RIP Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson passed away yesterday at the age of 83.  Because his career overlapped the likes of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle – you get the idea – he is one of the most under-appreciated baseball players ever.  He was traded to the Orioles from the Reds in one of the most lopsided trades ever; the Reds got in return for Robinson Milt Pappas (a serviceable starting pitcher), Jack Baldschun (a reliever whose best days were in the past) and Dick Simpson (his nickname was “Suitcase” because he was traded so frequently).

Rest in peace, Frank Robinson…

I suspect that I am going to be spending time this weekend doing something that most readers here will ignore.  Nevertheless, I am planning to take some time to watch the inaugural week of the Alliance of American Football.  In my area, there will be 3 games on the air on Saturday and Sunday; I am not going to watch the entirety of all 3 games, but I hope to tune in to see parts of all of them.

My interest here is not because I am a “football junkie” and need something to bring me down from my “Super Bowl high”.  I am interested because this is a new entity that is approaching the game differently from the NFL and I want to see what it offers to the viewing public.

[Aside:  It already offers itself up to the betting public.  Las Vegas sportsbooks offer futures bets on the ultimate league champion and there are spreads and totals offered for this week’s opening games before anyone has seen any of the teams.  If you like betting this week’s AAF games, you probably also enjoy scratch-off lottery tickets too.]

The AAF approaches football from a different business model and from a different entertainment model.  Here are some differences:

  • All players have the same contract; it does not matter if one is a QB or a defensive lineman.  All contracts are 3-years and $250K.
  • Players can earn incentives in each game.  HOWEVER, the incentives are not given to individual players, they are given to team units.  It is not clear how the units will share the incentives, so I guess that is up to the unit members?
  • The AAF wants to present shorter games instead of the 3+ hour games put on by the NFL and the “almost-4-hour games” that have become commonplace in NCAA football.  Their target is to offer a 2.5-hour game.
  • The AAF will try to emphasize offense and scoring.  According to reports, the league will “de-emphasize offensive holding”.  That will be something I will be watching for this weekend; I want to know what they mean by “de-emphasize offensive holding” …
  • The AAF will have a play clock of only 35 seconds (vice 40 seconds for the NFL).  What that means is more plays/more action/more scoring chances.
  • There are no kickoffs.  The “receiving team” simply gets the ball at its own 25-yardline.  For onside kicks, the kicking team gets the ball at its own 35 yardline and the situation is 4th and 10.  If they convert that 4th down opportunity, they keep the ball; other wise the receiving team gets it wherever the play ended.
  • There are no PATs either.  Teams must go for 2-point conversions after every TD.
  • There will be no “TV timeouts” during the games.  It will be interesting to see how the AAF works the TV ads into its presentation.
  • The overtime rule in the AAF is completely different – and I don’t think I like it very much.  There is a single OT period; each team gets the ball first and goal at the opponent’s 10 yardline.  If a team scores a TD, it must go for two.  Each team gets the ball once.  If the score is still tied at the end of the single OT, then it goes in the books as a tie.

I have checked my local listings and the Saturday night game will be telecast in CBS at 8:00 PM EST.  On Sunday, there will be a game at 4:00 PM EST on CBS Sports Network and then another game on NFL Network at 8:00 PM EST.  I was surprised to see that the AAF is going to be telecast on NFL Network; I have no idea what that portends for the future…

I mentioned above that the sportsbooks in Las Vegas have lines posted for AAF games already.  I will NOT be participating in such activities for a while; I do not play lotteries.  However, there are two hypotheses I have about AAF wagering that I will be “testing out” as I check the league results:

  1. If the AAF wants to emphasize offense and scoring, betting OVER should make sense early on as the lines adjust from “NFL-thinking” to “AAF-thinking”.
  2. The mandated 2-point conversions will produce scores that are uncommon in NFL and NCAA games.  Three TDs in the NFL normally produce 21 points; a bettor can reliably think of things that way.  In the AAF, three TDs can never produce 21 points and the range of scoreboard points from those three TDs can range from 18 to 24 points.  That is a big deal…

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times from a few weeks ago:

“Good in the paint, too:

“The Academy of Art basketball team is only 1-7, but you’d have to assume the Knights are adept at drawing charges.”

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



Sports Debate

Anyone who has been a visitor to this little backwater of the Internet for a while knows that I try to keep political and societal issues out of the discussion here.  I am going to dip a toe in those waters for a moment here because I think you should read this column by Thomas Boswell in the Washington Post.  Here is the headline that initially caught my attention:

“With civility in short supply, sports debate is exactly what we need”

Boswell points out that debate in the US today is often conducted in an atmosphere of distrust, antagonism and suspicion but debate about sports can be emotional without hate.  Here is an excerpt from the middle of the column:

“… sports is one of the remining subjects – thank heaven for gardening, cooking and home renovation – on which we can still disagree without wanting to strangle each other.”

Sports is not a panacea; sports will not be the mechanism by which society climbs out of the hostile state it is in today; sports is not going to provide us with the white knight in shining armor who will vanquish the forces of darkness.  But the model of sports debate – as is well described in Boswell’s column – might be a model we all can use in discussions about things other than sports.

Enough lofty thinking; let me get back to sports oddities.  Last Saturday, NC State hosted VA Tech in men’s basketball.  The Hokies won the game handily by a score of 47-24.  That is not a typo; NC State scored 24 points in a regulation college basketball game.  State’s leading scorer in the game was guard, CJ Bryce who had 7 points.

As if that performance by the Wolfpack was not strange enough as a stand-alone event, consider that on Tuesday of this week – 3 days after the loss to VA Tech – NC State visited UNC and scored 96 points in another losing effort.  Must be the phase of the moon …

The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH has a “wing” that recognizes “contributors” to pro football in the US.  This is where you would find coaches and GMs and owners and league commissioners so recognized.  In addition, Ed Sabol is – rightfully – recognized there for his work with NFL Films because NFL Films was an important vehicle for enhancing the growth in popularity of the league itself.  I would like to suggest a name for future consideration.

