Monday, April 30, 2007

Trade Johnson? Don't Get Me Started (Too Late)

Set your Wayback Machine (if you're old enough to remember) to 1989, please. Specifically, April '89.

Try to recall your feelings when the Lions lucked out and had Barry Sanders fall into their laps with the #3 overall pick, after the Packers went brain dead and selected OT Tony Mandarich from MSU. Remember how special of a talent Barry was coming out of college -- having applied for draft eligibility early. Remember how the Lions hadn't had a superstar running back since Billy Sims -- and his career was cut short due to injury.

Did you have any thoughts of trading him? Even though the Lions could have probably commanded quite a bounty, at least in terms of quantity?

I'd wager that the notion of trading Barry Sanders didn't even enter into your 1989 mind.

And nor should the idea of trading wide receiver Calvin Johnson have gotten any credible amount of consideration.

I'm going to say this just once, so I'm going to make it as clear as crystal: When a player of Johnson's magnitude becomes available, YOU DO NOT TRADE HIM!!

Let's try this again.

When a player of Johnson's magnitude becomes available, YOU DO NOT TRADE HIM!!

Do you need any clarification?

There was an annoyingly large number of folks who assailed the Lions and president Matt Millen for drafting the best wide receiver prospect in a decade, then having the gall to actually keep him.

Oy vay.

You don't trade future sure-bet Pro Bowlers for four maybes. Period.

The Lions, according to the annoying ones, should have packaged Johnson for more picks and some players and really went to town addressing their multitude of needs. Perhaps a cute little theory, and maybe one that could work, if only you are able to do one thing: make several dead-on decisions, instead of just one.

Johnson is a special player. He is, according to the offensive guru Mike Martz, the best wide receiver Martz has seen coming out of college. EVER. The consensus on Johnson was unanimous: he's a blend of so many great receivers, rolled into one, that it will make your head swim.

So you want to go and trade a guy like that??

For who, exactly? The Lions, in one selection, got it right with Calvin Johnson. He was widely regarded as the best player in the draft. But if you trade him, now instead of being perfect once, you'd better be perfect three or four times (depending upon who you listened to, the Lions could have commanded three or four draft picks/players for Johnson in a trade), because if just one of the acquisitions busts, then you've made a bad trade automatically.

Frankly, any trade involving Johnson, short of dealing him for Marvin Harrison and LaDainian Tomlinson, is a bad one, in my book.

Yes, the Lions have holes. Yes, their offensive line is horrid. Yes, they have drafted receivers a lot lately, with limited success.

So what? You draft Johnson, thank your lucky stars, for once, that you finished 3-13, and patch the holes elsewhere in the draft. Millen maneuvered himself enough so he had three second round picks and three fifth rounders, all without having to trade Johnson.

The Lions have a gem in Calvin Johnson. Doubtless had they traded it, they would have ended up with at least one piece of fool's gold in return.

Keeping him is fool-proof.

Wings Nearly Clipped In Game Two; Was It Only A Temporary Stay?

Here's one skewed way to look at the Red Wings' second round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks: the Wings are 1-1 when they fall behind 2-0. But they're 1-0 when they fall behind 2-0 before they get a shot on goal -- not that they'd like to put that unbeaten streak on the line tonight in San Jose.

"Not the start we wanted, that's for sure," center Kris Draper told me after Saturday's come-from-behind, 3-2 win in Game 2. "We probably gave the puck away in our zone three or four times in the first shift."

The Sharks scored on their first shot, 36 seconds into the game, and had a 2-0 lead after 4:17. The Wings didn't record a shot on goal until 13 minutes had been played.

This was a very different type of playoff win for our Hockeytown Heroes. It wasn't the typical bushels-of-shots/something's bound to go in game we're used to seeing from the Red Wings. But then again, these aren't the Calgary Flames on the other bench, either.

"They're a good team," defenseman Chris Chelios said about the Sharks when I suggested that it was unusual for the Red Wings to be limited to such few shots -- and win. "They're solid all the way around. You gotta be happy with a win, no matter how you get it. We got a couple lucky bounces and I think two deflections, and that's the type of game where, whether you deserve it or not, you gotta come up with a win."

I still have grave doubts whether the Red Wings can handle these big, bad Sharks -- although had San Jose escaped with a win in Game 2, it would have been largely unimpressive. Aside from their two goals (the first, from the point, fooled goalie Dominik Hasek; the second was the result of a Hasek giveaway), San Jose was pedestrian. Give the Red Wings high marks for crawling out of a stunning 0-2 hole to grind out a win.

But the Sharks, when they care to be, can control things with their size and playmaking ability. They are the mirror image of the Red Wings when it comes to puck control in the attacking zone. But nobody said these playoffs would be easy. GM Ken Holland told me before the postseason even began that he felt each of the eight Western Conference playoff teams was a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

The Red Wings stockpiled a bunch of points against the likes of Columbus, Chicago, and St. Louis. They took care of a pesky but unrefined Calgary club. They gutted out a win Saturday to perhaps rescue their season -- if only temporarily. Now the real test has arrived in teal and black.

Is it a bad omen that we have Sharks playing a team that wears blood red?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Few Things Can Be Louder Than An Athlete's Silence

The network dweebs could hardly contain themselves.

This was going to be a watershed moment, the one that the entire country was waiting on pins and needles for – because the network dweebs told us so. Superstar, enigmatic running back was going to say a few words, so the camera was positioned, and the microphone thrust at his lips. Videotape whirred and was ready to capture the bon mots forever onto the magnetized ribbon.

Duane Thomas was a running back who had, frankly, only one good season. He was like the Russia that had once been described as being a “riddle wrapped inside an enigma.” Extremely talented, but not always caring to put those talents to use. We media folks have always been fascinated with his type – the athlete who could be so good, if he’d only tap into his pool of skill and raw ability.

Thomas carried the ball for the Dallas Cowboys, and later the Washington Redskins. In between there was a stop with the San Diego Chargers, but the riddle/enigma couldn’t be persuaded to suit up for even one game for them. He was a man with issues. Something was the matter all the time.

In 1971, Thomas took a vow of silence, using the NFL as his monastery. Something was the matter again. So there would be no speaking to anyone – not the media, not to his teammates, not to his coaches. His contract, after all, called for ball carrying – not conversation.

Thomas in typical repose

Throughout the season, Silent Duane fulfilled the ball carrying part of his pact quite well. He rushed for nearly 800 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Yet through it all, he was mum. He made his stone-faced, button-down coach Tom Landry look like a chatterbox.

The Cowboys made it all the way to Super Bowl VI behind Thomas’s ball carrying, and whipped the Miami Dolphins. Thomas starred in the big game, too – carrying the ball 19 times for 95 yards, and scoring a touchdown. Then, afterward, word got out to the network dweebs that Thomas was going to speak.

Duane Thomas is going to talk!

As champagne flowed and players whooped and hollered in the background, Silent Duane was directed to the makeshift TV stage, elevated above everyone else. The camera was trained on him, the microphone inches from his rusty mouth.

“Duane, you had a great game today,” the announcer blabbed in so many words, “looks like your team really had the running game going.”

Thomas, a twinkle in his eye, then spoke.

“Evidently,” he said.

End of interview.

Rarely has one word on live television made so many network dweebs gag. Unless that word started with an “F.”

That was it – the extent of Duane Thomas’s verbosity in 1971.


Thomas was out of football by 1975 after two unspectacular seasons with the Washington Redskins. Something was the matter again, and this time football wasn’t going to be his monastery anymore.


Steve Carlton was, for my money, the best left-handed pitcher since Sandy Koufax. He managed to win 27 games in 1972, for a horrid Phillies team that had only won 59 as a team. Sometime in the mid-1970s, stung by what he considered to be poor treatment by the press, Carlton took a Thomas-like vow of silence. But Carlton’s lips would only remain zipped with the media. Apart from them, he’d engage anyone else in discussion.

Years of this went by. The muteness of Carlton became winked at – a contemporary legend that was being lived out in a modern day’s world of aggressive reporting and growing electronic media.

Carlton didn't speak to the media for the last two decades of his career

And it was only relevant because Steve Carlton was a dominant pitcher. Nobody usually cares if the bench warming player goes quiet, after all.

And that’s the way it stayed, right until the end of Carlton’s 24-year big league career. He pitched, he showered, he got dressed, he left. It became accepted behavior, if not celebrated.

But today you can’t get a guy not to talk – at least not for very long. The media is intoxicating to today’s athlete. Rarely is silence a weapon of choice. Usually a war of words is the way to go. Today’s players are drawn to the tape recorders and cameras the way bugs are to light. Or, probably more appropriately, the way flies are to … whatever flies are attracted to.

It’s not always a bad thing.

Gary Sheffield came to the Tigers with a reputation that preceded him by fifteen minutes of infamy. He’d been some places before, and there tended to be some sort of acrimony at just about every stop. But if you think all the stories were true and unembellished, then I’d like to interest you in a book called, “Duane Thomas’s Greatest Quotes.”

Sheffield started this season in a slump. He’s still not out of it. In the throes of it about ten days ago, I approached him as a mole for Michigan In Play! Magazine, somewhat warily, as he walked away from the batting cage.

“Got a few minutes to talk?”


And for the next ten minutes, Sheffield regaled me at his locker. He patiently, warmly, and with humility talked about his horrible slump. He’s always been a slow starter. He can’t explain why. He wants to show the fans that he was worth the trade – and the dough that accompanied it. He’s not panicking. He thinks the team is very good, the camaraderie marvelous.

“A couple of homers and five ribbies today, right?,” I said, ending our discussion.

He smiled broadly. “Absolutely.” Then we both chuckled.

Sheffield went 0-for-5 that day, including a crucial strikeout in the tenth inning of a tough loss to the Royals. The slump continued for another day.

