Sunday, October 15, 2017

The wacky NFL

If your team is fortunate enough to return a punt for a long touchdown, things are usually looking up. If during the same game, one of your behemoth defensive linemen somehow manages to intercept a pass and lumber a few yards into the end zone for yet another touchdown, it just HAS to be your day. Further, if your team puts up 38 points, a win should be a lock.

That is, unless you're a Detroit Lions fan. The Motown puddy-tats did all the above and still got beat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. Bad. Two touchdowns worth. This is what happens when the other team racks up a whopping 52 points. Any NFL team getting shredded for the big five-oh should hang their heads indeed.

So now instead of going into their bye week coming off a win with a respectable 4-2 record, the Lions are at a piddling 3-3 having suffered consecutive losses.

Yet in the ever-magical world of the Lions, they received some good news on the same day. Much to the chagrin of the Packer faithful in Green Bay, star quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collar bone, (worse, on his throwing arm side), in a game against the Minnesota Vikings. He'll likely be lost for at least the rest of the regular season.

In other words, the Lions are right back in contention for the NFC North Division title through nothing they themselves did. With Rodgers out, the Packers will likely falter. Detroit has already defeated Minnesota once (though the Vikes were playing with their third-string quarterback at the time), and the purple gang hardly looks formidable even when fully healthy. Rounding out the division are the Chicago Bears. They remain, well, Da Bears. 'Nuff said. As it always has been and seems to continue to be in Detroit, there is hope. (Excuse me. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. OK, I feel better now.)

Elsewhere around the league strange things were happening indeed.

Miami came roaring back from a 17 point deficit to take down Atlanta? The same Dolphins where that Cutler guy is still bumbling around at quarterback? Against the defending NFC champions? Get outta here.

The Steelers went into Kansas City and knocked off the previously unbeaten Chiefs? That wasn't supposed to happen.Then again, Pittsburgh DID eliminate KC in the playoffs last year. Maybe they just have their proverbial number.

And just when you think it can't get any wackier, leave it to the NY Giants, yes the heretofore winless Giants, to waltz into Denver and defeat the resurgent Broncos. Handily. 23-10. Are these the same Giants that were third from last in the entire league in rushing? Going up against the same Broncos that featured the league's leading defense? And the Jersey-ites pounded the ball down the Mile-highers' throats the whole game?

What's that? The above-mentioned Bears --THOSE guys? -- beat the Baltimore Ravens? Shades of nevermore.Very strange indeed.

Some have said the NFL stands for the No Fun League. Or No Fair League (see the ongoing Colin Kaerpernick saga).

Perhaps another interpretation should be offered.

No Favorites (are) Locks.

It's just Not Freaking Logical.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The chokers

While it's likely not politically correct to call them such, there's seems to be a lot of chokers in the sports world.

Last February the Atlanta Falcons had a twenty five point lead in the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots. They choked it away and lost.

The US men's soccer team are perennial chokers. How can it be that a country like the United States, with over 300 million people to choose from, finds their best soccer players coming up short against the likes of Trinidad and Tobago -- which only has about a million and a half people?

It seems odd that the American ladies' team is always world class, but the guys stink. Maybe it's just as well the gents failed to qualify for the World Cup. Good grief, if T and T can knock them off, how bad would the likes of powerhouses such as Brazil, Germany, or England blister them on the pitch? Coach Bruce Arena has left the arena. Outta here.

Once again the Washington Nationals choked. Of course they did. It happens every year. This, despite being loaded with talent. The Nats have arguably the best one-two starting pitcher combination in all of baseball with Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer (though Houston gets honorable mention for Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander). They also have Bryce Harper, arguably the best all-around player in the game not named Mike Trout.

Ten times in a row they've faced a close out game, and ten times in a row they've lost it. It appears manager Dusty (Toothpick) Baker just can't get them over the hump. Considering it's Washington DC, perhaps term limits (impeachment?) are in order for Baker. Either that or off with his head, though that would be a bit drastic.

And you just know the NHL's Washington Capitals will choke when the Stanley Cup playoffs roll around, because they also do it every year. They'll pile up the points during the regular season, often winning the President's Cup, but gag like chihuahuas on chicken bones when the pressure amps up.

Maybe it's something in the air of the nation's capital causing this phenomenon. One needs only look at Congress. Every time something needs fixing through legislation -- they choke too.

Fans of the Detroit Lions know about choking. Their beloved puddy-tats are notorious for it. Show them a playoff game and they'll show you a loss. If anything, the fans themselves have probably choked back more frustration over the decades than they deserved in ten lifetimes. The poor lost souls have been in a form of purgatory since the Eisenhower administration.

