Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Detroit Lions, bye the way

The Lions sure got off to a great start -- last year. Coming out of the gate, they were 5-0, before San Fran came to town and took them to the woodshed, prompting the post-game "handshake incident" between head coaches Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz. At that, the Lions righted their ship to finish 10-6, and qualify for the playoffs. They were promptly thrashed by the New Orleans Saints, but still, just getting to the playoffs was a major step forward. In their not-so-glorious history over the past half-century or so, you can count on one hand how many times this has happened -- and still have a finger or two left over. Expectations for 2012 ran high, to say the least.

Stepping back to look at the bigger picture, however, reveals something else. Since their glorious 5-0 start last year, in the equivalent of an entire NFL regular season, the Lions have gone 6-10. So while the Lions' faithful likely think their team is trending upwards, the stats would indicate the opposite.

Look at this year. In their opening game at home, the Lions barely squeaked past the St. Louis Rams. The Rams have a new head coach, new system, and over half their squad consists of players in their first year there, including a couple van loads of rookies. If the Lions were indeed ready to finally make a serious run at the Super Bowl, like many thought -- that game should have been a cakewalk -- but it wasn't.

Then they were off to San Fran for a rematch where, not so surprisingly, they were soundly beaten again by the 49ers, but hey, those Candlestick guys have come on like gangbusters under Harbaugh. They're really good, so the Lions had nothing to hang their heads about.

But then trouble started brewing. The following week, the Lions were beaten at home by the Tennessee Titans, another team that, at least "on paper", were supposed to be inferior to the Honolulu blue and silver. Sure, the game went into overtime, but only because of a few miracle plays that fell the Lions' way in the closing seconds. Other than that, they had their lunch handed to them over the course of the game.

And now, the artists formerly known as the "lowly" Minnesota Vikings, just waltzed into Ford Field and gave them yet another thumping.

The 2012 Lions currently stand at 1-3, with their bye week coming up. This was not supposed to happen.

Unfortunately for the Lions, things aren't going to get any easier. Following their week off, they're looking at road trips to Philadelphia to face Michael Vick and Co., and then on to Soldier Field in Chicago, always a tough venue. Da Bears aren't exactly patsies, especially at home.

Granted, it's the NFL, upsets happen, any given Sunday, that's why they play the games, and all that, right? On the one hand, while the Lions are currently taking on water, they could very well right their ship again to get back to 3-3. Yet on the other, if they get hit with a couple more torpedoes in Philly and Chitown to go 1-5, that cruise liner that merrily set sail around Labor day will be in serious distress before Halloween.

Maybe this is all just a weird phenomenon that will pass, and the Lions will return to climbing the NFL ladder like so many expected.

Then again, 6-10 over the past calendar year doesn't lie.

Are they the "real deal", or will the dreaded "overrated" word rear it's ugly head in the next few weeks?

Perhaps the Lions will get on a roll, storm through the rest of their schedule, and charge into the playoffs.

But they better turn on the bilge pumps pretty quick, or that "bye" they're looking at next week could turn into a "bye bye" for the entire season a few weeks later.

And that most DEFINITELY was not supposed to happen.

Time will tell.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Ryder Cup by the numbers

Short of being a golf aficionado, which yours truly is decidedly not, this whole Ryder Cup business can get confusing at times. Namely, figuring out who's who.

For example, put Luke Donald and Lee Westwood next to each other, and a lot of Americans don't know which is which. Some of us might think one of Donald's ancestors, Old Mac, had a farm that became legendary in childrens' folklore. E-I-E-I-O. Near as we can tell, Westwood was that place in a movie where Yul Brynner, playing the part of a homicidal droid gone berserk, starting shooting people. Or was that Westworld? Whatever, we can't tell the difference.

Conversely, the European golf fans have it a little easier sorting out the American players. As another example, put Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods side by side, and a glaring physical attribute jumps right out to easily tell them apart. Phil's the one who golfs left-handed, of course. But can they tell the difference between a Furyk and a Snedeker? Maybe. Furyk's got a unique golf swing, perhaps only surpassed by that of Charles Barkely. Snedeker? To the folks across the Pond, that might sound like the name of a new candy bar created by an athletic shoe company.

Even the captains of the two teams present their own enigmas. The Europeans have Jose Marie Olazabal directing their squad. Most Americans have no idea how to even pronounce his last name.

Think that's bad? Consider the American captain, Davis Love. As they say, love makes the world go round, and is a good thing, but in tennis, love means zero, zilch, naught -- a bad thing for a player.

Besides, in an annual international competition in pro tennis, they play for the DAVIS Cup. The very name Davis Love absolutely exudes tennis, so what the hell's he doing in golf, let alone captaining the best the Americans have to offer? That's just wrong on some level.

What's even worse is the Ryder Cup's spiffy little dress codes. Each team will have their matching designer outfits on any given day (no word yet as to what country they were actually manufactured in, but it's early). Having matching outfits is rather quaint, and all well and good -- if they were cheerleader teams competing in an international Battle of the Pom-Poms, but they're not. They're world class golfers, most of them multi-millionaires, and dressing them up like Boy Scouts at a jamboree somehow doesn't seem fitting. In fact, it just makes it that much harder to tell them apart.

So why not do it like most other sports? Put a number on the back, with their names stitched across their shoulder blades. That way we'd know who's who. It could be the best of many worlds.

Consider -- Golf might pick up a few more viewers. NASCAR fans might relate if an announcer was to say, "The #6 driver has narrowed the gap with the #12, and this may come down to who has enough gas at the end".

Even the names across their backs could be personalized at the player's discretion. Much like some soccer players, many would only require one name to be recognizable. Eldrick Woods would be Tiger, of course. Phil would be Lefty. Gerry Lester Watson? We know him as Bubba. Regardless of whatever nicknames the Europeans might come up with for themselves, the Americans would have little justification in mocking them. America once featured a pro football player with the name "He hate me" on his back. The guy's real name was Smart, but I doubt many thought of him that way. For over a decade, American football fans were all agog over Terrell Owens. He was commonly referred to as T.O.. Thankfully, it finally appears he's taken a permanent time out. How about Ochocinco, the artist formerly known as Chad Johnson, changing his name into the spanish words for his number 85 while playing -- in Cincinnati? What was up with that anyway?  Good grief, Americans park on a driveway and drive on a parkway. So before they start poking fun at others, perhaps they should take a long look in the mirror first.

But if the Ryder Cup teams just HAVE to wear those silly matching outfits, the least they could do is show some imagination. Forget Armani, St. Laurent, and all the rest of those uppety designer folks that don't know the difference between a wedge and a wedgie.

Put somebody in charge that knows the game and would make their attire attract even more viewers.

John Daly. He's pretty well proven himself over the years to be quite the fashion plate. Turn him loose to outfit the Ryder Cup players -- on both sides.

Now THAT would get interesting.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The NFL/refs' union settlement details

In quite a sudden and stunning turn of events, the NFL and the NFLRA (referees' association) have come to a settlement over their labor dispute that has brewed since June. After a no-brainer ratification vote amongst their members, the regular refs will be back this weekend. Here, in a nutshell, are the details of the settlement----

Each official will immediately receive a $5 million dollar signing bonus. Their salaries will be tripled with an automatic 10% raise every year. Complete and totally free health care will be provided for them and their families. After only two years of service, they will qualify for lifetime tax-free pensions that will start at $200,000 annually and have the same !0% cost of living factor built in.

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal for the zebras, right? Not so fast. In return, the league got something they've always craved as well.

In a complicated 3-way conference, the highest levels of law enforcement had to sign off on what the league demanded in return for their generosity towards the refs.

Though the fine print has yet to be ironed out, it appears the league will henceforth have a special agent on the sidelines during every future game. This agent will be armed, and be in continual contact with the league offices.

Most everybody expects the quality of the officiating to greatly improve once the seasoned refs are back on the job. Yet, mistakes will still be made. They're human, after all. However, under the terms of the new agreement, the refs will now be "subject to review".

But this is where it gets interesting. While an occasional minor gaffe will still be tolerated, egregious bone-headed calls will not. If after all the replays, from all the different angles, including slo-mo, it is proven beyond all reasonable doubt an official should no longer be allowed to continue his/her incompetence -- they won't. At that time, with the official sanction of the league office, coupled with the immunity granted by the aforementioned government agencies, such an offender will be promptly marched out to the 50 yard line by the league agent -- and summarily executed. The stadium public address announcer will say one word -- NEXT. Did I forget to mention another clause of the new agreement stipulates the NFL is going to recruit and train new refs at a very accelerated rate? Makes sense, given the turnover rate is likely to ramp up. There's attrition, and then there's ATTRITION. Talk about quality control. Wow.

Here's welcoming back the real refs and I certainly hope they get it right. Perhaps being the seasoned veterans they are, they'll be able to ignore that guy wandering the sidelines wearing the trench coat and shades while speaking into his lapel.

No pressure.

And then I woke up. Not sure about that being hungry again an hour later thing, but sometimes Chinese food gives me some very strange dreams.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Solving the NFL scab problem

I totally agree with Al's comment (see previous post), when he said NFL Commish Roger Goodell started off with good intentions, but has subsequently become drunk with power, perhaps even irrational. Prior incidents aside, his current "feud" with the regular NFL officials has certainly taken center stage, to the chagrin of just about everybody associated with pro football, including coaches, players, and fans. Given the sorry state of officiating in the games, right now Goodell is the "bad guy" in the eyes of the vast majority.

But there's a catch to that argument. While Goodell is the equivalent of a CEO, the various team owners could be considered the members of the board. They hired him, and they can damn well fire him, and everybody else at the league offices, if they so chose. What I'm getting at is -- if a majority of the owners wanted the labor dispute settled tomorrow between the NFL and the refs' union, it WOULD be settled -- tomorrow. Therefore, it's not just Roger and his henchmen. Ultimately, the owners bear much of the culpability for the on-going debacle. At that, super-wealthy people are used to getting their own way, and can sometimes afford to stand on principle, while logically, and even financially, it makes little, if any sense.

