Tuesday, January 1, 2008

FROM MY SEAT: In Which A Sports Scribe Predicts the Future

Posted By on Tue, Jan 1, 2008 at 4:00 AM

I'm about as good at predicting sporting events as I am at dunking a basketball. (You should see me at preschool playgrounds.) So I'm getting this out of the way nice and early. You need a few things to watch for in 2008? Read on.

• The New England Patriots will win the Super Bowl, and officially become the New York Yankees of the National Football League. Okay, I started with an easy one. But Bill Belichick's juggernaut has become too good to stomach. Whether or not they cheated in filming their opponents, they are to pro football what Microsoft is to the computer industry. Necessary, I suppose, but hard to cheer.

• Dale Earnhardt Jr. will win the Daytona 500. In joining the Patriots of NASCAR (Hendrick Motorsports), Junior now has the same resources (read: financial backing) that 2007 Nextel Cup champ Jimmie Johnson and four-time champ Jeff Gordon enjoy. As popular as stock-car racing has become, it needs its most popular driver to be in the headlines for stories other than family squabbles. Think there won't be some tears in the infield if Junior can win the race where his daddy died seven years earlier?

• The Memphis Tigers will return to the Final Four! That's the good news. The 2007-08 Tigers are too deep, with too much defense and scoring options to fall shy of a top seed in the NCAA tournament, which will punch their ticket to San Antonio. Alas, the Tigers will not cut down the nets. Their Achilles heel? You've heard it before: free-throw shooting. Gonna cost them.

• At least one prominent major-league baseball player -- one NOT named in the Mitchell Report -- will be suspended before the 2008 All-Star break. If I've learned anything from observing professional baseball players over the last 30 years, it's that they never learn.

• The Memphis Redbirds will win at least 60 games. This is hardly a stretch, you might say, considering they play more than 140. But considering our Triple-A outfit has managed but 58 and 56 victories the last two seasons, five dozen wins would be a step in the right direction. I get the impression the culture of the St. Louis Cardinals' farm system will transform under the watch of new general manager John Mozeliak.

• Roger Federer will break through and (finally) win the French Open, thanks to a pre-final upset of his nemesis, Rafal Nadal. But the mighty Federer will NOT win his sixth consecutive Wimbledon title. Nadal gains a measure of revenge.

• Pau Gasol will not be a Memphis Grizzly on Opening Night of the 2008-09 season. Whether or not Gasol is moved before this season's trade deadline, I can't say (odds: 50-50). But it's growing clear that our local NBA club is Rudy Gay's team. Having not won a playoff game in what will be seven years with Gasol, and with Gasol still an attractive trade chip for the many teams needing a scoring touch down low, Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace will make the move so many disgruntled Grizzlies fans have called for.

• The football-stadium debate will die with a whimper. The Tigers can't sell 40,000 tickets unless Ole Miss or Tennessee is in town. The Liberty Bowl contest thrives in its current home. As does the Southern Heritage Classic. The Pyramid, folks, is a dust-gathering asset that the city needs to address, and soon. Comparatively speaking, the old home of the football Tigers simply ain't broke. And without community-wide support (read: tax dollars) to support an improvement, it's not getting "fixed."

Happy New Year everybody.

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