Posted on: September 28, 2012 1:55 pm
 

NFL Barometer Wk-4

Not So Fast, football America. The regular referees are back in business but there are grades to be handed out in wake of ‘Replacement-Ref Whine-fest 2012.’

Roger & The Regulars: B

Denying anyone who’s not employed in public safety the right to use all leverage in negotiating a contract (strike) would be un-American. Unfortunately, the regulars have now been vested with special status of indispensability by the same cry-babies who ragged on ‘em before their strike, bitched about the replacements during, and will piss & moan again in Wk-4.

When the firestorm over Monday night’s controversial “simultaneous catch” call flared-up this week, both the Commissioner and strikers contained the blaze by acting with due speed. And if you think the new referee deal was a result of poor job performance by the replacement referees, you need to pull your head out of…the sand. Most likely it was serious concern over the safety of the replacements that proved primary motivation for compelling both parties back to the bargaining table to hammer-out an agreement.

Fresh in their minds may’ve been recent tragic events in Libya and the Middle East, triggered by parties using YouTube to fuel the fires of ignorance & violence. With anger over the disputed Hail Mary call that ended the Packers v. Seahawks MNF contest rising rapidly during the week and becoming a national embarrassment, coupled with knowledge that more touchy-calls would result in Wk-4 games, those professionals in security who monitor such situations must’ve been speculating about dangerous acts that nut-jobs might undertake.

Replacement Referees: B+

These guys head home wondering why they ever took such a thankless job. It couldn‘t be the pay. Roger Goodell’s apology-in-appeasement notwithstanding, the replacements, as imperfect as they were, deserve commendations just for taking the field.

Golden Tate of the Seattle Seahawks: “The Man with the Golden Arm.” The left one, to be exact. It’s pretty well hidden from view in the film-replay of the infamous Hail Mary, but either his left arm and / or hand are initially on that football, simultaneously with Mr. Jennings (Packers), or it disappeared into the 4th dimension like “Tina” did in that classic Twilight Zone (“Little Girl Lost” / 1962). It’s one, or the other. Take your pick.

As for Mr. Tate shoving a Packers’ defender just before the ball arrived, don’t forget the first rule of end-game drama: never let a referee’s call decide the outcome. Before Thursday night’s Browns / Ravens contest, where the just-back regulars were extra cautious and playing-it-safe with Cleveland’s game-ending Hail Mary (flag), the regulars would’ve followed precedent on MNF, just like the replacements: no-call on the shove.

The precedent here is on point: Dallas Cowboys v. Minnesota Vikings, Metropolitan Stadium, 1975 NFC playoffs. This is the original game-winning Hail Mary. It came from Cowboys’ QB Roger Staubach and involved another decisive push-down by receiver Drew Pearson of a Vikings’ defender. Difference is, this one sent the winner to the Super Bowl and one of the referees to the hospital after getting hit in the head with a whiskey bottle thrown by an idiot in the stands. Roger & the regulars may remember.

NFL Players & Coaches: D+

The jocks and gurus must share blame for the hostility heaped upon the replacements. A few choice words, spoken at the right time could’ve quelled much of the outrage. Instead, the behavior of men like Bill Belichick (ref-grabber) and Aaron Rodgers’ (whine-pro) was typical. But in the Age of Enablement there are no grievances so small, so selfish, as to go unheard & un-redressed. I guess 'suck-it-up’ and ‘take the pain’ are old school.

The Ravens’ Anquan Boldin stated the prevailing view in post-game interview when pressed on the referee issue after Thursday night‘s Browns v. Ravens game: “I think the guys respect the regular referees.” And that was the crux of it, these past four weeks. Most of the players & coaches, it seemed, had no respect for the replacements.  A prejudice, you could say. When prejudice is the mind-set, rational thought cannot happen.

Politics makes strange bedfellows. Had the players wanted to show solidarity with the regulars, the same guys they regularly berated on & off the field before their departure, they could’ve gone on strike with the zebras. But then nobody, not the owners, not the fans, not the players nor the media wanted the games cancelled, right? Right.

Sport Media & Entertainment: F

Lucky for these guys the NFL / referee contract was resolved when it was, otherwise all hell may’ve broken loose. I cringe to think.

ESPN, self-anointed “leader” in sport coverage, set a match to a highly-flammable situation. Normally neutral anchors freely weighed-in on the MNF controversy, making it clear to viewers that the field call (“simultaneous catch / Seattle TD) was pure buffoonery, while ex-jock analysts did their part to fan the flames of discontent. Post-game comments by Steve Young (“It’s an emergent situation and I pray that an emergent doesn‘t result”) and Trent Dilfer (“You get so frustrated with incompetence that it turns to anger“) are noteworthy in their poor judgment and apparent invite to fan-rage.

Because it’s unlikely ESPN acts in such manner solely on behalf of regulars refs, the best explanation might be the favored status of the Green Bay Packers’ organization. The same inexplicable hostility emerged shortly after Brett Favre’s jet hit the Twin Cities tarmac in 2009. The message here: When Packers’ fans get angry, ESPN listens.

And if ESPN’s bigwigs think “Sport Science” guy John Brenkus is a persuasive voice in photo-finish analysis, they’ll never graduate to the next grade. John’s head-spinning, sales-pitch is like that fast talking carnival barker. Before you can spot the con-job, he’s got you by the arm and going for your wallet. You could lose the smirk, too, JB.

But the regulars are back. And with the glowing comments I’ve read from players, coaches, fans and media, football America is pleased as punch. Maybe this signals a new beginning, a greater respect between players, coaches and the officials. Less on-field rage and fewer post-game crying-jags? Stranger things have happened. If this is a by-product, it’s another reason to thank the subs.