  • Rupert Murdoch

Hear me out …  The NFL is the dominant sports entity in the US with a revenue goal of $25B by 2027.  Rupert Murdoch played a crucial role in the expansion of the league’s revenues to the point that the NFL could set such a goal for itself.  Up until the early 90s, the NFL sold its broadcasting rights to NBC, CBS and ABC.  There was a semblance of competition among the networks – but not a whole lot.  Rights fees increased slowly.  Murdoch launched his new network, FOX, and entered the bidding for NFL rights fees and out-bid CBS for those rights.  From that point on, the competition for NFL television rights became sufficiently significant that rights fees increased dramatically every time they were up for bid.  Those rights fees deliver somewhere between $260M and $275M to each NFL team these days; that revenue is deposited before the team sells a single ticket or a single jersey or charges a single fan for parking at one of the games.

To be sure, Rupert Murdoch did not do anything here that was altruistic in any sense.  He bid for – and won – those NFL TV rights for NFC games in 1993 because he needed anchor programming for his new network.  The NFL game him audience numbers and credibility; he gave the NFL a path to rapidly escalating rights fees.  This was a symbiotic relationship; nonetheless, it was very important in the current state of the pro football in the US.

I have never read that Rupert Murdoch was “on the list” for consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  I think he ought to be…

[Aside:  For the purpose of full disclosure, I think sports Halls of Fame need to recognize people who had significant effects on the game even if they were not players, coaches, owners etc.  In that vein, I also believe that Marvin Miller belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.]

There is an extant NFL issue that has nothing to do with players, coaches, free agency, the draft or – shudder – The Combine.  The NFL regular season will begin in about 6 months; the Oakland Raiders do not have a place to play their games for the 2019 season.  In grossly simplistic terms:

  • The Raiders’ lease on the Oakland Coliseum has lapsed
  • The Coliseum folks are suing the Raiders over something related to the move to Las Vegas.
  • The Las Vegas stadium is not ready – – and may not be ready until 2021.
  • The Raiders looked at playing the games in SF where the Giants play; the Niners invoked their “territorial rights”.
  • The Raiders do not want to play in the Niners stadium in Santa Clara; the Niners would probably let them play there for a tidy rental fee.
  • There is an empty stadium in San Diego; no one seems to be pushing that pawn.

So, why is no one thinking that the Raiders could be a vagabond team for one season and play all its games on the road?  It is not as if the Raiders are going to be Super bowl contenders next year; they will be fortunate to break even for the season.  Save whatever rental fees it would take for them to have a “home base” and spend it on travel for the team over a 17-week period.  The Raiders could position themselves as the NFL team raising awareness around the issue of homelessness in the US.

Finally, since I mentioned the Pro Football Hall of Fame above, consider this comment about another Hall of Fame from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“The College Football Hall of Fame says it will add the Goodyear blimp as an honorary member.

“Making it the biggest gas-filled immortal since the basketball hall inducted Dick Vitale in 2008.”

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



A Bunch Of Stuff Today …

The Miami Dolphins and the Cincy Bengals introduced their new head coaches yesterday and the identities of those two gentlemen were of surprise to no one.  Each one had to wait to take the job until after the Super Bowl game was over because Zac Taylor was the QB coach for the Rams in that game and Brian Flores was the defensive coordinator for the Pats in that game.

  • Zac Taylor:  You will have to consult with 23-And-Me to know if he is descended from President Zachary Taylor.  [Aside:  The only thing I remember about President Taylor was that his nickname was “Old Rough and Ready”.]  the current-day Taylor fits the mold of “seeking the new Sean McVay.  Taylor is young, energetic, ultra-positive and steely-eyed as is McVay.  He worked for/with McVay.  The only discernable difference is that Taylor does not use hair gel and is clean shaven.  Is he the “next Sean McVay”?  Talk to me in about 3 years…
  • Brian Flores:  He has been part of the Pats coaching staff since 2004 serving as a scout and various position coaches and then as defensive coordinator.  The Dolphins must assume that some of the elements of “the Patriot way” have rubbed off on him.  Flores has a 5-year contract with the Dolphins and that of itself should be a challenge.  The last Dolphins’ coach to last 5 years was Don Shula and he hung it up in 1995.

The concept of the “NFL Coaching Tree” is widely accepted as something worthy of note.  I am not sure why because if you believe that Bill Belichick is one of the Top 5 NFL coaches of all time (as most people would unless they are Patriots’ haters), then why has “his tree” borne such sour fruit on its progeny?  Here is my off-the -top-of-the-head list of folks who are on the Belichick Tree; it is not a highly successful list:

  • Romeo Crennel:  He had two head coaching jobs with two bad teams. He lasted 5 full seasons (plus a bit of another one as an interim head coach).  His overall record was 28-55.
  • Eric Mangini:  He too had two head coaching jobs with two bad teams.  He too put in five full seasons as a head coach and his overall record was 33-47.
  • Josh McDaniels:  He was the head coach of the Broncos for a year and three-quarters.  His record in Denver was 11-17.
  • Bill O’Brien:  He had a successful time at Penn State in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky mess and then took over the head coaching job for the Texans.  In 5 full seasons there, his record is 42-38 with 3 playoff appearances.
  • Matt Patricia:  He too was the Pats’ defensive coordinator until he left at the end of last year to take over as head coach of the Lions.  Granted, it is a small sample size, but this year’s Lions’ team went 6-10 after going 9-7 the year before Patricia arrived.
  • Mike Vrabel:  He never coached with Belichick, but he played for Belichick for 8 years and was a coach under Bill O’Brien for 3 years.  Does that grant him status on this list?  I think it should.  This is another small sample size, but in his year at the helm for the Titans, Vrabel’s record is 9-7.

Moving on … says this morning that MLB and the MLBPA are discussing rule changes.  One would add the Designated Hitter to the National League; I do not like that change at all; I have not liked the DH concept from the day it was initiated in MLB.  However, the other rule is something that I have “championed” for about the last 4 or 5 years.  According to the report, the new rule would make every pitcher face a minimum of 3 hitters in a game.  That would put an end to the often-seen situation where fans get to watch two pitchers warm up after consecutive hitters.  I love this proposed rule change and wish it had been instituted several years ago.

