World Cup Soccer: Interesting Equipment

With the World Cup just around the corner, people are beginning to talk more about what will be going on and the new updates to the game. 

One aspect that is getting a lot of attention is the new ball that will be used.  Called the ‘Jabulani’, which means “to celebrate” in Bantu, it’s made by Adidas.  The ball is made like no other ball currently available.  Unlike previous balls, it’s made of synthetic materials and not leather.  It’s made up of 8 panels instead of the normal 14 and is held together by thermally bonding the panels instead of using stitching.  This construction process creates the roundest and truest ball that’s ever been used in the World Cup games.  The fewer amount of seams also make for a larger striking surface, allowing shooters to hit the ball harder and more accurately.  The bonding process also reduces drag and improves the ball’s flight path.

These features make the ball faster than ever, something which should excite the fans, as it promises to make for higher scoring games.  However, goalies aren’t as happy.  One United States goalie says that the ball’s construction makes it very unpredictable in flight, almost like a baseball pitcher’s knuckleball, and thinks that the teams should decide which ball should be used, not the commission that makes these decisions.

Adidas is also outfitting a few teams with some seriously innovative uniforms that promise to improve the player’s agility.  The jersey’s are called TECHFIT, and utilize specially-placed bands that are meant to improve speed, jumping ability, and reduce fatigue.  Apparently the bands minimize muscle vibrations, making these impressive pronouncements possible.  I suppose we’ll see how well they work when the teams step onto the field.

The World Cup begins June 11.

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A Hit and Miss Affair

As some of you may know, the Paralympics are going on in Vancouver right now and a man who has been mentioned here before is in the news again.  Brian McKeever, the blind cross-country skier, is now being asked questions about his upcoming event, the 12.5 kilometer biathlon. “Blind Biathlon is kind of an oxymoron, isn’t it?” said McKeever when asked.  He reportedly laughed the first time he was asked to consider competing in the event that requires a lot of cross-country skiing, but also a steady aim as they shoot rifles at targets as well.

While this may not seem possible for a blind person to accomplish, equipment has been developed to aid blind shooters.  When they arrive at their shooting station, they put on a headset that’s connected to a computer system.  Their rifle is equipped with an infrared sight.  As the infrared beam gets closer to the target, they hear a beeping noise in their headphones that increases in both frequency and pitch as their aim nears the center of the target.  If they’re aiming too far right, the beeping will come through their left headphone, instructing them to adjust in that direction.  McKeever says that regular hand eye coordination is a must for rifle shooting.  But being blind, he must rely on ear hand coordination, something that people just aren’t used to doing.

With plenty of practice and his ability to make up any loss of time or points with his incredible skiing prowess, McKeever should do well in the event.  He’s already won a gold medal for Canada in the 20 kilometer cross-country skiing race.

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Feature Writer Romeo Edmead – Adaptive Version of Cricket in US

In the United States where sports play an immense role in society, cricket does not receive the same attention as other sports like football and basketball. So the idea of an adaptive version of cricket for the blind on American soil would require a much further stretch of the imagination. However, England’s Cricket for Change Charity, which runs the largest cricket program on the planet for disabled players, has sky high expectations for the game’s potential. The charity hopes to have the U.S. completely involved in the blind cricket community by May, so ambassador Andy Dalby-Welsh came to New York.
Dalby-Welsh, who has been blind for the past 11 years, played for his native England in the 2002 and 2006 Blind Cricket World Cup in India and Pakistan. For the past 2 years he has traveled to countries in Africa and the Caribbean in order to expand the game. “I love it,” says Dalby-Welsh. “It completely changed my life. I want to give people the opportunity I’ve had in this game.” A stop on his New York excursion sent him to a cricket club in Brooklyn for a demonstration. The game of course, is a variation of the version sighted competitors play. Bowling, which is baseball’s equivalent of a pitch, is done underhand as opposed to the typical overhand one bounce delivery. The ball is the same size as a regular cricket ball and just about as hard, but it’s the ball bearings inside that produce a sound when the ball moves. Before rolling the ball toward the batsman, the bowler must yell, “Are you ready?” to which a batsmen must reply, “Yes.”  Despite the fact that everyone is legally blind, blindness is particularly categorized for this sport. B1 for totally blind, B2 for partially blind and B3 for strong visual impairment. In order to field a team it is necessary to have three B2s, four B1s, and four B2s. Totally blind players are taken to their positions and back-up runners do the running for them.
With the assistance of the USA Cricket Association (USACA), Cricket for Change hopes to discover and develop approximately 20 U.S. players. They ultimately wish that their efforts would culminate in a U.S. Blind Cricket World Cup entry. If that comes to fruition, America will join Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies for the show-down. The tentative date is June 2011 in the UK, and USACA Rep Clifford Hinds says, “We’re confident of starting in New York, and that it can grow quickly – very quickly.” Cricket for change shares Hind’s enthusiasm, especially when they consider the fact that the game has made it in some third world countries. The charity’s program director Andy Sellins said, “it could be the best in the world.”

