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.

Detroit Pistons/Cleveland Cavaliers

The city of Cleveland hasn't celebrated a major sports championship since 1964. LBJ was just taking over for JFK after the gunshots in Dallas, and the Beatles made their debut appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. Color TVs were rare in households and everybody either had an antenna on their roof or fiddled with "rabbit ears" trying to get decent reception. A very long time ago indeed.

In the interim, Detroit has celebrated many world titles. The Tigers won the World Series in 1968 and again in 1984. The Pistons chalked up 3 NBA titles and the Red Wings several Stanley Cups. The Lions? Well, as former Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell used to say -- hope springs eternal -- but they've been "standing like the house at the side of the road" since the Eisenhower years. Some things just aren't meant to be. Still, three out of four teams ain't bad.

At that, many major cities don't even have the luxury of representation in all the four major sports. San Fran, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and LA come to mind. The Oklahoma City Thunder is the only pro team in the entire Sooner state. Portland has their Trailblazers, and that's it for Oregon as well. Even Cleveland is lacking an NHL team.

But the Lake Erie-ites may soon have something to cheer for. Lebron James has come back home, and the Cavs recently acquired star Kevin Love through a trade. Combined with all-star point guard Kyrie Irving, and free agent signings like Mike Miller, Shawn Marion, and James Jones -- all veterans with NBA titles on their resumes -- the Cavs will definitely be contenders next year. They've risen from obscurity to 3:1 odds to win the NBA title in 2015. In other words, one of the favorites. And good for them. Cleveland has long needed a break in the world of major sports.

On the other hand are the Detroit Pistons. Once popular player and Pres/GM Joe Dumars is gone. Over the last few years, Joe D pretty well ran the franchise into the ground with boneheaded trades and mis-managing draft picks, plus hiring a couple head coaches that appeared clueless. Dumars is a great guy, a pillar of the community, but it was time for him to go running the Pistons.

Things certainly didn't get any better for the Pistons considering the flurry of activity in Cleveland. While the Cavs were busy loading their roster, the Pistons, already with little talent, drafted some guy out of Colorado named Spencer Dimwittie, sorry, Dinwiddie. Whatever. I believe it was Sir Charles Barkley that once said -- the only good thing to ever come out of Colorado was Chauncey Billups. And that's been a while ago as well.

But never fear, the long empty chalice at the Palace has a Van Gundy running the show these days. Stan the Man is President, head coach, and will be calling all the shots. Mysteriously, or maybe not, he brought in a few of his former cronies and gave them positions. Like GM, assistant GM, and whatever other titles he could dream up. Their duties and responsibilities remain unclear, but if relatively new billionaire owner Tom Gores doesn't care about shelling out a few more million bucks in the name of bureaucracy, then why should we?

Yessirree, Stan can talk the talk. But that's the thing. The Van Gundys are like the acting Baldwin brothers, and the Gumbels on sports talk shows. Just when you think you've mercifully seen the last of them, another one pops up in front of a camera with a microphone. It's like they just.... won't.... go.... away. Of course the King of lingering is William Shatner. The original Star Trek TV series ran from 1966-1969. Only three years. But after all the subsequent Star Trek movies, and various other hit TV shows, some of which he torpedoed with his mere presence, the now 83 year old former Captain Kirk is still out their hawking whatever he can on dopey commercials. Despite the hundreds of millions he has made over that time -- anything to stay in the limelight, however dim it has become.

Interesting question...... Who has logged more total TV hours? William Shatner or Regis Philbin?

Bottom line. Barring injuries, or something else unforeseen happening, the Cavaliers are going to be contenders for the next few years. Likely favorites to win the Eastern Conference. Even Dan Gilbert couldn't screw this up. Probably. Whether they can actually win an NBA title remains to be seen. Whoever survives the wild, wild west to make it to the Finals is going to be REALLY good. San Antonio showed that just a few months ago when they demolished Lebron's former Heat team.

But the Pistons look to be in historic Detroit Lions mode for the foreseeable future. They'll run their promotions, giveaways and gimmicks to get people in the stands -- good luck -- but in the end, a bottom feeder is still a bottom feeder.

And without major talent, all the Van Gundys, Baldwins, Gumbels, T.J. Hookers, and even a few life-lines from Regis isn't going to change that.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Nick Fairley. Player or joke?

