The Eagles Win The Super Bowl

The Eagles won their first Super Bowl championship yesterday.  As is our custom, my long-suffering wife and I attended an annual Super Bowl party in Philadelphia hosted by the individual who is the Chief Logistics Officer for the annual Las Vegas pilgrimage.  Let me simply say that there was a lot of cheering and a lot of angst that flowed during the game; at the end, the mood was beyond jubilant.

Here are a few brief comments about the game itself:

  • Each offense committed one turnover and both turnovers were the result of excellent plays by the defense.  There were no giveaways in the game.
  • The Eagles’ 164 yards rushing in the game allowed the Eagles to dominate the time of possession by about 9 minutes and that was a major factor in the game.
  • That game should put to rest the silliness associated with the conspiracy theorists who assert that the officials always give the Pats the better end of the calls.  There were 2 Eagles’ TDs that were closely reviewed, and both stood; there was only one penalty called on the Eagles during the game that was a borderline call.  If there is some “grand conspiracy” out there, you would have to imagine that it would display itself in a tightly contested Super Bowl game – – and it did not.
  • Why did the Pats keep Malcom Butler in the bench?  Even if it were some sort of disciplinary move, you would think that at halftime when it was clear that the Eagles’ offense had come to play on Sunday that the coaches would have announced that the “punishment time-out” had been served and that Butler would be in the game in the second half.
  • “Bettor X” – as he came to be known – had between $4M and $5M on the Eagles on the Money Line at odds of between +160 and +170.  Conservatively, with a $4M wager at +165, he made a tidy profit of $6.6M.  He is probably as happy as any of the Eagles’ players are today.
  • If Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski had hooked up on that final Hail Mary pass, it would have meant more than just another Super Bowl win for the Pats.  As he wound up to make that throw, Brady had 505 yards passing.  That completion would have been for more than 50 yards meaning that Brady would have broken the all-time passing record for yards in a game.  I don’t mean in a Super Bowl game or a playoff game; I mean any game ever.  That record has stood since September of 1951 when Norm Van Brocklin (LA Rams) threw for 554 yards in a game against the now-defunct New York Yanks.  Van Brocklin was 27 for 41 in that game and threw 5 TDs.  Note that his average yards per completion was a mere 20.6 yards…
  • I do not want to throw shade on Sean McVay and the job he did as the coach of the LA Rams this year; he was the Coach of the Year and he deserved that accolade.  However, the fact that Doug Pederson only got 1 vote in the balloting for Coach of the Year tells me that some of the voters were not paying close attention to what was going on during the season.

Finally, here is a Super Bowl themed comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“’Tonight Show’ host Jimmy Fallon: ‘Pizza Hut says if either team beats the record for the fastest touchdown in the Super Bowl, it’s giving away free pizza to people in its loyalty program.

“’The only downside is you have to tell people that you’re in the Pizza Hut loyalty program’.”

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

 

 

Admin Note

I do not know if I will write on Monday.  I will be attending a Super Bowl Party in Philly on Sunday; I am not taking my computer with me.  We will be staying the night in Philly.

On Monday evening, my long-suffering wife and I have a dinner engagement here in DC.  I do not know if there will be time to squeeze in a rant.  If not, I will be back on the air on Tuesday, Feb 6.

Stay well, all…

Super Bowl 52

And a Happy Groundhog’s Day to everyone…

Well, I made it.  I managed to get through two weeks of rants here since the time of the NFL Championship Games without focusing on any of the hype leading up to the Super Bowl.  There actually were things going on in the sports world more important – and even more interesting – than Bill Belichick wearing a hat or Tom Brady wearing a “special glove” [Is he the latter-day Michael Jackson?] or Doug Pederson inviting Brett Favre to address the team before the game or – – you get the idea.  So, today I will focus on the Super Bowl game and make my mythical selection.

The game will be telecast by NBC; Al Michaels, Cris Colinsworth and Michelle Tafoya will do the game as they do on Sunday nights.  That is a plus; this is the best announcing team of all the networks.  Before the game comes on, NBC will air a bit more than 6 hours of pre-game fluff and filler.  That has become standard procedure among the networks; it is total overkill but that is what they do.  I have learned to tune it out just as I have learned to tune out any and all songs done by ABBA.

I mentioned yesterday that Bob Costas will not be part of the telecast on Sunday.  With a bit of searching I learned that Liam McHugh will take his place on the broadcast.  Let me say this about Liam McHugh:

  • I am confident that I could pick him out of a lineup with the Seven Dwarfs, but that pretty much exhausts my knowledge and opinion of his skills.

I do not know if you would categorize this next tidbit as happenstance or what:

  • This Super Bowl will be the 4th time Cris Colinsworth has been in the booth to do color commentary.  The Patriots have been in all 4 of those games.

Moreover, Colinsworth was part of the broadcast team when the Pats and Eagles met in the Super Bowl back in 2005.  Moving on …

NBC will deploy 106 cameras and 130 microphones to cover the game.  There will be 2 Skycams – proving once again that nothing exceeds like excess.  NBC will have the Sky cam on a cable that we have come to expect in a televised NFL game AND it will also have “High Sky” which is a TV on a cable up closer to the roof of US Bank Stadium.  I think that “innovation” rates a hearty “Whoop-di-damned-doo!!”

An average 30-second commercial spot for the game on Sunday will cost just north of $5M.  In addition to all those messages interspersed into the action, NBC will commandeer a half-dozen spots to promote the upcoming Winter Olympics in PeyongChang.  If the action in a pro football game comes at you too fast and furious, you will be pleased to learn that there will be plenty of interruptions where you can catch your breath.

The American Gaming Association (AGA) is a lobbying group for the “gaming” industry – translation “gambling” industry.  As you know, I am not opposed to gambling in any way but given the focus of this group, any data they present must be taken with the knowledge that it might be slanted/presented in such a way as to make the gaming industry’s point of view look good.  With that preamble, the AGA has estimated that there will be this much “action” on the game this year:

  • Americans will bet $4.74B on Super Bowl 52.
  • Of that $4.76B handle, $4.6B will be bet illegally.
  • The estimated handle in legal sports wagering on this year’s game is $140M.
  • By their numbers, 97% of the betting handle this year will be done “illegally”.

