Too Much Ado About Nothing…

Let me begin this morning with a personal note regarding these rants.  If you have ever established a website, you must register your domain name – – in this case sportscurmudgeon.com.  Every few years, you must renew your registration to maintain that exclusive address on the web.  My current registration runs out in April 2020; so, I obviously needed to renew and extend it.  I did that this week and the registration now runs through April 2029.  At that point, I will be 85 years old; but if my fingers are still functional on a keyboard, the plan is to keep on keeping on…

  • My long range plan is to live forever; so far, so good.

There are two stories percolating today and I believe that both are of minuscule importance/value.  The first one involves the continuation of the feud between Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb wherein each one blames the other for the Eagles’ Super Bowl loss to the Patriots about 15 years ago and the subsequent dismantling of the Eagles’ roster.  I think I speak for a significant portion of the sports fans in the US when I say, “Give it a rest, guys!” for the fundamental reason that, “Nobody cares!

Both Owens and McNabb have reached a point in their life when headlines and interviews and attention are hard to come by.  It would certainly appear that both men want a little more attention focused on them and this “feud” has become a way to accomplish that end.  What neither seems to realize – or, if they realize they do not care – is that this nonsense paints both of them as:

  • Déclassé
  • Niggling
  • Pathetic
  • Petty

Take your pick…  Here is a link to one of the reports of this ongoing feud that I include for completeness; you need not read it because it just does not matter.

The other story getting too much attention involves the issue of whether the Houston Astros’ players need to apologize for their sign-stealing activities.  If this were a debate among noted ethicists and moral philosophers, it could be marginally interesting.  However, the latest entrant into the debate is Scott Boras who says that the players need not apologize because “management” never explained to them that taking advantage of the technology-based sign stealing was wrong.

I have never thought that there was a significant overlap between “baseball players” and “MENSA members” but if I accept the Boras Principle here, then I have to consign “baseball players” to a realm of cognition previously occupied only by Bean Soup.  I really do not care one way or the other if the players apologize or if the owner apologizes or if no one apologizes.  Until and unless there are new revelations about similar sign-stealing systems elsewhere in MLB, I am more than happy to consign this matter to the dustbin of history.

I ran across a Tweet from Mike Leach – the new head coach at Mississippi State – that sparked my interest:

“Love being out in the great state of Mississippi recruiting some absolute studs! Any restaurant advice for me throughout the state?”

There was a time early in my career when I was in the Research, Development and Engineering business and I had reason to travel very extensively in the US.  That Tweet made me realize that Mike Leach’s wanderings as a head coach for the last couple of decades has taken him to places that would make him relish the idea of traveling around Mississippi.  I have been to Lubbock, TX and to Pullman, WA and to Starkville, MS.  Let me just say that none of those venues can claim to be as close to the Garden of Eden as exists on Earth.  If you spent a lot of time lobbying me, you might get me to concede that Pullman is a “bustling burb” – but it won’t be easy.  That will not be possible regarding either Lubbock or Starkville.

Given where he has had to live for the last 20 years or so, I think I now understand why he is obsessed with pirates and aliens.  There are not a lot of things to prevent his mind from wandering through the cosmos.

As for restaurant advice, let me suggest to Coach Leach that he have some fun with his dining events.  I have always wanted to go into a Denny’s for dinner and to ask the waiter to see the wine list…

When Titans’ guard, Dennis Kelly, caught a TD pass in the Chiefs/Titans game last weekend, one of the stat gurus on the broadcast came up with the revelation that Kelly was the heaviest player – at 321 lbs. – ever to catch a TD pass in a playoff game.  As that gem made its way to the booth and then out over the air, one of the next camera shots showed Andy Reid on the Chiefs’ sideline.  With the Chiefs’ victory, Andy Reid will be the heaviest coach in a Super Bowl game next week surpassing the Andy Reid who coached in that Super Bowl that continues to fuel the Terrell Owens/Donovan McNabb feud.

I have often wondered if one tossed a tennis ball at Andy Reid, would it go into orbit around his waist.  Enquiring minds … and all that stuff.

Finally, consider this entry in The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Dictator:  A tyrannical ruler.  Some people who have been labelled as dictators throughout history include Mussolini, Stalin, and parents who even remotely suggest that their child might want to do less text messaging.”

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

 

 

A Shocker In Evansville

A little over 2 months ago, the Evansville Aces traveled to Rupp Arena to play an early season “sacrificial lamb game”.  To everyone’s surprise the Aces defeated the Wildcats 67-64.  The Evansville coach on that day was Walter McCarty a former star player for Kentucky.  My takeaway from that result was that Evansville was going to be pretty good this year.  That turns out not to be the case; as of this morning, Evansville’s record for the season is 9-11.

I mention that because a headline caught my eye saying that Walter McCarty had been fired earlier this week “amid misconduct allegations.”  I thought those allegations would involve recruiting violations and that was how he managed to get the team in a position to hang with Kentucky – – but then I looked at the Evansville schedule:

  • Not only are they only 9-11 on the season, they are on a 7-game losing streak against mediocre opponents.

So, I clicked the link to find out what was going on there and learned:

  • It turns out that McCarty had been warned about “inappropriate off-court behavior with members of our campus community” back in December and put him an administrative leave.
  • An investigation turned up “additional reports of alleged misconduct” by McCarty and that based on the facts uncovered to date, the school felt it necessary to terminate McCarty immediately.

Since the university went out if its way to make a strong yet vague statement here, I do not know what McCarty is accused of having done.  But I’ll bet it was a doozy…

The other outrageous college basketball story of the day relates to the brawl that broke out at the end of the Kansas/Kansas St game.  I am sure you have seen the happening, so I need not describe it.  Clearly shown is Kansas center, Sylvio DeSousa with a small stool raised over his head looking as if he was going to go “Myles Garrett” on someone.  Someone knocked the stool from his hands before he could strike.  For this De Sousa got a 12-game suspension meaning he will be allowed to play in the basketball tournament.

  • Personally, I think he should be suspended permanently.  He was as much the instigator as anyone for the brawl and then there is that scary moment when he has the stool raised over his head…
  • Moreover, De Sousa has already been given a “second chance”.  He was directly implicated in the improper recruiting mess uncovered by the FBI probe into college basketball recruiting.
  • What does he need to do to be told that he is no longer welcome in college basketball?

