Rest In Peace Gayle Sayers…

News came yesterday that Gayle Sayers had died.  Lots of people know of Gayle Sayers because of the made-for-TV movie, Brian’s Song; as a football player, there is a lot more to know about Gayle Sayers.  He is of course in the Hall of Fame; for those who are too  young to have seen him play, it is a shame.  His career was a short one because knee surgery in the 1960s is not what it is today.  Nevertheless, on December 12, 1965 the Chicago Bears beat the San Francisco 49ers 61-20 and Gayle Sayers had a game for the ages:

  1. He caught an 80-yard TD pass.
  2. He ran for 4 TDs ranging from a 1-yard run to a 50-yard run.
  3. He returned a punt 85-yards for a TD.
  4. His stat line for the day was 9 rushes for 113 yards and 4 TDs plus 2 pass receptions for 89 yards and 1 TD plus 5 punt returns for 134 yards and 1 TD.
  5. He totaled 336 “all-purpose yards” and 6 TDs for the day.  [Aside:  They had not invented the category of “all-purpose yards” back then.]

Gayle Sayers was Barry Sanders before Barry Sanders was born – – only he was bigger than Barry Sanders.  He was that exciting to watch…

Rest in peace, Gayle Sayers.

The truncated MLB regular season is coming to an end this weekend.  Given the expanded MLB playoffs this year and the desire to have the World Series end by Halloween, there will be no tie-breaker games played this year.  MLB has announced the tie-breaking rules for this year and if two teams are tied for a playoff slot – or seeding with the playoffs – here are the tiebreakers:

  • Head-to-head record – – only applicable to two teams in the same division since there has been no inter-divisional play this year among the “hybrid MLB divisions”.
  • Higher winning percentage against teams in their traditional divisions.  If there is still a tie, then the team with the higher winning percentage in its last 20 games gets the nod; if that is a tie, then go to the last 21 games and so on…

If more than two teams tie for a playoff slot or seeding within the playoff structure, here are the tiebreakers:

  • Combined head-to-hear record among the tied teams – – only applicable to multiple teams in the same hybrid division for 2020.
  • Higher winning percentage against teams in their traditional divisions.  If there is still a tie, the same procedure as above will apply starting with winning percentage over the final 20 games of the regular season.

In the AL, 6 of the 8 playoff teams have been decided already; their seeding in the playoff structure is not cast in stone yet, but we know that the A’s, Indians, Rays, Twins, White Sox and Yankees will be in the playoffs.

The NL is quite different.  As of this morning, we know that Braves, Cubs Dodgers and Padres will participate in the playoffs.  The other 4 playoff slots are mathematically up in the air because only two NL teams have been eliminated.

The St. Louis Cardinals will be a controversial playoff team should they get in.  They will have played only 57 games while other teams will have played 60 games.  This is due to the extensive coronavirus postponements involving the Cardinals early in the season, but with all the teams so closely bunched in the NL, the absence of those 3 games will likely cause consternation in the fanbase of teams that lost out to the Cardinals in the tie-breaking system.  Whatever.  This has been a goofy sports year since mid-March; just add that to the 2020 “goofy list”.

According to a report in the NY Post, MLB has also decreed that there will be no alcohol allowed in clubhouses as part of any post-season or playoff celebrations.  MLB wants players to celebrate on the field (outdoors) and to put on masks as soon as they enter the clubhouse.  The idea is to maintain COVID-19 protocols and attempt to avoid community spreading of the virus within any of the teams.

Since most of today has been about MLB, let me take the rest of the space here to list a couple of things that surprised me regarding the truncated regular season that will end this weekend:

  1. The performances exhibited by the Astros and the Nationals have been a huge negative surprise.  The Astros have played .500 baseball for 2020 and I thought they were a lot better than that.  Meanwhile the Nationals – the defending World Series champions – have posted a record of 23-33 as of this morning.
  2. The performances exhibited by the Padres and the White Sox have been a huge positive surprise.  Only the Braves and Dodgers in the NL have scored more runs than the Padres this year.  The White Sox would project to a normal season record of 98-64; the last time the White Sox won 90 games in a season – let alone 98 – was in 2005 – the year they won the World Series.

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

“Mike Trout, with his 300th round-tripper, just passed Tim Salmon as the Angels’ all-time home-run leader.

“So how’d this team ever miss out on drafting Mike Carp and Kevin Bass?”

[Aside:  The Angels also missed out on drafting Neal Finn because he was dead by the time the Angels came into existence as a franchise.]

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



A Little Baseball History…

A couple of days ago, I mentioned MLB’s “Double-Bubble” model for the baseball playoffs this year and that all the World Series games would be played at Globe Life Field.  Yesterday, I was chatting with a former colleague and sporadic reader of these rants who told me that he had just read that 75 years ago the same thing happened with World Series games all being played in one place; he wanted to know if I knew anything about that.  I did not; I said that 75 years ago we were in the midst of World War II and that could have been the impetus for such a move by MLB.  And, I told him I would do some checking on the subject.

[Aside:  The basis for my “World War II guess” is that I remember that they played the Rose Bowl Game in Wallace Wade Stadium on the Duke campus one year due to security concerns arising from large gatherings of folks on the West Coast during World War II.]

Notwithstanding my logical deduction above, that is not nearly the reason why the 1944 World Series games were all played in one stadium.  The reason is far simpler:

  • The 1944 World Series featured the St. Louis Cardinals playing the St Louis Browns.
  • Those teams played their home games in the same stadium – – Sportsman Park.
  • Ergo…
  • By the way, the Cardinals won that Series 4 games to 2.

In the process of uncovering that bit of baseball history, I came across a couple other tidbits to pass along this morning:

  1. Twice before the 1944 World Series all the Series games were played in the same stadium.  In 1921 and 1922, the Yankees and the NY Giants met in the World Series; at that time, both teams played their home games in the Polo Grounds in NYC.  So, all the Series games in those 2 years happened in one park.  The Giants prevailed in both of those World Series.
  2. The first time a World Series featured two teams from the same city – – but ones that did not share a stadium as their home field – – was in 1906 when the Cubs and the White Sox played each other.  The White Sox won that Series 4 games to 2.

Moving along to college football, the SEC will begin play this weekend.  The teams will play a conference-only, 10-game regular season with 1 game against each of its Division opponents in the conference and 4 games against opponents from the other Division.  The schedule includes a BYE Week for each team within the season and an open date for every team on December 12.  Those openings may be needed to reschedule games that might need to be postponed due to COVID-19.  The SEC Championship Game will be held on December 19th.

This week, the SEC issued its policies and procedures for dealing with games in these times of COVID-19.  These policies and procedures look good on the surface – – but they have more ambiguity than I would prefer to see.  For example:

“To play a football game, the SEC has established minimum thresholds of at least 53 scholarship players available to participate and the following minimum number of position scholarship players available to begin a game: seven (7) offensive linemen (which includes one center), one (1) quarterback and four (4) defensive linemen. “

That makes sense and sounds good until you go further into the policies and procedures and find the following:

“The impacted institution has the option to play the game with fewer than the 53 scholarship players or fewer than the minimum number of position players listed above if it elects to do so. Otherwise, upon approval by the Commissioner, the game would be rescheduled or declared a no contest.”

So, which is it?  The team must have those minimum number of players ready to play or maybe it has various other options available to it?  And then, the official statement from the SEC contains this wording:

“In addition, should an institution determine there are compelling reasons why it cannot begin a contest regardless of the scholarship and position minimums above, the institution may request to have the game rescheduled or, if the game cannot be rescheduled, for the game to be considered a no contest by presenting data (including total number of players not available to participate) outlining reasons why the game should not be played as scheduled. The final decision to reschedule or declare the game a no contest is vested only with the Commissioner.”

As I said above, the SEC will commence play this weekend.  Beyond that, there seems to be enough wiggle-room and sleight-of-hand contained in the “rules” governing the conduct of the 2020 season to allow or disallow just about any sequence of events.  My advice is to just sit back and enjoy the games that are played whenever they are played and under what circumstances they are played.  Any attempt to understand the whys and wherefores regarding these rules is destined to produce agita.

Finally, Brad Dickson had this comment recently related to the conflict between Nebraska and Big-10 officials over the cancellation – and then the reinstatement – of the 2020 football season this Fall:

“I wouldn’t say Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren feels vindictive toward the Huskers, but the new schedules were just released and Nebraska plays at Ohio State seven times.”

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



Heavy Fines Handed Down …

Yesterday I said that the NFL was going to fine coaches for not wearing masks on the sidelines during games.  Evidently, the league decided to make an example of three coaches who were serious offenders in terms of violating that aspect of the health and safety protocols because according to a report by Adam Schefter:

  • The league fined Pete Carroll, Vic Fangio and Kyle Shanahan $100K each for not wearing a mask.
  • And it fined the clubs of those three coaches and additional $250K each on top of what the coaches will cough up.

I guess the message here is that the NFL is serious about the COVID-19 protocols and that it does not want to deal with coaches appearing as scofflaws on the sidelines.  I have not seen the Jets/Niners game yet, so I have no sense of the degree to which Shanahan was “in violation” but I agree that Carroll and Fangio were “serially unmasked’.