Remember, the NFL offices, Roger Goodell, and all their high-powered legal eagles that do the nuts and bolts of contract negotiations are only there at the behest of the owners. In that regard, the current dispute with the refs' union seems ludicrous. The owners could be considered a consortium of 32 billionaires that are standing firm on a few million dollars, while watching their product suffer some serious quality-control problems. This is chump change to them. One might liken it to the average working stiff haggling with an auto mechanic over a two dollar part to get their car to run smoothly, and stop shaking liking it was in an earthquake while going down the road. What would YOU do?

Other than the owners solving the problem, which doesn't seem likely, there's a couple different ways to bring pressure to bear. One takes guts, and the other, a LOT of guts.

First, while most everybody is in an uproar about the current situation, coaches and players are pretty much under a gag order. No, it has nothing to do with a judicial mandate handed down by a REAL judge, where speaking out could result in one being whisked off to a jail cell for contempt of court. Rather, the professionals that are actually on the field, and know far more about the game than anyone else, have to be guarded in their remarks for a different reason. Like in other sports, there's a commandment that says -- thou shalt not publicly disparage the officials that called the game.

Players and coaches fear to tread on that hallowed ground, lest the Sword of Damocles (the league) come thundering down and smite their heads (paychecks). Sure, officials should always be physically hands-off, don't touch, but criticizing them publicly over their performance is taboo?

That's just wrong. They work in the public domain, and make decisions which affect others, so they should be fair game like all the rest. Good grief, Obama and Romney down to the lowliest politicos get ripped every day. Movie stars and other celebrities are splashed all over the tabloids. Even the coaches and athletes themselves are constantly subjected to media criticism. For that matter, various factions have disrespected certain deities that others believe in -- but God forbid, excuse the pun, one should criticize the zebras. Something is very wrong with this picture.

It would take one head coach, and one prominent player, to have the guts to throw off the intimidation factor and say what they really think. If a particular official made an obvious bone-headed call, then say so, and publicly name him. It's not like the zebras are CIA agents. The coaches and players know who they are. They should be able to rant all they want. This is America. Freedom of speech, and all that. Would they immediately be zapped by Zeus Goodell? No doubt, but hopefully, if one had the guts to speak out, another would follow. And then another. And then more. Dominoes. What could the league do? Fine and suspend all of them?

But in a perfect world, there's another scenario that would be even better. It would require a lot of guts, but be extremely effective in taking the NFL/refs' union dispute to a whole new level. This would involve the players turning the tables on the owners.

Showing union solidarity, the players go on strike. Their unified message to the NFL would be this -- "If replacement officials are OK by you, then go get replacement players as well. Might as well make it a total clown act. We'll come back when the regular officials come back. You'll love the salaries, but good luck with the media and the fans. Keep us posted".

Yeah, I know. It'll never happen, but if it did, can you imagine?

The Monday night football debacle

There's no need to get into the details here of what transpired at the end of the Green Bay Packers -- Seattle Seahawks MNF game. It will be all over TV sports programs, the net, and print journalists are no doubt writing furiously about it at this very moment. Basically, it was a day, rather night, of infamy.

If it wasn't apparent before, it has now become officially obvious that the NFL, and by that I mean Commissioner Roger Goodell and his henchmen in the league office, along with the franchise owners of the various teams -- don't care about the integrity of the game, as long as the billions keep pouring in. Sure, they've given it lip-service with their mandates cracking down on various things, from changing the on-field rules to supposedly make a very violent game safer, to holding players accountable for their off-field behavior. Fines, fines, everywhere fines, not to mention suspensions.

But make no mistake. They're hypocrites in the worst way.

While the NFL is busy throwing their considerable clout at misdemeanor offenders, they are blatantly committing the equivalent of a major felony themselves. Let's call it "willful and gross negligence resulting in irreparable damage to the integrity of the game". In other words, while the NFL continues to stand firm against giving up what amounts to pocket change on a C-note to have their games competently officiated, they've completely lost sight of the integrity they constantly espouse. With the scab on-field officials, the games have become a sad joke. Three weeks into the regular season, it's become obvious these guys, and girl, aren't getting any better. They're getting WORSE. Flags thrown for infractions that didn't happen. Blatant offenses ignored. They have absolutely no clue what's going on. Coaches and players are exasperated. Fans, both in the stadiums, or watching on TV, scream in outrage. Worse yet, people are getting hurt over this farce. As evidenced by the above mentioned Packer-Seattle outcome, it could quite possibly involve many millions of dollars wrongfully changing hands. When it comes to making the playoffs or not, home-field advantage, etc., one game that was decided in error could very well be a major factor.

Assuming the scab refs are impartial, perhaps an argument could be made that their incompetence over the long run works out equally for opposing teams. After all, they constantly huddle up amongst themselves and try to figure out who's on first and what's on second, so they can make a call.

NO. This is not acceptable.

Ask yourself this -- after busting your butt for your whole life to become elite at what you do, would you want Larry, Moe, Curly, Laurel and Hardy, in consultation with Abbott and Costello to be your collective bosses on the job? That's about what everybody not counting the NFL league offices are looking at right now. They don't care.

The NFL appears to be oblivious not only to what the fans want -- but deserve. All of the outrage is like shouting into the wind to deaf ears in the first place.

But there's a way this would change quickly if the right people speak out.

Next time.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Lions. Contenders or still bumblers?

Watching a Lions' game could likely be compared to watching a lengthy debate between a couple of slick politicians. One can follow the action of both very closely, but upon reflection when it's all over, one realizes they still don't have any answers to their concerns.

No doubt, the Lions have improved over the last couple years, but there's only one way to go when starting off at the bottom of a well. Their fans, and some local scribes, are eternally optimistic. Some even dare mention the Super Bowl. (Time out. There's a difference between optimism and delusional.) Yet the nagging question persists. Are they finally pretty good or just the same old bumblers in disguise?

Somewhat predictably, the Lions beat the St. Louis Rams in their first game. Also predictably, they then got thrashed by the superior San Fran 49ers in the second contest. So OK, everything was on schedule, no pun intended. Then came the game at the Tennessee Titans. Holy P. T. Barnum, what a circus that turned out to be. It was as if the Lions were trying their best -- to lose it.

They gave up a punt return for a touchdown and a kickoff return for another touchdown. (Second time out. Did the Lions sneak that pesky Matt Millen back onto the payroll as their special teams' coach?) A Titan defensive back took the ball out of a Lion receiver's hands and sped away for yet another touchdown. If that's not bad enough, a Tennessee receiver reached both his arms over the shoulders of a Lions' defensive back, plucked the ball away, then continued on for yet another touchdown, while the clueless DB looked around wondering what just happened. On their most imaginative day, even the Ringling Bros. couldn't have choreographed a better clown act. That will likely be shown often on various lowlight replays. As they say -- C'MON MAN. Throw in their usual asssortment of bone-headed penalties, and this should have been a blowout. Out of timeouts and down 14 points with less than a minute to go in regulation time, replacement QB Shaun Hill threw a ball straight to a Titan defensive back in the end zone, which was intercepted. That should have been game, set, match, and checkmate.

But it wasn't, because then the absurd happened. On a bone-headed play of their own, the Titans had roughed the QB. The Lions quickly scored a touchdown. Not so surprising. Then they recovered the ensuing on-side kick. An eye opener. Finally, in a desperation Hail Mary heave with time expiring, the ball was deflected to a Lions receiver who fell into the end zone for a TD. Game tied. Incredible. (Final time out. Starting Lions' QB Matthew Stafford suffered some sort of lower right leg injury, severity unknown, and had long since been out of the game before the insanity started. I hope the "China Doll" syndrome he was famous for not long ago hasn't reared it's fragile head again.)

Of course, the Lions would go on to lose the game on a very questionable call from head coach Jim Schwartz. Down by three in OT, faced with 4th down and a long yard, and within "automatic" field goal range to tie the game and play on -- Schwartz decided to roll the dice and go for it. A QB sneak into a beefed up defensive line that promptly stuffed it. After rolling a few lucky 7's, the Lions finally crapped out.

Now they're 1-2 and return home to face the so-called lowly Minnesota Vikings. Thing is, while the Lions were bumbling there way around in Nashville, the Vikings were thumping those same 49ers who had hammered the Lions just last week. Maybe those guys in purple have been underestimated. Remember (YO) Adrian Peterson, the world class running back who's career was thought to be over after a horrific knee injury? He's not only back but in fine form. A defensive coordinator's nightmare.

Regardless, the Vikings game could very well make or break the Lions' season, because if they bumble again, they'll go into the bye week at 1-3, with road games at Philly and Chicago coming up next. These are not easy places to play. Sure, anything can happen in the NFL from week to week, and often does, but if somehow the Lions were to find themselves 1-5, that would spell big trouble. The remainder of their schedule includes a couple "easy" games against Seattle and Jacksonville, and maybe even the Indy Colts with rookie QB Andrew Luck. But several heavyweights await them as well. Home and away with the Packers. The Atlanta Falcons are good. Enough said. Playing out in Arizona is no bargain either against the resurgent Cardinals. On Thanksgiving day, the Houston Texans visit Detroit. The Texans not only put points on the board, but have the #1 defense in the NFL, including a ferocious pass rush and ball-hawking defensive backs. They just hog-tied the Peyton Manning led Broncos in Denver, no small feat, and might very well carve up the Lions on turkey day.

Another game with the Vikes on the road, and home for Da Bears. Coin flips.

Yeah, I know. Trying to foresee long term outcomes in the NFL is akin to predicting whether the skies will be clear or cloudy on any given day a few months from now -- and that's why they play the games.

