A Journey Down A Rabbit Hole

I had a recent sports related experience of falling down a rabbit hole and it all began with a casual chat at a social gathering.  Someone who is only the most casual of sports fans said that he saw a photograph of Red Grange and that Grange was not wearing a face mask back in the 1930s.  He wanted to know if I knew when facemasks became part of NFL football.  I said that I did and proceeded to tell him the following facts:

  1. The facemask was “invented” in the 1950s supposedly by Cleveland Browns’ coach Paul Brown.
  2. The first facemasks were made of plastic.
  3. Today, players are required to wear facemasks from a set of designs approved by the league.
  4. There was a player in the 1950s who was so adept at grabbing a facemask and pulling an opponent to the ground that the NFL introduced the “facemask penalty” if it was done to any player not carrying the ball.  Today, the rule applies to grabbing the face mask of any opponent.

There you have a simple, straightforward conversation held over a glass of wine that then proceeded on to some other topic that I cannot recall at the moment.  But I did make a mental note of that fourth item on the list.  That “player in the 1950s” who caused the rule change was “Night Train” Lane, but I realized that I had no idea where he went to college or how he got the nickname, “Night Train”.  So, Google got a workout…

Dick “Night Train” Lane attended Scottsbluff Junior College in Nebraska.  Learning that made me feel good about not associating Lane with one of the blueblood football college programs.  He began his career with the LA Rams as an undrafted free agent; even the scouts for NFL teams at the time did not pay close attention to Scottsbluff Junior College.  The way he came to the attention of the Rams was by walking into the Rams’ office with clippings of newspaper reports about his time in college and asking for a tryout.  They gave him one and signed him to a rookie deal.

Now, I was hooked…  Remember “Night Train” Lane was named as a Top 100 player in the NFL all time; and I knew he did not finish his career with the Rams – – so, what happened?  Turns out that Lane’s rookie year was 1952 and in his rookie year he set an NFL record that stands today, 70 years later.

  • In a 12-game regular season, “Night Train” Lane intercepted 14 passes.
  • The NFL season has expanded to 14 games and then to 16 games and as of last year to 17 games.  No matter; 14 INTs in a season is still the record.

While gathering that information, I also learned that “Night Train” did more than get the rule changed about facemask grabbing.  He also used to tackle runners with a  clothesline tackle aimed at the head and neck which was perfectly legal and came to be known as a “Night Train Necktie”.  That too was ruled out of the NFL game.

For reasons I did not learn, Lane was traded from the Rams to the Chicago Cardinals and then from the Cardinals to the Detroit Lions.  He played through the 1965 season and recorded a total of 68 INTs placing him fourth on the all-time list for career interceptions.

But thinking about his facemask tackling made me go back and think about the “invention”/”evolution” of face masks.  Supposedly, in a Browns’ game in the 50s, QB Otto Graham took and elbow to the face in the first half of a game and at halftime coach Paul Brown attached a piece of plastic across the front of Graham’s helmet to keep him from taking another blow to the face.  Plastic facemasks began to find popularity; evidently, Graham was not the only player getting hit in the face.  The problem is that the plastic could break – even shatter – and that posed a threat to players eyes.  So, plastic facemasks were outlawed but metal ones were allowed.

By the early 1960s almost everyone in the NFL wore a facemask.  I recall that Tommy McDonald did not wear a mask and wondered who else chose not to.

  • McDonald – a WR – was the last position player not to wear a facemask.
  • Jess Richardson – a defensive tackle with the Eagles and Patriots – is considered to be the last lineman to play without a mask.
  • Garo Yepremian – a kicker – played into the 1970s without a mask.

[Aside:  Tommy McDonald once took a blow to the face that broke his jaw but did not keep him out of action.  He played the next week with his jaw wired shut – – and without a face mask.]

And last, I did not know how or why Richard Lane got the nickname, “Night Train”.  Frankly, I thought that it might have had some sort of racial implication because Lane was one of the few Black players in the NFL when he started his career in 1952.  Such is not the case; he got the nickname because he loved a popular R&B song called “Night Train”.  In his first training camp with the Rams, his teammate Tom Fears had a copy of the record of that song and when Fears would play it, Lane would dash over to Fears’ room to dance to the music.  Now you know…

Finally, today’s rant is a meandering journey to learn some facts.  The metaphor of going down a rabbit hole is an homage to Lewis Carroll’s tale of Alice in Wonderland.  So, I shall close today with an observation about journeys made by Lewis Carroll:

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

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

 

 

Two QBs And Two Contract Extensions…

Recently, I wrote about eight starting QBs in the NFL who were high draft picks and who have generally underperformed “expectations”/”hype”.  There is another highly drafted QB who has not nearly underperformed as badly as the ones I listed before but is one who might turn out to be a lot less than what he was expected to become.  I speak here of Kyler Murray who was the #1 overall pick in the 2019 draft out of Oklahoma.

Make no mistake; Murray has been more productive and more exciting in his brief career than the guys on my prior list; nonetheless, I think he might be setting himself up to tarnish his image just as his career reaches a balance point.  Let me give you some of the salient points in Murray’s existing contract – – the thing that has made him unhappy:

  • He will make a total of $5.5M this year.  That is below the median for the salary for a starting NFL QB.
  • This year will be his fourth year under his “slotted” rookie contract.  Since he was a first round pick, that formulaic contract provides the team with a “fifth year option” – – and that would pay Murray a tidy $29.7M for the 2023 season.
  • Murray wants a longer-term deal with LOTS more guaranteed money.  Problem is that the Cards hold all the leverage at the bargaining table.
  • Murray has ghosted the Cards on social media and then restored them; he is not taking part in all of the team off-season activities; he is letting the team know publicly that he is not a happy camper.

That fifth-year salary of $29,7M for Murray looks gaudy, but the reality now is that the elite NFL QBs are making north of $40M per season.  Murray wants to drink from that fountain and the Cards are dragging their heels a bit.  Murray’s first three years have been up-and-down – – and even in their “up-mode” they have not necessarily been at the 90th percentile of QB performance(s).  On top of that, Murray’s game relies heavily on his ability to run and make plays on the run; that style of play means he is open to – not necessarily prone to – injuries from the normal wear and tear that accrues to people running with a football-in-hand in the NFL.  I am not saying Kyler Murray is “fragile”, but his style of play makes his long-term viability more in question than some of his peers.