There have been myriad articles published in the past two weeks speculating on what might happen if Nick Foles were to have a humongous game on Sunday, lead the Eagles to a win, be named the MVP of the game and set a passing record or two.  Those reports then went on to speculate on how his presence might affect free agency in the next couple of months and where he might ply his trade next year.  There is one small “problem” with all those ruminations and speculations:

  • According to Spotrac.com, Nick Foles is under contract with the Eagles for 2018.  He will earn $7M next season.
  • His contract “voids” in February 2019 if he is still on the Eagles roster.  Essentially, he signed a 5-year contract that would void after 2-years as a way for the team to pro-rate his $3M signing bonus over a longer time period.

Spotrac.com is a reliable information source.  Therefore, if Nick Foles is to have an impact on this year’s free agency, it will happen because the Eagles decide to cut him after this week’s game or if they choose to trade him in the middle of the free agency frenzy.  The passage of time alone will not make Nick Foles a free agent in the Spring of 2018.

Here are two facts going into Sunday’s game that are interesting and inconsequential:

  1. The “Brady-Belichick Patriots” have been to the Super Bowl 7 times.  Those teams have not scored a point in the first quarter of any of those 7 games.
  2. Doug Pederson has beaten Bill Belichick in the past – but not as a coach.  In the 2000 season, Pederson was the QB for the Browns in a game where the Browns defeated the Belichick-coached Patriots 19-10.

The lines for the game are:

Eagles vs. Patriots – 4.5 (48.5)

Money Lines:  Eagles +165  Patriots – 200  

The spread opened at 6 points and has been bet down.  You can find the spread as low as 4 points at several Vegas sportsbooks and a few offshore Internet sportsbooks.  The Total Line has held steady for most of the past 2 weeks.  The Money Lines have moved significantly; earlier this week there were several “six-figure” and “seven-figure” bets on the Eagles on the Money Line.  Recently, there has been a surge of “Patriots money” that has come in.

I will not wager on this game – – other than to participate in pool with friends as we watch the game together.  I guess that is part of the “illegal wagering” that the AGA projects for the game this year …  If I were going to bet, I would take the Eagles on the Money Line because the +165 line is attractive and because I want the Eagles to win the game.  If I were making a mythical pick on the game I would take the Eagles plus the points and I would take the game to go OVER.

Finally, recalling that the Eagles got to this game by beating the Vikings two weeks ago and recalling the “Minnesota Miracle” that put the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, consider this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“The Vikings defeated the New Orleans Saints on a 61-yard pass on the last play of the game. Minnesotans have not been this shocked since that pro wrestler was elected governor.”

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

 

 

Just Hopping Around Today…

In the midst of Super Bowl hype, newspapers and Internet sports sites must come up with filler material about the upcoming game because there appears to be an unwritten rule – as exist in baseball evidently – that there must be coverage of the Super Bowl every day.  One such concocted storyline had this as its headline:

  • The Ten Best Teams To Appear In The Super Bowl

That will fill space to be sure; that is also of no consequence nor am I remotely interested in learning which teams that author felt deserved to be on the list.  Immediately, I thought it would be more interesting to suggest what were the Ten Worst Teams in Super Bowl history; however, that would require a whole lot more research that it is worth.  And so, totally off the top of my head and with only minimal research, let me list here:

  • The Three Worst Teams To Appear In The Super Bowl

I will put them in reverse chronological order because I have no interest in making a ranking within this category:

  • (January 2001) NY Giants:  The Giants lost this game to the Ravens 34-7; their only score came on a kickoff return for a TD in the third quarter.  Any momentum that may have provided evaporated about 15 seconds later when the Ravens returned the subsequent kickoff for a TD.  Giants total offense for the game was 152 yards and the Giants had to punt 11 times.
  • (January 1995) San Diego Chargers:  The Chargers lost this game to the Niners 49-26.  It was not nearly that close.  The Niners scored a TD on the third play of the game and never stopped rolling until Steve Young left the game in the 4th quarter with 6 TD passes to his credit.  The rout was not a surprise; the Vegas line for the game was Niners – 19.
  • (January 1986) New England Patriots:  The Pats lost this game to the Bears 46-10.  The Pats actually led at one point 3-0; the Bears then scored 44 straight points.  To end the scoring, the Bears recorded a safety in the 4th quarter.  The Patriots total offense in the game was 123 yards; their rushing offense consisted of 11 running plays that gained a total of 7 yards.

Yesterday, I wrote about the Skins acquisition of Alex Smith in a trade with the Chiefs.  This means the Skins will give Kirk Cousins his walking papers and I realized last evening how that speaks volumes about the team.  Back in 2012, the Skins drafted RG3 with the overall #2 pick behind Andrew Luck; then in the 4th round they took Kirk Cousins.  Now both QBs are gone from the team and both have left the team with at least a modicum of rancor associated with the process.  There are annual surveys done to determine The 100 Best Places To Work In The US or some such compilation.  It occurs to me that the Washington NFL franchise is not going to appear on that list any time soon…

The NFL and FOX have agreed that FOX will get the Thursday Night Football TV rights for the next 5 years and the deal is worth about $3B.  The deal gives FOX 11 games from Weeks 4 thru 15 every year and the games will be simulcast on NFL Network.  Thursday night games in other weeks will be produced by FOX and shown on NFL Network.  The Thanksgiving Night Game is unaffected by this deal; that continues to be the property of NBC.  I think there are a couple of things to note about this deal:

  1. Thursday Night Football is not as popular – does not get the same TV ratings – as Sunday Night Football by a wide margin.  However, if we look at the TV deal as a linear one, FOX will spend $600M to televise 11 of those games in a year (approximately $55M per game).  That is a lot of cheese considering the common narrative that the NFL has peaked in popularity and is in decline.
  2. NFL players say the hate Thursday Night Football.  This contract puts $600M per year in the NFL TV revenue column and that means the NFL players will get about half of that in terms of increased salary cap.  With 32 teams sharing equally, that is about $9.5M per team.  I await the announcement by a group of player reps that the increased salary cap money is not worth playing on Thursday night about once a year.

