Mr. Soccer

Mr. Soccer

By Michael Felger

I don't have many friends in this sporting world. Celtics fans despise me. Sox fans don't even pretend to tolerate me. Patriots fans think I'm an enemy agent. Even Bruins fans have a hard time with me despite my overwhelming support for their league.

So when I actually find a fan base that has a few nice things to say, I don't turn my back. I embrace.

Someone pass me a Vuvuzela!

Hey Felger,Kudos for sticking out your neck in support of World Cup soccer. The absence of commercials alone should be enough to inspire your colleagues into viewing a game or two, but it appears most will not be swayed. These games are infinitely more watchable than a typical NBA playoff whistlefest or the majority of plodding Sox games. The diving, along with the bogus hands to the face simulating injury, is pathetic and I can see how that strikes a nerve with most fans. The seven guys all raising their hands to make out-of-bounds calls, despite the presence of three field officials, also grates the nerves. But you've got to back anything that inspires headlines like "the hand of clod."Keep fighting the good fight.DanielWen Ham United FC

I'm a slave to the Nielsen ratings, people. That U.S.-England match did over a 9-share here in Boston, and the actual viewership had to be double or triple that because most people watched the game at a bar or house party. I've heard my contemporaries (and I don't mean in the media; I mean in the civilian population) talk more about that game than any other soccer match I can remember, and it's obvious why. This is the most important sporting tournament in the world and the USA has a chance to be a factor in it. Americans as an underdog? I love that. And more and more people are starting to watch. That doesn't get your interest?

If you simply don't like soccer, then the answer is obviously no. There's nothing I can do about that. But I'm fully on board. I like the sport when it's played at this level and I'm a sucker for US national teams. Sue me.

Felger,I gave you some props on bigsoccer.com in the "American Sportstalk radio take on the 2010 World Cup" thread although I still believe you're a d-bag. Thanks for trying to "defend" soccer, even though I don't like using that word because the beautiful game needs no defending. Here's the post:"On Monday afternoon the hosts of the drive time show on 98.5 FM in Boston talked about the World Cup at some length, but much of it devolved into a 'pro' or 'con' argument on the merits of football itself."Much to my surprise, one of the hosts, Michael Felger, offered the most spirited and genuine 'defenses' I've ever heard in the Boston media. The Boston sports media is very stodgy and resistant to anything new or different, and I was shocked that this guy was telling people to tune into the World Cup. It's probably because he's not from Boston. This guy is not a football fan he only watches the World Cup but he was certainly trying to make converts out of his listeners. He admitted he doesn't know much about the game, but he finds the World Cup captivating. He admitted he never watches 'Premier League' or 'UEFA League' (his words), but he said he is enthralled with the World Cup. He commented that the players are the best athletes in the world and it's competition at the highest level. I give the guy a boatload of credit because talking football is not a popular thing in the U.S., and especially not on Boston sports radio, especially with the Celtics in the NBA Finals."The US plays Friday and I expect Felger to try and inject some US World Cup into the show that day, but with Game 7 of the NBA Finals on the night before, much of the sports talk that day will deal with the Finals. Cheers to Felger who is and I can not believe I'm saying this carrying the torch for World Football in Boston . . . "PhilHey Phil, Can you do me a favor and give the folks over at Patsfans.com a shout?
Felger You DB!The Celtics have a chance to close out the Lakers on Tuesday and we get that atrocity on Tuesday? Yikes. It's not like an NBA title or anything was on the line. And now Perk is gone for Game 7. Someone out in LA must have confiscated Dickerson's belt and shoelaces by now. I hope to God the Celtics pull this out. Not because I am a Boston sports fan, but because if they don't, the media's ballwashing of Jackson and Kobe will be so oppressive we might need to head to Vic the Brick's old stomping grounds on the Mekong to escape it. And is it just me, or does Vic look like the bass player from Spinal Tap crossed with a sexually confused Cossack? Jabulani!MikeAttleboro

If this were another sport, I might be worried about Tuesday night if I were a Celtics fan. An NHL team taking a night off in the postseason is a bad sign. An NFL team taking a night off is fatal. But in the NBA it happens, even in the Finals. It means nothing in terms of tonight. In fact, every time the Celts have thrown up a clunker in these playoffs they've come back with a great game. No one should be surprised if they do it again tonight.