In about 3 months, we will experience the spectacle that is the NFL Draft for 2020.  The Draft is important to the teams and the NFL has turned it into a TV extravaganza; last year, more people watched the NFL Draft than watched an NBA playoff game on a competing channel.  This year, the league and the host city are going to take advice from celebrity chef, Emeril Lagasse, and “kick it up a notch”.

The 2020 Draft will be held in Las Vegas – a city that certainly adheres to the adage that ”Nothing exceeds like excess.”  Here is a rough outline of what will take place:

  • The venue will be the lake in front of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino.
  • The Commish and other league functionaries will be on a float in the middle of the lake.  When a player is selected, he will be taken to the float on a boat.
  • The Bellagio is pretty much in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip.  Organizers expect 400,000 guests for that weekend; and for them to have even a fighting chance of seeing any of the proceedings, that means the Strip will be closed to traffic for the 3 days of the draft.  [Aside:  If you have never been to The Strip, let me assure you that it is a heavily trafficked roadway.]
  • In addition, to ease preparations for the draft and the dismantling of all the stuff, The Strip will be reduced to one lane each way for an undetermined period of time before the draft and for about 3 days after the draft.

The NFL has come along way in just a few years.  About 5 years ago, the league would not allow Tony Romo to be a part of a Fantasy Football Convention in Las Vegas because of “close ties to gambling”.  This year, the league will be part of a show that will close The Strip for 3 days.

You may think that all this revelry is part of a way to assist the Raiders in their move to the city in the Fall.  I don’t think that is necessary considering:

  • Reports in the Las Vegas Journal-Review say that the Raiders have sold out their PSLs for the new stadium and that the pricing for those PSLs allowed the Raiders to exceed their budget for that line item.
  • PSL prices ranged from $5K to $75K and the Raiders took in $475M in PSL sales when they were expecting to sell a total of $250M.

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

“Customs officials seized 154 pounds of bologna at the Mexican border.

“Or roughly two hours’ worth of Bill Walton game commentary.”

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

 

 

It’s About People Today …

Kudos today to Derek Jeter and Larry Walker.  They will be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 2020.  Jeter missed a unanimous vote by one; I am not sure what that voter thought might be missing from Jeter’s curriculum vitae and I prefer not to ask.  Larry Walker’s statistics do not damage the fabric of the Hall of Fame leading me to wonder why it took more than a decade of voting to recognize his achievements.  No matter: they are both in…

Over in the NBA, the “news” is that the Nets’ Kyrie Irving is hurt yet one more time.  He already missed 7 weeks of this season with a shoulder injury; and soon after he returned from that set back, he torched many of his teammates saying that the team needed significant upgrades at various positions in order to be a contender.  Obviously, his current injury has not disabled his tongue and larynx because this is part of what he had to say on Monday of this week:

“When I was out for those seven weeks and not saying anything and still people are still saying things about me. It’s inevitable. They crucified Martin Luther King for speaking about peace and social integration.“

Indeed, on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Kyrie Irving put himself in the same paragraph with Dr. King.  I don’t know abut you, but I think that deserves a facepalm.  Nonetheless, Irving went on to say that fans who criticize him need to realize that basketball is just a game and that it should not be taken with the same seriousness as real life struggles.  At that point in the interview, my reaction was:

  • If it is just a game and you feel that you are subjected to criticism and vilification beyond what the game is worth, why do you continue to play?  You can’t possibly need the money; so, why not take your family and go do something else where – if you receive criticism – it is in the pursuit of something worthy of critique.

Moving on…  The Atlanta Hawks are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings at 10-34.  The Golden State Warriors are at the bottom of the Western Conference standings at 10-35.  I wonder if the players on the 1973 Philadelphia 76ers popped open any champagne bottles when every team in the league achieved its 10th win of the season.  After all, that perpetuates the legacy of the 1973 Sixers as the team with the worst record in NBA history at 9-73.

Recently there were reports that Chad Johnson was going to audition with the XFL as a placekicker.  He had posted a video of himself kicking a 60-yard field goal on a field by himself.  The time for the tryout/workout came and Johnson was a no-show; if there has been an explanation for that, I have not found it.

If you peruse the various Internet sports sites these days or if you listen to your local sports radio programming, you are almost certain to encounter a topic that is space-filling (on the Internet) and time-filling on sports radio.  That topic could be titled:

  • Quo vadis Tom Brady?

This topic is juicy because it involves one of the most visible sports figures of the times and it has all sorts of tea leaves waiting to be read.  The problem is that none of the Internet pieces nor any of the sports radio segments begins with this disclaimer:

  • What follows here is pure speculation with no insights based in fact.  Moreover, may of the ideas here are recycled from other accounts.  And by the way, the folks who will make the ultimate decision on where Tom Brady plays football next year – if he plays at all – are not going to seek my opinion on the deal.

The “stock answers” to the question of where Tom Brady will play next year seem to condense to 3 scenarios:

  1. He stays with the Patriots
  2. He goes to the Chargers – and with Philip Rivers moving his family to Florida last week that put some energy into that realm of speculation.
  3. He goes to the Titans to play for his former teammate Mike Vrabel.

I would like to suggest a different landing spot for tom Brady next year.  Like all the other bits on this topic, it has no basis in fact.  It is however something that a rational decision maker might give a second thought.  I believe that Tom Brady should seriously consider playing for the Indianapolis Colts.  Here’s why:

  • I assume that he would want to play for a team that could contend for a Super Bowl title – meaning that half the league is off the table from the beginning.
  • I assume that he would only go to a team where he was the starter.  That eliminates a whole bunch of teams that are contenders but already have good young QBs on their roster.
  • The Colts have the sorts of assets that could maximize Tom Brady’s skills.  They have a very good running back (Marlon Mack); they have a good offensive line (allowed only 2 sacks per game last season); they have good pass catchers, but they only ranked 30th in the league in passing yards per game last season.
  • The Colts’ defense gave up fewer yards per game than 4 teams that made the playoffs this season (Texans, Seahawks, Packers, Chiefs).
  • The incumbent QB in Indy is Jacoby Brisset.  He and Tom Brady were teammates in New England for a year and presumably they have a constructive relationship.