  • Memo for Jack Del Rio:  Wearing your mask around your neck and covering your Adam’s Apple is not in compliance with the protocol.  Defensive coordinators are not paupers, but they do not make what head coaches make; $100K could be a significant financial hurt.

While on the subject of the NFL, the Detroit Lions have now lost their last 11 consecutive games.  Yes, I know that Matthew Stafford was out for many of those losses; but still, 11-game losing streaks are not to be ignored.  That is especially the case when just about every NFL fan recalls that in 2008 the Lions went 0-16 for the season and that there were 19 consecutive losses surrounding that winless season.  For the last decade or so, I and other commentators on the NFL have banged on the Bengals and the Browns and the WTFs for the ineptitude of those franchises.  Somehow, the Lions have not received a similar level of scorn – – but they deserved it.

Since that disastrous 0-16 season in 2008:

  • Lions are 74 – 103 – 1 as of this morning
  • They made the playoffs 3 times in those 11 seasons and lost in the Wild Card Round.
  • They are working on their 3rd head coach in those 11 seasons.

That is sufficiently inept to put the Lions’ franchise in the cross hairs for some imaginary “Scorn Weapon”, but the Lions demonstrate incompetence over a much longer time scale:

  • The Lions’ last playoff win was in 1991.
  • Prior to the playoff win in 1991, the playoff win before that one was in 1957 when the Lions won the NFL Championship and then traded away QB, Bobby Layne.
  • The Lions joined the NFL in 1930; from that season through 2019, the combined regular season record for Lions teams is 555 – 657 – 33 (winning percentage = .445).

The Detroit Lions have earned a place in the public’s Hall of Shame as a franchise as much as do the Bengals, Browns and WTFs.  It is time that they receive their due…

Now that I am in a “Negative Nancy Mood”, allow me to ask if it is too soon to pose this serious indictment in the form of a rhetorical question:

  • Is Adam Gase as bad a head coach of the NY Jets as was Richie Kotite?

Yes, I know; that is a shocking question.  Take a moment and clear your head and think upon the current situation of the NY Jets.  Adam Gase came to the Jets after 3 seasons with the Dolphins where the team record was 23 – 25.  His credential at the time was as a “good offensive mind” and a “guy who had a relationship with quarterbacks”; the Dolphins had a young QB in Ryan Tannehill and that seemed to be a competent narrative.  When he was let go in Miami, the same aura brought him to the attention of Jets’ ownership.

Looking at that “credential” a bit more analytically, Gase indeed was the offensive coordinator and the guy working with the QB on a team that won the Super Bowl.  However, that team was the Denver Broncos and that QB was Peyton Manning at age 39.  Let me suggest that Peyton Manning had as much to do with the offensive success for the Broncos in 2015 as did Adam Gase.

In last week’s loss to the Niners, the Jets trailed 24-3 with less than 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.  Obviously, the Jets’ win probability at that point is pretty small, but the Jets had the ball on the Niners’ 8-yardline with a 4th and goal situation.  At that point, the game is a “3-TD Game” for the Jets to win it; time is getting short; Adam Gase chooses to kick a 25-yard field goal to make the score 24-6.  So in addition to needing the Jets’ defense to pitch a shutout from that point on, instead of needing “3 TDs to tie the game”, the Jets now needed “2 TDs + a 2-point conversion + a field goal to tie the game”.

Yes, I know; neither of those outcomes was ever going to happen.  However, kicking that field goal was almost a form of capitulation; it is not as if getting those 3 points would prevent the team from the ignominy of being shut out.

I wonder about the Adam Gase narrative as an offensive genius and QB-guru.  Ryan Tannehill got a lot better once he left Miami and Coach Gase’s tutelage.  Sam Darnold has not yet learned to play with matches let alone set the world afire.  Moreover, Gase and the team’s best running back – LeVeon Bell – have been at odds for about a year now and there are plenty of reports that the “team chemistry” in the Jets’ locker room smells like rotten eggs.

I recognize that comparing Adam Gase to Richie Kotite is harsh so let me put a less severe query in front of Jets’ fans and NFL fans:

  • Just what is it that Adam Gase does for a living?

Finally, let me close with an NFL observation by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

New rule: No longer is anyone allowed to call the Dallas Cowboys ‘America’s Team’ with a straight face.”

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



Coach Deion Sanders…

A few months ago, Deion Sanders and the NFL Network parted ways.  Reports said that it was a combination of things that led to the divorce:

  1. The network did not offer Sanders a raise when his contract was up as the network was in a belt-tightening mode
  2. Sanders had suggested that he wanted to move on and try his hand at coaching a football team.

Sanders quietly took a job as the offensive coordinator for Trinity Christian High School in Texas where – coincidentally – his son is the quarterback for the team.  The team has played 5 games so far this season and has a 3-2 record, but the offense has been plenty effective scoring a total of 211 points in 5 games.  That coaching résumé along with Deion Sanders’ presence in both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame landed him the job of head coach for Jackson State.  That announcement came on Sanders’ podcast over the weekend.

Jackson State is a Division 1-AA program and plays in the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC).  That is the conference that has Grambling State and Southern University and Mississippi Valley State along with other HBCUs.  In the last 20 years, Jackson State has been the SWAC champion 1 time and the runner-up 4 times; however, since 2013, Jackson State has never had a winning season.

The SWAC is not playing football this Fall but the plan is to play a shortened schedule next spring starting in late February.  All the SWAC football schools are in the vicinity of the Gulf Coast so blizzard conditions are not likely even though it will still be winter when the games begin.

Up at the NFL level of football, the league was not happy after Week 1 with lots of TV images showing coaches on the sidelines without their masks on.  Of course, they need to lower the masks to yell instructions to players, but many coaches were just waking the whole time on the sideline with the mask down around their necks.  In addition to that being a violation of the health and safety protocols, it is not the kind of optic that the league seeks to project since it will be playing most of its games with no fans allowed in the stands.

The league sent a memo to all the teams saying that coaches could be fined if they did not wear their masks.  If that is the case, the NFL bank account that holds the funds paid in by player and coaches fine should be well endowed at the end of this week.  I watched all or part of 5 NFL games from Thursday through Sunday night and even if I limited my citation of “coaches not wearing masks” to the ones who were blatantly in violation of that edict, there would be at least a dozen coaches and assistants sending checks to the NFL this week.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had an idea for bringing this situation under control:

“The NFL sent out a memo threatening to punish coaches who don’t wear face coverings at all times on the sideline during games.

“An even better deterrent: automatic 15-yard facemask penalties!”

That might work even better than fining coaches…

MLB has announced the venues for the league playoffs and the World Series for 2020.  Basically, this is a “Double-Bubble” arrangement.  The teams involved in the AL division round and ALCS will stay in Southern California and play games in Petco Park and/or Dodger Stadium.  The teams involved in the NL division round and the NLCS will stay in Texas and play games in Minute Maid Park and/or Globe Life Field.  The World Series will be held at Globe Life Field.

The underlying idea here is to have the teams travel as little as possible; community exposure increases the potential for infection from the coronavirus and MLB – along with the MLBPA – would prefer to avoid that situation.  This year, there will be a round of playoffs before the division round and that round will be a 3-game series with all three games in the home field of the team with the higher winning percentage.

MLB is hard-over to have as many playoff games as possible to provide as much revenue as possible to the teams.  Hence, the expanded playoff rounds.  If you look at the MLB standings as of this morning, I think you will see why I hope – against hope – that this expanded playoff format is a one-off for the oddball 2020 season.

If the playoffs started today, here are the bottom 3 teams in the AL who would qualify and what might be their record extrapolated to a full 162 game season:

  • Cleveland – – 89 – 73 (respectable)
  • Houston – – 82-80  (shameful)
  • Toronto – – 82-80  (shameful)

The National League has 4 teams contending for the final 2 playoff slots, but the situation is worse than the one in the AL:

  • Philadelphia – – 82-80  (shameful)
  • Cincinnati – – 81-81  (seriously?)
  • Milwaukee – – 81-81  (seriously?)
  • San Francisco – – 81-81  (seriously?)

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

“Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler had to be scratched from a start after he tore the nail of his right middle finger while putting on his pants.

“As any good Philadelphian knows, what good is a guy if he can’t use his middle finger?”

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



Football Friday 9/18/20

Seventy years ago, Buffalo Bob Smith would begin kids’ TV show by asking, “What time is it?”  The answer from the audience would come back:

  • “It’s Howdy Doody time!”

Fast forward to the present here in Curmudgeon Central and ask me, “What day is it?”  The answer, of course, is:

  • It’s Football Friday!

Before venturing into this week’s commentary, let me review the results from last week’s Six-Pack:

  • College:  2-1-0
  • NFL:  3-0-0
  • Combined:  5-1-0

            Lest anyone think that I am going to crow about that opening weekend record, I must admit that if I were in the business of picking a “50-Star Mortal Lock Of The Week” within the Six-Pack, I would have named Iowa State as last week’s game with that label.  You guessed it; that was the loss from last week.  And that is why I do not do things like that…


NCAA Comments:


Of all the college conferences, the SEC was always steadfast in the idea that it would play football this Fall, and that COVID-19 could be accommodated – if not controlled – as the schools did that.  Teams in the conference have not been anything near transparent in terms of revealing testing results; and frankly, without a conference mandate, that is not surprising.  That is why a statement from LSU coach, Ed Orgeron, was unexpectedly candid:

  • “Not all of our players, but most of our players have caught it.  I think that hopefully they won’t catch it again, and hopefully they’re not out for games.”
  • Most of the LSU players have caught it?  That is a lot of people and that surely makes one think that the virus can spread through a team effectively.
  • Hopefully, they won’t catch it again?  That is the SEC football equivalent of, “Let them eat cake.”
  • Hopefully, they’re not out for games?  Clearly, the man is focused on the well-being of his “student-athletes”.

