February 1, 2006
Kobe Bryant:
Scores 40 in blowout win over Knicks at MSG. Amazingly, he did it on only 7 made FGs (and 23 made FTs, a Lakers record). How can he top his January?
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Signing elite high school football prospects is so easy, even a teenage girl could become great at it. More on that in a second.

"National Signing Day" is college football's version of the NFL draft -- and it's become almost as big, with its own cottage industry of gurus, rumors and analysis.

While high school seniors have been declaring their college choices for the last few months (most notably on outlets like ESPNews), today is when they officially commit.

Coaches breathe easier. Recruiting "experts" breathe heavier. The players can breathe life back into a program (or, more frequently, simply make the rich richer).

Is there something wrong with the increasing professionalization of 18-year-olds, as Signing Day becomes more and more of a capital-E Event?

Hardly. It's not like these players aren't professionalized from the minute they step on a college campus. Why not move the timetable up a few months? (Some of the players have already ENROLLED in college!)

It's simply the evolution of the mania around the NFL draft trickling down to the next level. The only question remains: Where does it stop?

Now, back to the teen girls: THE hot trend in recruiting is text messaging from coaches to players.

In its infinite wisdom, the NCAA considers text messaging like a paper letter, not a phone call; coaches have unlimited access to text their recruits. And they do.

Florida's Urban Meyer has emerged as a master. In collecting what many think will be the No. 1 recruiting class of the year, Meyer displayed tech savvy fit for a generation of prospects hooked on cell phones.

(His class is so loaded, in fact, that a few recruits are cheating on him and jumping to other schools at the last minute, thus making college football recruiting even MORE like an episode of "Laguna Beach.")

"Sign here" is now a quaint anachronism.

A better motto? "Text here."

Media Dud
Joey Porter was supposed to be the symbol of the annual Super Bowl rite of media day:

The unfiltered, quasi-nutty player who craves the T.O.-style spotlight, but has never gotten it until now, baited into saying something incendiary or crazy or, at least, quote-worthy, by a horde of media members repeatedly shouting inane questions.

Instead, Porter was the model for the new media day method: He was even-keeled and stayed away from saying anything that would cause a frenzy.

Instead of calling out his opponents, he called out the media:

"The big story isn't how I go out there and play football; the bigger story is what he's going to say next," he said. "But it's not going to happen. I'm not going to give you anything special but to answer these questions, one at a time, and I'm going to take my time doing it."

The craziest thing he did was cop to wearing cubic zirconium earrings. Where's that bulletin board!

If media day had a prom king, it would be Matt Hasselbeck, who livened things up (relatively) with a few one-liners, such as:

UConn: Pitt puts up a fight, but Huskies get W at home
Ron Artest: Scores 19 in home opener; fans go Ron-crazy!
"Murderball": Fabulous sports documentary earns Oscar nom
Pistons: Forget 72 wins; loss to Nets drops them off pace
Robinson Cano: Won't play for D.R. in WBC (too deep at 2B)
Larry Brown: Ejected from NYK-LAL game. Hardly motivating
"There's a lot that people don't know. Like our names."

Thank you, thank you. He'll be here all week.

Actually, the most interesting thing Hasselbeck did was ask for the support of neutral fans:

"My plea would just be for all the people coming to the Super Bowl that are undecided on who they want to root for, root for us. We could use it."

(And you know what? Hidden behind that joke, he's right. More on that from me later this week.)

The new reality of media day is this: Perhaps as a response to the increasing media frenzy, the players tacked to the side of subtlety, leaving the media to be the ones creating a satire of themselves.

More XL Stories
Non-media day watch: As usual, non-sports media were on the scene, trying to stir things up:

Gilbert Gottfried was there, lending his, um, journalistic credibility to "Cold Pizza"; Mo Rocca for the "Tonight Show" tried (unsuccessfully) to be funny with Hasselbeck; and "Entertainment Tonight" gave out awards, including "Best Hair" to Troy Polamalu.

