Deflategate – Morning, Noon And Night

I think that the only way for Deflategate to get more coverage/exposure would be for some exec at CNN to mistake Deflategate for a missing airliner over the ocean and to order the network into its blanket coverage mode.

Last week, I told all of you what I thought might and should come out of the Deflategate Mess now that the league has the Wells Report. Over the weekend, there was a plethora of sports column space devoted to the topic and, of course, those columns attracted multiple sets of comments. Let me recommend two such columns to your reading today.

Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette addressed the issue with some humor while paying attention to most of the salient issues here. Like me, he was not particularly fond of the Wells Report itself. I will just give you a sample of his evaluation of it:

“According to the much-anticipated Deflategate report commissioned by the league and prepared by the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, whose mountains of billable hours Ted Wells brought home in 243 pages (The Old Man And The Sea came in at 126 if you’re wondering how much verbiage it took Hemingway to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953, because I know you were), 243 pages that somehow do not include the words Tom Brady is a cheating, conniving liar.”

Here is a link to the column; I commend it to your reading; I would not recommend that you spend a lot of time reading the comments at the end of it.

The other column you may wish to read in its entirety is by Charles P. Pierce at Grantland.com. Pierce is a wonderful writer and in this analysis he manages to harken back to the days of Nixon, Ehrlichman and Haldeman and ties that stuff into Deflategate. I have to admit, that would never have occurred to me nor could I have pulled it off. Here is the link to the piece.

About a year ago, I created something called the Just Go Away Club. I put in charter members including Lance Armstrong, Terrell Owens and the like. Membership in the club meant that I hoped not to hear from or about them anymore; they had worn out their welcome in my brain. Later Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano earned membership in that club. Thankfully, they seem to have gone away. I have a new member that I wish it induct into the Just Go Away Club today. That would be …

    Don Shula

Coach Shula has won more NFL games than any other coach; for that he is properly enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Coach Shula also piloted the only NFL team to go undefeated through a season and win the Super Bowl at the end of the season. While that is a big achievement, Coach Shula has beaten the sports world over the head with that achievement for at least the last 20 years – and I am being generous there. Now he has felt the need to add his voice to the Deflategate Mess by telling SI.com:

“We didn’t deflate any balls.”

Congratulations, Coach; you, your staff and your players were nothing but paragons of virtue in addition to athletic stalwarts. However, no one cares anymore about your 1972 team. You have made mention of that team something that resembles fingernails scratching a chalkboard. Enough already…

Oh, by the way Coach, about all that “paragon of virtue” stuff, you do recall don’t you that in the process of leaving the Baltimore Colts to go to the Dolphins, there were shenanigans involved. The Dolphins tampered with you – and interestingly it is difficult to have tampering occur in a contract signing without TWO signatures on that contract. So, while you “more than likely” did not initiate the tampering, you were a party to it. If you ever feel the need to moralize again, please include that disclaimer.

Coach Don Shula, Just Go Away!

Sticking with NFL happenings for the moment, Ed Reed announced his retirement from football last week. He played 12 years – 11 of which were with the Baltimore Ravens. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and safeties do not win that award all that often. He is certain to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame down the line and perhaps the best way to summarize his career is to use the words of Bill Belichick who was preparing to play against the Ravens and Ed Reed in the 2012 AFC Playoffs:

“Can’t say I’ve ever coached against anybody better than Ed Reed in the secondary.”

Bonne chance, Ed Reed…

Finally, here is a note from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding an NFL persona who is on the fringe of membership in the Just Go Away Club:

“Former NFL receiver Plaxico Burress, 37, has been indicted on charges he failed to pay a $48,000 tax bill when his electronic funds transfer failed and he ignored notices to make good on it.

“Prosecutors are calling it out-and-out tax evasion; Burress apologists say it’s merely an incomplete pass.”

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

In Anticipation Of The “Deflategate” Punishments

The Ted Wells Report to the NFL regarding “Deflategate” was finally delivered. In a sense the report was perfect – from the perspective of the folks in the NFL who want to keep “The Shield” front and center in the sports news mix 365 days per year. What the report has done is to give the “Pats/Brady/Belichick Haters” fuel for their hatred while simultaneously giving the “Pats/Brady/Belichick Acolytes” plenty of room to point at the haters for being what they are. While much of the sporting world awaits the decree of The Commish on this matter, let me take a moment and try not to preach to you about morality or pragmatism or concepts such as “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”.

The Wells Report, lengthy beyond what was needed and tardy given its contents, makes several things clear:

    The Pats used underinflated footballs in the first half of the AFC Championship Game against the Colts.

    The measurements of those underinflated footballs by NFL officials at halftime showed a range of 0.4 psi from ball to ball depending on which pressure gauge was used. I have a PhD in chemistry; if a student reported data of that nature, I would send him/her back to the lab with a calibrated instrument to find out what the actual pressure was.

    There is incriminating evidence to say that two Pats’ employees were involved in assuring that the balls were inflated to the minimum pressure stipulated by the rules – and that in this particular game they may have “over-achieved” by underinflating the balls.

    The game officials did not cover themselves in glory in terms of their stewardship of the game balls once they had performed whatever measurements they did on those game balls.

After all of that, the report contains incredible wordsmithing – or weasel-wording depending on your bias here – to say that “it is more probable than not” that those two Pats’ employees took air out of the footballs after the referees had checked them prior to the kickoff and that Tom Brady “was at least generally aware” of the actions of those two Pats’ employees. And it is that kind of phraseology that makes me want to get off the Ted Wells train…

If it is “more probable than not”, that means that you believe “it” to be true but there is enough reason to doubt that conclusion that you will not put it forth in writing lest you be proven wrong at some later date and thereby demonstrated to be an incompetent investigator. Take a deep breath folks but the fact is that Ted Wells and his law firm have made lots of money off the NFL and stand to make lots more in the future – so long as they do not come up looking like amateurish a$$holes in reporting on this high-profile matter. Ted Wells is also an accomplished attorney who “more than probably” “is generally aware” of the laws regarding libel and slander. The fact that he worded his conclusions as he did could well mean that he did not want to be sued for libel/slander and have to prove in a court that what he said/wrote was the absolute truth.

