game. These teams play similar grind-it-out styles that depend on their defenses and running games. The primary contrast comes at quarterback. The Ravens will play rookie Joe Flacco. The Titans will start 36-year-old veteran Kerry Collins, whose first playoff start came Jan. 5, 1997. Flacco was 11 years old. Collins hasn’t exactly had a Hall of Fame career, but I think his wisdom and Flacco’s inexperience will be the difference in this one.

My pick: Tennessee 13, Baltimore 3

Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers
This game looks to be the biggest mismatch of the weekend. Carolina was 8-0 at home this season, and Arizona was just 3-5 on the road. Plus, the Cardinals may be without Anquan Boldin, allowing the Panthers to put extra attention on Larry Fitzgerald. Expect Kurt Warner to keep it close for a half, but then the Panthers’ will pull away to win going away.

My pick: Carolina 34, Arizona 17

Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants
Last year, the Giants were in the Eagles’ role, heading to Dallas for a divisional round matchup on the road as an underdog. So the Giants won’t be blindsided by Donovan McNabb and company. But they also won’t be fully equipped to beat them. The absence of Plaxico Burress hurt the Giants down the stretch this season, and it will hurt against the Eagles. Their Earth, Wind & Fire running game of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw should be effective. But with Eli Manning lacking Burress as a deep threat, the passing attack is limited—something that the Eagles’ aggressive blitz scheme should be able to exploit.

My pick: Philadelphia 27, New York 24

San Diego Chargers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
For the second week in a row, the Chargers game looks like the toughest one to pick. My thoughts on this one, re-printed below, were also included on Bill Williamson’s AFC West blog.

Records are irrelevant in the playoffs, so it doesn’t matter that the Chargers are 9-8 and the Steelers are 12-4. Things that do matter? Defense (advantage Steelers, number one in the league). Peaking at the right time (advantage Chargers, winners of five in a row). Injuries (Call it even between Tomlinson?s groin and Roethlisberger?s head). This game has all the makings of a slugfest much like the 11-10 result from earlier this season. And in the past three seasons, the Super Bowl winner has not had a first round bye. While that bodes well for San Diego, no one has been more battle-tested this year than the Steelers. Their rigorous schedule should have them well-prepared for the grind of playoff football. Polamalu picks off Rivers late to seal the deal.

My pick: Steelers 20, Chargers 13.

Matt’s 2009 NFL Playoff Predictions Tally
Overall: 3-1

For more information, visit

A Difference in Coaching Styles

There’s a very interesting post up on Forum Blue & Gold right now about lessons in losing. Specifically, it talks about the differences in the way that Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers have handled the rough patches their teams have endured early this season.

Many fans—myself included—often get on Jackson and the Lakers for seemingly not bringing it every night and playing down to the level of their competition. Similarly, Rivers’ Celtics—since acquiring Kevin Garnett—have been routinely praised for giving maximum effort at all times, as if every game determined the NBA champion.

The Celtics’ model, and Garnett in particular, is a high school coach’s dream. The idea of giving 100 percent effort is a good thing. However, the practice of it may be problematic. The Celtics played more than 100 games last year. Their core of players is not young by NBA standards and they lost key contributors from last year’s team including James Posey and P.J. Brown. So, it’s only natural that giving the same continous all-out effort game after game would leave them even more drained this season.

Their recent losing skid, which has seen them drop six of their last eight games, is drawing a lot of attention. But it’s not a phenomenal event. Winning 27 of their first 29 was the phenomenal thing. They were playing above their talent, and now they’ve dropped to earth. Their goal of winning the NBA title remains very much a possibility.

But in order for that to happen, Rivers is going to have to find a way to refocus his team. They are not the ’96 Bulls. Seventy wins isn’t happening. They may hit 60, but that’s irrelevant. The goal is to be playing your best in May and June. Boston better hope that they didn’t already peak in November and December.

I felt the need to comment on the subject, but I don’t want to steal its thunder. It’s an excellent post, especially if you’re a Lakers fan who agonizes over the occasional loss to Sacramento. Read it. It will make you feel a lot better about the whole situation in Lakerland.

For more information, visit

The SEC Owns the BCS

Tim Tebow against Sam Bradford. Urban Meyer vs. Bob Stoops. The SEC against the Big 12. Florida vs. Oklahoma. This year’s BCS National Championship is loaded with intriguing storylines, but the most interesting may be the SEC’s domination of the BCS.

If Florida beats Oklahoma (and they are favored to do so), the Gators will win their second BCS National Championship in three years. It would also make the SEC a perfect 5-0 in the title game since the BCS originated in 1998. Tennessee won that first year. LSU won in 2003 and again last year. And Florida won in 2006.

How good has the SEC been? At 4-0, they aren’t just the best conference in the BCS era—they’re dominant. No other conference has won more than two BCS National Championships and. No other conference even has a winning record in the big game. The Pac-10 is closest at 1-1 thanks to USC.

Here’s the breakdown:

BCS National Championship Success
SEC: 4-0
Pac-10: 1-1
Big 12: 2-3
ACC: 1-2
Big East: 1-2
Big Ten: 1-2

Not that Oklahoma needs any added incentive. They represent the Big 12, and will play in a record fourth BCS National Championship. However, they are just 1-2 in the big game under Coach Stoops.

And conference success on the big stage means more than just bragging rights. It means more media attention. It means a boost in recruiting. And, if everyone plays their cards right, it breeds more success. The SEC’s Georgia Bulldogs began the season as the nation’s top team. Alabama, also of the SEC held the #1 ranking for several weeks. Florida now holds that spot and looks to finish the season on top.

Win or lose, the Gators will be among the top teams again next year along with several other SEC schools. The SEC is 4-2 in the ’08-’09 bowl season heading into the finale. The one loss that sticks out came against an opponent from the Mountain West conference. How come they never get a shot at the BCS?

But until the little guy gets a shot or a playoff system is instituted, the big bad SEC is going to remain king. Tonight, expect plenty of offense from both sides. But in the end, Tebow and the team speed of the Gators is too much for the Sooners.

Florida 42, Oklahoma 35 is the pick.

For more information, visit