The telecast for this year’s Super Bowl – NBC has the game – will have a conspicuous missing piece.  Bob Costas will not host – or be part of – the studio show associated with the game.  When I read that, I naturally assumed that because NBC also has the Winter Olympics starting right after the Super Bowl game that Costas was in Korea prepping for his work there.  Not so.  Mike Tirico is going to be the studio maven for the Winter Olympics this year.  I would prefer to be wrong about this, but it appears to me as if Bob Costas is being eased to the sidelines by NBC.  If so, that would be a shame because Bob Costas is more than merely very good at his craft.

Last weekend, Tiger Woods made the cut in a real PGA event and played through 4 full rounds of tournament golf.  There was a 2-year break in Woods’ ability to do that and this is a milestone for him in his quest to pull himself back toward the top of the golf world where he once stood alone.  In this tournament, Woods tied for 23rd place shooting 3-under for the 72 holes.  That sort of performance is not eye-popping, nor does it recall the way Woods used to dominate golf courses.  However, it is a box that he needed to check for himself as a prep for the upcoming Masters in a couple of months.

Finally, let me close today with Scott Ostler’s comments in the SF Chronicle about Woods’ performance last weekend:

“If Tom Brady can be at the top of his game at 40, why not a rebuilt Tiger Woods at 42? There’s just too much accumulated golf knowledge, hunger and battle savvy packed into that bad-ass, free-safety body for Tiger to fade away. Plus, Woods never gets sacked, so to speak.

“Woods is still kind of a boring dude, though. When I write the screenplay for the movie about his late-career comeback, Tiger will be 60 pounds overweight, chain-smoking Camels as he waddles the fairways, and having a romantic fling with Tonya Harding.”

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

 

 

The QB Carousel Starts To Spin …

Even before the Super Bowl happens and weeks before NFL teams are allowed to make trades officially, two teams appear to have resolved their “QB situations”.  The Chiefs will send Alex Smith to the Skins in a trade.  That means the Chiefs will cast their lot with Patrick Mahomes in 2018 and presumably beyond and the Skins will part company with Kirk Cousins as their offensive leader.  What surprises me the most about this is the timing; it is not as if the Chiefs got such a bounty in return that they dared not let the moment pass them by; the cost of acquiring Alex Smith was a third-round pick plus DB, Kendall Fuller.

According to reports, Smith will sign a 4-year extension – his contract has 1 year left to go – and the extension is worth $92M with $71M guaranteed.  In today’s QB market, that is not a top-shelf price tag.  This exchange will make Cousins an unrestricted free agent meaning that he can sign on wherever he wants.  Here are potential landing spots – – in alphabetical order:

  • Bills:  The Bills keep giving indications that they want to move on from Tyrod Taylor.  Are they in play here…?
  • Browns:  They have a ton of cap room, so they could – theoretically – offer a huge monetary deal.  The team has a treasure trove of draft picks and an “offensive guy” as the head coach.  They were willing to march into the future behind AJ McCarron a couple of months ago; Cousins is better than that.  Here is the deal; these are the Browns…
  • Broncos:  That top-shelf defense is not getting any younger; the team has squandered a couple of years of its elite status.  Cousins can likely provide a much quicker “fix” to the QB position than a top draft pick.  I think the Broncos will be major players here.
  • Cardinals:  The retirement of Carson Palmer forces them to decide on their QB for the present and for the future.  The team has a “rookie coach” who is a “defensive guy”.  I don’t expect Cousins to end up here.
  • Jags:  Forget for a moment the stats and all that stuff and use the eyeball test.  The Jags went to the AFC title game with Blake Bortles at QB; Kirk Cousins would be a significant upgrade at the QB position for this team.
  • Jets:  Jets’ fans have made the pursuit of Cousins a team priority; will the Front Office there heed the wishes of the fans?  That is often not a good strategy; but, Lord knows, the Jets do need a QB desperately.
  • Vikes:  They have 3 QBs on the roster who have actually played in NFL games and all 3 of them have contracts that expire.  I think they will “stay home” and get their QB from within their system, but they might decide to pursue Cousins.

I want to throw out one wild-card team to consider here.  If I were running the Steelers, I would sit down very privately with Ben Roethlisberger and find out if he is committed to playing out the rest of his contract.  He is to make $34M over the next 2 seasons but he has floated the idea of retirement and then rescinded it several times over the past 18 months.  Obviously, if Roethlisberger is committed to finish his deal in Pittsburgh, the Steelers should pay no attention to Kirk Cousins; but if Roethlisberger wavers, there are facts the Steelers need to face:

  1. Kirk Cousins is a lot better than Landry Jones.
  2. The Steelers have plenty of offensive weapons that could be wasted without competency at the QB position.

Let me make an observation about the Jets as a potential landing spot for Cousins and the Jets’ fans hankering for him to come to NYC.  Ask yourself this question:

  • When was the last time the Jets had a “REALLY GOOD” quarterback?

I do not count Brett Favre for his one year with the Jets.  Favre is a Hall of Fame QB to be sure, but he was well on the downward arc of his career in 2008 with the Jets.  From 1998 to 2007, the Jets lived in the Vinny Testaverde/Chad Pennington Era; neither guy was terrible but neither guy was “Really Good” either.  Boomer Esiason spent 3 years with the Jets toward the end of his career; none of those seasons was special in any way.  Before Esiason, it was Ken O’Brien and Richard Todd and that takes us back to 1977.

