Friday, December 30, 2011

What if?

I was watching something on ESPN the other night about the SEC Championship Game. The question was asked: "What if Antonio Langham hadn't intercepted that pass in the 1992 SEC Championship Game and returned it for a touchdown?" The consensus was that the SECCG would have cost Alabama a shot at the National Title, and none of the other conferences would be willing to take the risk of starting their own. The layout of college football today would be vastly different.

So, this led me to think about some "What Ifs" concerning Nashville sports. Please note that, as written, all of these situations are independent of each other.


What if the Minnesota Timberwolves had indeed moved to Nashville in 1997?


  • The Timberwolves move to Nashville, giving Nashville Arena a full-time NBA tenant.
  • The National Hockey League no longer sees Nashville as a favorable location for an expansion team, and can't find a fourth city to build a new arena and round out the planned expansion, so they cut out Columbus and expand only to Atlanta and Minnesota, leaving the league with 28 teams.
  • The Vancouver Grizzlies continue to struggle in Western Canada, but see the now-NBAless Twin Cities as a much more viable relocation destination than moving a second team into Tennessee. Memphis has no new arena, and no NBA team.
  • Nashville never falls in love with the Predators, of course, but with our sense of civic pride, we rally behind our Wolves and become a successful NBA market. Nashville still hates Detroit, but the ire is directed squarely at the Pistons instead.

What if the New Jersey Devils had moved to Nashville?

  • Nashville gets the Devils, but the Southern Baptist Convention stages a protest against the team's name.
  • The NHL expands to 30 teams, granting franchises to Atlanta, Columbus, Minnesota, and New Jersey. The potential of a replacement New Jersey franchise is met with much protest from the owners of the Rangers and Islanders, and the NHL instead decides to place that new franchise in Kansas City.

What if former Houston mayor Bob McNair had given Bud Adams a new stadium?

  • Houston builds a new, larger, football-only Astrodome, next door to the existing one. It does not have a retractable roof. It is given the nickname "The Oil Rig".
  • The Astros do not get their new stadium downtown and leave for the greener pastures of Northern Virginia.
  • Several years later, Houston relents and decides to build a new stadium for the Montreal Expos, who MLB decides to move to the original Astrodome until the new digs are ready.
  • Because there is no viable owner, and the market is not seen as large or sophisticated enough, Nashville is never even sniffed as a viable location for the new expansion team that would give the NFL 32 franchises, and the NFL returns instead to Los Angeles.
  • "Music City Miracle" never enters the lexicon, and Steve McNair never meets Sahel Kazemi.
  • Nashville builds a shiny new minor league ballpark for the Sounds on the east bank of the Cumberland River, on an old bargeyard between the Woodland Street & Shelby Street bridges.

Conversely, what if "NFL Yes" had failed?
  • No stadium would have been built in Nashville.
  • The Predators would be the only major pro sports franchise in Nashville, and would have sold out every single game since the team's inception. Craig Leipold never sells the team, and the people of Nashville still consider buying BlackBerry devices.

What if Gus Malzahn said yes to Vanderbilt's offer?

  • They would still suck.



Feel free to add your own What If questions (and answers, if you wish) in the comments below. It's an interesting conversation.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

ESPN: Trolling Hard

As seen at the :30 mark of the video
ESPN recently upgraded its college basketball graphics package for the first time in a few years, and I must say, it looks impressive.

Whenever they overhaul an on-air look, they usually produce a video featuring the theme song and an exhibition of the graphics in action, as they would appear on a broadcast.

For a split second on the video, at the :30 mark, the headline "Boeheim to join Krzyzewski's Staff" is visible on-screen.

I know people are calling for Jim Boeheim to be fired in the wake of the Bernie Fine scandal, but under no circumstances would I ever expect him to become an assistant on Coach K's staff. Of course, this was done just to show off the graphics, and nothing more, but what an interesting choice of fake headline.

Nice trolling, ESPN.

Video:


Video source: Graphics Mafia

Happy Fifteenth, Bridgestone Arena

On this day in 1996, the Nashville Arena opened to the public to great fanfare. On a Sunday afternoon, Mayor Bredesen cut the ribbon and invited area residents to tour the mostly-completed facility. There were no tenants for the building yet, but we had a general feeling that a basketball or hockey team would somehow find its way here. The New Jersey Devils had been flirting with Nashville before settling on a lease extension at The Meadowlands; and the same was true with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who used Nashville as leverage to get a better lease at Target Center.

On the concourse, around the area where the Predators Radio Network does its pregame & intermission reports, there was a Nintendo 64 set up with kids taking turns playing "Wayne Gretzky's All-Star Hockey", billed then as the first hockey games ever played at Nashville Arena. People were encouraged to fold paper airplanes and launch them from the upper deck. If one happened to land in the sunroof of a car at the center of the arena floor, the thrower would win the car. Elsewhere, locals were able to explore everything from the seating bowl, concourses, luxury suites, tunnels, and locker rooms.

Over the years, the arena has had various names associated with various sponsors. Gaylord Entertainment took the reins in 1999, at a time when many Nashvillians openly resented the company for closing Opryland less than two years earlier. Gaylord had part-ownership of the Predators at the time, and owning the naming rights seemed like a good fit. Except it wasn't. This was before Gaylord had expanded its hotel offerings beyond Nashville (the company now has 3 additional hotels; one each in Florida, Texas, and Maryland), and the corporate name carried no weight anywhere but here--where most people hated the company! Add to that, nobody seemed to know if it was the "Gaylord Entertainment" "Center", or the "Gaylord" "Entertainment Center". Where should the emphasis be? Crap...we don't know. Let's just call it "The Geck". Gaylord sold its interest in the Predators and stopped paying the team its annual naming rights fees in 2005, and after a lawsuit or two, Gaylord's name was finally taken off the arena in 2007, whereas the arena reverted to its default name: Nashville Arena.

Out of nowhere, Sommet Group snatched up the rights in 2007, around the same time as the Predators ownership upheaval. Sommet? Who? It seemed nobody could pronounce the name of the company (so-MAY, so it was), and we sure as hell couldn't identify what the company did. Apparently, Sommet Group was a Cool Springs-based company that provided a variety of services to small businesses, from human resource management to IT support. Personally, I wondered how such a small, unknown company could afford such a thing as arena naming rights (then again, there's always Jobing.com). In early 2010, Sommet was raided by the FBI for fraud. Shocker. The Preds wound up with a major egg on its face.

Then along came Bridgestone. A name you know. A name you trust. Except for that exploding-tire fiasco in the 1990s, Bridgestone has maintained a pretty good reputation, even if their TV commercials are awful. "Bridgestone Arena" is a name that caught on extremely quickly in the city. It's hard to believe it's only been 20 months since that change occurred. But today, on the arena's fifteenth anniversary, Bridgestone has extended its naming rights agreement through 2019.

It's good to have a local corporate citizen with a recognizable name sponsoring our arena, even if we don't have a cutesy nickname for the building now. "The Bridge"? "The Stone"? What do we call it? If Bridgestone had its way, and it seems they do, we'll just keep calling it by its full name, Bridgestone Arena, for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A new beginning...

Third time's the charm... we hope.

Hey guys, I'm back. Hopefully I'll have the gumption to stick with it this time.