“More probable than not” applies to the two employees who by dint of some incriminating text messages to each other points to the determination that they did something deliberate to take air out of the footballs after the officials had measured the internal pressures. I am going to say something harsh here but bear with me:

    No NFL fan – indeed, even no sports fan – gives more than a rat’s patootie if those two Pats’ employees did or did not do what they are alleged to have done. Folks, these two people do not matter a whit.

What NFL fans want to know is this:

    Did Bill Belichick orchestrate any/all of this?

    Did Tom Brady orchestrate any/all of this?

    Did anyone else in the Pats’ organization who is more famous than the two locker room attendants but less famous than Belichick or Brady orchestrate any of this?

The Wells Report pretty much exonerates Belichick and other members of the Pats’ organization. However, with regard to Brady, it says that he was “at least generally aware” of the actions of the locker room attendants. Let’s review:

    Wells is not certain enough to say that these two Pats’ employees did in fact deflate the footballs on that day in anything resembling an unequivocal fashion.

    Wells implicates Brady saying he was “at least generally aware” of actions that he is not willing to say that the locker room attendants actually did.

If I were to be most unkind here, I might characterize the key findings of the Wells Report in the following:

    We know the footballs had lower pressure than the rules allow.

    We think we know who did it – but we have no way of coming close to proving that conclusively.

    Based on the evidence that is not sufficient to point to the perpetrators unequivocally, we also take a leap of faith to say that Tom Brady “was generally aware” of that they may or may not have done but we have nary a clue as to whether he ever told them to do it.

If you are a Patriot/Belichick/Brady hater, take a deep breath here. Gather your thoughts because I am going to go into another direction here that you may not like even more than you did not like what came before.

Some have called for a suspension for Tom Brady for a couple of games; others have suggested 4 games; some have said suspend him for all of the 2015 NFL season. Think about it for a moment:

    Should the NFL set the bar for a lengthy suspension at “was generally aware” of a rules violation perpetrated “more probably than not” by someone other than the player to be suspended?

If “more probably than not” becomes the measure for lengthy suspensions, consider that phraseology when it comes to each and every domestic violence call made to 911 and involving an NFL player:

    The call is recorded; the caller gives an address and a description of what is happening.

    When the police arrive, they write a report indicating injuries/bruises on the person who made the call and they find the “NFL player” at the scene.

That is not enough to get a conviction in a court of law. If it were, the NFL would have more than a few current players who were doing time behind bars and not playing Sunday football. But if the standard for NFL participation is to be “more probably than not”, loads of players would suffer consequences from the league far in advance of any court appearance/trial. I do not know if that is such a good idea…

Recall a few years ago when the Giants were accused of faking injuries to defensive players as a means to slow down opponents who used a hurry-up offense. Such chicanery violates on-field rules and it would not be difficult to conclude that “more probably than not” the players were faking those injuries – after all they were back in the game seconds later – and it should not be difficult to assert that the coaches and the other players were “generally aware” of that those rule-breakers were doing. If this is to be the new standard for eligibility, there could well be entire teams that are on suspension with only one week for a franchise to assemble a replacement team. That would be ugly…

Now that I have suggested rational reasons why harsh punishments are not justified here, let me now tell you why the NFL has to hand down some significant penalties in this matter. The Commissioner and the league have some pragmatic issues to confront:

    This involves the Patriots and the fact of the matter is that the Patriots were over the edge in the Spygate Incident in 2007. There has to be a penalty and it cannot be a mere slap on the wrist.

    This incident involves on-field issues and on-field issues involve the “integrity of the game” and the integrity of the game is a foundation piece that supports this $10B per year enterprise.

    Tom Brady is a famous white player. The majority of players who have served significant suspensions meted out by the NFL have been less famous and black.

    There is no rational financial penalty that can be levied on Brady or on the Patriots that makes any sense.

Oh, and for the record, some folks have suggested that the Colts and the NFL ran a “sting operation” on the Pats in that game; I cannot tell you how little credence I put in such assertions. There is no “Colts/NFL Conspiracy” here any more than there was a “vast right wing conspiracy” about 20 years ago to defame a former President for getting serviced in the White House.

The NFL has to come down on someone or something for these deflated footballs; they violate on-field rules and the league cannot pretend it is inconsequential without simultaneously admitting that at least one of its hundreds of rules is in the book for no good reason whatsoever. So what are the possibilities?

    Monetary fines that have any relationship to previous fines are immaterial here.

    Tom Brady and his household take in something in the neighborhood of $60M per year these days. A fine of $1M would be enormous by prior standards and would be an amount just north of pocket change that fell into the sofa pillows for the Bradys.

    Forbes says Robert Kraft has a net worth of $4.3B and the Pats are making money faster than he can count it. What might the NFL fine the Pats and/or Robert Kraft – notwithstanding their declaration of innocence in the Ted Wells Report – that would be more significant than a mouse turd?

    The last discipline for a team that violated the tampering rules (Jets in 2015) was a $100K fine. In this environment, that is a laughable fine.

That leaves suspensions and loss of draft picks.

    The Falcons GM got a suspension when it was determined that the Falcons pumped in amplified noise into the Georgia Dome in violation of league rules. This happened even though the GM had no involvement in the incidents; it just happened on his watch.

    The Browns GM got a suspension of 4 games – without pay – for sending text messages to one of his coaches on the sideline during a game.

    With those “suspension precedents” someone on the Pats needs to be suspended for multiple games and the only person mentioned in the Wells Report who might be in the crosshairs is Tom Brady.

No matter what Roger Goodell decides to do here, there will be screeching. If he drops the hammer on the Pats as a franchise, lots of folks will see it as having been amplified by a desire to prove that even the “best teams” can suffer at the hands of the “League Disciplinarian”. If nothing happens to the Pats as a franchise, the folks in other cities can pat themselves on their backs for “knowing” ahead of time that the fix was in for the league’s favorite franchise. If the Pats lose a draft pick, it will not be enough for some fans and it will be an outrageous miscarriage of justice for other fans.