But he had spoken about it, hadn’t hidden from it. He didn’t pull a Duane Thomas or Steve Carlton.

Few of them do, anymore. It’s too hard.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Lochead's Amazing Goal Made Detroit Go Crazy

Bill Lochead wasn't a star NHL player. Not even close . He scored 69 NHL goals, and was out of the league before his 26th birthday. He's 52 now, and presumably somewhere in his possession is The Puck -- the disc of vulcanized rubber that found its way into a net some 29 years ago, making this town go mad.

Lochead (pronounced "La-HEAD") scored one of the most famous goals in Red Wings history when he used outstanding body control to beat Atlanta Flames goalie Dan Bouchard in April, 1978. The goal put the Red Wings ahead late in the third period of Game 2 of their mini-series with the Flames, and they held on to win the game and the mini-series, two games to none.

Why so famous? Why such exhiliration when it went in? Why so much lore?

Bill Lochead: The accidental playoff hero

Well, the Wings were in the playoffs for the first time in eight years. And they hadn't won a playoff series in 12. And just the season before (1976-77), the Wings won just 16 games and were by far the worst team in the league.

But then GM Ted Lindsay hired Bobby Kromm from the WHA as coach, and a new slogan was adopted: "Aggressive Hockey Is Back In Town." They made t-shirts and bumper stickers -- back when people actually had metal bumpers -- with the slogan on it. Even Lindsay was photographed wearing the t-shirt.

The Red Wings weren't a great team in '77-78, but they were respectable again. They finished 32-34-14, doubling their win total and nearly doubling their points, too (78 from 41). And they would go up against the Flames in the first round mini-series. The NHL (and NBA) did that back then, giving the best teams byes while the lesser squads played the 2-of-3 series to eliminate the pretenders.

The Wings marched into Atlanta and torched the Flames, 5-3, scoring four goals in the first period then hanging on.

So it was back to Olympia Stadium for Game 2. A win and the Wings would be in the quarterfinals.

Near the end of the third period, just a few minutes remaining, the puck got dumped into the Flames' zone. Bouchard saw Lochead and one of his defensemen racing for it. He hesitated (probably a fatal error) then roamed from his crease, determined to poke the puck away from Lochead and harm's way. But Lochead blocked Bouchard's attempt. What happened next, I can still see, as if it occurred last night.

Lochead, his momentum carrying him, was now almost entirely behind the net. The puck was slightly behind him. Somehow, he managed to corral it and deposit it into the empty cage as he was skating past the goal, behind it. It remains one of the most amazing goals I've ever seen in 36 years of watching hockey.

Olympia Stadium went ballistic. The game was shown on local TV -- a rarity back then that a home game should be on the telly. I went ballistic, too. Lochead was mobbed.

But there were still a few minutes left, and the Flames pulled Bouchard and nearly tied the game. But they didn't, and the Wings won, sweeping the mini-series.

In the quarters, the Wings got a surprising split in Montreal, but then lost the series to the powerful Canadiens, 4-1. I remember Scotty Bowman donning a helmet behind the Montreal bench during the Game 4 blowout at Olympia, protecting himself from the debris the Detroit fans were showering onto the ice.

Yes, I'm sure Lochead has that puck somewhere. After all, it was probably the most famous playoff goal scored in Detroit until Steve Yzerman beat the Blues in double OT in 1996's Game 7.

We were so easy to please back then.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Lang Can't Be M.I.A. Against Sharks

The cry came loud and clear, outside Joe Louis Arena -- and it was a Saturday afternoon pre-game, so maybe it wasn't alcohol-induced, either.

"Calling Robert Lang! Robert Lang, will you show up today?! Are you even in the building, Robert Lang?!"

It was one Red Wings fan's plea, shouted on the way into JLA prior to Game 5 of the Calgary series. You couldn't help hearing it, if you were in the right place -- like in the general downtown vicinity.

OK, so maybe it wasn't that loud. But the message was. Simply put, Lang, the Red Wings' closest thing to Brendan Shanahan, had been a virtual no-show in the first four games of the first round series. And he would need to get it going, if the Wings were to continue to boast being able to throw four quality lines at their playoff opponents.

But this is how it goes sometimes in the postseason. There's always a guy who just can't get off the dime. He is a regular season contributor, but then he becomes the sort of player about whom the TV and radio announcers will say, in a playoff game, "We haven't said his name very often tonight." The courteous way of calling a guy a stiff.

Have you seen this man?

In that Game 5, Lang was mostly quiet once again. Coach Mike Babcock kept giving his power forward power play time, but Lang just couldn't do anything with it. He never really had a good scoring opportunity. The Wings won, though, 5-1, and so his silence was overlooked.

Lang finally got on the goal-scoring sheet in Game 6, when his wrist shot from the circle beat Miikka Kiprusoff cleanly late in the second period, tying the game 1-1. The Red Wings won in double overtime, ending the series. A few minutes prior to that game-tying goal, Lang had a half-open net staring at him during a power play, but was unable to lift the puck above the sprawling Kiprusoff. But at least he had gotten a scoring chance.

Lang, acquired on draft deadline day in 2004 from Washington, has actually been productive in the playoffs as a Red Wing -- in seasons in which the team has lost two out of the three playoff series in which it played.

But all that previous success will mean about as much as that apocryphal hill of beans if Lang doesn't get it together in time for Round Two against the deep, talented, dangerous San Jose Sharks.

When Lang was traded for, his presence was to have given the Red Wings another scoring power forward in the Shanahan mold -- big, hard to move off the puck, and with a deadeye shooter's touch. And Lang has been that -- at times. He just hasn't been as prolific at depositing pucks past enemy netminders as expected. This season, Lang had 19 goals and 33 assists in 81 games. If those numbers don't cause you to want to sling an octopus, you're not to blame -- or alone.

Robert Lang is one of the few players the Red Wings didn't get a whole lot out of in the series against Calgary. Maybe he wasn't very conspicuous by his absence -- despite that big-lunged fan outside JLA before Game 5 -- because the Wings took care of business. But he can't end up on the side of a milk carton against the Sharks.

"Robert Lang, will you be in the building??!!"

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Yo, Adrian! Be Careful -- You Just Might Become A Lion!

Adrian Peterson was hoping for something that he should probably watch out for -- because he just might get it (though not likely).

"They've done pretty good picking the Oklahoma guys," Peterson said at Lions HQ in Allen Park yesterday, according to the Freep's Nicholas J. Cotsonika. Peterson, from Oklahoma, was referring to the Lions' history of selecting running backs from that state's schools: Steve Owens and Billy Sims (1970 and 1980, respectively) from Oklahoma, and Barry Sanders (1989) from Oklahoma State.

Well, maybe Cotsonika is too young to know, because the inclusion of Owens in that list is my doing.

Clearly in the case of Sanders, the Lions hit the jackpot, but only because the Green Bay Packers went sideways and selected MSU tackle Tony Mandarich instead of Barry. But with Owens and Sims, the results were mixed -- because of that bugaboo with some running backs: the knee injury.

Owens rushed for over 1,000 yards in 1971 (the first Lions back to do so), but that was about it. He hurt his knee in 1973 and could never recover, despite a few comebacks. His last game, somewhat fittingly, was the Lions' last game at Tiger Stadium, on Thanksgiving Day 1974.

Sims, a Heisman Trophy winner like Owens, had a few good seasons before blowing out a knee in a game at Minnesota in 1984. He, too, tried like mad to make it back before announcing his retirement at training camp in 1986.

If the Lions take Peterson, he'd be the fourth high profile back from the state of Oklahoma to be selected by the team in the last 37 years. And two of them had their careers cut terribly short by injury.

So maybe Peterson was right: the Lions have done "pretty good" at "picking" the Oklahoma guys. They just haven't had as much luck keeping them healthy, Sanders excepted. And even Barry left us too soon, frankly, despite having played 10 years in Detroit.

Ex-Lion safety Mike Weger can rest easy: his #28 won't be worn by Peterson in Detroit

It's highly unlikely, in my mind, that the Lions will select Peterson with the #2 overall pick, despite the comparisons to Eric Dickerson. There's just too much of a logjam in the backfield. Only if someone like Sanders or Reggie Bush were available would I make that leap of faith. Peterson is very good, clearly. But I don't know that he's good enough to draft at a position where there seems to be some depth -- provided everyone is healthy, of course.

All I know is, the draft is but three days away and I am SOOO glad. The NFL should really do something about reducing the amount of time between the Super Bowl and its draft. Two-and-a-half months just seems awfully long. Actually, maybe it didn't seem as long until the NFL Network arrived. I guess the wait didn't bother me until I was reminded of it every single flipping day, thanks to those TV folks.

Still, how about a late March draft, guys? Do teams really need over 80 days to make up their minds? The non-playoff teams get nearly 120 days.

The NBA draft is held a few weeks, at most, after the Finals. The NHL draft, about a month after the Stanley Cup is presented. But the NFL drags its feet, until you're unable to use the word "mock" without following it with "draft." Until Mel Kiper stares at you from your bowl of Froot Loops.

We've had the Super Bowl, March Madness, the Masters, spring training, Opening Day, and nearly 20 regular season MLB games, since the final gun went off in the 2006 NFL season -- and just NOW we're getting around to the draft. Oy vay.

But back to Peterson. I think it's a "no go". I'm still putting my Monopoly money on the Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn.

Go ahead and mock me if you wish.

I guess I can use mock without following it with draft, after all.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tuesday's Feature: The Straightaway

(every Tuesday, "Out of Bounds" will feature "The Straightaway," NASCAR commentary by longtime racing observer Siddy Hall)


by Siddy Hall


Among the most commonly uttered words during this 2007 NASCAR season have been “Car of Tomorrow,” “Go-or-Go-Home Car” and “Caution is out for debris on the racetrack.” Here are some Fast Facts regarding this year’s cautions:

· 16 of 71 Cautions have been for debris, or oil on the track (22.5%).
· Las Vegas and Martinsville combined for 22 Cautions, none for debris.
· The remaining six races had 16 of 49 Cautions for debris (32.7%, and nearly three per race)

Three of the year’s eight races have been dominated by Debris Cautions. They are California, Atlanta, and last week’s race, Phoenix.

