Friday, February 28, 2014

The Honda Classic

First of all, being a Harley rider, yours truly finds nothing "classic" about Hondas whatsoever. To each their own, I suppose, but more times than not, the "short-strokers" just get in the way of the real bikers, while not having a clue how to properly operate and navigate a motorcycle in traffic.

That said, on to the golf version of the Honda Classic. Honda's corporate headquarters is in Tokyo. It makes vehicles in the US in Ohio, Indiana, and Alabama. They have little presence in Florida. How a PGA tournament named the Honda Classic wound up in Palm Springs would seem to be a very good question.

Nevertheless, that perky Irish lad Rory McIlroy is leading the pack, barely, after two rounds of play. He stands at 11 under par. This is likely big news in Ireland and many other countries around the world.

Of course, in America, the sports media sees things a bit differently. They remain transfixed on their two heroes, one much more so than the other. Tiger Woods is always front and center, no matter how well, or poorly, he's playing. And after winning a few majors in recent years, all-around nice guy Phil Mickelson will always be included in their conversation as well.

At this particular tournament, Eldrick barely made the cut. He's 11 shots behind after two rounds of play. That's a bunch. Lefty was only one stroke further back, but that's where the axe fell. Woods gets to play on the weekend and Mickelson does not.

At that, the media was all agog about the possibility of both Tiger and Phil not making the cut in any particular tournament in which they were both entered. Turns out, the only time it happened was 12 years and well over 200 tournaments ago.

Just two questions. Who cares? Why is it so important how Tiger and Phil fare in any particular golfing contest? Guys that are 11 and 12 shots back after two rounds should not warrant media attention while the other 60 or 70 that are ahead of them get absolutely none.

This seems to be peculiar to American sports reporting. Once a certain player, or team of their choosing, has experienced success, they get adopted as media darlings. And it persists even when they're not competitive, let alone championship caliber.

Consider the Dallas Cowboys. They've been no more than mediocre for several years, but the media still kneels at the altar of Big D. When owner Jerry Jones speaks, the reporters climb all over themselves with their microphones trying to get close. So why is that?

Pretty much the same could be said about Kobe Bryant. Never mind he's been a non-factor for a couple years and the Lakers have fallen from height to blight -- the media still hangs on his every word. Why?

There was a time, not long ago, when the idea of neither the Lakers nor the Boston Celtics reaching the playoffs in the same season was unheard of. But it's going to happen this year, and likely for the next few years until and unless they can rebuild. In the meantime, other teams have zoomed past them, and still others keep getting better -- rather than worse.

Will the most storied franchise of them all -- the New York Yankees -- even make the postseason this year? Maybe, maybe not. The Detroit Red Wings of the NHL have made the playoffs for 21 straight years -- a record in all of professional sports -- but that streak might well come to an end this year. Speaking of storied franchises -- when's the last time the Montreal Canadiens got within sniffing distance of the Stanley Cup? Try 1993, the same 21 years ago.

The point is, great teams and players come and go, but the sports world marches on. Others will take their place winning championships and various accolades. It's just the nature of the business.

So why does it remain such a big deal what Phil and Eldrick do at any particular tournament -- especially when they're not even in contention? One is already gone at the Honda Classic, and the other might very well wind up 20 strokes behind by the time it's all over, if he can't figure out how to hit the golf ball straight. Miraculous chip shots luckily going in the hole and long, par-saving putts are great, but that won't nearly get it done against a field of world-class golfers that are leaving him further and further behind in their rear view mirrors.

So I guess it's good news and bad news. We probably won't hear anymore about Phil over the weekend, because he's already history. Yet the bad news is -- even though he was only one stroke ahead of Phil when the cut axe fell -- we'll be bombarded with Tiger this, and Tiger that, along with a bazillion replays of Eldrick's every move on the course, despite the fact he's likely already hopelessly out of contention as well.

And why is that? Because Woods is "black"?  Should being caught serially cheating on his former spouse get him bonus points? Or perhaps throwing clubs, cursing, and being arrogant to many fans on the courses over the years have endeared him to the masses.

Beats me. I don't get it. But evidently, the media sees things a lot differently.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tiger Woods. Let the hype begin

Nevermind the NHL and NBA. They're going through their dog days of winter right about now. Intererest won't really pick up in them until the playoffs start. Same with Major League Baseball. They just reported to spring training, even though spring remains a few weeks away. Tennis? There's probably a tournament going on somewhere, but wake me up when the French Open starts towards the end of May.

Wait a minute. The end of May? That's Indy 500 time. Those guys and gals slip-sliding around on the clay courts at Roland Garros will have to take a back seat in my world when they fire up the 230 MPH racing machines at the Brickyard. Tennis is OK when nothing else is going on, but a man/fan has to have his priorities.

And then there's golf. According to a recent article, the current PGA season has already been underway for 5 months. Really? Have you noticed? Not me. That means it started way back at the end of last September, before the World Series was even played. I understand pro golf is supposed to be somewhat of a quiet -- QUIET -- sport, but playing it in secrecy for 5 months is getting a bit ridiculous.

Nevertheless, one can faintly hear the trumpets over the horizon as they approach. This has to do with two things. The Masters Tournament, of course, which will get underway in early April at the famed Augusta National course in Georgia.

But evidently, far more important is the status of Tiger Woods as he prepares for it. Well, let's see. Eldrick has had two outings in the last few months.

(It should be noted that, in Tiger's case, this is not meant in the same way as other recently highly publicized "outings" in the world of sports. Once seems to be more than sufficient in those cases to generate maximum publicity. But if Tiger ever dropped that sort of bombshell about his true inner self.....  Nah, couldn't happen -- right?).

At one of his favorite courses -- where he's won many times in the past -- Torrey Pines -- he missed the cut by a mile, finishing 80th. Over in Dubai, another venue he has had great success at over the years, he finished tied for 41st. But Tiger was smiling. He thought his game was getting better, and if it hadn't been for all those putts he barely missed, he might have been a contender. Right. And if all those shots hadn't rimmed out, and the difference between a routine high fly ball and a home run being maybe an eighth of an inch as to how the bat strikes the baseball, I'm thinking if some of the other guys were just a little bit more accurate with what they do, their stats would be quite a bit better as well. But like Tiger's putts -- unless it's horseshoes, hand grenades, or the woman who plops down next to you on a bar stool is wearing at least a quart of cheap musky perfume -- close calls don't count.

But I suspect Tiger had another reason to smile in Dubai. It doesn't matter how he plays when he gets there. He could finish dead last, but he gets paid millions just to show up. Sure, a few million here or there is chump change to an oil rich Sheikh, but evidently he has a certain fondness for Tiger. A pretty sweet gig, if one can get it.

However, nobody's going to pay him squat just to show up at Augusta National. He has to earn it on the course like everybody else.

But here's the thing. As the days count down towards the Masters, the trumpets heralding Tiger's arrival will keep getting louder. On the eve of this event, they will be deafening. His Highness, King Eldrick, will dominate every aspect of the sports media. Through the first two rounds of play on Thursday and Friday, everything Tiger does on the course will be shown and replayed over and over. He might even make the cut. If so, the crescendo of horns, and groupies, will reach a fever pitch on the weekend.

People want him to win. They NEED him to win. But guess what?

He's not going to win. Why? Tiger's days of intimidating the field are over, and have been for a while. He hasn't won a "major" in 5 years. The other top tour veterans not only know he's beatable in big events, but likely devote little thought to him anymore, while concentrating on their own game. Worse yet, other world class young studs keep popping up everywhere, and they couldn't care less about what Tiger Woods did in the past. To them, he's just another aging golfer, and they have a swagger of their own. Much like Tiger 15 years ago, these guys are not only good and know it, but are not the least bit intimidated by the established stars. Sure, they'll publicly show proper deference and respect to their "elders", but down deep they just want to kick ass.

Tiger Woods may or may not ever win another major. But unlike his younger days, he seems to fold on the weekends in such tournaments, rather than getting stronger in recent years.

But the Tigermania hype will still be there in full force again -- at least leading up to this year's Masters. Tiger this, and Tiger that. Here, there, and everywhere will be coverage of Tiger.

We'll see how it turns out in April, but I think his chances of winning at Augusta are slim, at best.

Remember just a few short years ago when many would take Tiger against the entire field on a wager in any given tournament -- let alone a major?

Would you place such a bet on Tiger now?

Times are changing indeed. Tiger's on the back side of his bell curve and the young studs keep coming. His groupies need to come to grips with reality, because it's not going away.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

UM/Purdue. A trap

The proverbial trap was set, and just waiting for the Michigan Wolverines to walk into it. And for a while, it looked like #16 Michigan had done just that when they visited the unranked Purdue Boilermakers.

Coming off a heady home win against their cross-state and arch-rival Michigan State Spartans, the Wolverines had swept the regular season series between the two teams for the first time since 1997, when a guy named Clinton was just settling in for his second term in the oval office. Quite a while ago indeed.

Many times, after a huge home win against an arch rival, a team going on the road for the next game will have a let down. Complacency is likely a factor, and certainly there's been no shortage of smugness, perhaps even arrogance, in Ann Arbor when one of their teams experiences a little success. In short, Michigan was ripe to get beat. It was a trap game.

Playing on the road in the Big 10 is usually no cake walk, even if the visitors are ranked and the homies are not. At that, Purdue appeared to have Michigan's number. Early in the game, the Boilermakers led by as much as 19 points. Why?

Two reasons. Purdue had decided that Michigan guard Nik Stauskus was not going to beat them. Stauskus is one of those guys that, if left open, is a deadly shooter. Purdue's defense was keying on him and hounded him throughout the game. Secondly, Purdue was crashing the boards and winning the rebounding battle in a big way. Time after time, they got second chances on the offensive end and converted them into points. Michigan appeared helpless to stop them. Or perhaps they were bailing out and anticipating some easy fast break points going the other way, but that can't happen if your team doesn't get possession of the ball with a rebound first.