Indeed, the Lions could be everything the pollyannas think they are, wind up 14-2, and go on to bring the Lombardi trophy back to Detroit as Super Bowl champions. But excuse me if I find that harder to believe than a politician's campaign promises.

On the other hand, what would happen if, after all the hype about them being contenders, they bumble to a 7-9 record, or worse, and miss the playoffs entirely? Would the always fickle media turn on them and call for heads to roll? Would their freshly revved-up fans fade back into the "same old Lions" mentality?

Beats me, but it all starts with the Vikes next week.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

UM/MSU, and Notre Dame

Last week Michigan State, at home, could only manage to put up 3 points against Notre Dame. MSU head coach Mark Dantonio has done a superb job in returning that program to prominence after the follies of a couple of his predecessors. The Spartans had aspirations of national recognition this year, and some who had hopelessly overdosed on the green koolaid even mentioned the possibility of a, gasp, national championship. Please. I've said it before but perhaps it bears repeating. Give them all the tequila, moonshine, LSD, whatever, they want, but for God's sakes keep them away from the koolaid. There's something VERY WRONG with that stuff. Nevertheless, putting up a mere 3 points while getting thrashed all over the field  at home won't get them there. It gets them OUTTA there. But anything's gotta be better than former coach John L. Smith. Checked him out lately? He's at Arkansas, a preseason #10 team, and everybody but the Campfire Girls are roasting the Razorbacks of Fayetteville come game day this year. One would think even hogs have a certain degree of pride, but maybe not.

The not-so-mighty maize and blue of Michigan, has fared no better. They were ranked in the Top !0 going into the preseason. Predictably, they were obliterated by a vastly superior Alabama team in their opener, barely survived Air Force at home, and beat patsy UMass, also in the Big House. Patsies don't count. Then on to South Bend to face the same Fighting Irish the Spartans did a week ago. End result? 6 points. Like MSU -- OUTTA there. But anything's gotta be better than former coach Rich Rodriguez. RichRod, which is an appropriate nickname for the ridiculous millions UM paid him, took a once proud program and sunk it faster than the Titanic, and deeper than Atlantis. Checked him out lately? Me neither. Who cares? Good riddance.

So if my math is right, the two major football "powers" in the state of Michigan have both played Notre Dame, and racked up a grand total of 9 points over 2 games between them. This is not exactly the stuff that gets a state national kudos. Then again, could it that Notre Dame's really that good? Maybe. Their defense has given up a total of 36 points over the first 4 games. Averaging that out is pretty simple, and 9 is an equally impressive number when used in that regard in the world of big-time college football.

I think it has to do with their new coach. Sure, Notre Dame has as storied a football history as anybody, but consider who some of their most successful coaches were.

Everybody's heard of Knute Rockne and how he's associated with the famous speech about winning one for Ronald Reagan, or something like that. Rockne might sound Irish, but he was born in Norway. Frank Leahy also compiled a very impressive record many decades ago. Not sure about Leahy's ancestry, sounds Irish, but he was born in Nebraska, Cornhusker territory. Ara Parseghan had a good run, but that name certainly doesn't sound Irish. He was born in Ohio. A Buckeye, of all things. Lou Holtz? He's omnipresent. From being a member of Augusta National (home of the Masters), to more coaching stops over his career than Captain Kirk visited planets, to being a motivational speaker for whoever will pay his fee, to constantly popping up as a talking head on various sports telecasts, especially all the ones affiliated with the 4-letter network. The dude's everywhere, but Holtz doesn't sound like an Irish name to me either. He was born in West Virgina. The thought of Lou Holtz once being a mountain man is a very difficult concept to get one's mind around. He never looked anything like those guys in "Deliverance".

But now Notre Dame finally has Brian Kelly as their head football coach. Kelly was born in Massachusetts into an Irish Catholic family, went to St. John's prep school, and was a 4 letter winner at Assumption College as a linebacker. Considering all that, Kelly becoming the head coach at Notre Dame goes way beyond a good fit -- it's almost a holy thing -- blessed -- sacred-- sacrosanct -- and what comes after sacrosanct anyway? I don't know, but whatever it is, I dare say it's not to be taken lightly.

In short order, the two major teams from Michigan have seen the light. OUTTA here.

But in the end, at least as far as college football this year is concerned, none of this matters. Michigan and Michigan State were overrated and put in their places by Kelly and Co., but even the Pope himself roaming the sidelines and calling all the plays for the Fighting Irish would be no match for Nick Saban's boys at Alabama. Sometimes the heathens are just overwhelming.

All that aside, and even after a noteworthy day of college football, which included a few upsets, tomorrow brings another NASCAR "chase" race, a full slate of NFL games (Houston at Denver should be dandy), and Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy once again neck and neck on the leaderboard in a PGA tournament that could potentially be worth $10 million to whoever wins it. Will Tiger finally get back over the hump, or will the Irish (that seems to be a recurring theme) kid triumph yet again? Perhaps someone else?

Gee. I assume the Detroit Tigers played today, and will likely play tomorrow. Pretty sure they're still in a close race for the AL central division championship. Just don't have the time to check them out lately. Way more interesting things going on.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The NHL lockout

So OK, the old collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expired on 9/15 and, unable to reach an agreement with the players' union on a new one, the owners took their collective ball and went home. Everything stops. No games, arena staffers about to join the unemployment list, the TV people and various sponsors left in a quandary, etc., etc. Union chief Donald Fehr was absolutely right when he said, "This is a lockout of choice. They don't have to do this".

Indeed, by imposing a lockout, everybody loses. Why not play on under the old CBA terms while at the same time bringing in an impartial arbiter/judge that has the power to force both sides back to the bargaining table, oversee and weigh the merits of their opposing arguments, and give them an option? Namely -- either settle this amongst yourselves, quickly, or I'll settle it FOR you -- quickly. The deal would get consummated -- in a hurry.

But my oh my, how things have changed in the NHL over the years. It may be tough to comprehend, but there was a time when smart-phones, Facebook, texting, personal PCs in their various forms, and even microwave ovens didn't exist. But a quite famous hockey player named Gordie Howe did. Back in those days, there was no such thing as sports agents representing players either. Whether or not they have been beneficial or detrimental to sports over the years is an argument best left to others far wiser than I, but besides Howe's prowess on the ice, it might be fairly said he was an impediment to progress. How so? Because when Howe's contract was about to expire, Red Wings' management would bring him in to "re-enlist". Gordie had such a passion for the game he didn't much care about the money. Consequently, the Red Wings would get the best player in the game to sign another contract far beneath what he was worth. This had a ripple effect. When very productive players on other teams would ask for a well-deserved "raise" in their next contracts, management would counter by showing them what Gordie was willing to play for, and ask -- do you think you're worth more than Gordie Howe? What could they say?  Bless his naive Saskatchewan heart and Popeye forearms, Howe unwittingly imposed his own "salary cap" on his NHL brethren, decades before that same term would come into prominence not only in the NHL, but other pro sports.

Back to the present. Are modern day NHL players overpaid? That's a tough call. Certainly the high-end free agents appear to be with some of the ridiculous long-term contracts they've signed of late. But what of the "grinders" that are out there every game getting beat up and hoping to contribute in ways that don't always show up on stat sheets making much less? Sure, they make more money than the average guy on the street, but hey, it's the NHL. Just GETTING there means a player is really, REALLY good. The competition is ferocious, not only every year, but every day.

Look at what's happening right now with the locked-out players. They're heading off to such places at Russia, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia to temporarily play for other teams while they await a settlement in North America. That's the thing about hockey players. From pee-wees to seniors, it's in their blood, their DNA, in the very fiber of their being. They have this insatiable desire to play. If the only option available was skating in Timbuktu in the middle of a war zone -- they'd find a way to be there.

Major league baseball and NFL players don't have the same options. NBA players would be busy tweeting and making videos. They'd kick back and enjoy the extra time off.

In my opinion, the NHL players should do the same thing. If the owners want to lock them out -- then kick back and relax. Continuing to play somewhere else always involves the risk of a freak injury, that could end a career potentially worth millions. One never knows.

If I was Donald Fehr, I'd advise the players to go back to their usual off-season work-out routines. Eat healthy, run, skate, pump iron, and enjoy a friendly no-contact pick-up game here and there. If the owners aren't worried about the games, then why should the players worry about staying in "game shape"? Fehr shouldn't give in, but rather harden his stance. Make it a condition of any new CBA that once agreed upon, the players will go through their usual training camp and exhibition games before the season starts for real -- just like any other year. Once that is complete, the predetermined regular season schedule will resume where it left off, with no modifications so the owners can cram in more games to fill their arenas. It would be interesting to see how an impartial judge would rule on such a proposal.

But that ignores the most important people of all -- the fans who crave the game? Perhaps. Yet, I would suggest most owners never gave a rat's behind about the fans except the revenue they could provide. To be fair, anymore the players don't seem to be far behind. Like other pro sports, there's a reason why ticket prices, parking, concessions, ad nauseum, have gone throught the roof.

Maybe Gordie had the right idea in the first place.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Greg Norman, Tiger, and the kid

Sometimes the things famous people in the sports world say are amusing. Greg Norman, "The Shark", was recently quoted as saying he thought Tiger Woods is intimidated by Rory McIlroy, the young Irish lad that has recently stormed onto the scene in the pro golf world.

Most would scoff, of course, at the very notion of such a thing, but could it be? After all, McIlroy has pretty well equaled what Woods did in his own younger years, no small feat. Further, of late, while Tiger may indeed be making a comeback, Rory has stared him down on Sunday afternoons, along with the rest of the field, and won handily.

