Saturday, October 31, 2015

NFL power rankings. Lions suck

Approaching the midway point of the season, let's look at the top teams and the plankton around the league.

#1. New England at 6-0. No great surprise here. As long as they've had Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, they've always got more done with lesser personnel elsewhere to remain perennial contenders. It really is amazing.

#2. Green Bay at 6-0. Despite his dopey commercials, Aaron Rodgers is no slouch and the Cheesers continue to maintain a standard of excellence.

#3. Cincinnati at 6-0. Again, Andy Dalton and the Bengals are showing they're the real deal during the regular season, but look for them to fold in the playoffs -- because they always do.

#4. Denver at 6-0. The Broncos are getting it done in SPITE of Peyton Manning. And talk about dopey commercials. This man has no shame. They've got a great defense and enough tools elsewhere to overcome the quickly fading Manning. Chances in the playoffs? Not good.

#5. Carolina at 6-0. This is pretty much a one man show. QB Cam Newton is a freak. He's big, fast, can pass, run, and make things happen. Plus they've got a pretty stout no-name defense. Look for them to be dangerous in January in a year or two. But not this year. They've got some growing to do.

Out of the 32 teams in the NFL, it could be argued that 22 of them fall somewhere in the mediocre range. They're not great -- nor terrible -- so they have a chance to win --or lose -- most weeks.

And then there's the plankton that round out the bottom five.

#28. Tampa Bay at 2-4. They never should have let Jon Gruden get away. The dude knows football. The Bucs have stunk it up ever since.

#29. Houston at 2-5. They've got JJ Watt, the best pass rusher in the game, but the rest of the franchise -- from ownership down to the front office, coaches, and other players -- is a sorry state of affairs indeed.

#30. Tennessee at 1-5. What can you say? Name the sport, and the volunteer state isn't very good at it. But they've still got the Grand Ole Opry and the Elvis memorial. It's something.

#31. Detroit at 1-6. With an occasional aberration, it's the same thing every year for the Lions. They supposedly have talent here, talent there, talent galore. The draft picks are either "can't miss" or are "diamonds in the rough" that will bud into superstars. The club and their media will tell us so. Every new coach, and there have been a lot of them, is going to be the guy that finally leads them to the promised land. So why do they keep losing? And looking pitiful doing so at that?

#32. Jacksonville at 2-5. Like the Lions, the Jags are the Jags. The only good thing to ever come out of Jacksonville was the Lynard Skynard band. At least THEY could rock the house. Still do, though only one original band member is still alive. Unlike the pitiful Jags and Lions, Skynard drafted well to fill needs over the years. They've got PLAYERS and the beat goes on.

Baltimore at 1-6 has to be the biggest disappointment of the year. And Atlanta at 5-1 likely the biggest surprise. The Ravens are already history and the Falcons likely have little shot at making it to Super Bowl 50 in new Levi Stadium, located in the burbs of San Fran. Speaking of the 49ers, 2-5 is a generous record. That team is coming apart at the seams. Jim Harbaugh was no fool when he jumped ship back to his alma mater at Michigan.

Dumb World Series hype

Leave it to the breathless announcers (and the media) to keep making Dolly Partons out of fashion models. Mountains and anthills. This World Series is a case in point.

The hypesters were agog at how hard the "Big Three" of the NY Mets starting pitching rotation could throw. There was Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard. They could bring it 97-98, and the latter even 100 MPH.

But you know what? It doesn't matter, especially against the KC Royals. The Royals are a fastball hitting team. A pitcher can bring the flat heat all day at 100, but unless he's got other pitches in his repertoire -- and good location -- he's going to get hammered.

Let's get real. Not counting the dying breed of knuckleballers, EVERY major league pitcher can throw well into the 90's. It's not like the old days when some aging pitcher could get by on "junk" alone. The hitters are too good and too smart. These days a pitcher has to have heat and at least a couple other pitches (slider, curve, change-up, etc.) he can control to be successful.

Look at what happened to Harvey and "mud flaps" deGrom in the first two games of the fall classic. These are really good pitchers that can throw really hard, but the Royals had little problem hitting the ball -- hard -- repeatedly. While flame throwing pitchers of old like Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, and Roger Clemens could blow many batters away on speed alone, they became truly great only because their off-speed pitches were even more devastating. If a pitcher is raring back and throwing nothing but fastballs -- even at 100 -- into a team of major league hitters that have long feasted on such heat -- he's going to get hit these days.

Game 3 was absolutely crucial for the Mets. Already down 2-zip, had they lost, the Series would have been all but over. So they sent Noah Syndergaard, a flame-throwing rookie, to the mound. His first pitch to a KC batter went zipping under his chin and all the way back to the backstop. Message sent. Yes, I can throw hard, and no, I'm not afraid to come inside. You're not going to tee off on me.

But it appeared for a while that KC was unfazed. They banged Syndergaard around in the early innings and another crucial hit or two here or there might have spelled his early demise. Did I mention KC hitters can catch up to major heat and hit it hard?

That could have rung the death knell for the Mets. Their three best starting pitchers, all hard throwers, and all got beat. But then Syndergaard settled in with a variety of pitches, and his teammates started scoring a few runs -- something they hadn't done in the first two games. Now the Series is 2-1 and still very much in doubt as to who will prevail.

Of course the bullpens eventually came into play. For whatever reasons, starting pitchers don't have the stamina they did in days of old. Why that is is a very good question, given better training regimens and only starting every fifth game as opposed to every fourth in years past.

Yet leave it to the announcers to say something dumb again. When referring to a reliever, they called him a hard-throwing righthander. Well gee. We can all see he's not a southpaw, and EVERY reliever throws hard (95+) these days. What's the alternative? Bringing in a guy that throws 80 MPH batting practice pitches? Good luck with that. And after all, they're only good for 20-25 pitches before they're totally gassed. That raises another question, but that's a story for another day.

And please spare me the "do or die time" schtick. Somebody's going to win and somebody's going to lose, but I highly doubt the runner-ups will be euthanized and embalmed when the Series is over. Now THAT would be pressure.

Final idle thought: What is it with Arby's? They advertise "we have the meats". Yeah? Well how come it's only half as much as it used to be -- even as shown on TV? And you know the sandwich you get in real life won't look anywhere near as nice as the one you see in hi def on the flat screen. They should remember the late Clara Peller of their OWN old commercials. Where's the beef indeed?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The perfect sports week

It's not too often things come together in a perfect way for your average half-crazed sports zealot. But this was/is one on those weeks. Consider the schedule -- and more than one type of cuisine.


Monday Night Football of course. Meateater's pizza delivered.


World Series Game 1. Girlfriend brings over a heaping plate of mostaccioli on her way to work. Oh yeah, I know what to do with that.


The GF's out of state sister has popped in to stay with her for a few days. KFC and WS Game 2. Plus the leftover tube pasta. It was a big plate.


Take significant other out to dinner and drinks. What goes around comes around. Invite her sister to come along for extra brownie points. One can never have enough of those. Get home in time to watch Thursday Night Football.


The significant other is working a fish fry until late. Stop in, have a couple beers, get fish/chips/cole slaw take-out and tune into Game 3.


A full slate of college football. Grub to be determined. Maybe Arby's. It's been a while. Bring on the beef and cheddar and those potato cakes are great. The girls will likely be off doing whatever sisters do, so best to stay out of their way. Also Game 4.


Go to the office, sometimes known as the local watering hole, for NFL action. Mercifully, the Detroit Lions' game in London will already have concluded by the time I get there. Perhaps some good games will be on. No worries on food. They always have a whole pool table of various stuff as a free halftime smorgasbord. My kind of place. The GF comes on duty at six as the bartender. Go home and get ready for the late game. Green Bay at Denver should be a dandy. Cook something along the way that will result in major leftovers. Always good to have a fall-back plan. One never knows what the food gods may do next. They giveth and they taketh away (as do girlfriends, ahem). And even a clown like me knows how to use the microwave. When that game is over -- take a nap. The sister is due to leave town sometime on Sunday, and the better half just might pop in after closing -- with hormones raging. That would have been a while as well. And we're not talking Arby's in the world of fine cuisine anymore. Best to be prepared. If that happens -- try to live through it, else those leftovers would become a moot point. But if you gotta go -- then what better way?

Ah yes. It will have been a mighty fine week indeed for your average sports junkie.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Only in Detroit

So the Detroit Tigers are looking for another clubhouse leader ala former Tiger Torii Hunter, eh? Names like Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, Jose Iglesias, and Alex Avila have been mentioned. Well, let's see.

JV's always been an elitist sort and lent his name to a breakfast cereal that tasted -- shall we say -- not so good. Every time he had a decent outing, Detroit homers wanted to believe he had regained his former form. Fact is, he's been nothing more than a grossly overpaid journeyman pitcher for the last 3 years. His record speaks for itself.

Victor Martinez was once pretty good, but age has caught up with him in a hurry. He can't play a defensive position, is slower than molasses running the bases, and his batting stats have nose-dived. Plus, besides struggling to stay healthy, he wears a mouth guard that makes him look like a werewolf. Let's throw in a short fuse as well. V-Mart can erupt like a volcano at the slightest provocation.

Slick fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias is a young man, but can't seem to last a full season without health issues himself. He typically starts off hot with the bat, then swoons in the latter part of a season. Looks for him to be on the injured reserve list before Labor Day every year. 2015 was no exception.

Alex Avila? Of course this came from his pappy, Tigers GM Al Avila. Nothing like a little nepotism. AA junior seems to be a concussion waiting to happen, and is lucky if he hits his weight. Did I mention he and V-Mart would likely run neck and neck in a footrace? While a one-legged frog would easily blow by both?

These are the potential "leaders" the Tigers have in their clubhouse? Wow. A dismal prospect indeed. Then again, they brought in Brad Ausmus a couple years ago to lead the whole rag-tag crew. BA had never so much as managed a little league team before. Somewhat predictably, the Tigers bottomed out in 2015, finishing dead last, by a lot, in their own division. But true to conventional Detroit wisdom, Brad Ausmus will be back at the helm next year. As will probably Lions head coach Jim Caldwell. The Tigers and the Lions play right across the street from each other in Motown, and both franchises are floundering at the bottoms of their respective leagues.

