Thursday, December 18, 2014

Titans/Jags. A pitiful game

One would think the NFL could have done better than the garbage game they presented Thursday night. Tennessee vs Jacksonville, both with 2-12 records.

Sure, any "stand alone" NFL game will attract TV viewers from the cities of both participating teams, and the hard-core demographic. But lately, Thursday night games have been broadcast on the NFL's own cable channel, which not everybody has access to.  If they're looking for ratings --  and what station isn't? -- it would only seem logical they feature a game with at least ONE good team, and preferably both. That would attract other viewers from neutral cities that had ponied up the bucks to get the NFL channel on their 50 inch screens.

Further, when the season schedule was originally made, it was no big secret that both the Titans and Jags were expected to be bottom feeders this year. Sure enough, they've delivered.

Games scheduled in advance can't be changed, you say? Balderdash. It happens all the time. Not only the days they're played on, but even changing venues to another city. Remember a few years ago when the dome collapsed under the weight of snow at the Minnesota Vikings' stadium? They moved the game to Detroit. Just recently, the Buffalo Bills got hit with 8 feet of snow, and their game was moved to Detroit -- a day later than originally scheduled -- as well. The NFL, TV folks, and even teams can adjust quickly when necessity requires.

And when a "prime-time" broadcast on Thursday night winds up featuring two 2-12 teams, then yours truly says -- change it. What happened in Minnesota and Buffalo were sudden occurrences -- but it was handled. The league and their network knew both Tenn and Jax were 2-12 after last Sunday. Plenty of time to make an adjustment. The options were there.

As we get towards the end of the NFL regular season, they're about to start featuring Saturday games. This weekend there are two. Philly at Wash and San Diego at San Fran for the nightcap. The Eagles are still very much in the playoff hunt, and football fans are certainly curious about the future of 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. Either of those games could have been moved to Thursday prime-time, while switching places with the Tenn/Jax yawn-a-thon. Roger Goodell and company could have notified the four teams involved last Sunday night of the move. It wouldn't have been that big of a deal. Planes and hotel reservations can be changed within hours. The fans with tickets to the game? Moving the games up or back two days might be a slight inconvenience, but they'd show up. Anybody that's pre-paid NFL ticket prices will find a way to be there. Trust me.

And how many folks outside the Nashville and Jaxville area actually tuned in to watch this game? 100,000? 500? 3? I'm a hard core NFL junkie myself, but have no idea who won the game, because I didn't tune in either. That would be like watching the Philly 76ers play the Detroit Pistons. Who cares? There's bad, there's terrible, and there's 1000 other channels to choose from. An eskimo cooking show. A praise the lord and pass the offering plate evangelist. Reruns of Wally and the Beave would have been far more exciting. Anything but Titans and Jags.

C'mon Mr. Goodell. You don't seem to mind changing all the other rules as you go in the name of public relations. So when you've got a stone loser game on your hands scheduled to be broadcast in prime time -- change THAT in the name of public relations. Football fans across the country would be grateful.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rachel Maddow, Cialis, and Adrian Petersen

The Rachel Maddow show is sponsored by Cialis? Interesting. I wonder if Rachel even knows that? And, if so, if she can appreciate the yuk-yuk irony.

Then again, if while reading this blog, one breaks out in hives, develops a rash and swollen lips, can't swallow, experiences nausea and/or bowel misfunction, difficulty breathing, and a strange desire to lug his and her bathtubs to a beach somewhere, then taking Cialis and/or Rachel will likely only make matters worse. In extreme circumstances, if one develops an erection, and it's still there next Easter, by all means stop reading this blog. This would be particularly alarming if one happens to be a lady. And one more thing. Stay the hell away from me. But enough of that nonsense. Onward.

In the on-going Adrian Petersen case, an arbitrator has ruled that Roger Goodell's suspension until at least next April 15 is valid. These are taxing times. Sorry. Ahem. Adrian switched his kid back in May, and Roger has been switching his mind on discipline ever since. Now the NFL Players' Union has filed suit in federal court on behalf of Petersen looking to overturn the arbitrator's ruling.

At first glance, it would seem to be a no-brainer for a federal judge. After all, both sides already had their say in front of a neutral arbiter, he made his ruling, and that's that. But is it?