The Cards hold the high cards for the moment.  The only drastic action Murray might take is to withhold his services until that point in the season in November when he would have to return to the team in order to prevent his contract from tolling,  In doing that, he makes it clear to the other 31 teams that he is not a “team guy” but he is a “me first guy”.  That is not going to help him get him a top-flight contract.

I suspect that the Cards and Murray will find a way to get something done to tamp down this acrimony between now and the end of the 2022 season.  However, unless Murray absolutely lights it up in 2022, I do not see him breaking the bank and holding down the label of highest paid NFL QB even for a brief moment.

Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray are similar QBs in terms of the way they play the game and how they achieve success for themselves and their teams.  Jackson came into the NFL the year before Murray, so he is now playing in his fifth year under that “fifth-year option” contract.  Lamar Jackson will make $23M this season.  And he too wants a long-term deal with a slug of guaranteed money; absent an agreement on a long term deal or a franchise tag, Lamar Jackson will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2022 NFL season.

The last reports I read had the Ravens offering deals that averaged out to $35-37M per year with Jackson rejecting such offers out of hand.  [Aside:  Jackson and his mother are representing him in these negotiations.  He does not use an NFLPA-certified agent to represent him in these talks.] There is no way Jackson is going to sit out most of the 2022 season and giving up $16-18M of that juicy salary for this season.  But he could dig in his heels and stretch this out until the free-agency season of next Winter/Spring.  If that is his preferred avenue, my suspicion is that the Ravens will apply the franchise tag and keep him in Baltimore giving them time to acquire another young QB and starting to groom him.

  • [Aside #2:  I am not casting aspersions on either Jackson or his mother here because I know nothing about them outside of Jackson’s exploits on a football field.  However, I do not see other young, successful QBs who wound up in these sorts of standoffs in their option year.  I wonder if an agent – – someone who does this 365 days a year for a living – – would have had an acceptable compromise deal worked out by now.]

There is a ton of hype surrounding the situations of these two QBs and it would not shock me to see more of the drama unfold even as the regular season progresses.  But in the end, I expect both QBs to be with their teams for 2022 and for 2023.  It is not necessarily what either QB wants to happen, but it is a fallout from the contractual structure that has been validated – – even blessed – – by the last two CBAs between the NFL and the NFLPA.

And speaking of formulaic NFL rookie contracts, I wonder how the new Name Image and Likeness deals that college football players can now accept might be factored into some of the new rookie contracts.  Might some of those “NIL Deals” have clauses in them that kicks back something to the payer of the NIL rights in the event that the player moves on to play professional football?  Terra incognita anyone?

Finally, the topic for the day likely involves interactions with the egos of two young NFL QBs; so, let me close with the definition of “Ego” from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Ego:  The part of one’s mind that contains awareness and the sense of one’s own individuality.  Highly developed in actors, models, sports figures, doctors, real estate tycoons, and, God help us, our children.”

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

 

 

International Doings…

I guess the right thing to do today is to tip my hat to an old adage:

“There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.”

I mentioned last week that the Canadian Football League and its players’ union had reached a tentative agreement on a new CBA and that agreement had ended a brief training camp strike.  That was only half accurate; there indeed was an agreement but ratification by the league’s Board of Governors and the full membership of the union remained to be done.  Apparently, everyone’s optimism – mine included – that the agreement by the negotiators and the endorsement of the agreement by those folks would make ratification a formality.  Evidently it was not because I got an email from Gregg Drinnan late Monday night telling me to stand by because the players voted to reject the new agreement.

I tracked down a report in the Winnipeg Sun on this matter.  According to that report, the sticking point is the ”Canadian ratio”.  This part of the agreement mandates the number of Canadians that must be on the roster and on the field for a game.  I do not pretend to know the history of this negotiating point or the intricacies of how it is counted or enforced, but it seems that the league wanted to deal with “nationalized Americans” as an entity in the compilation of the ratio and the players en masse objected to that activity.

The ray of hope here appears to be that the players do not see this as something that is insurmountable because in the same report in the Winnipeg Sun the story is that the players were willing to return to the practice field while this gets ironed out.  Here is a link to that report for those wanting more information from a far more informed source:

Let me stay with an “international theme” for a moment and point out that the English Premier League (EPL) season is over.  Manchester City was the league champion beating out Liverpool by a single point after the 38-game schedule.  That is an important outcome for “City fans” but the outcome for the teams at the bottom of the EPL Table is more important.  Three teams will be relegated to the second tier of English football next season (The Championship) and the economic impact on those clubs will be enormous.  The relegated teams are:

  • Burnley
  • Watford
  • Norwich City

Obviously, the EPL needs to have three teams ascend from The Championship to maintain the 20 teams playing at the EPL level next year.  The folks in charge have come up with a way to do that that is popular and lucrative.

  • The winner of The Championship is automatically “promoted”.  This year that team is Fulham.
  • The second-place team in The Championship is also automatically “promoted.  This year that team is Bournemouth.
  • The teams that finished 3rd through 6th in the Championship play an elimination tournament to see which team  gets the third “promotion”.

The winners in the first round of that tournament are based on the aggregate score in two games – one at each team’s home venue.  The final game is a winner-take-all contest.  This year in the first round, third-place Huddersfield beat sixth-place Luton Town and fourth-place Nottingham Forest beat fifth-place Sheffield United.

  • Huddersfield will meet Nottingham Forest in the final game of this tournament on May 29th.  The winner “goes up” and the loser “stays down”.

