Finally, The Mueller Report

The NFL hired former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, to investigate what happened within the NFL such that the league botched the handling of the “Ray Rice Affair” so badly. That was about 4 months ago which seems to me to have been a supremely protracted length of time. Finally, The Mueller Report is finished and delivered.

Please recall when this story was fresh, I said that if Roger Goodell was telling the truth about never having seen or known about the “inside the elevator video” of the “Ray Rice Affair”, then the folks in charge of NFL Security and whoever was in charge of this specific investigative task needed to be fired immediately. According to The Mueller Report:

“We found no evidence that anyone at the NFL had or saw the in-elevator video before it was publicly shown. We also found no evidence that a woman at the NFL acknowledged receipt of that video in a voicemail message on April 9, 2014.”

Let me deconstruct that statement for a moment and assume that what it says is true because indeed no one at the NFL did have or did see the in-elevator video prior to TMZ springing it on the public consciousness.

    1. NFL Security – by reputation a paragon in its field – has more than just feet of clay. The reason no one in the NFL had or saw the in-elevator video is because the folks in NFL Security did not figure out how to get it. TMZ figured that out so it probably was not exactly equivalent to untying the Gordian Knot.

    2. There were stories of a reporter – or reporters, I really do not recall if it was singular or plural – hearing a voicemail message from a female who called from an NFL telephone number saying that they had received said video. If The Mueller Report is accurate, someone went to elaborate means to concoct a forgery of a message. The reporter(s) for that story need now to come forth to demonstrate the level of veracity of their report based on the credibility of their source(s). If this was a hoax, it was an elaborate one indeed.

The above deconstruction focuses specifically on the quotation taken from The Mueller Report. No one should generalize from my comments here to assume that I find Roger Goodell or any other NFL employees exonerated by the findings. In fact, no report can possibly be written by anyone on the planet that might explain away the following logic chain:

    Originally we all saw a video of an elevator door opening and Ray Rice standing over the unconscious body of a woman later identified as his then-fiancée with no other folks exiting the elevator. Immediately, I concluded one of three situations obtained:

      1. She was conscious getting on the elevator and passed out during the descent to the ground floor.

      2. She was conscious getting on the elevator and he rendered her unconscious during the descent to the ground floor.

      3. She was unconscious prior to getting on the elevator meaning she had been dragged/carried onto the elevator in that state and some kind of investigation as to how she found herself in that circumstance needed to be done.

It turns out that #2 is indeed the case now that we have seen the in-elevator video…

However, if someone with even a meager background in investigations at NFL Security saw only what I saw, the implications presented by #2 and #3 above would have to have sparked a sense of awareness that this situation might just turn out to be a steaming pile of equine ordure. Now, with that heightened sense of potential “problems” I would think that a trained, focused and savvy investigator would have made sure that the full expertise of the elite investigative unit that is NFL Security was brought to bear on this matter. Evidently, not…

Not only did the first person in NFL Security to run across the original reports seemingly shrug his shoulders and move on to the next issue; it would also seem that as the first few days of the awareness of Janay Palmer Rice exiting that elevator in a comatose state no one else in NFL Security or anyone else in a position of influence in the NFL thought this was any kind of big deal. They did not have much in front of them – other than a completely unconscious woman in the company of an NFL player – but they did not throw it into high gear to find out what had happened here.

The Mueller Report says that the NFL knew a little something soon after the outside video had hit the streets. The NFL had a copy of the summons written by the local police and that summons report said that Ray Rice had struck Janay Palmer with his hand and that led to her unconscious state. Still, no one at 345 Park Ave in NYC screamed something akin to:

    “Holy domestic abuse, Batman, this could become a PR nightmare!!”

Not only did everyone in NFL HQs go about their business and ignore what everyone else saw, the league and the security folks who nominally keep the league safe from all manner of evil-doers did not do any of the following:

    Contact the local police who wrote that summons report
    Contact the local prosecutor’s office who might be handling this matter
    Contact the casino security folks who might have more info

Moreover, as time passed and as the local prosecutor was contemplating some kind of action against Ray Rice, Rice’s attorneys were given copies of the in-elevator video as part of the discovery proceedings. Seemingly, the league did not know that ever happened and it never asked either Rice or his attorneys anything about the existence of an in-elevator video let alone to see a copy of the video they had in their possession.

OK, so Rice and his attorneys could have stonewalled the league and conjured up reasons to keep that information from the league as a way to protect Rice’s future economic interests. However, The Mueller Report says that the Baltimore Ravens had been in contact with the local authorities and the Ravens were given:

“…a detailed description of the in-elevator video [by a local police official]… The Ravens did not volunteer that information to the league.”

Well, of course the Ravens did not divulge that information to the NFL. Ray Rice was the #1 RB on their depth chart and Roger Goodell was/is the league’s “Disciplinarian-in-Chief”; it was in the best interests of the Ravens’ brass to keep this under wraps as much as possible. But according to The Mueller Report, the NFL was less than dogged in asking the Ravens what all they might know about the incident.

What the NFL did was to conduct an investigation that you would praise if you called it “junior varsity”. I said this before and I will repeat it here:

    Heads must roll in NFL Security and heads must roll in any and all departments tangentially related to the incident where no one questioned the lack of information and insight coming from NFL Security.

What seems clear to me now is that someone – or some ones – along mahogany row in the NFL decided early on that the NFL did not want to know exactly what happened in that elevator and so there would be no impetus given to the folks in NFL Security to get to the bottom of this mess. If The Mueller Report is correct in saying that the NFL never had or saw that in-elevator video, it almost certainly has to be the case that the NFL never really wanted to see it and therefore never expended much effort to get it.

And speaking of not expending a lot of effort to get hold of some critical information, I can find no reference to any of the investigators involved in The Mueller Report busting their butts trying to get information from the guy who claims he sent that copy of the in-elevator video to the NFL. If the investigators can find no record of it ever reaching the NFL by examining the NFL’s records, would not a prudent next step be to find the guy who says he sent it to the NFL and report on what he has to say?

The Mueller Report as I read it does not exonerate Roger Goodell in this matter except to confirm his assertion that at the time he issued the 2-game suspension to Ray Rice for the Atlantic City assault, he had not seen the in-elevator video. The problem is that he had ample opportunity to have had more information at his disposal – to include the in-elevator video – if the folks who work for him had done their jobs efficiently and effectively. They did not and when that happens some of the fault for that nonfeasance has to reside with the guy in charge.

Roger Goodell has said more than once that the league made mistakes in its investigation of the Ray Rice Affair. The Mueller Report confirms that statement in spades. The question for the NFL now seems to take the league on two different paths:

    1. The league moves on to another Commissioner and the new guy/gal domes in with a mandate to change the foundations of NFL Security and to give it an entirely new structure, charge and leadership.

    2. The league sticks with Roger Goodell – mainly based on his demonstrated ability to increase league revenues for the owners and secondarily for the players – but it forces him to make significant personnel changes both in NFL Security and along NFL mahogany row.

Make no mistake; if major changes in personnel and in the way things are reported and tasked within the NFL do not happen as a result of The Mueller Report, this is going to happen again. If the Ray Rice Affair was uncomfortable and smarmy, it will look like a glimpse of Nirvana once the next issue of this kind breaks if the NFL reacts in the same way.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this terse but cogent summation of The Mueller Report and the events surrounding it:

“See no evil: To no one’s surprise, an independent investigator says there is no evidence that the NFL saw the elevator video of Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancée. I guess there’s no way to prove the NFL didn’t want to see it.”

In addition, here is how Greg Cote of the Miami Herald summarized The Mueller Report:

“An independent investigation found NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was not aware of the Ray Rice video when meting out his initial punishment. Which sort of means Goodell was both exonerated and called incompetent at the same time.”

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

Just Moseying Around…

Last Monday, I began the rant by saying that Pete Morelli and his crew of officials had clearly blundered in their handling of the pass interference call in the Lions/Cowboys game. Today, I have to begin again with a comment about the officiating in the Packers/Cowboys game:

    Gene Steratore and his crew made the wrong call on the field (a completed pass) and correctly reversed it on review to an incomplete pass

    That is the rule; they call it the Calvin Johnson Rule and it has been on the books for about 5 years now.

