Sunday, August 31, 2014

Michigan State national champs? Could happen

Well OK. MSU blistered patsy Jacksonville State in their opening game -- at home. No big surprise. As is well known, next week the Spartans travel to Oregon. The Ducks are ranked #3 in the country while MSU checks in between #6 and #8 depending on different polls.

Typically, Oregon has been a house of horrors for visiting teams. But ya know what? Methinks the Sparties are going to knock them off. Why? Because while the Ducks have become famous for their fast-paced play -- sometimes running other teams out of the building -- the Spartans are a more well-rounded, and certainly more physical team. They can play with anybody on both sides of the ball, and I look for MSU to wear out OU in the latter stages of the game.

But still, MSU isn't even in the top 5 -- right? How can they wind up being champions when only the supposed top 4 qualify for the "playoffs"? Elementary, my dear fellow lunatics. Look at who's in front of them in the pre-season polls.

Reigning national champ Florida State sits at #1, as well they should. But repeating as champs is highly unlikely. In the last 54 years, only one team has won back to back consensus national titles. Tom Osborne's 1994-95 Nebraska Cornhuskers. At that, the Seminoles barely held on to defeat unranked Okla State in their opener. They have a target on their backs -- goes with the territory --  and there's always the complacency thing.

The mighty SEC? Enter Alabama and Auburn -- both ranked above Michigan State. Thing is, when they play each other -- somebody's gotta lose. And in the SEC conference championship game -- somebody's gotta lose again.

UCLA?  They were lucky to squeak by unranked Virginia in their opener.

Ohio State? When QB Braxton Miller was lost for the season, so were any chances of the Buckeyes making the "playoffs", let alone winning the whole shebang -- if they ever had a legitimate shot in the first place.

Oklahoma? After beating the equivalent of a  girls basketball team from Louisiana Tech, they next face their in-state rival powerhouse Tulsa. Please. They should be ashamed of themselves scheduling such pitiful competition. Nevertheless, when they get into their Big 12 schedule, methinks the Sooners will get knocked off a time or three. They ain't all that.

So it all boils down to Michigan State themselves. Clearly, they're the class of the Big 10, or 12, or whatever they consist of these days. Barring a rash of injuries, there's no reason MSU can't run the table in the conference like they did last year. Head coach Mark Dantonio has done wonders with that program over the last few years. Even if the national pollsters are loathe to give them the respect they are due, the Sparties are for real, and look to be for the near future.

While the other "power" conferences are busy beating each other up over the course of the year, if MSU can continue to play up to their capabilities, they could well make the Final Four. And after that -- it's a crapshoot. At that level -- everybody's really good.

We'll all know how it shakes out around Thanksgiving time, and a lot of things can happen between now and then -- but don't underestimate the Spartans.

They've got a legitimate shot to win the whole deal.

And wouldn't that be something?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tony Stewart returns

Tony Stewart, the brash NASCAR driver, is finally returning to racing. He'll be in his familiar #14 car in Atlanta speeding around the track at 180 MPH and making a lot of left turns. Is this the right thing for him to do? My answer would be -- absolutely.

Sure, we all remember the tragedy that happened on a dirt track about a month ago when young Kevin Ward lost his life. Bluntly put, Kevin Ward is dead. And Tony Stewart was driving the car that hit and killed him.

Yes, there will always be differing opinions as to who -- if anybody -- was responsible for the fatal incident. Maybe one? Maybe the other? Maybe both? Maybe neither? Believe what you will, but such opinions really don't matter. Sadly, Kevin Ward can't relate his version of what happened, and only Tony Stewart knows for sure what was going through his head in the moments preceding the deadly impact. All the rest is just speculation.

Granted, being involved in such an incident would be enough to shake anyone to their core. I dare say few of us have experienced what it feels like to be driving an automobile that strikes and kills a "pedestrian". Even if not at fault, it could be fairly said this would trigger a wide range of emotions. Remorse, sympathy, perhaps even guilt thinking about -- could I have done anything differently to avoid it? Sleepless nights to be sure.

But what was "Smoke" to do in the wake, no pun intended, of such a tragedy? He's a race car driver. Has been since forever. It's how he makes his living.

So OK, he took a few weeks off from racing. This is totally understandable. Stewart may be a lot of things, but he's still a human being with a conscience. It seemed only logical for him to need some time to get his head right again. This is nothing the average person wouldn't experience. Many years ago, yours truly splattered a little dog that ran out in front of my car on the interstate, and it haunts me to this day. Besides the dog itself, that little pooch belonged to somebody. I can't even imagine what it would feel like to kill a human being with my car, even if it wasn't my fault.

