Your weekly filter for the top sports stories around the South
1. What an interesting day for the Atlanta Falcons as they play their first home contest under new coach Bobby Petrino while Michael Vick pleads guilty to a federal charge in a Virginia courtroom. Jeff Schultz of the AJC details how we could be seeing the past and future of the franchise overlapping on the same day. There are so many issues to address in the Vick saga which has to be one of the biggest downfalls in sports history.
2. What should have been the most publicized sports story in Georgia happened in Pennsylvania on Sunday when the kids from Warner Robins won the Peachtree State’s second consecutive Little League World Series title. It was a great finish as 12-year old Dalton Carriker lived out every boy’s dream when he hit the game-winning homer in extra innings to propel Georgia over Japan. One of the best scenes of the year was after the celebration when the Warner Robins’ players went over and hugged the distraught Japanese team in a great display of sportsmanship. Our region definitely has a team to be proud of not only their baseball accomplishment, but for their character as well.
3. College football kicks off this week, and we all know what that means here in our Swampland footprint. One of the constant debates that arises among fans each season is whose team plays in the tougher conference or region of the country. One game that made the SEC proud last year was the Tennessee Volunteers blew out the Pac-10’s Cal Bears in Knoxville. The rematch will take place Saturday night in California, and the Bears have been waiting all offseason for their revenge. Believe me; these two teams are not just playing for their school this Saturday, but for the pride of their entire region.
4. An era will come to an end at the conclusion of this football season when the Miami Hurricanes leave the Orange Bowl to play their home games at Dolphin Stadium in 2008. With all of the big wins and great players that have called the Orange Bowl home, it’s hard to imagine “The U” playing anywhere else. Mike Bianchi says the move is no big deal, and that ‘Canes won all those games because of their superior players, not the home field. While I understand the desire for better facilities, it still seems like the old Orange Bowl fit the ‘Canes program and that chip they always seemed to have their shoulder. I know some fans will enjoy a nicer building, but I believe many of them will miss the mystique of their former home.
However, the Hurricanes' move may end up opening a door for the Florida Marlins. Funds slated for renovating the Orange Bowl can now be re-directed to make up for the short fall in funding for a downtown Miami baseball park. This development could make losing the Hurricanes far less painful.
5. One of the South’s biggest happenings took place Saturday night with the running of the Sharpie 500 in Bristol, Tennessee. Ed Hinton details the spectacle and success that has become the night race at Bristol, as over 160,000 fans pack the stands each year. It was quite the break from the tradition of only running on Sunday afternoons when Bristol had its first night race in 1978. The annual event is often referred to as the "the toughest ticket in NASCAR", and it makes you wonder why some of the newer tracks didn’t build something similar to the popular half-mile oval. Race winner Carl Edwards showed his respect for Bristol by calling the win, “the biggest of his career”. Still, changes in Bristol have tamed the race leading some to continue to pose the question, "Will NASCAR ever honor its Southern roots as it tries so hard to go mainstream?"
6. The Houston Astros fired manger Phil Garner and GM Tim Purpura less than two seasons after the team made its only World Series appearance. Richard Justice says the decisions were necessary, and I agree as the franchise seems to be losing their identity in Houston and the confidence of the fans. After winning the 2005 National League Pennant, the Astros looked primed to take over the city as the lead professional team ahead of the mediocre Rockets and the irrelevant Texans. With no Biggio, Bagwell or Clemens in their future, owner Drayton McLane must make quality hires and decide what direction the Astros will follow to insure that his franchise remains popular in Texas’ largest city.