The Detroit Lions have a defensive tackle named Nick Fairley. He was a first round pick by the Lions out of Auburn in 2011 -- 13th overall. Fairley had participated on a national championship team during his tenure at Auburn, and some projected him as the overall #1 pick in the draft when he "came out" after his junior year. The dude could be a force on a defensive line. Alas, at the NFL combine, it was discovered Fairley wasn't nearly as tall, or didn't weigh as much as he had been advertised while at Auburn. Weight can go up and down, but height? Not likely. The pro scouts are sticklers for that sort of thing at their annual meat market. So he fell to 13th. Not an all bad deal. Fairley would sign a 4-year rookie contract for $10 million with the Lions, with a huge signing bonus thrown in.

Since then, Fairley's play, and behavior, has certainly been questionable. There are times when he will make outstanding plays on the field. Yet there are others when he seems to revert to the goon philosophy shared with his linemate Ndamukong Suh. Both have become somewhat infamous for cheap shots, late hits, and other thuggery over the last few years.

Fairley's also had his brushes with the law. Possession of marijuana on one occasion. On another, DUI, fleeing and eluding, reckless driving, having an open container of alcohol, and no proof of insurance will typically get a cop's attention after finally making a traffic stop. The average citizen would have had his/her car impounded and gone straight to jail. Do not pass Go, and forget collecting the $200. But Fairley was/is a multi-millionaire pro athlete, so most of this was quietly swept under the rug, which is pretty much standard procedure in this day and age. Only the average schmos get slapped with years of probation, wearing a GPS/alcohol tether, driver's license yanked, blowing and dropping for a year or two, community service, whatever else the courts can dream up to milk their wallets/purses dry and otherwise make their lives a living hell for as long as they can. But not Fairley. He was quickly back playing for the Lions.

Fast forward to the present. It's no big secret Fairley has a weight problem. Sure, by definition, NFL defensive tackles have to be somewhat in the behemoth category to even play the position. Going against offensive linemen that typically weigh over 300 pounds isn't exactly an easy job. I dare say Barney Fife or Jimmy Fallon types would find life very difficult indeed as an NFL defensive tackle.

But like most any job not being a sumo wrestler or a contestant on The Biggest Loser, being too fat can be detrimental to one's chosen profession. And Fairley definitely qualifies. His big gut hangs way over his waist. Yes, this is more weight to grapple with those huge offensive guards -- but somebody please explain to me how 40-50 pounds of blubber around the midsection can make any athlete more effective.

The Lions front office themselves once said, rather politically correctly, that Fairley needed to "shift" some of his weight. In other words, get rid of the huge belly and start developing some muscle elsewhere. But Fairley hasn't.

You know what's truly comical? Fairley blames his recent weight gain on eating too much. Well, no kidding Nick. We would have never guessed. This man doesn't eat a few wings -- he evidently eats the whole hen house -- eggs, feathers, bones and all.

[Here's a tip. If you're ever in a position to take Fairley out to dinner -- make sure it's at one of those $10 all you can eat joints. Or even $20. In a real restaurant, he'll likely cost you a house payment before the feeding frenzy is over. Not recommended.]

It was also laughable how Fairley recently went into pout mode when he didn't get all the reps as a starter. While the rest of the defensive linemen were busy with their coaches on the field and at meetings trying to get better as a team -- poor abused Nick stood off to the side with his lower lip protruding not quite as far as his gut -- but still in a 3rd grade "everybody hates me and no fair" demeanor.

Is it any wonder even the Lions, long not exactly known for front-office genius, to say the least, didn't pick up the option on Fairley's 5th year?

Fairley's playing out his contract this year. Maybe he'll "shift" some weight, avoid further trouble on the field or off, and be a force on the D line. He might even actually, gasp, show some maturity. The dude's 26. If it doesn't come pretty soon, then it's never going to happen. He could develop into a star player, or keep on being a joke where only Lions' fans fail to grasp the punch line.

But just to be on the safe side, keep him in the weight room, and away from the henhouse. Couldn't hurt.....

Little League loyalties

In the red corner, sometimes known as the international bracket, we had South Korea squaring off against Japan. As an American, who was I supposed to root for? My country has staunchly defended both these nations against any foreign threats, including the deployment of our armed forces, for well over half a century. This has come at a cost of countless billions of dollars to American taxpayers.

