Tuesday, January 31, 2006

No Brett, Don't Go! Give Marinelli A Chance In Green Bay!

Is he looking for a life after football?

Well, nuts.

He says he'd leave today, quit on the spot, if a decision had to be made forthwith. He says he can still play, can still perform at a high level, but hey -- maybe he just doesn't feel like it anymore.

Brett Favre contemplates retirement today. Actually, he isn't so much contemplating it as he is considering it. Seriously. So seriously that he says if Packers management needed an up or down vote this morning, it would be "down".

"I still know I can play," Favre said in an ESPN interview. "I still love to play. But there's just so much more to it than that now. I never thought it would be complicated, never thought mentally I would give out before I did physically."

Favre's off-the-field worries have been well-documented: his father's death, his wife's bout with breast cancer, his family members' displacement by Hurricane Katrina. And toss in the Packers' 4-12 2005 season, marked by Favre's career-high 29 interceptions, and you can see where the only man to win the NFL MVP Award three times might be looking longingly at a post-playing career.

But Brett -- listen up: you have to stay one more season. You have to give our Detroit Lions one more chance to beat you in Green Bay. We haven't done it, you know. You became the Pack's quarterback in 1992 and since then you've beaten the Lions 15 straight times in Wisconsin, including one playoff game. Even 2005's stinker team came back and won -- on ESPN no less.

So I figure it would be only fair to strap it on for one more season, at least thru the next Detroit game at Green Bay. Give our new coach Rod Marinelli a crack at the apparently uncrackable nut that is Brett Favre -vs- the Lions in Green Bay.

For it will not be nearly as gratifying to win in Green Bay if Brett Favre is not the Packers' quarterback. It's like beating the Bulls without Michael Jordan. Or the Eagles without Donovan McNabb's mother serving Chunky Soup. In fact, if you do hang 'em up, and the Lions do in fact win at Lambeau Field in 2006, it will forever be viewed as the reason why they were able to win.

Don't let the Lions go 0-for-Favre in Green Bay, Brett.

Besides, I want to try our new staff out, especially if the Lions hire Mike Martz as their new offensive coordinator. The Packers have been the beneficiaries of popgun Lions offenses for too long now. Time to give them more to think about than a draw play on 3rd-and-8, or a screen pass on 3rd-and-12. Maybe the team will even throw on first down every now and then.

But all joking aside -- was I joking? -- the Packers won't be nearly as fun to watch without Mr. Favre leading the charge. I don't even remember who the Packers' QB was before #4. Don Majkowski? That was when Tony Mandarich was being shoved into the backfield as a bust offensive tackle. Anyhow, you always want to beat the great ones, and though Favre has slipped -- he's 36 after all -- he is still the second best QB in Packers' history, behind Bart Starr. So if the Lions beat anyone else at Lambeau....well, what's the fun in THAT?

We've been tormented by our share of villains in the Motor City: Favre, Patrick Roy, Larry Bird, Claude Lemieux, the Minnesota Vikings, Manu Ginobili and Robert Horry -- to name a few. However, in most instances, you eventually gain a healthy respect for those bad guys (Lemieux, of course, excluded). This is because you realize, in the end, the reason they're villains -- most of the time -- is because they are pretty damn good players.

As Isiah Thomas once said, "People don't boo the benchwarmers."

So Brett Favre can't retire -- not just yet.

All we are sayyyying...is give Rod a chance!

Monday, January 30, 2006



Little Freddie Patek

"I'd rather be the shortest player in the big leagues than the tallest player in the minor leagues."

-- Former shortstop Freddie Patek, who stood 5'5" and who was almost always the shortest player in MLB in any given year


Lindsey Nelson

The very first use of instant reply in a sports telecast was during the 1963 Army-Navy football game. As announcer Lindsey Nelson said, ''Here it comes,'' viewers got an immediate second look at Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh's 1-yard touchdown.

''This is not live!'' Nelson screamed into the microphone. ``Ladies and gentlemen, Army has not scored again!''

Zorn Comes Full Circle With Seahawks

Thirty years ago, the Seattle Seahawks joined the National Football League, hatching out of a blue, white, green and silver egg -- a football Easter of sorts. Their quarterback was, as far as I am aware, the only QB whose last name began with a "Z" -- Jim Zorn. The guy with the funny last name played at a school with a funny name: Caly-Poly Pomona. Good luck finding it on a map.

Zorn, that ole lefty gunslinger

But speaking of maps, that's exactly where Jim Zorn put the Seattle Seahawks. Zorn was a gunslinger who was cut from the same cloth as Daryle Lamonica -- "The Mad Bomber" of the Oakland Raiders, whose philosophy was "If it's 3rd-and-six, let's go for SIXTY, not six." In other words, 180 degrees from Steve Mariucci's pop gun offense. Zorn heaved it, and heaved it often -- and deep. He liked to look for Steve Largent, the Hall of Fame receiver. In 1978, '79, and '80, Zorn threw for over 10,000 yards combined and 52 touchdowns. The fact that he also threw 48 interceptions was largely due to his fearless style of quarterbacking.

Zorn also led the 'Hawks to their only previous appearance in a Conference Championship Game -- in 1983-84 when Seattle fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Raiders.

Now Zorn comes full circle with the team with which he has been so closely associated. Zorn, 52, is the Seahawks' quarterback coach. His tutelage of Matt Hasselbeck has been a huge part of the Seattle quarterback's success. Head coach Mike Holmgren, himself a professor of quarterbackdom, says Zorn has "drills I'd never even heard of. He has way more drills than I do."

Zorn is a big believer in proper footwork. He wants his quarterbacks square and balanced, and always ready to skidaddle out of the way. Zorn practiced what he now preaches. Jim Zorn could scramble with the best of them.

"Some quarterbacks, the young ones, like to fade back and plant their back foot firmly into the turf," Zorn says. "That puts them in a bad position if they need to pop up and look for check off receivers. I want my quarterbacks to be light on their feet and not plant that back foot so much."

It must be working. Hasselbeck, in his fifth year under Zorn's watchful eye, has now thrown for over 3,000 yards four seasons in a row. The last Seahawk QB to do it even three times in a row? Jim Zorn.

Hasselbeck also can move in the pocket, a la his teacher. In five Zorn years in Seattle, Hasselbeck has rushed for nearly 700 yards.

When Zorn and the Seattle Seahawks entered the league together, the team took an "Oh, what the hell" attitude and introduced a wide open offense. The Seahawks knew, as an expansion team, that they were going to lose some games. So they may as well lose them in an exciting fashion. Again, 180 degrees opposite from our Lions' philosophy.

So Zorn chucked it, Largent more often than not caught it, and the Seahawks soon became a team with which to reckon. Zorn is not a Hall of Famer like Largent, but if there was a Hall for southpaws, he'd be in it. Zorn might have been, in fact, the second best lefty QB ever to play in the NFL, behind Steve Young -- with apologies to Kenny Stabler. And Todd Marinovich. Certainly he's the best ever to come out of Cal-Poly Pomona, no?

Jim Zorn is not the head football coach of the Seattle Seahawks. But he has, in a very real, tangible way, helped bring his team all the way from expansion chicks to Super Bowl hawks. He is the man who has propped up Matt Hasselbeck for five years, culminating in an appearance in Super Bowl XL.

Maybe the Lions could give Greg Landry a call? Oh -- they tried that already.

See how memorable it was?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

No 'News' Was Good News For Pistons When It Came To Marvin Barnes

(note: some quotes and facts for the following came from Jerry Green's book "The Detroit Pistons: Capturing A Remarkable Era")

Watching the Pistons win with monotonous regularity, piling up wins like pancakes on a serving plate at the IHOP, got me to thinking of the team's rather inglorious past. I'm big on contrasts. I like remembering the good times during the bad, and the bad times during the good when it comes to our teams. It's much more fun, of course, to do the latter.

And when you're talking Pistons Basketball, throwback style, it's just as well to do just that: throw it back. Before the Bad Boys, the Pistons really were the bad boys. Mostly they played basketball court jesters in a theater of the absurd, and before gaggles of empty seats. They were the Broadway show that got shut down after one night, but kept playing anyway.

The follies weren't confined to the hardwood, however. The Pistons, before Bill Davidson bought out his partners in 1974 and began to right the ship ever so slowly, practiced an interesting approach toward winning: they constantly walked around with pistols, and aimed them squarely at their basketball shoes.

What else can you say about a franchise that once employed, at various times, the following as its general manager: its radio announcer, an accountant, the Lions' former GM, and a lawyer. But that's okay, because it also employed as coach a 24 year-old player, a liquor salesman, a man who met his future wife in the army brig and who loved steam baths, a man who loved to wear leisure suits and no socks, and a one-eyed sheister from the college ranks.

So when the American Basketball Association decided it had had enough and deflated its red, white, and blue basketballs for good, announcing that four of its teams would survive and merge into the NBA in the summer of 1976, it was announced there would be a dispersal draft. Basically, the cream of the crop of players not on those four surviving teams would be put into a hopper of sorts, available for selection by NBA clubs in a certain predetermined pecking order.

There was, without question, some highly attractive talent in that pool. The ABA could play some ball. They just couldn't get enough paying customers to witness it in person. Hence the deflation of basketballs.

The Pistons had their eyes on big, strong, young Moses Malone, from the Virginia Squires. Moses didn't go to college, but he made the transition from high school to the pros with wonderful seamlessness. Of course, Moses was coveted by many teams. Still, the Pistons would have a shot at him, based on their draft position.

But there was another player, another huge talent, that made the Pistons' feeble, woefully basketball knowledge-deprived front office drool. He played for the St. Louis Spirits.