The NY Post reported earlier this week that ESPN fired Adnan Virk and escorted him off the campus there.  It was only a few months ago that Virk reportedly signed a 4-year contract extension at ESPN supposedly in the “seven-figure neighborhood”.  According to the NY Post, this action is tied to some reporting by Awful Announcing about some programming decisions made by ESPN relative to their deal with MLB.  [Aside:  I must admit that I do not know anything about “Awful Announcing”; but with a name like that, I would surmise that it would not be best buddies with an entity such as ESPN.]  You can read about this situation here; my hunch is that this matter will be dealt with in a legal action and there will be more reporting on it then.

Tom Brady was a guest on Good Morning America; there he told Michael Strahan something about being identified as “The GOAT”:

“I don’t even like it.  It makes me cringe.”

I have to take Brady at his word here because I have no experience to judge his reaction against.  No one has ever considered calling me the greatest of all time at anything – – except perhaps for my long-suffering wife who says that I am the world’s only 75-year old 14-year old.

Finally, here is a tidbit of Super Bowl halftime show analysis from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“A USA Today story called Maroon 5’s halftime show ‘a white-bread performance from one of America’s most generic groups.’

“Which nicely matched the Patriots’ white-bread win in one of America’s most generic Super Bowl games.”

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



Ancillary Super Bowl Fallout

TV ratings for the Pats/Rams Super Bowl game were down from last year.  In fact, the audience was the smallest for a Super Bowl telecast since 2009; according to Nielsen, the audience averaged 103.4 million viewers.  So, there is data there for analysis if one is so inclined…

The ratings for this year were down by 5%.

  • Is that because the game was “boring”?
  • Is that because pro football is on the decline?
  • Is that more fallout from the NFL’s brush with social justice protests?

The ratings for this year were down by 5%.

  • Is that because of the “New Orleans boycott”?
  • Maybe the “St. Louis boycott” too?
  • Is that because pro football in LA is just not a big deal?

Or, from a more positive perspective, the ratings for this year were down by 5%.

  • Those 103 million viewers will be more than double the audience for any other TV program in 2019.

I am sure that we will be able to read various analyses that come down on just about any side of this matter because the audience for this year dropped below the numbers posted for the last decade.  I don’t know why all of this happened but here is the data that I would focus on if I were part of the NFL executive suite:

  • Advertising revenue for the game itself – and for the entire day of programming on CBS – was also down 5% from last year.

One might “explain” that drop by the fact that the NFL and CBS both ran more promotional spots this year than they did last year.  Or maybe, they ran those added spots because they could not fill out the ad times with paying customers?  These are the numbers that are most important to the NFL in its quest to become a $25B per year enterprise by 2027.  TV rights deals pay the freight for the NFL and TV rights fees will only go up if the ad revenues for the rights packages continue to go up.

Speaking of the Super Bowl ads, here are the 5 brands that paid the most for air time last Sunday:

  • Bud Light – – $23.5M
  • Verizon – – $20.4M
  • T-Mobile – – $20.0M
  • Toyota – – $20M
  • Amazon – – $19.4M

Other than seeing Bud Light harp on the fact that they do not use corn syrup to make their beer and other brands do, can you recall anything memorable from any of those brand messages?  I cannot.  That is not an NFL problem; that is an ad agency problem…

Bettor X – the person who famously won more than $10M from the Las Vegas sportsbooks last year betting on the World Series and the Super Bowl – reportedly gave back $3.8M of those winnings on Sunday.  Reports say that he/she had $3.8M on the Rams +2.5 points; I saw one report that said a small portion of his total wager was on the Money Line for the Rams at +125.  His results over the past two years in big sporting events demonstrates why they call it “gambling” and not “investing”.

Over the last couple of days, there has been some debate/discussion around this topic:

  • Does Julian Edelman’s consistent excellence in playoff games merit him a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Those who think Edelman deserves to be there point to the fact that only Jerry Rice has more receptions, yardage and TDs in post season play.  That is an impressive calling card to be carrying indeed.

Those who think Edelman does not belong in Canton point to his regular season stats which are good – perhaps even very good – but certainly not exceptional.

Rather than worry myself over this concocted debate topic which will resolve itself once Julian Edelman ceases to play NFL football, I prefer to watch and appreciate how he manages to come up with big plays at important times.  There will be ample time to fret over the HoF question in the future.

Finally, speaking of the future and about football generically, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A 14-pound 13-ounce boy named Ali became the heaviest baby ever born at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital.

“Not sure if he has a baby carriage yet, but he does have a full ride to Texas A&M.”

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



Congratulations To The New England Patriots

We have certainly been here before; this is not uncharted territory.  Congratulations to the New England Patriots for their sixth Super Bowl victory.  By Patriots’ standards, this game was a blowout; this game was decided by 10 points; in previous Pats’ championships, the margin of victory had been 6,4,3 and 3 points.  And that is the problem with drawing conclusions based only on the score of a game.  This was not a blowout by any means; this was a “one-possession game” for the first 58 minutes and 48 seconds.

Wade Phillips had an excellent game plan for the Rams’ defense.  In the 2018 season, the Pats were held to 10 points by the Lions, Titans and Steelers; the Pats lost all three of those games.  What the Rams did on defense yesterday was exactly in line with a proven winning formula against the Pats.  There was only one little problem…

Bill Belichick and Brian Flores devised an even more effective defensive game plan for the day.  Save for a loss to the Bears where the Rams only scored 6 points, their minimum scoring output for the season was 23 points; often, they went north of 30 points in a game.  Yesterday, they managed 3 points and no more.  The reason for that meager output was not the youth of their coach or their QB; the reason was that the Pats’ defense throttled them down in a way no other defense had been able to do all year long.

A defensive game is not boring; a defensive game is low-scoring.  In baseball, if you watch a game that ends up 1-0 where each team gets 4 hits for the day, that is not boring because every pitch could be critical in deciding the outcome.  Too many people equate “defense” and “low-scoring” with “dull”; I do not.

In the first half of the game, the Rams had 2 first downs, 5 completed passes and 6 punts.  Obviously, that was not the Rams’ game plan; the Pats’ defense thwarted them and did not allow them to do what they normally did and/or what they wanted to do.  It is a mistake to discount that as “boring” or “dull”; it represents excellence by the defense.