To their credit, Michigan found a way to claw back during the second half, but never had the lead in the game until shortly before regulation time expired. This, despite missing a few free throws, while Purdue was deadly from the charity stripe. Finally, perhaps fittingly, the game ended in a tie. Overtime awaited.

Thing is, Purdue had gotten into foul trouble along the way. A couple of their best players eventually fouled out. During the overtime period, maybe Purdue just finally ran out of gas, either physically or mentally, but the suffocating defense they had shown Michigan up until then was no longer there. Minus their above-mentioned key big guys, Purdue's weak-side defense (the other side the court from where the basketball actually is at any given time) was sorely lacking. This resulted in Michigan getting a few easy dunks from quick passes from one side of the perimeter to the other side of the basket, in close to the rim. Needless to say, dunks are very high percentage shots.

Michigan would go on to squeak out a narrow win in overtime.

How Michigan will fare during their own conference tournament, let alone the madness of the NCAA tourney in a few weeks, is anybody's guess. But don't think this game went unnoticed by a lot of other teams, in the Big 10 and, elsewhere around the country.

If a school has the personnel to suffocate Stauskus and also crash the boards against Michigan -- while staying out of foul trouble -- let's just say Michigan appears quite vulnerable.

Yes, that would take a very good team indeed. But there's several of them out there.

And that just might be a trap even a ferocious Wolverine can't wriggle out of.......

Monday, February 24, 2014

Color my world

Yeah, OK. That's a classic song from the band Chicago back in the day. I get that. And believe it not, yours truly seldom writes or draws on the walls with Crayola products anymore. But sometimes this color thing can get downright confusing.

While watching an earlier basketball game between Syracuse and Maryland (at Maryland), something off-color seemed to be afoot. Maryland's school colors are red and white. So why was the entire study-body section in attendance wearing canary yellow t-shirts?

For that matter, Maryland calls it teams the Terps, which is short for terrapins. Terrapins are a variety of fresh water turtles. Ever see a red and white turtle -- let alone a canary yellow one? Not me. What's going on here? No wonder these guys can't win anything. They can't even get their colors right. And naming sports teams after turtles probably isn't the greatest motivational idea there ever was either.

But Syracuse was/is no better, maybe even worse. They call their team the Orangemen. Dang, I never knew Speaker of the House John Boehner even WENT to Syracuse, must less having the university naming its sports teams after him. I thought he was from Ohio, you know, a Buckeye. And buckeyes are smelly nuts that grow on trees. Well, OK. I'll concede Congress sort of fits that category these days, but that's not the point. Besides, REAL buckeyes are brown -- not orange.

Notre Dame calls itself the Fighting Irish, but the real Notre Dame is a cathedral in Paris. France, not Ireland. They can't even get the country right.
Michigan calls itself the wolverines, but there aren't any wolverines in Michigan.
Evidently, Southern Cal has a long history with condoms.
Anybody know what a Nittany Lion is?
And why would anybody ever call themselves the Ramblin Wreck? That sounds like a Pinto in a demolition derby. Good luck with that.

See what I mean about being confusing?

Color my world indeed. Maybe I should spend more time with my jumbo box of crayons.

Life seems to be a lot simpler that way.....

UM/MSU. Turning worms

Not that long ago, it was pretty much a given the University of Michigan reigned supreme on the gridiron, at least in the mitten state. Conversely, Michigan State ruled the roost on the hardwood. Yes, occasionally upsets would happen between the two schools -- in both sports -- but they were just that. Upsets. Anomalies, if you will. By and large, UM had the better football program, which in turn resulted in more "blue-chip" preps wanting to go there -- while the same could be said of MSU's basketball program.

But somewhere along the line, worms started to turn. Of late, the Spartans appear to be superior in football, having thrashed the Wolverines last season and, as Big 10 champions, going on to defeat a very good Stanford team in the Rose Bowl. Despite their bluster, the once proud Michigan program seems to be merely a middle of the pack team in their own conference. Given their current coaches and states of their programs -- this trend may well continue into the foreseeable future. Good for green. Not so good for blue.

On the other hand, after a couple decades of playing second fiddle to the Spartans in basketball, the Wolverines seem to be the real deal these days. Just last year, they made it all the way to the NCAA championship game before bowing out. An improbable run? Maybe, but you have to give them credit for accomplishing it. To boot, they swept the Spartans this year in their two meetings, both convincing victories.

Granted, neither school in either sport has approached the "dynasty" level, whereby they're perennial threats to be national champions like, say, Alabama football or UConn ladies basketball. Though also not that long ago, MSU was a regular visitor to the Final Four in men's hoops. To be sure, earlier just this year, MSU was briefly ranked #1 in basketball, but that was likely more the result of their reputation in the past, which so often happens. Yet Michigan aside, Michigan State has taken it on the chin a few other times this year. Besides being clobbered by then unranked North Carolina, they've also lost to definitely unranked Georgetown and Nebraska -- all at home. It's to be expected that even the best teams will lose games here and there on the road, and perhaps even rarely be beaten at home -- but usually by another team that is a highly ranked opponent as well. It happens. But MSU seems to have gone from striking fear in the opposition, to the other guys knowing they have a shot at beating them in any given game.

How all this will turn out come NCAA tournament time is anybody's guess. There's a lot of really good college teams, but Wichita State aside (a story for another day soon), they've all been beatable so far.

Michigan State might well roll into another Final Four. Maybe even win it all. Michigan? Nobody thought they could get as far as they did last year, so who knows? Maybe they make another big splash. Stranger things have happened.

But MSU almost expected to keep beating UM in football, while the opposite might well be true in basketball? Who would have thought it possible just a few short years ago?

The worms are quite busy turning in the state of Michigan. Maybe if they get a little spare time away from college athletics -- they can figure out something to do about all the potholes on the roads. Lord knows, the humans don't seem to have a clue......

Sunday, February 23, 2014

USA hockey. Hype and reality

"I told you sos" are typically low-class but, with apologies to Garth Brooks, I've got friends in low place too -- and they deserve it. Besides, they'd do the same thing to yours truly. I'd be getting hammered if things had turned out differently. But they didn't -- so it's my turn.

Not long ago, the USA ladies' Olympic hockey team was crushing everybody they played. 7 or 8 goal winning margins almost came to be expected. The typical American sports hype machine was cranking out the propaganda. Nobody could beat these girls. The gold medal is a lock.

Wait a minute, I said, eventually they're going to have to play the Canadian squad -- perhaps in the gold medal game -- and that's no lock. Those girls are really good too. The Yanks could even get beat. I was shouted down. Well, we know how that turned out. After all the pomp and presumption of greatness -- the Americans wound up with a silver medal. Not bad, by any means, but certainly a disappointment for the south of the border folks.

On the men's side, the holier-than-thou attitude was even worse. In a preliminary game, the USA defeated the host Russian squad. So what happened? NBC trotted out Al Michaels -- the guy who uttered the immortal phrase, "Do you believe in miracles?", when the Americans had pulled a huge upset over a vastly superior Soviet Red Army team -- A FULL 34 YEARS AGO.  Michaels interviewed Vladislav Tretiak, the losing goaltender in that game, and wanted to know how it felt to watch the Americans celebrate. In the US, this passed as nostalgia. Yet methinks the rest of the world likely considered it just one more example of American arrogance. Other than rubbing salt in a very old wound -- just how, pray tell, was such an interview even remotely relevant to the Sochi Games? There are precious few current Olympic hockey players that had even been BORN back in 1980. How much do you think they care about that?

Then something somewhat unexpected happened. Finland knocked Russia out the "tournament". There would be no medal, much less gold, for the Russians. This had to come as a huge disappointment in the host country.

In the meantime, the Americans and Canadians were headed to a showdown in the "semifinals". Very quietly, and under the North American radar screen, Finland would take on Sweden in the other semi. But at that point -- at least in North America, nobody cared about the Scandinavian game. It was like the Canada/US matchup was the heavyweight championship of the world.

My same friends in low places, along with countless scribes, and legions of everything from politicians, to glitterati, to athletes in other sports, to the everyday garden variety hordes of twitterbrains, all said the same thing. The boys are on a roll. Canada's going down.

Not so fast, I said. Last time I looked, those guys up north are still the real deal. They're not about to roll over and play dead just because of American hype. They're going to bring it -- hard. In fact, they might actually win. And BTW, just when is the last time the Americans beat the Canadians in Olympic hockey anyway? Try 1960. Don't believe it? Look it up. History says WE'RE going down. Holy sacrilege and blasphemy. One would have thought I was suggesting Bieber might open up a can of whup-ass on Peyton Manning. Needless to say, this was not well received either.

But we know how that game turned out too. Up, up, up, went the Americans riding their usual national fervor. Down, down, down, went the hockey team when it counted the most.

[Idle thought. Seeing as how American President Obama had a case of beer wagered on both the women's and men's hockey outcomes with Canadian Prime Minister Harper, seems to me he owes 48 brews to his northern counterpart. One can only hope he mans up and delivers them in person to Ottawa. It would be the honorable thing to do, but I wouldn't count on it.....]

Oh, BTW, though it didn't get much attention west of the Atlantic Ocean, Sweden quietly defeated Finland in the other semi.

That meant the USA and Finland had to play for the bronze medal. They did. Finland 5, USA 0. In the world of big-time hockey, 5-0 isn't just a win -- it's a flat-out beatdown. So after all the hype, like their Russian rivals, the Americans find themselves in the unenviable, and perhaps embarrassing position of not having won ANY medal.

Today, Canada and Sweden play for the gold. No doubt, everybody from Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territory is firmly convinced the gold medal is in the bag. And they might very well be right.

But yours truly has been saying all along (refer to earlier post titled "Olympic hockey semi-finals. Interesting", and dated 2/20) that Sweden's going to win it all in the end. While the USA, Canada, and Russia were busy touting their own greatness, the Swedes neither need nor want the hype. They just quietly keep getting it done. And they're certainly loaded with talent.

We'll all know in a few hours.....

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Football's asinine meat market

We all now know that former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny (football) Manziel has a 9 and seven eighths inch measurement when fully outstretched. Just for grins, yours truly measured his own such appendage, but it was only a measly 8 and a half.

