The End Of An Era In NY

Last week ended the radio run of Mike Francessa in NYC.  He and Chris Russo were “Mike and the Mad Dog” on WFAN in NYC from about 1990 until that team dissolved about 10 years ago.  Francessa continued to do the afternoon slot on WFAN until last week.  There were “sports radio” programs in various cities before Mike and the Mad Dog but the popularity of that show topped any of its predecessors and basically led to the “experiment” in the early 90s of “All-Sports Stations” around the country.  Russo continues his career on satellite radio and with a short program on MLB Network TV; Francessa has not revealed what he might do next.  In any event, last week was the end of an era.

In a way, Mike Francessa is a latter-day Howard Cosell.  If you did a poll and asked people in NYC who their favorite sports broadcaster is and in the same poll asked them who their least favorite sports broadcaster is, Francessa might top both lists.  Howard Cosell did that once back in the 1970s.  This situation may help you to understand how and why Mike Francessa has been part of a highly rated radio program for more than 25 years.

Bonne chance, Mike Francessa.

Last week, on Saturday to be specific, there was another “media milestone”.  I saw the first “Bracketology” column on  No, I did not click on it and read it; bracketology columns in mid-December are about as interesting as football’s “Mock Draft” columns are in July.  I am a staunch defender of the First Amendment, but I might make an exception if someone passed a law to prevent those types of “journalism” to exist more than 2 weeks before the decisions involving tournament selection or drafting happen.

When Jeffrey Loria sold the Marlins’ franchise to an ownership group fronted by Derek Jeter, the narrative was that baseball fans in Miami would finally get an organization run by “baseball people” who would put a solid product on the field for fans to get behind.  The latent love of baseball inherent in all those South Floridians would erupt and the Marlins would be relevant on a consistent basis.  Let’s just say that nothing akin to that environment has emerged.

It appears that the new ownership group may not have pockets deep enough to maintain relevancy – at least for the moment.  The new guys – not the hated Jeffrey Loria – are orchestrating a deconstruction that resembles the act of taking a wrecking ball to the major league roster.  It is a prototypical salary dump situation.  The suggestion is that the team will get the payroll down below $90M and use shared revenues to pay down ownership debt for several years and then – maybe – become relevant players in MLB.  That is not what fans were led to believe would happen; the fans are not happy.

Here is how Greg Cote summarized the ongoing situation in the Miami Herald:

Remember 10 weeks ago when we all loved Jeter?: Ah, the good old days!  It was the month before last.  Derek Jeter arrived as a knight on a white steed to save the Marlins and be everything for South Florida that Jeffrey Loria was not.  Then he traded Dee Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna in a flurry — a murder-us row.  Loria 2.0.”

I think there is an interesting/ironic element to the Stanton trade with the Yankees that has not received a lot of attention.  The only player with MLB experience the Marlins got back from the Yankees in the exchange is named “Castro” – as in Starlin Castro.  Given the large Cuban-American community in Miami, that name is not going to be one to put on the marquee.

I think this unfolding story in Miami should get some folks in the mahogany suites in MLB to think about strategic direction.  It would appear that the new owners in Miami are overly leveraged or without sufficient asset-backing to run the club as if they are wearing big-boy pants.  Nonetheless, this ownership group was “vetted” and “approved” by MLB only months ago.  Might MLB need to be a bit more stringent in whatever it does in terms of “vetting”?

In an even larger sense, perhaps MLB needs to start thinking about what Bernie Sanders rails about – income inequality.  There will always be teams with owners richer than the owners of other teams; there will always be teams that generate higher revenues than competing teams; those things are unavoidable.  However, MLB might want to take the extreme highs and the extreme lows on the scale and bring them a bit closer together.

If the Marlins continue their trajectory for a couple of years, the Marlins can join the A’s and the Rays as Quadruple-A teams who further develop young players for other MLB franchises.  If the Marlins’ real objective is get their payroll under $90M for next year, they would join only 4 other teams who “enjoyed” that economic stature in 2017.  Those teams were:

  • Oakland A’s:  $81.7M
  • San Diego Padres:  $71.6M
  • Tampa Bay Rays:  $69.9M
  • Milwaukee Brewers:  $63.1M

The A’s and the Rays are almost always in the bottom quartile of MLB in terms of salary; the Marlins have joined them in that status on frequent occasions.  Given that the top teams put lineups on the field that cost more than $200M every year since 2008, there seems to be a caste system built into MLB that need not be there.  I doubt this sort of thing gets much attention in the MLB Front Office – – but it should.

Finally, I try to keep political commentary out of these rants as best I can.  However, consider this observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot from last week:

Political football: It’s being reported that when all the write-in votes in the controversial Alabama Senate race are accounted for that Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban will finish third. Is there something in Saban’s contract that provides a bonus for that?”

By the way folks, would you be shocked to learn that “Bear” Bryant finished fourth?

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



A Weekend Of Football

The NFL schedule-maker has been kind to us fans this year.  Often in mid-December, the weekend card has 2 or possibly 3 “important games” with regard to the playoffs.  Last week there were about 8 or 10 games that were important; this week there are at least 5; the schedule this year is a bonanza.  Of course, last night’s Matchup of Misery between the Colts and the Broncos was nowhere near important; in fact, it could not claim even to be relevant.

Before getting to the games, I found it interesting that the Browns’ new GM, John Dorsey, gave voice to a rather obvious shortcoming in Cleveland.  Most fans there recognize that the roster playing as the Browns in 2017 is significantly talent-deficient.  Yes, they have torn down the team and accumulated draft picks, but the drafting process in the past couple of years has had a couple of wild misses.  The Browns could have had Carson Wentz two years ago and they traded down; they could have had Deshaun Watson last year and they traded down; given that the Browns in 2017 played most of the time with DeShone Kizer at QB, one might conclude that the analytics gurus in the Browns’ Front Office would not know a QB prospect from Yosemite Sam.

Basically, John Dorsey came out and said that.  In fact, this is what he said in a radio interview:

“You know what?  You’ve got to get a guy like [Coach Hue Jackson] players and you know what?  I’ll come straight out with it.  The guys who were here before, that system, they didn’t get real players.”

John Dorsey will never be a UN Ambassador or an empathetic counsellor for people with low self-esteem.  However, he spake the truth there…

The Jets must go to the bullpen for their QB for the rest of the season.  Josh McCown had surgery on his hand last week and so the Jets will turn to Bryce Petty this week.  The Jets are not going to be in the playoffs and they are also not going to be taking a look at Christian Hackenberg – their 2nd round pick in 2016 – to see if he is near ready to play NFL football.  To use John Dorsey’s phraseology, I wonder if Hackenberg is a “real player” …

RG3 has not taken a snap in an NFL game for about a year now; absent his outstanding rookie season in Washington in 2012, he has not had much success in NFL games in his career.  RG3 is an engaging person and I suppose that is why he was a guest on ESPN’s First Take this week where he said that he would be an addition to the Philadelphia Eagles right now because he can do “Carson Wentz-type things”.  When I read his remarks, I shook my head wondering what sort of hallucinogen he was on and if he could pass the NFL drug screening should the Eagles place a call.  Then I started to make a list of the things that Carson Wentz and RG3 have in common.  See if you notice a trend here:

  • They are both bipeds.
  • Neither one plays the bassoon.
  • They both exchange oxygen in the biosphere.
  • Neither one has won the Nobel Prize.

What is the trend?  The trend is that the similarities between RG3 and Carson Wentz are the same similarities between RG3 and Tom Brady or John Elway or John Unitas; none of the similarities has much to do with playing QB in the NFL.

One last item before getting to the weekend games, a New Orleans Saints’ fan is suing the Saints over the national anthem protests.  The plaintiff wants the cost of his season tix refunded (plus his attorney fees) because – he says – he would never have bought the tickets if he had known that the team would protest the national anthem.  According to reports, the plaintiff bought season tickets worth about $8000; and in his lawsuit, he names Coach Sean Payton and Saint’s owner Tom Benson as being complicit in the anthem protests.

There is actually a bright spot in that story.  The plaintiff wants his attorney fees refunded as part of his petition to the court.  That means that his attorney was smart enough not to take this case on a contingency fee basis.  Hey, sometimes you have to look hard to find a “bright spot”.

