Thursday, October 31, 2013

An official rant

You've seen it before. It happened a couple more times earlier tonight during the NFL game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins. An official throws a penalty flag for a violation -- but a few seconds later, after the zebras "consult" -- the boss official (referee) will turn on his microphone and announce to all that no foul occurred. The flag is picked up and the game goes on like it never happened.

But it did happen, and that raises a couple questions. What gives with these guys throwing penalty flags for violations that never occurred? Shouldn't it be like a court of law, where all the evidence has to come in before a guilty verdict is rendered? After all, in the case of NFL plays, it would only take a couple more seconds to get it right in the first place. It's like some of these guys have a predetermined notion as to the outcome of a particular play before it's actually played itself out. They're reaching for and throwing their yellow hankies -- sometimes on what turns out to be phantom fouls. And I'm sorry, but that's not good enough. Sure, mistakes will be made, because while the refs usually get 99% of the calls right -- they're human too. I get that. But judging a particular play while it's still in progress, based on how they think it will LIKELY turn out, is unacceptable at ANY time.

The umpires in major league baseball have long been the same way, and you've seen that too, but it's much more subtle. Yes, MLB is done for this year after the Bosox just won the World Series, but check it out when they fire up again next year. It will still be there, because it always has.

Given any close play at a base, particularly first because more action occurs at that base than the others, watch the umpire closely just before he makes the call. You will find they usually have their right hand cocked to call the runner out, and have to pull it back to signal the safe sign if the runner actually beats the throw. Like their NFL counterparts, it's like they want to call something before it actually happens.

Even in the recently concluded World Series, a 2nd base umpire was blatantly guilty of making a phantom call. In a potential double-play situation, a ground ball hit to the 2nd baseman was flipped to the shortstop for a force play. 99.9999% of the time, that's going to be an out. And the ump called it so. But the ball deflected off the shortstop's glove and fell to the ground. Both teams, the crowd in attendance, and the billions of people watching on TV saw what happened -- and what didn't happen. The runner was obviously safe. But the ump had made up his mind that an out was highly likely to occur, so he called it before the play was over. Not good enough.

Worse yet, unless that ump was biased towards one team -- which is also highly unacceptable -- or an arrogant mental midget incapable of admitting wrong-doing, he should have corrected himself immediately. But of course, for the most part, major league umpires are a narcissistic bunch, and they aren't wired like that. They can do no wrong -- in their own eyes.

So while everybody else the world over that was watching the game twiddled their thumbs, the whole umpire crew -- all 6 of them -- had to huddle up for a confab to sort out what even Stevie Wonder or my dog Spyke (who's been buried behind the shed for 12 years) would have seen a little better.

God bless em -- at least the umps finally got that one right. Like cops, soldiers, judges, political partisans, and a few others -- getting them to admit one of their own made a terrible mistake doesn't happen very often -- despite the overwhelming evidence against them.

But that doesn't make it right.

And after all -- we're the ones paying for all this in one way or another.

The least we deserve is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

And quicker rather than later........

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

David Ortiz. A new record in sight?

As I write this, Game 6 of the 2013 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals had yet to start. Last thing I saw was some guy playing an accordion leading the rabid fans at Fenway Park through the national anthem. So obviously, yours truly has no idea how this game will turn out. If the Bosox win, it's over, and they're champs. If the Redbirds win, it goes to a winner-take-all Game 7.

A lot of crazy things have happened in this World Series so far. But without getting into all that, an all-time record has a very good chance of being set. Yet, so far, the possibility of such a thing happening has flown beneath the radar of even the talking head stat monsters.

Anybody that has followed the Series so far knows that Boston slugger David Ortiz has been on a holy hitting terror. Since the Fall Classic started, "Big Papi" is batting a whopping .733, having gone 11 for 15 in plate appearances over the first 5 games. That's definitely getting on a roll at the right time.

The all-time record for most hits in a single World Series in shared by 3 different guys. Bobby Richardson of the 1964 NY Yankees first the set the mark with 13. It would be equalled by Lou Brock of the 1968 St. Louis Cardinals. It would be tied yet again in 1986 by a little known player named Marty Barrett of 1986 Red Sox squad. But 13 remains the magic number. Nobody has ever surpassed it in the entire history of the Fall Classic. Babe Ruth once had 10 hits in only a four game World Series way back in 1928, and had that Series gone the full seven games, who knows how many more hits the Bambino would have got? But it didn't, and coulda, woulda, shouldas don't count.

But right now, Ortiz has 11, with at least the game recently started, and possibly another one yet to be played. He needs two more hits to equal the record, and three to go into the record books as the all-time hit leader in any single World Series.

When you consider all the greats, immortals, legends, etc, that have come and gone during the whole history of baseball -- to set ANY all-time record would be impressive indeed.

And you know what? Yours truly hopes he gets it, because though not necessarily a Red Sox fan, Ortiz is just an all-around good guy. Kind of like Sara Lee. Nobody doesn't like him.

We'll see.

You go Papi. Cut that meat. No wait, that was Peyton Manning. Sorry.

Beat that shift. That's better.

Back to the game.

MLB. Warriors turned wimps

These days, in major league baseball, it's pretty much a given that every team has to have five starting pitchers. How that came to be seems to be a very good question, and yours truly has yet to hear a plausible explanation.

Not that long ago, four starting pitchers were the norm. Further, in those days, nobody kept track of pitch counts. The starter stayed out there until he either began serving up batting practice, or just ran out of gas -- often the same thing. Indeed, there were times when a starter could not only go a full nine innings, but even longer. A couple days ago marked the 22nd anniversary of the Minnesota Twins' Jack Morris' ten inning 1-0 shutout of the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. It would be 12 years, and over 50,000 major league starts later, before Roy Halladay would match Morris' one day longevity on the mound back in 2003. It hasn't been done since, and likely never will again.

That's because somewhere along the line, for reasons still unknown (as mentioned above), the powers-that-be in baseball concluded starting pitchers needed an extra day of rest between outings. When you think about it, it really doesn't make any sense. After all, they're still throwing the same baseball the same distance to home plate they always have since the game began back in the 1800's.

Yes, some things have changed in the art of pitching. Nobody throws a screwball anymore and knuckleballers are definitely on the endangered species list. Other pitches are a matter of terminology. You'll never hear an announcer talk about a "slider" these days. It's called a "cutter", but it's the same thing. A fastball with a twist. To be sure, the "split-finger" pitch is relatively new to baseball, and Jack Morris himself might have been the first to perfect it. But that pitch, along with all the others, isn't taxing the arms of modern day pitchers any more than they ever did.

These days, thanks to radar guns, we supposedly know how fast every pitch thrown travels. But yours truly is highly skeptical that modern day pitchers throw any harder than their forefathers. An "average" major league fastball is in the low 90's, and an exceptional one in the high 90's.

We'll never know, because radar guns weren't around back then, but I'm pretty sure the guys in the old days could bring the "heat" every bit as much as the modern day studs. Names like Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, and Roger Clemens come to mind for starters, no pun intended. There were likely many more.

Who's the hardest throwing pitcher these days? Many would say it's Cincinnati reliever Aroldis Chapman. He routinely tops the 100 MPH mark on the radar gun. Blazing stuff, not to be confused with Blazing Saddles. Don't get me started on that movie. Ahem.

But yours truly would maintain he also had a forerunner that was even more formidable. His name was Ryne Duren. He was a relief pitcher for the Yankees and LA Angels during the late 50's and early 60's. Duren was mostly known for having a blazing fastball and very poor vision. Something like 20-200 with coke bottle glasses. In other words, damn near legally blind. No batter dared "dig-in" against Duren, because they didn't know where the hell he was going to throw it either, but it was going to be really hard. He likely topped the 100 MPH as well. Here's a factoid for you I bet you didn't know -- Duren was the inspiration for the character Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughan in the movie Major League, according to it's author and director. Plus, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was named in honor of him.

Regardless, pitchers seem to be way more coddled these days than they ever were in the past. Be they starters or relievers, the poor dears need their rest. Good grief, back in the old-old days, a really good pitcher would pitch both games of a doubleheader, with just a few minutes rest between games. Nowadays, on the rare occasion there even IS a doubleheader, it's one game in the early afternoon, and the second at night, with a 3-4 hour break in between. Evidently, it's not just the pitchers that have wimped out. The rest of the players now require a little nappy time too, lest they overtax their precious fragile bodies. The old-timers would scoff at such a notion. Maybe a quick shower and a change of uniforms, and they couldn't wait to go out and play the second game.

Times have changed indeed. From warriors to wimps. From players that worked real jobs in the off season to make ends meet, to the fat-cat arrogant multi-millionaires we routinely see today. From happily signing autographs for all the adoring kids to smugly signing endorsement deals for even more millions. From guys that played for the love of the game to guys that only care about a huge paycheck. From an average fan being able to take his/her family to a game and enjoy all the amenities with only a small adjustment to their budget -- to skipping a house payment to do the same thing.

And I, for one, think this whole thing spun out of control a long time ago -- and it's likely to only get worse in the foreseeable future. Enough with the overpaid wimps. I want the warriors back. And being able to afford going to see a few more games wouldn't hurt either.

Hmm. Pretty sure I started this out talking about pitching -- then got carried away with other stuff. Sorry.

But I do have a revolutionary idea on how major league pitching could undergo a radical change. And it just might someday.

Stay tuned....

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Detroit Lions chat. Part II

Following up on the previous post, I plopped down on a barstool next to my friend Dave shortly after the Lions had defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the waning seconds of the game. Also, in fairness, Dave was and is unaware of my long history with the Lions, as explained in the previous post as well. Had he known that, perhaps his attitude toward me regarding the Lions would have been slightly different -- or maybe not -- but sometimes conversations can be more informative when people DON'T know some things going in. At any rate, it went something like this:

Me: What's up, bro? I see the Lions lucked up and won the game at the last second.