I am not picking on LSU or Coach Orgeron here.  Over at Texas Tech – in the Big 12 – news broke last week that a total of 75 Tech football players have tested positive for COVID-19 since the players returned to the campus in late June.  College football games are happening and we can enjoy those games – or at least some of them – but it would be Pollyannish to think that the existence of those games means that the schools have found ways to control the coronavirus.

Florida State lost its opening game last week to Georgia Tech by a score of 16-13.  Some folks went overboard and called it the “Upset of the Week”; it was not; in fact, this is the fourth year in a row that Florida State has lost its first game of the season.  The game was surprising:

  • Florida State scored 10 points on its first two possessions of the game.
  • After that, Florida State had the ball 9 more times and managed only a field goal.
  • On those 9 added possessions, the Seminoles amassed a total of 139 yards of offense – – 15.4 yards per possession.
  • Meanwhile, Georgia Tech was seemingly trying not to win this game having 2 field goal attempts blocked in the process.

Opening the 2020 season could not have been fun for the Big 12 as a whole.  Yes, Texas and Oklahoma blew out their opening day patsies as expected.  The Longhorns beat UTEP by 56 points and the Sooners rolled over Missouri State by 48 points.  Much of the rest of the news was not good:

  • Iowa State was an 11-point favorite and lost by 17 points to La-Lafayette – – from the Sun Belt Conference.
  • Kansas State was favored over Arkansas State – – another Sun Belt Conference team – – and lost by 4 points.  By the way, Arkansas State came into the game having lost its opener to Memphis the week before.
  • Kansas lost at home for the second year in a row to Coastal Carolina this time by 15 points.   Coastal Carolina is another Sun Belt team.   That 15-point loss was not as close as it looks; Kansas trailed 28-3 at halftime and scored meaningless points in garbage time.
  • Texas Tech did win their game against Houston Baptist University by a slim 2-point margin.  Houston Baptist is a Division 1-AA team in the Southland Conference.  [Aside:  There are 13 schools in the Southland Conference.  I was able to identify all of 3 before resorting to Google.  How many can you name?]  To make things worse, the Texas Tech defense was a no-show for the game.  Houston Baptist gained 594 yards of offense and 566 of those yards were through the air.

Syracuse lost to UNC 31-6 last week; that was not totally unexpected.  Nonetheless, the Syracuse offense put on a less-than-fully-competent show.  They had the ball inside the UNC 25 yardline 4 times and managed a total of 6 points for the game.  The game was in doubt at the start of the 4th quarter when the score was 10-6; the Syracuse defense kept the game within reach for 45 minutes and then the floodgates opened.

Pitt beat Austin Peay 55-0.  I mention this game only because the teams agreed – and the officials agreed – to play 10-minute quarters for the second half of the game.  Pitt led at the half 42-0; the outcome was in little doubt.  The Pitt defense allowed a total of 1 yard rushing in the game on 22 attempts by Austin Peay.

West Virginia beat E. Kentucky 56-10.  I mention this game only because the Mountaineers had 11 of its players out with positive COVID-19 tests.  Clearly, this was nothing more than a glorified scrimmage.

Army dismantled La-Monroe last week.  Army had 436 yards rushing and 29 yards passing.  Those 29 yards came on one play – – the only pass completed by the Cadets for the day.  I said for last week’s Six-Pack that La-Monroe’s horrid run defense from last year would be in trouble against Army’s run game.


College Games of Interest:


Wake Forest at NC State – 1 (52.5):  This is State’s first game of the year; last year, the Wolfpack offense was anemic on its better days.  Wake played Clemson last week and lost 37-13.  The problem is not the margin of that loss but the fact that 10 of Wake’s 13 points came in the 4th quarter when the game was already decided.  I am tempted to take the UNDER here – – but I will resist that temptation.

UCF – 7 at Georgia Tech (62.5):  UCF is one of the very good “Group of 5” teams; they may not have the stature and tradition of Florida state, but they are probably a better team.  This will be a reality check for Tech in its home opener.

BC at Duke – 6 (51):  This is the opener for BC; moreover, it is the first game in the Jeff Hafley Era at the school.   Duke has a loss on its record this year – – but that loss was to Notre Dame and Duke covered the spread in that game.  I like Duke at home to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

Miami at Louisville – 2.5 (64.5):  The Total Line opened the week at 61 and has risen steadily as the week went by.  Louisville could not stop the run last year; it ranked 112th in the country in run defense.  However, last week they shut down the run against W. Kentucky.  Miami can run the ball and did so effectively against UAB last week.  I do not want to think about a wager on this game, but the run stats could be illuminating here…

Syracuse at Pitt – 21.5 (50):  Pitt romped last week; Syracuse was less than impressive.  The Syracuse defense played well for 45 minutes last week and it has to be stouter than the Austin Peay defense last week that the Panthers dominated.  That line looks fat to me; I like Syracuse plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

La Tech at So. Mississippi (59):  This is the season opener for La Tech so there is nothing to go on in terms of making a pick.  So. Miss opened two weeks ago and lost to South Alabama in such a dispirited game that the So. Miss coach resigned the next day.  So, this is the first game under the interim coach who was on the staff that prepared the team to lose that opener.  No way would I make a pick here, but the outcome might be illuminating…

USF at Notre Dame – 25.5 (48):  The Irish failed to cover against Duke and did not dominate.  Meanwhile, USF scored a grand total of 27 points against The Citadel last week; I do not expect them to light up the scoreboard in South Bend.

Speaking of The Citadel, they are matched up against Clemson this week and the Tigers are a 46-point favorite.  Good luck…


NFL Comments:


The Washington WTFs sit alone atop the NFC East.  Raise your hand if you thought that might ever happen in 2020.

There are reports that the Browns might be interested in trading Odell Beckham, Jr.  Obviously, I have nothing to offer regarding the veracity of those reports, but I do wonder if there would be a big market for Beckham.  He certainly talked and played his way out of NY and it seems as if his pouting combined with his play in Cleveland may be wearing thin.  But do other teams want to take on that sort of drama?  Here is my criterion for this story:

  • If Bill Belichick – who needs a playmaking WR badly – does not express any interest, then either the Browns never REALLY dangled him or even Bill Belichick is not ready to take on the “OBJ Soap Opera”.
  • Stand by for more data…

Here in Curmudgeon Central, the chronicling of “Bad News” is standard fare.  There was plenty of “Bad News” from Week 1 in the NFL so let me put it in sort of a “Lightening Round”.

  • Stephen Gostkowski kicked the winning field goal with seconds left in the game for the Titans – – but the reason that was necessary was that he had missed 2 field goal attempts and a PAT earlier in the game.  Oh, and he had another field goal attempt blocked.
  • Baker Mayfield’s passing attack produced 4.8 yards per completion last week.  That is not per attempt; that is per completion.  Really?
  • The final 35 minutes of the Eagles/WTFs game was absolutely brutal.  Carson Wentz held the ball way too long on just about every pass attempt and the Eagle’s OL – injuries be damned – was horrible yielding 8 sacks in the game.
  • The Bucs’ offense was lopsided.  There was no running game to support the passing game.  If you remove a 21-yard run by Ronald Jones, the rest of the Bucs’ fun game was 25 carries for 65 yards.  Tom Brady was the second leading rusher for the day.  ‘Nuff said…
  • DeAndre Swift dropped a game winning TD pass.  You have seen that replay 5 times by now.  That was just awful.
  • The Jets’ offense was not good against a good Bills defense.  Yes, the Jets have a young and still developing QB; yes, the Jets’ offensive line needs to improve to become mediocre; yes, the Jets’ pass catching corps leaves something to be desired; yes the Jets’ best RB, LeVeon Bell is on the IR now.  With all that said, the Jets posed no real threat last week.  The run game they must have to make the passing game marginally effective produced 52 yards on 15 carries; the longest run for the day was 8 yards.  The Jets’ time of possession last week was 18 minutes and 44 seconds!

I want to pose a rhetorical question here based on the Week 1 Pats/Dolphins game:

  • If the Pats are going to continue to run Cam Newton 15 times per game, how many games until he goes on the shelf?

Last Night, the Bengals and Browns played an entertaining game; the Browns won 35-30 meaning the Bengals covered the 6-point spread.  The Browns’ defense throttled the Bengals’ run game holding the Bengals to 39 yards on 24 carries.  That forced Joe Burrow to throw the ball 61 times in the game.  For that effort he amassed 316 yards and 3 TDs.  But that is no way to treat a rookie QB in the NFL…

The Seahawks beat the Falcons 35-28.  The Falcons gained 506 yards on offense and still lost; that is clearly not a good omen.  In addition, the Falcons failed on 4 fourth-down plays in the game.  Russell Wilson was 31-35 and 322 yards 4 TDs and 0 INTs.  Not a bad day for any QB…

The Packers beat the Vikes 43-34; it was not that close.  The Vikes’ defense is supposed to be good; good defenses do not lose games when their offense scores 34 points.  Aaron Rodgers was 32-44 for 364 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs.  Not bad…  Davante Adams caught 14 passes for 156 yards.  Also, not bad.