Caldwell may not be a competent head coach, but at least he doesn't spit through his teeth every five seconds like Ausmus. Let's do a little spit math. Conservatively estimating the average baseball game lasts two and a half hours, that means Brad Ausmus spits almost a MILLION AND A HALF times during a 162 game baseball season. Such a handsome, seemingly suave and debonair man about town. Such a nasty habit. Does he spit in his house like that? When he eats at a restaurant? In church? Probably not. So why do it in the dugout on TV when kids are watching? Brad needs to straighten up. There's no reason for this. Then again, it beats him furiously scratching his crotch with such regularity. That would raise a few eyebrows. Get that man some serious medication -- fast. And keep him out of my neighborhood just in case whatever he has is catchy. It's hard enough watching his team play. We don't need that sort of personal aggravation running rampant in the 'hood.

After a quick start, the Detroit Red Wings have thudded back to reality. This is a team with a few hot-shot prospects, a couple geezers, an unsettled goalie situation, and a brand new head coach. They've dabbled in the free agent market for aging stars in the last few years, but mostly got burned. The Wings may or may not make the very generous NHL version of the playoffs again, but Stanley Cup contenders they are definitely not.

And the Detroit Pistons, who haven't even played in Detroit for decades, have won a couple games. Chances of them making it to the playoffs? A definite maybe, only because they reside in the mostly weak Eastern Conference of the NBA. They could sneak in as a lower seed. If they were in the West -- not a prayer. But hey, even making it to the playoffs would be an accomplishment for the Pistons. Maybe in a few years things will change around the league and the Pistons will have steadily risen into being contenders again. It takes time, smart draft picks, a free agent or two, a GM that can balance the salary cap while keeping everybody happy, and a coach to pull it all together. Other teams will rise and fall over the years. Such is the nature of parity. Can the Pistons catch a wave once again in the future? Maybe.

But for now, the sports scene with Detroit pro teams appears to be rather dismal. The Tigers have bottomed out and a quick fix seems very unlikely. The Red Wings are mediocre in the NHL. The Pistons likely have a few more years to go before they can become a potential force.

And the Lions are -- well -- still the Lions. Some things just aren't meant to be. And all the koolaid in the world won't change it.

World Series. Weird

So when's the last time you saw the leadoff hitter for the home team hit an inside-the-park home run on the first pitch? Actually, the ball should have been caught, but Met outfielder Yoenes Cespidas hot-dogged it, misplayed it, and it wound up going in the books as a home run. But it shouldn't have been scored that way.

Then it finally took the Mets and Royals 14 innings before somebody won the game. In the seventh/ eighth/ninth innings, both managers employed the age-old strategy in a close game. They used their "set-up" men, then their closers, when each thought they had to chance to win the game in "regulation". But it didn't work out that way. Five extra innings is a bunch when it comes to who's going to pitch. After all, typical relievers are only good for an inning, two max, before they're gassed.

So both managers made the prudent move. Instead of taxing their ever-precious, always fragile bullpen arms, they brought in what normally would be considered fourth or fifth pitchers in their starting rotation. And why not? In the playoffs, much less the World Series, no team needs more than 3 starting pitchers. But on they went. Fourteen innings worth.

And then something happened that caught the attention of yours truly, and I don't know the rules regarding such a scenario.

In the bottom of the 14th inning with the score tied 4-4, the Royals loaded the bases with nobody out. The batter, one Eric Hosmer, hit a fly ball to medium depth right field. Of course the runner on third tagged up after the catch was made by Met Curtis Granderson in right field. The runner scored rather easily. Game over. But was it really?

Many replays were shown, but none showed what happened on the basepaths regarding the other runners that were on first and second base.

So here's the question. OK, Granderson caught the fly ball. That's one out. But if the Royals' baserunners on first and second base never went back to "tag" those bases, what would have happened if the Mets threw the ball to second base, then back to first to double and triple off the runners? If the deciding run hadn't scored, it could have been a potential triple play. Inning over and still tied. Or does the winning run scoring in the meantime make that a moot point?

Beats me. Anybody know what the official rules are in such a scenario?

It was interesting the bookies had Game 1 of this Series dead even. Both the Mets and Royals were listed at -110. In laymen's terms that means if you bet a C note on either team -- and they lost -- it would cost you $110. If your team won, you win a hundred bucks. Making only ten bucks on a single bet might not sound like a lot for the wise guys, but multiply that by countless thousands, perhaps millions of wagerers and, if equal amounts of money are placed on both teams -- guess who wins in the end? Bet you'd gladly take 10% guaranteed interest on your savings account these days -- if you're fortunate enough to have one. But if you've been trying to outsmart the bookies long enough -- chances are you don't. There's a reason they're rich and you're not.

And on the yawn side, the Detroit Pistons opened up their regular season with a game against the Atlanta Hawks. This was, I think, maybe, shown on some obscure cable channel while the opening game of the World Series was airing on a major network. So how many couch tater sports fans tuned into THAT game? Could they be counted without taking off one's shoes and socks? I dunno, but methinks the Nielsen ratings will come back just a tad under the latest polling stats for certain Presidential "candidates". Is it even possible to get a below zero rating? If not, it should be.

On to Game Two of the Fall Classic. This is really good stuff featuring two really good teams.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Detroit Lion bloodshed and other NFL tidbits

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, heads have started to roll in Motown. This is what happens when a team with so much (cough, cough, ahem -- sorry) "potential" crashes and burns. You can't fire all the bonehead players -- though that would be very interesting and likely couldn't hurt -- so coaches have to take the hit.

The Lions just sacked offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Early reports have it he will be replaced by Jim Bob Cooter. Or was that Joe Don Looney? Billy Bob Thornton? Billy Dee Williams? Tommy Lee Jones? Hillary Rodham Clinton? Heck, they could plug in Hopalong Cassidy, Butch and Sundance, and what difference would it make?

Quick question. Is owner Martha Ford even dimly aware of what has happened? If not, somebody should wake her up and enlighten her.

More quickies. Who actually did the firing? Head coach Jim Caldwell? GM Martin Mayhew? Lombardi was Caldwell's hire with the blessing of (thank you Mach/Josh) the Mayillen Man. Are they just passing the buck and biding time until their heads roll as well? Could be. Hello Martha and Mustang Billy. Anybody home?

On a different note, Roger Goodell and his NFL front office minions still can't let go of the Tom Brady "deflategate" thing. After a federal judge (in a venue hand-picked by the NFL itself) set aside Brady's original suspension for various reasons (mostly lack of evidence tying him to a crime that may or may not have been committed in the first place), the good Commish refuses to tap out. Like a typical overzealous prosecutor that will do anything to secure a conviction -- true justice be damned -- they want another bite at the apple. That raises a couple other questions. If a fed judge has already ruled against them, the have to go to a fed appeals court. If they lose there, which is likely, will they take it all the way to the Supremes? Would the nine potentates in black even consider hearing the case? And how many millions of dollars will be wasted along the way in legal fees? It could take years before it's finally resolved. And even if the league improbably gets a ruling in their favor -- then what? Would the original suspension be re-imposed in, say, the year 2018? How nuts is that?

Idle thought. Everybody remembers the old TV show Gilligan's Island. So how was it that the moooovie star Ginger seemed to change clothes every 10 minutes? How many outfits did she take with her on that 3-hour tour anyway? The tiny ship might have been tossed, but her wardrobe was far from lost. No wonder the boat started taking on water. Too many sequins on board.

Remember Jason Pierre Paul? He's the NY Giants defensive end that managed to blow off a finger or two playing with fireworks a while back. The Giants had put a franchise tender tag on PP, but he refused to sign it. Plus, while he was rehabbing his hand with private doctors, he kept the team totally in the dark. Now here we are almost halfway through the 2015 NFL season, and Jason has decided to finally talk to the Giants. Maybe missing out on half a million bucks a week for a couple months has finally stirred a few of his remaining brain cells into action. If I'm the Giants front office, I not only wait him out, but lessen the original offer. In other words, "We're doing OK without you JPP, so take your time. And, BTW, we still own your butt. You can't play for anybody else this year. Let us know when you're ready to sign on the dotted line to start getting paychecks, and we'll think about it for a while and get back to you."

Greg Hardy of the Dallas Cowboys recently went berserk on the sidelines in yet another Dallas loss. He got into it with a special teams coach, injured receiver Dez Bryant, and pretty much everybody else that was in his personal grenade range. Loose cannon doesn't begin to describe this guy. Then he chumped all the reporters in a post-game interview. Sure, the scribes can ask some dumb questions at times, but dissing all of them is not exactly a good idea. They have a way of eating an athlete alive in various media outlets. Naturally, head coach Jason Garett tried to play the incidents down. Of course he did. That's because he has to answer to owner Jerry Jones, likely the second biggest egomaniac in the country behind some guy that's currently leading in the GOP Presidential primary free for all. And JJ is standing by his, ahem, "defensive leader". Right. Jones might well defend Adolph Hitler if he had him under contract and the Fuhrer could sack opposing quarterbacks.

Last, but not least, it appears there was a post-game dust-up between Indy Colt owner Jim Irsay and his GM in the locker room after the team's latest loss. Voices were raised and it got heated, quoth the talking heads.

Tell ya what. When it comes to an owner and a GM not seeing eye to eye -- I'm pretty sure I know which will prevail in the end -- every time. One pretty much rules. The other can be fired in a minute with a mere phone call -- or even text. A GM making millions of dollars has to be a fool to confront his owner, especially in the locker room where the coaches and players are privy to it. Bad, repeat, BAD idea.

Then again, so was the Lions hiring Jim Caldwell. Remember, a year and a half ago when the NFL's coaching carousel was spinning merrily away, Caldwell was the last "qualified" coach remaining, and he was taken by Detroit. Everybody else had passed on him. His history was he was a good lieutenant under other successful head coaches, but quickly crashed and burned when given the reins of command himself.

And look at what has happened with the Lions this year.

Is Martha awake yet?

Detroit Lions. And then what?

So the Lions just got pounded at home by the Minnesota Vikings. This should be no great surprise. In most every facet of the game, the Lions aren't very good. Their current 1-6 record would seem to be an accurate reflection of the team's competency in the NFL. Let's look ahead....

Next week, the Lions are off to jolly old England to take on the KC Chiefs. Two sorry teams travelling 5 times zones away to play a game in a country that considers American football little more than a circus act to begin with. For the sake of argument, let's assume the Lions lose that game as well.