Chokers everywhere. Alas.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Cleveland, John, and Brad

For no apparent good reason, yours truly has always had a soft spot for Cleveland. True, it's kind of an armpit city, but they hadn't had much to root about in the world of sports until recently. And yes, I weary of all the Lebron hype. You'd think he's a king or emperor or something. One of those is enough, and he currently occupies the White House. Ahem.

At that, they still only have a grand total of one world championship in modern times. That Lebron guy and his merry gang upset the highly favored Golden State Warriors a couple years back for the NBA crown.

Yet the Cleveland Indians have been a force to be reckoned with of late. They came within a single out of winning the World Series last year. Earlier this season the Tribe rattled off a 20+ game winning streak. Very impressive stuff.

But there's a major catch to all this. The Indians did NOT win the Fall Classic last year, rather bowing out after having held  2-0  and 3-1 leads over the Chicago Cubs. Ouch.

Fast forward to the present. In the ALDS they held another 2-0 lead over the NY Yankees in the best 3 out of 5. They had it, they had it, and then they didn't have it. Wham. The Bronx Bombers came roaring back to win three straight. Down goes Cleveland again. Ouch II.

So what is the lesson to be learned?

Evidently, when the going gets tough, Cleveland gets choking. Then again, the Cleveland Browns are just about enough to make anybody gag.

Interesting the Boston Red Sox just canned manager John Farrell with a year left on his contract. That means JF gets a whole year paid vacation. A pretty sweet gig actually. But why would they do such a thing? Under Farrell's guidance the Bosox won their division title this year. This, despite the loss of slugger David Ortiz to retirement, star pitcher David Price missing extended time due to injury, and last year's Cy Young winner Rick Porcello tumbling from a 22-4 record in 2016 to a not-so-good 11-17 in 2017.

Just a few short years ago the same Bosox won the World Series with Farrell at the helm. Could it be that merely making the post-season isn't good enough in Beantown anymore? And hey, they were taken down in the playoffs by a great team in the Houston Astros. Pitching, hitting, defense, speed, you name it and the Stros have it. Plus they're young so could be a force for years to come.

Boston GM Dave Dombrowki, the same guy that got run out of Detroit a while back, said in his opinion the team needed to have new leadership. Well OK, if ownership signed off on it, that's pretty much that. But he also said the next manager needed to be young, hence able to relate to the players, and good with the media.

It just so happens former Detroit Tiger manager Brad Ausmus is currently unemployed. True, the Tigers were god-awful this year, downright pitiful after they traded away what little talent they had for the dreaded "prospects" of the future. But this was not the fault of Ausmus. He could only play the cards he was dealt -- and they weren't pretty.

Nevertheless, he's only 48 years old, had a long Major League career as a player himself playing for four different teams, both in the American and National leagues, and is definitely media friendly. He's cool under pressure, and patiently answers any and all questions honestly.

It would seem he would fit the bill nicely in Boston. To boot, he's originally from New Haven, Connecticut, just a stone's throw up the road from Fenway. OK, a long throw, but still a native New Englander. And he went to Dartmouth, one of the Ivies, so he's got some serious brains going on as well.

You just know Ausmus would jump at the chance to be the skipper of the Bosox.

The question is -- will they offer it to him?

If so, you heard it here first. Nary a talking head has even mentioned the possibility so far.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Detroit Lions update

Roughly a third of the way through the 2017 season, the Detroit Lions pose their usual quandary. Now with a 3-2 record, can these guys make their way into the playoffs and, if so, once there, make any serious noise?

Or will they choke and fold like they have so often before?

It's truly difficult to predict, even assuming quarterback Matthew Stafford stays healthy -- never a given.

Let's take a look at their schedule, past and forthcoming, and try to make a semi-reasonable guess.

Sure, the glass half-fullers will say they could easily be 4-1, maybe even 5-0. The last second touchdown that wasn't against Atlanta cost them a win, and if only they hadn't fallen so far behind Carolina early.

But there's a flip side. It turns out Arizona isn't very good. The NY Giants are god-awful. And the Minnesota Vikings were down to their third string quarterback. These were all Ws for the Lions, but against the only two quality teams they've faced, the above mentioned Falcons and Panthers, they've had Ls draped on them. Interesting as well is both those losses came at home for the Lions. Never a particularly good omen.

