Monday, October 20, 2014

The NFL's boneheaded London gambit

Next Sunday the NFL will once again ship two teams over to jolly old England for a game. You'd think they'd learn.

Though the NFL continues to be the gorilla in the room of American sports, it has long since been proven that England, and the rest of the world for that matter, has little interest in American football, real or fantasy. Remember how the NFL tried to expand it's brand a few years ago with the NFL Europe experiment? It crashed and burned like the Hindenberg.

For reasons most sane Americans, and even the not so sane (see yours truly) can't comprehend, the vast majority of earthling sports fans find soccer (futbol) much more captivating. Spanning the globe -- for every yankee doodle dandy football fan, there are legions of soccer fanatics elsewhere. But it is what it is and different strokes for different cultures.

Yet still the NFL persists in sending a game here and there overseas. This is dumb on many levels.

First, it's a colossal waste of jet fuel.

Second, even the blokes and blokettes of England that pay the admission price to attend such a contest view it as a novelty. A circus act, a freak-show. Like other American foreign policies, this is not to be taken seriously.

Third, even fanatical American NFL fans don't understand half the rules and complexities of the game. To people in the UK, who don't understand ANY of the rules and regs, it likely looks like a game of human pinball. Nevertheless, if I was a British subject that could spare a few pounds sterling, such an event could hold a certain allure. Once. It would be like visiting the San Diego zoo to see the pandas. That's a much hyped exhibit as well. Pretty cool, but once is enough. No need to go back.

Most importantly, if the NFL wants to make an impression in England, why are they sending the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons overseas to represent them? Sure, the Brits likely won't know the difference, but c'mon. A contest between the Motown meltdowners and the Tara tweety-birds is the best they could do?

If Roger Goodell and company want to make a splash in a foreign market, here's a suggestion....
Don't send a couple historical also-rans. Send your best.

Remember last year's Super Bowl was played between the eventual champion Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. As this year's schedule would have it, way back in Week 3, on Sept. 21, the Hawks and Broncs played a rematch. It was quite a thrilling game with Seattle narrowing prevailing by a 26-20 score.

THAT'S the game that should have been played in London. Not some contest between the Lions and the Falcons. And consider:

If you were a UK citizen and did a quickie internet search on Detroit and Atlanta, what do you think would pop up?

Both are crime-ridden cities. Murders, carjackings, gangs, drugs, and corruption. One is even bankrupt.

On the other hand, Denver and Seattle are both beautiful thriving cities, with much better football teams to boot.

So if the NFL absolutely insists on sending two teams (roughly 22,000 lbs. or 10,000 kilos) of ruffians to play in your back yard -- which would you rather spend your hard-earned quid to see?

Foreclosing on the Pope and the Detroit Lions

Home foreclosures are at an 8 year low. Well, duh. Everybody that could have lost their house in the great recession already DID lose their house. OF COURSE the percentages are going to go down. There's nobody left to foreclose on.

The current Pope is making a hero out of one of his long dead predecessors. OF COURSE he is. This is what Popes do. They beatify, canonize, and even confer sainthood on their fallen brothers from times past. Too bad they're typically a couple centuries behind what's going on in the real world.

But on to sports.

The Detroit Lions lucked up and pulled off an improbable win against the New Orleans Saints -- with no small amount of help from the refs. A couple phantom (BS) pass interference calls against the Saints made the difference. Sure, the Lions have suffered from equally bone-headed calls in the past, and what goes around comes around. Now the Lions are 5-2. Let the feverish Honolulu blue and silver masses jump on the bandwagon yet again. Careful. Over 50 years and counting, including last season, should make them wary. Speaking of Popes, Alexander the poet continues to have it right when it comes to Lions' fans.

"For fools rush in where angels fear to tread".

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Michigan State. Movin' on up?

Remember, this is the first year four college football teams will qualify for a shot at the national title in a mini-playoff. Were it still the same usual two, Michigan State would likely not get invited, even if they "run the table" for the rest the season.

But things have, and continue to fall in place for the Spartans to make it into the "final four". After an early loss to Oregon, consider what has taken place elsewhere with the usual suspects.

The Ducks themselves have been beaten. So has Auburn. Oklahoma just fell for the second time. Baylor got blitzed by unranked West Virginia. Alabama has lost one game, and barely hung on to win another by one point over also unranked Arkansas. To their credit, the Tide just tsunamied Texas A&M 59-0. It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature or Nick Sabin.

Shockingly, two historically door-mat teams find themselves in the Top 3. Mississippi State is #1, and Ole Miss #3. Both remain undefeated. But consider the games yet to be played. Miss State has to go to both Alabama and Ole Miss. Somebody has to lose those games. Then there's the SEC championship game itself. Only two can play, and somebody has to lose that too.