Dave: Luck had nothing to do with it. It was skill.

M: Maybe, but....

D: No maybes about it. They drove the length of the field with under a minute to go, no time-outs, and scored the winning touchdown. Didn't you see it?

M: I caught the very end of it at home when I happened to click over during a yellow flag or a commercial. I had company and they were into the NASCAR race. So that's pretty much what we watched.

D: You didn't watch the Lions playing the Cowboys? Are you nuts?

M: Actually, the Lions aren't that important to me anymore. Long story.

D: You missed out big time, dude. This place was rocking a little while ago.

M: I suppose, but the company was pretty good too, and they wanted to see the race. Didn't much matter to me.

D: If you'd have seen it, you'd know the Lions are a great team. Only great teams come back and win games like that.

M: Maybe, but from what little I saw -- I still think they got lucky too.

D: How do you figure that?

M: Well, I did see Matthew Stafford jump over the goal line on a surprise quarterback sneak. If Dallas stuffs him on that play, the clock runs out and the Lions lose. Sometimes that's what it comes down to -- a little luck.

D: So you don't think the Lions are a great team?

M: Not really. In the whole scheme of things in the NFL, they might be a little bit better than average.

D: Yeah, well they're 5-3.

M: Exactly my point. A little better than average.

D: With a few breaks, they could have been 6-2, or 7-1. Maybe even 8-0.

M: (Sigh). Perhaps, but if those breaks go the other way, they might be 3-5, 2-6, or maybe even 1-7. Plus, they've had a weak schedule. Last time I looked, the rest of it gets even weaker. The way the NFL has shaken out this year -- in the second half of the season, the only good team they face is the Packers, and they get them at home. Because of that, they've got a shot at the playoffs, but they'll get blown out quick. Too many other really good NFC teams out there.

D: Oh, so now you're Mr. Doom and Gloom. Is that it?

M: Not exactly. I think the Lions themselves have provided the doom and gloom for the last half century or so. No offense, but have you been paying attention to reality?

D: That doesn't matter. This is a new year and I think the Lions have a good chance to make it to the Super Bowl.

M: We'll have to agree to disagree on that one.

D: But no matter what -- there is always hope -- right?

M: Sure is. Ever been to Las Vegas? The casino operators out there rake in billions every year based on hope. Same with the state lotteries. You could be a big winner -- but I wouldn't bet on it -- no pun intended.

D: Well, I still think the the Lions have a shot.

M: Come again?

D: A shot?

M: Thanks for the offer, but no. I swore off shots a long time ago. Pretty much stick to beer these days.

D: Huh?

M: Nevermind. It wasn't important.

D: Whatever, dude, but you're acting a little weird.

M: Yeah, but I used to be a lot weirder, especially when it came to the Lions.

D: What's that supposed to mean?

M: Nothing, but you just caused me to have a blast from the past rattle around in my head.

D: Oh man, don't tell me. It's about an ex that didn't work out.

M: Something like that, and you're right. It would probably be better if you didn't know.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Detroit Lions. A conversation. Part 1

Earlier today, shortly after the Lions/Cowboys game was over, yours truly wandered into a local watering hole and plopped down next to a friend of mine. Let's call him "Dave". A conversation ensued about the Lions, and I'll get back to that.

But first a little background. For the better part of three decades, I was a super die-hard Lions fan. Dating way back to their Tiger Stadium days, and through most of their years at the Pontiac Silverdome, yours truly found a way to attend 3-4 home games every year. I don't know the exact total, but add it all up, and I probably went to around 100 of their home games over all those years. Many head coaches, front office personnel, and generations of players came and went during that time.

Another thing I don't know, and probably don't want to, is how much money I shelled out while following my beloved Honolulu blue and silver dream, up close and in person. Consider gas, tickets, parking, various concessions while in the stadiums, etc, multiply it by 100 games -- add in the team paraphernalia purchased along the way to boot -- and what do you get? Beats me, bet I'd bet it's enough to buy a small house. Unlike the reporters that get in for free with their press passes, or sniping TV armchair quarterbacks, I think I can safely say I paid my dues.

When not able to attend the home games themselves for various reasons (usually $$), and for all road games, it was a certainty yours truly would be watching on TV rooting them on. Back in the day of TV blackouts when a home game wasn't sold out, I had another friend, the late Bruce, who was as rabid a fan as I was. We'd hop in one of our cars and drive to Saginaw on Sunday morning, which was beyond the blackout zone. There was a K-Mart store there that very conveniently had the furniture department right next to the bank of TVs that were also for sale. We'd kick back in Lazy Boys and watch the Lions on a whole bunch of screens. An Arby's was right across the street for halftime chow. A pretty sweet gig. We saw Lions' receiver Chuck Hughes die on the field at Tiger Stadium while sitting in those K-Mart chairs in Saginaw.

Many years later, I was there at the Silverdome when Lions' guard Mike Utley got paralyzed on a freak play against the LA Rams in 1991. Also when linebacker Reggie Brown suffered a spinal cord injury against the NY Jets in 1997, ending his short career.

But there were better times as well at the Dome. During the Wayne Fontes head-coaching era (1988-1996) the Lions really weren't all that good (67-71), but they had a way of making their fans think they were. Indeed, after winning a few games, the team adopted the Queen classic song Another One Bites the Dust. It would blare from the stadium loudspeakers. As it turned out, every one of those teams would eventually bite the dust themselves, but it was easy to get caught up in the hype of the moment back then. As a footnote, at that time the Lions also had a safety that was nicknamed "Spiderman". When away from football, he seemed to be allegedly on a mission to impregnate every woman he came in contact with. Last I heard, after winding up homeless for a while, he's hunkered down somewhere in southern California. A gang of knocked up women, especially if they get together and find out the same guy fathered all their babies, can sometimes have a way of trapping a spider in his own web, and eventually eating him alive. But enough about that.

Many a time I showed up at the Dome at 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning to stand in line with the other crazies hoping to get a couple end zone tickets for the upcoming game. Most times it worked, but sometimes they would sell out before I reached the ticket counter. And ALL times, I would wind up going into work a couple hours late. Either way, it was going to cost me, but I didn't care. Back then, it was worth it. I had the fever.

Most Lions' fans know their team has only won one playoff game since the Super Bowl era started way back when LBJ was President and the Viet Nam war was raging. That was in January of 1992. Through a stroke of incredible good fortune -- but mostly by knowing someone that always had an amazing knack for getting whatever tickets he wanted to whatever games -- truly a forerunner of the don't ask, don't tell policy -- yours truly and a few friends managed to score tickets for that game.

Yep, I was there when the Lions trashed the Cowboys 38-6. I have never heard anything louder in my whole life than the crowd in attendance at that game. The noise was not only incredible, but actually painful to the ears. The Lions would get trashed themselves to the tune of 41-10 the following week by the Redskins in the NFC championship game, but I'll never forget that experience at the Dome. What a day.

The hordes of Lions' fans, as they have been so inclined to do over the decades, saw brighter days coming. Alas, they were once again mistaken. A few short years later, the Lions would begin yet another of their death spirals into oblivion. Fontes would be fired, which would usher in an era of merry-go-round other losing head coaches, including the infamous Matt Millen reign.

Thing is, along the way, an epiphany happened. In July of 1999, Barry Sanders, certainly amongst the best running backs of all-time in the NFL, abruptly quit, while still quite in his prime. At the time, Sanders was within easy striking distance of Walter Payton's all-time NFL rushing record. (It should be noted that Emmitt Smith would eventually surpass Payton and remains the all-time leader -- but if Sanders had played a few more years, he likely would have set the bar so high, it would never have been approachable again.) Further, Sanders walked away from over $8,000,000 that he could have made by returning to the Lions for another season. Why? Barry, always a humble man, would later say it best. He had grown weary of the losing culture of the Lions and didn't see them getting much better any year soon. Turns out, he was exactly right about that. To him, the money and/or records didn't matter. It just wasn't worth it anymore.

Initially, yours truly was dumbstruck when Sanders quietly walked away from the Lions. But after a short while, Sanders' epiphany clicked into my feeble head as well. Why even bother anymore with the Lions? So when Barry walked -- that was good enough for me. I took a hike too, leaving behind decades of what I now realize was a futile mission as a misguided fan in the first place.

In the interim, I've never been to Ford Field, and have no desire to go there for a Lions game. I've even been offered free tickets on a few occasions by season ticket holders that couldn't go to a game for whatever reasons -- and politely declined.

To me, the Lions are a lot like my ex-wife. I don't like them nor dislike them. They're just out there somewhere and I wish them well. Sometimes I'll objectively write about them (the Lions, not my ex) and I'll get accused of "hating" on the Lions. Not true. I just call them like I see them, but I went cold turkey on the blue and silver koolaid back in 1999 when Barry showed me the way.

And you know what? No regrets. The Lions haven't been remotely close to Super Bowl caliber ever since. Nor are they now, or likely to be in the near future.

To boot, I don't know how much money I would have spent on the Lions in the last 14 years, but not having done so, I've been able to take several trips and buy a few things I never would have been able to afford if I was still shelling it out to the Ford family. Funny, or maybe not, how that worked out.

This has ran on a bit long. On to the conversation between Dave and I on the bar stools -- next time.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What the HELL was he thinking?

That had to be the strangest end to a World Series game yours truly has ever seen. And I dare say it was all because of an incredibly bone-headed move, or non-move, by a manager. In case you didn't see it, here was the scenario:

It's Game 3 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. The series is tied at one game all. Fast forward to the bottom on the ninth inning, and the game is tied 4-4. The home team Cardinals are batting and have runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out. Boston has a right-handed pitcher on the mound, and St. Louis has a left-handed hitter about to come to the plate. Typically, this is advantageous to the batter.

The next move was obvious for Boston manager John Farrell. Intentionally walk the batter to load the bases to set up a double play possibility, or at least a force play at the plate. The only runner that mattered was the Cardinal standing on 3rd base. If he scores, the game's over.