    I do not think it is a good rule – but it is the rule. One reason that I think it is not a good rule is that it generates too much controversy and controversy creation is not the point of any sports rule. Interestingly, however, it is one of the very few current rules in the NFL rulebook that does not favor the offense.

After the Lions/Cowboys officiating debacle, far too many people revealed their inner irrationality declaring that the NFL wanted the Cowboys to advance and assured that result at the expense of the Lions. Seriously now, I am supposed to believe that the NFL would risk its $10B annual revenue and destroy once and for all its “integrity of the game” to put the Cowboys into the second round of the playoffs? If there are any folks after a week of reflection on the matter still harbor thoughts of a “conspiracy”, let me offer this statement for consideration:

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

A reader who identified himself as “rugger9” in the comment section for the rant on 8 January had this ending to his comment:

“On another topic, I see that Curt Schilling has continued his journey from inspirational toughness to wingnut blowhard by accusing that John Smoltz was elected to the Hall because he was a Democrat and Schilling was bypassed since he’s GOP. Too bad Smoltz is a registered Republican. What’s next, a cage match versus Jose Canseco?”

More than being a registered Republican, Smoltz contributed to Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012, but that is merely a detail. I like the idea of a cage match versus Jose Canseco. Maybe they could add Dennis Rodman as the special guest referee and have Canseco and Schilling gang up on him for a while too. This idea has great potential. Get me Vince McMahon on the phone…

Greg Cote channeled Carnac the Magnificent in his Sunday column in the Miami Herald:

Answer: Tiger Woods is about to begin his seventh season since winning his last major and he’s still the biggest thing in golf.

Question: What makes you think the PGA Tour might be in trouble?”

I think there is another “indicator” here that Professor Cote ignored. Normally, Tiger Woods begins his golf year by playing at least one if not a couple of “tournaments” in places like Dubai or Thailand. Those are not just practice rounds for him; in the past the tournament organizers would pay him an “appearance fee” – not permissible for any PGA event – and sometimes those fees were multiple millions of dollars. This year, Tiger Woods is not playing “overseas golf” to begin; his first appearance will be in Phoenix, AZ. Those overseas tourney officials no longer want to pay that kind of money for his appearance. Tiger Woods needs to win something more important than the East Bubblebutt Open sometime very soon.

The USOC will put forth the city of Boston as the US candidate to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. I cannot tell you how happy I am that the USOC chose a city other than Washington DC for this “honor”. Just to give the good citizens of Boston an idea of what is in store for them and their pocketbooks, when Chicago was the lead US city trying to get the 2016 Games, the city coughed up approximately $100M just to prepare for the inspections by the IOC and to prepare their proposal to the IOC saying how the Games would unfold.

After considering those kinds of upfront costs, the folks in Boston can revel in the idea that behind closed doors in off-the-record conversations where deals are made, the attendees in the room will be the Boston pols, the USOC and the IOC. I ask the taxpayers of Boston this simple question:

    What could possibly go wrong?

Twenty years ago, someone broke into one of the facilities at USC and stole from a trophy case there the duplicate statue of OJ Simpson’s Heisman Trophy that was given to the school for display. About a week ago, the LA Police Department announced that it had retrieved the trophy but they would not say where they found it or give any other details about what they characterized as an ongoing investigation. In that same robbery/burglary/break-in, thieves also took one of OJ Simpson’s jerseys that too was on display. That jersey remains missing; perhaps, that is why this continues – after 20 years – to be an ongoing investigation.

Ironically, OJ is in jail convicted of trying to reclaim what he says were his own pieces of memorabilia. The problem is that his attempted reclamation involved accomplices and firearms, which might indicate that those events were not highly civil. Nonetheless, the parallel here is just a tad interesting.

Finally, here is another golf commentary from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“Golf caddie Steve Williams revealed plans to retire, unaware that nobody outside of his immediate family cares.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 1/11/15 … Plus A Bonus

Last week was a nightmare for mythical picks. In the four wild-card games, I managed to pick the wrong side in all four games. The only mythical pick I got right was the Bengals/Colts game staying UNDER 49.5. So, last week the record was 1-4-0 making the season record a stunningly awful 116-146-5.

Obviously, no one with two neurons close enough to play tennis with one another would consider taking any information here and using it to decide which side to take in a real wager involving real money on any football game this weekend. However, just in case anyone thinks that I am “due for a big week”, let me say that using this as a guide for your wagers would make you about as dumb as a guy who got run over by a parked car.

General Comments:

Last week, Jim Harbaugh and the SF 49ers announced that they had a “mutual parting of the ways”. That is pretty close to the same verbiage that Bruce Allen used to announce that Skins’ defensive coordinator, Jim Haslett, would not be back with the club next year; in that case, it was a “mutual decision”. Cue the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live:

Isn’t that special…

Whenever I hear that kind of feelgood verbiage, my immediate reaction is to look around the room to see if both parties to the “mutual decision” are there with smiles on their faces to explain the reasons why they both decided on the “mutual parting of the ways”. After all, it is not logical that all the parties entered a room and came to a mutual decision to go in different directions for the express purpose of making everyone in the room miserable.

    You guessed correctly if you said neither team had either coach with them at the press conference announcing these “mutual decisions”.

Let me say unequivocally that the referees’ performance in last week’s Lions/Cowboys game was embarrassing for them and for the NFL in general. Whether or not their gaffes – note the use of the plural form of the noun here – altered the outcome of the game is uncertain; the fact that they botched multiple calls on important plays and all of the botches favored the Cowboys is self-evident. Anyone who denies that last statement comes perilously close to losing his right to hold an opinion on any question more in doubt than this one:

    Will Tuesday come after Monday this week?

All calls for boiling Pete Morelli in oil – along with all the other guys in striped shirts out there with him last Sunday – are premature. He and his zebra-mates blew a bunch of calls; they are not supposed to do that, but – sadly – they are human and subject to making mistakes. The problem facing that crew is that they happened to make huge mistakes in front of a huge TV audience who had access to replay. That simply allows all of us to point a finger – you may select which finger you want to use here – at them and announce their dunderheadedness to the universe. However, it does not necessarily mean any of the following:

    1. They should all be fired. Actually, the reason that they were all there last week is due to the fact that all of them performed very well as officials during the entire 2014 NFL season.

    2. The NFL needs full-time officials. That subject is worthy of debate/consideration but not because of what happened last Sunday. Full-time employees make mistakes too; ask the CEO for any major corporation if that is not the case.

    3. The officials were “on the take”. As Tim Donaghy found out, that is a criminal offense that can cost someone time in the pokey. If this were the case, some prosecutor somewhere would be all over the matter because it could be a career-making case for him/her. Hold off on drawing this conclusion until you see if a prosecutor steps forward…

The other game last weekend that was embarrassing in a different sort of way was the Cardinals/Panthers contest. No, I am not going to bitch and moan again about a sub-.500 team hosting a playoff game; my position on that subject is carved in stone. No, the embarrassment stems from the Cards’ performance in the game and I believe the embarrassing performance has two sources:

    1. The Cardinals were reduced to playing their third-string QB, Ryan Lindley, and he was simply not anywhere near ready to play “playoff football”.

    2. The game plan devised by the Cardinals’ braintrust did not help Ryan Lindley very much. In fact, by analogy, if Ryan Lindley were drowning in a swimming pool, the Cards’ coaches threw him a lifeline with an anvil attached.

OK, maybe the Cards thought that they had 3 WRs who could defeat the Panthers’ coverage sufficiently to make the Panthers’ defense cover the entire field on most plays. Were that the case, perhaps the Cards could run the ball a little – that has not been their strength but maybe they could run here just a tad – and that might keep Lindley in what the announcers like to call “manageable down-and-distance situations”. It was clear to me mid-way through the first quarter that the Panthers’ defense was not going to worry about defending the field more than about 15 yards downfield; essentially, the Cards were facing a “red-zone defense” on every play.