There is a downside of course.  For the entirety of his career, Tom Brady has played for an organization with a calm and guiding hand at the top in owner Robert Kraft.  Let me just say that every adjective one might use to describe the Colts’ ownership might not be completely laudatory.

  • Quo vadis Tom Brady?
  • I really don’t know – – but I think he might want to consider the Colts…

Finally, my “advice” to Tom Brady is free so its value is immediately evident.  In addition, let me leave you with this entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Advice:  The only thing in the world more unwelcome than a baby in a movie theater.”

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

 

 

Bits Of Baseball Today …

About a month ago around the time of the Baseball Winter Meeting, there were reports that the Colorado Rockies might listen to trade offers for Nolan Arenado.  At the time I thought those reports were very strange because:

  1. Arenado was only 1 year into a contract worth $260M over 8 years
  2. That contract has a full no-trade clause in it
  3. Arenado is (in my opinion) the best third baseman in baseball.

This morning there is a report at CBSSports.com that sheds light on this situation; that report says that Nolan Arenado wants out, that he feels disrespected, that he believes the team has not and will not live up to promises made to him during the negotiations leading up to his mega-deal and that the relationship between Arenado and Rockies’ GM, Jeff Bridich, is severely strained.  You can read the details of that report here:

            During this hot stove season, there was significant interest in Anthony Rendon (signed with the Angels) and Josh Donaldson (signed with the Twins) as quality third basemen.  Granted, the only expense involved in signing those guys was a ton of money; acquiring Arenado would involve trading away player assets in addition to taking on the balance of his existing contract (worth $234M).  Nonetheless, I would think that any team who “lost out” on either Rendon or Donaldson would be making a call to the Rockies about now just to see if any sort of deal could be made.

Sticking with baseball, the KC Royals have played their home games in Kauffman Stadium since 1973.  Their lease extends through 2030, but the team has begun exploring the possibility of a new venue when the lease is over.  [Aside:  I had the opportunity to see several games in Kauffman Stadium in the ‘80s and I have always thought it was a great place to see a ballgame.]  It does not appear as if this is a move by the Royals to threaten a move from KC to somewhere else where a new playpen would materialize; Royals’ owner John Sherman has begun talks with the folks in KC about the possibility of a downtown stadium to replace the “suburban” Kauffman Stadium.

One asset “The K” – as Kauffman Stadium is known locally – has is that it is right off the interstate, so access is relatively convenient.  Also, it is adjacent to Arrowhead Stadium so there are more than ample parking assets available.  The trend over the last 30 years or so has been to bring baseball into downtown areas; that trend started with Orioles Park in Baltimore.  The Royals have a new owner; John Sherman bought the team for a cool $1B in November 2019.  Surely, one of Sherman’s objectives must be to increase Royals’ attendance.  Here are some data:

  • 2019 – Royals were 27th in MLB in total attendance 18,267 per game
  • 2018 – Royals were 23rd in MLB in total attendance 20,557 per game
  • 2017 – Royals were 17th in MLB in total attendance 31,577 per game

It does not take a mathematical or a marketing genius to understand that trend is going in the ‘wrong direction”.  New stadiums usually provide an attendance boost and putting the venue in a downtown area means the games are closer to more people than they are “right off the interstate”.  There is plenty of time for these negotiations to happen and Sherman is a “local guy” with ties to the city.  “The K” is a really good stadium – it had an upgrade or two along the way – but perhaps its time will run out around 2031.

Let me get back to the MLB sign-stealing business for a moment.  There are rumblings that as many as 8 teams have been engaged in technology based sign stealing; obviously, there is no evidence to support that assertion as of now, but let me pretend that is true and see where it might lead in terms of logical thinking:

  • We should be able to rule out the Orioles as one of the teams doing the sign stealing.  Over the last 3 seasons the Orioles’ record has been 176-310 ; win percentage of .360.  Over those same 3 seasons, the team OBP has never exceeded .312.  If those are the results for a team that knew what pitch was coming, it is frightening to think what might have happened to a team that was always in the dark.
  • Suppose that there is a significant drop in the number of home runs in MLB this year – reversing a strong upward movement over the past several years.  Might one of the interpretations be that more than a few teams curtailed their sign stealing thereby reducing the advantage to their hitters?  Or will everyone just conclude that baseball “reduced the juice” they have theoretically been injecting into the balls over the past several seasons?
  • If I were a team exec, I would be tempted to put a totally meaningless flashing light on the scoreboard in my home stadium.  It would mean nothing and every player on my team would be told that it meant nothing – – except it would be there to mess with the minds of the players and managers who come to visit.  The “great sin” here is the stealing of the signs that gives one team an advantage; is there a “sin” involved in making the opponent think you are stealing his signs even when you are not?

Finally, given that the Mets parted company with Carlos Beltran before he ever managed a game for them, that means the Beltran and I are now tied with each other for wins as a major league manager.  We both have zero.

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

 

 

A Lazy Monday Morning…

Well, the charges of simple battery against Odell Beckham Jr. have been dropped – as they should have been.  I cannot believe that anyone watching the video of that “event” could possibly conclude that:

  • Beckham intended to injure the security officer – – or – –
  • Beckham interfered with the officer’s attempt to do his job.

There is, however, an interesting thought experiment that might be conducted here.

  • Suppose the security officer who received that pat on the fanny had been a female and not a male?
  • I suspect there would have been an even greater furor over what is nothing more than a tempest in a spittoon…

Here is my perception of Odell Beckham, Jr. – which has only been reinforced by this fanny-slapping incident and his handing out cash to the LSU players after the win over Clemson:

  • OBJ is fortunate that being an attention whore is not a criminal offense because if it were, he would be in jail for about 99 years by now…

I recognize that the NFL is a copycat league; there are myriad examples to demonstrate that.  Well, now that John Lynch has gone from the TV analysis role to successful GM who built a Super Bowl team, I wonder if some other club owner will try to replicate that model.  If so, I have two names to offer an owner hunting for that sort of big game:

  1. Ronde Barber:  He had a sterling career as a DB in the NFL from 1997 to 2012 and then took up broadcasting.  He is the color analyst paired with Kenny Albert on FOX for NFL games.  [Aside:  I also saw him do a game with Chris Meyers this season.]  He graduated from Virginia with a real degree in a real major; that certifies that he is an intelligent man.
  2. Louis Riddick:  His playing career was not nearly as accomplished as Barber’s, but it did last 10 years with various teams in the NFL and the Arena League.  He has been a scout and involved in the pro personnel department for the Eagles.  He is a regular contributor to ESPN studio shows where he has demonstrated that he is insightful and focused.  He graduated from Pitt with a real degree in a real major; that certifies that he is an intelligent man.  [Aside:  I do not ever recall hearing him do game analysis for ESPN so the comparison to John Lynch has a small deviation here.]

