Friday, September 30, 2005

With Three Games Left In 2005, Trammell Makes His Case

Finally, after 159 games of what has been a miserable, drudge-filled season, Tigers manager Alan Trammell has sounded off: he feels he deserves another year, at least, to turn things around.

"I think it's unfair," he said to Mitch Albom of the Free Press about the speculation of his imminent firing, maybe as soon as this Monday. "I'm just telling you my point of view. I don't know exactly what everybody was expecting. I think people should take into consideration that I haven't jumped ship, every day I stand there, I try to answer the questions ... but I just don't think people are looking at the reality of the thing."

The "reality of the thing", according to Tram, and verified by a look at the team's diabled list traffic, is that he hasn't really been able to manage the players he had penciled in back in Lakeland in February. And there have been trades, also unforeseen, of closers Ugueth Urbina and Kyle Farnsworth.

Regarding talk of a fractured clubhouse, Trammell took the high road with Albom.

"Let's be honest, we went through a pretty good stretch" of losing. "... Guys get frustrated, I get frustrated. It's easy to perceive that kind of thing."

I agree that Tram should get one more season, which is what he has left on his contract. Of course, as former Pistons coach Butch van Breda Kolff once said of the written contract, "Hell, you can always quit, and they can fire you if they want to."

Regardless, injuries, trades and conspicuously down years from his so-called stars have hamstrung Trammell, and while GM Dave Dombrowski supposedly doesn't let emotion and nostalgia and legend get in the way of his decision-making, the feeling is here that cooler heads will prevail during the annual postseason meeting on Monday. I, frankly, will be surprised if DD pulls the trigger on Trammell, unless he has someone highly regarded in mind as a replacement (did someone say Jimmy Leyland?).

Alan Trammell has been fighting gallantly, as we all expected, to turn the Tigers from chicken feathers to chicken salad. He has the qualifications to do it, but he needs some help in the dugout. And that might be the next interesting story coming from Comerica Park.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

MSU Favored Over Michigan? You Better Believe It!

The moon is just the sun at night. The Pope is Baptist. A month of Sundays just came in. Snowmen are being built in hell.

All this, and more, because Michigan State is favored over once-mighty U-M this Saturday, and if the Spartans have ever been favored in this rivalry, it's perhaps written on a Dead Sea scroll somewhere.

Okay, so it hasn't been quite THAT long, but this is about as topsy-turvy of a MSU/U-M week as you're ever going to see. The Sparties are 4-0, ranked #11, kicking some ass, and the Wolves? Wellll....

"I don't remember ever going into a game at Michigan feeling like an underdog," U-M coach Lloyd Carr said recently. The players say they don't mind the feeling, but you know it's got to eat at them to be GIVEN 4 1/2 points against State. It's like Spiderman needing help climbing stairs.

But MSU better be careful. If they think this one's in the bag because the Wolves are down a bit, then they have dibs on another think. Truthfully, maybe three of those 4 1/2 points are due to the Spartans' home field advantage; if the game was at the Big House, I'd be interested to see the line.

Still, MSU is favored, fair and square. And they should be. They have clearly been the better of the two football teams this season.

Quick joke: what do the Wolverines and Lloyd Carr both have in common?

They each have two "L's."

You're welcome.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

He's Baaaaack! Vinny Testaverde & The Jets

I guess Joe Namath's line was busy.

The New York Jets, faced with their top two quarterbacks out of commission, today signed Vinny Testaverde, who will be 42 in two months.

The knee-jerk response is to snicker, or in my case, laugh out loud, uproariously. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and Testaverde was in the NFL last season, at least. So he's 41, but a recently fresh 41 -- sort of like day-old doughnuts.

Actually, I think it's great that a guy like Vinny can keep himself in shape and be ready to step in at a moment's notice. This is quarterback in the NFL, after all -- not an accounting job. It's not like all Vinny had to do was keep his pencil sharp.

Chad Pennington, the Jets' starter, is out for the season, according to reports, with a bum shoulder. Pennington's backup, Jay Fiedler, also hurt his shoulder and is out, though not as long as Pennington. That left third-stringer Brooks Bollinger as the only healthy QB. Bollinger is a household name -- in his own household. Maybe. Regardless, the Jets were justifiably feeling queasy about such a scenario, so hence the call to Testaverde, who led the Jets to the 1998 AFC Championship Game.

But it might as well be the 1988 AFC Championship Game, for as old as Testaverde is. And just for the record, Testaverde was an active QB in '88, too. How active he'll be today, approaching 42, is certainly up to conjecture.

So welcome back, Vinny – the league hasn’t been without you in almost 20 years. We missed ya.

Monday, September 26, 2005

NFC North Perfect For Our Tame Lions

Ahhh, the NFC North! It's a cute little division, isn't it?

Where else can you have a bye, as the Lions did, and move UP in the standings? Where else can you look like a chump one week and emerge as a potential champ the next? Where else can you be 0-3 and still be considered a contender?

If there's anything that the Lions should be thankful for this season, it's that they play in the North. It just might be their saving grace this year, a season in which 8-8 just might git 'er done. It may even be considered a blessing that the Lions are in the North. And you can count the blessings the Lions have had since Matt Millen took over on one middle finger.

The Lions now have the equivalent of a Mulligan -- a do-over. Their putrid loss to the Bears was almost completely negated by the events that happened yesterday. The Bears lost and are 1-2, the Vikings won just to GET to 1-2, and the Packers are a very un-Brett Favre-like 0-3. That puts the boys in Honolulu Blue in first place, folks, and while you are stifling your giggles, the facts are the facts: the Lions lead their division.

Of course, there is a trip to Tampa to face the 3-0 Bucs, so this being-in-first place-alone stuff is liable to not last very long. Still, the Lions are a first place team, and it's time they start acting like it. This NFC North can be theirs for the taking. The problem is, each of the other squads that play there can say the same thing -- even the winless Pack. It's a ghoulish, nasty looking division that is setting pro football back a few years, but what the heck? Just ask the San Diego Padres if they will make any apologies for being in the playoffs with what might be a below .500 record.

Actually, this is probably exactly the division the Lions need right about now -- kind of like a starter division for league beginners. They can still get the flavor of contention without playing much better than .500 the whole season. They can pretend to be a playoff club and yet nobody will take them seriously nor feel the need to bring their "A" game, like the REAL winners in the NFC (read: Eagles).

So enjoy your first place Detroit Lions while you can, because in this division, you can be in last place in a couple weeks. The joys of parity.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

For The Losers And Their Fans, September The Cruelest Of Baseball Months

(the following column can also be viewed at, where a new column from yours truly appears each Sunday or Monday. They will also appear here for your reading pleasure. For archives of my columns there, go to and click on "Columnists")

Surely there must be dozens of things sadder than September baseball when played by two losing teams, but I’ll be darned if I can think of any.

September can be an awful, cruel, almost unbearable month for players, coaches, fans and even broadcasters of teams who are hopelessly out of playoff contention. If the Tigers and Royals play a game and nobody comes to watch, does it make an impact?

Meaningless baseball has become a staple around these parts -- 12 years in a row and counting -- and it’s a shame, because more and more folks, especially the younger ones, are getting the idea that that’s what baseball is like in Detroit, because that’s all they’ve ever known.

