The 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule

The NFL manages the sports calendar in the US like no other entity.  It has manufactured ways to capture media attention during its off-season that keeps the league front and center in the sports news feed.  Consider…

  • After the Super Bowl there is the “dark period” where free-agents-to-be are only allowed to negotiate with their current team.  [Wink-wink…]
  • Then comes “real free agency” – – except for guys who will probably be cut after June 1st.
  • By that time the NFL Draft has come over the horizon leading to 3 bazillion mock drafts per week.
  • Post-Draft, the NFL teases the release of its schedule drawing that simple act out over about 3 days.
  • OTAs and minicamps happen in late May and early June.
  • In mid-July teams go to training camp – – and they’re off and running…

I want to consider the NFL schedule as a whole today.  I will not try to anoint any team as having the “easiest” or the “hardest” schedule because such calculations based on last year’s record are – – to be polite – – flawed.  Given all the player movement via trades and free agency – let alone the results of the draft – every team is different this year as compared to last year.  Nor will I try to figure out which teams will log the most air miles traveling to and from their games.  I look at the overall schedule and just make observations that come to mind.

  • The NFL did not mess around with the three games it selected to happen on Christmas Day.  Packers/Dolphins early on, followed by Broncos/Rams in the late afternoon slot and Bucs/Cardinals at night is a potent lineup.  The NBA TV ratings for Christmas Day are going to take a hit in 2022.
  • Someone in the scheduling department decided to have some fun with the early season schedule this year.  In the first four weeks, the Jets will play all four of the AFC North teams.  Not to be outdone, in those same first four weeks, the Ravens will play all four of the AFC East teams.  Accidentally?  You make the call…
  • There is a doubleheader on Monday Night Football in Week 2.  Titans and Bills will kick off at 7:15 PM (EST) and then the Vikes/Eagles will start at 8:30 PM (EST).
  • Flex scheduling for Sunday Night Football games begins in Week 5 this year instead of in mid-November.  The only Sunday Night game after Week 4 that is set in concrete is Bucs/Cards on Christmas night.
  • The Chiefs schedule for the first half of the season looks daunting – – at Cards, vs Chargers, at Colts, at Bucs, vs Raiders, vs Bills, at Niners, vs Titans.  After that stretch of 8 games, the Chiefs get to host the Jags…
  • The Washington Commanders play at the Giants in Week 13; then the Commanders have their BYE Week in Week 14; upon their return to action in Week 15, the Commanders opponent will be the Giants again this time at home.
  • The Falcons look like a team ready to rebuild and the schedule maker did them no favors.  The Falcons are going to be  underdogs in their first 7 games until they face the Panthers at home on October 30th.
  • The Giants early season schedule in interesting.  They open on the road at the Titans; then they get three home games in a row before a road game in London followed by another home game when they get back from London.
  • Most Thursday games will be televised by Amazon Prime Video and the NFL had given their new “broadcast partner” an interesting mix of games.  Pairings such as Chargers/Chiefs, Steelers/Browns, Ravens/Bucs and Bills/Pats look to be choice morsels.  Those offerings stand in contrast with Commanders/Bears, Falcons/Panthers and Jags/Jets.
  • There is a regular season game in Munich, Germany this year.  The Seahawks will play the Bucs there in Week 10; this is the first regular season game ever played in Germany.
  • The Chiefs, Eagles and Packers will all have three road games in a row this season.  The Chiefs will play at the Bengals, Broncos and Texans in early December.  The Eagles will play at the Giants, Bears and Cowboys in mid-December.  The Packers will play at the Commanders, Bills and Lions starting in late October.