Oh, and I've finally come up with a name for this thing that I actually like: Hang Up & Listen. If you don't get the reference, here's a quick lesson. Sports radio callers in Nashville suck, for the most part. There are some shows that are exceptions: 3HL, Thom Abraham & Men's Room. But the callers on the other ones are awful. They call in, ask an obvious generic question about a major topic that's already been hashed over about three dozen times in the past hour, then say, "I'll hang up and listen." Every time. Nobody wants to talk. Nobody has an opinion. You know what? You, Nashville sports radio caller, make sports talk radio awful. You do. If you have a question about sports, for God's sake, Google it. You'll find the answer, I promise.

(Speaking of Nashville sports radio, this actually happened at the Preds game tonight while a video about Bridgestone Arena's history played on the Megatron...


I wonder if it was done on purpose. I tend to think it was. After all, George should be on 102.5 sometime in March.)

Anyway...rant over... I want to promise you up front that I won't be posting every day. Some days may have multiple posts. Some may have none. I'm going to write when I have something to say this time, and I'm not going to stress over a lack of content. If there's nothing driving me to write about it, then I won't write about anything.

So, have I set the bar low enough? LOL.

I got a lot of positive comments on Twitter, in person, and in the blog comments section about things I posted in the first couple of incarnations. Most of those posts survive below, if you want to read them. I certainly thank each and every one of you for the encouragement, and I hope to continue entertaining you with my ramblings.

Thanks, guys, and enjoy Hang Up & Listen.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I went bowling.


Let me pause from the normal focus of this blog to remember the tragedies that befell upon our nation ten years ago. I wrote this several years ago for my MySpace page, and every year, I re-read it and re-post it in some form of social media. I will also update it, but only if needed. I chose not to update it this year.

May we never forget.

-Zack Bennett, 9/11/11

=========================

I went bowling. It was a pretty good score for me, if I remember correctly. I don't really. I wasn't paying attention to the game. Maybe that's why it was such a good score. They say that you do better at sports like bowling and golf if you don't focus on the task at hand. But there I was, at the Family Fun Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It was 2:00pm on the afternoon of September 11, 2001.

I had to go bowling. Well, I didn't HAVE to, but I did. I was enrolled in a bowling class. I was three weeks into my first semester at MTSU as a Junior transfer. We were all scared, all in shock. The drama of that day was six hours old and nobody really knew what to do. I remember earlier in the day going to Breadbreak at Raiders For Christ and discussing it with people I barely knew. At that point (about three hours earlier), I didn't know just how severe it was. But by the time I went bowling, it was real.

Those of us who came to the bowling alley were watching the televisions above the lanes, not really caring much about the game. Fresh news was coming in, along with erroneous reports of more attacks. We heard of car bombs outside CIA headquarters. We heard of bombs going off in shopping malls. None of it was true, but we didn't know that. At that point, anything was possible. My dad told me to find the nearest fallout shelter. We were worried about getting nuked.

By that night, we knew that the world was going to change in a hurry. I remember going to my night class and watching Bush's speech on TV, and then later spending the evening with some people I barely knew at Raiders for Christ. We had heard news reports of the repercussions, including how much the cost of gasoline was expected to rise the next day. There were reports that we'd be paying (gasp!) $3.00 a gallon. We look back and laugh at that now, but that was a big worry that day.

The experiences of that day will never be forgotten. One day, I'll tell my children about that day and what it felt like. But they'll never understand. I'm worried that it won't even secure a prominent place in American history. It's only been nine years, and it's almost like we only want to either sweep it under a rug or use it as fodder in political arguments. There was a History Channel special that debuted in 2008, called "102 Minutes That Changed America", that didn't even show the footage of either plane striking the buildings. It was the most filmed event in world history, and nobody wants us to see it anymore. When was the last time you saw it on TV? Think about it. I bet you can't remember. That, to me, says a lot about the state of denial in which our country still lives.

We didn't just lose 4 airplanes, two skyscrapers, and a chunk of the Pentagon. We lost roughly 3,000 friends and neighbors, and as former British PM Tony Blair said, they could have killed 70,000 and rejoiced just the same. We can't forget the evil we saw that day.

As the day goes on, we'll probably all share our stories from that day, and whenever anyone asks me what I did on 9/11, I'll tell them I went bowling.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Plane Crash Claims Two Former Predators

This has just been a horrific summer for the global ice hockey community. Already reeling from the deaths of three active or recently-retired NHL players (Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak), the hockey world today learned of a plane crash in Russia that claimed all but one member of the HC Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team of the Kontinental Hockey League, which included several former NHL all-stars.

Among those killed in the crash are former Nashville Predators players Josef Vasicek and Karlis Skrantins, which coupled with the untimely death of Belak one week ago, means that in the course of eight days, this franchise has lost three of its former players. Also killed in today's crash was defenseman Robert Dietrich, who was drafted by the Predators and played two years with the Milwaukee Admirals (and a few preseason games for the Preds). Prior to this week, only one former Predator had passed away (Sergei Zholtok to natural causes in 2004).

As we inch closer to another exciting season of Predators hockey, let's pause and reflect on these players who helped create an electric atmosphere at 501 Broadway, and whose lives were brought to a far-too-early end.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I have 3 favorite college football teams. Sue me.

I like them all. And there's nothing wrong with that.
I have three favorite college football teams. Sue me.

My daddy raised me to hate the Vols. He hated the Vols. His daddy hated the Vols. It's a family tradition to hate the Vols. So, I hate the Vols.

When I was a small child, my family had Vanderbilt football season tickets. My first football experiences were at Vanderbilt Stadium, sitting behind the goalpost in Section J. So, Vanderbilt has always been first in my heart. And, of course, being a Nashvillian by birth doesn't hurt either. Vanderbilt is our team. The university and its athletics team has always done a superb job of representing our city, and as a Nashville fan, I'm forever a Vandy fan. First and foremost. Even through all the crappy times.

I also grew up an Alabama fan. Part of that was natural in the Vol-hating, but part of it was, again, because of my dad. There's a photo of me at 9 months old, sitting on my dad's lap. He's wearing an Alabama Crimson Tide t-shirt. My dad was always an admirer of Bear Bryant, and whenever Alabama was on TV, we were watching Alabama (if we weren't at the Vandy game, of course). In my mid-twenties, I actually moved to Alabama and lived there for four and a half years (from 2005-2010) and worked in sports radio. The station I programmed (WUMP - Huntsville) is the Crimson Tide affiliate for North Alabama. So, I covered the team on a weekly basis. It also didn't hurt that the Alabama woman I met and fell in love with (and eventually married) is a huge Alabama fan, as is most of her entire family. So, while my love for Alabama began out of a hatred for the Vols, it's eventually grown into a true love for Alabama. As a matter of fact, I really don't hate the Vols anymore. I still don't like them. I still don't want them to win. But now, like a true Alabama fan, I despise Auburn. Tennessee is just a fly in the ointment.

Then, there's my beloved Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. MTSU is my alma mater. They probably should be my favorite college football team, but let's be honest... they're in the Sun Belt Conference. It's just not the same. I hope they do well, but I don't keep up with them the way I keep up with SEC football. I'll go to a couple of MTSU games this fall, but it's really more of an excuse to go back to campus. I love MTSU with all my heart. I spent two amazing years there, after transferring in from a community college at my junior year. But it's definitely more of a love for the university than it's football team.

The problem with having 3 favorite teams who are this close in proximity (and two of which are in the same conference) is that every now and then, they play each other...and that is painful. Vanderbilt faces Alabama on October 8. I don't yet know who I will root for. Either way, I'll be happy and I'll be sad. I love them both. When Vandy and MTSU played three times between 2001 and 2005, I pulled for Vandy every time...even as I was a student at MTSU. MTSU won all three games. That sucked. But it was great.