Roger Goodell is between a rock and a hard place but that is why he gets paid the big bucks – reportedly north of $40M last year. Here are some elements of what I would do if I were in his position and wanted to keep collecting that cool $40M per…

    1. Even though fines are virtually meaningless here, they do have some meaning to the general public. Therefore, I would fine the Pats $5M – and tell them to shut up and pay it lest the next judgment against the team be a whole lot worse. Moreover, I would fine Tom Brady $500K – the same amount Bill Belichick was fined in the Spygate Incident – with the admonishment to him and his seemingly hyperactive agent that it could be a whole lot more severe.

    2. If there needs to be a suspension to assuage the villagers poised to march on the Pats’ castle with torches and pitchforks, then make it a 3-game suspension where Tom Brady cannot play in any of the Pats’ home games against their 3 division rivals. [October 25 vs. the Jets, October 29 vs. the Dolphins and November 23 vs. the Bills]. I think this would be excessive on the part of The Commish and I think it sets a horrendous precedent for league action, but if he must…

    3. The most meaningful punishment would be loss of draft picks for the team – despite the fact that the Wells Report exonerated the owner and the coaches and everyone else in the franchise. Maybe the Commish could relieve the Pats of their first round pick in 2016 – or in 2016 and 2017 if he really wants to establish his cred as “The Great American Badass”.

      [Aside: The Commish also needs to tell the Competition Committee to change and tighten the rule about how game balls are prepared and handled before games. Make the officials responsible for inflation and preparation of the balls and make a player or coach from each team go to the officials’ room to witness the pressure measurements for all of the game balls. No team will prepare or inflate the game balls.

      Oh, by the way, spend some of the $10B to buy a calibrated pressure gauge for each officials’ crew…]

I expect criticism from Patriot fans suggesting that the punishments I offered up are too stern for things that are suspected but not known for sure. I expect criticism from Patriot haters and fans of other teams who may or may not hate the Patriots for harping on the flimsiness of the evidence and the conclusions in the Wells Report. The last thing I expect is for more than a handful of people to think I have called this one down the middle.

We shall see what The Commish decides – the guy who makes $40M per year to make such decisions. I shall just sit back here in Curmudgeon Central and take it all in and use whatever decision comes down as fodder for a future rant.

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

College Football – In May No Less…

I know it is May but I want to talk about college football today. I know that I am going to make some derogatory remarks in the upcoming paragraphs so let me begin by saying that I love college football and I watch a whole lot of it. Nevertheless, I am not thrilled in the least by my new opportunity to watch even more college football.

Starting this winter, the number of bowl games will expand by 3 to total 42 bowl games. That means 82 teams will be playing in bowl games in December and January. [Remember, two of the four teams in the College Football Playoff will play twice.] There are 128 schools playing Division 1-A football at the moment meaning 64.1% of those teams will make it to a bowl game. So, on average a 12-team conference might be sending 7 or 8 teams to various bowl games.

    Now if that means that I can anticipate watching the seventh place team in the American Athletic Conference take on the eighth place team from the Sun Belt Conference, you will have to pardon me when I do not jump up from my chair and do a happy dance all around Curmudgeon Central.

The three new games for this year will happen in Austin, TX, Orlando, FL and Tucson, AZ. There will be 6 teams participating in those games meaning about 400 student athletes and 50 student team managers/staff will spend at least an extra 3 weeks preparing for the games and then traveling to the games to make them happen. If those footballers and managers put in only 2 hours per day for those extra 3 weeks (that is a generously low estimate), that represents 18,900 “man-hours” devoted to football and not to “school”.

I know that number is low but juxtapose it with this statement from the NCAA website regarding the interweaving of athletics and “school”:

“The NCAA membership has adopted amateurism rules to ensure the students’ priority remains on obtaining a quality educational experience and that all of student-athletes are competing equitably.”

    Memo to the NCAA: “Obtaining a quality educational experience” will be enhanced if these people have those 18,900 “man-hours” available to them for classroom pursuits. These three new bowl games mean more student-athletes will miss more class time and one thing is for sure:

      A “quality education” involves students spending time in class and in scholarly pursuits.

    Oh, and do not get me started on how “obtaining a quality educational experience” plays with the academic frauds perpetrated at UNC and Syracuse…

On a more analytical note, there has always been a significant difference between college football and the NFL. Much of that difference has always been – and will continue to be – the athletic skill level differences in the two games plus the immutable fact that almost everyone in the NFL is older than just about everyone in college football. While indeed those differences will continue to obtain, I think that college football is evolving in a different direction from the NFL. I am not making a value-judgement here; this is not a good thing nor a bad thing; it just is.

The majority of college football today can be summed up in 3 words:

    Spread the field…

Many college QBs do not call any plays; the whole team looks to the sidelines for signals that align the players and get them all going in one direction at the snap and after that there are a series of options for all the skill players. In the past, teams put their best athletes and their fastest players on defense; not so anymore.

Yes, some teams in the NFL use the spread formation and a hurry-up offense some of the time but not to the extent that it happens at the college level. So, the impact on the NFL can be seen in several dimensions:

    Fewer college QBs are field generals and many have difficulty adapting to the “play in the pocket” style that will keep QBs vertical in the NFL.

    Running backs are now going against smaller defenders because the defenders have to be quick – and hopefully fast too – in order to keep up with the spread offenses. When running backs get to the NFL, they are no longer running against “little guys” and for many the difference is quite apparent.

    The flip side here is that big defensive linemen who can stop the run and put a little pressure on the QB are becoming harder to find. The big run-stuffer can easily be avoided with spread offenses that run outside almost to the exclusion or running between the tackles.

As I said, I am not putting a value-judgment on this. I do think the two US versions of football are evolving along different paths and it will be interesting to see if the current divergence continues over the next decade.

Finally, here is an NFL note from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Fins had free agent running back Stevan Ridley in for a look. Stevan is best known for wishing his parents had spell-check.”

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

Strange Doin’s In NYC…

Isiah Thomas is now the President and a part owner of the NY Liberty in the WNBA. The major owner of the Liberty is MSG Inc which in turn is controlled by James Dolan who also owns the Knicks. The “bromance” between Thomas and Dolan has been a story for a while and some folks have taken this as simply the latest chapter in that story. I think there is a more interesting angle here.