Steven Keys
Posted on: September 26, 2012 12:30 am
 

DayGame World Series, Sir Selig?

If you’re reading this you’re a sports fan and know all about ESPN’s college “GameDay.” It’s not my cup o’ tea (that outdoor-set, with its screaming fans, really red-lines my annoying-meter), but the name, that works just fine.

So, for purposes of this baseball piece, just flip that title and make it DayGame World Series 2013. That’s my dream, anyway.

It’s been over a quarter-century since baseball fans were treated to a World Series game in the sun. It was 1984. Sparky Anderson’s terrific Tigers club took on the network-favored Padres in San Diego’s first fall classic (DET 4-1).

That was also the year Chicago’s Northsiders were re-born. Ryne Sandberg (MVP), Rick Sutcliffe (CY) and Harry Caray (WGN) led the parade at Wrigleyville as the Cubs cruised to their first crown (division) and post-season appearance in nearly 40 years.

Those were the days before expanded playoffs as the Padres & Cubs would decide the NL flag in a best-of-five series. The problem, as MLB and the network saw it, was that the Bruins didn’t play night games in 1984. That year wouldn’t come until ‘88. Chicago’s presence in the PS may’ve been a national thrill for everyone outside St. Louis but threw a big monkey-wrench into baseball’s trend toward night broadcasts. So what would any self-respecting greedmeister do but pull the old switch-a-roo and give night-suited San Diego home-field advantage (Chicago had the NL’s best record).

The Cubs took the first two in the Chicago sunshine by lopsided margins as the visitors looked over-matched. When the series shifted to California, the plucky Padres, led by superman Steve Garvey, overcame deficits in all three night contests and got their ticket punched to the fall classic.

The day-time World Series game is a mystery to younger fans. Older fans might recall, not just the games themselves, but the celebratory mood that began to build quickly after rising in the morning in anticipation of a typical 2:00 pm (?) opening pitch.

To put it in terms for those unfamiliar with a World Series day-game, let’s say, it’s not as great as having a date with a real looker (who actually likes you back), but more fun than, say, leading your fantasy league for the week.

The World Series day-game I remember best was the one I attended with my brother Kev in 1982 at old, wide-open Milwaukee County Stadium between the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. It was game 5 and Milwaukee owner Bud Selig must’ve over-sold seats because we were packed into those bleachers like sardines. We didn’t care. It was a chilly but gloriously sunny October day, we drank beer, ate dogs, smoked a few cigs back then and the Brew Crew pulled it out late to take a 3-2 lead in the Series. The peerless Bruce Sutter would prove the difference-maker as the Cards took the classic match in seven.

You don’t need an MBA to understand why the League made the World Series an exclusively nighttime affair: more viewers, higher ratings, bigger fees, more sales, lots o’ loot for the Suits.

But I wonder. I wonder if MLB turned just one game outta’ the Series into a day-game, during a weekday, if it might be so unusual, such good an excuse to skip school and cut work early, so red, white & blue Americana that it might start a new (or revive an old) tradition and actually make some healthy mullah for the cufflink crowd.

And not to worry, night owls. MLB can still keep airing most games after dinner, when they run until midnight or later, when many fans are snoozing on the couch or have hit-the-hay before the last out is called and commercial is aired.  Whoopee!

The way it stands, MLB needs something new, something fresh that’s not just aimed at kids (home run derby), something to give it an edge, a boost over our national obsession with everything football. It’s an obsession that fuels Favre fanaticism, Tebowmania, replacement-ref rage and needs a good swift kick in those shiny Nike pants.

It’s a dream I have.

Steven Keys
Posted on: September 20, 2012 12:27 am
 

NFL Cherry Picks WK-3

False starts.  That's been the common thread so far running through analysis of NFL 2012.

Green Bay was suppose to be in trouble after their WK1 lose to the 49ers while da’ Bears were finally a burgeoning power. “Maybe no” to both, as "Furio Giunta" would say (The Sopranos).

The Patriots were suppose to be unbeatable, then the mighty Cardinals flew into town.

Peyton was suppose to be back in form after a nice start. That’s a work-in-progress.

Giants were suppose to be defending champs and then loose right outta’ the gate, at home, to a Dallas squad that in WK2 proceeds to get beat-up in, of all places, Seattle.

And some folks thought the wildcat would work wonders in Jetsland.  It's still early.

One common take that’s so far proving wise is the confidence many had in draft dandies Misters Luck and Griffin. But hedge your bets accordingly. While Andy’s schedule befits a team deep in rebuilding mode, Rob’s slate of games gets a tad wicked as the season matures.

Biggest win to date in NFL 2012

It’s the 49ers 30-22 take-down at Lambeau opening weekend. While they came in as slight underdogs after coming within a hair’s breadth of SB46, strong-arming the Pack in GB is always a feather in your cap. And with the Giants returning to their enigmatic, post-SB form, this win could set the tone for all 2012 with San Fran the team to beat in the NFC.

The NFL schedulers might know what they’re doing after all.

Biggest surprise through WK-2

Arizona Cardinals topping the lordly New England Patriots last Sunday in Foxborough, no less (20-18). The fact the game was decided by a late, missed field goal attempt by a normally reliable Steve Gostkowski doesn’t detract one iota from its significance as the Cards and Kev Kolb were in control most of the way.

Biggest bore in September

That would have to be all the cry-babies on the substitute referees. Once the regular zebras and NFL packed up their negotiation-tents and the replacement refs were signed-on, you knew the whining would come fast & furious. “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper, that’s what I wanta’ know (Tony Soprano)!?"