Hang on a sec.... incoming...... (What's that? They were talking about his HAND? Well, that's no fun, but OK.) Sorry, my mistake. Ahem.

At any rate, this whole meat market thing with NFL teams regarding their potential draft picks is not only getting out of control, but has become asinine.

Why should it be a concern how far it is from Manziel's wrist to the tip of his middle finger? As a QB, either he can throw the football quite well, or he can't, and I dare say he's already proven the former. It's not like the balls are going to get any bigger in the NFL than they were in college. Just a different logo.

Whether Manziel is a huge success for an NFL team or turns out to be a bust remains to be seen. He could be the next Tom Brady, the next Ryan Leaf, or anything in between. Only time will tell. Manziel may or may not be the first overall draft pick but, rest assured, with Houston and Cleveland both in the market for a starting QB, he will definitely go in the top 5.

Yet to make such a big deal out of how big his hands are is not only irrelevant, but will quickly be forgotten. It's like the height thing. Russell Wilson of the Seahawks was deemed too short by many "experts". He's currently a Super Bowl champion. Conversely, back in the day, a guy named Ed Jones was thought "too tall" to be an effective defensive lineman. He seemed to work out OK for the Cowboys for 15 years.

And some of this stuff is just ridiculous. What's the point in how fast a behemoth offensive lineman runs the 40 yard dash? Hey, even if one was a regular Usain Bolt, but couldn't block, what good is he? And who cares how much a player can bench press? That requires lying on one's back pushing weight straight up. Even if they could do 50 reps with Chris Christie -- when's the last time that came in handy during an NFL game? And what might be next? The standing vertical leap for place kickers? Please.

None of this junk matters. The pro teams have certainly seen enough film of their potential draft picks in college to know what a guy is capable of. Given he's talented enough -- perhaps that player will mesh into their particular system, and perhaps he won't. That's all that's really relevant. Even the 40 yard dash times at the "speed" positions, like running back, receiver, and cornerback are pointless when you think about it. It's extremely rare for any NFL player to run 40 yards in a straight line.

But a hand measurement counts nowadays? Gimme a break. That's like saying Barry Bonds couldn't hit a baseball because his hat size was too small. Hey, he grew into it -- but maybe that's a bad example.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

John Tavares. Bluster and hypocrisy

New York Islander star player John Tavares got his knee torn up while playing for Team Canada in a game against Latvia. He's done not only for the Olympics, but the rest of the NHL season.

Though the Islanders are pretty much bottom feeders in the NHL these days, General Manager Garth Snow was pissed at losing his "franchise" player. And some scribe from Newsday (evidently an Islander fan himself) named Arthur Staple couldn't wait to further publicize the GM's rants.

Snow thinks the IOC (International Olympic Committee) should pay for Tavares' contract because he got injured while participating in the Games. Further, he maintains the Olympics want all the benefits NHL players can offer them, but won't take any responsibility if something bad happens. Staple stepped up to be his mouthpiece.

Well, guess what? Garth can quit with the Snow job and somebody needs to staple Arthur's lips, and fingers together, so he can't talk, type, tweet, whatever. This is all a lot of misplaced bluster, if not outright hypocrisy.

First of all, Tavares wasn't conscripted into mandatory Olympic duty. Obviously, representing his home country of Canada is something he very much wanted to do. In other words, he not only volunteered, but had to work hard to even MAKE the Canadian Olympic team. Star player for the Islanders or not, this was no given. He had to earn it. There's certainly no shortage of very good Canadian hockey players that would give their front teeth, pun intended, to represent their homeland in the Olympics. To them, it's not about the money. It's national pride. And isn't that what the Olympics were always supposed to be all about?

Garth Snow, having been the one that negotiated Tavares' contract in the first place, might want to take a hard look in the mirror. If he didn't want one of his players being subjected to risk of injury while playing in the Olympics -- then he should have included just such a clause in Tavares' contract.

Sure, contractually denying a player the right to represent his own country when the Olympics roll around probably wouldn't fly so well in the court of public opinion. But after all, the Islanders do have millions of dollars invested in this guy.

Thing is -- guys like Snow can't have it both ways. It really is a shame Tavares got seriously injured while in Sochi. Unfortunately, such things sometimes happen in hockey, as well as some other sports. But it certainly is no fault of the Olympics themselves when they do. The Games merely offer the opportunity for the best of the best to come together and compete every 4 years. If one is good enough and wishes to come -- great. If not, that's OK too. There's hundreds of other people that would jump at the same chance. The Games will go on regardless.

The hypocrisy? Had Tavares not been injured and maybe scored a hat trick as the Canadian team won the gold medal game -- who do you think would be front and center bragging about how proud he was of "his" player having given his best for his home country?

Snow, of course. Who's kidding who here?

As for Arthur Staple? Perhaps he needs a more interesting beat than following the New York Islanders. Maybe getting up close and personal with something far more interesting, say, the Bulgarian curling team, would inspire him to greater journalistic inspirations.

But for now -- he just needs to zip it.

USA lady's hockey. Bridesmaids again

Being an American, it would have been easy to get caught up in the hype the USA Olympic lady's hockey team was generating. After all, since the team was put together, through exhibition games and earlier rounds of the Olympics themselves -- the Yankettes were absolutely dominating everybody -- except one team.

Yep, those pesky Canadians. Turns out, like their male counterparts, the Canuckies are pretty good at hockey as well. Who knew?

After all the other wannabes had been dispatched, finally the big showdown for the gold medal was on.

The USA squad certainly carried the play for the better part of the game. Deep into the 3rd period, they were leading 2-0. The gold medal was oh-so-close. It was finally payback time for the USA after getting bounced by Canada in the Vancouver Olympic games 4 long years ago. Silver was not an option this time around.

Then something unexpected happened. With only about 3 minutes left on the game clock, Team Canada scored a goal. 2-0 was now 2-1. It seemed to energize them. As the seconds kept ticking down, the Canadians pulled their goaltender, typically a last gasp desperation move that rarely works.

Usually the other team will eventually get control of the puck and score an empty net goal. Game over.

But not this time. Though an American skater did indeed manage to fire a long-distance shot at the yawning empty Canadian net -- it bounced harmlessly off the post. An inch to the right, and the Americans find themselves on top of the podium. Yet that shot didn't go in, and the Canadians regained control of the puck. Basically they were still on a "power play", 6 skaters to 5. They swarmed the American zone, and OMG, with under a minute left, scored another goal to even the game at 2-2. At that point, one could almost see some air come out of the Americans' balloon, while the Canadians were jacked up. Overtime awaited.

It didn't take long. Once OT started, Team Canada seemed to have found their second wind, while Team USA looked like they were hanging on. A question of conditioning? Maybe.

Just a couple minutes into OT, Canada scored the gold-medal winning goal after some very slick passing in the American zone left their goaltender helpless to stop it.

So once again, the Canadian ladies have shown those uppity brats from south of the border who's boss.

In a few short hours, their male counterparts will take center stage to slug it out for North American supremacy. The Yanks better win that one to even things out, else they'll have to give it up that, from sports bras and ponytails, to cups and NHL contracts -- the Canadians still own them.

At that, the winner of the men's game still has to face the winner of the Sweden/Finland contest before they can claim gold medals. Those Scandinavian guys shouldn't be taken lightly.

Seems they know how to play some serious hockey too. The Russians found that out the hard way -- getting eliminated by Finland in their own back yard.

If that's not bad enough, consider they recently had to quell something called a Pussy Riot. Now yours truly knoweth not what that's all about in the Motherland, but if that same phrase came roaring to life en masse in the United States -- Olympic hockey would be the least of our worries.

Scary thought.....

Olympic hockey semi-finals. Interesting

In men's Olympic hockey, some interesting story lines are afoot. Certain results were predictable, while others came as quite a shock.

Sweden, even without three of their top players, blasted Slovenia to make it into the semis. The US squad handily defeated the Czech team. These were fairly predictable results.

Team Canada barely nipped Latvia to qualify as well A bit of an eyebrow raiser, but they won and move on.

The shocker was Russia going down to Finland. Being the host country, a lot of pride was at stake for the Russians in hockey, and it is suspected that anything less than a gold meal would have come as a disappointment. But to get bounced before even reaching the medal rounds has to be absolutely stunning.

Perhaps a fair comparison could be drawn if the same thing happened to the US basketball team in the Summer Olympics. Everybody in the States typically expects gold of their "dream teams" -- but no medal at all would certainly rattle them to their core. Like Russian hockey, such a thing is unheard of. This is not... supposed... to... happen.

But in these Olympics it did to the Russians. Alas, they're out.

Yet that sets up other interesting scenarios. Sweden will play Finland in the semis while Canada takes on the US. The battle for Scandinavian supremacy and the dogfight for the same in North America will have equal billing. Who will win either contest in anybody's guess.

The guess here is that Sweden will be slightly favored over the Finlanders, but knocking out Russia in their own back yard speaks a lot in itself. These guys can definitely play with the best of them.

On the other hand, good luck trying to predict who will win between the Canucks and the Yanks. Both are loaded with NHL talent, and major bragging rights are definitely at stake -- on both sides of the border.

Who wants it more? No doubt Canada. While Americans have a lot of different leagues in a lot of different sports to spend money on and cheer for -- few would question hockey rules supreme in Canada as their national pastime. If the NFL is the gorilla in the room for American sports fans, hockey is King Kong for Canadians.

My picks? I think Sweden defeats Finland, but it's close.

And though I'm an American, Team Canada prevailing in their match against the US would be OK by me.

It's somewhat of a big deal south of the border, but we've already won enough Olympic medals, and always have plenty of glory to spread around amongst other sports.

But hockey is absolutely HUGE north of the border. For that reason, and the firestorm of nationalistic pride it would set off -- I hope they win it.

Yet that's still only the semi-finals.

Though I get such things right about as often as Peter King predicting the outcome of NFL football games or Mel Kiper having a clue about the draft, I hereby predict Sweden wins it all in the end.