Even though I was trying to take a synoptic view of the NFL schedule, there are five individual games that caught my eye:

  1. Broncos at Seahawks on September 12.  It is the Monday Night Football game for Week 1.  Fans will not have to wait at all to see Russell Wilson’s return to Seattle.
  2. Chiefs at Bucs on October 2.  There is no matchup of last year’s Super Bowl participants this year – – so fans will have to settle for this game that pairs the two teams that played in the Super Bowl in 2020.
  3. Commanders at Colts on October 30.  Carson Wentz  returns to Indianapolis…
  4. Cowboys at Packers on November 13.  Coach Mike McCarthy returns to Green Bay…
  5. Bucs at Falcons in Week 17 (dates not yet fixed).  Could this be Tom Brady’s final regular season NFL game given that he has a $35M per year broadcasting gig waiting for him if it is…?

Finally, having mentioned Tom Brady’s possible retirement at age 45, let me close with this observation by H. L. Mencken about people in their 40s:

“The best years are the forties; after fifty a man begins to deteriorate, but in the forties, he is at the maximum of his villainy.”

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

 

 

The FOG Returns…

Yesterday’s rant was brought to you by The FOG – – The First and Only Grandson – – and I said then that he would produce part of today’s offering as well.  Last weekend, Real Madrid beat Liverpool 1-0 in the finals of the UEFA Champions League.  The FOG was not in attendance but saw the game and sent me this description/analysis:

“The 2021/22 season drew to a close on Saturday the 28th of May in Paris as the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid commenced later than planned due to rioting from Real supporters outside the entrance to the Stade de France not allowing many Liverpool fans to enter the stadium. The atmosphere in the stadium was supposedly electric as Liverpool fans hoped for the second Champions League title of manger Jurgen Klopp’s reign whereas Real supporters sought to break their own record for most Champions League wins by making it 14 in total. There was a lot of history between these two clubs as they had met in the Champions League final before in 2018, a match where Liverpool was let down by both bad goalkeeping and an injury to their star player Mohammed Salah caused by Sergio Ramos who went unpunished much to the dismay of the fans.

“When the match finally got under way, around 40 minutes later than expected, Liverpool showed their hand immediately with a high line intended to press the notoriously lacklustre Real defence which had been a sore point for “Los Meringues” all season. It seemed to be working as within the first half hour the Liverpool strikers managed to get shots off frequently challenging Thibaut Courtois, the Real Madrid Goalkeeper. As the half progressed Real began to attack more but they were still looking as if they were outclassed by Liverpool, and it was only a matter of time before Courtois allowed a shot to bulge the net.

“This is until the 40th minute where Karim Benzema got on the end of a ball over the head of Liverpool centre back, Van Dijk, who was unable to catch up with him. Benzema looked as if he was about to shoot but he hesitated to long and was closed down by Alisson forcing him to lay the ball off to Vinicius Junior who could do little but poke at the ball managing to sneak it past Alisson and back to Benzema who put in the net. His celebrations and those of the Real Madrid fans were cut short though by an offside decision as it turns out that Benzema was behind Alisson leaving only one defender between him the goal line, therefore he was offside, and the goal didn’t count. Little more happened in the first half, and it ended 0-0.

“The second half was much of the same but Liverpool dominance over possession was slightly weaker opening the door for Real Madrid to counterattack. Liverpool continued to bombarde the Real goal forcing Courtois to shut down chance after chance with incredible saves. One that was particularly notable came when Salah expertly took down an over-the-top ball with his first touch but was foiled in his endeavour to give his team the lead by an incredible reaction save. Liverpool looked destined to win until one of those counter attacks combined with an error from Trent Alexander-Arnold and a pinpoint pass from Valverde gave Vinicius Junior an easy tap in to deliver Real the lead after 59 minutes of deadlock.

“Madrid, now with the lead, needed only to see off any more challenges from the Reds and hold on till the final whistle blew, but this would prove harder than expected as Liverpool only upped their chance production as they riddled the Madrid goal with shot after shot each one blocked by an expert save from Thibaut Courtois who I believe deserved a man of the match award as he personally kept “Los Blancos” in the match. As regular time ran out and all hope began to fade for the Liverpool supporters their shots became increasingly desperate coming from outside the box at awkward angles and many of them missing far wide of either post.