Cherry Picks WK-3:

New York Giants (1-1) @ Carolina Panthers (1-1) (9-20 / NFLN / 8:20)

The G-men are defending NFL champs but you might not know it. Getting outplayed by equally enigmatic Dallas in WK1 and barely outlasting the lots-to-prove Buccaneers, the Giants like to keep us guessing. I’d guess victory in Charlotte as NYG defenders flush-out run-rabbit-run Cam Newton who’s back to his college-ways with double-digit scampers (13 v NO). Cam might be trying to carry the run-game that was as nowhere-to-be-found in Tampa as the mysterious lost colony of Roanoke (NC) in 1587. Giants win.

San Francisco 49ers (2-0) @ Minnesota Vikings (1-1) (9-23 / Fox / 1:00)

An early season test-game of Coach Leslie Frazier’s retention value. Niners come in with former Viking, Mr. Ipecac, Randy Moss, as NFL’s top-ranked club. It should provide slow-outta-the-gate Jared Allen reason to revive and Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf a good measure of his team’s progress. Are Vikes respectable rankings (O16 / D12) and QB numbers (Ponder / 76% / 2TD / 0-INT) sign they’ve turned the corner, or merely mirage of a program on the wrong track? 49ers win, exacting revenge for Favre & Lewis ‘09.

Atlanta Falcons (2-0) @ San Diego Chargers (2-0) (Fox / 4:00)

Ryan, Rivers & Romo: 3-Rs of quarterback frustration. All hat and no cattle, meaning, playoff busts. Cowboys & Tony took a step back in Seattle, but all three signal-callers are playing with high confidence and generally pleasing their fans. San Diego stuffs the run like nobody’s business (1 / 42 ypg). Without a balancing run-game (Turner was off kilter pre-DUI) to compliment Matt Ryan’s arm, Falcons strong-suit is a capable tackling corps of Weatherspoon, Moore and Nicholas. Home-team Chargers bolt to 3-0.

Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) @ Arizona Cardinals (2-0) (Fox / 4:00)

Eagles are a mixed bag: nice passing-rank (2) with a QB (Vick) who rates low (67%) and throws picks like he needs glasses (6). Defense is stout (4) but with only Nate Allen in top 50 tackles (15). So much for stat-worship. Bird Bowl turns on QB pressure and who handles it best. Eagles’ D is good-to-fair (P4 / R15) while Cards can bring the bodies (Washington / Lenon / Campbell). Michael’s gonna’ like working in Arizona, whether they retract the roof or not (U of Phoenix Stadium). Eagles by a bird-beak.

Houston Texans (2-0) @ Denver Broncos (1-1) (CBS / 4:20)

Everyone and their grandma loves the Texans. Me, I’m no Sooner but more like a Missourian (Show Me). Houston’s got the troops: field general (Schaub); run-attack (Foster / Tate); hands (Johnson / Daniels) and team-spirit (O-10 / D-1), now they’ve gotta’ act like Romans (Empire) and grab the booty. Peyton Manning is a problem-solver. If it’s broke, he’ll fix it, fast. Expect cleaner play from PM, a featured McGahee (20+RA) and D-emphasis on run-stuff. Broncos win and slow the Houston love-train.

New England Patriots (1-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (1-1) (NBC / 8:20)

Both teams look for bounce after close losses. If Pats are unsure of themselves they shouldn’t be, with Brady & Ridley (196). Like Ravens, they should be 2-0. Rank wise, Ravens are in new territory: top-10 O (8P / 10R), low-10 D (25P / 20R). Joe Flacco wants better distribution and comp-% (60), while Ray Rice is a workhorse (167 / 6.4) with nice hoofs / hands (9). When you’re good, home field’s a decided edge. Ravens are good and victorious.

Steven Keys

NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: September 14, 2012 12:25 am
 

Pick ya' Poison: MLB vs NFL

Summer’s on the wane and there’s a nip in the nighttime air. That means three things: school is back in session, baseball is heating-up and the pigskins are flying.

It’s a heady time for fans of America’s two favorite sports. Richard Kimble (The Fugitive) knew the score: “So, what are you, a football player, baseball player?,” asked the good doctor / janitor as he tweaked the orders and wheeled young “Joel” to life-saving surgery.

While one sport is in the home stretch as contenders separate from pretenders and try to finish in the money (playoffs), the other is just outta’ the gate where gridiron gladiators look to hit their stride and jockey for the inside rail to build an early lead.

It’s a daunting choice come Sunday afternoon. Which sport do you watch on TV?

Do you get vested in the pennant races or dive into the game you’ve been yearning for ever since Eli hoisted his second Lombardi trophy last February? Life’s tough decisions.

5 Reasons to Choose Baseball

Reason #1: MLB’s smokin’ hot!

All three American divisions are in play with late-bloomers Baltimore and Tampa Bay joining the chase while the Swingin’ As of Oakland are doing their damndest to make sure those highfalutin Texans don’t go popping any corks anytime soon.

Ever since writer / ESPN commentator Skip Bayless publicly speculated on Derek Jeter’s supplement regime back in August, the Yanks got defensive and lost focus at the worst time (no player’s above suspicion until testing is tightened with an in-season blood draw).

And if you can’t get energized about the rise of the Nationals and the terrific seasons of rookie Mike Trout (LAA), slugger supreme Miguel Cabrera (DET), comeback kid Buster Posey (SF), re-invented R.A. Dickey (NYM), Mr. consistency Derek Jeter (NYY) or moundsmen David Price (TB) and Jered Weaver (LAA), you’ve got the heartbeat of a hibernating bear.