The last “Really Good” QB for the NY Jets may in fact have been Joe Willie Namath.  To put that in perspective, he is 6 months older than I am; and when I was in high school, they were able to teach all of World History in 4 days…

Meanwhile, the KC Chiefs appear to have embarked on what should be an interesting/eventful offseason for them.  Last year, the Chiefs came out of the gate like gangbusters beating the Patriots in Foxboro by a score of 42-27.  They won their first 5 games; then hit the skids losing 6 of 7 games in mid-season.  After that, they turned it around and won out to win the AFC West.  Then they laid a gigantic egg at home in the playoffs turning a 21-3 halftime lead over the Titans into a loss.  Clearly, the Chiefs are not about to fire Andy Reid but now the team has a new offensive coordinator – the Bears hired Matt Nagy away to be their head coach – and a new starting QB.  And that may be only the beginning of change in KC:

  • The Chiefs’ defense last year was not very good – particularly against the run.  Moreover, that defensive unit is not young and inexperienced; it could go over the cliff without the infusion of some new blood.
  • The Chiefs also lost John Dorsey to the Browns as the Browns’ GM.  Dorsey was the guy credited with organizing and executing the Chiefs’ draft processes that led to the roster they have.

It should be an interesting offseason for the Chiefs and Chiefs’ fans.  However, it must be noted that along with “interesting” comes some angst and uncertainty.

Finally, since all of today’s rant deals with QBs and which teams may be looking for QBs, consider this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about one of the potential draftees at that position in this year’s draft:

“Wyoming QB, Josh Allen, told Cleveland’s WKRK FM Radio that ‘I want to be the guy that turns around the Cleveland Browns.’

“Might be time to start setting up a little blue tent on the draft-combine sideline.”

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

 

 

Errata …

It is my good fortune to have a cadre of readers here who are both smart and cordial.  When we disagree on something, we discuss it with one another in the Comments section here or via e-mail; when I make a mistake in one of the rants, someone usually points it out politely as an “error” and not “evidence of my monumental stupidity”.  Such is the case from yesterday’s rant.  I said there that it was the USFL that had introduced the 2-point conversion to professional football.  A long-term reader corrected me with this note:

“The 2-point conversion has been a part of American collegiate football since 1958;

“The AFL used the 2-point conversion during its entire existence (1960-1969);

“The NFL Europe also used the 2-point conversion for the entirety of its existence … (1991-2007); and,

“The NFL finally adopted the 2-point conversion in 1994.”

Thank you for the correction.  I was in error.

While I am in the mode of filling space here with readers’ information, here is another item.  Thanks to an e-mail from a devoted NBA fan and admirer of LeBron James, I was told to go to the box score for the Cavs/Pacers game on 26 January to observe the very rare phenomenon of a quadruple double.  The Cavaliers won the game 115-108; LeBron James played 39 minutes in the game and achieved this quadruple double:

  1. 26 points
  2. 10 rebounds
  3. 11 assists
  4. 11 turnovers

The news item from yesterday that did not make me smile a whole lot was the news that the Cleveland Indians will rid themselves of their “Chief Wahoo” mascot after the 2018 season.  Before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, my lack of enthusiasm upon hearing that news has nothing whatsoever with the issue of lack of respect for Native Americans regarding that mascot.  My issue here is determined by the fact that I live in suburban DC and that news will reignite the ongoing issue around here about the name of the Washington NFL franchise.  Reigniting that issue means that all of the same arguments that have been brought forward in the past 35 years or so regarding that naming issue will be repeated yet again – only louder this time.  Pardon me for not looking forward to that.

To be clear, this is my position about the Washington team name:

  • Danny Boy Snyder owns the team.  He can call it whatever he wants to call it.
  • I believe that there is no point in going out of my way to offend a group of people and so I will try to refrain from using the offending name as much as possible.
  • I have no right to tell Danny Boy what to call his team; he has no right to tell me what I choose to call them here.

Sadly, here are things that are going to happen in the DC area now that the Cleveland Indians have made the decision that they have:

  1. There will be at least one editorial in the Washington Post calling on Danny Boy to change the team name.  On that same day, I will be able to open the Sports Section of the Washington Post and find the word “Redskins” at least a dozen times.
  2. Name-change advocates and activists will demonstrate and there will be Letters to the Editor from them in great quantity.
  3. Fanboys of the team will also write Letters to the Editor and post on Facebook that the name-change advocates are symptomatic of the “wussification of America”.
  4. And on – and on – it will go…

I have tried to suggest here that moral outrage is unlikely to change Danny Boy’s mind on the team name but that economic pressure would.  Consider these economic data reported by Forbes in September 2017:

  • Skins’ Revenue (net of stadium debt payments) = $482M
  • Skins’ Revenue (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) = $145M

Danny Boy and his minority owners are taking home a net income of $145M per year with the “offensive nickname”; I have to imagine that they can easily be convinced that, “It ain’t broke; so why fix it?”  Now if it were to “appear to be broke” to Danny Boy and his minority owners – say by halving the earnings of the team over the next couple of seasons – that group MIGHT think that changing the name was a better idea.  This is not a moral argument or a sociological one; if this fight is to be engaged in the real world, the fight must be on economics’ turf.

That is not how MLB and the Cleveland Indians have characterized that decision.  According to reports, MLB Commish, Rob Manfred, pushed the decision.  Here is part of the MLB statement on this matter:

“Over the past year, [MLB} encouraged dialogue with the Indians organization about the club’s use of the Chief Wahoo logo. During our constructive conversations, [Indians owner] Paul Dolan made clear that there are fans who have a long-standing attachment to the logo and its place in the history of the team.

“Nonetheless, the club ultimately agreed with my position that the logo is no longer appropriate for on-field use in Major League Baseball, and I appreciate Mr. Dolan’s acknowledgement that removing it from the on-field uniform by the start of the 2019 season is the right course.”

That second part of Rob Manfred’s statement is going to light the fuse on the arguments here in the DC area.  And those arguments are about as useful as a set of Amish emojis.  Ooops, I just tripped in the minefield of stereotyping…

Finally, since I have tried to argue for pragmatism in place of moralism above, consider this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times recently:

“The Florida Legislature is considering a ‘UCF national champions’ license plate in honor of Central Florida’s 13-0 football team.

“So, what’s next – a White House invite from President Bernie Sanders?”