But let's get real. Even if such an unfortunate incident were to befall me, it's not like I'd never drive a car again. It's pretty much a necessity -- ya know? Would I feel terrible for the "victim" and/or his/her family? Absolutely. Would I ever forget what happened? Absolutely not. But you can't just curl up into the fetal position for the rest of your life. In my younger days, I did a lot of stupid and dangerous things that I probably shouldn't have lived through. Tragedies and accidents happen every day everywhere. But for the grace....

Yet life goes on for the fortunate. Like the famous line in the movie Shawshank Redemption -- one can get busy living, or get busy dying.

Tony Stewart's just trying to get his life back. He's a race car driver. It's what he does, and has for a long time. Recently, he came out with a public statement and said all the right things. Sure, he read from a prepared note in front of him -- but who doesn't these days? When athletes get in trouble for various reasons, an eloquent prepared statement is always released to the press. Do you really think any of those guys actually wrote it? Of course not. A lot of them couldn't spell "cat" if you spotted them two consonants and a vowel. Even high ranking politicians, the slickest of the slick, up to and including the President, read from statements prepared by others. Who's kidding who?

May Kevin Ward rest in peace, but it's time for Tony Stewart to get back to living.

On a related note -- the cops never cease to amaze me. After all this time since the dirt track fiasco, they say their "investigation" will go on for at least another couple weeks. They're still trying to figure out whether they can charge Tony Stewart with any criminal wrong-doing.

Hey, they've seen the track videos of the incident. They've interviewed Stewart and all the other drivers that were in that race. They've probably even got multiple cell-phone videos from people that were in the stands.

So other than wasting the tax-payers money yet again, just what exactly is the reason for this "investigation" to continue? If they think Tony Stewart mowed down Kevin Ward on purpose, then charge him as such. Good luck trying to prove that. If they think he was "negligent" with his car causing death, then charge him with that.

But the facts -- and speculation -- are all in and have been for some time. Another two weeks of asking the same questions again aren't going to change anything.

Either charge Smoke with a crime, or shut up and butt out. He's got a life. Time for the cops and prosecutors to get one as well.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Larry the cable guy and other random hits

I never had heartburn before. But now I know what it feels like. How did this come about? By watching Larry the Cable Guy advertise a product called Prilosec that is supposed to GET RID of heartburn. By that commercial logic, Larry could hawk a lot of things. Like Tums, milk of magnesia, migraine pills, and even Preparation H. Nothing like causing the malady then selling you meds to ease the pain.

Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns has been suspended for the entire 2014 NFL season. Josh was the leading receiver in the entire league last year. A major talent. Alas, he got busted, again, on a positive drug test. Gordon said he was disappointed that the league office didn't show more discretion and better judgment regarding his appeal of such suspension. Josh needs to do two things. One is shut up.

Hey, he's only been in the NFL since 2012, and he already got popped once before for substance abuse. Throw in a DUI along the way and second positive test, and what did he think was going to happen? Roger Goodell and company are clamping down hard on such "offenses" these days. Everybody knows that. BTW, the other thing Gordon needs to do is quit smoking weed. Recreational use is fine in Colorado and Washington for average citizens, but the NFL sees things a bit differently amongst their own. If Gordon gets popped a third time -- he can pretty well kiss his butt goodbye in the NFL. He has to make a choice between millions of dollars and smoking dope. They appear to be mutually exclusive in the modern day professional sports world. Decisions, decisions.

Still can't figure out those Cialis commercials. Evidently, this is another wonder drug to enhance the male libido. Thought about trying it but one thing holds me back. According to the ads -- to fully appreciate the effects -- one has to lug his and her matching bath tubs to a beach somewhere. First, besides the expense, I have no idea how to pull that off, no pun intended. And second, if you and your significant other are lying naked in a couple bath tubs on a public beach -- chances are real good you're going to wind up in jail. There are those that don't exactly approve of such behavior. Yet I'd bet a couple bath tubs would be a first for impound lots.

Really dumb things dept.

Point spreads, and those that bet on them, for NFL preseason games. See the lowly Oakland Raiders smoking the defending Super Bowl champ Seattle Seahawks.