Reason #2: Baseball’s clean’in‘ up

No big Nielsens booster but still nice to know at least one of the pro-sports you watch is trying to put game back into the business. Rather than cause for cynicism, recent busts (Braun / Melky / Colon) are sign the PED-prevention program is working. Whereas, kid brother football keeps twiddling its thumbs, hoping cries for PED testing are drowned-out by a diverting media while their rippling-membership are given ample time to make the necessary adjustments before the inevitable blood-draw comes knocking.

Reason #3: Fewer TV commercials

Baseball does its share of shill during a telecast, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t compare to the commercial tidal wave to which NFL fans are subjected during a turf-battle broadcast.

Holy cow! Change of possession, TV time-out; injured or embarrassed player, TV time-out; coach’s challenge, TV-TO; official review, TV-TO; quarter-change, TV-TO; studio update, TV-TO. You get the idea. If you like commercials, football is your thing.

Reason #4: Baseball’s tougher than football

How could I make such a ludicrous statement, you ask? I’ll tell you how in two words: sticky-gloves, otherwise known as sissy-gloves. This ain’t your father’s football.

The handy-work of NFL entrepreneurs and glove manufacturers, this foray into cozy is nothing more than a nationwide money-grab (covering high school hands coast-to-coast) and an offense-enhancer to assist the catch-challenged in the same way the 5-foot wedge-putter and cantaloupe-sized driver head give welfare to the golfing community while making cash registers ring.

And spare me the safety claim. I’ll concede their worth in sub-zero temps (Lombardi & Bud Grant were cool customers), but if anything, they may reduce safety by the increased friction they create for hand, wrist and neck movement in tackling. And 9 outta’ 10 of those so-called miraculous grabs ESPN anchors go ga-ga over are directly attributable to the sticky-gloves. It ain’t rocket science and it ain‘t spectacular.

MLB has it’s own gear, sure, but it’s protective (sometimes TOO much) for players as well as fans in the seats (flying bats). Stand in a batter’s box someday and you’ll know what I‘m writing about. Suffice to say, baseball gear has a purpose beyond coinage.

Reason #5: One last look at Greatness?

Faux-sport fans will often bring up John Unitas when they hate on the aged. John stayed a year too long in the NFL (Chargers). But those who love on the game, whether baseball or football, take great pleasure in catching one last glimpse (or ear-shot) of greatness.

Everyone knows future HOF’ers Chipper Jones (ATL) and Omar Vizquel (TOR) are on goodbye-tours, but there are other players with the glow of greatness who have yet to decide or declare their future plans but might be giving their final curtain call.

Jamie Moyer (COL / cut) and Mariano Rivera (DL) were out early, Jim Thome found a spot (on DL) with the upstart Orioles, Jason Giambi still has fire (COL) and injuries have caught up with sweet-swingin’ Lance Berkman (STL). To those who ultimately pack it in, Vaya con Dios, mis amigos. Thanks for the memories.

And don’t forget the veteran voices of baseball, the men who paint pictures with words. Guys like Milo Hamilton (HOU), Ken Harrelson (CWS), Dick Enberg (SD), Bob Uecker (MIL), Mike Shannon (STL), Marty Brennaman (CIN) and Vin Scully (LAD), who announced his plan to return to Chavez Ravine for 2013.

There you have it, sport fans. All the reasons you need to pass on September football come Sunday and turn on the National pastime instead, daring to catch a few laps of NASCAR or Formula One between innings.

So stock-up on beverages, pay that satellite bill, treat your wife with respect (she suffers the supermarket getting those snacks you’ll pound-down) forego the network’s pre-game drivel and plant yourself in that favorite chair for some good, hard-hitting…football! Heck, you can watch rounders all week long, but come Sunday in September, the NFL is just what the doctor ordered.

Steven Keys
Posted on: September 9, 2012 12:51 am
 

Saints Joy Won't Resonate

Congratulations go out to Saints’ linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

Not for winning a vacation from his season-long Bountygate suspension he was handed by the NFL earlier this year, but rather, for his choice of celebratory shout-out.

“Victory is mine!!!! -Stewie Griffin,” texted Mr. Vilma after he received the joyous news. Classy move, Jon. Had you quoted Bart Simpson instead I would’ve been seriously disappointed in you, dude.

As for the liberation of Vilma and his co-appellants: Because I have no good basis for doubting or supporting the soundness of the appellate panel’s legal ruling on Friday (9-7), meaning, I don’t have all the facts, I’ll leave the deep analysis to the talking heads.

It was a different story last spring in the case against Ryan Braun. When Braun’s PED suspension was vacated by MLB’s 3-person arbitration panel (2-1), the facts were fewer, more clear and I felt at ease in criticizing what still seems an erroneous decision.

But Bountygate’s a different kettle of fish.

There are questions of power (Goodell vs. arbitrator), standards (CBA articles 14 & 46), pay parameters (bounty-$ vs. NFL contracts & salary caps) and what constitutes an ‘intent to injure’ beyond game rules, that all require homework this writer didn‘t hand in.

Even so, I side with the NFL and Goodell in this Bountygate travesty. Why? Because I trust them. When the NFL Suits negotiate those billion dollar deals with networks & merchandisers, I know they‘re all greedmeisters to the core and wouldn’t trust ‘em as far as I could throw ‘em. Like I wrote, Bountygate’s different.

There are half a dozen reasons why Saints’ personnel might avoid the truth and claim innocence in the face of bounty evidence. But I can’t think of one good reason why the NFL would have anything but the good of the game in mind as cause for their Bountygate investigation. The Saints and Katrina-ravaged New Orleans had become a source of inspiration for all Americans. When the NFL got wind of something terribly wrong in the Saints’ playbook, they had to take action, as over-reaching as it may have proved.