Yet the remainder of the season looks promising. Two games with the Bears, and one each with Cleveland and Cincinnati should be relatively easy wins. Besides the mandatory two games with the Packers, who look good but not great this year, the Lions don't have to face any REALLY good teams.

True, the Steelers, Ravens, and Saints remain, but all of them are suspect this year. Pittsburgh just got blasted by Jacksonville. Jacksonville! Drew Brees ain't what he used to be down in New Orleans, and Baltimore seems to have regressed in recent years.

Throw in a road game at Tampa Bay, which hardly seems like a huge obstacle, and another go-round with Minnesota, this time in Detroit. Add it all up and what do you have?

Who knows? Besides, it's the Lions, remember? The very same that hasn't won a playoff game in over a quarter century. Then again, the Chicago Cubs hadn't won the World Series in over 100 years and we know how that turned out in 2016.

Thing is, the Lions will likely never have a better shot at going far than they do this year. That's because the rest of the NFC is pretty much underwhelming.

In the East, Dallas is certainly beatable. The Skins look maybe mediocre. The Eagles have jumped out to a 4-1 record, but does anybody really think Philly is a contender?

Out West, Seattle is struggling. The Rams are playing well but have a ways to go.

True, Carolina and especially Atlanta loom in the South, but hey, if you want to be the best, you have to beat SOMEBODY good, right?

In the Lions own division, the Bears remain, well, Da Bears. The Vikes lost Adrian Peterson in the off-season and have virtually no shot with their QB situation, much like the Lions would be goners if Stafford were to suffer a serious injury. Though he seems to have outgrown his former "China doll" persona, one never knows in the NFL. Any particular play could trash the Lions season if their Georgia Peach were to come up lame.

That leaves the Packers. Aaron Rodgers and Co. are pretty good, but don't appear to be as dominant as they have in the past either. Nevertheless, the Pack are a big hurdle for the Lions. They broke their Lambeau jinx a while back, so the Lions know they can play with them, but those two games will be key to their chances. They have to at least split.

It should also be noted Sports Illustrated had the Lions finishing dead last in their own division with a woeful 5-11 record. We also know SI seldom gets anything right. Their in-house football prognosticator Peter King sometimes appears as if he couldn't pick his own nose with a power auger, let alone accurately handicap games.

Yet for all the above reasons, yours truly thinks the Lions have a better than average shot at making the post-season. Maybe even doing some damage once they get there. The Super Bowl remains a stretch, let alone winning it. Whoever emerges from the vastly superior AFC will be formidable indeed.

But every half-full glass has to be half-empty as well. And again, it's the Lions. The wheels could fall off at any moment. Their reputation over the last 60 years or so isn't exactly glowing. Far more often they've been a laughingstock than any sort of contender, with a parade of clown head coaches (and front office personnel) along the way. Current head coach Jim Caldwell remains an enigma as well. It has been argued in this space that he's been a good coordinator when working elsewhere for a successful head coach in the past, but was over his head when he'd held the reins himself. Though the Lions recently granted him an extension, time will tell if he's truly got what it takes to mold a championship caliber team. Count me as still skeptical.

Some have claimed the failure of the Lions over the years is tied to their ownership. True enough, the late William Clay Ford presided over decades of futility. The fact that the team is now controlled by his 90 year old widow Martha and their daughters isn't exactly a comforting thought. They probably don't know a football from a foosball. Their hiring of an "estate planner" (who has admitted to knowing very little about the game) to be the president of the team hardly improves the overall situation either.

Yet this is shaping up to be a very interesting year for the Lions. With the rest of the conference having no steam-rolling teams, they're just about good enough to make a run at something serious.

Or fall flat on their faces -- again.

Got a lucky penny?

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Cam Newton charade

Two things about yours truly. I'm not a Cam Newton fan. Far from it. Though I was neutral towards him while he was in college and beginning his time in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers, his post-Super Bowl childish behavior alienated me. Yeah, I get it. The dude was only in his early twenties, an immature age according to some. But for that very reason, I don't buy it. It's old enough to know better.

The other thing is I remain fiercely "politically incorrect". (Much to the occasional chagrin of my boss, the editor, at times). While there are certain ethical rules that go along with writing a public blog like this, nobody's going to tell me what I can or cannot say otherwise in life. If people don't like it -- go find somebody else to hang with. Personally, I don't give a rat's behind. My significant other is just fine with it and that's good enough for me.

But just because I'm not a Newton fan doesn't mean I won't stand up for him, or anybody else, when I feel they've been wronged.