When Thomas ran the Knicks, one of the events that led to his departure from the team was a lawsuit bright against him and MSG by a female employee of the Knicks. She claimed that she was sexually harassed on the job and sued for something around $10M. Moreover, she won the case. Now, not only does Thomas return to professional basketball in NYC, he does it with the women’s team in NYC. In making this announcement, here is something James Dolan said about Thomas:

“He’s an excellent judge of talent and I’m confident that he will put all of his energy [into making the Liberty competitive].”

I might be willing to give dolan the benefit of the doubt here if Thomas had been a success somewhere as a GM or a coach or a team president. If such success – worthy of being labeled an excellent judge of talent – exists, I did not find it.

That move was surprising but other news out of NYC this week is much less of a surprise. Alex Rodriguez tied Willie Mays on the all-time home run list and that should trigger a $6M payment from the Yankees. The team said back in Spring Training that they would not honor that part of the contract because – they claim – that the $6M is payment for them to market the achievement. However, they say that A-Rod’s suspension last year for PED use makes such marketing impossible; and therefore, they do not owe him anything. Their position is that since this is a marketing deal, they have the option to market or not to market and they now choose not to market.

Frankly, that sounds pretty flimsy to me. The Yankees would not want me on a jury that would be charged to decide this matter. I will give the Yankees credit for something here:

    With this action, the Yankees have managed to make Alex Rodriguez look like the “good guy in the white hat”. Anyone who has tracked A-Rod’s behaviors off the field for the last decade or so would have to admit that is no easy feat.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this comment recently regarding the Angels and Josh Hamilton. Given the ongoing circumstances between the Yankees and A-Rod, it seems equally applicable there too:

“Idle thought: Why stop at drug testing Josh Hamilton? Baseball should be administering urine tests to the Angels executives who signed Hamilton to a $125 million deal.”

Last weekend, Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did a column about the idea of putting the DH in the National League. Here is a link so you can read it in its entirety. One of the arguments advanced to support putting the DH in the National League is that 2 pitchers have been injured while batting recently and that is not a good thing for baseball. Here is one paragraph from Professor Collier’s exposition last weekend:

“The fact is, pitchers really shouldn’t do anything, especially pitch. You can’t keep them healthy no matter what you do; 110 pitchers were on the disabled list Friday of this week. Most had cranky shoulders and ouchy elbows awaiting a clinical go-or-no on Tommy John surgery, a procedure so common that it’ll soon be available at the drive-thru at Walgreen’s.”

I have never been enamored of the DH. If I were King of the World (H/T to Bill Conlin), I would resolve the issue of two different sets of rules for the two baseball leagues very simply. I would get rid of the DH in the American League. I doubt that is going to happen anytime soon but that is only because I am not about to ascend to the role of King of the World.

Steven Gerrard is a midfield player for Liverpool in the English Premier League and he is the captain of the team. He has spent his entire career with the Liverpool club and recently started his 500th game in the EPL; only 11 other players in history have played in that many EPL games. Gerrard holds one other distinction. He is the only player ever to score a goal in an EPL Final Game, an FA Cup Final Game, a UEFA Cup Final Game and a Champions League Final Game. Reports are that Gerrard will leave Liverpool at the end of this season and will come to the US to play for the LA Galaxy in MLS. Steven Gerrard may not be as famous or as recognizable as Pele or Messi or Ronaldo, but he will raise the level of play in MLS with his presence.

Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald put the Pacquiao/Mayweather fight into perspective earlier this week:

“Pacquiao-Mayweather sold out in seconds. For Nebraska football, that’s called ‘the South Alabama game’.”

Finally, a soccer note from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Ghanaian soccer official Kofi Manu says his team got knocked out of the CAF Champions League because players were sleep-deprived from watching too much pornography.

“As for the players, they’re withholding comment until they’ve seen the films again.”

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

Unbridled Euphoria…

Well, at least it was not a phantom injury. Reports this morning say that Manny Pacquiao will undergo surgery for a “significant tear” in his right rotator cuff and will not be able to train for about 9 months. All too often the use of an injury to explain a defeat or a failing sort of rings hollow. However, if someone says he was injured during a competition and then goes under the knife to repair an injury that indeed would affect athletic abilities, one had to acknowledge that the injury was there during the event.

Nevertheless, given the lackluster reviews and commentaries subsequent to the “Fight of the Century”, I am not sure there will be any sort of clamor for a rematch from the public. I will not be surprised if the two camps try to figure a way to put together a rematch in a year or two simply because of the revenue the first fight generated, but I think they will have to sell the rematch whereas the original fight sold itself.

More than a couple of folks have said that American Pharoah’s win in the Kentucky Derby – along with his previous racing credentials – makes him a serious contender to “break the streak” and win the first Triple Crown since Affirmed won it in 1978. A subset of those folks who are on American Pharoah’s bandwagon thinks that this crop of 3-year olds is a strong one and that would make American Pharoah a worthy addition to the list of Triple Crown winners.

I have exactly no idea at the moment if American Pharoah is going to win the Triple Crown nor am I ready to pronounce this year’s 3-year old crop a top shelf commodity. However, one of the outputs from Curmudgeon Central is a dose of reality when faced with unbridled euphoria. Therefore, please consider:

    1. American Pharoah got an easy trip in the Derby settling nicely in third and fourth place just off the pace. He had to navigate exactly no traffic jams in that race.

    2. American Pharoah ran the mile-and-a-quarter in 2:03 on a fast track. Secretariat ran the Derby in 1:59 2/5. Using handicappers’ metrics, that means American Pharoah would have been 18 lengths behind Secretariat.

    3. American Pharoah ran the final quarter mile of that race in 26 2/5 seconds. Handicappers look at horse workouts and gauge a good workout by the mnemonic “eighths in twelve” meaning a good workout is 12 seconds for each eighth of a mile in the workout. American Pharoah’s final quarter for the Derby was more than 2 seconds slower that a good workout time.

    4. The fact that a whole bunch of other 3-year olds finished behind American Pharoah means to me that this year’s crop of 3-year olds has a lot to show in the next 7 months before I would anoint it as “great”.