'The road to hell is paved with (the NFL’s) good intentions?' Hardly the case here. More like, ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’

And I have a feeling I’m not alone in my sentiments. Apart from Saintsland and the captured media who are talking compromise today, most fans voicing a view have been in agreement with the League’s strong action prior to the recent vacation of bounty bans. The evidence aired was plenty persuasive while much of the defense played in public has consisted of only indignant denials. So what’s new?

There’s one image connected to Bountygate that will resonate long and which no panel can overturn in the minds of football fans across the nation. That’s the sight of ironman Brett Favre crumpling like a crushed Dixie cup after that wicked, over-under tackle by Saints’ defenders in the 2009 NFC title game. Whether those particular players were acting on bounty is not important, as that play has come to symbolize the nasty scheme, one that culpable players could’ve rejected. And acting on (coaches) orders often proves a poor defense in such a circumstance as this.

What is important is that a precedent, of sorts, has been set. Besides the lesson given both the NFL and NFLPA in the art of CBA interpretation, the message that bounties are wrong and will not be permitted is still crystal clear.

How the New Orleans Saints would respond to effects of Bountygate was a big question entering NFL 2012. Before the appellate panel’s decision, many believed the suspensions would be a source of motivation, something New Orleans might rally around. Non-player suspensions still remain in place but things have changed a bit. Now the bigger question is, how will the rest of the League respond to the Saints new claim of vindication?

Steven Keys
Posted on: September 4, 2012 1:12 am
 

NFL Wish List 2012

Dear Santa Claus:

     I know it’s still summertime, the season when you and the Mrs. are just getting back from your annual Elf-Awareness Conference in Puerto Vallarta, but I have a big favor to ask.
     NFL 2012 is set to kick-off Wednesday night (Cowboys @ Giants) and I have a few early requests that I’m hoping you can accommodate. I haven’t exactly been good this year, but I haven’t been bad, either. That oughta’ count for something in these times of rampant greed and selfish rationalization (PEDs), right?
     And besides, Santa, you still owe me. Remember that Denmark golf outing I arraigned in 2010 for you and your “assistant” with TW and his putting instructor Heidi? ‘Nuff said.

Super Bowl Drift

It’s all about Super Sunday, or is it? NFL brass have already set the post-season schedule Santa, but see if you can get Roger & Company to shave a week off that mood-killing, two-week dull-fest that follows Conference title games. Football’s a business, sure, but this grant to greed is taking an edge off player games and starts us dreaming of baseball. Yuck! Just kidding, Bud.

NFL Rules, Stats & Plays that Need Eliminating

On-side kick: Gotta’ be the dumbest, most un-football-like play in the book. Walter Camp or whoever hatched this turkey must’ve been on a toot. The team that just had the ball, can get it twice-in-a-row, if the oblong-spheroid takes a funny bounce and at ten yards lands in one of the kicking-team’s cozy-covered hands. Competition at its lamest.

Icing the kicker:” Letting the defense call a TO seconds prior to a FG attempt in order to mess with the kicker’s head is bad playground etiquette. Strong kids wouldn't stoop so low.

Lambeau Leap: A routine that always was a bit too comfy, a tad too needy for my taste, has now become downright hackneyed. I’m thinking Curly, Vince & Ray would've agreed.

Senseless Stats: An INT that gets hung on a QB for a pass that’s tipped into a defender‘s hands; A fumble-stat given to a carrier who had a ball stripped / punched from his grasp.

New OT Rules: No one that matters (players & fans) was complaining when a field goal gave victory in sudden-death OT. Simple case of someone in a Suit validating a job and squeezing in more commercial time. “Tanks for nothing” (Maggs / Caddyshack).”

“Calling all (fashion police) cars”

It’s bad enough football’s become a fashion runway for Nike marketing and its revolving-door of dress (uniforms), but c’mon NFL, could your unis be anymore skin-tight? The trend is towards more material, not less, so loosen up, fellas. It’s embarrassing, Santa.

These Players

Cam Newton (CAR): Would like to see Cam develop into a SB caliber pocket-passer as he seems to have the skill-set, though I’m not holding my breath. Old (run) habits die hard.

Peyton Manning (DEN) & Adrian Peterson (MIN): The great natural abilities of these two stars of the gridiron are a joy to watch (AP’s thunderous run vs. Browns in ‘09 is unforgettable) and, as such, I’m driven to root for their successful comebacks.

Randy Moss (SF): A charter-member of the Moss fan-club, admiring his unique talent and believing his moodiness misunderstood, I cancelled my enrollment after he “vomited” (Childress) on a beleaguered Vikings' team in 2010 while sucking-up to a disinterested Patriots. It’s a shame he hooked-up with the San Francisco 49ers as I’d thought before his arrival their throwback-style (Giants / Ravens) made them a nice fit for SB47. Your call, Santa.

Mark Sanchez & Tim Tebow (NYJ): “Soon the world will divide itself into two camps: pro-Boray and anti-Boray.” That’s Joan Crawford describing the up & coming violinist John Garfield in their 1946 film Humoresque. Joan could’ve been foretelling Tebowmania, but in fact, it’s only a minority of cranks and disciples who’ve gone camping. Most, like me, see Tim as a college-style (run) QB with the same vanity you find in most athletes and Jesus proselytizers. My wish: Tim finds his natural position (TE), Mark finds the end-zone and Rex Ryan finds inner peace.

The Los Angeles…

LA is a big town with a big football pedigree. As such, the City of Angels’ absence from the NFL line-up this past decade has left a serious void. I’ve always felt the Rams oughta be back in California, Cardinals back in Missouri and then the Sun Devils (ASU Forks) resurrected pro-style to fill the vacancy in Phoenix. That scenario won’t happen but the new Los Angeles franchise is already in the works.