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

 

 

An Untimely Injury …

DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins tore his Achilles tendon in a game last week; it will require surgery and his season is surely done.  History is not on Cousins’ side here; NBA players coming back from Achilles tendon surgery tend not to return to their pre-surgery levels of play.  I recall back in the Dark Ages that the Sixers had a power forward, Luscious Jackson.  He was about 6’ 8” tall and could jump as if he were on a pogo stick.  He tore his Achilles tendon and when he tried to come back the next season, he could barely dunk a basketball.

Therein lies the challenge for Cousins.  The Achilles tendon is integral to the process of jumping and – no shocker here – jumping is integral to basket all.  You can read the above and say to yourself that surgical procedures have advanced since the Dark Ages and so have rehab training methods and you would be absolutely correct.  Nevertheless, if you look at the play of Elton Brand before his Achilles tendon injury and after his rehab, you might not recognize the fact that it was the same person.

I really hope Cousins can make it back; he seemed this year to have put behind him his on-court melt-downs; moreover, he and Anthony Davis seemed to have worked out a way for the two of them to play together constructively at the same time.  When Cousins first arrived in New Orleans, he and Davis were on the court together, but it took them time to figure out how to add to one another’s game.  That seemed to be coming together for Cousins, Davis and the Pelicans this year; at the moment, they are 7th in the West standings with a record of 27-22.  The Pelicans have only made the playoffs once in the last six years; they have a 2-game cushion as of this morning to be in the playoffs this year; making it there without “Boogie” Cousins will be a challenge.

Adding insult to injury – so to speak – Cousins’ contract with the Pelicans is up at the end of this season.  He will be an unrestricted free agent at age 27 having made $18M this year.  Absent this injury, teams would surely be offering maximum contracts for his services; when free agency for the NBA is at its peak, Cousins will not be anywhere near the point where he can show what his future play might look like.

XFL 2.0 continues to have a simmering presence in sports news.  Given the fact that this will be owned and operated by Vince McMahon who made his money promoting pro ‘rassling, I guess it should not be a shock to see him finding ways to keep his new operation in the public eye.  McMahon answered questions at his formal announcement of XFL 2.0 and it led me to continue to think about what things XFL 2.0 might do to build a following.  Earlier this month, I have made some suggestions along that line here and again here.  So, let me now continue that discussion.

In his remarks at the unveiling of XFL 2.0, McMahon went out of his way to say that players in the new league would be high character folks and that anyone with a criminal record need not apply.  He seemed to say – although I did not hear him say it directly – that even an arrest for something like a DWI might be disqualifying.  I prefer to think of myself as a person who supports and upholds the principle of abiding by the law, but I wonder why the emphasis on that subject at this point in the league’s incubation.  In addition, I have to wonder where the “crime line” is drawn:

  • On the assumption that a DWI conviction would be disqualifying, how about a conviction – or a guilty plea – to reckless driving with no impairment?
  • How about a speeding ticket?
  • How about a parking ticket scofflaw with a hundred outstanding violations?

McMahon is right to a large extent to set standards of behavior for his new league and let me offer praise for his setting a positive standard.  However, I hope he does not have to walk that back too publicly or very quickly because that would cast a negative aura on the league as a whole.

The NFL’s competitors have been incubators of innovation; the NFL itself has tended to be a “buttoned-up entity” where there is a standard way to do things and almost everyone sorta knows what that is and behaves accordingly.  This comes off the top of my head with exactly no research but:

  • Teams in the AFL “invented” the 3-4 defense.
  • The AFL was the league that put player names on the backs of uniforms.
  • The USFL introduced the concept of a salary cap and a coach’s challenge.
  • The USFL adopted the 2-point conversion into pro football.

Not all innovation is good.  I have often described certain changes as the Great Leap Sideways or even the Great Leap Backwards as was the case when the XFL decided to jettison the coin toss at the beginning of a game in favor of a “mad scramble” for a loose football on the field.  I do hope that XFL 2.0 comes up with positive changes – – like the Sky Cam that came from the old XFL – – and that the NFL keeps an open mind toward adopting positive changes.

McMahon said there would be no cheerleaders in XFL 2.0.  Congratulations to him for that.  Let me be clear; I am not saying that because of the changes society is undergoing as a result of #MeToo.  I do not say this because I am newly aware of the malevolence associated with objectifying women; to be sure, I enjoy seeing attractive young women on my TV screen.  My reason for applauding the lack of cheerleaders is far less noble; it is based in pragmatism:

  • Cheerleaders at pro football games serve exactly NO purpose.  They do not now, and they never have led the spectators in cheers.  Get them outta here!

Another point made during the announcement of XFL 2.0 was that McMahon wanted to package the game such that it could fit into a 2-hour TV time window.  That will be challenging but he did offer the idea that there might not be a halftime break in XFL 2.0 games.  That is an idea worth considering.  I am pretty sure that football halftime breaks were not mandated in the footnotes to the Ten Commandments on the backs of the tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.

It will be interesting to see how XFL 2.0 approaches the question of taking players who are not 3-years removed from their high school graduation.  Currently, the NFL does not make them eligible for the draft or for signing as free agents.  That feature of the current CBA “consigns” those players to college football.  That helps college football; that helps many of the players too because it gives them time to build up their bodies to the point that they will be able to compete against adult men at the NFL level.  It also means that under current circumstances, those players do not earn anything for playing football for their first three years out of high school.  XFL 2.0 might provide an economic alternative for some players and that economic competition with collegiate programs – not the NFL – might restructure college football as we know it.

I think it is too easy to look back on the failure of the XFL and to view Vince McMahon as a huckster because of his link to pro ‘rassling, but that is simplistic.  There is the potential for XFL 2.0 to succeed and for XFL 2.0 to make mark on the sporting landscape of the US.  It might also crash and burn like the Hindenburg.  I am going to try to be open-minded and analytical about the evolution of XFL 2.0.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha-World-Herald about the potential of a college football player:

“Nebraska got a commitment from junior college wide receiver Mike Williams. With hard work, he has a chance to become one of the top 25 all-time football wide receivers named ‘Mike Williams’.”