What have they given us in return? Both have flooded my country with their exported automobiles at great damage to American manufacturers. In the meantime, they've slapped tariffs on American auto exports, making them all but unaffordable in their native lands. One -- do I really need to tell you which? -- has obliterated American television, camera, audio equipment, and other electronic gear producers over the decades.

Gee, thanks guys. Nothing like true allies, but excuse me if I don't get too worked up over cheering for your Little League teams.

Hyundai and Kia prevailed over Toyota and Honda.

In the blue corner, sometimes known as the American bracket, we had Team Illinois taking on Team Nevada. Again, being a native of neither state, who was I supposed to root for? Harry Reid's Las Vegas boys or Obama's homies? Not so good things happen fast in both Las Vegas and Chicago.

An example? Count a-thousand one, a-thousand two, a-thousand three. Some poor soul likely just went bankrupt and ruined his/her financial life at a casino. Conversely, count the same a-thousand three, and somebody likely got shot in Chicago. Bullets have a way of ruining lives too.

Though Nevada had earlier "mercied" Illinois in the tournament, turnabout is fair play. In the American finals, the Windys would get their revenge over the Neons. Yet that raises an interesting point.

Vegas cruised through the "winners" bracket undefeated. Chicago already had one loss, at the hands of Vegas, as mentioned above. So in a supposed double-elimination tournament -- as in two losses and you're out -- why was Nevada eliminated after suffering their first defeat? At that time, both teams had one loss. Shouldn't they have had to play a rubber match? Yours truly has played in many a softball tournament with the same format. Come the "finals", the survivor of the loser's bracket had to beat the survivor of the winner's bracket twice before being crowned champions. The "winners" had two games to win one. If that required a double-header, so be it. Been there, done that. So why is Little League different?

At any rate, now it's South Korea vs Chicago for all the marbles, and probably a few future dates with the pretty girls on both sides of the Pacific. Who to root for? Because I'm an American, it would seem obvious -- but not so fast. Never been much of a Chitown fan and, like Obama, I prefer to keep my options open.

Maybe I'll watch the Barclay's golf tournament instead. Or, better yet, fire up the bike and go for a ride. Weather's supposed to be nice, and I've been hearing about this joint with some killer stromboli on Sundays a couple counties away.

Here's wishing all the best to the Little Leaguers, regardless of who wins. I can catch that in the paper tomorrow, ESPN highlights, or on the Net. But like a typical man, my stomach overrules most other things -- including sports loyalties. And gourmet stromboli doesn't come around just every day -- ya know?

Decisions, decisions.....


Friday, August 22, 2014

Detroit Lions. Same old

Well OK. Pre-season games aren't supposed to matter. Indeed, when the Lions became the only team in NFL history to chalk up a 0-16 record back in 2008, they had gone 4-0 in the pre-season. So much for the "practice" games.

Nevertheless, all the mini-camps and organized team activities, and especially the pre-season games, are supposed to be about a team coming together as a well-oiled machine when the regular season starts.

Granted, the first couple exhibition games can pretty well be ignored. They typically feature few of the players that will start the regular season --for more than a few plays -- and are more about taking a look at a lot of players that likely won't be around in September. But you never know. Every once in a while a long-shot impresses the coaches enough to eventually make the team.

The Lions opened the pre-season at home against the usually hapless Cleveland Browns, and barely squeezed out a victory. Then on to Oakland. The Raiders are a mess, but they found a way to beat the Lions. Back home for the Honolulu blue and silver crew for pre-season game 3 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Though it's only pre-season, could the Lions schedule have been any patsier? Good grief. Who's up next? The Campfire Girls from Trinidad and Tobago? Actually, it's the Buffalo Bills. Pretty much the same..... hmmm....nevermind.

But historically the third pre-season game is when NFL teams come closest to playing for real. Their projected starters will typically play at least the entire first half, and the kid gloves come off -- somewhat.

In that respect -- against the Jags -- Detroit appeared to be, well, the same old Lions. Despite their supposed "high-powered offense", Matthew Stafford and company would manage to score only 7 points.

New coach Jim Caldwell and his staff have instituted new systems for the Lions. Alas, it seems JC and his minions, like all their predecessors, remain incapable of solving the age-old Detroit Lions' enigma. This is sometimes referred to as the Bonehead Syndrome.