Bard Dickson had this Tweet regarding the Rams’ first-half offense:

“Fact: when Adam Levine tossed his jacket and then his shirt into the crowd those were actually better than any two passes Jared Goff threw in the first half.”

The Pats moved the ball well in the game; they amassed 425 yards of offense but until the 4th quarter, they did not have a snap inside the red zone.  Don’t call that dull; recognize that the Rams’ defense did what it was out there to do.  The Pats’ defense was even better holding the Rams’ offense under 300 yards for the game and yielding only a long field goal over the course of 4 quarters.  Instead of lamenting the lack of offensive fireworks and scoring plays, it is appropriate this morning to recognize the accomplishments of the defensive units.

Think about it this way …  If there were no defense – or only token resistance from the defense – and the score was 55-45 (same 10-point differential), people would be ecstatic about the dynamism of the game.  Why?  If I were to seek to denigrate that game with 100 total points, I could say that it was only half a game because neither defense bothered to get off the team bus.  Players and coaches always talk about the “three phases of the game”.  They are correct to do so; yesterday showed that there is a way to win a game when one’s offensive unit is not dominating; the way to do that is for one’s defense to dominate the other offense even more potently.

I think Tony Romo summed all this up perfectly when he said:

“If you like offensive football, well, too bad.”

Let me list here some short takeaways from the entirety of yesterday’s spectacle in no particular order:

  • Overall, I think the Super Bowl ads were bland as could be.  Remember, it cost the advertisers about $5M to buy the time slot(s) and some other amount of money to come up with the ad concept and more money to produce the ad.  I’m not sure there were a lot of those ads that came close to being worth the investment.
  • [Aside:  I can’t decide which was the dumber ad.  The ones emphasizing that some light beers use corn syrup as an ingredient or the one with Bob Dylan singing “Blowin in the wind” as the Clydesdales parade through a wind farm.]
  • After the Washington Post ad in the 4th quarter, I mentioned to my Super Bowl party host that Jeff Bezos’ impending divorce action may influence the Post to the degree that their new slogan “Democracy dies in darkness” may need to be altered to “Democracy dies in divorce.”
  • Granted that I had no idea who any of the performers for the half-time show were.  After glimpsing pieces of their acts, I can say with certainty that I need not expend an erg of energy to find out the next time any of them will be in concert near to where I live.  The ad slogan for Camel cigarettes used to be, “I’d walk a mile for a Camel.”  Well, I would not walk across the room to hear any of those folks perform.
  • I am not a physician but given the way Todd Gurley played yesterday and the week before, I have to believe that he is injured to a much larger extent than anyone with the Rams has acknowledged.  He had only one run yesterday where he looked like “the Todd Gurley I have become accustomed to seeing”.
  • Where was that fearsome pass rush by the Pats all season long?

George Allen reportedly once said, “Losing the Super Bowl is worse than death because you have to get up the next morning.”  Obviously, that is hyperbolic coach-speak.  However, I would imagine that for football players/coaches, winning the Super Bowl is about the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

Finally, since I mentioned the dumb beer ads from yesterday, let me close here with a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Some beer deliveries in the upper Midwest had to be canceled last week because kegs were freezing en route.

“Coupled with the Packers missing the playoffs, flummoxed locals are claiming it’s the first two signs of the apocalypse.”

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



Final Football Friday 2/1/19

In case you had not heard, the Super Bowl will happen this weekend.  That means the 2018/19 football season will end in less than 72 hours and this is the last installment of Football Friday for a while.  So, let me get to it …  [Aside:  I know the AAF will kick off a week from Saturday and I wish the folks involved in that enterprise well.  However, I will reserve judgment on the magnitude – or even the viability – of that new league within the US sports landscape for a while.]

NFL/Super Bowl General Comments:

Before I get into my commentary, I want to point you to a column by Brad Rock in the Deseret News earlier this week.  We can all be amused by – or mystified by – the “super-fans” who attach themselves to teams.  You know who I mean’ the guy who spends a couple of hours painting himself to look like the team logo before going to the game and acting like a maniac in the stands or the guys who turn their bloodstream into a 20-proof concoction of plasma and alcohol only to bear their chests to reveal the team name while the temperature is in the single digits.  There are a few of them at just about every game.  Brad Rock’s column uses the results of a national survey to describe a set of “super fans” that take “super-fandom” to mind-numbing extremes.  Please take a moment and follow this link; when you have read the column and have finished shaking your head, come on back for the rest of this Football Friday.

For the last 2 weeks, I have been reminded at least a bazillion times that the Patriots have been to the AFC Championship game in each of the last 8 seasons.  The team has received abundant and sufficient praise for that achievement.  However, here in Curmudgeon Central, we always try to look through the other end of the telescope; therefore, here are the teams that have not been to a Conference Championship Game since 2000:

  • NFC:  Cowboys, Lions, Skins
  • AFC:  Bills, Bengals, Browns, Dolphins, Texans

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had a series of short takes/observations about the spectacle of the Super Bowl with some gems buried therein.  I will present several of them here as “rant interludes” for your amusement:

“Super Bowl wagering is popular, especially the prop bets. Because the NFL refs are so traumatized by the negative reaction to missed penalties in the conference championship games, the over-under on the number of pass-interference penalties called on the first scrimmage play Sunday is 3. Bet the over. You’ll win, even if it’s a running play.”

There have been reports that the NFL – in its ongoing fervent pursuit of the integrity of the games – is upset by prop bets offered by various sportsbooks.  For the Super Bowl there is a tsunami of prop bets related to the game and to the length of the national anthem and to whether the halftime performers will moon the audience during the first number or the third number.  The NFL position is that prop bets are far easier to “manipulate” than game outcomes.  To underscore the league’s distaste for prop bets, one of the league execs in Congressional testimony several months ago told Congress that it should enact legislation allowing the league – in conjunction with the sportsbooks – to ban proposition wagering as they relate to the stats for an individual player.

Let me stipulate that indeed it would be easier for ne’er-do-wells to “fix” a prop bet than a game spread or a total score.  Having said that, I have not heard or read about any evil-doers accomplishing such a betting coup.  Moreover, since prop bets during the regular season are limited in number and get only a tiny fraction of the handle for any given game, it is hard to see how a “fixer” would make enough money off prop bets to make it worth the time, trouble and risk.  In addition, many sportsbooks limit the size of the wager that they will take on any of the prop bets.