Currently, the sports world, especially the media, are all up in arms over Newton's comment to a female reporter during a press conference. Apparently, he found it funny that a female would ask him about the routes run by pass receivers. She took offense, as did a lot of other people.

And the onslaught was on. Poor Cam has been dragged over the coals every which way for being so "insensitive". Once the politically correcters get a person in their cross-hairs, they never want to quit firing. Though Newton has apologized, even THAT has been dissected and criticized.

Maybe he didn't mean it. Maybe he isn't feeling enough remorse. Maybe this, maybe that. He's pretty well screwed for now no matter what he says -- or doesn't say. Sure, it will pass in time like most everything else.

To all of which I say time out. Hold it right there. What the hell is going on here?

For the life of me, I can't understand just what it is that Newton did wrong. Since when should a person be thrown under the bus for stating, publicly or privately, what he finds to be funny?

Senses of humor certainly vary. What some find hilarious others might deem sick. There was a time when dead baby jokes were all the rage. What I thought of them is/was irrelevant, but the tellers had every right to throw them out there. And don't kid yourself. A lot of people laughed at them.

Ethnic jokes have been around forever and likely always will be. A Irishman, a jew, and a gay lawyer walk into a bar......  You know how they go. Everybody's heard thousands of them over the years. Some find any particular one humorous, some don't.

So for Cam Newton to take a public thrashing over something he found funny is just wrong. It's not like he personally insulted yon female reporter or called her any various derogatory terms.

Therefore, I saw no reason whatsoever for him to have to apologize at all, let alone grovel. If I'm him, I merely say I meant no offense (which seemed obvious at the time) and any that took it need to get a life. "I'm sorry" is not part of my response. If that's not good enough -- tough. Get over it or live with it. Whatever, because I've got far more important things to be concerned with than your precious feelings.

[And BTW, what about HIS feelings? Do you think he enjoys being lambasted from coast to coast?]

In the end, I still won't root for Cam or the Panthers. In fact, Newton's lack of cajones handling this petty matter turned me off just a bit more.

But if he or anybody else finds themselves in a similar predicament sometime in the future, they can know at least one person has their back.

This whole politically correct mania has got so many people afraid to speak what they feel and think.

I say to hell with that.

Say it anyway and if there are those that don't like it -- that's their problem.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Whining on wine

First of all, yours truly hates wine. Any wine. I don't care if it's the $2 or $2000 a bottle variety. Keep that stuff away from me.

This can be traced to an escapade in my youth when I was even dumber than I am now -- if that's possible. When I was barely "legal", I think, maybe, a few of my buddies and I wound up in my mom's car on a New Year's Eve driving around town drinking all kinds of stuff we shouldn't have been. Yes, we had a designated driver who was not partaking, the only one with half a brain.

My particular poison on that fateful night was either cherry vodka or sloe gin, I forget which. I drank a whole fifth of it -- and proceeded to get violently ill, as in puking my guts out, right in the car. My friends, with their own choices of doom, did the same.

To this day I don't remember too much of that night, except I woke up freezing and alone, still in the car, in my parents' driveway, then somehow stumbled into the house. Needless to say, the car itself was trashed inside. Imagine four or five guys throwing up repeatedly in an automobile and it doesn't exactly paint a pretty picture. I found that out the next morning when I was rousted off the couch by my dad demanding an explanation. I scrubbed that car all day, but it was never the same. Also needless to say, there were consequences, harsh ones, meted out by my parents for my night of drunken idiocy.

From that time on, I've never touched the stuff. It makes me a bit queasy just to look at it.

What does this have to do with sports? Excellent question.

It involves all the celebrating with wine (champagne) that some teams do after they've won something. This is getting out of control. Let's take the NY Yankees as an example.

Upon clinching a wild card berth for the playoffs, they broke out the bubbly. Pop, pop, pop. Spray, spray, spray. Pour, pour, pour. They might have even drank some of it. Winos the world over witnessing such an incredible waste of perfectly good booze on TV likely groaned.

I grimaced.

But what could or would happen next? After defeating the Minnesota Twins in a one game wild-card showdown, out came more bubbly. Pop, pop, pop. Etc, etc, etc.

If the Yankees were to defeat the Cleveland Indians in one of the American League Divisional Series, it would be round three. Pop, pop, pop.

The same scenario would hold if they went on to defeat either Houston or Boston in the American League Championship Series. Pop, pop, pop. That's four.

A World Series title would be the granddaddy booze fest of them all. Yet a fifth (no pun intended) orgy of alcohol abuse.