But for some reason, Farrell decided not to have his pitcher walk the batter, and rather pitch to him. Naturally, the Bosox infielders were in tight. A ground ball hit to any of them -- and they have to throw home hoping their catcher can tag out the runner coming from the third base. With only one out, any fly ball hit to even medium depth in the outfield would result in the same runner tagging up and coming home anyway. Game over.

And then it got weird. The aforementioned left-handed hitter struck a sharp ground ball that Boston 2nd baseman Dustin Pedroia made a superb back-handed play on and threw home. The catcher tagged the runner for out number two. In the meantime, the Cardinal runner that was on 2nd base got a late jump, so the Boston catcher threw the ball to his third baseman, hoping for another tag play to end the inning. But the throw was a bit off. The 3rd basemen dove for the ball, but it struck the sliding runner, and the 3rd baseman wound up on top of the runner. Somehow, the ball caromed into foul territory down the 3rd base line. The Cardinal runner attempted to get up and sprint home for the winning run. Yet while still on his belly, the Bosox 3rd baseman raised his feet up to impede the runner. Indeed, the runner tripped over him, but then proceeded to run towards home late. The throw came in from the outfield, and that runner was tagged out as well at home plate. It should have been the third out and the end of the inning, right? The Bosox and Redbirds would go into extra innings and anything could happen.

Not so fast. The umpires decided the Boston 3rd baseman interfered with that St. Louis runner, so he was awarded the extra base -- in this case home plate -- which consisted of the winning run. NOW, it was game over. It appeared to be the right call.

But wait a minute. Rewind this scenario to when that left-handed hitter originally stepped into the batter's box with runners on 2nd and 3rd, with only one out. Granted, had he been intentionally walked, which screamed out as the logical thing to do -- no one will ever know what the next hitter would have done. Maybe he would have got a hit, even a grand slam. Maybe he would have even hit a deep enough fly ball to score the runner from third. Or maybe he would have hit a ground ball like the lefty did before him. If the bases were loaded, the Boston catcher doesn't have to tag the runner coming home, and might well complete a double play by throwing the ball to 1st base. It happens all the time. There would have never been an errant throw to 3rd base, the ball bounding away, and interference called, that resulted in the winning run, etc, etc.

To be sure, Boston manager John Farrell deserves a lot of credit. In only one year, he's led the Bosox from the cellar to the World Series. A job well done indeed, and perhaps worthy of a manager of the year award.

But no matter how you slice it or dice it -- in this particular game, it all boiled down to one thing...

What the HELL was he thinking?

Methinks you'll hear a lot more about this in the next couple days from various media sources. And if the Beaners somehow wind-up losing the World Series 4 games to 3, yours truly has a hunch Farrell being compared to a guy named Bill Buckner might find their way into the conversations.

Buckner made a physical error by letting a ground ball go between his legs. There are still those that say it cost the Bosox the 1986 World Series to the NY Mets. Actually, that's not true. Buckner's gaffe happened in Game 6. The Red Sox still could have won it in Game 7 -- but they didn't.

Same goes for Farrell's mental error in Game 3 this year. For that matter, it's not fair to blame one guy for losing a World Series over something that happened on just one play. There's a slew of shouda, coulda, wouldas that go on during a series. A lot of them could be potential game, and even series changers.

But 27 years later, Bill Buckner is still famous for all the wrong reasons.

Hope it doesn't happen to Farrell.

But it's possible.

In case I failed to mention it -- what the HELL was he thinking?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Remembering Brett Favre

St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford went down with a season-ending knee injury and the Rams contacted 44-year-old Brett Favre to see if he might come out of retirement to help them out for a while? Favre turned them down, but it raises a couple interesting points.

First, it doesn't say much for the Rams' 2nd string QB if they'd rather go with a 44-year-old that's totally unfamiliar with their system.

And second, Favre recently admitted he's suffering from some sort of memory loss. He can remember some things, but not others. Over his illustrious two decade career in the NFL, Favre was known for a lot of things -- but especially toughness. In spite of all the brutal hits he took over the years, Favre would always find a way to play on game day. Indeed, he set the all-time record for most consecutive games played by an NFL QB, which will likely never be broken. That's a good thing. But over the course of those years, Favre also suffered a lot of concussions. Number unknown, even to Favre. And that might be a bad thing.

Like fighting in hockey, opinions certainly vary when it comes to any sort of helmet/head contact in football. There are those that say it's part of the game, and if you don't like it, don't watch it, much less play it. Yet the voice of the dissenters is growing louder. Neuropathologists that have studied the brains of many deceased NFL players are almost unanimous in their opinions that too many hits to the head (concussions) causes some very bad long-term side effects, which are irreversible. Once the damage is done -- there's no cure.

The scary part is -- in recent years, the brain dissectors are getting more and more samples to study. And this is only from the families of deceased players that donate their late beloved's gray matter. Likely many more opt not to. And look around. Former NFL players are dying right and left in what would normally be considered "middle age". A few have even committed suicide. Yes, such things sometimes occur in the general public as well, but the stats with the NFL players seem to be abnormally high.

To their credit, the NFL itself has acknowledged the problem and continues to try to make things safer for their players. Besides their continuing quest for better helmets, protective padding, etc., they've instituted rule changes on how one player can "legally" hit another, complete with penalty flags and fines/suspensions if a player runs afoul of the "law". They've also ponied up almost a billion dollars to settle a lawsuit filed by former players suffering from various maladies -- but I won't get into that here.

Nonetheless, there's only so much they can do. As long as there's an NFL, it's going to be fast, brutal, and lot of hard hits are going to happen. Yours truly seriously doubts the NFL is going to disappear any time soon just because players get hurt -- sometimes even tragically. It's the nature of the game, and thousands of guys are standing in line right now just hoping for a chance to play it.

But back to Brett Favre.

Many rooted for him, and others against over the years for different reasons. Personally, I respected him. Nobody left it all out there on the field more than #4. And even his TV commercials weren't dopey like Peyton's. Wrangler -- cool. Cut that meat -- not cool.

Regardless, I can sympathize with Favre's recent statement about his memory loss. He can't remember a whole summer of his daughter's soccer games.

Got your back, Brett. I once tried to get into watching soccer for a while too. The only thing I remember is it was incredibly boring. Other than that -- a complete blank.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A sacrificial lamb

When it comes to professional sports in the United States, there can be no doubt the gorilla in the room is the NFL, by a wide margin. Some NASCAR and major league baseball fans might dispute that -- but the numbers don't lie. Both in total revenue generated and over-all popularity amongst the massses, the NFL rules, and has for many years.

Of course, this is a phenomenon peculiar to the United States (but then again -- so is NASCAR). Elsewhere around the world, soccer reigns supreme. Can all those billions of people be wrong? Beats me, but it is what it is.

That said, something interesting happened earlier tonight. The NFL was featuring one of their Thursday night games, while at the same time Game 2 of the World Series was being played. Let's open up our minds as to what happened and how it may well have come about.

First of all, even up to a few days ago, nobody knew which two teams would make it to the World Series, though whoever they were, they were both going to be very good. Baseball playoffs are always a crap-shoot. Anybody can beat anybody else in a short series. It just happened to turn out that Boston and St. Louis came out on top.

Conversely, the NFL scheduled the Thursday night contest between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers several months ago. They knew EXACTLY who would be playing on 10/24/13. Further, one can logically assume the NFL honchos also knew a World Series game was going to happen in the same time slot (teams unknown, but it's the World Series and that's a big deal). And besides money, what's the most important thing to sports leagues and their TV collaborators? Ratings, which basically equate to $$ in the TV world. Further yet, though they would never say such a thing, the NFL also knew that Carolina and Tampa Bay were projected to be bottom-feeding teams this year.

So one might then logically ask -- why would the NFL schedule a game between two teams they already knew weren't going to be very good -- and throw it up against a World Series game during the same time slot? Worse yet, the football game was on the fledgling NFL Network, that either isn't available or costs a pretty penny on some cable/dish packages. Meanwhile the World Series was being beamed worldwide on mighty Fox TV. There's folks around the world living deep in caves or jungles with battery powered 4-inch black and white TVs but, by God, they can watch channel 2.

Even being the King Kongs they are, it would seem not even the NFL could overcome such a marketing blunder.

But that's where yours truly suspects the plot thickens. They did it on purpose. The NFL knew they would lose this one paltry ratings skirmish, likely by a wide margin. I think they willingly reverted back to the survival instincts that most other animals have done since the dawn of their existence. When casualties are unavoidable, sacrifice your weakest so the strongest may survive to further propagate the species. Only humans send their strongest and most fit off to be slaughtered to protect the weak in times of strife. Food for thought.

And methinks that's what happened in the case of the Carolina/Tampa Bay game going up against the World Series. The NFL could just as easily scheduled a San Fran/Seattle or KC/Denver game. After all, being in the same divisions, those teams have to play each other twice a year anyway. But why dispatch some of your elite special forces to fight a (ratings) battle they are doomed to lose, when you can send a couple Gomer Pyle squads out to do the same thing, and continue winning the war?

In my humble opinion, the NFL knew precisely what they were doing when they scheduled this game.

Sorry Charlotte and Tampa, but occasionally lambs have to be sacrificed to appease the TV gods, so they may continue to look favorably down on we mere mortal fans in the future.

And this time -- you were it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On with the game -- dammit

At long last, the 2013 Fall Classic, sometimes referred to as the World Series, is upon us. Hallelujah, and bring it on. Game 1 was advertised to start at 8:00 PM eastern time earlier tonight. So after my usual mandatory Jeopardy! ritual, I nuked some left-over beef stew and settled in. Click. And then it started. No, not the game, a bunch of other worthless crap.

What gives with all those guys in uniforms standing around in the outfield holding a bunch of different flags, while the average viewer has no idea what they even represent? Honor guards indeed. If they want to honor the game of baseball, which -- hello -- is supposed to be what is on display at its highest level, then they wouldn't delay it from happening with their presence.