“When the clock struck 90 minutes the ref announce that he would be adding 5 minutes of injury time giving new life to the Liverpool team as they continued to press in search of an equaliser. The last few minutes were scrappy and Real Madrid players were taking every opportunity to fall on the ground and waste time with injuries that seemed to magically disappear 20 seconds later. In the end Madrid managed to hang on to their 1-0 lead, adding a 14th Champions League title to their trophy cabinet despite Liverpool’s dominant and objectively more impressive performance.”

Here are a couple of stats to give you an idea of how Liverpool dominated the action in that game – – to no avail:

  • Shots:   Liverpool 24  Real Madrid 4
  • Shots on Goal:  Liverpool 9  Real Madrid 2
  • Corner Kicks:  Liverpool 6  Real Madrid 2

Moving on …  Let me tie up another “loose end” here.  A week ago, I mentioned that Huddersfield and Nottingham Forest would face each other in a finals match to see which team would be promoted from the English Championship to the English Premier League next season.  The game was played last Sunday, and Nottingham Forest prevailed by a score of 1-0.  That means the three “promoted” teams are Fulham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest.

I am not going to pretend to be a soccer maven here, but something jumps out at me from the Championship Table last season.

  • Fulham averaged 2.3 goals per game
  • The next highest scoring team (Bournemouth) averaged only 1.6 goals per game.

In the Premier League last season, only 2 teams averaged more than 2.3 goals per game.  Those two teams – – Manchester City and Liverpool – – finished first and second in the Premier League.  It will be interesting to see if Fulham can continue that sort of offensive prowess against better defenses next year in the top league.

Finally, I received an email from a friend who said he thought I was morphing from a curmudgeon into a pessimist.  Thinking on that “accusation”, I went to see if I could find a distinction and came across this observation by Oscar Wilde:

“Pessimist:  one who, when he has the choice of two evils, chooses both.”

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

 

 

French Open Tennis – An Exclusive Report

I have mentioned before that #1 son lives in Dublin, Ireland with his wife and our grandson who is now 14.  I refer to him as The FOG which is shorthand for the First and Only Grandson.  The Fog follows European football and the team he supports in the English Premier League – – football is not nearly as big a deal in Ireland as it is in other parts of Europe – – is Arsenal.  For Christmas in 2020, his parents gave him the gift of a trip to London to see an Arsenal game.  COVID-19 travel restrictions obviated that travel and so the gift naturally carried over.

In the intervening year, The FOG became more interested in – and more proficient at – tennis; that led his carryover Christmas present to morph into a trip to Paris to see some of the French Open tennis tournament there.  I asked him to be the “Sports Curmudgeon Exclusive Correspondent” and give me some reports on the matches he saw.

As luck would have it, his first match of the day allowed him to see the #1 ranked woman in the world, Iga Swaitek against Danka Kovinic.  Here is his report:

“The first set was dominated by the more experienced Swiatek who dictated the tempo of the game, only occasionally showing flashes of weakness when Kovinic would use her superior strength to blaze a forehand past the experienced Pole. The second set though was a different story, Kovinic came out guns blazing and managed to grab a break on Swiatek’s mere second service game. The Montenegrin was playing impressive tennis and she looked on course to win the second set if she could just keep up the high level of intensity which was forcing her opponent to fire long over the baseline, an issue addressed by Swiatek in her post match interview. Sadly, this success was short lived and the world number one managed to break back and subsequently hold her service to level the score 3-3 in the set. They would go on to trade game for game until the score would come to 5-5. This is where Swiatek would grab the critical second break she needed to pull ahead and after an easy service victory she won the match in straight sets. Swaitek has yet to lose a set this week, but this is the closest she has come to losing that streak.”

Here is The FOG’s commentary on the second match he saw that day:

“The second match of the day on court Phillipe Chatrier was between the Chinese 18-year-old and world number 70 Qinwen Zheng and the French home favourite Alize Cornet. From the offset the atmosphere in Phillipe Chatrier was electric unlike that of the previous game with the French fans cheering on their token athlete. Shouts of “Aller Alize” were coming from all over the arena and were being met with audible reaction, but Zheng didn’t allow this to affect her tennis and she dominated from the very first point which she won easily on the back of a rocket of a serve. The Chinese superstar continued to control the pace and tempo of the play with strong shots coming from both forehand and backhand.