I need not remind any regular reader here of my distaste for hearing Jon Gruden call a game. Nonetheless, I had the sound on and heard him say – while telestrating a failed Cards’ running play – that the Panthers had 9 men in the box and the reason they did not have any more in there was that no more would fit. The Cards ran the ball 15 times in the game for a total of 27 yards; that is 1.8 yards per carry, which is not nearly as bad as it looks since they were running into 8 and 9 man fronts all the time.

Moreover, facing a defense aligned the way the Panthers’ defense was aligned last week, you have to throw the ball downfield once in a while just to make the defenders back up a half step. It was pretty clear that Lindley was not going to hit many bombs in the game but ignoring that aspect of the game only tells the Panthers defensive signal callers to tighten down the screws even more on the next series.

Here is a summary of how badly the Cards’ offense performed:

    Lindley was 16 for 28 for 82 yards and 1 INT. Passer rating = 44.3
    Lindley was sacked 4 times for a loss of 31 yards.
    Net passing offense = 51 yards
    Net total offense = 78 yards
    Total offense per offensive play = 1.7 yards per play

The Cards were penalized 7 times for 38 yards. I know that some of those calls were on the Cards’ defense, but subtracting those 38 yards from the Cards’ offensive production leaves the team with a total of 13 yards of progress for the entire game.

Lots of folks said during the season that Bruce Arians was at or near the top of the list as the Coach of the Year. All I can say about that is that the Cards’ game plan for last week would indicate that the Coach of the Year took some time off to celebrate a tad early…

Here is what Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had to say about the Cards’ 78 yards of offensive output last week:

“If football is a game of inches, then credit the Cardinals with 2,808 against the Panthers last weekend.”

In case you had not heard, there is a college football game this weekend too. Illinois State plays North Dakota State on Saturday afternoon. Oh, and there is also a college game on Monday night between Ohio State and Oregon in case you are interested…

The Games:

Here are a few trends for the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs (since this format began in 1990) that may or may not tickle your fancy:

    Teams that had bye weeks are 70-26 straight up.
    Teams that had bye weeks are 49-45-2 against the spread.

    Since the 2006 playoffs, the #1 seed in a conference is only 8-8 straight up in divisional round games and only 3-13 against the spread.

(Sat Late Afternoon) Baltimore at New England – 7 (48.5): The spread opened the week at 8.5 points but has dropped to this level because early money reportedly went to the Ravens by more than 60%. This game will be the fourth playoff encounter between these two teams since 2010. True, last week the Ravens faced a more familiar opponent in the Steelers, but make no mistake, these teams know each other a bit too. It will be cold when these teams kick off; the high for the day in Foxboro on Saturday is forecast to be 21 degrees; kickoff is at 4:35PM and the sun will set in Foxboro on Saturday at 4:33PM. Ergo, temperatures will be edging down to the forecast overnight low of 12 degrees even as the teams are out on the field for “warm-ups”. I like the game to stay UNDER thanks to the weather conditions.

(Sat Nite) Carolina at Seattle – 11.5 (39.5): The Panthers have won 5 games in a row to get to this game. Their last 4 regular season wins came at the expense of the Saints, Bucs, Browns and Falcons – none of whom were fearsome opponents this year. Their playoff win came last week over the Cardinals (see above). If I may use a horseracing analogy here, the Panthers have won 5 straight over $15,000 claiming horses and now step up in class to face Grade 3 Handicap company. I do not think they can win this game but I do agree it will be low scoring game. Consider that the Seahawks have not allowed more than 14 points in a game in the last 2 months; and since the weekend before Thanksgiving, the Seahawks have held 6 opponents to a total of 39 points. Nevertheless, for an NFL playoff game that appears to be a low-scoring one, that line is fat; I like the Panthers plus the points here.

(Sun Early Afternoon) Dallas at Green Bay – 5.5 (52.5): You do realize that the Cowboys have the best record of any of the 8 teams left in the NFL playoffs at 13-4. The weather forecast for this game is even chillier than the one for the Ravens/Pats game on Saturday. As I am typing this, the current temperature in Green Bay is 0 degrees; by Sunday, a warming trend will be in effect and the high for Sunday could hit 20 degrees but the winds are from the northwest and even a cursory look at a map will tell you that the prevailing weather northwest of Green Bay is not going to bring balmy air to the stadium. Aaron Rodgers’ injured calf muscle is the great unknown for this game and muscle injuries tend not to be favored in any way by freezing temperatures and frozen fields. My pick for this game is a value selection. The Cowboys are +245 on the money line at more than a few of the Internet sports books. At that price, I like the Cowboys to win the game.

(Sun Late Afternoon) Indy at Denver – 7 (53.5): Weather should not be a factor in this game. Even a mile above sea level, the forecast is for temperatures in the 40s during the game. This line has not moved all week long and one of the “analysis sites” says that the books are balanced at 50% for each team as of Friday. The Colts’ defense is not as good as it looked against the Bengals last week and Peyton Manning is certainly more accomplished at QB than was Andy Dalton. By the same token, the Broncos’ defense will be facing a far superior QB in this game than they had to face in their last half-dozen games or so. I see this game as an offensive bonanza where the team with the ball last wins the game. Therefore, I think that line is fat and I’ll take the Colts plus the points. I also like the game to go OVER.

The College Football Playoff Game:

May I point out here, that Michigan State lost two football games this year and those two losses were to Ohio State and Oregon. Now take a look at the two teams left standing to compete for the College Football Championship…

Ohio State vs. Oregon – 8 (74): The spread opened the week at 7 points and has inched up to this level during the week; the Total Line opened at 70.5 and has been rising steadily all week. Ohio State beat Alabama to get here by pounding on Alabama even harder than Alabama pounded on them. Oregon beat FSU to get to this game by – take a deep breath here – playing defense such that FSU never seemed to know what was coming next. Against most opponents, Oregon enjoys a speed advantage, which they magnify with their helter-skelter offensive pace. Oregon enjoys a team-speed advantage over Ohio State but it is not a huge advantage. Ohio State has plenty of guys who can run with the Oregon players. I like Ohio State plus the points here and I like the game to go OVER. The Westgate Resort (formerly the LVH) in Las Vegas has a series of prop bets for the game. Here are some of them with my picks:

    Ohio State is +230 on the money line. I like Ohio State at those odds.

    Longest completion by Cardale Jones. I like OVER 45.4 yards.

    Total TD passes by Marcus Mariotta. I like UNDER 2.5 at +120.

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

Saying Something Positive About The Oakland Raiders

Since the end of the 2002 season when the Raiders lost in the Super Bowl, they have compiled a record of 56-136. Over that same span of time, the Skins have compiled a record of 75-117. Neither record is one that might send the team fanbase into rapturous moods but the Raiders’ record is significantly worse. I want to suggest today that the near term future for the Raiders is brighter than the one for the Skins notwithstanding the significant problems surrounding the Raiders as an organization and as a football team on the field. There are two reasons for this feeling:

    1. Quarterback is the most important position on a football team. Teams with bad QBs or ones with a revolving door at QB almost always lose. Losing teams fire coaches leading to instability. Lord knows; the Raiders have had their share of instability over the last 15 years. However, I believe that a competent coaching staff can develop Derek Carr into a perfectly acceptable QB. I do not think Derek Carr is a junior version of Andrew Luck but I think he can become a QB who can lead a winning team if surrounded with sufficient talent.

    By comparison, the Skins have a QB situation that is a three-headed monster today and might devolve from there. None of the three current QBs on the roster is anywhere near being a “perfectly acceptable QB” and the drama surrounding the coach and those three players mixed with the looming presence of “The Dreaded Owner” suggests it may be a while until the Skins’ QB situation resolves itself in a positive place.