How many cases of wine are we up to here? A few hundred? A thousand? All totally, ahem, wasted? Don't they realize there's sober people in China?

If I have my history right, in days of yore when the American and National leagues each had ten teams, whichever came out on top after the regular season went to the World Series. No wild cards, nor divisional playoffs, just one seven game series to decide it all. And that meant there were only two celebrations. One for winning their respective league pennant and a possible second for winning the fall classic.

Nowadays they've gone crazier than I was back in the day on that New Years Eve with the bubbly. As listed above, a wild-card team winning it all, it happens, will have FIVE parties along the way. And they're not breaking out the rot gut cheap stuff. That no doubt drives the winos nuts to watch such an incredible display of debauchery on the air.

I feel your pain, guys. Or at least I did once. I don't think I could survive five of them.

Nope, not going back there. Brrr. It still gives me the, urp, willies just to think back about it.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Detroit Tigers set milestone

It took the Detroit Tigers the entire 162 game season, but they finally pulled it off.

With the San Francisco Giants winning their final regular season game and the Tigers once again succumbing to the Minnesota Twins, the Motown puddy-tats are now the (not so) proud owners of the worst record in all of Major League Baseball. Thud.

True, they finally bit the long overdue bullet and went into full scale rebuild mode a few weeks back. Also true is they escaped the notoriety that would have come with a 100 loss season. Barely. But their final record of 63-99 is there for all to see.

This, after a 6-2 start. In other words, the Tigers went a woeful 57-97 after the first week. A whopping 40 games under .500.

Gone is manager Brad Ausmus. Don't be surprised if he re-surfaces as the skipper of another team before long. Though he had no managerial experience before getting hired by the Tigers, he's now had a few years to learn the proverbial ropes. And the Tigers' collapse shouldn't be laid at the feet of Ausmus. He can only play the cards he's dealt. It wasn't his fault the Tiger brass showered aging players beyond their primes with outrageous long-term contracts. To boot, Ausmus is an upstanding guy. Friendly, open, and most importantly honest with the media. No whining and no excuses. It just is what it is.

The Tigers were a flawed team even before they pulled the trigger on the salary/player dump. Not enough quality starting pitching. Little to no team speed.  A suspect defense at many positions. And a batting practice quality bullpen. Only the rosiest of optimists gave them much of a shot at making the playoffs before the season even began.

[For the record, yours truly saw them as maybe an 80 win team, third or fourth place in their own division, but playoffs? Highly unlikely.]

Now gone are long time ace Justin Verlander, who's tearing it up since he landed in Houston. The Astros are a very talented young team who look to be serious World Series contenders for several years.

Also gone is J. D. Martinez. He's smacking the ball all over the park for Arizona, also a playoff team.

Alex Avila, son of general manager Al Avila in Detroit, got shipped out. Though he was never a sparkling defensive catcher, he was having his best season ever with the bat.

Justin Upton was having a very good season, but he's now with the LA Angels. Though they fell short of the playoffs, where would you rather be as winter approaches? Detroit or southern California?

The lone bright spot for the Tigers appeared to be Nicholas Castellanos. Long considered little more than a "journeyman" player, who was at best a mediocre fielding third baseman, NC had a break out year with the bat. He hit about .275, not shabby at all, but also clubbed 25 homers and drove in over 100 runs.

But the bullpen got even worse, if that's possible. It was almost painful to see the relievers coming into the game because you just knew they were going to get lit up. No lead was safe once those guys started going to the mound. The aforementioned Ausmus probably put in at least a few miles walking from the dugout to the pitcher's mound and back to remove the present pitcher and bring on the next dose of cannon fodder for the opposing hitters.

It should be noted that a few of the "kids", either "prospects" acquired from other teams or brought up from the minors, made fairly good showings.

But this comes as little surprise. After all, this was the first time opposing pitchers had faced them, so didn't know their strengths and weaknesses at the plate. You can bet all this will be pored over and diagnosed during the off-season through film study and the like. Whether or not the young Tigers can or will be successful in their sophomore seasons remains to be seen indeed.

For now, the immediate future of the Tigers looks fairly bleak. It's entirely possible, perhaps probable, they'll continue to stink it up for the next few years. Any new manager they bring in, regardless of his baseball acumen or experience, is still going to be stuck with the same rag-tag bunch that felled Ausmus.

But dang. 63-99? Who woulda thunk it? Such a Hindenburgish performance brings to mind old Warner Bros. toon Pepe LePew. El stinko.

Yep, they set a milestone alright.

Dead last.