All sorts of military folks get in on the action, whether lock-stepping around the outfield with their flags, or getting free prime seats in the stands. Marines are easy to identify. They're the guys in the snappy dark uniforms with the brass buttons and white hats. The Air Force folks are the ones dressed up in mailman uniforms with stripes on their sleeves. Didn't notice any Navy guys clad in white. Maybe they're all repainting an aircraft carrier somewhere. Somebody's gotta do it. No sign of the Army either, but that's understandable. If there's any of them left after the last decade or so of fighting unwinnable political wars, they're probably too tired to go to a game.

And why is it that all these military folks are referred to as heroes? Most are not. All signed up voluntarily to do a job. Just because they do it doesn't make them heroes. Besides, if they do something special, they get medals. If a plumber or electrician working at your house fixed something for free besides what you had contracted them to do, or a teacher pays out-of-pocket for classroom supplies -- he/she doesn't get any medals. And they certainly aren't considered heroes. This military hero stuff is out of control.

Of course, all the players and coaches from both teams have to be individually introduced and take their places along the 1st and 3rd base lines. That's fine, they've earned it. But nonetheless, it's time consuming.

Every professional sporting event in America will feature someone singing the National Anthem. But when the games get really big, like the World Series, the powers-that-be always seem to find a way to bring in some nitwit celebrity flavor of the day to sing it -- who will then promptly proceed to butcher America's song, while trying to show off their own talents. Sometimes they're pretty good. But other times, yours truly would imagine Francis Scott Key is rolling in his grave. And what's so wrong with just singing it like it was originally written by Mr. Key?

No big pre-game hoopla would be complete unless a few fighter planes made a fly-by overhead at just the right moment. That begs a few questions. First, other than a waste of very expensive jet fuel just to show off -- what's the point? People look up and cheer for a couple seconds, and 10 seconds later completely forget about it. It's just one more cha-ching the Pentagon spends our tax payer money on. Have you forgotten about all those $800 "manual fastening device impellers" (hammers) a while back you got charged for? Or perhaps the $1200 variety of "sanitary insulating buffers" (toilet seats)? The fly-overs are a waste of time and money. And what would happen if, God forbid, something went horribly wrong with one of those low-flying planes in tight formation, and it crashed and exploded within the stadium itself? Many thousands would likely perish. Granted, the chances are a million to one against it, but somebody wins the mega-millions lottery once in a while too. Regardless, it's just one more thing to hold up the game getting started.

And then finally -- FINALLY -- the game should begin. But NO. We're treated to blather from the talking heads that will call the game -- if it ever gets started. See Joe Buck, who might be cooking fries at Mickey D's if his legendary announcing daddy Jack hadn't been what he was. Like Jeremy Schapp or even Donald Trump -- having a father that's already paved the way can come in very handy sometimes.

See his cohort Tim McCarver, the former St. Louis Cardinal catcher turned talking head, offer up a speech about how fortunate the Red Sox and current Cardinal players are to be in the World Series. So many great players have come and gone and never had this opportunity, said McCarver. They should relish every second of it, because one never knows if they'll ever get the opportunity again.

Thank you, Tim. Truer words couldn't be spoken. It kind of gets us right -- urp -- there.

Just one thing. In the amount of time this pre-game dog and pony show has taken, including your own stats and bio-data from hell that nobody cares about -- a lot of people that were tuned in worldwide have died. In some cases, maybe from total exasperation. I'm pretty sure they would have liked to have seen a little of the game before they drew their final breath. Every second counts indeed.

So if the mysterious flag-wavers, military, some singer looking for publicity, the Elks, the Moose, the Rotary Club, the Campfire Girls, a couple Eagle Scouts, and any number of other yahoos want to get in on the action -- then fine. Have at it. But show up early and get it all done before 8:00.

Because that's when the game's supposed to start -- dammit.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The legacy of Jim Leyland

A couple days ago, Detroit Tiger manager Jim Leyland officially gave up his position. Having worked under one-year contracts for the last few years, there had been no guarantee issued from his bosses that he would be re-upped for yet another, though most thought such an offer was highly likely.

Leyland, having been involved in professional baseball in one capacity or another for about the last half-century, including the last 23 years as a major league manager, had his own reasons for doing so. The Marlboro Man said his fuel was running a little low. That's certainly understandable. Leyland's not an old geezer, but at 68, he's not exactly a spring chicken either.

I dare say most fans, whether in attendance at the ballpark or watching on TV, don't appreciate how much more is involved in major league baseball besides the games themselves. Yes, managers like Leyland make a pile of money, but it comes with its rigors as well. It's not just about filling out a line-up card, making pitching changes, occasionally screaming at umpires, and giving interviews to the press.

Besides other things like roster decisions, the travel itself has to be killer after a while. Not even counting "spring training" (which goes on during the middle of the winter -- go figure) in Florida, or the Tigers' annual Brother Love Travelling Salvation Show bus tour around Michigan to whip up interest before the regular season even starts -- there's the marathon of air-miles they endure once the season starts.

Given all the "road trips" necessitated by a major league schedule -- your truly knoweth not how many sky-miles they log over the course of almost 7 months, but it's probably several times around the world. A different motel every 4-5 days, only to jump on another plane for the next stop sounds exciting if one is 22 years old. Maybe even 40. But at 68, the jet-lag and overall wear and tear has to take its toll eventually. Leyland might still be iron-willed and hard-headed, but Father Time awaits with his veto power. And it's not as if Leyland is moving to Tahiti or something. He's going to take a position "elsewhere" in the Tigers' organization. Like most doctors, judges, and career politicians, Leyland seems to be the kind of guy that will never totally retire -- until Mother Nature and the aforementioned Father Time get together and send him off to the bullpen in the sky. That's all well and good -- and to each their own.

At that, there are those that think Jim Leyland is potentially Hall of Fame worthy as a manager. Is he? Let's take a look at his career stats.

Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates for 11 years. A record of 851-863, for a winning percentage of .496.
Florida Marlins for 2 years. 146-178.  .451.
Colorado Rockies for 1 year. 72-90.  .444.

Though he came to the Tigers in 2006 amidst much fanfare, he had previously posted a career record of 1069 -1131.  .486.  Not so good.

Detroit Tigers for 8 years. 700-597.  .540.

Add it all up and Leyland's career mark stands at 1769 -1728. A winning percentage of .506 over 23 years of managing.

In other words, just about smack dab average.

And I'm sorry, but while there will be those -- especially in the Detroit area, some of his former players included -- that think Leyland should get a plaque in Cooperstown -- being just average for a long time isn't what the Hall of Fame is supposed to be about. It's reserved for the best of the best.

Longevity is a factor, but it has to be coupled with excellence over those many years to merit consideration for enshrinement.

And .506 isn't nearly good enough.

Not even close.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The worst football game ever

In the recently concluded Monday night contest, the previously winless NY Giants were terrible. It's hard to comprehend how far and how fast Tom Coughlin's boys have fallen. Eli Manning appears clueless. Their entire once stout defense currently looks like a squad of Campfire Girls could march up and down the field against it. But they won the game, I think. I'll get back to that. And why?

Because the Minnesota Vikings were even worse. A LOT worse. Downright pitiful. It became evident early on that the Giants weren't going to let Minnesota super stud running back Adrian Peterson gash them for a bunch of big gainers. The Giants routinely had 8-9 guys in the "box" to stuff any running game the Vikes might attempt. Between strength, speed, and moves, Peterson is probably the best all-around running back in the NFL. But no running back now -- or ever -- would have much success against a defensive front like that. Basically, the Giants were daring, and even forcing the Vikings to throw the ball.

And that's where it got really ugly. Former starting Minnesota QB Christian Ponder was never going to be the answer, so they made a move and obtained Josh Freeman from the Tampa Bay Bucs. And guess what? He's even worse. A lot worse.

Sure, Freeman's relatively new to the Minnesota "system" and a "learning curve" is to be expected. But some things are just inexcusable, and Freeman had them on full display during the course of the game. Any QB at the major college level -- let alone the NFL -- is certainly expected to be able to throw the football with some degree of accuracy.

Not so, in Freeman's case. There went a pass sailing 10 feet over the head of a wide open receiver. There went another one 10 yards beyond his reach. There went yet another one woefully behind another receiver on a crossing route. And there goes a couple more into no-man's land, with no apparent receiver even in the vicinity. Repeat a few times -- and that pretty much adds up to what Josh Freeman was doing all night. He was even more clueless than Eli.

Idle thought: For a few extra bucks, receiver Greg Jennings left the Green Bay Packers to become a Viking? He ditched Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball to him for Christian Ponder, and now Josh Freeman? He abandoned the Lambeau leap for the Minnesota heap? Betcha he wishes he had a do over. If not, he might be a great receiver, but he ain't too bright when it comes to the big picture.

The Vikings have a few very good players but, overall as a team, they're pee-yew, as in stink it up bad right now.

Amongst many other foibles, one of their defensive backs had a Manning pass hit him right square in the numbers. It's was an easy "pick-six" going the other way. He dropped it. On an ensuing kickoff from the Giants, they same guy caught the ball, started to run, stumbled over his own feet, and fumbled without a defender ever touching him. Pitiful. Then he got all cocky strutting his "stuff" along the sidelines. What comes after pitiful and false bravado when the whole world has just seen him play like a chump? Might I suggest a bus ticket out of town?

Josh Freeman should be made exactly that. A free man, as in being immediately cut from the roster to go pursue whatever other job opportunities he can find in the world. Because he's obviously not going to come anywhere near getting it done for the Vikings as a QB. Did I mention pitiful?

As for yours truly only thinking the Giants won the game? They were ahead by a bunch in a battle of bad against even worse. But I can't say for sure the Giants actually won.