“By the time she jumped out to a 4-0 lead on the back of two breaks it was clear that no amount of support the home fans could give would be able to help their beloved Alize against an opponent of clearly superior skill. Watching this match my mind drew comparisons to a young Serena Williams as Zheng obviously possessed far more athletic ability and strength than her opponent, a strong and accomplished tennis player in her own right. With the exception of a long deuce in the second game Cornet failed to put up much of a fight and the 1st set ended with a disappointing bagel for the Frenchman.

“The second set started off better with Cornet challenging Zheng’s service in the first game, but once she managed to fend of this crowd-pleasing resurgence the match fell back into its rhythm and after being broken and denied the break herself Cornet retired due to fatigue as the second set was only three games old.”

The third match of the day pitted Gilles Simon against Marin Cilic.  Here is what The FOG had to say about it:

“The third and final match of the day on Phillipe Chatrier that I had the privilege of observing, without access to the night pass, was Marin Cilic facing off against Giles Simon a French tour veteran and wild card entry into this year’s Roland Garros. Simon was obviously the crowd favourite and for understandable reasons as he has been a leader in French tennis since the late 2000s whereas his opponent possessed a higher ranking and was the 20 seed in the tournament. The two had played multiple times before this match the first being in 2007 as they were both experienced members of the ATP tour.

“The first set started as it eventually would continue as Cilic dominated all the early exchanges, only falling into trouble occasionally through his own errors, never losing control of the point. There were a few long deuces in the first set that could have potentially gone Giles’ way and a few times when the chair umpire left his high loft to check the mark, he would rule in favor of Cilic leaving the crowd in anger. Much like the previous game, despite the fact that Simon was outmatched he still held the overwhelming crowd support and every time his hustle and speed would win him a point the crowd would erupt and begin cheering. Despite this support though “Gilous”, as the crowd affectionately nicknamed him, would go on to be bageled in the first set unable to claim victory in even one game.

“The second set however had a different feel. Although Cillic was still the dominant force on the court Simon began to play better and using his superior speed and drop shotting ability he shifted the game from one based around hard groundstrokes to one played at the net. He also possessed better hand skills than his Croatian opponent, so this played into his strengths perfectly. The second set was a great improvement for the Frenchman, but he was unable to win it managing only to win three games.

“The third set began well for Simon, and he won his first service game, but he was hampered by quad tightness as the match went on which would severely limit his ability to play the style which he had been relying on to win him points. As I saw this situation unfold, I pointed out to my mom the marks in the clay which showed clearly where each player was spending the majority of the points. On Cillic’s side the clay around the centre of the court was covered in footprints whereas on the Simon’s side the centre was relatively smooth with either side having been blemished by footprints and slide marks. This shows that Cillic had superior control from the baseline and that he had his opponent on the run for the majority of the points. This dominant display continued for the rest of the final set with the French crowd going into a frenzy every time Simon managed to win a point until Cilic finished the set off with an ace to win 6-0, 6-3, 6-2.”

Now before anyone here decides to accuse me of exploiting child labor for writing today’s piece, the way this happened was that I asked The FOG for a favor, and he graciously agreed to do this.  Moreover, The FOG will return tomorrow with commentary on the UEFA Final game between Liverpool and Real Madrid which – coincidentally – was also in Paris last weekend because the venue was moved out of Russia after the invasion of Ukraine,

Finally, since this is all about the French Open, it seems fitting to close with some words from the French author/philosopher, Voltaire:

“Animals have these advantages over man: they have no theologians to instruct them, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills.”