Another area of unbridled euphoria that is out and about in the land has to do with the NFL Draft. In the few days subsequent to the Draft, it is commonplace to read analysts’ grades for the Draft team by team. Since there is no real way to know how all of those players will transition to the NFL about now – and it will be at least 2 years and probably 3 until we do know – these commentaries are a tad silly. However, they are made sillier by the unbridled euphoria that infuses them.

I am going to pick on Mark Maske of the Washington Post here but he is NOT alone. Mark Maske covers the NFL at large for the Post and I think he does a good job at it. However, when it comes to grading the teams after this year’s draft, the worst grade he assigned was a “C-“to two teams. Every other team was “C” or better. Now you can call that unbridled euphoria if you want because certainly a couple of teams are going to come out of this draft with next to nothing to show for their efforts – or – you can attribute this to the Lake Woebegone effect where all the children are slightly above average. Whatever…

Oh, I said that grading drafts two days after the fact is a tad silly. Let me put that on a spectrum for you. It is not nearly as silly creating the “Big Board” for the 2016 NFL Draft right about now. If you go to Google and search for “NFL Draft 2016 mock” you will find more than a couple of pages worth of links to articles available online on the subject. Get a grip…

Former NY Yankee centerfielder, Bernie Williams announced his retirement about a week ago. According to the stats I could find, his last game in MLB was in 2006. I do not know about you, but I sort of figured that he had already retired from the game and took up a musical career with guitar stylings. However, I learned that one does not retire from MLB simply by not playing for almost a decade; one has to make an affirmative declaration of retirement for one to move to that status. So, now it is official…

Here is an item I ran across in Greg Drinnan’s blog, Taking Note/Keeping Score:

“Molly Schuyler, a competitive eater, took all of 20 minutes to down three 72-ounce steaks, three baked potatoes, three shrimp cocktails, three salads and three dinner rolls. . . . ‘Or as they call it in Texas,’ said NBC-TV’s Seth Meyers, ‘a kids meal.’ . . . Did we mention that Schuyler weighs in at 120 pounds? With an appetite like that, I can’t imagine her being a cheap date.”

Finally, having mentioned Bernie Williams’ retirement above, here is a relevant comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“The Yankees announced they would retire the numbers of Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams. Hmm. Who else remembers when only all-time greats got their numbers retired?”

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

Star Wars Day…

In case you had not heard, today is Star Wars Day. So what is a Star Wars junkie to do today in order to solemnly celebrate the day? Well, one suggestion I might have would be to get a tent and some rations and go line up to buy tix to see the new episode that will be coming out soon – – at least if you consider “soon” to be measured in months. You realize that the folks who started this “tradition” could have picked any day on the calendar as Star Wars Day but they chose May 4th. I suggest:

    They had no real choice in selecting the date because The Fourth – er, The Force – selected it for them.

    May The Force – and the fourth – be with us all…

Everyone has met or worked with someone who is “difficult to get along with”. More than a few people would hang that label on me with plenty of justification. I would suggest, however, that there is a spectrum of “difficult to get along with” that ranges from:

    Irritating … to …Pain in the Ass … to … Abject Annoyance … to … Intolerable A$$hole

Now on that spectrum where might you seek to place Rajon Rondo this week? Rondo was acquired by the Dallas Mavericks to fuel a playoff push for the team and hopefully to be part of a deep playoff run this year. Well, the Mavs indeed made the playoffs and Rondo was a starter for the team throughout the regular season and in the early games of the playoffs. And when the Mavs were summarily dismissed from the first round by the Rockets – with Rondo on the bench with what many consider a phantom injury – the team reportedly voted not to give him a playoff share. He played out the season with the team as a starter and he was a starter early in the Houston playoff series – and his teammates voted to stiff him his playoff money. I am thinking that he has to be well into the “Intolerable A$$hole” region of that spectrum…

Javaris Crittenton played basketball for Georgia Tech and had an NBA “career” that had him on the roster for the Lakers, Grizzlies and Wizards. His on-court exploits were not of a scale that most folks could recall any of them but he was the “other guy” involved in the locker-room contretemps with Gilbert Arenas in Washington that culminated in handguns being brought into the team locker room. The details of what happened were never established in a court of law but supposedly Arenas owed Crittenton some money from a card game and did not pay up. Crittenton threatened to bring his gun to the locker room to collect and Arenas’ response was to bring his gun to establish his “alpha-dominance”.

Whatever happened or did not happen led to the career demise for both players. Arenas was deemed to be “over-the-hill” and too injured to continue to play at a high enough level to justify his “issues”; Crittenton never approached a level of play where a team would have even considered “working with him” on these kinds of issues.

In any event, I bring this up today because last week, Javaris Crittenton was sentenced to 23 years in prison for manslaughter. Reports say that he fired a gun at a person who had robbed him a few days prior to the shooting incident but he missed the “robber” and happened to shoot and kill a mother of four children. As he begins his sentence, might I direct your attention to that spectrum I posited above and suggest that you come to your own conclusion as to where Javaris Crittenton might fit into it.

The first round playoff series between the Bulls and the Bucks went 6 games. In the final game, the Bulls “eked out” a win by 54 points. The final score was 120-66. To put that in perspective, only twice in NBA history has a playoff game been decided by more than 54 points.

    Minneapolis Lakers beat St. Louis Hawks by 58 points in 1956
    Denver Nuggets beat New Orleans Hornets by 58 points in 2009

That’s it; that’s the list.

Once the NFL Draft is completed, teams scramble to sign Undrafted Free Agents most of whom are cannon fodder for training camps and most of whom you will never hear about unless you read the agate type in your local paper on the day after the Undrafted Free Agents are released. Having said that, there was a signing this weekend after the Draft that attracted attention. Nate Boyer was the long-snapper for Texas last year and he got a call from the Seattle Seahawks with the opportunity to go to their training camp to try to make the Seahawks’ roster. Why is Nate Boyer notable?

    First of all, he is 34 years old. That is just a tad older than your typical guy coming out of college seeking to play in the NFL

    The reason he is “a tad older” is that Boyer was a Green Beret who served in Iraq and in Afghanistan before matriculating at Texas at age 29.