Turns out, the arbitrator that was appointed to hear Petersen's appeal is one Harold Henderson. Henderson's former job? NFL executive vice-president for labor relations. A "company" man. This is not to suggest such an arbitrator should be a "union" man either, but doesn't it seem only logical such a "neutral" decider should be just that? Neutral?

Henderson might well be an unbiased person at this point in time, but perception has a way of becoming reality. And the union's perception is Henderson's history suggests he'll be biased in favor of management.

They have a point. As Dave Campbell of the AP noted, Henderson backed Goodell's assertion that Petersen has yet to show remorse for the incident. (Remorse is big these days. Doing the time for the "crime" isn't enough. One must grovel.) But Petersen has already publicly apologized. So that doesn't hold water.

Also remember, the original switching incident happened last May. Goodell didn't stiffen up the "player misconduct" penalties until he finally saw the Ray Rice elevator video many months later. At that, it was done without consulting the union on such changes, which would seem to be a violation of their Collective Bargaining Agreement. The union can't change the rules in midstream -- so why should management be able to? Worse, Goodell made Petersen's case retroactive -- long before he unilaterally changed the rules. How can anybody that is supposedly neutral not see and object to such things?

Even nowadays, the penalty for a first time offender of the player misconduct code in such a manner faces a 6 game suspension. Petersen played the first game of the season back in September, and has been suspended ever since. The Minnesota Vikings have been deprived of their star running back for the last 13 games, and it will likely be 15 until their season ends. That equates to a full two and a half times the existing penalty of 6 games. How can this be fair?

Yes, Petersen received his salary during the initial weeks of his suspension when he was placed on a mysterious thing called the "Commissioner's exempt list". But even THAT came with the blessing of Goodell. It's the Commissioner's list -- not the Union's list. Yet with Goodell's latest ruling, Petersen has been officially suspended -- without pay -- for the final six games of the season.

Basically, AP has been forced to miss the entire year. Would the Vikings have been playoff contenders had Petersen been playing all along? Maybe, maybe not. Nobody can say for sure, but they certainly would have been better with arguably the best running back in the league.

But one year in the typical "life expectancy" of an NFL running back is a big deal. AP had already missed another one with a serious leg injury. He's been pilloried in the media and been subjected to a Commissioner's whims -- which seem to change every month depending on public opinion, fanned by the aforementioned media. All this for a misdemeanor he pled guilty to, apologized, received his sentence, and is free and clear regarding the real court system.

Then he had to face a kangaroo court arbitrator, where he never had a chance.

Who indeed is the whipping boy?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jay Cutler

Did you know Jay Cutler is actually 41 years old, and a 4-time Mr. Olympia as late as 2010? He's got muscles on top of more muscles. When he oils up and goes into a rip pose, veins a-popping, even Arnold Schwarzenegger nods his head in appreciation. Yet either his NFL jersey covers up a whole lot, or it seems he atrophied something awful in the last few years....

Wait a sec. What's that? That's a different Jay Cutler than the one who plays quarterback for the Chicago Bears? Well OK, then. Nevermind. Where was I?

Right. Jay Cutler. The football version. This Jay Cutler is very tough to figure out. He seems to have always been, and still is, an on-going paradox.

In high school, JC was lights out talented -- but most future pros were. In college at Vanderbilt, Cutler set all kinds of records, but his team was a sorry 11-35 during his tenure there, including a woeful a 5-27 mark against conference foes in the SEC. But Vandy has never been known as a football power. The Commodores are more like the Commosnores when it comes to the gridiron. Not good.

Then off to the Denver Broncos in the NFL draft. By most accounts, Cutler was happy there, but became upset when the mere rumor of him possibly being traded was floated by some. Though his GM at the time reassured him he was not on the trading block, Cutler, perhaps on misguided principle, demanded a trade anyway. His request was granted. Off to the Chicago Bears.

Few would question Cutler's arm strength and toughness. He can sling it with the best of them and has certainly absorbed his share of beatings (and injuries) over the last few years.

Yet all in all, his stats suggest he's a slightly better than average quarterback. While at Denver he compiled a record of 17-20. Since joining the Bears, 44-36 -- for a grand career total of 61-56. Sure, a quarterback does not make a team (unless his name is Tom Brady), but fair or not, wins and losses are pretty much what he'll be judged on.

