February 24, 2006
Shizuka Arakawa:
Near-flawless long program gives Japanese figure skater the women's gold over Cohen and Slutskaya (not to mention Japan's only medal in Torino).
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

When Sasha Cohen took a spill about 15 seconds into her long program last night (two spills, actually), the first thing I muttered was, "She's ice skating's Peyton Manning."

It says less about Cohen and more about Manning that "pulling a Peyton" has become synonymous with regular-season brilliance followed by championship choke-jobs.

Nevertheless, Cohen's two falls and runner-up finish were the perfect symbol for the overwhelmingly disappointing U.S. team in these Winter Olympics.

Two weeks ago, I started the Wheaties Watch, the search for the breakthrough athlete who would be the country's Olympic headliner.

There have been a few amazing performances (the snowboarders come to mind), but mostly, the team gagged. It's been more of a "Wheaties Whiff":

Michelle Kwan dropped out. Chad and Shani put on more of a show sniping at each other than winning medals.

The Curl Girls were out of their league. Our lugers were losers. The hockey teams were disappointments. Apolo Ohno has been a bust (but has a chance for gold this weekend).

And though Bode Miller has one more shot at a medal in the slalom, at this point, the only gold he's earned is for being an Olympic joke.

(The U.S. received some 11th-hour skiing glory when Julia Mancuso won the giant slalom today, the U.S. women's first skiing gold since '88.)

I felt for Sasha; the music sounded so melancholy as she shook off the spills to brilliantly round out her routine and claim the silver.

But her disappointing finish wasn't unexpected. Not after the way these Games have gone for the U.S.

Wheaties was the wrong cereal.

More apt? Frosted Flakes.

WBC: Foreshadowing
Players are starting to bail, threatening to turn the once-promising World Baseball Classic into an event that looked awesome on paper, but won't follow through on the field.

Manny is reportedly out, which would be a huge hit to the D.R. lineup. Pedro won't pitch the first round (toe injury), but I think that's just a way to soften the blow that he won't pitch at all -- which would implode an already thin D.R. pitching staff. D.R. reliever Frankie Cordero dropped out, too.

What's going on? Players are realizing that it's hard to prepare for the rigors of a long MLB season while still giving their all to their countries in the WBC. Their real loyalties? To their MLB teams.

Villanova: Last-gasp layup beats Cincy, wins 11th straight
Kobe: Season-high 10 assists (plus 36 pts) in W over Kings
Emily Hughes: U.S. teen skating sub sensation finishes 7th
U.S. freestyle skiers: Only 1 medal (bronze) from 14 studs
Pops Mensah-Bonsu: GW's leader out for 2 weeks (knee)
Wisconsin: Badgers can't handle N'western pressure on road
The WBC's biggest story line is emerging: It's not who's on each roster; it's who isn't. (That is, of course, until the post-WBC story line eclipses it: How many WBC players get injured or underperform this summer.)

NFL Tagging
It's a sign of the times in the NFL when high-profile running backs are skipped by teams giving out franchise and transition tags, in favor of giving them to offensive linemen.

The hot trend is to follow the recent Broncos model and build a great offensive line, then plug any perfectly capable back behind them. That's why the Lions franchised OT Jeff Backus and the Seahawks tagged OG Steve Hutchison, even though they might lose league MVP Shaun Alexander.

Meanwhile, if Alexander thought he might be going to Carolina (after a fun week with Panthers players and coaches at the Pro Bowl), that fun theory took a hit when Carolina tagged RB DeShaun Foster.

Combine Watch: Reggie Bush insists he can be an every-down back; Olympian Jeremy Bloom to run the 40; 49ers and Raiders to have coin toss today to finalize the order of the 6th and 7th draft picks.

NBA Trade Dudline
Vitaly Potapenko? Marc Jackson? Flip Murray? Reggie Evans? Ruben Patterson? Lee Nailon? Stop me when you find these names at all interesting. Even the Trade Machine would get bored.

You know it's a slow NBA trade deadline when Earl Watson is the headliner of a 4-team, 9-player schlockbuster. Watson is a nice complement in Seattle as a third guard along with Ray Allen and Luke Ridnour, but the move -- like every other one Thursday -- won't move the needle.

(More interesting: How much did the revelation of the Blazers' brutal financial situation drive their activity in trading away bloated contracts like Ruben Patterson?)

CBB Weekend
It's getting to be that time -- heading into the last week of the regular season and the beginning of March -- when you start eyeing teams a little more carefully for the purposes of mining for bracket-picking gold.

Despite last year's first-round loss to Bucknell, I've got my eye on Kansas. After a 3-4 start, KU has reeled off 10 wins in a row heading into a game at No. 7 Texas for the Big 12 regular season title.

Why the slow start? Maybe because KU starts 3 freshmen and 2 sophs, with 2 more sophs as the key subs off the bench. Too green for a deep tourney run? Or maybe too green to realize they have no business making one?

There won't be a bigger test for the young Jayhawks than this game at Final Four-quality Texas. Keep an eye on how they handle it. (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Hottest Athlete
The rout is on! Surprise breakthrough Tanith Belbin continues to build on her Olympic silver medal momentum and extend her lead over heavily favored Maria Sharapova, heading into the weekend with more than a 9-point advantage.

Is it all just good timing? Ask yourself whether you even knew who Tanith was as recently as last Friday -- and how this vote might have played out if it had been held last week. No matter: Belbin's going to be the runaway champ!

"The Hurricane":
Speedy Peterson's freestyle aerial skiing move was awesome in the air, but when he didn't stick the landing, it put him all the way back at 7th.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
More on Sasha
Page 2 Index
Combine QBs to Watch
Jay Cutler
This year's Big Ben?
Brodie Croyle
How does his knee look?
Omar Jacobs
B. Green stud has tools
C. Whitehurst
Emerged at Senior Bowl
Won't be participating

Daunte Culpepper says he has an e-mail from Vikings owner Wilf saying he's not on the trading block. But if you look, it includes the caveat "yet."

Bonds Watch: I thought I said I wouldn't talk about the day-to-day minutiae. Let me make my point: Yesterday, nothing happened. (Whee! Happy now?)

The NBA suspended Sebastian Telfair two games for violating its gun policy. Maybe Telfair's documentary should be called "Through the Firearm."

Knicks' trade blame-game: Oh, wait, Larry Brown is taking credit for the Francis move (and Isiah seems more than happy to give it to him. Hmm...)

More WBC drop-outs: Jose Vidro won't play for Puerto Rico.

NBA on ESPN: Steve Francis' debut as a Knick, plus Lakers can edge closer to passing rival Clippers, who are slumping (5 Ls in row).

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