So, don't call me a fake fan. Don't think I'm less of a fan than you because I chose to divide my allegiances three ways. That's the way I choose to enjoy college football season. It's been that way for years, and it will continue to be that way. I love all three of those schools and I want them all to do well.  And I really don't care what you think about it.

The Last Word on Wade Belak

Okay, this is almost certainly going to be the last thing I post about the unfortunate sudden death of Wade Belak. There are plenty of other avenues to get any more news that may trickle out of this terrible situation.

In a Friday interview with Team 990 in Montreal, CBC Sports' PJ Stock (as reported by Yahoo) says that Belak died of "strangulation", and that it is an "accidental death", not a suicide...which, of course, leads us toward totally different conclusions.

There is obviously much more to this story than any of us know right now, and it just goes to show how quickly things spread in the Blogosphere and Twitterverse, whether they may or may not be true. For all we know, this latest revision to the story could be bunk as well.

We may never know what happened in that Toronto hotel room. All we can do right now is memorialize the man that so many of us loved to watch play hockey, support his family, and begin to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

AP Report: Belak Hanged Himself; How should the Preds memorialize him?

The story of Wade Belak's death caught Smashville by obvious surprise yesterday afternoon, but the latest news may even be more surprising.

As first reported last night by the Toronto Sun, and now being reported by the Associated Press, Wade Belak hanged himself in his hotel room.

This sad story simply became more shocking, as if that was even possible. No one, at least not anyone who has gone on record, saw this coming. Wade had just started hosting a new weekly radio show in Nashville, he had just in the past week agreed to work on the Predators' television broadcasts, and he was in Toronto to work on a Canadian reality show. In other words, it's highly possible that his profile, at least here in Nashville, would have been higher than even during his playing days.

At a press conference last evening, Predators GM David Poile said that Belak was at the Predators' offices on Monday, and was as happy-go-lucky as ever. Twitter user @thepuckdude tweeted this photo earlier today, which he says was taken Tuesday night and theorizes could be the last photo ever taken of Belak. He appears to be having a good time at a bar.

I shouldn't speculate about why Wade Belak would have taken his own life. I didn't know the man, and I obviously didn't know his struggles. But it seems that literally no one saw this coming.

If you feel so inclined, you can donate $3 (Wade wore #3) to the National Tourette Syndrome Association. Wade's daughter has been diagnosed with the disease, and that was the charity for which Wade was scheduled to compete during Battle of the Blades. You can get more information over at PuckScene.

This story is just awful, and how the Predators choose to memorialize him will be tricky. The situation won't be as tricky as the situation facing the Titans following Steve McNair's death two years ago, but it would behoove the Predators to do something, especially considering Belak's popularity among the local fan base.

My idea.
My idea: a small circular helmet sticker (if the NHL even allows that) featuring the #3 in the old Predators font. Or... since the new guitar pick is only on one shoulder, a small patch featuring this design could be affixed to the other shoulder.

What do you think?

Can we finally focus on football now? Thank you.

CJ's deal is done. Finally.
I have refrained from commenting, for the most part, about the Chris Johnson holdout because, frankly, I don't find contract negotiations very interesting. In this case, especially, there really hasn't been a whole lot to talk about.

The Titans and Chris Johnson have agreed on a four-year, $53.5 million extension to his current contract, in which roughly $30 million is guaranteed.

Both sides made a gigantic blunder each: The Titans insisted he come to Training Camp to get a deal done, which likely only delayed the process; and Chris Johnson didn't consider the consequences of erratic tweeting, which did nothing to help his image among the fans.

Johnson probably ought to be happy the deal got done within hours of his controversial tweets, because he completely turned the PR battle away from his favor with slightly fewer than 140 characters.

So, TGIO: Thank God It's Over. After five months of hearing about nothing but the lockout, followed by 35 days of hearing about nothing but Chris Johnson's holdout, we can finally...FINALLY...get Back to Football. ...or is it Back to Footboll?

Get Over It, Denver

Nashville has only been in the major pro sports business for 13 years, but if there's one thing we're experts on, it's the transfer of corporate naming rights for our stadium and arena. The home of the Titans has had three names over the years (Adelphia Coliseum, The Coliseum, LP Field), and the Preds' abode has gone by four (Nashville Arena, Gaylord Entertainment Center, Sommet Center, Bridgestone Arena).

The fine folks in Denver recently experienced the renaming of their stadium for the first time, following a change in corporate structure at Invesco. A new agreement arose between the Broncos and The Sports Authority, a Denver-based big-box sporting goods retailer that once had a couple of stores here in Nashville which closed several years ago (side note: my first Preds jersey was purchased at The Sports Authority in Rivergate).

Well, nobody in Denver ever was a huge fan of the name "Invesco Field"; they preferred "Mile High", the name of the now-demolished stadium next door that the new field replaced. In fact, "...at Mile High" was added to the Invesco Field name when the stadium opened. However, over time, they got used to it, just like we got used to Adelphia, Gaylord, Sommet...okay, bad example. But they got used to it. Nobody shed a tear, though, when it was announced two weeks ago that Invesco's name would be taken off the stadium and replaced with Sports Authority. By this point, they don't really care whose name is on the stadium, as long as the Broncos play there and they can still just call it "Mile High".

But then, The Sports Authority committed an unforgivable sin. They dared to let the new stadium logo--a logo which they are paying $6 million per year to display--reflect the company's corporate colors: red and white. Red and white: the colors of the Broncos' hated division rival, the Kansas City Chiefs.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! YOU CAN'T PUT UP A RED AND WHITE SIGN ON OUR BUILDING! THOSE ARE THE CHIEFS' COLORS! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

No, seriously. The fans are upset. Really upset. So upset that The Sports Authority has agreed to take down its temporary red signs and replace them with permanent orange signage.

Get over it, Denver. It's just a sign. Be glad that you have a local company willing to invest in your local team and reduce the amount of taxpayer support needed to provide for the upkeep of the stadium. You don't see us complaining here in Nashville that the logo for Bridgestone Arena reflects the black and red of Bridgestone...and the hated division rival Chicago Blackhawks. In addition, we really don't mind that LP Field's logo is blue and orange, just like LP... and, oh yeah, the Denver Broncos.

Plus, we actually honor the corporate sponsors here. Sure, we used to call the arena "The Geck", but now that we have a respectable sponsor, it's almost like we're proud to say Bridgestone.

To be fair, though, we never really knew what a "Sommet" was, or even how to pronounce it most of the time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wade Belak Found Dead in Toronto

Wade Belak, 1976-2011
Very sad news out of Toronto today that former Predators (among other teams) enforcer Wade Belak has passed away. According to a report by QMI Agency, Belak was found dead in a hotel earlier today. He was in Toronto working on "Battle of the Blades", a Canadian reality television show. The cause of death is as yet unknown.

Belak was scheduled to have his own radio show on 102.5 The Game, as well as taking on a role as the team's bench reporter for radio and TV broadcasts.

Belak was an entertaining player on and off the ice. He was a tough guy with a tender heart, and had one hell of a sense of humor. His promising radio career began as a color analyst on select Predators games last season, following his retirement. I will forever remember him nearly choking on his cough drop following the dramatic Game 5 win against Anaheim in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Belak is the second former Predator to pass away. Sergei Zholtok died in November 2004 shortly after a game in Belarus, where he was playing professionally during the season-canceling NHL Lockout.

Wade Belak was 35 years old. May he rest in peace.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Is There A Preds Game Today?"