Further, over his career, Cutler will normally throw in the 3000+ yard range per year, average about 7 yards per reception with a 60% completion rate, and toss 3 touchdown passes for every 2 interceptions. The latter statistic is not very good.

Being unflappable is a good thing for quarterbacks when things aren't going well -- to a point. But of late, it almost appears as if Cutler is bored with it all. While most other quarterbacks around the league typically get amped up after a big play -- or pissed, if something goes horribly wrong -- Cutler seems to shrug it all off, both ways. It's almost like he saying, "I'm doing my job the best I can, the results are what they are, and it's no big deal". Pass the salt.

Thing is, the Bears are in a death spiral. They're stinking it up bad. Is all this Cutler's fault? Of course not. But as the "leader" of the team, Cutler appears to be regressing badly himself. Over and over again we'll see him go into a 5-7 step drop going back to pass, scan the field, and not throw the ball. Bad things happen when a quarterback hangs on to the pigskin too long. Can it be that none of his receivers are good enough to get open time after time? Or has Cutler become dysfunctional?

Even when he throws the ball, oftentimes it's over the head, behind, or at the feet of a receiver. A 31 year old QB, that's in his ninth NFL year, should be peaking with precision when it comes to such things -- not being indecisive and throwing the ball helter-skelter like a rookie fresh off the bench. This is very strange. And the appearance Cutler doesn't much seem to care one way or the other, be it on the field or in press conferences afterward, certainly isn't helping his image.

But credit where credit is due. Jay Cutler does a lot of things off the field to help others. A diabetic himself, who requires daily insulin shots, Cutler has teamed up with a big pharma company to donate money in the cause of hopefully helping out with childrens' diabetes. Further, he's established his own foundation to assist "at risk" youths. Very commendable efforts indeed.

And perhaps the fire to win really does burn inside Jay Cutler, but he just doesn't show it to the outside world. Some guys (and gals) are like that. The emotion is there, but they internalize things and deal with them in their own private ways. Different strokes.

Here's hoping that's the case. Because if Cutler's public personna translates to his personal life, one is left to wonder how he ever got married, to a reality star no less, let alone have a couple kids. If he always showed the same nonchalant attitude regarding "performance" in his private life -- there might not BE any kids.

Different strokes indeed. Ahem.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kobe's #3

Lo and behold, Kobe Bean Bryant is now #3 on the all-time NBA scoring list, having passed his alleged hero Michael Jordan. The only two remaining above him are Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Were all the above great players? Sure, but a couple things should be noted.

Bryant has already played 200 more games than Jordan ever did. This roughly equates to the lost seasons when MJ thought he could play major league baseball. He couldn't. Over the course of their careers, Jordan averaged better than 30 points a game. Kobe checks in just north of 25.

And while both have won multiple NBA championships, there's a big difference in their games. Besides being a prolific scorer, Jordan was known as a tenacious defender as well. Kobe -- not so much.

Jabbar was certainly known for his unstoppable "sky hook". And he played a little bit of defense in his own way. That is to say when one is far and away the tallest player on the court, they're going to block a few shots and grab a bunch of rebounds along the way, almost by default. While Bryant and Jordan are/were supreme ball handlers, Jabbar was not. Kareen dribbling the ball in the open court was a turnover waiting to happen. His job was to sky hook or dunk on one end, then lug his lanky frame the length of the court and post up underneath the basket on the other in a defensive position. But he was very good at these things, and did them for a very long time -- he played until he was 42 --hence he remains #1 on the scoring list. His list of career accomplishments is long. His championships, All-Star teams, blocks, rebounds, and MVPs is impressive indeed. But like Kobe, he wasn't much of an "assist" man. When either got the ball, they were likely going to shoot it one way or the other. Passing to an open teammate wasn't their first choice. They could rightfully be called "ball hogs". Throw up enough shots every game for enough years, and the points will eventually add up.