Then, mercifully, they get a bye week. After that, unmercifully, it's off to Lambeau Stadium to face the Packers. Can we safely chalk that game up in the loss column? Following, it's...

Raiders. They seem to have new life this year and aren't too shabby.
Eagles on Thanksgiving day. Chip Kelly's boys have been a major disappointment so far, but who knows how they'll fare against the lowly Lions?
Then the Packers come to town. Ummm......
After the 3 week home stand, it's off to St. Louis to face the Rams. Not a great prospect.
Then on to New Orleans. Chances in the Big Easy? Maybe not so good.
Back home for the 49ers -- a team that seems to have imploded for various reasons over the last year.
They finish up @ Da Bears. Got a coin?

The point is -- forget the playoffs. That was a pipe dream perpetuated by the club and their ever-faithful koolaided media. It was never going to happen this year. It's possible the Lions could go 8-8 if they got hot, but could also slip to 4-12 -- or even conceivably worse. They seem to be in such disarray that it's hard to tell just how low they might go. Could they wind up with the -- gasp -- worst record in the entire league? Somebody has to and, right now, Detroit is a serious cellar contender.

If it plays out that way, being the worst team in the league means they would get the first overall draft pick next year. That would raise an interesting question. What do they do then? Who would they pick at what position?

Hot-shot college quarterbacks typically rank at the top of the list, but the Lions are married to Matthew Stafford for a few more contractual years. True, he's never even won a single playoff game, and may never with the Lions, but he's likely untradeable as well. Given his one step forward, two steps back career progress, it's highly unlikely another team would be willing to take on his lucrative contract, in the process giving up a quality player or draft picks as well. That's not going to happen.

A running back? There's certainly a couple eye-poppers out there in the college ranks that will likely turn pro after this season. Notably Ezekiel Elliot of Ohio State and Leonard Fournette of LSU. But the thing is, even a superstar college running back won't succeed in the NFL without a good offensive line blocking for him. The Lions O-line has been in flux for years. Still is. Let's just say they're not the most formidable bunch. Why blow the first overall pick on a running back if he's just going to get stuffed anyway?

Receivers? The Lions have long had Calvin Johnson and got Golden Tate via free agency from the Seattle Seahawks. The Megatron keeps taking his beatings, and the former Notre Damer seems to be much more about sound bytes and cockiness than he is about production on the field. The good Mr. Tate has seemingly pulled off an impressive two-fer. He combines Roberto Duran with Mount Rushmore. Hands of stone and head of stone.

Nobody takes a linebacker or defensive back with the first pick, though the Lions need serious help in both departments. A D-lineman? A boy named Suh, AKA the Stomper, was the best one the Lions had in years -- but he bailed. And unless the likes of a Lawrence Taylor is available, one guy is not going to make much of a difference up front either.

A kicker? Get real. Unless some dude can start regularly making 70 yard field goals or routinely boot 70 yard punts with a hang time of 10 seconds, that's not going to happen either. Besides, when's the last time you heard of a kicker being picked in the first round? They aren't. Though they can often be the difference makers in games, they are also amongst the lowest paid on the team. Any team.

Again, this is assuming the Lions have the first overall pick next year. If so, many other teams would covet it. So what should the Lions do if they find themselves in that position? Trading down for more quality picks would seem to make sense. They need a lot of help at a lot of different spots before they can even remotely become championship contenders.

But maybe there's a better way. How about packaging the first pick with GM Martin Mayhew, head coach Jim Caldwell and his entire staff, bean counter Tom Lewand, and shipping the whole sorry crew off to a chicken ranch on the outskirts of Las Vegas -- like the one that damn near killed Lamar Odom with pleasures of the flesh? They could be off screwing somebody else besides Lions' fans and have a merry old time.

In return, the Lions could receive a whole bevy of beautiful ladies of the evening, or morning, or afternoon, whatever. Suit them up in the Honolulu blue and silver. Would they win many games? Probably not, but neither have the Lions over the years. And how much more fun would THEY be to watch doing battle with the testosterone laden brutes that opposed them? Illegal contact, procedures, formations, and personal fouls could take on a whole new meaning.

Heck, 90 year-old football heiress Martha Ford probably wouldn't know or notice the difference anyway.

Just a thought......

Saturday, October 24, 2015

All time greatest in sports

Trying to say who was the all time best in any particular sports is tricky territory, not to mention subjective. But here's a few thoughts.....

The NBA. I would suggest Julius Irving. Dr. J didn't win a bunch of titles and wasn't the best in any particular facet of the game. But he revolutionized it. Yes, there's Michael, Lebron, Magic, Bird, and many others over the years that have captured our attention, but all the "did you see that?" plays had their origins with Irving.

Major League baseball. The Hall of Fame has some mighty notable names in it for various reasons, and no game features more stats from hell these days than baseball. But give me George Herman Ruth. No one player was ever bigger in his sport than the Babe, who remains a legend to this day -- almost a century after he began wowing the world with his formidable bat.

The NHL. Once upon a time, it was Gordie Howe. But then the Amazing Gretzky came along to break all his records -- by a lot. Though occasionally a hot-shot prospect (see Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby) is referred to as the "next Gretzky", there will likely never be another quite like Wayne.

The NFL. The trickiest of them all. Different players have different specialties. Statistically speaking, OJ Simpson was far and away the best running back. He averaged over 12 more yards a game during his long career than anybody else. That's a bunch. Remember, the NFL only played a 14 game season in OJ's days. Jerry Rice has to be right up there with the best receivers. Lawrence Taylor likely combined speed and strength to be the most feared defender. But the best of them all might still be playing. Enter Tom Brady, once only a lowly 6th round draft pick. Forget Deflategate, nobody has done more with less than Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. Every year they lose star players but the beat goes on in New England -- as in winning Super Bowls.

The PGA. A few years ago, this appeared to be a no-brainer. Of course it was Tiger Woods. From 1998 to 2008, he turned in arguably the most dominant decade in ANY sport. Eldrick was seemingly winning everything and a "lock" to surpass Jack Nicklaus's record of "major" victories. People were regularly taking Tiger over the entire field in any given tournament. That's was incredible testimony to his greatness. But then it all fell apart -- and rather quickly. In recent years, the young guns on tour have been beating Eldrick brains out, and Tiger's lucky to make a cut -- let alone win. So the nod for the greatest still goes to Jack. Tiger had 10 great years. Nicklaus had 25 really good ones.

Race horses. This is a slam dunk. It was Big Red, the late Secretariat. That colt was to thoroughbred racing what the Beatles were to the rock and roll scene. There will never be another quite like either.

Pro tennis. On the ladies' side, Billie Jean had her day but was eclipsed by Chris. She was in turn outdone by Martina, and Serena has ruled for the last few years. From a male perspective, Rod Laver was once the gold standard, but few would doubt many others have come along since that would beat him to a pulp -- even in his prime. Connors, McEnroe, and certainly Borg, who took an early retirement. Pete Sampras was the Tiger Woods of his era just a generation ago. Though aging, Roger Federer remains a top seed in any tournament he enters. Rafael Nadal once owned clay court tournaments, but has been hobbled with injuries in recent times. But like Tom Brady, the best of all time is likely still playing. A Serb. Novac Djokovic. He has it all. Big serve, power from both the forehand and backhand, drop shots, lobs, return of serve winners, pretty much every shot in the book. Plus incredible stamina. And he's been winning everything lately too. Factor in he's only 28 years old, and who knows what he can achieve in the next few years? If he stays healthy and motivated, neither a given, he might well turn out to be the best of all time in tennis.

Boxing. Many say Muhammed Ali was the greatest of all time. Yours truly has long disagreed with that. True, he was a heavyweight and the big boys typically get more attention than most of the lower weight classes. But Ali got beat five times. Joe Frazier rocked him in their first fight. Ken Norton broke his jaw and thoroughly punished him in a non-title bout. (Idle thought. If one is the champion, how can they fight without their title at stake?) Later he was humbled by Leon Spinks. Leon Spinks!! Still later, he would get in the ring with a much better version of his old self, one Larry Holmes. That was a huge mistake. Holmes destroyed Ali. Sure, Ali was aging but, c'mon, he fought a lot of bums too on his way up the ladder. In a pitiful Joe Louis style swan song, Ali was even thumped by Trevor Burbick. Five losses should hardly add up to the greatest of all time. Floyd Mayweather is 50-0. Yes, he's easy to dislike, but 50-0 is 50-0, and he's fought all the contenders in recent years. But despite his bank account, Floyd was a lightweight in a few respects. Heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano retired undefeated as well at 49-0. A computer simulation several years back predicted a bloodied Marciano would have TKOed Ali in the later rounds if both had been in their prime for a fight. Oh my, the howls that generated. Good luck finding that tape. As for the greatest of all time? Give me George Foreman. Yeah, he got rope-a-doped in the "rumble in the jungle" a few decades back by the same Ali, but anybody that can make countless millions selling a handy-dandy grill with their name on it that they never invented in the first place gets my vote. Yep, I've got one too. Works great.

But the really, really, REALLY all-time greatest in sports award is reserved for non-athletes. These would be the people in the front office and marketing department of the Detroit Lions. They've had a pitiful team for over half a century, yet continue to raise their ticket prices, and the dang Motown fools keep scarfing them up like Elvis is back in town for a concert.

Truly mind-boggling.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Royals/Mets. A great Series

Whether or not the KC Royals and the NY Mets are the best teams from the American and National leagues respectively is certainly debatable. Especially the latter. After all, the St. Louis Cards had the best overall regular season record, Pittsburgh Pirates second, and Chicago Cubs third. And the folks in LA Dodgerland thought they had it going on this year.

But when the playoffs started, the Mets pretty much blitzed the field. KC isn't that much of a surprise to return to the World Series. They still appear to be the class of the American League. It should be noted the Toronto Blue Jays -- a very talented team themselves -- gave them a serious run for their money in the ALCS, including a nail-biting Game 6 that wasn't finally decided until after a rain delay. That game truly could have flipped either way, and who knows what may have happened in a Game 7?

But it is what it is. The Mets and Royals in the Fall Classic. And this should be a terrific World Series.