When Marvin Barnes was selected by the Pistons in the ABA dispersal draft in the summer of 1976, it was the perfect completion to the statement, "Just when you thought it couldn't get any: a) worse, b) more bizarre, c) funnier."

Marvin "Bad News" Barnes

Barnes had a nickname, gathered from his time at Providence University and his years with the Spirits. It was "Bad News". That's what they might tend to call you, too, if you threatened a teammate with a tire iron, as he did in college, and missed practices and showed up late for games, as he did in the pros.

But the Detroit Pistons, once again pointing that pistol at their feet, pulled the trigger when they selected Marvin "Bad News" Barnes over Moses "Future Hall of Famer" Malone.
Barnes, legend has it, had 13 telephones in his two-bedroom apartment so he wouldn't have to reach any further than arm's length to answer a call. But eccentricities aside, Marvin "Bad News" Barnes had a message for the basketball fans in Detroit.

All season, Barnes tried the Pistons' patience. He was late for practices. He was late for games. He complained that he wasn't playing enough.

"I'm going to get my game together. I think we have a great team. I can imagine the championship banner now. What do they call that place? Cobo?"

And then Marvin probably answered a phone call in the bathroom.

But he had another message, and it was about his relatively unflattering nickname.

"Call me 'News'," Marvin implored the good people of Detroit -- especially those with pens and notebooks and newspaper columns. "Not 'Bad News' -- just 'News.'"

And then Marvin probably answered a phone call in his closet.

The Pistons, in the fall of 1976, were coached by Herb Brown, Larry's not-as-famous older brother. He was in lockstep with his bosses when he declared publicly that the selection of Marvin Barnes instead of a huge manchild like Moses Malone in the dispersal draft was a good thing for his basketball team. Herb Brown, after all, knew that upper management read the papers -- even the sports section.

But when training camp started, and when the players gathered around Brown on the first day, guess who was missing?

Marvin Barnes!

The Pistons suspended him. Before he suited up for even one practice.

And that was just the beginning. All season, Barnes tried the Pistons' patience. He was late for practices. He was late for games. He complained that he wasn't playing enough. But then he did something that couldn't possibly remove the word "Bad" from his sobriquet.

Already on probation for the tire iron incident, Barnes was caught with a loaded gun while going through the metal detectors at Metro Airport. Providence must not be a very good school. They apparently don't teach their students not to do such a thing, especially while one is already on probation.

There would be jail time for Marvin Barnes, a judge said, and it would begin in May -- conveniently after the NBA season would be concluded. Judges read sports pages, too, you know.

So the '76-77 campaign rolled along, and as it got closer to the end of the regular season, Marvin Barnes had another surprise for Herb Brown and the Pistons brass.

"I don't want to play in the playoffs. I want to start my prison time. I just want to get it over with. My contract doesn't say I have to play in the playoffs for them."

Marvin may have been right about the contract thing, but it's doubtful the Pistons felt they had to add a clause that said, "Player agrees to play in the playoffs -- if we make it!"

After some cajoling and ego stroking, Barnes finally agreed to play in the 1977 playoffs. It was much ado about nothing. The Pistons were blasted out in the first round, two games to one. Marvin then traipsed off to prison, leaving his apartment and his telephones behind.

Marvin "Bad News" Barnes lasted into the beginning of the 1977-78 season before being traded to the Buffalo Braves. It closed a deliciously goofy chapter in franchise history.

So when you are witness to the basketball ballet that today's Pistons perform nightly, be mindful that before the pirouettes, there were pratfalls and slapstick.

"News", indeed!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Thomas' Uneven Post-Playing Career Now Tragicomic

This blog is entitled "Out of Bounds" because it is, I think, an accurate, sports-related term to describe my sometimes offbeat take on this wacky world of sports.

It is not, however, usually a space for me to speak on issues that are not only "out of bounds", but "out of my comfort zone."

I write about sports. It's not all I know, but it's what I write about. Because I know the subject matter, and it's fun as hell. As George Puscas, one of my idols, once wrote, "I don't know why anyone would want to write about anything other than sports."

But I need to get a little out of that comfort zone because Isiah Thomas won't let me stay comfortable.

I wasn't going to touch the latest Isiah story -- the allegations by a female former New York Knicks executive that Thomas sexually harassed her -- because I normally don't get into that kind of stuff. It's not a sports story, per se. Thomas is retired as a player, and instead of stealing basketballs on the court, he is stealing money as the brutally inept president of the Knicks.

But it's not going to go away, and Isiah is ratcheting up the denials, so here goes.

The former employee is a woman named Anucha Browne Sanders, who had been the Knicks' senior vice president of marketing and business operations.

According to the Associated Press, Browne Sanders filed a lawsuit Tuesday, saying she was fired last Thursday "for telling the truth" while going through internal channels to stop the harassment. She has accused Thomas of telling her he was "very attracted" to her and "in love" with her and tried to kiss her.

Did he or didn't he?

I guess whenever I read stories like this, I try to look at them pragmatically. I inevitably end up struggling to come up with reasons why a woman would put herself through the baloney that she has to endure in such an instance, if what she says happened didn't.


Really? This was a woman, Browne Sanders, who held a very high title with the Knicks. She was one of the highest-ranking black female executives in sports. It's doubtful money was something she was lacking, though I suppose anything is possible.

Smoke tends to portend fire. I must admit, whenever one of these stories boils to the surface, I tend to side with the woman. Have women made up these sorts of tales for some sort of personal gain, or for vengeance? Sure they have. There are always exceptions. But I have a hunch the percentages would be on my side if someone were to research how many were blatantly false and how many had a good deal of merit. Again, why put yourself through a legal and emotional and personal nightmare if what you're alleging is completely baseless?

Thomas, and he obviously isn't alone in this regard, has a dark side, folks have told me. Browne Sanders says that dark side can be downright abhorrent and a 180 degree opposite from the smiling cherub he purports to be.

In court documents, Browne Sanders said Thomas often berated her and made crude comments about her to Knicks officials, telling them not to listen to any of her directions. She also charged that last month, he hugged and tried to kiss her, and when she pulled away, he said, "What, I can't get any love from you today?"

Thomas, for his part, is vehemently denying the allegations, which turned into a lawsuit claiming the Knicks -- Thomas especially -- fired her when she tried to funnel her complaints through the proper channels. But what else is he going to do? You always deny -- right, guys? Right up to the bitter end.

Thomas apparently has support from others inside Madison Square Garden.

MSG chairman James Dolan, through spokesman Barry Watkins, said he has "total confidence in the long-term strategy of the management team."

Whatever the hell that means. Funny how he didn't say he has "total confidence that these allegations are false and without base for truth."

Again, where there's smoke....

Friday, January 27, 2006

Leyland Knows He's On A Rapidly Ticking Clock As Tigers Manager

I like Jim Leyland as Tigers manager already.

He speaks with urgency, which I suppose is easier to do when you're in your 60's and getting another manager job after being fired from your last one, a job in which you admittedly didn't give it your best shot.

"We better get better quick. Mr. Ilitch is running out of patience. The fans are running out of patience," Leyland said as the Tigers winter caravan loaded up its diesel fuel and set out to roam the state, beating the bushes looking for fans who will buy the propaganda once more.

Leyland: no time for five-year plans

But there is no propaganda, in the brainwashing sense, when it comes to Jimmy Leyland. He may shoot it from the hip, but he shoots it straight. A refreshing change from the "Gee whiz" saccharin that came from the Tigers dugout the last three seasons.

"I'm going to have fun with the players. I'll never slam them publicly. But behind closed doors, there will be accountability," Leyland says. "We got good players, so let's go out and perform."

But back to the urgency. Leyland sees the need for it, has it, and wants to transfer it to his players. He hasn't managed in the American League, and he admitted at his introductory press conference that he didn't know all that much about his new team. But he hasn't been living in one of Saddam Hussein's spider holes, either. He knows the Tigers haven't compiled more wins than losses since 1993.

"Alan Trammell isn't here because the players didn't perform," Leyland says with perhaps a bit too much of a nod to professional courtesy. "And if the players don't perform for me, I'll get fired."

Yes, it's all about the players, Sparky Anderson always use to say. You have good ones, you're a good manager. If you don't....

Speaking of wins and losses, Jim Leyland has an overall record that is below .500. But his resume includes three straight divisional titles with the Pirates, a World Series win with the Marlins, and two Manager of the Year Awards. Being on the wrong side of .500 as a manager is easier to forgive when you've done that kind of winning in the process.

Early indicators are that his new players are buying into the Leyland administration, although there's not really a choice for them at this point. But it's always good to have them on your side, I suppose. Makes the medicine go down easier if there's some sugar in the clubhouse.

"He's a throwback. He's a no-nonsense guy," third baseman Brandon Inge says.

No-nonsense? Good! There's been plenty of that stuff around Michigan and Trumbull first, then Brush and Madison second, during the past 12 years.

Longevity in the managerial/coaching positions is a dying commodity in professional sports. Gone are the days when men managed or coached teams as if they were Supreme Court justices: as long as they damn well wanted. Now, a guy who is in place for three or four years is a "dean" of his brethren. Look no further than Joe Louis Arena to the south, the Palace to the north, and Comerica Park and Ford Field in between, to understand that coaches get the ziggy at dizzying rates nowadays. Mike Babcock, in his first season as coach of the Red Wings, is the senior guy in town. And he was hired in early July 2005. Detroit performed a quadruple coaching bypass -- all four of them getting the ziggy within four months and some change.

So it's no surprise that when a legend leaves, the rock of consistency leaves with him. The Dodgers were managed first by Walter Alston for 20+ years, then Tommy Lasorda for another 20. Since Tommy resigned, no man has been able to keep the job for longer than five years. Sparky's last season in Detroit was 1995. Since then, the Tigers have spirited five men in and out of the dugout. Jim Leyland will be the sixth.