  • Interestingly, the Vikes’ time of possession was 18:44; same as the Jets.  Somehow, the Vikes managed to score 34 points in that time of possession while the Jets scored only 17.  Hmmm…

The Patriots beat the Dolphins 21-11.  The Past defense held the Dolphins to 270 yards total offense for the game and the Dolphins turned the ball over 3 times. Meanwhile, the Pats’ ran the ball for 217 yards (5.2 yards per attempt) and achieved 18 first downs by running the ball.

I mentioned the Eagles/WTFs game above.  Let me add here props to WTFs’ Coach Rivera for living up to his “Riverboat Ron” nickname by going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Eagles’ 4 yardline with the game tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter. Washington scored three plays later to take the lead for good.

The Ravens dominated the Browns in Week 1 by a score of 38-6.  This was an organized ass-kicking from start to finish.  Odell Beckham Jr (Trade rumors?  See above) was targeted 10 times in this game and caught only 3 passes.  Baker Mayfield did not impress at all (see “Bad News” above).  Now, look at the score for the game; realize that the Ravens actually had less time of possession in the game than did the Browns – – very slightly less but still less.

The Chargers beat the Bengals 16-13.  The Bengals missed a game-tying field goal at the end of the game that would have sent it to OT.  Joe Burrow was OK in his first NFL game – nothing spectacular but OK.  The Bengals did give him a running game for support in Week 1; they ran the ball for 122 yards on 28 carries.  The Chargers run game was even more productive gaining 155 yards.

The Jags best the Colts 27-20.  This game was a disaster for the Colts.  Philip Rivers threw 2 INTs and the Colts had the ball inside the Jags’ 15 yardline twice without scoring on either drive.  RB, Marlon Mack, had to be carted off the field and is done for the year.  Gardner Minshew was the Jags’ offensive hero.  He went 19 for 20 for 173 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.  The Colts produced 445 yards offense while the Jags amassed 271 yards offense.  Those stats point to a win for the Colts, but those 2 INTs by Rivers were killers.

The Raiders beat the Panthers 34-30.  This game was as close as the score would indicate.

  • Raiders’ total offense = 372 yards  Panthers’ total offense = 398 yards
  • Raiders’ first downs = 23  Panthers’ first downs = 22
  • Raiders’ time of possession = 31:12  Panthers’ time of possession = 28:48

The Saints beat the Bucs 34-23 lowering the temperature in “Tompa Bay” at least for a while.  The Saints won despite Drew Brees only throwing for 160 yards.  Two INTs (one a Pick-Six) by the defense helped a lot.  Brady was OK in his debut in Tampa, but Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski were non-factors in the game.  Evans caught 1 pass for a 2-yard TD and Gronk caught 2 passes for 11 yards.  It was a sloppy game.  There were 15 penalties enforced for a total of 22 yards; both teams were penalized for more than 100 yards.

The Cards bat the Niners 24-20.  The Cards’ defense was the story here even though the Niners gained 382 yards of offense.  That defense held Niners to 2-11 on third down conversions and 0-2 on fourth down conversions.  Kyler Murray played as expected with 230 yards passing and 91 yards rushing, and DeAndre Hopkins caught 14 passes for 151 yards.

The Rams beat the Cowboys 20-17.  Other than Aldon Smith who played really well on defense, the rest of the Cowboys’ defense was pretty mediocre here.  Jared Goff was efficient all night long; the Rams ran the ball at will gaining 153 yards on the ground and giving the Rams 35 minutes and 38 seconds in time of possession.  Meanwhile, Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald stood out for the Rams on defense.  The Cowboys lost TE Blake Jarwin to torn ACL; he is out for the year.  They also lost MLB Leighton Vander Esch to a broken collarbone and that will require surgery.  He may return this year, but no timeline was given.

The Steelers beat the Giants 26-16.  The Giants’ defense needs work – – particularly in the secondary, but the Giants are not a rag-tag bunch of guys off the streets who masquerade as a pro football team.  I am not ready to anoint Daniel Jones as a star, but he shows me that he is going to be better than a lot of other QBs taken in the first round over the last several years.  The Steelers’ defense is a certified monster, but the Steelers took several injuries on offense in this game.  If they turn out to be long-term injuries, that could come back to bite the team.  There was a telling point in the game.  The Giants recover a muffed punt at the 3-yardline in first quarter and only get a field goal.  You kind of knew than what the game outcome was going to be right there.  By the way, the Giants had negative-3  yards rushing for the 1st half.

The Titans beat the Broncos 16-14 on a last second field goal (see “Bad News” for Stephan Gostkowski above).  All I can say about that game is:

  • What a slog … !


NFL Games:


Just a note about the lines this week; there has been an unusual amount of significant movement.  It is commonplace to see spreads move a point or even a point and a half in a week; total lines can move even 2 points in a week and few eyebrows will go up.  Check out this week…

Rams at Philly – 1 (46):  The spread here opened with Philly as a 3.5-point favorite; this morning the line is all over the place.  The line here is the most common one but you can find the Rams favored by as much as 1.5 points and you can still find Philly as a 2-point favorite.  Whatever…  Given the way the Eagles’ OL stunk out the joint in Week 1, I cannot imagine how they plan to contain Aaron Donald in this game.  If I were to pick this game – – which I am NOT going to do – – I would take it to stay UNDER.

Carolina at Tampa – 8 (47.5):  The Panthers gave up 34 points to the Raiders last week; I think the Bucs’ offense is as good as the Raiders’ offense.  The Panthers scored 30 points last week and I do not expect the Bucs’ defense to shut them down.  I like this game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Denver at Pittsburgh – 7 (40.5)  This spread opened at 5 points and I can find it this morning at various levels between 6.5 and 8 points.  Meanwhile the total Line opened the week at 43 points and dropped to this level very quickly.  Both teams are playing off a short week, but Denver has a long trip to arrive at the game site.  I do not see the Broncos’ offense doing a lot of business against the Steelers’ defense and I do not think the Broncos’ defense can hold the Steelers down for 60 minutes.  I like the Steelers to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

Atlanta at Dallas – 4 (54):  The spread opened the week at 7.5-points and the total line opened at 50 points.  Those are major line moves.  The Falcons’ defense looked bad last week – – but so did the Cowboys’ offense.  That is the matchup that will determine this game because I fully expect Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense to score at least 25 points and maybe closer to 35.  Lots of question marks here except for one.  There is no question that if the Cowboys win, Jerry Jones will heap praise on his guy – – Mike McCarthy.

SF – 7 at Jets (41):  Both teams lost their opening game last week and the Niners have a 3,000-mile journey to get to the game.  So why the full touchdown spread – – and why has the line gone up from 5.5 points to this level?  As noted above, the Jets’ loss last week was not just a mark in the loss column; it was a glimpse into a team that might be preternaturally bad.  I will not take the Niners in this situation and I cannot take the Jets until I see a lot more positive thing there.

Buffalo – 5 at Miami (41):  I think the Bills are the better team, but they are on the road and they are not yet – in my mind – reliably good.  Ryan Fitzpatrick was not particularly good in Week 1 throwing 3 INTs.  He may be playing for his job with Tua Tagovailoa over there on the bench.

Minnesota at Indy – 3 (49):  This Total Line opened at 46 point and has been climbing all week long.  Both teams disappointed in Week 1.  One of them will dig a hole for themselves when this game is over.

Detroit at Green Bay – 6 (49.5)  The Total Line here opened at 46 points and jumped to this level quickly.  Since the Lions’ defense made Mitchell Trubisky look like a Pro Bowler in the 4th quarter last week allowing a 17-point lead to disappear like donuts from Sally Struthers’ pantry, I cannot imagine that Aaron Rodgers will be shut down.  By the same token, the Packers’ defense gave up 34 points to the Vikes in about 18 minutes of possession last week and Matthew Stafford is as good as Kirk Cousins in directing an offense.  This should be a shoot-out.  I like the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Giants at Chicago – 5 (42):  I shall anoint this contest as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  These are two bad teams and two inconsistent teams.  The only meaning for this game is to determine which one is less worse on this particular day.  Ho-hum…

Jax at Tennessee – 7.5 (44):  The spread for this game opened at 11.5 points.  It is a battle of the undefeateds; that is about the only hype I can give to this game.  If the Jags were to win outright here and go to 2-0 for the start of the season, look at their schedule.  The next two opponents for the Jags are the Dolphins and the Bengals neither of which are fearsome opponents.  If the Jags win here, they might start the season at 4-0.  Seriously…  The titans’ offense was anemic last week even though Derrick Henry ran the ball 31 times.  This game is not as bad as the Giants/Bears game above, but I would not waste 3 hours of my life watching it.