As the folks from Monty Python’s Flying Circus used to say:

“And now for something completely different…”

A US Department of Defense contractor suggested that the DoD fund athletic scholarships for tens of thousands of college athletes that would be repaid by mandatory service in the US armed forces and/or civilian agencies.  Think of this as an analog to college ROTC programs but with many more participants and to fill the ranks of the military not just in the officer cadre.  Evidently, this idea has made it to the attention of both civilian and military decision makers in the Pentagon according to a report in Sportico.  The program would not be open to football or basketball players – the idea being that there are plenty of scholarships there.  This idea is aimed at non-revenue sports and suggests a dual benefit:

Benefit to colleges and college athletes is that there will be more money available for non-revenue sports since scholarship funds can be found outside the universities.

Benefit to the military is that it alleviates inefficient recruiting which spends time and money to get recruits who then fail to make it through the physical rigors of basic training.

Obviously, there are a ton of details to be considered here and I would be gob smacked to learn that the NCAA thought this was hunky-dory.  The NCAA rarely thinks that any idea that originates outside of NCAA HQS is worthy of even minor consideration.  However, let me suggest that you follow this link and read the report in Sportico and see if you don’t think there is the germ of a potentially good idea here.

Finally, I will close today with these words from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“When Dallas eclipsed the Suns, it marked the fifth time that a team with Chris Paul on it has blown a 2-0 postseason lead — an NBA record.

“On the bright side, he’s been named an honorary Atlanta Falcon.”

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

 

 

Rest In Peace, Roger Angell

Roger Angell passed away at the ripe old age of 101 over the weekend.  Young baseball fans of today probably think of Ken Burns as the “poet laureate of baseball”; they only think that because they did not grow up reading Roger Angell.  The world of reading and writing is significantly diminished today.

“Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time.  You remain forever young.”  [Roger Angell]

Rest in peace, Roger Angell…

Last week, I mentioned here that the Canadian Football League and its players’ union had reached an agreement for a new CBA – – or whatever such things are called in Canada – – and that I had been educated by Gregg Drinnan on some of the issues and resolutions contained in that agreement.  If you want to know more about those issues/resolutions, here is a link to Professor Drinnan’s blog, Taking Note where you can find them.  When you go there, scroll down to the blog entry from May 19 under the headline:

  • “CFL players back to practice fields as strike ends…”

The Sacramento Kings went looking for a new coach after the team failed to reach the NBA playoffs for the 16th consecutive season.  In those 16 seasons, the Kings have employed 11 coaches/interim coaches.  Let’s just say that the franchise has not been a model of stability and leave it at that.  Mike Brown got the job in Sacramento this time around and some commentators noted that Brown will bring championship rings with him to the Kings’ locker room.  While that is true, it is equally true that Mike Brown will not be bringing a players of the caliber of Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson with him to the Kings’ locker room.

I think the current situation in Sacramento is accurately and concisely captured by this item from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times:

“Nuggets backup center DeMarcus Cousins, to AndScape.com, sizing up the Sacramento Kings: ‘They sucked before I got there. They sucked when I was there. They sucked after I left.’”

Those words bring back to me high school memories of reading/translating Caesar’s Gallic Wars in Latin II – – “Veni, vidi, vici…”

Bud Grant is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; he played in the NBA and in the CFL and in the NFL.  He coached the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for 10 seasons making it to the Grey Cup Game 6 times and winning the Grey Cup 4 times.  He coached the Minnesota Vikings for 18 seasons making it to the playoffs in 12 of those seasons.  He is alive and kicking at age 95 and recently suggested a couple of rule changes he would like to see in the NFL.  One of those suggestions resonated with me; in fact, I think it is such a good idea that I wish I could say that I came up with it.

Grant’s premise is that when a trailing team Is out of timeouts at the end of the game and the team in possession is simply kneeling out the clock, the game is no longer interesting to the fans.  He is absolutely correct in that starting point and he said that he voiced that opinion while he was coaching in the league.  The response always was that nothing could be done about it because the fundamental timing rules of the game dictated that some games would end that way.  Well, he has a suggestion now for a minor tweak in the rules for the final minutes of an NFL game:

  • The team on offense must make one yard or the clock stops.

In support of this tweaking of the rules, Grant says:

“Things can happen when trying to make a yard. You can get stuffed; you can fumble; you can get a penalty… Most of all, you keep the fans interested.”

Put that rule in effect for the final 3 minutes of an NFL game.  It is simple, straightforward and it will surely provide more drama that watching a QB kneel down several times.

I read a note sometime last week that the overall MLB batting average for the month of April was .231 and that was the lowest “April Batting Average” ever.  Time out…  When MLB added the “Universal DH”, I was told that was going to make for more action and offense.  Have I been sold a bill of goods on that?

The Tennessee Titans play in Nissan Stadium and there seems to be a consensus building that the facility is outdated and something has to be done.  [Aside:  I have never been to Nissan Stadium but if it is only “as bad as” the Commanders’ stadium in Landover, MD, then the facility should be demolished and erased from the national landscape.]  I read that a recent estimate of the cost to upgrade/renovate/modernize the stadium was $1.8B.  Say what?

I am never in favor of taxpayers building facilities for billionaire team owners, but I recognize the reality that the taxpayers in Tennessee – – and more specifically Nashville, TN – –  are going to pony up at least some of the costs to upgrade this facility.  After all, the stadium is owned and operated by the local government there.  However, I do have a serious suggestion for the city fathers there:

  • You should at least “kick the tires” to find out the cost for building a new stadium from the ground up.  I must think that you could build a new one for something close to the cost estimate of $1.8B for merely a renovation.

Finally, let me close today with another observation from Roger Angell:

“The best defense against partisanship is expertise.”

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

 

 

“Minor Sports” Today …

I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend yesterday in a lengthy phone chat.  He has been a reader of these rants ever since they went online but we had not spoken directly in about the last year-and-a-half as he has been dealing with long-term lingering effects of a COVID infection.  Those problems have limited his mobility and his ability to do lots of things you and I might consider “normal activities”, so he says he has lots of time to engage in sedentary activities.  One of the things he challenged me on was to try to comment on the “minor sports” more often; he said there is lots of both good and bad stuff happening in that world.  He offered to send me some links that would prove his assertion; now that I have chased down those links, he is right.  So, today’s rant will be about “minor sports”.