The Tigers are in dire need of a firm hand on their ship's wheel. Last season the clubhouse was a disaster. Alan Trammell isn't not here just because the players didn't perform. He didn't perform, either. The Tigers, toothless on the field, need a manager with teeth. Jim Leyland blows into town with that reputation. This is a man who took on Barry Bonds, don't forget, in a very public display one spring.

Jimmy Leyland talks of getting better quickly and everyone's lack of patience when it comes to Detroit Tigers baseball. He knows his honeymoon is going to be short.

The Tigers should have been hiring older dudes as soon as the Sparkster left, after all.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Party Hearty, Pistons Fans -- But '84 Tigers' Start Was More Impressive

Sorry, Sheed -- but '84 Tigers trump your 35-5 getaway

It's almost unbelievable, really, to consider that anyone over 25 in this town has seen two Detroit teams begin a season with a record of 35-5 after 40 games.

The Pistons joined the 1984 Tigers last night, working overtime to escape the Milwaukee Bucks, 106-102 at the Palace.

I promised myself I would write this piece if the Pistons successfully made the climb to professional sports' stratosphere, causing our '84 Tigers to make room in that penthouse. It may ruffle some feathers and maybe this isn't the best time to do it, but it's also the perfect time, because the comparisons are so tempting.

So which is more difficult, anyway -- going 35-5 in major league baseball, or in the NBA?

Sorry, Rasheed -- the (base)ball don't lie.

It might not be a popular viewpoint this morning, but it says here that there are simply more land mines through which to navigate during a baseball season than during an NBA campaign. And that's why the 1984 Tigers' 35-5 record is more impressive -- albeit slightly more impressive -- than this season's Pistons version.

If you think about all a major league schedule has to offer in any given 40-game stretch -- three-game series with the same team, hot pitchers, fluke plays, defensive miscues, the sudden death of a walk-off homer against, hitting slumps -- I think it's simply bewildering that a team, no matter how good, could win 35 of its first 40 games. Or 17 straight road games. Or 18 of its first 20 -- another record. But the Tigers did all of that in 1984, and I truly wonder if we'll ever see anything close to it again.

The following season, in 1985, some friends and I ventured to Cleveland to watch the Tigers play the Indians in the cavernous Municipal Stadium. We sat behind these obnoxious dudes who were razzing us about the Indians, who were actually winning the game. The Indians were miserable in '85. The talk turned to the '84 Tigers, because Obnoxious Dudes took great delight in the fact that the '85 Tigers weren't all that.

"The only reason they (the Tigers) won the division is because they started 35-5," one of them said through his wimpish beak.

"Do you realize how HARD it is to go 35-5?," I countered.

If it was legal, I'd still be beating him now, as you read this.

Look, what the Pistons have done this season is amazing -- no question. The fact that there is still serious talk -- at the halfway point -- of them reaching 70 victories is testament to that. They are chomping through the NBA schedule like PacMan. They seem, really, to be able to turn on their afterburners at will, leaving their opponents gasping in the dust. History may place them among the top five greatest teams of all-time, as far as single seasons go.

But their feat does not surpass that of the 1984 Detroit Tigers.

In those first 40 games, the Tigers lost consecutive games only once: games 22 and 23, to "fall" to 19-4. They had winning streaks of nine (twice), and seven (twice). That's 32 wins right there, just in streaks. They won those 17 straight on the road, including a west coast swing. They plowed through the league, avoiding all those pitfalls I outlined earlier -- those bugaboos that befall major league baseball teams on a weekly basis.

And they did it all to the tune of an .875 winning percentage through one quarter of a 162-game season.

The Pistons, bless their blue collar hearts, have an advantage that the '84 Tigers didn't possess: there are more cupcakes on an NBA schedule than there are in big league baseball. It's true. There are winning percentages in the NBA that look like MLB batting averages, sprinkled throughout the league. The Tigers didn't get to beat up on teams who were on pace to lose 100 games, over and over again. There are many have-nots in the NBA, and the Pistons have been able to pad their record with wins against such impostors.

This may be one of those great barroom discussions. It's always fun to compare apples to oranges in sports. We like to do that in this country. To compare the uncomparable provides shelter in the wake of heated arguing.

So you know we're going to do it, starting today in earnest, now that the Pistons have matched the Tigers, in record at least. But they have only done just that: match them in terms of records.

The 1984 Tigers can relax. Theirs is still the greatest achievement.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Red Sox Front Office: Dr. Phil Meets Musical Chairs, And Then Some

What in the world is going on at Fenway Park?

The Boston Red Sox are playing musical chairs in their front office -- except in this game, names and titles are changing faster than the music.

Theo Epstein, the Boy Wonder general manager, is back in -- as general manager, after quitting last Halloween, making vague references to "philosophical differences."

I wish I could stop right there, with Epstein's reclaiming of his title, in prizefighter fashion. But the Boston Red Sox front office, since the end of the 2005 season, has resembled a combination of a "Dr. Phil" episode with a little bit of "The Apprentice" thrown in. Hell, there's even some "The Bachelor" in there, if you look hard enough.

Left holding the bag after Epstein's resignation, the Red Sox announced on Dec. 12 that Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington, two of Epstein's former lieutenants, would serve as co-GMs. Ben and Jed -- sounded too much like the famous ice cream, I guess, because last week, the team said Epstein would return to baseball operations full-time, in a capacity to be determined.

Yeah, like Theo was going to come back as the clubhouse attendant, or chief ticket taker.

"Can you hear me now? Good -- I want my job back"

It was clear that there was only one role Theo Epstein would fill with the Bosox: GM. And Epstein's resumption of the GM title was first reported Tuesday by the Boston Herald on its Web site.

So here's where the top-heavy Red Sox get the boombox out and set up the chairs:

Jed Hoyer's new job will be assistant general manager, and Ben Cherington was given the title of vice president of player personnel. Bill Lajoie stays on as a special adviser for baseball operations and Craig Shipley was named vice president for international scouting and special assistant to the general manager.

Forget player payroll -- is there enough dough in Red Sox Nation to pay all these brass?

But the fun doesn't stop with names and titles. Once you listen to team president Larry Lucchino and Epstein speak, that's when you realize it gets Dr. Phil-ish.

"Walls have crumbled, perceptions of one another have changed, and appreciation of one another has grown," Lucchino said. "As an enhanced sense of 'team' has emerged, we have rediscovered that, whatever our differences may have been, baseball is at the center of our operations and our lives, and working toward the success of the Red Sox is a commitment which all of us share."

Cue the applause and the moist eyes.

But there's more. Here's Epstein:

"There were fundamental disagreements among members of upper management" about organizational priorities, Theo's statement said.

"This lack of a shared vision, plus the stress of a far-too-public negotiation, strained some relationships, including mine with Larry Lucchino," he said. "Gradually, with the benefit of time and greater perspective, we tackled not only our personal conflicts but also the differences regarding our thoughts for the organization. We emerged, 10 weeks and many spirited conversations later, with the comfort of a shared vision for the future of the organization."

Please....I need a moment.

I wonder when the Epstein-Lucchino hug will be shown on ESPN The Deuce.

All of those words are swell, but it really boils down to this: Theo got into a snit, took his ball and went home, and the Red Sox made nice and talked him into coming back.

Dr. Phil, we don't need you after all.

My heavens, remember when front office types chomped cigars and made some trades and ran the ship with an iron fist? Those guys would say, in a variation from the movie "A League of Their Own", "There's no group hugs in baseball!"

So when's the support meeting for "Johnny Damon Lovers Anonymous"?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

300 Posts? Doesn't That Get You Into The Blogger Hall Of Fame?

Practicing for my 300th last summer

Well, it's not Al Kaline's 3,000th hit, or Steve Yzerman's 600th goal or Barry Sanders' 10,000th yard, or even the Tigers' 120th loss, but your friendly neighborhood blogger -- that would be me -- just imprinted onto your computer screen his 300th post since "Out of Bounds" started in April 2005.

Actually, this is post #301. The 300th was my diatribe about Kobe Bryant's 81 point game.

I know you haven't read all 300 of them -- man, that would be a sad life if you did -- but even if you've read just one, and this is the one, thank you.

And as far as the Hall goes, I actually have to be retired for five years to merit consideration, don't I?

Guess I'll go back to work.

Here's to at least 300 more, eh?

Also wanted to welcome a new sponsor to the "OOB" family: Coast to Coast Tickets.

They can be your source for all tickets, and not just those of the Detroit teams.

Their ad is on the left side of this page, beneath this blog's description.

Check them out at www.coasttocoasttickets.com.

Blame Kobe's 81 Points On Boredom

When Isiah Thomas, that point guard nonpareil, was drafted by the Pistons in 1981, he had a concern. And it was a legitimate concern, considering the Pistons were coming off a 21-61 season.

"I don't know who I'm going to pass the ball to there (in Detroit)," Zeke told some reporters shortly after the draft.

Thank goodness the Pistons had also selected Kelly Tripucka in that same draft. Ole Kelly was never one to shy away from a shot.

Kobe Bryant took Isiah Thomas' concern about the 1981 Pistons to the nth degree Sunday night. He took 46 shots in 42 minutes, and scored 81 points in the Lakers' 122-104 win over the Toronto Raptors.

After all, who is he going to pass the ball to on the Lakers?