Because I didn't get to see the end of the game. Over the course of my lifetime, yours truly has seen a lot of gory stuff for reasons I won't get into. If one is in the wrong place at the wrong time and something bad happens -- one copes with it as best they can. Sometimes it's not a choice.

But in the case of this game -- there was indeed a choice. Click. I just couldn't stomach any more.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Peyton Manning and a million to one shot

I've been saying it for years to anyone that would listen (few would), but most kept telling me I was an idiot. Then again, yours truly would be the first to admit that in the whole scheme of things -- there's an ocean of things I don't know compared to the mud puddle of things I think I do. So yeah. In that respect, I'm an idiot. I'll own that.

Yet I still maintain I've been right about Peyton Manning all along. Yes, he's been the MVP, won a Super Bowl, and will certainly be an NFL Hall of Famer as soon as he is eligible. But he's also had the incredible good fortune to be in the right place at the right time, namely having a strong supporting cast around him that enabled him to do what he does best. Throw the football.

My assertion has always been that if Manning didn't have an offensive line that could give him ALL DAY when he drops back to pass, that he might very well become quite ordinary as NFL quarterbacks go.

That appeared to bear itself out in Manning's return trip to Indianapolis, to face his former teammates -- the Colts. After all his years in Indy, and thousands of practices where he was wearing a red jersey and hence "untouchable", at long last the Colt defense finally got to tee off on him in a real game.

Be it in Indy or the last couple years in Denver, Manning has always had the luxury of two things. A terrific offensive line to protect him, and an elite receiver corps. Combine those two assets and -- presto -- gaudy offensive stats, including big-time passing yardage and touchdowns galore. But take either one away, and all of a sudden Peyton starts to look a lot more mortal.

For about three quarters of the game, the Colts took away both. They weren't allowing Manning to sit back in the pocket doing his usual "happy feet" dance while he scanned the field right and left waiting for a receiver to come open. The defensive line was coming -- hard. Further, the Colts' corners and safeties were playing very physical up-in-your-face defense on Manning's receivers. Peyton and his usual offensive juggernaut were stymied.

But then a rapid-fire rash of injuries befell the Colts. A few of their starting defensive backs went down, as did a key member of their defensive line. Lacking that personnel, Manning was able to revert back to his old ways and rally his team in the fourth quarter. He would come up short and the Broncos would lose the game -- but it spoke volumes about Peyton Manning himself. Give ANY NFL QB an elite corps of receivers and all day to throw -- and they'd put up gaudy stats too. But Peyton is used to a-thousand six, a-thousand seven when dropping back to pass, while his receivers run wild. If that turns into a-thousand three and "lookout", while those same receivers are getting knocked off their routes -- then things start to look a lot different regarding the whole Peyton Manning aura.

And that's what I've been saying all along. Peyton's really good. I'll give him that. But all is not always as it appears, or is otherwise sold through media hype. Though no doubt one of the best "students" of the game in history, the fickle finger of fate played a major role in his career as well.

Consider -- if Manning had spent the last 15 years playing for, say, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cleveland Browns, or the Detroit Lions -- do you really think he would have accumulated the same stats and fame over that time, much less making another fortune being featured on all those dopey TV commercials? Somehow yours truly seriously doubts that.

As for the million to one shot mentioned in the title of this article? No, it's not about Peyton someday being elected President, prying Angelena away from Brad, or even hup-hupping his way into winning Dancing with the Stars. Not even close.

After 7 weeks of the season, the Kansas City Chiefs find themselves the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL.

Betcha wish you'd have put a C-note down on THAT with a bookie back in August.......

The mutiny at Grambling State

Things are currently a mess in Grambling -- at least with their football team. As the proverbial saying goes -- it seems the inmates have taken over the asylum. Apparently, the players on their football team are dissatisfied with a few things with the program itself and have issues with their school administration in general.

That's fine and dandy, because everybody should have the right to voice their opinions when they have concerns about things that affect them. It's freedom of speech, the American way, and, a certain women's basketball program in Rochester, Mi. notwithstanding, most everybody enjoys the right to do so.

To a point. But if those words and/or ensuing actions result in causing harm to others -- that's a whole different thing.

Such would seem to be the case with the players on the Grambling State football team. For their own reasons, they've not only boycotted practices, but refused to travel to a road game against Jackson State. Of course, the cooler (see politically correct) heads are saying all the "right" things in trying to resolve this matter, but sometimes enough is too much and people need to be held accountable.

The Grambling State football players self-cancelling the game against Jackson State goes way over the line. These guys signed on to play football for a university, and most got scholarships, as in free room/board, and college education, along with whatever perks come with being jocks. They don't seem to understand how fortunate they really are.

But they have no right -- NONE -- to decide how to run the football program, much less adversely effect another fine school. Any game is important between two college teams, but this one perhaps even more so for Jackson State. It was their "homecoming" game, typically a big deal at most universities for their alumni and such. A crowd in attendance of over 20,000 was expected. By nixing the game, the Grambling players cost Jackson State untold thousands of dollars in revenue.

And it's not like some kind of holy war exists between Grambling and Jackson where atrocities might await the visiting team. To boot, it's only about 150 miles between the two cities. Hardly even worth the cost of a big airplane. Maybe a 3 hour bus ride. In other words, the travel distance could hardly be considered a major issue.

Sure, ever since legendary coach Eddie Robinson retired, Grambling State hasn't been so good. In fact, they're 0-7 this year and pretty much getting blown out by every team they face. For that matter, they've lost 18 straight against any team that remotely qualifies as belonging in the NCAA. Further, their basketball team was the ultimate doormats while posting a 0-28 record. Things are not good at Grambling these days when it comes to wins and losses.

Regardless of that and whatever other issues they may have -- the football players are just that. Players. If and when they start sabotaging a program, be it their own, or especially that of another school -- somebody needs to send them a very strong message.

If yours truly had been in a position to make such a call at Grambling State -- I would have told them the following.....

"While we highly value your status as student athletes of our fine university and will continue to do our best moving forward -- if you're not on that plane/bus going to Jackson State to represent us in a big game -- for us AND them -- your scholarships will be immediately revoked and you will no longer be welcome on campus in any capacity. Your opinions on issues are always welcome, will be given due consideration, and hopefully resolved to our mutal satisfaction. But know this -- you're here to play football, not make administrative decisions. Should you ever want to do that, we strongly suggest you keep going to class and studying hard. If you're still interested in such a position after you've attained your Master's degree, give us a call and we'll set up an interview. It's all up to you. But for now your job is to play football and occasionally go to class. If that's unsatisfactory, then take a hike."

The inmates running an asylum never works out well in the end.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Buh-bye Detroit Tigers

And so it ends for the Detroit Tigers this year. Ciao, auf wiedersehen, sayonara, arrivaderci, au revoir, and catch ya down the road. The fat lady has not only sung her tune but, like Elvis, she's left the building. It's over.

Ironically enough, as Julio's kid brother Jose Iglesias was swinging at air for strike three to complete the final out -- Torii Hunter stood in the on deck circle awaiting his turn at bat. And that seems to be pretty much the story of his baseball career. Hunter's been a very good player for a long time during his stints with a few major league teams, but he never made it to the World Series. Then again, it's tough to shed tears over a guy that's enjoyed the life of luxury that comes with being a major league baseball player for a couple decades, and probably has $100 million or so in the bank -- but he's a nice guy, and it would have also been nice to see him get to the Big Dance at least once. Alas, perhaps some things just aren't meant to be.

Nevertheless, the Tigers were living on borrowed time. There were many throughout the year that said their batting line-up was a regular Murderer's Row. Just one problem. When the playoffs started, they turned into the Bowery Boys. Throw in a shaky bullpen and, save for their stellar starting pitchers doing yeoman's duty to keep things from getting out of control, the Tigers likely shouldn't have got by the Oakland A's in the ALDS. It continued against a far better team in the Bosox. Hey, no matter how you slice it and dice it, if a team can't hit and score runs when the pressure is on -- their margin of error becomes razor thin. Tick, tick, tick.......

And that's exactly how it finally went down against the Red Sox. They've got a fearsome line-up as well, and it was just a matter of time before a bomb went off in the Tigers' faces. Actually, the final score of 5-2 was misleading. It could and probably should have been much worse.

Dustin "Muddy Chicken" Pedroia, the 2nd baseman of the the Bosox, hit a towering shot over the "green monster" in Fenway Park's left field for an apparent 3-run homer. It's going, going.... foul by about a foot. Jonny Gomes of Boston launched another rocket estimated at 440+ feet that would have been a home run in any other stadium. But it hit the 37 foot tall wall a few inches from the top in deep left-center field to bounce back for only a double.

Once again, Tiger manager Jim Leyland appeared clueless. With two Boston runners already on base and David Ortiz waiting to bat -- the Marlboro Man opted to leave starting pitcher Max Scherzer (who had already thrown well over 100 pitches) in to face him. Ortiz had a .389 lifetime batting average against Scherzer, and wasn't he the same guy that dinged the Tigers for a grand slam a few games back? If the TV folks knew that -- then Leyland sure as heck should have too. Bad move, but as luck would have it, Ortiz would merely fly out.

Then, when Scherzer appeared to be back in control -- incredibly -- Leyland gave him the hook for a relief pitcher. Who promptly served up another grand slam to put the game pretty much out of reach, and get the aforementioned fat lady warming up.

In the end, though likely a favorite to win the AL Cy Young award, Scherzer gets tagged with the ultimate loss and the Tigers turned puddy-tats go back to Motown to clean out their lockers for another year.

But you know what? Justice has been served in a way. While the playoffs can certainly be a crap shoot -- over the course of the entire season, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals had the two best records, and I dare say the two most complete teams.

It's only fitting they should bump heads in the upcoming World Series.

Like David Ortiz said in the post-game celebration at Fenway --- bring it on.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Rants to shut up about

There's a few things yours truly needs to get off his chest before going back to my usual suave, debonair, and ultra-twerky style of sports writing. So in no particular order....