Let me begin on a high note…  Gary Martin is a high school senior in Warminster, PA; running in the Pennsylvania Catholic League Championship track meet, Martin broke the record for the fastest mile run by a high school student at 3:57:98.  In addition to the fact that Martin did something no one else has ever done, this achievement is noteworthy because of the record he broke and who set it.

  • The previous record – – 3:58:3 – – has been on the books since 1965.
  • The person who set that record was Jim Ryun.

As I adjust my “old codger cap” here, let me tell folks who have not reached their golden years that Jim Ryun was a major figure in men’s track and field for almost ten years in a time when track and field was a much bigger deal than it is today.  Ryun made it to 3 Olympic Finals and was a silver medalist in the 1500-meter competition.  At one point or another , Ryun held 6 world records at distances from 880 yards to 1 mile.  Gary Martin just broke a 57-year-old record set by Jim Ryun and Martin now says that he hopes to compete in the Olympics somewhere down the road.

Congratulations and bonne chance to Gary Martin …

Now, let me turn to another situation that is more controversial and less wholesome.  Once again, it involves high school sports and probably the best way to set the scene here is to quote the opening paragraph of a report on Cleveland.com:

“A Lake Catholic high school boys lacrosse player with a swastika on his calf participated Monday evening in a match between Orange and Lake Catholic, prompting outrage and questions about how he was permitted to play while displaying the image.”

Officials at both schools immediately issued statements condemning racism and antisemitism and assured everyone that investigations were underway to find out how all this happened.  Excuse me …  There is a picture attached to that report at Cleveland.com showing the image of a swastika on the calf of the lacrosse player.  Take my word for this; if you go to “Google-Images” and you search for “Lacrosse Players on the field” you will find hundreds of photos where the players are wearing short pants – or short skirts in the case of women’s lacrosse.  So, my question is not just how or why that imagery came to be on the right calf of a Lake Catholic boys’ lacrosse player; my question is:

  • How was that not noticed and removed before the game started?
  • According to reports, the image was “wiped off during a huddle” as the game progressed; so, how did that escape scrutiny until that point?

And just for the record, I do not wish to hear even a whisper that erasing that image and possibly punishing anyone and everyone who were involved in this incident constitutes an abrogation of “free expression”.  Take that argument to the Supreme Court for a decision; in the court of common decency, that is a violation.

Moving on …  Once again, I think the best way to set the stage for you regarding this event is to quote the first two paragraphs of a report from the Channel 3 website in Philadelphia:

“We’re learning new details about what led up to a shooting in the stands at a football field near Temple University where children were out practicing. On Monday, police revealed the suspect is a coach for a youth football team in Philly.

“Cellphone video captured the moments a man opens fire and hits two other men in the stands of a football field as 7-year-old children were having a rec football practice.”

The alleged shooter was a coach for recreation football and one of the victims was also identified as a coach.  Supposedly, they were “arguing over a woman” and that led to the shooting incident.  [Aside:  At the time of the report, both victims were hospitalized and in stable condition.]

No children were hurt in all of this – albeit they witnessed the event and its aftermath.  I have no expertise on child counseling, but it is difficult to imagine that being proximal to something like this would be beneficial to childhood development.  The alleged shooter was a recreation football coach; the report did not say what age group he worked with, but obviously recreation football in that neighborhood involves kids as young as 7 years old.  Coaches are supposed to be “leaders” and “molders of character” for young football players.  Might I suggest that the alleged shooter here should get a failing grade in those two categories?

Finally, since I began today with Gary Martin’s record run in the mile, let me close with this observation about jogging from Mike Ryoko:

“It’s unusual for people to run around city streets unless they are thieves or victims.  It makes people nervous to see someone running.  I know that when I see someone running on my street, my instincts tell me to let the dog out after him.”

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

 

 

Football News – But Not the NFL Today

There is good news this morning from the Canadian Football League.  The players’ strike called for last weekend seems to have been settled; reports say that the league and the players’ union have reached an agreement that needs only to be ratified by the players themselves and by the CFL’s Board of Governors.  This strike lasted a total of 4 days and only training camp schedules were affected.  Things appear to be on track for the CFL to kick off its 2022 season on June 9th.

Regarding the issues involved in the negotiations leading to this tentative agreement, let me acknowledge that the information comes from email exchanges with Gregg Drinnan – the author/creator of the Taking Note blog which you can find here.  My familiarity with the CFL can be described as neither wide nor deep.  But here are some terms of the new deal:

  • One issue was the end date for the new CBA – not only in terms of the length of the contract but the day on which it would expire.  Previously, the CBAs expired the day before training camps were set to begin; players were either en route to training camp or already in the designated area for training camp and felt pressured to take a deal to get started.  This CBA supposedly will expire a month before training camp is set to begin 7 years from now.
  • The CFL games are telecast in Canada on The Sports Network (TSN); the existing contract for those broadcast rights ends in 5 years so there is an opt out clause in this deal pending the terms of a new deal – presumably with TSN.  One note of explanation from Gregg Drinnan puts that in perspective:

“If you aren’t aware, the TSN contract is huge. Without it, there isn’t a CFL”

  • There are provisions in the new deal for players to negotiate certain amounts of guarantees into their contracts.  I do not understand the details here but the fact that there needed to be language in the new CBA about this issue indicates to me that there was not freedom to do so in the past.

Because the CFL has an odd number of teams – until the expansion Nova Scotia Schooners coalesce into a real entity – the league schedule is interesting.  Teams play 18 regular season games and have 3 bye weeks built into the schedule simply because at least one team must have the week off every week.  If the NFL and the NFLPA ever look at an 18-game regular season schedule here in the US, I hope they will look at the CFL scheduling and build two bye weeks for each team into such an expanded schedule.

There is other football news this morning.  College football conferences are looking at alterations in their structure and scheduling.  It seems that the PAC-12 is the first conference out of the gate to institute change.  No longer will the winners of the PAC-12 North and the PAC-12 South Divisions necessarily meet in the PAC-12 Championship Game.  Starting this year, the two teams with the best conference record will be the opponents in that game.