Washington at Arizona – 7 (47):  I think the Cards are significantly the better team here and they are at home.  That defensive line for the WTFs will have to chase Kyler Murray around in 105-degree heat.  One team here will suffer its first loss of the season – – and it will not be the home team.

Baltimore – 7 at Houston (50):  The NFL schedule maker must hate Bill O’Brien; they pen the season against the Chiefs and then come back with a game against the Ravens.  The Texans looked over-matched against the Chiefs last week; I think that will be the case here too.

KC – 8 at Chargers (47.5):    The spread for this game opened at 6.5 points and the total Line was 50.5 points.  The Chargers’ defense is a good unit and it will have to keep this game close because I cannot see the Chargers’ offense coming back from a big scoreboard deficit.

(Sun Nite) New England at Seattle -4 (44.4):  Last week, Russell Wilson threw the ball on 64% of the Seahawks’ plays; that is way above average for play calling in Seattle.  Meanwhile, Cam Newton ran the ball 15 times for the Pats last week; that is more than Tom Brady ran the ball in about two months’ worth of games for the Patriots last year.  Newton gained 75 yards on those carries last week; the last time Tom Brady gained more than 756 yards in a full season was back in 2011 when Brady ran 43 times for 109 yards in 16 games.  This is the Game of the Week.  It will be interesting to see how two defensive-minded coaches decide to play each other.

(Mon Nite) New Orleans – 5.5 at Las Vegas (49):  Michael Thomas will not play in this game; I think that is why the spread is only 5.5 points.  The Raiders’ defense had trouble with Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers last week; even at age 41, Drew Brees is a more formidable threat than Teddy Bridgewater.  The Raiders will need to control the clock by running Josh Jacobs again and again – – and then again.  If this becomes a shoot-out, the Raiders will be outgunned.

If you have been keeping count, you will notice that this week’s Six-Pack is actually a Five-Pack.  Rather than toss in another pick that I really do not like very much, I will just keep calling these things “Six-Packs” with the understanding that the numbers may not square with rigorous accounting standards.  So, let me review this week’s Six-Pack:

  • Duke – 6 over BC
  • Syracuse +21.5 against Pitt
  • Panthers/Bucs OVER 47.5
  • Steelers – 7 over Broncos
  • Lions/Packers OVER 49.5

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



Clippers Gonna Clip …

Basketball is up for discussion this morning and the Los Angeles Clippers are the first topic on the agenda.  The Clippers have been around for 50 years – the first 8 of those years known as the Buffalo Braves.  In those 50 seasons of basketball, here is an overview of the franchise “success”:

  • They have made the playoffs a total of 15 times out of 50 possible appearances.
  • They have lost in the first round 7 times.
  • They have lost in the conference semifinals 8 times.
  • They have never played in the conference finals – let alone won a conference championship.

Here is about the best thing you can say about the history of the Clippers’ franchise:

  • They have earned more accolades than the Washington Generals have.

I mention that history because the Clippers have again been eliminated from the NBA playoffs in the conference semifinals this year after holding a 3-games-to-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and managing to gag away three shots at advancing to the conference finals.

  1. Game 5:  Clippers led by 16 and lost by 6 being outscored 38-25 in the 4th quarter.
  2. Game 6:  Clippers led by 19 and lost by 13 being outscored 34-19 in the 4th quarter.
  3. Game 7:  Clippers led by 12 and lost by 15 being outscored 22-15 in the 4th quarter.

In case your calculator is not working, the Clippers were outscored by a combined score of 94-59 in the fourth quarters of those deciding games.  Of course, the Nuggets have earned the praise they are receiving for these comeback wins, and the Nuggets will advance to the Western Conference finals to play the Lakers.  Having said that, the Clippers have also earned the scorn they are getting.

The Clippers – on paper – assembled a “super team”; players used their leverage to come together in LA with Doc Rivers as the coach with the idea that they would take over the town from the Lakers and propel the franchise to new heights.  As Lee Corso is wont to say in a different venue:

  • Not so fast, my friend.

The two superstars who provide the most light – – and heat – – for this “super team” are not your prototypical superstars.

  • Kawhi Leonard is a great player but he is not an emotional leader; he leads by example.  On those occasions when the example is less bright, the path to victory is less clear.
  • Paul George is a very good player who has referred to himself as “Playoff P”.  In 10 NBA seasons, George and his team have been to the playoffs 9 times (good) and have reached the conference finals 1 time (not so good) and won the conference title zero times (not good at all).

Charles Barkley put his own punctuation on the label, “Playoff P”…

“You can’t be calling yourself ‘Playoff P’ and losing all the time.  They don’t call me Championship Chuck.”

The Clippers have attributed their loss in this series to “conditioning issues” and a “lack of shared experiences”.  Pardon me, whilst I yawn.  If the Clippers played in Texas instead of California, their season would be labeled:

  • All hat; no cattle!

The other “basketball issue of the day” is the announcement of the general outline for the college basketball season for 2020 – 2021.  March Madness was the first major casualty of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020; as of this morning there is a plan to stage March Madness in 2021 – – although it might turn out to be May Madness or even June Jousting.  At least the college basketball mavens have a plan.  That is better than how the college football mavens dealt with staging a season in 2020; for the football folks, it seemed as if they thought the virus would go away if they just ignored it and hoped for the best.  [It did not.]  For basketball, there are still plenty of unknowns to be resolved, but at least there is a plan for everyone to use in making conference and individual school decisions.

The NCAA men’s basketball college season will begin on November 25th, 2021.  That is 69 days from today.  Coaches and players may adjust their behaviors to be ready for the season to start then.  Administrators and basketball mavens will need to use that time to ponder some of the “what-ifs” and “how-abouts” that come with the season starting then such as:

  • Will conferences play out-of-conference opponents?  If some do, is it necessary for all of them to do that?
  • Will there be a minimum testing and tracing protocol that all teams/conferences must achieve?  If not, can a school refuse to play an opponent with an “inferior” testing and tracing protocol”?
  • Will there be fans at the games?
  • Will there be the full menu of “December Invitational Tournaments” in far-flung venues around the globe?  If not, can schools make up for scheduled games that evaporated from their schedule?
  • Will there be rules about modes of travel and away-from-campus stays?

Nothing on that list – or other items facing the basketball mavens – is insurmountable but coming to a smart and actionable set of answers in 69 days means there is no time for lollygagging.  The importance of getting this right is significant for players and fans; I think it is also significant for the NCAA.

I am certainly not privy to the accounting ledgers at NCAA HQs, but March Madness drops almost $1B in the NCAA’s coffers every year.  That money is shared among the schools to be sure, but there is also a chunk that goes to the NCAA itself so that it can do all those wonderful things that it does.  The NCAA has had to furlough employees and curtail some activities this year; I suspect that foregoing another $1B in revenue might border on a catastrophic event for the NCAA as an institution.

  • Memo to College Basketball Mavens:  Get on it now.  Get it right.  Your continued livelihood may depend on it.

Finally, since today was devoted to basketball, here is a comment obliquely related to basketball from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Ex-NBA tough guy Charles Oakley will be a contestant on the next iteration of ‘Dancing with the Stars.’

“We’d be more inclined to tune in if he shared the dance floor with Bill Laimbeer.”

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



Big-10 Football in 2020…

Certainly, the biggest news of the morning is that the Big-10 will play football in 2020 commencing an 8-game season on October 24th.    Those eight games will take place in 8 consecutive weeks so there is no “postponing” possible; according to reports, there will be a Big-10 Conference Championship Game on December 19th.  At the announcement of these new plans, the Big-10 mavens said that there will be daily and rapid testing – and presumably tracing – for all athletes and coaches starting on September 30th.  More importantly, the Big-10 health and safety plan addresses the potential danger of myocarditis as a dangerous after-effect of a COVID-19 infection:

“Each institution will designate a Chief Infection Officer (CInO) who will oversee the collection and reporting of data for the Big Ten Conference. Team test positivity rate and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine recommendations for continuing practice and competition. All COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI. Following cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university for the primary purpose of cardiac clearance for COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The earliest a student-athlete can return to game competition is 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.”

I think this is an enlightened approach to resuming college football.  Yes, the underlying reason for considering playing football in these pandemic conditions is a cash-grab on the part of the schools and the conference itself.  I am not trying to make these folks out to be dispassionate observers of the scene who have emulated Mr. Spock’s cool logic to arrive at this decision.  Nonetheless, the Big-10 has not put its head in the sand and decided to carry on with its cash-grab and to let the chips fall where they may for the players and coaches who are making the cash-grab possible.

  • The recognition of the potential for lingering myocarditis is an important plus for the Big-10 regimen.
  • The 21-day removal of a player who tests positive from game appearances is a plus for the Big-10 regimen.
  • The designation of a Chief Infection Officer at each school – – there just has to be a better title for those newly designated folks – – should not hurt anything but until I know what authority the CInO might have with team positivity and student population positivity data in hand, I will look upon this as window dressing.

[Aside:  Call me a cynic, but when I read that the Big-10 Championship Game was scheduled for December 19th, I went and checked to see when the teams for the CFP would be selected.  You guessed it right; the CFP filed will be announced on December 20th.  What a coincidence…!]