It didn’t used to be this way, of course. A Tigers ticket in September was a hot little item, and there was electricity in the air as you walked from your car to the old ballpark, eagerly anticipating the start of a big three-game series with the Blue Jays or Red Sox or Orioles in town. Now, we’ve even become accustomed to the games meaning very little as early as June, so by the time September hits, the Tigers are pushed so far back to the recesses of our minds, we’re becoming numb to their ineptitude.

But when you package it all together -- the end of summer, the start of school, the complete removal of any playoff aspirations, the weariness of a long season made even longer by all the losing -- baseball games played by losers in September are about as nasty as it gets. Typically, attendance has dwindled by that time, leaving the players to perform in front of scores of empty seats, and let’s face it, the results of those ballgames simply don’t matter in the scheme of things. You almost think that fans who bother to show up for such games should be paid for their efforts. And believe me, it is an effort to watch such inconsequential competition.

For the winners, there is talk in September of magic numbers and which pitchers will get the starts during the playoffs and how every game is a big game, while the losers drag themselves to the park and play mostly for statistical padding and professional pride, if they have any left at that point. And how can any announcer get himself psyched up and excited about the Devil Rays against the Mariners right about now?

It’s funny how years of losing can lower expectations, by the way. Not anymore is there talk of the Tigers actually making the playoffs. Instead, we keep being told the goal of this franchise is "to play meaningful games in September." So I guess it could be called serio-comic that the Tigers are still trying to find a way to play "meaningful games" prior to Memorial Day. And there ain’t nothing comic about the fact that I am not kidding when I say that.

At least today there are three divisions in each league and a wild card to boot, to keep as many teams in the mix for as long as possible, unlike anything prior to 1969, when you had a league champ decided merely by the results of the regular season. And if a team had the pennant pretty much locked up by Labor Day, then that meant nine others were kicking around, playing those dreaded "meaningless games." It was a fate for teams other than the Tigers, though: the Cubs, the Indians, the Senators -- laughable losers who were perennially scraping the bottom of the baseball barrel.

Nowadays you’d have a better chance of working up a conversation in these parts in September about fiberglass insulation than the hometown baseball team.
But now it is the Tigers who are known as one of baseball’s yearly doormats. So it doesn’t matter who manages them -- Alan Trammell or anyone not named him -- because regardless who’s at the helm, there is one job and one job only: try to regain an almost lost generation of baseball fan in this city. It’s not too much to say that the number of fans who actually remember seeing "meaningful September games" when it comes to Tigers baseball is dwindling exponentially by the year. That’s what 12 straight years of putrid baseball can do to a fan base -- tear away at its core and spoil it from within.

For too long, September and baseball has meant this in Detroit:________. It is a month for Yankees fans, or Red Sox boosters, or followers of the Braves. But it is not a month for Tigers supporters. Maybe it won’t be for a while longer yet. Instead, it is a month, for those who still give a damn, to silently curse and stew about the loss of what was once special but is now shamefully irrelevant. Speaking of cruel, does it get much worse than irrelevant when the subject is the Tigers and September? It is one thing to be down and out, but it is quite another to be relegated to irrelevance. George Bernard Shaw had it so right when he said, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." Nowadays you’d have a better chance of working up a conversation in these parts in September about fiberglass insulation than the hometown baseball team. Sad indeed.

I’ve always deemed it a genuine mystery that Mike Ilitch could have done it so right with his hockey yet has been doing it so poorly with his baseball. Why doesn’t he just use the same blueprint for the Tigers as he has with the Red Wings: surrounding himself with good, quality people, hiring the best scouts in the business, and snagging a hotshot manager with a respected resume? Granted, it took Ilitch 15 years as Red Wings owner and some failed regimes before he won a Stanley Cup, but once success came, it has never gone away. The Tigers are now in year 13 with Ilitch owning them, and the team hasn’t truly been anywhere near playoff contention. Most years, they couldn’t sniff .500 even if they had Cyrano de Bergerac’s nose. And the owner’s relatively recent aggressiveness when it comes to signing players has "too little, too late" written all over it.

Ilitch’s ownership history aside, somebody better do something because this nonsense of falling hopelessly out of contention long before the All-Star break is getting old, man. A great baseball franchise is being ruined and reduced to a huge butt of jokes right before our very eyes, so somebody better put an end to it, and right now. Change the manager if you must, trade players if you would like, but whatever you do, do it yesterday. Restore pride to the Olde English "D".

At the culmination of the last great baseball season in this town -- 1987 no less -- the Toronto Blue Jays visited on the final weekend. Thanks to a hellacious September, the Tigers had managed to create a scenario whereby if they won two of the three games at Tiger Stadium, they would create a tie in the AL East. Playing before packed houses, the Tigers won all three games, winning the division outright. All this after being 3 ½ games out of first place with a week to play. At the time, it seemed as if exciting September baseball would be here to stay. It was unfathomable to think otherwise.

That’s all changed now -- completely 180 degrees. Today, it is almost too much to imagine a bona fide "big series" between the Tigers and the flavor of your choice as their opponents when the air of summer’s end begins to take on a crispness reserved for a perfect September night at the old ballpark. Around here, black is now white, the sun now rises in the west, and the Pope is now Baptist.

It is that way now -- a baseball month once filled with goosebumps and butterflies is instead infested with mothballs and cobwebs. How this could have happened in Detroit is mind boggling, but it has. September is a football month now in Detroit. Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Friday, September 23, 2005

He's In, Whether You Like It Or Not: Bill Ford & The Michigan Sports Hall of Fame

It's a question that Drew Sharp of the Free Press handled straight on in his column yesterday -- namely, is Lions owner Bill Ford worthy of being inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame?

The copout answer is, "So what if he isn't? He's inducted anyway." The ceremony was last night at Cobo Arena.

But if you want to just toss up your hands as angry Lions fans and say, "Where are my Super Bowl rings?," then you probably won't agree that Ford should be enshrined, no matter how much convincing I do.

Yet there are dozens of inductees who never won a championship in their respective sports, so you can pretty much kiss that reason for an excuse goodbye.

Bill Ford's achievements, as outlined by Sharp, merit consideration because as much as fans aren't going to care about this, Ford has made the Lions franchise one of the most well-respected in the NFL. Noooo, I don't mean in terms of wins & losses and Super Bowl appearances. Rather, among the league's insiders -- fellow owners, league management, players and coaches -- Bill Ford and his niceness and loyalty and his longevity (over 40 years of ownership), plus the beauty of Ford Field, put the Lions, whether you choose to believe it or not, near the top of the heap in the NFL.

And, as Sharp pointed out, Ford managed to get the league to come to Detroit not once, but twice for the Super Bowl, no easy feat due to our northern geography. In fact, this year's XL might be even more impressive, considering it was about 500 degrees below zero with snow all over the place when the Big One came to Pontiac in 1982. We could fib the first time (which we did -- about the weather and hotel room availability) to land a Super Bowl, but not twice. So this year's game was a sell job, a full court press spearheaded by Ford.

Also, in making the Lions so well-respected, Ford hasn't done it on the cheap. He hasn't been afraid to spend money on coaches, players or facilities -- he just hasn't always spent it wisely. He hasn't found, for one reason or another, the proper formula for consistent winning in the NFL.

So all of you Ford-bashers, I know what YOUR view probably is: Keep the bum out! But I, too have been critical of Ford at times. I thought he kept Wayne Fontes one season too long, for example (although we made the playoffs in those days). Still, when you look at Drew Sharp's column, and the sidebar that lists his acheievements versus his hiccups, I would hope you can honestly say, "Yeah -- this is a worthy inductee to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame."