When asked about Norman's remarks, McIlroy showed proper public etiquette and respect towards a legend in the game by quietly suggesting that nobody intimidates Tiger Woods on a golf course. Did he really mean it? Who knows? Maybe deep down inside, much like Tiger may have once thought at the same age with his talent -- perhaps the truth is more like -- I can take this old man, and all the rest, whenever I get ready, and there's not a damn thing they can do about it.

Only his leprechaun within knows for sure, but Rory did the right thing when the cameras and microphones were turned on.

What's even more amusing was Tiger's retort to Norman's suggestion. Woods said it must have something to do with Norman's hair -- evidently a not-so-subtle blond joke. The reporters chuckled. So did yours truly, but for different reasons.

Evidently, Eldrick has quickly become oblivious to what effects another certain long-haired blond had on his life, both personal and professional, not that long ago. Perhaps roughly $100 million and the world-wide airing of his dirty laundry wasn't enough to deter him from such off-color references -- no pun intended.

Regardless, Woods making jokes about somebody else's hair is laughable in itself. When he takes off his golf cap, what do we see on HIS head? Perhaps something that resembles a Chiapet after a bad day with a Marine Corps. barber?  Beats me, but he needs to start making more putts.

Because the Irish kid, humble as he may be, not only has a full head of hair, but seems to swing all the golf clubs better too.

As for Greg Norman.....  Chris Evert? Two rich uppety blondes under the same roof? Please. That was NEVER "going to work". Pun intended.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Is this the end for Jim Leyland?

Way back on June 11th, yours truly wrote an article about the possibility of Detroit Tigers' manager Jim Leyland getting fired. In more ways than one, I was hauled off to the proverbial woodshed for a whuppin for daring to mention the unmentionable -- at least in Tigertown. I'll get back to that.

Over 3 months have passed in the interim, so let's take another look around.

Teams that either weren't supposed to be that good, or at least fade down the stretch -- apparently are -- and haven't. In the American League "wild card" race, the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A's are several games ahead of the Tigers. The LA Angels are a couple games ahead, and the Tampa Bay Rays are neck and neck with them. Like the age-old children's party game, when the music stops in a couple weeks, some of them are going to get left out. Currently the O's and A's are in a comfortable position, while the Tigers find themselves as long shots to get into the postseason as a wild card.

Of course, winning the AL Central Division outright would get them there, but seems to be getting more problematic every day. Right now the Tigers trail the division leading Chisox by 3 games with 15 games to go. A mere 3 games doesn't sound like a lot, but it really is when looking at the whole picture.

Let's say the Tigers get hot and win 10 out of the 15. That would be a .667 winning percentage, 2 out of 3. That also doesn't sound like such a big deal until one considers the best teams in the major leagues are barely above .600 for the year. But it could happen. Conversely, it could go the other way with them stumbling to a 5-10 finish, but let's be optimistic and assume the former.

At that, the Chisox would need only go 8-7, quite a mediocre standard over the last 15 games, to wrap up the Central Division title. Sure, crazy things can happen. The Tigers could win 5 in a row while the Chisox lost 5 in a row. The Detroiters would then be ahead by 2 games with 10 to go. Then again, it could flip with the opposite occurring in the next 5 games to put them right back at 3 games behind with only 5 to go. Who knows? That's why they play the games -- right?

Thing is, right now the odds are against the Tigers making the postseason, and the remaining games are counting down. As every game passes without them closing the gap, the odds gets longer. Tick, tick, tick.

From the preseason, on into the dog days of summer, most pundits were fairly confident the Tigers would eventually run away with the AL Central Title, much like they did last year. But barring a season ending hot streak by the Tigers and a monumental collapse by the Chisox -- that's not going to be the case.

The music is going to stop and what might happen if the Tigers find themselves without a chair?

Jim Leyland's finishing out the last year of his contract. Owner Mike Ilitch has entrusted GM Dave Dombrowski to acquire the necessary "pieces" to bring a championship to Deroit -- all the while not shying away from shelling out ridiculous amounts of money to make it happen.

If after all the expectations, hype, pomp, spin, kool-aid, and sometimes just flat-out BS, if the Tigers don't even make it to the playoffs -- somebody might be in trouble.

And guess who's head is usually first on the chopping block?

Despite the local fascination he garners, and some even being intimidated by his gruff attitude, Leyland's just a journeyman manager. No more and no less. He's done well in some places, and stunk it up in others. He even quit on a team once (the Colorado Rockies). After having managed over 3300 games, his career winning percentage stands at .502. The epitome of average. A coin flip. Certainly nothing special.

A lot can happen with 15 games to go. Depending on how that turns out -- even more might happen afterwards.

We'll see.....

Monday, September 17, 2012

NFL challenge flags.

Let's see if I have this right. These days in an NFL game, both head coaches are equipped with red "challenge" flags. Similar to the yellow hankies the officiating crews (zebras) carry, the head coaches can throw them on the field to protest the result of a play, a call, or pretty much anything they want to. Well, sort of.

It turns out not all plays and/or calls are "challengeable". Other than perhaps the Almighty (not Roger Goodell -- the other One) nobody seems to know for sure just exactly whats challengeable and what isn't. Perhaps that's because the NFL seems to have more confusing rules and regulations than the IRS tax code. Page 38 might say one thing, while page 936 says the opposite. Either way, it all depends on who's doing the interpreting. Basically, in the end, nobody knows what the hell is going on, so they give it their best shot and hope it turns out OK.

If an NFL head coach throws his red flag, and his protest is deemed to be correct, the call on the field is reversed and play goes on, eventually, after several minutes worth of TV commercials while the fans in actual attendance twiddle their $8 draft beers. Yet, if he's wrong, his team will get docked a time-out. Further, if he's wrong twice, even if it's still in the first quarter of the game -- he has no more challenges. To boot, if that coach challenges an "unchallengeable" play, it's a 15 yard penalty. Yours truly has no idea what the official call is -- perhaps that's another rule for "bench misconduct for ignorance of the rules". Beats me, but the Green Bay Packers got zapped with it last week against the 49ers. It can happen.

It used to be that such challenges warranted the on-field referee (the guy wearing the white cap), to go over to the sideline and view replays under the hood of a TV monitor. It was assumed the TV techs were showing him every possible angle of replays, including slow motion. After due diligence, he would return to the field, turn on his stadium microphone, and announce his call. Not any more.

This is now done by the "guys in the booth", and their decision is handed down to that same ref, who relays it to the people in attendance and the TV viewers. That ref used to be the judge. Now he's a bailiff for an INVISIBLE judge. All rise.

Time out. Red flag. I challenge that call.

First, how do we know there's "guys" in the booth? The only thing coaches, players, and fans know for sure is there's a room with dark-tinted windows high above the stadium called "the booth" that makes the final calls. Are there really qualified impartial guys in that room? Why do they remain so secretive? They're not exactly dealing with matters of national security and classified intelligence reports, so why not show themselves?

Then again, maybe we don't really want to know. What if it turned out all this was being done by a computer? It could be anything. Oprah and Dr. Phil. Dave and Jay. Mitt and Barack. Worst case scenario? Try the Kardashian sisters on for size trying to sort out the NFL rules. Now THAT would be scary.

Even assuming the "guys" in the booth really exist, and they're qualified to make all these calls, another inconsistency remains.

They can call for an "official review" on any particular play whenever they feel like it. Most times this happens after the "2 minute warning" in both halves of a game, but not always. Even if a head coach didn't throw his red hanky, the entity from on high can halt the game to go back and recheck any particular play or on-field call.

So yours truly is left to wonder -- what's the point in the head coaches having the red flags in the first place? Why not just let the guys in the booth, or the computer, or the Kardashians, or whoever they are, decide things whenever they feel like stepping in?

Here's a thought. There's too many confusing rules, too many flags, too many time-outs, and too many people capable of turning what should be 20 minutes of action into an hour of mostly waiting around.

Get rid of the coaches' red hankies, get rid of the booth, and let the refs on the field make their calls. Yes, mistakes will be made, but despite all the endless replays currently being viewed by way too many people, for way too long -- they still get it wrong too sometimes. There's a reason the average NFL contest no longer fits into the 3-hour time slot it always used to.

A call here, a call there. It averages out in the long run. On with the game, fer chrissakes.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Detroit Lions. Not ready for prime time

The only thing remotely close about the 49ers/Lions game was the final score. San Fran 27, Det 19. Other than that, it was a blow out.

While the Lions suffered through many years of getting the "no respect" Rodney Dangerfield treatment they had nobody else to blame for but themselves, it finally appeared the long downtrodden franchise had become relevant. Indeed they have. Reaching the playoffs last year only to get blasted by New Orleans was a giant step forward in their progress. They're at least respectable now. But ready for prime time? Uh-uh.

Consider the game just concluded. San Fran's receivers and running backs mysteriously dropped umpteen catchable balls.

The scab refs still at work seemed like they were all from the Detroit area. How else to explain how the game was called? While they were busy whistling San Fran for every ticky-tack infraction they could think of, they conveniently overlooked two blatant personal fouls on Lions defensive lineman Cliff Avril, and yet another when San Fran QB Alex Smith had gone into a slide after running the ball, only to have a Lions' defensive back come across with a forearm shiver to his head bloodying the bridge of his nose. Hey, when a QB slides, he's supposed to be hands off. The play's over. At least two scabs were looking right at it -- but no flags.

The Lions couldn't run against the 49ers, but that's no great surprise. It's common knowledge the Lions don't have much of a running game anyway, and San Fran's rushing defense is the best in the league. Nobody runs for big yardage against those guys.

But if the defense is stuffing the run, the offensive team is supposed to be able to pass, right? The Lions have certainly possessed a high octane aerial game of late. Stafford to Johnson is unstoppable, they say. The problem with that is the 49ers typically feature two "high safeties", as in both of them playing 15-20 yards off the line of scrimmage. In effect, that takes the deep routes away from the opposing wide receivers. The Niners would have liked nothing better than for Matthew Stafford to attempt long passes to the Megatron into such coverage. Wisely, he didn't push that envelope.