Karl Malone, currently #2 on the scoring list, was a terrific player. But for all his years with the Utah Jazz, he had a built-in advantage named John Stockton. They had mastered the "pick and roll" like no others before or since. Stockton was a supreme ball handler himself -- and could not only shoot in his own right, but was deadly from the free throw line. Yet he spent the majority of his career passing the ball to Malone, who would score. There's a reason why Stockton remains far and away the all-time assist leader in the NBA. Stockton made the passes and Malone took the shots. Multiply that by enough years and it's little wonder both achieved the career stats they did. They're both in the Hall of Fame, though one is left to wonder if either would have made it without the other.

But all these guys were in times past, and Kobe is now. Maybe he'll catch Malone to be #2. Perhaps even Jabbar, if he hangs around long enough and keeps throwing up a ridiculous amount of shots a game. Kobe's career shooting percentage is .452, so he makes slightly less than half his shots. A decent percentage, but hardly eye-popping. And he's only 36. Imagine if he hangs out until he's 42 like Jabbar. Six more years and another bazillion off-balance, contortionist, double/triple teamed falling away shots and anything's possible. Some of them are going to wind up in the basket. And hey, if one can continue to con ownership out of $24 million a year, while being a one-dimensional player on an otherwise terrible team, who WOULDN'T continue to hang out for as long as possible?

Kobe is still highly relevant. Just ask him.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Idle NFL rants

It was probably the worst game of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers' pro career. And his teammates weren't much help either. On the road against the Buffalo Bills, Rodgers fumbled into his own end zone, resulting in a safety. He threw two interceptions, and likely should have had at least two more picked off. Normally ultra-reliable receiver Jordy Nelson dropped a gimme touchdown pass. The Packers had a field goal attempt blocked, and allowed a Bills' player to return a kick the length of the field for a touchdown. The Cheesers would lose 21-13. They likely should have lost by 30. How can they be so dominant at home and stink it up so bad on the road? Of course, this played right into the hands of....

The Detroit Lions. Against the not-so-good Minnesota Vikings, still without the services of All-World running back Adrian Petersen, the Lions were expected to cruise at home. But they struggled, falling behind 14-0. Yet Vikes QB Teddy Bridgewater was kind enough to throw a couple of ridiculous interceptions, Minnesota had a field goal blocked as well, missed a long one at the end of game and -- presto -- the Lions lucked-up and squeaked out another win. Everything seems to be going their way this year. Next up, they have a game in Chicago, and the Bears are in free-fall.

Dallas played at Philly and raced out to a 21-0 lead. There was Jerry Jones in the visitor's luxury box clacking his dentures with glee. How 'bout dem Cowboys? Yippee-ki-ay. The the Eagles came roaring back to take the lead. No TV shots of JJ and his minions. Strangely enough, no shots of the Eagles' owner's suite either. Was anybody even THERE? While Jones is owner, CEO, Prez, GM, and head pitch-man, for the Cowboys, Eagles' owner Jeff Lurie is rarely seen.

Nevertheless, the Cowboys would re-rally to win the game. It was almost predictable for a couple reasons. First, strangely enough, the Cowboys seem to play much better on the road than they do at home. They're the only NFL that is undefeated in road games, having gone 7-0 so far. Yet they've lost 4 at home. Go figure. Secondly, despite new Eagle head coach Chip Kelly's high-paced offense, somehow he wound up with Mark Sanchez as his quarterback. You know, the same guy that wasn't good enough for the Keystone Kop NY Jets? The very same QB that made his claim to shame with the infamous "butt fumble" a while back? Give Sanchez enough time, and he'll find a way to screw up a game. And he did. Again.

While the Lions are likely headed for the playoffs, the San Fran 49ers have been eliminated with 2 games still to play. Who would have thought that combination possible at the beginning of the year?

After head coach Jim Harbaugh quickly resurrected the 49ers from nowhere to conference championship games and even a Super Bowl appearance, it appears he and his team have become demoralized. They can't beat the Seattle Seahawks in their own division. And they just went down to Pete Carroll's bunch again. The Seahawks are rounding back into playoff form, while the 49ers are back in nowhereville. The former was almost to be expected, but latter imploding is quite the surprise.

Given the last two regular season games constitute no more than Harbaugh and the 49ers "going through the motions", maybe this would be a good time for Harbaugh to consider his coaching future.

Things likely aren't going to get any better in San Fran any year soon, and might well get worse.