Why? Canadians may have their bacon, but I've always been a much bigger fan of Swedish meatballs.

Especially the blond variety of such cuisine. Yum.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Justin Verlander and his toys

So Justin Verlander, ace pitcher of the Detroit Tigers, recently had a spanking new Lamborghini delivered to him at spring training in Florida, eh? Well, OK, he can certainly afford the measly $400,000 price tag it comes with. But seeing as how the car was made in Italy, brought across the "pond" to a dealer in Troy, Michigan, then was further transported to Lakeland, Florida -- I'm thinking those shipping and handling charges had to be a killer.

When asked if he actually drove it, Verlander said no. He didn't want to put the miles on it. Stop right there. Timeout.

What's the point of owning a such a fancy car if one doesn't drive it? Wouldn't that be a little bit like shacking up with Miss Universe but sleeping in separate bedrooms? Verlander may have mastered the art of major league pitching but, it appears even at age 30, he's still in the minors when it comes to the boys and their toys department.

At that, Verlander has a big-time problem on his hands. Back at his home in Virginia, he only has an 8 car garage, and the Ghini makes #9. So what is the poor dear to to? Maybe a chat with Jay Leno would be in order. The former chin-master of NBC has two airplane hangars chock full of classic cars and motorcycles. Maybe he'd rent Verlander a little space. Sure, Santa Monica is a long ways from Virgina, but not nearly as far as JV's Rambo Lambo has already travelled -- still with no mileage on it. What's one more shipping and handling charge?

Besides, Leno recently got put out to pasture. The same will likely happen to Verlander in 5-6 years. Maybe the old guy could school the young stud on how to prepare for that as well.

What's somewhat ironic is Verlander makes all his millions pitching for Detroit, not long ago the absolute hub of car manufacturing in the world. Yet Justin first had to have a Porsche, a Mercedes, a Ferrari, and now the Lamborghini. Only now is he considering actually buying a classic car that was made in America. According to Verlander, he just can't seem to find the right one.

He thought he had it in a '56 Corvette. Alas, JV said he couldn't fit his 6 foot 5 frame into it. He was so disappointed.

Hogwash. Some of us can remember when Wilt Chamberlain, all 7 foot 1 of him, was advertising and shown driving around in Volkswagens on TV. Add the recent Shaquille O'Neal Buick car ads. So we're supposed to believe the Stilt was comfortable in a Beetle and Shaq's Jurassic girth fit smoothly into a compact car -- but Verlander couldn't squeeze himself into a Vette? Do you see something wrong with this picture?

And for that matter -- what difference does it make if Verlander's not going to drive it anyway? Hello? At least Leno takes his stuff out on the tarmac once in a while.

Maybe Verlander should take a cue from another Justin who, BTW, is in a fairly high income bracket himself. Bieber had a brand new Lamborghini too. Yeah, the Bieb got busted for drunk driving, drag racing, and a bunch of other stuff. This is what happens to spoiled brats with way too much money.

But at least he manned up and drove the damn thing.......

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bode Miller and media hypocrisy

So there he was, at the ripe old age of 36, and fresh off an Olympic slalom course. Bode Miller had tied for a bronze medal by the slimmest of margins. Not gold but, still, any medal is something to be proud of in the Olympics.

Enter Christin Cooper of NBC, microphone in hand and cameraperson zeroing in on Bode. Much like that nitwit reporter a while back that stuck a microphone in front of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman while he was still in battle mode -- Cooper wanted an interview with Miller -- and she wanted it NOW.

So did Cooper ask about Bode's actual skiing -- the very reason he was there in the first place? Oh no. Miller was seen to be mumbling to himself just before he left the starting gate. Cooper wanted to know if perhaps Miller was talking to his recently deceased brother. Bode could have been talking to God, himself, his wife, or any number of others, in an attempt to psych himself up for what lied immediately ahead. Nobody knew for sure except Bode, and is there something so terribly wrong with letting an athlete go through their own private ritual before an event -- without the media later probing and prodding as to the hows, whos, whys, whats, and wherefores that were on their mind at that particular time?

Yet Christin Cooper kept asking question after question referring to Bode's dead brother. Finally, Miller broke down in tears and walked away from the interview.

This sparked a lot of furor in the nanosecond world of social media. People were outraged as to the tactics Cooper had employed. How dare she keep hammering the poor guy about a highly personal tragic issue while ignoring what actually transpired while he was -- you know -- skiing?

Earlier tonight, enter another Cooper, first name Anderson, of CNN. One of their lead stories was how Christin Cooper had handled the original interview with Bode Miller. CNN correspondent Rachel Nichols had sat down with Miller to ask him about just that. And what did she do? Ask even MORE probing personal questions about Miller's brother.

Your brother had a motorcycle accident, right?
How long ago?
How bad were the seizures that resulted?
He was an aspiring snowboarder himself, correct?

That leaves one to wonder -- how would media people like Christin Cooper and Rachel Nichols like it if the tables were turned, and instead of someone asking them about their journalism careers -- zeroed in on a recent tragic event in their life instead? Lost a child or buried a parent lately? Did they suffer much, twitch or cry out at the end? And BTW, just what exactly was going through your mind when they finally closed the lid on the coffin at the funeral home, or an unmarked vehicle departed for a crematorium somewhere? Give us a little insight on that.

See how ridiculous and grossly insensitive such questions would be? But the media seems to think it's acceptable to ask them of others -- while being immune to the same tactics themselves. And that's not right.

Anderson Cooper's motto on CNN is "keeping them honest".

I have but one question.

Who's keeping THEM honest?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sliding, Olympic style

Though some politically oriented pinheads in the USA continue trying to find ways to criticize the various venues on display at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, one such venue appears to be beyond reproach. The Sanki Sliding Center. This is where the bob-sledders, lugers and skeletal people go zooming down a serpentine chute of ice with walls on both sides, reaching speeds of roughly 80 MPH. What a magnificent course indeed.

Being ignorant to the technicalities of such things, the only difference yours truly can discern between the luge and the skeleton, is that people ride a sled feet first in the luge, and go head first in the skeleton. Either way, going 80 MPH on a sled has to be quite the rush, not to mention downright scary. Especially those bony folks leading with their faces. Perhaps that explains why these are basically sports for young people. Long on courage, but short on common sense -- they're fearless. Put middle-aged people that have started to realize their own mortality on those rides, and you'd see a few yellow stains on the ice along the way as their bladders cut loose. Theoretically, even the elderly could compete. Hey, the sled and the ice don't know the difference. But it likely wouldn't make for great viewing watching them slide over the finish line, only to discover they were DOA from cardiac arrest. That could become problematic, and the above mentioned pinheads might want to start a war for some reason. Not good.

But the bobsled is different. To become world-class in bobsled events typically takes many years of training and rising up through the ranks. You won't see any 18-19 year old hot-shots showing up for the first time and winning a medal. Nosiree Bieber Bob. This takes maturity, and age isn't necessarily a factor.

This was evidenced by Russian Alexandr Zubkov, age 39, and at his fifth Olympics, piloting a Russian bobsled to the gold medal. Thing is, though pushing 40, and obviously a geezer, Zubkov still trains like a maniac. The dude's harder than FOX on the Obama administration or, conversely, MSNBC on Chris Christie lately. Let's just say he's ripped.

On the other hand, American Steve Holcomb, age 33, steered a USA bobsled to their first medal (bronze, by .03 seconds) in 62 years. By outward appearance, Holcomb looks like he might have trained on the kiddie chutes at Mickey D's after having downed a few quarter pounders. Let's just say he's not going to be the centerfold of Playgirl magazine any time soon.

And who knows? Right now, McDonald's is offering an Olympic special of 20 chicken McNuggets for 5 bucks. If he loads up on enough of those, throws in a few big Macs, and maintains a super-sizing training regimen -- he might well be back in 2018 to claim the gold.

But a medal is a medal, and good for him. Sixty two years is a long time to wait, but finally the drought is over for the USA in bobsled -- even if they only finished third.

It could have been worse. The Boston Red Sox waited 86 years in between World Series titles. The Toronto Maple Leafs haven't hoisted the Stanley Cup since 1967. Good grief, the ever-lovable Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series in 106 years, and counting.

And of course there's the saddest sack of them all. The Detroit Lions. They are one of only 4 NFL teams that have never even appeared in the Super Bowl, let alone win it. The others are Jacksonville, Houston, and Cleveland -- all expansion teams. The Lions don't appear to any closer to claiming the Vince Lombardi trophy than the Leafs are to another Cup, or the Cubbies winning the Fall Classic.

Maybe the Detroit puddy-tats should follow the lead of Steve Holcomb. Forget all that pumping iron stuff, and running around. Obviously, that hasn't worked. Just chow down and go sliding at 80 MPH over and over again. Couldn't hurt.

And think of the entertainment value to their fans. Ndamukong Suh rocketing down an icy course, likely screaming the whole way in absolute terror? Priceless.

Olympic observations

Ever wonder why Americans are so good at some sports but not even competitive in others?
Consider speed skating. Both male and female, the Netherlands has been absolutely dominant in these Olympics. The Americans are nowhere in sight. Maybe that's because in the off-season, the Dutch boys and girls are wrestling windmills to stay in shape, while the Yanks zero in on endorsements and talk show appearances. Training in hand-carved wooden shoes versus training in Air Jordans. I think I know which regimen would result in more endurance and toughness.

Same with the Nordic sports, like the biathlon and cross-country skiing. The Scandinavians seem to rule. Forget about medals. The Americans are lucky if they can place one of their own in the Top 20 in such events. They typically lag far, far behind. Then again, if certain peoples maintain their fitness by playing pin the tail on the wild polar bear, then run/ski for their lives across the tundra -- while other people are content to put in a few hours on a treadmill in a gym somewhere -- I also think I know which ones will wind up having more stamina when it counts the most.

