It's kind of strange how we mark time. Every year right before the Best of Preps banquet is a crazy busy time for the TFP sports department. More than 1,500 folks are coming to dinner and we have to be ready.
That said, the changes from this time of year to last range from minute to massive and are equally staggering. Last year we had a Super Bowl MVP quarterback with New Orleans ties. This year, well, we have a Super Bowl MVP quarterback with New Orleans roots.
Last year Robert Pattinson was running around the Scenic City, riding the wave of celebrity of the nation's hottest trilogy. Now, you could see Harrison Ford duck into Taco Mamacita and not be surprised. And yes, Harrison Ford was Pattinson — only with talent — before Pattinson was even born.
But today, let's focus on the differences between then and now that are far greater than the numeric.
From the "Talks too much" studios, here we go...
About this time last year we believed that the OKC Thunder was a fun an energetic bunch that had an entertaining run to the Western Conference finals. We didn't know if we'd seriously hear from them again, we just knew that Kevin Durant was a great scorer and the guy coming off the bench had a boss beard.
Now, we know they can be NBA champions.
The biggest leap any team must make in terms of chasing a title is the ability to close out a game. Make first downs. Lock down the eighth and ninth innings. Make 6-footers for par on the 15th or chip in for birdie on the 16th.
For the Thunder, this group has continually made big shot after big shot in one-possession games against a Spurs team that until last week had not lost since April.
Well a basket of big buckets from bearded baller James Harden and the series of sublime shots set up by the mismatch machine that is Durant later and the Spurs' season ended with four straight losses. This OKC Thunder team — a group whose three best players, Russell Westbrook, Durant and Harden, are 23 or younger — is poised beyond their years.
Not only are they in the finals ahead of schedule, they sealed their spot by handling two of the most pressure-filled situations in seven-game postseason scenarios. Consider the following:
— In Game 5 at San Antonio, the Thunder were up 13 with six minutes to go. San Antonio cut it to 101-99 with 90 seconds left, and everyone in the building thought the Spurs would deliver. They were denied by a monster Harden 3.
— In Game 6 at home, the Spurs steamed to an 18-point lead in the first half, and looked like the series was headed back to San Antonio. Durant would not let it happen. The 23-year-old who already has three NBA scoring titles scored 34 points, grabbed 14 boards and drew a crucial charge that changed the course of the events.
Change is good.
About this time last year, most of the news coming out of Tuscaloosa centered on tornado recovery and Harvey Updyke.
Now, there is no program in America enjoying more success than the Crimson Tide, who have hoisted NCAA championships in football, women's golf and softball this school year and finished second in golf.
Some times things work in weird cycles and winning certainly can become contagious, but this is more than eye-catching.
And don't look for the football train to slow down any time soon gang. As much as the rest of the SEC may loath to admit it, the Tide's roll does not look like it's going to fade any time soon.
Sure, friend of the show Dr. B (he is a doctor after all) is an unabashed Alabama hater/baitor but he knows Alabama will open the season in the top 5 of almost every poll. The good doctor rightfully notes that the Tide has lost a slew of talent in the last couple of years. That actually means there are now playing opportunities for the slew of talent waiting in the wings.
Here are three names to remember that will be charged with replacing the last round of NFL first-round studs that have traded the Crimson of Alabama for the green of the NFL: Dee Milliner, an NFL-size cornerback who will step in for Dre Kirkpatrick; Trey DePriest, a rising sophomore who will be the next Alabama super-stud linebacker; T.J. Yeldon, a freshman running back that wowed in the spring, Yeldon may have to wait early behind Eddie Lacy and Co., but this kid is special.
The names may change, but the success is here for a while.
About this time last year, Charlie Sheen was the most popular thing this side of McDonald's. Sure the clown served billions, but in his-post-TV-hit-break-up Sheen was serving one-liners and became the most trending topic since the Slinky. He had more catch phrases than a Seinfeld convention — not that there's anything wrong with that.