    2. The division you are in matters a lot in the NFL. The Panthers are in the playoffs and have won a wild card game this year with a record of 7-8-1 simply because the rest of the NFC South was worse. The Raiders have been overmatched/out-gunned in the AFC West for several seasons now but looking at the “QB situation” in that division, things may be looking up for the Silver and Black:

      Peyton Manning is nearing the end of his career. Perhaps he has another year in him…

      Philip Rivers has accumulated injuries over the past couple of seasons.

      Alex Smith is merely a “perfectly acceptable QB”.

    With positive development of Derek Carr and with the assembly of a good OL in front of him, the Raiders may be on a comparable if not favorable footing with their division rivals at QB.

    By comparison, the Skins are in the same division with the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants. Two of those teams are better than the Skins by a significant margin and they are young; the Giants are better than the Skins and have a QB who is significantly better than anything on the Skins’ roster by a wide margin.

Do not extrapolate these comments to an absurd length. The Raiders surely can find ways to continue on their losing trajectory and can manage to lose more than two out of every three games for the next decade or so. One such way to continue on the current path would be to fail to recognize that they need huge upgrades all along their offensive line. However, the door to relevance may just be cracked open for them out there in the AFC West…

The Skins just hired a General Manager. For NFL fans in cities other than Washington DC, that is marginally interesting as a headline; here in Washington, that is a new vector heading for the franchise. The Skins have had someone with that title in the past but the incumbent was never a “football person” who bore the reputation as a “talent evaluator”. The list of disastrous/stupid personnel decisions and drafting decisions made by the Skins since Danny Boy Snyder took over the team is a mile long. Fans in DC can now let their imaginations run wild and foresee nothing but talent upgrades every time the Skins make a move. Hey, it would be hard for it to get much worse…

Last year, Bruce Allen was the Skins’ GM and although he is the son of George Allen, everyone acknowledges that Bruce’s expertise lies on the “business side” of the franchise. Bruce has been promoted to something like Team President or Grand Vizier and will continue to work the business side of the operation while Scot McCloughan worries about who can and who cannot play football.

About a week ago, Bruce Allen addressed the local media horde and tried to put a positive spin on the simple fact that the Skins have finished last in the NFC East in 6 of the previous 7 seasons. He went so far as to say that the team was “winning off the field” and he cited positive accomplishments made by the team’s charitable foundations and in community matters. When I heard Bruce Allen go off on that riff, I thought to myself that his father, George Allen, might have wanted to strike him with a lightning bolt from the cosmos. George Allen never would have considered “trading” wins off the field for wins on the field. Here are two pronouncements by George Allen regarding winning football games:

“Every time you win, you’re reborn; when you lose, you die a little.”


“A winner is the only person who is truly alive.”

Trust me, George Allen was not talking about winning off the field…

Finally, I want to point you to a column written by Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle in the last week. It is a compilation of things he foresees happening in the world of sports in 2015. You should read it in its entirety but here are two items from his list to whet your appetite:

“Any college bowl game that does not draw at least 20,000 actual fans will be eliminated from the bowl-game roster the following year. This will free thousands of football players to get back to being real students, playing video games.”

And …

“The major sports will each add a layer of review to instant-replay officiating. Anytime a play review takes more than 60 seconds, a second review panel will review the initial review to find out what took so long.”

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

Some Warmth In The Hot Stove League?

This is the time in the hot stove league where there is a lull in the action. The Winter Meetings in early December generate trades and free agent signings; then come the Holidays when nothing much happens; around now, one should expect some “action” as teams look to settle their rosters because players will be reporting to Spring Training in about 6 weeks. However, there seems to be little if any simmering happening in the pot.

Still to be determined is where Max Scherzer and James Shields will ply their trade in 2015. Their wives need not worry; they will not be out of work and underfoot around the house all summer. There are two free agents that present interesting situations:

    Stephen Drew: Rumors as of this morning are that he is on the verge of signing with the Yankees again for 1 year and between $6M and 7M to play second base for the team. This is interesting because after the 2013 season, Drew refused a qualifying offer of $14M for 1 year to try free agency. He did not get signed until May for something around $10M and had a miserable season batting .162 with an OPS of .596. In fact, the last time he hit over .260 was in 2010.

    Geovany Soto: I always thought Soto was going to become a premier catcher in MLB back when he was able to stay healthy. The problem is that it has been a long time since he has been able to stay healthy. The last time he appeared in 100 games or more was in 2011. May I say that you can count the number of “outstanding catchers” in MLB on one hand – with a finger or two left over. Soto cannot be “expensive” given his injury history; he might be worth a flier.

If you read the Business Section of your local paper, you have probably seen that many folks see the Russian economy as “faltering”. How can that be possible? After all, it has been less than a year since Russia “invested” $50B in the staging of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. What about the multiplier effect on the economy from that investment? Surely, there must be a calculation error somewhere…

Speaking of the Olympics, the folks in Rio de Janeiro have a “minor issue” they need to confront in the next 18 months. The bay in the Rio area where the Olympic water events such as sailing and triathlon will happen (Guanabara Bay) is not merely polluted; it contains strains of bacteria that are resistant/immune to antibiotics. Naturally, in its bidding to the IOC, the good folks in Rio said they would clean this up; now, that is not looking like much of a possibility. In fact, they may not even try. The problem arises from – and continues to be aggravated by – the dumping of raw sewage from the city into Guanabara Bay. Rio has a population of about 6 million folks and the metropolitan area is probably double that number. I mention that because that many folks provide for plenty of fresh sewage daily to show up in Guanabara Bay.

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had an interesting suggestion as to how to resolve this problem. You know; it just might work…

“In Brazil, Olympics officials are scrambling to deal with the antibiotic-resistant ‘super bacteria’ they’ve found in the waters that will be used for sailing and wind-surfing events. Hey, ship the germs to the U.S. Congress. Those folks can kill anything.”

On New Year’s Day, Arsenal played Southampton in the English Premier League and Arsenal lost 3-Nil; the Arsenal goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, did not have a good day “in net”. The next game for Arsenal was an FA Cup game; Arsenal went with a different goalkeeper in that game and that led to a tabloid “declaration” that Szczesny was being punished for smoking in the showers after the bad game against Southampton. Question:

    How does one smoke in the showers?

    It would seem to me that smoking in the shower is about as difficult to carry on as eating spaghetti in the shower…

Mark Emmert said in an interview just before Christmas that he believed the Ed O’Bannon case would eventually wind up in the US Supreme Court and that the NCAA was prepared to argue its case all the way to that level. He pointed out – correctly I believe – that there really is no middle ground here on which to build a case settlement. If college athletes are employees, they are professionals and can treat their participation in “Saturday Football” much the way NFL players treat their participation in “Sunday Football”. On the other hand, if college athletes are students of a university who also participate in intercollegiate athletics, then there is a need for a governing body of some kind to impose rules and regulations on schools and on athletes. Indeed, if there is a middle ground here, it is not much larger than a postage stamp.

Greg Cote had this comment in the Miami Herald regarding some of the events in the aftermath of Oregon’s win over Florida State in the Rose Bowl:

“Oregon claims it will discipline players who chanted ‘No means no’ to mock Jameis Winston’s off-field troubles after beating Florida State. Cannot confirm the discipline will be a crab-legs dinner.”

Now that all of the bowl games have transpired, here are the results for the 5 “power conferences” in those games:

    PAC-12 6-1
    SEC 7-5
    Big10 5-5
    ACC 4-7
    Big12 2-5

The Big 12 showing in these games was particularly noteworthy. Texas and Oklahoma have long been the bellwether programs in the conference and both of those teams got clocked in bowl games this year.

Finally, I think Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald has cracked the code on NFL disciplinary measures:

“The NFL has a tougher personal conduct policy. Now, when players mess up, they will get both wrists slapped simultaneously.”