The business of testing players and testing the student body at large and then comparing/contrasting those results is a losing proposition from a PR standpoint.  Consider:

  1. If the positivity rate for the football team is significantly lower than the positivity rate for the student body at large, you may be certain that some professor in the sociology department will assert that this results from special advantages given to the football team and not available to the rest of the “university family”.  Moreover, the NCAA has struggled for years to try to assure that “student-athletes” do not receive any special treatment based on their status as “athletes”.
  2. If the positivity rate for the football team is significantly higher than the positivity rate for the student body at large,  you may be certain that some professor in the sociology department – – possibly the same person characterized above but with a different axe to grind under these circumstances – – will assert that this results from the exploitation of these unpaid, under-appreciated and greedily exploited children.

[Aside:  This second hypothetical professor will conveniently ignore that these “exploited children” have been petitioning to be allowed to play football ever since the Big-10 chose not to start the season at the normal time.]

One more potentially annoying outcome from this decision could come to pass.  It is a rare thing indeed when “sports” intersects with “politics and politicians” where the outcome is positive.  This decision by the Big-10 Conference is likely to draw attention and support or condemnation from the President, sitting Governors, members of Congress, State Legislators and local pols who may be running for exalted high offices such as County Prothonotary.  The chances that all that will end well are minuscule…

Yesterday, I tried to explain why the 10.3% decline in TV ratings for the NFL’s opening night game was not cataclysmic.  After I posted yesterday’s rant, I ran across some TV ratings data for the US Open Tennis Championships over the weekend.  The data is not flattering:

  • For the entire tournament, ESPN’s ratings were down 45%.
  • For the men’s final, ratings were down 48%.
  • For the women’s final, ratings were down 43%.

There are plenty of explanations for ratings decline here but those percentages are too large to brush off.  Consider:

  • The top men’s player in the world, Novak Djokovic, “was defaulted”.
  • Neither Rafael Nadal nor Roger Federer was in the field from the start.
  • Serena Williams – the biggest TV draw – was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
  • The men’s winner this year was Dominic Thiem.  I could not pick him out of a lineup with the Marvel Avengers.
  • The women’s winner was Naomi Osaka who has been ranked #1 in the world for a while making her recognizable – – but who is not as compelling a TV draw as Serena Williams.

Finally, Dwight Perry had an observation regarding the US Open Tennis Championship in the Seattle Times:

“Top-ranked Novak Djokovic got defaulted from the U.S. Open after a ball he struck in anger hit a line judge.

“On the plus side, he was immediately credited with a one-hit shutout.”

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




For the last couple of years, ESPN has used Steve Levy with an assortment of color guys to do the “Bonus Monday Night Football Game” in Week 1 of the NFL season.  That plan would not work this year because Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick will be doing MNF every week, so the network had to find another announcing team for the Steelers/Giants game last night.  Someone at ESPN came up with the idea of assigning the “college guys” to do this game.

  • Kudos to the person who came up with that idea!

Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit were excellent on the call for that game.  They have worked together on college games for more than 5 years and that familiarity showed clearly last night.  They put on a professional booth performance worthy of the professional football game down on the field.  There have been lots of very good announcing pairs for NFL games over the years; last night’s performance makes me wonder if Fowler/Herbstreit might be one of those pairings if they had been doing NFL games instead of college games for the last 5 years or so.

Starting next week, Fowler and Herbstreit will be back doing college games – – which they always have done excellently.  That will leave the Levy/Griese/Riddick team to do a solo act on Monday nights.  Based on last night, that will be a good thing because the comparison last night to Fowler/Herbstreit was not a flattering one for the “main crew”.

Levy was OK on play-by-play; he made no teeth-grinding errors.  He tried to put some energy into his call of the game, but there were times when I felt the “energy” was unwarranted.  Sometimes, a TV play-by-play guy needs to sit back and let the picture on the screen inform the viewer.  If a play results in a ball placement that is close enough to the first down marker that there is temporary uncertainty, just wait about 2 seconds and the official will let you know what the story is.  In any event, keep your voice calm as you say whatever it is you feel you need to say in that moment; it may be a “mystery” for a moment; but soon, all will be clear.

Meanwhile, the next interesting thing Brian Griese adds to a telecast on MNF will be his first one.  Notice that I did not say “important thing”; given what I heard last night, that would be a next-to-impossible bar for him to cross.  To be fair, he did not do or say anything that damaged the presentation of the game.  My problem is that he did not add much of anything; his commentary was like white noise in the background.

My biggest disappointment was Louis Riddick.  I am on record here as a big Louis Riddick fan; I have enjoyed his studio work at ESPN and I thought it was a great selection on the part of ESPN to put him on the MNF varsity team.

  • Memo to Louis Riddick:  Put a little bit of energy into your commentary – – sort of like the energy you showed in your studio show performances on ESPN.

Honestly, if there had not been live shots of the three guys mic’ed up to do the game in their fashionable suits, I might have pictured Louis Riddick doing the game in his jammies on a sleep-number bed.  C’mon man; I know you can do a lot better than that.

While on the subject of TV and Week 1 of the NFL season, the ratings for Thursday night’s opening game (Chiefs/Texans) were down from last year and down significantly.  In 2020, every change of any sort in any situation must be projected immediately such that the change is either monumentally positive or calamitously negative.  In the case of last Thursday’s game, the ratings decline was neither.

  • While ratings were indeed down 10.3%, the average number of viewers for the game was estimated at 20.3 million viewers.
  • By comparison, the ESPN special – Last Dance – which captured a lot of buzz about two months ago averaged 6.7 million viewers.
  • The TV series with the greatest number of viewers is NCIS – according to Nielsen – and it averages 15.3 million viewers.
  • The Texans/Chiefs game whose ratings “cratered” if you believe the alarmists had an audience more than 30% larger than the top rated TV show in the US and more than 300% larger than the highly touted special, Last Dance.

Some of the folks who tried to minimize the ratings decline pointed out that last Thursday night was about as crowded a night as one might ever see in US sports.  In addition to the start of the NFL regular season, sports fans could also check out MLB games, NBA playoff games, NHL Stanley Cup games, MLS games, US Open tennis matches and even WNBA games all on various TV channels.  That is a full lineup indeed; maybe it caused the noted ratings decline; maybe not.

Rather than try to explain something that is probably unexplainable without a lot of rhetorical legerdemain, let me point out some data from 2019 to put NFL programming on TV in the US into some perspective:

For those who see apocalypse in a ratings decline for a single game, please wait until the results are in for 2020 as a whole to see if there is a significant challenger to the NFL as the top “eyeball magnet” that TV execs all covet.

Finally, even though the idea of an “All-Inclusive March Madness” has been summarily dismissed, this comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot bears mentioning:

“Many of us opposed to the ACC’s proposal of including 346 basketball teams in the 2021 men’s NCAA tournament are asking the same question. To wit: Will players be given juice boxes and participation trophies?”

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



The NFL in 2020 …

There were 13 NFL games yesterday –  following the season opener last Thursday night –  and there is some behind-the-scenes action going on today that is very important to the NFL.  Twenty-six teams played yesterday; if you consider that each team had 50 players involved that means 1300 men engaged in non-socially distanced activities for about 3 hours.  And today the labs that are supposed to do the testing for COVID-19 are probably at work processing the first set of tests after real games.

From what we know now, the major vector for the spread of the coronavirus is aerosol droplets of various sizes that can hover in the air for differing lengths of time.  A professional football player – in addition to being a fit and skilled athlete – is an aerosol droplet producing machine.  There were epidemiological analyses that attributed the spread of the virus after a choir practice to the exhalation of aerosol droplets from singers in that choir who unknowingly carried the coronavirus.  Given the heavy breathing and the violent collisions of an NFL game, I have to imagine that choir practice is the more benign event relative to viral spread.

And so, this week there will be testing and re-testing around the league to see if the NFL’s testing regimen to date has been sufficiently tight so as to keep the virus away from players and coaches who are involved in the games.  Just as it is logical to look at an NFL game and identify it as a potential virus super spreader event, it is equally logical to look at an NFL game and assume that if no one involved has the virus to spread then there will be no spreading of the virus.

The Las Vegas Raiders – it is going to take me a while to get used to typing that out on my keyboard – will play their first home game in their new stadium next Monday.  Allegiant Stadium cost $2B and according to an announcement from the team, the stadium …

“ … will be the first venue in American pro sports to open as a cashless venue. As part of our ongoing dedication to provide our fans and patrons with a world-class sports and live entertainment experience, and in response to feedback from our most loyal customers, cash will not be accepted as a form of payment at any stadium-controlled parking location or within Allegiant Stadium.”

Transactions in the stadium on Game Days will be done with credit cards, debit cards and/or payment options available on cell phones.  In addition, there will be kiosks around the stadium where cash can be converted into prepaid cards which can then be used to purchase food, drink or merchandise.  I have no idea if these measures will be important with regard to minimizing viral spread, but they will probably help a bit.  From the standpoint of the Raiders and the stadium vendors, this ought to speed up the process of purchasing “stuff” and that might lead to people buying a bit more “stuff”.

Of course, the implementation of these procedures can only happen in real life once fans are present in Allegiant Stadium to see the Raiders play home games.  As of this morning, the Raiders will be playing in front of empty seats – or possibly some cardboard cutouts.  In that situation there ought not to be many transactions processed via the cashless methods.