Blind Baseball Fan Hits Homerun with Website Accessibility

Brian Charlson is a big Red Sox fan. He loves going to the games and listening to the play by play when he can’t make them. Accessing the stats, however, proved to be very difficult for him due to his blindness. Now, having been urged by Brian and blindness advocates, this week the MLB has added accessibility options to all of its websites in order to make the information entirely available to the blind community.

Brian always felt that baseball, perhaps more than other sports, appeals to blind people because of the relative simplicity of the events involved in the game. “It’s a sport where the play by play can make sense to a blind person. You’ve only got the pitcher, batter and fielder. With only three people to keep track of at any one time, it is a lot easier to keep track of than say, football,” he said.

Brian and another visually impaired friend of his had gone on a trip to see eight baseball games in six cities. They had made all of the plans over the internet, like buying tickets and reserving hotel rooms, and if they were stuck, resorted to making phone calls to clear up any last minute loose ends. What bothered them, though, was that they really couldn’t access any of the material on the MLB sites so they could study the stats of the different teams they were going to visit.

As many of you know, screen readers dictate everything on the page, even the underlying code of pictures and advertisements, which can make the internet a confusing mess. With the MLB, their site was filled with sponsors’ advertisements, videos, and game pictures that created a labyrinth for them to work through. The site was unfortunately quite useless to them.

With the help of other blindness advocacy organizations, Brian approached the MLB and, to his surprise, they were not only eager to help him, but made it a priority and worked very quickly to find a solution. ‘‘We’ve never experienced that, where we didn’t have to hold someone’s toes to the fire,” he said.

Now, the MLB site has what is called a zero pixel gif that is virtually invisible to sighted people using the site, but that is detected by screen readers instantly upon access. The feature is inaccessible to point and click users, but his screen reader recognizes it as a link and allows him access to content specifically formatted for screen readers. This feature offers full navigation of all the material on the site to blind fans without the need to significantly alter the site that sighted users visit. Its simplicity is a thing of beauty, really. Brian now feels that the MLB has made a huge leap, not just in making their own site accessible to blind users, but by showing other companies and organizations that the same can be done without costly modification to their existing setups.

Because of the MLB’s willingness to help out Brian, he was successfully able to vote for the All-Star game for the first time. Next year, he’s going to approach the NFL in hopes they’ll be equally willing to help out.

Good luck, Brian. We wish you the best.

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Visually Impaired Skier Gains Attention at Olympics

Brian McKeever, a cross country skier for Canada, has received a massive amount of attention once the news media realized his condition.  With less than ten percent vision, Brian is almost entirely blind.  He is also the first person to compete in both the Paralympics as well as the Olympics.  Brian’s event is the 50 kilometer cross country event that will take place at Whistler during the final day of the Olympics at that location.

Brian McKeever was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a form of macular degeneration, when he was a teenager.  He now describes his vision as a donut without the hole, or “flashbulb eye” with a fuzzy blob in the middle of his field of view.  In order to get to training, Brian often walks or rides his bike, since the closest he ever got to driving a car was earning his learner’s permit before losing his sight.  When racing, Brian relies on the path of leading skiers to make his way through the course.  He initially gained attention after he qualified for the team back in January during trials.  But when it was announced that the team had picked him up for the Olympics, international news outlets were stumbling over each other to get an interview with him.

Perhaps the most interested was a Japanese news reporter who learned that McKeever’s grandparents had been held in Canadian internment camps during World War Two.  Many Japanese people are very aware of the United States’ internment camps, but have no idea that they existed in Canada as well.  In a way, the Japanese are cheering him on as well.

While Brian does not expect to win any medals in the Olympic games, he and many others are proud of his achievements and his drive to succeed despite his disability.  When McKeever competes in the next Paralympics he is expected to do very well, as he has already won seven medals in the Paralympics with his brother Robin, a 1998 Olympian himself, serving as a guide throughout the races.