  • The good news here is that the two best PAC-12 teams will play for the conference title.  If the winner of one division has 3 conference losses, odds are that it will not be in that championship game because there will be two teams from the other division with fewer losses.
  • The potentially bad news here is that this really marks the demise of the division structure in the PAC-12 and the way the conference had split the divisions each division had multiple school pairings that represented longstanding rivalries.  I am not sure that the loss of divisions is necessarily a good thing.

In the past, the NCAA required conferences to split into divisions if they wanted to have a championship game and they were unable/unwilling to play a full round-robin schedule.  [Aside:  Why the NCAA mavens thought that rule needed to exist in the first place remains mysterious.]  However, the NCAA’s Division 1 Council scrapped that requirement, and the PAC-12 seized the opportunity to make the change.  Reports say that the ACC, Big-10 and SEC are also considering structural and scheduling changes; so, stand by for more news on this front.

And one more peripheral football note.  ESPN reportedly “promoted” Dan Orlovsky and assigned him to be the replacement for Brian Griese on what is now ESPN’s “second broadcast team” for NFL games.  When ESPN hired Joe Buck and Troy Aikman away from FOX, that demoted the current MNF team to second string and Griese “took his career in a different direction.”  Supposedly, FOX was interested in hiring Orlovsky, but ESPN found a way to keep him where he is.

Under the current deal between ESPN and the NFL, the network will get to do more than just Monday Night Football games; there could be as many as five additional games on the network starting next season.  That is not a full-time workload by any means, but both Orlovsky and Louis Riddick will also be significant contributors to ESPN studio shows related to NFL happenings.

I do not recall ever hearing Orlovsky do TV color analysis.  I have heard him in his studio show assignments and I certainly hope that he can “tone it down” just a bit during games.  Enthusiasm is good; analysis is good; presenting one’s enthusiasm and analysis at 90 decibels punctuated only with exclamation points will wear thin over a 3-hour game telecast.

Finally, here is an NFL observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Viking QB Kirk Cousins’ career record as an NFL starter is 59-59-2.

“Shouldn’t that make him the Minneapolis .500?”

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

 

 

Eight Interesting QB Situations…

I don’t know how all this started yesterday after I posted the daily rant, but I wound up sitting at my desk with a cup of coffee making notes about NFL teams with new starting QBs for the upcoming season.  And as is often the case, I focused on the changes that had not made the big splashy headlines like Russell Wilson going to Denver or Deshaun Watson going to Cleveland.  At the end of my ruminations, I had a list that comprises 25% of the NFL where the teams are in the following situation:

  • Those teams are going to start young QBs who were early first round draft picks that have not lived up to their billing and this might be their final chance to establish themselves as something more than an itinerant backup for the rest of their careers.

There are 8 teams/young QBs in this circumstance.  Keeping an eye on their achievements or failures during the course of the 2022 season could be interesting.  Let me present you my list of guys to keep an eye out for in alphabetical order:

Sam Darnold – Panthers:  The Jets took Darnold with the third overall pick in the 2018 draft; he played college football at USC.  The combination of injuries and a bad team around him contributed to a major level of disappointment in his days with the Jets.  He started 38 games for NY and the team record in those 38 games was 13-25-0.  Darnold was traded to the Panthers last year; he started 11 games in Carolina and the team went 4-7 in those games.  His contract is up at the end of the 2022 season, and he will be an unrestricted free agent at that point unless of course the Panthers apply a franchise tag or a transition tag to him.  Unless Darnold lights it up this season, he is not likely to get either tag.  I think his outlook is bleak because the Panthers’ roster looks more “woebegone” than “robust”.

Justin Fields – Bears:  He is sort of an outlier on this list because he has only had a single partial season in the NFL.  Nonetheless, he was taken by the Bears with the 11th pick in the 2021 draft – and the Bears traded up to make that selection; he played college football at Ohio State.  Fields started 10 games for the Bears last season and the team was 2-8-0 in those games.  Moreover, his stats for 2021 are much better described as “marginal” than they are “acceptable”.  Fields’ contract is very team friendly at this point and does not expire until the end of the 2024 season.  This is not a “make-or-break” year for Fields – unless he figuratively throws up on his shoes – but the Bears and Bears’ fans will want to see significant progress from him.  That may be difficult because the Bears’ roster – particularly on offense – looks to be sad.

Jared Goff – Lions:  The Rams took Goff with the overall #1 pick in the 2016 draft; he played college football at Cal.  Despite having a winning record of 42-27-0 with the Rams, the team traded him to Detroit to acquire Matthew Stafford – – and then proceeded to win the Super Bowl with Stafford at the helm.  Goff’s year with the Lions was a less-than-wonderful one where the team went 3-10-1 in his 14 starts.  Goff has made the Pro Bowl twice in his career; his contract runs through the end of the 2024 season and the contract calls for him to make about $25M per year over the next three seasons.  The guaranteed portions of Goff’s contract appear to be over at the end of the 2022 season, so the Lions could “move on” at the end of 2022 with a minimal dead cap hit.  We shall see…

Daniel Jones – Giants:  The Giants took Jones with the overall sixth pick in the 2019 draft; he played college football at Duke.  He has started 37 games for the Giants over 3 seasons and the team record in those games is 12-25-0.  A disturbing stat here is that in those 37 games, Jones has fumbled 36 times.  That disturbing stat might be mitigated to some extent by noting that the Giants’ OL has allowed Jones to be sacked 105 times in those 37 starts.  The Giants did not exercise the fifth-year option for Jones meaning that his contract expires at the end of the 2022 season, and he will be an unrestricted free agent then – – absent getting one of those “tags”.  This is a big year for Daniel Jones.