Must not be Lamar Odom, who can play the game but not in Kobe's stratosphere. Apparently not Smush Parker, because Smushie is a point guard and it's his responsibility to pass to Kobe, not the other way around. Not Chris Mihm, who's never been much of a scorer. Not Kwame Brown, who is still a babe yet. And certainly not anyone from the bench. The Lakers' reserves scored a whopping five points in 59 combined minutes against the Raptors.

Get outta my way!
(teammates included)

I'd say Kobe Bryant is simply doing these days what bored superstars do, when they don't feel anyone else on the court wearing the same colored jersey is worth a hoot.

There's been some talk -- boy, has there been some talk -- about Bryant's 81-point explosion, and most of it isn't good. The words "selfish" and "ball hog" and "that's not how you win championships" have been bantied about.

But here it is, folks, plain and simple: Kobe Bryant is bored.

Earlier this season he scored 62 points in a game in which he sat out the entire fourth quarter. That's an 81-point pace, too, if you want to do the math. He is averaging almost 36 points a game. And the Lakers play at not much above a .500 clip in the meanwhile, despite Kobe's astronomical scoring numbers.

But that's okay with Kobe. He's just a guy who loves to shoot the basketball and have some fun, and since there's no one with whom it is worth sharing the ball, why not jack it up nearly 50 times and let the chips -- and the records -- fall where they may?

You see, there it is: boredom. The team is so-so, the teammates aren't going to make people forget Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rest, and a championship isn't in the offing this season. So what else is there to do but score a bucketful of points and make people forget things like feuds with Shaq or rape charges?

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak better get on the phone and find his superstar a playmate, or else Kobe is going to keep shooting and shooting and shooting, while the team keeps winning, then losing, then winning, then losing. It is readily evident that Kobe Bryant finds nary a person on his own team in whom he can entrust the basketball. So to break the monotony, if nothing else, Kupchak needs to secure another scorer.

Or maybe not. One of the reasons the Lakers lost the 2004 NBA Finals to the Pistons, I am convinced, was Bryant's reluctance (refusal?) to get Shaquille O'Neal more involved in the offense. Maybe the worst thing that could have happened to the Lakers was having Kobe's long three-pointer beat the Pistons in Game 2 of that series. After that, Bryant became downright incorrigible on the court. And the Lakers fell meekly in the next three games. Shaq had had enough, and fled to the southern Florida coast, a hop, skip and a jump away from Cuba, for goodness sakes.

Sometimes in the NBA, when a player is spot-on and his scoring totals for a particular game spike, it is because the shots just happen to fall or the flow of the game sends the ball and scoring chances in that player's general direction. In those instances, it is wise to feed the "hot hand" and even rely on that strategy to gain victory. But with Kobe Bryant, as with Michael Jordan in his early, Baby Bull years, it's not that way. Instead, it's a simple matter of "I'm better than anyone else on my team so just give me the damn ball and get out of my way."

Or something like that.

Again, send slings and arrows Kobe Bryant's way, if you must. Grumble all you want about his ballhogging or his selfishness. Puff out your chest and declare that championships can't be won with one player scoring 81 points and the other 11 players scoring 41 combined.

Kobe knows all that. He's just bored.

And who's to blame for that, really?

Monday, January 23, 2006



The King (and not Elvis)

"I ran scared. When I was a kid my mother would send me to the store for a loaf of bread and I would run back home because it was a tough neighborhood. So that's how I carried the football -- like a loaf of bread, and scared as hell."

--Hall of Fame running back Hugh "The King" McElhenny


Al Downing (center) as a Yankee rookie

Pitcher Al Downing was in attendance during two of baseball's most celebrated homeruns: he was a Yankees rookie in the dugout when Roger Maris hit his 61st homer in 1961, and he served up Hank Aaron's 715th as a Dodger in 1974.

Fitting, In A Way, That Seahawks Make A Super Debut In Detroit

So yet another team that joined the National Football League after the Lions -- in this case, 42 years afterward -- has made it to a Super Bowl. Fitting that it should be played in the Lions' own building. That's a slap in the face and a kick in the teeth, for good measure.

The Seattle Seahawks, born in 1976, qualified for their first ever try for Vince's trophy with a resounding 34-14 beating of the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship yesterday. It might be appropriate to mention that the Panthers, too, are one of those teams who entered the NFL long after the Lions but reached a Super Bowl long before them. In fact, in their 11-year history, the Panthers have already played in three NFC title games. The Lions, in 36 seasons of NFC play, have participated in one.

All the rage around town, as well it should be, is the homecoming of Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. Detroit Mackenzie High School is about to be mentioned about 15,000 times between now and the Big Game, it being the alma mater of Bettis, who is soon to be 34 years of age and headed for almost certain retirement, whether the Steelers beat the Seahawks or not.

I'm very happy for Bettis -- I semi-boldly predicted this would happen in Saturday's post -- and he absolutely will be the story, at least around these parts, as we prepare for two weeks of mostly meaningless drivel. And you should be happy, too -- as long as you do realize you are going to be absolutely sick of the man by kickoff.

But it is the appearance of the Seahawks, I am telling you, that should be the issue. I think it is wonderful for Detroit to have two of its own in town for XL: Bettis, and the tough, blue-collar town of Pittsburgh. But to have the Seahawks here, with their 30 year-old, whippersnapper selves and their matinee idol quarterback and their incongruous history, isn't so wonderful.

When XVI came to the Silverdome in 1982, both teams were making their Super Bowl debuts: the San Francisco 49'ers and the Cincinnati Bengals. But the game was that much younger itself, so having two newbies wasn't all that big a deal.

But Super Bowl first timers, now that the game is XL years old, aren't as easy to come by. When you look at some of the squads that have actually made the big one -- Tennessee, Baltimore, Tampa Bay and, yes, Carolina -- you realize that a franchise has to be pretty cocked up for a pretty long time to not get at least one try at Vinnie's silver football.

The Buccaneers, for example, were about as slapstick as they come when they joined the league in '76, along with Seattle. But they made the NFC Championship Game in 1979, in just their fourth year in existence. Then they veered off into various other dryspells, before returning to glory in the late 90's, resulting in a world's title in 2002-03.

The Titans were the old Houston Oilers, a franchise known mainly for losing, save a few years of success in the late 70's and late 80's. The Ravens were the old Cleveland Browns and mostly miserable when they fled for Crab Country. The Panthers joined the league in 1995 and were already in a conference championship game in their third year.

The Lions, a member of the NFL since 1934 and the NFC since 1970, keep getting stranded at the station, watching train after train leave, their fellow league members hopping on an off.

And now another team, the Seahawks, who until two weeks ago hadn't won a playoff game in 21 years, gets to hop on that train after their own lengthy period of dysfunction.

So what happens when a train collides with a Bus, anyway?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Pedigree, Law Of Averages Say Marinelli Will Get It Done With Lions

M&M redux -- again

Well, at least Rod Marinelli was alive the last time the Lions won a world championship.

Of course, he was only seven years old, and if you look at and listen to Marinelli, the Lions' new head coach, with his bald head and old school, military toughness in his voice, you know he is very far removed from age seven. Forty-nine years removed, in fact.

But he was alive, which is more than you can say for the kids they're making head coaches nowadays. No less than six men, most of them in their 30's or 40's, have snagged their very first NFL head coaching gig since the end of the 2005 season. Which means none of them were around, not even in diapers and holding rattles, when the Lions were last kings of the football jungle, in 1957.

Since Bill Ford became sole owner of the team in 1964, only two men have been able to coach the team with enough spirit and moxie to end his career in Detroit with more wins than losses: Joe Schmidt, who lasted six seasons, and Gary Moeller, who lasted seven games. Apart from them, Ford has tried just about every personality -- Type A, B and, usually, F -- every age bracket, every experience level, every degree of popularity and name recognition. He has promoted from within, snatched supposed hot properties, selected complete no-names, hired men with Super Bowl exprience, and plucked guys from college. He has paid small money, big money, and medium money. He has done it all. He has done it all, except for one thing: he has not won.

But believe it or not, there is one thing Ford hadn't tried, until now. He hadn't tried a man such as Marinelli, 56 years of age and never before a head coach. He had never tried hiring a man who should be planning his retirement instead of planning for the Bears on a Sunday. He had never tried entrusting his football team to a man with 30 years coaching experience, split between the pro and college levels. He had never tried a man who served a turn in Vietnam. He had never tried a man who was described by one of his former players, himself a perennial Pro Bowler, with these words: "He is like a coaching Socrates."

Rod Marinelli comes to town with a long resume, yet it is short. He has never, ever been a coordinator at any level, let alone a head coach. But he has been a coach since leisure suits were in style. A more mean-spirited person would say, because of his age, that when Marinelli was a player, leather helmets were all the rage. But I wouldn't dare say it to his face, lest he make me drop and give him a hundred.

I have been to my share of press conferences, and never can I recall the speaker addressing the media as "men." But that's what Marinelli did, beginning with a no-nonsense, "Good morning, men," as if he was about to give a briefing on the goings on in Iraq. A more mean-spirited person would say that the "men" word was technically inaccurate, because there were some women in the group. But I wouldn't dare say it to his face, lest he put me on latrine duty.

Because Bill Ford, through team president Matt Millen, has actually stumbled onto something new here with the hiring of Rod Marinelli, and because of the new man's coaching pedigree, and because good old fashioned mathematics -- read: odds -- say so, I am telling you that the league's blind squirrel has finally found its nut.

At first glance, there is nothing to suggest that Rod Marinelli is "the one". There is nothing that would make very many Lions fans giddy with delight. He is not Bill Parcells, for one. And he is not Vince Lombardi, for two. Nobody other than that pair would truly make a Lions fan warm and fuzzy. And they both had the same chance of coming to Detroit to coach football: slim and none -- and slim just left town. So Marinelli has lots and lots of experience coaching defensive positions. Fine. He is highly regarded among the coaching circles. Fine -- although when was the last time you ever heard a football coach bad mouth another?