And even if you don't, he's in there anyway. So pay a visit to the Hall and yell at his plaque, I guess.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tune In Tonight -- You'll Hear A Great Game On TV

Usually I don't get excited about exhibition games, in any sport. Most of the time they are about as thrilling as watching paint dry, to borrow a hackneyed phrase that is also by itself dull. Of course, give me a free ticket and I might attend.

But tonight I will be in front of the TV, and I am sure I won't be alone as the Red Wings open their televised season with a preseason game against Colorado. If the Wings have ever played the Avalanche in the exhibition season before, I'm not aware of it, but that's not what is attracting me to the tube, anyway, believe it or not.

If I missed any aspect of the NHL last season -- and I didn't miss it as much as I thought -- it was the sounds of the game, off my television. Kenny Daniels, Mickey Redmond, and the hotshots on Hockey Night In Canada -- those voices I missed. I also missed the actual game coverage, with the replays from inside the net and other cool shots.

There's something about being in the kitchen and hearing Daniels and Redmond in the background, as I fix a snack and grab a beverage, that is titillating, especially when the play-by-play voice cracks and you know something exciting has just happened. And, of course, how can you not love "He SCORRRES!", even if it isn't being said by the best hockey play-by-play guy on the planet, Bruce Martyn?

Speaking of Martyn, he's probably enjoying his retirement in Gaylord right about now, but if the Wings ask and coax him a bit, I bet he might venture down and do a period or two sometime this season. It probably would be the highest-rated period on TV all season if that were to happen. At least it should be.

So have plenty of Labatt's or Molson on hand, wrestle the remote from the wife and kids -- if that applies to you -- and tune in for the return of some of the best sounds you'll ever hear from your tiny TV speakers.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tigers' Annual Killing Of Baseball In Detroit Is Inexcusable

Enough is enough.

The Tigers are subjecting us to horrible baseball once again and this makes 12 straight years of meaningless September ballgames. They have long ago tarnished what used to be a proud, respectable franchise. They are now nothing more than perennial losers, never anywhere near .500, and are, frankly, a laughing stock in a league in which they once traveled so gracefully.

I guess you can’t really say that this season was any worse than the others of late, but it may have been one of the most cruel. On paper, these Tigers were supposed to be something, at least offensively, and there were hints that perhaps some fringe wild card contention was possible. Certainly the first half plus the initial few weeks after the All-Star break suggested as much. But then, just when things might have gotten interesting, with the record a fairly credible 61-62, the Tigers tanked it, going 6-19 and looking every bit as ugly as that 25-game record would indicate, and then some. They killed the baseball season here, stomped the life out of it, just as they started to win over a few more fans and just when there was talk of a winning record, finally -- the first in Detroit since 1993.

It’s disgusting, really, the way this team has performed, getting its ass kicked almost daily, even by the doormats of baseball, the Kansas City Royals. These underachieving whiners who had the audacity to bellyache after management traded away closer Kyle Farnsworth, when had they won more games the trade might not have happened, are now making the 1962 Mets -- or the 2003 Tigers -- look like World Series contenders. They are playing with no pride, no guts -- the legacy of losers.

Frankly, I’m not sure if things would change much even if you resurrected Joe McCarthy or Miller Huggins or even Billy Martin and asked one of them to pilot this bunch. Sometimes it seems no managerial change, no free agent signing, no supposed up-and-coming youngster, can save the Tigers from themselves. For whatever reason, the ownership of Michael Ilitch has not been able to find the right combination, from the front office on down to the 25th player on the roster, to even play well enough to win 75 times a year. Of these 12 straight losing summers, only twice, way back in 1997 and 2000, have the Tigers even sniffed .500 as late as September 1. The other ten have been seasons spoiled not long after spring’s first thaw. Sometimes the Tigers have managed to play their way out of contention by Easter. I remember in 2002, when the Tigers were actually, thanks to a stinker start and a hot one by the Indians, 11 games out of first place by mid-April. Think about that for a minute.

I am loathe to suggest it, but where else can you look regarding this God-awful mess than at the manager? Alan Trammell has been beset by injuries, no question, but that is absolutely not to be used as an excuse for a stretch of baseball so horrifying it belongs in an airtight capsule and buried miles below the earth’s surface, as far away from the crust as you can get. I don’t care how many people are hurt; this brand of baseball has set this franchise back years. What does it say when the Florida Marlins, an expansion team for goodness’ sakes (they started in ’93 of all years), have been started from scratch, climbed to a World Series title in 1997, were torn apart, and rebuilt so they could win another in 2003, all within the same time the Tigers have been bumbling, stumbling and fumbling their way through 12 straight losing campaigns?

I am sick of baseball season not meaning anything around here -- forget just September games, I mean April or May games, too. This town is just dying to support a winner again, like it used to consistently, but it is getting the life choked out of it by a string of futility that is simply not acceptable. Maybe this can play in Tampa Bay or Colorado or Milwaukee, but in Detroit it should be flushed down the toilet. The trouble is, the Tigers’ septic tank keeps backing up, splish-splashing putrid baseball on the fans year after year.

Shame on them -- every one of them, from Dave Dombrowski to Vance Wilson. You’ve all made baseball a grotesque sideshow once again in Detroit, so shame on you.

It’s simply inexcusable.

Monday, September 19, 2005

As Usual, Lions Both Shock And Fail To Surprise Us

Monday Morning Quarterbacking....

If any pro football team can, at the same time, surprise you yet do what you expect them to do, it’s the Detroit Lions.

They pulled off another one of those double whammies yesterday, stinking out the joint in Chicago, 38-6. The surprise part was losing to what was supposedly a feeble Bears team. But wasn’t that also what we expected them to do? Don’t the Lions typically cancel out a "big" victory with a smelly loss, often the very next week? Brian DeCaussin put it very well at You should read his version; it’s a typical response from a Lions fan.

But this wasn’t just an "off" game. This was total destruction and a complete meltdown. Joey Harrington and the rest of the offense imploded. Special teams was a disaster. The defense let a rookie quarterback get the best of them -- shame, shame. The Lions came to Chicago and laid a big fat egg, and now they have two weeks to stew in their own juices, thanks to an early bye week. And they have me using the words egg, stew and juices in the same sentence. Try eating all those at once. You’d gag, just as the Lions did yesterday when they had a wonderful opportunity to go up 2-0 in this season and lead the NFC North all by their lonesome.
Instead, it’s another can of worms opened, and I bet talk radio had an earful last night after the game. I was away from television and watched the carnage unfold via the magic of videotape, fast forwarding thru and watching the entire game in about 30 minutes. So at least I had that to be thankful about. The Lions were putrid, and it didn’t waste my Sunday having to watch it.

What is it about this football team that causes it to take steps forward, but giant leaps backward? They are the Neil Armstrongs of the NFL, only in reverse. "This is one step for hope, one giant leap backward for ‘I-told-you-so.’"

I guess the only thing it can boil down to, really, is that the Lions, because of their utter lack of success in recent years, have no idea how to handle it in anything other than small doses. They lack the mental toughness to waltz into an enemy stadium, especially that of an inferior opponent, and bitch slap the opposition as they should. Rather, they freeze like deer in headlights, seemingly incapable of handling situations in which they should declare victory and increase their confidence.