Brian’s story is inspiring as is his dedication to the sport that he so loves.  Now, he has the opportunity to prove to the world that the athletes who compete in the Paralympics are limited only by their ambition and not their disability.  I have a feeling that no matter what the result of his race is, his cheering section will be one of the largest waiting at the finish line.

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Lindsey Vonn Questionable for Olympics

After a February 2 crash during a training run in Austria that resulted in an injured shin, Lindsey Vonn’s amount of participation in the Olympics is still uncertain. While her trainers feel that she is doing much better, and she herself said that with the aid of numbing creams and pain killers that she is able to train, it’s anyone’s guess if she’ll be able to compete at her full potential during the five events she is supposed to be in.

Vonn has been extremely popular going into these winter games. Often compared to Michael Phelps, who won all eight events he competed in during the 2008 summer games, Vonn is a skiing star who is expected to win the gold in at least three of her five events, if not all of them. Vonn’s first scheduled race, the super combined, is on Sunday, February 14.

Vonn’s injury occurred during a training exercise in Austria on a track designed to mimic the difficult conditions that the athletes will encounter during the Olympics. The track was injected with water and froze, to make it harder and more slippery, traits that Vonn and other skiers and coaches have criticized due to the number of injuries that have occurred as a result of that type of track construction. As Vonn was turning left, her right leg slipped out and despite an attempt to correct it, twisted under her and she toppled over the front of her skis, smashing her skin against the front of her boot. Thankfully, the injury only affected the muscle in her shin and not the bone, but she wasn’t able to walk for 2 days after, and now the sore spot rests right where her boot comes into contact with her leg. It is the type of injury that she’ll notice every second she is on the slopes.

Vonn is slated to begin competing on Sunday, but she may have to sit the first couple of races out to let her injury heal more. Her next big events after Sunday are the downhill competition on Wednesday, followed by the Super-G three days later.

Right now, she’s got an entire country rooting for her to get better and compete, which has got to be weighing heavily when she can barely put pressure on the legs she’s trusting to get her down the mountain in one piece, and in gold medal time.

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Superbowl 44 Most Watched Event Ever

Up until Sunday, the most watched televised event in America was the finale of the popular CBS show MASH, which in 1983 brought in just shy of 106 million viewers.  However, the match up between the Saints and the Colts served as the perfect venue to best that record.  Pulling in 106.5 million viewers, Superbowl 44 knocked the popular sitcom from its number one spot which it had held for nearly 27 years.

Before the game even happened, television executives were wondering if the massive amounts of snow and power outages on the east coast would hamper the number of viewers who would be tuning in.  However, it seems that the snow kept people inside and with their eyes peeled to the screen the entire time.  Many people thought that last year’s superbowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals had the potential to break the record.  Realistically, it did, though it came up short, bringing in 98.7 million viewers.

As they say, records are always made to be broken, and this one was especially made for that.  Back in 1983, there were an estimated 83.3 million television homes, compared to the roughly 115 million that there are now.  Also, with the power of the internet and social networking fueling anticipation of large televised events, it was only a matter of time until something came along that had enough clout to bring in the amount of people needed to claim the record. 

Personally, I’m glad the Superbowl was the first to best the MASH record instead of some reality dating show.  Only time will tell how long the Saints’ victory game will keep the number one spot.  But I doubt in today’s world it will take 27 years to beat it.   

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Is Tiger Coming Back?

I’ve held off on mentioning anything that had to do with Tiger Woods because he has been jammed down our throats for weeks now.  However, there is a report that he might be returning to play golf as early as February 17.  The rumors started in Australia and were obviously met with serious doubt.  However, they have continued and people are beginning to wonder whether or not the controversial golf star will resurface at the Match Play Championship in Arizona.

The venue does hold a special meaning, as it was there that Tiger made his triumphant return to golf after his knee surgery had put him out of commission for a while.  The competition is also sponsored by Accenture, one of the companies that dropped his sponsorship deal.  The fact that his old business partner is hosting the event could either keep Tiger away, or motivate him even more by offering him to opportunity to prove that he’s a changed man.  The real question, though, is how will he play?

With the media attention that he will undoubtedly bring and the pressure to perform after sullying his own image, Tiger will need all the concentration and focus that he can muster to make a comeback.  Though the world may seem against him for his behavior, golf is suffering without him.  Phil Mickelson even went so far as to say, “the game of golf needs him.”  It’s true that the PGA has suffered since Tiger decided to step off the links.  Their profits are down and they’re losing sponsors who would have normally stayed due to the media coverage that Tiger brings.  As a result, there are less matches played, and less money to be won at the ones that are still around.