CALIFORNIA (3 of 9 Cautions for Debris): The final Debris Caution appeared with 23 laps remaining. Without this interruption, Jimmie Johnson may have four wins on the year. After re-shuffling the deck, he lost his lead to eventual race winner, Matt Kenseth.

ATLANTA (4 of 6 Cautions for Debris): Only 14 laps remained when “debris” was spotted on the track. This helped create the Jimmie Johnson – Tony Stewart duel where Johnson prevailed.

PHOENIX (4 of 6 Cautions for Debris): Despite only two wrecks, the race never saw a complete cycle of green flag pit-stops.

Listening to the radio broadcast of the Phoenix race became almost comical. After the third caution and the second for debris, nice guy radio announcer Barney Hall said, “Well, it’s good to have two of these cautions being for debris. That’s better than cars wrecking.” I didn’t fully agree but I respect and enjoy Barney Hall’s broadcasts so much that I found myself nodding my head in agreement.

OK, so we're exaggerating -- slightly.

However, when the fourth Debris Caution appeared things got sort of funny. Nobody would explain why the caution was out. Through the airwaves you could hear the announcers slapping themselves in the forehead and shaking their heads. They couldn’t bring themselves to admit what was going on. They simply went to a commercial and listeners were left to figure out that the caution was for debris. Well, that wasn’t difficult.

“Debris Caution” could be understood as a metaphor for “Boring Race.” As the stakes in NASCAR racing continue to grow, the organization has appeared to paint itself into a corner with its racetrack selection. California and Phoenix consistently provide viewers with dull races. Why? Because there’s too much room in the corners at these tracks. These are tracks that were built to accommodate open-wheel racing. They are not true stock car racing tracks.

Typical NASCAR fan when told today's race would be run on another D-shaped oval

In NASCAR’s quest to conquer markets they’ve compromised on the type of track that they’ll run on. Essentially, any track will due provided that it meets certain criteria such as location and seating – that is, things that have nothing to do with the quality of a race. Thus, when the races suffer, the Debris Caution comes out.

The same thing is true for the Brickyard 400. This track was never intended for stock car racing. But after years of suffering through an inferiority complex with Indy Cars, NASCAR fans eagerly embraced a chance to race at the Holy Grail of American motorsports. What’s sad is that in the same town sits a great racetrack, the O’Reilly Raceway Park (formerly known as the Indianapolis Raceway Park).

Do you want to watch a boring drag race or do you want to watch some rubbin’ in the corners?

"Wake me when they wave the checkered flag"

A better drag race is the NHRA. NASCAR is all about the corners. A straightaway is just an excuse to reach the next turn. The sooner that turn arrives, the better.

Including Atlanta in the list of “Caution for Debris” tracks is really sad. There is no way it should make this list. It’s inconceivable. It earned its inclusion for a different reason though. It’s not because there is too much room in the corners of Atlanta. It’s because there are too many tracks built like Atlanta.

The 1.5 mile D-shaped oval tracks are sprouting up everywhere like mushrooms after a rainstorm. It’s the NASCAR cookie-cutter track. The drivers and crews have mastered the layout. Drivers can navigate it with their eyes closed.

This year’s Atlanta race came on the heels of the Las Vegas race, another cookie-cutter track. The Vegas track had a new surface, creating a challenge for the drivers. After going from Vegas to Atlanta, the latter’s once-treacherous speeds seemed like a Sunday drive.

Part of the answer to all of this is simple. O. Bruton Smith or Brian France need to build another Rockingham. NASCAR has failed to replicate what was the finest racetrack in the business.

(you can e-mail Siddy Hall: cityhall172000 at

Monday, April 23, 2007

Quietly Confident Wings Advance, In An Inexplicable Way

You've heard the phrase, "addition by subtraction"?

How about this one: "filled by a void"?

Wandering around the Red Wings' locker room after Saturday's 5-1, Game 5 win over Calgary (working for Michigan In Play! Magazine), one of the things that struck me was the "business as usual" nature of the room. There was a void of celebration or giddiness, which I believe translates into a quite confidence.

The Wings had just thoroughly dominated the Flames in the best game they'd played in the series, and you could hardly tell it. Players dressed quietly, purposely, as their equipment bags were loaded onto carts for the plane to Calgary that evening.

Not far from the cart, goalie Dominik Hasek, the 42-year-old who's channeling his inner Sawchuk in this series, talked about the chance to play in back-to-back games for the first time all season.

"I am ready to go. I'm up for the challenge," Hasek said. "I have never had the chance to play back-to-back games this season, so I'm really excited to do it."

He played like it last night in the Wings' series-clinching Game 6. Hasek, though not nearly as worked over as the Flames' Miikka Kiprusoff, was outstanding when he had to be, getting all slinky-ish and looking like a Gumby rather than a Goalie. He seems hellbent on not being the reason the Wings lose in the playoffs, should they be eliminated.

Before the playoffs even began, I asked Hasek what a Stanley Cup would mean to him, at this stage of his career. He's now in third stint with the Red Wings, after a one-year retirement, a league lockout, and an injury-marred season in Ottawa.

"It (the Cup) is the ultimate trophy in hockey," Hasek told me. "I decided that I would want another shot at being on top. So now here I am, and I'm very happy for the opportunity."

Was he surprised, I wondered, by the level of his play this season? Hasek ran either #1 or #2 in GAA all season. And this from a guy who was an afterthought when the Wings couldn't come to terms with Ed Belfour.

"I can't say I was too surprised. I felt healthy all year and I worked hard at staying healthy. I didn't make any goals like I want to win 35 games or anything like that. But I wouldn't say I was too surprised."

The contrast between the Red Wings' composure on the ice and their calm afterward, compared to the Flames' meltdown late in the third period and the reported bitching out of backup goalie Jamie McLennan by his teammates in the locker room for his stickwork (he amassed 17 minutes in penalties in just 18 seconds of work), cemented, to me, who should win the series. But we all know the difference between "should" and "will" in the NHL playoffs.

So the Wings won it, because they were the first team to win a road game in the series. I asked defenseman Mathieu Schneider after Game 5 if he could explain the home ice phenomenon, because in the playoffs the road team will typically steal a game or two.

"No, I can't really explain it. I think a goal here and there and things could have gone either way in these games. It's really been about momentum. The team that's jumped out to the lead has been the winning team, so you want to get that first goal and jump on them."

The Wings won Game 6 last night -- on the road, and by not scoring the first goal. Both were firsts in the series.

No wonder that even a 15-year veteran like Schneider can't explain it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The NFL Draft: Those Were The Daze

The old-time football receiver was staring off camera to his interviewer, the usual black background behind him, the film whirring thru the sprockets.

“One year they said they were going to draft a quarterback,” the receiver said, now some 20 years or so after playing his last NFL game. “And me being a receiver, I thought, ‘Great – it’ll be nice to have someone who can finally get the ball to me.’”

But the look on the old-time receiver’s face told you there was going to be some sort of twisted punch line.

“So the kid comes to camp and he starts throwing the ball, and he can barely throw it 20 yards!”

The NFL Films camera catches Gern Nagler (NFL receiver, 1953-61) as he shifts in his seat, still a little incredulous lo these many years later.

“Well, it turns out that they never actually scouted him. Someone in the front office saw his photo in one of those magazines, like Street and Smith’s, and he looked really impressive, standing there with his arm cocked,” Nagler said, shaking his head. “But they never saw him play! They drafted him because he looked good in a photograph.”

I don’t know if Nagler’s story is true, apocryphal, or somewhere in between. But he put it out there for Steve Sabol and his film crew, so I’m going to presume there’s at least a hint of accuracy in there somewhere.

Today, NFL teams use more than a Street and Smith’s photo to help them determine which young hotshot college kids, like quarterbacks, to snatch up in the annual draft, which mercifully is only a week away, after nearly three months of hype and analysis.

No, things are a lot more sophisticated nowadays. There’s significant watching of film, of course (NFL coaches love film almost as much as Leonard Maltin). There’s the combine – which uses highly sophisticated equipment to see how fast the kids can run 40 yards – which is strange because I don’t recall the last time I saw an NFL player being able to run 40 feet before he encounters resistance, let alone 40 yards. And the equipment measures how high they can jump from a standstill against a wall, which I’ve also never seen come into play in an NFL game.

All this, and computer printouts and “character” interviews and background checks and tours of facilities and more film and maybe some more running and jumping, and then some more film. Did I mention that NFL coaches love film? I bet some of them lick the emulsion for a quick high, when nobody is looking.

Yes, all this, and then the player gets drafted, and if he’s a quarterback, the team might confirm that their new passer looks great, runs fast, jumps high, and has great character.

And still can’t throw the ball 20 yards.

It’s happened to our Lions, of course – and more than once. Maybe more than several times, actually. The most infamous example was Andre Ware, the gunslinger from the University of Houston. He was the 1990 first round pick, and when he was selected, the ESPN cameras were in his home, and they captured him raising his arms among the cheers and hoots and yelling, “Yes! Run-and-shoot!”

The Lions, you see, were running a similar, bastardized version of Ware’s offense in college. The kind where you send a bunch of little wide receivers out into a pattern, like jitterbugs, and start chucking. It had the catchy name of “run ‘n shoot.” And its mastermind was a Lions assistant coach named Mouse Davis.

Beware when your offense is built around names like “shoot.” And “mouse.”