In the meantime, Michigan State has been taking care of business. In back-to-back road games they convincingly won at Purdue, and just throttled Indiana by 40 points. Next up for the Spartans is welcoming the floundering Michigan Wolverines. You just know the former "little brother" will be super-geeked to give their one-time nemesis an Adrian Petersen type switching. And they likely will.

Then Ohio State visits East Lansing. While the Buckeyes have certainly remained respectable in the wake of losing star quarterback Braxton Miller for the season -- it would be quite the upset if OSU were to knock off MSU. Besides, even when OSU has been at full strength in the last few years -- the Spartans seem to have their number.

After that, the Spartans pretty much have a cakewalk schedule until the Big 10 conference championship game. And if they stay healthy who's going to beat them?

Ah, but defending champ Florida State and media darling Notre Dame remain ahead of them as well in the standings you say?

True enough, but as yours truly signs off on this post, those two teams are about to play each other. Somebody has to lose. And you also know, given the alleged shenanigans swirling around Seminole quarterback Jameis Winston, the pollsters are just itching for a way to bury FSU in the rankings -- should they lose.

Nevertheless, when you add it all up, Michigan State has a terrific chance of going to the "final four".

They just have to take care of business, while the other usual suspects are knocking each other off.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Silly surgery talk

Reports have it that Okla City superstar forward Kevin Durant underwent successful surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot. This was at the base of his little toe. That sort of injury can occur (it happened to yours truly) when one is walking around the house barefoot and snags their little toe on the edge of a wall, piece of furniture, etc. As soon as it happens, one knows they messed up. This is going to hurt. Count a-thousand one, a-thousand two as the foot nerves are sending the message to your brain -- and then YOW.

But sometimes this surgery talk with pro athletes gets downright silly. OF COURSE Durant's surgery was successful. When's the last time you heard of a surgery on an athlete being a failure? Can you imagine what they might say?

"It it with deepest regrets we inform you that despite having a world-class surgical team, they totally botched the procedure on Mr. Durant. Though the initial goal was to repair a minor fracture, something appears to have gone amiss in the operating room. How Mr. Durant wound up with his foot-bone connected to his jaw-bone is unknown at this time but, despite finding himself in somewhat of an awkward position, the patient is recovering quite nicely. A second surgery to correct this minor oversight is currently under consideration". Right.

Almost a full year ago the Detroit Tigers had two players, pitcher Justin Verlander and slugger Miguel Cabrera, that underwent "strikingly similar" surgeries to repair their "core muscles".

A question: Just what exactly does "core muscles" mean? Abs? Diaphragm? Something in the pelvic area? The dreaded gluteous maximus out of jointus syndrome? Nobody seems to know, but their local sports writers keep using it as an excuse as to why they had "off" years and eventually crashed and burned in the first round of the playoffs.

It's entirely possible even the Fastball Flakes man and the Venezuelan hitting machine didn't know either. Something hurt and the team docs said they had to have an operation to make it better. And let's face it, if you've ever been in the OR for whatever procedure, you had no clue what happened after the anesthesiologist "turned out the lights". Even if it was only an "out-patient" procedure, you're going to wake up groggy in a strange room, with a bandage and a bunch of stitches somewhere, plus a handful of scripts to fill. Pills to pop later. But you really have no idea what actually went on in the OR, or whether your surgery was successful -- or not. Time will tell.

As one is waiting to get wheeled down to a pick-up area so they can go home, it's always a good sign that the surgeon makes an appearance and assures one that everything went just fine. If he/she doesn't show up -- that's a bad sign.

But if you initially went in for minor toe surgery and come out with your foot bones connected to your jaw bone -- that's a sign something went horribly wrong in the operating room. A second opinion from another doctor is probably a very good idea.

And don't get me started on "high ankle sprains". Just how high does the ankle go anyway?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wildcards and a bonehead

When the baseball playoffs started a couple weeks ago, who would have ever believed the San Francisco Giants and KC Royals, both wild-card teams, would wind up going to the World Series?

All year long we heard about Cy Young award winners and MVPs of the past (or soon to be). Ace pitchers here, sluggers there, and sensational athletes elsewhere. The Detroit Tigers, the LA Dodgers, the Washington Nationals, the LA Angels, and even the Baltimore Orioles jumped into the picture. All dominant teams throughout the regular season. And they've all been kicked to the curb.

Let's not forget the loveable talking heads and scribes that bombarded us with stats from hell over the past six months. There was WAR, OPS, the dreaded "sabermetrics", and many other categories consisting of tera-gazilla bytes of useless information they continually droned on about. Trying to decipher the baseball statistics put forth these days is akin to understanding the complexities of the human genome. Very few people comprehend it, and most don't give a damn anyway. In the end, only the finished product matters. There's good guys and bad guys. Smart people and dumb people. Pretty girls and ugly girls, etc. How they came to be the way they are is irrelevant. It just IS. Yet sometimes the bad, dumb, ugly clowns wind up as the most successful and powerful -- even to the point of taking our money and bossing us around. These are called politicians. Sabermetric THAT.