Say what you will about Tiger as a person, but as a golfer, he brought life into the PGA and improved the game of golf.  Not just by being a good player himself, but by enticing sponsors to put money into the game and by motivating other golfers to play better.  Whether or not he comes back and takes the game by storm, or slowly makes his way back into the swing of things, the game of golf will be better off with Tiger behind a club.

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It’s Superbowl Time!

It’s that wonderful time of year again where we all gather around a feast of snacks, chili, and hot wings and yell at our TVs in an effort to sway the outcome of the biggest football game of the year.  The best part is that this year’s game looks like it will be a fantastic one to watch. 

Around week five or six, everybody was relatively convinced that the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints would meet in the championship game.  By around week ten, it was almost a sure thing as long as something unexpected didn’t occur during the playoffs.  Now that everyone’s expectations have been met, it’s time to dive into Sunday’s matchup.

The Indianapolis Colts are best described as the Mercedes Benz of the National Football League.  Their machine-like precision during the game is an incredible thing to watch.  Peyton Manning completes passes as if he’s threading a needle.  The ball will either be caught, or it will be intercepted, and he’s proven that he is a good enough quarterback to make the completion nearly every time.  Manning was intercepted only 16 times in 571 pass attempts this season.  His offensive line is fantastic, giving him ample time to choose his best receiver and launch the ball down the field.  His two favorite guys are wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark.  Between the two, they represent over 2,300 yards of offense and 20 touchdowns.  Pierre Garcon had a big game during the AFC championship, so keep a lookout for him as well.

The Colts running game isn’t stellar, as their main running back, Joseph Addai has rushed for a little over 800 yards.  However, that’s not to say that he isn’t able to get out and run.  If his offensive line works with him and he can get some good blocks down field, Addai can be a very explosive player who should not be underestimated. 

The Colts defense is middle of the road as far as numbers go.  They tend to allow a decent amount of rushing yards and are ranked 18th in the league for total yards allowed per game.  It must be said, though, that they have clearly gotten the job done this season and the Colts are not just an offense team.  The Colts may also be without their star defensive end, Dwight Freeney, due to a lower ankle injury that could keep him out of the game.  As of now, his appearance is questionable.  If he isn’t able to play, the Colts’ defense will need to be extra vigilant to make up for his absence.  They’ll need to stay very focused this week to battle against the Saints’ powerful offense.

If the Colts are like a Mercedes, the Saints are like a brand new pickup truck filled with wolves.  They’re powerful, durable, and very, very hungry.  The team is led on offense by quarterback Drew Brees, who has had an amazing season.  Speaking strictly numbers, Brees is almost identical to Peyton Manning.  He’s reliable, with only 11 interceptions occurring in 514 pass attempts this season.  He’s also got some great receivers in Colston, Henderson, Meachem, Shockey, and the multi-talented Reggie Bush.  Brees has come up against some tough teams in the post season and has proved that he can keep his composure and bring his team out on top.

On the ground, the Saints are ranked 6th in the league and have Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas, and Reggie Bush to thank for that.  The three of them represent a solid running force that the Colts are going to have to pay close attention to if they hope to make them ineffective.  They all have the ability to get to the side and bolt down the field. 

Defensively, the Saints are similar to the Colts and fall mostly middle of the road in terms of numbers.  That aside, they’ve gone up against the Arizona Cardinals, who they dominated, and the Minnesota Vikings, who they also ended up beating in the NFC Championship, in their last two games.  Both teams have huge offenses and the Saints’ defense was able to contain them effectively. 

Bottom line: the key to this game is defense.  For the Saints to win, they will need to put the same amount of pressure on Manning that they did on Favre two weeks ago.  If they can shut down Manning, the Colts offensive machine falls apart and the wolves will be free to dine.  If they’re unable to do that, Peyton and his crew will run right over them without thinking twice.  The Colts also need to be strong on defense as well.  With Dwight Freeney’s involvement in question, Drew Brees will be able to look forward to reduced pressure after the snap.  If he’s given room, Brees will make them regret it.

Either way, I have a feeling that this game should be a fight to the finish between two teams who specialize in acquiring endzone real estate.


After the dust settled on Sunday’s match up, the New Orleans Saints pulled off their first Superbowl win in franchise history.  They beat the Colts 31 to 17. 