Now, a word about coach Steve Mariucci. NFL teams start to assume the identity of their coaches after a while, and this nonsense of coming out "flat" and uninspired and then letting a little thing like an early 17-6 deficit cause apparent widespread panic is a direct reflection, I believe, of Mariucci.Fair or not, that’s my conclusion. Not one player appeared to be able to answer Hank Williams Jr.’s Monday Night Football question, "Are you ready for some football?" in the positive. As is disturbingly typical when the other guys get a small lead, the Lions stumbled all over themselves, basically freaking out before our very eyes. They handle adversity, unfortunately, as they handle success: like Lucille Ball with all those candies coming down the conveyor belt.

All of that ricochets back to the coach. For if he can’t prepare a team any better than that, then who can, or will? For all the talk of guys like Marcus Pollard wanting to take on more of a leadership role, the Lions locker room still seems strangely devoid of any true leaders. There isn’t that one guy who everyone else truly listens to -- do you think? Sure, the players will say they are "sick of losing, sick of losing", but what have they done about it lately? Yesterday’s loss was a classic example of what can happen to a team that is ill-prepared by its coaching staff and unable to have a player/leader bob to the surface to calm everyone down when a silly little thing like 17-6, Chicago shouldn’t have been that big of a deal.

The hope was that the Lions would whip the Bears and have something to build on going into the idle week. But all they succeeded in doing was building on a frightful history of staring opportunity down and blinking.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

THAT'S The Ticket -- To New Remote Batteries

(the following column can also be viewed at, where a new column from yours truly appears each Sunday or Monday. They will also appear here for your reading pleasure. For archives of my columns there, go to and click on "Columnists")

I suppose the only thing worse than a man with a TV remote control is three men with one on a football Sunday -- when that TV is equipped with NFL Sunday Ticket.

My wonderful 12 year-old daughter, Nicole, with the blessing of my adoring wife Sharon, decided that daddy needed something special for his birthday last month. She -- my daughter -- remembered me talking wistfully of how fantastic it would be to have something really useful and practical and let’s face it, essential in life: NFL Sunday Ticket.

For those of you who don’t know -- and if you don’t, please don’t admit it to me because I just might bust you in the mouth -- NFL Sunday Ticket is a service offered by DirecTV. And when I say service, I mean it as a lady of the evening means it. This is because "The Ticket" is a full-body massage to a football fan, and then some. It is a nicotine bar to a smoker, a bowl of sugar, with a straw, for a sweet tooth.

It is also outrageous in its excess.

Here’s the skinny: with The Ticket, every NFL game is beamed into my home, every Sunday. Last Sunday, that meant eight 1:00 starts and five 4:15 kickoffs. And I could watch any one of them, any time. The problem began when we tried to watch them all at once.

"We" were me and my old pals from the neighborhood, Chris Gerbasi and Mike Lank. Gerbs was up from South Florida for U-M/Notre Dame, and Lank was up from Wayne County for, I suspect, my television, which with The Ticket took on an almost genie’s lamp type of aura.

If you have never tried watching eight football games at once, then, first of all, you haven’t lived, yet second of all, you’ll live longer than me. Because that’s what I’ve already found as being the trouble with The Ticket: it’s too damn much to take in! But it’s a nice problem to have, like figuring out which Maserati to drive for the weekend.

The guys arrived promptly at 1:01. They were late, because Gerbs promised a 1:00 landing in my driveway when I spoke to him the night before and invited him to help me enjoy my first weekend with The Ticket. "You know I have NFL Sunday Ticket," I reminded him on the phone Saturday night.

"Yes, I am well aware of that," Gerbs said, cackling diabolically. I think he would have come over right then and there to make sure he got a good seat in my living room if he had his druthers. He told me he would try to get Lank "on board" too, which was like saying he was going to try to get the sun "on board" to rise the next morning.

In fact, those two were so much on time, ready for kickoff, that they beat me -- at my own Football Frenzy. I had run some errands with Sharon and I was late -- about 1:10 -- when I pulled in and saw Chris and Mike bound from Lank’s vehicle.

**************************************** one point Lank called out "COMMERCIAL!" as if he was my wife spotting a mouse, and I dutifully responded, fumbling for the remote and switching channels abruptly as if I had been caught watching porn.

"Which game do you want to watch?," I said, I think before saying hello, which actually didn’t come until several minutes and four or five remote clicks later.

Again, that’s where the trouble lied. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, giving three men a remote control and access to eight pro football games at once is like giving an alcoholic a key to the liquor cabinet, except at least the alcoholic can only consume one drink at a time. We were flipping through the games so fast we were losing track of them. As if our attention spans weren’t already short enough, the intoxicating power of The Ticket shrank it to about one play’s worth of time. I literally stopped at a game -- don’t ask me which one it was -- and saw the down and distance as being 2nd and 12 and said, "2nd and 12 -- I don’t like that," and switched the channel.

And don’t even talk to me about commercials. As far as we were concerned, we had The Ticket and The Power, and that power meant we were NOT to be bothered by commercials. As soon as game coverage faded to black, I zapped that clicker to someplace else, anywhere else. However, we got to gabbing a few times and at one point Lank called out "COMMERCIAL!" as if he was my wife spotting a mouse, and I dutifully responded, fumbling for the remote and switching channels abruptly as if I had been caught watching porn.

So we watched and flipped thru the games and actually saw some scoring plays and it was all very cool, except I gotta admit, they all kind of blended in after a while. At one point I said, "I picked a bad week to stop taking Ritalin." I had the volume turned up high so every game sounded the same: generic crowd noise and a booming play-by-play voice. The teams started blending, too. I’m pretty sure Minnesota played Tampa Bay, but did the Jets play the Dolphins? It probably didn’t matter; we were just thankful for The Ticket, and I reminded Sharon -- who had popped out for some pizzas, bless her heart -- and Nicole that daddy liked the gift and it was the best birthday present I ever received. Gerbasi told me he might consider moving back to Michigan, at least for the football season, to cop some more views of The Ticket. Lank had nothing to declare -- he was watching out for those offending commercials.

By the way, ladies, if you want to give your man the gift of football and are considering signing up for NFL Sunday Ticket (it’s not too late), remember that this includes the 1:00 AND 4:15 games, so if you do this, say goodbye to hubby until after 7:30. And then you have an hour with him until the Sunday night game begins. That’s almost 10 hours without your man.

See? It’s the gift that can give both ways.

Friday, September 16, 2005

For A Huron (NOT Eagle) Alum, An EMU/U-M Matchup Always Fun

As an alumnus of Eastern Michigan University, it's always exciting when the Hurons (I am NOT an Eagle, nor will I ever be) engage in competition with the University of Michigan in anything more major than swimming or baseball or girls softball.

The Mighty Hurons travel to Ann Arbor for a presumed butt-kicking tomorrow, although with U-M's soft run defense, maybe Eastern can grind it out a bit and make the Wolves sweat for a half or so. Regardless, it's fun to match up with U-M, and every time that happens in a major sport, I think back to December 1981.

I was a freshman at Eastern and the Hurons traveled the eight miles down Washtenaw Road to take on Bill Frieder's basketball team in Crisler Arena. It was an awful snowy night but we made it down there too -- me and a few friends -- and rooted our EMU guys on.

The Wolverines of '81-'82 were not a very good basketball team. I believe they only won 8 or 9 games that season. Tim McCormick was in his sophomore season, and although he would lead U-M to an NIT title in 1984, this club was far from championship caliber.