Both teams seem to have it all. Hitters, home run capability, speed, starting pitching, sparkling defense, and great bullpens. And both are peaking at the perfect time. The Mets clobbering the Dodgers in a divisional series wound up leading to LA manager Don Mattingly no longer being employed there, despite the terrific record he posted during his tenure. Then they swept the Cubs. 8-1 in the postseason against really good teams is very impressive stuff indeed.

Though it was "all hands on deck" throughout some of playoffs -- if you don't win you're out so what's the point in resting some people? -- it won't be that way when the WS starts. Both teams now have a few days off before the Big Dance starts. Actually, the Mets will have sat out for about a week. Will all that time off throw them off the roll they were on? Hard to say.

Winning Game 6 at home was huge for KC. Had they lost, not only would they have run the risk of going down in a Game 7, but their pitching staff would have been the very same "all hands on deck" for the deciding game. Starters could have become relievers, and good luck sorting out who can pitch when and for how long once the WS started. Dispatching Toronto and avoiding such a scenario allows KC to reshuffle their deck and get things back in the proper order. Everybody should be rested and good to go when they tangle with the Mets. And that's the way it should. Both teams at full strength and no excuses.

Who will win? No idea. It's baseball. Anything can happen. It could boil down to a thrilling Game 7 in the WS like it did last year with KC and the Giants, a sweep either way, or anything in between.

However, if the Mets keep playing in the WS like they have for the last couple weeks -- or months for that matter -- they're going to be really hard to beat. This is not to discount KC. They had the best record in the American League, were impressive through two playoff series', and have the "been there done that" factor of being in the WS last year. Besides being super-talented, they're still very hungry to taste a championship. It's been a long time. KC hasn't won a WS for three decades, way back when some guy named George Brett was in his prime.

It's likely safe to say most people outside of the NYC area will be rooting for the Royals. A sentimental favorite. I mean, c'mon, what else do they have? The Chiefs? When's the last time they were any good? No pro basketball or hockey, and the college athletic scene hasn't exactly had a bunch of victory parades in recent memory.

So yeah, go Royals. But looked at objectively, assuming both teams continue to play up to their considerable capabilities, methinks the Metropolitan boys will be getting the parade in a couple weeks. They have ticker-tape in NYC. Not sure what they have to offer in KC. A corn, wheat, or soybean parade perhaps? That would be interesting.

Nevertheless, this should be a great World Series. Bring it on. Beats the hell out of watching October/November games in the NBA or NHL. Who cares? Neither will get interesting until next spring.

Monster home runs

In just the last month some very long home runs have been hit by Major League baseball players. The announcers at the time hyperventilated trying to come up with their usual superlative gibberish to hype the masses. Colossal, Ruthian, and even "moon shot" are typical in their vocabulary. Hey, if somebody can hit a baseball from planet Earth to the moon, forget about the Babe, 'roids, and even baseball. Sign this guy up for special ops in the military, or at least to give Adrian Peterson a righteous vengeful switching. What great fun that would be to watch, but I digress.

Consider some of a the "breath-taking" homers that have been hit lately.

1) Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs hit two. One estimated at 459 feet, and the other at 449. Alas, he has flopped around like a fresh-caught perch trying to play defense in left field of late. The Cubs really, REALLY need to find another position for this guy. Left field isn't working out.

2) Eric Hosmer of the KC Royals hit one 452.

3) His teammate Kendrys Morales popped one 442.

4) Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays hit a 436 foot dinger.

5) And Anthony Rizzo, another Cubbie, checked in at 434.

Very impressive stuff -- until one considers a few other relative factors.

Let's start out with the old Tiger Stadium. Only one of these balls would have even been a home run to dead center field. Barely. It was 440 feet from home plate. And none, repeat NONE of these so-called gargantuan blasts would have came close in the old Yankee Stadium to left-center. It was a ridiculous 465 feet away.

So if I have this right, better conditioned athletes with custom-made bats, hitting juiced up baseballs, can't seem to match the feats that players of yore accomplished. Seems odd.

Ruth may have been the gold standard, but there were others in years past that clubbed monstrous home runs. Jimmy Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, the behemoth Frank Howard, and Reggie Jackson's blast into the light tower high above Tiger Stadium's right field wall. Harmon Killibrew was a brute on occasion, and even chubby first baseman Norman Cash hit a couple estimated at well over 500 feet. Throw in a couple Cecils as well -- Cooper and Fielder. They had notable blasts.

So how can it be that the longest home runs of today pale in comparison to those hit in the past? The pitchers are still throwing 90+ MPH heat and even the heel-swinging steroid era brutes never came close -- juiced balls and all -- to some of the stats the old timers put up.

But it's recently been revealed that many of the "historic" home runs of yesteryear were likely exaggerated -- in a couple different ways. The people that can now compute such things have looked at film and, in effect, dispelled some myths.

They were many that claimed some of the olden blasts were still rising when they cleared the roof of the ballpark. They were not. If that were true, given we're typically talking at least 450 feet away at a height of perhaps 100 feet, the ball may have traveled 600, perhaps 700 feet before it came back to earth. Nobody has ever claimed a home run has gone anywhere near that far.

Another common misconception is a fly ball, much less a long home run, travels in a perfect arc like a rainbow. Also not true. When it reaches its peak height, it has already lost most of the velocity originally generated by the bat hitting the ball. The resistance of the air and gravity combine for a drag effect. In reality, a hard hit fly ball travels quickly to its zenith, but then the rate of descent becomes a lot faster than its further distance traveled. Kind of like hitting an iron in golf. It goes up quick, peaks, then falls swiftly. Despite how much backspin a player might put on the ball, if it traveled in a true arc, no way would it hit the green, bounce once, and stop. It's a matter of physics and laws of motion.

True, smashed line drives can leave the park in a hurry, sometimes even into the upper deck. But you'll never see a line drive leaving the yard entirely. People have claimed if any particular such hitter had "got under" it a bit, the ball might have went 500+ feet. It may have traveled a bit further in total distance, but then it would have become a fly ball and the above-mentioned factors would have come into play.

Bottom line? In today's baseball world, people can closely calculate how far a ball travels. When's the last time you heard of one going over 500 feet? Not lately. Even 470-480 is considered Gargantuan.

Or maybe all those 500+ foot blasts from yesteryear have been exaggerated all along. It makes for great nostalgia, but they had sensationalist announcers and over-hyping scribes (especially the homers -- no pun intended) back in those days too.

Food for thought.....

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Cespides and Price. Two happy campers

Yoenes Cespides and David Price were Detroit Tigers not long ago. In his infinite wisdom, at the trade deadline, Tiger Pres and GM Dave Dombrowki shipped Cespides to the NY Mets for a whozit, and Price to the Toronto Blue Jays for a couple whatzits. Shortly thereafter Tiger ownership shipped D-ski out the door. Fired. Canned. Axed. You gotta go bud.

Consider what has happened since. Cespides's arrival in NY seemed to ignite the Mets. He -- and they have been tearing it up for last couple months. Besides winning the NL East division going away, they clobbered the Dodgers 4-1 in the NLDS, and just swept a very good Chicago Cubs team in the NLCS. It could be argued the youthful Cubs over-achieved this season, but LA is loaded with talent, including likely the two best starting pitchers in the National League -- Kershaw and Greinke.

But the Mets have got it seriously going on themselves. Great starting pitching, hitters galore, speed on the basepathes, terrific team defense, a lights-out bullpen, etc. When all phases of the game are clicking, like the Mets right now, they're going to be mighty tough to beat in the World Series. Did I mention Cespides got traded from a last place Tiger team and is now heading to the Fall Classic? He's a very happy camper.

The same could be said of David Price. Yes, the Jays find themselves down 3-2 to Kansas City in the ALCS, and winning the next two in a row in KC is a mighty tall order. But don't count them out. The very same David Price, a Cy Young probable this season will be on tap for at least one of those games. Yep, the Royals beat him earlier with one big inning. It will be interesting to see if Toronto throws him in Game 6 -- as scheduled -- or throws KC a curve by holding him back for a potential Game 7. Strangely enough, Price is 0-7 as a starter in post-season games over his career, though he does have a couple wins in relief. But bet against David Price when he takes the mound as a starter these days at your own peril.

Yours truly thinks it's doubtful the Jays can go into KC and win the next two games. The Royals are really good from top to bottom too, and they have the "been there, done that" factor in their favor as well. Remember, they barely got nipped in Game 7 of the World Series last year.

But for the sake of argument, let's say Price starts and wins Game 6. It would be 3-all and anything can happen in a deciding Game 7. What if -- OMG -- the Jays were to actually pull this off? Sports has certainly seen stranger things over the years -- even the last few days. Michigan's botched punt to lose to Michigan State was only out-chumped by the Indy Colts farcical fake punt play against the Patriots. What the hell was that?

Nevertheless, David Price is in the ALCS and has a shot at the World Series. Like Cespides, he's a happy camper too. For both of them, it surely beats having stayed on the cellar-dwelling Detroit Tigers. No playoffs, no nothing. Just clean out your locker and go home.

Know what's even better for these guys? They're both going to be free agents at the end of the playoffs, WS, however it turns out. And both have turned in fantastic years. Obscene contracts somewhere await them both. It might just be that Cespides would be quite happy to stay in NY. The franchise has mega-bucks, the city is the biggest of markets, and the team itself could well be contenders for years to come.

David Price staying put in Toronto is a bit iffier. Though he'll no doubt say he's happy to be there, it's not like he had a choice. Whether or not he wants to sign on to spending most of the next few years in Canada (higher taxes and colder weather) is certainly open to debate. That, and other teams will offer him boatloads of money. Would the Jays match or better it and, even if so, would that keep Price in town? Unknown.

Regardless, both Cespides and Price should send thank you cards to Dave Dombrowski. Maybe even a big turkey for Thanksgiving. It would seem to be appropriate. After all, if not for D-ski they wouldn't be where they are now -- on the cusp of being world champions. In the meantime, Dombrowski went from one bottom feeder (the Tigers) to another in the Red Sox. Who indeed is the turkey?

NFL London games.

Looking at the bigger picture, is it any wonder the NFL's European venture crashed and burned? Hey, like Americans consider pro soccer to be right up there in popularity with curling or the badminton circuit, so too do Europeans regard American football as yawnish. Different cultures and different tastes in sports. Fair enough.