Though there was a Titans game* tonight at LP Field (which, because it is preseason, I refused to give any credence to), this was a day devoted to the Predators for me. First, my lovely wife and I went downtown to the Predators "tailgate party" (a thinly-veiled attempt by the Preds to grab the attention of the many Titans fans who were streaming into downtown before the game*), and then later to "Preds Night" at the Sounds game.

My "uniform" today.
All the while, I was decked out in Predators gear. GOLD Predators gear. I'm definitely an early-adopter of the goldness. I donned my gold cap and my gold "We are hockey. We are Smashville." t-shirt. I definitely stuck out.

As I walked around proudly donning this apparel, I was asked the same question twice: "Is there a Preds game today?" In August. In 90-degree heat. "Is there a Preds game today?" Twice.

Unfortunately, I had to tell them no. Man, oh man, do I wish there HAD been a Preds game today. I'm hockey-starved. I'm playing NHL 11 on the Playstation3 as much as I possibly can. It's the only hockey fix I can get right now. (I can't seem to let the NHL Playoff replays on NHL Network grab my attention.)

What this tells me, however, is that the Preds have reached a point where they have captured the casual sports fan in Nashville. People may not make the cognitive connection that hockey = ice = cold = winter, but they do know they're excited about the Predators and they're ready to pay attention.

It's going to be interesting to see the excitement level around the Predators in October. If the Titans have already lost the city's attention by virtue of a poor early-season showing, I believe the Predators' playoff buzz will survive the summer and we'll see an increased level of interest.

At least I hope so.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Did I mention it's August?

Still not much going on in the world of Nashville sports, except this whole Chris Johnson thing. I still don't really know who's wrong and who's right, or if anyone is wrong or right.

And, of course, there's the preseason games. ::yawn::

And literally nothing is going on with the Predators, so they're throwing a block party at the arena tomorrow just to stay awake, apparently.

August sucks.

Dear October:


I see you out there, 5-and-a-half weeks away. You're like an oasis in the desert. Sure, your little brother September is exciting and all, but you're my favorite month. Your cooler sibling November is amazing, too, but by that point, we're in a routine. You're amazing, October. Hockey, Titans, and the meat of the college football season? I love you, October. Please, please hurry. And don't forget to bring your 75-degree high temperatures.


Sincerely,
Zack

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Predators To Get 3 U.S. Nationwide Broadcasts in 2011-12

Not much National TV time for the Preds

The NHL released the schedule of games to appear on its national broadcast partners today, which in the United States is NBC, Versus, and NHL Network USA.

All said, the Nashville Predators will only get THREE national broadcasts, and none on NBC. That's all. Three. For a team that made the Western Conference Semifinals last year and provided some of the most exciting games of the playoffs. Three.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

102.5 The Game To Carry Alabama Football

The Crimson Tide Sports Network will
soon be a part of "The Game" airscape.
There is some new info coming out today about the new-sports-radio-station-to-be. WPRT-FM, whose management announced Monday that the station now known as "The Party" will soon be known as "102.5 The Game", will carry University of Alabama football, according to RollTide.com. The university's athletic website has quietly listed WPRT-FM as the radio affiliate for Nashville.

As the station has all-but-confirmed its intention to move the Predators over from sister station WBUZ 102.9, there will likely be some programming conflicts in October and November, when Alabama often plays Saturday evening games at the same time the Predators are scheduled to be playing. The SEC football schedule is set week-to-week by television partners CBS and ESPN, so any potential conflicts will only be discovered around 10 days in advance. I am fairly certain that the Preds would get priority over Alabama, so hockey fans need not fret.

Monday, August 15, 2011

102.5 FM To Become Sports Talk Station "The Game"

Image courtesy AllAccess.com
If you've read my initial post on this blog (despite the fact that the name of the blog has since changed)... you know that I made my career in the sports radio industry until early 2010. News breaks today, courtesy of radio industry news site AllAccess Music Group, that WPRT-FM (102.5 The Party) will soon be changing formats and becoming "102.5 The Game". The morning show, titled "The First Quarter", will be hosted by Darren McFarland and Brad Hopkins, who have been anchoring "The Afternoon Press Box" at 560 WNSR for the past few months.

Currently, I am employed part-time by Cumulus Media, the company in the process of purchasing Citadel Media, parent company of Nashville's other FM sports station, 104.5 The Zone. So, I will offer no further comment on this news, due to my obvious conflicts of interest. Instead, I will direct you to the aforementioned AllAccess article, and to the blog at Section303.com discussing the implications involving the Predators.

However, I do wish the folks at the new station the best. Competition makes everyone better.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Beating a Dead Horse

About last night...

I didn't blog about the Titans game because I didn't see it. Sorry about that. Besides, it was the first preseason game. Any analysis of it would be meaningless anyway. Also, preseason NFL football is almost as exciting as checking the stats on this blog to see how many of you are actually reading it.

Instead, I was at a company picnic at the Sounds game. We had a great time; perhaps the most pleasant time I've ever had at Greer Stadium. The weather was perfect. The game was good. I was surrounded by friends and co-workers. We had a great time, but it only illustrated to me how much Nashville needs a new baseball park.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I'm a Hockey Fan, So I'm Smarter Than You

...or so I have been accused.

The Facebook argument went as such:

A friend (who shall remain nameless, unless you are a Facebook friend of both of us) believes that the poor reaction to Titans single-game ticket sales had nothing to do with Chris Johnson. I reply that I believe that's a part of it, as well as a whole host of other BS that has gone on with the Titans (see my previous blog post). He replies that it's purely the economy, and nothing else. I disagree, and point out that the Predators have increased ticket sales in the same "bad economy" the Titans are dealing with. I am then told that the fan bases are totally different and that I am "rich" (which I definitely am not... it took me 5 months of extra jobs to save up the money to buy 1 season of Preds tickets).

And then the bomb was dropped...
 YOU are obviously one of those Preds fans who believes that being a hockey fan makes you more intelligent and sophisticate than the rest of us.
BOOM! There it is. I am a pretentious hockey fan.

And I didn't even point out to him that he misspelled "sophisticated." So, I may be smarter, but I still have tact.

Bad Titans News Continues: Finnegan, CJ, & Tix

Just when I was beginning to buy into the Titans a little bit, there have been a few more missteps this week. Not all of them are the team's fault, but they are clouding my confidence in an improved 2011 season.

First: Cortland Finnegan. Here are my thoughts, and I really don't have much more to say on the topic than this: He's a liar. He's a punk. He's a cheap-shot artist. He's an idiot. He's an overrated defensive back (3 Titans had better stats). Oh, and he has Jeff Fisher-stench all over him. He's a big reason the Titans were considered by many to be the dirtiest team in the league last year. His little apology yesterday did nothing for me. He realized he made a mistake, but he's putting on a good face for one reason: it's a contract year. His mini-holdout hurt his value with the Titans, but maybe not other teams in the league. I don't know his true intentions, but he's always had an adversarial relationship with the local media, and he knows how to play them like a piano (although they didn't take the bait this time...the lies were far too transparent). I firmly believe that move was calculated, but, as you can see with my opinions above, I'm slightly biased against him anyway. I really hope the Titans try to trade him. I know there aren't many player-for-player trades in the NFL, but Osi Umenyiora is just sitting there in New York waiting to be traded. Let's make an even swap.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Could NASCAR Be Returning to the Fairgrounds?