Josh Shaw (what is it with these Joshes?) of USC, who incurred two sprained ankles, basking in the role of a hero for saving his nephew from supposedly drowning, while all along it was a lie. Did he not think he would eventually be exposed? Now he's suspended indefinitely, as well he should be. Going to the press and public selling a lie is the purview of slick politicians -- not college football players. That never works anymore.

After the KC Royals went 21-6 to put the Detroit Tigers a few games behind them in the central division of the AL -- rookie Tiger manager Brad Ausmus saying if KC goes 21-6 again during September, they would be tough to catch. Well, no kidding Brad. I wonder if he studied under Yogi, or maybe Sparky.

The Detroit Lions open the 2014 season with a Monday night game at home against the not-so-good NY Giants. It will be sold out. The Honolulu blue and silver faithful will be at a fever pitch, both in the stadium and around TVs in the metro Detroit area, be it at sports bars or at home.

We've got major talent and this is the year we finally rise to glory, they will thunder. Playoffs here we come and with a few breaks, maybe even the Super Bowl.

And that's not just dumb -- it's delusional. Like the Lions over the years, William Shakespeare's play A Comedy Of Errors has had many different actors playing the same roles. But no matter how many times one watches it, the script never changes. A farce is meant to be a farce.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The talking head epidemic

While watching a pre-season game on the NFL network, the trailer across the bottom of the screen delivered an astounding news flash. Evidently, during the regular season, a panel of four (or was that five?) comprised of ex-players/coaches and, of course, the usual talking head moderator, would be providing 4 hour pre-game shows. To which I say....

You gotta be defecating me. 4 HOURS??? They could make a documentary chronicling the entire history of the NFL that took up the same amount of time. To make matters even worse, another panel of "experts" would come on post-game for two more hours of highlights, analysis, and even MORE blather.

Good grief. Games themselves only last 3, maybe 3 and a half hours. If you watch the game(s), you know what happened. Do we really need a panel of talking heads to tell us about what we just watched for 2 more hours?

To be fair, with the recent explosion of niche sports channels, a good thing for couch taters, pizza joints, and the beer industry, they have to show SOMETHING. And granted, audio is usually a good thing to go along with those 50 inch hi-def flat screens. (I recently bought one. When the picture first came up, the feeling reminded me of getting my driver's license, or what happened a few hours after the senior prom. Needless to say -- a very pleasant sensation. Throw in a dynamite surround-sound system in the man cave, and yours truly can watch the games in style.)

Also granted, I can tater it up with the best, or worst of them on occasion, depending on what else is going on -- or not.

But if anyone ever gets to the point where they devote 4 hours to a pre-game show, then another 2 hours of post-game with talking heads rambling on -- then drastic measures need to be taken. They should be dragged, kicking and screaming, away from their panoramas, Bose speakers, and made to do a few hours of community service. A game is one thing, but anybody that would watch 6 more hours of talking heads blathering on before and after it obviously has way too much time on their hands. Some of it could be better spent elsewhere for the good of mankind.

This could even become a national security issue. Listening to talking sports heads 10 hours a day is enough to make anybody snap eventually. And who knows what havoc such crazed people might wreak on the public?

My advice? Tune into the game about 15 minutes after they say it's going to start. That's when it really does start. The talking heads will eat up the first 15 minutes telling you how great it's going to be. Along with a few commercials, of course.

And when it's over, either click on another channel or go do something else.

All the rest, before and after, is nothing but worthless chatter.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cool... and not cool

The Philadelphia Phillies brought the Little League team from their area that recently made a splash in the Little League World Series onto their field to be honored. Pretty cool.

The Philly Phanatic is always cool with his, or maybe her antics. Nobody knows who's under that green outfit. But this time one of the umpires decided to join the fun. He put on a pair of shades, twisted his cap sideways, and started boogeying with the Phanatic on the field. Very cool. Not done, the umpire went on to toss a few long stem roses to some pretty girls in the stands. Definitely cool.

Unless the Detroit Tigers and NY Yankees meet in the playoffs, not likely, Derek Jeter is playing his last series in Detroit. The Tigers honored him before the game. Everybody from the players on up to Pres/GM Dave Dombrowski was on hand. Cool. One would have thought even Tiger owner Mike Ilitch could have deigned to emerge from his ivory palace for such an occasion. But he didn't. Not so cool.