Drew Lock – Seahawks:  The Broncos took Lock in the second round of the 2019 draft; he played college football at Missouri.  Back in March of this year, Lock was traded to the Seahawks – along with 5 draft picks and two NFL starters at other positions – for Russell Wilson.  Lock’s time with the Broncos was mediocre; he started 21 games; the team was 8-13-0 in those starts; also in those 21 starts, he threw 20 INTs – – including a league leading 15 INTs in the 2020 season.  The first thing on Lock’s agenda for 2022 is to beat out Geno Smith for the starting job in Seattle; from there he will have the chance to show that he can be a reliable starter in the NFL.  If he does not/can not beat out Geno Smith for the job, he has pretty much defined his status for the league to see.  Lock’s contract is up at the end of the 2022 season, and he will be an unrestricted free agent – – absent any of those pesky “tags”.  Purely a hunch, but I see time in the Canadian Football League in Drew Lock’s future.

Marcus Mariota – Falcons:  The Titans took Mariota with the #2 pick in the 2015 draft; he played college football at Oregon.  He was with the Titans for 5 years starting 61 games for the Titans and posting a record of 29-32-0 in those starts.  He was released by the Titans at the end of the 2019 season when the Titans signed Ryan Tannehill to be their starter.  Mariota was the backup in Las Vegas for the last two seasons seeing extremely limited action.  He signed a 2-year contract with the Falcons in March of this year but there is no guaranteed money in that contract after the 2022 season.  This looks to me to be a “show-me season” for Mariota and he might only have a knife in a gun fight.  The Falcons’ look like a team that will take its lumps in 2022.

Mitchell Trubisky – Steelers:  The Bears took Trubisky with the #2 pick in the 2017 draft – and they traded up to take him there.  He played college football at UNC.  In 4 years with the Bears, Trubisky started 50 games and posted a 29-21-0 record in those starts.  He made the Pro Bowl once; and in 2018, the Bears went 11-3 in Trubisky’s 14 starts.  Nevertheless, Bears’ fans never let him – or the team – forget that the Bears traded up to take Trubisky ahead of both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.  At the end of his rookie contract, the Bears let him walk and he was with the Bills as their backup QB last year.  He signed a 2-year deal with the Steelers worth $14M and projects to be the starter in Pittsburgh this year.  His contract, however, has no guaranteed money in it other than his signing bonus, so the 2-year designation is more gossamer-like than iron-clad.  This is indeed a big year for Trubisky, and he has plenty of obstacles to overcome including:

  • He is following a Hall of Fame hero who had been in Pittsburgh for 18 years.
  • The AFC North looks like a very tough division for 2022.
  • His WR corps is very young.

Carson Wentz – Commanders:  The Eagles took Wentz with the #2 pick in the 2016 draft; he played college football at North Dakota State.  His career with the Eagles started out  brilliantly; in his second season (2017) he was playing near MVP level until he was injured in the 13th game of the year.  Even though he did not play a full season, he finished third in the voting for MVP and was second to Tom Brady in voting as the All-Pro QB for that season.  Since that year, however, things have not gone nearly as well for Wentz; his record as a starter – – with the Eagles and the Colts – – has been 26-29-1.  Wentz’ final time with the Eagles was not harmonious; rumors of refusing to talk to coaches and pouting after he was benched were rampant; nonetheless, the Colts acquired Wentz via a trade last year and the Colts missed the playoffs when they lost to the sorry-assed Jaguars in the final game of the regular season and Wentz played terribly.  The Colts traded him to the Commanders in the last offseason and more “poor locker-room presence rumors” emanated from folks who follow the Colts.  Wentz’ contract runs through the end of the 2024 season but most of the guarantees in that contract are gone at the end of the 2022 season.  This is an important year for Carson Wentz on two fronts:

  1. Is he the “MVP-contender” sort of player or is he a QB who wins half his games?
  2. His new coach – Ron Rivera – is as big a “no nonsense” guy as there is in the NFL.  “Locker room problems” do not fare well on Rivera’s teams.

Finally, let me close today with a comment by Groucho Marx that seems most appropriate for the US in 2022:

“In America you can go on the air and kid the politicians, and the politicians can go on the air and kid the people.”

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

 

 

The Future Of The Philadelphia 76ers …

Today, I want to talk about the Sixers, James Harden and Joel Embiid.  Once again, the Sixers lost in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs to the Miami Heat notwithstanding their acquisition of James Harden in February.  If you want to be a Sixers’ apologist, you can write this playoff exit off on an injury suffered by Embiid in the final game of the first round of the playoffs; he missed the first two games of series with the Heat and played after that with a “broken face”.  That discussion would not be particularly interesting to me because I think the more interesting point here is the future of the Sixers with or without James Harden.

You may recall that I was skeptical about the value of this trade from the Sixers’ point of view at the time of the transaction.  Here is the link to my rant at that time.  Much of what I wrote then has come to pass.

Now, comes the kicker – – Harden’s contract.  Technically, the contract will be up when the NBA playoffs end but Harden has a player option for one more year at $47M per year.  So, the NBA future for James Harden boils down to three possibilities:

  1. He exercises his player’s option and is part of the Sixers’ team next season making $47M.
  2. He and the Sixers agree to a long-term “super-max deal” which according to the terms of the current CBA would be something like 5 years and a total of $275M.
  3. He does not exercise his player’s option and puts himself out on the open free agent market seeking to find the best deal available to him.

I did not like the deal that brought Harden to the Sixers in the first place; the team is now in a situation where they can make it a lot worse if they choose to do so.  The way for the team to “make it a lot worse” is to achieve Option 2 above.  James Harden will be 33 years old before the next NBA season begins; he is not a “great athlete” and never was; his career arc is peaked at best if not already on the downslope.  If the Sixers sign him to anything like the “super-max deal” – or even any sort of lower priced 5-year deal – they will come to regret that choice.  In Wall Street terms, James Harden is a wasting asset.

Do not mistake what I have been saying here; James Harden is still a good player and potentially a significant contributor in the NBA.  He is not worth, however, $50M even for one year and he will not be worth even half of that number 5 years from now.