But the NFL hasn't done itself any favors with the games they have scheduled in jolly old England's Wembley stadium. It would only stand to reason that if a sports league was trying to make an impression in an already dubious market -- they would send their best.

But no. Not the NFL. Coming up next for the Brits is the Jets taking on the Dolphins. The Bills taking on the Jaguars. If that's not bad enough, the sad-sack Detroit Lions and equally inept KC Chiefs travel  a few time zones away to give the Brits yet another dose of  American pro football -- at its worst. 

Good grief, just last year the Lions bumbled their way to a last-second victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Wembley. The Lions had lost on a last second field goal attempt gone awry, but got another chance on a penalty against themselves to win -- and did? 

No wonder the Brits consider American football a mere circus-like side show spectacle. A team gets rewarded for screwing up? And all those stoppages in play for various time-outs and TV commercials don't help either. A game that features 60 minutes of actual play most often runs well over 3 hours. Soccer's not like that. The clock never stops, though the "extra time" after the clock has hit zero remains a mystery. Only the head official on the field knows how long the game will last before he finally blows his whistle. It's a secret to everybody else. Kind of like the scores in boxing until the fight is all over. But that's a story for another day. 

In the NFL wants to impress the tea and crumpet crowd, here's an idea. Send over some good teams instead of the bottom feeders they have in the past and still do. How about the Patriots taking on the Packers? You know, two traditionally top-flight teams to show how the game is supposed to be played at its highest level. If they truly want a circus atmosphere, send over Jerry Jones and his Dallas team to take on the Washington Redskins. Cowboys and Indians. One of the oldest American games. Yee-hah.

What great fun that would be. Pip, pip, and let the litres of ale and stout flow like the river Thames amongst the crowd in attendance and other spectators watching it on the telly. Beats croquet and surely those ruffians skating around on ice with sticks and pucks trying to do each other great bodily harm in the process. Even the Queen likely finds the former wimpish, and the latter is nothing more than heathens typically missing a few teeth.

Bottom line is the NFL can send teams over to London, or anywhere else in Europe every year, but even if they send the best ones, it's never going to catch on as a mainstream sport with the masses. 

Some sports are destined to only be popular in America. NASCAR or the Indy cars can run a race abroad here and there, but it will never take hold outside of the United States any more than Formula One racing has enchanted the American public. F1 is a huge deal in many other countries, and features the highest racing technology and best drivers in the world -- but Americans shun it.

Ain't no accounting for different strokes in different cultures.

It just is what it is. 

For the NFL to think otherwise is nothing more than hubris. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Wows in sports

San Diego Charger quarterback Phillip Rivers threw for a whopping 503 yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions, and they got beat (by the Packers)? Wow. To their credit, Green Bay remains undefeated, but just think how good they could be if their defensive secondary was semi-competent.

The Denver Broncos remain undefeated as well. This, in spite of the play of aging QB Peyton Manning. Old #18 has never been known for having a big arm -- as in he's responsible for more wounded ducks than that giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a while back -- but he's supposedly "cerebral". Right. Never mind that throughout his career he's always had an offensive line that gave him all day to throw, and a bevy of world class receivers to throw to -- this guy's a regular genius. But lately, the wounded ducks have turned into some bonehead throws. He's throwing as many interceptions as TD passes. Yet how do I know Peyton is Mensa caliber? Simple. Check out his endorsements over the years. Your average Joe McFan would have a very hard time juggling driving a Buick, slicing meat, hanging out with Papa pizza, hawking a cell phone company, peddling a credit card, pushing a brand of athletic shoes, doing various moronic commercials for a satellite TV outfit (singing in a falsetto voice for a barbershop quartet -- really? -- has the man no shame?), and guzzling a watered down "sports" drink. All this and humming as he's about to maw on some nasty looking sandwich from who knows where. Wow. That's quite the resume.

KC Royals pitcher Johnny Cueto has suffered a serious dose of reality since coming over to the American League. Yep, he was an ace pitcher for Cincinnati, but it doesn't seem to have translated to the junior circuit. In other words, the American League batters are eating him up. Sure, Cueto still tries to emulate the antics of long-ago Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant on the mound, but he should quit with that nonsense because it's not working. Though thought to be a brilliant addition to the KC staff when they acquired him, Cueto has actually bombed out. His AL record is a poor 4-8, with an ERA approaching 5. Just last night, he didn't even make it to the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays. They lit him up for 8 runs, all earned. In postseason AL play, Cueto's ERA is just shy of a horrendous 8. He's gone from an ace to a batting practice pitcher. Wow.

The fallout continues from Michigan's last-second botched punt which resulted in Michigan State claiming the most improbable of victories. Yep, it was a bonehead classic, right up there with the Indianapolis Colts "fake punt" debacle against the New England Patriots on Sunday night. Wow, and another wow. Two plays that will live in infamy on back to back days.

In NASCAR, another race in the "Chase" happened. Their promoters are all talking about points here, bonus points there, making it to the next round, blah, blah, blah, blah. Here's a thought. Wake me up when they get to Homestead, the last race, and a champion is finally decided. Though other American sports leagues have expanded their playoff formats for the almighty cha-ching, even THEY don't have a preposterous ten rounds of the same teams playing each other over and over again. How stupid is that? Wow. Even worse, whoever wins the final race might not even be the champion. Last year, there were two celebrations. The winner at Homestead and the driver who had accumulated enough of those "points" to become champion. Isn't that a little bit like declaring somebody a Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, or World Series champion because, even though they lost the final game, they scored more points, goals, or runs along the way in the playoffs than anybody else? Wow.

So what gives with all the champagne being wasted in locker rooms when a team has won, um, something? Like a wild card game. Or a divisional series. You've seen it. They pour the expensive bubbly over each other's heads, or shake it up and spray it around. Yours truly thinks the champagne should be reserved for champions only. But if teams just have to wallow in an alcoholic beverage for every little road sign they pass without being kicked to the curb -- then give them cheap beer. Perhaps Old Milwaukee's Worst. They wouldn't know the difference. It's not like they drink the stuff -- ya know? A couple hundred bottles of champagne to celebrate a minor achievement comes with a hefty price tag. Definitely overkill. Bring in a few half barrels of low-grade suds and pump them up to 100 PSI. Turn on the taps and watch the fun begin. Wow.

A-Rod and Pete Rose are both front and center as TV analysts for the Major League playoffs? Wow. The league office likely cringes. Fred Robman, Rob Fredman, or whoever the Commissioner is these days after Bud-man mercifully finally retired likely doesn't approve. But things could be worse.

As many self-inflicted gaffes as NFL Commish Roger Goodell has struggled with of late, consider a prime-time TV lineup of Ray Rice, Ndamukong Suh, Aldon Smith, Adrian Peterson, and once accused murderer Ray Lewis doing human interest stories as they pertain to football. Wow.

What's that? Ray Lewis is already on the air in prime time offering his expertise? Dang. A definite wow. Notice he never wears a white suit anymore these days. Imagine that....

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl?

Well, that's about as likely as Halley's comet making a U-turn and coming back to crash into planet earth next February. It's possible, but so is Hillary ditching Bill to shack up with Rush Limbaugh. Yet I dare say the odds are very long against any of the above actually occurring.

But the Lions won a game.


At home.

Against Da lowly Bears.

By 3 points.

In overtime.


Lions fans are no doubt overjoyed. A VICTORY!!!!  Know who else is happy? The bookies. They had the Lions as exactly a 3-point favorite so nobody that wagered on this game is a winner.

Yes, the Lions finally got rid of the zero in the win column, and maybe 1-5 sounds a little better than 0-6. But does it really matter? Let's face it, these guys are not a good football team.

Against the Bears, the Lions committed their usual assortment of bonehead plays and the also usual dozen or so dumb penalties, but fate appeared to be on their side. That, and the officials. Upon further review, all the "close calls" seemed to go the Lions' way. Maybe the zebras and the "guys in the booth" felt sorry for them.

Put yourself in their likely mindset. After all, it's just the Bears. They're not going anywhere again either, but they've won a couple games while the puddy-tats have yet to chalk up a single victory. So who cares if we cut the Lions some slack? It's not like this is the Packers against the Patriots, you know, two good teams slugging it out in a contest that mattered. It's the Lions and the Bears. The equivalent of Gomer Pyle taking on Barney Fife in a cage match. Good for comedic value, but hardly a battle between serious contenders. Somebody has to win and, by tomorrow, nobody will remember or care about certain calls, because they never mattered in the first place.

Quick question. Is Matthew Stafford any better than Jay Cutler? Careful. Many consider Cutler a bust, but Stafford's been in the league for 7 seasons and has yet to win a playoff game. Both make obscene salaries, but supposedly Stafford has had more talent to work with. How do I know this? Because the Lions and their faithful, if koolaided, media have said so -- repeatedly. They wouldn't lie -- right?

So let's get real. At 1-5, the Lions' playoff hopes are pretty much already over. With two games remaining against the vastly superior Packers, a road trip to St. Louis in December, and a slew of other games that could go "either way", the Lions would have to win all the "maybes" to even finish at 8-8.

That's probably not going to happen. Yours truly was ranting to anyone that would listen before the season even started that the Lions were vastly overrated, and predicted them to finish 7-9 at best. Few took heed, especially among the Honolulu blue and silver lemmings. As it has played out, 6-10 appears more likely. It's just another nowhere season piled on top of the decades of same that have preceded it. No big deal.

Yet the Lions barely beating the Bears had another consequence. Had they lost to go 0-6, Jim Caldwell's head coaching seat would have started to get a little warm. Sure, he's a righteous dude, nice guy and all, plus he's a "minority" coach -- which typically cuts him extra slack in today's world -- but getting beat at home by the lowly Bears to remain winless may have caused even the most true blue politically correct Lions fans to start questioning his worthiness as a head coach. The whispers and grumbling would likely have started.

By squeaking out a win, Caldwell bought him and his staff some more time. But make no mistake. This guy is not the answer to what ails the Lions. His time will come for the door to hit him on the backside on the way out of town, like it has for so many others. His former record as a head coach elsewhere speaks volumes. He's a proven loser, and look at where the Lions are now under his tutelage. 1-5 and lucky not to be 0-6 is what it is.