Even former Tiger star and Hall of Famer Al Kaline was on hand. Though Kaline, now 79, retired from the game before Jeter was even born, it was pretty cool of him to show up to honor another certain future Hall of Famer. Which brings me to a personal story that happened a long time ago. It was cool -- and not cool.

When I was a little boy, my dad used to occasionally take me to a Tigers game at the old Tiger stadium. I'm guessing this was somewhere in the mid 1960s. At any rate, back in those days the Tigers used to feature a "camera day" once a year. Before the game on camera day, the Tiger players would come out and line up along the foul lines, much like teams do now when they're being introduced for the All-Star game or World Series.

But back then, on that day, the fans were welcome on the field at Tiger stadium to socialize with their local baseball heroes. Lots of up-close pictures, hence camera day, but also getting to chat briefly with the players. Of course, this was always a sold out game, and the line of fans had to keep moving along so everybody could have their chance. I was there on one of those occasions. Being on the field at Tiger stadium and walking by up-close to my baseball heroes was a little boy's dream come true.
The coolest.

All these years later, I remember three things from that day. Gates Brown, a back-up outfielder and dynamic pinch-hitter, was a scary looking man to a little boy like myself. But he was very friendly. Cool.

At that time the Tigers had a journeyman second baseman named Jerry Lumpe. He was the friendliest of them all. Chatting, smiling, posing for pix with kids and adults alike, shaking hands, taking a knee to talk to kids face-to-face, autographing anything put in front of him -- the whole good guy package. On that day, Jerry Lumpe was the coolest guy I'd ever met. I never forgot that.

But of course, we all wanted to get to the great Al Kaline, who was further down the line. Eventually we did. And what did we find?

Kaline didn't have time to talk to fans or adoring little kids. He was busy with a reporter and some other guy in a suit. The kids, including myself, wanted so badly to shake his hand and have him autograph our programs, but Kaline totally ignored us as if we weren't even there. This, on camera day, which by it's very definition was supposed to be about interacting with the fans, and especially the kids that so looked up to him -- and Al Kaline blew us all off. The ultimate of not cool. I never forgot that either.

On an unrelated note, some 9 year old girl on a shooting range in Arizona got an Uzi put in her hands with a clip of live ammo and the gun set to shoot on full automatic. She pulled the trigger and, oops, the weapon ratcheted up, as machine guns are prone to do, and the little girl wound up shooting her instructor, who was standing next to her, in the head, killing him.

That went far beyond not cool. Legal or not in Arizona, letting a 9 year old wield a machine gun, under any circumstances, is just flat out stupid.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Michael Sam update

You remember Michael Sam. He's the highly touted defensive end out of Missouri that was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round. He's also the first openly gay player to cast his lot in the NFL. There might well be others already on NFL rosters but, if so, they haven't "come out" yet. In his own way, Michael Sam is a first.

Actually, any football fan would have had to be a coma NOT to have heard of Sam. Such was -- and is -- they hype surrounding his every move and word since his "declaration" and subsequent odyssey.

Just yesterday, all NFL teams had to cut their rosters to 75 players. Sam made it with the Rams.

But this Saturday another cut comes, when the teams have to pare down to the final 53 that will be on their active rosters when the regular season starts. In other words, 22 more guys on every squad gotta go.

Whether Sam makes that final cut is a close call. Head coach Jeff Fisher has publicly said Sam is considered a defensive end, and possible special teams' contributions will not enter into any decision making. Currently, out of seven defensive ends remaining on the Rams' roster, Sam finds himself 5th or 6th on the depth chart. Depending on their defensive line/linebacker scheme, most NFL teams will carry at least 4, and maybe 5 defensive ends during regular season games. So basically Sam is on the "bubble". He has from now until Saturday to shine a little bit more, or lose some luster. It will likely determine his fate, at least for now.

Lost in all the hype over Sam is the tough position Jeff Fisher finds himself in. He's certainly been around the league long enough to know the media will scrutinize the final cuts, dissecting them every which way. But again, Sam is a first, and the (mostly liberal -- see pro-gay) media has him under a microscope. The easy (and "politically correct") thing for Fisher to do would be letting Sam survive the final cut and be a member of the active roster going into the regular season. At that, Sam may well have earned it.

But...... what if in their football heart of hearts, not to mention after all the practices, film sessions, and pre-season games have been analyzed --Fisher and his staff think another defensive end has beat out Sam for the last spot? Would he dare cut him?