The Lions host the Bears on Saturday Afternoon (4:30 EST); the Lions are 5-point favorites at home.  The Lions are still alive for a playoff slot but lots of things have to fall just right for them to make it.  The Bears are toast.  Matthew Stafford continues to play with an injured throwing hand; last week, the Bears offense erupted to score 33 points in a win over the Bengals.  That offensive eruption is indeed unusual because the Bears are only averaging 17.5 points per game this year.  What the Bears need to do is to get the NFL to put them in the AFC.  The Bears are 1-9 against NFC opponents and they are 3-0 against AFC opponents in 2017.

The Chiefs host the Chargers on Saturday Nite (8:30 EST); the Chargers are 1-point favorites on the road. (You can find the game as a “pick ‘em” game at two Internet sportsbooks this morning.)  This game means a lot; the winner will be in sole possession of first place in the AFC West.  If the Chiefs win, they would essentially have a 2-game lead over the Chargers since the Chiefs prevailed in their first meeting this season.  I ran across this stat and forgot to note where I got it, so I cannot cite it properly:

  • Phillip Rivers is only the 3rd QB in NFL history to throw for more than 3500 yards in 10 consecutive seasons.  The other two are Drew Brees and Peyton Manning.

The last time the Chargers beat the Chiefs was in 2013; since then the Chiefs have won 7 in a row in this series.  Another trend is that the Chiefs are 8-1 against the spread in their last 9 games against AFC West opponents.  I will be checking this game out on Saturday night; you can count on that…

The Eagles pay a visit to the Giants on Sunday; the Eagles are 7.5-point favorites in the game.  The Eagles have clinched the NFC East and are in the playoffs; I believe my schedule analysis is correct in saying that if the Eagles win this game, they are assured a Bye Week in the NFC playoffs.  As of this morning, the Giants would have the second pick overall in the NFL Draft next Spring.  Like the Bears, the Giants need to find a way to migrate to the AFC.  In 2017, the Giants are 0-9 against NFC opponents and 2-2 against the AFC.  Wagering on this game presents a pair of less-than wonderful options:

  1. Take the Eagles with Nick Foles at QB and lay more than a TD’s worth of points
  2. Take the calamitous/dreadful/lousy/woeful Giants.


The Packers go to Carolina to play the Panthers on Sunday; the Panthers are 2.5-point favorites.  I am sure you have heard that this game marks the return of Aaron Rodgers from his clavicle fracture a little more than 2 months ago.  Here is the problem for the Packers; Aaron Rodgers does not play defense.  If the Packers are to make the playoffs, they need to win out AND they need some other games to fall their way.  The Panthers are tied with New Orleans atop the NFC South, but they are only a game ahead of the Falcons in that division race.  This is an important game for both teams.

The Vikings host the Bengals on Sunday; the Vikes are 11-point favorites.  The Vikings can wrap up the NFC North title with a win here.  The Bengals lost to the lowly Bears last week by 26 points; I have a suspicion that Marvin Lewis’ tenure with the Bengals is about to end but if the team lays another egg like last week, you can change “have a suspicion” to “am confident”.  By the way, I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games…

The Bills host the Dolphins on Sunday; the Bills are 3-point favorites at home.  The Bills hold the 6th and final slot in the AFC playoffs for the moment; they need to win this game to maintain that position and make the playoffs for the first time in this century.  Meanwhile, the Dolphins come to the field off their dominating victory over the Pats last week.  The Total Line for the game is 39 and there are some interesting trends related to that Total Line:

  • Dolphins are 7-1 to go OVER in their last 8 games
  • Bills are 12-3 to go OVER in their last 15 games at home
  • Bills are 7-2 to go OVER in their last 9 games as a home favorite.

By the way, these two teams will meet again on New Year’s Eve.

The Texans visit the Jags on Sunday; the Jags are 11.5-point favorites at home.  The Jags lead the AFC South over the Titans by a game, but those two teams will meet on New Year’s Eve and the Jags have lost to the Titans earlier this season.  That makes this an important game for the Jags.  The Texans season ended early this year when they lost JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus in the same game in early October; a later injury to Deshaun Watson put the nail in the icing – – to mix metaphors here.  TJ Yates will be under center for the Texans this week.  Oh, did I tell you that I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games.

The Saints host the Jets on Sunday; the Saints are 15.5-point favorites.  The Saints need the game to say in front in the NFC South; the Jets have already exceeded expectations for the 2017 season.  Say, do you know what I think about double-digit spreads in NFL games?

The Cards travel east to play the Skins on Sunday; the Skins are 4-point favorites at home.  This game is as meaningful as a single snowflake in a blizzard.  This game will be on my cable channel this week because of where I live; unless you too live in the DC area or in Arizona, you will be fortunate to have the opportunity to see something more interesting – like an infomercial for a new device that trims nose hairs.

The Browns host the Ravens on Sunday; the Ravens are 7-point favorites on the road.  The Ravens are just outside the playoff structure at the moment; they need to win to stay relevant.  The Browns have scored only 197 points in 13 games (15.1 points per game); that is last in the league.  The Ravens have allowed 246 points in 13 games (18.9 points per game; that is the 4th best scoring defense in the league.

The Seahawks host the Rams on Sunday; the Seahawks are 2.5-point favorites at home.  This is a big game for both teams.  A win for the Rams puts them 2 games up on the Seahawks in the NFC West; a win for the Seahawks gives them the lead over the Rams in that race based on tie-breakers.  Just so you know, the last time the Rams made the playoffs was in 2004.  Marshall Faulk, Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce were part of that Rams’ roster.  The Seahawks’ defense will have unfamiliar names on the field this week; as many as 5 normal starters could miss the action.  The Total Line for the game is 47.5; I think that is low…

The Patriots visit the Steelers on Sunday; the Pats are 2.5-point favorites on the road.  Almost assuredly, the winner of this game will have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.  Other than that, this game is no big deal.  The Total Line for this game is 54; if you believe The Weather Channel, there is a 50% chance of rain on Sunday afternoon with temperatures in the mid-30s.  Fifty-four points in those conditions …?

The Niners host the Titans on Sunday; the Niners are 1.5-point favorites at home.  Yes, I checked to be sure; the Niners are the favorites here.  In fact, you can find the line at 2 points at a couple of Internet sportsbooks this morning.  The Niners are riding a 2-game win streak as they start the “Jimmy G Era” in northern California.  The Titans are still in playoff contention despite their dismal performance last week in a loss to the Cardinals.  The Titans need this game because their last two games are against the Rams and the Jags; neither of those games will be a cakewalk.  There are two opposing trends at work in this game:

  • Titans are 7-20 against the spread in their last 27 road games.
  • Niners are 3-10 against the spread in their last 13 home games.

The Raiders host the Cowboys on Sunday Nite; the Cowboys are 3-point favorites on the road.  Both teams are on the outside looking in regarding the playoffs; the loser of this game might need the intervention of St. Jude to make the playoffs this year.  Interestingly, back in August, lots of folks picked both teams to win their division this year.  The Cowboys cannot do that; the Raiders are highly unlikely to do that.  The Cowboys scored 30+ points in their last two games.  Granted, those games were against the Giants and the Skins but that might be significant here because the Raiders defense in 2017 does not keep offensive coordinators awake at night.  The Total Line for this game is 46; I think that is low…

The Bucs host the Falcons on Monday Nite; the Falcons are 6-point favorites on the road.  The Falcons are in the playoffs as of this morning, but they are only a game ahead of the Cowboys, Lions and Packers in the NFC.  The Bucs have been disappointing on offense this year; Jameis Winston did not “take the next step” in terms of his quarterbacking as folks projected he would.  However, the Bucs defense has been even more disappointing giving up 24 points per game on average.  No wonder the Buds are mired at 4-9 in the standings.  There are some powerful trends at work here:

  • Bucs are 1-10 against the spread in their last 11 games against NFC teams
  • Bucs are 2-9-1 against the spread in their last 12 games.
  • Bucs are 2-7 against the spread in their last 9 games on grass.
  • Head-to-head with the Falcons, the favorite (Falcons) covered in 7 of their last 9 meetings.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times:

“An asteroid 3 miles in diameter is expected to miss Earth by 2 million miles this month.