Dude was everywhere and his message was over-the-top: He insulted nearly everyone; he called his porn-star girls goddesses; he tried to turn his pseudo-fame into a world tour; and well you know the rest.
Now Sheen has told Rolling Stone magazine that he was in denial. You think so doctor? So your theory that crack is OK if you can control it socially was a bit over the top? Got it.
Sheen would have been well-served to follow one of our favorite pearls of wisdom — if everyone in the room is laughing and you don't know who the fool in the room is, well, it's you. (Granted that's not as golden as "Never play cards with a guy nicknamed after a city," but it's in the top 10.)
We grew up wanting to like Sheen for several reasons. He has a nice collection of movies from Platoon to Wall Street to Young Guns to a glorious cameo in Ferris Bueller. He's arguably part of the most talented acting family of all-time. (What blood relatives have a better list of movies and TV shows than Martin Sheen, Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez?)
And if you're wondering why this has a place in a family-oriented, interweb-based sports column, well, that's a fair question. He once paid six figures for the ball that went through Buckner's legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Plus, he was a big part of the success in "Major League," which is actually underrated as sports movies go considering it is truly funny, has at least two hair-raising moments and the actors actually don't embarrass themselves athletically.
Still, in this age of the unfillable and unavoidable electronic celebrity — and worse the matching unfillable and unavoidable electronic memories — Sheen's flash-mob meltdown this time last year was historic.
And that's undeniable.
This and that
— Not so much of change: LeBron James' season goes through Boston tonight. Win and there will be a Game 7 on Saturday. Lose and the Heatles face a summer of discontent — and likely a slew of changes.
— Change history: Your favorite racing slogan and ours "I'll Have Another" will try to make history Saturday at the Belmont. We're all-in for the "I'll Have Another" approach to life. In fact, since it's the a.m., we'll have another cup of Joe. And when we get done with the banquet tonight — and the 1,200 things we have to mark off our list to head to the Panhandle — we may have several anothers later. (Side question: We all love a vacation, right? Well, when did it get to the point that you had to work 80 hours the week before to get everything done so you can take 40 hours off? Cuh-razy.)
— No change to report: More names of Saints defensive players — Roman Harper and Jo-Lonn Dunbar — have surfaced as part of the Bounty-gate scandal. Want to know how deep this thing runs? Have you noticed not a single person involved be it coaches, management or players has denied the charges? Nope, every defense centers on either things have been overblown, everyone is doing it, or that the commissioner is judge, jury and executioner. Change your tune gang.
— No change on the horizon: The French Open semifinals are at hand. (Yeah we had to look it up, too.) and Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic comprise three of the final four spots. Here's an idea to make tennis more fair to the rest of the world. Give those three dudes a pass into the semifinals. Everyone else plays for the final slot, and the winner from the field can call it a mini-major championship. Seriously, there has not been a dominant three waiting for a fourth since John, Paul and George added Ringo outside Liverpool those many moons ago.
— Small change but no change: The Devils staved off elimination with a 3-1 win over the Kings, who now lead the Stanley Cup Finals 3-1. Are we ready for an end to winter sports with the Stanley Cup living in L.A. and the NBA title residing in OKC?
— No change in time: Still planning on being on 1370 AM today with Chris Goforth around 2 p.m. Stop by if you have the chance.
We're going to change this up. Naturally.
We're going on vacation next week — we are a touch excited, which is probably noticeable since we've mentioned it like 12 times in the last 24 hours — and since we're working on a Ripken-esque 5-at-10 streak we need some help.
As you regulars know, we do this every Monday through Friday, and we have every Monday through Friday since October 2010 — more than 350 consecutive M-Tu-W-Th-Fs — including vacations and holidays.
Well, on those vacation and holiday-type scenarios we have abreviated top-five lists to stay within the realm of the rules.
We need some top five lists you'd like to see next week. We already have some. We'll save some for next week and we;ll answer some today.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...