Certainly Fisher is aware that cutting Sam would bring the media down on him like a swarm of locusts. A bazillion questions would be forthcoming. Responsible journalists would ask responsible questions. Yet who would doubt there would also be an army of them with their own agendas trying to paint Fisher into a corner?

Even the national news outlets would likely jump in. Remember when Anderson Cooper of CNN spent an entire month interviewing "experts" trying to figure out what happened to that Malaysian plane that disappeared? They didn't know anything then, and still don't know anything months later. The plane remains missing, but their ratings went up. Anderson Cooper being a gay man himself, it would come as little surprise if he jumped all over the Michael Sam story if he got cut. More experts. Lawyers, shrinks, and various advocates would be on display for a few more weeks. Nevermind most of them wouldn't have the faintest clue about football itself -- let alone the intracacies of defensive line play in the NFL-- it would be a story they could run with. The scary part is -- their ratings would probably jump again. Yours truly has become convinced that for every independent thinker in this country -- there's at least 1000 lemmings that will believe anything they are told. And DO anything they are told. Scary indeed.

One way or the other, here's hoping Michael Sam makes it into the NFL on his own merit and abilities, or not.

Yeah, he might be a "first", but in the end he's just another player trying to earn a job. Pretty sure Sam himself would agree with that. Though Sam is attempting to break "new ground", there can be little doubt others will follow. Some will make it -- some won't.

And that's the thing. If it's supposed to be about size, strength, speed, toughness, brains, and other abilities to make the NFL -- then let it be about that -- not a player's sexual orientation. And let the coaches decide who the best 53 players are.

If gay players are ever to be accepted as just other guys on the roster, then here's an idea.....

Quit shining such a spotlight on them, their teams, and their coaches. As long as that continues, there will be controversy -- which people like Anderson Cooper thrive on. The players themselves are just dudes trying to make a living doing a very tough job against even tougher competition.

So how about we just let them compete, and may the best men make the cut?

Is that asking too much?


Monday, August 25, 2014

The wacky AL playoff picture

It sure looks like the American League will go right down to the wire before the playoff teams are finally sorted out. Consider the three divisions.

In the west, the Oakland A's and LA Angels are tied for the division lead. Certainly one of them will win it, and the other appears to be almost, but not quite, a lock for a wild card spot.

In the east, the high-flying Orioles keep belting home runs and maintain a semi-comfortable lead over the Yankees and Blue Jays.

The central division has tightened up. The Detroit Tigers were supposed to win it handily, but it's not working out that way. In fact, they've been passed, again, by the recently hot KC Royals for the division lead, though it remains nip and tuck. Unless the Cleveland Indians get super-hot, either Detroit or KC will come out on top.

But what's really getting interesting is the wild card race. Only two from the combined three divisions will qualify. Then they'll have the pressure-packed honor of a one-game knockout between them. Somebody will move on. The other will go home for the season.

Sure, with 30-some games remaining, a lot can happen and sometimes does. Yet as they approach the final month of the regular season, a serious dogfight is shaping up.

For the sake of argument, let's assume the Angels win the west. The A's would likely be a wild card team. Let's give Baltimore the east crown. Let's further assume KC hangs on in the central (they're currently a slim game and a half ahead of Detroit). That would mean the only avenue for the Tigers to make the playoffs would be as the second wild-card. (They currently trail both Oakland and LA by 6 games.)

But quitely, the Seattle Mariners have slipped into the wild card picture as well. They're actually a game ahead of the Tigers. And don't look now, but the Bronx Bombers have fought through a rash of injuries and are only a couple games back themselves.

So if the above scenario happens, whereby LA, Baltimore, and KC wind up division champs, the race for the second wild card spot could wind up going down to the last game. Between Detroit, Seattle, and the Yanks, all basically neck and neck, it becomes a game of musical chairs with three players still alive but only one seat left.

When the music stops in another month or so, two of them are going to be SOL which, as we all know, means "sent off lamenting". Right. Ahem.

Yep, this could literally be a fight to the finish during September. High drama indeed. Just one problem. Baseball's ratings are about to take another nosedive. Why? Because the gorilla, sometimes known as the NFL, is about to move into the room again when their own regular season starts in a couple weeks. Even exciting division races and wild card chases in baseball will get shoved to the back burner media-wise. Right or wrong, that's just the way it is, and has been for quite some time in America. There can only be one king, the NFL rules, and it's not even a close call.

But in baseball circles, September should be interesting to see how it all plays out. Maybe we can catch it on ESPN2.