And this year certainly proves the same can be said about major league baseball teams. Two wild card clubs navigating their way through the gauntlets of "superior talent" to face off in the World Series? Who woulda thunk it?

As for the bonehead? That honor should be bestowed on St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. With his team trailing 3-1 in the NLCS, he had his ace pitcher Adam Wainwright on the mound protecting a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning. The Cards needed a win to stay alive and send the series back to St. Louis for game 6, and maybe 7. For the previous several innings, Wainwright had been mowing down the Giants' hitters. He had great "stuff". But Matheny decided to yank him. It didn't take long. On the first pitch from the relief pitcher a Giant hitter clubbed a home run to tie the game. They would go on to get a couple more hits, and then a dramatic walk-off 3-run homer ending the series.

And what was the logic in taking Wainwright out? Pitch count? That ranks right up there with sabermetrics. If a guy's going good, leave him in. He's got four days of rest coming up anyway. A few more pitches aren't going to result in his arm falling off.

Further, consider this was Game 5 of the NLCS. Even had the Cards won, Wainwright wouldn't have been available to pitch in the remainder of the series anyway. Do the math. Friday would have been a travel day and games 6 and 7 would have been on Saturday and Sunday in St. Louis. Why, pray tell, would Matheny yank his ace, who was going good, only to see his bullpen suffer a meltdown and end their year?

This is not the first time Matheny has pulled a bonehead in the 2014 post-season that cost his team. But this gaffe wound up being terminal. Outta here.

Consensus has long had it that the baseball fans in St. Louis are the most knowledgable of any big league team. So chances are they certainly understood a boneheaded move when they saw one, expecially a gaffe that resulted in their team being eliminated. But Cards' fans are also extremely loyal to their beloved Redbirds, and all they entail. They can close ranks and protect their own with the best of teams in any sport.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, fallout Matheny has to face......

Nevertheless, on with the wild card World Series. This wasn't supposed to happen, but it's kinda fun in a way.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

AL playoffs and the broom

In case you didn't notice, every American League baseball playoff series was a sweep. That's pretty weird.

Five teams entered the postseason, including three division champions and two wild cards. Look at what happened.

In the wild card game, the KC Royals knocked off the Oakland As. Well OK, it was only one game, but technically that's a sweep. Perhaps of the whisk broom variety.

Then on to the ALDS matchups. The same Royals surprisingly swept away the heavily favored LA Angels 3-zip. In the meantime, the Baltimore Orioles were busy doing the same to the Detroit Tigers.

In the recently concluded ALCS, the Royals swept the Orioles 4-zip. The KC-sters are World Series bound awaiting the winner of the San Fran/St.Louis matchup in the NL.

Idle thought: What kind of odds would you have given when the post-season started that KC, merely a wild-card team, would not only advance to the Fall Classic, but so far remain undefeated during the playoffs at a combined 8-0?

This is good news and bad news. Definitely good for the Royals and their fans. Not so good for the As, Angels, and Orioles they swept along the way.

But it's bad news for a lot of other people. When sweeps happen, future potential games don't get played. And when those games don't get played, that's big-time lost revenue on several fronts.

Players not getting bonuses is a drop in the bucket. But owners are denied the major cha-ching of sold-out stadiums at playoff prices. Win or lose, with revenue sharing, packing a house either at home or on the road for another game means many millions of dollars to their bottom lines. Teams that play in big markets like those in LA or NY can still manage to offer huge player payrolls while not getting any playoff money. But there's a reason small market teams like, say, Seattle, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay continue to develop talent -- but can't keep them when free agency hits. Without big playoff bucks -- they can't afford it.

Though most fans don't notice, playoff sweeps are definitely bad news for others as well. Consider the various TV networks that ponied up big bucks in advance for the right to broadcast them. If there's no Game, 5, 6, or 7, obviously they can't televise them. That means empty air time they have to fill.

And trust me, the deep-pocketed "sponsors" they had lined up (see commercials) for playoff games aren't about to cough up the same mega-bucks for a 30 second ad spot on a Seinfeld rerun, cooking show, or the like. So they take a major hit too, both financially and in the almighty Nielsen ratings.

Bottom line? Sweeps are only good things for the home team. It's bad for most everybody else.

But hey, former KC Royal, Hall of Famer, and all-around good guy George Brett gets to seriously party for the first time in 30 years. Far be it from yours truly to argue with that......

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Jameis Winston. Where there's smoke....

Granted, there's not always fire, but odds are something is getting way too hot. And if the smoke keeps popping up in the same place, eventually people are going to investigate further to find out what the hell is going on.