Naturally, the excited Ware isn’t excited enough not to hold out for more money. He misses most of training camp, and when he finally arrives, he starts throwing the ball. And then the Lions discover, to their horror, that the kid can’t throw it 20 yards!

But he looked good in college, and in front of the ESPN cameras on draft day.

Ware and his Heisman: That and a dime will get you ...

Ahh, but it happens in reverse, too.

In 1983, the third year ESPN showed the draft, giving its viewers a ringside seat to, as anchor Chris Berman once said was akin to “reading the telephone book,” the know-it-all football guy from Sports Illustrated, Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman was railing against the Miami Dolphins’ #1 pick.

“I don’t know who’s going to work with him down there,” Zimmerman huffed, clearly off put by the Dolphins’ choice, a quarterback. “I don’t see where this is a good pick at all.”

I’d say the Dolphins did alright by grabbing the QB out of the University of Pittsburgh named Dan Marino. I think even Dr. Z would agree.

Today, the Lions get ready to use their sparkling new, #2 overall pick next Saturday, the spoils of finishing with the second-worst record in the NFL in 2006. The first-worst team, the Oakland Raiders, appear to be leaning toward a quarterback, a typical use for a #1 overall guy. The LSU QB JaMarcus Russell is the likely candidate, according to the scuttlebutt, which, as I said, is in its third month of scuttling and butting.

Maybe the Lions will use the pick. Maybe they’ll trade it. Maybe they’ll take a quarterback, like the matinee idol-named Brady Quinn from Notre Dame. Or maybe a running back, like Adrian Peterson from Oklahoma. Or a wide receiver – AGAIN – like Calvin Johnson from Georgia Tech. Or a behemoth offensive tackle like Joe Thomas from Wisconsin.

Presumably, all of the above can run 40 yards fast, can jump high against a wall from a standstill, and interview real well.

But can they play football?

The methods of selecting players may be more advanced than perusing the latest issue of Street and Smith’s, but the disappointment of a busted top draft pick is timeless.

I can’t wait to see Brady Quinn throw a 20-yard pass in an NFL game.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Billups, Like Bing And Thomas, #1 In His Own Way

#1, #11, #21.

There's a reason that the three best point guards in Pistons history have a "one" in their jersey number.

#21: David Bing, out of Syracuse. Unwanted when he was drafted in 1966, by a basketball populace that was rooting for the Pistons to be eligible to snatch the U-M star Cazzie Russell. But alas, the coin flip with the New York Knicks didn't flip the right way, and the Pistons were "stuck" with Bing. "Don't worry," then-scout Earl Lloyd told team brass. "We just got the best player in the draft."*

Lloyd wasn't far off the mark, if at all. Bing led the NBA in scoring in his second season and the Pistons into the playoffs, where they upset the Celtics in Game 3, in Boston Garden, to temporarily put the Pistons up 2-1 in their series. They lost the series in six, but it was the first of the great Pistons-Celtics playoff tilts, some 20 years before many people believe it to be.

Bing played nine wonderful seasons in Detroit, and he was also the leader in the '74 playoffs against the Bulls, a heartbreaking seven-game loss for the Pistons. It was the first of the great Pistons-Bulls playoff tilts, some 15 years before many people believe it to be.

See a trend here?

#11: Isiah Thomas, out of Indiana University. A college champion in his sophomore season before making his pro debut seven months later. He blew into town, full of talent and creativity, and when he got here he wondered who he'd pass the ball to. The Pistons were 16-66 and 21-61 the two previous, pre-Isiah seasons. Who WOULD he pass to, indeed?

Thomas played 13 seasons with the Pistons, a two-time NBA champion and a smiling assassin who put to rest the myth that a little man can't lead a basketball team to the promised land. As an executive and a coach, there can be much debate about Thomas's abilities. But there can be very little questioning that he was, pound-for-pound, the greatest Piston of all time.

#1: Chauncey Billups, out of the University of Colorado. An NBA vagabond. A journeyman, before he came to Detroit in 2002 and instantly ingrained himself as the leader. He joined the Pistons the same summer as Richard "Rip" Hamilton, and before long the Pistons had a backcourt tandem that had folks daring to make the comparison between them and Thomas/Joe Dumars. And some had the Chauncey/Rip duo coming out on top.

Billups, in his first five seasons as a Piston, has directed traffic and taken the "big shot" well enough that the Pistons have won 50+ games every year he's been here. One championship and a whisker away from a second. Easily the strongest of this point guard trio, and certainly the best clutch shooter in franchise history not named Isiah Thomas. Coated with a non-turnover surface.

Today, as the Pistons get ready to open the 2007 version of the playoffs against the Orlando Magic, Chauncey Billups has a chance to match Thomas in one category, and surpass him in another.

If the Pistons reach the Conference Finals, it will be their fifth straight appearance there, matching Thomas's Pistons teams from 1987-1991. Those Pistons won three of them, and lost two. Billups's Pistons are 2-2 in Conference Finals. So if the Pistons get there again, and advance to the NBA Finals, they'll match the Bad Boys, at least that way.

More hardware for Billups in '07 might put him ahead of Thomas

But Billups can leapfrog Thomas, too. For the stage is set for Billups, "Mr. Big Shot," to have a playoff that dwarfs his previous four in Detroit. He's in the last year of his contract, as everyone knows. He can be a free agent in that scary, unrestricted way, come July 1. So he has about seven weeks, if the Pistons go all the way, to cement his case as being deserving of a bank vault-breaking contract.

It's because of this incentive, I believe, that Chauncey Billups has a chance to make an imprint on franchise history that's at least as great as Isiah Thomas's, and probably even better. If he plays like he's shifted into fifth gear, possessed and on a mission, then we're in for a treat. And stories of Thomas's legend will be gradually replaced with those of Billups's.

It's all conjecture, of course. Thomas is still the gold standard for Pistons point guards -- Pistons players, period. But Billups is on his tail, and an MVP-like 2007 playoff could very well nudge him past Zeke.

Chauncey Billups is a premier point guard playing for a premier team in the final year of his contract. That's an NBA version of a tornado watch.

* (source: "The Detroit Pistons: Capturing a Remarkable Era," by Jerry Green)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Russell, The Mighty Quinn Both Heart Detroit; Don't Burst Their Bubble Yet

They drafted him, and he all but laughed at them. He threatened to take his baseball glove and try his hand at the national pastime, rather than play football for what he thought was a less-than-formidable operation. The drafters had been losers for five, six years running. His insolence forced their hand, and so he was traded away to the RockyMountains.

John Elway carved himself quite a career with the Denver Broncos, but only after telling the then-Baltimore Colts that he would not be their next Johnny Unitas -- no way, no how.

Eli Manning pulled the same shtick with the San Diego Chargers a few years ago. His infamous look of someone who had been given a bad sweater on Christmas morning, as he held up his Chargers jersey and wore their baseball cap, is still fresh in my mind. He elected to play under the high-kilowatt lights of New York rather than on the laid back beaches of Southern California, just north of Tijuana. Wonder what he thinks of that strategy nowadays.

Brady Quinn and JaMarcus Russell don't appear to be playing the Elway/Eli card. Both of them visited the Lions yesterday -- two quarterbacks who many feel will be the first two signal-callers selected off the board in the NFL Draft a week from Saturday -- and both gushed over the possibilities of being a Detroit Lion, according to Nicholas J. Cotsonika in today's Free Press.

"I'd love to play ball here," Russell, from LSU, said.

"I think it would be a good fit," Quinn, from Notre Dame, said.

Something tells me Quinn looms a little larger to Lions than Russell

So we presume there won't be any Eli Manning-like looks of a condemned man if one of their names is read by Commissioner Roger Goodell as being selected by the Honolulu Blue and Silver. Quinn especially sounded excited about the prospect of being in Detroit, playing under the genius offensive coordinator Mike Martz, with his 500 or so passing plays.

"He's just a great coach," Quinn said of Martz in Cotsonika's story. "He really has a plan, an idea, of really what he wants to do, and you can just tell from speaking with him that it would be a great opportunity for me to be here and work with him."

Did someone channel Dale Carnegie into Quinn's soul?

But hey, it's great that the kid would like to play in Detroit, and that he'd be as happy as a clam. And why give him any dose of reality now? Kind of like smiling at a newlywed couple and telling them that they're in for nothing but milk and honey. They have plenty of time to be disappointed later.

But then again, the college kids usually say all the right things, no matter what NFL city they're visiting. Russell, as a matter of fact, didn't even attempt to hide that fact. When asked what he said to the Oakland people, after giving his plug for Detroit, Russell said, "Same thing."

Don't you feel special, Lions fans?

Call me crazy, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's Quinn the Lions will select, whether they draft at #2 or #4 overall. There's been some scuttlebutt that the Tampa Bay Bucs, with the #4 pick, might be interested in trading with the Lions to move up two notches. Pass rusher Simeon Rice is supposedly part of such a transaction, so say some Florida sources.

I just think there's been a little more attention paid to Quinn by Lions brass than any other candidate. Quinn had dinner with head coach Rod Marinelli on March 22, Cotsonika reports. During the meal (I wonder who paid) Marinelli apparently expressed to Quinn the importance of leadership in a QB.

So JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn think it would be just swell if they played quarterback in Detroit. No John Elway or Eli Manning, they. That's OK -- all we're looking for is another Bobby Layne.

Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Game 3 Rears Its Usual Ugly Head For Favorite Red Wings

In playoff series in which the favored team wins in five games, it usually goes down like this:

W (home)
W (home)
L (road)
W (road)
W (home)

The Game 3 loss is almost inevitable. The Pistons used that formula several times, both in the Bad Boys days and in the New Era. They'd hold service at home in Games 1 and 2, lose that third game on the road in front of the fired-up fans and to the temporarily-energized opponents, but then wrap things up by winning Games 4 and 5.