Here is another interlude from Scott Ostler:

“The average American will gain 6 pounds between now and Sunday night. But don’t worry, it’s mostly temporary weight, which easily can be shed with liposuction.”

Fans who attend the game in Atlanta will probably be surprised to see how low the food concession prices are at Mercedes Benz Stadium.  During the regular season, the Falcons instituted something called “Fan First Menu Pricing” which featured a whole bunch of concession items at prices that harken back to the 1980s.  For example, you could buy a cheeseburger for $5 and refillable soft drinks for $1.  Those prices are going to remain in effect for the Super Bowl attendees; the news item there is that there are no plans to gouge the people who may have already paid “four figures” for a seat in the stadium.  Kudos to Falcons as the hosts here…

One more comment from Scott Ostler, if I may:

“During the Super Bowl telecast, there will be no commercials for medicinal marijuana. That ad was rejected by the network, which wants to protect America from the evils of weed. There will be dozens of commercials for booze, bacon cheeseburgers, junk snacks, toxic colas, candy, large automobiles that hasten global warming, and wonder drugs designed to treat the ailments cause by all the other stuff being advertised. The wheel of life.”

In fact, CBS rejected an ad that would have touted the benefits of medical marijuana.  Acreage Holdings is a company involved in the “cultivation, processing and dispensing” of cannabis; they proposed a 60-second ad focused on medicinal uses for their product and supposedly sent the storyboards to CBS; CBS said they would not be accepting any advertising for medical marijuana for this year’s Super Bowl telecast.  Too bad …

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had his own comment about the rejection of the medical marijuana ad – but he believes the pain that will be felt exists beyond the target audience of people suffering from various medical maladies:

“CBS has rejected a Super Bowl ad for medicinal marijuana.

“But if you thought the pot moguls were upset about the news, you should’ve seen the folks at Frito Lay.”

According to, there will be 8 ads during the game from Anheuser-Busch for a mixture of its brands of beer along with 8 more “quick plugs” of 5 seconds each while the game is ongoing.  For people who focus more on the ads during the game than on the game itself, they are going to see lots of frothy beverages poured and admired during stoppages of play.  And that fact leads directly into another of the comments from Scott Ostler about the game this weekend:

“Everyone watching the beer commercials will muse, ‘How come this stuff doesn’t make me young and beautiful and hip? I must not be drinking enough of it.’”

I suspect that is exactly the conclusion that the advertisers hope that the audience draws from their presentations…

With regard to the telecast itself, the networks – and the sponsors – got the pairing that they would have preferred.  Boston and LA are the two largest TV markets by far of the 4 markets represented by the teams in the Conference Championship Games.  Nielsen identifies 210 “Designated Market Areas” for the US.  Los Angeles is the second largest market; Boston/Manchester is the tenth largest market area.  For comparison purposes, Kansas City is 32nd in the rankings and New Orleans is 50th on the list.

In addition to playing to much larger “home audiences”, the opposition of Boston and LA can allow networks and the league to allude to the rivalry of those two cities in the NBA orbit.  It may have been a while ago, but more than a few sports fans recall the intense rivalry between the Celtics and the Lakers when it was Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson…

Now, if anyone reading those last two paragraphs begins to think that there might be a linkage between these preferences and the outrageous officiating calls in last week’s Conference Championship Games, please take your tinfoil hats with you as you go to see a therapist about your paranoia.

The Game:

In each of the last 5 seasons, both Conference Championship Games had been won by the home teams; last week, both home teams lost the Conference Championship Games.  Fans of those home teams that lost can feel as if they were robbed – and there were plenty of questionable officiating decisions in both games.  However, let me present a couple of stats here that might suggest that the right teams advanced.

  • At the end of regulation, the Rams had gained 363 yards to 296 for the Saints AND the Rams averaged 5.7 yards per play to 4.9 yards per play for the Saints.  Those are not insignificant differences.
  • The Pats dominated the Chiefs on the stat sheet.  In regulation time, the Pats gained 449 yards to the Chiefs’ 290; the Pats were 13-19 on third-down conversions; the Pats held the ball for 40 minutes and 41 seconds.

Regarding the betting lines here, the spread opened two weeks ago with the Rams as 1-point favorites in the game.  Evidently there were plenty of folks with plenty of money who thought that was the wrong line because in less than an hour the lines had flipped to the Pats as 1-point favorites.  The action must have abated a bit at that point because it was not until the next morning that the line reached Pats – 2.5.  There are a couple of offshore sportsbooks where the spread is Pats – 3, but for the most part, the line has stayed constant at 2.5 points since Monday a week ago.

The Total Line opened at 57.5 and early money went overwhelmingly to the OVER, so the Total Line briefly peaked at 59.5.  From there the line has dropped back over the last two weeks and this morning it sits at 56 points.

There is a report that someone placed a $2M bet on the game at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.  The sportsbook acknowledged taking the bet but refused any other comment or details.  Speculation is that it was a bet on the Rams plus the points.

With betting now legal in 8 States – as opposed to last year when it was legal only in Nevada – estimates are that the legal handle might triple compared to last year.  According to the Nevada Gaming Commission – the regulatory body that oversees the casinos and sportsbooks in Nevada – the handle for the Super Bowl last year was $158M.  If indeed the legal handle nationwide triples, that would bring the total close to half-a-billion dollars.

The Nevada Gaming Commission data revel something else about Super Bowl wagering:

  • In the 28 years (since 1991) that the Commission has tracked Super Bowl wagering as a specific line item, the sportsbooks have beaten the betting public in 26 of those 28 years.
  • Don’t be surprised; that is how those folks stay in business…

Here are a couple of interesting – but certainly not important – tidbits related to the game:

  • I have not checked all 52 previous Super Bowl games, but I am confident that this is the first Super Bowl where the quarterback for one of the teams (Tom Brady) is 8 years older than the head coach of the other team (Sean McVay).
  • Todd Gurley and Sony Michel were teammates at Georgia in 2014; they will face one another in this game.
  • Tom Brady has started more NFL playoff games than Jared Goff has started in total.
  • Brandin Cooks was on the Pats team that played in last year’s Super Bowl; he will play for the Rams this weekend.
  • The last NFL team from Los Angeles to participate in the Super Bowl was the Raiders when they beat the Skins in 1984.
  • Both the Rams and the Pats ranked in the Top 4 in the NFL in points scored this regular season.  Notwithstanding that stature, neither team has paid off as OVER bets this year.  Counting the playoffs, the Pats are 7-11 to go OVER in 18 games and the Rams are merely 9-9.