What's the deal with Kobe? The dude's all the way over in Shanghai, gingerly attempting to shoot baskets in some two-bit gym while still recuperating from an achilles injury. But never fear, the reporters found him and still hang on his every word like he just came down from the mountain with the tablets. Besides, kobe is literally a variety of Japanese beef. A piece of overpriced meat. Why would anybody give a rat's behind about Bryant shooting baskets in Shanghai? Show me a video of him pulling a rickshaw with Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich sitting in the back -- and I might sit up and pay attention. In the meantime, two words regarding Kobe and his media groupies -- shut up.

The Detroit Tigers have it bass-ackwards. Down 3-2 in their best of seven series against the Bosox, with the series heading back to beantown, incredibly, they seem to think all the pressure is on the Red Sox. "They have to win one more to close us out", one said. "At this point, we have nothing to lose and the pressure is all on them", said another. Just one question. Who do they think they're kidding? The pressure, all 100% of it, is squarely on the Tigers. Win Game 6 or go home. Period. Though Boston would no doubt love to finally dispatch the Tigers in Game 6, pop the champagne, and get ready for the World Series against St. Louis, they're in a position where they have two games to win one. For the Fenway faithful, Game 6 is like playing with house money. So as for some of the Tigers, and a few of their local koolaided scribes getting the pressure thing all wrong -- the same two words. Shut up.

Just a few days ago, LA Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw was regarded as being the best starting pitcher in the National League, if not the entire major leagues. He had dominating stuff. Well, a few hours ago the St. Louis Cardinals lit him up. CK gave up 7 runs and wouldn't survive the fifth inning in an eventual 9-0 trashing by the Redbirds to end the Dodgers' season. It happens sometimes.

Could it happen to Max Scherzer of the Tigers in their own Game 6 against the Red Sox? Remember, Scherzer was an incredible 21-3 throughout the regular season and a Cy Young favorite. He's had great stuff in the playoffs too. But it might just be that Mad Max is long overdue for the same pinball treatment that befell Kershaw. After all, the Bosox have a fearsome hitting line-up, and c'mon, nobody foresaw Scherzer going 21-3 in the first place. He's good, but not THAT good. It could happen. And I wish the aforementioned scribes would stop crowing about the Tigers having the best starting rotation in baseball. Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, and Fister is an impressive bunch. But no more impressive than Bucholz, Lackey, Lester, and Peavy that the Bosox throw out there. They need to shut up too.

Prince and the Pauper Dept. His outrageous, mind-boggling, and perhaps even indecent long-term contract aside -- I see no reason -- NONE -- why Prince Fielder should even be in the Tigers' lineup. The man has a long sordid history of choking in post-season play, and this year is no different. Once again, he's batting under .200 when the pressure is on. And it's not like this guy is a bargain anywhere else on the field. The only position he can play is first base and he's slow. Sure, during the regular season Fielder swings the bat like John Daly does his driver, hits home runs, and racks up some RBIs. But if he can't perform when it counts the most -- then what good is he? My suggestion? Get his fat butt out of there and plug in somebody else. Anybody else. Pick one. They couldn't do much worse when it comes to the post-season. And BTW, just in case Fielder is thinking about flapping his gums to the media -- two words. Shut up. Nobody wants to hear what a non-contributor has to say.

Like Kobe Bryant above, we're supposed to get all agog because Paul Pierce dared to foul His Highness, King Lebron James, in an exhibition game? Note to breathless talking heads. Shut up.

And then there are those that want to project what position Lebron might play in the NFL, and how good he would be. Guess what? It ain't gonna ever happen, so who cares? That's taking fantasy football to a whole new level. What will they come up with next? How Oprah might do as an NHL goalie? Shut up.

Uh oh. My beloved yorkies have me surrounded and are dragging me off by the pant legs to the bedroom for some cuddle time.

So it's time for yours truly to heed his own advice and.....

Well, you know......

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Detroit LIons schedule

When the Detroit Lions' 2013 schedule first came out, yours truly thought they might go 8-8, if they caught a few breaks. However, things have changed and it might be time to revisit that position.

Coming off a disastrous 4-12 2012 season, I just didn't see where they would be all that much better this year, though 8-8 certainly beats the heck out of 4-12. After all, how much had really changed? Matthew Stafford was still going to pass a gazillion times, mostly to Megatron Calvin Johnson, because the Lions didn't have any running game. Then they got Reggie Bush as a free agent. A decent acquisition, but one is left to wonder -- if Bush was all that -- why would the Miami Dolphins, his former team, and no world-beaters themselves, let him get away? Could it be because Bush can't seem to stay healthy for very long?

The Lions' offensive line was, and is a work in progress. The linebacking corps is mediocre at best. They added a couple not-so-notable free agents to their secondary, but most anything would be an improvement over the Keystone Kops they had running around back there last year. Safety Louis Delmas is credited by his home-town scribes as being a team leader -- but Delmas seems to have the longest "lingering" knee injury in the history of professional sports. Though he rarely practices, the Lions still start him in games. Most any other NFL team has an unwritten rule. If you can't practice -- you can't play. That doesn't say much for the Lions' depth chart at safety. Their defensive line is pretty good, if they'd ever learn to knock it off with the cheap shots. But only the Lions would fill the void left after Mr. Reliable and 43 year old place-kicker Jason Hanson retired -- with a guy that's pushing 39, while cutting a 26 year old with a better leg.

Nevertheless, the Lions seem do be doing quite well so far this year. At 4-2, they've already equalled their win total from last year. Will they go 14-2? Of course not. Will they fall into the same abyss as last year, losing the rest of the games to finish 4-12 again? Highly doubtful. That's because a lot of unforeseeable things have happened this year around the league and, given the Lions' remaining schedule, most of it is to their advantage. Check it out.

This Sunday the Lions host Cincinnati. The Bengals are no slouches, but the Lions get them at home where they usually play fairly well.

10/27. Dallas at home again. The Cowboys are mediocre.
A bye week to rest up for....
11/10. The Bears @ Chicago. A tough test to be sure, but definitely winnable.
11/17. The Steelers @ Pittsburgh. Most other years, this would be an automatic blow-out, with the terrible towel toters roaring their approval as their men of steel feasted on the puddy-tats that dared challenge them. But a funny thing happened. For whatever reasons, the Steelers are terrible themselves this year.
11/24. Tampa Bay at home. Not only did the Bucs recently unload their starting QB to Minnesota, but they have some sort of MRSA thing going on with a few players. Not good. And besides, they're terrible anyway.
11/28. The Packers at home on Thanksgiving. Truly a "who knows?" game. The Packers are a better team, but sometimes the Lions play inspired football on turkey day. Yet as recently as last year, when the Honolulu blue and silver choked on the wishbone against the Houston Texans, they gave their fans a serious case of indigestion. Got a coin to flip?
12/8. @ Philly. The Eagles have landed far below their expectations after letting long-time head coach Andy Reid get away to Kansas City. Michael Vick ain't what he used to be and Philly doesn't have a whole lot else going for them either. The Lions should be favored in that game.
12/16. The reigning Super Bowl champ Baltimore Ravens visit Ford Field. But they've lost several key players either through retirement or free agency since last year. Will the black birds swarm into Detroit and peck the Lions to death in their own den? Quoth the Wrathster -- nevermore.
12/22. The NY Giants at home. At the time of this writing, Tom Coughlin's Giants have been reduced to midgets. They've yet to win a single game. Eli's not coming -- he's going.
12/29. Finishing up the regular season @ Minnesota. A tough call. QB Christian Ponder was never going to get it done. Could Josh Freeman, recently acquired from Tampa Bay, put a spark into them? Maybe. And never underestimate running back Adrian Peterson. The Lions might shut him down, or he could run wild for 200 yards. Hard to say. And they've been without wide-receiver supreme and all-around threat Percy Harvin so far due to injury, but he'll be returning to action soon. So who wins this game? Break out that coin again.

So after taking every conceivable possibility into account, and thoroughly crunching the data within my "deep blue" mind -- there is obviously only one conclusion to be drawn as to what record the Detroit Lions will finish the regular season with.

And that is....

Hellifino. Nobody does. It's the Lions, remember? Trying to predict what they're going to do is like trying to predict what numbers will pop out of the lottery on any given day. One week they can play like world-beaters, and the next like a Pop Warner team on LSD.

But just for grins, given their weak schedule, I'll take a shot and say 10-6, with another first round playoff exit. Because while the Lions appear to be better than last year -- which isn't saying a whole lot -- there's still too many teams in the NFC that are clearly superior. Like New Orleans, definitely Seattle, probably San Fran, and even the aforementioned Packers. The chances of the Lions successfully running that playoff gauntlet are slimmer than your average anorexic fashion model.

And even if by some sort of divine intervention (which is what it would take), the Lions were able to complete that odyssey to arrive in the promised land of the Super Bowl -- does anybody seriously think they could compete with whatever team survived the slaughter of the AFC playoffs? Amongst others, consider Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Could the Lions defeat them to, gasp, win the Lombardi Trophy?

Sure. Rush right out and buy a few lotto or megamillion jackpot tickets. You could wind up rich beyond your wildest dreams.

But like the Lions --  I wouldn't exactly count on it.

Something about those odds.......

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Running Part II. The marathon

Everyone knows the modern day marathon consists of an endurance run covering a little over 26 miles. And most people also know it has it's origins in ancient Greece. Some messenger ran naked for 26 miles to carry news, then promptly dropped dead after delivering it. But I dare say there is so much more that most don't know (and yours truly didn't either until he looked it up) about how this race evolved over the centuries. Ever wonder where the name "marathon" itself came from, or how the extra 385 yards after 26 miles of running came to be? I strongly suggest you Google "The first marathon run. The history of Phidippides". It's a condensed version of the fascinating history of the marathon leading up to the present.