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

“Character Issues”/”Maturity Issues”

About a week ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Chin-Hui Tsao to a minor league contract. This is the kind of item one sees in the agate type section of the sports page every day; you read over it and figure that the odds are you will never hear anything from or about this guy again. However, Chin-Hui Tsao has a backstory…

He is Taiwanese and has been in MLB in the past. He is 32 years old and made his major league debut in 2003. After an undistinguished time in MLB with several teams, he went to play in the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan in 2009. That is where the backstory gets “verrry interesting” [/Arte Johnson]. The Taiwanese equivalent of a District Attorney’s office said in 2010 that Tsao had accepted “improper benefits” from gamblers and had agreed to throw two games for their benefit during the 2009 season. He never actually threw the games because they did not take place for various reasons. So, he was never tried and convicted but his Taiwanese team – the Brother Elephants – parted company with him.

Believe me; I do understand the precept of “innocent until proven guilty” and have a sense of what the concept of “due process” entails. However, I have to wonder what might have gone through the minds of the folks who run the LA Dodgers when it came time to make the decision to offer this guy a minor league contract. Over the course of 4 seasons between 2003 and 2007, Tsao threw a total of 88 innings with an ERA of 5.40 and a WHIP of 1.392. Those are not eye-popping stats; the guy is 32 years old; he has a whiff of “game-fixing” around him. What made the Dodgers’ front office think this was a good PR move?

Can you imagine the conversation in the Celestial Starbucks between Kennesaw Mountain Landis and A. Bartlett Giamatti if this guy makes it back to MLB?

TMZ Sports has a report from yesterday saying that some bar patrons threw drinks at Johnny Manziel in a Houston club earlier this week. According to TMZ, some fans were shouting at Manziel and “aggressively trying to take pics” which led to Manziel flipping off one of the patrons and then “drinks started to fly”. Some folks might be tempted to use this report to reinforce their thinking that Johnny Manziel has “character issues” and that the Browns never should have drafted him because of those “character issues”. I prefer to interpret this incident – in the context of other reports of Manziel’s behaviors – a bit differently.

I cannot recall any reports regarding Manziel that would lead me to believe he is an evil person; I do not think he is a nascent serial killer or a totally amoral sociopath. I am, however, convinced that he is very immature and has a heightened sense of entitlement. And it is for those reasons that I believe that the Browns never should have drafted him and it is for those reasons that I believe he is not going to achieve the level of success one would hope for from a first round quarterback selection. Like most team sports, football has a large mental component and for a quarterback, the mental component is as important as the physical component. There have been a few “quarterback prodigies” – guys who excelled at the position despite their neglect for things like preparation or conditioning. Bobby Layne, Joe Namath and Ken Stabler come to mind here. However, most of the guys who neglect preparation have brief and undistinguished careers.

I know that Johnny Manziel is only 22 years old and that he does have time to grow up and to behave like an adult. Nonetheless, I have not seen any reports that would lead me to believe that he recognizes that “maturation” is something he needs to put high on his list of “Things To Do”. Until someone realizes that importance, becoming a responsible adult does not happen; one becomes merely a chronological adult.

I mention this because teams talk about “character” when they draft players and I think in many cases that is not what they should focus on. Yes, if a potential draftee at the age of 21 already has 9 arrests for violent behaviors along with stories that he belongs to a Satanic Cult that sacrifices kittens weekly, a team should play the “character issues card” and pass on him. However, the more prevalent problem is “maturity” and not “character”. What teams need to figure out how to measure is the degree to which a potential draftee – actually a physically large and gifted man-child in most cases – has internalized concepts such as responsibility and/or logical consequences of one’s actions and/or self-control.

Johnny Manziel is an example in football of a young player who does not seem to have a great awareness of those sorts of characteristics of maturity. The NBA faces the same problem with its yearly influx of “one-and-dones”. Kids – and I use that term here very purposefully – come into the NBA after one gaudy year of college basketball and often fade into mediocrity. For some, it is because they are boys playing against men and need to catch up physically to players who have had years of physical training to build themselves up. Others fade into mediocrity because they do not recognize that what they have to do to continue to excel goes beyond merely showing up sufficiently before game time that the coach does not suspend you for being late.

Self-awareness leads to a dedication to one’s craft and that leads to development as a player and as a person. That is what teams need to focus on; maturity versus immaturity is a far more common issue than is the good guy/bad guy dichotomy. Maybe what teams need to do with potential draftees is to give them another test after the Wonderlic:

    Make the potential draftee watch the movie Bull Durham and then talk to the potential draftee about Nuke LaLoosh and what they think about his future in MLB.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times recently dealing with a young player who might have “character issues” or “maturity issues” or perhaps both:

“Police in Buffalo arrested Ole Miss recruit Chad Kelly after Kelly allegedly punched a bar bouncer, fought with police and said he’d open fire on the club with an AK-47.

“Guess recruiting gurus weren’t kidding when they called him a triple-threat quarterback.”

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

Here And There…

With regard to yesterday’s Cowboys/Lions game:

    Yes, that was pass interference on the Cowboys. The officials should never have picked up that flag.

    Yes, the Cowboys have a much bigger national TV following than do the Lions so the NFL benefits – marginally – from the Cowboys’ advancement.

    No, and most emphatically NO!, this does not equate to a league-orchestrated conspiracy to have the game turn out a specific way.

The NHL Winter Classic held in Nationals Park in DC was not a big hit on TV. In fact, it attracted the lowest TV ratings for any of the Winter Classics held anywhere. The overnight Nielson rating was 2.3 as compared to 2.9 for last year’s game on New Year’s Day. That is a 20% decline in viewership. Of course, the NHL chooses to look at those numbers in a completely positive light. That 2.3 Nielson rating is a lot higher than the typical 1.2 – 1.4 rating that an “ordinary NHL game” might command on TV. As a rough estimate, a Nielson rating of 2.3 means about 2.66 million folks were tuned in to watch.

Here is a link to a report on regarding this game and its ratings. If you decide to go and check it out, take a close look at the photograph at the top of the article. This gives you a perspective of the entire venue and will convince you that few if any of the patrons who paid good money to see the event had even a 50/50 chance to follow the puck for even 10% of the action.

Meanwhile, on New Year’s Day, the various college football playoff games attracted about 28 million sets of eyeballs making the two big bowl games the largest audience ever on cable TV. In case you think that this year represented some kind of deviation from the norm due to the creation of the College Football Playoff, last year’s game between Auburn and Florida State attracted just under 26 million viewers. Looking at the Winter Classic numbers above, note that the two big Bowl Games drew more than 10 times the number of viewers than did the Winter Classic.

Lest anyone think that I am picking on the NHL and their overdone Winter Classic outdoor games, consider that the ratings for the college football Bowl Games on New Year’s Day also dwarfed the ratings for the NBA Finals and for the World Series over the last decade or so. I believe it was Darrell Royal who said:

“In Texas, there are two sports – football and spring football.”

I suspect that Coach Royal was only incorrect in limiting that observation to the state of Texas…

I am happy to report here that Bob Molinaro will be writing a weekly column on Fridays in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot once again. His first column appeared last Friday and it was a compendium of things that he learned in 2014. I commend the entire column to your perusal and here are five things Professor Molinaro learned from last year to whet your appetite:

“Major League scoring was way down, yet the times of games went up.”

“During the Sochi Olympics, America suffered from a shortage of curling fantasy leagues.”

“It was a toss-up as to what offended people more: the Redskins’ name or how they played.”

“Society inched closer to the abyss when online gambling sites took bets on Little League World Series games.”

“The ratio of college basketball games on TV and those worth watching grew to 15-to-1.”

I cannot find any reason to disagree with even one of those five “lessons from 2014”…

As part of the PR envelope surrounding the SF 49ers decision to let Jim Harbaugh seek future coaching endeavors, Niners’ CEO, Jed York held a news conference. [Aside: News conferences are not what they used to be. Today it would not surprise me to see an NFL owner hold a news conference to clarify reports that people heard lots of farting sounds emanating from the owners’ box at the stadium over the past several weeks.] At that news conference, CEO York evidently said that any year that the Niners are not winning the Super Bowl, it represented that he was a failure. Moreover, there were plenty of obligatory references to and citations of needed “accountability” for everyone in the Niners’ organization.

