Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bryan Holoday and C'MON MAN

Well OK. I get it that orange is one of the Detroit Tigers' team colors. But catcher Bryan Holoday painting his fingernails bright orange before going out to catch a game against the Minnesota Twins won't exactly win him any awards in the manning-up category.

And this dude's from Dallas? The rough and tough Big D? Wearing fingernail polish? Really?

No doubt, manager Brad Ausmus was OK with this. Well then. What's next? Ausmus fielding questions at a press conference clad only in a bright orange thong? Scary thought.

And what gives with Victor Martinez's mouthguard? When wearing it, he brings back old memories of Lon Chaney's portrayal of the wolfman. With all the different varieties available to players these days -- this is the best he can do?

Major League Baseball umpire Joe West got a one game suspension for grabbing the jersey of a player during an on-field argument. Had it been the other way around, with the player doing the same to an umpire, he likely would have been bounced for at least 10 games. If it's a Commandment that a player shalt not touch an umpire, then an equal Commandment should state an umpire shalt not touch a player. So where's the equality?

Note to out-going Commissioner Bud Selig.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

In defense of Michigan

Now that was an interesting stat. The Univ of Mich has the Big 10's leading football defense. Really?

Well, let's see. They gave up 14 points at home to patsy Appalachian State in their opener.

The following week they were blistered 31-0 at Notre Dame.

In week 3, they gave up 10, again at home, to a Miami of Ohio team that is beyond pitiful. Despite playing in a 2nd/3rd tier league, the Redhawks more closely resemble the Washington Generals playing against the Harlem Globetrotters every Saturday. Before the game even starts, you just know it's going to be a blowout. But in their infinite wisdom, and perhaps desperation for an easy win, Michigan scheduled them anyway. Somebody should be ashamed of themselves.

Nonetheless -- given the above -- if Michigan has the best defense in their conference, then only one conclusion can be logically drawn.

The Big 10 (actually 14) across the board is playing some sorry-ass defense. If Michigan is #1, how bad are the rest of them being lit up by opposing offenses?

The new Ray Rice dilemma

We've all seen the video(s). Ray Rice and his then fiance were bickering before getting on an elevator and, once aboard, she charged him and got knocked out. What sort of punishment Rice deserves has certainly been the subject of much debate in recent times.

Actually, it's two-fold. First, there's the legal system, with prosecutors, defense attorneys, a judge, and all that. And then there's the NFL itself, championed by one Roger Goodell. But let's look a little closer at both.

Though it's preposterous to believe the prosecutors didn't have the "inside" elevator video all along, they opted to basically drop the charges if Rice entered an "intervention" program. Upon successful completion of said program, Rice's "record" would be expunged. It would be like it never happened. Given the nature of the incident, why they would agree to such a deal seems to remain a very good question indeed.

But they did. And they're stuck with it. Just because the knockout punch video went viral and the masses got their bowels in an uproar makes no difference. The prosecutors had the evidence all along, so they don't get to go back and take a second bite at the apple seeking harsher punishment. That would clearly be double jeopardy for the same crime and no court in the land would grant such a motion.

But trickier is the situation the NFL finds itself in. Particularly when it comes to the Players Union, and the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement). Remember, Commish Goodell originally suspended Rice for two games for an incident that happened back in February. Goodell would subsequently claim he had not seen the knockout video until recently. When it went public, the Commish quickly put Rice on an indefinite suspension. And that opens up a can of worms.

Whether their hearts are in it or not, the Players Union is legally obligated to represent, defend, and protect Rice to the best of their ability. After all, he was a dues paying member in good standing.

Enter the current dilemma(s). Turns out, the CBA has a double jeopardy clause as well. Like prosecutors, once the NFL has signed off on a punishment for a particular "infraction" by a player, they don't get another bite at the apple either. Further, there are no provisions in the CBA for an indefinite suspension. Rice is appealing, as well he should. The very word "indefinite" should raise eyebrows. Can you imagine a judge sentencing a convicted defendant to an "indefinite" amount of time in jail? An appellate court would throw out such a vague sentence in a heartbeat. 30 days, 6 months, 5 years, whatever. But indefinite is not an option, nor should it be.