The odds are that he will not make the team but his path to a first-time chance to make an NFL roster is sufficiently out of the ordinary that it is worth noting here. Oh, and as a former Green Beret, he knows something about the concept of “cannon fodder”…

The Mountain West Conference is certainly not the top-dog of football conferences. However, the MWC will consider a conference change at their Spring Conference Meeting this year that might put them in a leadership role. The MWC will consider having their football conference championship game be between the two best teams in the conference and not necessarily between the champion of Division 1 and the champion of Division 2. Slow down, Charlie Brown; that is a lot better than “not a bad idea”. Yes, it could create controversy – albeit controversy related to the MWC is hardly a big deal – but it is an idea that the Big Boy Conferences might want to have in their bylaws as a contingency for certain years.

Kudos to the Mountain West Conference for innovative thinking…

Finally, I have been called to jury duty twice and have been empaneled on three different juries to hear cases. From that perspective, I agree completely with this assessment by Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“A jury I don’t want to be on, if the case ever goes to trial: No charges filed so far, but a woman has accused former 49er Ray McDonald of possible sexual assault. His attorney says McDonald has ‘video evidence of consensual sex over a two-day period of time.’ “

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

Some Of This And Some Of That…

Well, that fell somewhere between anticlimactic and lame. After months of hype and analysis predicting big trades for teams to move up to the top of the draft, exactly nothing of that nature happened. I am sure you can find someone somewhere who has issued grades for the first round picks; you will not find that here because putting a grade on a selection often takes a couple of years. I will point to a couple of the selections that I think were interesting:

    At #4, the Raiders took Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. Please recall from my pre-draft analysis that I said I thought only injury would prevent Cooper from succeeding in the NFL. I still believe that. Moreover, I also recognize that the Raiders need help at WR. However, the Raiders have a bigger need for an upgrade and that bigger need is their OL. Amari Cooper will not catch passes from a QB who is not vertical.

    At #7, the Bears took Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. The Bears absolutely had to get a WR to pair with Alshon Jeffrey and they got a good one here. Jay Cutler has to be a happy camper this morning.

    At #10, the Rams took Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. Obviously, the team doctors in St. Louis pronounced his knee ready to go.

    At #32, the Patriots took Malcom Brown, DT, Texas. In my pre-draft analysis, I said he reminded me of Vince Wilfork. Well, Wilfork signed with the Texans as a free agent in the offseason, so this might be an extremely fortuitous pick by the Pats.

The following “fact-not-worth-remembering” comes from a report on the draft on CBSSports.com this morning:

“Detroit grabbed guard Laken Tomlinson with the No. 28 pick, making him the first Blue Devils player to get selected in the first 32 choices since linebacker Mike Junkin went No. 5 overall to Cleveland nearly three decades years ago.”

Many people think that a Game 7 in a Stanley Cup playoff series is one of the most exciting events in sports. Two nights ago, the Red Wings were in Tampa to play the Lightening in a seventh game and things got hot – so to speak. Just before the game began, fans in Tampa were passing a large team flag around the arena and a woman from Detroit took offense. She tried to set the flag on fire – and succeeded in producing a “small burn” to the flag. She was arrested and charged with “first degree arson of an occupied structure”. I am not going to pretend to know Florida’s criminal laws, but that sounds extremely serious to me.

Billy Donovan apparently is heading west to take over as the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I say “apparently” because about 10 years ago, Donovan signed on to be the head coach of the Orlando Magic and less than 48 hours later told the team he changed his mind and returned to the University of Florida. Donovan has been at Florida for 19 years – not counting that 24-hour defection – and has been very successful there winning two national championships. His program has produced some fine NBA players including Joaquim Noah and Al Horford.

I believe it was Hubie Brown who defined the challenge for Donovan as he takes over the OKC roster headed by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook:

    Your two best players have to agree to be coached by you. [That is a paraphrase not a quote].

Yesterday, I mentioned some of the horses running in tomorrow’s Kentucky Derby. This is a two minute event – give or take a couple of seconds – but the TV mavens at NBC who have the rights to the Derby are going to put on 15.5 hours of coverage. I am not making this up and just to give you an idea of how big a reach it is to find 15.5 hours of things to yak about relative to a 2-minute horse race, consider this:

    On the Today Show, Al Roker will interview a milliner on the subject of Kentucky Derby hat fashions. But that is not all… Roker will be joined in the enterprise by NBC’s “fashion and lifestyle experts”, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir. Much as I complain about the 6-hour pre-game nonsense leading up to the Super Bowl, I do have to admit that they have not sunk to the depths of using “fashion and lifestyle” correspondents – – yet.

    The Weather Channel (owned by NBC) will of course focus coverage on the weather forecast for Louisville for the next two days.

      Memo for Weather Channel Folks: If your forecast is accurate, you can report it once in about 45 seconds and then run it as a crawl on the bottom of the screen for the next two days. After you make a forecast, the only interesting news is if you change the forecast – meaning your first one was wrong.

    MSNBC will provide live interview segments on its various programs. I cannot wait to hear Rev. Al Sharpton’s insightful questions regarding the race. After all, he is an expert on all matters involving “race”. Right?

And the list of irrelevant interviews and picks by NBC hosts/celebrities goes on and on…

Here is my advice:

    Post Time for the race is 6:24 PM according to the Washington Post.

    The race will NOT start before Post Time so you can tune in at 6:15, settle into a comfortable seat with a clear view of the TV screen and watch ”the most exciting two minutes in sports” without having to endure 15.5 hours of nonsensical and irrelevant coverage.

Finally, speaking of television coverage, here is an observation from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“The World Chess Championship was televised in a number of countries. Who’s this for? People who find watching curling too nerve-racking?”