So that may be why the Hurons, who were about a .500 club that year themselves, shot out to a 20 point lead midway thru the second half. But then, as Alex Agase, then EMU's Athletic Director and former assistant to Bo Schembechler, looked on a few rows behind me chomping on an unlit cigar and clapping, the Hurons started to wilt, throwing the ball away and looking like a team trying not to lose instead of one trying to win.

They held on and won -- by one point. I'm convinced that if the game was three seconds longer, Eastern would have managed to lose it. But the win over U-M, despite how bad they were, made the treacherous snowy drive back to campus much nicer.

Back in 1981, the thought of an EMU/U-M football game was folly. Eastern almost got kicked out of the MAC due to poor attendance in the early 80's, and in 1981 the football team was in the middle of a losing streak that reached over 20 games, I believe.

So to ratchet up the attendance figures for football, the school brought in gimmicks like the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and other marginal performers to do their thing at halftime or after the games. I remember how disappointed the men were when the cheerleaders were in town, because due to the chilly weather, the girls wore spandex outfits instead of their traditional halters and go-go boots. Singer Lynn Anderson was booed for blatant lip-synching. Comedian Skip Stephenson was simply not funny. But it worked; attendance rose just high enough for the MAC to keep Eastern, and we all wore t-shirts around campus that said "I Survived The Big MAC Attack."

Ahh, those were the days.

There have been several tilts with U-M since that time in football and basketball, and most have ended in lopsided victories for Michigan. The basketball programs have been evenly matched at times, however. In fact, when Ben Braun coached EMU hoops, the school made some NCAA tournaments and sent players like Grant Long and Carl Thomas and tiny Earl Boykins to the NBA. Those teams were often better than what U-M was offering up.

But it's football time now, and I'm sure there will be some disappointed Huron/Eagles fans by the time the final gun goes off tomorrow afternoon.

But at least we aren't in danger of being kicked out of the MAC again, so that's something.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Lions Need To Win Big, So Of Course They Probably Won't

They say that every game in the NFL is big, and it's hard to argue with that, considering there are only 16 of them in a regular season.

So of course what would I say other than this Sunday's Lions tilt against Da Bears is a crucial game?

Going into the bye week 2-0 -- and 2-0 in the division -- would be a wonderful thing for this team. One win at home, one on the road -- nice and neat and tidy with a week off to boot.

But it's also big because if the Lions are truly contenders for the NFC North title, like they want us to believe, they need to beat up on teams like the Bears, whether it's in Chicago, Detroit, or the Swiss Alps. This is because nowhere did I see anyone predicting more than four wins this season out of the Used-to-be-Monsters of the Midway. In other words, they are supposedly the dregs of the NFL, so they should be a "W" if you play your cards right.

But the difference between winning and losing in the NFL, despite the disparity of the teams playing, is often only a play or two or three. And the Lions haven't always done well in the "we make more big plays than our opponents" department, as you know.

The Lions not only need to win Sunday, they need to put a whipping on the Bears, who are playing with a rookie quarterback and not much speed on either side of the ball. It is a situation ripe for the picking, which means the Lions will probably struggle. But a convincing win would enable them to puff out their chests, grab a little momentum, and declare themselves the kings of the NFC North jungle.

But don't you dare bet on it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

I Just Dread Those NFL Locks

There's a disturbing trend in the NFL and I want to know if you can help me out with it.


At first I thought it was just our new DB, R.W. McQuarters, who was sporting this look. But after my first Sunday with NFL Sunday Ticket (AWESOME, by the way) on DirecTV, I noticed that just about every team in the league has their R.W. McQuarters. Dreadlocks were spilling out from the bottom of helmets all over the NFL.

Maybe it's the Samson Effect. Maybe these guys just don't have time to get their hair cut. Or maybe it's simply a new trend, albeit an ugly one. Whatever, it's very unattractive. All that hair flopping around looks like the league suddenly became inhabitated with Bob Marley impersonators. "Ya -- me play footbol, mon."

Hairstyles of football players used to be a secret, mysterious thing, only to be revealed on the of chance the player was shown doffing his helmet on the sideline. I remember an old NFL Films clip of receiver Gene Washington of the 49'ers, circa the early 1970's, wrenching his helmet off, bit by bit, until it literally popped off his head, the massive centrifugal force of Washington's Afro finishing the helmet removal for him. But with these overflowing locks, the mystery of what lies beneath the hat is gone.

These guys, especially the running backs and receievers, better be careful, however. The way I see it, these dreads are just another thing for potential tacklers to grab onto. Or will that be a 15-yard penalty?

"Illegal take down by follicle."

Or something like that.

Monday, September 12, 2005

It's Nice When Your Opponent Defeats Itself, Ain't It?

(note: every Monday, "Out of Bounds", like every other Detroit sports blog on the planet, will take a look at the Lions' Sunday performance)

Monday Morning Quarterbacking.....

The scoreboard read Lions 17, Packers 3, but if you want to know the truth, the Packers were defeated by Green Bay, or Green Bay was defeated by the Packers. Take your pick.

If you commit turnovers, get flagged for 14 penalties for 100 yards and botch a field goal snap, you have self-destructed like one of those mini cassettes on "Mission: Impossible." And you have, quite frankly, defeated yourself.

But give the Lions credit. They took away the big play from Brett Favre, they committed no turnovers themselves, and they were relatively penalty-free. So the final score was pretty much where it should have been.

Still, the Lions better know that not too many of their opponents, no matter how wretched, are going to implode like the Pack did yesterday. They also better remember that they started 1-0 in 2003 and 2004, and we all know how THAT turned out.

First impressions from yesterday: not crazy about the black uniforms. Second impressions: the offensive line still stinks. Third impressions: this Marcus Pollard guy is alright. It's nice to have a tight end who can catch the football from time to time. Fourth impression: Kevin Jones is the real deal. I liked yesterday's performance almost BECAUSE of the fact that his longest run was only seven yards. It shows me he can grind it out, too, instead of just getting the pretty yardage. He won't make people forget Barry Sanders, but he will make us remember Kevin Jones.

So one down, 15 to go. And Charlie Rogers didn't break his collarbone, either.


Happy Anniversary to my lovely wife, Sharon. It's 13 years today, and if anyone deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor, it's her, for putting up with me for a baker's dozen worth of annums. Love ya, babe -- here's to 13 more, and then some.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Forgive The Lions Fan Because He Does Not Know What He Does

(the following column can also be viewed at, where a new column from yours truly appears each Sunday or Monday. They will also appear here for your reading pleasure. For archives of my columns there, go to and click on "Columnists")

Since 1957, when Dwight Eisenhower was president and one didn’t have to take out a second mortgage to fill up one’s gas tank, the Lions have had: one (1) playoff victory, and one (1) Pro Bowl quarterback.

So, naturally, the 2005 home opener against Green Bay was sold out, as will probably be every home game this season. Just think what would happen if Detroit ever saw a football winner.

I have seen this town go mad and get violent over a World Series victory, and jump on cars because of basketball championships and cry because of a Stanley Cup they never thought they’d see, but I can guarantee you that you won’t ever see anything like it when the Lions win a Super Bowl.