Let me return to the MLB sign-stealing business again here.  I have heard/read derisive comments in many places about the issue of “sign-stealing” writ large.  The commentary takes the form that MLB is being disingenuous here because it seems to allow sign-stealing as part of the game unless a team uses technology to do the stealing.  That assertion is simple and straightforward; it presents a collision of values and therefore it seems to gain traction.  It also misses a significant point:

  • The technology in a home field is far more available to the home team than it is to the visiting team.  In fact, it may be denied to the visiting team.
  • “Sign-stealing” by a runner on second base or by a third-base coach is something that is equally available to both teams; there is no lack of access for the visitors.

A big problem with technology-based sign-stealing is that it tilts the playing field in favor of one team while the other form(s) of sign-stealing do not.  The reason that rules are in place to prevent various forms of cheating is to assure a level playing field.  MLB may indeed be feckless in the matter, but it is not being disingenuous.

One more point from the sign-stealing saga today…  More than a few folks have suggested that the Astros be forced to vacate their World Series win in 2017.  Now, if you want to talk about “feckless”, there is a model suggestion.  However, a few people seem to have taken that bad idea and augmented it all the way up to a stature somewhere between battiness and asininity.  Those doubled-down folks want MLB to name the LA Dodgers as the World Series Champions for 2017.

Let me pose a question for those folks:

  • Since we know the Astros used technology based sign-stealing AND we know that the Red Sox probably did too AND we now have one player asserting that the Cardinals did this as far back as the 1980s, how can anyone be sure that the Dodgers have not been doing this at Dodger Stadium over the past umpty-doodle seasons?

I am not saying that the Dodgers have ever done that; I am saying that it is a tad presumptuous to assume that they have totally clean hands here when the same could have been said about the other teams until recently.

Finally, here is Dwight Perry’s comment on Odell Beckham Jr. getting a simple-battery citation for slapping a security guard on the butt after the LSU win over Clemson:

“Though he hopes to get the simple-battery charge reduced to illegal use of hands.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 1/17/20

Perhaps, just as “necessity is the mother of invention” maybe repetition is the father of comfort.  I say that because I’ve been repeating Football Friday since late August; it has been comfortable knowing what I was going to do every Friday morning; I had a core set of information sources for those rants.  And now, I am down to the penultimate Football Friday

  • Sic transit gloria mundi…

[Aside:  Notwithstanding appearances, that phrase does NOT mean that Gloria threw up on the subway last Monday.]

Last week’s Six-Pack was a miserable 2-4-0.  Here are the cumulative results to date:

  • Overall:  45-32-4
  • College:  20-9-1
  • NFL:  25-23-3

 

College Football Commentary:

 

Was I ever wrong about the LSU/Clemson game…  In retrospect, I think I recognize my error there.  When I tuned in to see Clemson during the Fall, I usually only watched a portion of the game because – frankly – I am not sufficiently interested in watching one team beat its opponent by 45 points to stay to the bitter end.  The regular season opponents Clemson faced in the ACC were overmatched – – but I gave those opponents more credit for competency that it seems they deserved.

  • I thought Clemson’s defense could hold LSU to the mid-thirties.
  • I thought Clemson could score 45 points or more on just about anybody except Ohio State.  After all, Clemson did that for 6 weeks in a row from October 12 through November 16.

LSU was much the better team last Monday night; there was nothing fluky about that win.

Congratulations to LSU!

Brad Dickson posted this Tweet just prior to the LSU/Clemson game:

“If Clemson loses, I hereby offer to donate $15,000 to the charity of Dabo Swinney’s choice if the first thing he says in the post-game interview is, ‘This is God’s fault.’”

For the record, Messr. Dickson’s bank account remains intact…\

 

NFL Commentary:

 

I had lunch with a former colleague yesterday and he asked me to guess the NFL team that had the worst cumulative record over the past 3 seasons.  Guessing it was the Browns seemed too obvious and the Bengals were not horrendous before last season and the Skins were near .500 just a couple years ago.  So, my guess was the NY Jets and I was wrong.  The answer is:

  • The NY Giants had a record of 12-36
  • [By comparison, the Jets had a lofty record of 16-32.]

As I was watching the Niners/Vikes game last weekend, I wondered which team Danny Boy Snyder was rooting for.  If I knew that, I might have insight into the “lesser of two evils” here:

  1. Vikes’ QB was Kirk Cousins – – the QB the Skins had who beat out Danny Boy’s BFF, RG3.  Moreover, the Skins could not get him signed to a long-term deal, so they paid him more than $40M on two franchise tags only to see him walk away in free agency leaving the skins with only a compensatory draft pick.
  2. Niners’ head coach was Kyle Shanahan – – the offensive coordinator for the Skins when his father was the head coach.  Mike Shanahan was engaged in the NFL equivalent of a nuclear exchange with Danny Boy and the recently departed Bruce Allen leading to Shanahan’s departure and the hiring of Jay Gruden as the Skins’ head coach.  [We know how that worked out…]

Sadly, I shall never know the answer here.

On the other hand, I am pretty sure I know who the execs at State Farm Insurance are rooting for this weekend.  All season long they have featured ads with Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes as their celebrity spokesthings.  If the Packers and Chiefs win this weekend, that will be the QB pairing in the Super Bowl.

With the ascent of the Titans to the AFC Championship Game this weekend coming out of the 6th seed for the playoffs, I went looking to see how teams with that seeding had done in previous playoffs.  It is not a common occurrence for a team in that position to advance very far but the Steelers in 2005 and the Packers in 2010 came from the 6th seed slot and won the Super Bowl in addition to their Conference Championship.