And here's the real kicker. Despite the video, Ray Rice hasn't been convicted of anything in a court of law. The prosecutors signed off, remember? As mentioned above, if Rice completes his "intervention" program, in the magical world of American jurisprudence, all this supposedly never happened.

But Roger Goodell trying to play politician, and flip-flopping whichever way the winds of public opinion are blowing could very well wind up being problematic. He's the Commissioner of the NFL. A lofty position indeed that comes with a lot of power.

Yet being judge, jury, and executioner at his whim isn't going to fly. With the Players Union and the CBA in place, even the mighty NFL has its checks and balances, as well it should.

In the current Rice case, some valid arguments have yet to be resolved.

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out....

Monday Night Football

As a rule, yours truly has long scoffed at the stats from hell the sports geeks have visited upon us in recent years. Baseball is probably the worst. They have acronyms like WAR and OPS that the average fan is clueless about, and likely couldn't care less. And excuse me for still thinking the term "Sabermetrics" is better suited to a Star Wars movie than baseball games. I know good pitching and good hitting when I see it, and don't need to be bombarded with worthless trivia to put my already feeble brain on overload.

But this is about football, in particular the game between the Philadelphia Eagles visiting the Indianapolis Colts last night. A couple of interesting stats jumped out.

In his brief (two year+) NFL career, Colts' QB Andrew Luck had never lost back-to-back games. He has now. For that matter, he didn't lose many games while he was in college at Stanford. But a couple of them came against Oregon, then coached by one Chip Kelly, who BTW happens to be the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles these days. It seems Chip has Andrew's number.

But the more interesting stat was the Eagles became the first team in NFL history to rally back from 14 or more point deficits in the second half to win their first two games. That's a lot of history.

More times than not, even highly successful former college coaches struggle when they make the jump to the NFL. It's a whole different deal. Amongst others, people like Lou Sabin and Steve Spurrier are evidence of that, though former USC coach Pete Carroll seems to be doing rather well in Seattle.

But the Peter Principle, whereby one rises to their own level of (in)competence -- and stays there -- doesn't seem to apply to Chip Kelly either. He's turned the Eagles around in a big way -- quickly.

Much like his Oregon teams, Kelly and his staff have the Eagles in a high-speed, no-huddle, shoot-em-up offense, often featuring weird formations. Two running backs, three tight ends, and no wide receivers? Get outta here. Nobody does that. But it seems to be working.

And here's the thing about the Eagles. Under Kelly, they seem to have more gas in their tanks than other teams. In other words, they eventually wear them down, hence their second half superiority. Sure, every team rotates personnel on a lot of plays but, overall, the Eagles appear to be a cut above when it comes to conditioning and stamina over the course of an entire game.

They may not have the most talented players across the board on their team (though they collectively aren't too shabby), but if the other team is gasping for air in the fourth quarter while the Eagles are like the Energizer Bunny -- it certainly works to their advantage.

Granted, Oregon never won a national championship under Kelly, and the Eagles could fairly be called a semi-long shot to win the Super Bowl.

But hats off to Kelly for having his team supremely conditioned and bringing his own brand of innovation to an NFL team with looks, formations, and plays that have never been tried before. So far, so good.

And just think, Lions' fans. A couple years ago, when Jim Schwartz was obviously crashing and burning, your geniuses in the front office (as always) were slow to pull the trigger. It's entirely possible you could have had Chip Kelly. Can you imagine how much more explosive your offense would be with Kelly and company calling the shots? Now you're stuck with Jim Caldwell for the next few years, and likely going nowhere.

To borrow a line from the immortal Walter Cronkite -- that's just the way it is. Most other NFL teams have gone up and down, and back up again, but the Honolulu blue and silver seems forever stuck in a mode somewhere from mediocre at best, to just plain bad. And they're not going anywhere this year either. Or next year, or the one after that.