"Boy, you guys just got a stinker of a coach! Rod Marinelli -- he couldn't coach his way out of a paper bag!"

No, you never hear or read those words coming from a fellow football coach.

...the next time the Lions possess an actual football philosophy that is bought into by the entire organization, top to bottom, it will be the first.

But it says here the Lions finally have found the right man, because never has a coach swooped into town and spoken of toughness and accountability and discipline and being physical in quite the manner that Marinelli did in his introductory press conference this past Thursday. Sure, talk is cheap. But I got the feeling that the Rod Marinelli we saw at the podium in Allen Park is basically the Rod Marinelli you get. You see, it wasn't so much what Marinelli said that impressed me -- it's what he didn't say. He didn't talk of Super Bowls or some imaginary bar or five-year plans or one-way tickets out of town. He didn't try to con us with smoothe double-speak, like some of the duds who have stood before us as brand new Lions coaches. All he did was talk about his football philosophy. And, to be honest, the next time the Lions possess an actual football philosophy that is bought into by the entire organization, top to bottom, it will be the first.

Marinelli seems to have an actual
football philosophy -- what a concept

Marinelli refused to talk about the Lions' past, which may have been partially due to pre-press conference coaching by Millen, but it was as if he was dropped onto this planet moments before the proceedings began. Whenever one of the inquisitors tried to talk about Lions life pre-Marinelli, the new coach steadfastly refused to look back. He was all about the present and the future. If you didn't know any better, you would have thought that either a) the Lions were a brand new expansion team and Marinelli was their first coach, or b) someone fiendishly erased Marinelli's memory of the past, oh, 40 years. Come to think of it, choice b) might be desirable to Lions fans.

But perhaps the best part of Rod Marinelli is the coaching lineage under which he's worked. From college to pro, from Joe Kapp to John Robinson to Tony Dungy to Jon Gruden, Marinelli has been a lieutenant for some of the best, brightest coaching minds of their time. And, better yet, he has played integral roles for those names. He was no wallflower.

There is a false impression that one must be a coordinator -- offensive or defensive -- before presuming to success as a head coach. That's not always mandatory. What sometimes matters more is what kind of motivator, teacher, organizer and leader you are. And those qualities aren't uinique to coordinators, and Rod Marinelli, according to those who should know, possesses those qualities.

Bill Ford hasn't had much success with picking head coaches for his football team. Maybe the greatest indictment is that no man -- not a one -- has left the Lions' head coaching job and landed another one in the NFL. Rod Marinelli has what it takes, though, to be a winner in Detroit.

Sir, yes sir!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Bus Will Make Ford Field Its Final Stop -- I'm Pretty Sure

When the Red Wings were gunning for the Stanley Cup in 1995, just before they geared up to face the New Jersey Devils in the Finals, I thought, "Oh, this is perfect -- you couldn't have written a better script."

The Red Wings, at the time, had hit year number 40 of their Stanley Cup drought. A nice, round figure. Defenseman Mark Howe was 40 years old. A nice, round number, and he was the son of Mr. Hockey to boot. And he had never won a Cup. Game One was on Father's Day -- a fitting time to start a Finals series for the Howes. Everything seemed in place.

The Devils swept the Red Wings -- broomed them in four straight. The drought would last two more years. And Mark Howe never would win a Stanley Cup -- as a player.

The same kind of script is being played out right now in the NFL playoffs.

Jerome Bettis has never won a Super Bowl. He is from Detroit. He is considering, very heavily, retiring after this season. The Super Bowl is being played in Detroit.

Get where I'm going here?

I want to think -- Lord, do I want to think -- that this script is being played out for a reason. I want to think that it is all designed so The Bus can make its final stop at Ford Field, festooned with confetti and covered in champagne. I want to think it is because we will see Jerome Bettis holding aloft the Vince Lombardi Trophy, surrounded by teammates, friends and more importantly, family.

So it is, damning the torpoedoes of what happened to the Red Wings in the '95 Cup Finals, that I semi-boldly predict a Steelers win Sunday in Denver, in the AFC Championship Game.

Nothing else, frankly, spurs my prediction. Nothing that is truly football savvy is whispering into my ear. I've not broken down the film, delved into matchups, checked out tendencies, or rounded up a panel of ex-jocks to tell me what they think -- as if they know any better than I do anyway.

No, all I'm going on is this gut feeling, this inner hope, that Jerome Bettis will be playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Detroit for his first pro football championship.

But if you absolutely have to talk football here, I will tell you that the Steelers are a damn good team with a damn good defense who have already won two road playoff games. I will tell you that Ben Roethlisberger makes me feel safer at quarterback than Jake Plummer. I will tell you that the Steelers' receivers and kick returners excite me more than what the Broncos are offering up. I will tell you that they are coached by Bill Cowher, another one who I think the football gods just might be smiling upon. Cowher is in his 14th season replacing the legendary Chuck Noll, and he, too, is looking for his first mother of all Gatorade showers.

I'm not a predictions type. I don't use this blog to tell you what teams I think will win each week, because frankly, you could use any random method of selecting that you wish and it would probably be pretty close to my rate of success anyway. The supposedly esteemed Paul Zimmerman -- Doctor Z. -- of Sports Illustrated incorrectly picked three of the four divisional games last weekend. And he is SI's hotshot prognosticator. I'm thinking I could have gone 25%, too.

So there you have it. The Steelers will upset the Broncos and land in Detroit for Super Bowl XL.

Just don't ask me for a score. You're lucky you got the prediction itself out of me.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Davis Needed Suspending, But Not Five Games

New York Knicks coach Larry Brown rightfully bristled Wednesday night when one of the hangers-on with a microphone and tape recorder started to compare Antonio Davis' sojourn into the United Center stands with Ron Artest's brawl precipitation at the Palace in November 2004.

"Oh come on," Brown said, shaking his head in disgust. "That's totally different. Tony thought his wife was in trouble."

It's true. Davis' venture into the stands, according to the Knicks' forward, was initiated by what he perceived was a threat to his wife's safety. According to Davis, he thought he saw his wife being physically accosted, or about to be such. So without hesitation, he climbed several rows into the expensive seats to take matters into his own hands.

Davis on his way out of United Center stands

It was hardly the momentary dementia to which Ron Artest fell victim in Auburn Hills.

Yet I saw such headlines on the Net as "Davis charges into the stands." If you watched the video, which as usual nowadays is quickly ascending to Zapruder film-like screening frequency, Antonio Davis didn't charge anywhere. He didn't dawdle, either. But he wasn't a raging lunatic. He made his way into the stands, one step at a time, and once he got to his destination, he listened to his wife and other supporters who assured him that the situation was under control. By that time, security happened on the scene. He then calmly left, being escorted away.

He didn't throw a punch. He didn't so much as raise a hand. Frankly, I think the mere presence of a 6'9", 245 pound man was enough to quell whatever trouble a fan may have wanted to cause. Needless to say, because Davis showed such restraint, the situation did not escalate. And it could have, because this was a player from the opposing team entering the seating area.

Yet despite being mostly defended in NBA circles and in the court of public opinion, the league suspended Davis, the president of the Players Association, for five games.

This is where it gets dicey. But the NBA did the right thing, albeit a tad excessively.

Since everyone says sports is a bottom line business, here's the one in this instance: the NBA had no choice but to levy some sort of punishment on Davis. It would set a dangerous precedent if the league slapped him on the wrist, because then you'd be saying, in essence, "It's okay to go into the stands under certain circumstances."

Can you imagine what sort of Pandora's box that would open?

What were the circumstances? What was the intent of the player? What did he do once he was in there? Yadda, yadda, yadda.

I'm sorry, but something as admirable as Antonio Davis coming to the defense of his wife cannot be separated from any other situation in which a player leaves the court and enters the crowd. It simply cannot be tolerated. It still is a lighted match in a room full of gas.

But what you can do is make the punishment phase subjective. The amount of fine, or length of suspension, is where the league can separate the Goofuses from the Gallants.

So was five games the proper suspension length?

I would have been more comfortable with anywhere from one-to-three games, in all honesty. Something about five, which can be tantamount to almost two full weeks of play, makes me squirm a bit. Davis, 37, is a veteran who doesn't have, as far as I know, a history of trouble with officials or the league. Perhaps his position as president of the NBAPA holds him at a higher standard, but again, consider the circumstances and the player's history.

Five games was too much. But there should have been some retribution.

What was Davis to do?, folks would ask who think he shouldn't have been suspended at all.

Well, there are security people crawling all over NBA benches, especially in light of what happened at the Palace in November '04. There are police. There were plenty of folks nearby that Antonio Davis could have grabbed, and then he could have pointed out what has transpiring in the stands. It may not have been quite as quick as Davis himself investigating the matter, but the results would most likely have been the same.

But, please -- to even suggest that Antonio Davis' incident is on par with the Ron Artest debacle is wayyy off base.

Maybe they should check out more thoroughly to whom they issue those microphones and tape recorders.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Another "M", But This Time Millen May Have Gotten It Right

When Steve Mariucci was introduced as Lions head coach in 2003, he was escorted onto the Ford Field turf by Bill Ford Jr. and Matt Millen. The three of them made the long walk to the dais, which was adorned with a Lions helmet and an official NFL football. There was even a cheering section, in the stands behind the ink-stained wretches and the TV and radio people.

Mariucci, in his Italian suit and flashing his baby blues, smiled broadly. Then he looked around him and said, with genuine amazement, "Wow." He was like a kid on Christmas morning. That introductory press conference, that latest initiation into the Honolulu Blue and Silver world of football pratfalls and follies, was a precursor of things to come in the Mariucci administration: style over substance. Or rather: style, NO substance.