Since I am thinking about the world of pro football today, let me suggest that the NFL is going to conduct the 2020 season with a different mindset than in years past.  For at least the time since the merger of the AFL and the NFL, the league has worked hard to provide competitive balance.  There are rules that try to assure that no team can get a competitive edge on its opponent other than advantages earned by talent or preparation or effort.  The slogan, “On any given Sunday…”, may be trite; but it is real to the folks who run the NFL and it is part of attractiveness of the sport.

In 2020, the NFL will have to put player safety and health on a level equal to – and perhaps even greater than – the historical focus on equal competition.  It is possible that due to health and safety concerns, every team may not play the same number of games in 2020.  If a game must be canceled late in the season due to virus detections, safety and health may have to supersede the competitive “level playing field”.  Consider:

  • Sometime in early December Team A suffers a COVID-19 outbreak.  They need to miss two games in the first two weeks of December.
  • Team A will not be able to make up those games within the framework of the season schedule; the BYE Weeks are long gone and there is no way that it is safe or is it competitively fair to expect Team A to play a compressed schedule – – say 4 games in two weeks.
  • Teams B and C were the scheduled opponents for those two weeks that team A was “on the shelf”.  They too will not be able to make up their missed game AND Teams B and C will have the “advantage” of an extra BYE Week late in the season.
  • In a “normal year” that would not be tolerable; in 2020, it may cause a few raised eyebrows followed by a shoulder shrug as the league keeps on keeping on.

The fact that some teams will have reduced numbers of fans in the stands while others play in front of empty seats presents a competitive advantage.  Roger Goodell can try to put a pretty face on the situation and say that this is not a big deal, but it is.  The Commish and the league do not want to have these different game conditions from stadium to stadium – – but they do not really have an option there.  It would be nice for them to admit that there will be different standards for teams in 2020 instead of pretending that “home field advantage” is a myth that has been perpetrated on the public by people interested in gambling on games.

Brad Dickson posted this less-than-optimistic Tweet last Thursday:

“The 2020 NFL season kicks off tonight. I’m really looking forward to the next 12 days until the 2020 NFL season ends.”

Let us hope he is wrong…

Finally, Greg Cote had this note in the Miami Herald over the weekend:

“A bunch of men you’ve never heard of are riding really expensive bicycles in the Tour de France, and it ends next Sunday.”

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



Football Friday 9/11/20

Here in Curmudgeon Central, there is a recognition of the need to contribute to a national return to normalcy in this highly unusual year.  A curmudgeon is – of course – cranky and cantankerous; but that does not mean this curmudgeon is unwilling to put forth effort aimed at some larger goal.  It is in that sense pf purpose that I announce the return of the first Football Friday for 2020.

Obviously, this year’s editions will have to incorporate changes from previous years:

  • Linfield College has cancelled its football schedule for the season; there will be no tracking to see if they would continue their streak of winning seasons in football which started in 1956.
  • With the cancellations of multiple Division 1-A conference schedules, it will probably be meaningless to carry on the thought experiment of a SHOE Tournament at the end of the season to identify the worst team in the country.

For newcomers here, the format for Football Friday will be:

  • NCAA Football – General Comments
  • NCAA Football – Games of Interest.
  • NFL – General Comments
  • NFL – Games of Interest
  • And MAYBE there will be a Six-Pack of wagers for the weekend.

I day “MAYBE” to the idea of a Six-Pack because of the reduced number of games in college football this year and because there could be several weeks in the start of the NFL season where I may not be able to find as many as 6 games worthy of wagering consideration.  Last year, filling up the Six-Pack was not a daunting task; I fear it may not be possible in 2020, but I shall give it a go.

For the record, here are the results from all the wagering suggestions from last year’s Six-Packs from September through the NFL Conference Championships:

  • Colleges – – 20-9-1
  • NFL – – 29-25-3
  • Overall – – 49-34-4

As they always say in the ads for mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future performance…

NCAA Football – General Comments:

In my NFL Pre-Season Analysis, I always list coaches on the Hot Seat.  There is plenty of turnover in the college coaching ranks also but I only pay attention to the major college programs for this purpose.  In alphabetical order, here are four coaches who might have been under pressure in 2020 but should be around next year due to season cancellations:

  1. Jim Harbaugh – Michigan:  The decision not to play Big-10 football in 2020 is a blessing for Coach Harbaugh.  According to reports, he is making about $8 a year to coach the Wolverines and the results have not been there.  He has yet to beat Ohio State; he has never won his division in the Big-10 let along the conference title.  If he were the coach at Texas, people would be saying his tenure has been “all hat and no cattle”.
  2. Clay Helton – USC:  Last year, he “saved his job” going 8-5 for the year but now there is a new Athletic Director at the school who is not responsible for hiring Helton in the first place.  With out-of-conference games against Alabama and Notre Dame on the schedule for 2020, Helton’s job looked to be in jeopardy.  He too should be grateful for not playing in 2020.
  3. Chip Kelly – UCLA:  If the Bruins were playing this year, I think Kelly would have had to be in contention for the PAC-12 Championship for the entire season to save his job.  He has been on the job two years and the cumulative record for UCLA is a lackluster 7-17.
  4. Kevin Sumlin – Arizona:  Had the PAC-12 chosen to play in 2020, Sumlin’s Wildcats would have begun the season having lost the last 7 games of 2019 all of which were losses by 10 or more points.

            Now, here are three coaches whose teams will play this year and whose teams need to do well if the coach is going to be able to sleep soundly come December.  Again, in alphabetical order:

  1. Tom Herman – Texas:  Herman is in a situation similar to Jim Harbaugh at Michigan; he was hired with great fanfare and is being paid to deliver a top shelf product.  The recent narrative has been “Texas football is back”.  I think the Longhorns have a high standard to live up to in 2020.
  2. Derek Mason – Vandy:  He took over from James Franklin five  years ago after Franklin had made Vandy football sufficiently relevant that Franklin landed the Penn State job – – a huge step up on the coaching ladder.  Since then, the Commodores have not had a winning season under Mason.  No one at Vandy expects them to win the SEC or even their division in the SEC, but perhaps the time has come for Vandy to be relevant again?
  3. Will Muschamp – S. Carolina:  Three years ago under Coach Muschamp, the Gamecocks were 9-4 and won a minor bowl game.  Two years ago, the Gamecocks were 7-6 and lost a very minor bowl game.  Last year, the Gamecocks were 4-8 and never sniffed a bowl game.  ‘Nuff said…

Amazingly, after a single game, we have the first coaching casualty of the 2020 season.  Southern Mississippi opened its season losing to South Alabama 32-21.  After that loss, So. Miss coach, Jay Hopson, resigned as the head coach.  Hopson had been in the job for 4 seasons and posted a combined record of 28-23 until this year’s opening loss.  That is not eye-popping, but it is not miserable either.

I think there are a few programs that are in the ascendancy around the country.  I do not mean they are national championship contenders by any means, but they are programs that have been improving in recent times.  For Cal, it is a shame they will not be playing in 2020.  Here is my list:

  • Cal:  It was not long ago that the Golden Bears’ defense was a laughingstock that gave up an average of more than 40 points a game.  Not surprisingly, Cal did not win a lot of those games.  Last year, Cal only surrendered 22 points per game and that produced 8 wins and a bowl appearance.
  • Iowa State:  The Cyclones were 7-6 last year but four of those six losses were by one score or less; that team flirted with an 11-2 season.  Lots of starters are back including the quarterback.  Iowa State may be a tough out this year.
  • UNC:  Last year, the Tar Heels moved on from a couple of disastrous seasons under Larry Fedora and brought back Mack Brown for a coaching encore in Chapel Hill.  Instead of winning 3 games a  year and being routinely dominated, the Tar Hells won 7 games in 2019 and then won a bowl game.  With returning QB, Sam Howell, the Heels may be even better in 2020.

I hope no one here is shocked by my assertion that college football coaches are control freaks and that speaking the truth is not something they do all the time.  An example of those traits was on display earlier this week when Oklahoma coach, Lincoln Riley, declared that he will not be revealing any COVID-19 test data because it might give an opponent a competitive advantage.  He likened those tests to injuries and he never wants to reveal injuries or the extent of injuries for those same competitive reasons.

  • Memo to Coach Riley:  There is a significant difference here.  If a player has an ankle injury, he may play, but that injury is not contagious to teammates or opponents.  Such is not the case with the coronavirus…

I have argued for years that there are too damned many college football bowl games in December most of which are as meaningful as an Amish Microwave Cookbook.  This year could be the most interesting bowl season ever.  Consider:

  • Technically, there are 43 bowl games on the calendar this year.
  • There is no Nobel Prize for Mathematics, but if there were, I doubt the Nobel Committee would be tempted to give me the prize for revealing to you that  86 teams will be necessary to fill out those games.
  • Given season cancellations – and if I have counted correctly – there are only 76 Division 1-A teams playing in 2020.
  • If the NCAA “rule” is applied that a team needs to win 6 games or more to be “bowl-eligible”, the number of potential teams should shrink considerably.
  • Will some teams play in two bowl games in 2020?
  • Certain bowl games have contractual links to specific conferences – and some of those conferences will not be playing football in 2020.
  • This should be fun…

Let me say something about the SEC West Division.  For at least the last half dozen years, that division has been the strongest division in college football in the country with the likes of Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M present.  Starting in 2020, Lane Kiffin takes over at Ole Miss and Mike Leach comes to Mississippi State.  Given the successes of those two coaches over their careers, you can only assume that the division will be stronger and deeper.  That is not good news for the folks at Arkansas who get to play all 6 of those SEC West division rivals every year.