Sadly, even today, the marathon itself doesn't get all that much publicity. The recent one in Boston was big news, but only because a couple maniacs blew up bombs near the finish line. If that hadn't happened, likely few would have even paid attention. Don't believe that? OK, who won it? See what I mean?

In the world of track and field -- at the Olympic level or otherwise -- the greatest amount of hype continues to be bestowed on those that turn in the quickest times in the shortest events (see 100 meter dash). We have often heard the phrase "fastest man/woman in the world" bandied about to great fanfare, and certainly these athletes deserve kudos for being the best at what they do. Even in swimming, the biggest hype is reserved for those that triumph at the shortest distances (see 50 and 100 meter freestroke). But what about all the others that are also the fastest in the world at what they do at greater lengths, which requires more stamina to boot? Shouldn't they get equal recognition?

And who's to say which "fastest in the world" is more important? After all, top fuel dragsters and funny cars routinely break the 300 MPH barrier but, after a single quarter mile run, if they haven't blown up already, they need their engines rebuilt before they can run again. Much like sprinters, they're very fast, but have no stamina.

If the decathlon can safely be regarded as the true benchmark of an athlete's all-around skills (over a few days) then surely the marathon can be considered the ultimate test of endurance which, once started, does not stop -- no breaks -- hot or cold -- rain or shine -- until 26.2 grueling miles later.

Yet unlike the mile or 100 meter dash times mentioned in the previous post, perhaps a major barrier in the marathon will be broken soon. The 2 hour mark.

[It should be noted that yours truly has the ultimate respect for anyone who can even complete a marathon. In and of itself, be it 3,4,5, hours, whatever, this is an amazing feat that requires unbelievable training and dedication.]

Certainly there are many that run a marathon for their own reasons. While they know going in they have no chance at winning --it might be to prove to themselves they can actually complete it, or sometimes even for charitable causes. More power to them, and keep on keeping on. But like any other sport, world-class is world-class. After perhaps 10, 15, and certainly 20 miles, the cream will rise to the top, while the also-rans fade far behind, just trying to finish.

The world-class milers these days aside, in my humble opinion, anyone that can run a single mile in under 5 minutes is impressive. But that pales in comparison to what competitive marathoners do. These days, they run ALL the miles, 26+  of them, in under 5 minutes a pop. That's incredible if you think about it.

It's no big secret that east Africans, particularly Kenyans, have dominated marathon running for the last several years. Why that is -- I have no idea.

Just recently a Kenyan named Wilson Kipsang set a new world record in the marathon while posting a time of 2:03:23. This eclipsed the former mark of 2:03:38 held by his countryman Patrick Makau by 15 seconds. Granted, over 26 miles, 15 seconds doesn't sound like a lot, maybe the length of a football field, but hey, a world record is a world record, and beating one by a hundredth of a second is notable, let alone 15 seconds. That's SHATTERING a record.

In that regard, yours truly crunched some numbers. Over the course of the entire marathon, Kipsang ran an average of 4.69 minutes per mile, or roughly 4 minutes and 41 seconds.

So what would it take to crack the 2 hour marathon barrier? Depends on how one looks at it. The record times have come down a lot over the years, and keep coming down. Indeed, a half century ago, 2:20 was considered a barrier. Now it's down to 2:03:23. For that matter, just 2 years ago in the 2011 Boston Marathon, yet another Kenyan named Geoffrey Mutai ran a then world-record of 2:03:02, a full 21 seconds faster than Kipsang's current mark. But it was disallowed because the course itself was determined not up to snuff when it came to such things as elevations and point to point measurements -- whatever that means. You'd think the Bostonians would have used their beans and taken that into account while planning the layout of such a big race, but evidently not.

Still, even over the course of 26.2 miles, to shave off another 3 minutes and 23 seconds from Kipsang's current mark to reach the magical barrier of 2 hours appears formidable in a different way. To accomplish that, a runner would have to average 4 minutes and 34 seconds per mile, a full 7 seconds per mile faster, all 26 of them. And that's a whole bunch. Looked at from another perspective, that would necessitate such a runner finishing about 3/4 of a mile ahead of the current record.

Will the 2 hour mark ever be broken in the marathon? Beats me. Never say never. This humble writer could even, gasp, cough, wheeze, wind up getting married again someday. Nothing's impossible.

But I'm pretty sure yours truly wouldn't set any world record speed marks heading to the altar. I've already run a couple of those marathons and, like Phidippides, was damn near dead by the time it was all over.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pushing the limits of running. Part 1

Once upon a time, way back in 1954, a man named Roger Bannister accomplished something extraordinary. He became the first to run a competitive mile in under 4 minutes. Breaking that barrier was big news at the time.

Yet in the ensuing half-century+, the bar for the world record mile mark -- like the limbo or the conscience level of politicians -- kept getting lower and lower. Since Bannister's feat, no pun intended, hundreds of milers have broken the 4 minute mark. Indeed, any current miler that turned in Bannister's time of 3:59.4 would likely find himself finishing at the back of the field. For that matter, almost a full 17 seconds -- and that's a lot in a single mile -- have been shaved off Bannister's former record. The current world-record holder is Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj, who turned in a time of 3:43:13. That happened in Rome, in 1999. Perhaps his record will someday fall, and perhaps not, but 14 years is a long time for such a record to stand. And even if someday someone comes along and bests Guerrouj's time, other than the significance of setting a new world record -- it's not like a magical barrier such as Bannister's first sub-4 minute mile will have been broken.

The 100 meter dash pretty much tracks (again no pun intended) the same way. In 1988 Jamaican turned Canadian Ben Johnson shattered the world record by turning in a time of 9.79. Alas, he would ultimately be disqualified (and disgraced) when a positive drug test reared its ugly head. But consider what has happened since. Many have broken even Johnson's tainted mark, though some, but not all would wind up being tainted themselves.

Maurice Greene would equal Johnson's time in 1999.
Tim Montgomery would best it by a mere hundredth of a second at 9.78 in 2002. (Later annulled after his disqualification from the sport for being tied to the BALCO scandal).
Justin Gatlin would do the same with a 9.77 in 2006. (Also later annulled after a positive drug test).
Asafa Powell came along the following year in 2007 to shave off another 3 hundredths with a time of 9.74.
These were all Americans.
But everybody knows who the recent king of the 100 meter dash has been. Jamaican Usain Bolt. He knocked another 5 mini-ticks off Powell's record with a time of 9.69. This is a full tenth of a second better than Johnson's old mark. That might not sound like a lot, but much like in the world of quarter mile drag racing, a tenth of a second from start to finish is huge. To date, not even the tabloids or the ever-present rumor mongers have come up with even a whiff up Bolt being anything other than squeaky clean. The man's just flat-out incredibly fast.

Maybe someday another speedster will come along and obliterate Bolt's record. It's entirely possible, perhaps even probable, given how each generation of athletes seems to be more finely-honed than the last through better training regimens, improvements in equipment (in this case, running shoes), and maybe even genetics. Hey, they've done it forever with race horses and show dogs. Can world-class athletes be far behind?

For that matter, yours truly once shattered Bolt's 9.69 mark in the 100 meters, though it was never officially recorded. Many moons ago, this had something to do with running from divorce court to my car in the parking lot at Terminator on steroid speed. Roughly 100 meters in 4 seconds flat. Still, I have heard my record has since been broken many times as well by others. Poor devils. I know their pain, and the warp speed that can result. But enough about that.

Getting back on topic, short of bionics, it's highly doubtful anyone will ever run a sub 3 minute mile, or a sub 9 second 100 meter dash. These are barriers that seem unattainable.

But another major running barrier might fall in the near future.

A hard look at the marathon -- all 26.2 miles of it -- next time.

Monday, October 14, 2013

More gimmicks and rants

Every once in a great while, yours truly takes the liberty of writing a post that has very little to do with sports. Though I suspect he's considered it, the boss has yet to throw me in the dungeon for these occasional indiscretions. Besides, most editors have a whole flock of lunatics running around and spouting off to keep track of. Maybe he'll even miss this one. I hope.
(In case he doesn't -- hey boss -- these are things your humble servant noticed while channel-surfing between various sports contests looking for future material, so technically I'm legal. Sort of.)

The dumb commercials and gimmicks never cease to amaze me.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz, in the interest of bringing people together -- given the current ridiculous political gridlock going on in DC, has announced his stores, all 5 trillion of them or so, will offer a free coffee to any customer that buys yet another customer one of his brews. Note to Howie. This is nothing new. It's long been referred to as "buy one - get one". CVS mails out a 10-12 page booklet advertising the same thing on everything from vitamins and shampoo, to batteries and ice cream that comes with the Sunday paper every week. If you really want to do something noteworthy in the interest of the public -- stop gouging the suckers for such a ridiculous profit margin on a product that amounts to no more than fancy coffee. Yes, they are many, but c'mon. In the interest of fair play -- lighten up.

Speaking of the shutdown -- the only opinion I will offer is.... I think it's a very good thing -- for the critters. Consider Yellowstone National Park, currently closed. Methinks the buffalo have roamed and the deer and antelopes have played just fine for eons before we humans arrived on site to screw it up. What with our constant photo flashes going off in their eyes, trompsing around in their neighborhood, setting fires, and throwing litter every which way -- if I'm a Yellowstone critter, this whole shutdown thing that resulted in humans not being allowed in our living spaces starts to look pretty good. We never DID want them. Note to Congress and the President -- take your time. Things are great around here.

So who holds the all-time record for most TV hours logged? Not sure, but my guess would be Regis Philbin.

Yet others seem to be desperately trying to catch up.

Take William Shatner, the original Captain Kirk himself. Besides his 3-year (1966-1968) run on Star Trek, throw in T.J. Hooker, and various supporting actor roles on a few other series', and Mr. Bill has logged some serious TV time himself. But he must know he's still shy of Philbin's record. How do I know this? Because the dude's 82 years old, and no TV series is interested in an octogenarian. Still, he needs a few more hours to catch up to that pesky Notre Dame guy with the funny hair. So what's he doing now? The only thing left available. Dumb commercials for a credit card.