He could opt out, and the head coaching job at Michigan is still open -- where he once starred as a player. Look at it this way. While the Niners may or may not bottom out -- Michigan already has. A full 76 college teams will be going to bowl games this year -- and another 6 that were "eligible" won't be. That means the once proud Michigan program isn't even in the Top 82 in the country. There's nowhere to go but up.

Money wouldn't be a problem. In fact, he'd likely get a hefty raise. His current San Fran base salary is $5 million a year. Good grief, Michigan was paying the inept Brady Hoke $8 million to lead them into oblivion.

If Harbaugh wants a chance for people to "hail him as a conquering hero" at his alma mater by bringing them back to glory, his agent needs to make a discreet phone call -- and quickly -- before the dunderheads in Ann Arbor hire somebody else. Don't put it past them.

Johnny "football" Manziel finally got his chance to start for the Cleveland Browns. And he was a rousing -- failure. Zero points, 107 total yards of offense in the entire game and a QB rating of 1.0 out of a possible 100? Sure, he's a rookie and many future greats had rough starts. He could wind up anywhere from busting out of the league in a year or two, to becoming a Hall of Famer. Time will tell. But for now, here's hoping we've seen the last of his "money" hotdog routine. It was bad enough on draft night, and he's got a long ways to go before he earns the respect of competing pros.

Like Dorothy once said in the Wizard of Oz -- "We're not at Texas A&M anymore, Toto".

Or something like that. Close enough.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Heisman yawn-a-thon

For anybody that watched, the 2014 Heisman Trophy presentation was quite the extravaganza. If one considers a foregone conclusion that is dragged out for hour after excruciating hour stimulating -- this was the show for you.

As we know, and fully expected all along, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota walked off with the iron. In fact, he got over 90% of the votes. A landslide of historic proportions.

Thing is, this is not like your run-of-the-mill election, where as soon as the polls close, results start coming in quickly. Within a few hours everybody knows who won and who lost.

Heisman voting had taken place some time ago. The results had long since been in -- but they were kept a secret until they could go on national TV and drone on and on for hours. Babies were born, people died, and Congress actually accomplished something during the time it took the Heisman folks to present a trophy.

Officially, the public didn't know the outcome until the very end. Neither did the sports reporters or past Heisman winners that get to vote.

Per usual, they had roped in a cast of former winners to stand in the background like potted plants and occasionally politely applaud.

There was Tony Dorsett, and Billy Sims, Charlie White, George Rogers, Marcus Allen, Tim Brown, Desmond Howard, Charlie Ward, and even Tim Tebow, to name a few. It's almost a miracle Tebow didn't drop to his knees and pray -- for the dog and pony show to mercifully finally conclude.

Even John Huarte was highlighted. He won the trophy back in 1964 -- a full 50 years ago. Does anybody care?

Oddly enough, Orenthal James Simpson, the 1968 winner, was noticeably absent. Perhaps OJ had another engagement he couldn't get out of.

The Heisman folks will tell you, and they did again, that they're rich on tradition. For 80 years they've been giving out this trophy to the most deserving college gridder. And they'll also tell you how many millions of dollars they have contributed to worthwhile causes along the way.

That's just great, but what they won't tell you is that their "club" is akin to Augusta National, home of the Masters golf tourney. A whole bunch of uppity filthy rich guys that live in the lap of luxury. A million here or there is chump change, and tax deductible to boot.

But the whole process begs a question -- given these guys already know who the winner of the Heisman is -- then why invite a few other also-rans from around the country -- only to disappoint them on national TV?

Yours truly figured it out a while back. No sense watching the whole show. Click on it every half hour or so to see if anything interesting is going on. Usually not. Just more blather about times long past. To me, it's like being at a friend's house and having them fire up old family movies. Very interesting to them. Torture for anyone else.

The key is to click back on it 5 minutes before the program is scheduled to end. That's when they'll finally announce who the winner is -- even if we've known it all along. At that, they still go through the rigmarole of "unsealing the envelope", like it's an Academy Award or something. And those folks know too in advance who won.

So why drag it out so long? Instead of hours, the Heisman show could be done in 5 minutes. Announce the winner and let him give a 2-3 minute speech, thanking everybody from his Pop Warner coach, to his grandma and Uncle Gus, to his teammates and favorite professor -- if he ever went to class.