They've long been mired in their old ways, and the hiring of retread Caldwell is just the latest example. Of all the head coach possibilities in the latest merry-go-round, the Lions sat on their hands while the others were snapped up, then finally said Caldwell was the guy they wanted all along. Please. Funny, or maybe not, how no other team was clamoring for his services. Caldwell's record as a coordinator serving under other head coaches is outstanding. But when given the reins himself -- not so good.

Like Schwartz, in 4-5 years, he'll be gone too, never to hold another NFL coaching position. That's another interesting stat. In the entire history of the Lions, NONE of their head coaches has ever gone to another NFL team to be a head coach again. An assistant here, and a coordinator there? Yep. But never allowed to be the head man again. By anybody. Ever. The Lions are where head coaches come to get rich, but then die.

Caldwell will likely face the same fate in a few years. He brings nothing new.

It's guys like Kelly that make things interesting......

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Detroit Lions thud back to earth

After a rousing opening day victory over the hapless NY Giants, the Lions crashed and burned in Week 2 versus the Carolina Panthers on the road. The final score, 24-7, seemed indicative of how the game went.

For the last several months, Lions' fans have been fed a steady diet of hype from their local media. After all, they have a new head coach, and he's been to Super Bowls. A new offensive coordinator, one Joe Lombardi, came on board via the New Orleans Saints and had installed the offense that Drew Brees and company had used to such great success.

And oh my. The talent. Entering his sixth season, QB Matthew Stafford is at his optimum age and experience level. Same with Calvin Johnson. The Lions picked up Super Bowl winner free agent Golden Tate in the off season to complement the Megatron. Not long ago, they had added supposedly rejuvenated running back Reggie Bush. And besides the always fearsome duo of Brendan Pettigrew and Joe Fauria at tight end -- the Lions used their first round draft pick to select Eric Ebron, a hot-shot tight end from, ironically, North Carolina.

But wait, as the $19.95 (plus shipping and handling) commercials say, there's even more. The offensive line has become a cohesive unit both run blocking and pass protecting. Taken collectively, their offensive cup runneth over with talent across the board. The Lions should rack up more scores than your average sheikh with his harem.

Yet against the Carolina Panthers, the ersatz high-flying Lions were held to 7 points for the entire game. One measly touchdown.

Of course, that likely had to do with something that has been mentioned in this space before. It's an insidious disease that has plagued the Detroit Lions franchise for decades. Despite wholesale turnovers of players many times over and umpteen head coaches coming and going -- it persists. Though technically named osteus cranius eternicus, it loosely translates to Bonehead Syndrome that just... won't... go... away.

And once again, the symptoms were on full display in Charlotte. Start off with a poor game plan. That's on the coaches. Mix in the usual variety of stupid penalties and add a few turnovers. That's on the players. Season well with lack of execution, simmer for 3 hours, and what do you get? The Lions getting rightfully trashed 24-7 in another road game.

Regardless, the Lions' hypsters will tell you they are still in first place in the NFL North division. Indeed they are, though in a 4-way tie with the Packers, Vikings, and Bears.

At that, the Vikings still have the Adrian Petersen mess to deal with. Without their star running back, they might be in trouble. The Bears lost at home to Buffalo, then went out to San Fran and stormed back to win the game. Try and figure THAT out.

And yeah, the Packers got hammered in Seattle in their opener, and fell behind early to the NY Jets at home in Week 2. But most every team gets zapped in Seattle and the Cheesers came back to dispatch the Jets.

So the 1-1 Packers visit the 1-1 Lions next week. Somebody's gotta win, and somebody's gotta lose. If the Pack plays like they did in the first half against the Jets -- they'll go down at Ford Field. But if they play like they did in the second half -- they might well prevail. Further, it remains to be seen if Jim Caldwell, his staff, and the players can temporarily put the Bonehead Syndrome into remission for that game, or whether the age-old Lions curse will rear its ugly head again.

Stay tuned......

Saturday, September 13, 2014

UM/MSU football

Some things are predictable in football. Michigan and Michigan State will always host a patsy team to open their seasons. Despite all their spring and summer practices, it's like they need a warm-up game before they take on anybody serious.