So if a team can't run, and long pass plays are a risky proposition (between an interception or the wide receiver getting "jacked up" while the football falls to the ground after an incompletion), the only thing that seems to be left is the short to midrange passing game. Grind it out and hope for the best. There may be teams that can out-grind the 49ers, as the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants proved last year -- but the Lions aren't one of them. Not even close.

QB Matthew Stafford was recently heralded as only the second, besides Drew Brees, to pass for over 350 yards in 4 straight games. That wasn't about to happen against the 49ers. Towards the end of the game, he padded his stats a bit with a screeen pass that should have went for maybe 10 yards, but turned into 47, while the Niners had already started celebrating their win.

Up until last year, the 49ers hadn't been to the playoffs since 2002. The Lions? 1999. Long dry spells for both. That time span saw several coaches come and go, and certainly the same can be said for all the players involved on both teams, a certain place kicker aside.

Much has been made about head coaches Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh, of the Lions and 49ers respectively. Comparisons have been drawn. They're about the same age, both feisty, and driven by a passion to win. Some have suggested they both possess a certain swagger, or even arrogance about them. Alpha males to be sure. Others wish to delve into their childhoods, upbringings, football histories, personal lives, and other things that are totally irrelevant.

If you want to make a comparison, look at it this way -- both inherited football teams that were doormats in the NFL. In Schwartz's first year with the Lions, he went 2-14. Not so good. Conversely, in Harbaugh's first year with the 49ers he went 13-3, and had his team knocking on the door of Super Bowl.

Two years later, Schwartz would get the Lions into the playoffs. Despite their early exit, that's not too shabby. Perhaps better things loom on the horizon.

Again, conversely, it might very well be that two years from now, San Fran will have already hosted a victorious Super Bowl parade, with another Lombardi trophy in the team's showcase.

Progress is progress, but sometimes it comes more quickly for some than others.

The San Francisco 49ers are already amongst the NFL elite teams. They have as good a shot as anybody to win it all -- even this year.

The Lions?

As was blatantly on display at Candlestick Park  -- they've got a ways to go before they're ready for prime time.

Maybe someday. Sound familiar?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Big 10 football. WAY overrated

Remember in the preseason when the Univ of Mich was ranked about #8? To no great surprise, they got blown off the field by Alabama at a neutral site in their opening game. Then they were lucky to survive not so mighty Air Force the week after when they returned home. Sure, they just walloped UMass, but beating a patsy is hardly anything to crow about.

Michigan State was ranked somewhere around #13-14, and many, especially the local scribes, thought not only were they under ranked, but they would surely be on their way to national prominence after they had dispatched Notre Dame. After all, it was a home game for MSU and what could go wrong? It turns out, plenty. Notre Dame swaggered into East Lansing and put a thorough, methodical beat-down on the Spartans. The final score, 20-3, was very indicative of the game. So much for national prominence. Poof. All gone.

Wisconsin, recently another perennial Big 10 football "powerhouse", narrowly escaped being beaten at home by Utah State. If not for the grace of a last second very makeable field goal attempt sailing just wide of the uprights, the Aggies would have unceremoniously dumped the Badgers in their own back yard. Utah State? They were that close? Really?

Ohio State barely squeaked by California 35-28 at home, but new head coach Urban Meyer is just starting off with a new program that had basically imploded not long ago. Give him a couple years to get all his ducks in a row, and they'll be back. For any that would doubt that, check out Meyer's track record at other schools. Where he goes -- they get really good, quickly. But they're not ready for prime time just yet this year.

After the whole Sandusky debacle, and a slew of starters defecting in it's wake, Penn State had a rough way to go. They got embarrassed at home by Ohio U in their opener, then lost a tough one on the road at Virgina. In years past, they would have rolled through such games. Finally, mercifully, they got a win against Navy. Yet with all due respect to the future ensigns, there's a reason why high profile programs want Navy on their schedule. Something about how the final score usually turns out. As in the midshipmen getting torpedoed and sinking faster than the Titanic into Davy Jones locker on the gridiron.

Yours truly is no fan of Notre Dame, to say the least, but after demolishing Michigan State on the road, they go home to welcome Michigan next week. In my opinion, the Wolverines are a one horse show. Quarterback Denard Robinson is a phenomenal athlete, and can do a lot of things at a very high level. Certainly he has blazing speed and won't hesitate for a second to run the ball, while also possessing a powerful, though not always so accurate, throwing arm. But Michigan State, which has beat Michigan 4 times in a row, has demonstrated the blueprint for negating Robinson. When that happens -- Michigan goes down. Don't think head coach Brian Kelly of Notre Dame hasn't noticed. He's got a pretty decent track record himself.

So the Fighting Irish just trashed the Spartans. I suspect they will do the same to the Wolverines.

And you know what? In the whole scheme of things, it just doesn't matter.

The Big 10, or 12, or whatever they are these days, can huff and puff all they want, and realign into divisions called Legends, Leaders, and while that's all very quaint, it's nothing more than a smoke screen for the obvious.

They've become a second-tier conference in the world of big time college football. Yes, they'll likely wind up sending 5-6-7 teams to Bowl games, but good grief, there's more bowl games these days than there are letters in the alphabet, with a few more in the planning stages. Nothing like overkill of mediocrity.

At the highest levels, the SEC (Southeastern Conference) has absolutely ruled college football with an iron fist for the last several years, including the national championships. For whatever reasons, they've just been far above everybody else in the nation. While other teams and conferences may boast about having recruited any number of 4 and 5 star prep football players, the guys that can really PLAY, the difference makers, seem to find their way into the SEC. Therein lies a shot at being a national champion. Success breeds even more success.

At that, the field narrows quickly. Arkansas was ranked #10 going into the season. The Crimson Tide of Alabama just rolled into Fayetteville and made bacon out of the Razorbacks to the tune of 52-0. That's not only very impressive, but sends a rather intimidating message to all future opponents.

Sure, the west coast features USC with their hot-shot QB Matt Barkley, receivers supposedly ready to go pro, and seemingly a whole team consisting of outstanding athletes. In some polls, they were a preseason #1 pick. But they just lost to Stanford 21-14. Oops. Does that mean Oregon is now a contender? Please. The Ducks seem to serve as mere decoys until hunting season opens for real, but they usually get blasted out of the water.

Throw in Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State, and probably a few more I overlooked, and what do you have?

A whole bunch of teams that can likely beat anybody in the Big 10, home or away, whenever the occasion arises.

That "little brother" and "little sister" thing the Univ of Mich and Mich State have crowed back and forth about?  Perhaps they should take a step back and look around at the bigger picture. Most around the country think of them collectively in much the same way. Bratty little kids that are tolerated from afar, but once under the same roof, need to be spanked and put in their places.

And so it has been for the last few years with Big 10 football. Despite all the whining and crying (pomp and hype), when the feast has been served, they've been relegated to seats at the kiddie tables. And that is exactly where they've belonged. The "big" people don't wish to be bothered with their nonsense while they're trying to enjoy a sumptuous meal.

Perhaps in the near future that will hopefully change, but it's not going to happen this year.

At present, like it or not, whatever meat (team) is on the menu (schedule) doesn't matter either. Defending champion Alabama remains a lot like Edward Scissorhands. With blinding speed, it's chop chop, snip snip, from every which way.

Barring a ridiculous rash of injuries, your truly just can't see anybody stopping them from a repeat.

A few minutes with royalty

Earlier today, and to my great surprise, I received a phone call. That in itself is fairly ordinary, of course, but it was the person on the other end that made me sit up and pay attention. Royalty was reaching out to me -- a mere peasant. Indeed, it was the Princess of Kapowpfaff. In case you never heard of that, Kapowpfaff is a bit like Camelot --  a legendary and mythological kingdom where magical things can happen, with one notable difference. Though unknown to most, this one actually exists. It's real.

After somewhat recovering from the initial shock, even a questionably sane person such as yours truly quickly started wondering -- why would such a person from a vastly different world be calling me, of all people?  Turned out, Her Highness was shoppping in a local flea market. Timeout. Princesses shop in flea markets? I thought they OWNED flea markets as part of their manors, estates, kingdoms, queendoms, whatever, but what do I know?

To my utter astonishment, the above-mentioned P of K suggested we get together for a bite to eat. Not being familiar with whatever extravagant tastes she may have become accustomed to, nor could I likely afford them -- I humbly suggested a local sports bar. Right in my wheelhouse. Amazingly, she agreed.

Sure enough, she showed up a while later. After all the trumpets announcing her arrival died down, she made her grand entrance. Thankfully, she left her usual entourage of man servants and/or eunuchs outside, then plopped on a stool next to me.

She was hungry and wanted to know what fine cuisine was available to stimulate her palate. After learning that this particular establishment had no giant water tank full of live lobsters, no beluga caviar freshly imported from Russia, and nary a leg of lamb or filet mignon to be found, she begrudgingly opted for chicken wings. Liquid refreshment? Once it became apparent her usual preference for a fine wine older than the Declaration of Independence would not be fulfilled either, she settled for a beer. Amazing.

But, oh my, did the Kapowness ever know about sports. College and pro football? Michigan's going down at Notre Dame next week and the Lions will get crushed in San Fran Sunday night, she said. I was grilled about Danica Patrick and other subjects. Holy royalty, Batwoman -- where did THIS come from? How smart ARE these people from Kapowpfaff anyway?

Not only smart, but obviously highly competitive. Those chicken wings looked pretty good, and I would have liked a few of them, but it was not to be. Her Highness plowed through those like Joey Chestnut does at the annual Nathan's Coney Island hot dog eating contest. Two at a time. Now you see them -- chomp, chomp -- now you don't. Gone. Bones and all, and I'm not sure what became of the napkins with a little leftover grease on them, but they disappeared too. Wow. Yours truly didn't know whether to be impressed or scared, but it was definitely a notable performance.