If the Titans win this week, they will advance to the Super Bowl having beaten the top 3 seeds in the playoffs and – interestingly:

  • The AFC West champions this week
  • The AFC North champions last week
  • The AFC East champions the week before that
  • The AFC South champions in the final game of the regular season.

I am not rooting against the Titans this week, but I do want to lay down a marker here in the event that they do win this game and make it to the Super Bowl.

  • The fact that they rose from the 6th seed to “shock the world” is NOT any sort of justification to expand the NFL playoffs to 14 or 16 teams.

I recognize that there is money to be made from expanded playoffs; there is also no reason to expand the playoffs.   There is enough wailing to go around when a team with a 9-7 or an 8-8 record makes the playoffs now; if you expand the field, that is going to happen far more frequently.

I said above that I would like to know whom Danny Boy Snyder was rooting for in the Vikes/Niners game.  However, here is something else I really want to know:

  • What did Texans’ coach, Bill O’Brien, say to the team in the locker room at halftime after blowing a 24-0 lead to trail 28-24 at halftime?

I can imagine the situation where he simply went to a clean whiteboard and wrote “WTF!” on it in large letters and then walked away…

I said last week that Dalvin Cook was the key to the Vikes being able to hang with the Niners.  Well, that might have been the case if Cook had been able to run the ball even a little bit; Cook gained a total of 18 yards on 9 carries.  The Niners’ defense dominated the game forcing the Vikes to go 2 for 12 on third down conversions and creating “three-and-out” on 7 possessions.

The Titans took the game to the Ravens and simply beat them down.  The most telling stat is that Ravens tried to convert 4th down 4 times in the game and failed each time.  The first of those failures was in 1st quarter with the Ravens trailing 7-0.  Sometimes the “bold play” is also the “bad play”.  The way Derrick Henry runs the ball reminds me of Jim Brown and Marion Motley for those of you who recall the NFL of the 50s and ‘60s.

The Ravens moved the ball in this game but had little to show for it.  Consider:

  • Ravens total offense was 530 yards yielding only 12 points.
  • Ravens ran a total of 92 offensive plays to the Titans’ 53 plays.

The Chiefs/Titans game would not have been plausible in a Hollywood movie.  There were lots of “low-probability events” in the game; the only thing missing was a safety to finish off the oddness.  I think momentum swung in favor of Chiefs when Texans tried a fake punt in their own territory in the second quarter leading 24-7.  It did not work; the Chiefs scored; momentum swung.   The Texans’ run game was AWOL gaining a total of 55 yards.  That made the game “Shaun Watson against the world”.

[Recall that a previous Houston team (the Oilers) blew a 35-3 second-half lead in a playoff game and then lost in OT to the Bills 41-38.  By comparison, this collapse was relatively minor.]

The Seahawks/Packers game was nowhere near as bizarre as Chiefs/Texans by any means, but it was just as entertaining.  Davante Adams was the difference maker there catching 8 passes for 160 yards and 2 TDs.   I’m sorry to report that “Beast Mode” looked a lot like “Fluffy Kitten Mode”. Twelve carries for twenty-six yards is unimpressive.   [BTW the “Beast Mode” stats since coming out of retirement late in the season are 30 carries for 67 yards.]    Russell Wilson almost brought the Seahawks back from a 21-3 hole at halftime despite the Seahawks’ OL giving up 5 sacks in the game and forcing Wilson to run for his life about a half-dozen other times.

As usual there were some Highlights from last week:

  • Patrick Mahomes passed for 321 yards and 5 TDs.  Just another day at the office…
  • Travis Kelce caught 10 passes for 134 yards and 3 TDs.  Ho- hum …

Of course, there was also a Lowlight from last week:

  • The Ravens’ run game let them down and Lamar Jackson was forced the try to make up for its absence by attempting 59 passes.  That is not how the Ravens won their division and got the #1 seed in this year’s playoffs.

 

This Week’s Games:

 

(Sun Afternoon 3:00 PM EST) Tennessee at KC – 7.5 (53):  You can find this game with a 7-point spread at several sportsbooks this morning and with an 8-pooint spread at 2 Internet sportsbooks this morning.  The most common number is 7.5 points.  Meanwhile, the Total Line opened the week at 51.5 points and jumped quickly to this level just about everywhere.  The Titans beat the Chiefs here in KC earlier this year and did it – no surprise here – with Derrick Henry running the ball all day long.  [He had 23 carries for 188 yards and 2 TDs that day.]  If the Titans can do that again here, they can win this game outright; if it turns into a track meet, the Titans will not be able to keep up.  When the Titans beat the Chiefs earlier this year, the Titans’ defense forced the Chiefs to kick 3 field goals from the Red Zone; replicating that performance will not be easy.  I really do not like that half-point hook on the spread here, but it is what it is.  Here are two trends I am about to ignore:

  • Titans are 7-1-1 against the spread in their last 9 games against AFC teams
  • Chiefs are 2-7 against the spread in their last 9 home playoff games.

I’ll put the Chiefs in this week’s abbreviated Six-Pack to win and cover and I’ll take the game to go OVER.

(Sun Evening 6:40 PM EST) Green Bay at SF – 7.5 (46.5):  The Total Line here opened the week at 44.5 points and has climbed slowly to this level.  When these teams met in the regular season, the Niners dominated the game (score was 37-8) and did so by limiting the Packers’ running game and then harassing Aaron Rodgers every time he tried to pass.  (Rodgers averaged 3.2 yards per attempt in that game.)  I don’t think the Packers’ OL can stand up to the Niners’ pass rush if there is no threat to run the ball in this game.  So, the question comes down to what sort of running strategy can the Packers’ braintrust come up with.  I don’t want to sound like a broken record here, but I’ll take the Niners to win and cover and I’ll take this game to go OVER also to finish off this week’s truncated Six-Pack.

            Let me summarize this week’s Six-Pack:

  • Chiefs – 7.5 over Titans
  • Chiefs/Titans OVER 53
  • Niners – 7.5 over Packers
  • Niners/Packers OVER 46.5

Finally, the four teams remaining in the playoffs have done a lot of winning this season, but they still have challenges ahead of them.  Given that circumstance, it is proper to recall Paul “Bear” Bryant’s observation about winning:

“Winning isn’t everything, but it beats anything that comes in second.”