Throw in the ski jump. You won't see any Americans on the podium there either. Why? Like the above-mentioned Nordic sports -- there's no money to be made post-Olympics in the United States. Sponsors aren't exactly clamoring for long distance skiiers that can shoot straight or fly through the air after lifting off from a ski jump.

Add the bob-sled, luge, and skeleton. The "sliding sports". While an Olympic gold medal winner in any of the above might well be feted as a national hero in some countries, their fame would be fleeting indeed in America. Win a medal, stand on the podium listening to the Star Spangled Banner, then come back home to -- what? Maybe an appearance on a talk show here or there, but after a week or so they will quickly be forgotten. Time to get a real job.

Alpine skiing (the downhill, slalom, Super G, etc) is different. World-class Americans in such events, say, Bode Miller, can live for many years in the lap of luxury while being taken all over the world for various events -- as long as they remain semi-competive. Basically, they're ski bums, albeit very good ones. Americans seem to embrace successful athletes in some sports much more so than they do others. When these Olympics are done, likely Miller's last, chances are he'll find (cha-ching) many other opportunities awaiting him.

Yet even if an American spent the last 10 years of their life training like a maniac, and were to finally get a medal in, say, the 4x10 kilometer cross-country skiing event -- would anybody other than family and friends even know who they were when they arrived back home? Probably not, and certainly not for very long. Americans have come to prefer high-profile, though short-lived things in sports. Instant gratification, as it were. How else to explain their continued fascination with how many different ways a basketball player can dunk the ball? Or be glued to their TV sets watching Major League Baseball sluggers hit batting practice pitches into the stands during the Home Run Derby that precedes the All-Star Game? What's next? Tiger Woods topping the ratings while displaying 30 different techniques of sinking a 1 foot putt?

Olympic figure skating is different in its own right. Americans have come to embrace this and indeed are quite competitive. Yet medal or not, long after the Olympic torch has been extinguished, future opportunities such as the Ice Capades await them as well. Did I mention cha-ching?

But the gorilla in the room of the Winter Olympics is still hockey. That's probably why they save it for last. This is a huge deal between such countries as the US, Canada, Russia, Sweden, and a few others. Bragging rights are definitely at stake.

What yours truly found comical was the American reaction to their team beating the Russians in a preliminary game. OMG, quoth the breathless announcers, the US has reached the quarterfinals. This, after beating a hapless Slovenia team. That's akin to making the Elite 8 in NCAA college hoops. Still in the hunt, but a long ways to go, and the competition's going to keep getting better.

So what did NBC do after the almost meaningless game against the Russians? Featured Al Michaels -- he of the "do you believe in miracles" from way back in 1980, interviewing Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary goaltender of the Soviet Red Army team at the time. Some 34 years later, Al had the audacity to ask Tretiak how it felt to watch the Americans celebrate their improbable victory after that game. To his credit, Tretiak was diplomatic in his response, even giving the college American hockey players credit for how they performed in that particular contest. Yet few worldwide would doubt to this day that it was a miracle indeed. The Soviets were a vastly superior team, and had they played 10 more times, the Red Army squad would likely have won all of them by wide margins. But on that particular day, everything fell in place the right way for the Americans, the wrong way for the Soviets, and a colossal upset happened. Nevertheless, only in America would a TV network find a way to dredge up such a thing from so long ago, and think it would be remotely relevant to what's going on right now, not to mention attempting to rub salt in a very old wound.

But when it comes to a lot of things -- especially athletic endeavors -- the US has always been long on creating heroes, and maintaining them in such lofty status forever after.

Particularly if they happen to participate in the sports that get their attention.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Olympic hosts and Rod Serling

I don't know about the rest of the world watching the Olympics but, in America, seeing and listening to some of the Olympic announcers on NBC reminds me of some of the stuff Rod Serling used to come up with on The Twilight Zone. Very strange indeed.

For a while there, I thought big-time sports anchor Bob Costas had gone off into another dimension. Yes, his words sounded normal and his wig wasn't moving around -- but his eyes were worthy of a Night Gallery portrait. Turns out, Costas was suffering from pink-eye, a semi-common ailment. With all the air miles he travels, even red-eye wouldn't have been much of a surprise. Hey, beats the heck out of brown-eye, which is a whole different subject, but I probably shouldn't go there.

At any rate, Costas couldn't continue, and had to be replaced.

Enter Matt Lauer. Like Steve Martin, Lauer's a wild and crazy guy, plus he's not too shabby interviewing people either. So what does he do?

Slips into a hot tub in Sochi, naked, with Al Roker, in front of the cameras.

Now I understand network camaraderie, and even getting into the Olympic spirit of things -- but c'mon now. Boys, boys, let's maintain a little decorum here. Nobody wants to see a couple guys approaching 60 yukking it up in a bubble bath. Besides, somewhere children are watching as well. Such a spectacle could easily scar their impressionable little brains for life. Perhaps even worse than Miley Cyrus, Bieber, or Shaq's body powder commercials. Even Rod Serling's deep, dark mind, would have cowered in fear at such horrors.

But of course, Matt and Al couldn't carry the load alone.

Enter Meredith Viagra, sorry, Vieira. Over the years, many years, the lovely Meredith has been on a lot of different shows, for different networks, doing different things. But none of them were sports related. So now, in their infinite wisdom, the NBC network execs -- the same folks that just forced Jay Leno into retirement while he was #1 by a mile in his time slot -- decided to have the ever-lovable Meredith Vieira conducting interviews with American Winter Olympians. If they had won a medal, Meredith would give them a hug while displaying her contagious smile. If they had fallen short, Meredith would console them, with her "I know how it feels to have your puppy dog run over by a freight train" look. All the while, Meredith knows as much about snow sports as Matt and Al do about bull riding at a rodeo. Then again, maybe that shared hot tub was a prelude to doing some serious research into just such a future venture. Beats me.

Regardless, why, pray tell, is a 60 year old woman like Meredith wearing a mini-skirt showing a whole lot of legs that are crossed just so, and facing them, while doing interviews with teen-aged male Olympians? Is this some sort of NBC subliminal scheme to get a rise out of them?

I certainly hope not. That would be a low blow. Maybe that's where my Freudian "Viagra" slip above came from. Yet I'm pretty sure male Olympians don't need any little blue pills to get their motors running, if presented with proper stimulation.

Meredith is a little long in the tooth to fill that bill. Now put someone like, say, Kate Upton in that chair with the same outfit asking the same questions -- and methinks the boys would forget about the medals, and sit up and take notice.

Bob Costas' eyes would miraculously heal overnight and be 20-20.

As for Matt Lauer and Al Roker? Maybe it's best just to leave them in the hot tub together -- but privately. Out of sight and out of mind is a good thing sometimes......

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Detroit Lions make moves. Funny

Once one learns to kick back and see the Lions for what they really are -- and have long been -- one can appreciate the entertainment value they offer. No, not in the sense of being an elite NFL team. Forget that. People who still think every year that next year is THE year the Lions will finally break through to the Super Bowl, are likely the same sort of folks that remain firmly convinced the Titanic will float to the surface any day now with Elvis at the helm. Or go on vacation to Scotland knowing they can finally capture that pesky Nessie, the elusive sea monster. Or perhaps that Bieber's great-great grandfather built the pyramids in Egypt. Well, you get the picture. This is not to say such theories are totally impossible but, in the meantime, I would humbly suggest those that believe in them need to be medicated. Heavily.

So the Lions released Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas? Well gee. If they broomed career (from college to pros) loser Dominic Raiola, they would complete the triple crown purge of the yappie boys. They didn't know anything about winning, but sure would flap their gums on the field and to the media, Detroit fans (see above), and anybody else that would listen.

Cutting Burleson and Delmas were actually no-brainers. Burleson caught on with the Lions when his best years were already in the rear-view mirror. And he couldn't stay healthy, at that. A broken leg one year, and then the folly of a broken arm while crashing his car trying to save a pizza in distress? BTW. Someone please explain to me why Burleson was out getting a pizza at 2 or 3 in the morning anyway. Correct me if I'm wrong, but NOBODY goes out to get a pizza anymore. They phone it in and have it delivered. Something about that incident never smelled quite right -- and I'm not talking about the anchovies.

Delmas seemed to have the longest "lingering" knee injury in the history of pro sports. Two years and counting. That begs the obvious question --- what was the problem with getting it fixed -- surgically if necessary? Good grief, the Ford family that owns the Lions also have a major hospital (Henry Ford) that bears their name in Detroit. One would think they have competent knee surgeons there. And you're telling me Delmas went two years without being able to practice, while a guy like Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings had his own knee totally obliterated, underwent major surgery, rehabbed, is now perfectly healthy -- and only missed one year? Only in Detroit could such a scenario happen. See what I mean about the entertainment value?  And good luck to Delmas now trying to catch on with another team. All of them are certainly aware he's "damaged goods". The first thing Delmas will face when trying out for another team? A physical. If he can't pass that, then I hope he got his degree from college. It might come in handy for his next job after football. Can't practice, but can play on game day only works in Detroit.

The biggest laugher of them all is Ndamukong Suh. The Lions are reportedly considering taking a $22.4 million dollar annual salary cap hit on Suh, be it for one year, or a long term deal. That goes far beyond ridiculous, absurd, and starts approaching hilarious.

Consider Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers recently signed a 5- year deal for $110 million bucks. Divide that by 5 and it's just a little shy of the amount Suh wants every year. So is anybody prepared to argue that Ndamukong Suh is worth the same amount of money as Aaron Rodgers? Yeah, Suh just hired Jay Z as his agent, and the Z-ster has been known to wring megabucks out of owners for his clients.

Yet I don't care if Suh hired Jay Z, KC and the Sunshine Band, and has Artoo Deetoo and C3PO as bookkeepers. Suh belongs in the same salary neighborhood as Rodgers about as much as yours truly belongs putting a harem of beautiful women through my own "combine" before approving them for a sheik somewhere. Hmmm. Considering I'm a free agent myself, maybe I should make a few calls to see if any oil tycoons are interested in watching me work out. Hey, even making a practice squad would do just fine. Plus, I'd work hard at such a job for the minimum salary. No agent. No drawn-out negotiations. No problem. Where do I sign?