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

 

 

Speculation And Soothsaying

 

This Friday is different from other Fridays during football season.  Normally, Friday is a day to make projections about the weekend’s upcoming games.  This weekend, there is only a single game and I would give it more stature than it is worth if I called it inconsequential.  I speak, of course, about the Pro Bowl.  Here are the 2 things you need to know about the game:

  1. Do not waste your time and watch it.
  2. For the love of everything that is good and holy, do not bet on it.

Having disposed with the Pro Bowl, I want to spend time today talking about NFL QBs.  Every year, this is a topic of interest because of the importance of the position to NFL teams; this year, it seems as if there is the potential for a lot of turnover in that cadre.  For starters, everyone says – and I agree to a large extent – that there are plenty of college QBs in the draft that have serious NFL potential.  There may be a half-dozen QBs taken in the first couple of rounds.

However, that only begins the story.  The NFL situation has plenty of QBs eligible for free agency with other QBs edging toward retirement and with one QB having already announced his retirement.  All this is to say that there should be lots of movement regarding QBs in this off-season and that allows for speculation/projection before the fact.  So, let me take advantage of that opportunity here.

In normal years, teams that made the playoffs would not be front and center in this sort of speculation, but this year is different.

  • The Chiefs made the playoffs.  Their starting QB (Alex Smith) is under contract for next year, but the Chiefs traded up to get Patrick Mahomes last year and they started him in a game this year to get a look at him.  Alex Smith is thought to be “available” in a trade.
  • The Bills made the playoffs.  Their starting QB (Tyrod Taylor) is under contract for next year, but the Bills’ coaching staff has signaled pretty clearly that they are not totally convinced Taylor is “the guy”.  Tyrod Taylor is thought to be “available” in a trade.
  • The Jags made the playoffs.  The team has an option on its starting QB (Blake Bortles) for next year.  Will they exercise that option?  According to reports, the Jags would have to pay Bortles $19M for one year if they exercise it.
  • The Saints made the playoffs.  Their starting QB (Drew Brees) is a free agent.  Brees is a 38-year old QB who is “Hall of Fame quality”.  Will the Saints resign Drew Brees?
  • The Vikes made the playoffs.  They have 3 QBs on the roster for the moment who have been their starters in the last couple of years, but all three contracts are about to expire.  What do the Vikes do with Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and/or Case Keenum?

Obviously, there are plenty of teams that did not make the playoffs that perceive a need to upgrade their QB proficiency (Browns, Jets, Broncos) and a team whose starting QB retired (Cardinals) and a few teams with “QB questions” (Skins, Giants, Bengals. Dolphins, Niners).  There are lot of ways to “slice and dice” this situation so let me choose to identify the NFL QBs who may be moving or eligible to move and think about where they might wind up when the music stops.  I’ll do this in alphabetical order lest anyone read more into this than is intended.

  • Blake Bortles:  His guaranteed $19M salary for 2018 will kick in unless the Jags cut/release him before mid-March.  He played much better this year than he has in any of his previous 3 seasons, but he was still mediocre.  He did not have a top-shelf set of receivers to throw to; so, how much of his “mediocrity” should be attributed to that fact?  I think the Jags will “kick the can down the road” and stick with Bortles for 2018 – – UNLESS – – they can make a trade to get an established QB in a trade such as Alex Smith or Kirk Cousins.  Personally, I would move on from Bortles were I in charge of the Jags…
  • Sam Bradford:  I think he winds up as a backup QB somewhere simply because Sam Bradford has not been able to avoid the injury bug.  He has been in the NFL for 7 seasons and has been in all 16 games in only 2 of those seasons.
  • Drew Brees:  He says he wants to stay in New Orleans; the Saints have to find a way to keep him there, don’t they?
  • Teddy Bridgewater:  The Vikes’ coaches and medical staff have to decide on the status of his knee.  He suffered an injury that was thought to be career-ending and he has not seen the field since 2015 other than a cameo appearance earlier this year.  Assuming his knee is “fixed”, I think the Vikes sign him and he competes for the starting position in Minnesota.
  • Kirk Cousins:  The soap opera continues; if you have not followed the twists and turns in this plot, let me just say that the odds are against him signing a long-term deal with the Skins meaning the Skins have three choices.  They can use the Franchise Tag on him again guaranteeing him $34M in 2018 or they can hang the Transition Tag on him guaranteeing him $28M in 2018.  With either of those options, he will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2018 season.  Or, the Skins can let him achieve free agency this year and look for a new starting QB.  I think Kirk Cousins will stay in Washington for 2018.  However, if the Skins are smart – and they have given little evidence in the past 20 years that they are close to smart – they will avail themselves of the collegiate QB bounty and draft Cousins’ replacement this year.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo:  If the Niners let him leave town for any reason, look for the local villagers there to take up torches and pitchforks and storm the team headquarters…
  • Case Keenum:  I would suspect that the Vikes would love to have him and Bridgewater competing for the starting job.  However, Keenum is going to be in demand elsewhere after the way he played in 2017 and some other teams may be able to give him a lot more assurance of a starting job (Browns, Jets, Cardinals).
  • Eli Manning:  His contract runs through the 2019 season and it surely seems as if he wants to stay in NYC and finish his career there.  The blockheaded move to sit him down for a game to give Geno “Bleeping” Smith a look has to enter into the thinking here.  The fact is that Manning is 37 years old and is approaching the twilight of his career.  I doubt the Giants would “move him” but the team does need to address the “future franchise QB issue” sometime soon.
  • AJ McCarron:  The Bengals tried to trade him to the Browns earlier this year.  Might that exchange be resurrected?  The Browns must be looking for a QB, but they have a lot of other options out there…
  • Josh McCown:  He had an excellent season with the Jets.  He is an unrestricted free agent and he is 38 years old.  I have no idea where he will be next year.
  • Alex Smith:  He is signed through 2018 but I think the Chiefs are going to try to trade him and give the starting job to Patrick Mahomes.  The Chiefs are not going to send him to the Broncos; they will not be interested in helping one of their division rivals solve a roster problem.  Maybe they trade Smith to the Browns to act as a placeholder/mentor for a top QB that the Browns take in the draft this year.  Maybe they trade him to the Jets.  Maybe they trade him to the Bills.  I suspect Alex Smith will not be in KC next year.
  • Ryan Tannehill:  He is signed through 2020 but he is coming off an injury that kept him out of action for all of 2017.  Moreover, his career record as a starter is only 37-40.  Might the Dolphins be interested in trading him and “going in another direction”?
  • Tyrod Taylor:  If he is on the Bills’ roster after mid-March, the team owes him $6M as a roster bonus.  His salary for 2018 would be an additional $10M if he stays with the Bills.  I don’t think that is going to happen; I think the Bills will be looking to sign one of the free-agent QBs out there.  As a wild thought, might the Skins let Kirk Cousins walk and sign Tyrod Taylor?