The game started off in favor of the Colts as they led the game 10 to 6 going into halftime.  The Saints didn’t play terribly in the first half, but they desperately needed to start scoring touchdowns.  The second half started with a surprise for the Colts.  The Saints lined up for a regular kick off, but caught the Colts unaware when they executed an onside kick instead.  The ball bounced off a Colts player and was recovered by the Saints, giving them possession of the ball at mid field.  Shortly after that, they scored their first touchdown and had momentum on their side.  Shortly after, the Colts managed to get Joseph Addai into the end zone to give them back the lead 17 to 16. 

That Saints’ next big scoring drive was finished with a touchdown and a 2 point conversion that just barely happened, giving them a 7 point lead.  As the Colts attempted to bring the game back even, Peyton Manning threw an interception.  Tracy Porter jumped in front of the intended receiver and ran the ball back 74 yards for a Saints touchdown and the nail in the coffin for the Colts.  The Colts’ next drive stalled near the goal line and the Saints took a knee to run out the clock and claim their victory.

Football Conference Championship Games

The last stop before the Superbowl looks like it is going to be extremely entertaining to watch.

Appearing in the AFC Championship, the New York Jets have beaten the odds, not to mention a number of tough opponents, in order to come up against the powerful Indianapolis Colts. The Colts saw their first loss of the season against the Jets in week 16 when they decided to pull all their important starters after they had taken the lead in the first half. The Jets went up against the Colts’ second string and ended up winning 29 to 15. The controversial win has everybody questioning whether or not the Jets can produce the same end result with Peyton Manning at the helm and all of the other first string players helping him out for the entire game this week.

The only people who aren’t questioning the outcome are the Jets themselves. With three big wins to get them to the conference championship, they feel that momentum is on their side. Coach Rex Ryan is fired up and he’s trying to light that same fire in his players as they embark on one of the most important games in franchise history. If the Jets rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez, plays up to his potential, his offensive line gives him the necessary protection, and the ground game produces decent numbers, this game could be a close one.

All the Colts need to do is just be the Colts. They’ve had no problem winning games, with a regular season record of 14 wins and only 2 losses. Manning’s offensive line gives him ample time to pick and choose his intended receivers, who are more than willing to make spectacular catches and keep running afterwards. The Colts’ running game is relatively strong as well, giving them a double edged sword when attempting to score.

On paper, both defensive lineups look to be relatively similar, so you should expect to see most of this battle fought from the offensive side of the ball. No matter what happens, it should be a fantastic game to watch.

In the NFC Championship, we’ll watch the Minnesota Vikings play against the New Orleans Saints. This should prove to be a very interesting game to watch. While the Vikings offense isn’t as good as the Saints in terms of numbers, their defense is much stronger, especially against their opponent’s running game. The Saints are a scoring powerhouse and were expected to make it to the Superbowl since the first few weeks of the regular season. They both have what it takes, but can they pull it off?

The Vikings offense is led by veteran quarterback Brett Favre, who has played in the league for 19 years now. The 40 year old quarterback has had a simply incredible season this year with over 4,200 passing yards and 33 touchdown passes. Adrian Peterson, the Vikings’ star running back has had an equally impressive season, with over 1,300 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. If the two can combine their talents and continually get points on the board, they’ll give the Saints a run for their money.

The Saints have had a truly fantastic season this year, going undefeated until the last three weeks of the regular season. They are ranked first in points and yards per game, which isn’t surprising considering who is behind those numbers. Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees has numbers that almost exactly mirror those of Brett Favre with over 4,300 passing yards and 33 touchdowns. The Saints’ running game features Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, a couple of seriously productive running backs.

Bottom line, and forgive me for sounding like Yogi Berra, whichever team can score the most points the quickest, is sure to win this game. What isn’t known, though, is which one will end up doing that. If the Vikings’ offense can keep adding to the scoreboard and their defense lives up to their reputation, the Saints are in trouble. However, the Saints have proven to be astoundingly talented and resilient this season. If there is any crack in the Vikings’ armor, they will find it an exploit it with everything that they have. It is going to be a great game.

In the AFC Championship game, the Jets came out hungry and looking like they were going to perform the upset of the season against the Colts.  However, they lost their steam during the second half and the Colts rallied to end up winning the game 30 to 17.
In the NFC Championship game, it was a back and forth duel throughout the entire game.  Neither team ever led by more than a touchdown and a series of amazing plays by both teams brought the game into overtime with a score of 28 to 28.  The Saints won the coin toss and naturally chose to receive the kick.  They marched down the field to get into field goal range and their kicker split the uprights for the win and a trip to the Superbowl.