“Not that we’ve been watching too much football or anything, but … wide left or wide right?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



Lots Of Nonsense Today…

Let me dispense with one item quickly; tonight’s Thursday Night Football game is a toxic waste dump.  The Colts are dead last in the AFC South; the Broncos are dead last in the AFC West; the combined record of these two teams is 7-19.  You absolutely must have something better to do with your time this evening…

The NFL’s concussion protocol seems to be taking a mandatory 8-count for the moment.  It just is not working nearly the way it is purported to work in the name of player safety.  Two events caught on video in the last couple of weeks demonstrate that the concussion protocol is honored sporadically at best.

  1. Russell Wilson took a big hit and was sent to the sidelines for examination.  They put the blue tent over him – partially – wherein he bolted out of the tent having had no examination at all, grabbed his helmet and returned to the game.
  2. Tom Savage took a big hit such that his arms seemed to convulse while he was on the ground and then returned to the huddle looking dazed.

In what seems to be a PR move, the NFL and the NFLPA pay an homage to “player safety” now; curmudgeons tend to think that the various lawsuits pending and settled against the league regarding CTE are the motivating force behind that concern.  No matter the motivation, the protocol in place is not working because it is not enforced.  Supposedly, there are “observers” who are supposed to be able to identify players who need a neurological screen; in the two cases cited above, it is not clear what the “observers” were observing.

Let me be clear.  I realize that this is a crass position to take; but at the bottom line:

  1. I do not really care if a player with a concussion finds the resources to hide that concussion from coaches or “neurological specialists” and continues to play in a game.
  2. That player is an adult; if he makes the choice to behave in that way, then I do not care if he puts himself and his future cognitive prowess in jeopardy.
  3. Adults make choices and choices have consequences.

My problem is that the NFL has this “protocol” in place and is not enforcing it.  They have a rule book and officials are there to enforce those rules – despite the arcane nature of some of those rules.  When you have a rule – and a “protocol” is nothing more than a rule with a fancy name – then it is a sham unless and until it is enforced.  Imagine for a moment if officials did not enforce the offsides rule…

Here is the obstacle that is going to prevent anything meaningful from happening here:

  • The NFL and the NFLPA will have to agree on whatever sort of enforcement steps will be taken in these matters.
  • The fact is that those two entities cannot agree that Tuesday came after Monday this week.

Sometime during the offseason, there will be a joint announcement of a new and more rigid concussion protocol for next year.  That will involve genuflecting in the direction of “player safety”, “truth”, “justice” and “the American Way”.  And if the new more rigid concussion protocol is enforced with the same laxity as the current one, it will not amount to a pinch of pigeon poop.

Earlier this week, Kareem Abdul Jabbar pronounced that the NBA would overtake the NFL in popularity sometime in the next 10 years.  Perhaps, he is correct; let me suggest, however, that he may not be the most unbiased interpreter of data in this matter.  Jabbar cites the fact that surveys show a decline in NFL popularity over the last decade and a smaller decline in popularity for MLB over the same decade.  However, NBA popularity is up in that same time period.  Moreover, TV ratings for NBA games are up while TV ratings for the NFL and MLB are down.  Here are some reasons why I doubt that the NBA can eclipse the NFL in the next 10 years:

  • In 2017, the NBA revenues are approximately $8B; the NFL revenues are approximately $15B.  That is a huge gap to make up in 10 years – unless you suspect that the NFL revenues will decline significantly over the next 10 years.
  • The TV ratings analysis needs some perspective.  Here in the DC area, NBA games get ratings in the range of 3.0 to 4.5 depending on the “juice” surrounding the game.  That is a major improvement over about 5 years ago when NBA games here got ratings near 1.0.  However, last Sunday the Skins played in the late afternoon time slot and the Eagles/Rams game was on the other network in the same time slot.  Not surprisingly, the Skins/Chargers game drew a rating of 11.8.  What is surprising is that the Eagles Rams game – in the same time slot, remember – drew a rating of 11.6.
  • The early Sunday afternoon NFL game here – Giants/Cowboys – had a 14.4 rating and the Sunday Night game – Ravens/Steelers – had a 16.5 rating.  On Monday night, the Pats/Dolphins had an 11.1 rating.

Yes, the NBA numbers are up over the past two years and the NFL numbers are down over the last two years.  Nonetheless, the TV ratings for the two leagues are not remotely close.

Jabbar’s prognostication sounds good and he puts a lot of emphasis on the fact – undisputed – that youth participation in football has declined over the past decade and there has been no such decline noted for basketball.  I will stipulate all those stats and, at the same time, point out that I have heard that argument before.

  • Soccer was going to be the “next big thing” because of the exponential growth in youth soccer programs.  The growth was there; the growth continues; soccer is not the “next big thing” today and is not going to be the “next big thing” in my lifetime.  [Aside:  Of course it will not be; Jabbar says it will be NBA basketball.]
  • More specifically, pundits proclaimed that the success of the US Women’s National Team in World Cup competition would generate interest in girls’ soccer that would translate into an economically viable women’s pro league in the US.  There is indeed a professional women’s soccer league – and a tiered system of leagues – in 2017.  Few, however, would allege that professional women’s soccer is the “next big thing” despite the numbers of young girls playing soccer.

Mark your calendars for December 2027 with a reminder to compare the status and economics of the NBA vis a vis the NFL.  I hope I am alive then to see how this prediction turns out.

Finally, if you want to think about sports that might have great growth potential, consider this observation by Brad Rock in the Deseret News recently:

“Poker, pole dancing and foosball are taking steps toward becoming Olympic sports.

“In other words, at some point synchronized swimming is going to look totally normal.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



Jose Canseco Strikes Again

I have often referred to José Canseco as “the gift that keeps on giving” because he does lots of things that you could label “zany” of “bizarre” and that provides material for these rants.  Now, it appears that he has migrated from the territory of “harmless goofiness” to a field of landmines.  Canseco may have lost his job because he decided to try to be funny about sexual harassment.  Ten years ago, his remarks might – I said MIGHT – have evoked a small chuckle; in today’s environment, his remarks are akin to playing Russian roulette with 5 live rounds in the chambers.  Here are his reported Tweets on the subject:

“Well I mean I’ve been beaten by women taken advantage of by women and molested by women I never complain but it was kind of a turn-on”

And …

“I see the difference I guess cuz I was a good-looking guy and these politicians look like a bag of boogers”

And …

“These women complaining against sexual misconduct are just racist against ugly men”

Canseco was a local TV analyst on the pre-game and post-game shows for the Oakland A’s and his contract expired at the end of the season.  His employer, NBCSports California, said in a statement that they do not agree with these remarks and that they do not reflect the views of the company.  [Aside:  No surprise here…]  The A’s called his comments “disappointing” and pointed out that he is not in a contractual relationship with the A’s.  [Translation:  They want no part of this.]

Unlike many celebrities and politicians and sports figures of today, Canseco has not been fired or forced to resign over these Tweets simply because he does not have a job at the moment.  His contract expires at the end of each season and then the team and the network decide who they want to do the job in the upcoming season.  Right now, I think Canseco’s agent will need to be very conciliatory in his negotiations – – if in fact he ever gets a chance to do any negotiating.

Mentioning José Canseco’s latest verbal excursions reminds me of another current bit of nonsense going around that tangentially involves Canseco.  The Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton very obviously engendered a series of reports on the trade that emphasized the great slugging potential in the Yankees’ lineup with both Stanton and Aaron Judge in the lineup.  A baseball writer who did not mention that would probably have to be drummed out of the Fraternity of Baseball Writers – or whatever it is called.

However, in today’s world, that flurry of reports about the slugging duo was insufficient.  Today, media outlets must to do things to attract eyeballs and to garner online clicks; that leads to “listicles” – articles that are merely lists of things that are in a given category.  Evidently, these draw attention; they must because if they did not, there would no other redeeming social value to writing them in the first place.  And the Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton generated “analyses” of the “Greatest Slugging Duos In Baseball History”.  Here are some of the suggested candidates – in no particular order:

  • Ruth and Gehrig
  • Mantle and Maris
  • Mays and McCovey
  • Aaron and Matthews
  • McGwire and Canseco – maybe you need an asterisk here?
  • Stanton and Judge

I have no problem making these sorts of lists – – AFTER all the entrants on the list have actually accomplished something.  As of this morning, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge have been a “slugging duo” for all of ZERO games.  Who knows?  Perhaps they will supersede all other slugging duos in MLB history; time will answer that for us.  Instead, we have to deal with “listicles” now before there is even a single datum on which to base a conclusion.