Detroit is still a baseball town at its heart, no matter what you say. It always has been and always will be. It just has gotten buried amidst all the stench the Tigers have spread over the last 12 seasons. But there have been two World Series flags won since the last Lions championship in 1957, and two more divisional titles, and though that’s not all that impressive in general terms, it is positively a boon when compared to the football achievements. And while baseball is #1 in Detroit, football is not all that far behind (sorry, Hockeytown folks). That’s why I believe a Super Bowl victory would set off a celebration here that would be New Year’s Eve in Times Square and Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland all rolled into one, and then some.

It’s fitting and proper to be bringing this up now because the Lions are about to embark on another NFL season of almost certain futility, yet the fans keep snapping up every available seat at Ford Field as if their team had a long tradition of winning. They even sell out those silly, meaningless preseason games, at full boat no less.

But at the end of this season it won’t really matter because the Lions will not be in the Super Bowl -- once again, they probably won’t be in the playoffs -- once again, and they may not even have a winning record -- once again.
The Cardinals, whether they were in Chicago or St. Louis or Arizona, have been just as unsuccessful as the Lions since ‘57, and they have played to their deserved share of sparse crowds. Other teams, when the going gets tough, see their fans get going -- the other way. But with very few exceptions, the Lions have enjoyed playing before capacity or near-capacity crowds, even when they played in the cavernous Silverdome, with its fire marshal-approved 80,000 seat limit.

So why does this town keep supporting such a consistent loser?

If you were to call in a team of psychiatrists and analysts and Dr. Phil, they’d have a field day with the average Lions fan, and with good reason. What they would find is a cocktail of hope, despair, anger, loyalty and resentment. I’m surprised professional journals haven’t been written on the subject. It surely would be a fascinating project for a bored shrink.

It’s not just limited to Lions fans, of course -- this preoccupation with a loser. Just ask a Cubs fan, for example, why he keeps the faith in a team that hasn’t won a World Series in almost 100 years. Before last season, you could do the same with a Red Sox backer.

...there’s no question Mr. Ford wants to win; he just has gone about it very poorly at times.
The Lions fan keeps coming back for more -- in droves -- because God has blessed the supporters of such drab teams with the ability to reset their brains back to zero after each successive losing season. Oh, they will still moan and complain about how long it’s been since football has really been fun around here, but as soon as the new season begins, it’s all about what needs to happen or who needs to do what in order to nudge the Lions into the playoffs. Some might call it undying loyalty; more likely it’s simply irrational behavior.

I attended a portion of the Lions’ Monday night exhibition against the Rams a couple weeks ago, and rarely had the team looked so pathetic. Quite a statement, I know, about a franchise that hasn’t won the Big One in nearly 50 years, but there you have it. Anyhow, boos rained down from the comfy seats of Ford Field, and the whole ghoulish display was on national TV, for all the nation to see. Even John Madden of ABC, who is paid seven figures a year to utter such things, remarked that it looked like the Rams were going up against "a bunch of Pop Warner kids."

So what happened the very next morning? Tickets went on sale for seats left over after the season ticket holders got their fair share of abuse, and don’t you know, those things got snatched up quicker than a plate of doughnuts at Refrigerator Perry’s house. And how much do you want to bet that many of those ticket buyers are also the ones moaning that owner Bill Ford isn’t committed to winning? First of all, would you be all that committed if your house was sold out regardless of the product in it? Second, there’s no question Mr. Ford wants to win; he just has gone about it very poorly at times. It says here the old man has finally gotten it right with Matt Millen, by the way. Soon the W’s will outnumber the L’s, in case you were wondering. But then again, I am also a Lions fan.

Author Robert Creamer had a wonderful take on the loyalty and faith of Red Sox fans and their inevitable disappointments when he said, "There is something about being a Red Sox fan that doesn’t just equate itself to losing, but losing in the most dramatic, heartbreaking fashion." Well, the Lions haven’t necessarily lost in dramatic, heartbreaking fashion over the years; they have just lost, period. And yet the fans keep coming back for more. So what must the lust for winning be if the craving for losing football appears to be so insatiable?

Dr. Phil, are you reading?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Football Saturdays In Ann Arbor Even More Special When Notre Dame Is In Town

If there are five ways to spend a Saturday afternoon that are better than to be at Michigan Stadium during the fall, then I'd sure like to know what they are. And I haven't been to the Big House since 1989, when there was artificial turf.

U-M's old nemesis, Notre Dame's Rocket Ismail, ran back a couple of kicks against the Wolves in the rain that day to help defeat U-M. Bo Schembechler was still coaching.

I think about that game every time the Fighting Irish come to town. Then I start thinking about how awful of a day that was, weather-wise, and how miserable it was to sit on the metal bleachers in Michigan Stadium. And then I also think of how, despite all that nastiness, Ann Arbor is still the place to be on football Saturdays.

So many memories flood back, to a time when I actually managed to get to a game every couple of years, starting when I was about 13: tossing those mini plastic footballs around during halftime, sipping cocoa out of a thermos (age 13), sipping a nip out of a flask (age 21), tailgating on the grass outside of Pioneer High School.

In college -- I went to nearby EMU -- I worked at a drugstore in Ann Arbor. Football Saturdays were unlike any other. As early as 9am, when we opened, the liquor counter would quickly have a line forming around it. Some of the customers already appeared to have had quite a few, even at that hour. Anyhow, we were as busy as all get out until kickoff, then it was like a morgue the rest of the day, until the game ended, when everyone loaded up for the Saturday evening parties. Almost always it was to celebrate another Michigan victory.

I wasn't much of a U-M fan, truthfully, maybe partly because of my resentment of the school, having attended little EMU -- that "school down the road", as it was derisively known. But that didn't keep me from appreciating how special those autumn Saturdays were, whether I was working, or attending the game. Surely God must have had Ann Arbor in mind when He created college football Saturdays.

So Charlie Weis, that hotshot NFL assistant, brings his troops into Ann Arbor tomorrow, hoping to build on ND's fast start, courtesy their trouncing of Pittsburgh, also on the road, last week. Just another guy prowling the sidelines for Notre Dame, in my opinion. The U-M/ND rivalry was never about the coaches, like the old days with Bo and Woody during those classic Michigan-Ohio State wars of the 70's. But it has been about the teams and two great schools with wonderful football traditions.

I wonder if they still sell those mini plastic footballs.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Only Night Football Should Be On Mondays -- And Not The Colleges, Either

Another one of those NFL seasons kicks off tonight, and that's the problem right there.

Do we REALLY need Thursday night football? And it's not just the pros; the colleges are doing it now, too. In fact, NCAA football is slowly infiltrating every day of the week now. Florida State and Miami squared off this past Monday, as if it was a postseason National Championship-type of thing. Tuesday night college football is becoming more and more prevalent on ESPN, too. What does THAT do to a coach's preparation? And how does it affect the game played before and after a Tuesday contest? Do you have to play the following Saturday as well? We don't need it, I'm telling you!

Look, here's the football schedule, to me: high schools on Friday night, colleges on Saturday afternoon, and the pros on Sunday, plus the traditional Monday night game. That's it -- end of story.

I don't want to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but I just can't get into a college football game under the lights during the week. It takes away from the whole college football experience, in my mind. With games on just about every day, what's so special about Saturday afternoons anymore?

And how about the attendees of these games? Doesn't an evening start time screw up their schedule? Rush home from work, throw on the old college sweatshirt, grab a few snacks and fight the traffic. I tell you, it leaves no time for tailgating -- a glorious football tradition, whether it's on Saturday or Sunday. Then the game ends after 11pm, then the drive home.....