Alas, the P of K had other more pressing matters to attend to, and departed the premises. Heads turned and jaws hung agape, though it remained unclear whether that was due to her magnificent splendor, or what the other patrons had just witnessed with the brutal demolition and disposal of those chicken wings.

Chances are I'll never get invited to visit the magical kingdom of Kapowpfaff again if they ever see this article, but one never knows. Maybe they're more benevolent than meets the eye. If not, I certainly hope they've done away with that pesky guillotine over the years. That could be problematic for a peasant who dared to speak out.

In the meantime, it's back to my usual mundane life of watching and writing about sports, and looking after my beloved yorkies. This is a world I understand -- I think.

And besides that -- I'm hungry. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Lions/49ers and the "handshake"

First of all, it was never about a handshake. It was about 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh clapping Lions' head coach Jim Schwartz on the back. This happened almost a year ago, after San Fran had waltzed into Ford Field, home of the then 5-0 Lions, and beaten them in the closing minutes of the game.

For whatever reason, Schwartz appeared to come unglued. Perhaps after the heady 5-0 start to the Lions' season, Schwartz wasn't accustomed to losing, and didn't know how to act. He should have. After all, before the 2011 season started, his record was an abysmal 8-24 during his tenure with the team. Granted, it was an improvement on the 0-16 all-time record setting season of futility that preceded him, which had made the Lions world-wide punch line fodder, but still -- a pitiful .250 winning percentage after 2 years is normally a recipe for getting a coach fired. Many other proud NFL franchises simply wouldn't have tolerated that, but for the Lions, the standard of "success" had become so low, that a win, ANY win, was cause to celebrate and dream of what may someday be. If nothing else, their fans remained loyal. Hey, when one is starving, even moldy bread starts to look good. At least it's SOMETHING.

When the on-field incident happened last year, Schwartz was properly restrained by security personnel that stepped in and prevented the situation from becoming even worse. Just for fun, consider what would have happened if Schwartz had been allowed to continue his rampage and ultimately got involved in a physical altercation (fight) with Harbaugh. Though we'll thankfully never know, here's my looking back prediction -----

Harbaugh = tornado.
Schwartz = trailer park

How does that normally work out?

Jimbo S. should be thankful the security personnel were there, or he might be on the disabled list to this day.

Regardless, that was a year ago. History. It shouldn't matter, and probably doesn't to Schwartz and Harbaugh. They're professionals, and both have a big game to get their teams ready for. While the media is up to their usual stirring the pot shenanigans, trying to create a controversy where there isn't one, yours truly suspects both Jims are way too busy studying film to get caught up in the clown act. They're probing for weaknesses and tendencies of their upcoming opponents to hopefully exploit. A game plan has to be figured out. Everything from calling offensive plays to defensive schemes, given a myriad of game-time possibilities have to be considered. Might a certain "trick" play work?

The reality is both coaches are trying to figure out ways to maximize their team's chances at victory this Sunday night, and likely couldn't care less about what happened a year ago. Good grief, NFL teams don't care about last WEEK. Whatever happened, it's over. Time to look ahead to the next game. Different team, different preparations, and different strategies will be involved. Such is the nature of the game.

Nevertheless, if the Niners beat the Lions again, as the odds-makers think they will, here's hoping the same post-game scenario doesn't repeat itself. This time it will be in San Fran. If Schwartz goes berserk again, and charges Harbaugh, who knows what their security personnel may or may not do? San Fran's a pretty liberal town. Maybe they'd take a hands-off approach and let the situation play itself out, while the crowd roared.

At long last, Schwartz and his team have experienced some success. He should enjoy it, but not get carried away just yet and do something stupid.

While ruby-red slippers would be very interesting, there's no sense running headlong into a tornado if he doesn't have to. He'll be in San Fran, not the Emerald City, and clicking his heels together 3 times won't bring him back home to Kansas into the loving arms of Auntie Em.

Quite the contrary. It might very well land him on the CUP (Coaches Unable to Perform) list.

Schwartz would be well advised to give that Wicked Witch of the West Jim Harbaugh a wide berth. It's not like Harbaugh would melt if the sweat started flying. Win or lose, a Wolverine under attack is, pound for pound, the most dangerous animal on the planet. Great bodily harm can result in a hurry to those that would put it in that position.

Here's hoping Schwartz coaches the game, shakes hands afterwards, and even if his team got whupped -- lets it go at that. The alternative could get painful.

No sense tempting fate twice.

Idle thought -- I wonder what would happen if instead of a handshake and clap on the back -- Harbaugh gave Schwartz a big old wet sloppy kiss right on his lips? Now THAT would get interesting.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A trivia question

Starting in 1875, and continuing to the present, what's the longest running annual sporting event in the US?

Granted, I didn't know either, nor did any of the 3 contestants attempting to answer the Final Jeopardy question -- which is where I swiped this from. Hey, hacks like me get their material wherever they can -- OK?

Obviously, the it couldn't have been the Super Bowl. That only dates back to the late 1960's.

The Daytona 500 is a mere pup too, checking in at 1959.

Ah, but the Indy 500 goes way back, you say? Indeed it does -- all the way back to 1911. But we're talking 1875 here. Horseless carriages weren't even on the drawing board back then.

Baseball goes back that far, right? Yep, what we now know as major league baseball started with the National Association back in 1871, which would become the National League in 1876. Problem is -- the American League didn't form until 1901, and the first World Series wouldn't occur until two years later in 1903. But we're getting closer to the neighborhood.

By most accounts, Dr. James Naismith didn't even invent basketball until 1891, so we can safely rule out the NBA championship.

What sport goes back that far?

Golf, for sure. Despite the guys in charge that sometimes act like they're that old, Augusta National, home of the Masters tournament, didn't come to exist until 1932. The first "Masters", then known as the Augusta National Invitational, would occur in 1934. Not even close. The US Open? That started in 1895, so we're back in the neighborhood, but not quite back far enough. The British Open? Sure, that goes all the way back to 1860, but the question was about a US event, so that doesn't qualify.

Tennis? Nah. The US Open started about the same time as the Super Bowl. We're in the wrong century again.

Wait a minute. Hockey. They've been playing that forever. That was my guess, but it turns out Lord Stanley's cup made it's debut in 1894.

If you watched the same Jeopardy episode yours truly did, then you've known the answer all along after Alex Trebek finally revealed it, or maybe you just knew it right off the bat. But if you didn't, and you don't, let me give you a hint.

Think Louisville, Kentucky, mint juleps, and a "run for the roses".

Yep, the Derby started back in 1875. The 3-year-old thoroughbreds have been running that same mile and a quarter ever since.

Of course, other notable things happened in 1875. Ulysses S. Grant was the President, the post-civil war carpetbaggers were looting the south, outlaws that would later become legends like Billy the Kid and the James gang were marauding the wild west and, if my sources are correct, that was the same year Regis Philbin and William Shatner made their public debuts; Morley Safer of 60 Minutes fame wrote his first column, my buddy Mel started thinking about chrome, and the Princess started plotting ways to mystify, enchant, and confound me to this day.

What a year.

NASCAR drivers and the games they play

The field for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series' "Chase" has been set. In their version of a playoff, there's 10 more races to decide who will be crowned the 2012 king of the left turn roundy-rounds. But unlike other sports playoffs, the "teams" that have been mathematically eliminated will still be participating in these games. That seems odd. Why let the also-rans clog up the track, and possibly be responsible for causing a wreck that could very well effect the outcome of the championship? All they're doing is burning up very expensive fuel and tires, while destroying umpteen thousand dollars worth of paint jobs and sheet metal. Send them packing like every other sport does, and let the best of best decide this amongst themselves.

At that, it appears even the "Chase" drivers are going the way of out-of-touch politicians, which are most of them. They're hitting the "campaign trail" trying to drum up support in places varying from future venues for the Chase races, to TV studios. It's not only a waste of time and money, it's actually rather dumb if you think about it. Consider....

Leading up to the first race in Chicago, Kasey Kahne went to Philadelphia to have a couple brews in a sports bar before attending a Phillies game.

Jimmy Johnson was in New York.

Tony Stewart plans on going to Charlotte next week.

Denny Hamlin hooked up with a Coast Guard unit in Concord, New Hampshire.

Kevin Harvick met breast cancer survivors at Talladega Motor Speedway in Alabama.

Clint Bowyer went to a high school in Texas.

Matt Kenseth hooked up with the Coast Guard in Miami.

Jeff Gordon was in Phoenix shaking hands and probably kissing babies.

Martin Truex was at the Sprint campus in Kansas. Sprint campus? These guys have their own college?

Greg Biffle was in Martinsville, Virginia. He even got helicoptered onto the 50 yard line of a local high school football field for a grand entrance. Hopefully they waited until the rotor blades stopping spinning before striking up the marching and having the cheerleaders flip around the field, or that could have got ugly.

At any rate -- it just doesn't matter. NASCAR fans are like any other sports fans. They have their favorites for their own reasons, and while they may get a brief kick out of a competitor of their hero showing up on their home turf, it's highly unlikely they would change their allegiances. Like the politicians, a Democrat can walk into a Republican stronghold, or vice-versa, make a speech and shake all the hands they want. But in the end, nobody's going to change the way they vote on election day -- or cheer on race day.

Besides, the drivers in the cars during the race have no idea who the crowd is cheering for anyway. They can't hear anything in their earphones except their crew chief, and the team "spotters" above the track that try to navigate them through an accident when it happens.