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

 

 

A Well-Earned Retirement

Last weekend marked the end of an era.  After more than 50 years in the sports journalism business, Ray Didinger signed off the air on a sports radio show he and Glen Macnow had done for about 20 years on 94WIP.  If you lived or worked in Philadelphia for any period of time since about 1970 and if you had even a passing interest in sports, you know who Ray Didinger is.  For others who were not in that circumstance, let me present a thumbnail sketch of his career:

  • He was a reporter, beat writer and columnist for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (a paper no longer in existence) and then for the Philadelphia Daily News.
  • He was the Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year five times.
  • He is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH for his coverage of the NFL.
  • He was a writer and producer at NFL Films and won four Emmys in the process.
  • He is the playwright of a one-act drama Tommy and Me.
  • He has been a fixture on Philadelphia TV doing pre-game and post-game programs for Eagles’ games.
  • He has been a weekend sports radio host for more than 20 years.

One of his TV shows was Football America.  It was a celebration of football as an element of US society and culture.  It was not about the NFL or college football weekends.  Football America was about how the game of football is an essential part of Americans’ lives well beneath the showcase level of the NFL and major college football.  If you have never seen Football America, do yourself a favor and track it down so you can enjoy it.

I first met Ray Didinger in about 1970 when he was starting his career as a sportswriter.  It was clear from the beginning that he was a gifted writer and those awards mentioned above demonstrate that others have recognized his talents and abilities.  What sets Ray Didinger apart is that he combines great talent with authenticity.  Ray Didinger is one of the nicest, most genuine human beings on the planet.  There is not a milligram of conceit or deceit in him.

I heard of his plans to retire as of Memorial Day weekend about a month ago.  My email response to the friend who gave me that news began with this comment:

  • Damn – – sports radio just got a whole lot dumber.

His weekend radio program was something you had to hear if you were in the Philadelphia listening area because he approached the program calmly and rationally.  Need I remind anyone that such is not the hallmark of sports radio programming.  There was no ranting and raving; there were few if any ‘hot takes”; the program was three hours of analytical discussion about sports between two men who are obviously friends in addition to being co-hosts of a radio program.  Every time I listened to the show, I felt that I came away from it just a tad smarter than I was when I tuned in.

A couple of years ago, Ray Didinger published a memoir titled, Finished Business.  Whenever I learn that a sportswriter I have followed has put together a memoir, I make it a point to read it.  My two favorite sports memoirs had been:

  • Over Time by Frank Deford
  • Gloves Off by Lowell Cohn

Those two exceptional books are now joined by Finished Business; it is a great book and an easy read.

Often in the world of sports a coach or manager finds himself being nudged out of his position but instead of being fired, that beleaguered coach/manager chooses to resign – – often giving the rationale that he “wants to spend time with his family”.  That excuse has almost become a cliché and I say “almost” because that is exactly what Ray Didinger said was a key element of his decision to retire from sports journalism.  The difference in this case is that anyone who has followed Ray Didinger over the past 50 years or so takes that statement at face value and knows it to be the case.  Remember, there is not a milligram of deceit in the man.

Oh, by the way, there is one hole in Ray Didinger’s résumé that he might choose to fill during his retirement  years.  He has been a journalist, author, screenwriter, playwright, radio host and TV personality – – but he has not yet published an anthology of poetry.  Over to you, Ray…

Bonne chance, Ray Didinger.  Thank you for many hours of enjoyment and enlightenment over five decades.  Stay well…

 

 

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………

 

 

Forcing Daniel Snyder To Sell The Commanders?

I read a report last week in USA Today that some of the NFL owners were beginning to “count the votes” in an attempt to force Danny Boy Snyder to sell the Washington Commanders.  Obviously, I have no insight into the veracity or the extent of any such activity.  However, I will say that there are hundreds if not thousands of Commanders’ fans here in the DC area that went to church over the weekend and lit prayer candles asking The Almighty to let those rumors come to fruition.  For anyone who does not live – or has not lived – in the greater DC area over the past 20 years or so, the one-and-only thing that Commanders’ fans hope for more than a new owner is a Super Bowl Championship.  Truth be told; I am not so sure that a small cadre of fans would rather see a new owner if given that choice.

