In past years, I derived great pleasure on the day/evening when Bob Huggins’ team was eliminated from the NCAA tournament. It had nothing at all to do with the school where he was coaching; it was he. In his previous incarnations – actually he wasn’t at K-State long enough to “incarnate” there, that was more like a fleeting ghostly ectoplasm than an incarnation – his teams and his behaviors were offensive. And I do not mean “offensive” in the sense that they scored a lot of points.
I do not need to go through the litany of boorish behaviors in his history or in the behaviors of his players. If you want to refresh your memory, Google is your friend. But his current team at West Virginia is a solid group; they play hard without trying to intimidate or demean their opponent; their star player, Joe Alexander, reportedly is an actual student-athlete; Huggins and his players do not spend time-outs swearing at each other. So, when the Mountaineers were eliminated last night in OT, I realized that I no longer could count “Bob Huggins’ Elimination Day” as a source of smug pleasure. At the same time, I realized that the tournament itself will be better off for that.
I did not get to watch all of the W. Kentucky/UCLA game last night because CBS kept switching between the two late games. However, I did see parts of the game and all of the end of the game when the outcome was in doubt. For all of the conspiracy theorists out there, I did not see any evidence of favoritism toward UCLA. There were points in the final five minutes of that game where the outcome was sufficiently in doubt that if “the fix were in” we would have seen a strange call from the officials.
Whilst grazing through the channels a couple of days ago, I happened across NFL Network as it did a show about the players who will be in the upcoming draft and how the teams are evaluating them and building their “wish lists”. I could not stay and watch that stuff because the draft is still a month away and NFL Network will be pounding that drum for as much of the intervening time as they can get away with. However, I was there long enough to hear one of the talking hair-dos say that the draft was really the last great opportunity that teams have to improve themselves as they look forward to training camp – - in July no less. According to his world construct, free agency is the time when a team signs the impact players it needs to shore up weaknesses exposed during last season and the draft provides depth and balance to the squad.
As I changed the channel to watch a sporting event and not Football Philosophy 101, I wondered if the folks at NFL Network actually paid attention to what happened in the NFL just last year. Because it seems to me that the NY Giants won the Super Bowl – as a wild card team that played four consecutive road games to win the trophy – and that the NY Giants did just about nothing during last year’s free agency period to shore up weaknesses that had to be apparent on the 2006 version of the team that finished 8-8.
During the free agency feeding frenzy of 2007, I believe that the NY Giants signed only one free agent – - Kawika Mitchell – - and he got a one-year deal. Meanwhile, the Cowboys signed Leonard Davis to a $50 M deal, the Patriots signed and traded for a bunch of very good veteran players, and the perennial Free Agency Champions – the Washington Redskins – signed London Fletcher to a hefty deal.
Perhaps, the Giants have blazed a new path to NFL glory. What they did with their team was to build it through the draft and to emphasize the concept of “team” over the concept of “star power”. Recall last summer that Michael Strahan did his version of Hamlet as he pondered his future and wondered if he should play or retire. He made his decision and returned to the team after training camp was over. During that time, the Giants basically took the position of “Vaya con Dios” with him. They did not cajole him or take any active role in any kind of media circus such as would have happened had it been Terrell Owens playing Hamlet. The Giants already had players on the squad to replace Strahan; if he returned, that would be great; if he retired, they were prepared to go on. The Giants had spent relatively high picks in previous drafts to acquire Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka.
In addition, Tiki Barber retired after the 2006 season to go into broadcasting. With the certainty of 20/20 hindsight, some folks have concluded that Barber’s retirement was a good thing for the Giants because he was not a team player. I have no idea if that is actually the case, but it would be hard to deny that Tiki Barber was a fine running back and someone who should have been very difficult to replace. Nevertheless, the Giants replaced him with a group of players who took turns giving solid if not Pro Bowl kinds of performances throughout the season and the playoffs.
The Dallas Cowboys had thirteen players on the Pro Bowl team; the NY Giants had one. If the star-power that comes through free agency were actually the way to the championship, then how did the Cowboys come close to losing anything last season? The Patriots had a more star-studded roster than did the Giants but the Giants won the Super Bowl game and the Pats did not.
You will not find the NFL Network folks changing their tune on these matters any time soon for a hugely pragmatic reason. They are on the air for 168 hours a week during 52 weeks of the year. They need something in terms of programming and once the post-mortems of the Super Bowl are over, the only things to talk about are free agency and the draft until training camps open in July. There’s no way those guys will diminish the “cosmic importance” of either the draft or free agency; if they did that, they might have to run a couple of weeks of test patterns.
Finally, here is a note from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald about José Canseco’s new book:
“Jose Canseco is coming out with a sequel to his 2005 steroids tell-all book, Juiced. Not sure of the impact this time, though. Publishing insiders tell me that in the new book’s biggest revelation, Canseco accuses Billy the Marlin of using a beak-enhancing substance.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…