It's WAY too soon to know anything (for several reasons), but following the announcement this morning that Nashville Superspeedway is suspending operations, CBS Sports' Pete Pistone speculates this afternoon that NASCAR Racing could return to the historic Fairgrounds Speedway in the future. He writes:
"...the most intriguing story making the rounds is a return to the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, where both divisions raced for years before moving to the Nashville Superspeedway. Former Nationwide Series driver Bobby Hamilton Jr. is now the promoter of the downtown track and has worked hard to resurrect racing at the storied facility."
The thought is interesting, but I'm not sure how rooted in fact it is. Consider this: the fate of the Fairgrounds Speedway rests in the hands of Metro Nashville voters (or, at least, the small percentage that is expected to turn out) tomorrow. On the ballot is the ratification of an amendment to the Metro Charter that reads:

Nashville Superspeedway Gets the Red Flag

Nashville Superspeedway, 2001-2011
Rather than thanking God for a "smokin' hot wife" before July's Federated Auto Parts 300, Pastor Joe Nelms should have prayed for a Sprint Cup race.

That's what it would have taken for Nashville Superspeedway to achieve long-term success. Instead, we have a white elephant among the cow pastures of Gladeville.

After 11 seasons, Dover Motorsports has decided that enough is enough. It is closing Nashville Superspeedway and will not be seeking NASCAR sanctioning for races in 2012.

Shea Weber is a Nashville Predator

I can haz $8 mil?
I'll fully admit this: I don't know a whole lot about how the NHL arbitration process works, but I've been given a crash course over the past 24 hours. I do know, however, that the Twitterverse is overreacting to WeberWatch.

But, in the grand tradition of this baby blog, let's step back and look at this thing from a broader scope. Shea Weber will be wearing the Predators logo on his sweater next year. Right now, that's all we know. Beyond that, though, we'll figure out in due time, I guess. But we're supposed to be taking this one year at a time, right? Are we seriously worried right now about winning the Stanley Cup in 2014? I'm not. I want the Predators to win it in 2012, and I'm sure the Predators want to win it in 2012, too. Nobody in that organization, Shea Weber included, is considering 2011-12 a "building block" year toward a future Cup. The goal is to win it, and win it now. If that means this is the "all in" year (with apologies to Auburn University), then for goodness' sake, this is the "all in" year. I fully understand that it's best to look to the future when making plans, and I really want Shea Weber to spend the best years of his career here, but really, all we can control is what we can control right now, and that's the 2011-12 season that begins in 65 days (but who's counting?).

If we lose Shea Weber next year or the year after, that will suck. Acknowledged. I don't want that to happen. But the team (hopefully) will remain in Nashville, and we will press on with or without him. If Weber opts for the 1-year deal out of arbitration, let's just hope that he was true to his word in that he wants to stay here, and that the short-term deal is only to gauge the franchise as it works toward signing Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter long-term, too, and maybe even getting a viable goal-scoring forward at the deadline.

The real thing to remember here, folks, is that we don't know everything we think we know. It's mostly speculation at this point. We're trusting reports out of Canadian MSM for the numbers we've heard so far, and we have no way of knowing if those are even right, nor do we know exactly what was said in the hearing. For all we know, this could be very amicable. I trust David Poile. He's proven over time that he knows what he is doing.

Go ahead and tell me I'm naive. That's what the comment section is for.

==
UPDATE: Later in the day, we found out that Weber received an arbitration award of a 1-year, $7.5 million contract. My previous statements still apply. The time to win the Cup is now (even if it is followed by a Florida Marlins-esque fire sale). I just hope Poile can surround our "Big 3" with the complementary talent they need to get the job done.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Comcast Introduces New HD Channel Numbers

Okay, so right after I posted that post about "there's nothing to post about", I found something to post about. I'm also trying to set the record for the number of times I can use the word "post", or a variant thereof, in a sentence. I got 4 in the topic sentence. Can you do better? Probably.

But back on topic.

Many sports fans in Middle Tennessee will have some new numbers to commit to memory this fall, as Comcast is totally rearranging its HD tier and moving all the channels up into 4-digit territory (say goodbye to those pesky 200s). These changes went into effect on July 28th, but the existing channel numbers will continue to function through (tentatively) the end of October. After that, though, you'll have to use the new ones, so you might as well get used to it now.

Get a full outline of the changes after the jump...

August

The dog days are here.
I'm not sure that July was the best time of year to begin a new sports blog that is going to keep its focus mostly on Nashville sports. There's really nothing going on. Sure, the end of the NFL Lockout gave us something to talk about, and the whole Shea Weber arbitration thing... but, honestly, with the broad direction that I hope to take this blog, I don't have a whole lot to add that other bloggers already haven't said on those topics. Besides, they know a lot more than me.

So, now we're into August and there's even less going on. (NFL Preseason. Whoopy.) If something gets under my skin, I'll blog about it, but other than that, my fingers will probably go silent for most of the month. But once September and October roll around (and they'll be here before you know it), we'll be in full swing.

So, sit back (preferably in an air conditioned room) and enjoy August for what it is. The best is yet to come.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Our Long, Regional Nightmare Is Over

Vince Young will never wear these colors again.
It's official. Vince Young is no longer a Titan.

Final line on VY:

689-1190 (57.9%)
8098 yards
(6.8 yds/pass; 150 yds/game)
42 TD, 42 INT
QB Rating: 75.7
264 rushes
1380 rush yds
(5.2 yds/carry; 25.6 yds/game)
12 rush TD
30 wins, 17 losses as starting QB.
1 replica jersey that will now hang in my closet until I decide to give it to Goodwill.

So, aside from that win-loss record, it turns out that Vince was painfully average as a quarterback. Winning is everything, but that's a team statistic, first and foremost. No one can say Vince single-handedly won those games, and that's the bottom line.

But thanks, Vince, for giving us plenty to talk about. From your amazing 4th Quarter performances against Arizona in 2009 and the Giants in 2006, to the many times you took yourself out of the game and sulked on the sidelines, and lest we forget the meltdown in the Washington game in 2010, you were a constant source of jubilation or angst. But alas, it's time to move on. Good luck in the future. I have a feeling you're going to need it.

A Growing Optimism

I've been very pessimistic about the coming Titans season to this point, but that's beginning to change, because just the other day, I realized something: Jeff Fisher is gone.

How did I miss this news, you ask? I didn't. I just don't think it really hit me until yesterday when I finally accepted the fact that the lockout is over, and I saw the dynamic changes coming to the philosophy at Baptist Sports Park.

I'm not convinced that Mike Munchak is going to adopt "Fisherball" (i.e. run, run, screen, run, run, screen, run, screen, run, punt/FG) in full. I expect the offense to be a little more exciting this year. All offseason, the coaches have been working on schemes for Matthew Hasselbeck, knowing that he was their prime target, and they got him yesterday. And don't think they haven't been talking to him all offseason. Despite the lockout, those deals were going down and everybody knows it. Knowing now that Hasselbeck will be playing quarterback (for at least the first part of the year) is giving me optimism. He's not an elite QB, but he's serviceable for his age, and he knows his role. Don't expect him to just be the mentor, though. He's going to be motivated to, y'know, not suck, because as soon as he does, they'll hand the keys over to Jake Locker.

On that note, I wonder how quickly Bud Adams will intervene if that happens, though. In 2006, it took three straight losses to open the season before Bud laid down the law and ordered Jeff Fisher to put Vince Young in the lineup, but Bud had an attachment to Vince that he doesn't have with Jake. However, a different dynamic comes into play here: Would Bud demand a change from the Owner's Suite to remind Mike Munchak who is the boss? I don't think so. I fully expect Bud to be hands-off this year, and whatever happens happens without his direct input. Bud has a soft spot for Mike Munchak, who anchored the Oilers' offensive line through the 80s and 90s, and I have a feeling that he's willing to give him a little more leeway as a result.