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

 

 

Maybe The 2020 NFL Draft Is Not So Obvious…

Back in December when it was locked into place, I said that the Cincinnati Bengals were “on the clock” with the overall Number 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.  After LSU’s dominant performance in the two CFP tournament games, I have heard and read at least a dozen people who have stated explicitly that the Bengals will take Joe Burrow with that pick.  There is a ton of logic behind that assertion; but here in Curmudgeon Central, it is always fun to try to turn logic on its head.  So, let me try this one on for size:

The Bengals are not a well-run organization with a long history of shrewd decisions to inspire confidence.  I think we might find a way to agree on that premise.  So, why should it be axiomatic that the Bengals would do something “obviously logical”?  Now when I began to think along those lines and wonder how the Bengals might “upset the draft” I came to two realizations:

  1. The teams with the first 3 picks in the 2020 NFL Drafts are all poorly run organizations with a history of screwing up.  Those three organizations are the Bengals, Skins and Lions.
  2. The team drafting in the #4 slot – the Giants – as recently as last year drafted outside the lines of conventional wisdom to say the least.  The Giants’ reputation for ineptitude on a historical scale does not rival those of the Bengals, Skins or Lions – – or the Browns for that matter – – but they have been a tad flaky recently.

So, it just might be way premature to assume that the Bengals will take Joe Burrow first and then that the Skins will take Chase Young second leaving the rest of the Draft Class to the Lions for the player of their choosing as so many of the Draft Pundits have postulated.

The 2020 NFL Draft will happen on 23-25 April in Las Vegas.  Prior to that time, two events will be on the NFL calendar that will – or should – shape the Draft:

  1. February 24 – March 2 will be the NFL Scouting Combine.  Every year a team or two falls in love with a break-out athlete at the Combine and sometimes that can lead to surprise trades to acquire higher draft status for a team so that they can take a pick no one saw coming.
  2. March 18 will signal the start of NFL free agency in this off-season.  Teams can fill some of their needs with signings in free agency that will change the perception of their needs when the Draft rolls around.  Moreover, we do not yet know the list of players who will be free agents on that date.  Contract extensions and franchise tags can take potential free agents “off the market” so any sort of projecting along that axis is pure speculation.

Having said all that, there are three intriguing possibilities when it comes to free agency for NFL players in 2020:

  1. Derrick Henry’s rookie contract is up.  Given his performance in the regular season where he led the league in yards, carries and yards per carry (despite playing in only 15 games) AND his dominating performance in the Titans’ first two playoff games, he should be of interest to just about every team in the league except the Cowboys and Giants.
  2. Teddy Bridgewater’s contract is up.  He signed on with the Saints last year as an insurance policy for the team and the Saints cashed in.  When Drew Brees had to miss 5 games recovering from thumb surgery, Bridgewater took over and led the Saints to wins in all 5 games.  His overall QB Rating in those games was 118.1 while the league average was 91.  Teams needing to upgrade at QB could find this 27-year old practitioner interesting.
  3. AJ Green’s contract is up.  Green missed all of the 2019 season with an ankle injury that reportedly is now at the point where he can resume normal off-season workouts.  Green is 32 years old and is coming off an injury, but when he is healthy, he is still a top-shelf WR.

In another strange football-related note, Chad Johnson – temporarily named Chad Ochocinco – will get an XFL tryout but not as a WR.  Johnson is 42 years old and seemingly has come to recognize that his days as a pass catcher are in the past.  He will try out as a place kicker and he posted an Instagram video that shows him connecting on a 60-yard field goal attempt – with no rush and using a mechanical holder for the ball.

The XFL will benefit from recognizable names.  If you check out XFL rosters, I would be surprised if you would recognize more than 10 players on a random roster.  I just checked the roster of the DC Defenders and there are only 6 players there that I know anything about.  Having someone like Chad Johnson – even as a kicker – would help the XFL.  If Johnson made a team in the XFL and did indeed demonstrate ability as a kicker, he might get an invitation to an NFL training camp in the summer.  There is a chance for symbiosis here…

The sign-stealing scandal in MLB has not gone away.  Speculation now seems to be on the Mets and their new manager, Carlos Beltran.  It seems to be the case that he was one of the participants in the signal stealing as part of the communication link from the “electronic spies” to the batter in the box.  As a player for the Astros, he was granted immunity by the Commish if he cooperated with the investigation; now he is no longer a player with immunity; he is a manager who might be a PR liability for his new employer.

I understand the decision of the Commish to grant immunity to players in order to obtain information; I also understand the reluctance to punish players when any punishment – no matter how trivial – will be opposed by the Players Association.  Nonetheless, that creates a situation where:

  • The players were participants in the signal stealing and the beneficiaries of the stolen signs.  They are held harmless.
  • Managers and GMs are held accountable.
  • Owners face a maximum fine of $5M in this matter.  The simple fact is that $5M is something most of these folks can take from their petty cash drawer.

Not particularly satisfying…

Finally, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Disgruntled:  Way too kind a word for a freaking nut job who shows up to work with an Uzi.”

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

 

 

Bouncing Around Today…

The Boston Red Sox and their manager, Alex Cora, “mutually agreed to part ways” overnight.  Cora was implicated in the Astros’ sign-stealing enterprise and it is reported that MLB investigators will reveal that the Red Sox engaged in similar activities once Cora showed up in that dugout.  From the team perspective, this is a PR attempt to get out ahead of what seems to be a heap of scorn that is about to land on the franchise.  Maybe it softens the blow to a degree; if so, this was a smart move.

If indeed Cora is cited as one of the instigators of the scheme in Houston and then a part of a similar enterprise in Boston, I would have to say this his managerial career has pulled into the station.  I will be surprised if the Commish bans him from baseball for life – à la Pete Rose; therefore, Cora might be eligible for another managerial gig.  Nevertheless, I don’t see any owner taking on that PR nightmare willingly.

With the microscope on this most recent MLB “scandal”, it can be difficult to maintain perspective.  Let me ask a question:

  • If you create a scale of 1 to 10 where “1” is “embarrassing but not such a big deal” and “10” is “an existential threat”, where would you put all these MLB “scandals”?  (Some of these are real situations from the past and others are potential “scandals”.)