The Red Wings suffered the expected Game 3 loss last night in Calgary, 3-2, to trim their lead in the best-of-seven series down to 2-1. They still control matters, and it's up to them to remind the Flames of that tomorrow night.

There's reason to believe they'll do that. I'll start with Kris Draper's goal that tied the game at 1-1 just 2:10 after the Flames seized their first lead of the series. The fact that it was their first lead after 149 minutes was bad enough, but then they only held it for 2:10 to boot. That goal of Draper's might not seem like it means a hill of beans because the Wings lost the game eventually, but to me it was a very good sign. No moral victories in the playoffs, I know -- but you can have morale boosts within a series, and I think that was one. Many in the Saddledome crowd who were away for a snack and a pop when their team scored first didn't even get a chance to return to their seats before the Red Wings had tied the game.

I saw Todd Bertuzzi (in his first playoff game as a Red Wing) run into some people, knock them down. I saw him handle the puck well. And I saw some deference showed him by the Flames' skaters. All this, and Bertuzzi played on the Wings' fourth line, which is sort of like being the Tigers' #5 starter (assuming a healthy Kenny Rogers). Doesn't really matter.

So the Flames got their anticipated Game 3 win. Good for them. It was expected. But the Red Wings didn't make it easy for them. Doubtless they'll make Game 4 even harder -- and in the process, the series downright improbable for the Flames to win.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tuesday's Feature: The Straightaway

(every Tuesday, "Out of Bounds" will feature "The Straightaway," NASCAR commentary from longtime racing observer Siddy Hall)


by Siddy Hall


We love our NASCAR paint schemes. They give the sport their color and they give the teams their uniforms. Think of all the great cars that have circled the tracks throughout the years. The Tide car. The Texaco Havoline machine. Your Favorite Beer Machine. STP. DuPont. GM Goodwrench. Spam. And on and on.

We love ‘em so much that we make and sell miniature replicas of the cars. They are collector items. On this note I must say that die-casters shouldn’t bother cranking out the 5-Car – Kyle Busch’s Cheez-It machine. The one he drove in Texas.

The 5-Car usually sports Tony the Tiger on the hood. You know how it looks. The yellow and red swirls on the doors with a blue background. Tony on the hood, grinning like your favorite uncle. It’s not the greatest paint job in NASCAR. It’s a little busy. Anyhow, Kellogg’s decided that they wanted Cheez-Its on the hood at Texas. Fair enough. One problem though. When Kyle Busch went to the back-up car, the paint job turned into a hybrid. They left the Tony the Tiger paint job over the entire car save for the orange astro-blast Cheez-It hood.

What would Mr. Blackwell say about Busch's car wreck of a car?

That’s like combining plaids with polka dots. And at 200 MPH, the orange of the Cheez-Its mixed with the swirls of yellow, red and blue made Busch’s car look like a super-sonic frog-in-a-blender.

It’s no wonder Kyle Busch ran over Dale Earnhardt Jr. Tony Stewart spins, Junior hits the binders and Busch, rather than doing the same, recognizes a chance to end his misery. So he plowed into the back of Little E.

Afterwards, everybody wondered, “Where’d Kyle Busch go? His car is repaired and he needs to drive some more. Where’d he go?” Folks, he was hiding himself in shame because he was done driving the ugliest car in the history of NASCAR.

APOLOGIES TO JEFF BURTON: C’mon you detractors. You know who you are. It’s time to say that you’re sorry for ripping on Jeff Burton’s lack of aggressiveness. Most fans will recall the ending from race #5 at Bristol. Kyle Busch towed Burton around the track as they ran 1-2. On the final lap Burton failed to lay a glove on Busch. He had an opportunity to give Kyle the ‘ole “Bump ‘n Run,” which could have won Burton the race.

Burton: Erring on the side of caution OK at Bristol

The original criticism towards Burton was unfair. Just two weeks prior to Bristol, the same two guys dueled at the finish of the Las Vegas Busch race. Jeff Burton won that race and there was a lot of sheet metal damage done to Busch’s car in that skirmish. If Burton had tangled two times with Kyle Busch in just a 15-day period, while winning both times, Burton would have paid too big a price down the line. You cannot take a guy out twice in a row like that. Burton would have been paying for it until the day he retired or got killed with repeated “paybacks” from the young buck.

That Jeff Burton-Kyle Busch battle in Las Vegas was an awesome race finish. To check it out, here’s a You Tube clip.

FRUSTRATING FOX: One of the great pleasures of watching a NASCAR race is the proximity that television provides to the drivers and crew chiefs during the race. Consider when David Ragan, J.J. Yeley, and Ricky Rudd wrecked on the first lap. I would have expected Fox to interview those guys. Apparently, they aren’t important enough. Which is disappointing.

Essentially, anytime anything happens to anyone, it should be covered. If the 28th place car is making an unscheduled pitstop or goes behind the wall, then there should at least be a split screen showing this. Changes in a race come quickly and suddenly. It’s always news. Following these pitstops and talking to those teams is always worthwhile. It’s not just about Dale, Jeff, Jimmie and Tony. Especially with the proliferation of fantasy NASCAR.

I’m convinced that the producers of TV sports are bored out of their skulls. During the Lap One wreck as Ricky Rudd’s Snickers car was sliding through the grass and about to make impact with David Ragan, Fox switched to Dale Jarrett’s in-car camera and we missed the collision. The same with Mike Bliss’ wreck. He hit two walls and all we saw was Bliss limping away (and no interview). I bet the radio gang covered it better.

What’s painful, however, was being forced to watch Jeff Burton’s wife, Kim, over the final two laps on a split-screen. At times our choices were Kim Burton to the left and Jeff Burton’s in-car camera to the right. We had lost perspective of what was happening on the track. It was taken away from us. Finally when Burton took the Checkers, we watched Kim jump around like she had just won the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right. Awesome.

"That's my hubby!" (yeah, and who CARES?)

Nothing makes me feel more like a weenie than watching the reactions of so-called famous non-participants. For instance, in NFL games we’re forced to look at Washington Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder, and his entourage responding to a field goal. Pleeeeze. The same for driver’s wives. We have our own emotions that we are experiencing, thank you.

RACING ROIDS: There goes NASCAR’s clean slate in the steroid department. Stone Cold Steve Austin was honored with the Grand Marshall duties at the Texas race. I’m totally convinced that people don’t care about steroids. You can look at just about any sport and the proof is in the pudding. We just keep watching. It doesn’t affect us. Should we just legalize it with restrictions? I remember when I was a kid during the 1976 Olympics. The Communists used steroids. They were clearly the Bad Guys and we were the Good Guys. So what does that make us now?

Austin: Maybe Barry Bonds was unavailable?

QUICK STATS: Many teams are still dog-paddling for survival by trying to stay in the Top-35. More than meets the eye. Consider Ryan Newman, who currently sits 20th in points. Newman is exactly halfway between 16th and 33rd place. He’s 100 points from each of those two spots.

The final eight teams in the top-35 are separated by only 32 points. Michael Waltrip’s 55-car sits 424 points out of 35th place. Woooo-hoooo.

(you can e-mail Siddy Hall: cityhall172000 at

Monday, April 16, 2007

No Air Means Doused Flames

Streaks -- you wanna talk streaks?

Because you can take that 26-game playoff goal-scoring drought of Pavel Datsyuk's and send it the way of maskless goalies, helmetless forwards, and ad-less boards.

Datsyuk's on a streak, alright. And so is Valtteri Filppula (whose name I had to quadruple check the spelling of, because it's one of those that will always look misspelled, no matter which consonant you double). And, for that matter, so is Jiri Hudler. And Mathieu Schneider. And Steve Yzerman, who's working on a two-game streak of not dressing for a playoff game.

OK, that last one is fudging things. But the others are legit. Datsyuk and Filppula (or is it Fillpula? or Flippula? and what was that first name again?) each have two-game goal-SCORING streaks. Hudler has an assist in each of the first two games. And Schneider has a two-game point-scoring streak. All this, plus stifling defense and relentless attacking, has the Red Wings up, 2-0, in their Western Conference quarterfinal series against Calgary.

So enough about how Datsyuk can't score in the playoffs. Enough about how his recently-signed seven-year contract extension is going to put too much pressure on him. Enough about how the Flames are going to use their physicalness to bully the Red Wings.

For now, anyway.

The Red Wings are up two-love in this playoff series because they haven't let the Flames get off the dime in either contest. If this was a murder, it would be done by asphysxiation -- slow yet steady.

You can almost imagine the Flames players stepping onto their bus outside of JLA and taking in a huge breath of relief -- even if it's one filled with carbon monoxide. Because there sure hasn't been much air to breathe for the Flames inside the Joe.

And you know what happens to Flames when they don't get enough oxygen, don't you?

This is the time for the Red Wings to become greedy, ruthless, and snarling -- and I mean sweeping the Flames out of the playoffs. No nonsense. No goofing around. If the Red Wings can't smell blood by now, then they ought to take the clothespins off their noses and sniff. The Flames are ready to be had, and a first-round sweep would be a wonderful away to establish things in these playoffs.

Easier said than done, I know. If Flames goalie Miikka (double consonants AND vowels) Kiprusoff keeps playing this well, and his teammates raise their games a notch, we could be looking at a 2-2 series headed back to Detroit. He's been that good in the Flames' net. The Red Wings have outscored Calgary, 7-2, so far. Without Kiprusoff's heroics, that ratio is more like 12 to 2.

One more thing as the Red Wings head to Calgary for games 3 and 4: bring a flame-retardant broom.


A quick "Out of Bounds" welcome to a new member to the old blogroll: Scott Warheit, whose new blog, Quo Vadimus, is now available -- covering sports, politics, and whatever else Scott wants to tackle. Warheit is a former Detroit News columnist, and is a regular contributor to Welcome, Scott!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

“Throw-In” Bonderman Now Tigers’ Ace In The Hole

It’s fitting that they called it a “pitcher’s duel,” for one of the duelers had a name inspired by the Old West, and the other was the young stud trying to take him down..

Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays. Tempting to call him “Doc” instead. Soon-to-be 30 years old. Ninth year in the big leagues. A righthander who’ll win his 100th career game this season. And who will likely win 100 more – and then some, before he’s through.

Jeremy Bonderman. The aforementioned young stud. Twenty-four years of age but already in his fifth season in the majors, and each season his ERA dwindles. It’s doing so again in 2007.

The two of them went at it in Toronto Friday night, each of them going through the opposing batting order the way hot knives do with butter. 1-2-3, 1-2-3. You half thought they were due on a plane, the way they pitched with their rapidness. They matched each other, pitch-for-pitch, and if you enjoy baseball the way it was intended, then you were witness to nirvana.

One slip-up by each pitcher ended up in the grandstands, but that was all the scoring. One to one thru five innings. Then six. Every ball Halladay tossed to the plate acted as a whirling dervish in its own way. Nothing was without some movement. The Tigers’ potent lineup was reduced to a monotonous pattern of pop-ups and strikeouts.

Bonderman, not to be outdone, attacked the Blue Jays’ even more potent lineup with the ferocity that is becoming typical of the young stud. Peering defiantly over his glove as he perused the signs from his catcher, Bonderman would then start his slow leg kick and then rifle the ball toward the plate, daring the slugging Jays to hit it. Fastball, fastball, slider, fastball, curve. Maybe a changeup for good measure. The result was that the Blue Jays were also being reduced.

Two incredibly shrinking offenses, totally neutralized by the dueling aces.

Through nine innings they went, and this was old-time baseball now. The kind where the starters finish what they start. The kind where the manager says, “Hey, he’s still strong for nine innings – I’m sending his butt out there for the tenth.”

Well, one manager did, anyway – Halladay’s. And Doc – I mean, Roy – responded with yet another 1-2-3 frame. Ten innings and barely 100 pitches thrown. Old-time baseball.

Tigers skipper Jim Leyland eschewed the idea of trotting Bonderman out for the tenth inning. He has a strong bullpen, after all, and the manager likes to talk of managing not for just today, and not for just tomorrow, but for years down the road. And he knows that Bonderman is a precious commodity whose future could be traded on the market right now like gold or silver.

So out came Fernando Rodney to face the Jays in the bottom of the tenth, and I swear I heard a sigh of relief all the way from the Toronto dugout to my sofa in Warren.

In short order, after a walk and a couple of perfectly-cued bunts, the Torontonians had the bases loaded and nobody out, post-sigh. Moments later, a lazy fly ball won it for the Jays. But in a classic case of poetic justice, Bonderman didn’t get tagged with the loss. That was Rodney’s, not that he deserved such a fate, either. But he didn’t deserve it far less than Bonderman didn’t. Far, far less.

So Bonderman has started three games this young season, and hasn’t a victory to show for his efforts.

The bum!

A bum with a nifty 2.57 ERA after 21 innings in 2007. Just no run support. Last year it was Nate Robertson who the offense abandoned, forcing him to pitch every start as if he had to throw a shutout to ensure victory. This year the baseball gods turn their venom toward Bonderman, at least so far.

I think it’s remarkable and wonderfully appropriate that Bonderman has lowered his ERA every season since debuting as a 20-year-old in 2003. He lost 19 games that season, his ERA over 5.00 and his team struggling to avoid the ignominy of losing the most games of any team in the modern era. Teammate Mike Maroth lost 21 that year. The team lost 119. Enough to destroy the confidence of a 20-year-old.

But Bonderman showed then that he was no typical 20-year-old. Just as he’s showing now that he’s no typical 24-year-old. For how many pitchers of that age can claim to be five-year veterans who are doing nothing but getting better and better, nastier and nastier, and who can make your mind swim if you start thinking about how good they can be by age 30?

I’m sorry, but the idea of where Jeremy Bonderman could be on the pitching landscape by thirty years of age is downright frightening. But the good kind of frightening, if you’re a Tigers fan. Not bad for a throw-in.

Oh yeah, didn’t you know? Bonderman is only a Tiger because the Oakland A’s were told to send a player to Detroit to even things up a bit. It was 2002, and the Tigers had made a three-team trade with the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics. The key players were first baseman Carlos Pena, who went to Detroit, and pitcher Jeff Weaver, who went to the Yankees. The trade was made on July 5th that year. Seven weeks later, the A’s added another player to the deal, to help even things out. That player was Bonderman, 19-years-old and the A’s #1 draft pick in 2001.

Jeremy Bonderman, so young still, yet so studly – the Tigers’ ace-in-waiting (as soon as Kenny Rogers retires and maybe sooner, like NOW) – was a “throw-in.” He was a body. Surely the Tigers helped to select the throw-in and undoubtedly approved of their choice, but Bonderman wasn’t included in the trade until nearly two months had passed. He was the infamous “player to be named later” in baseball tradedom.

Now he goes toe-to-toe with the aces in the league – fearlessly and with a confidence that’s growing exponentially as we watch, mesmerized.

He didn’t get the victory over Doc Halladay and the Blue Jays Friday night. But yet he won. The great ones tend to do that.

Friday, April 13, 2007

We Call It "Old"; Red Wings Players Call It "Experience"

The goaltender is 42 years old and playing like a spring chicken; he came within minutes of a shutout. A goal was scored by the 36-year-old defenseman and new captain. Another goal was scored by an even older defenseman -- 38 years of age. And more solid play from the other top three defenseman. He's 45 years old.

Sure, the Red Wings' younger guys played well, too -- heck, the whole team did -- but it was the greybeards that led the way in the solid-as-a-rock, 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames last night in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals at JLA.

The players themselves would prefer the word "experienced" to "greybeards," but semantics are the least of anyone's worries right now. Job One is to get out of the stinking first round -- something the Red Wings have only managed to do once since their 2002 Cup.

After practice Tuesday, while working at my new gig, I asked Red Wings coach Mike Babcock how important it is, at this time of year, to have the greyb--, er, experienced guys manning the blue line and the goal.

"Experience is important when you have it, and when you don't have it, you say it's overrated," the coach said. "The bottom line is, experience is one part and playing is the other part. Your experience doesn't mean anything if you can't play, but they (Lidstrom, Chelios, Schneider, and Hasek) can do both and they can settle you down, and they play their best at this time of the year."

They were at their best last night. Hasek only faced 20 shots, but he was there when the Wings needed him. Lidstrom was his usual mechanical self; I doubt that he broke a sweat. Schneider scored on a howitzer from the blue line and was solid defensively. And Chelios was active and abrasive -- turning it up a notch for the playoffs.

"Everyone pretty much knows that I live for the playoffs," Chelios told me Tuesday. "I like to think that we're a better team with me in the lineup."

And Hasek?

"I said 18 years ago that Dom was the best goalie in the world and I stand by that," Chelios said. "The only question was his health, and he's answered that. I'll put him up against anyone."

It all sounds scrumptious, but the playoffs are only one game old. The Wings took a 1-0 lead over the Oilers last spring -- and you remember how that turned out.

But the win last year over Edmonton in Game 1 was in overtime, and the team looked shaky. Last night, there was no doubt who the best team was, at least for one game. The Flames barely flickered.

And you can thank the wet quilt of, um, "experience" that the Red Wings were able to toss onto Calgary for that.


One player to watch for the Flames as this series rolls along is defenseman Dion Phaneuf, the team's #1 draft pick of 2003. Phaneuf, who turned 22 this week, looked like he wanted to agitate the Red Wings at every opportunity -- real or contrived. He played with a burr in his saddle. And he was in the middle of the scrum that occurred behind the Flames' net late in the game last night.

It might be a good idea to try to get under his skin, because Phaneuf in the penalty box would mean the Flames would be without one of their top scoring defensemen. In two NHL seasons, Phaneuf has scored 37 goals.


Interesting fact that I did not know: when Calgary's Darren McCarty was a healthy scratch for Game 1, it marked the first time in his 13-year career that he did not dress for a playoff game when he wasn't injured. McCarty has played in 157 postseason contests.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"OOB" Reaches The "Terrible Two's"

Tiger Wins Masters, And Golf Needed It

Tell me, was golf really better off while Tiger Woods hibernated?In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Tiger gobbled up majors like Pac-Man, folks squirmed and moaned that one man's dominance was somehow damaging to the game. How much more fun it would be, they said, if others won once in awhile. So as Woods slumped in the last two-plus years, nobody, predictably, came close to matching his exploits. Nobody emerged, front and center. Nobody was, truthfully, the player to beat. Everyone was in the same boat, it seemed, without Tiger at the rudder. Well, you know what? Golf got a tad more boring, folks, in the meanwhile.

And so it went on April 12, 2005. That's how the first post of "Out of Bounds" began, two years ago today.

Now, 651 posts later, here I am, celebrating two years as a contributor to the blogosphere. Well, maybe "contributor" is a hot button word. Perhaps "aider and abettor" might be more appropriate.

Anyhow, it's time for the usual thanks: the readers, my fellow bloggers (and I will NOT start listing them for fear of leaving someone out, but you know who you are), and my wife -- who encouraged me to start writing again back in 2003. Without the above mentioned, I'm not writing, and I'm not having any fun.

But I do want to single out one person. Kevin Antcliff, who two years ago today e-mailed me and told me of this cool thing called blogging, and that I should get into it. Minutes later, I had started "Out of Bounds," and if you have anyone to blame for this, it's Antcliff. He was my aider and abettor.