Even if you do not find this sort of speculation and soothsaying particularly interesting, let me assure you that it is far more interesting than the Pro Bowl.

Finally, Brad Dickson had this comment in the Omaha World-Herald regarding the surprising resignation of ESPN president, John Skipper recently:

“The head of ESPN suddenly resigned. I’m trying to confirm that he quit to spend more time with LaVar Ball.”

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

 

 

Dealing With A Monster

Many times, in the course of these rants, I have linked everyone to “Recommended Readings”.  Today, I want you to follow this link and read a column written by Charles Pierce at SI.com.  This is more than a “Recommended Reading” but obviously I will stop short of calling it a “Required Reading”.  In this column, Professor Pierce eviscerates anyone and everyone who has been associated even tangentially with the sexual abuse of US gymnastic athletes by Dr. Larry Nassar and parallel offenses against athletes at Michigan St. University.  It is a lengthy piece, but it is worth your time; in particular, read his quotation of the remarks to the court by US gymnastics medalist Aly Raisman during the sentencing hearing.  Her statement ought to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

I part company with Professor Pierce on only one aspect of his diatribe.  He wants everyone in a position of authority/responsibility in the area of athletes and student safety/security at USA Gymnastics, and the USOC and Michigan State to lose their jobs.  I have no problem with that AFTER it is shown that the individual losing the job actually did something to aid or abet or cover up or excuse what Dr. Nassar did.  For those folks, I have no tolerance or pity.  For anyone who was truly innocent/ignorant bystanders (and not ever-so-conveniently “ignorant by choice”) I do not think he/she should be swept out with the rest of the trash.

After you have read the column from SI.com, please follow this link and read what Sally Jenkins wrote in today’s Washington Post.  The culpability for the heinous things that happened to these young gymnasts goes beyond a single enabler or two; it needs to be ferreted out and expunged from existence.  The USOC execs have promised an “independent investigation”; that is not good enough; this situation is so revolting that it triggers my threshold for the appointment of a special prosecutor.  In addition to seeing the truly guilty folks here lose their jobs, I think some “time in the tank” might be most appropriate at the conclusion of the work done by a special prosecutor.

Given that Dr. Nassar has been sentenced to anywhere between 60 and 175 years in prison, it is a good bet that this man in his mid-50’s will die in prison.  Given that he subjected tens of young women athletes to sexual manipulation and abuse using his position as a position of power/authority over them, I would not be personally offended if he spent his prison time as the sex slave of other inmates.  I do know that would violate the 8th Amendment barring “cruel and unusual punishments”.  Legally, the situation I outlined above would indeed be “cruel and unusual”; given the circumstances, I would see it more along the lines of tit-for-tat retribution.

The newest class of inductees into the MLB Hall of Fame was announced yesterday.  Just before Christmas, I said that if I had a vote – which I do not and never will – I would have voted for 5 candidates:

  1. Vlad Guerrero
  2. Trevor Hoffman
  3. “Chipper”: Jones
  4. Edgar Martinez
  5. Jim Thome

The Hall will welcome Guerrero, Hoffman, Jones and Thome in July 2018.  Edgar Martinez did not make the cut but of the 23 other players on the ballot, Edgar Martinez got the greatest number of votes.  So, I ought to be strutting around the cyberworld here and patting myself on the back for prescience – – but I am not because the Hall of Fame voting in all the major sports is not an uplifting event.

Let me focus on baseball here because that is the most recent selection process at hand.  The Hall of Fame was set up to be a place of enjoyment; I have enjoyed going to Cooperstown since the first time I was there in the early 1970s.  I do not stand in awe or reverence in front of the plaques commemorating the great players of the game; I do not feel overwhelmed by nostalgia when I look at the shoes worn by Joe Flabeetz when he stole his 500th base; that sort of reaction misses the point as far as I am concerned.

Baseball is a game that has endured for more than 125 years and it is a game that has embraced it history as part of its attractiveness for fans.  The Hall of Fame is a place where a fan of baseball – and not merely the fan of a single team – can surround himself/herself with the high notes of the history of baseball.  Instead of feeling awe or reverence or nostalgia, I feel immersed in the game.  And the annual selection process produces news reports full of bile that are hard to forget/ignore when one is trying to feel immersed in the history of the game.

As soon as the voting is revealed and the new class of inductees are revealed, far too many folks get their spleen in an uproar and go into what a former colleague of mine called BMWCG Mode.  That is an acronym for Bitching, Moaning, Whining, Complaining and Griping Mode.  People who did not vote for an author’s favorite player on the ballot are irredeemably ignorant about baseball and/or have some sort of vendetta they are carrying out against the player who did not make it this time.  By the same token, people who voted for someone who may not have made it – – but came dangerously close to making it – – can be subject to the wrath of those who believe the player should never be in the hall of Fame without purchasing a ticket.  There is no dialog and there is not discourse; there is only invective.