Such would seem to be the case with Jameis Winston, star quarterback for Florida State. Winston was accused of a sexual assault, as in rape, a couple years back. Though never officially charged, the case hasn't been fully resolved to this day.

Some claim the local police themselves botched the investigation at best, or covered up incriminating evidence at worst. Sure, local cops and prosecutors in big-time college football towns are likely fans too, but if this is true, it could well explain some of Winston's actions since. And let's face it, if they were hiding evidence then, after almost two years it's likely buried so deep now Indiana Jones and Lara Croft couldn't find it with the entire US Army Corps at their disposal. It also certainly wouldn't be the first time corrupt cops and prosecutors played fast and loose with the evidence, but usually it's the other way around. They fabricate or hold back evidence in the pursuit of getting convictions -- not letting an alleged "perp" continue to "walk".

Perhaps Winston thinks he's above it all and can get away with just about anything because he's a star jock. In and of itself, swiping an arm load of crab legs from a supermarket wouldn't normally be considered a big deal. Nor would standing up on a table in a school cafeteria and yelling a vulgar sexual phrase. Lots of kids do dumb stuff like petty shoplifting and saying things they shouldn't.

But one would think that after someone "skated" on the very serious potential consequences of a sexual assault charge, they would learn their lesson and straighten up. Had that played out differently, some things would have happened that didn't, and others would not have happened that did.

This is not to assume guilt or innocence either way, but consider the hypothetical ramifications if Winston would have gone to trial and been found guilty of rape. Star prep QB or not, his butt would have been sent off to prison for many years. He would not have even played at FSU last year, let alone winning the Heisman. And without him, it's likely a fair statement to say the Seminoles wouldn't have won the national championship. In this scenario, when and if Winston got out of prison, the riches of the NFL would not await him (if indeed it does now -- opinions vary). He would have been a registered sex offender for life. Good luck getting a job and finding a place to live, let alone making millions and having a mansion.

Just recently, Winston has been associated with taking money for signing autographs. Again, in and of itself, who cares? It was always a dumb rule anyway. But added to all the other stuff, a pattern has seemingly emerged. A few words come to mind. Scofflaw. Incorrigible. Even habitual. But it's tough to justify any of those considering Jameis Winston has yet to be found guilty of a single crime. On the official record books, he remains clean as the proverbial whistle. Still, when you keep seeing the same guy walking away from smoke, it should come as no great surprise public perception will start associating him with fire.

That's the part Jameis Winston apparently still fails to comprehend. He knows he's a great quarterback, and a pretty good baseball player too. He also knows his Seminoles have a very good shot at repeating as national champions. As long as he's playing. What he doesn't get is how fast and far his own personal stock is falling in the eyes of many. Given the recent rash of "episodes" with NFL players, the league, and its constituent teams, are hyper-sensitive about taking on another player that has perceived character issues. Commissioner Roger Goodell has found himself on the hot seat from various quarters lately over how he handled, or didn't handle certain situations. And as a group, it's likely also a fair statement to say the NFL owners are a rather conservative bunch. Unlike the late Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders, the last thing one of these billionaires wants these days is to draft a player that has a past littered with red flags, only to see that smoke become a raging inferno that not only embarrasses their franchise, but they owe millions of contractual dollars to.

But for right now, Jameis Winston continues to skate along. And that's the thing. Since he arrived at FSU, the Seminoles have yet to lose a game, including winning the above-mentioned national championship last year. This Saturday they'll get a good test when #6 Notre Dame visits. But they'll be favored and likely win again.

And as long as the Seminoles keep winning, chances are the local yokels in charge of pursuing investigations that would land an average college student in big trouble will continue to look the other way.

In the opinion of yours truly, the best thing that could happen in the big picture is for FSU to not only get beaten, but soundly, and fall out of the national championship picture. You just KNOW there are many that vote on such things just itching for the chance to drop them down in the polls. Good grief, FSU still hasn't lost a game, and remain reigning champs, but the pollsters have already elevated Mississippi State -- that's right -- MISSISSIPPI STATE --  to the #1 spot. Unbelievable. That cowbell thing has gotten out of control.

Nevertheless, Jameis Winston is going to have to grow up sooner or later. Better for him to get knocked off his pedestal soon, and go about rehabbing his image, not so much as a football player, but as a man. There's still time, but it likely won't happen as long as the 'Noles keep rolling and he gets a free pass for his "indiscrepancies" along the way.

Or maybe he's one of those unfortunate few that will never grow up. If so, when he leaves the protective cocoon of Tallahassee, methinks he's in for a rude awakening in the real world.

And that could get very ugly for young Mr. Winston. Because in the real world, even if an NFL team gives him a shot -- no given -- he'll be just another number. Produce or you're gone. Straighten up or welcome to the wonderful world of the jurisprudence system.

And they don't care about Heismans.