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle put all of that PR-feelgood nonsense into perspective here:

“If Jed York truly holds himself accountable, he must now make a public declaration: ‘The 49ers will win a Super Bowl within three seasons or I will resign as team CEO.’ That’s how you hold yourself accountable. Not with condescending buzzphrases.”

I believe that Jed York has been the major domo of the Niners for the last 5 years and I am pretty sure that the Niners have not won a Super Bowl under his leadership…

Finally, here is how Greg Cote of the Miami Herald assesses the hiring of Jim Harbaugh as the Michigan football coach:

“It’s official. Jim Harbaugh joining Michigan makes Michigan vs. Ohio State (and Urban Meyer) America’s most disliked-coaches matchup other than Alabama (Nick Saban) vs. anybody else.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 1-4-15

There were no Mythical Picks last week so I will summarize the picks from two weeks ago. That was a good week of mythical picking with a record of 12-5-0. That very respectable weekly result was insufficient to make up for the bad selections in previous weeks and so the regular NFL season closed with a cumulative record of 115-142-5. There is not enough sugar in the world to sugarcoat that record and call it merely “poor”.

There were 5 Coin Flip Games two weeks ago and the record in those games was 3-2-0 bringing “The Coin” to a final record of 20-24-1.

Obviously, no one should use any information here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game this weekend should that real wager involve real money. Anyone dumb enough to do that would probably go onto the Red Cross website to shop for a plasma TV.

General Comments:

Doug Marrone opted out of his contract as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. As I understand it, the sale of the Bills to Terry Pegula triggered an opt-out clause in the contract and Marrone had 3 days after the final game of the regular season to exercise that clause. Marrone’s contract with the Bills was 4 years and $16M and under the terms of the opt-out clause, he will get the $4M he would have gotten next year for coaching the team and he will not have to pay any of it back even if he takes another head coaching job in the NFL.

I am about to embark on a bit of mind-reading as I try to explain why I think Marrone made the decision that he did. Obviously, the ability to sit back on one’s haunches and do nothing while collecting $4M for doing that has some allure. I think there is more to it than that…

Marrone led the Bills to a winning record this year. That did not get them into the playoffs, but consider that the Bills have not had a winning record in 10 years. So, he is leaving Buffalo on a high note and with a tidy income for the next year. I do not know if Marrone will get one of the NFL head coaching jobs that is open about now, but I also doubt that he will be unemployed and out of football next season.

Leaving on a high note with money still flowing into one’s exchequer are positive motivations to leave. I think there was a negative reason that helped him make the decision to opt out. Kyle Orton – the QB that got Marrone’s Bills to a 9-7 record this year – announced his retirement. Orton is not a great QB but he is not an embarrassment either. Unless I misread the Bills’ roster, the QBs left on the roster now that Orton is gone are:

    EJ Manuel
    Jeff Tuel

It is possible for a coach to have a good QB and still get fired because the team underachieves (see Wade Phillips in Dallas and/or Marc Trestman in Chicago). In fact, the presence of a good QB on a team elevates expectations to the point where a bad year may look even worse than it really is. Having said that, a coach in the NFL who only has sub-standard quarterbacking is going to lose and is going to get fired. It is only a matter of time. When Orton made his announcement, I think Marrone did a quick calculation with regard to the quarterbacks on the roster and the quarterbacks available in free agency and the chances that the Bills might find a quarterback in the draft and decided to get out of Dodge while the getting was good.

One of the talking heads on NFL Network linked Marrone with the Jets (they are a team looking for a new coach) because Marrone had been an assistant with the Jets in the past. I have no idea if that linkage is real or fanciful but it does show how entangled the coaches and staffs in the NFL can be. Another report said that Marrone would interview for the Bears’ opening too. Stay tuned…

Here in the DC area, fans saw the Skins finish last in the NFC East for the 6th time in 7 seasons. The revolving door of coaches here since Danny Boy took over the team in 1999 has been remarkably consistent:

    Steve Spurrier – 2 years – 12 wins and 20 losses.

    Jim Zorn – 2 years – 12 wins and 20 losses.

    Mike Shanahan – 4 years – 24 wins and 40 losses.

    Fans around here are not good enough at math to figure out that their cheer ought to be:

      Six and ten – Do it again!

I mention this because earlier this week, Skins’ GM, Bruce Allen spoke with the press for the first time since training camp. Not surprisingly, he declared that the Skins’ record of 4-12 was disappointing and unacceptable; and of course, he assured everyone that things were going to change. The only problem is that as you listen to his remarks, nothing of importance is actually going to change. The same people in the front office who select and sign the players will continue to do their jobs – with redoubled efforts naturally. What this demonstrates is a failure on the part of Allen and/or Snyder to recognize/acknowledge that the fundamental problem with the Skins is a serious talent deficiency. Yes, they announced a “mutual parting of the ways” with defensive coordinator, Jim Haslett, as if an upgrade in defensive coordinator will result in a good defense. It will not because there are really only about five defensive players on the entire roster who are “above average” at their position about now. Only one of those players, Ryan Kerrigan, could carry the label of “star” without it being a mockery of the term.

When the Saints still had a shot at the playoffs a couple of weeks ago, they faced the Falcons who brought the 32nd ranked defense in the league to the field. Now, in that game that the Saints needed to win, the lowly Falcons’ defense just throttled the vaunted Saints’ offense. One Saints’ TD came on a 1-yard drive as a result of a 99-yard kickoff return. The Saints’ defense has taken plenty of abuse this season – the vast majority of it well deserved – but one must not overlook the fact that the Saint’s offense had some miserable games too this season.

The Games:

(Sat Afternoon) Arizona at Carolina – 6.5 (38): This spread opened at 4.5 points and has climbed steadily to this level. The Panthers are on a 4-game winning streak; that is how they inflated their record to 7-8-1 to get into these playoffs. Do not sneeze at those last 4 wins by the Panthers; the combined score in those games was 111-43. The Cards have lost 4 of their last 6 games and their offense is limited because they are down to QB # 3 on the depth chart. At one point, Bruce Arians said he was going to start Logan Thomas (QB #4) in the final game until he took a look at Thomas in practice and changed his mind in mid-week. I think this will be a low scoring game and that line looks fat to me. I’ll take the Cards plus the points.

(Sat Nite) Baltimore at Pittsburgh – 3 (46.5): It is not as if these teams never see one another; their two annual meetings are major rivalry games. Moreover, these teams usually play a close game that goes down to the wire; that was not the case this season but it has been the “prevalent form” over the years. In post-season play, the Steelers hold a 3-0 edge in these confrontations. The Steelers will be without Le’Veon Bell, which should mean that they would need to rely on the passing game more than usual. The return of Haloti Ngata to the Ravens DL might also suggest to the Steelers that they throw the ball more frequently than usual. That would not be good news for the Ravens whose depleted secondary may find itself chasing Antonio Brown into the end zone more than they would prefer. When the Ravens have the ball, they need Joe Flacco to emerge from the funk he has been in over the past several games. He has not played like a “Super Bowl Winning Quarterback” against the Jags, Texans or Browns in the last month. Make this a venue call; I’ll take the Steelers to win and cover.

(Sun Early Afternoon) Cincy at Indy – 3 (49.5): These lines have moved significantly during the week. The spread opened at 6 points and has shrunk to this level as the week went on (you can find it at 3.5 at one sportsbook as of this morning). The total line opened at 51.5 and dropped to this level pretty quickly; it is as low as 49 at two sportsbooks this morning. This is a game between two “playoff-pretenders”. The Bengals do not fare well in “big games”; in fact, the last time the Bengals won a playoff game was at the end of the 1990 season. To put that in perspective for you, Ickey Woods was on the Bengals roster in 1990. If you have seen him in that GEICO commercial, you will notice that he is not exactly in “playing shape” anymore and his playing days are definitely in the past. [Aside: Folks like to make fun of Andy Dalton’s shortcomings in playoff games but to be fair, consider that Marvin Lewis’ record in playoff games is 0-5; some of those losses predate Dalton.] The Colts bring a 10-6 record to the party but that record is suspect. Consider:

    Colts lost to Cowboys by 35 points
    Colts lost to the Pats by 22 points
    Colts lost to the Steelers by 17 points

Division winners with 10-5 records do not routinely have three blowout losses on their record. Now counter-balance that with this datum:

    Colts beat these same Bengals back in October 27-0.