Of course, I haven't touched on class attendance, which isn't all that popular to do when it comes to college ball. But, seriously, when do these kids have time to go to class as it is? Then you throw in all these midweek games to boot, and you have to wonder.

So the NFL starts tonight, with the Raiders and the Patriots, and I'm still trying to figure out why that game can't wait til Sunday, or even Monday. For years, the previous season's Super Bowl champs played their opening game on Monday Night Football. It was one of those subtle traditions that many fans weren't even totally conscious of.

Keep the games on Saturdays and Sundays! (and Monday night). After all, isn't that what TiVo is for?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Red Wings May Not Miss Datsyuk As Much As You Think

Pavel Datsyuk won't play for the Red Wings this season, it appears, and if you think that means curtains for the team's chances this season, you're only half right.

Datsyuk is, in my opinion, one of the best players in the league, for his age. He can be at times brilliant, dominating, slippery and deadly -- sometimes all at once. When he gets the puck and some ice, he's as dangerous and as fun as anyone in the world.

But Pavel Datsyuk has trouble in the playoffs, and that has been true for too many Red Wings lately. He was one of a good-sized handful who made like David Copperfield and vanished in the postseason action against Nashville and Calgary wayyyy back in 2004.

So the Red Wings will miss Pavel terribly between October and April, and it may cause them to slip a bit in the regular season standings. But if you think that his lack of presence will be all that noticeable during the "second season" of May and, we hope, June, then you may find it difficult to tell the difference between that and the Pavel Datsyuk of recent playoff runs.

The Red Wings will suffer from this Datsyuk/Omsk, Russia contract -- no question. And I would certainly like to have him than not. But when the games have mattered most, where has he been, really?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Way The Tigers Have Been Losing Suggests A White Flag

These are crucial days for Tigers manager Alan Trammell.

Oh, he'll tell you they aren't, and maybe even management would back him up on that. The company line that would be toed would be something like this: "We evaluate the entire season, not just the final weeks."

But the Tigers lately have looked so defeated, so punchless, so feeble, that you have to wonder what, if any, fight is left in their clubhouse, or more importantly, their hearts.

And that can't be good for Trammell.

I still don't think Tram will be shown the door anytime soon, although when it comes to him surviving the entire 2006 season, all bets are off. But I must admit that my confidence in that viewpoint is waning, because the Tigers look like a team going through the motions, too eager for the season to come to a merciful end.

This could be one of the most interesting offseasons in recent history, if only because there appear to be unsettled issues out there beyond just Trammell. Pudge Rodriguez, Dmitri Young and maybe a couple of others could be gone before next season, and we have no idea what owner Mike Ilitch will do with all the money freed up from the end of fat contractual obligations like that to Bobby Higginson. Sprinkle Trammell's fate in there and you have the makings of quite a hot stove league.

But right now, it's not THAT the Tigers are losing -- it's HOW they're losing. They're either getting stomped or shutout, or both. They have, frankly, the look of a team that's packed it in for the year.

And I'm starting to wonder if Alan Trammell's luggage will be included this winter.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

In Detroit, Bing Has Been King -- Under The Radar

(the following column can also be viewed at, where a new column from yours truly appears each Sunday or Monday. They will also appear here for your reading pleasure. For archives of my columns there, go to and click on "Columnists")

Thirty years ago this summer, David Bing was traded by the Pistons to the Washington Bullets. It was an acrimonious split, the All-Star guard sniping at the Pistons’ new ownership publicly. Player called ownership cheap for not wanting to renegotiate his contract. Ownership, a new syndicate led by a man named William Davidson, was aghast. In their world, a deal was a deal. No backsies.

All has long been forgiven, or at least I presume so. Bing’s number is retired, after all -- a move initiated by Davidson, still the Pistons owner. So the bad feelings did go away, although it took a number of years for that to happen.

Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch gets a lot of press for his efforts to prop the city of Detroit up, and deservedly so. I shudder to think what the Woodward corridor would be like if it wasn’t for Ilitch and his family. Of course, some dream of what the Tigers would be like if it wasn’t for him, too, but that’s another column.

But Dave Bing, who came here unwanted from Syracuse University in 1966, to a team and city deeply disappointed that the flip of the coin prior to the ’66 draft didn’t enable the Pistons to draft local hero Cazzie Russell from U-M instead, has also been a hero to this town, and not just on the court. In fact, what Bing has done after his playing career is every bit as impressive, if not more so, than what he accomplished in uniform. And we’re talking Hall of Fame player here.

Bing in action -- on the court. His off-court actions are even more impressive

There was a time when Bing wanted to help out in a basketball capacity, after he hung up his sneakers in 1978 -- as a Celtic of all things. After the Pistons fired coach Dick Vitale in November 1979, Bing openly campaigned for the job, and some of the TV and newspaper guys around town pumped him, too. Bingo was ready to let bygones be bygones and return to the franchise that he helped save from extinction in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

But it was too soon for Davidson. It takes a lot to get out of the owner’s doghouse, and he is absolutely impervious to legend and popularity when it comes to that sort of thing. Ask Isiah Thomas, or Larry Brown. Bill Davidson is one man you do not want to cross.

So Bing was passed over, and maybe that’s just as well, because the ‘79-80 Pistons were a dreadful 16-66 and that couldn’t have been good for Dave Bing’s reputation or his health, for that matter. Alan Trammell could tell you some stories, having gone through his 43-119 hell with the Tigers in 2003.

His career in basketball apparently over, Bing started his own company, Bing Steel, and that became a success and he did more and more in the community, and there was even talk of him running for mayor. And he wouldn’t have been running against chopped liver, like nowadays. His opponent would have been a guy named Coleman A. Young.

It isn’t written about, nor spoken of, at least not very much, but Dave Bing has done more for the city of Detroit than a lot of the supposed leaders or council members or big shot businessmen have even talked about.

For example, Bing launched Bing Steel in 1980. A decade later, the firm had grown to annual sales of $61 million. He went on to acquire Superb Manufacturing, a $28 million-per-year metal-stamping company, as well as a small construction firm. Then, in 1989, the city of Detroit announced plans to cancel all sports programs in public high schools as part of a budgetary-crisis cutback. Bing launched a campaign that raised $373,000 to save the programs. As it turned out, Detroit voters approved tax increases, but Bing still had the money turned over to the schools, no strings attached. Not bad for a private citizen who could have retreated to the comfort and luxury of the suburbs, if he were so inclined.

Pistons fans of today, the youngens with their Ben Wallace afros and their Rip Hamilton jerseys, should be reminded that if it wasn’t for Dave Bing, the Detroit Pistons might very well now be the Charlotte Pistons or New Orleans Pistons
After his playing career, Bing did come back to the Pistons in a way, as a television analyst in the early-to-mid 1980’s. It was obvious to anyone listening that Bingo knew his stuff, and as a former point guard, maybe he would indeed have been a good coach. By that time, any fences that needed mending between he and Bill Davidson had been repaired, but it was too late to pursue coaching. Besides, the Pistons had a coach who also knew his way around a pick-and-roll -- Chuck Daly -- and who had been doing it for 20 years or so. The team was in good hands, so Bing was content to put in his two cents worth on the sideline, speaking into a microphone on press row.