The optimal outcome for the Sixers would probably be for Harden to exercise that player’s option such that the team can try to get a full season of “the best of what is left of James Harden” and then part with him saying “Vaya con Dios” as he moves on to whatever future endeavors are there for him.  There is something standing in the way for that to happen because, for that to happen, Harden and the Sixers will have to have unproductive and potentially oppositional negotiations for a “super-max deal” and those sorts of talks do not usually play out well in the future.  To use a phrase from the old Laurel and Hardy films, this is “another fine mess” that needs to be sorted out.

And what of Joel Embiid in all of this?  As a viewer of NBA games, I see Joel Embiid at a very different place on the players’ spectrum than James Harden.  Harden is an offensive player; he can score, and he can assist others in their scoring; meanwhile, Harden is a liability on defense.  I do not read minds so I do not know if he cannot play defense or if he will not play defense.  That is a procedural distinction if you want to make it; the outcome after one determines which route is correct is the same; James Harden plays no defense and gives up points aplenty.

Joel Embiid can score too; he averaged 29.8 points per game this season.  Embiid also rebounds and is a good shot blocker on defense; he is not particularly adept at assisting teammates.  Last season was his best year in terms of assists where he averaged 4.2 assists per game.  Embiid is only 28 years old; barring injury, he has plenty of future in the NBA ahead of him; last season, he was a serious candidate for league MVP.  Joel Embiid is a “foundation piece” for an NBA franchise but to be in a serious position to play for a league championship, a single outstanding player is not enough.

On the surface, it would appear as if the Sixers tried to get Embiid a “star player” as his running buddy when they traded for Harden.  If you look only at Harden’s historical offensive numbers, that was a decent gamble.  But now there is reality to face, and the reality is that Joel Embiid is still in a “go-it-alone” situation in a league where teams seek to build a “Big Three” on their roster.

So, let me amend the three options above where I said that the worst Sixers option would be to sign James Harden to a “super-max deal”.  There is a happenstance that is worse:

  • The Sixers sign Harden to a “super-max deal” and then…
  • Joel Embiid realizes that he is not going to sniff a championship on a team that has assigned all that cap space to James Harden and Embiid finagles his way out of Philly.

Before any Sixers’ fans accuse me of being Chicken Little here, let me just say two words here:

  • Charles … Barkley.

Finally, let me close today with a comment from humorist Brad Dickson formerly with the Omaha World-News:

“The world’s oldest person has died at age 119. You know, I’m starting to feel like the title is cursed.”

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

 

 

Strange MLB Happening Yesterday…

I have a bunch of things on my  clipboard for this morning, but I choose to start with an unusual happening in MLB yesterday.  Two pitchers for the Cincinnati Reds combined to throw 8 no-hit innings – – and the Reds lost the game.  The score was 0 – 0 in the bottom of the 8th when the Pirates loaded the bases on 3 walks.  With one out, the Pirates’ hitter bounced a ball to second base that should have been an inning-ending double play, but the shortstop bobbled the toss from the second baseman and the batter beat the throw to first.  That 1-0 score held up in the top of the 9th inning – – so the Reds pitched a no-hitter and lost the game; that does not happen often…

Bad things happen to bad teams and – make no mistake – the 2022 Reds are a bad team.  They started the season 3-22 in their first 25 games.  That projects to a final record of 19-143 for a season.  That is the sort of record that smacks of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders who went 20-134 in MLB’s previous 154-game season.

The Reds have “gotten hot” after that start winning 6 of their last 10 games to post a record of 6-26 as of this morning.  For the record, that projects to a season-ending record of 30-132.  That is about halfway between the Spiders’ showing in 1899 and the “modern standard for futility” set by the 1962 NY Mets who finished the year at 40-120-1.

Fans in Cincy would be in the right if they got very mad with the team.  Last year, the Reds finished over .500; they did not seriously threaten to make the playoffs, but they finished with a better record than 9 of the teams in the National League; in fact, if the playoffs in the NL had been expanded to 6 teams, the Reds would have been the “last team in”.  So, what did the Reds do in the off-season?

  • They dumped salary; they let free agents walk; they acquired prospects and draft picks.
  • Then they put this current squad on the field from day to day.

Recall the problems and issues with game attendance last year for MLB with the COVID pandemic ebbing and flowing.  With that in mind, it is not surprising at all that MLB is looking at a surge in attendance at its games in 2022; in fact, as of this morning only one team in all of MLB  (the Rangers) shows a decline in home attendance year-over-year.  However, the Reds’ year-over-year comparison puts them down in the lower rungs of the MLB ladder along with the perennially attendance challenged teams such as the Marlins, Rays, A’s and Pirates.  In 14 home dates, the Reds are averaging 16,899 fans per game.

The Reds’ team president – coincidentally the son of the majority owner of the team – did an interview with one of the Reds’ local “broadcast partners” about the upcoming season and addressed the team’s off-season economic decisions this way:

“Well, where are you going to go?  Let’s start there.  I mean, sell the team to who?  That’s the other thing — you want to have this debate?  If you want to look at, what would you do with this team to have it be more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists?  It would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else.  And so be careful what you ask for.”

Cincy is not one of the “big-market teams”; that is for sure.  However, that statement could easily sound like noblesse oblige to Reds’ fans thinking about coming out to see the team play on any given Wednesday night.  Sounds to me as if he just said that no one is out there looking to buy the team even if it were for sale and then if someone bought it, they would probably want to move it.  I think the fans’ response to all that would be along the lines of:

  • “ … and the horse you rode in on.”

By the way, Reds’ fans are not the only ones who are “less that pleased” with the ownership/management of their local heroes.  A couple of years ago, more than 50,000 Pirates’ fans signed a petition urging the current owner there – Robert Nutting – to sell the team.  Through the first 18 home dates, the Pirates drew and average of only 11,851 fans to what I believe is the best baseball venue in MLB.  [Disclaimer:  I have not been to all 30 of the current MLB parks but I have been to more of them than not.]

Moving on…  reports surfaced over the weekend that there could be a players’ strike in the CFL.  The players union and the league engaged in 16 hours of bargaining last week but could not reach an agreement.  The union notified players not to participate in training camp activities that are about to begin for the CFL; players on 7 of the 9 teams are expected to follow that directive; the other two teams are located in Alberta where provincial labor laws require additional steps before workers can officially strike.  Reports say that the players for those two teams are expected to join the work stoppage as soon as those hurdles are crossed.