Did I mention the Lions are not a good team, and will likely get worse in the future? Matthew Stafford hasn't gotten better. He's regressed. Calvin Johnson will be lucky to last another couple seasons with the beatings he's taken over the years. The offensive line remains in flux, but when has it not been? The running game is the worst in the entire league. The secondary remains Keystone Koppish, and on and on.

But congrats on beating Da Bears.

It's something.

Sort of.


For now.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Baseball playoffs

The Toronto Blue Jays are in trouble. Yes, they lost the first two games at home in the ALDS to Texas and came roaring back to win the next 3 to move on.

But Kansas City is a different animal. Remember, last year the Royals (even as a wild-card finishing only one game behind Detroit in the AL Central) went on to Game 7 of the World Series before finally bowing to the SF Giants. They've been there -- done that. While the Tigers crashed and burned their way into the basement in 2015, the Royals got even better. These guys are the real deal.

After falling behind 2-zip again to the Royals, can the Blue Jays come back and win four out of five to advance? Possible, but that's a mighty tall order. Especially when the Royals lit up former Tiger/now Blue Jay ace pitcher David Price in Game 2. Price is a serious Cy Young candidate and a terrific pitcher indeed. It was unusual to see him get rocked, but the Royals hit him with little problem.

Thing is, even with the travel days, assuming the series lasts that long, Price is likely only to get one more start in the ALCS. At that, win or lose, Price will still be a free agent when this year is over. His future price tag will likely be enormous. Will the Blue Jays be able to keep him? Will they want to take the financial hit to do so? Unknown, but that's getting ahead of the matter at hand.

Toronto better hope they win the next two, because if KC puts up another W in either, and has three games to win one, I know who my money would be on. While many pundits predicted the Blue Jays would slug their way to winning the series, it was interesting Pete Rose said KC in five. Wonder if Charlie Hustle placed a small wager on just that? Hmmm.

On the flip side, the Mets knocked off the Cubs in Game 1. This series was a total toss up going in. The Cubs supposedly had the better hitters, while the Mets had superior pitching. But the Mets have a bunch of guys that can pound the ball, and the Cubbies feature some pretty decent pitching themselves. Besides, who outside of the NY area is rooting against the Cubs? It's likely ninety-nine percent of baseball fans elsewhere have Joe Maddon's boys as a sentimental favorite. A hundred and seven years since they last won a World Series, and over 50 since they even got there? To root against the Cubs would be like rooting against Snow White, Bambi, Santa Claus, or maybe even Alfred E. Neuman. You'd have to be "mad" indeed to take such a stance.

Sure, anything can happen and probably will. We'll see how it all turns out in the next several days -- in both series'.

But in a perfect world, give me the Royals and Cubbies in the World Series. Canada's got hockey and curling to keep sports fans busy. They don't need the Blue Jays nearly as much as KC needs the Royals. I mean, what else is happening in Kansas City? The Chiefs of the NFL are bombing out again and they don't even have a basketball or hockey team.

NYC has all kinds of stuff happening 24 hours a day. They don't need another World Series champ. Yes, Chitown has seen it's share of glory (Blackhawks - Bulls) in recent decades regarding championships, but never the Cubs.

They're the major league version of the Detroit Lions, with a couple notable differences. The Cubs have also historically been losers, but always remained lovable to the masses -- and nobody makes them the punch line of jokes.

C'mon boys, you can do it and slay the evil dragon from the Big Apple. Just win 4 out of the next 6. After all, you had a much better record all year long.

Michigan football. Goodbyes and hellos

After a stunning last second defeat at home by their in-state arch-rival Michigan State, Michigan can say goodbye to....

Any national championship aspirations. Outta here.
Winning the Big 10 football title. Poof -- gone.
Even if they run the rest of the table, not likely with Ohio State looming in another month, finishing in the Top Ten of the national rankings. This is their second loss and getting beat at home when they were a touchdown favorite is a no-no.

The Maize and Blue can say hello to.....

Another year of being MSU's "little sister". Ouch.
The merciless taunts that will come along with it from East Lansing.
Another second tier bowl game that will be hyped to the max but actually quite meaningless.

Truth is, UM should have won this game. They had it in the bag with only 10 seconds to go. All they had to do was punt the football, a routine play, and time would have ran out with UM ahead 23-21. Game over.

But no. Their punter fumbled the snap, then picked it up and fumbled it yet again -- right into the hands of a Spartan defender. He would run it back for a touchdown as time expired. Game truly over. The 100,000+ crowd at the Big House was absolutely stunned. So was I. Yours truly has seen a lot of football in his day, both college and pros, and cannot recall ever seeing a game end quite like that. Ever. The chances of that last play unfolding like it did are likely one in a million. It was the granddaddy of all boneheads.

For Michigan, it happened at the worst possible time, in the worst possible place (at home), to the worst possible opponent not named Ohio State. And in front of a national TV audience that had been anticipating the game for weeks. If that wasn't bad enough for UM, the talking heads will be ranting about that particular play for days, weeks, while replaying it a bazillion times. Sports scribes will write about it from coast to coast, and perhaps beyond. It's already all over the net, and who knows how much action it will get in various social media forums in the future? Likely plenty. The furor over that game-ending bonehead play is going to take a while to die down. And not to be cliche, but it will indeed live in infamy. Ten, twenty, maybe fifty years from now, somebody will drag it back out as one of the biggest gaffes of all time in sports history.

But you know who's really, really, REALLY in trouble? The punter. Some poor sap named Blake O'Neill. #12.

How would you like to be that kid after what happened? In the course of ten seconds, he went from school stud status as a football player --if only a punter -- to the goat of all goats. Good luck to him when he has to go back to classes and/or is walking about the campus with all the other students. You just KNOW he's going to get a lot of not-so-good looks, and faintly hear the mumbles and grumbles around him. Poor devil. If only he had caught that snap.

Conversely, head coach Mark Dantonio and his Spartans will likely say they continue to find ways to win. Horsebleep. They got incredibly lucky on a fluke play to win this game. Everybody knows MSU didn't deserve the victory. UM's punter just flat-out blew it on the last play. The entire country saw it. To claim otherwise is somewhere between hubris and delusional.

To their credit, Michigan State remains undefeated, but they've also been playing with fire all year. They've BARELY scraped by a few teams they should have routed, if they're to be believed as national contenders. Michigan was the first competitive team they had faced, and it took a miracle not of their own doing for the Spartans to squeak out a last second victory.

Yours truly continues to firmly believe Michigan State isn't all that. Playing with fire week after week will likely result in them getting burned somewhere down the road. This is not a Top 5 team by any stretch of the imagination.

They got lucky and good for them. Everything remains great in East Lansing.

Not so much in Ann Arbor, and alas, what of poor Blake O'Neill?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Eric Ebron. Misguided or moron?

Eric Ebron is a tight end for the Detroit Lions. Drafted out of North Carolina in the first round in 2014 (10th overall), Ebron has been -- shall we say -- underwhelming in his brief time with Detroit.

Spanning the entire 2014 season and the five games (22 in all) played by the Lions so far this year, Ebron has appeared in 17 of them. During those 17 games he's made 40 receptions, not quite two and a half a game. Roughly 10 yards per catch. He's been "targeted" 71 times by QB Matthew Stafford, so his 40 receptions means he catches the pass a little over half the time. Perhaps average for a tight end not named Gronkowski, but maybe not so hot for a guy picked #10 overall. BTW, he seems to have a problem staying healthy.

[It should be noted that Detroit remains the only team in the entire NFL that has yet to win a single game.]

Injured yet again, he had to sit out Detroit's last contest against the Arizona Cardinals. And then Eric Ebron made an incredible statement. Though the Lions were totally blown out at home by the Cards (a late garbage time touchdown to bring them within 25 points is not exactly a close call -- final score 42-17), EE just had to spout off.

Ebron claimed that if he had been healthy and able to play, the Lions would have won that game. Well gee. Let's think about that. Evidently the former Tar Heel is of the opinion that he could have made a 4 touchdown difference just by being on the field. Those are mighty big words for a guy who's only scored 3 touchdowns in his entire NFL career.

Maybe he figured he could grab a couple TD passes on offense and perhaps play on defense and/or special teams as well. As a cornerback, he could pick off a pass and take it to "the house", and maybe run back a kickoff (the Cards were kicking off a lot) 105 yards for yet another touchdown.

That would have been a performance for the ages. But I don't think we're going to see a two-way skill player any time soon. And if it happens, his name surely won't be Eric Ebron. He's a tight end for crying out loud and, at best, an average one at that.

To claim he could have single-handedly made the difference when the rest of his team was getting shellacked in their own stadium by a clearly superior team would seem to indicate one of two things.

Either Ebron has the yet to be discovered alter-ego potential of a Clark Kent, or the Lions drafted another idiot in the first round.

It surely wouldn't be the first time.....

Zack Greinke. Hero or goat?

The LA Dodgers' pitching ace is a serious candidate for this year's NL Cy Young award. I mean, c'mon, 32 starts, a 19-3 record, 200 strike outs against only 40 walks, and an incredible low-low ERA of only 1.66 during the regular season? This was lights out stuff.

[For those stats from hell geeks that continue to rant about WAR (wins above replacement), Greinke's was over 9 this year. In other words, the Dodgers won nine more games than they would have if, say, a Kardashian had pitched in his place. The K girls no doubt bring a lot of heat (and a few curves -- no comment on such things as back door sliders, ahem) to the ignorant masses, but I'm guessing none of them would fare so well on the mound against major league hitters.]

But then the playoffs started. The Dodgers faced off against the NY Mets, both division winners. And given two starts, Zack Greinke couldn't win a game. In fact, he took the loss in the recently concluded and deciding Game 5. The Mets move on to face the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS and the Dodgers have been sent packing.

Thing is, Greinke pulled a bonehead in the deciding game that ultimately eliminated his team. Consider the scenario:

In a game tied 2-2 in the sixth inning, the Mets were at bat. They had a runner on first with one out. The left-handed hitting NY batter at the time was a known "pull" hitter, so the Dodgers had put on the "shift". You know, basically the third baseman moved to shortstop, the shortstop was on the first base side of second base, and the second baseman was in shallow right field. But Greinke walked the hitter. Of course, the guy on first base trotted down to second. But wait, he quickly noticed no Dodger was anywhere near third base, so he scampered over to take it. Even the third base coach appeared to be stunned.