New England – 2.5 vs. Rams (56) Game is in Atlanta:  I like this game to go OVER – notwithstanding the stat cited directly above.  Also, I cannot convince myself to bet against the Pats in this situation, so I’ll take the Pats to win and cover – – but with less conviction than the pick regarding the Total Line.  By happenstance I have two trends going for me with those selections – even though I am not a trend watcher:

  1. Pats are 7-1 to go OVER in their last 8 playoff games
  2. Pats are 9-3 against the spread in their last 12 playoff games.

Finally, let me close with one last Super Bowl observation from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“Halftime entertainment is Maroon 5 and rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi. Fine performers all, no doubt, but old-timers will pine for the simpler extravaganzas of years gone by. Like the 1988 halftime show featuring the Rockettes and Chubby Checker, a man with three career hits: ‘The Twist,’ ‘Let’s Twist Again,’ and ‘Let’s Twist One Last Time, I Swear, for My Retirement Fund.’”

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



Strange Stuff Today …

This week’s tempest in a spittoon deals with Anthony Davis publicly “demanding” a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans.  Davis had dinner with LeBron James about a week ago and Davis and James have the same agent; connect those dots if it not too difficult.  The Pelicans want the NBA to investigate “tampering” which is laughable given the short form of the situation provided above.  The problem is that a player (LeBron James) and an agent (Rich Paul) are not barred from “tampering” by the CBA; owners and league officials are barred.

Anyhow, the NBA did fine Anthony Davis $50K because a player is not allowed to ask for a trade publicly.  Putting that in perspective, Anthony Davis’ salary this year is $25,434,263 he was fined 0.2% of this year’s salary; he will make more next year.  That fine is not a deterrent or a punishment; it is merely for show.

Michael Wilbon made an interesting point on PTI yesterday.  The working assumption here is that Davis wants to go to the Lakers to play with LeBron  Wilbon wondered what was going on with the NBA players of today.  He pointed out that when Michael Jordan was dominating the NBA, the other superstars did not try to go and “join him”; those superstars tried to beat him.  It seems today that players would rather “collude” to form “super-teams” and win championships that way.  I had not thought of it that way, but Wilbon is onto something there.

This is not good news for the Pelicans as a franchise.  In recent memory, they have had three top-shelf players and once Davis is gone – and he will likely be gone before the start of next season – all those top-shelf players will have gone away.

  1. Chris Paul to the Clippers;
  2. Boogie Cousins to the Warriors;
  3. Anthony Davis to the ???

There is another bizarre NBA-related story out there.  According to an report by Brian Windhorst, the NBA set up a “Twitter platform” that allowed fans to watch an NBA game on TV and simultaneously to interact via Twitter NBA referees to discuss what everyone saw.  Supposedly, they are going to do this with other games this year including playoff games.

Obviously, I am not the target audience for this “innovation”, but I do wonder what the benefit to the NBA might be.  I can imagine some problems arising from such a set-up and I can imagine “mission-creep” as users want more intimate interactions via social media during games.  But I don’t see the benefits to the league; so, I wonder why that are doing it to start with.

And since I mentioned Twitter and Tweeting just above, please buckle your seat belts for the next Twitter Twaddle.  Just so you are fully prepared for these two Tweets, let me be sure you are aware that the author is the one and only José Canseco:

“Aliens have been trying to teach us how to time travel but first we have to change our body composition which we are not willing to do we have tried with animals and it has failed”

And 3 minutes later …

“Time travel puts 42,651 pounds of pressure on a human skeletal structure…. can you detach the brain from the body and equalize the pressure it could be done”

Socrates, Aristotle and Plato just did a three-way face-palm.  If time travel worked, we’d all be able to go and witness them doing that.  One question that leaps to mind – but I would not ask because Señor Canseco might try to answer it and that would not be remotely interesting – is this:

  • If the aliens are trying to teach us time travel and they/we know that our body composition stands in the way, why don’t the aliens teach us how to alter our body composition?  After all, if they have mastered time travel, they too must have devised ways to arrive at the proper body composition.

Whilst one is pondering the above question, please do not let anyone associated with PETA find out that we have been doing this experimentation on animals without success.  Pamela Anderson would not be pleased…

As a person trained in science, I am most impressed that we know the pressure exerted on the human system to 5 significant figures.  It is most difficult to know merely the weight of a human being to that level of accuracy.

And – – I will refrain from any comment about “detaching one’s brain from one’s body” and how that sort of a condition might be related to the content of these two Tweets.  Remember, this is the same man who volunteered to be the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and who said he would be willing to be the President’s Chief of Staff.  The next time someone tells you that “things can’t get worse”, remind them of that pair of possibilities.

The American Gaming Association estimates that legal betting on the Super Bowl this year will dramatically increase now that eight States can offer legal betting opportunities.  Based on a survey, 22.7 million Americans will have some sort of wager on the game.  The total wagering – legal, illegal and Internet wagering – is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $6B.  That’s a lot of cheese…

Finally, given the impact of the polar vortex on weather conditions in the Midwest and Eastern part of the US this week, a recent Tweet by Brad Dickson seems appropriate:

“Nebraska football has landed a four-star cornerback out of Hawaii.  I’m going to guess he doesn’t watch the Weather Channel.”