With Hasselbeck, and even possibly Locker, under center this year, I expect to see a more balanced passing attack than we saw under Collins and Young. More deep passes. Kenny Britt (if he's not suspended) will get to shine this season, but the team needs to invest in one more wide receiver, in my opinion. Chris Johnson (if he's not holding out) will still get the ball handed off to him a lot, but the other facets of the game will hopefully be improved, such as the defensive backfield, which (thankfully) has another year of experience under its belt, but will be seeing a new system put in place by Jerry Gray.

I still don't see the Titans making the playoffs this year, but I also don't expect we'll be getting the first draft pick in 2012. Hopefully, though, we'll see some improvement over the debacle that was the last half of last season. It might take some time for everything to jell simply due to the fact that the new coaches didn't get to work with the players in OTAs, but with the new attitude & new QBs, I think that by the second half of the season, we will.

==
BONUS BLOG POST: I think we should wait until late July to start the Free Agency & Trading Period every year. Yesterday was incredibly exciting, as the rest of the week is sure to be as well. It's taken my mind off the fact that the Predators are still 71 days away from dropping the puck. :-)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

PISSED

Julio Lugo was called safe on this play. Ridiculous.
I am pissed that my favorite team won. Or, at least that they won it that way. I invested almost 7 hours into the Braves/Pirates game. It was full of drama, and it ended on the worst call I have ever seen in any sport.

The Braves defeated the Pirates 4-3 in 19 innings on a call that was so bad, it can't even be called questionable. Julio Lugo was out at home by almost 3 feet, and was tagged twice (and called safe) before he ever touched home plate. As ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted: "[Home Plate Umpire] Jerry Meals is going to be in for a very long day Wednesday."

The umpiring was terrible all night. It was worst at the end. If there were ever a case for expanded replay in baseball, the screenshot above is it.

If the Braves win the Wild Card or East Division by 1 game, we'll remember this night and the gift the Braves were given.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Titans Logo Looks Nothing Like the Letter A

As part of the NFL's public relations campaign to get its fans excited about the upcoming season now that the lockout is over, the league is returning to its "Back to Football" campaign used in recent years around the start of the season. As such, the league customizes the campaign for each of its 32 franchises, inserting the team logo into the wordmark in place of the league shield.

What is Footboll? Or is it Footbtll?

In the case of the Titans, however, the placement is curious. Why replace the letter A with the Titans "flaming thumbtack" logo? It looks nothing at all like an A. It more resembles the letter O, and, for goodness' sake, there's a T inside the logo. Of course, both O and T appear in the word "football".

The Jets got it right. Why can't we? I know this is a league creation, but someone here in Nashville had to sign off on it. Maybe Titans management was too busy perusing Kenny Britt's arrest record. Or, you know, not doing anything football-related for the last 5 months.

And, I know, the majority all of my Titans-related posts on this blog have been negative so far. I'm not trying to be Debbie Downer here. I am a huge Titans fan, and I want them to win a Super Bowl more than anyone. They're just so darn easy to pick on right now.

The Road to the #1 Pick In the 2012 Draft begins!

Unlocked & Ready for Action
The NFL Lockout is officially over.

Nashville, it's time to get pumped up for the Titans' 2011 season, which I'm calling "The Road to the #1 Pick In The 2012 NFL Draft".

These are my people. This is where I come from.

After an fun weekend in Cincinnati, where I saw my beloved Braves get beaten down by the Reds, then went to the Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum on the way back (which was very fun, educational, and amusing, by the way—I highly recommend to any baseball fan)... I return home to find this posted to my Facebook wall...



Yes, that's the pre-race prayer at the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Nashville Gladeville Superspeedway, and that's a preacher from Lebanon. Being a Wilson County native, I can't quite decide whether to be proud or ashamed. It depends on whether the Internets judge it to be hilarious or inappropriate, I guess. Either way, it is amusing.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Could Nashville Support the MLS?

Major League Soccer in Nashville?
Is Nashville ripe ground for a Major League Soccer team? We've certainly seen good crowds come to LP Field for the Team USA friendlies in recent years. Some 20,000 attended the most recent one at the same time the Predators played to a sold-out crowd at Bridgestone Arena.

While you may say, "Soccer?!?", I say that Nashville has an increasingly diverse population and a large (and rapidly growing) percentage of immigrants from countries where fĂștbol is king. And, of course, there's the old standby reasoning: kids play soccer and it's on the cusp of being the next big thing (which people have been saying since the 70s).

Overhead for an MLS team is rather low. Currently only 6 players in the league command a salary of $1 million or more, but 3 of those (Thierry Henry, David Beckham, and Rafael Marquez) are over $4 million, and the market for Henry and Marquez was no doubt driven up by Beckham's exorbitant contract with the LA Galaxy a few years ago. The average player salary is around $140,000, and that's including those players above the million-dollar mark. You could stock an entire team for less than the Predators are paying Sergei Kostitsyn this year.

The big question is: Who would own the team and where would they play? The answer that would come to everyone's mind immediately is LP Field. Not gonna happen. The only way Nashville will get a MLS team in the immediate future would be if Bud Adams ponies up for the franchise. His old buddy, the late Lamar Hunt, was a charter MLS owner, but the old bird-flipping curmudgeon from Houston is pushing 90 years old now, and I don't see launching a new soccer franchise in Nashville as a high priority for him. And if Bud doesn't own the team, it's not going to play at LP Field. The owner would have to pay rent, no control over any off-field signage, and the Titans would keep the concession & parking money. Good luck with that.

(Ed.Note: J.R. Lind tweets me this: "Also worth noting: MLS would have to waive soccer-specific stadium req to play at LP Field. They've only done that once, for SEA [Seattle]. And Seattle pre-sold like 37K season tix")

It would take someone who would be willing to finance a privately-owned stadium (capacity 18,000-25,000), on land possibly donated by Metro for the cause. I wouldn't ask Metro for any cash right now...with the Music City Center stretching the town thin and Mayor Dean barely interested in getting a new stadium for the Sounds, the city probably wouldn't be willing to take the risk on soccer. But, if the Sounds end up getting a new ballpark downtown, Greer Stadium's current location (with a new building, of course) might be the perfect place to land. With the Predators having a rather large ownership group of local business leaders, I don't know if someone here in town would be available or willing to start such a venture. It might take somebody from the outside (let's hope it's not Craig Leipold) to make it happen.

Even with all that said and a lot of questions left to be answered, I believe within the next 5-10 years, Nashville will be home to a Major League Soccer franchise. Not quite yet...but soon.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Lockout Is Over!!!

Well, for a minute I thought the owners & players had finally worked everything out and began singing Kumbayah. As it turns out, the owners approved a new CBA that the players hadn't seen yet.

It may be ratified tomorrow, but based on the opinions of players who were interviewed (or had their Twitter feeds shown) on SportsCenter, it's not looking very likely at the moment.

Either way, this much is true: the Titans are going to suck in 2011. There's not much reason to be excited right now over the (possible) resumption of the NFL.

Well, that didn't take long

We're barely 24 hours old, but I had already grown tired of the Big Picture Sports name. It was bland, and frankly, stupid. I wanted to start a blog and didn't really consider the name until it was too late, so I rushed it through and never was happy with it.

Therefore, I made an executive decision and changed it. I wanted it to have a little Nashville flavor.

I chose "Picks, Pucks, & Pigskin".

So, there's the new name. I sure hope you like it. I do.