I really cannot pinpoint when that sort of environment polluted the day when Hall of Fame voting results were announced but I think it goes back to the 1990s.  If that is the case, then I am sad to observe that these polarized stances regarding baseball players and the insulting of anyone who might hold a view different from yours have transcended baseball.  It now infects our social and political dialog in a similar fashion.  If you and I disagree on some social or political issue, it is not de rigueur for us to engage in an adult-style conversation about why we hold those different views.  Today’s norm is for each of us to declare that the other guy is a moron at best and danger to society and the stability of Western Civilization at worst.  Such denunciations do not solve social/political problems any more than the baseball equivalent harangues change the roster of Hall of Fame inductees this year.

I am not alone in thinking this way about our current state of uncivil discourse.  Here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

“Blackout: If ever there were a sign of the times, it’s the decision by LifeTime Fitness to ban cable news from the TVs in its 128 gyms. The ‘negative and politically charged content’ goes against the company’s ‘healthy way of life’ philosophy. Agreed. Of all the ways of raising your blood pressure at the gym, dropping a dumbbell on your foot is better for you than listening to toxic political palaver.

Finally, let me get out of here today on a much lighter note.  Here is a comment from Rock On, the column by Brad Rock, in the Deseret News:

“It’s been a year since the story of an Australian bank accidentally depositing $1.3 million in the account of a struggling student.

“The student reportedly spent all the money on cars, strippers and cocaine.

“So we now know it’s actually possible to become an NFL player overnight.”

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

 

Replacing Jon Gruden On MNF

I have made no secret of the fact that I am happy to be rid of Jon Gruden as the MNF color analyst.  I have nothing against Gruden personally; I hope he is successful as the coach of the Raiders; I just really disliked his way of broadcasting football games.  I guess it is because I am so glad that someone else will be doing that job next year that I have been tracking the stories about who might be his replacement much more closely that I would be following analogous stories.  The latest candidate for the job – – according to reports and Tweets and rumors and the like – – is Peyton Manning.  Unless, of course, you choose to believe those other reports/Tweets/rumors that he is uninterested in going into the broadcast booth because he wants to go into an NFL ownership position.

You would have to be a real newbie around here to think I am going to spring some inside info on you here and that I have somehow connected with Peyton Manning personally on this topic.  There are three key words regarding that situation:

  • Did – – Not – – Happen!

Rather than fuel the rumor mill, I prefer to try to take a more analytical look at the MNF job and the potential candidates.  Let me start with Peyton Manning since he is the “Flavor of the Week” in the blogosphere.  My guess is that I would be more than happy with him as the second voice on the mic for MNF; he is intelligent, articulate, humorous and Lord knows, he understands pro football.  I would like to pose this utter rhetorical question regarding his “candidacy” for that job:

  • Would he be happy/comfortable analyzing a game on TV in which his brother, Eli, was playing?

I can imagine that being an uncomfortable situation and it was one Jon Gruden faced when MNF had games with the Skins as one of the teams.  The difference is that when Jon Gruden took the MNF job, his brother was still involved in the Arena League; he did not face the virtual certainty that he would have to do a game with his brother on the sideline.  For Peyton Manning, it is a virtual certainty that he will face that situation somewhere down the road.  Is that a big deal for him?  I don’t read minds…

ESPN says that Matt Hasselbeck will do the color for the Pro Bowl game this week and lots of folks have interpreted this as an audition for Hasselbeck.  I am sure that it is to the extent that if Hasselbeck throws up all over his shoes on the broadcast, the network will look elsewhere for the permanent MNF analyst.  Let me be clear; Matt Hasselbeck does very well in ESPN’s studio shows on the NFL; he has done good work on NFL Live.  However, there is a little voice in the back of my head that keeps saying that ESPN might want a bit more “star power”/”splash” in the broadcast booth.  No inside info here, but the feeling is persistent.

So, who might be in line for interviews by the ESPN moguls (in alphabetical order)?

  1. Randy Moss:  Lots of people have named him as a key contender for this job.  He is already on the ESPN payroll and should “know his way around” the organization, but he would not be my choice for the same reason the next candidate would not be my choice…
  2. Rex Ryan:  Like Randy Moss, he is also already part of ESPN.  Also, like Randy Moss his TV style/persona is a ton of bombast.  The MNF booth does not need an infusion of bombast.
  3. Kurt Warner:  I have heard him do the color on a couple of MNF games on the radio and I liked what I heard.
  4. Steve Young:  He would be my first choice for the job – – but according to reports, he has said that he does not want the job.  Too bad…

Let me lay out the criteria I would hope the ESPN moguls would use to find the next MNF color analyst.  Let’s say that the ideal candidate is Joe Flabeetz.

  • Joe Flabeetz has to know NFL football from being a player and/or a coach at the NFL level.  We have gone through “outsider analysts” and I would want to avoid another Dennis Miller or Tony Kornheiser or Howard Cosell unless ESPN is going to go with a 3-person booth.
  • Joe Flabeetz has to have a discernable personality; we do not need a robot behind a microphone.
  • Joe Flabeetz has to be articulate in the English language.  He can use that fluency to create his own phrases or jargon as John Madden did.  He cannot, however, be a person who cannot communicate outside the world of jargon or “inside jokes”.
  • Joe Flabeetz has to be willing and able to offer critical commentary when necessary.  What drove me nuts about Jon Gruden was that every coach “does an excellent job” and every player is “outstanding”.  That is simply not the case and I don’t want to hear that nonsense anymore.

Let me pull out a FANTASY SCENARIO out of a hat.  The sequence of events goes like this:

  1. The Pats win the Super Bowl 10 days from now.
  2. Bill Belichick steps to the podium to say that his team was a great group of men and that he was proud to be part of their accomplishment.  He ends by saying that he is retiring from NFL coaching – – AND – –
  3. He is taking the job as the color analyst for MNF.

What football fan would want to miss his first telecast?  What fan would not want to hear his response to the first dumb question posed by the play-by-play guy?  What fan would not want to hear his follow up question to a coach or player who did not answer his original question?  It is not going to happen – – but I think it would be fun if it did.

Finally, since I ended on a purely fantastic note, consider this sort of fancy from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The London Daily Mail says a jet-powered mobility scooter was successfully tested, boasting a top speed of 70 miles-per-hour.

“So if NASCAR was ever thinking about starting a senior circuit.”

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