NCAA Games of Interest:


Ga Tech at Florida State – 12 (52):  This line is all over the place; you can find the spread as high as 13 and as low as 11.  The Total Line varies from 50.5 to 52.5.  I take that to mean that there is no betting consensus on this game from sportsbook to sportsbook.  Florida State has a new coach, Mike Norvill, whose calling card is “high-powered offense”, but there has been precious little practice time to install such an offense.  Could be an interesting game…

Coastal Carolina at Kansas – 7 (56):  This is an interesting game because Coastal Carolina beat Kansas last year at Kansas by a score of 12-7.  Even at a non-football school like Kansas, losing two years in a row at home to the likes of Coastal Carolina would be shameful.

Clemson – 33 at Wake Forest (61):  Interesting only because Clemson se4eks a return to the CFP again in 2020…

Duke at Notre Dame – 20 (53.5):  Lots of people think Notre Dame will be a top-shelf team this year and might challenge Clemson for the ACC title.  That makes this game interesting…

La-Monroe at Army – 17.5 (53.5):  Army dismantled Middle Tennessee last week 42-0 by running the ball over around and through that defense.  Last year, La-Monroe’s run defense was awful; of the 130 Division 1-A teams, La-Monroe’s run defense ranked 128thI like Army to win and cover here; put this one in the Six-Pack.

La-Lafayette at Iowa State – 11 (57):  I said above that I think Iowa State could be primed for a good season in 2020.  I like the Cyclones to win and cover here in a home opener; put it in the Six-Pack.

Tulane – 10.5 at South Alabama (52.5):  South Alabama won its opener on the road this year at Southern Mississippi – and caused the coach there to resign (see above).  The Jaguars were 14-point underdogs in that game and won by 11 points.  Now they are at home for a second game against a decent team – – but not a powerhouse.  I’ll take South Alabama plus the points here; put it in the Six-Pack.


NFL General Comments:


            It was good to see the Chiefs and Texans on TV last night.  Presumably, it was the start of an uninterrupted NFL season.  The Chiefs looked very impressive; rookie RB, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, made an impressive debut rushing for more than 13 yards in the game.  Just what the league needed – – a running attack for the Chiefs to play with.

Von Miller hurt his ankle – tendon damage – on the final play of a practice earlier this week and will be out for the season.  That has to be a significant blow to the Broncos because it was a veteran defense that the team hoped to have led it through the season.

Let me do a little more math for you here:

  • Tom Brady enters the 2020 season having started 283 regular season games.
  • Brett Favre holds the NFL record for most regular season starts at 298.
  • There are 16 regular season games scheduled for 2020.
  • Ergo, start the countdown to the record…

The Giants waived CB, DeAndre Baker last week.  Just a year ago the Giants traded up to get him in the first round of the draft but an armed robbery incident earlier this year puts him on Roger Goodell’s “Exempt List” and it also puts him on a court docket for a trial that could land him a sizeable jail sentence.  Considering all the “investigating” and all the “homework” done prior to an NFL Draft, it is surprising to see things like this happen


NFL Games:


Miami at New England – 6.5 (42):  The focus here will be on Cam Newton as the starting QB for the Pats and the presence of Tua Tagovailoa on the bench for the Dolphins.  Also, at age 38, is there any “Ryan Fitz-Magic” left?

Cleveland at Baltimore – 7.5 (48):  This is my choice for the Game of the Week.  The Ravens dominated the regular season last year before flaming out in the playoffs.  The Browns have another new coaching staff – – but this time it appears as if there might be some adult supervision resident in that staff.  The two QBs here have very different – and yet very similar –  things to prove this year:

  • Lamar Jackson was the MVP last year and was a dominant player.  He needs to show that was not a fluke.
  • Baker Mayfield “regressed” – to put it politely – last year.  He needs to show that was not a fluke.

Jets at Buffalo – 6.5 (39.5):  We should get an early indication of how Adam Gase and LeVeon Bell will get along this year.  Last year, the relationship was less than wonderful and this year the Jets signed Frank Gore to be part of the running back picture.  I cannot imagine that sits all that well with Bell.  The other interesting aspect to this game is the play of the two QBs.  Sam Darnold needs to improve significantly for the Jets to do anything at all this year; if Josh Allen improves again over his positive season in 2019, the Bills could win the AFC East.  I like the Bills to win and cover here; put it in the Six-Pack.

Raiders – 3 at Panthers (47.5):  The spread here opened as “Panthers – 1”.  Given the turnover and the turmoil in Carolina over this strange offseason, I am not sure how that opening line was set – – but even now the spread is not big.  Terry Bridgewater begins his Panthers’ career here.

Seattle – 2.5 at Atlanta (49):  The spread for this game opened as “Pick ‘Em”.  This should be an offensive display even in an early season where there have been no Exhibition Games.  The Seahawks brought in Jamal Adams – at a hefty price – and their defense should get a baptism of fire against Matt Ryan with his crews of pass-catchers.

Philly – 5.5 at Washington (42.5):  The Eagles looked to shore up the defensive backfield with the acquisition of Darrius Slay; that unit needed help and he should provide some.  The Eagles had a ton of training camp injuries, so team health is already an issue there.  The WTFs are a work in progress; Ron Rivera must turn a dumpster fire into something attractive and that is probably going to take some time.  The biggest challenge for Rivera and his staff this year is the evaluation of QB, Dwayne Haskins.  Is he the stud that he appeared to be at Ohio State or is he the reincarnation of JaMarcus Russell?

Chicago at Detroit – 3 (42):  Surprisingly, Mitchell Trubisky will start at QB again this year for the Bears; I would not have thought that possible last January.  Matthew Stafford is back on the job as the QB for the Lions but their fortunes rest on the ability of the defense to stop opponents.  This game is Bears’ anemic offense versus Lions’ porous defense.  Oh joy…

Indy – 8 at Jax (45):  This is the Philip Rivers show debut in Indy.  If that show has a good run in 2020, the Colts can make the playoffs; if not …  The Jags are going to stink.

Green Bay at Minnesota – 2.5 (45):  Two interesting things for this game both involve the Vikes.  They acquired Yannick Ngakoue late in training camp to give them two good edge rushers; how will that work out?  They traded away Stefon Diggs and drafted Justin Jefferson (LSU) in the first round of the Draft; how will that work out?

Chargers – 3 at Cincy (42):  Welcome to the NFL, Joe Burrow.  You should be happy to know that AJ Green will be out there to catch balls that you throw his way.  For the Chargers, they will start Tyrod Taylor at QB while QB-of-the-Future, Justin Herbert takes notes on the sidelines.

Arizona at SF – 6.5 (48):  This game should be hard-fought and close.  The Niners have to shake off that come-from-ahead loss in the Super Bowl and they take on a team that played them tough twice last year.  The addition of DeAndre Hopkins is a plus for any team and the Cards have him now.  Keep our eyes on Isaiah Simmons for the Cards; he might be the best pick from last year’s NFL Draft.

Tampa at New Orleans – 3.5 (47):  The spread for this game opened at “Saints – 6”.  This was my runner-up for Game of the Week simply because of the storyline of Tom Brady versus Drew Brees.  I have an idea that this game will be an offensive show with the ball moving up and down the field from start to finish.  I like this game to go OVER 47; put it in the Six-Pack.  I can see this game being one where the first team to score 35 points wins…

(Sun Nite) Dallas – 3 at Rams (51):  Cee Dee Lamb gives the Cowboys a major upgrade at WR; he just might be the best WR in Dallas since Michael Irvin.  The Rams have a known quantity as a dominant player in Aaron Donald.  This will be a fun game to watch.

(Mon Nite Early) Pittsburgh – 5.5 at Giants (46):  The Steelers have a very good defense – probably one of the top 5 in the NFL  The Giants’ offense is probably “below average” – not withstanding an improving Daniel Jones and the presence of Saquon Barkley.  Ben Roethlisberger says his elbow is fully healed from last year’s surgery meaning the Steelers’ offense must be improved from last year.  I like the Steelers to win and cover on the road here; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Mon Nite Late) Tennessee – 2.5 at Denver (41):  Yes, I know the Titans were Cinderellas in the playoffs last year, but this game should be a slog.  The Titans’ offense is nothing special and the Titans’ defense looks to be too strong to allow the Broncos to do much business.  I see a lot of punting and field goal attempts here.  I anoint this as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

Let me summarize the Six-Pack for this week:

  • Army – 17.5 over La-Monroe
  • Iowa St – 11 over La-Lafayette
  • South Alabama +10.5 against Tulane [No, I do not hate schools from Louisiana…]
  • Bills – 6.5 over Jets
  • Bucs/Saints Over 47
  • Steelers – 5.5 over Giants  [No, I do not hate NYC teams either…]

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