There was no such pomp this morning when the Lions introduced Rod Marinelli as their new head coach. Just a quiet gathering in the team's Allen Park annex, the usual Meijer/Lions logos sitting in the background in their one-dimensional plainness. No embracing -- just a handshake between Marinelli and team president Matt Millen as the new coach stepped to the microphone. No cheering section. Nothing to cause the new man to say in awe, "Wow." It was clear that the goal was more substance and less style this time.

Marinelli: Less hair, less good looks; more wins?

Instead, Rod Marinelli said, curtly, "Good morning, men." And that wasn't even his football team to which he was talking.

Was he addressing the media or the troops in Iraq?

Marinelli, 56, was most recently the defensive line coach/assistant head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was the dark horse who came from several lengths back, along the outside, to snag the Lions job, when supposed favorites like Russ Grimm and Jim Haslett hugged the inside rail. A more cynical person wouold say he lost by a nose.

But not Rod Marinelli. He thanked former coaches from his high school playing days, coaches he worked under in the college ranks, coaches he worked with and under in the pros, along with players he himself has coached. He thanked the Fords and Millen. He thanked his wife and family. All of this thankfulness was, presumedly, because of the good fortune that he considers himself to now possess, leading a football team that has won exactly one playoff game in 48 years. Over 30 years of coaching has prepared him for the Detroit Lions head coaching job. How many years would he have needed if he was taking over a winner?

But Marinelli is all right, on first inspection. He appears to be, if you can make such assertions after one 20-minute press conference, the type of coach the Lions need: tough, passionate, and a believer in physical football and conditioning and the ability to run the football, even deep into the fourth quarter.

"It all starts up front," the new coach said almost right off the top. "I want to have a great offensive line and a great defensive line."

Well, he has neither in Detroit -- the defensive line is a reverse doughnut: solid in the middle with holes on the outside -- so maybe that's the first order of business. Or maybe it's the quarterback situation. Or the coaching staff. To say Rod Marinelli has his work cut out for him in Detroit is like saying Noah had a slight water problem.

One of the first things Marinelli said was, "The time for talk is over. Football is a 'show me' game." But, ironically, it was what Marinelli indeed said that should make Lions fans take heart.

"I'm not interested in Pro Bowl players. I'm interested in championship caliber players," he said, a refreshing change for a franchise that has always gloated over its few Pro Bowlers and alternates. "Everyone has talent in the NFL," Marinelli said. "Every team has good players."

"You just got to get good players to play good."

Okay, so he's not an English major, but the message is brilliant in its simplicity. And yes it's always easier to diagnose the problem than to repair it, but hasn't the diagnosis itself been lacking a bit around here when it comes to pro football?

Here's the other thing Marinelli said that should be embraced: "There's one voice of discipline: mine." But it was the way he said it -- with conviction and an extreme lack of bovine feces. There WILL be accountability, Marinelli promised. He said that goes from the coaching staff on down to the players. And with the way he said it, I'm not so sure the ticket takers and the popcorn vendors are omitted from that edict.

So yes, the time for talk is over. Has been over for decades, truthfully. But they don't hold these press conferences so they'll be performed in mime. Words must be spoken, and even though they often are designed to be words that the denizens wish to hear, you can pick through those and find some that aren't garden variety. Rod Marinelli said some of the usual, but he also said enough of the extras that makes me think he might be the right man.

But it's also what he didn't say. When Rob Parker of the Detroit News tried to nail Marinelli down with a supposed "yes" or "no" question -- Will the Lions make the playoffs in 2006? -- the ex-Army man who served in Vietnam didn't take the bait. It was an asinine question, which isn't unusual for Parker. Earlier, Parker asked why it took so long for Marinelli to become a head coach when the league is "hiring 35 and 40 year-old guys left and right."

"I'd say Matt is a pretty smart guy," Marinelli said, eliciting laughter.

But the knuckleheads in the media aside, Rod Marinelli acquitted himself well in his first official appearance as head coach of the Detroit Lions. He isn't the sexy hire that Mariucci was three years ago, but neither is he the Beaver Cleaver that was Marty Mornhinweg. He is somewhere in between. He does, however, boast a longer and some would say more impressive resume than both of his predecessors in the Millen era.

"The key is to coach every player like a starter," Marinelli said.

Rod, with this team, you might want to coach every one of them like the Pop Warner rejects they so frequently impersonate.

Welcome to Detroit.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Solution For Rabid Steelers Fan: Move To Detroit

While Terry O'Neill recovers in the hospital, I'd like to offer a goodwill gesture.

Come on over to Little D, Terry -- our football team is easier on your heart.

O'Neill, 50, is the gentleman who suffered a heart attack moments after his beloved Jerome Bettis fumbled near the goal line late in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 21-18 win over the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC Divisional game Sunday. He is currently recovering in a hospital. He will have a pacemaker implanted to control an irregular heartbeat and he was prescribed medication to deal with the hypertension.

Here's another way to deal with football hypertension, Terry: shift your allegiance to a team whose bar is far lower than your Steelers.

So Bettis fumbles, nearly blowing the game for his team, and this guy O'Neill blows out an aorta? Pleeeease! Here in Detroit, such a play would be cause for another swig of beer, maybe a curse word, but never, ever anything remotely resembling surprise, let alone enough stress to provoke a heart attack.

O'Neill told the Associated Press Bettis is his hero.

"I wasn't upset that the Steelers might lose," he said. "I was upset because I didn't want to see him end his career like that. A guy like that deserves better. I guess it was a little too much for me to handle."

Again, Terry, move to Detroit. You'll see, on a weekly basis, enough fumbles, dropped passes, questionable play calling to harden your heart -- but not your arteries. You'll experience brand new ways to lose football games that you never dreamed were possible. You'll be so insulated from the rigors and anxiety of the playoffs that you would get a new lease on life, to go along with your new pacemaker.

I'm sorry, but I just can't imagine any Lions fan having a heart attack if he saw the football squirt out of Kevin Jones' arms and onto the turf near the goal line. In 2004, the Lions lost to the Vikings because they could not execute a proper snap for an extra point. And did anyone drop off their barstool, or keel over on their sofa? No! We are toughened here in Lionstown. Such folly -- we sniff at it. We stare football death in the face and laugh, if you want to know.

O'Neill, for his part, credits two firefighters with saving him.

"The Steelers won the game and I'm still alive, so I guess I'm doing pretty good," he said.

But not nearly as good if you pulled a switcheroo and became a Lions fan, Terry. We can guarantee you a long, full life.

Now if the Lions ever make it to a Super Bowl, all bets are off. THAT'S when you'll see your heart attacks in this town.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ex-Wing Potvin's Death A Head-Shaker

Marc Potvin is dead, and we don't know why. We don't know how.

Marc Potvin is dead and just because he was a not a coach at the NHL level, it doesn't mean hockey's loss is any less significant.

Marc Potvin, 38, was found dead in his hotel room in Kalamazoo Friday morning. He was the coach of the Adirondack Frostbite, a lower level minor league club. He was also a former Detroit Red Wing, playing for the team in the early 90's.

Hockey, I think more than any other team sport, is a sort of throwback to the old days, when people cared for each other and there was a tightness of community. Many of the players still come from small towns, whether it's Canada or the United States or any other country. I have found them to be, by far, the most approachable, down-to-earth athletes of the four majors. You can go up to a hockey player and he'll actually talk to you. He'll give you something to write. He'll be courteous, and thank you when you're done.

If you think that goes for baseball, basketball and football players just as much, then you're lving on the planet Lovetron with Darryl Dawkins.

So in Glens Falls, New York, where the Frostbite call home, Mayor Le Roy Akins ordered flags at city buildings lowered to half staff Saturday in honor of Potvin.

"We're a hockey town. When the hockey team grieves, we grieve," said Mike Mender, the mayor's assistant.

Potvin's death has reverberated around the hockey world, and no doubt into the NHL, where he played several seasons and doubtless still has many relationships. He was a tough guy on the ice, and not considered a skill player, but he obviously had enough acumen about the game to be given a coaching job. Who knows what future he may have had in coaching?

For their part, the police say they have a good handle on what led to Potvin's death, but they are being tight-lipped until the official autopsy results are made public. They have, however, ruled out foul play. That opens up Pandora's box of speculation, of course. I'm sure you might draw your own conclusion. Or you might not care enough. That's okay too.

Potvin was separated from his wife, and left behind two young children.

"Obviously, we're devastated," his wife said, sobbing, to a reporter who reached her. "I'm not ready to say anything to the newspaper right now."

Potvin was to have coached the Frostbite Friday night against the Kalamazoo Wings. That game, of course, was postponed and the stunned team rode the bus back to upstate New York. Air travel isn't in the budget for lower minor league teams.

Marc Potvin is dead, and even when we do find out why, we'll still wonder. That's what you do when a 38 year-old man passes, in a motel room, alone.

Monday, January 16, 2006



Yogi Berra, always at
a loss for the right words

"Better make it six. I don't know if I can eat eight."

-- The inimitable Yogi Berra, when asked whether he wanted his pizza cut into six slices or eight. However, this may be apocryphal, although his teammates maintain he said it.


Falcons helmet, circa Dave Hampton '72

In 1972, Atlanta Falcons running back Dave Hampton reached the 1,000 yard mark in the season's final game. Because he was the first Falcons running back to do so, the game was halted and Hampton was presented with the game ball in a brief on-field ceremony. The game was resumed, and moments later Hampton was handed the ball and promptly lost five yards. He had no more carries, and finished the year with 995 yards.