Optimistic New Vanderbilt Coach, Version 9.0

I just heard new Vanderbilt Football Head Coach James Franklin on WGFX's 3 Hour Lunch.

He's done very well with recruiting since coming on board, and just like every other first-year Vandy coach, he's quite optimistic. He certainly is the most charismatic Vandy coach I've heard in a long time (if ever), but then again, the season hasn't started yet. I'd like to see how he'll handle the media once the inevitable losing begins.

As a lifelong Vanderbilt fan, I can only hope that the recent success of the baseball and basketball programs will eventually bleed over into the football program as well, but as ultra-competitive as the SEC is, I just don't see it happening.

But stay optimistic, coach. Maybe the good attitude will rub off on the players and they can sneak up and beat an SEC opponent or two not named Ole Miss.
 

SEC Media Days Needs An Overhaul

It's time once again for the circus that is SEC Media Days, where 12 SEC coaches, 36 SEC players, legions of media, and throngs of fans show up and crowd the lobby of a hotel within a Hoover, Alabama shopping mall.

The SEC should have learned its lesson a long time ago. Fans should not be allowed to attend the event as it is presented today. With the sheer amount of people who descend upon the Wynfrey Hotel, there is certainly a fire code violation somewhere. Fans are sleeping on the lobby couches for up to three days, just hoping to shake hands with their favorite SEC coach or star player, and now we have people dressing up in costumes to attract media attention. It has become a huge joke, and it's impeding on the original purpose: to give the media a chance to preview the upcoming SEC football season.

It's high time the SEC made an event out of this. SEC Football is a cash cow. Move Media Days here to Nashville, put it at Gaylord Opryland or the new Music City Center. Call it the "SEC Kickoff" or something football-themed like that. Create a "fan zone", much like they have prior to the SEC Championship Game every December. Keep the fans away from the business side of the event, where the coaches meet with the media, but allow the coaches and players to meet and greet the fans at a specified area.

Holding it during the third week of July would allow fans from across the South to pile their kids into the minivan and make the trek to this centrally-located family destination as their yearly vacation, and take part in all kinds of football-themed events. The way this city knows how to throw a street festival (4th of July, CMA Fest), we can surely handle one more.

There might not be any actual football games to watch, but you can be sure the SEC would stand to gain a LOT of money from such an event. It would help to bring order to what is now a chaotic event, and give Nashville a nice tourism boost for a couple of days. By this time of year, everybody is ready for football season. Holding a football-themed family-oriented event is sure to be a homerun touchdown.

Mayor Dean and Nashville CVB chief Butch Spyridon should formally propose this to the conference. With dollar signs in his eyes, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive would be willing to listen.

SEC Expansion Talk... Again?

I thought we had settled all of this. Instead, it seems the SEC may be courting Oklahoma and Texas A&M. SportsByBrooks has been on a Twitter-frenzy tonight about the possibility of the Big 12 imploding due to Texas' new "Longhorn Network", with the rest of the teams going to the Big East or Mountain West and Texas going independent.

For the record, Brooks doesn't seem to think it will happen, but it remains intriguing.

Should the SEC expand to 14 schools? I say no. I like the conference the way it is. Keep it at 12.

If you're going to screw with the SEC's membership, then organize a trade with the ACC. Ship Vandy over there and take Florida State or Clemson.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Different Window of Opportunity

The Predhead shows off his new colors.
I am passionate about the Nashville Predators like I have never been about a sports team in my life. Part of that is due to the tight community of fans that I’ve become tuned into through various forms of social media over the past year. Another part is: I absolutely love the city of Nashville and almost everything about it. I take pride in the awesome things our city brings to the world, and the Preds are no different. This is Nashville’s team. This is the only major professional sports team that bears our city’s name. Sure, the Titans have a larger fan base and represent our city as well, but they focus on being a regional draw with the “Tennessee” name. I bet if you polled 10 NFL fans in another part of the country, at least 3 of them would say the Titans are located in Memphis. The Titans don't do a whole lot to associate themselves with the city.

On the other hand, the Predators are ours. They are proud to call Nashville home, and they went so far to prove that by putting piano keys, guitar strings, and a guitar pick on the new uniforms (that's a different post for a different day). They're a way we can reach out to the world and say, "Hey. This is our team. They play hockey, but they also represent what is so great about our city. They're classy. They're hard-working. Watch them play, and then come to visit, and you'll see why we love our city and our team."

Much has been made recently about the “window of opportunity”, pertaining to a competitive agenda, facing the Nashville Predators. With guys like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, and Pekka Rinne leading the team now, and the massive upside of guys like Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, and Sergei Kostitsyn (and don't forget Ryan Ellis) who are sure to step up their games as this team finds room to compete for a Stanley Cup.

But that’s not the window of opportunity I’m talking about. There is a gigantic open window for the Predators, and it looks out toward LP Field. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but the professional football team that calls that stadium home has run into a bit of turmoil lately.

All seemed well until that fateful week when the Titans were slated to play against the Washington Redskins in November. The Titans were on pace to make the playoffs, and all seemed well with the team. They acquired Randy Moss, to much fanfare. Then it all fell apart. Rapidly. Beginning that day, the Titans began to unravel. And that unraveling continues now. Whether or not they’ll be able to pick up the pieces remains to be seen, but even the most optimistic Titan fan will tell you that it's going to take a while. It started with Vince Young quitting on the team during that game, and led to the postgame fireworks in the locker room between Young and Jeff Fisher. Then, for two months, Titans fans began a civil war with each other as the losses piled up. Either you were “Team Vince”, or you were “Team Fisher”. Or, if you were like me, you were on “Team I Wish Both Of Them Would Be Gone.” (My team won, by the way.). Let us not forget that the team proceeded to do absolutely nothing with Moss (it reminds me of the way WCW treated Bret Hart), not that Moss had any reason to be excited to be there. The team kept losing. And losing. And losing. There was absolutely no leadership. Toward the end, it seemed as if they weren't even trying anymore, and they probably weren't. After the decision to cut Vince Young, and three weeks later, Jeff Fisher’s abrupt departure, we got to see that amazing press conference where WGFX’s Clay Travis sparred with Titans front office head honcho Steve Underwood. The Titans then hired an unproven head coach who filled out his staff with what seems to be an island of misfit toys (with the exception of Bruce Matthews), and then the NFL Lockout was on. The team drafted a quarterback with accuracy issues. Kenny Britt got arrested…multiple times. Kerry Collins called it a career.

Since that 1999 run to Super Bowl XXXIV, the Titans have been the 800-pound gorilla of Nashville sports, but it’s hard to find someone right now who is absolutely passionate about the state of the Tennessee NFL franchise. The old saying “hope springs eternal” may not be totally true. The Titans’ may need to go dig another hope well, because the current one is drying up. That’s where the Predators come in.

In hindsight, the timing couldn’t have been better. In the summer of 2010, the Predators brought in a new CEO (Jeff Cogen) and COO (Sean Henry). These master salesmen took an already-good product and made it better, both on-ice and off. The marketing strategy changed from a “hockey-first” pitch to a “Hey, come down to the arena and be a part of something fun” pitch. Did you notice the TV commercials for the Preds last season? Very few of them showed hockey players or on-ice action. Opposing teams were only mentioned in the tag at the end of the spots announcing the next home game. Instead, the focus was on the fans. You saw shots of Broadway before the games, and people cheering inside the arena. You saw people interacting with the Predators’ dancers, and Gnash with kids. We weren’t being sold on hockey. We were being sold on the experience. The sizzle, not the steak. And, whaddya know, more people started coming to the games, and the energy inside the arena led to more wins. The playoffs rolled around, and Nashville had a winner to support. The excitement during the latter games of the Anaheim series and all throughout the Vancouver series led to a fever pitch I haven’t seen in this city since that 1999 Titans Super Bowl run. Though the season ended in the second round, Nashville finally figured out what it had been missing for ten years: there’s a hockey team on Broadway, and lo and behold, it’s a lot of fun to watch them play.