No, I didn't forget Dale Earnhart. He was in Connecticut, the home of ESPN, doing a few TV mini-interviews with the talking sports heads. That wasn't necessary either. Everybody knows who Junior is, and he's been the most popular driver on the circuit for several years. So if he's already #1 amongst the fans, then what's the point of putting his mug on TV for a few sound bytes? Junior doesn't need more publicity -- he needs more wins. There's a difference. Perhaps his time would be better served hanging out with his crew to learn more about his car, than yukking it up with TV people for a 5 minute segment, who will totally forget about him and move on to something else after a commercial break. Just a thought...

Nevertheless, as it counts down to November, when both will be decided, your truly much prefers watching the Chase rather than the Presidential race. During the inevitable debates, Mitt and Barack will be polite, civil, and diplomatic, while their underlings continue to strike like rabid rattlesnakes at anything that moves amongst the competition. Conversely, the race crews pretty much stay quiet, while their drivers decide it on the track. It might be fairly said that while both have the ultimate goal of winning -- wrecking a competitor, when given a chance, has been known to happen on occasion.

Wouldn't it be nice if the politicians settled it the same way? Forget about the economy, foreign policy, and all the other junk they lie about during the campaigns, only to turn around and do something entirely different if they become "champs". And who wants to see debate after debate when they talk so much and say nothing? There's a better way.

The Octagon. A cage match. Romney vs Obama. One time to settle this thing once and for all. Think a Mayweather-Pacquiao bout would have generated a lot of revenue? Hah. At $79.95 on pay-per-view, not only would every American pony up to see a true no-holds-barred Mitt/Barack match, but billions more around the world. The national debt everybody's so worried about? Paid for. All it takes is one fight, but I digress....

Calling all drivers. Stop trying to impress people that will turn against you as soon as you're out of sight, and get thy butts to Chicago, where they belong. Let the Chase begin.

And somebody please tell Kasey Kahne there's no Chase race anywhere near Philadelphia, nor does the City of Brotherly Love much give a rat's behind about NASCAR anyway. They've got other teams much more dear to their hearts that they can boo.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Detroit Tigers. Finishing the season

After just losing to the Chisox, the Tigers find themselves 3 games out of first place in the AL Central Division with about 20 games to go. They play the Chisox 3 mores times in this series, and their playoff hopes might well hinge on what they do in the next couple days. In they can win 2 out of those remaining 3 games, to stay 2 games back of the Chisox, they're still very much in the hunt. If they win all 3, they'll be tied with Chicago and it's a crapshoot. Yet, it they get swept in the windy city to fall 6 games behind, with under 20 to go in the season --- the fat lady will start warming up.

As of this writing, the Tigers' chances to get into the playoffs as a "wild-card" team are dismal at best. Look at the East. The Yankees and Orioles are neck and neck for the division lead with Tampa Bay nipping at their heels. Somebody has to win it, and the other two become wild-card hopefuls. All three are a few games ahead of the Tigers. Out in the west, assuming the Texas Rangers win that division, the Oakland A's and LA Angels are also a few games ahead of the Tigers. That makes 4 potential wild-card contenders that are well ahead of the Tigers with only 2 spots available and the remaining games dwindling down. That would not present a good scenario for the Tigers' faithful.

Sure, anything can happen and sometimes does. Theoretically, a 10 game lead can be blown with only 10 to go -- but the I wouldn't bet much on it. The odds are long, to say the least.

It certainly appears the Tigers' most likely route to qualify for the post-season is by winning the Central Division. In that regard, the final couple weeks of the regular season schedule work in their favor. Maybe.

The Tigers play their last 13 games against either Kansas City or Minnesota. Both those teams have been hopelessly out of contention for months, and it could be that they'll just "play out the string" while looking forward to the off-season. But one never knows. Not long ago, the Tigers went to KC and got swept. Still, without much to play for, it's doubtful the Royals and Twins will play super-hard. Advantage Tigers, if there is such a thing in professional baseball.

On the other hand, during those same 13 games, the Chisox have 3 against the Angels out in LA (the resurgent Angels broomed the Tigers in a series out there just a few days ago), and 4 at home against Tampa Bay. If things hold to form, and all 3 of those teams are still in a dogfight for the playoffs, those games will be highly contested indeed.

However, just for argument's sake, let's look at what might happen if the Tigers don't make the playoffs. In the preseason, most pundits predicted the Tigers to win their division quite handily. Some of the locals went so far as to predict a romp. Certainly in that regard the Tigers have under-achieved, but all that would be quickly forgotten if the Tigers made the playoffs where, again, anything can happen. Remember the St. Louis Cardinals barely sneaking in last year and how it all turned out in the end. But if the Tigers don't find their way to the dance -- what then?

Manager Jim Leyland is in the last year of his contract, and there's been no word, at least publicly, about him getting offered an extension. After all the expectations going in, might the Tigers' failure to make the playoffs spell his demise as manager?  That would be owner Mike Ilitch's call. Maybe the pizza man is in wait and see mode. It's almost impossible to fault Ilitch as an owner. During his tenure, and no doubt with a lot of his considerable influence, the quite impressive Comerica Park came to exist. Yes, some nostalgic old-timers still begrudge the demolition of the old Tiger Stadium, but c'mon, that place was about ready to fall down anyway. It was time.

Even player-wise, he hasn't been hesitant to open the vault to get the "pieces" necessary for a possible championship run. See Prince Fielder's well over $200 million contract. Ilitch did the same thing with the Red Wings and has a few Stanley Cup banners flying in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena to show for it. He'll do whatever he can as an owner to put his team in the best position to win a championship.

But Ilitch has never tasted that particular champagne with the Tigers. He's also 83 years old. Even in the world of Supreme Court justices, let alone pro sports franchise owners -- that's starting to get up there a bit in age. Despite his best intentions, patience has it's limitations -- in more ways than one. If the Tigers fail to even make the playoffs, might Ilitch broom Leyland? Entirely possible. That raises the question of who he would get as a new manager. Hard to say. It wouldn't necessarily need to be a guy already long in the tooth with managerial experience. How about an ex-player? Robin Ventura seems to be doing quite well on the south side of Chicago right about now as a rookie manager after having replaced the volatile Ozzie Guillen.

Might Ilitch even, gasp, blow up the team in a salary purging fire sale? Scoff if you wish, but yours truly would then refer you to the Boston Red Sox, always amongst the biggest spenders on players, and a perennial contender. They recently just did exactly the same thing. It can happen.

Yep, all things considered, the Tigers would be well-advised to win a couple more games against the Chisox in the current series. No sense opening up a baseball Pandora's box to see what crawls out if it can be avoided.

Either way, all this talk has got me thinking about ordering a pizza for some reason. It's been a while. But how to pick? Hungry Howie's, Papa John's, Jett's, Papa Romano's? Geez, so many choices, all in the neighborhood, and all excellent. But it seems like I might be missing one.....

Maybe I'll remember it if the Tigers go on to great things this year. Despite all his success in most every other business venture, Mike Ilitch is still missing one with his Detroit Tigers, as well.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Detroit Lions and the fire.

The Lions won their season opener against the St. Louis Rams in what could be called a strange contest. In the first half, QB Matthew Stafford tossed three interceptions, one for a "pick 6", and the other two were oh-so-close to being the same. He also threw a fourth ball straight to a St. Louis defensive back, which SHOULD have been intercepted -- but was dropped. If that ball was caught, the final outcome might very well have gone the other way -- but it wasn't -- and it didn't. In the end, a win is a win, and that's all that really matters in the NFL.

Looking within the game, the Lions had twice as many passing yards. No great surprise there. The rushing yards were about even, but it's fairly common knowledge the Lions don't have much of a ground game. Their offense is going to live or die with their high-octane passing attack. Somewhat surprisingly, the time of possession for both teams over the entire game was almost dead even. Throw all this together, stir well, and what should you get? A close game, at least on the scoreboard, with one team scratching out a win at the end. Coin flip -- Lions. This time.

Overlooked in all this is the make-up of the St. Louis Rams. Besides coming off a woeful 2-14 2011 season, they've got well over 30 players that weren't there last year, including 17 rookies. To boot, they've got a new (at least to them) head coach in Jeff Fisher, who no doubt installed a different system. Talk about starting from square one. Right out of the gate, the Rams have to go on the road and open up against a play-off team from last year. Nothing quite like getting thrown straight into the line of fire to start things off. All things considered, the Rams not only accounted for themselves fairly well, but could easily have won that game.

Next week, the Lions get thrown into the fire when they travel to San Francisco. Last year, then rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh turned that team around in a hurry. They went from doormats to knocking on the door of Super Bowl. Also, to start this year, the 49ers waltzed into Green Bay and put a thumping on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in front of the usual raucous crowd at Lambeau Field. Very impressive stuff. It's a pretty safe assumption the 49ers are currently considered amongst the elite teams in the NFL.

So OK. By however means, the Lions squeaked by the Rams. Next week they'll get a true litmus test when they tangle with the 49ers. Historically, the Lions haven't fared well on the west coast, but of course that was then -- and this is now. Then again, the 49ers haven't been so hot since way back in the Steve Young/Joe Montana days. The Lions? Try the Eisenhower administration. My, how things change, sometimes quickly. Or is it a mirage?

The Lions and their fans will know a lot more about their team after next Sunday night's game. Those guys waiting out in San Fran aren't the "brand new" Rams just feeling their way around. While it's possible the 49ers might experience somewhat of a letdown after such a game in Green Bay, and maybe slightly overlook the Lions, chances are, with Harbaugh at the helm, they're going to "bring it". It's THEIR home opener.

Whether or not the Lions deserve elite status is certainly debatable. Usually a team has to at least GET to a Super Bowl before they're considered in such a manner. In their entire somewhat sordid history, the Lions have never even played a game to QUALIFY for the Big Dance, let alone win the Lombardi trophy.