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



Revising And Amending My Remarks…

Two days ago, I said that perhaps MLB GMs were leery of handing out huge long-term contracts to free agents because some of the contracts of that nature in the past had not turned out so well for the clubs.  I gave three examples off the top of my head – – Albert Pujols, A-Rod and Jayson Werth.  Yesterday, I got an email from the reader in Houston whose encyclopedic memory for sports history is amazing.  He suggested 18 other examples of large long-term baseball contracts that did not work out well.  I am not going to go through all of them but consider these five examples:

  1. Homer Bailey:  Reds signed him to a 6-year deal worth $105M in 2014.  He has been anything but an “ace” since then; he was traded to the Dodgers this winter.
  2. Robinson Cano:  Signed to a 10-year deal worth $240M.  He will make $24M per year from now through the end of the 2023 season.  Mariners traded him to the Mets this winter.
  3. Chris Davis:  Orioles signed him to a 7-year deal worth $161M in 2016; they have him through 2022.  Last year, he hit .168 and struck out 192 times.
  4. Jacoby Ellsbury:  Yankees signed him to a 7-year contract worth $153M in 2014; they still owe him $42M.  He is a .265 hitter with limited power.
  5. Pablo Sandoval:  Red Sox signed him to a 5-year contract worth $90M in 2015.  He was released by the Sox in 2017.  He went back to the Giants on a mandatory minimum salary in 2018.

There are about a dozen other names from the list I got via email; these are the cautionary tales that MLB GMs may have in mind as they avoid offering free agents like Bryce Harper or many Machado 10 years and a total of $350M…

While on the subject of burdensome contracts, let me switch sports for just a moment here and give you the salary profile for John Wall of the Washington Wizards.  The team gave him an extension to his contract last year and here is how it goes:

  • 2018/19:  $19M
  • 2019/20:  $38M
  • 2020/21:  $41M
  • 2021/22:  $44M
  • 2022/23:  $47M

John Wall is out for the rest of this season with surgery on his foot.  However, when you tune into an NBA game and happen to see the Wizards next year, recall that salary profile and ask yourself if you consider his performance as a good value.  He will make about $463K per game next year…

Speaking of the NBA, the ratings on Turner Network TV are down about 20% this year as compared to last year and ESPN’s ratings are down about 5%.  I read one analysis that blamed some of the decline on LeBron James’ move from Cleveland to LA.  The reasoning goes like this:

  • When LeBron was in Cleveland, it made lots of Clevelanders watch NBA basketball because the Cavs were relevant.
  • People in LA watch the Lakers when they are good and when they are mediocre in similar numbers.
  • Therefore, “losing” a significant portion of the Cleveland audience hurts ratings.
  • Moreover, fewer people get to see LeBron play and he is a draw.  Because he is in LA now, he plays a large fraction of his games when folks in the Eastern Time Zone are asleep.  Ergo audiences in markets like NYC, Philly and Boston are down too.

If they gave out awards for looking at the world through rose colored glasses, I think this would be a strong contender for first prize in that category.  I think the ratings drop has more to do with an endemic problem for meaningless NBA regular season games:

  • The games are not fun to watch.  Many of them look like the 3-point shooting contest during the All-Star break.
  • When the games are not merely jump shooting contests, they devolve into a series of one-on-one games.  This makes for some great highlights on SportsCenter; it does not come close to holding my interest over the 2-hours it takes to watch a full game.

The Golden State Warriors – to pick a 3-point shooting team as an example – have attempted 1660 of those shots so far this year in 50 games – – about 33 per game or about one every 90 seconds of playing time.  The Warriors rank 10th in the NBA in 3-point shots attempted per game.  The leading team in that category is the Houston Rockets averaging 44.5 3-point attempts per game – almost one per minute of play.  More than half of the field goal tries by the Rockets come from behind the 3-point line.  Sigh

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times boiled down the MLB free agency embolism this winter to its essence with this comment:

“Pitcher Adam Ottavino will become the first player in Yankee history to wear jersey number 0.

“Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, not to be outdone, are holding out for the symbol $.”

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



National Corn Chip Day

Today is National Corn Chip Day.  Do you think the moguls who run the corn chip industry chose this date intentionally to get you thinking about what you are going to use to dip into the guacamole that will be on the menu for Sunday’s Super Bowl celebration?  I do…

Last week, USA Today had this headline:

RIP to the Super Bowl halftime show, no longer a cultural institution

Since I have never watched a halftime show from start to finish, I never thought of it as a “cultural institution”; but I was interested to read what had caused its demise.  Evidently, lots of top-shelf performers have turned down the gig this year even though they would be playing to an audience of almost 100 million people.  The reason for the difficulty in securing someone to take the gig is that angry fans have offered up petitions and social media jihads against it because the NFL has not behaved itself properly in the fans’ minds regarding social justice.  Once again, the Colin Kaepernick protest – and subsequent “blackballing” – is at the heart of much of this protest.

This year’s performance will feature Maroon 5 as the headliner.  In the event that Maroon 5 were to pull out of the performance at the last minute and be replaced by Chartreuse 7.5, I would not know the difference.  Evidently, someone named Travis Scott will join the performance and one of the things he put in his deal with the NFL for this show is that the NFL donated $500K to an organization that works on social justice issues.

About 5 years ago, I suggested it would make the Super Bowl halftime show much more interesting to me AND it would mitigate much of the protest that is evidently ongoing regarding the performers here.  Let me make the suggestion again:

  • Instead of rock stars, they should clear the field at halftime and present a “Battle of the Bands” featuring 3 marching bands from HBCUs such as Grambling, Southern, Florida A&M, Alcorn…
  • Pay each of the schools $500K for the band and another $500K for the school’s general fund.
  • Make the show a “competition” with a bunch of judges who pick a winner.  The winning band gets to designate a charity of its choice to receive another $500K donation from the NFL in the name of that band.

Total cost to the NFL would be $3.5M – – which is less than an advertiser will pay for a 30-second ad during the game.  In general, HBCUs are not institutions with humongous endowment funds so the contribution to the school would be very useful.  The band would get to perform on the biggest stage it will ever see, and each band can use the process of choosing its favored charity as a way to debate issues and reach a consensus.

I do not know if USA Today is correct in pronouncing the passing of the Super Bowl halftime show as a cultural institution.  What I do know is that I would be much more interested in watching a “Battle of the Bands” this Sunday than I will be to watch Maroon 5 – or even Macaroon 5.

The current NFL season is not quite over, but the NFL has already made some announcements about the schedule for the 2019 season.  The “overseas games” have been announced.