The premature “listicles” about Stanton and Judge provides a segue of sorts to my next point of irritation.  I was watching the end of an NBA game involving the New Orleans Pelicans a while ago; the Pelicans won and their pair of big men – Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins – were dominant in the game.  In the afterglow of that win, the studio team of Shaq and Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley were rhapsodic about the potential of this pairing of big men and how it would give every other team in the league defensive nightmares.  That is typical sports hyperbole; I have gotten used to that over the years.  However, I began to listen closely because I hoped these guys would not go too far with it.  And then they did; they started to muse about Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins as “one of the greatest big man pairings of all time”.

First, these guys should know better.  Second, these guys need to realize that there is a tendency out there – particularly among millennials – to believe that anything which happened before they were born is either irrelevant or is prehistoric.  Too many young sports fans need to be disabused of that line of thought; it should not be encouraged.

I do not want to turn this into a “listicle” so I am not going to do any stat research.  What I would like to suggest is that there have been “pairs of big men” on NBA teams in the past who have significant accomplishments – playoff appearances and championships – on their résumés and who had a degree of longevity that dwarfs Davis and Cousins.  Off the top of my head, consider:

  • Tim Duncan and David Robinson
  • Kevin McHale and Robert Parish
  • Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas
  • Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes

Yes, Virginia, there was life in the NBA before 1990…

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding Alex Rodriguez’ recognition that his use of PED’s cost him a shot at the Hall of Fame and about $40M in lost income:

“It’s all right there in this week’s issue of Well, Duh magazine.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



Jumping To Conclusions

Yesterday, I mentioned some of the poor performances from last weekend’s NFL games.  Today I want to add one performance to the list and to comment on another game where it appears to me as if the coaching staff quit on the season.

The additional sour performance from last weekend came last night from the Patriots in their loss to the Dolphins.  From the opening possession, the Pats seemed a step slow; when defenders filled a hole, they hit the runner but did not bring him down; when defenders covered receivers, they were always a foot short of knocking the pass down; when Brady threw to receivers, he did not hit them in stride.  Those are the sorts of “misses” that normally do not happen to the Pats’ they did last night, and they kept on happening for four quarters of the game.

Anyone who watches NFL football even semi-regularly knows from experience that this sort of performance is atypical for the Pats.  In today’s world of over-reaction to the last datum available, I await the cries that announce the demise of the Pats as an NFL powerhouse based on last night’s stinkeroo of a game.

The other game that needs commentary – I should have put it in yesterday’s rant but got sidetracked in my thinking and did not – is the Skins loss to the Chargers.  I will give you a flavor of how bad the Skins’ performance was by quoting the first two sentences from Liz Clarke’s gamer from Monday’s Washington Post:

“The Washington Redskins’ latest defeat – a 30-13 throttling at the hands of Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday – didn’t turn on one ill-advised play-call, one bad quarter of football or even a glaring deficiency on one side of the ball.

“It was a game in which the Redskins were never competitive.”

Every word of that opening to the game report is absolutely accurate.  However, there is a subtle happening in the game that leads me to conclude that the coaching staff recognizes the very glaring flaws of this roster and that the coaching staff has checked out on the season.  Let me take you to the fourth quarter of this shellacking.

  • The Chargers lead 30-6 with less than 3 minutes to play.  Bashaud Breeland intercepts a pass from Kellen Clements at the Skins’ 5-yardline and returned it all the way for a TD.  The clock showed 2:36 left in the game and the score was 30-12.
  • Let me be clear; that play did not endanger the outcome of the game.  Nevertheless, the ONLY strategic call for the Skins at this point is to try for a 2-point conversion.
  • The Skins trail by 18 points; if they are successful with a 2-point try, they make the game a 2-possession game; all they would have to do – tongue firmly in cheek at this point – is to recover 2 onside kicks, score 2 TDs, convert two more 2-point tries and the score is tied.  Hey, they had all 3 timeouts and the 2-minute warning on their side…
  • The coaching staff sent out the kicker who made the score 30-13 meaning the game remained as a 3-possession game.

There is an old adage that goes:

  • “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

I guess I could interpret that coaching decision as “stupidity” in the sense that no one though quickly enough in the atmosphere of utter defeat to see the opportunity to make this a 2-possession game that would eventually wind up as a loss anyway.  My problem with doing that is that Jay Gruden has been the coach in DC for 4 years and while I do not think he is one of the elite coaches in the NFL, I also do not think he is too slow-witted to have noticed.  I think, rather, that he and his fellow-coaches just wanted to get out of the stadium and back home because this lackluster performance stacked on top of the previous week’s pabulum performance against the Cowboys convinced the coaches that this season is over and that this roster is just not adequate to compete for a playoff slot.

If I am correct – and I hasten to add that I cannot read minds – then the Skins’ coaches have either “quit” or they have “come to grips with reality”.  Feel free to take your pick…

I mentioned above with regard to the Pats’ loss last night the current fad of taking minimal data and over-reacting to it by wildly extrapolating it.  There is another example of that making the rounds now; it involves the trade of Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees.  This “analysis” purports to have divined the inner workings of a grand conspiracy whereby Derek Jeter – former Yankees’ captain – made that deal solely for the purpose of making the Yankees stronger.  This “conclusion” is a classic example of a conspiracy theory in that it takes the results of an improbable event and concludes that the only reason the improbably event could possibly have occurred is due to some sort of clandestine deal.

  • Memo to these Conspiracy Theorists:  Derek Jeter was born in 1974.  No, he was not the one on the grassy knoll…  That guy was John Wilkes Booth.

Finally, here is an item from Brad Dickson’s column, Breaking Brad, in the Omaha World-Herald:

“A Tennessee State player has been kicked off the team for punching his coach on the sideline during a timeout. ‘OK, next time I tell you guys to go out and hit hard perhaps I need to be more specific’.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



RIP “Tubby” Raymond

“Tubby” Raymond died last week.  Raymond was a Hall of Fame coach at Delaware for 35 years; he is considered one of the innovators of the wing-T formation and its many deception/counter plays.  His coaching record was 300-113-3; in his 35 seasons at Delaware, his teams had a losing record in only four of them.

Rest in peace, “Tubby” Raymond.

  • [Aside: “Tubby” Raymond’s son, Dave Raymond, was the creator of the character known as the Phillie Phanatic and was the guy under that costume for years.]

Last Friday, I said that the NFL had a strong card of games for fans with most of the games having an impact on playoff hopes.  Well, the NFL put some whipped cream on top of that for fans providing a lot of close games in those meaningful matchups.  Eight games that were important to at least one of the contestants ended as a “one-score game” and two of those games went to overtime.  I would probably have to forfeit my Curmudgeon Credential if I focused on those wonderful and important games today; to protect my standing in the Community of Gripers as a Senior Bellyacher, let me mention some of sour notes from last weekend.

The Bengals led the Bears 7-6 at the end of the first quarter.  No one should think of the Bears as a good team; they are not.  Well, since that is the case, what should me make of the Bengals who – in the final 3 quarters of the game – were outscored by a “not good team” 27-0.  The Bengals’ defense allowed the Bears and Mitchell Trubisky to amass 482 yards of offense.  Back in my NFL Preview Rant in August, I suggested that this might be Marvin Lewis’ last year with the Bengals; given what happened yesterday, I suspect that prediction is more likely now than it was in August.

The Raiders and Chiefs met with the teams tied in the standings.  The Raiders went sleepwalking through the first 3 quarters and trailed 26-0 as the final period began.  During a commercial in the game here in the DC area, I went to the ESPN app on my phone to check scores around the league.  With 8:47 to play in the third quarter here are some stats to consider.  Derek Carr was 7 for 15 for 32 yards; Marshawn Lynch had 5 carries for 35 yards.

The Titans kicked off yesterday in a tie for the lead in the AFC South.  The Titans make their living running the ball; the coach calls their offense, Exotic Smashmouth Football.  Against the Cardinals, the Titans ran the ball 22 times and gained a total of 65 yards.  The only reason this game was close – the Cards won by 5 points – is that the Cards’ QB was Blaine Gabbert and because the Titans managed to sack him 8 times in the game.