Bettis' March To Detroit Kept Alive By A Quarterback's Tackle

The best thing the Indianapolis Colts can do is lose the first game of the season in 2006. Lose it deliberately, if you have to, but only if you can keep the investigators' noses out of it. Just go to 0-1 right out of the gate. It can't hurt, can it?

Then there wouldn't be all this nonsense about going 16-0, which I am convinced took its toll yesterday in the Colts' 21-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC Divisional game. That, and the fact that the Horseshoes hadn't played a meaningful game in about a month, which led to an extremely rusty offense. Peyton Manning and the gang made Oz's Tin Man look positively lithe in the early going.

If you think, as a Lions fan, that you can't possibly comprehend what Colts fans must be going through today, I ask you to toss aside your football helmet and put on your hockey version.

Remember the 1995-96 Red Wings? They went through the regular season like a hot knife through butter, setting league marks with a mind-boggling 62-13-7 record. All season the talk was whether the team could best the 1977 Canadiens' record of 60 wins. Kind of like hockey's Roger Maris. Or this season's Indy Colts.

Anyhow, the '96 Wings were most people's prohibitive favorites to at least reach the Stanley Cup Finals. But they struggled the entire postseason. They needed six games to eliminate a far inferior Winnipeg Jets team. They barely survived the St. Louis Blues, needing to come back from a 3-2 series deficit, including the famous double overtime win in Game 7, courtesy Steve Yzerman's mega blast from the blue line.

Then came the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avs bumped the Wings out in six games, winning the first two in Detroit and cruising to the upset. The Red Wings, possessors of those 62 regular season wins against 13 losses, were sent to the golf courses with a very pedestrian 10-9 playoff record.

You remember that lousy feeling, don't you?

High hopes, a feeling of invincibility, chasing a league record?

So you see? You CAN relate to Colts fans today.

But this feeling of emptiness, this rotten, another-year-wasted feeling, would have been secondary to the awful taste in the mouths of Jerome Bettis and his legions of fans had it not been for Ben Roethlisberger.

Bettis lives for one more game -- at least

It was the Steeler quarterback's tackle on Colts DB Nick Harper, just when it appeared he was racing to the game-winning touchdown after scooping up Bettis' fumble near the goal line, that most likely saved not only the Steelers' season, but Jerome Bettis' legacy. Who in the football world would want to see his great career remembered for a fumble that ruined his and his team's chances for a possible championship? What must he have been thinking when he saw Harper running away with his fumble -- his first bobble since December 2003? He may have been the Bill Buckner of pro football, at least for a time.

Now a word about Manning. Seems he is already taking some flak, from talking heads like Sean Salisbury to the folks who play at journalism via the Internet, about his postgame comments, specifically about his offensive line.

"I'm....trying to be a good teammate here," Peyton said, choosing his words carefully. "But...we had some protection problems." He spoke the truth, folks. The Steelers sacked Manning five times, and harrassed him all day.

Funny how the media will ask asinine questions, like "What happened?," when they all just saw the very same game. And when a player doesn't answer candidly, he's dismissed as being a double-talker or -- gasp! -- boring. Yet when the player actually says what everyone knows to be true -- in this case, the fact that the Colts' pass protection stunk -- he's vilified and called out. Salisbury of ESPN actually said Peyton Manning would have to "correct that" this offseason.

What a lot of hooey.

If you don't want your silly little questions answered, then don't ask them. Believe me, having attended those postgame press conferences, I can say that you -- the reader -- would not be missing much if those questions were disposed of. Most of the time they are formulaic and as tasty as dried cardboard. But they will be asked, of course. It's the media's job, you know.

What was Peyton Manning supposed to have said?

"We were pass protection challenged"?

"Five sacks aren't THAT many"?

"It was my fault -- I kept hitting their defensive linemen in the arms with my body"?

Mama mia!

Manning was taken to task for honest answers to stupid questions

So the Colts' season is over, as is that of the defending champion Patriots. Two teams who were supposed to meet in the AFC Championship game -- Dynasty Current and Dynasty Next. But here's the difference: New England QB Tom Brady's playoff record fell to 10-1 with his loss, while Manning's tumbled to 3-7 in the postseason.

In the end, after the dust settles following a chasing of immortality (read: a perfect season), here it is: Peyton Manning is just another quarterback who will be watching the Super Bowl on television. See what lousy pass protection can do?

I can say that, you see.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Here -- Pull My Goalie

Be still my heart

I have a secret. I have kept this secret for about 30 years now. Only a few of my childhood friends know about this secret, and maybe even they have forgotten about it.

I have a fascination with pulling the goalie.

It is not easy to admit to fetishes, lest you get cross-eyed looks from folks. Even today, when more and more things "go", you're not sure if your "thing" will be accepted by mainstream society. But I am now finally comfortable that here, in this place we like to call "Hockeytown," it is acceptable to admit to my fetish of pulling the goalie.

It started in my adolescent years. My friend Bob Davis and I, especially (eventually we brought a few more pals into this inner circle of empty netdom) were the ones that fueled this fascination. We would actually hope that tie games were broken late in the third period so one of the teams would have to pull its goalie. And here's when I knew it was getting bad, when I knew my desire to see empty nets had crossed some imaginary line into something perhaps in need of therapy: I didn't even care if the Red Wings were the team who fell behind by a goal in a shattered tie game. As long as it meant a netminder would have to skate like the dickens to his bench, to be replaced by an extra attacker, that was fine with me.

We really started to jones for empty nets, boy. Even our tabletop hockey games, those wonderful inventions with the players who "skate" up and down the "ice" through the miracle of steel rods with rubber tipped handles, were brought into our sick preoccupation. If someone was trailing by a goal, the losing player would announce, "pulling the goalie!", and not only would he literally removes his netminder -- the little metal or plastic goalie would be popped free of his metal stub and tossed aside -- the player who was winning the game would have to remove one of his players. You know, to simulate the scenario of an extra skater. And if the big wooden puck landed near the vacated position, it was simply given to the team whose netminder was missing. Ah, good times.

I don't know how this whole thing started -- this feeling of excitement I would get when the goalie was pulled. But I think it held me because there was nothing quite like it in any other team sport. In no other sport was the makeup of the participants on the field, or the diamond, or the court, so vastly altered as in hockey, with its strategic option of removing your goalkeeper in order to replace him with an extra skater late in games in which you are trailing. You can't bring in an extra player in basketball. You can't "pull" your quarterback in football for an extra running back. You can't take the catcher out of the game so you can have an extra outfielder. But in hockey you could actually make such a substitution. Even now I think it's kind of cool, and I wonder who first came up with it.

"Okay, boys, look: I'm going to take Denny out of the net so we can have an extra skater on the ice to try to tie this game," the first coach may have said to his 100% Canadian group of players.

"Is that legal?," one of them was sure to have said. Heck, maybe even the referee asked the same question. Doubtful it was in the rulebook back then, either way.

Or how about this possibility: maybe the groundbreaking coach didn't know any better, and simply had his goalie vacate the net and join the fray, as an attacking forward. They didn't wear all that much extra padding back then, those netminders, so he wouldn't have looked all that out of place. Then maybe a second coach saw that and refined it. Who knows. But in either instance, can you imagine the thoughts of the perplexed 100% Canadian fans at that very first empty net game?

"Hey, our goalie isn't in the net any more, eh?"

"Yeah! Like what the heck are they doin', eh?"

"I don't know. Hand me another beer, eh?"

But actually removing the goalie is only half of the fun of my fetish. The very existence of the empty net itself opens a whole new world of excitement. I mean, the net is unattended, after all, and that means any puck that is fired toward it will elicit either screams of anquish from the fans whose team is losing, or yells of hope from the fans of the winning side who hope to see their team salt the game away. Meanwhile, the action around the non-vacated net is often fast and furious, with the losing team throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the opposing goalie. Fans of both sides watch the action unfold, one eye on the ice and one eye on the game clock. Those of us watching on television do a similar visual exercise, putting our peripheral vision to the utmost test by trying to watch the action on the lower third of the screen while also keeping track of the time remaining on the handy-dandy TV graphic at the top of the screen.

A TV director's fetish, too

Speaking of television, another one of my memories in the early days of goalie-pulling was the obligatory camera shot of the actual empty net itself. Even if the action was dramatic around the other goal, and the puck could be scored at any moment, TV directors back in the day felt it incumbent upon themselves to show, albeit briefly, an image of the abandoned net, lonely and as wide open as Don Cherry's mouth, completely defenseless against even the wimpiest of shots. I actually saw -- no joke -- a case in which the viewers were treated to a shot of the open net while the announcer screamed, "And they scorrrre!". Yes, we actually didn't see the game-tying goal because the TV people were too busy showing us an empty net. I wanted to strangle the director with his headset cord.

...as my dad used to say, "What's the difference if you lose by one or lose by two?"

I also discovered, in college, that not everyone was down with the whole pulling-the-goalie notion. At a Red Wings game once at the Joe, my girlfriend at the time furrowed her brow and narrowed her eyes as she saw the Red Wings goalie skating feverishly to the bench, to be replaced by the requisite extra attacker.

"What are they doing?," she said, in a voice combining annoyance with perplexity.

"They're pulling the goalie, for an extra skater," I said, thinking that would be all the explanation I would need. Now, let's watch the action unfold, sweetie. Wrong.

"But that's stupid. Now we have no goalie!" The mixture was now 100% annoyance and 0% perplexity. All I had done, in her mind, was confirmed the fact that the Red Wings now had no goalie to mind the net.

"But they're trying to tie the game. They need that extra skater." I found myself in unchartered territory. I never had to defend the strategy for this long.