This year was no different. MSU walloped Jacksonville State in East Lansing. The latter may as well have been the original Jackson Five, dead or alive, for what little resistance they put up against the Spartans on the gridiron. But they got a big check for marching off to a slaughterhouse.

To no one's surprise, UM had their way with Appalachian State in their own first game. It was a blow-out as well. The Mountaineers limped home to the boonies, or more properly Boone, North Carolina. But they got handsomely paid as well.

Evidently, the adminstrators and coaches at second-tier football schools think it's OK to send their troops off to be humiliated, as long as the cha-ching factor is high.

But occasionally it can backfire on the powerhouses. A few years back, the very same App St. waltzed into Ann Arbor and knocked off the "mighty" Wolverines. A day that shall live in infamy in Maize and Blue land.

And after all, what do the big schools have to gain by scheduling such patsies? They're SUPPOSED  to beat them handily, and the money is the same for them. However, if a monumental upset happens, they have a lot to lose. If they were "ranked" going in, they can kiss it goodbye for the season coming out. So why bother?

Yes, for some reason Big "10" schools are still only allowed to play 8 conference games a year, but the conference itself now consists of 14 teams. That means at least 5 potential conference opponents are left off every team's schedule. Yet given a 12 game schedule, that also means 4 games are left over as "electives", as they say in college.

Typically, UM and MSU will front-load their schedule with these 4 games. Also typically, three of them are of the Campfire Girls variety, with one being against a worthy opponent.

It was, and is, the same way this year. After jacking up the jackies from Lynard Skynard land, the Spartans went out to Oregon and got blistered. No shame there. The Ducks are a Top 3 national team. But in week 3, they take a vacation so they can prepare for --- Eastern Michigan, followed by Wyoming? Please.

After the Wolverines finally got revenge on the Apps, they went to South Bend and got lit up themselves by Notre Dame. Not just a thorough butt-whuppin', but skunked 31-0. It was the first time a Michigan team had been shut out in 30 years. At that, the score likely should have been even more lop-sided. Such was the beatdown they suffered. Sadly, at least for Michigan fans, this was the last time the teams will meet, at least for the foreseeable future. Notre Dame can forever crow about taking Michigan to the woodshed in their final go-around.

But like the Spartans, Michigan had yet ANOTHER patsy on their schedule coming up. At home, against a gawdawful Miami of Ohio team. The blue beat the red by a score of 34-10, but still fell well short of covering the point spread (33) against such pitiful competition.

Next up, they host Utah. Chances are the Utes will at least give them a decent game.

But the question remains. The Big 10 went to 12 teams a few years back. Now that it actually consists of 14 teams, why should schools like UM and MSU play 4 non-conference games when those same games could be devoted to teams WITHIN the conference? What's the point of allowing more teams in the conference only to ignore them in favor of playing 4 games a year OUTSIDE the conference?

And it's certainly not like UM and MSU stand to gain a lot of respect by scheduling a few patsies every year with their electives. Yeah, a lot of teams from other "power" conferences do the same thing every year -- but it doesn't make it right.

Interesting trivia question. When was the last time the Ohio State Buckeyes lost a football game to an in-state opponent?

Turns out, it was way back in 1921, when a guy named Warren Harding was President and, if I'm not mistaken, roughly about the same time Vin Scully called his first Dodgers' game. Or Regis first stepped in front of a camera. I wonder if any other team in any other state can boast the same? But enough of that nonsense.

Thing is, if the current trend continues, Michigan State, under head coach Mark Dantonio, might reel off several years of being unbeaten within the state. Michigan appears to be no match for them anymore. No, it likely won't last for 93 years and counting, ala the Buckeyes, but if Dantonio and UM coach Brady Hoke miraculously live to be Methusal-esque while remaining the head coaches of their schools -- it's theoretically possible.

Yes, another September has been wasted in non-conference play. But the date to keep an eye on is Oct. 25. The Wolverines visit the Spartans. And if MSU blows them out, which would come as no surprise, it might also spell the beginning of the end for Hoke.