Typical symptoms include false-starts, illegal procedures, holding penalties, a few fumbles, and an occasional late hit and/or personal foul. Particularly by a certain goonish defensive tackle that has a long history of such. All were on display against Jacksonville.

Yet despite their pitiful play, the hapless Lions managed to scrape out a late win against the even more hapless Jags. It was difficult to determine which team looked sorrier. Both stunk it up -- big time.

On a related note -- Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson saw his first action of the year. Supposedly, the Lions held him out of the first two games to keep him healthy. Say what? Hey, this is NFL, not tea and crumpets in a china shop. If the Megatron is that Megafragile, then something's wrong. He's a wide receiver, not Queen Elizabeth. He's supposed to be out there getting his reps with the rest of them.

Yours truly LOLed at something the "homer" announcers said on the air. Johnson had a major impact on the game. Really? He caught two passes for a grand total of 27 yards. That didn't exactly fall into the shock and awe category.

Come the regular season, we'll see. Other than their mandatory 6 division games, the NFL has handed the Lions about the easiest schedule possible. It's almost like even the league offices want them to win something -- anything -- finally.

But they better bring a whole lot more to the table from September through December than what they've shown so far. Their first order of business should be exorcising the demons of the Bonehead Syndrome. Easier said than done. Though the bodies have changed, tt appears ingrained in the soul of this franchise. Part of their spiritual DNA.

Or they can forget about playing into January. Ah heck. It's only been 50 years. What's one more?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Sports Illustrated jinx and other bad luck

They've done it again. Sports Illustrated has a long history of jinxing various athletes after featuring them on the cover of their mag. In the latest edition, Mo'ne Davis, she of the Philly Little League team.was front and center. Remember her name (as if we could ever forget), quoth the SI geniuses.

The same day that issue arrived in my mailbox, Mo'ne Davis and her "Mid-Atlantic" team were eliminated from the Little League World Series. Outta here. And what's up with the term Mid-Atlantic anyway? The only thing going on in the mid-Atlantic is a whole bunch of salt water, and maybe a few nuclear subs. Why not just call that team what it is? They're from Philly. Last time I looked Philadelphia was land based. "East Coast" would have done just fine on their uniforms and made a lot more sense.

And "remember her name"? We'll see about that. Davis is 13, which means she's maxed out on the age limit for little league baseball. How time flies. One day she's throwing shutouts at opposing batters, and the next the little league has put her out to pasture with the rest of the teen-aged geriatric bunch. Poor old hag.

Mo'ne is about to enter the 8th grade. This is called "middle-school" these days, though it was "junior high school" for decades, even centuries. And what was so wrong with that? Why do we have to keep changing the names of the obvious? No matter.

At any rate, maybe Davis will keep playing baseball competitively -- or not. It remains to be seen how she will fare as the boys around her get bigger and stronger. When kids are 12-13, there's not that much of a physical difference between boys and girls. Fast forward to 17-18, and that's a whole different story.

Even Davis herself has said baseball isn't her favorite sport. She wants to be a hoops star and go to UConn. Will she be good enough to atrract the interest of Geno Auriemma, assuming he's still there in five years or so? Time will tell, but the odds are highly against that as well. Mo'ne would have to develop into a blue-chip high school basketball player before Geno would even give her a sniff. That's a pretty tall order.

Bottom line is -- contrary to the SI hype -- Mo'ne Davis might very well fade away, never to be heard from again on the sports scene. Even in her last game as a little leaguer, she was a total non-factor.

As for other bad luck? David Price of the Detroit Tigers just threw a complete game one-hitter against his former team -- the Tampa Bay Rays. And he got beat.

Everybody has heard about Paul George of the Indiana Pacers recently suffering a compound fracture of his right leg on a freak play. That's just bad luck.

Yet wide receiver Golden Tate left the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks via free-agency to sign with the Detroit Lions, presumably for a few extra bucks. When you get into the multi-millions, does one or two more really matter? Seattle is favored by the oddsmakers to repeat. Meanwhile, despite all the the typical chatter/hype/koolaid coming out of Detroit, some knowledgeable football people predict the Lions to finish last in their division.

How does this relate to Tate? That's not bad luck.That's just dumb. There's a difference.