Time to Give Blood, DeMaurice Smith

If you grant just this one wish Santa, I’ll be a happy camper: NFL blood-tests, prior to, and during the season of play, as part of a broad PED prevention policy.

After signing-on to an HGH blood-test in last year’s CBA settlement, the NFLPA has since weaseled-out of its offer, leaving the issue in limbo. Though many in the media have been ardently defending dethroned friend Lance Armstrong, waving the white-flag on PEDs, most of America, including parents, coaches, doctors, clean players and kids not looking forward to a career of injections, are not so easily misguided.

The late football great and former director of the NFLPA, Gene Upshaw, had some fine qualities. Leadership on drug-testing was not one of them. Time to get crack’in, DeMaurice.

Steven Keys
Posted on: August 26, 2012 1:20 am
 

Jared Allen Tops NFL D-List

You’ve heard it a thousand times. The NFL, it’s a quarterback league.

How the QB plays is a bellwether of his team’s progress or decline, week in, week out.

They get the glory in victory, the blame in defeat and everything else on the field is just so many props. Seems a funny evolution of the game, but that’s how it is and we seem to like it that way.

As for the guys on defense, well, the late, great Rodney Dangerfield put it best: “(They) get no respect, what can I tell ya’?”

Should we feel bad? Probably not, when you consider that a good defense is hard to find, though, in fairness, you could say the same about physicians, computer repair guys and barbers. Doesn’t matter if you’re talking college or the pros (NFL / CFL), the reliable defensive scheme seems a rare commodity in this day & age.

While the linebacker corps carries the load in the tackling department and lineman put pressure on the QB, defensive backs are working a balance of tackling & pass-deflection. But nothing is more emblematic of today’s ebbing state-of-defense than NFL secondaries.

Next time you tune into a game pay close attention to the DBs. You’re likely to see more muffed tackles and blown break-ups, even as they shadow their targets, than beer ads during the telecast. You’d think the prevent-defense was a permanent state. Ever since the days of Deion “Neon” Sanders, the art of secondary tackling has become passé while the big play (INT / LB sacks) and laying-in-the-weeds for the wicked-hit are all the rage.

I exaggerate, of course, because there are some terrific exceptions who play the backfield (Tyvon Branch / OAK / SS / 109T). But there's no debate that defense has become more an after-thought than focal point for coaches and their pre-game strategies.

These are the bright spots.

Pad-Smack, Team Style

When talking team defense, it’s the American Conference that fuels the conversation, in particular, the AFC North.

Led by ageless and still thrilled Ray Lewis (ILB / 95T), who comes back for season 17, and decorated (AP-DPY) but now-achilled Terrell Suggs (OLB / 70T / 14S / 7FF), the Baltimore Ravens get the nod as 2011’s top-D (2nd vs Run / 4th vs Pass), edging out Troy Polamalu (DB / 91T) and Ryan Clark’s (FS / 100T) Pittsburgh Steelers (1P / 8R) who picked a bad time to look porous in last season’s finale versus Tebowmania.

The Cincinnati Bengals are building a defensive foundation (10R / 9P) (Tom Howard / OLB / 99T) as their young gun learns the trade (Dalton). And don’t forget Ohio’s other team, the Cleveland Browns, who came in just behind Pittsburgh (1P @ 172 ypg) against the pass (2P @ 185 ypg), thanks in large part to the 'everywhere man' D’Qwell Jackson (MLB / 158T) and active lineman Ahtyba Rubin (NT / 83T / 5S / PUP).

With a promising but green QB (Gabbert) and a run-game in flux (Maurice Jones-Drew), the Jacksonville Jaguars, like division foe Indy, seek answers on the O-side, but also like the Colts, can boast strong building blocks in a trio of tackling mavens. Paul Posluszny (MLB / 119T / shoulder), Daryl Smith (OLB / 107T) and Dawan Landry (FS / 97T) guided the Jags to top-ten finishes against both the pass (8) and run (9) in the last campaign.

Teamwork was the talisman for the Houston Texans in 2011 as they stymied both the pass (3) and run (4) without sack-happy LB Mario Williams (out Wk 5 / Bills), and then, like the Ravens, with only one name among the top-50 tacklers in Brian Cushing (ILB / 114). What void Mario leaves in Texas will be filled soon enough.

And don’t go sour yet on the New York Jets. They may have a QB quandary, of their own making, but defense is still a Rex Ryan trademark as Gotham’s junior team made strong showings versus the pass (5P), the run (13R) and added talented Yeremiah Bell (SS / MIA / 107T).

In the NFC, it’s the Western dudes who think offense is sissified.

Former QB and still ‘rah-rah’ man Jim Harbaugh has San Francisco 49ers’ fans believing again with stout defense (1R @ 77 YPG) and sound, methodical offense. Third year ILB NaVorro Bowman set a super pace with 143 tackles in 2011, as perennial All-Pro Pat Willis (ILB) missed three and still netted 97 turf take-downs.

With solid QB play, the Seattle Seahawks will take flight as a balanced defense (15R / 11P) gives them some edge. David Hawthorne will be missed (115T / Saints / knee), but stalwarts Earl Thomas (FS / 98T) and Kam Chancellor (SS / 97T) keep it respectable.

Stick Men

Football players learn quickly about the ‘stick men.’ You find ‘em at every level: high school, college and the pros. The guys on the field who were born to tackle. They find ball-carriers like a heat-seeking missile. They can, as we would say back in the day, “really stick.” And when they strike, down you go: fast, furious and unforgettable.