Here are my ratings …

  • Doctoring the field to gain an advantage [Rating = 1]
  • Players using a corked bat [Rating = 3]
  • Spitballers [Rating = 3]
  • Players using steroids/PEDs [Rating = 4]
  • High-tech sign-stealing – as in Houston and Boston [Rating = 7]
  • Eavesdropping on visitors’ clubhouse to gain strategic advantage [Rating = 8]
  • Taking bribes to throw a game or a series – as in 1919.  [Rating = 9]

The other breaking news this morning is the announcement by Luke Kuechly that he will retire from the NFL a few months shy of his 29th birthday.   Kuechly has been in the NFL for 8 seasons; it is not as if he is “one-and-done”.  However, he is still one of the best – if not the best – middle linebacker in the league; his retirement is cannot be explained by some sort of recognition that he can no longer play to the standard of his former excellence.  Luke Kuechly has made a rational decision here.

If I have read correctly his contract history, Kuechly has made somewhere between $61M and $70M over his career.  [Aside: The reason for the spread here is that I cannot decipher which incentives in his contracts he achieved or did not achieve.]  Even after paying his taxes, he should still have sufficient funds to do whatever he wants to do with the rest of his life.  Those last 11 words are the key:

  • What might keep him from doing what he wants to do with the rest of his life is a permanent injury or enough brain trauma that would make the latter years of the rest of his life less than optimal.

Luke Kuechly adds to a list of very good players who have chosen to leave the NFL long before their skills diminished to the point that their teams did not want them back such as:

  • Chris Borland
  • Rob Gronkowski
  • Andrew Luck
  • Patrick Willis

Bonne chance, Luke Kuechly…

Last weekend, the Clemson basketball team beat UNC 79-76 in OT in a game played in Chapel Hill.  That may not seem like a big deal at first but consider that the last time Clemson won a basketball game in Chapel Hill against UNC, it was 1926.  The loss dropped the Tar Heels’ season record to 8-8 and a comment from Roy Williams after that loss prompted this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Roy Williams labeled his 8-8 basketball team as ‘the least gifted team I’ve ever coached’ in his latest tenure at North Carolina.

“The Society of Those Feeling Sorry for Roy convenes at noon Wednesday in the back seat of a Kia.”

Indeed, there is little reason to shed tears for poor Roy Williams here.  He can take solace in the 3 national championships that his teams have won (one championship at Kansas and the other two at UNC).  Frankly, if this is indeed a team with lesser talent than normal at UNC, the burden would seem to be on Roy Williams and his assistants to coach a lot more and a lot better than they did with previously “more gifted teams”.

With regard to college basketball this year, there is not a dominant team – – or even a pair of dominant teams.  Rather, there are at least a half-dozen very good teams who seem to go through cycles of excellent play and then somnambulant play.  I think I have counted correctly here; there are five teams that have been ranked #1 in the country and who have been subsequently beaten by teams ranked below them:

  • Duke
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisville
  • Michigan State

Perhaps this demonstrates the competitive balance in college basketball this year – – or perhaps is shows the minimal value of rankings early in the season…

Finally, here is another basketball observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Rockets’ James Harden joined an exclusive NBA club by totaling 100 points in back-to-back games.

“Leaving him just one game shy of tying Wilt Chamberlain, who once scored 100 in one consecutive game.”

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

 

 

Baseball In January …

Pitchers and catchers will start to report to Spring Training in about a month, but baseball finds itself in the news today in a way it would prefer not to be in the news.  Of course, I am referring to the outcome of the MLB investigation into the Houston Astros’ sign stealing endeavors back in 2017 when the Astros won the World Series.  You can go to any one of several hundred websites that cover sports and find the details of what the Astros did and what the evidence is.  I will leave that as background reading for all who are interested.

I want to think about some of the consequences here.  MLB suspended Astros’ GM, Jeff Lunhow, and Astros’ manager, AJ Hinch for 1 year.  The owner of the Astros subsequently fired both men.  (A former Astros’ Assistant GM, Brandon Taubman is also suspended from baseball through the end of the 2020 season for behavior unrelated to this sign-stealing investigation.)  Question 1:

  • Even assuming that both men knew that the sign-stealing was going on and did nothing to curtail it, it strains the imagination to believe that either of them did the sign stealing or were part of the communication link that got the information from the “sign-stealer” to the batter in the box.  So, after the exhaustive investigation that MLB is trumpeting, who are the actual sign-stealers and who are the communicators and what is the sanction to be levied against them?

The Astros will also lose their first round and second round picks in the Baseball Draft in both 2020 and 2021.  That penalty has some teeth given that one of the foundation pieces of the Astros’ success model has been to identify top talent in the draft and to develop it into a team core where several young star players are still on “rookie contracts”.  Question 2:

  • If MLB wants to use this as a hammer to make teams think about doing this in the future, why not set the precedent that draft picks are going to be the coin by which team payments are made.  Since these incidents happened in 2017, why not take the Astros’ top two picks in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 Drafts and make them free agents – – in addition to taking away the top 2 picks for the next two years?

Why is a bludgeon necessary?  Well, it appears that there is a simultaneous investigation ongoing into the behavior(s) of the Red Sox in 2018 – coincidentally the year the Red Sox were also World Series champs.  And, there are vague reports out there that as many as 8 MLB teams (27% of MLB by the way) may have been involved in actions like what the Astros did and what the Red Sox are alleged to have done.  Question 3:

  • Since the beneficiary of the stolen sign(s) was a player on the field, it is not possible that every player on the Astros was unaware of what was going on.  So, where is player liability for whatever was their level of culpability?  I am unconvinced by arguments that players are protected by their union and therefore cannot be punished here.

This entire matter boils down to one’s fundamental view of why this was done in the first place.  A “hard-liner” here would say that this behavior tears at the fabric of the game itself and that “hard-liner” would eventually wrap himself into a pretzel claiming that whenever the playing field for a sporting event is not level, the event is meaningless and should not enjoy public attention.  A ”situational-ethicist” here would way that sign-stealing – or attempts at sign-stealing – are part of the game since the day that sending signals among players on the field was first done.  The “situational-ethicist” would mumble a lot of “tut-tuts” and suggest that the advantage gained by the Astros was a result of their superiority at sign-stealing – – which is part of the game.