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

A Bad Omen For Marcus Mariota

Last night, ESPN reported that the Cleveland Browns had made an offer to the Tennessee Titans in order for the Browns to acquire the overall #2 pick in the draft tonight. There is nothing particularly notable in that; plenty of teams might be angling to get that pick. However, what ESPN reported was that if the Browns got the overall #2 pick, they were going to draft Marcus Mariota. When I heard that, I thought that Mariota must have gone into a blue funk hearing the news. Here’s why…

Consider that the Cleveland Browns as we know them today began in 1999. Since they had the overall #1 pick in the draft that year as an expansion franchise, the Browns have taken a bunch of QBs in the draft and none of them have turned out to be anything more than journeymen. In fact, a large number of the QBs that the Browns took cannot play dead in a John Wayne movie. I may have missed a selection; my “research” here was done hastily, but here is the list I compiled:

    1999 Tim Couch — First round — Overall #1
    2000 Spergon Wynn — Sixth round — Overall #183
    2004 Luke McCown — Fourth round — Overall #106
    2005 Charlie Frye — Third round — Overall #67
    2007 Brady Quinn — First round — Overall #22
    2010 Colt McCoy – – Third round – Overall #85
    2012 Brandon Weeden – – First Round – – Overall #22
    2014 Johnny Manziel – – First Round – – Overall #22

Since 1999, there have been 16 NFL Drafts. In those drafts, the Browns have taken a QB eight times; of those eight selections, four have been first round picks. If Marcus Mariota looks at that history and realizes that he might have his name entered onto that list, it ought to give him night sweats.

Three years ago at draft time, the Miami Dolphins traded up to the #3 slot in the draft to select DE/OLB Dion Jordan. Earlier this week, we learned that Jordan will be suspended for the entire 2015 season for running afoul of the substance abuse policy. I believe we can make it official now; Dion Jordan was not worth trading up for.

    In 2 seasons, Jordan has 3 sacks and 2 drug suspensions. That is an ominous start to an NFL career – if in fact it is not the sum total of his entire NFL career.

There seems to be about as much hype and hoopla surrounding the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight as there is for some pro ‘rassling extravaganza. About a week ago, Mayweather proclaimed that he is the greatest fighter in history specifically saying, “I am greater than Ali.” For some reason that I do not understand, George Foreman chimed in saying “I agree with Mayweather.” Of course, Ali simply said, “I’m the greatest.”

None of that amounts to a scintilla of squirrel stool but I would like to point out to all of those fighters a simple fact:

    Rocky Marciano retired as the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world beating all 49 men who stood in front of him.

Rocky is on the other side of the grass at the moment so he cannot offer his opinion on this matter directly…

The Nevada State Gaming Control Board released figures for March indicating that sportsbooks in Nevada handled $375.5M in wagers on basketball. That number is up from last year’s $343.5M and represents a 9.3% increase. If you assume that the handle for NBA games in March of each year is relatively constant, the difference would have to be wagering on March Madness. People who follow the gaming industry say that 70% of the wagering on basketball in Nevada goes to NCAA Tournament games; if they are correct, that would mean that almost $263M went through the windows in March on college basketball games. And please recall that the Final Four games did not happen until April…

This increase in wagering happens to coincide with record breaking TV ratings for the tournament games this year. Adam Silver seems to recognize that there is some causation here and so does Rob Manfred; Mark Emmert continues to do his Marcel Marceau imitation on this matter.

For the final game, the ratings say it was the most watched game since 1997 (Kentucky vs. Arizona). The total viewing audience was 28.26 million folks.

Saturday will see the Kentucky Derby happen. As usual there will be 20 horses in the field which is about 6 too many. More than about any other US race, the outcome of the Derby is often decided by which horse best avoids traffic congestion. Horses to watch include:

    Carpe Diem. Post position 2. Morning Line 8-1. He has 4 wins in 5 starts and has the best trainer/jockey combination in racing going for him.

    Dortmund. Post position 8. Morning Line 3-1. He has never lost and he ran a huge race in the Santa Anita Derby.

    International Star. Post position 12. Morning Line 20-1. If you like your horse to close ground late, he is one to consider.

    Frosted. Post Position 15. Morning Line 15-1. Ran a very good race in the Wood Memorial.

    American Pharaoh. Post 18. Morning Line 5-2. He has 4 straight wins but I am leery of a favorite from the 18 post in a field like this.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this note in the Seattle Times recently:

The 76,976 fans at WrestleMania XXXI in San Francisco broke the Levi’s Stadium record for WiFi usage — 4.5 terabytes of data.

“On the downside, local doctors report a sudden rash of cauliflower-thumb complaints.”

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

Josh Hamilton Back In Texas

The Los Angeles Angels basically gave Josh Hamilton back to the Rangers to get him out of town. The Angels will pay the vast majority of the salary remaining on Hamilton’s $125M contract and might get the infamous “player who already has a name but who will be identified later”. This transaction has engendered a huge reaction among commentators – some of which has been way over the top to the point where one columnist said something along the lines that when – not if – Hamilton ever killed himself in a drug-involved incident, the columnist hoped he would die alone and not take anyone else with him. Sorry, folks; that is way out of bounds…

I would observe, however, that this is probably a good time to be a columnist in Dallas or Fort Worth. There is plenty of room for multiple columnists to discuss the Hamilton situation with the Rangers from several vantage points. But the fun only starts there:

    The Greg Hardy suspension for 10 games provides the opportunity to comment on his presence with the Cowboys from a football perspective, from the perspective of the NFL’s evolving position on domestic violence and from the perspective of rehabilitation and atonement of an athlete. There is mileage to be had there.

    Up to the point where it becomes impossible for the Cowboys to trade for Adrian Peterson, he can be the focus of the same kinds of perspective columns that Hardy provides. Only the names need be changed to protect the innocent… [/Dragnet].

In anticipation of Hamilton’s return to North Texas, Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News compiled stats that say history is not on Hamilton’s side when it comes to regaining the glory he had in his first stay in Texas. Fraley looked at 8 baseball stars who went back to where they had prior glory late in their careers and found that most did not come close to rekindling it. Fraley’s list was:

    Bert Blyleven’s return to the Twins
    Gary Carter’s return to the Expos
    Roger Clemens return to the Yankees
    Rickey Henderson’s return to Oakland
    Reggie Jackson’s return to Oakland
    Andy Pettite’s return to the Yankees
    Pete Rose’s return to the Reds
    Tom Seaver’s return to the Mets

Blyleven was a success with the Twins and Pettite pitched well for the Yankees in return engagements; for the other players – all of them great players – they performed very poorly going “back to where it all began.” Granted, Hamilton is younger than the players on that list; but on the other hand, he is bearing burden they did not.