While defense struggles to stay relevant in this era of pinball-like point tallies, there are men in the NFL who carry on proudly the tradition of tackling. They love to hit, hit often and hit hard. And they don’t need to lead with their helmet, Mr. James Harrison.

The NFC North won’t top the team rankings, but they showcase some of the League’s best tackling tandems (and trios). Defensive diva Ndamukong Suh looks to be more trouble than he’s worth (36T / 4S / 0FR), but the Detroit Lions are firm in the middle with Stephen Tulloch (MLB / 111T / knee) and DeAndre Levy (OLB / 109T).

The book on the Green Bay Packers used to read, defense 1st, run 2nd, pass 3rd and no donnas. Stout against the run in ‘11 (14), Packers came in dead last versus the pass (32), just behind projected SB 47? (retire the Romans, Roger) opponent Patriots. Ted rolls the dice on Mr. Enigma, Cedric Benson (RB), while Clay Matthews brought hair-spray but forgot a lunch pail in 2011 (OLB / 50T / 6S). Desmond Bishop is out (ILB / 115T / ham) and Charlie Peprah is really out (SS / cut), but Morgan Burnett (FS / 107T) sticks fine while way-rated Charles Woodson (CB / 74T / 7 INT) and A.J. Hawk look to pick-it-up in 2012 (ILB / 84T).

Though the Monsters of the Midway are long-in-the-tooth, the Chicago BearsLance Briggs (OLB / 105T) and Charles Tillman (CB / 99T) can still scare. Tim Jennings added game in 2011 (CB / 77T), big name Brian Urlacher (MLB / 102T) is hurting (knee) and Julius Peppers showed some life last season (DE / 37T / 11S). After them, there's a drop-off.

Many new faces dot the Indianapolis Colts’ O-side with departure of pros like Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark and Jeff Saturday. The D-side, not as much, but loss of stick star Pat Angerer (great name / frac-foot) (MLB / 148T) will be felt, while Kavell Conner (OLB / 107T) and fellow tackling titan Antoine Bethea (FS / 139T) patrol the tundra.

Miami Dolphins hit-show took a hit when Y. Bell split (Jets), leaving Kevin Burnett (ILB / 105T) and gimpy Karlos Dansby (ILB / 103T / knee) to cover. Addition of pricey Mario Williams is icing on the cake for a Buffalo Bills’ entree that already features hit-men Nick Barnett (ILB / 130T), George Wilson (SS / 106T) and Jairus Byrd (FS / 98T).

No surprise the Atlanta Falcons stuffed the run in 2011 (5) with Curtis Lofton (MLB / 147T) and Sean Weatherspoon (OLB / 115T) holding court, now work on the pass (20).

It’s been a rough go recently in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and their arch nemesis to the east is beaming ear-to-ear. But there’s a silver lining in the Minnesota Vikings’ dark cloud. They’re staying put (stadium), 2-yr. QB Christian Ponder still has possibility and Adrian Peterson might run again. Add in, Vikes have two of the NFL’s surest hitters in Chad Greenway (OLB / 152T) and E.J. Henderson (MLB / 110T), while the best defender in all of football may take shape in the person of Jared Allen (DE / 66T / 22S / 4FF).

Quarterbacks reign supreme. But if there is a defender who can work a game nearly as well as a QB, it is Jared Allen. He perfected the sack in 2011 (22) but brings a fiery spirit to the field of play that only Ray Lewis can duplicate. And like Ray, Jared overcame a difficult past but has the added burden of staying motivated on a bottom-feeder.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give mention to these tackling dynamos: London Fletcher (ILB / WAS / 166T!), James Anderson (OLB / CAR / 145T), James Laurinaitis (MLB / 142T), Jason Pierre-Paul (DE / NYG / 86T / 17S), Jason McCourty (CB / TN / 105T), Calais Campbell (DE / ARI / 72T / 8S), DeMarcus Ware (DE / DAL / 58T / 20S) and Derrick Johnson (ILB / KC / 131T). Without these guys, the NFL would be, well, Arena.

Steven Keys

Note: This article is dedicated to those brave people allied around the globe who have given, or who today put their limbs & lives on the line in the dangerous fight against terror & extremism, defending, in face of a stealth and brutal foe, the freedom to choose and the right to reason.
Posted on: August 20, 2012 4:55 pm
 

Barry, JoePa & Record Books

It’s not everyday you read something good about the NCAA.

Mind you, I’ve got no major gripe with the landlord of college sport. Not too happy about their cozy relationship with profiteers (Nike) and relaxation of player-standards in recent decades, but other than those two, most of what they do flies above my radar.

The NCAA is like your high school VP, a dirty job but someone’s gotta’ do it. Roaming the hallways, keeping order and quick to judge. No gray area with this guy. And he’ll probably turn gray fast, given the thankless nature of the job, policing the big-hearted youths of today, or as Joe Pesci would call ‘em, “utes” (My Cousin Vinny).

Last month the enforcers of collegiate merriment did something rarely done in today’s sporting world: they altered a record book. Not as shocking as Brett Favre hitting the Twin Cities’ tarmac and donning purple & gold (2009), but still, pretty big doings.

As part of the penalties levied against Penn St. per the Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, 111 of the Lions’ football wins from the years 1998-11 were “vacated” from NCAA rolls, knocking coach Joe Paterno from atop the D1 victories list (409 / 298) and moving the recently retired Bobby Bowden into the top spot with his tally of 377 (“Bobby” / CBS / 7-23).

Of all the sanctions handed down, that one’s gotta’ hurt the most. The others, including the 4-year bowl ban, scholarship cutback and fine ($60 XL) will all be absorbed easily enough over time. Some at PSU may welcome the shake-up as a means of penance to cleanse the soul. And the hefty fine, that’ll just get passed on to the students, like the insurance company that jacks their rates when the hurricane claims start blowing in.