The Preds rose to prominence during the leanest of times for the Titans and gave Nashville something to cheer about. As the NFL lockout ends and the season begins, there’s not much to be hopeful for with the boys in blue, but the guys in gold are giving us something to love. Just as the Titans are going through their deepest valley since moving to Nashville, the Predators are climbing a mountain. I firmly believe they can reach the goal of 25 sellouts this year. The real question is: "Will the Preds hang onto these new fans once they falter and the Titans start winning again?" That's going to be a challenge. But if the people who came to love the Preds during the Titans' struggles are like me, they'll get hooked on hockey; not just our team, but the game as a whole.

There is room for both teams in this town. The Preds sputtered along in first gear for the first 12 years, but they shifted into second gear last season, and as the generations change, I think we'll see more off-ice success for the Preds. The news that Bridgestone Arena has ranked among the world's top concert venues only helps things. Though the city owns the building, the Preds see that revenue, and that's helping to stabilize the finances of the team and make it more competitive on and off the ice. It's allowing them to eventually invest more in the products they control (the team and the building), as they pointed out at the Skate of the Union. Cogen and Henry worked with what they inherited last season, and they've had a year to make this team their own. We're beginning to see the effects of that now with the team's rebranding efforts, the increased amount of non-hockey events happening at the arena, and the aesthetic changes coming to the building itself... and I'm getting very excited about the future.

Though I hope the Titans come back to prominence sooner rather than later, I really think the Preds have a chance here to solidify their place in the hearts of Nashville's casual sports fans that have, to this point, pretty much been Titans-exclusive. I hate to go back to the Herb Brooks “Miracle” line, but hey Preds: this is YOUR time, now go out there and take it. The window of opportunity is wide open.

To All Who Come To This Happy Place: Welcome.

To all who come to this happy place: Welcome.

Okay, that was what Walt Disney said when he introduced Disneyland to the world in 1955. So, I totally ripped that off. But, the sentiment behind it is the same. Welcome to Big Picture Sports.

I’m not going to break down contracts. I’m not going to analyze stats. I’m calling this Big Picture Sports, because I want to take a look at, well, the big picture. The great thing about blogs is that the infinite amount of space provided allows us to get really deep into the details. That’s great and all, but that’s not where I’m going to go (most of the time). I might decide to focus on some minutiae every now and then, but that's not my true intent. I’m going to zoom out the lens a bit and look at things from the broad perspective of a casual fan. I’ll cover things happening in the world of sports, both on and off the field/court/ice. A lot of what will be posted here will be Nashville-centric and Southern-centric, but there might be some other opinions about general sports topics or national stories.

I can't guarantee you a post every day. I'll write as the mood (or a particular opinion) strikes me. And I'll promise that after this initial post, I'll focus more on sports and less on myself. I hope you enjoy it.

Now, the rest of this post is all about me. I’m not asking you to read it, but if you want to understand my mindset, this would be a good place to start…

My name is Zack Bennett. I am Nashville-born, Wilson County-raised. I grew up bouncing around from team to team among the four major sports, really riding the bandwagons and not rooting myself with a deep love for any particular team, until the Titans and Predators came along.

I watched the first Predators game through a snowy picture on a clearance TV hooked up to a coathanger in the electronics section of the now-closed Hermitage Kmart, which is where I was working in 1998. That game, against the Florida Panthers, was broadcast on WNAB-TV 58, and our TVs only picked up Channel 5. So, I had to find a way to make sure I witnessed history. I’ll never forget it. I had always been curious about hockey, and my knowledge of it was fairly limited to what I learned playing NHL ’94 for the Sega Genesis. But I remember being SO excited that we had a team to call our own.

My first Predators game came against the San Jose Sharks. I was still in high school, and my mother wouldn’t allow me to go by myself or with friends, so I bought her and me a ticket. We sat in section 316. I don’t remember if the Preds won or lost, but I do remember how fascinated I was, and how my mother had no clue. My second game was part of a Lipscomb University recruiting excursion, and it was the Preds’ first shutout: a game against the Phoenix Coyotes, when Tomas Vokoun permanently stole the spotlight from Mike Dunham.

During the 2002-03 season, at MTSU, I began a friendship with Brendan Stubblefield (@vols7381 on twitter), and thanks to a combination of $10 Upper Goal Zone seats, and $8 tickets on Thursday via a weekly coupon in The Tennessean, the two of us went to as many games as we could afford. It was then that I fell in love with hockey and the Preds. I bought single-game seats to almost every game in the 2003-04 season, most of which were in the famed “Cell Block 303”. The lockout and a subsequent move to Alabama for nearly 5 years forced me somewhat out of the loop, so I wasn’t here for all the turmoil surrounding the Jim Balsillie and Boots Del Biaggio affairs.

But once I moved back to Nashville in 2010, and began making new hockey friends on Twitter and reading the various blogs, I was hooked again. Now, in 2011-12, I will be a season ticket holder for the first time, and I can’t wait.

My relationship with the Titans is a little different. Right out of high school, I began working for WANT 98.9 FM in Lebanon, a Titans Radio affiliate. Quickly, I volunteered to man the control room during all the games. I was literally getting paid to watch football. The first game I attended was, of all things, the Music City Miracle game. After the Super Bowl loss, I applied for (and received) an internship with Titans Radio, where I wrote for TitansRadio.com, and produced audio packages for the broadcast each week. Imagine me, at 20 years old, getting practically unlimited access to one of the NFL’s elite teams. The whole experience was surreal. For the 2000 season, I was manning the controls on the flagship station, WGFX 104.5, and in 2001, I was manning master control for the entire network. Then, it all came to an end. My contract was revoked for reasons I still don’t fully know, though admittedly, it was probably because I was being an ass. But, I managed to stay on board at 104.5 as it became “The Zone”. After a year of working with guys like Willy Daunic and George Plaster, I was fired again, so I went to work over at Cumulus, which then hosted 106.7 The Fan. So, there, I got to work, albeit briefly, with Blake Fulton, Joe Biddle, and Pete Weber. Interestingly, me and Kevin Ingram were the only two people to work with both sides of that faction after its very public breakup in 2003.

After moving to Alabama to manage and program a Sports Talk radio station (WUMP-Huntsville), I worked with the station’s afternoon host, Thom Abraham. Yes, the same Thom Abraham who would later come to Nashville. During my time there, I requested a media credential (and received it) for the Titans from 2007-2009, so I went to almost every home game during that span as a member of the media.

As far as college sports goes, I’ve always been a fan of the Vanderbilt Commodores, first and foremost. It’s been a pretty crappy fandom. But, I live by this simple rule: everybody needs a winner in their life. So, I have created a new rule: If you claim to be a lifelong fan of the Vanderbilt Commodores, you get one other team to be a fan of… but you always have to root for Vandy first. So, I adopted Alabama as my secondary team of choice when I was 11 years old. That alliance came in very handy when I was running WUMP – Huntsville’s Crimson Tide radio affiliate.

So, there you have it. I really can’t believe you read all of that, but thanks.

NOTE: The blog's title changed to "Picks, Pucks & Pigskin" roughly 24 hours after the site's launch.