Greinke had the baseball, the catcher having thrown it back to him after the walk, and everything was still "live". No timeout had been called by anybody. The Met that used to be on first was now on third -- after a WALK. Yours truly cannot remember such a thing every happening before.

So then, instead of runners on first and second with one out, they were on first and third due to Greinke's brain fart. He knew damned good and well the "shift" was on and should have run over to third base to cover it. As fate would have it, the next Met batter hit a fly ball deep enough to the outfield for the guy on third to tag up and score. That made the score 3-2 in favor of the Mets.

At the time that happened, yours truly thought -- Greinke better hope that doesn't turn out to be the deciding run. But it did indeed. The game would end with the same 3-2 score. Mets go on and Dodgers go home.

Here's wishing Zack Greinke all the best and he might well win the NL Cy Young award. His regular season stats were most impressive.

But when push came to shove in the end, Greinke has nobody to blame but himself for the Dodgers demise in the playoffs. The media will spin it in a positive way, because that's what they do. In today's politically correct times, everybody's scared to death of ripping somebody else for fear of being deemed "insensitive", or some other wimpy nonsense.

Regardless, methinks Zack Greinke will not sleep well for a few days. He's been around the major leagues long enough to known he pulled a major bonehead that ultimately resulted in his team getting bounced out of the playoffs.

Replays don't lie and this wasn't even a close call.

After such an heroic regular season performance, it's quite the shame Zack Greinke wound up the goat in the end. Alas......

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Lamar Odom. Sad or comical?

Alas, the former LA Lakers star, and I use that word loosely, is fighting for his life in a Las Vegas hospital. This isn't supposed to happen to a guy that was in tip-top shape not long ago and hasn't even turned 36 yet.

Poor Lamar was found unresponsive at a "chicken ranch" outside of Vegas. Apparently, he had spent several days there. Early reports suggest dear Lamar had been using cocaine and eating "sexual enhancement" pills like popcorn. No word yet on how much dough it cost him, but it's probably a safe bet the lovely ladies of the evening weren't giving him any freebies.

Contrary to much public opinion, prostitution is technically against the law in Las Vegas, and the entire Clark County of Nevada it resides in. But a lot of it goes on, particularly in the casinos late at night. The cops and, more importantly, the pit bosses tolerate the pimps and their girls as long as they don't interfere with the wagering clientele. But if some gamer wants to "get lucky" and has a couple C notes to spare, the action is readily available. Nobody cares. As they say, what happens in Vegas -- stays in Vegas. Business as usual, with a wink and a nod.

But to be totally above board, one must take an hour's drive out of Vegas and Clark County way up into the mountains to a town called Pahrump. Home of the chicken ranches, and where Lamar Odom decided to spend a few days.

If true, one can only imagine what toll the combination of cocaine, a heavy diet of boner pills, and lovely ladies willing to do all manner of sexual "favors" 24 hours a day might take on the average red-blooded American he-man. It appears they damn near killed poor Lamar Odom. But hey, if you gotta go, such a scenario surely beats the heck out of, say, a gas leak blowing up your house with you in it, a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting hitting you in the head, or having a really bad attorney in divorce court. Why not go out in a blaze of testosterone glory?

Or maybe this is what happens after some poor devil marries into the Kardashian family, and is subsequently -- surprise -- dumped. It would be enough to make any man go off the deep end. Hanging out with the in-laws would stretch the emotional limits of any mortal man, but the ultimate dis of getting kicked to the curb by a no-talent yahoo might well have been poor Lamar's breaking point.

So he went to Pahrump. Party, party, party. Snort, snort, snort. Pill, pill, pill, and bang, bang, bang. It's unclear why Odom would need enhancement pills at his young age, but maybe his ex Khloe had something to do with it. Was she that bad in the sack to ruin Odom's natural libido? Unknown.

What I do know is the hookers in and around Las Vegas feature some mighty beautiful women. I've never partaken of such pleasures of the flesh when there, but I've never been a Los Angeles Laker or married to a Kardashian either. I suppose both could have taken their toll in recent years. Losers, and more losers.

For those so inclined, even the Holy Bible has long weighed in on such a subject. The Apostle Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Galatians, Chapter 6 --  whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap..... for he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.

Sounds like Lamar has been doing a whole lot of sowing of late, and perhaps he has reaped his just reward.

Here's wishing Odom all the best and a quick recovery, but excuse me if I find it a bit comical as well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Detroit Lions and ill winds

You know your football team is in trouble when:

1) The coaches and players have to say they still stand behind their starting quarterback, despite how miserable his recent performances may have been. Be it in business, politics, or sports, usually a vote of confidence means somebody is on very thin ice.

2) There are whispers the head coach may have "lost his team". It doesn't have to be true, but the mere mention of the possibility is a very bad omen that has not played out well in the past. When the home-town media has to put a positive spin on a losing coach, it is definitely a red flag.

3) A player rips the home town fans because they didn't cheer loud enough at the last game. Well gee. Could it be said player and the rest of the team were stinking it up yet again in front of people that had coughed up big bucks to be in the stadium? And BTW, who's paying who's salary? The fans have every right to boo when their team continues to be incompetent. It's not a privilege, it's they're right. They paid for it. Said player is only showing his own arrogant stupidity. It doesn't matter how much he subsequently backtracks after catching major flak and tries to smooth things over. Even the cleverest people can't unring a bell they've already rung, and this guy appears to be little more than a grossly overpaid underperforming selfish idiot.

4) After such high preseason expectations, the team currently stands at 0-5 and apparently getting worse every week. If your team is the only one in the entire league that has yet to win a single game, you just might want to ease off on the koolaid a bit.

5) The ominous Game Six looms so large. The Chicago Bears are coming to town for a game against the Lions this Sunday. When the season started, Lions' fans thought this was a gimme. Now it's looking like anything but an automatic W. Even at home, Detroit is only a mere 3 point favorite against Da Bears. In other words, the bookies consider the teams evenly matched but give 3 to the home team.

Here's the deal. The Lions better hope they can beat the Bears. The Honolulu blue and silver wheels have already become quite wobbly this season. Defeating Chicago would be nothing to crow about, because the Lions' playoff hopes died a couple weeks back. But still, a win would be a win.

But if they lose at home to the Bears to go 0-6 -- entirely possible given their sorry current state of affairs -- the wheels just might fall off completely. Jim Caldwell's seat would rightfully begin heating up, and even their most faithful media might start sniping. That's not even to mention the finger-pointing that would likely start in the locker room.

It could turn into a regular zoo free-for-all. Then again, isn't that pretty much what the Lions have been over the last half century or so?

The Amazing Chicago Cubs

Well OK. Maybe it was a mild upset when the Cubs knocked off the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL wild car game. After all, with 98 wins, the Bucs had the second best regular season record in all of baseball and were playing at home. Star player Andrew McCutcheon's mom even sang the national anthem. Pittsburgh was geeked.

Yet the Cubbies had only won one less game (97), and anything can happen in baseball, especially in a single contest. Last place teams sometimes defeat "elite" clubs they trail by 20 games or more. It happens all the time. Baseball is funny that way. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day.

But the Cubs were not supposed to dispatch the St. Louis Cardinals. The Redbirds had the best record (100 wins) of all, and home field advantage to boot. The Cardinals have long been regarded as the classiest franchise in the Major Leagues, and their fans the most knowledgeable. Unlike other "high profile" teams, St. Louis has always been about playing at a high level in all phases of the game. True, they won't win the World Series every year -- nobody does -- but they're always competitive. When's the last time you saw a Cardinal team bringing up the rear in their division? It just doesn't happen. The Cards are always good.

To the delight of the delirious crowd at Wrigley Field, their Cubbies improbably -- or maybe not -- sent the Cardinals packing this year in an NLDS. Pity the late Harry Caray couldn't be there to see it, but I suspect he knows somehow, wherever he is. Three games to one and the mighty Cards are out, fair and square.

Now the Cubs await the winner of the NY Mets/LA Dodgers league semi-final. Just a few minutes ago, LA knocked off the Mets in the Big Apple to even the series at 2-2. The Mets really, REALLY wanted to win this game. Not only would it have given them a few days extra rest, but saved another trip all the way back out to the west coast for a deciding Game 5.

[Idle thought. Is there a longer flight in pro sports than from NY to LA? Even if the Mets win they have to fly all the way back home and then to Chicago for the first two games of the NLCS. Jet lag anyone?]

Regardless, whichever team emerges from the 3-way scrum in the NL to get to the World Series will be welcomed by the advertising folks. Chicago, NY, and LA are big markets indeed, especially the latter two.

Not so much in the AL. Regardless of who wins the series' between Houston/KC and Toronto/Texas, both currently tied at 2-2, none of those cities represent a commercial extravaganza for the Madison Avenue folks. Though all their teams are obviously very good, whoever makes it to the World Series will be considered a "small market" team, with the possible exception of Texas. The Lone Star state is chock full of teams, both in various pro leagues and college, so their loyalties are certainly divided. Would they all pull together to root on the Rangers if they make it to baseball's Big Dance? Maybe.

Nevertheless, here's to the Cubbies. They're going to the league finals for the first time in over 30 years. Who would have thunk it? As mentioned in a previous post -- if Joe Maddon isn't the NL manager of the year, something is wrong. Yes, the voting takes place before the post-season starts and remains a secret until it's all over, but even if they bow out short of a championship, what Maddon did with the Cubs throughout the year has been nothing short of magical.

And at this point, besides the folks in NY and LA, who isn't pulling for the Cubs?  107 years since they last won a World Series? The longest jinx -- by far -- in all of sports.

With apologies to American League fans, do we dare hope they can actually pull this off?

Hey, they're pretty good and have as good a shot as anybody remaining.

And wouldn't that be something?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Odds, ends, and college football rankings

In case nobody noticed, and a lot of people didn't, the US Team just won another President's Cup in golf. What with the NFL and college football seasons in full swing and the major leagues slugging it out in the playoffs, it was easy to miss.

[Idle thought. Why do they call it the President's Cup? Most countries don't even have a President. There's kings, queens, premiers, prime ministers, emirs, and even a sultan or three, but very few Presidents outside the USA. And this time around the Americans took on an international squad in South Korea. Bet you don't know who the President of that country is. I didn't either until I looked it up. What with Rodman's buddy Kim to the north getting all the attention, one Park Geun-hye has flown under the radar south of the DMZ. But hye to you Park, whoever you are.]