"That's stupid," she repeated.

Just as I was about to shake her, the other team flipped the puck down the ice and square into the Red Wings' open goal.

My ears are still hurting from her diatribe. And I just sat there and took it, because how can you defend the undefendable?

I don't what the percentages are -- and I'm sure someone knows them -- of the success rate of teams who pull their goalie in hopes of tying a game. I'm sure they're not very good, but as my dad used to say, "What's the difference if you lose by one or lose by two?" In other words, what is there to lose? But when a goal is actually scored by the team with the extra skater, even if it's against your team, there is a definite uptick of excitement. The whole complexion of things have changed in a heartbeat. The game is tied. Overtime looms. A sure victory is no more, a certain loss averted. And the goalie skates back into his previously undefended net, almost in a mocking manner: "You had your chance, boys! And now I'm back in the net!"

The very first Red Wings game I attended -- January 21, 1973 -- featured an empty-netter. The Red Wings trailed the old Minnesota North Stars 4-3 late in the third period. Out went the goalie, and on went the extra skater. But, unfortunately, down the ice went the puck, and despite the efforts of one of the Wings defensemen, who dove valiantly, the puck crossed the goal line and went into the net. The Wings lost, 5-3. The box score the next morning, doubtless, had this little addendum following the goalscorer, assist(s), and time scored: (ENG). Yes, those three little letters that tell folks around the globe who didn't attend or see the game that an Empty Net Goal was scored.

I even have empty net trivia to share. Bet you didn't know there was actually an occasion when a team pulled its goalie -- and it was winning. It's true. On the final day of the 1969-70 season, the Red Wings were in New York to play the Rangers. The Wings were already in the playoffs, but the Rangers could only qualify through some odd tiebreaker in which the number of goals they scored in that final game was of a certain amount. Anyhow, the Rangers beat the Wings, 9-5. But what makes this wonderful trivia is that the Rangers pulled their goalie with several minutes remaining in order to try to score more goals. Not sure how many they scored that way, but the Red Wings scored two ENGs, in a losing effort. And the Rangers made the playoffs, by the way.

The Rangers once pulled Terry Sawchuk --
and they were WINNING!

Now I must confess that my fascination with pulled goalies isn't quite as strong today. I don't get as much bounce in my step when it happens, but it's still, to me, a unique type of strategy, and whomever came up with it is brilliant. I wonder if it worked the very first time it was used. If it did, maybe it was because the other team was too stunned to know what to do.

But still, when there is a one goal differential, and the clock ticks under two minutes remaining in the third period, my heart flutters a little bit. When will the goalie be pulled? How long will the coach wait? And I have one message for my old college girlfriend, if she's reading this:

"It's NOT stupid."

Been waiting 22 years to get that off my chest.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

When 80 Year-Olds Want To Coach Pro Football.....

If I could guarantee the health of Marv Levy, which I obviously cannot do, I would be fine with it. I'd say, go for it, you rockin' octogenarian -- teach those young 60 year-old whippersnappers how to properly coach an NFL team! I would love to see the 80 year-old Levy prowling the sidelines once more, coaching the team to which he took four Super Bowls.

But something about this notion frightens me.

In case you know not of what I speak, here's the dealio: former coach Levy, recently hired as a Bills executive, has been rumored to be the team's next head coach, now that Mike Mularkey has unexpectedly resigned. What's fueling the buzz is that Levy himself has not exactly gone out of his way to discourage such talk.

This is becoming a sort of hot button topic around the sports world. That sound you hear is click-clacking of bloggers' keyboards everywhere, debating whether it is wise for an 80 year-old man to take over an NFL team.

I say it is not.

Frankly, I am amazed that no coach has dropped dead of a heart attack in the 80 year-plus history of the NFL. Well, one did actually, but not during a game. Leave it to the Lions. Head coach Don McCafferty died in training camp of 1974, collapsing somewhere on the grounds of the Cranbrook campus, preparing for his second season as Lions head coach. But never in the course of a game has an NFL head coach so much as fainted or had dizzy spells or admitted to chest pains, at least not of which I am aware. And these are guys who routinely torture themselves through 18-hour days and who probably don't eat all that well and who absolutely live and die with each play. They rant and rave and march up and down the sidelines and their veins pop out of their necks at the referees and it floors me that not a one of them has been carted off the field and into a waiting ambulance.

He's even older now, you know

And we would have 80 year-old Marv Levy return to that life?

Look at Joe Paterno, defenders of that notion say. He's in his late 70's and still kicking it with Penn State. Yeah, and so what? As much as this thought creeps me out, what if Joe Pa keels over next season? And not every man is the same. Just because Paterno has been able to do it doesn't mean Marv Levy, years removed from the sidelines by the way, can also handle it.

This may sound like I am advocating age limits. I am not, at least not formally. A 55 year-old can have health problems just like an 80 year-old, theoretically. So I'm not saying the league should bar Levy and others who follow based solely on age. I am just appealing to common sense here, and the law of averages, which surely must put an octogenarian at greater risk than someone a generation his junior.

The Tigers, back in the early 1960's, wooed Casey Stengel, the deposed Yankees manager, to be their new pilot. And they darn near pulled it off, too. Stengel went so far as to name the coaches he would like to assist him in his new job as Tigers skipper. But then Casey's wife entered the discussion and insisted her husband have a doctor's clearance before accepting the job, which was his for the taking. Stengel's doctor advised against it. Yet he took the New York Mets job a couple years later, and if that didn't put an old man's health to the test, I don't know what would have done it.

There is no question that Marv Levy, at 80, still has the mental accumen to handle the strategies and game planning and preparation. But I maintain there should be serious concerns as to whether he can physically handle the rigors of that job. I may sound like a wet blanket here, but I hope cooler and less nostalgic heads prevail here.

Stay in the front office, Marv. Things don't get you as physically ill up there.

Right, Mr. Millen?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Pistons' Manhandling Of Spurs Seals Everyone Else's Fate

"We want to get back what's ours"
-- Rasheed Wallace

Plan the parade, make sure Woodward Avenue is cleaned up after the Super Bowl, book Hart Plaza, make sure the big video screens are working for that day. Clear the mayor's schedule, find a XXXXXL jersey for him to wear, and be sure Mason has plenty of throat lozenges.

First there will be those annoying two months of playoffs, preliminaries to the inevitable. Maybe there will be a loss or two along the way, just to keep the players' edge, but not enough to create any hand-wringing in Motown.

The Pistons will win the NBA title in June.

I suppose the identity of the Finals MVP is the only thing we have to look forward to, the only uncertainty. Maybe we should run an Internet poll. I might even toss one into MCS Magazine and give away some prizes.

The rest of this NBA season officially became something you have to complete, a task that needs to be done, a journey that you have to finish, but nothing more, in the wake of the Pistons' systematic destruction of the San Antonio Spurs, 83-68 last night in Texas.

Normally I don't put a whole lot of stock into regular season games, especially between two teams who will only meet twice in a season. But the Pistons spanked the defending champion Spurs by 15 each time they played, then sent them to bed without any dinner. Manu Ginobili even played this time -- he missed the Christmas Day beating -- and the Spurs still lost by those 15 points. Guess he wasn't worth a single point of difference to his team. So even though these were regular season games, they were far from meaningless. In fact, you could even make the argument that because the Pistons and Spurs only tangle twice, each game takes on that much more meaning and can be that much more of a barometer of things to come.

Well, here's what's to come: a second Pistons championship in three seasons, exactly what the Spurs accomplished by taking the crown from the Pistons last June. Now I am even more convinced, after watching these two Pistons-Spurs games, that had Rasheed Wallace not had cerebral flatulence -- that would be a brain fart to you lay people -- at the end of Game 5, leaving Robert Horry alone to drain a game-winning triple, the Pistons would have won their second straight championship. And maybe they wouldn't be on the mission they are on today.

Oh, their will to win would certainly be there, gunning for a third straight Larry O'Brien trophy, but I have the feeling the Pistons have a tad more vinegar to go along with their vim this season. As Sheed said after last night's victory, "We want to get back what's ours." He did his part in the win, scoring 27 points and snagging 10 rebounds.

The current defending NBA champions, if you ask the Pistons, are wearing rings that should be on the fingers of men such as Billups, Hamilton, Prince and the rest -- not Parker, Duncan and Ginobili and that ilk. So they have set out this season to terrorize the rest of the league, being shot out of the start like a cannon ball. They are 28-5 and show absolutely no signs of being slowed down, let alone stopped. The Spurs were 17-1 on their home floor prior to last night's tussle. And the Pistons handled them -- easily.

What's even more mind-numbing is there are many folks who follow the league -- Internet writers and even some real journalists -- who believe the Pistons, amazingly, have not yet hit their stride. Even now, after 33 games played, there is doubt whether the players are 100% in tune with new coach Flip Saunders' offense. Even Billups, the point guard who plays in a sphere of his own nowadays and is a sure fire league MVP candidate, has said recently that he feels the Pistons can get even better, become even more efficient on offense. And that's what's so impressive about these Pistons. The "Goin' to Work" slogan is not just a marketing campaign. They truly are taking this season, more than any other, as business as usual and they are completely unified in one common theme: We're not satisfied until we win back our rings. They don't get caught up in their glittering won/lost record. They become steely and unrattled in close games down the stretch. They put their boots on your throat and asphyxiate you, almost at will.

The Pistons have five losses this season, and two of those came in overtime, when their fatigue and the opponent's energy may have come into play. They play at an .848 clip, the pace of thoroughbreds. They cannot, frankly, be caught. The rest of the league's teams are lengths and lengths behind the leaders.

Having fun in the Palace, Larry Brown -- wish you could be here.