The hard-liner will want to see some folks banned for life from MLB; the situational-ethicist would consider ignoring all of this and codifying in the MLB rulebook what sort of sign-stealing is allowed and what sort is ‘over the line”.  (Of course, “over the line” would pin down the situational-ethicist into declaring what is right and what is wrong which is something they will never do.)  Pick whatever side you want; I have purposely spread out these positions to create room for a spectrum here.  For me, I am closer to the position of the “hard-liner” here…

  • [Aside:  Here is an idea for a nuclear option.  There is precedent in sports for a league forcing an owner to dispose of his franchise.  The NBA did this with the Clippers a few years back; MLB did this with the Phillies in the 1940s; the NFL at least nudged the former owner of the Panthers to sell his team about 2 years ago.  So, how about MLB making it a rule that any team caught doing this sort of stuff in the future will require the owner to dispose of his franchise?]

On more positive notes, five very good baseball players have signed 1-year contracts recently thereby avoiding arbitration hearings.

  1. Mookie Betts signed a 1-year contract worth $27M with the Red Sox.  Betts will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2020 season.
  2. Cody Bellinger signed a 1-year contract worth $11.5M with the Dodgers.  Bellinger will be subject to arbitration through 2023.
  3. Kris Bryant signed a 1-year contract worth $16.8M with the Cubs.  Bryant will be subject to arbitration again next year.
  4. Aaron Judge signed a 1-year contract worth $8.5M with the Yankees.  Judge will be subject to arbitration through 2022.
  5. Francisco Lindor signed a 1-year contract worth $17.5M with the Indians.  Lindor will be subject to arbitration again next year.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this interesting look back at 2019 in the Seattle Times:

“This is the Year of the Pig, according to the Chinese calendar, though one could argue that Russian doping and the can-banging Astros make it seem like the Year of the Cheetah.”

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

 

 

Kevin Stefanski To the Browns…

The Cleveland Browns reportedly are about to hire Kevin Stefanski – previously the offensive coordinator for the Vikes – to be their next head coach.  According to reports, the Browns interviewed 8 candidates for the job and Stefanski came out on top.  On the assumption that he is indeed ready to be a head coach, it would appear that Stefanski has a good gig waiting for him.  There is plenty of physical talent on that roster.  His challenge will be to convince the players to get their heads right and get their minds focused on football.

  • Baker Mayfield needs to say, “No,” to at least one endorsement/commercial.
  • Odell Beckham, Jr. needs to stop telling opponents to “come and get” him.
  • Myles Garrett needs to get off his suspension.

On the other hand, I heard one report on sports radio that I have not seen in any printed report, so let me say that IF THE FOLLOWING IS CORRECT, Kevin Stefanski may be looking at a short tenure in Cleveland.

  • Most observers agree that owner Jimmy Haslam is meddlesome and that his heavy involvement with the “football side of things” has not been a big plus for the team.
  • Supposedly, Stefanski agreed in the interview processes that he would meet weekly with Haslam and analytics guru Paul DePodesta to talks about game plans and the analytics that support that game plan.

That surely sounds to me as if Jimmy Haslam is going to double down on his meddling and cross over into micromanagement territory.

Regarding another recent head coach hiring in the NFL, Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel had this to say:

“Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he hired Mike McCarthy as his new coach because ‘I heard bells’ while interviewing McCarthy. Um, Jerry, you might want to check the battery in your office smoke detector.”

We are only a month away from the launch of XFL 2.0.  The XFL will have some different rules from NFL games; you can go over all of them here.  The XFL rules pertaining to kickoffs and overtimes are sufficiently complicated that I won’t even try to describe them or analyze them here.  Suffice it to say that kickoffs and overtimes in the XFL will bear no resemblance to those same events in NFL or college football games.

Several of the rule differences seem like positive ones to me.  For example, after a touchdown, the scoring team has the option to run a single play from the 2 yardline or the 5 yardline or the 10 yardline.  If that play gets into the end zone, the try would be worth 1 point or 2 points or 3 points respectively.  I like that innovation; those single plays will be more interesting than a place kick.

The XFL will have a 25 second play clock that will start as soon as the officials have placed the ball to determine the line of scrimmage.  The objective is to speed up the game and provide more action.  Sounds good to me.  Moreover, until the final 2 minutes of each half, the clock will not stop between plays for things like going out of bounds or an incomplete pass.  The officials will spot the ball for the next play and the clock will count down…  This sounds interesting and is worth a try.

Another interesting rule difference involves punts.  Any punt that goes out of bounds inside the receiving team’s 35 yardline comes out to the 35 yardline.  Same goes for punts that go into the end zone or out of the end zone.  That could result in fewer punts and more teams attempting to get a first down on 4th and short.

There will be no “coaches’ challenges” regarding replays.  There will be a Replay Official “in a booth above the field” and that official will have the authority to review plays where there are objective criteria for infractions – – such as too many men on the field or a timing error on the game clock.  Pass interference calls will not be reviewed.

Here is a rule innovation that does not seem to answer any real need.  Offensive teams may throw 2 forward passes on a play so long as the ball never crosses the line of scrimmage.  Currently, any forward pass no matter where it is caught means that no other forward pass is permitted.  I don’t think this rule will hurt anything, but I cannot figure out why anyone thought it was necessary to improve the product.

I am skeptical about the wisdom of an innovation the XFL plans to try out.  Multiple players will have receivers in the helmets so that various coaches can talk to the players.  Those communications will be available to the “broadcast partners” and may be put on the air.  Just as players who are “mic’ed up” in current games provide meaningless interruptions, this one has the potential to be really useless.

I do not like the XFL adoption of the college rule for a completed pass where only one foot need be inbounds.  Look, there are already enough rules to favor the offense; I don’t need yet one more…

Here is the new rule I like the best:

  • Halftime will be 10 minutes long.
  • That means no halftime extravaganzas in the stadium and a truncated “studio halftime show”.  How great is that?

Finally, given this observation by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times, I suspect that he may appreciate some of the XFL rules to shorten game times:

“According to a study conducted by four universities in Ireland, the average doctor visit there lasts 14.1 minutes.

“Or roughly the same as an NFL video replay-review.”

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