The Browns lost to the Packers in OT.  Recall that prior to the NFL Draft in April, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said that DeShone Kizer should have stayed in school another year; people jumped on Kelly for that remark saying that he cared more about his welfare than Kizer’s career.  Brian Kelly was right.  If you need proof, please watch the replay of the INT that Kizer threw in OT to put the Browns in a position to lose.  Quarterbacks throw INTs all the time but on no field in the known universe should any quarterback have thrown that ball in that situation.  I tell you; it’s just sad…

The Giants put Eli Manning back at QB yesterday against the Cowboys and the game was tied 10-10 as the 4th period began.  However, NFL football success requires more than a single successful player and the Giants’ “roster rot” final showed through in the 4th quarter and the Cowboys won 30-10.

King Pyrrhus was in a war with the Romans about 2500 years ago and his armies defeated the Romans in a huge battle.  However, Pyrrhus’ forces suffered such devastating losses that the historian, Plutarch, reported that King Pyrrhus confided in one of his comrades:

“If we win one more battle with the Romans, we shall be ruined.”

From those events, comes the concept of a “Pyrrhic Victory” and it surely appears as if the Eagles achieved a Pyrrhic Victory yesterday in their win over the Rams.  ESPN reports that Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL in the game; the team says that they do not know what the injury is and that there will be an MRI today.  Meaning no offense to Nick Foles, if Wentz’ season is over, the Eagles’ season is likely over too.  With yesterday’s win, the Eagles are guaranteed to be the NFC East champions and will be in the playoffs but without a Herculean performance from Foles, yesterday’s was a Pyrrhic Victory.  That is the history lesson of the week…

Changing the subject, let me share with you the salient part of an e-mail I received last week from a former colleague who is an alum of West Virginia University and who moved back to the Morgantown area upon his retirement.  He has been a reader of these rants since before they appeared on the Internet.

“I have something you can use … when you refer to ‘culinary concoctions’ that are over the top.  We have a restaurant in town near the campus called Tailpipes.  It has an automotive theme … the sandwiches are named for cars.  One sandwich on the menu is The Charger.

“The Charger is a half-pound burger with bacon, pepperjack cheese, fried bananas and peanut butter.

“Before you ask, I never tried it.”

That sandwich sounds like something you would serve to the ghost of Elvis Presley if it were coming to dinner and you just had to have a bacon cheeseburger for yourself.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald related to college basketball happenings:

“The Creighton men’s basketball team defeated UCLA 100-89. The best news is, after the game every single pair of Creighton’s sunglasses were accounted for.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



Another Football Friday

The calendar says it is Friday.  It is football season.  Hence, it is time for a Football Friday rant.  The commentary on college football for the weekend will be brief; there is only one Division 1-A game this week; it is the Army/Navy game.  That game does not showcase the best collegiate players in the country; that game does not have any gravitas regarding the national championship; none of that matters because I always consider the Army/Navy game as one not to be missed.  Every player on each team will play all out on every play; there will be no “look at me celebrations”; this is a game that will be contested at the highest level of intensity but without any rancor.  My advice to you is simple:

  • Take the time to watch this game just for the enjoyment of college football.

There may be a paucity of big-time college football activity this weekend, but the NFL schedule mavens have provided fans with a really good set of matchups.  Last night the Falcons beat the Saints in an AFC South division game that allowed the Falcons to pull within a game of the Saints in the standings.  That game had playoff implications written all over it.  There are 15 other games scheduled for the weekend and way more than half of them have playoff implications.  Savor this weekend’s card; in a couple of weeks, I suspect the number of games that are important for the playoffs will be significantly reduced.

Let me offer a short prelude here.  Favorites have been covering spreads at an unusual rate so far this year in the NFL; and since the public tends to play favorites and lay points, the books have been taking a beating.  On this week’s card, there are lots of attractive underdogs; I think the trend may not hold for this weekend.

Here are the games for Sunday and Monday:

  • Lions at Bucs:  This is a game with playoff implications.  There are no lines posted for these games yet simply because we do not know the condition of Matthew Stafford’s throwing hand after it was stomped on – accidentally – in last week’s contest.  If Stafford cannot play and the Lions have to turn to Jake Rudock as the QB, the Lions’ playoff aspirations are probably destroyed; the Lions have 6 losses already; I doubt that a 9-7 team will make the playoffs in the NFC this season.  Meanwhile, the great unknown in this game is Jameis Winston; will he make a great play out of nothing or will he throw a disastrous INT?  He tends to one or the other in every game…
  • Bears at Bengals:  Neither of these teams will be participating in this year’s playoffs and neither of these teams is any good.  The Bengals are 6.5-point favorites at home.  I will not be watching this game and I would not wager even a farthing on this game.
  • Colts at Bills:  I guess the Bills are still mathematically alive for a playoff slot in the AFC; but in reality, this is a second game without playoff impact.  There are no lines posted for this game yet because the availability of Bills’ QB, Tyrod Taylor, is still up in the air; as of this morning, reports say that Taylor is a “game time decision”.  Nathan Peterman finished out last week’s game for the Bills when Taylor left with an injury; Peterman managed not to throw another five INTs, but let me be polite and say that he does need to work on his accuracy a bit.

Let me interrupt the listing of weekend games to mention something about Nathan Peterman and his debut as a starting QB in the NFL.  You remember; that was the game where he threw 5 INTs in the first half of the game and was yanked at halftime.  Five INTs in a half is a whole lot and it would have put Peterman on pace to shatter the all-time NFL record for most INTs in a single game.  That record has stood since 1950 when Chicago Cardinals’ QB, Jim Hardy, threw 8 INTs in a game against the Eagles.  Hardy had a 7-year career in the NFL as a QB and as a DB.  For his career, he threw 54 TDs and 73 INTs.  In the 1950 season – the one where he threw those 8 INTs in a single game – he led the league in INTs throwing 24 of them.  So, now you know – – and back to the games for this weekend:

  • Seahawks at Jags:  This game is important to both teams regarding the playoffs.  The Seahawks can still see their way to the NFC West title; the Jags have the same record as the Titans in the AFC South but currently trail the Titans based on tie-breakers.  The Jags are 2.5-point favorites at home and I think a lot of that spread reflects the fact that the Seahawks are much better at home than they are on the road and the fact that his is an early starting game for a Seahawks’ team that will fly across 3 time zones to get to the venue.  There are two wildly competing trends at work in this game.  Seahawks’ games have gone UNDER in 14 of the last 19 games in December; Jaguars’ games have gone OVER in 7 of the last 10 games in December.  You make the call …
  • Raiders at Chiefs:  Both teams are 6-6 in the AFC West – as are the Chargers.  The Raiders beat the Chiefs by a point in Oakland 7 weeks ago, so a win for the Raiders would give them the edge over the Chiefs in a tie-breaker situation.  The Chiefs are in a free-fall after starting the season with 5 straight wins.  The Chiefs – not the NFL – suspended CB, Marcus Peters, for this game for his behavior at the end of last week’s loss to the Jets.  Two weeks ago, the Chiefs signed Darrelle Revis off the scrap heap; I guess he will be seeing a lot of action in this game.  This game ought to feature offensive output; both teams yield 5.7 yards per play; only 4 teams in the NFL give up more than 5.7 yards per play.  The Chiefs are 4-point favorites in this game.
  • Vikes at Panthers:  The Vikes are 2.5-point favorites on the road.  The Panthers can tie the Saints for the lead in the NFC South with a win; the Vikes can clinch the NFC North title with a win.  This is the 3rd road game in a row for the Vikes; historically, teams do not do well under those circumstances.  I expect a low-scoring game that will be in doubt until late in the 4th quarter and I expect it to be a defensive game.  The oddsmakers set the Total Line at 42 at the beginning of the week; this morning it is 40.5 just about everywhere – – and as low as 40 at two of the offshore sportsbooks.  The Vikes’ defense gets plenty of well-deserved props; the Panthers’ defense does not get nearly the recognition it deserves.
  • Packers at Browns:  The Packers opened as 6-point favorites, but this line has been bet down to 3 points.  That’s right; there must have been an influx of money on the Browns to effect that movement.  The Packers really need to win out to have a shot at the playoffs and they can probably get Aaron Rodgers back if they get past this game.  To say that Brett Hundley has been erratic as a starting QB would be accurate; so, which Brett Hundley will show up for this game?  Is this where the Browns find their first win of the year?
  • Niners at Texans:  This is the third game on Sunday where neither team is going to the playoffs no matter the outcome here.  The Texans are 3-point favorites at home and the Niners are looking to put together a 2-game winning streak to start the “Jimmy G. Era” in the Bay Area.  I actually like the Niners to win outright here – not that it matters a whit…
  • Skins at Chargers:  The Chargers are 6-point favorites at home.  The Skins are still mathematically alive for the playoffs; but in reality, they are not going to participate.  The Chargers, on the other hand, are tied with the Chiefs and the Raiders atop the AFC West.  If the Chargers win here it will be their fourth win in a row and will guarantee that they remain tied for the lead in the division.  Both Kirk Cousins and Philip Rivers are playing top-flight football this year; a big advantage for the Chargers is that they have a superior cast of receivers to work with Rivers.  Historically, this is the kind of game that the Chargers blow.  If the team hopes to capture the minds of the fans in LA, they better not do that here.  The Total Line for the game is 46.5.  Consider that the Skins are 20-6 to go OVER in their last 26 games on grass; the Skins are 25-8 to go OVER in their last 33 games overall, and the Skins are 19-7 to go OVER in their last 25 games on the road.  Hmmm…
  • Jets at Broncos:  The Jets are 1-point favorites in this game on the road.  Yes, you read that correctly; no, I would never have guessed that would be the case back in August.  This is the fourth and final game on the Sunday card with no importance regarding the playoffs.  If you care about trends, the Broncos are 0-7 against the spread in their last 7 games this year.
  • Titans at Cards:  The Titans are 3-point favorites on the road and they need this game because they are tied with the Jags for the lead in the AFC South.  The Titans give up 242 yards per game passing and the thing the Cards like to do is throw the ball.  I’m not sure the right team is favored here – – even though the Cards will be starting Blaine Gabbert at QB.
  • Eagles at Rams:  The Rams are 2-point favorites at home; the Eagles spent the week in the Pacific Time Zone rather than flying home and back out to LA after playing last Sunday nite in Seattle.  The Eagles lead the NFC East; they can clinch the division title with a win here or with a Cowboys loss this weekend.  The Rams cannot clinch but they do hold a 1-game lead over the Seahawks as of today and would like to maintain that status because they have to face the Seahawks down the road.  Everyone has been raving about Carson Wentz and the year he is having; meanwhile the Eagles’ defense ranks 3rd in the NFL in yards allowed and ranks 1st in the NFL in rushing defense.  This is the best game of the afternoon.
  • Cowboys at Giants:  The Cowboys are 3.5-point favorites on the road and the Cowboys need to win this game to stay playoff-relevant.  The Giants will re-insert Eli Manning as the starting QB and he will not be burdened with any of Ben McAdoo’s nonsense for the game.  The coaching change, however, will not change the basic fact that the Giants’ OL stinks; they have no running game to speak of and their WR corps is Huey, Dewey and Louie.  I think the key to this game is whether the Cowboys can run the b all effectively; the Giants’ D-line has played well this year.  The Total Line for this game is 41.5.  I just have a hunch that this will be a higher scoring affair than most folks anticipate…
  • Ravens at Steelers:  The Steelers are currently the top-seeded team in the AFC playoff race; the Ravens are currently a wild-card team but cannot afford a loss here.  The Steelers are 5-point favorites at home.  Expect this game to be an old-fashioned slobber-knocker [ / Keith Jackson].   If the Eagles/Rams is not the best game of the weekend, then this one is.  The Steelers defense is the 4th best in the NFL; the Ravens defense is the 7th best; however, the loss of Ryan Shazier is a big blow to the Steelers.
  • Pats at Dolphins:  The Pats are 11-point favorites on the road.  The Pats have the same record as the Steelers – and the two teams meet head to head in the game that ought to determine the playoff home field advantage in the AFC.  The challenge for the Pats here is to avoid complacency and looking beyond this game to the game against the Steelers.  This does not look like the most exciting Monday Night Football game of the season.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in his Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times recently:

“On the readerboard at Pike Creek Automotive in Wilmington, Del.:

‘We fix suspensions, unless you are Ezekiel Elliott’.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



The Most Disappointing NFL Team For 2017

A friend asked me yesterday at lunch which NFL team has had the most disappointing season to date.  He thought it was a slam-dunk that I would pick the NY Giants who made the playoffs last year and who have stunk in spades this year.  I agreed with him that the Giants had to get strong consideration for this label, but I said that I wanted time to think about two other teams that have disappointed themselves and their fans.  Let me present my troika here:

  • NY Giants:  They have gone from 11-5 last year to a 2-10 record to date where the team has been outscored by 98 points; that is the worst point differential in the NFC – even worse than the Niners.  To a degree, however, the Giants were a mirage last year.  The defense played over its head and carried a flawed roster to a winning record.  The Giants cannot run the ball and they cannot protect the QB; the roster is seriously flawed; injuries exposed the flaws dramatically.
  • Denver Broncos:  It was not all that long ago that the Broncos were Super Bowl champions; this year they are 3-9 and they have been outscored by 109 points.  As with the Giants, the Broncos’ top-shelf defense masked fundamental problems on the offense – the most serious of which is the lack of a QB who is merely a caretaker.  It appears that losing Wade Philips as the defensive coordinator was a serious loss for the team.
  • Oakland Raiders:  They made the playoffs last year and lost quickly because they had to play without Derek Carr in the playoffs.  With him healthy, everyone thought they would be in the playoffs again and might be the AFC rep to the Super Bowl in February 2018.  As of this morning the Raiders are 6-6 and have been outscored by 29 points despite that .500 record.  I think I want to identify the Raiders as the team that has disappointed its fans the most in 2017 because I thought they had a better chance to go to the Super Bowl than either the Giants or the Broncos.

Why have the Raiders been so disappointing?  How did they go from 12-4 last year to 6-6 as of this morning?  Let me offer 4 reasons:

  1. For some reason, the Raiders changed offensive coordinators in the off-season.  I have no idea why that happened because the Raiders’ offense last year was the main reason the team made the playoffs.
  2. The Raiders’ offensive line took a big step back in terms of effectiveness from 2016 to 2017.
  3. The Raiders signed Marshawn Lynch who has been mediocre at best at RB – until he broke a long TD run last week in a win over the hapless Giants.  I wish the NSA would release transcripts of phone calls and/or e-mails between the members of the Raiders’ Front Office regarding this signing.  I would not be surprised to learn that it was done as a marketing ploy to the fans in Oakland to get them to forget that the Raiders are leaving town soon.  Lynch is “Mr. Oakland” and this smells like a ticket-selling operation to me.
  4. The Raiders hired John Pagano to be the “Assistant Head Coach-Defense”.  I do not know John Pagano from John Adams, but I do know this.  When an entity adds an extra layer of management, the results are usually negative and often very negative.  Regarding the Raiders’ defense in 2017, the result on the field was “very negative”.  Is that John Pagano’s fault?  I do not know.  What I do know is that the defensive coordinator – Ken Norton, Jr. – was fired in mid-season.

Speaking of “disappointing”, I was doing some historical research related to the ongoing futility of the Cleveland Browns’ franchise – candidly, I am not sure why I was looking stuff up, but I ran across this information and copied it onto my clipboard.  The Browns have been part of the NFL since 1950 – save for that brief hiatus in the late 1990s when Cleveland lost the team temporarily until it decided to build a new stadium for a franchise.  From 1950 to 1970, the Browns had two head coaches – Paul Brown and Blanton Collier.  The two of them combined to produce a team record of 194-87-7.  Brown and Collier are the two winningest coaches in franchise history.

Since 1970, however, things have been less than wonderful.  The Browns have had 17 head coaches in 44 seasons (remember, they did not exist from ’96-’98) and of those 17 head coaches, only 2 left Cleveland with a winning record:

  • Nick Skorich was 30-24-2 from 1971-1975
  • Marty Schottenheimer was 44-27-0 from 1984-1988.

Now comes the datum that surprised me.  Marty Schottenheimer left the Browns 30 years ago; the team has played 27 seasons since then under 12 head coaches.  None has had a winning record; that is no surprise to me.  However, the Browns’ coach with the most wins since 1989 is Bill Belichick.  In fact, of the 19 head coaches for the Browns’ franchise, Belichick ranks 5th in total wins – – and just about everyone considers his time in Cleveland as a “failure”.