Two hours of programming, pseudo suspense, and insufferable analysis, all while the jury had returned its verdict long before?

Please. Just get on with it. The dude's going to be a first round pick and sign a pro contract for millions. Maybe he'll be a star in the NFL, and maybe he'll be a bust. Heisman winners have been both over the years.

It's just a trophy that guarantees zip at the next level.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Phil Jackson and the Wall

A lot of players and teams have been great in their own rights over the years, only to run into a wall they could never seem to overcome.

Dan Marino was one of the most prolific passing quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, but he never won a Super Bowl.

Same with Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills. They made it there four times and lost them all.
Likewise for the Minnesota Vikings.

John Stockton remains the all-time assist leader in the NBA. His long-time Utah Jazz teammate Karl Malone is second in all-time scoring, behind only Abdul Jabbar. But they never won a championship.

The Detroit Lions are one of only four NFL teams to have never even REACHED the Super Bowl, let alone win it. The other three are expansion teams (Cleveland, Jacksonville, Houston) that didn't even exist while the Motowners floundered for decades. Over the years, the Lions have annually hit the wall like an Indy car that blows a tire in Turn 2. Pop, crash, outta here.

And the Chicago Cubs? They last won the World Series when a guy named Theodore Roosevelt was President. They've walked softly but didn't carry nearly big enough sticks for over a century. This is a serious wall. Maybe it has something to do with the ivy at Wrigley Field. Come to think of it -- when's the last time you saw a Wrigley's store?  Besides their doublemint and spearmint gum, are they even still around?

But with apologies to the late Martin Luther King, Phil Jackson has been to the mountaintop. As a player, he was a winner in high school. A winner in college. After doing his "apprenticeship", he became a huge winner as an NBA coach.

Six world championships while with the Chicago Bulls, including two 3-peats. There are those that think it might have been an octo-peat, 8 in a row, had Michael Jordan not decided to try his hand at professional baseball for a couple years. His Airness flamed out like the Hindenberg trying to hit breaking pitches. Not a pretty sight -- unless one was the opposing pitcher.

Then on to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he would inherit another talent-laden roster. Five more NBA championships would come, for a total of 11, the most of all-time. To boot, besides making mega-bucks, he was shacked up with the owner's quite beautiful daughter. Gigs just don't get any sweeter than that.

It's like he was Confucius with the King Midas touch. Pretty impressive for a kid from Montana whose parents were ultra-religious, and likely expected Philip Douglas to follow in their footsteps to become a humble man of the cloth. No doubt, his offering plate has runneth over in the ensuing years.

Yet not long ago, Jackson took on another challenge. He signed on with the NY Knicks as President. A five year contract worth the same $12 million a year he had sought, but was unable to obtain from the Lakers. It was fun, fun, fun, but Daddy Buss had finally taken his Z(en)-Bird away.

This is good news and bad news for Jackson. First, $60 million guaranteed bucks is hardly chump change, the Pentagon aside. And second, his team isn't in last place in their division. That dubious honor is held by the Philadelphia 76ers who currently sport a league worst record of 2-19.

The bad news is -- Phil's Knicks aren't much better at 4-20. Only the cannon-fodder Detroit Pistons also have a worse record (barely) at 3-19. Even the woebegone Lakers, who consist of Kobe and a variety of potted plants, have 6 wins.

It would appear Phil Jackson has finally hit his wall. No amount of meditation and triangle offenses (whatever that ever meant) will rescue him from the mess he jumped into this time. This team is just plain bad, and are further strapped with some ridiculous player salaries that makes them unlikely able to improve their roster any time soon. That pesky salary cap is very much alive and well.

But hey, who wouldn't take a a job worth $60 million for five years -- even if one has NO shot at producing a championship contender over that time? And last time yours truly looked -- that former owner's daughter was still in tow as well. Then again, a recent heiress to a multi-billlion dollar fortune likely isn't exactly hard up when it comes to male suitors.

Phil is 69. Hmm. Something about that number rings a vague bell when it comes to satisfying a much younger woman. Connect your own dots.

But I still think he's hit his wall. Surely you've heard of the Peter Principle, whether it be in basketball or other rousing ventures. Ahem.