I think Cincy can run the ball effectively on the Colts’ defense. I also think that Andrew Luck will be hampered by injuries to his pass-catching corps. I’ll take the Bengals plus the points here and I like the game to stay UNDER.

(Sun Late Afternoon) Detroit at Dallas – 6.5 (48): I am not big on age-old stats for teams where none of the current players had any part in generating those ancient stats. Having said that, consider these two teams and their “recent” playoff performances:

    Lions have lost their last 7 playoff games in a row.
    Lions’ playoff record in the entire Super Bowl Era is 1-10.
    Cowboys have lost 7 of their last 8 playoff games.

This may not be a situation where the team that wants it more gets the win; perhaps here it will be the team that stumbles the least…?

I know the stats say that the Lions should be able to slow down the Cowboys’ running game given that DeMarco Mrurray still has to deal with his surgically repaired hand but I do not think that matters a whole lot. I think the Cowboys can and will run more than enough to set up their passing game off the threat of a running attack. If that happens, I think the Cowboys will score a bundle of points. The question mark in the game for me is the Cowboys’ defense. I am still not sold that the Cowboys defense is a solid unit but I do think they are good enough to restrain a Lions’ offense that is better than “anemic” but not much better… I like the Cowboys to win and cover.

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

Meathead Of the Year – 2014

Every once in a while, I run across a news report of someone who has done something truly stupid or extraordinarily anti-social. My first reaction is that folks of this ilk probably have a goal in life to be recognized as a fully competent ambulatory saliva containment practitioner. Imagine their self-esteem when they can reliably walk and not drool at the same time…

2014 was no different from previous years; there were enough reports of these kinds of folks to create a roster of meatheads who can vie for the not-so-coveted distinction as the Meathead of the Year (MOTY). I shall begin with some ordinary/garden-variety meatheads first.

According to a report from NBC News, Sirgiorgio Clardy is a pimp who used a Nike shoe to “brutally beat” one of his ladies’ customers by stomping on the customer’s face. You might think to award “meathead points” here for things like:

    Being in an anti-social business occupation – or –
    Exercising poor customer relations

However, those things pale in comparison to this one:

    Clardy filed suit against Nike for failure to put a warning label on its shoes that the shoes might be used as dangerous weapons. The suit seeks $100M in damages.

Here is a link to show that I am not kidding about this nomination.

Sirgiorgio Clardy – Meathead.

There is some ambiguity in this next situation as to the exact identification of the real meathead. Let me explain. According to a Huffington Post report, Rev. Bob Larson has performed about 20,000 exorcisms over the past 40 years and now you can have that service provided for you via Skype over the Internet. The cost for an exorcism is $295. While I admit that you could argue that Rev. Larson is the meathead here, I lean toward the position that the folks who cough up $295 for a Skype chat exorcism are the more fundamental meatheads.

Remote Exorcism Customers – Meatheads.

In another example where the singular identification of the true meathead is difficult, USA Today reported that Blake Wardell found a bulletproof vest in a garage where “he had been hanging out with friends”. Of course, having found such a treasure, he put it on – and then crossed over into meathead territory. He then asked a friend, Taylor Ann Kelly to shoot him and she obliged using a small caliber firearm. One minor problem was that the bullet snuggled through a seam in the vest and into Wardell’s chest and killed him. So, is Wardell the meathead for asking to be shot or is Kelly the meathead for granting him that request?

Blake Wardell – Meathead.

The Darwin Awards recognize people who died in the commission of truly stupid acts. Normally, I do not include Darwin Award winners here because they are “low-hanging fruit” for a compilation such as this. However, this year, a Spanish hunter named Mario Malerba deserves mention here because of the way he figured out how to kill himself. Malerba shot a stag that was standing on an overhanging rock above him. Naturally, when the stag took the bullet and went to the great grazing pasture in the sky, gravity took the corpse down – onto Senor Malerba who died from the impact. Because he wound up with meat landing on his head,

Mario Malerba – Meathead.

Back in April, Felipe Cruz attempted to rob a bank in Pompano Beach, FL. Since it is obvious that every bank robber and every person who attempts a bank robbery does not make this ignominious list, you have to suspect that this guy did something sufficiently outré to stand out from your garden-variety bank robber. And you would be correct. In summary:

    Cruz handed a note to a teller telling her to give him all her money and not to hit the alarm. The teller was behind bulletproof glass so she just backed away from her teller window and ignored the instructions on the note.

    Cruz panicked and ran from the bank.

    The problem was that the note he left behind was on the back of an online job application form he had filled out containing his username and address and stuff you might expect to find on a job application.

    Fingerprints on the note confirmed that Cruz was the guy who attempted the robbery.

Felipe Cruz – Meathead.

In Enid, OK, Lynnette Rae Sampson called the local gendarmes to report that her dealer had sold her impure meth. I do not make these things up, I just compile them…

Lynnette Rae Sampson – Meathead.

There seemed to be an epidemic of people being run over by their own cars this year. An unnamed woman in Loudon County, VA was on the ground and had her car roll over her. An unnamed man in Aurora, CO also had his car run over him when he jumped from the car to avoid a burn from a lit cigarette that fell inside the jacket he was wearing.

Unnamed Pavement Pizzas – Meatheads.

In another incident involving an auto running over someone, Sharlene Simon drove an SUV over three teenagers back in 2012 killing one of them. The Toronto Sun reported this year that Simon is now suing the victims and the parents of the kid she killed. The basis of the suit, which seeks $1.35M, is that Simon suffered emotional trauma as a result of running over those three kids.

Sharlene Simon – Meathead.

The world of sports provided me with four examples of folks who merit consideration as gigantic meatheads in 2014. The first was Steve Coburn – the owner of California Chrome who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but did not win the Belmont Stakes in June. After California Chrome lost, Coburn said that the Triple Crown rules “stacked the deck” against his horse because some Belmont Stakes entries had not run in the previous two Triple Crown races. He culminated his complaining by saying that if he played basketball against someone in a wheelchair, it would not be fair. Several comments here:

    1. The rules for entries in Triple Crown races have not changed in the 90 years or so of the Triple Crown’s existence. If it was really a “stacked deck”, one has to wonder why he entered his horse in the first place.

    2. Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown – overcoming the “stacked deck”. Twenty-three horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown only to lose in the Belmont Stakes. It is not because the deck is stacked; it is because they were not good enough to win those three races in a row.

    3. If you played basketball against someone in a wheelchair, he might just knock you down on his way to the basket.

Steve Coburn – Meathead.

The next nominee is a painful one for me because he was a player I admired during his career. There can be no question that Henry Aaron was one of the greatest baseball players ever. Nonetheless, the meathead competition has nothing to do with on-field prowess and achievement. This year marked the 40th anniversary of his record-breaking 715th home run and he took that opportunity to compare Republicans who oppose President Obama and his policies to – wait for it – the Ku Klux Klan. According to USA Today, here is what Aaron said:

“Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated. … The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

Please ignore anything related to partisan politics here and focus simply on the statement. The Ku Klux Klan – the guys who wore hoods – lynched and oppressed black people; not a single Republican in the Congress or in any statehouse in the US attempted or advocated anything like that. Aaron himself was the recipient of death threats as he approached the home run record of Babe Ruth; I doubt any Republicans sent the President death threats on the sly and we never heard about it. Exaggeration for effect is often a useful tool; I do it in these rants once in a while. However, when one overreaches, one can venture into meathead country.

Henry Aaron – Meathead.