It would be nice, though, if the Pistons did something a tad more than simply having Bing’s #21 hanging from the rafters in the Palace. I’m not usually one for statues, but a nice bronze one of Bing driving to the hoop would be appropriate outside the arena’s main entrance. It would be symbolic of what he did as a player and what he has done as a citizen. Pistons fans of today, the youngens with their Ben Wallace afros and their Rip Hamilton jerseys, should be reminded that if it wasn’t for Dave Bing, the Detroit Pistons might very well now be the Charlotte Pistons or New Orleans Pistons. Bing WAS the Detroit Pistons at a time in the late 60’s when attendance at Cobo Arena rarely nudged the 5,000 mark per game. Next time you go to a Pistons game at the Palace, make it a point to arrive about an hour early. Take your seat and look at the sparse crowd among you. That’s about as many people who attended Pistons games -- at tip-off -- when Bing came to town.

Bing won the league scoring crown in his second season, in 1968, and to this day no other Piston since can lay such a claim. He gradually resuscitated the franchise and the team built around him, until crowds of 7,000-10,000 were more and more commonplace. I am convinced that if it wasn’t for Bing, even Fred Zollner, who owned the team at the time and was as optimistic as anyone about pro basketball in Detroit, would have pulled the plug and taken his team elsewhere. And the three championships the Pistons have won since Bing left would have been celebrated with parades in some other downtown.

Bing keeps giving back to a city that was disappointed to get him in '66

Today, Bing is independently building 40 middle-income, brick homes in the city from $170,000 to $200,000 to help revitalize certain Detroit neighborhoods. Dick Dauch, cofounder, chairman and chief executive officer of American Axle & Manufacturing, is behind him.

"Dave is one of Detroit's jewels," he said. "He's a great human being and also an extraordinary industrial businessman who has made a whole professional commitment to Detroit having jobs."

"You've got to start somewhere," Bing said. "Two years ago, when I decided to do this, I looked at the community, and I saw the deplorable conditions of the housing stock, and I said, 'People don't have to live like this. People need to dream.’"

Oh, by the way, Cazzie Russell, the marquee player from Michigan that Pistons team officials drooled over, was drafted by the Knicks when they won the infamous coin toss in 1966. His career in the NBA was nothing to speak of. But at the time, the Pistons cursed their luck -- all except former player Earl Lloyd, who said, according to Jerry Green in his book The Detroit Pistons: Capturing A Remarkable Era, "Don’t worry -- we just drafted the best player in the country."

That they did -- on and off the court.

(research for this column produced facts and quotes from and Rochelle Riley’s Detroit Free Press story on Bing from 8-24-05)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

A Broken Leg For Jeff Garcia? Why Am I Not Surprised?

Well, so much for having that veteran backup quarterback around to push Joey Harrington.

News of Jeff Garcia’s broken leg was disappointing, but not all that surprising to me. Why is that?

Maybe it’s the "It HAD to happen to the Lions" feeling we’re conditioned to have. Maybe it’s the team’s history. In 1979, the Lions lost Gary Danielson for the season in the final preseason game, as they did in 2000 with Mike Tomczak. Now, Garcia. That’s three significant QB losses in final preseason games in 26 years. That may not seem like much, but I bet it’s more than most every other NFL team in the same time frame.

Garcia might not be out for the season. Some reports are indicating a loss for about six-to-eight weeks. But you don’t just bounce back from a broken fibula like a rubber ball. There is a lot of rehabilitation. So I wouldn’t count on Garcia for 2005, at all.

But maybe Garcia has already made his presence felt. Harrington has been, frankly, the least of the Lions’ concerns this preseason. And while Garcia himself was awful in the August games, I don’t think it was a coincidence that Joey had perhaps his sharpest exhibition performances this summer since he’s been in Detroit.

Of course, the question is, "NOW what?" With Jeff Garcia’s leg in a cast, how will that affect Joey Harrington? Will it? Should it? I guess that’s three questions.

On the surface, it shouldn’t matter all that much if your backup quarterback goes down, because he’s the backup. But this is the NFL, where starting QB’s rarely take every snap, because of injury or slumps. So now we’ll all find out a lot more about Dan Orlovsky, who has now been thrust into the #2 slot. I’m already scrambling to gather some facts about this kid. What scares me is that Orlovsky makes Mike McMahon look like a seasoned vet, at least on paper. Maybe he’s got what it takes. I guess we’ll see.

Meanwhile, Joey is clearly the man, although I think the preseason pretty much verified that even before Garcia’s injury. Harrington performed well with Garcia nipping at his heels. Let’s see how he does with Jeff on crutches, looking on.

Friday, September 02, 2005

NFL Should Be Flagged For Decision On Saints' Preseason Game

The New Orleans Saints played a preseason game last night in Oakland, and you have to wonder what the NFL was thinking.

It shouldn't have mattered that the game was already scheduled as an away contest. The game could have been slated to be played in Timbuktu for all I care; it shouldn't have been played at all.

It seems absurd to me that if anyone in the league office saw ten seconds of footage of the destruction and calamity that is now the city of New Orleans, that they should have decided to go ahead as planned with a silly exhibition game.

The Saints are not just football players, of course. They are real people with real families and real relatives and real homes, all of which may have been dramatically affected by Hurricane Katrina. The NFL donated $1 million to the relief effort, and that is very admirable. But they gave the green light to a meaningless football game made even more trivial by the disaster along the Gulf Coast, and that almost cancels out the $1 million check.

The NFL seems to be faced with these types of decisions more than any other pro sports league. The most infamous instance was the decision to play NFL games 48 hours after President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. The league reacted correctly, however, when it cancelled games in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. Now comes Hurricane Katrina, and the league fumbled once again, to borrow one of its own terms.

Now, you may ask me, "Eno, what if it was a regular season game? Should it still have been cancelled?" Probably not cancelled, but maybe rescheduled, if that was possible. The easiest thing would have been if both the Saints and Raiders had bye weeks on the same Sunday. The bye weeks could have simply been swapped. But outside of that good fortune, I still think a rescheduling would have been appropriate, to allow the players some extra time to take care of their personal affairs. Where there's a will, there's a way.

So in my book the NFL is batting .333 on these types of decisions whether to cancel or postpone games. That might be acceptable in major league baseball, but it certainly isn't in the NFL, or life for that matter.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Finley A Spur? Now We Can All Breathe Again, Apparently

So Michael Finley will be a San Antonio Spur. The Eastern Conference is now safe again.

If you listen to some folks around here, the Finley sweepstakes were going to determine who would win the NBA East next season -- either the Pistons or the Miami Heat. Both teams had an interest in the former Mavericks guard, and Pistons fans gnashed their teeth over the prospects of Finley -- a local kid -- playing with Shaq.

"We don't need Dale Davis!," the naysayers cried, referring to the veteran big man Joe Dumars signed in lieu of snagging Finley, who was to back up Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton. "The Heat just won the East!"

Miami supposedly is much improved, adding Antoine Walker and Jason Williams to the fold. The signing of Finley was the straw that was going to break the Pistons' camel backs.

But in the end Finley picked the Spurs, who were thought to be behind the Heat in the bidding war. So I guess San Antonio just won the 2006 NBA Championship.

But as I've said time and time again, if Joe Dumars says it's going to rain pork chops, I'm bringing out my knife and fork, and a bib. My faith in him is blind, which sometimes is easier on the tummy.

The Heat didn't sign Michael Finley. Neither did the Pistons. NOW who is going to win the East?