  • The NFL will return to Mexico City – despite having to pull out of that game at the last minute this year due to unplayable conditions on the field.  Next year, it will be a Chiefs at the Chargers encounter in Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.  [Aside:  It makes plenty of sense to have this be a Chargers’ home game since they play in a band-box and attendance in Mexico City will probably be more than double what they might draw in Carson, CA.]
  • There will be 4 London Games.  Two of these games will be in Wembley Stadium and the other two will be in the new stadium under construction to house the Tottenham Hotspurs of the English Premier League.
  • The four matchups will be Panthers at Bucs, Bears at Raiders, Bengals at Rams and Texans at Jags.  What has not yet been announced is which games will be played in which stadium in London and in what order.

Back in the high school football season, there was a game between two teams in Iowa with a total score of 180 points.  Council Bluffs Jefferson beat Sioux City North by a score of 99-81.  When I commented on that game, I wondered if the basketball games between the two schools would produce that many points.  Well the teams met twice this year and here are the results:

  1. Jan 8, 2019:  Sioux City North 89  Council Bluffs Jefferson 74.  Total score: 163 points.
  2. Jan 19, 2019:  Sioux City North 71  Council Bluffs Jefferson 53.  Total score 124 points.

Finally, here is a real estate opportunity I ran across in Dwight Perry’s column in the Seattle Times a couple of weeks ago:

“Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson has put his Paradise Valley, Ariz., mansion on the auction block. No, not all the doors are sliders, but it does include:

  • 25,000-square-foot main home
  • 2,000-square-foot guest house
  • 11½ bathrooms
  • 7 bedrooms
  • 5 acres of land

“In other words, a Big Unit.”

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



Some Things I Am Tired Of …

I must tell you that I have had more than enough of the formulaic stories perpetrated by baseball writers on two topics this winter:

  1. Rumors about where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign.
  2. The lack of movement in free agent signings and the dearth of long-term deals.

Regarding all the rumors, if someone went back and stitched all of them together, you would probably find that Harper and Machado have been linked to every possible venue including teams in the Martian League.  If you allow me to offer up 30 variants here without calling bullshit on me, I will be certain to have gotten it right once either or both sign whatever deals they are going to sign.  The fact that established baseball writers have had to resort to multiple “rumor-mongering expositions” tells me that they are not nearly the “insiders” that they portray themselves to be.

Regarding the second set of reports/columns that has been done to death this winter, it takes two sides to make a deal.  The presumption in 99% of the reports I have read is that the owners are sitting on massively fat wallets and not offering contracts that the players/agents think represents market value.  The reports often allude to possible collusion to drive down wages – – but so far no one has offered a shred of evidence to support that other than lots of clubs seem to be making lower offers than were expected so – – ipso facto – – there has to be collusion.  That is the essence of conspiracy theory thinking; the absence of real evidence becomes evidence of the conspiracy.

It takes two sides to make a deal – and even to enter into negotiations to see if there is a deal to be made.  Are we certain that the agents for all these players have been making offers to the clubs as a way to start negotiations – – or are they sitting back waiting for clubs to come to them?  I don’t know the answer to that, but I would expect that the “baseball insiders” might be able to ferret that out.

Regarding “long-term deals”, my sense is that many of them have not gone all that well for the teams that offered them up:

  • The Angels will pay Albert Pujols a total of $87M for the 2019 – 2021 seasons.  Let’s call that a cautionary tale.
  • Do you think anyone in the Yankees’ organization holds up the Alex Rodriguez 10-year deal as a model the team should follow in the future?
  • Jayson Werth signed a 7-year deal with the Nats and his final two years on that deal were almost embarrassing.

I am too lazy to find other examples of long-term deals that went off the rails but maybe these are the reasons that GMs are not falling all over themselves to sign Machado and/or Harper up for the next 10 years…

Having enumerated my lack of continued interest in these stories, let me offer up a couple of other stories that I think are about to “break” and will be way over-exposed:

  1. Will the Mets call up Tim Tebow to the parent club sometime in 2019?
  2. Where will LeVeon Bell play football next year?
  3. Where will Antonio Brown play football next year?
  4. Will the Cleveland Browns “shock the world” next year – – or better yet, are the Cleveland Browns emerging as the next great NFL dynasty?
  5. Who will coach the Lakers once LeBron James gets Luke Walton fired?
  6. Will Tom Brady retire – – or alternatively – – will Father Time finally catch up to Tom Brady?  [Substitute Gronk’s name here too…]

Greg Cote had two items in the Miami Herald yesterday that summarize two sporting events to the degree that we need to know about them:

“Tiger opens season at Torrey Pines: Justin Rose carries a three-shot lead into Sunday’s final round of the Farmers Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. Tiger Woods, in his first event of the new season, made the cut but is 13 off the lead. Except on the attention leaderboard, where he remains on top.”

And …

“The Senior Bowl was Saturday, because apparently an entire season is insufficient for scouts to know about players.”

Ticket resellers say that the average price of a ticket to this year’s Super Bowl is down almost $1000 as compared to last year; a pair of “good seats” in Mercedes Benz Stadium next weekend will set you back somewhere between $7000 and $7500 a piece so do not shed too many crocodile tears for the people doing the selling.  I saw one report where a ticket broker attributed this price-drop to “Patriots fatigue”.  Here is the gist of that argument:

  • This is the ninth time the Pats have been to the Super Bowl.  It costs a pretty penny to book a flight, rent a hotel and pay those kinds of ticket prices so most of the Pats’ fans who have the means to take in this “once in a lifetime experience” have already taken it in.

I can buy that to some degree, but I think there is a parallel factor here that is as plausible as “Patriot fatigue”.  Let me call it “Ram apathy”:

  • LA fans are not – as a class – nearly as rabid about their teams as fans in various other cities are e.g. Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Philly, Seattle, Dallas, KC …  Possibly, there are not nearly as many LA fans chomping at the bit to head to Atlanta to see their beloved Rams in this game as there would be with some other opponent for the Pats.  It’s a thought…

Finally, here is an item from a recent edition of Sideline Chatter by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A Manhattan science teacher piloting a small plane with engine trouble made an emergency landing on the Paramus (NJ) golf course.

“It was a textbook up-and-down, witnesses say but style points deducted for not replacing his divot.”

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