It wasn’t the substance of their action that got my stamp of approval. While I appreciate the awkwardness of leaving JoePa’s name atop the wins-list, sadly, in striking 100+ from his total you hurt those people most who had nothing to do with the wrong-doing, the players & fans. Add-up the shame that will linger for decades at Penn State, the criminal course and other penalties, all together seemed punitive and deterrent plenty.

Instead, it was the NCAA’s deviation from SOP that has me nodding in agreement.

Changing a record book typically requires something just short of an Act of Congress. That’s a good thing. Records are sacred stuff. Whether they’re category leaders, personal or team titles, individual stats or holders of top marks, all will, in theory, stand the test of time. The number & name will change but the record itself will resonate long.

Can’t say the same for the Halls of Fame. Like today’s bloated Olympic field, HOFs are becoming so diluted with a steady-stream of marginal inductees that they’re fast losing that special flavor. Caught up in the enablement age, voters are turning what used to be a days-long walk amongst immortals into a three-day trek through Halls of Good ‘n Plenty.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain. Just imagine in the not-to-distant future, when those collectible crazed kids who put their Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds rookie cards under glass, hold sway over the BBWA and become guardians of the Hall. “Uh-oh!” ("Mr. Gopher" / Caddyshack). The flood-gates are gonna’ open wide.

There are two battles raging over baseball’s Hall of Fame.

One is over quality control. Is the candidate’s stature such that it separates him from his peers, like say, Warren Spahn and Bob Clemente, or, is he a ballot choice that develops a patina of greatness over time, building support for election like…well, you can fill in the names yourself. If you need help, give Reggie Jackson a jingle. His timing is tacky but his standard is right on point (SI / “Reggie / Taylor / 7-5).

The other is about PEDs, where one emerging standard goes like this: ‘He gets my vote because he was a Hall of Famer before he started juicing.’ Oh, brother. Assuming you have the powers of Carnac the Magnificent and can accurately pick the first year a PED suspect ‘Got needles,’ if you apply that standard, Pete Rose and Joe Jackson get in because both were Hall-worthy before they messed-up big time.

So, while the pride & joy of Cooperstown grows fat and a niche of players keep playing fans for fools (Ryan Braun / Melky Cabrera), the official record book must become the safe harbor for greatness, buffered from the winds of changing mores & personal extremes.

Long before Halls of Fame were doing a splendid job of preserving & displaying the rich history of sport, a myriad of record books & statistical surveys were telling the tale.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. Officially maintained by Elias Sports Bureau, baseball’s rolls are tainted, filling-up fast with performance-enhanced pretenders of excellence. Some of the most cherished records are topped by seriously-suspected or proven PED-men.

Enter the NCAA. They’ve set a precedent, of sorts, in re-writing a small part of their own college football record book. It was a tough call that created some collateral damage (See above), but they had good cause, acted with all due speed and didn’t blink.

Now Bud Selig has a template, an impetus to finally move to fix baseball’s record book.

Sure, he’s got other fish to fry. Cheating, being the biggest flounder on his plate.

Victor Conti (BALCO) may actually believe “as many as half” of all players are juicing today (“Victor” / USAT / BN / 8-15). But anyone with any sense knows that recent test-troubles are par for the course when trying to change a culture of drug-use that’s international in its reach and as deeply imbedded into baseball as is performance-enhancement.

The PED problem will resolve in time. The clean-up effort has the backing of the nation, most players and the independent media. Patience & persistence are the watch-words.

But the foul odor that’s rising up from MLB’s record book is not going away on its own.

Naysayers will argue, ‘How can you fiddle with a record book when some of the marquee names never tested positive?’ Two-part answer: 1) An evolving test-policy that was way-late in coming can’t be the sole standard for finding a record-holder to have a PED pedigree, and 2) If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

Go back in time to August of 1921. The Cleveland Indians are the reigning champs and Babe Ruth is in pinstripes, but the biggest story in baseball is the Black Sox scandal. When the implicated Pale Hosers are acquitted in a dubious Cook County trial after crucial evidence disappears, the newly appointed baseball Czar Kenesaw Mountain Landis is undeterred. Making reasonable inferences from available evidence, the next day he bans the lot of ‘em from pro-ball for life and adds a toxicity-tag.

Bud Selig has seen the evidence of proven & suspected PED users. As Commissioner and having no power to deny liberty (jail) or award civil damages, he’s not bound by the same standard of proof required in a judicial setting. Maybe that’s a good thing. As such, he can do, within certain parameters, as he pleases with the record book.

It won’t be easy. This ain’t 1921. Classifying the proven users vs. strongly suspected, removing names vs. asterisking (*), and then whether or not consideration should be given those few men who decided, for whatever reason, to come clean (Brothers Bash, Canseco & McGwire), will all make for one big sticky wicket.

And the media will have a field day. Some with their own form of collectible to protect, they’ll do their damndest to make sure it’s as thankless an undertaking as policing the high school hallways. It’s an action that’s likely to raise challenges by those players directly affected, claiming a right (intellectual property?) to a place in the hallowed book.

Set to retire after 2014, Selig certainly has the stature these days to afford the boldness that a record book revision requires, with rounder’s popularity and a drug prevention program that seems to be working, if not deterring some pompous players.

There’s no money to be made in re-working the record rolls. But it would be a big step in restoring to baseball some of what was lost when PED users and their enablers started disrespecting themselves, the fans, the game and its history.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” (JFK).  Doing nothing is no answer, Bud.

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com