It's kind of appropriate in a way that the two-year anniversary coincides with my new side gig at Michigan In Play! Magazine. For two years ago I was tentatively sticking my toes into the cyber waters, and today I'm pumping my exclusive interview for M.I.P. with Red Wings and Tigers owner Mike Ilitch. Not bad, I guess. You can see it on their website's home page, scrolling down to the blogs section.

So, thanks again and keep on visiting -- who else is gonna read this stuff?

All Hail Hill -- He Deserves It

Grant Hill played 35 minutes and scored 22 points last night in the Orlando Magic's 104-99 loss to the Pistons at the Palace. Bravo.

There are few NBA players on opposing teams that I root for harder than Hill, 34 and in his 13th season. If you wonder why, I guess I'd start with the fact that lesser players would have called it quits several comebacks ago. But the injury-plagued Hill has persevered, and in 2006-07 he has started 60 of the 61 games he's appeared in. He's shooting 52% from the field and averaging 14.4 ppg. The 61 games played represent the most Hill has participated in since he played in 67 contests in the 2004-05 season. Since the 1999-2000 season (his last in Detroit), this year and '05 are the only two seasons in which Hill has reached the 60+ games played mark.

His history since leaving the Pistons and joining the Magic in a sign-and-trade -- the deal that brought the Pistons Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins -- has found Hill mostly on the sidelines, in street clothes. That is, if he was even able to manage that, considering the pain and surgeries on his legs and ankles that he's been through.

This has been Hill's uniform more often than not since 2000

Hill played in just four games in 2000-01, 14 the next season, and 29 the season after that. He didn't play at all in 2003-04. He was, long ago, going to pair up with Tracy McGrady and take the Magic to the promised land. Instead, McGrady is long gone and Hill is just trying to get through a season without too much pain. His magic hold the #8 seed in the East and will most likely get drummed out of the playoffs by the Pistons in no more than five games in the first round.

So there's the will to soldier on that I like. But I also recognize Hill for being the player that put the Pistons back on the NBA radar when he arrived in 1994. At the time, the Pistons were right smack in the middle of an arduous rebuilding era after the Bad Boys days of the late-1980s and early-1990s. Isiah Thomas had retired. Same with Bill Laimbeer. And Vinnie Johnson. Only Joe Dumars remained, and after a couple of lean years, Hill led the Pistons back to winning records and helped confirm that the franchise still had a pulse after all. Throughout it all, he carried himself here with class and grace.

There wasn't any playoff success, however, and that's when fans started to get restless with Grant Hill and the team he was the cornerstone of. Never could the Pistons get past the first round, and so when Hill opted to leave Detroit, his departure was treated mostly with a chorus of "good riddance" by the basketball faithful here.

It didn't help his legacy that the Pistons began winning soon after Wallace and Atkins -- and the other cast and crew that GM Dumars assembled -- arrived, and long playoff runs became the norm, pushing Hill further into the recesses of the fans' minds in Detroit.

It also didn't help to keep him in their minds when Hill was hurt far more than when he was healthy. Out of sight, out of mind.

This postseason promises to be the first time Hill will face the Pistons in the playoffs. His team won't win, but it won't be because of anything the 52% shooting, 14.4 ppg Hill is doing wrong.

He once again is part of a pedestrian team -- only this time he plays the role of mentor and grizzled veteran. Maybe playoff success just wasn't meant to be for #33.

They don't all get a crack at the ring. Even the good ones. Even the good people. And Grant Hill has been both since 1994.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Michigan In Play! Magazine My New Publishing Home

I'm proud to announce two things: tomorrow is the two-year anniversary of Out of Bounds, and today marks the official start of my association with a wonderful new publication.

Michigan In Play! Magazine has hired yours truly to be a columnist, contributing writer, and mole about town. M.I.P. is available at over 375 locations, ranging from hotels to sporting goods stores to other retail outlets. You can find out where to find it (it's FREE) by clicking here.

M.I.P. is a monthly magazine that will cover the four majors, plus niche sports like bowling, hunting, fishing, and even paintball.

You can check out my first piece for them, an exclusive interview with Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, in which he talks about a new building to replace Joe Louis Arena.

I'm thrilled to be a part of M.I.P. and I encourage you to pick one up; certainly you'll find a location near you.

Folks who have read me in Motor City Sports Magazine, I appreciate you and I encourage you to follow me to M.I.P.!!

Aaron's AWOL Status Huge Blow Against Bonds

About 25 years ago or so, he made a subtle lobbying effort to be considered a candidate for commissioner of baseball. This after a much-publicized complaint that he was one of the few blacks employed as a baseball executive. And that after enduring what no hard-working American should have to at the workplace, in the midst of his pursuit of baseball's all-time homerun record.

Now Henry Aaron is again showing us the resolve and, frankly, brass baseballs that make him one of the most underrated icons that this country has ever seen -- at least since World War II.

Aaron publicly admitted that he plans to be nowhere in sight when Barry Bonds has a chance to break his all-time HR record of 755, which could very well happen this summer. Bonds is 22 away.

"I'd probably fly to West Palm Beach to play golf," Aaron was quoted as saying in Terence Moore's column the other day in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Again, it has nothing to do with anybody, other than I had enough of it. I don't want to be around that sort of thing anymore. I just want to be at peace with myself."

Certainly Bonds's run is re-opening old wounds for Aaron, who went through his own personal hell as he chased Babe Ruth's 714 back in 1973-74. But that was the result of the disgusting, lowest form of citizenry -- the racist boobs who would resort to even death threats and kidnapping his daughter if he went through with his assault.

This time, the backlash has nothing to do with Bonds's skin color and everything to do with the magic creams and elixirs and pills that he probably applied and inserted into his body over the years, turning him from baseball's version of Bill Bixby to Lou Ferrigno.

It's a record-breaking that even today's mealy commissioner, Bud Selig, seems completely unable to handle or address.

Not so with Aaron.

"I don't want to answer questions. It's going to be a no-win situation for me anyway. If I go, people are going to say, 'Well, he went because of this.' If I don't go, they'll say whatever. I'll just let them make their own mind up."

And this: "I'm 72 years old, and I'm not hopping on a plane and flying all the way to San Francisco for anybody."

Aaron doesn't care to see Bonds repeat this scene from 1974

So there you have it. The current homerun champ, 33 years into his reign, has spoken and there's no doubt where he stands. We can't come close to saying either about Selig.

I'm sorry, but this is huge. Baseball's HR record might be the sexiest, most alluring of all the sports records, bar none. And to hear the current champ say he wants no part of the celebration -- however muted -- and will even go to lengths to avoid it, speaks volumes.

For his part, Bonds took the high road in reaction to Aaron's comments.

"He has every right to do what he wants to do. I respect that," Bonds said. "There's no reason for me to be disappointed. If he has other plans, other things to do, I respect that. He's his own man. He can do what he wants to do. I respect that. No hard feelings."

But I would be shocked if those words weren't trying to mask a certain hurt that Bonds must feel over Aaron's stance. Whatever you feel about Barry Bonds, Aaron's refusal to be present when Bonds breaks his record is a tough blow for the Giants outfielder. It has to be.

Prior to this week, we were waiting to hear about Bonds's imminent ascent to the homerun throne from two key individuals: Aaron and Selig.

Predictably, the latter is the one who still remains silent.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tuesday's Feature: The Straightaway

(every Tuesday, "Out of Bounds" will feature "The Straightaway," NASCAR commentary by longtime racing observer Siddy Hall)


by Siddy Hall

Earnhardt's Dilemma: Saint Peter Ain't a Race Fan

Dale Earnhardt stood looking down at the clouds near his feet. He was listening to a Saint Peter lecture, one that Earnhardt had nearly memorized by now. Saint Peter was saying, “From here I send a person up to the Kingdom of Heaven, or down to the eternal Sea of Fire. Your case is rare, Mr. Earnhardt. A man like you could spend eternity in Hell…”

Satan swooped by while hollering, “He’s mine! He’s mine! Dale Earnhardt will look splendid with a pair of horns. I have special plans for him.”

Saint Peter continued, “For some reason many people prayed for you after your death. So we’re allowing you more time to explain yourself. Perhaps some witnesses will arrive who can testify on your behalf about your Goodness.”

Dale Earnhardt lifted his head towards Saint Peter and said, “When Richard Childress hired Chocolate Myers, I said ‘Thank God.’”

Saint Peter quietly shook his head. He said, “Those are words. How about your actions, your aggressive driving?”

“Like I've said before, that Terry Labonte wreck at Bristol…that was one of them racin’ deals.”

“Which Terry Labonte wreck at Bristol, Mr. Earnhardt?”

“The first one,” replied Earnhardt. “The second one, Terry said something to his spotter, who told my spotter, who told me something nasty about my Mama. It was all an accident.”

"... that Terry Labonte wreck at Bristol…that was one of them racin’ deals.”

Saint Peter wasn’t moved. He said, “Mr. Earnhardt, of all your dirty deeds there is one that requires explaining. 1995. Daytona. The IROC race. On the final lap of that race heading towards Turn 3 you sent the race leader, Al Unser, Jr. head-first into the wall. And again, I must emphasize that this was merely an IROC race. What possessed you to behave this way?”

“Well, I thought I was doing everyone a big favor.”

Saint Peter said, “Mr. Earnhardt, we send spirits into the world to watch people like you. Our records indicate that not only did you wreck Al Unser, Jr. but you did so with a smile that could only be described as ‘devilish.’”

Dale Earnhardt’s head sank.

Saint Peter continued, “Mr. Earnhardt, you need some help and you need it quick. I cannot keep delaying my decision on this.”

Earnhardt nodded, took a deep breath and looked out at the long line of the recently deceased leading up to the Pearly Gates. Suddenly, he saw a gray bushy-haired figure that looked familiar. It was Bobby Hamilton. They shook hands. “Bobby, how are you? Where’d you wreck at?”

“No wreck, Dale. Natural causes.”