There's things more important than money and football, you know.

But that scenario has about the same chance as happening any year soon as the Lions going to a Super Bowl.

Once one learns to accept reality, and can kick back and laugh at the futility of taking either possibility seriously -- life becomes simpler and more entertaining indeed.

Suh is worth as much or more than Rodgers. This mindset could only happen in Detroit.

Personally, I think it's funny.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Figure skating. Something's wrong

Not that a wide disparity in scores would be anything new when it comes to judging at various Olympic events, particularly during the Cold War era, but sometimes one is left to wonder -- just what the hell is going on here?

During the finals of the pairs competition, a couple representing Germany took the ice. Cue the music and don your Ray-Bans so the sequins in HD don't blind you. Off they went. It was lovely, romantic, graceful, and finally here came the first jump. Up they went in tandem for a triple drive shaft, or maybe that's axel. The young maiden landed perfectly and her partner went ker-splat. The dude was floundering around on the ice like he just got drilled in the head with a slapshot. Eventually regaining his bearings, he caught back up to his Fraulein to continue their routine. The piped in symphony orchestra played on.

The couple would intertwine their arms and legs in ways that were almost sensual, while twirling around on their skates. Pretty cool. Maybe not quite as steamy as your average porno flick -- but not bad.

Then here came another spectacular move. After a running head start, the handsome beau deftly tossed his beloved into a triple toe jam, or maybe toe loop. As she was spinning in the air, her mate did a pirouette on the ice with his arm proudly outstretched to show the crowd, and judges, just how magnificent his partner was. Just one problem. She'd crashed and burned on her landing as well, and was flopping around on the ice like a perch freshly hauled out of an ice fishing hole. Not so graceful as the violins were reaching a crescendo.

Yet incredibly, this couple won a bronze medal. That begs a question. How bad were the other pairs if they couldn't top that botched performance? Or was something else perhaps afoot?

The pair in question are named Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. Do those names sound German to you? Turns out, Aliona is from Kiev -- a Russian by birth. She somehow hooked up with Szolkowy, whose father is a Tanzanian, as a partner in Germany. How they came to represent Deutschland in the Olympics would seem to be a very good question.

Yet after what most would consider a disastrous performance -- they still won a medal.

This is not to say the Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia are anything but on the up and up. Heaven forbid the judges might have been biased in some way. Certainly those days are over.


Olympic rants

So Shaun White didn't win a medal in these Olympics. Remember, Shaun backed out of the snow-sloping competition because he considered it too dangerous. Rather he was content to concentrate on his specialty -- the crack pipe, oops, the half-pipe. Come to think of it, crack pipe, half pipe, what's the difference? Though I've partaken of neither, it seems they both involve quick highs, doing crazy stuff, followed by down lows, then doing it all again -- over and over. Either way, it appears to be a slippery slope, but I digress.

But White wasn't quite up to his usual snuff on his last run and wound up in fourth place. Not bad, but no medal. Hey, it happens. Even the best can't stay on top forever.

Yet there were many complaints about this half-pipe course. The walls weren't smooth enough, causing the boards to vibrate. And OMG, though it was difficult to discern watching on TV, evidently there was a depression at the bottom of the middle of the course. Did these complaints come from the actual competitors? No. From the breathless announcers, of course. Nevermind the Russian hosts were constantly spraying the course down with water, and had a small army of people out there smoothing out the course in between runs. The talking heads somehow found a way to blame the course itself when competitors didn't complete flawless routines.

Well, guess what? Even if there was a major pothole in the middle of the course -- one would think world-class crack, sorry, half-pipers would adjust their routines to avoid it. After all, the entire field has to compete on the same course -- right? If conditions weren't oh-so-perfect, then too bad. Handle it.

Baseballers sometimes have to play in the rain, gridders in the snow, wind, and cold, and cagers occasionally have to endure the absolute torture of fans being less than complimentary. Incredibly at times, PGA golfers are made to suffer the physical abuse of a fan daring to breathe during their backswings, much less the obvious terrorists that would dare to try to take a picture. The poor dears. It's a testament to their fortitude that they merely survive such ghastly behavior.

You know what makes the Olypics unique? It's the only athletic competition(s) where coming in second, much less third is cause for celebration. It seems any athlete in any discipline is absolutely thrilled to win a medal. Gold goes without saying. They were the best in the world, and should rightfully be proud of what they accomplished.

But silver or bronze? While being second or third best in the world at anything is very impressive -- only in the Olympics is this considered some sort of victory. Be it the World Series, World Cup, Superbowl, Stanley Cup, NBA finals, the NASCAR Chase or Indy 500, or the 4 majors in golf and tennis -- nobody much cares about who came in second, let alone third. Yet I must admit the NCAA has quite successfully created a marketing extravaganza out of their Final Four when it comes to college hoops. But in the end, three of them still have to lose, and only one will be remembered as a champion.

Perhaps Tiger Woods summed it up best when he said coming in second only means you were the top loser.

But for now, all hail the Olympians from every country for the years of training they have put in just to get there to compete with the best from the rest of the world. And if they finish on the podium -- even if with only silver or bronze, and they're thrilled about it -- good for them.

One thing for sure. It's a lot better than finishing last, and it surely beats the hell out of never having made it to the Olympics at all.

That's quite a feat in itself, and though there can only be one gold medal winner -- hats off to all those who are the best in their countries at what they do.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Michael Sam.The first openly gay NFL player?

Michael Sam, a defensive end for Missouri, is big news these days. That's because Sam has openly declared he is gay, and the NFL draft is coming up in a few months.

Sam is the reigning SEC defensive player of the year, no small feat, and a consensus first team All-America football player. Very impressive stuff.

Yet whether it was wise or not for Sam to "come out" on the eve of the NFL draft is debatable.

It really shouldn't matter but, let's face it, there are those on both sides of the issue that either keep commending or disparaging it. Personally, I couldn't care less. Different people have different stations in life for different reasons, and it would be nice if they could all just get along someday, but we're not there yet. Given human nature, we may never get there, but it's a nice thought.

Yet when it comes to Sam, he's most definitely a pioneer charting unknown territory. There has never been an openly gay NFL player before. Did or do they exist? Probably, but Sam is the first to go public, and that as he merely aspires to be in the NFL. How will this work out?

Perhaps former player, head coach, and current NFL analyst Herman Edwards summed it up best.

When NFL owners, general managers, coachs, and scouts gather in their "war rooms" to sort out their draft preferences, they consider a lot of things before picking somebody.

Talent goes without saying. Need at different positions is important. Such things as size, speed, vertical jump, and agility will have been on display at the annual meat market NFL combine in Indianapolis -- basically the human version of the AKC dog show. They'll also consider things that can't be precisely measured, like heart/desire, toughness, and football smarts. Further, how will a particular player fit into their particular system? A player that might be beneficial to one team might well not suit the needs of another.

And of course, there's the baggage thing. Does the player have anything in his past that would cast doubt upon his character? Like a criminal record, a few illegitimate kids by different mothers, drug usage, etc.? Most NFL teams these days tend to shy away from such a potential player -- regardless of his talent -- if they're not convinced he's cleaned up his act and will represent them well in the future. The last thing teams want -- besides a losing record and empty seats at their stadiums -- is bad publicity, for whatever reason.

Enter Michael Sam. He hasn't played a down yet for any NFL team, but he's probably more famous in the sports world right now than Peyton Manning or Tiger Woods. Newspapers, TV, and radio are all over it. His story has exploded on the Net and gone viral in other social media. When it comes to publicity -- he's off the charts right now.

This is not to say it's bad publicity. Indeed, most are very supportive of Sam, and what he is trying to accomplish. Either that, or there's a whole lot of people out there lying through their teeth, because they fear the backlash of not being "politically correct". Decide for yourself which you think more closely resembles public sentiment.

But that's the thing with Sam. Regardless of which team eventually drafts him -- the people in the above-mentioned "war rooms" are certainly aware that drafting him will bring a crush of media attention down on them. They'll be put under a microscope, likely for quite some time, as to how the coaches, and definitely the other players in the locker room, react to having the first openly gay player in their midst. The reporters will be probing everywhere, asking a bazillion questions -- and most will have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual game of football.

By most "expert" accounts, Sam is projected to be a second or third round draft choice. Given his stellar collegiate record -- one would think he would go at least that high, if not higher.

But when it comes to the "baggage" thing, right or wrong, there can also be little doubt that Sam will bring a serious load of it to whatever team calls his name at the NFL draft.

In a perfect world, none of this would matter, of course, and perhaps this will all work out well. Times, they are a-changing, and that's a good thing.

Yet NFL war rooms are akin to the President and the Joints Chiefs of Staff huddling up in their own war room. Nobody knows for sure what conversations take place and how they arrive at decisions, for their own reasons.

But if on draft day, Sam finds himself sitting in the green room while watching himself slide from a second or third round pick, down to fourth, fifth, sixth, or perhaps goes undrafted at all -- then I suppose that would speak volumes as well.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.......

Marcus Smart -- is anything but

Oklahoma State basketball player Marcus Smart finds himself in hot water these days. Towards the end of a game against at Texas Tech, Smart took a fall on the court and tumbled into the stands. A frequent and long-time Red Raider fan, one Jeff Orr, said something to Smart as he was getting back to his feet. Smart then gave the spectator a rough two-handed shove.

The Big 12 Conference quickly acted and handed down a 3 game suspension to Smart. But that's not nearly harsh enough punishment for what he did.

Smart's team was losing, he was caught up in the heat of the game, thought he was verbally dissed by an opposing fan, and it was only a shove, you say?  I say horse manure. Smart was way, WAY, out of line.

Orr would later apologize himself, but insisted he merely called Smart "a piece of crap" and used no racial slur. Thing is, it doesn't matter what Orr said. He was a spectator, used only words, and there is no excuse -- NONE -- for an athlete to ever physically assault a fan, especially when that fan is in the stands in the assigned area he paid big bucks to sit/stand in.