Wow. Did I just write that?

Mike,After six games in the series I think we can make the following statement of fact: Kobe is a dink. But forget LeBron, he's the most talented dink in the NBA.Peace,

No question. And now we're on the verge of a "shut up" kind of moment. In other words, all of us who've tried to knock Kobe down in one way or the other will have to shut it down if he wins on Thursday -- at least for a while. It's like Peyton Manning winning the Super Bowl or A-Rod finally getting a World Series ring. Once your nemesis wins one, you've got to give in. Stats, numbers, MVP trophies -- none of that stuff matters. The only thing that does is championships. And, yes, Kobe already has four. But we all know that this one over the Celtics means the most, and until Kobe beats the C's he won't get us to shut up.

Felger,I know you don't have to be a brain surgeon to know how much denial David Stern is in about the NBA officials, but what are you going to do about it? You have to play through it. The Celtics need to worry about grabbing rebounds, limiting second-chance points, and actually playing TOGETHER if they want to win this series, because the Lakers are sure as hell playing like the better team right now!MattyFramingham

Rebounding has been the obvious common denominator in this series. The team that has won the boards has won the game all six times, and not just because of what those rebounds mean in terms of possession. They represent energy and effort; the team that's had more of it on that given night has won the game every time.

The refs haven't been a factor in this series in over a week, and they won't be a factor on Thursday night.

Felger,Paul Pierce saying he could play for the Pats?! What a joke! The guy gets bumped going to the hoop and he acts like he just got hit full swing with a coal shovel! I guarantee that after three plays in an NFL game we would see an ambulance driving on to the field to scrape Pierce off the turf! Jacoby Ellsbury could survive longer in the game!KenWhitman

I think the bigger question is whether Paul Pierce will play for the Celtics in the future, never mind the Pats. For some reason, everyone assumes it's a lock that Pierce picks up his 21.5 million player option for 2010-11. But the trend around the league has been just the opposite. Most players have gone to market now while the NBA is still operating under the current collective bargaining agreement. That CBA comes due after next year and the players are expected to take a beating on the new deal. Many believe we're headed to a lockout. As a result, agents are telling their clients to get extensions while they can under the old rules because the new ones aren't going to be as favorable. Most the big free agents currently on the market -- LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Dirk, Stoudemire -- all had player options like the once Pierce has. They all declined them. No one should be surprised if Pierce does, too.

Then the question becomes, would the Celtics want him back on a longterm extension, or would they want to use that money on someone else?

That, in my opinion, will be the No. 1 Celtics talking point after Thursday night.

Hey Felger,Here's an interesting article on a subject that is not mentioned enough because it highlights why Boston has a bad reputation with the African-American community:http:www.bostonherald.comnewsregionalview.bg?articleid=1261246Ted Williams is worshiped as a god in Boston. And while he does deserve praise for being a great player, why is a guy who never won anything and hated the fans treated like a god? Ted Williams has a statue and a tunnel named after him, and he has a big fat zero in the champions column.Bill Russell was a revolutionary player at his position while also being the greatest winner ever, not just in Boston but for all professional sports. And on top of that he acted with class in the face of horrible racism, the likes of which some couldn't even imagine today.What did Williams have to be angry about? He was a white man in a white city who was on the most-loved team in Boston and he was a jerk to people. But he gets the god-like adoration, while Russell is just an afterthought?Bird gets more praise even though he was on the only Celtics teams to ever lose to the Lakers....and he did it twice! Russell won almost all his titles having to go through Wilt freakin' Chamberlain!Just reinforces what people outside of New England believe about Boston.DanEast Providence

I know the guy mentioned in the story, Kilbert Pierce, and am familiar with his efforts. Pierce is a genuine guy and has worked hard on a Russell statue simply out of a strong sense of right and wrong. He should be applauded.

But here's a fact that the story ignores: Russell, himself, is indifferent to the idea. This subject has been brought up many times before and has been talked about for years. Why hasn't it gone any farther? Because Russell doesn't seem to care.