And speaking of "Capital" offenses, what is it with Alec Baldwin? Evidently, he's addicted to cameras too. Sure, he's played some memorable roles in the past. Amongst others, AB was terrific in The Hunt For Red October -- one of my favorite movies. Beetlejuice, anyone? But fast forward a bit and Baldwin was on a dopey TV sitcom. 30 Rock my butt. He was 48 when he joined the show and 53 when he left. Who's kidding who? Now he's fallen all the way to doing ads for the same credit card company as Captain Kirk? Oh my. They keep wanting to know what's in our wallets, while padding theirs.

And how much is enough for these guys anyway? They're already multi-millionaires. Can't they retire to some exotic place they've never been to before, like, say, the seventh planet from our sun, and leave us alone? Maybe my ex would even consider accompanying them on such a noble mission. Trust me -- if and when the going got tough, nobody knows more about exploring Uranus then she does. Ahem.

This just in. According to Sports Illustrated, some strip club in New York has decided to stop televising NY Giants games. The "dancers" say it's just too painful.

Yeah? Obviously they haven't been watching much TV. They don't have a clue what pain REALLY is. Lock them in a room with a huge flat screen that shows nothing but a 24/7 continuous loop of Regis, William, and Alec for a few days -- and those girls would know what true agony is all about.

Back to sports next time, Boss. Honest. How 'bout dem Tigers?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Those lovable Ryans. For Mel

My long time Harley brother, and all around amigo Mel is a former New Yorker that became a Floridian a while back. But he remains a die-hard NY Jets fan. While chatting with him earlier, Mel was bummed that his beloved Jets had fallen to the previous winless Pittsburgh Steelers. And, of course, the name Ryan came up.

That would be Rex Ryan, the head coach of the Jets. This particular Ryan is really tough to figure out. One week he comes across as a serious professional head football coach that is guiding his team in the right direction. The next week one might see him in a press conference wearing a Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm blond wig (Vince Lombardi would be so proud), and yukking it up with the reporters -- after yet another disappointing loss -- and all the while appearing clueless. Either way, one thing is for sure. Between Rex and his twin brother Rob, the football Ryans are media magnets. The TV folks just can't seem to get another of them.

I think it started with their father, Buddy. NFL old-schoolers like yours truly can remember the 1985 version of the Chicago Bears. They were awesome and would go on to crush the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Amongst others, that team featured players like Jim McMahon, Mike Singletary, William "the refrigerator" Perry, and the late Walter Payton, arguably one of the best running backs in the history of the NFL.

Buddy Ryan was the head coach, right? Wrong. That was Mike Ditka. Buddy was only the defensive coordinator, but all we ever heard about back then was Ryan's vaunted 46 defense, and the TV cameras continually zoomed in on him along the sidelines. One would have thought Buddy was in charge. He wasn't.

Much the same has applied in the last few years when it comes to Rob Ryan. Though he evidently inherited the Ryan "flair for the dramatic" gene, his track record as an NFL defensive coordinator leaves a lot to be desired -- to put it mildly. Through stints with the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, and more recently a couple years in Dallas -- his defensive schemes have seemed akin to the proverbial screen door on a submarine. Not good.

But Rob ranted, cursed, and threw in more gestures than Marcel Marceau while on the sidelines for the Cowboys from 2011-2012. Obviously, he was in charge, right? Wrong again. He was just a defensive coordinator like his daddy. The real head coach was, and still is Jason Garrett. But we never got to see JG because the cameras were always so busy zooming in on Ryan.

Jerry Jones, the also ever-lovable owner of the Cowboys (who BTW, yours truly considers to be just a tad less oilier than your average Texas gusher), would eventually see through the charade, and Ryan was canned yet again. At the time, Rob defiantly proclaimed he'd have another job in 5 minutes. Not quite. It would take months.

Incredibly, this Ryan would land in another rose garden -- that being New Orleans. After the whole "Bountygate" fiasco, which resulted in head coach Sean Payton and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams being suspended for an entire year -- things were in turmoil in the Big Easy. Williams attempted to pull a Pete Carroll and bail for greener pastures in St. Louis as their defensive coordinator, but when the Rams got wind of Williams' involvement in Bountygate, he was kicked to the curb before ever working a day on the job. He now finds himself as merely a defensive "assistant" for the Tennessee Titans. This is like going from a superintendent to a clerk. Ouch.

However, head coach Sean Payton is back and the Saints seemed to have regained their old fire. They were undefeated. This Payton, much like the aforementioned Walter, is the real deal. The man is a helluva head coach. So why -- tell me WHY -- would a smart guy like Sean Payton hire Rob Ryan as his defensive coordinator?

And look what's happened. Nobody sees Sean Payton anymore. The cameras are zoomed in on a Ryan again. See Rob pace. See Rob curse and gesture wildly. See Rob pump his fists in triumph as the Saints are about to knock off the Patriots. See Rob quickly disappear after his bone-headed defensive schemes allowed Tom Brady and the Pats to rally for the winning touchdown with only seconds remaining in the game.

Unlike his brother, you won't see Rob at a press conference. He doesn't have to face the hard questions from those pesky reporters. Never has.

But next week -- I flat-out guarantee you'll see a lot more of him on the sidelines.

They're certainly different from the Mannings -- another well known football family. Daddy Archie wasn't all that in his years with the Saints, but a couple of his boys seem to have done rather well. Peyton and Eli have both won Super Bowls. The other brother Cooper -- not so good. But hey, like the immortal recording artist Meatloaf once crooned -- two out of three ain't bad. And at least they PLAYED.

I don't know what it is about these Ryans, but they always seem to draw a lot of attention even when they're second-fiddle -- and sometimes not doing a very good job of it at that.

Consider the name itself. Ryan. A guy named Nolan racked up a lot of strikeouts, but he never won anything. A couple years ago a politician named Paul was on a Presidential ticket that got crushed, but there are those that still think he's some sort of financial wizard. There was even a soap opera named Ryan's Hope. Never having seen it, I have no idea what that poor devil was hoping for. But if he was anything like the other Ryans, I'd venture a guess he had his fingers crossed hoping for another job once his current gig got deep-sixed.

Ryan this, Ryan that. I've had it with Ryans.

Except for one. She was special.

Irene Ryan. No, she never had a 100 MPH fastball, nor patrolled the sidelines in NFL games. And to my knowledge wasn't much into politics.

She had a much more important role to fill. Granny Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies. Buddy, Rex, Rob, Nolan, Paul, the soap opera guy, and countless other Ryans come and go.

But there will only ever be one Granny. Bless your heart, Daisy Moses, wherever you are. The only thing better would have been if you'd made a few of these Ryans cut their own switches and taken them to the woodshed along with Jethro.

Because this started off about Mel, it should probably finish on a related note.

While your Michigan bro just expressed his concerns about the name Ryan, perhaps you should remain wary of a single name yourself.

Megan. How many of those is enough? lol

A playoff rant and UM chokes

I don't get it. Yeah, the pitching staffs are pretty good amongst the teams still left in the Major League playoffs -- but c'mon. Pick one -- the Cardinals, Dodgers, Tigers or Red Sox -- and look at their batting line-ups. You'll find a bunch of equally good hitters. These guys have put the bat on the ball in a serious way all season long.

So what's the deal with St. Louis yawning our way to a 1-0 win over LA, and Detroit doing the same with Boston? And no, I don't care the Tigers yanked their starting pitcher out when he was still working on a no hitter. What I care more about is the Bosox would only get one measly hit the whole game. Forget pitchers' duels. They're for the baseball purists, who I would equate to the Quakers, hard-core Amish, or maybe even an ultra-orthodox sorority. Y'all enjoy whatever it is you're not doing, but yours truly finds your lifestyle decidedly boring.

If I wanted to see 1-0, three hour coma-inducing outcomes, I'd tune into a soccer game. Give me a few home runs, 5-6 doubles up the gap, an occasional triple, stolen bases galore, and light up the scoreboard. For both teams. That is edge-of-your-seat action, whether one is actually in attendance, or merely watching it on TV. Yours truly has been to enough games to say pitchers' duels are about as exciting as watching your grandma knitting a sweater, while slugfests will keep you geeked for the whole game. And isn't that what it's supposed to be all about?

Alas. The Maize and Blue is undefeated no more. After a few overtimes, they finally went down to Penn State.

Idle thought:  The Penn State Nittany Lions play their home games at Beaver Stadium, in a place sometimes referred to as "happy valley". A sick mind might make a connection between "beavers" and "happy valleys", but far be it from me to go there.

At any rate, Michigan would appear to have a few problems. First and foremost is their quarterback, Devin Gardner. Though he's a wonderfully skilled football player -- the young man is also a turnover machine. Last time I peeked at that game, Gardner had thrown 3 interceptions and lost a fumble. Against any sort of half-way decent team on the road -- this is a recipe for disaster.

Yet UM somehow still had a chance to win -- and likely should have. Except for their other glaring problem. Their field-goal kicker, one Brendan Gibbons. Though Gibbons had successfully converted his prior 15 field-goal attempts before this contest -- when the pressure was on late in the game in the happy beaver valley -- he choked like a chihuahua on a chicken bone. A low kick that was blocked. Another from barely over 30 yards that sailed wide left. Either would have won the game. Despite his prior success, I dare say young Gibbons just joined the Rodney Dangerfield fraternity amongst college place-kickers. He won't be getting much respect any time soon.

Regardless, once again UM has been vastly overrated. Besides beating Notre Dame, which has turned out to be quite average this year -- Michigan has played a patsy schedule. They have one more to go next week when they host Indiana.

After that, they'll finally face some serious competition for the rest of the year. And you know what? Unless they get their act together -- it's entirely possible Brady's boys might not win ANY of them.

More about that in a few weeks.......