Hey. What would happen if a fan ran onto the court and attempted to assault a player? If he survived the beatdown he'd likely get from the other players, he'd be hauled off by security, taken to a room to be interrogated, possibly be prosecuted, and likely banned for life from that particular venue.

Whether it's a basketball court, football/baseball field, golf course, tennis court -- you name it -- it's a big time no-no for any fan to set foot in the areas where the athletes actually play the game. So why shouldn't the same rules apply to the players when it comes to spectators? After all, they paid to be there and have a right to cheer, boo, or even get verbal as they see fit. It's only words and noise. A player has no more right to invade their space, much less get physical, than fans have the other way around.

Consider another way of looking at what Smart did to Orr. If a man were to shove a woman like that in a public place -- he's getting arrested and going to jail for assault and battery. But because Marcus Smart is an athlete -- somehow the same rules don't seem to apply. And that's wrong. A 3 game suspension is a joke and, a month from now, everything will blow over and it will be like it never happened. And that's a double standard as well. In real life, that sort of behavior would get one a court date resulting in fines, probation, mandatory anger management classes, and one might even have to blow and drop for a while to prove they remain substance free, even if one was totally sober and clean at the time of the incident. Is all that fair or right? Probably not, but that's how it seems to work these days for the average Joe that lost his temper for a second, but didn't really hurt anybody.

The incredible irony is that home-town fan Orr has agreed not to go to any more Texas Tech games this year. And he did nothing wrong in the first place. Meanwhile, Smart will be back playing for Okla St. in a little over a week, wherever their schedule takes them. How mind-numbingly bass-ackwards is that?

If anything, Texas Tech should have given Orr lifetime free season tickets for the abuse he suffered while at their venue.

And for his actions, Smart should be the one banned from playing for at least the rest of the season, while feeling fortunate he's a player and not an average citizen, or things would be different in his life right about now.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Olympic figure skating.

Ah yes, the grace, the beauty, and the athleticism of Olympic figure skating. Such a joy to behold. Just one problem. It's also more choreographed and phonier than pro wrestling.

Let's start with the cosmetics. There's pancake make-up, eye liner, mascara, rouge, and probably a bunch of other goop I don't want to know about. Plus they all have perfectly capped super-white teeth. And that's just for the guys. Throw in 3-4 coats of lipstick for the girls. Both have perfectly manicured fingernails, as if that should matter when skating. Idle thought: Ever see an Olympic figure skater with a zit? Hey, a lot of them are merely adolescents, and zits happen at that age -- but evidently not to figure skaters. Or do they? Wipe off all the make-up and who knows? Some faces might have more potholes than a typical Michigan road.

And what's up with the music they skate to anyway? Nocturne in E minor by Chopin? Ave Maria by Schubert? Get outta here. What kind of crap is that? I say let some good old-fashioned rock and roll blare from the speakers by Seger, Skynyrd, the Stones, J Geils, Chuck Berry, whatever, and that would pep up their routines some.

Then there's the hair thing. What do the stylists use in the dressing rooms on the competitors' hair before they take they ice? Some sort of industrial strength gel, mousse, or epoxy to fashion the perfect coifs? These skaters could walk through a tornado, or drive the Indy 500 without a helmet, and every last hair would still be in place. I'm thinking even former Dallas Cowboy coach and current NFL talking head Jimmy Johnson would be envious.

What's REALLY phony is the outfits, particularly on the girls. Typically, they'll wear a top with a plunging V-neck that barely covers their, um, pair of private parts up top on either side. But that's an illusion. They all wear a skin tight sort of leotard underneath that is perfectly matched to their flesh color. No chance of a "wardrobe malfunction". So if they're covered up anyway, what's the point in the pseudo-revealing outfits? For that matter, it's not like most world class female figure skaters have much more to hide up top than their male counterparts. I say let them both go topless and skate to an appropriate tune like the  Beatles' Strawberry Fields Forever. Now THAT would get those stodgy old judges to sit up and take notice of a new routine.

And what's with the deal of giving figure skaters a bouquet of flowers after they've finished their routines and left the ice? Is this a beauty pageant or an athletic competition? Good grief, even in a beauty pageant, it's nothing more than window dressing that will quickly be thrown away a few minutes later. Seems like a waste of perfectly good flowers to me. Yet on that note, if they're going to give figure skaters a floral arrangement after they've finished their discipline, then why not everybody else? A hockey team just got bruised, battered, and blistered to the tune of 15-0 by a vastly superior team? Give them all some flowers and they'll feel much better. Right. See how silly that is?

Besides, in figure skating, does anybody really know the difference between a triple axel, toe loop, or salchow? They get a running head start, jump up, spin three times around, and land on one foot. An impressive feat indeed, but they all look the same, and the slight differences in all these jumps and spins has become way too technical for the average fan to understand.

Bottom line? The only thing better than topless figure skating would be nude ski-jumping. Or maybe the luge. Definitely the downhill. Wouldn't that be a hoot? Bring that on, and NBC would definitely win the gold in the ratings battle.....

The Olympic torch

Legend has it that once the Olympic torch is lit, it never goes out until the Games are over. Apparently, that's not true. Not even close.

According to Sports Illustrated, the torch went out at least 44 times on its way to the Games. Perhaps this should come as no great surprise, given the torch went on a 40,300 mile relay before arriving in Sochi. 40,300 miles in better than one and a half times around the earth at the equator, roughly Chris Christie's waist measurement, or about the same amount of miles required to walk off the calories after eating a double helping of my world famous lasagna.

And oh my, the places the torch has been on its journey include the North Pole, underwater, and into outer space. Wait a minute....

North Pole? Who was supposed to see it there? Santa Claus? Hey, that dude just got done putting in some serious miles himself a month and a half ago delivering all those presents. Plus, according to the commercials, the poor old fellow has a bad back and needs pain pills. The man needs his rest. Besides, you really think St. Nick would pay attention to some torch passing through the neighborhood? Chances are, he's plenty busy right now trying to log on and figure out a health care plan for his elves.

Underwater? Well, duh, take a torch underwater and I'm betting it goes out every time.

Outer space? Just who, pray tell, were the Olympic organizers trying to impress? The Klingons? Are they sending a team to the Olympics these days? Beats me, but if so, it would certainly be interesting. I, for one, would love to see Worf doing a quadruple axel on the ice or flying off a ski jump.

This whole Olympic torch symbolism thing got out of control a long time ago. And what's the point? Run it here, run it there, but it keeps going out anyway. It was originally meant to signify the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus. Then again, Zeus was the head honcho, and when you get caught stealing from the Man, it's usually a good idea to start running. Maybe that's where it all started.

But the tradition of lighting the Olympic torch in Greece, then running/taking it all over God's creation, with its ultimate destination being the site of the current games, didn't begin until just before the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. That's quite some time removed from Zeus, Prometheus, and the ancient days. But nobody ever heard of a problem relighting the torch way back then. Maybe Prometheus had a handy dandy lighter with him, and quickly flicked his Bic whenever necessary. Those ancient Greeks were a clever bunch.

Regardless, 40,300 miles is a ridiculous amount of distance for the Olympic torch to travel, especially if it's gone out at least 44 times along the way.

One more thing --- don't tell Christie about my lasagna. If he gets word of that and shows up to chow down -- his measurement might not only go up to 50,000 miles, but I might be lucky to get even a small helping of what normally takes me about 4 hours to prepare and cook.

And neither I, nor my beloved yorkies, need that sort of aggravation. Torches be damned. We need to eat too, ya know.....

Friday, February 7, 2014

Jay Leno. Goodbye and God bless

Every once in a great while, yours truly takes the liberty of writing a post that has very little to do with sports. This would be one of those occasions. That's because I was a long-time huge fan of Jay Leno. His last go-round on the Tonight show aired earlier this evening and, even though this is a sports blog, I would feel remiss if I didn't honor Jay Leno in my own way.

Sure, I was skeptical when he took over for Johnny Carson back in 1992. Carson was an incredibly talented man in numerous ways, and no way could anybody replace him. But somehow Leno hit the ground running, found his own niches, and 22 years later does anybody seriously doubt he was a huge success himself?

From Presidents, to various celebrities, to athletes (ha, a sports reference, lol), to various other newsworthy people -- and even the everyday John and Jane Does -- Leno had a way of treating them all the same while they were on his show. Everybody got spoofed, but it was always in a good-natured way.

Anybody going on his show knew they were going to get teased, but they'd have a great time yukking it up while it was going on, and couldn't wait to come back for another appearance at a future date. Such things as race, gender, political persuasion, age, religion, and any other normally "hot-button" topic you can think of, were of no concern to Leno. Everybody was fair game in his own tongue-in-cheek way -- and they loved every minute of it.

I would submit that will be Jay Leno's legacy. Only he could spoof someone on national TV, and have the other person craving even more.

Now it's on to Jimmy Fallon. But NBC was pretty slick in how they handled this. Fallon's first Tonight show won't air until Feb. 17. In the meantime, NBC will be all over covering the Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia during this time slot. Needless to say, the Olympics are not only a big deal for the athletic competition, but definitely a ratings grabber in the TV world. Hundreds of millions of people will be tuned in to NBC from around the globe to watch the Games.

I suspect NBC is hoping Jimmy Fallon can ride the wave of the Olympics in the ratings world, and get off to a running head start himself.

Perhaps Fallon will indeed follow up Leno, much like Leno eventually did Carson, and become a huge success in his own right, finding his own niches.

We shall see.

But for now, thank to Jay Leno for all the laughs over the last 22 years. Between classic cars and motorcycles, I know he has a whole lot of fancy rides he can tool around in at his leisure.

Yet those 22 years were quite the ride itself for those of us that he entertained.


Goodbye and God bless.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Billie Jean is not my lover

So Billie Jean King isn't going to Sochi, Russia, to watch the Winter Olympics? Two words. Who cares? Billie Jean won a bunch of tournaments in her day, but her greatest claim to fame may have been when she defeated Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes", way back in 1973. Nevermind that King was 29 years old and one of the top female tennis players in the world at the time. And also nevermind she was taking on a 55 year old man who was woefully out of shape and had never been a top player even when he was much younger --  this was somehow viewed as a great break through in women's tennis. Two words again. Puh leeze.