Adrian Peterson went to trial for felony child abuse for an over-zealous disciplinary session involving his 4-year old son. Prior to the dispensation of the case, Peterson was out on bail and as such was subject to “monitoring”. Evidently, he lit up a test tube subsequent to a urinalysis and admitted he had smoked a little weed just prior to the test. Indeed, that got him another citation and another charge to answer.

Adrian Peterson – Meathead.

The final sports-related entry in these sweepstakes is a group entry. In January, 100,000 people paid actual negotiable currency to watch an NHL game played outdoors in Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Even with good binoculars, 75,000 of those folks would not have been able to see the puck.

Hockey Attendees – Meatheads.

In 2014, we all live in a world of technology. Someone may be reading these words of deathless prose on a mobile device while sipping coffee in a bistro somewhere or while riding on a train. Technology connects us to the rest of the world all the time – and sometimes that is not necessarily a good thing. The final two nominees for Meathead of the Year owe their presence here and their stature within the nominees here to the fact that they used technology to demonstrate meatheadedness.

According to a report in the Huffington Post, a woman stole a dress from a local boutique and then posted on Facebook a picture of herself wearing the stolen garment. Seriously…

Self-incriminating Selfie Poster – Meathead.

Now to the Meathead of the Year… Alvin Cross was out of jail on probation and was looking for some “weed”. Evidently, he fired up his mobile phone and sent out a text message to someone – or some ones – he thought might be able to hook him up. The problem is that the text message went to his probation officer. There was not a lot of ambiguity in the text message; according to reports, it read:

“You have some weed?”

The probation officer naturally notified the police who got a warrant and searched Cross’ residence where they found cocaine – but interestingly, there was no mention of any marijuana. Cross went back to jail and had a year added to his time there for drug possession and added time for violation of probation.

Alvin Cross – Meathead of the Year.

Catching Up/Cleaning Up

I need to clean up a bunch of stuff on my clipboard as 2014 comes to an end and much of it relates to the NFL since my ailing computer prevented me from commenting on those things in a Mythical Picks rant last week. The regular season is over and most of the bad teams can send their players home while the coaches and the front office try to figure out how to restructure the squads for the future. Of course, that does not apply to the Carolina Panthers who will be in the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record because they were the least worst team in the NFC South Division.

The Panthers advanced to the playoffs with an elimination game win last weekend over the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. To say that the Falcons were a “no-show” in that game would be to over-rate their performance. The Falcons lost 34-3 and gave up 2 TDs on Pick Sixes. The Falcons’ OL gave up 6 sacks in the game too.

Before the final game of the year, there was plenty of speculation in NFL circles about impending changes within the Jets’ franchise to include the GM, the coach and the players. For some reason, Geno Smith got himself caught up in a discussion about changes and change in general and then suggested that “change could be good for us all”. It would certainly seem to me that Geno Smith ought to have sufficient self-awareness to realize that his play in more than a few circumstances has been an important ingredient in the toxic mess that is the NY Jets causing the partially clueless owner to make changes. With that self-awareness, I would think that he might have exited that kind of a conversation without leaving behind any “quotable quotes” – but he chose not to do so.

Even with his less-than-consistent play, I suspect that the Jets have to have Smith penciled in as their starting QB for 2015. I say that for two reasons:

    1. There is not a lot of free agent QBs on the market this year that are top-shelf acquisitions. I can find 26 QBs who are unrestricted free agents for next year and if you made me pick the top five, here would be my choices in alphabetical order:

      Jason Campbell
      Case Keenum
      Ryan Mallett
      Colt McCoy
      Mark Sanchez

    2. This is not a year where there is depth at the quarterback position in the college draft. The Jets draft sixth next year and 3 of the 5 teams ahead of the Jets might be interested in taking a QB. Even if only 2 of them do so, I did not see 3 college QBs that I thought were worth taking anywhere in the first round let alone in the top 6 picks.

Here is the Jets’ QB dilemma in a nutshell. Going into Week 17, Geno Smith had completed less than 60% of his passes, had less than 2500 yards passing (less than 170 yards per game) and had thrown more INTs than TDs. That does not cut it. So, in Week 17 against the Dolphins, here is what Geno Smith did:

    20 for 25 for 358 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.

    Moreover, he led the team back from a 10-point deficit in the 3rd quarter to win the game by 13 points.

Geno Smith is as unpredictable as a QB as is Jay Cutler – and that is not a good thing…

Black Monday events saw the Jets fire both GM, John Idzik, and Coach, Rex Ryan. Frankly, I think Idzik is more to blame for the Jets’ poor showing this year than is Ryan but after a 4-12 season (worst for the Jets since 2007 by the way) a thorough housecleaning is perfectly appropriate.

In the next-to-last game of the year, the Ravens were awful losing to the Texans. Joe Flacco was 21 for 50 for 195 yards with 3 INTs in that game. That is Geno Smith on one of Smith’s bad days. In a must-win game last weekend, the Ravens somnambulated through the first half against the Browns and a third-string QB and the score was tied 3-3. The Ravens eased by those Browns to win the game and then saw the Chargers gag away a playoff chance by losing to the Chiefs. Playoff teams and teams aiming at playoff slots did not go out in a blaze of glory this year.

The Pats held out starters in the final week and lost to the Bills ending a long home winning streak against AFC East foes. The Bills’ win also gave the team a winning record for the first time in 10 years. There is another streak for the Pats that is very impressive notwithstanding the loss last weekend.

    The Pats have a bye next week in the playoffs and that is the 5th straight year they have had a bye in the playoffs. The Pats are the only team to have a streak like that since this playoff format came into existence in 1990.

The Lions continued their “tradition” of not winning at Lambeau Field last weekend. The last time the Lions won there was in 1991. For reference, Wayne Fontes was the coach of the Lions in 1991…

In Week 16, the Bengals handled the Broncos and Peyton Manning played the worst game I ever saw him play. He threw 4 INTs and on 2 of the throws I said to myself that it looked as if Geno Smith or Mark Sanchez was out there throwing the ball. You might look at last week’s Broncos win over the Raiders and say that the team righted the ship. After all, the Broncos won 47-14 and one of the Raiders’ TDs came on a fumble recovery. Will the real Broncos’ team please stand up…?

The Bears announced that they have fired their GM, Phil Emery, and coach Marc Trestman. Emery is the guy who signed Jay Cutler to that long-term high-priced contract just last year and Emery is also the guy who assembled an aging defense that had trouble stopping people for much of 2014. I think the Bears are a mess and the fans in Chicago had better be patient with whatever the new regime is out there. The team needs a significant overhaul and a little stability on the sidelines and in the front office would be a plus in such circumstances.

The Niners and Jim Harbaugh have parted company to the surprise of practically no one. The depth of the dislike between Harbaugh and the owner there can be seen in the following numbers. Harbaugh’s record in SF was 44-19-1 (69.4% wins) with three trips to NFC Championship Games and one visit to the Super Bowl in 4 seasons. Normally, that kind of performance gets a coach a raise and not a ticket out to town… Reports persist that Harbaugh is headed to Michigan but there are NFL opportunities out there for his consideration.

The Falcons fired Mike Smith following a 6-10 season in 2014 and that horrible loss in the final week of the year that could have put the Falcons into the playoffs. Overall, Smith had a good run in Atlanta compiling a 66-46 record (58.9% wins) and four trips to the playoffs.

One non-NFL item before I close. There are myriad reports out of NYC that the Knicks are having difficulty adjusting to “The Triangle Offense” that Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher favor. Every report tries to come up with some different nuance as to the basis for the team difficulty and so I would like to offer my own interpretation – which comes from my 10th grade course in plane geometry.

    The Knicks need to bring in a math teacher for the team. In geometry, there are only two possibilities for the way three players can arrange themselves on a basketball floor:

      A. They can stand in a straight line.
      B. The three of them form a triangle.

    If the coaches want to run a “Triangle Offense”, the first thing the players need to do is to be sure they do not form a straight line.

    Now, over to the coaching staff…

Finally, this will be the last sports rant for 2014. Tomorrow will be the annual Meathead of the Year award. So, let me close by wishing everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous time in 2015.

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