Jimmy Traina reported on that Rafael Palmiero is “considering a comeback” with a major league team next year; Palmiero will be 53 years old. Reporting on that supposed comeback made it to the local sports radio yakkers yesterday and to Pardon the Interruption and to one of the studio shows on MLB Network.  Pardon my cynicism here, but my first thought was to wonder why this was even worth reporting in the first place – let alone worth talking about in a semi-serious context.  Then I realized that this is a baseball story; this is December; there has not been a lot of “off-season action” to date; the Giancarlo Stanton trade stories and the “Whither Shohei Ohtani” stories have been done to death; so – – any port in a storm.

Finally, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had this comment regarding Scott Frost returning to the University of Nebraska as the new head football coach:

“Scott Frost has accepted the coaching job at Nebraska. At about 4 p.m. Saturday, a group of Nebraskans stormed Mount Rushmore and began carving Frost’s visage.

“This may explain why my “Bring Bret Bielema to Lincoln” rally was sparsely attended Friday night.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



Will “Parity” Kill The NFL?

There has been a change in the NFL over the past couple of decades.  The NFL used to be a “5-tier league”; there were elite teams at the top; there were pathetic teams at the bottom; and there was sufficient variation in the middle to carve out three categories of teams.  True, teams could improve or “deprove” as the season progressed and move from one tier to another, but it was usually possible to discern 5 different levels.  That is just not the case today.

The NFL is now a “3-tier league”.  You can call that “parity” or you can call that “mediocrity” or you can call that “evolution”; putting a label on it really does not matter.  What you have today is a grouping of teams whose records and whose on-field performances are just better than the rest of the league; let me call them the “Category 1 Teams”.  As of this morning I would make this grouping:

  • “Category 1 Teams”:  Pats, Steelers, Eagles, Vikes, Saints, Panthers, Rams, Seahawks.

At the other end of the line, we can pull together the list of bottom-feeders for 2017; let me call them the “Category 3 Teams”.  As of this morning, here is my grouping:

  • “Category 3 Teams”:  Niners, Bucs, Bears, Giants, Broncos, Colts, Texans, Browns.

By default, everyone else falls into “Category 2”; all the teams in “Category 2” are better than the teams in “Category 3” but nowhere near as good as the ones in “Category 1”.  And unlike 20 years ago, it is nigh onto impossible to separate the “Category 2” teams into a more fine-grained structure.  Moreover, if you look at the “Category 2 Teams”, you probably would have a hard time convincing yourself that perception might change in the final weeks of the season such that any of the “Category 2″ teams might wind up in either “Category 1” or “Category 3”.  And to make it worse, half of the league is in that amorphous “Category 2”.

To the extent that NFL football’s popularity has declined in the 2017 season, I suggest that this “parity” among the teams and the unlikeliness of any change in category for any team is part of the problem.  I look at this “parity” situation as “mediocrity”; when I turn on a game between two “Category 2” teams”, the game lacks a compelling tone.  What I see on my TV screen is good-but-not-great football; and in my mind, I know that the outcome of this game is really not all that important.  I continue to watch about the same amount of NFL games as I did in prior years, but I wonder if others are tempted to do “other stuff” because the product on the air is too often mediocre.

My theory is that the cause of this situation is the fiscal success of the NFL.  Writers and commentators love to spin the narrative about the competitive desire of owners to field championship teams and how they will “do anything to bring a championship home to the fans”.  Really?  I suspect that owners of teams that do not win championships – or even win more than half their games – can apply a psychic balm to their injured competitive spirit when they look at the books and see that they netted a profit in the 8-figure range last year plus Forbes says that the value of their franchise just went up in the 8-figure range.  Owners – and by extension their teams – have gotten fat, dumb and happy.  That is analogous to Dean Wormer’s assessment of the frat boys in Animal House and that is not a good way to go through life.

To my mind, the epitome of a team having more profit than brains is the Cleveland Browns and their Front Office dominated by people who have had some success managing baseball teams.  There is a line of thinking in organizations that someone who can manage one thing well can manage anything well.  I have seen so many examples that disprove that line of thinking that I wonder how it maintains currency – – and then I look at the Cleveland Browns’ Front Office and the fact that the owners there set it up that way and …  Now, I ask myself why the Browns’ owners need to change anything because they are not losing money and they have a franchise worth $1.9B (according to Forbes) for which they paid $987M.

Here in the DC area, fans have a team mired in mediocrity.  The franchise is worth something north of $3B; Forbes puts last year’s earnings at $145M before all of the accounting legerdemain of amortization and depreciation and all that stuff.  Juxtapose those numbers with the fact that the owner cannot find a way to provide the team a field to play on that has live grass on it after late November.  Why should he care?  Why should he care if the team wins 8 games this year or only 6?  He will probably make another $145M next year too.

I said above that “to the extent that NFL football’s popularity has declined in 2017 …” and I used that wording specifically because I wonder just how much it has.  The narrative goes that the NFL is in decline; the 800-lb. gorilla in the world of professional sports in America is aging and is fast approaching its expiration date.  That narrative allows commentators to list and complain about all the evils of the NFL.  You know the list; here are a few items that are always good for a column or a hot-take:

  1. Concussions/CTE:  Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to play football…
  2. Domestic violence:  Players do it; the league ham-handles it.
  3. Anthem protests:  The league is squarely in the middle of the country’s culture wars.
  4. Officiating blunders:  Been happening for years; will continue to happen; live with it.
  5. Obscene salary for the Commish:  An employee is worth what his employer pays him/her.

With all those issues as a backdrop to games on TV that are not compelling, you could conclude that an implosion is imminent.  However, there is some contrary evidence that does not support the narrative and seems to have gotten scant attention. tracks issues related to the financial aspects of the media; they reported the following:

“The NFL’s October take was stronger in national TV ad dollars versus a year ago.

“Confirming other recent reports, the NFL is picking up steam when it comes to higher national TV advertising revenues. October TV dollars grew 3% over the same month the year before.

“Across all TV networks, national TV advertising grew to $757 million in October 2017 against $738 million in October 2016, according to Standard Media Index. From the start of the season — early September through November 6 — national TV advertising totaled $1.76 billion against $1.44 billion, according to

“In October, across all five NFL TV networks, the average unit 30-second commercial rate rose 7% to $482,000 in October 2017.”

Could the prevailing narrative be “overstated”?  Is it even possible that the prevailing narrative is “dead wrong”?  The NFL economy is driven by advertisers on its programming; when advertisers buy time and pay premium prices, networks pay premium TV rights’ fees.  Talk about how that revenue will dry up due to “cord cutting” and “streaming” is interesting if you believe that the NFL will give “streaming services” a free ride as opposed to whatever rights fees they have come to enjoy from networks.  It also assumes that fans will not find ways to watch games even if they cut cords.

For the record, I buy into part of the narrative about NFL economics.  I do not believe that the growth rate in revenues/profits or that the growth rate in terms of franchise value can be sustained at the current level for long.  Using the example of the Browns from above, the current owners bought the team in 2012 and have – approximately – seen the franchise value double in 5 years.  That represents a growth rate of about 14.5% per year; that is not sustainable over the next decade; if that were to be the case, the Browns would be worth $7.6B in 2027.  Personally, I don’t see that happening.

However, I also do not believe that parents will not allow their kids to play football to an extent where the talent pool dries up.  The US population today is about 325 million folks; for the NFL as it is currently constructed, the league needs about 60 players per team totaling a little less than 2000 players.  Even if you can imagine a future where the number of high school football players is halved from today’s level, the NFL will still be able to find 2000 “employees” for their enterprise – particularly if the league’s economics continue to support a salary structure where the minimum salary for rookies is $450K per year.

I also do not believe that the NFL’s blatantly stupid handling of domestic violence incidents – or more generally its handling of anti-social behaviors by its players/coaches/others – will doom the league.  Another popular narrative making the rounds today is that women are now feeling empowered sufficiently to call out powerful and famous people for sexual harassment/assault.  Some commentators have even said that we have reached a tipping point here and if that is the case, then there is no going back.  That is what happens if there is really a tipping point…  If that empowerment is real, then it ought not to be very long until women also no longer tolerate domestic violence incidents or other manifestations of anti-social behavior by men in general and football players in particular.  In other words, if the trend afoot among women today is real and continues on its trajectory, the “domestic violence issue” for the NFL will likely resolve itself with or without any impetus from the league.