Dantonio was the answer for MSU. Under his tutelage, that program continues to rise in prominence. Hoke is not, and never will be, the answer at Michigan. Despite their annual trumpeting of "blue chip" prep recruits every year -- UM just can't seem to get it together anymore to compete even within their own conference, let alone the national stage. And that falls on Hoke. No pun intended, but the blue-bloods in Ann Arbor that are in charge of such things won't tolerate this for very much longer. I look for Hoke to be gone after this year.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Oscar Pistorius. Will it FINALLY ever end?

Finally, FINALLY, there is some progress in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. No need to recount the events of that tragic day. Everybody knows about the gunshots through a bathroom door, etc., etc. The only question is, and ever was, did Pistorius knowingly shoot Reeva Steenkamp, or was it a case of mistaking her for an intruder and a horrible accident?

Remember, the incident itself took place on Feb.13, Valentine's day of 2013 -- over a year and a half ago. After the trial FINALLY got started, a year later, it has dragged on for months. And it's not like the prosecutors and defense counsel have been in court every day slugging it out with their various unproveable theories. Far from it. The reason this has dragged on so long is because of the judge, one Thokozile Masipa.

Her Honor seems prone to more delays, adjournments, and vacations than the US Congress. Granted, Pistorius has remained free on bond, likely because of his world-class stature/fame, rather than rotting away in a cell somewhere like a "common" defendant would, while the marathon trial continues. It's likely few would consider him a "danger to society" or a flight risk. For that matter, where could a guy like Pistorius possibly go and attempt to hide?

Still, this trial is approaching the absurd in its length. And that falls on Judge Masipa. She long ago heard all the evidence, or lack thereof, and it's solely her call to make. Yet she drags it on, and on, and on.

Further granted, Masipa is only human and perhaps she relishes her time in the international spotlight. After all, had you ever heard of her before this case? Not me. And when it's finally over, we may never hear of her again. Remember a guy named Lance Ito? He was the judge in the super high-profile OJ Simpson murder trial back in 1994. Heard a peep about him since? Me neither. See what I mean?

But the 15 minutes of fame thing with Masipa appears to be out of control. It's turned into over 15 months, and STILL it isn't over.

Mercifully, she FINALLY handed down a partial ruling. In a rambling, semi-intelligible opinion from the bench, she decreed Oscar Pistorius would not be found guilty of murder. The prosecution had not met its burden to prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt. So Oscar won't be spending time in prison until Chelsea's still unborn child runs for President or William Shatner gives up his TV gigs.

However, she went on to say Pistorius acted negligently, which legal analysts have said could result in Judge Masipa finding Oscar guilty of "culpable homicide", though she didn't say so herself.

Culpable homicide is comparable to manslaughter. In other words, the defendant didn't intend to kill the victim, but through his/her carelessness, a death resulted anyway. Kind of like backing over your own grandma in a Walmart parking lot. That will normally spell trouble. You didn't mean it, but were supposed to have better control of your vehicle. One might have to do a little time for such an unfortunate incident. In Oscar's case, such a finding could result in anything from a few years in prison, to a slap on the wrist. No jail time. It's up to the judge's discretion.

So just when the Honorable Thokozile Masipa was about to address such a finding, incredibly she adjourned court. AGAIN. They'll be back in a day or two, and maybe she'll plod along some more. Or maybe she needs another vacation while she "deliberates" further. It would be nice to have a long overdue verdict sometime in the near future. But with a judge like that -- who knows? Many hairs have turned gray/white or fallen out while waiting on her to come to a decision.

Of course, when she FINALLY makes her ruling, there will be the matter of sentencing. No doubt, that will come later. In Masipa's case, likely much later. But hey, with a little luck, maybe Her Honor can wrap this up by the time Chelsea's just "showing" a little bit with the future Prez in her womb.

Here's hoping. Meanwhile, Pistorius has to keep twisting in the wind waiting for his fate to be determined.

Guilty of a lesser charge or totally innocent -- it's WAY past high time for Judge Masipa to FINALLY start making calls regarding Pistorius.

It's one thing for her to milk her "15 minutes". But this has become ridiculous. Even William Shatner would blush.