Bobby Hamilton

“I’m sorry to hear that, Bobby. Hey, I’m so glad to see you. I can really use a drafting partner right now. Can you go tell Saint Peter something nice about me? My eternal salvation is at stake.”

“Sure, Dale. But is he gonna ask me about you wreckin’ me?”

Earnhardt’s eyes widened. “I wrecked you? Where?”

“At Rockingham. I was going for my first win and you destroyed me.”

Earnhardt threw his head back and groaned. “Dang it, Bobby. Sometimes I’d see you in that STP car and I’d have a flashback and think that you were Petty. How is Richard, by the way?”

“Oh he’s fine. He’s the governor of North Carolina.”


“No, not really.” Both men shook their heads and laughed.

Earnhardt said, “Dagnabit, I need someone who can help. Where’s Marcis?”

“Dave is alive and well,” replied Hamilton.

“Who else? Who else? Barney Hall. Naw, Barney’ll live to 100.”

Just then a figure appeared from the crowd. It was a balding, older man with gleaming eyes and a bright smile.

“BP!!! Benny !!” Earnhardt slid to his knees as he greeted Benny Parsons.

"Saint" Benny?

Parsons said, “Hi Dale, Hi Bobby. Look at this place. Oh Man!! Can you believe it!!!?”

Earnhardt said, “Benny, I’m in trouble. I really need your help right now. Can you say something to Saint Peter for me? Something nice?”

Parsons replied, “Why sure. By the way, Dale. Gordon’s only one win away from you last time I checked.”

Earnhardt said, “Well, maybe if I can pass inspection then I can ask God to throw a lightning bolt at him.”

Everybody threw their heads back and laughed as Saint Peter gave Dale Earnhardt a stern glare. Benny Parsons led Earnhardt towards Saint Peter and said, “I have to say that this man, Dale Earnhardt is very special. In fact, he’s the single most finest man that I have ever known. So many people love him.”

Saint Peter paused then said, “Mr. Earnhardt, you are a very lucky man. Praise is one thing, but to be praised by this gentleman is another. I’m looking at this short list in front of me and on it is the name Benny Parsons. Mr. Parsons is about to become a Saint. He’ll be known as Saint Benny.”

He continued, “Mr. Earnhardt, you are a very unusual case. But I think we have a place for you in Heaven. You see, we have a certain group of angels, those who, how shall I say, are borderline angels. Their purpose is actually very simple. They are to fly around and make sure that the other angels have no lint in their wings. We call these angels the Feather Flufferers.”

Earnhardt’s eyes began to narrow and his growing grin began to fade.

Saint Peter went on, “So your job for eternity will be to fluff the feathers and shine the halos of those people that you used to torment.”

“My feathers will need fluffin’,” said the smiling Bobby Hamilton. “A lot.”

Dale Earnhardt stood and thought for a moment. Then he imagined himself fluffin’ the feathers of Al Unser, Jr. He barked, “I’m not fluffin’ no Indy Car---.” Suddenly, Earnhardt’s back stiffened as he felt a boot in his butt.

Saint Benny wrapped his arm around Dale’s shoulder and said, “Dale Earnhardt will be just a terrific Feather Flufferer. Won’t you, Dale?”

Dale only nodded.

Benny continued, “It’s O.K. Dale. You can be fluffin’ Neil Bonnett’s feathers while he’s huntin’ and you can tell him where to point his rifle.”

Saint Peter said, “Dale Earnhardt, you may enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

(e-mail Siddy Hall: cityhall172000 at

Monday, April 09, 2007

Rutgers Women Like Rubber And Imus Like Glue

The best thing about what happens when loudmouthed boobs like Don Imus stick their boots into their pie holes is that they end up the ones looking far worse than the folks they were trying to disparage.

Imus, who said some nasty things about the Rutgers University womens basketball team, calling them a "bunch of nappy-headed hos" last week, apologized Friday. And he was contrite again this morning, and seeing him talk on MSNBC during the simulcast of his radio show, he seemed sincere.

But it's Imus, and not the Rutgers female basketballers, who looks bad here.

I've always been under the belief that name-calling shouldn't, really, bother the one(s) being called the names, because if you know you're not what they're calling you, then who cares?

Do the Rutgers women believe they're "nappy-headed hos"? Of course not. Was it wrong for Imus to call them that? Of course. But the Rutgers ladies shouldn't let it bother them too much, because it's presumed that they have higher self-esteem than that. Should they really care what someone like Imus thinks of them? Or should they be more concerned with how they think of themselves?

It's always this way, and it should be: the name-caller's credibility and image shrinks when he or she engages in that sort of behavior. And the one(s) being slandered usually come off as sympathetic, pristine figures.

But there's usually more behind these things than just the name-calling itself. Typically the outrageous comments either thinly veil deeper-seated beliefs, or at the very least, the issuer simply doesn't know how to engage in self-censorship. Either way, it's more often than not more than just a random, egregious remark made off the cuff. In Imus's instance, it would appear that he has some sort of resentment toward black athletes, especially female ones. Why else would he say such a thing on national radio/TV?

Regardless, here's hoping that the Rutgers womens hoopsters don't take any of Imus's dreck to heart. They should let his words roll off their hard-working backs.

And let the "I-Man" take all the well-deserved heat.

"Those girls didn't deserve what I said," Imus said this morning.

No. But he deserves all the fallout.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Five Years Later, Pal Joey An Unhired Gun

They were One and Two, back in the day. The top two quarterbacks snapped off the board in the NFL Draft. Each was going to ragtag teams, which is why they were drafted so high to begin with. And each was going to be saviors to their respective franchises.

Today, one of them has been squeezed out of town by a recent acquisition, and is with a new team now; and the other totes football gear and a resume with him, trying to sell his wares to someone – anyone – who’ll be intrigued by a spotty career (so far) enough to offer him a job

Number One is David Carr, drafted by the expansion Houston Texans in that 2002 draft. Five seasons of picking himself off the turf ad nauseum later, Carr watched his starting job claimed by the newly-acquired Matt Schaub, whose biggest asset, it would appear, is that he’s not … David Carr.

Number Two is our old Pal Joey, the Harrington kid from Oregon.

Five years ago, Harrington posed the usual pose after Draft Day, smiling from ear-to-ear and holding up his new Detroit Lions jersey, with team president Matt Millen and then-coach Marty Mornhinweg. He was the handsome kid who played piano and who was finally – FINALLY – the quarterback of our dreams.

Yet today Harrington is the traveling salesman quarterback – the gun for hire who now has the daunting task of going door-to-door in the NFL and being his own marketing and sales departments.

It didn’t work out in Detroit – not surprising, really, in retrospect considering who coached him here – and it didn’t work out in Miami, his preferred point of destination after telling the Lions last spring that he’d had enough of their shenanigans.

So here he is – unemployed and with only a few months until training camps launch.

The fact was spouted off liberally almost as soon as Harrington’s name was read by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue: no Lions quarterback has been named to the Pro Bowl team since Greg Landry, in 1972. Thirty years ago, we all said.

And still counting.

The fact remains now, and all it is, is five years older.

Harrington didn’t change that fact. Didn’t come close, really. After his first game as a Lion, against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field, Harrington showed brilliance enough that everyone in the joint, and those watching from their sofas, would have called a man crazy who’d have said that Landry would remain the last Lions Pro Bowl QB by the time Harrington left Detroit. Some were even imagining Joey’s mug on a bronze bust in a hall in Canton, Ohio. After one game – and a losing effort, at that.

So thirsty were Lions fans for a competent signal caller that Harrington’s flashes were enough moisture from which the faithful denizens slurped heartily, and with anticipation of more.

But then Mornhinweg was put out of everyone’s misery after Joey’s rookie year, and Steve Mariucci breezed into town. Mariucci and his popgun West Coast Offense didn’t jibe with Harrington’s strengths, but it didn’t seem to matter to the coach, or to the man who hired him, Millen. After two-plus seasons of lukewarm endorsement, Harrington watched another coach get the ziggy. An interim coach, Dick Jauron, remained interim after the 2005 season, and Rod Marinelli was brought in. And the genius offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who held a quarterback school from which Harrington dropped out. That’s when Joey said he’d sure like to play in Miami.

Mission accomplished, eventually. The Dolphins had only gimpy Daunte Culpepper in front of him. Predictably, Culpepper went down with an injury, right on schedule. And Harrington stepped in and did his usual thing: competent yet not spectacular quarterbacking. On Thanksgiving Day in Detroit, Harrington led his Dolphins to a trouncing over the Lions and could barely mask his grin afterward.

All this, and he still got broomed out of Miami for his trouble.

He knocked on the door of the Carolina Panthers this week, worked out for the coaches, toured the facilities. The usual routine for the unemployed football player. Perhaps he got his hopes up in the process.

Then the Panthers went out and signed (drumroll please) … David Carr, the erstwhile Houston QB.

No joke.

Carolina picked Carr over Harrington, just as the Texans did in the 2002 draft

I have written that Harrington would look good in the silver and black of the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders have for years been a football team who’ve embraced the unembraceable – the NFL misfit or aging veteran who needed to revive his career. It’s a tactic that they’ve been able to ride to the tune of a winning percentage near .700, until recent hard times.

Harrington, I spouted, should put the Raiders on his list of cold calls and doors to knock on.

He hasn’t, as far as I know, taken my advice yet.

Carolina is scratched off the list. Other teams who would potentially need a quarterback have either someone else in mind, or will take their chances in the draft.

And five years after being one of the darlings of said draft, Joey Harrington now will watch it with interest, for the wrong combination of teams and college QBs could put his future in serious jeopardy.

Well, he still has the good looks. TV could be a possibility, not that being pleasant to look at has been a major prerequisite, if you look at some of the mugs they’re putting on the tube lately.

Then there’s always the piano.

This gun for hire!