Stupid question alert: James Farrior was asked if he could spell "Roethlisberger." He couldn't, but covered his tracks well by marginalizing the question as a stupid one. Which it was.

SportsNation fun fact! You do the math: 45 percent of fans said that Super Bowl media day is a "complete waste of time." Yet 62 percent said they would watch media day over last night's State of the Union address.

Virtual Super Bowl XL: In what has become an annual tradition, Super Bowl XL was played out on an XBox using "Madden NFL '06." The Steelers used their ground game win pull out a win. Hey: Who needs the actual game? When's the Maxim party? I'll just catch the ads Monday morning on my iPod.

More on Kobe
Best month ever? Arguably, Kobe had the best month any NBA player has had in the ESPN Era. He averaged 43.4 ppg over 13 games (the highlight, of course, being his insta-mythical 81).

The only two players to average more than 40 over a month were Wilt and Elgin Baylor. In the ESPN Era, no other player has done it. Not Bird. Not AI. Amazingly, not even Michael Jordan.

In another feat unmatched by even MJ, Kobe averaged more than 40 ppg for a second time in his career; only Wilt has also done it more than once. (He did it 11 times. Yikes. How's that for historical perspective?)

T.O. Watch: K.C.?
"Somewhat interested" is how the K.C. Star described the Chiefs' interest in T.O.

Hard to believe Herman Edwards would put up with Owens' shenanigans, but, then again, when you play to win the game, what's a little kowtowing to an egomaniac if it gets you closer to those Ws?

But I guess the real question is whether Kansas City is big enough for both T.O. and my Page 2 colleague Jason Whitlock? Hmm ...

NBA Slam Dunk
Calling it now: Nate Robinson will win the Slam Dunk Contest, defeating 2005 champ Josh Smith, high-riser Andre Iguodala and rookie Hakim Warrick, the obligatory sacrificial big man.*

(* Let's remember last year's sacrificial big man: Chris Andersen. Urp.)

Why will Robinson win? Because he's the second-coming of Spud Webb; he's all of 5-foot-9 (yeah, sure) and can leap out of the gym. And about one game into the Knicks' summer league, he was the team's most popular player. He's simply charismatic.

Sex vs. Augusta II
Yesterday's item about 32 percent of golf fans being willing to go without sex for a year in exchange for a tee time at Augusta National inspired a classic Morning Quickie segment:

What sports experience would be worth giving up a year of sex for? After the chatters who were married with kids chimed in with their sarcastic replies, the results were pretty amusing:

Most involved winning a sports title of some sort (makes me wonder what Red Sox fans would have agreed to, pre-2004). The cleverest was from someone who said he'd give up sex for a year if, in exchange, Duke lost to a 16-seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Northern Iowa:
And, like clockwork, as soon as I write (Tuesday) about how UNI is college hoops' "sexy" team, they go out and lose to Creighton. Bye-bye, Top 25.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Big SN: SBXL Poll
Page 2 Index
Signing Day Stars
Surprise winner; preps buy in
Like Duke hoops, simply reload
National champs reap spoils
Notre Dame
Weis restores luster
Penn State
Do kids know Paterno's age?

Andy Pettitte said he thinks Roger Clemens will return. "Knowing him," Pettitte said, "I'd be surprised if he didn't come back." (via NY Daily News)

When you consider your NCAA brackets in March, keep in mind that Illinois went into Wisconsin and beat the Badgers. (So did North Dakota State, but still ...)

NFL job board: The Jags are reportedly talking with Mike Tice about an assistant role. Someone alert the Jacksonville cruise industry.

More: Looks like Mike Martz is ready to join the Lions as O-coordinator. Love what he might do with the WRs, but can he fix the QB problem?

Law & Order NASCAR: Auto-racing publicist charged with statutory rape and soliciting sex from a minor over the Internet.

Wie Watch: Michelle will play in May against the men of the Asian Tour in her first tournament in South Korea (her parents are from there).

Remember that Pittsburgh-area teacher who humiliated the student who wore a Broncos jersey the Friday before the AFC title game? No punishment.

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