Oh, since I mentioned the possibility of Adrian Peterson going to the Cowboys above, I ran across a little note that said Herschel Walker thinks that the Vikings ought to trade Peterson and that the Cowboys were the most logical place for the team to make a deal. Obviously, Walker is entitled to his opinion. However consider the history here:

    If there is anyone on the planet who ought not to be offering “trade advice” to the Vikings involving a running back and the Dallas Cowboys, it would have to be Herschel Walker.

Sometimes it is difficult to find the right adjective to describe a certain event. I am sitting here in Curmudgeon Central trying to come up with something that goes beyond “inconsequential” or “trivial” or “immaterial” or “exiguous”. I am looking for a word that will describe the NFL’s sanction of the NY Jets after the league decided that the Jets – in the person of owner, Woody Johnson – did in fact tamper with Darrelle Revis while Revis was under contract with the Patriots. The penalty for the Jets is:

    A fine of $100K.

Let me be clear; what Woody Johnson did was minimal. Nevertheless, the NFL investigated and found that Johnson’s minimal action indeed violated whatever the league has defined for itself to be “tampering”. Presumably, the NFL did not put that rule in place just for the Hell of it. Ergo, when a team – or a coach or an owner – violates the rule, there needs to be a penalty associated with it that will make someone else think twice before violating the rule in the future. That is why there are penalties in the first place.

The Jets committed – potentially – $70M to Revis over the next 5 seasons. Woody Johnson is part of the Johnson family who people know as Johnson & Johnson – the pharmaceutical firm. Estimates of the family fortune are in the range of $13B; I have no idea what Woody Johnson’s share of that $13B might be, but I am confident in making this statement:

    $100K is a trifling amount of money to him – as it would be to every other NFL owner.

I am not sufficiently facile with English to find the right descriptor here but the message the NFL sent is loud and clear. We have a tampering rule but if you violate it, nothing bad is going to happen to you.

Finally, Brad Rock of the Deseret News found something positive to say about Reds’ manager, Bryan Price, and his 5-minute profanity-laced tirade:

“Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price used the same vulgarity 77 times during a 5 ½-minute rant at the media.

“On the bright side, not once did he use the equally obnoxious phrase ‘moving forward.’ ”

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

Looking For A Hall-Of-Fame QB?

With the NFL Draft careening towards us with all of the speculation on who will take which of the top 2 QBs in the first round, there is something you need to go and read in its entirety. Dan Daly, formerly with the Washington Times, has done some extensive research on where QBs who ultimately wound up in the Hall of Fame went in the draft. Here is something that might scare the bejeebers out of the guys in Tampa and Tennessee and other teams with really high draft picks:

    More than 80% of the QBs who proved to be Hall of Fame quality were not the first QB taken in the draft in the year they were eligible.

I cannot do a synopsis here that does justice to Daly’s research and presentation and so I will urge you to follow this link and read this entry in its entirety at ProFootballDaly.com.

Since I mentioned the upcoming draft and the eligible QBs this year, you probably read or saw that Jameis Winston told Jim Harbaugh on the ESPN feature, Draft Academy, a new story about the infamous crab legs incident. Basically, Winston said that he did not shoplift the crab legs as one might conclude from watching the security videos in the store because the crab legs were given to him by a store employee as a “hook-up”. Translated into English, Winston got some free crab legs from the supermarket because he was the star QB on the defending national champion football team in town. It was no big deal; that is why he took no action to conceal the fact that he was walking out of the door with the crab legs bypassing the cash register.

This was treated as a revelation for about a day or so and then it seems to have faded into oblivion. Naturally, I look at this differently than most other commentators.

    1. Only about 2 weeks to go before the draft and Jameis Winston changes his story about what happened that night? And that is supposed to make me feel confident that his “off-the-field-issues” are nothing more than “growing up pains”? Here is what this “new story” demonstrates rather clearly:

      Either he is lying now or he was lying before regarding the crab legs incident.

    2. If the current story is the truth, where are the NCAA enforcement hounds? Jameis Winston just declared that he got free foodstuffs from a local supermarket and that it was no big deal that it happened. That is the seafood equivalent of a booster handing him money under the table. One would think that the NCAA would be swarming all over this matter; an athlete just admitted getting benefits that are not available to the student body at large.

      How long has this been going on?

      Are similar “bennies” available to other athletes?

      How come none of the coaches know about this?

      What did everyone tell the Florida State ‘investigators” about this matter back when it first surfaced?

Bob Molinaro took this matter in a totally different direction in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

“Good eats: I’m not sure what position to take on the latest twist in the Jameis Winston crab legs saga, except to surmise that it’s created more free advertising for crab legs.”

With all of the focus on the Mayweather/Pacquaio fight next weekend, one might surmise that boxing might be making a comeback. I think not. The moribund state of the sport was on display last weekend when the heavyweight champion of the world, Wladimir Klitschko, defended his title against an undefeated challenger named Bryant Jennings in Madison Square Garden. There was a time when such a happening would have been the single focal point for the sports world; I will suggest here that less than 5% of the people you might encounter on the street this week are even aware that the fight happened let alone who participated, where it happened and what was the outcome.

People today may not realize that at one time the three top assignments for sportswriters working at newspapers were – in alphabetical order:

    Baseball
    Boxing
    Horseracing

Some truly great writers covered boxing including Ring Lardner, AJ Liebling (my personal favorite), Stan Hochman, Bert Sugar, Dave Anderson, William Gildea and Jimmy Breslin. Not intending to disparage current boxing coverage, the great writers of today gravitate to different beats and to different issues than the world of boxing. And that is why you can have a heavyweight championship fight in Madison Square Garden in an environment where the vast majority of sports fans just do not care. Sad…

According to Forbes, total attendance at MLB games in 2014 was 73.7M fans. Barring some kind of catastrophe, total attendance in 2015 will be very close to this number. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council – yes, there is such a thing; Google is your friend – fans this year will consume 23M hot dogs and sausages at ballparks this year. Given the way MLB parks have added dining options to include pizza and burgers and sushi and nachos, I am surprised to see that teams can expect to sell a hot dog/sausage to about one in three fans.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had a comment regarding the current WBC heavyweight champion of the world:

“Deontay Wilder, who won the WBC heavyweight boxing title by unanimous decision, is a former waiter at IHOP.

“No wonder the judges didn’t waffle.”

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