It's kind of weird how the baseball playoffs have gone so far. A very good Pirates team got zapped in a one game wildcard playoff by the Cubs. And the mighty Yankees suffered the same fate at the hands of the upstart Astros. Somewhere the late George Steinbrenner likely twitched.

The Texas Rangers went into Toronto and won the first two games against the Jays, including knocking off ace David Price. In a best 3 of 5 format, the Rangers were sitting pretty. But then the Jays went down to the Lone Star state and returned the favor. It's now 2-2. So much for home field advantage.

Same with the Astros and KC Royals. Houston had them on the ropes up 2-1, playing at home, and enjoying a 6-2 lead in the eighth inning. Close out time. Oops, the Jays struck for 7 runs in the eighth to win 9-6. On to a deciding game 5 in that series as well. Very interesting stuff.

For entertainment value, it surely beat Bill Haas making a putt on the 18th hole against South Korean Bae Sang-moon in the final match to capture some obscure team golfing trophy. Bae Sang-moon's reward for coming so close? He just got drafted into the Korean military. Wow, evidently they take these things quite seriously in South Korea. Should have made a couple more putts Bae. Happy boot camp.

Most interesting of all are the college football rankings. Yep, Ohio State remains on top, though they've looked underwhelming so far. But hey, they're the defending champs, were ranked #1 in the pre-season, and somebody's going to have to knock them off for that ranking to change.

Baylor has been blistering everybody and the Waco Bears have rightfully earned #2 status.

TCU gives up a ton of points but somehow keeps managing to outscore everybody. They're kind of iffy at #3. But hey, how can you root against critters like horned frogs?

Utah rightfully belongs at #4. They've beaten some very good teams, both at home and on the road, including resurgent Michigan. Though pollsters would rather talk about the likes of the perennial "big boys", the absolute 62-20 mangling the Utes put on Oregon was impossible to ignore. These Salt Lake boys appear to be the real deal. Hardly what they uted to be. Sorry. Ahem.

Michigan State had climbed to as high as #2. But despite remaining undefeated, a few yawner performances against teams they should have clobbered has seen them slide in the rankings all the way down to #8.

Conversely, cross-state rival Michigan has been on the roll of rolls. Since a close opening loss to the above-mentioned Utah, the Wolverines have outscored their opponents 160-14, including 97-0 in their last three games. And not against patsies. BYU is decent, and Northwestern was ranked #12 before getting shellacked 38-0 at the hands of UM. Unranked in the preseason, the Maize and Blue has zoomed up to #12. They have earned it.

This Saturday, MSU travels to UM for a highly anticipated game. The Spartans have owned the Wolverines in recent years, but the expectations appear to have changed -- at least among Michigan, their fans, and the oddsmakers.

Somewhat surprisingly, Michigan is an early 7 point favorite over Michigan State. It would seem to defy logic. How can a #12 team be favored by a touchdown over the #8 team? Home field advantage is supposed to only be worth 3 points, right?  So how does that work and what do the wise guys in Vegas know that we arm chair/big screen fans don't?

Yet make no mistake. This game is absolutely HUGE in the state of Michigan. It's more than just bragging rights for a year for either school. It's a crossroads for both programs.

If MSU wins, and remember their higher ranking and recent successful history, the status quo will remain intact. Could happen. Head coach Mark Dantonio has done a masterful job of making the Spartans perennial contenders on the national stage.

But if UM wins, and remember they're a supposed 7 point favorite and playing at home, the swagger will be back in Ann Arbor. Could happen as well. Let's not forget first year coach Jim Harbaugh will have pulled this off with, for the most part, the same rag-tag bunch he inherited from former coach Brady Hoke. Those guys couldn't get out of their own way under the tutelage of the hokey-pokey man. Can one training camp under a different head coach make that much of a difference with the same crew? Maybe.

Prediction? This won't be a game for the faint at heart. There will be some serious hitting going on in the Big House from both sides. Hard to say which team is in better physical condition and how that may play out as the game reaches its latter stages. If either gets gassed, they're in trouble.

But Michigan State has looked wobbly of late while Michigan features the best defense in the land. MSU QB Connor Cook may well be an NFL prospect, and he'll have to show it in this game. The Spartans won't be able to run against the swarming Wolverine defense. Yet when it comes to smarts, and been there done that, MSU has the advantage.

Despite their recent lackluster showings, my feeble head tells me the Spartans will rise to the occasion and put Michigan in its place once again.

But my heart says it's time for Michigan to finally turn the tables, put a whupping on their recent nemesis, and dispatch the demons.

I suspect the 7 point spread will shrink as the game gets closer, but give me Michigan to cover regardless. Methinks Jim Harbaugh is the real deal and the Wolverines are back.

So there.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Detroit Lions. Again a laughingstock

Just when you think things couldn't possibly get any worse for the sad-sack Lions, leave it to the hapless puddy-tats to find a way. Their home game performance against the Arizona Cardinals was a combination of Murphy's Law and the Keystone Kops. After a while, it got downright comical.

Of their first seven possessions -- five of them resulted in turnovers? Really? Matthew Stafford was throwing interceptions like a wide-eyed rookie quarterback while receivers and backs were coughing up the ball on routine tackles. These guys are getting paid millions as professionals, and this is what they have to offer? Really?

Their, ahem, so-called vaunted offense can't seem to score. The defense is routinely torched for big plays. The special teams units appear to be almost as clueless as the folks that have assembled this rag-tag bunch -- the coaching staff. It's pitiful.

The Lions remain the only NFL team without a single victory. Forget the playoffs. Despite the annual (and predictable) local hype, that was never going to happen anyway. They'll be lucky if they don't wind up with the worst record in the NFL when the regular season is done. These guys are just.... that... bad. And they're not only terrible, but stupid as well.

In the fourth quarter, trailing by four -- count em -- FOUR touchdowns, Jim Caldwell calls for his team to kick a field goal? Really? By that point, it was already a blowout. Why not go for a touchdown? If they don't make it -- who cares? They were going to lose anyway. A meager three points was yuk-worthy. What are these clowns doing?

It could be argued the Cardinals could have taken a knee on every offensive snap after the second half started. Run a few minutes off the clock and don't risk any injuries. After all, with the Lions already trailing 28-7 at the break, and their offense in mega-bumbling mode, there was no way they posed a threat to mount a comeback.

Here's a few things Lions fans need to get used to. Matthew Stafford is not all that. He's never BEEN all that. And he'll never BE all that. Sure, he's thrown for a bunch of yardage -- mostly heaving the ball in the general direction of Calvin Johnson, but after 7 years in the league, he isn't any better than when he started. The Georgia peach still makes incredibly dumb decisions in the heat of battle. It doesn't matter how strong his arm is. If the ball isn't thrown to the right place at the right time, bad things can happen, and Matthew Stafford is a poster boy for trying to force things that aren't there.

Some say Calvin Johnson will eventually land in the Hall of Fame. Yours truly disagrees. Yes, he's big, tall, fast, and has made some amazing catches. But he's also taken a beating over the years, because the other defenses know full well Stafford's tendency to target him, regardless of double or triple teams. The poor guy has hobbled through the last couple seasons barely able to practice. And he's no longer considered amongst the Top 5 receivers in the game. Throw in the fact that the Megatron has never even won a single playoff game, much less sniffed a Super Bowl, pile on all the losses the Lions have suffered while he's been there, give objective Hall voters five years to think about it after he retires -- and CJ is far from a lock to wind up with a bust in Canton. And BTW, he played for the Lions, arguably the sorriest franchise in all of professional sports over the last half century.

Jim Caldwell is not the answer to what ails the Lions either. It is well known JC has enjoyed success under other head coaches as an offensive coordinator, but has crashed and burned when given the head job himself, typically in his second year. Look at the Lions. They're now 0-5 and quite the laughingstock in Caldwell's sophomore year at the helm. If Lions fans think Caldwell is going to lead them to the promised land, they are sadly mistaken. His Peter Principle is once again rearing its ugly head. Caldwell may be a nice guy, a good man, and a worthy lieutenant. But he's not cut out to be a general. Some people have it in them and some people don't. Caldwell decidedly does not. It's just a matter of time before he is sent packing like so many of his failed predecessors.

Like business, changing the long-losing culture of a sports franchise has to start at the top. The late William Clay Ford was often blamed for the Lions losing ways over the years. After all, he had owned them since 1963 until his recent death. Countless coaches and generations of players had come and gone, but still the Lions were losers.

What's sad is who is in charge of the Lions now. That would be William Clay's widow Martha. His son Mustang Billy is busy running the Ford Motor Co. Martha was born into the Harvey Firestone tire empire family, and married into the Fords. A true high-falootin blueblood. But given her lineage, just what, pray tell, can this 90 year old woman be expected to know about owning an NFL team, especially one with the sorry storied history of the Lions?  Does anybody really think Martha can or will change the culture?

Best thing she could do is sell the team. It's not like she needs the money, but give it up to a future owner that will take an active interest in the Lions. Hopefully one that will blow it all up and clean house. The entire front office has to go. So does Caldwell. Trade off the players with any value for future draft picks and start over from scratch.

Sure, the Lions would bottom out for a few years, but what's so different about that? They already have again this year, and maybe "no hope" for a couple years would be a good thing. Could it be any worse than the "false hope" the Lions have given to their fans year after year, and decade after decade?

Better yet, maybe the new owner would move the Lions out of Detroit entirely. A few teams are considering a move to the Los Angeles area, namely the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders. Why not the Lions? And if not LA, move into one of the towns that was vacated by one of the above mentioned three teams. They might begrudgingly take them.

Long time Lions fans would go berserk and scream bloody murder, you say? Probably, but it might just be beneficial to them in the long run. No more blowing house payments to go see games played by a team that has NO shot at ever being a champion.

And if the Honolulu blue and silver maniacs just HAVE to root for somebody, try Cleveland. It's only a few hours drive away and the Browns will offer up much the same as what the Lions have over the decades. Despite having to change team colors, Lions fans could experience a familiar feeling on the shores of Lake Erie.

It's just trading in one loser for another. What's the big deal?