This is not good news for the CFL.  Reports over the weekend seemed to try to paint the situation in the best light saying that the two sides “are not that far apart.”  That may be true; I have no way to confirm or deny that  statement.  However, I can say with confidence that the two sides are sufficiently apart that the union is calling for a players’ strike.  So, what is left to be done is more than editing and proofreading the final agreement document.

The CFL has had financial stability problems ever since ethe onset of the pandemic.  The league lost an entire season of play and the league sought – but did not get – a hefty capital infusion from the national government in Canada.  So, for the moment things do not look rosy for the league.

As I understand it, the league proposed a 10-year agreement that would not have increased the team salary cap over the life of the agreement.  Knowing exactly nothing about the financials for the 9 CFL teams, that sounds like an outrageous proposal that could not be ceded to by the union.  On the other hand, the fact that it was deemed sufficiently defendable by some of the league negotiators could easily speak to the economic fragility of the league.

One other issue in the negotiations involves something I was unaware of until reading about it here.  The CFL has something called The Game Rule Ratio; notwithstanding the roster make-up of any team, that team may dress 46 players for each game with the following restrictions:

  • Minimum of 21 “national players”  (not exactly but closely translates to “Canadian players”)
  • Maximum of 20 American players
  • Maximum of 2 QBs of any designation
  • Minimum of 2 “Global players”.

The original proposal from the CFL would have removed this rule – – and given the numbers of US football players at the professional and collegiate levels as opposed to Canadian football players at similar levels, that would make the CFL potentially a lot less “Canadian”.

Finally, apropos of nothing, let me close today with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Job:  Your punishment for not winning the lottery.”

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

 

 

Phoenix Rising From The Ashes …?

Take your mind back to the Fall of 2018.  Things were in place for a potentially heartwarming story to unfold – – maybe even as heartwarming as the old Jack Armstrong All-American Boy radio shows.  Screenplay writers at Disney were probably poised to immortalize all this in a biopic.  Let me summarize what was in place.

  • In 1997, Scott Frost was the QB for Nebraska and they won the national championship that year.
  • Frost had an uneventful NFL career and began a coaching career in 2007 as the linebackers coach at Northern Iowa.  It may indeed be a long way to Tipperary, but it is an even longer way from the college football national championship to linebackers coach at Northern Iowa.
  • Frost had success as an assistant and then as offensive coordinator at Oregon during and after the Chip Kelly years there.
  • Meanwhile, UCF Football had been doing well under George O’Leary, but the wheels came off the wagon in 2015.  The Golden Knights posted an 0-12 record and O’Leary was fired in mid-season.  Frost took over the UCF program in 2016.
  • In 2017 – just two years after going 0-12 – UCF had an undefeated season at 13-0.  Some folks thought they should be in the CFP and when they were not invited some folks simply declared UCF as the national champions.
  • Meanwhile about 1200 miles away in Lincoln, NE, the Husker’s program was no longer “in the mix” for conference championships let alone national championships.  Bo Pelini had won 9 or 10 games a year but then played in minor bowl games; he was replaced by Mike Riley who went 19-19 over three seasons.
  • Scott Frost – All-American Boy – got the call to come home to alma mater to “change the culture” and thereby restore glory to Nebraska football.  The screenwriters at Disney must have been salivating at the prospects.

I suspect any ardor that existed in the screenwriting community in 2018 has dissipated by now because the Scott Frost Era at Nebraska has been a step down from Mike Riley’s years with a break-even record.  Since taking over at Nebraska, Frost’s teams are 15-29 over 4 seasons and last year they had the worst record – – 3-9 – – for any Nebraska team since 1957.  That was 64 years ago for everyone keeping score at home.

That would a sufficiently sour ending to the story as a standalone.  But it gets worse.  The super sleuths at the NCAA have determined that Frost was violating NCAA rules and have slapped Nebraska with penalties for those violations.  At the bottom line, Frost and his team were breaking rules and still managed to lose about twice as many games as they won. 

            Here is a link to a report outlining what the violations were and what the penalties are.  If there is a screenwriter out there who is still hoping to score big on this story, I suspect that (s)he is now thinking along the lines of a story where Scott Frost is a living symbol of the Phoenix who rises from the catastrophe of the ashes to bring glory back to Saturday afternoons in Lincoln, NE.

Moving on …  There is an adage on Wall Street that when something happens for a first time, that is an event.  If it happens a second time, that is a coincidence.  If it happens a third time, that is a trend.  Please do not focus on counter-examples here because I want to argue that the Philadelphia Eagles, the Detroit Lions and the Houston Texans must hope that the following is not a trend:

  1. Henry Ruggs III played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Raiders.  He was released by the Raiders after a fatal car accident where he stands accused of being drunk and driving at over 100 mph in Las Vegas.
  2. Calvin Ridley played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Falcons.  He has been suspended from the NFL for at least all of the 2022 season for betting on NFL games in 2021 while he was injured and not playing.
  3. Jerry Jeudy played WR at Alabama and was drafted by the Broncos in the first round of the NFL Draft.  He was recently arrested and faces charges involving domestic violence.

So,  you ask why the Eagles, Lions and Texans hope that is not a trend?  Consider:

  • Devonta Smith played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the first round by the Eagles…
  • Jameson Williams played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the first round by the Lions…
  • John Mitchie III played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the second round by the Texans…

Finally, here are two observations from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding sports memorabilia/collectables:

“Todd Brock, a private equity investor from Houston, sold Tiger Woods’ Titleist 681-T iron set from his Tiger Slam in 2000-01 for $5,156,162 at Golden Age Auctions, a record for golf memorabilia.

“That’s what’s known as reaching the green.”

And …

“The $518,000 sale of the football thrown for Tom Brady’s “final” NFL touchdown pass — whose value plummeted when Brady changed his mind about retiring — has been voided by mutual agreement between the parties.

“In short, it was ruled incomplete.”

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