Me?  I could not care less who owns the franchise.  But I suspect that reports about anything imminent happening on that front are either wishful thinking or trial balloons.  I know that the NFL Bylaws sets out what must happen to remove an owner or a team if they engage in something that is detrimental to the NFL or to professional football and I know that a vote of 24 or more votes by the 32 owners is what is needed to kick someone out of the club.  But I think things will have to get a lot worse before any action of that sort is taken – or even begun in earnest – by other owners or the Commish.

I believe that there have been 4 times when the league has “nudged” an owner to the side:

  1. The owner of the AFL’s NY Titans, Harry Wismer, was told to sell the team when it got to the point that his payroll checks were not cashable.  That would seem to be an airtight reason to get a new owner in place; the Commanders are nowhere near such a state.
  2. The owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, Leonard Tose, was “convinced” to sell the team when his casino gambling losses got to the point where the team might have had to be mortgaged to pay off the debts.  [Aside:  Tose also had to liquidate his privately owned trucking company to square everything he owed.]  Again, the Commanders and Danny Boy Snyder are nowhere near that sort of financial precipice.  [Aside #2: At one point, Tose got a cash loan from another NFL owner, Hugh Culverhouse, and got that owner to guarantee a $3M loan to Tose.  Talk about bad optics…]
  3. The owner of the SF 49ers, Eddie DeBartolo, was suspended by the NFL for one year and he then quietly transferred team control to his sister who continues to own the team.  DeBartolo pleaded guilty to federal charges involving extortion by the then governor of Louisiana involving a gambling license on a riverboat there.  Danny Boy Snyder is not in any sort of parallel situation here.
  4. The owner of the Carolina Panthers, Jerry Richardson, agreed to sell the team after his being accused of sexually harassing employees.  His decision to sell the team obviated any sort of action by other owners but interestingly – to me – the league seemed only too happy to get a new owner there so that the “story would go away”.

It is Situation #4 above that may have a parallel in the case of the Commanders and Danny Boy Snyder.  There have been stories of a “toxic workplace” for women – especially team cheerleaders – under Snyder’s ownership and one woman alleges that Snyder inappropriately touched her.  There has been no action to adjudicate those charges and the NFL conveniently made sure there was no written report of the findings of the investigation that it conducted into the “toxic workplace” allegations.  As I said, there may be some parallel here, but it is not the most robust of comparisons.

Here is why I think things would have to get a lot worse before any sort of movement to kick Danny Boy Snyder out of the club can gain momentum.

  • I think that it is 100% certain that Daniel Snyder would sue the NFL and the other owners up and down the course of any such movement to oust him.  Remember, this is the man who sued his team’s season ticket holders in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse when some of them could not afford to maintain their payments on those tickets.  He is no stranger to lawsuits.
  • The danger for the NFL and owners in that situation is that court proceedings are far more open to public scrutiny than are the private dealings among the owners and/or the NFL’s closed arbitration sessions that are used to resolve disputes of all kinds.  In the situation where this gets down and dirty, this could turn into a matter where both sides choose to employ a scorched earth tactic against the opposition.  If you think the Huge Culverhouse loan to Leonard Tose mentioned above was a bad optic, think about what this could evolve into.

As I said above, I care about who owns the team about as much as I care about who the team’s long-snapper is; it just does not matter to me.  But I do think that it matters to Danny Boy Snyder a lot; not only is it an asset that continues to make him wealthier, owning an NFL team is something he does that others who may be far wealthier than he cannot do.  Some men look around to find a “trophy wife”; Danny Boy Snyder has a “trophy asset”.  And for that reason – in addition to the Commanders’ profitability – I think he is not going to sell the team voluntarily or without a fight.

He had to eat crow publicly when he had to rename the franchise after he said he would NEVER do that.  Somehow, he does not strike me as someone who enjoys eating crow – – and selling his team would be tantamount to eating crow again.

Finally, since most of today involved me presenting my opinion on a situation, let me close with this entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Opinionated:  Knowing absolutely nothing really loudly.”

But don’t get me wrong, I Iove 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………