Yes, one step at a time, but with apologies to the late Neil Armstrong, next Sunday's game could be one giant leap for Lionskind. Or not.

The "eagle" will land in San Fran. Will it suffer a malfunction after it gets there or find it's way back home in triumphant glory? Apollo 11 or Apollo 13?

Tune in next Sunday to find out.....

Sunday, September 9, 2012

More dumb sports bytes

Chances are, something in the following will offend most every sane sports fan with an ounce of common sense -- but hey -- somebody's gotta do it. It was a crazy day in sports

The Univerity of Michigan football team, after predictably getting sounding thrashed by Alabama, came home to face Air Force, supposedly a "patsy".  They barely squeaked by. The only thing that saved them was QB Denard Robinson running wild. That should have come as no big surprise. It was Air Force. The fly boys. They don't know anything about boots on the ground. Had it been Army, things might have been entirely different. Doh.

Funny thing about that game. I noticed the QB for Air Force was named "Service". It was stitched right across his shoulder blades on the jersey. No wait, the running back is named Service too. On closer inspection, there was a whole bunch of Services playing for that team. Tackles, guards, they were everywhere. I'd heard of Band of Brothers, but this was getting ridiculous. Then I noticed a few "Freedoms" that played for them as well. OK, I finally got it. Another little not-so-little subliminal gem the brainy boys in the military cooked up. Roger that. "Service" must have been the seniors, because that's exactly what they're looking at for a few years once they graduate, unless they're good enough to where a pro team offers the Pentagon millions to conveniently overlook that obligation. Money has a way of changing standing orders. Remember David Robinson, the 7 foot basketball player at Navy? In another stroke of genius, he somehow got assigned to the cramped quarters of submarine duty. For some reason, that didn't work out so well, Robinson was released from his military obligation, and went on to make millions in the NBA. Imagine that.

Some poor kid from the Tulane football team, after a helmet to helmet collision with one of his own teammates, suffered a broken neck, collapsed lung, and had to be given an emergency tracheotomy on the field. It was reported he would likely require surgery. Well, duh. Ya think?

The Arkansas Razorbacks of the mighty SEC, also a Top Ten preseason pick, just got taken down in their very own Hog Heaven by the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Forget LSU. That might be akin to the above mentioned University of Michigan's Flint Campus offshoot, waltzing into South Bend and whupping the Fighting Irish. And Flint doesn't even HAVE a football team, to my knowledge. Amongst ULM's noted alumni are a couple pharmacists, a business man, an author, the usual assortment of small time lawyers and penny ante politicians, and a judge or two. Plus a guy named Tim McGraw, a country singer quickly getting over the hill, except the one named Faith.

Mike Trout, the outfield rookie phenom of the LA Angels, continues to impress, while Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, reigning AL Cy Young and MVP holder, seems to be sliding back to being average. Though barely 21 years old, with still almost a month left to go in the season, Trout already has 25 home runs, 75 RBIs, and 44 stolen bases. His batting average has cooled a bit lately, though. He's down to a mere .330. A short while ago, Trout clubbed a home run off Verlander in the first inning of the Tigers/Angels contest, then made yet another spectacular catch for the final out to end the game, robbing Prince Fielder of a home run. Besides his batting and running prowess, Trout's made such a habit of leaping above the wall to catch balls that would normally be home runs -- it's no longer that surprising. Unless Trout totally goes into the tank in the next few weeks, rookie or not, he should be the MVP.

Poor Penn State. Besides all the other stuff that has swirled around that program in the last few months, none of which involves the current players and coaches, they have a glaring hole. At kicker. Sure, the one they used to have transferred out, along with many other players once the NCAA sanctions came down, which put them in a bind. But what they have going on right now is pitiful. Extra points blocked. Field goal attempts from little more than extra point range sailing wide left or wide right. It's embarrassing. Calling all kickers. Walk-ons. Men. Women. Mules. Whatever. If your leg packs a punch, there's a job opening in Happy Valley. Then again, I'm not at all sure how comfortable a young lady might feel getting her kicks at Beaver Stadium, but perhaps that's a scenario best left to people much smarter than me to sort out.

The University of Oregon, also another Top Ten team, seems to be on a never ending quest to come up with the most hideous jerseys imaginable. Every time we see one set and say, wow, it can't get any worse than that -- they will. Who's in charge of their wardrobe department anyway? Dennis Rodman?

And what's up with the PGA anyway? First it was the Deutsch Bank Championship in Boston. Now it's the BMW Championship in Carmel, Indiana. Whatever happened to good old fashioned American sponsors like General Motors, Ford, IBM, and Hustler magazine? At that, surprisingly, old pros VJ Singh and Phil (Lefty) Mickelson find themselves atop the leaderboard after three rounds of play. Not so surprisingly, Rory McIlroy leads Tiger Woods by a couple shots, but both are well-positioned for a Sunday run at another championship. Let the criticism roll if I'm wrong, but yours truly suspects VJ and Phil will fold up like a house of cards on Sunday afternoon, another player will get hot and join the fray for a while, only to fade at the end, and Rory will ultimately give Tiger another spanking. In my humble opinion, it will be Tiger, not Rory, that blinks when the stare down contest begins on the back nine. We'll see....

Last but not least, the Lions finally tee it up for real against the St. Louis Rams. Head coach Jim Schartz has quickly turned the Lions from a joke into a contender. Now he'll match wits with his former mentor, Jeff Fisher, who's responsible for Schwartz ever getting a foothold in the NFL to begin with. The Lions are favored at home, but you never know how such things may work out.

Regardless, that's only a football game. A much more important matter might be in play. While yours truly will be in attendance at a certain local watering hole to whoop it up with a room full of crazed Lions fans, a normally reliable source has informed me that we could all be graced with a cameo appearance of royalty. Perhaps for a spot of tea, I suspect, while briefly deigning to associate with the hoi polloi, before being whisked away back to a palace somewhere. Then again, one never knows what might happen. A beer here, a touchdown there, a few high fives with the peasants, and even a Princess might come to enjoy it and hang out for a while. Stranger things have happened.

I think.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

NFL replacement officials. The next chapter

There's been no recent word on any progress between the NFL and their regular on-field officials hammering out an agreement. Like most labor/management contract issues, both sides always seem to wait until the eleventh hour before they get serious. The car industry, truckers, teachers, cops, firefighters -- you name it -- and while knowing what's at stake, they'll typically twiddle their collective thumbs for months as the clock ticks down. As it becomes apparent they need to do SOMETHING, often both sides will attempt to spin their cases through the media -- while still accomplishing nothing. Finally, at the last second, it's like OMG, we need to get serious.

To which I say -- well, no kidding -- and just what in the hell have they been doing, or not, for the last few months, when they knew damn good and well this problem wasn't going away by itself? Instead of conducting rational and reasonable negotiations, compromising, and ironing matters out in a timely manner -- they sit around like potted plants. To boot, many times it seems as if the companies and unions can't seem to look beyond their own selfish interests, and are totally oblivious -- or don't care -- to what effects their actions, or inactions, may have on so many others.

There's even times when they break off negotiations because one or both sides accuse the other of being totally unreasonable. Reality check. There is never, repeat NEVER, a valid excuse for walking away from the baragaining table. There will be disagreements, and the sides may be far apart in their initial proposals, but everybody knows a compromise is inevitable, so shouldn't they sit there haggling until they figure it out? Seems logical enough.

Whether it's people depending on the auto industry, truckers delivering their goods, students, parents, average citizens counting on emergency services when they need them, or even sports fans who crave the games -- as the clock winds down in contract negotiations, the people that should matter most get ignored. Tick, tick, tick......

Which brings me back to the NFL replacement officials. It's common knowledge that the only people that found them acceptable were the NFL honchos, and the scab officials themselves. The fans didn't like it, and certainly the media held them up to the ridicule they earned with some of their on-field follies. Yet that was only the preseason. It didn't really matter. Most assumed both sides would quit posturing and come to their senses to hammer something out before the real world kicked in. That DOES matter.

Look at it this way. Would you want a cop like Barney Fife coming to your home if someone was trying to break into it? A firefighter that couldn't hook up a hose to a hydrant if your house was in flames? I don't think so.

That's pretty much what the NFL players are looking at with the replacement officials. Because now, the regular season is here and it counts. Things speed up. The strongest have survived as the rosters have been trimmed to the best of the best. No more try outs, or players wearing "untouchable" red jerseys in practice. All that stuff is gone and it's showtime. The intensity level ratchets up and players will be out there flying around hitting each other -- hard. It's real.

Yes, the official 2012 opening act of the NFL season showcased the Cowboys visiting the NY Giants a few days ago. It appeared like the replacement refs did a credible job. No outrageous bone-headed calls to speak of.

But remember, that was an extremely big deal. National TV. A showcase event. It's quite likely the NFL put together the best crew of zebras they could to officiate that game.

When it comes time for the "lesser games", as in the Detroit Lions hosting the St. Louis Rams tomorrow, amongst several others, the league will have to trot out the other scabs -- the same ones that garnered so much attention with their Keystone Kop routines during the preseason. Because that's all they've got. And that could have some very strange, not to mention dire consequences.

No doubt about it, Don Knotts was hilarious, but as one who has gone on many cop-escorted motorcycle rides to benefit various charities over the years, yours truly would have been quite uneasy with Deputy Fife leading the pack. Just one mistake can come back to bite a lot of other people in a hurry.

I suspect the NFL players and coaches feel much the same way with the replacement officials.

The charades need to stop, and everybody back to the bargaining table. Bring in cots, sleeping bags, catered food, port-a-johns, whatever, but lock them up 24/7 until they work out a deal. Cell phones and laptops allowed, but no shower facilities. After 2-3 days stewing in the same clothes, I flat-out guarantee they'd reach an agreement.

Which is exactly what they should have been thinking about months ago.....