I believe that the biggest threat to the NFL and its economic dominance resides in its relationship with its players as seen through the lens of collective bargaining.  Other than social hot button issues on which just about every rational human being agree, the NFL and the NFLPA are at odds with one another.  I find this to be amazing.  One of the foundations of the trade union movement in the US over the past century or so has been that workers wanted to share in the economic bounty that their labors produced.  For a time, the idea of “profit sharing” was an important union goal in negotiating new contracts with management.

In 2017 – and for the last two decades or so – profit sharing is precisely what NFL players have.  Strip away much of the verbiage that makes the Collective Bargaining Agreement into a tome approaching 100 pages; the CBA defines classes of “shared revenue” and after audits of those classes of income for each season, a fixed percentage of that revenue must be paid to players as salary.  That is the source of the “salary cap” and the “salary floor”.  What this means is that the NFL and the NFLPA are business partners not adversaries.  When revenues go up, salaries must also go up.  When revenues decline, salaries must also decline.  The league and the union may squabble over the exact percentage paid to players from one CBA to another; they can argue about how fines and suspensions are adjudicated; however, they must recognize that they are squabbling and arguing with a “partner” and not an “evil opponent”.

Check the statements and the interactions and the legal battles between the NFL and the NFLPA over the past couple of years and ask yourself if that is the way “partners” deal with one another or if those pitched battles represent the behaviors of “opponents” or even “enemies”.  This is the area of concern for the NFL if it is going to continue as a growing enterprise in the entertainment industry.  [Aside:  The NFL economic success is built on the fact that it is a TV series more than a sporting event.  The NFL is the highest rated programming on all 4 of its “broadcast partner” networks.]  The NFLPA needs also to come to this recognition.  What that mutual recognition might accomplish is that both parties will act in such a way as to be sure that their actions do not offend significant portions of the audience.

The NFL has issues; but in too many places, those issues have been inflated beyond reality.  Consider:

  • TV ratings are down – – but ad revenues are up.
  • “Parity”/” Mediocrity” does not help TV ratings; we have lots of “Parity”/” Mediocrity”; that does not seem sufficient to kill the league.
  • There will always be sufficient numbers of players to provide the league with employees.
  • There is no cure to poor officiating.
  • People will get over the “obscene salary” paid to the Commish.

The big issue for the NFL is to find a way to reach a much more constructive relationship and modus operandi with the NFLPA.  That is a two-way street; the NFL cannot fix that alone; the NFLPA has to accept that its partnership with the NFL is not enhanced by obstinate opposition to the NFL on any and all issues that arise.  I think that is the most important challenge for the league that poses the greatest danger.  Given the adversarial history between Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, is it optimal to have these two folks as the “point persons” to change the nature of the relationship?

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………


The College Football Silly-Season

With all the attention focused on the College Football Playoff, there has not been enough attention paid to the myriad bowl games scheduled to start in two weeks.  There are a few good games sprinkled into the mix; however, as usual, many of these games have no compelling reason to exist.  Let me start with the good games – other than the ones in the CFP itself of course:

  1. Camping World Bowl – Dec. 28, Orlando, FL:  The two teams involved are both in the Top 25.  VA Tech and Oklahoma St. are both interesting teams to watch.
  2. Alamo Bowl – Dec 28, San Antonio, TX:  These two teams finished the season ranked in the Top 15.  TCU takes on Stanford here; TCU’s defense seems to be able to hold down anyone other than Oklahoma.
  3. Fiesta Bowl – Dec. 30, Glendale, AZ:  Penn St. and Washington should be a good match; there is potential for lots of points on the board here.
  4. Orange Bowl – Dec 30, Miami, FL:  Wisconsin takes on Miami in a home game for Miami.  Expect a defensive struggle here; the Total Line for the game is only 45.5 points.

And now comes the list of the games that are surely not important and in most cases, are not even interesting.  There will be 6 abjectly meaningless bowl games on December 16 to start the college football silly season.  I won’t even bother going through the games on that date other than to say none of them is significantly more interesting than an infomercial for a colon cleansing product.

  1. Boca Raton Bowl – Dec. 19, Boca Raton, FL:  Akron and Florida Atlantic will square off here.  This is one minor bowl game that ought to have decent attendance.  Akron supporters might enjoy a trip south at that time of the year plus this is a home game for Florida Atlantic.  Other than that, …
  2. Gaspirilla Bowl – Dec. 21, St. Petersburg, FL:  Temple and Florida International will play this game for reasons known only to them.  Temple supporters do not travel reliably to see home games about 10 miles from campus; I doubt they will show up in numbers 1500 miles from home.
  3. Birmingham Bowl – Dec. 23, Birmingham, AL:  Here you can see Texas Tech and USF.  Do not watch this game if you like to see any defense played at all.  The Total Line opened at 65 and jumped to 67.5 overnight.
  4. Dollar General Bowl – Dec. 23, Mobile, AL:  Appalachian St and Toledo met in the Camelia Bowl last year; it was so much fun they decided to do it again.  You do remember how much fun it was last year, right?
  5. Heart of Dallas Bowl – Dec. 26, Dallas, TX:  If you can explain to me how Utah and West Virginia have anything to do with the “Heart of Dallas”, I’m listening…
  6. Texas Bowl – Dec. 27, Houston, TX: Texas plays Missouri in this game.  Neither team has been to a bowl game since 2014.  Both schools used to put quality teams on the field regularly; not so much anymore…
  7. Military Bowl – Dec. 28, Annapolis, MD:  Virginia plays Navy at Navy’s home field.  That is the most exciting news I can think of regarding this game.
  8. Arizona Bowl – Dec. 29, Tucson, AZ:  Utah St. Plays New Mexico St. in this game.  This is the first time since 1960 that New Mexico St. has been to a bowl game anywhere.  If that is not enough to get you to tune in, then you will miss the game and be happier for it.

Oh, by the way, there are two games on New Year’s Day that are pretty bland fare.  Normally, that day presents interesting teams in interesting games.  However, this year I can opt to watch Michigan/South Carolina in the Outback Bowl followed by Auburn/ UCF in the Peach Bowl.  Neither pairing piques my interest much at all…

While on the subject of college football – sort of – I have a suggestion for the folks at Tennessee who are still searching for someone who will take the job of head football coach there.  Recent reports say that new Athletic Director, Phillip Fulmer, wants to have someone from the “Tennessee family” to take over the team and lead it back to previous glory.  The problem is that there appears to be some fissures in the “Tennessee family” at the moment; there are various factions that are not getting along with other factions.  So, what Tennessee needs is identified uniquely with Tennessee who is also someone that everyone involved in the football program there can admire.  I have the answer for Phillip Fulmer; no charge for my consulting fee here:

  • Davy Crocket

“Born on a mountain top in Tennessee; greenest state in the land of the free …”

With that bit of fanciful nonsense out of the way, allow me to jump to another sport where reports say there is more fanciful nonsense afoot.  As the Miami Marlins go about the business of restructuring the team and the organization under the new ownership/leadership of Derek Jeter, there are management positions that need filling.  Someone recently took to Twitter – where all of the Twits go to Tweet evidently – to tell Jeter that he would like to be the manager of the Marlins and be part of the effort to “straighten things out there”.  And the identity of the Tweeter who would straighten things out in Miami is – – drum roll please – –

  • José Canseco

Given the reports that Aaron Rodgers is back at practice with the Green Bay Packers with his surgically repaired collar bone on the mend, it is worth recalling that he has a metal plate and 13 screws in his body and on the bone to assist in the rapid healing process.  It is a good thing that the Packers travel as a team on charter aircraft.  With that much metal in his body, Rodgers would probably trigger the TSA metal detectors about three steps off the cab at curbside check-in for baggage if they flew commercial.

Finally, regular readers here know that I like to have fun with the names of athletes in various sports.  Here are two that came to my attention in the past couple of weeks:

  1. The Washington Post agate type for “Transactions” listed an addition to the Denver Broncos’ practice squad.  They signed NT, Chunky Clements.  What a great name for a nose tackle.
  2. A reader sent me a note – and I have confirmed – that Cal has a redshirt-freshman offensive lineman named Gentle Williams.  Presumably, offensive line coach, Steve Greatwood, wants him to be something other than gentle.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………