Felgy,The Brady contract issue is fascinating. Let's be real here: If Brady were to bolt town after next season it would be THE biggest story in the history of Boston sports. Period. Yet most Pats fans, and the media that follows the team, have their heads completely in the sand. They still think Bill, Bob and Brady are holding hands and singing Kumbaya in Foxboro. Guess what, folks: They ain't. The day Tom Brady decided to put his personal life ahead of Belichick and the team the stage was set for a messy divorce. The most interesting part of this story is that both sides are right. Brady has every right to live in L.A and focus on being a family man. Belichick and Kraft have every right to be hesitant about giving a massive contract to a guy that's living a celebrity lifestyle, isn't a full participant in off-season workouts and will turn 34 years just prior to the start of the 2011 season.The line will eventually be drawn, Felgy. And we'll all have to take sides. This could be Tuna-Gate all over again.High Life Mike

You got that right, Mike. Except, who would take the side of the Pats? It would be a bloodbath for Kraft -- and he has to know it. It's another reason why Brady holds all the leverage in this negotiation. He can really break their backs if he wants to.

Felger,If I was Brady . . . I would realize that I've already won three rings and the odds are against getting another one with the Patriots. Last year proved just how mediocre the team has become. Belichick is not the GMcoach that I thought he was. The Krafts will probably try to nickel and dime me, and I don't want to deal with that after all I've done for them. My two kids live in California and I can't bear to be away from them. The same goes for my wife. The same goes for my extended family. Because I still want to play football, why not go for another challenge, like trying to get a ring for the San Francisco 49ers? Besides, I'm sick of the cold New England weather. I also realized last year that I wasn't as "into" it as I used to be. But I still want to give it one more shot . . . close to home.Rick, Winthrop (who also grew up in California)

But what about the Wrentham outlets? You're saying Spooky World isn't enough to keep him around?

Felger,Silver's column was such a reach.It's June. JUNE! Everyone knows the league is waiting for Peyton Manning's contract first, who is ALSO in the final year. Is he being disrespected? This situation is similar to Eli Manning Phillip Rivers from last year, two players in their final years waiting to re-sign, except Brady is in the Phillip Rivers role, waiting for the bigger contract to get done to base his off of. Eli signed August 6, then Rivers followed suit August 25. This is the same situation and will probably go down the same way. Peyton signs big deal, Brady signs a slightly less big deal under a month later. Neither will sign until closer to training camp, or until after most of the rookies are signed. When has anyone signed a high profile extension with a year left in May or June? Ever? And before you get all smart about the difference between Tom Brady and EliRivers. It's the situations, not the players, that are comparable. Silver's column was comical. And not surprisingly, you're eager to jump on something negative -- no matter how speculative it is. Relax. How about those Jets and all those players looking to raises from their rookie deals. Or the Colts players not showing up for OTAs due to contract beefs with the teams? Any word on those situations, or doesn't that fit the argument that only the Patriots play hardball with players so we don't talk about those? William

Your last point, first. Have you watched ESPN recently? Seems to me when they aren't talking Soccer or NBA Finals, they're talking Darrelle Revis sitting out plays at Jets' mini-camp. That story has gotten a ton of attention. Ditto for the Manning situation. I'm not sure what you're talking about on that one.

But the rest of your point is valid. On the face of it, it's too early to be sounding the alarm bells especially since Manning and Brees remained unsigned as well. If those guys got deals and Brady didn't then we'd have a real situation on our hands.

That said, I trust Silver's sources who tell him Brady is put off by the process. Should Patriots fans care that Brady is upset, or is that a non-story? Do you only want to know when he's happy and encouraged? It seems to me you would have zero problem with a story that said talks between Brady and the Pats were progressing and a deal was expected soon. It would still be jumping the gun. Still talking about a contract when these things usually don't get settled until later. Yet something tells me we wouldn't be getting quite the same emails.

Anyway, I found it telling that Brady was unwilling to talk during the Pats' mini-camp this week but was more than willing to send out a statement via the NFLPA website speaking out against a proposed, 18-game schedule.

Is the fact that Brady is a union rep and is apparently taking an active role in the ongoing labor battle a story or not?

So, I turn on Sports Sunday a couple weeks back, and I see the estimable Mike Felger with a three-day stubble growth. Now, I understand this is a cable show, but really, your counterparts on the other local late night sports shows aren't going for the Nick Nolte mug shot look. What's the deal?MickNashua NH

Celtics playoff beard -- which I mercifully get to shave off tonight.

One way or the other.
Felger's weekly column appears Tuesdays. Email him HERE and read his mailbag Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace


Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”