In the wake of the match, which King won 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, rumors quickly spread that Riggs had purposefully lost in order to pay off gambling debts (roughly $100,000 -- big money at the time) he owed the mob.

Billie Jean was quick to refute such allegations. She said the look in Bobby's eyes and his body language made her 100% sure he wanted to win as badly as she did. Further, she said she'd bet her life Riggs never got involved with mobsters. But by most accounts, Riggs played extremely poorly during the match, including an inordinate amount of "unforced errors".

Thing is -- despite which side of the story one wishes to believe -- the original contract for the match included a rematch clause. Riggs wanted the rematch indeed. King refused, an obvious breach of that contract. Riggs declined to force the issue.

Yet it leaves one to wonder -- did Riggs really bet a lot of money against himself in order to pay off his gambling debts and tank the match? Or did King beat him fair and square? If the former, it becomes understandable why Billie Jean didn't want to give Bobby another shot. If she did and lost, all the female capital she had gained in the original match would get thrown out the window. The feminist movement would have taken a serious hit. But if the latter -- then why not play him again? 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 was a fairly convincing victory. If she knew she was that much better, then why chicken out from a rematch in violation of the contract she had signed? Something about this never smelled quite right.

Riggs died in 1995 at the age of 77. But just recently his son Larry was interviewed, and when asked if his father ever hung out with mafia guys, responded "absolutely". Methinks a son would know more about such associations than a tennis opponent 40 years ago.

So what does this all mean?

Two things.

First, we'll never know for sure if Bobby tanked the match against Billie Jean. Dead men tell no tales, no way would Billie Jean admit it now, even if she knew, and then there's the omerta thing. Those guys aren't exactly known for blabbing to the media.

Second, and more importantly, why is Billie Jean's absence from Sochi even newsworthy at all?

Last time I looked, they didn't even PLAY tennis in the Winter Olympics. Hello?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Did Seattle know Peyton's calls?

Like Chris Christie and his bridgegate, or Obama and his whatevergate of the day, this is a question that will probably never be answered for sure. Many will (and already have) rant, speculate, claim to have inside information, and even draw conclusions. But in reality, they don't know whether the Seahawks were privy to Peyton Manning's hand signals and audibles in the Super Bowl any more than you or I do.

Certainly, the Seahawks played terrific defense throughout the game against Denver's #1 ranked offense. But Seattle was the #1 defense across the board in the entire NFL all year. The proverbial irresistible force versus the immovable object. Something had to give. Turns out the force wasn't so irresistible after all.

But to assume Seattle knew what play Denver was going to run before they ran it would seem to be quite a stretch. If that were so, every Denver offensive play would have been immediately stuffed -- and that didn't happen. Yes, the Seattle defense was dominant indeed, but it looked more like a very well coached, talented, physical, highly motivated cohesive unit that had done their homework (film study), and remained disciplined throughout. Just because Peyton Manning and his offensive juggernaut didn't rack up their usual yardage and point total doesn't necessarily mean the other guys were "cheating". Yours truly would submit that Seattle's defense, from the front 4 bringing the heat, to the linebackers roaming sideline to sideline in the short zones, to the superb cover ability of their corners and safeties making life difficult for Denver's wide receivers, was just.... that.... good. And if these same two teams played again -- Seattle would win again. Maybe not 43-8, but they'd still win, because they're that much better.

What's interesting is that Seattle supposedly having decoded Peyton Manning's audibles seems to have come from none other than Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman himself. You know, Richard of the infamous post-game rant when a dopey female on-field reporter stuck a microphone in his face while he was still geeked up in combat mode.

But did Sherman and his teammates really know what Peyton was about to do before it happened? Or might this be just a bit of psychological warfare, to rub a little salt in the wound?

Thing is, even if Sherman knew, it still doesn't make sense. Sherman's a cornerback, so before Manning started calling his audibles at the line of scrimmage, Sherman was already out on an "island" preparing to cover a Denver wide receiver. Sherman likely being the best corner in the game these days -- Manning didn't even throw a ball his way until well into the second half. Nevertheless, the crowd noise being what is was, there was no way Sherman could have communicated such information to his teammates. Further, throughout the game when Sherman was out there on his island, he was totally focused on the receiver standing just a couple yards away from him. No hand signals, and certainly no yelling at his teammates. Just total focus on the dude in front of him.

So if we're to believe Seattle actually had some inside information, it certainly wasn't apparent by how their defense conducted itself on the field during the Super Bowl. Sure, they made adjustments when various Denver offensive players would go in motion to change their look just prior to the snap, but every defense (at least the good ones) does that. It's called discipline and knowing your assignments.

However, perhaps Sir Charles Barkley put it best on the Tonight show. When Leno asked him whether Sherman could have figured out Denver's complex offense -- Barkley replied -- hey, Sherman went to Stanford. People at Stanford are smart and they can decode a lot of things. I went to Auburn -- and at Auburn we couldn't figure out anything. Yuk, yuk.

I hope Sir Charles, golf swing and all, stays around forever. Ya gotta love him....

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Lion's game

First of all, that's the very title of a superb suspense novel that will keep you up late turning the pages. Several years back, a copy of it was given to me from a friend. At the time, I had never heard of the author before -- one Nelson DeMille -- but after reading it, I couldn't wait to read more of his works. He's the same guy that wrote The General's Daughter, which got turned into a major motion picture starring John Travolta. The Lions' Game was unlike any novel I'd read before -- or since -- and I go through novels like Judge Judy goes through the poor devils that are dumb enough to appear in her courtroom. Let's just say I read a lot. Because in the end -- the Lion (the "bad" guy), well, I don't want to give it away. But I dare say after you've read the last page, you'll be surprised. I highly recommend it.

And what, pray tell, does this have to do with sports? So far, nothing, but the title of this post was The Lion's game -- right? Which brings me to the professional football team that resides in Detroit.

DeMille's Lion was sly, cold, calculating, and ruthless. Sort of like an NFL general manager in a small market town dealing with the salary cap regarding the players. Detroit's Lions may be cold and calculating, but not so sly, and definitely not ruthless -- unless one considers the product they have offered up to their fans over the last half century. That's downright brutal.

But the Lion influence isn't just peculiar to the Detroit area. Indeed, it seems to have branched out over the years. Witness the recent Super Bowl. Remember when the first snap of the game sailed over Peyton Manning's head and resulted in a safety for the Seahawks? A guy named Manny Ramirez -- no, not THAT Manny Ramirez -- was the center responsible for that miscue. He's a former Detroit Lion.

A few former Lion head coaches have caught on elsewhere over the years as coordinators and the like -- but never has one been offered another NFL head coaching job again. Given the good-ole-boy merry-go-round of ex head coaches over the years that have landed the same job for another team -- this would seem odd. It's like once they've passed through Detroit, they're scarred for life.

Just recently, former head coach Jim Schwartz caught on as the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills. Seeing as how the Lions still owed Schwartz over $10 million on the remaining two years of his contract when he rightfully got run out of town -- it would be interesting to know, between Detroit and Buffalo, who's paying what. At that, it's Buffalo. One of the few teams that's as sorry as the Lions. A perennial doormat team hiring the coach with the worst record in the NFL over his 5 year tenure to run their defense, is some kind of strange marriage. Good luck with that. You'll notice winning teams weren't exactly clamoring for Schwartz's services. The difference between Buffalo and Detroit? Buffalo typically gets more snow, and BTW, they've been to 4 Super Bowls.

The Lions have watched 2 Super Bowls played in their own stadium(s) over the years, but have never been remotely close to getting to the Big Dance. And the way Seattle and San Fran are looking these days -- not to mention Green Bay and a young Carolina team that's coming on --  the chances of the Lions making it to a Super Bowl in the next several years appear bleak, at best. It could well be Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, etc., will be long since retired and grandfathers and STILL the Lions won't have played in the big game. Right now, it ain't looking good.

On that note, Lions' fans might want to ask themselves an honest question. Given the utter destruction Seattle wreaked on Denver (a really good team), how bad of a beatdown do you think the Seahawks might have put on the Lions in a playoff game?

The one former Lion that seems to have made a wise choice? Defensive lineman Cliff Avril. A couple years back, Avril wanted a 3-year contract worth about $30 million from the Lions. They rightfully balked. Avril wasn't worth that much money at the time. (For that matter, no jock is worth anywhere near that much dough, but that's a story for another day.) So as a free agent, he took his talents to Seattle. No, he still didn't get his $10 million a year. He signed a contract worth considerably less -- $13 million over two years -- averaging out to about $6.5 million a year. Quite a comedown in pay. But guess what? Now he's a Super Bowl champion. And how much is that worth?

Meanwhile, his former team, the Lions, continue their eternal floundering and are no closer to the Super Bowl than they've ever been. Now the Lions have brought in a new head coach, Jim Caldwell. He will no doubt institute a new system, so basically the Lions will be starting over -- again. And Caldwell's not exactly the Messiah. After all the other top candidates were taken off the board by other teams, Caldwell appeared to be the only guy the Lions could get. At that, he's done well as a top assistant while riding the coattails of a leader, notably Tony Dunge, but has pretty much shown himself to be a loser when given the chance to be in charge. Like Jim Schwartz going to the Bills, Caldwell coming to the Lions is hardly going to be a difference maker when one thinks of Super Bowl aspirations. Ain't gonna happen. Too many other teams are already vastly superior, and others are on the rise.

And you know what? In a few years, when Caldwell gets shown the door himself -- as he surely will -- he'll never be a head coach in the NFL again either. Because while the Seahawks can rightfully refer to themselves as the Legion of Boom, passing through Detroit appears to be the Legion of Doom for head coaches.

Enjoy the few years and the money while it lasts Jim, because this is your last stop as a head coach.

Like Edgar Allan Poe's raven once quoth -- nevermore.